The Jade Palace
“Stop,” I say.
“I’m trying to read the menu.”
“You lost because stopping is exactly what a car would need to do to avoid an accident.”
“You should have said ‘mai tai.”
“Are you guys ready to order?”
I set the paper menu on the table and look up at the waitress. She’s American and I’m dumbly surprised.
“Just a bowl of hot and sour soup, please.”
She looks to Tam and Kim.
“Oh, a mai tai, please,” Kim says, and hands her ID over.
“I’m okay,” Tam says.
I watch Kim watch the waitress’s ass as she walks to the kitchen.
Kim sets her hand on mine, still clutching the paper menu. I hope I feel cold. Like ice. I want to be ice. Polar bear.
The game is called Tommy Sticks. I don’t know where it came from, but I blame Tam. It’s a very Tam-like game. It is very easy to play. Someone says a word, anything. Now, your turn; say another phrase. Anything, almost: the word must have absolutely no relation to the previous word.
Chopsticks. Telephone. Goldfish. Ted Bundy. Polar bear.
The waitress comes back and sets the mai tai in front of Kim. Tam plucks the umbrella from the glass and spins it between their fingers.
“So, is this a beach?” Kim asks.
“But there’s an ocean.”
“But it isn’t a beach.”
“Then what is it?”
“Most of the coast is just rock. Big, huge chunks of granite.”
“I swear I’ve been to a beach here.”
“There are beaches. This isn’t one of them, though. It’s just rocks.”
I fish cubes of tofu from my soup. It's warm and sweet. Polar bear. Rocks.
I have a bag of rocks in my purse. That’s what I’m saying, for now.
“Lo, have some.” Kim angles her straw at my face. “It’s yummy.”
She’s right. It’s smooth and fruity.
I finish my soup and leave cash. On my way out of the Chinese restaurant, a woman taps my shoulder. I let Tam and Kim walk to the car and I turn to her. She is what I can only assume to be Chinese, blue-black hair pulled in a tight bun. Candy-bright makeup. She grins at me, and all of her teeth are fangs. I fall into the black maw of her mouth, my naked skin catching every point until I land at the bottom of her, a great cavern of jade. I bleed onto the stone, the jade undulating with her heartbeat, flecks of rocks raining on my skin from somewhere endlessly above me.
It looks like a forgotten bridge. A half-made dam. A mistake. On its end, a lighthouse sits like a punchline.
“I’m not walking on that,” Tam says.
“Yes, you are,” Kim says.
It’s a long walk. I’ve made it many, many times. Neither Tam nor Kim have ever seen a lighthouse. Neither Tam nor Kim are allowed to see my bag of rocks. That’s what I’m saying, for now.
I park as close as possible, which is very close because it is the off season. We are alone. I wrap a scarf around my head because it’s windy, and on the long, man-made granite rock path to the lighthouse in the middle of the bay, the wind whips harder with every step. I told Tam and Kim to bring layers, but they didn’t because they are from out of state.
It’s fun at first, of course. Kim is tipsy, Tam is Tam, both of them hopping from rock to rock, each rock the size of a truck bed. Careful. The gaps between them are deep, cold, and wide. The sea sloshes between us and on each side. Infinity in one direction. The disappointment of land in the other.
“Thanks for coming with me,” I say, ten minutes later. We’re halfway to the lighthouse. They’ve stopped skipping, resorted to pulling their jackets as close to their skin as possible. “I’m sorry it’s so cold.”
Cold. Rocks. Polar bear. Lazarus.
Kim walks closer to me, leaning in, the kind of person who talks with her body, who says I love you, I love you, I love you with a wink or a push. I want to show her my rocks, but I can’t yet.
Eventually, we make it to the end.
Of course, the lighthouse is closed.
We climb the stairs up to an attached lookout, but it's even colder up top. We take situationally required photographs. Tam with the selfies. I walk back down to the base. Some time later, Kim finds me watching the white of the waves build and disappear and build again against the rocks.
“It’s so cold, Lo,” she says, resting her head on my shoulder.
“We can go.”
“No. I like it. I’m glad you brought us. Plus…”
She nudges my purse, sitting between us, with her knee. Co-dependency. Snowman. Polar bear.
I stand up because it is the only thing left to do. Kim waves Tam over to us. We are an ugly congregation, and we are cold. There is no music to this moment; there is only the shuffling of my stiff hands in my purse. They are not rocks. They are my mother’s bones. There is only one thing left to do, so I do it. The choppy waves swallow the fragments quicker than I can pour them. I thought they might float, a cosmic joke, or get taken by the wind. But she just sinks, piece by piece, into the awful, cold water. I put the plastic bag back into my purse, because I am conscientious.
From the bottom of something endless, I hear the bones tinkle against a blood-flecked jade expanse, every now and then hitting something soft and broken.
Love Kall is a queer speculative fiction writer and poet working in the Western Foothills region of Maine.