Excerpt from The Barbarians Are Coming by David Wong Louie, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Barbarians Are Coming

by David Wong Louie

The Barbarians Are Coming
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2000, 384 pages
    Mar 2001, 384 pages

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I rinse the bird, salt its body cavity, and curse Fuchs. Before Fuchs, Lisa Lee was just a hungry student coming for a home-cooked meal; a stranger shows up uninvited at your door, you feed him. Or her. There's a right and a wrong, and I was prepared to do the right thing. In the end even Bliss wouldn't have objected to that. But talking to Fuchs has put me in a fix. Now my innocent little dinner, my mission of mercy, has transformed into a date. With a Chinese girl, of all things!

Bliss and I had been seeing each other on a regular basis for only a few months when she asked me to move with her to Iowa and set up house. I told her no, I had my job with the ladies. She then offered to defer the start of her second year of dental school and stay with me. Fearing the escalation in the level of our commitment to each other such a sacrifice would signify, I had to tell her no again. I was flattered, but was even more bewildered by her eagerness to alter her plans. In my eyes we were, at best, a fringe couple. Yes, we were going out. Sleeping together. I was happy to have her in my life. I was new in town, knocking myself out trying to impress my employers, and if I'd been living close to friends, in familiar surroundings, I might not have indulged the relationship as I did. We were pals, we hung out, we ate lots of food, we drank good wine, we had sex occasionally. But moving in together, in the Midwest? Was she kidding? That was far beyond where I was. The trouble then, as now, was that I never meant for things to get too serious. At the risk of sounding like a junior high schooler: I liked her but I didn't love her.

I towel off the capon, massage mustard onto its skin. It feels no different from any of the hundreds of chickens I've cooked, but I can't get used to touching this thing. Bliss would have no qualms; after all, she wants to drill teeth for a living. Nothing seems to bother her. When she wedged her way into my life, arriving unannounced like an angel with a pot of soup, I was sick, a vibrating mass of germs, but she laid on her hands and helped me undress and made my bed and massaged my back and sat nearby, singing French folk songs and Joni Mitchell. I couldn't sleep because of the singing but was too polite, indeed, too beholden, indeed, too afraid to ask her to cut short her concert--that was what it was, for she seemed to pause between songs for imaginary applause. The moment came when I dislodged my arm, which was pillowing my head, and swung it down to my hip, cutting wide arcs that I hoped would alert her to the fact I was still awake and miserable, bored, and ready for surrender.

On one of these sweeps she grabbed my hand--later she would argue I had offered it to her--and when my arm pendulumed up toward my head, she leapt out of her chair like a fish from the sea. Without the slightest break in her song she was lured into my bed--so goes her version of how we ended up making love that first time. As we lay naked between the sheets, chills from the fever stiffening my body, she held me to her enormous heat and asked if she might come again, another day, with more soup, and unsteadily, I said, "Yes."

I admit I was the one who had made first contact. Soon after I arrived in Richfield, I saw her name in our college alumni magazine and called her. We had been marginal friends at Swarthmore, both art history majors, but she was a couple of classes ahead of me, and we traveled in different social circles (her group was acid and orgies; mine was wine and one-night stands). After running hard with the "in crowd" her first four semesters, she turned serious as a junior, finding peace in the study of Gothic cathedrals. At the art history majors' costume party during her Senior Week, we spoke for the first time. She went as Notre Dame, a dishwasher box, with splendidly painted details of the original and posterboard flying buttresses hanging off at her sides like spider legs; her face was that of a gargoyle. Guys joked about coming to worship, going on a pilgrimage. I went as Warhol's Brillo box. Our costumes were huge hits but left us on the sidelines, victims of our own genius--what a drag trying to boogie with your body in a cardboard box.

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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