Lisa Lee relinquishes her knife and fork. "That was so good! You're everything King said you'd be." She smiles, greasy lips, a fleck of capon skin on her chin like a beauty mark. Her satisfied look pleases me to no end. I start to clear the table. The jug of white she brought is gone. Amazing we choked down so much cheap wine. "If you're a man," she says, "you'll uncap the other bottle." In the kitchen I set down the dishes, and as I open the red, the telephone rings.
"We're on Eighty-four, near Poughkeepsie," Bliss reports. They're at a rest area, making use of the facilities. "I'm going to skip the drinks with Ray. I've already worried you enough about him. I'm so, so sorry."
I watch as Lisa Lee stacks the dirty dishes. What remarkable size! An infinite capacity to consume and thereby to love. Her mastications were gestures of love. She catches me staring, holds a finger perpendicular to her lips, admonishing herself to keep quiet. She seems to know who it is I'm talking to, seems familiar and comfortable with situations of this sort. She steps free of her noisy shoes, and as I watch her move toward me, I wish I could just as easily step from my entanglement with Bliss. Pluck her from my life as cold-bloodedly as she would a bay leaf from a stew I've made, a tooth from someone's head.
"Don't change your plans because of me," I say. "You like Randazzo's. Have some drinks. I'll see you afterwards. I'm not going anywhere."
Lisa Lee takes the opened jug of red from my hands, fishes a glass from the sink, pours, and drinks. I watch her swallow, the little hitch in her throat; if only the hitch were the clasp of a zipper that ran down to her navel, which unzipped revealed Lisa Lee's Chinese self. I want this to happen for Bliss's sake: should she arrive while Lisa Lee is still here, I could simply pass her off as my cousin. Bliss would love her.
I check my watch. With or without drinks they can't possibly get here before I've served coffee and dessert and sent Lisa Lee on her way.
I get off the phone with Bliss. We leave things hanging. I'll take care of business on my end; I can't worry about what I can't control.
"Where does this go?" Lisa Lee holds the platter containing the remains of the capon.
"Let me take that. I'll pack you some leftovers to take home."
"What kind of man are you?" she says, welding hands to hips. "You're going to make me drive all that way, in my condition?"
Do I have a choice? True, the picture of her backing down the driveway is frightening enough, forget the two and a half hours on the interstate. The decent thing to do would be to tuck her safely into my bed for the night. But Bliss stands in the way of such a right and moral act. What Lisa Lee needs is sleep, to pass the hours of her overindulgence out of harm's way. A night's undisturbed digestion, then, upon waking, to eat and love again. Bliss will deny her, her well-deserved rest. So much more the pity, sleep the simple thing it is. It's a staggering thought, yet I know that before the night is through I will do Bliss's bidding. She will insist that Lisa Lee must go. And should Lisa Lee, heaven forbid, doze while she's behind the wheel and jump the center divider, a grand jury surely will charge Bliss, not me. Still, what comfort is that?
Reprinted from The Barbarians Are Coming by David Wong Louie by permission of G.P. Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by David Wong Louie. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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