Called Again to Adventure

  “For a policeman, you know your area poorly,” she says.
   The roads have coalesced. We’re back here. I’d thought we might be able to keep walking. I sigh. I’ve been through this part of town more times than I remember. Seen every doorway. Stared up at every window. Not often been inside. The job doesn’t need me to do that too often. This is probably the best time of year. There are so few people here. Staying here was something of a mistake, though.
  “We haven’t had that discussion yet,” she says.
  “We’re not having it now?”
  “That too.”
   She’s out of place in this place. In this grubby intersection at the top of the little rise through the village, she seems shorter than I remember, dressed in black standing in the compounded oil and grit of a space where cars jostle market carts and pretty much no one cleans up anything. At least we’re alone.
  “Sergeant?”
  “Hell no,” I says, looking up. “Hell. No.” That halfwit, that bastard who blights my days and wanders half-dressed around my nights. Wilbur? Some such name. A vagrant in an army greatcoat.
  “Would you know?” she says.
  “Would I know what?” I say. That dumb fuck is out on a roof.
   I grabs up me banger and that was to be that but you know when you stabs someone and they turn around trying to keep it to themselves?
  “We don’t even know each other,” I say. Why am I signing off on her? “I’m old. We just met.”
  “Sergeant?”
  “Is there something wrong with him, do you think?” Wilbur is hardly ever this plaintive. For a man with little by way of a place to live or money to call his own, he has been a smug thorn in my side for… as long as I can remember.
   She says she’ll see me later.
   Wilbur’s coat slips away from his sides in the wind, flaps like wings. He bounces on the road.

Master of The Two Worlds

   I’m old enough to be her father. In the lunge, our teeth clash. If there were soft and rosy lips gently upturned, presently they are engaged in curses. I do too. “Sorry,” I say.
   She holds her arms out. “Again,” she says.
  “Minute,” I say, hand up. I rub my gums. Remember my traffic cop days, one stop-hand in the air, the other vigorously waving. “Got some blood.”
  “God, it doesn’t matter,” she says.
  “Might,” I say, and for once I’m not extemporizing. While we’d stood there the day had closed down around us. The white grey of the sky had become the gauzy haze of a mist, and we might have been nowhere if we weren’t still standing in mud. And figures were moving ahead of us.
  “Are they in the water?” I say.
   And behind.
  “Move!” she says.
   I’m not too worried. We’ve been here before. So meanwhile, I smile. Which is absurd. That was no kind of kiss really. I smile anyway.

The Crossing the Return Threshold

  “Tell you a story,” she says. “This place here, it used to be good. That river?”
   She points. I’m looking anyway. You can see how it was once much wider. This viewing platform is high and dry and the water should have been lapping close to our feet. The sluggish brown mess out there now, I’d throw my arm out getting a stone anywhere near.
  “We’re not northern,” she says, like ticking off a list. “But in winter there was snow. I used to be called Xiao Huo.”
  “You changed your name?”
  “No.”
   She has a point though about how everything’s fucked up now. Back across the road there’s a whole—I don’t know what you’d call them, a flock of buildings? Stacked alongside one another like lumber, and starkly unfinished. From the outside they form a wall of black squares – unfilled windows. Inside they’re a rectangular maze of unpaved alleys and cave-like foundations left open. No one lives there. Fuck knows why we’re here now.
  “Do you know why we’re here?” she says.
   It’s got something to do with kisses, I say.

Supernatural Aid

   I sees her again. I surely was not expecting that. This town, this time of year, this plague we all find ourselves laboring under? Nope, was not expecting that. I sits at this restaurant, see? And I goes to have my meal. Bangers underfoot, dogs running around, whole placed messed up, but none of that’s new, and no one else is open, rainy day like today.
   Neither big nor fancy, a lot deeper than it is wide, got tables on either side and nothing down the middle. Magazine posters on the wall. Place stinks of baijiu, but that can’t be helped either. Got a table of locals bumping each other back there getting bleary. Fuck em, I just sit.
  “Please,” says a boy, gesturing at the tabletop. One beat too slow that kid.
  “Yeah, okay,” says me. “Oh, super.”
   Fellow has followed me in. Grinning fool. Wrapped in a filthy coat. He slides into a chair by the door and hangs off the back of it to watch.
   I make like I’m looking at the laminated menu. I order anyway. Minute later the smallest woman in the world arrives beside me. She hoists a greasy jug onto the table. It has to sit awkwardly beside me because I have to wait on the cups. The kid extracts some clear plastic jobbies from a long cellophane bag and gives me his thumb.
  “Thanks,” I say. And they bug out.
   So I have lots of eyes on me in that little place.
   Guy at the back table bellows. Woman, clad in black, passing the windows. She comes back. And that’s her again. Grinning fool watches her come in too.
   Is it her, though. This wan-faced chick doesn’t have that same life. Bronzed hair. Vacant. She steps by.
  “Beauty girl,” says the grinning man.
   Definitively out of place. Gold hair, flat and lank. Quilted polyester jacket, shiny neon pink, cinched at the waist. About her hips she has some plastic decoration that flares. The grinning man points at me and guffaws.
   She walked straight past.