Excerpt of Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann
(Page 1 of 8)
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I’m living in this dump in Haidian Qu, close to
Wudaokou, on the twenty-first floor of a decaying high-rise.
The grounds are bare; the trees have died; the rubber tiles on
the walkways, in their garish pink and yellow, are cracked and
curling. The lights have been out in the lobby since I moved in;
they never finished the interior walls in the foyers outside the
elevator, and the windows are boarded up, so every time I step
outside the apartment door I’m in a weird twilight world of bare
cement and blue fluorescent light.
The worst thing about the foyer is that I might run into Mrs.
Hua, who lives next door with her fat spoiled-brat kid. She hates
that I’m crashing here, thinks I’m some slutty American who is
corrupting China’s morals. She’s always muttering under her
breath, threatening to report me to the Public Security Bureau
for all kinds of made-up shit. It’s not like I ever did anything
to her, and it’s not like I’m doing anything wrong, but the last
thing I need is the PSB on my ass.
I’ve got enough problems.
Outside, the afternoon sun filters through a yellow haze. My
leg hurts, but I should walk, I tell myself. Get some PT in. The
deal I make with myself is, if it gets too bad, I’ll take a Percocet;
but I only have about a dozen left, so it has to be really bad
before I can take one. Today the pain is just a dull throb, like a
toothache in my thigh.
I pass the gas tanks off Chengfu Road, these four-story-high
giant globes, and I think: one of these days, some guy will get
pissed off at his girlfriend, light a couple sticks of dynamite
underneath them (since they don’t have many guns here, the truly
pissed-off tend to vent with explosives and rat poison), a few city
blocks and a couple thousand people will get incinerated, and
everyone will shrug—oh, well, too bad, but this is China, and shit
happens. Department store roofs collapse; chemicals poison rivers;
miners suffocate in illegal mines. I walk down this one block
nearly every day on my way to work, and there are five sex businesses
practically next door to each other, “teahouses” and “foot
massage parlors,” with girls from the countryside sitting on pink
leatherette couches, waiting for some horny migrant worker to
come in with enough renminbi to fuck his brains out for a while
and forget about the shack he’s living in and the family he’s left
behind and the shitty wages he’s earning. Hey, why not?
I still like it here, overall.
I’m just in this bad mood lately.
So I call Lao Zhang. That’s what I do these days when I’m
feeling sorry for myself.
“Wei?” Lao Zhang has a growly voice, like he’s talking himself
out of a grunt half the time.
“It’s me. Yili.”
That’s my Chinese name, Yili. It means “progressive ideas” or
something. Mainly it sounds kind of like Ellie.
“Yili, ni hao.”
He sounds distracted, which isn’t like him. He’s probably
working; he almost always is. He’s been painting a lot lately. Before
that, he mostly did performance pieces, stuff like stripping
naked and painting himself red on top of the Drum Tower or
steering a reed boat down the Yangtze with a life-size statue of
Karl Marx in the prow.
But usually when I call, he sounds like he’s glad to hear my
voice, no matter what he’s doing. Which is one of the reasons I
call him when I’m having a bad day.
“Okay, I guess,” I answer. “I’m not working. Thought I’d see
what you were up to.”
Excerpted from Rock Paper Tiger
by Lisa Brackmann. Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Brackmann.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.