I remembered how it looked from the top of the wall, the valley: pitch black aside from a smattering of fluorescent and neon. That day the air was good enough that there was no need for masks. We forked the beets, some kind of salad you made, from the tupperware straight into our mouths. You said that it was the first time you thought about her. I drew my coat around my shoulders. The stars were opalescent in the sky. When we woke, autumn had set in.
There are some moments that mark the starts of journeys. That evening, I saw you disappear into yourself, the way sunshine disappears into the haze, and the cars into fog, and the large irises of the swamp frogs under their third eyelids, the limpid greys swallowed by skin. You can never expect the run of clean air to last here. There are some days when one is gifted a blue, against which we are set like jewels. But the blue days pass, and then there is grey, and then there is only waiting, and wishing.
I have been trying for months to understand what the water was that ran beneath the city like blood, all chemical hard flow that left white rims on our dishes when they dried. But like the water, most of what the city ran on was colourless until it was gone. We only saw the traces: the still Liangma river in muggy summer, the empty parking lots that filled prime land and opened their broken faces to the air, the sides of highways, concrete and jagged, left exposed to the paint of vagabonds in deep night.
Those days, we crawled on the bones of the city. We were its ants. I remember the time we fell asleep in the taxi at the junction by your home, for almost an hour. Guo An was playing that evening. It must have been nearly winter; the coats were out. Even now I think of us sucking off the meat of Beijing, not knowing what we were eating, trying to stay alive. I, at least, stayed alive, but there was so much of you that is now gone.
Lay of the Land
I hear you and see you still. In 2014, I took a photograph of your hometown and you may have been there, in some distant building hidden behind the rocks and the trees. You shouldn't have been in the building. You should have been among the rocks and the trees. You should have been a rock. I was quartz, knocked against you the way the cold, and the hungry, and the lost men and women try to find fire.