Have you eaten yet?
What did you have?
And so went on most of the resent conversations shared between William “Bill” Casey and his precursory long-term girlfriend and/or companion Eun Kyung, compassionately referred to as Xiao Eun by the aforementioned Bill. Rising early in the a.m. long before the sun had stirred enough even to attempt to wilfully force its way through the tired waves of omnipresent quarter particle swaths that pillowed the firefly canopies of the northern city’s most far reaching towers, Bill was up and yet not so fully awake as he found himself to be presently staring into a mirror with an eastward facing tail end of a toothbrush gripped canine-like between his teeth. That he needed to rise so unconsciously early was in part a direct result from the ever decreasing conversational pool that he found his line available to fish from when trying to keep a steady thread of light-hearted and amiable dialogue afloat with the young Xiao Eun and so had taken to regularly posting her vintage, bleach tinted snapshots of his various purchased meals and snack plates throughout the day, an action that was fairly in the 90% guaranteed to provoke a positive reply from Eun in the format of a basic sentence, or at the very least, a smiling emoji in the shape of a bear, dangling out there amongst the surrounding minimalism of conversational space.
Following on in part from their lack of actual substantive conversing, but also in aid via what Bill’s Scottish-descended Canadian mother had once described as her first born offspring’s prerequisite to suffocating his more tender feelings with very significant quantities of only the most high octane calorific and sugar powdered snack foods such as Uncle Papa’s caster sugar dusted brioche cake, or large lung-sized air-tight packets of Chubby Buda twizzle bisects, that had led to Bill’s steadily increasing intake of both decent meals and mid afternoon snacking, all of which had been justified originally as a means towards damming the rivers of his and Eun’s depleting romantic conversations and yet more recently had flooded over into barely disguised gorging of the most unhappiest of food-to-individual relationships that Bill had prior to ever known.
So with the combined efforts of attempting to resuscitate the various energies of their sudo-sexual text based flirtation that had so sweetly characterised those early days of their coupledom, and now on top of that was also employed in the painful squashing down of that hitherto mentioned amassing doubt and paralyzing fear that their best days were long since behind them, never set really to return, all of which had left poor Bill at a meagre twenty two years of age with a rather rotund pot belly that adamantly refused to give way. The weight, that excess bulk, had also decided not to disperse evenly, so rather than proving Bill with an overly stockier, daresay even a little cuddlier body form, it had instead solely settled around the front centre of his waist and stomach, leading to the mark of his stomach protruding outwards like the tantalising bull eye in the middle of an inverted hourglass that curved and expanded outwards in all of the worst and most impractical areas.
Her life, she often felt, had been a series of well-coordinated blows to negate any possible choices that she might have to possibly consider independently.
And to this Bill had found himself awake at what he considered to be a wholly ungodly grim hour, when he set himself about the task of doing what might marginally be called sit ups, with the suggestion of stomach crunches with his feet pushed under the heels of the hotel bed on which Xiao Eun slept, snoring with surprising amplitude give to someone of her petite frame and minuscule size. Even with her hair cast into unreal oceanic curls above her ears, and given to her preference for shoulder padded clothes and high heels no subtler than four inches tall, she still at most times resembled an adolescent pivoting on two very unstable blocks of wood. That the pair conversed in English had been a direct result of their shared lack of any real and decent Chinese proficiency, and his complete and utter lack of Korean all barring a few cutesy-style phrases that Xiao Eun had taught him. Her life, she often felt, had been a series of well-coordinated blows to negate any possible choices that she might have to possibly consider independently. This then had left her so near bereft of the faculties or blunt mental carpentry required to carve out her own particular niece, left with the empty hungry-ish feeling that a swelling of designer and imported branded goods were only so fruitfully willing to satisfy, her dissatisfaction paralysed by yet another small item of disproportionate value. She was not, to be clear, materialistically shallow, and was fully aware of how her status in terms of personal shopping presented her in the eyes of others. She registered their displeasure, their judgement and their envy. Yet she had simply been groomed by all of the relevant authoritative figures in her life to be just who she was and so, in a pragmatic and perfectly understandable albeit tragically functionalistic approach, saw no available trapdoor through which she might be able to disappear into, and so settled into the tragic role that she seemed set out and destined to play. Her filial role, carefully outlined by her father, a man made six inches shorter than his tailor wanted him to be, was to be to study in Beijing at the foreign language university and from there receive a juxtaposing education in both Mandarin Putonghua and idiomatic business English with all the colloquial trimmings, so as to operate as his very own personal multi0national liaison for his semi-legal garment business, the whole triangle of buying the raw fabric in Hangzhou China in the south via Shanghai ports and then shipped to Korea for design and construction, the over to the US for the hard-line retail storefront. And so, being the essential pragmatist that she had been conditionally raised to be, Xiao Eun had quickly and without much considerable effort, hitched up in the biblical sense with the first Caucasian non-Slavic looking twenty something that she saw in the class with the incentive to speak out (even though unbeknownst to Eun, whose English was minimal enough not to register at that point that Bill had in fact been requesting online access to the materials rather than answering any sort of question) and so had found all of the following assignments easily passable with ease, given in the early days with Bill’s overwhelming and often obsessive desire to both please her and also to free up more of her own personal time.
Finishing his squats with audible strain and the premature suggestions of glistening sweat gathering on his forehead in places where for most men of his age there would be ample follicle coverage, yet for William there was little more than the rapidly retreating tundra of an early widows peak, a coiffure worthy of a man twice his age, he turned his palms to the hotel room’s questionably absorbent carpet, and began his routine of slowly thrusting push ups, an excretion that always seemed to apply greater pressure upon the blades of his back than any other impotence given over to his biceps and the whole desirable male body arm area. The given excuse for the rented hotel room, and the excursion from the capital of China via newly-constructed and precariously lilting bullet train (first class) where on board Bill had allowed his diet to be dissuaded by the various large carrier bags stuffed to the brim, bags that were loaded down with powdered rice cakes, to sugar crusted breads and individuals wrapped bite-sized cubes of shredded beef parts, all of which smelt infuriatingly better than it could ever be described on the page, had led the poor boy to the cloying excuse of practicing his Chinese, to shrink away from the sleeping Eun, to the train’s dinning/bar carriage to attempt to buy some of their pre-packaged on-route vitals only to have the attendant eventually pity him and explain their selection in an English of greater quality than Bill’s Chinese would ever reach. He settled in the end for a family sized pack of Lonely Deity Potato Diskettes, the vacuum sealed pack both simultaneously causing him to feel disappear at his desire to shamelessly consume the whole pack while animal like, standing with eyes jutting from side to side, alone in the section between the carriageways, and confusion of the branded name of the salt fish flavoured snack treats, the cover all along had been construed that previous week towards the end of Thursday’s Mandarin class, where Bill had tentatively knocked on the Dean of the Chinese studies building and entering offered the suggestion that for his end of year cultural studies and linguistics double major assignment, he might be able to travel off campus for a few days, as he wished to visit and then subsequently write about a Chinese native singer, local to the East-Central region of Henan, who apparently had developed a less than orthodox approach to performing Tang Dynasty Operatic ballads. When questioned just how exactly such subject matter might fall under the purview of a thesis statement that had to be at least within the academic ballpark of contemporary Chinese linguistics, Bill had almost artfully fumbled his way around an explanation that circumvented concepts such as the developing application of emotive L1 phonetics, specific to the homogenous modernization (and still, paradoxically attaining authentic cultural lineage) of a relevant classical form. He had even found more than a few (uncalled for) excuses to insert the names of various mainland circulated periodicals, where he dangled the faculty carrot of possible publication, should his paper ever be deemed suitable, safe in the knowledge that the Dean had no great knowledge, nor the inclination to actually do what would be a fairly speedy online fact check as to which of the aforementioned journals actually existed. Bill was also fairly confident, that should this excursion be permitted, it would allow him a few days with Eun away from prying colligate eyes. The trip of course would be entirely funded by Bill he assured the Dean, paid for by the more than lonesome hours spent by his computer, providing online tutoring services (internet classes be a goldmine for sure) and the various illegal writing of other non-native English speakers assigned papers.
A few Ctrip booked tickets later found the pair (that is Bill and Eun, not the previously discussed Dean, paragraphs spatially shifting us here) snuggly up against one another and happily napping on the bullet train, tucked into a seat figuratively modelled on those fashionably egg-ish shaped domed seats circa late 60’s, with Xiao Eun’s cheek irritated by the uneven rising of Bill’s asthmatic lungs through his chest, as the two trundled towards Kaifeng, in the country’s grimiest corner of the East-Central region of Henan. They had boarded the bullet train from the Beijing South station, climbing past Chinese businessmen hurriedly chocking down one last cigarette before the arduous journey. They departed the high-speed rail at Zhengzhou station, and then took a ramshackle old-soviet era style commuter for the final haul to KF. Once out of ZZ, the cluster of high-rise apartments soon began to fall away, leaving nothing but muddy, battle-scarred fields, the perfect prefabricated scenery for a filmic Somme, were it not for the occasional road-side vendor who stood lamp posted in the highway’s hard shoulder that ran underneath the train’s route, vendors whose soot covered push carts advertised ‘delicate infant strawberries’ and ‘luxurious milk’, all embellished with the same baptism of dust that covered everything up until the horizon.
The Tang Dynasty grandeur of KF was itself a thing of beauty, for although the city albeit currently had come to resemble that of any other vast North/Central East Chinese city in this, the new industrial density of the urbanized middle kingdom, the original gates to the city were themselves impressive, as passing underneath their vaulted arches, stood watching over you giant stone elephants with bronze capped tusks that reflected the shimmering sparks from the headlights of vehicles. At this precise point, Bill found himself silently hopeful that they would indeed be able to locate and come to find Kong Meilei, the singer whom he had read about while trawling through obscure expat China blogs, looking for something suitable and safely hidden enough to plagiarise for a previous paper that both Xiao Eun had left him too little time to authentically write himself and that he had no real desire to exert the energy to do so either. Upon finding Kong, he had decided to circumstantially deciding to give a proverbial about the assignment might dutifully provide him with an ample excuse to sweep Xiao Eun away from the girl’s dormitory for a night or two and that perhaps, nestled intimately in some secret and undisclosed hotel bedroom, some of that early-on, now non-existent intimacy might be rekindled between the them.
The KF Athena hotel had outside as its flagpole, an imitation Grecian statue of the nomenclatural goodness, her eyes watching over the freezing guards stoically located by the lobby’s entrance, which comprised of a small entrance desk and a lotus pool that contained no lotuses and no pool. The statue’s evening copper paint had peeled off from her crown, leaving a peppering of smudgy brown stars across her temple and brow. Once checked in, the young couple found their room situated adjacent to a vast in house KTV, a karaoke venue that dominated the fourth and fifth floors, and one that kept a veritable torrent of questionable looking ‘hostesses’ and baijiu bruised business parties, all dressed in drunk and shimmering attire hovering around in occasionally attempting to open with the odd drunken fumble, Bill and Eun’s very securely locked door. Xiao Eun undressed and climbed into the shower, which promised via placard naturally heated water from an underground spring beneath the building. Once the shower had warmed up, a generously sulphuric smell clouded the room, reaching Bill who lay eagled on the bed, searching the TV’s channels for something he could mute and still understand, and so finally settling for ESPN, turned down the sound and watched with no little disinterest. When Xiao Eun emerged from the sour egg scented sauna of the bathroom, she asked Bill to apply moisturising cream to her legs, which he did so as dutifully as possible.
Is that better?
Are you warm?
Do you want to watch TV?
Maybe just my phone?
The pair sat silhouetted against the headboard, their outlines shadowed by the radiating light from the muted widescreen before them. When Xiao Eun fell asleep, Bill rolled her over onto her side and slid the cover across her, then turned and tried to feign rest himself. Back in Edmonton, he had found solitude in the nightly chorus of his parent’s home all too suburban street’s Amur maples, who’s ripple and whisper with even the laziest suggestion of a breeze. When the house had been fully equipped with an industrial installation of air-condition systems, one of the fixtures had been bracketed to the exterior wall directly underneath to Bill’s previously open bedroom window and so soon the prepubescent Bill had found the sound of the tree’s to be obscured, drowned out by the steady and reluctant hum of the nocturnally functioning machines. In this way at least, the Athena KF reminded him of his parental home, even if it was this period of air-con instillation that was to be the tail end of the overly rosy nostalgic period from whereon things would rapidly decline into an psychologically violent emotionally passive aggressive time that he’d more readily choose, mostly, to forget.
a wall of dust obscured mirrored panelling, across which was a fifteen-foot neon carp whose tail slipped eastward with a metronomic four-second shift of cobalt blue and orange
Too early in the a.m., after what might be best called the suggestion of a further dozen or so squats from off of the dubiously stained, carpeted floor of the KF Athena, Bill woke Xiao Eun and by his second attempt was successful enough that the pair showered, standing in their gender assigned and immediately disposable hotel provided rubber sandals, his a Levis blue and hers a generous pink. Slightly ahead of the local time, the Beijing politburo having enforced a national adherence to BJ standard time, leaving various region’s sleepy eyes and straggling to catch up, meant that breakfast was little more than a few tea boiled eggs and dough sticks dipped in soy milk for Bill, while Xiao Eun chose instead to stand out in the cold morning air and shiver and smoke. The taxi came to collect them as arranged and through the prison barred grid that separated the driver from his passengers Bill handed him the address and did his best in grammatically broken Chinese to explain where it was that they wanted to go. At his 6:20 in the a.m. the only people on the street were the small clusters of migrant workers dressed in the construction standard of dusty combats, with palamino hardhats dangling handcuffed to their belts. The crews stood in muted clusters, eating Jianbien pancakes with the steam forming beards around their chins. Bill watched as they were gathered up and rounded into Mianbao passenger vans, scooting them off into the potholed streets as the dawn light switched off the last few remaining streetlights. Xiao Eun slept against William’s shoulder, as he held onto and gripped with his other free hand the taxi’s door handle, as the wheels fell into another open space on the road.
Their vehicle departed the city via the same stone elephants that had guarded the bridge the previous night, then it turned from off the carriageway onto a small, single lane road. Xiao Eun turned herself further against Bill’s chest as the driver rolled down the window and lit a cigarette, the peppered smoke seeping back past through the car’s gated partition. They together took smaller after smaller roads until they reached a small village town, nothing more than landing strip of open storefronts, each one no bigger than a caravan. There was a fruit market and a densely packed convenience store with walls made up inside by rows of chilli-ed tofu strips and airtight packs of shelled peanuts. On the street outside there was a barber cutting men’s hair, the follicles listing to the ground, their slick black timber besmirched by the roan sand of the unpaved road. The starchy, fat tinted scent of beef and noodle broth floated down the strip from a small and grimly lit restaurant. The driver lifted himself from his vehicle and pointed down to the building’s white tilled interior and then told them he wouldn’t wait longer than one hour. He took payment for sticking around and then wandered off towards the noodle restaurant, while Xiao Eun cleaned away the sleep from her eyes and Bill walked over to the convenience store to find a woman asleep face down on the glass cigarette counter. He bought two bottles of water, then shared a cigarette with Xiao Eun, as the two begun to walk, following the map on her phone.
The front of the building was a wall of dust obscured mirrored panelling, across which was a fifteen-foot neon carp whose tail slipped eastward with a metronomic four-second shift of cobalt blue and orange. Inside, the first floor seemed to be deserted. A single desk kiosk had been set up by the entrance and across its dusty table top curtain were strewn a littered fan of assorted pamphlets advertising regulative herbal pills to better improve ones bronchial functioning. Xiao Eun strode across the hallway to underneath the faux-candelabra by the base of a staircase where she paused and then listened. Calling Bill over, the pair stood silently, and from the floors above them came the reverberations of what sounded, they both assumed, to be music of the old and traditional Chinese form, from a period that neither recognised, though Bill did internally confirm that it was being played on a (possibly quite beaten up and dilapidated) Casio keyboard. They walked upstairs and found the second floor to be a restaurant, its walls patterned with similar twisting fish, while at the end of the room through the empty tables that had been left used, stacked with plates and bowls and flecks of hardened rice, there stood a stage large enough for only a single person, and that by this stage there sat the keyboard player, his stool barely tall enough to allow him to reach the keys. Around the stage sat a handful of middle-aged men, all dressed in clothes of generic darkness. From their brown cotton jackets poked the distinctive red packets of cigarettes from which they smoked continuously from, lighting one from the butt end of the other, the plumes of smoke forming an arch around the stage, framing the slightly plump adolescent boy, who sat on the platform’s isolated chair in the centre of the space.
By the audience’s feet rested open glass jars of unfurling tea, the hot water to which was replenished by a small, gravity-sound waitress, who shuffled behind them with a steel kettle in her hand, and it was as she made another round that William and Xiao Eun advanced to the back of the crowd. One of the men turned to scan the new arrivals with an atonal, expressionless gaze, then called the name of the keyboard player, who put down his cigarette and then walked slowly over. He asked William if they wanted to listen, then when Bill said that they did, he lifted a large punch key calculator and showed them then number 300 hundred. Bill paid him and the keyboard player beckoned over for two chairs to be added to the semi-circle.
Returning to his instrument, the player took his place on the low standing stool and begun to play an electronically discordant intro to what neither Bill nor Xiao Eun would recognise as the Ballard of Laoning River. Had Bill known the song, he might then have been able to read later on his phone, how the narrator in the tale began by informing his audience how he had had the bittersweet fortune to have met his soul mate, and how throughout their childhood, the pair would leave their village’s guard to share stolen words with one another underneath the Cypress tress by the river’s deltoid side, leaving notes of adolescent writing, stored secretly underneath small temples made of stones by the roots. By the second verse, the narrator’s tone changed, as he exposits that he came to know how is lover was soon to be married to a more suitable candidate, her parents having accepted a suitor. At first, the young man throws himself into all-consuming, internally apocalyptic fits of despair and impetuous thoughts of suicide. He sees the gushing river before him and considers tumbling in, his boots dragging him under, a quick drowning, his lungs chocked by the furious current, the torrent silently accepting him. But eventually, after the water has aged the skin on his feet by forty years, he turns away and comes to embrace his newfound isolation that now must forever on penetrate each thought and every word. And so in building a wall of silence around him, he set to gathering wheat in the fields alongside his father.
It was there that the narrator lowered and tampered his voice with greater pauses and halting impediments than before, for as he explained, when the boy returned to the fields, the river began to slink back away from the sluice ways and cannels dug by the villagers, the soil in the fields quickly drying, becoming arid and chocked with sandy dust. One of the villagers who was summoned by the village to investigate the river’s sudden departure, came across the township of small mountains built from smoothed pebbles by the bank’s Cyprus grove and so carried it back to the boy, whom alongside his father sat at the table in their home, surrounded by and picking through the slender stems of greenish wheat, unnourished and ill-grown. The boy explained the note, but assured the village amateur detective that there was nothing he could do, that he had promised himself never to feel anything again, so as to allow the girl to live without the burden of his sorrow surrounding her dreams at night. Yet despite his ardent protesting, the villager insisted that there was indeed a special bond between the boy and girl, that wove its way between them via the turnings of the river, and while the pair might never be able to live together, he might still be able to stop the crops from failing, and the ensuing famine that may could follow. So the boy went out, walking alone to the dry and empty riverbank, whereon he sat underneath the Cyprus trees and waited. But he could not reopen that which he had so forcibly shut and so eventually as night begun to fall around him, he returned home, the river still as barren as before.
The following morning he was ruddily awoken by the arms of his father, that dragged him down to the riverbank, where other villagers stood around, their basins in their hands, as the water followed as full and virulent as before, the waves tearing at the edges, the sound of its momentum as fresh dew against the sky. The amateur detective was amidst the exposition of the previous day’s events, currently at the point of telling the teeming crowd of how the boy had returned and thus seemingly had saved them. Many thanked him profoundly, for the fortitude that he had shown, and so patting him on the back, returned to try and rekindle life back into their fields. The boy bowed and gave small, apologetic smiles, and then returned himself, though slightly separate from the rest of the now singing throng. And here, the song slowed down further still, now each note almost ceasing as the song held itself together with the faintest twine. The singer’s voice became fragile, struggling to breach the air. When the song’s coda finally began, the narrator, near exhausted, told of how of course, the boy, unable to tell a soul, had felt nothing at all. He had returned and sat by the cypress against the bank of the lifeless riverbed and had not mustered a single thought, had felt not a word. He had returned to the village in darkness, just as blank and hollowed as before, yet now whenever a fellow villager was to pass by and greet him, or when he came to sit down alongside his family to a meal of Baozi ground freshly from the wheat of their fields, he was reminded not of the girl, and not of the absence from his world, but his newfound absence from the world, and deep inside, from himself.
The song’s composition began to find its way to a close, as the keyboard player’s last cartoonishly synthetic note came to an end, the young singer on stage began to slowly utter a sound as plaintive and elastic as time might be conceived. And as he sung, his eyes closed with life flickering behind the lids, as his hands reached out, like an architect of sound, each finger diagraming auditory fixtures that formed structures invisible and fleeting.
As the young boy sung, the men of the audience held themselves as closely still as their breathing would allow. They smoked no more cigarettes; their gazes seemed to follow the boy’s composing. As the singer came to the second verse, he opened his eyes and his expression grew macabre and haunted. His distraught sight darted perpendicularly across the room as his voice continued singing in its fragile falsetto pitch. He seemed to experience terror, bereft at the turn of every line, the lasting lingering halt of every note, as if unwilling to let it fall out into the ether, his hands now leaning, clawing forward as if trying to pull every note, the resonance of the song back into the silence that he now left within him. As his singing increased in its intensity, the men in the audience all leaned forward, in inches away from falling, as dull gathered guttural moans began to breathlessly depart from their gaping jaws, the ambience of regret filling the restaurant’s halls. As he realised this, Bill turned towards Xiao Eun, who he found equally transfixed and mesmerised, held now in a semi-levitating state, balancing from off her chair, her hands white-knuckled as they held murderously onto the bending plastic of its base. Bill watched as Xiao Eun peered forward, as along with the other men, tears began to pool within the eclipses of her eyes, and so reaching over to comfort her, he found her body to be deathly cold, the hairs on her arm blistered with windswept waves of evaporating static.
The song moved on towards its climax, as the young protagonist began his departure away from the crowd of jubilant villagers, as then the singer’s face froze as if locked into a paralytic grip. His hands hovered almost motionlessly in the air, like a puppet stung out upon a hook, his eyes widening beyond all conceivable proportion, as voiceless breath extinguished itself from the depths of his lungs. As finally he found the final notes to the end of the song, each note seemed to shiver, like the scales of small silver fish caught by the moonlight, only to slip back into the darkness and be disappear in all but an instant.
And with that, the song was over. The men returned to their smoking, and letting out an exhausted and bemoaned sigh, Xiao Eun joined them in lighting up her own, and began wiping clear her eyes. The boy singer remained on his stage, his eyes once again closed and his body visibly shaken. William stood and asked if they could speak to him. What followed was an explanation that Bill and Eun would piece together from what they believed the pianist told them. He would later come to understand while writing his essay, alone with the cold light of his laptop, that even all of what he taken from him was probably falsely heard, or untrue, or lost in someplace between the telling. The boy was, Bill had heard, of ten years old at the time of the accident. That he had been resting on his mother’s lap when the bus had been struck sideways by a truck containing indeterminate refuge. That the peopled vehicle had been totalled, with sixteen dead pretty much instantaneously, or within minutes, struggling for breath once dragged on their backs to the side of the road, away from the burning vehicle. Those that had survived, who came away with a litany of various physical and psychological afflictions, many never fully to recover to regain the person that they had once identified as before, had struggled to a nearby town not awaiting the slow arrival of the ambulance services, the cost of which most of them could not afford. The boy’s mother, it had seemed, had passed away at some undisclosed point along this journey, the boy having been forced to leave her body in the road for others to attempt to move. And yet so while he had survived, he appeared to be left with some more than a little serious, major duty damage to the cerebral zone that had all but cut the cord on his communicative building blocks re his short-term memory. That is to say, that the boy all but stopped constructing new naive experiences and so sank into the endless, unaware state of existence, wherein he met every new experience for the first time, emotionally naked and unprepared again and again, for the rest of his foreseeable life.
While initially considered a complicated burden by his newly adoptive uncle, the grey bristled man came to repeatedly find his new charge in strange and unexplained surges of chronically heightened anxiety that almost always blossomed into full fledged fits of terror, locked as the boy was in the death gripped jags of hysteria. Though once coming back to what was arguably himself, the boy was unable to explain himself, as to why he was to be found so frequently and unexplainably catatonic with sorrow. Yet as these jags continued, the observant uncle began to notice a certain alignment between the boy’s inhuman wailing and the playing of certain songs on the old man’s palm-sized portable radio that he ubiquitously left playing. Making a note for every song that sparked reaction, he quickly had composed a comprehensive list of fairly antiquated pieces that all smacked of a certain nostalgic mistiness. He was, after scouring that his mother had sung to both his very own self and indeed his younger sister, and so given all of that filial affection and the like, wasn’t too pushed to realise that she had most likely imprinted the same onto her own personal nursing infant son.
In answer to William’s lasting question, as to why these songs seemed still to so take over the boy, and as to how and why the ethereally intoxicating aura that seemed as to have seeped out over all of the audience (except Bill himself) transporting them to a shared and wholly distant space to exist in, if only momentary, there alongside the boy and his overflow of spontaneous emotion, from whence the boy had developed his own linguistic wherewithal to formulate his confusion and compassion into song, the very best and only answer that the keyboard player could postulate, was that these songs had been so far ingrained, carrying with them a whole lot of emotional weight, and so while they remained lodged within a damaged and yet accessible region of his mind (here Bill inserted cerebral cortex) and so while he was able to recall and sing them, he did so without any memory of the song, hearing them for the very first time, as the words departed from his lips, the notes brought on as if from some unstoppable gust of orally fused psychological resource. Each time that the boy would sing, the pure, unadulterated hurt, that loss and shock both captured within the lyrics of the song, in their cadence, litotes and tone, and of his own personal witness to horror came upon with all the sledgehammer sincerity and unguarded attack that shattered him upon emotional impact. And it was this, that came to affect, first the uncle and then the keyboard player had noted, those that sat near with him during these moments, when lost and away within himself.
How does it feel? Bill had asked the pianist, hoping that he might in turn ask the boy, but whom instead had answered.
Outside the taxi driver was already waiting with the seats pushed back to recline, with his de-shoed feet up on the dashboard, his head back and asleep. Once more in the KF Athena, Xiao Eun privately washed small items of clothing in the bathroom sink with the door almost closed, while Bill lay prone on the bed with the television playing ESPN with the sound turned all the way down to mute, the colour from the screen kaleidoscopically flickering about the room. He must have fallen asleep, for when he awoke to the sound of Xiao Eun re-entering the room, the sharp click of the keyboard jarringly removing him from sleep, there lay outside the shy glow of streetlights through the mist, as a low, dark haze begun to cloud over the city.
Are you hungry?
What do you want?
Meat. Something good.
Ok. Something good.