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After the Wave
Carl Andrew Frie

That afternoon there was nothing to do. The heat was terrible. It had been for days. Nothing to do and nowhere to go. We lay in bed, naked, drinking rum with ice and lime, listening to a radio I brought back from Singapore. But I was sick of hearing all the bad news from the tsunami. I slowly worked the dial, searching for music.

“What does it mean?” she said.

Her fingers traced the black tiger on my back.

“It’s not important.”

I got up and poured more rum in my glass, dropped in a chunk of lime, then more rum. Through the static a reporter’s voice said hundreds were missing, thousands were dead. I fiddled with the radio dial again.

“Nothing,” I said, “there’s nothing.”

She stretched herself across the white bed. Her face was small and subtle, her chin square but not obtuse, her skin dark from the sun, her eyes thin and tear drop shaped. In the light her hair was crimson red and shot through with streaks of black, it lay across her small tan breasts. But it was her lips that made me want her. There was a crispness to her upper lip and her slight overbite. There was something very natural about it.

I sat down on the bed and swallowed more rum. She perched her chin on my shoulder.

“Tell me,” she said.

“Tell you what?”

She traced the tattoo on my back.

“Everything.”

She fished an ice cube out of the glass and sucked on it. I got up and stood in front of the fan.

“Do you know why it’s red?” she said.

“No.”

“So that everyone will remember me.”

“Why is that so important?”

“Because, it’s New Year’s.”

“It’s just a silly holiday.”

“How could you say that?”

 

She sipped the last of her rum and held her glass out for more.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” she said.

“Like what?”

“You know, back at the bar.”

“Were you scared?” I said.

“Not really,” she said. “It was different, like something secret, something I wasn’t supposed to see.”

“It’s no secret, it happens all the time.”

I got up and poured more rum. Outside two motorcycles roared down the street. I looked out the window to watch them but they were gone. A cloud of tan dust hung over the blacktop street. No one was out. Not in this heat. Not after the wave.

“So where is it?” she said.

“Where is what?”

“You know what.”

I looked at her for a moment.

“I want to hold it.”

I pulled the corner of the mattress up and her brown eyes instantly widened.

“Go on, take it,” I said. “It’s not loaded.”

 

“Do you love me?” she asked. She twirled a strand of red hair around her brown nipple. The gun sat next to the lamp on the nightstand.

I sat down next to her and gulped more rum.

“It’s OK, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

I kissed her neck. She pulled me down on top of her.

“I could be a very bad person and you wouldn’t even know it,” she said.

“I don’t think so.”

“Maybe I killed someone, maybe a jealous lover.”

“You’re not the type,” I said.

I squeezed her hips and rolled her on top of me. She let out a little squeal and pounded on my chest. Then she sat up and her red hair fall down around her shoulders.

“Do you think you could love someone like that?” she said.

“It depends.”

“On what?”

“How long ago it was.”

“Really?”

“Sure, why not?”

She slowly moved forward, letting her dyed red hair cover both of our faces. She plucked the gun off the table and pointed it at me, one eye squinting down the barrel. I wrapped my arms around her and pressed her body onto mine, the cold steel of the gun between us.

 

The sun was finally beginning to pull back and cool air was coming through the windows. Things seemed better in the evening. The music stations from Singapore burst through the white noise and the tension of the day evaporated with the fading sun. In the growing darkness something primal was released. Maybe it was just a day of sex and dozing and drinking rum.

“Can you walk on my back?” I said.

“Sure, my mother’s a masseuse and so are my sisters.”I rolled over in bed.

She stood, stretched her legs, and stepped onto the middle of my back. Her feet crept along my spine, pressing and probing at intervals.

“So what happened at the bar?” she said.

Her feet were on my shoulder blades and she gently rocked back and forth until there was a faint pop. My body felt soft and relaxed.

She lay down beside me.

“You can tell me about it,” she said. “It’s OK.”

Her hair spread like red ink across the white sheet.

“Let’s go out,” I said. I wanted to feel the numbing thump of a nightclub, to be overwhelmed and lost in smoke and music, awash in flashing light and sweating bodies, everything pulsing and throbbing together. I wanted to lose control again, to forget again.

She took my fingers and softly kissed them, then put them between her legs.

 

When I stepped out of the shower she was still naked, her thin brown body draped over the white leather chair.

“Is this it?” she said.

I reached for my shirt.

“Why are you getting dressed?”

She uncrossed her legs.

“I want you to stay with me,” she said.

I kissed her on the lips. She took my hand and cupped her breast with it. It was warm and soft in my hand.

I stood up and put on my shirt.

“I’ll bring back some duck and noodles and more rum.”

 

I cruised through the city looking for a market that was open. Everything was closed except a few bars for lonely tourists. It wasn’t until I got into the Chinese district that I found anything. I went into the first place with duck hanging in the window.

A chubby boy in a Beckham t-shirt sat behind the register, his eyes glued to a TV. Video from the beaches flashed through the static. Dead bodies floated in a bay and more were stacked up like discarded lumber on the sand. The tide was a red froth. It tugged at the feet of the dead. Bridges, boats, hotels, entire villages, all were pulverized by the wave. A bus was upside down and burning in the middle of a street. Soldiers jumped out of the back of a truck. A voice talked about disease.

Seeing the TV made me think about it again and that was the last thing I wanted. Food was getting more and more expensive. There was talk of fuel rationing. No one was working. Every day there were more and more people in the city, so many beaten down, wretched people that you didn’t want to imagine where they came from. And everyday people were getting sick. We were all sick--sick and depressed, buried in shit. Thinking just made things worse. Start thinking and you realize that everything has gone to shit.

So it was best not to think. Just try to have a good time. I thought of her at the hotel--all that red and black hair in her face when she was on top; those crisp, chiseled lips; the warmth of her skin under my hands; the fluid acquiescence of her hips. I could let her stay with me for a while. I still had money and we could make it last. She could stay until things got sorted out. But she saw what happened at the bar. She saw me with the gun. She saw the man on the floor with a hole in his head. Now there was something between us. Maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. Maybe now, after the wave, things would change. Maybe it wasn’t all bad.

I walked over to the deli counter. Crispy red barbecued duck hung from a rack above a big shiny black wok. An old man sat on a stool, shirtless and in black shorts. He listened intently to a Beatles CD while smoking a cigarette. I ordered twice as much as I needed. He offered me a bottle of homemade rum and some grass and I hurriedly overpaid for all of it.

When I got back to the room she was gone. I flipped the mattress. The gun was gone too. In its place was a strand of black hair dyed red.

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