Excerpt of Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann
(Page 4 of 8)
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“Are you an art collector?” I ask in English.
“Art dealer.” She smiles mischievously. “Collecting is for
wealthier people than I.”
Her English is excellent.
“She has Shanghai gallery,” Sloppy adds.
“Wow, cool,” I say. “Hey, I’d better go. If you see Lao Zhang,
can you tell him I’m looking for him? My phone’s dead.”
Lucy Wu sits up a little straighter, then reclines in a perfect,
posed angle. “Lao Zhang? Is that Zhang Jianli?”
Sloppy nods. “Right.”
Lucy smiles at me, revealing tiny white teeth as perfect as a
doll’s. “Jianli and I are old friends.”
“Really?” I say.
“Yes.” She looks me up and down, and I can feel myself
blushing, because I know how I must look. “It’s been a while
since we’ve seen each other. I was hoping to catch up with him
while I’m here. I’ve heard wonderful things about his recent
work. You know, Jianli hasn’t gotten nearly enough recognition
as an artist.”
“Maybe that’s not so important to Lao Zhang,” Sloppy
Lucy giggles. “Impossible! All Chinese artists want fame.
Otherwise, how can they get rich?”
She reaches into her tiny beaded bag, pulls out a lacquer card
case, and hands me a card in polite fashion, holding it out with both
hands. “When you see him, perhaps you could give him this.”
What a bitch, I think. Then I tell myself that’s not fair. Just
because she’s tiny, pretty, and perfectly put together, it doesn’t
mean she’s a bitch.
It just means I hate her on principle.
I order some takeout and head to Lao Zhang’s place.
Lao Zhang’s probably working, I figure, walking down
Xingfu Lu, one of the two main streets in Mati Village. When
he gets into it, he paints for hours, all day, fueled by countless
espressos—he’s got his own machine. He forgets to eat sometimes,
and I’m kind of proud of myself for thinking of bringing
dinner, for doing something nice for him, like a normal person
would do. It’s been hard for me the last few years, remembering
to do stuff like that.
Maybe I’m finally getting better.
As I’m thinking this, I stumble on a pothole in the rutted
road. Pain shoots up my leg.
I can barely see, it’s so dark.
There aren’t exactly streetlights in Mati Village, only electric
lanterns here and there that swing in any good wind and only
work about half the time, strung up on storefronts and power
poles. Right now they dim and flicker. There’s problems with
electricity sometimes. Not so much in central Beijing or Shanghai,
but in those “little” cities you’ve never heard of, places with
a few million people out in the provinces somewhere. And in
villages like this, on the fringes of the grid.
But the little market on the corner of Lao Zhang’s alley is
decorated with tiny Christmas lights.
I buy a couple cold bottles of Yanjing beer (my favorite) and
Wahaha water (the label features this year’s perky winner of the
Mongolian Cow Yogurt Happy Girl contest) and turn down
Lao Zhang lives in one of the old commune buildings, red
brick, covered in some places with red wash, surrounded by
a red wall. The entrance to Lao Zhang’s compound has two
sculptures on either side, so there’s no mistaking it. One is a
giant fish painted in Day-Glo colors. The other is a big empty
Mao jacket. No Mao, just the jacket.
Inside the compound are four houses in a row. Sculptures and
art supplies litter the narrow courtyards in between. Lao Zhang
shares this place with the sculptor, a novelist who also paints,
and a musician/Web designer who’s mixing something now, a
trance track from the sound of it, all beats and erhu. Not too
loud. That’s good. Some loud noises really get to me.
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.