By Christina J. Chua (photos by Stephanie Burt)
This one is tight to walk between small, propped knees and splayed-out tulle. There are directions hushed into the corners, partitions to mind.
The girls look up at you.
I peer into the textbooks at the open, airy old paintings of pointed shoes, ribbons, French bronze.
Nothing like this pool murmuring in the dark, glancing down at painted fingernails — a hidden text message under a skirt. Neon bathes their backs a solid blue.
My own niece could have been among them.
I count the Chinese red. Silk flowers bob to the timed wait. Eyelashes bow in layers, the undergrowth.
A smaller hand pulls me down. Another grins, shines into my face. Cross-legged and scored onto knees, I feel the paper air. It streams in between cut-outs and square letters.
I remember photos of my niece and flip my screen, to show you.
You whisper to me that the costume designer has left extra lace for your material in a red plastic bag.
The balcony stirs me black into the forest night. Blue squares cascade to the next reach, placing notches onto your stern face.
I look up, a safety light blinds in the upper reaches.
Let’s go, you say. The work is in the studio and it has nothing to do with anything else.
The line is clear and ahead of shadows.
Nothing to do.
Your boyfriend needs a smoke in the alley. Its yellow walls seep ash lines after so much rain. No second-hand touches me now.
My eyes lose focus, crossed at lime green lines. Graffiti has redacted a recording. A tarpaulin hides the chest, wraps it heavy.
There are grills, slats, other passages for air. But within them, I am drawn to a peeling blue.
Could it open to another place, a wood between us to another room, an older world?
We prepare for a prim interview, this time tipped with bows and heels. I feel uneasy winging my eyelids in the perfumed mirror.
The slick court weighs light out to the ceiling in even arches. My chest rises, remembering the cement floors of another island —
There, in the distance.
Gulls visit the round windows where the shutters are wider. I can almost hear the beat of their wings against the panes.
I fold my fingers over orchids, around a lamp post.
The screen shuts to black.
The menu could offer another read, a distraction in embossed lettering. A candle dries on a starched napkin.
There is a cliff over the lip of every silver stand. I follow the edges, the lines, slowly. Condensation slides through.
Hold the milk. The liquid sets, still. My roll is set on its side. Sweetness cools over my tongue.
I watch the lips.
There are words that pass between you and the interviewer.
When the waiter moves away, I feel his glance at my back.
Is it Day-Glo paint? I try to normalise the alien fiction according to surfaces I know.
The manager brings around green towels to soak up foam at the edges.
Pulling aside, I slide into the warm water. Soap rinds and barley sink to the deeper end.
The seven changes our shape — it’s a veritable leap for you.
I steady the lens. Its square resumes a hyper-resolution.
When you come to, a raw bone hangs from wire between us. The vitrine stuns, encloses the shells — air tight. Glazes sit in a plastic bottle, untouched.
Which gallery? I ask, counting the tell-tale neon posts.
No — a restaurant. Look, as the glow drains the reflection — utensils, sauce containers.
What floor are we at? I meet my own surprise, disoriented, as you are.
The device glows, swaps so much quicker than our type.
The mirrors clutter, and descend from the synthetic purple before. I feign a count, amusing our guide.
Amidst the thousand, scintillating points, there is a single sound that reverberates. Each tip skids and leaps a ping.
I follow it downwards.
Breakage is impending.
Then, at the very southernmost teardrop, a gasp is heaved. A ship horns farewell, its low moan, guttural shores leaving.
In my ears, all glass shatters.
The couple waves at our direction.
I look forward.
The reflections still sway from right to left in all the particles that remain. But the circle is still clear, in the very centre.
In every line, I see a cross. I remember the words of a confusing night, alone in a bathroom, with the lights on. There are vacant stalls here also, along the levelled shelves.
You repeat my name.
Again, I falter. I am aware I had lapsed.
You redraw the circle.