Tag Archives: Michael Chin

“Forever” – Fiction by Michael Chin

Circus – August Macke, 1911

An unemployed young man meets a passionate and charismatic woman who literally makes his life a circus in “Forever,” Michael Chin‘s wild and haunting short story from our Spring 2018 issue.

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YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH A WOMAN ALL AT ONCE. You lose her in pieces.

The Ringmaster, before he was The Ringmaster, met a woman with hair the color of ripe peaches, and the whitest skin you’ve ever seen. The kind of woman you sensed you could bite right into and she’d dissolve like cotton candy.

His name was Verne in those days. He met her at a drugstore where she was shoplifting lipstick. The owner caught her, an Iranian man with a bald head and a handlebar moustache. “Thief! Thief!” he screamed, followed by a tantrum of curse words and guttural sounds. His six year-old son stopped taking inventory with the nub of a red crayon to look up. The Iranian’s wife, a white woman with a patch over her left eye, watched from the counter.

Verne pitied the family and loathed the Iranian, but his store was close by and he carried the frozen orange chicken Verne liked—the Americanized Chinese food his parents would never abide. He was third generation Chinese. The first in his family not to know Mandarin. The one who was supposed to fulfill all of the American dreams. A doctor, or a lawyer, or a physicist. Someone to be counted. Instead, Johnny Walker and orange chicken consumed his nights while he collected unemployment checks that would run dry exactly one week from that night.

“She was going to pay for it,” Verne said.

The Iranian held the woman by her wrist. Knuckles turning white. Verne thought he might take a cleaver to her hand like they did in the old country.

“You know her?”

The woman’s eyes grew glassy.

“I do,” Verne said

The Iranian waved the tube of lipstick in the air. The shiny black outside caught the light for a second. “Why’d she put it in her purse?”

Because she was stealing, of course, but that was the only answer Verne couldn’t give.

The woman kneed the Iranian in his balls. He doubled over and crumpled to the floor. She snatched the lipstick from him and took Verne’s hand.

Before he could think, they were outside and running. Verne clutched three cardboard boxes of orange chicken under his arm.

The Iranian came outside, still bent, clutching his crotch. “You never come back to my store! You come back and I’ll kill you!”

The woman laughed maniacally.

They wound up at Verne’s apartment, a studio cast in dull yellow by a single desk lamp. “Would you like some chicken?” He laughed as he said it, all that adrenaline and nervous energy and the absurdity of the moment overwhelming him.

“Sounds delicious.”

He opened a box and perforated the plastic film, then put the first plastic tray in the microwave. When he turned back around the woman was there waiting for him. Taller than him. His eyes met her neck. She held the canister of lipstick in her fingers. “Since we’re sharing stolen goods, can I interest you in some ravishing red?”

He took the lipstick and smeared it over his lips, drunk on her.

He took the first tray of chicken out and put in the second. “Chopsticks or fork?”

“No thanks.” She picked up her first piece of chicken, still steaming, between thumb and forefinger.

He started in with his chopsticks. She asked him to show her how to use them.

“I don’t use them right,” he admitted. He was self-taught—annoyed when he was little and his older cousins made fun of him. His parents never taught him the proper technique.

“They wanted me to be an American. Leave Chinese things behind.” He held a piece of chicken up in front of them. His extended family still laughed at him for holding the chopsticks wrong. White people never noticed.

“It’s silly,” the woman said. “Our parents tell us what to be. Most people never realize they can be anything else.”

The woman had drawn close to him. He could smell the orange sauce on her breath and feel the steam from the plastic tray rise at his neck. A scrap of the fried chicken skin had affixed itself to her lower lip.

“What do you want to be?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

She kissed him.

“I don’t even know your name,” he said.

“Penelope.”

She kissed him again. This time, he expected it and clutched her. Wrestled her to the floor. Or maybe she wrestled him. First he was on top, then her. The floor felt rough against his back. Her hair tumbled down, surrounding him. Darkness with orange edges where the light peeked between strands.

“Tell me you’ll want me forever,” she said.

He touched her breasts and salivated. He couldn’t imagine a circumstance in which he wouldn’t want her. “I will.”

“You will what?”

“I will want you forever.”

They continued. He wasn’t sure how long they carried on, only that the first morning rays to shine through the window made the film of sweat on her skin shine.

He woke hours, minutes, maybe seconds later, to the sound of the microwave. The smell of hot orange chicken. Penelope perched herself on the counter, wearing Verne’s shirt from the night before, and feasted.

Movement meant agony. Verne stretched his arm up over his shoulder, and dipped his hand onto the tender flesh of his back. His skin had broken, bleeding over the bare hardwood.

Penelope watched him. “Hungry?”

Continue reading “Forever” – Fiction by Michael Chin

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