Fireworks in Tianjin

I moved back to England, my wife stayed in Tianjin, China. She wanted to stay with the dog. The dog had been found by a sluice canal behind our home. We had heard it cry and gone looking for it. We took it home, bandaged its leg and gave it food and water. Though it still walked funny we loved it and named it Colin, a reference to a TV show that only one of us understood. Now the dog was in China with my wife who was not speaking to me. I had rented a room that was arguably too small that did not realistically match my age.

After being back for two weeks and not talking to anyone, Beckett came over. I said that he’d missed me and we went and bought goat meat from a Halal butcher in the community market then took it to cook at his place because my room doesn’t have a kitchen and very soon would fill up with smoke. Beckett cooked the goat with cumin seeds and tomato and filled two bowls with instant rice and cooked goat meat.

“I’m having trouble eating things,”

“I wish you’d told me that,” Beckett said, staring at his own bowl of cooked goat.

“It’s just a constant feeling of nauseousness, that seems to be increasing,”

“It doesn’t matter.” Beckett said, and asked why I had called.

I managed to get a job working with children in care. I work from 5 pm till 7 the next morning, then the next day I don’t work at all. Mostly I just have to calm them back to sleep when they wake up screaming. If one of the kids sleeps through three consecutive nights without waking up and screaming, then we give them a sticker of a happy looking elephant. The elephant is wearing denim overalls with suspenders that make him look like Huckleberry Finn. The kids can do whatever they like with the stickers. Some of them chose not to peel them off for days. Most of the stickers end up on the front covers of the ex-library books that we’re donated. Some of the kids put stickers directly onto their clothes and then when the clothes get washed the kids are sad since the stickers are gone. I once tried to fish one of the stickers out of the washing machine but it had already been destroyed. It turned into pulp and fell apart in my hands. I told the kid that I was sorry and he asked if the elephant was dead.

The problem with the video footage that was taken from people’s phones was that it looked like a concert video, a celebrity sighting. I felt distracted by the reflections on the glass too, but maybe that’s just because I wanted to be.

There are currently three kids living in the residency. Their names are Simon, Bethany and Karl. I have secretly named them Grass, Turntable and Tape. I will never tell them these names nor use them in public. I have given them these because those are the things that they remind me of. To explain why would take too long and then afterwards you would not think that I am a good person, which I might not be.

Tape almost received a happy elephant sticker this morning, until Turntable told me that he and Grass had secretly left their beds during the night and eaten the staff’s peanut butter from the fridge and that’s why there were now ants infesting the kitchen. There is, of course, no sticker that we give to children when they get up during the night to steal peanut butter. If a resident breaks the rules we just keep a record in the night journal, indexing it with X. Since I cannot use a red pen anymore I write the word red next to the X. If someone fired me for this, I would thank them for it and feel momentarily free from something terrible.

“You’re going to use me as practice, to work through your own shit, aren’t you?”

Our favourite destination in Tianjin was near to where we lived and was called Italian Town. Italian Town was a block of fake cobbled streets lined with restaurants that served German beer in 1L barrels and shops that sold Chinese looking souvenirs. There was a fountain in the centre of Italian Town and my wife and I took a photograph on her phone. In the photo we’re kissing underneath the falling water. Its cliché but beautiful and was the most important photograph that we ever managed to take. When I look at it now I feel like not speaking to anyone for days.
Andries2

It was suggested to me that I get a new dog, since I had been here a year and have not really made any significant connections. I visited a breeder, who gave me green tea and told me to come and meet the dogs. All of the dogs were corgis, so I asked if the breeder if she only bred corgis and she said that she didn’t understand why I’d asked the question. I bent down next to one of the dogs to introduce myself and it looked back at me, emitting a very clear message.

“You’re going to use me as practice, to work through your own shit, aren’t you?” The dog said.

“No. Probably.”

“Do’t use me for practice please,” The dog said and so I left it and told the breeder that the tea had made me feel nauseous, which was technically true.

The closed circuit security camera footage of the guard being blown away the glass doors is too brief to be properly understood. It lasts only four seconds long and so makes people think of animated stickers or gifs and so appears as something to be played on an endless loop until the movement behind what it is that you’re watching becomes distanced and abstracted so far out of context that it is then a singularly involved thing. It says nothing about the man whose death the camera recorded, or anything about what it felt like to be close at that point. It says nothing about the heat, the rising fire.

I tell her on the last day we spend together is the same thing I tell everyone who askes. I say that my wife and I crawled down the stairwell on our chests, after the blast. That there was smoke like earth that was burying us.

I go shopping for the week and instead of buying the chicken that I had promised my therapist I would buy I went to a specialist butcher and asked if they killed birds on site. When he told me that they did it nearby I asked if I could watch it happen. The man behind the counter said that no I couldn’t be there, but promised me that the creature died humanely and with only a little pain and I told him that I didn’t care. I left without buying anything to eat and when the following day my therapist asked if I had bought and eaten the chicken I lied and said that I had forgot. I said that if she asked me to do anything like that again I would stop coming and all but disappear. She agreed that she wouldn’t. Then I stop going anyway.

What I tell her on the last day we spend together is the same thing I tell everyone who askes. I say that my wife and I crawled down the stairwell on our chests, after the blast. That there was smoke like earth that was burying us. It made sure that we couldn’t stand. Many other people died in our building say, which is probably true, but at the time I didn’t care. I didn’t want my wife to die, so we crawled on our chests until we got outside, then we lay in the bushes and both of us cried. The floor outside was sprinkled with glass, as an army of alarms signalled to one another. The whole city sounded like a giant, screaming child. I don’t tell her that the dog managed to escape and that we don’t know how, because if I tell her this, she will fixate on this detail as somehow miraculous and try to ignore hundreds of people who died around us. If I mention the dog, people look for a way out of the story, so I don’t anymore.

When people reply by saying that you could see the explosion from space, I ask them who cares. That an astronaut could have looked down and seen what was happening to us, doesn’t matter to me at all. I tell them that all the astronauts in the world can go fuck themselves and then I usually leave the conversation and don’t come back.

I have become remarkable purely because of the fact that I am not dead, when most people believe that I should be.

My wife now agrees to Skype with me once a week. I don’t tell her that she is remarkable because I want her life to be defined by better things. She tells me that she has renamed the dog and given it a Chinese name that I cannot pronounce. I ask what it is, and this is only the second most pointless question that I have heard in the last two days. She tells me the dogs new name and I say that I like it, then we end the conversation by waving and saying goodnight.

 

Featured artist: Yuri Andries https://www.booooooom.com/2017/02/06/in-memory-of-a-monolith-by-photographer-yuri-andries/

Author: jameskramerblog

James Kramer is a fiction writer currently based in Beijing. His writing has appeared in Your Impossible Voice, as well as various Poetry anthologies. He currently writes a monthly-ish column for LeftLion magazine on China.

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