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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

Plan B
• Oswaldo Jimenez
The director of marketing had called an impromptu gathering of all sales managers to decide how to implement their proposal to the new client company that happened to be a member of the fortune 500.

chinatown

The pressure was on Arthur Kimball, who had been delegated the task of assembling a focus group to come up with the best approach to implement their proposed plan to the client. The idea, the director had said to Arthur Kimball, was to get a variety of opinions from the best staffers, to arrive at a fresh perspective on the situation.

The meeting with the sales managers had gone on for nearly two hours before being adjourned. All the members of the sales team had been forthcoming with ideas, pluses, minuses, and possible solutions to the client’s problems; including some very original proposals from the younger members of the focus groups; particularly from Audrey Wallace, a young sales manager fairly new to the department.

Audrey Wallace had been unusually vocal about her ideas, something the director had noticed, and had made a point of telling Arthur Kimball about the potential of the junior member of his team. Arthur Kimball, in turn, had taken the opportunity to bring this up to Audrey Wallace, just before everyone had cleared the conference room where they had been assembled.

Arthur Kimball was not Audrey’s type. She knew it. He was half her height, and twice her age. However, the few times they had engaged in conversation, Audrey hadn’t felt ogled as she often had when talking to the other male members of the sales team. Arthur’s eyes, she'd noticed, always stayed focused on hers, and his demeanor made it clear that he expected her sincere opinion on all matters they discussed. Audrey Wallace was attracted to Arthur Kimball’s forthrightness and sincerity; and she admitted to herself that she appreciated his support, and that she secretly liked his handsome face. Audrey Wallace and Arthur Kimball had always maintained a professional relationship; exchanging words during staff meetings, but never straying to the personal level. Arthur and Audrey had exchanged thin glances from each other’s cubicles, but Audrey and Arthur’s glances had been nothing more than pensive reflections devoid of any meaning.

Arthur Kimball was handsome for his age. His best feature, nevertheless, remained his personality. Audrey Wallace, on the other hand, was rather plain looking. Her looks could not be appreciated at first glance, they were the kind that grew in intensity until they beguiled the beholder. Her best feature was her legs; thick and strong, and long as they come. She was not shy to show them off. Usually, by wearing shoes that accentuated her calf muscles, and above-the-knee skirts that teasingly revealed a portion of her thighs. Her hair was longish, not long, it had the hue of morning sunlight reflected on fields of wheat just before the harvest. Her hair framed the Hellenic features of her face.

After the meeting, Arthur Kimball walked over to the side of the long conference room table where Audrey was gathering her notes and papers into a large three-ring binder. Audrey noticed his approach and raised her head to look at Arthur while blowing a stray strand of hair that had been dangling in front of her eyes. “Whew! that was some meeting” she murmured with a half smile on her face. “I know, I’m beat,” Arthur replied. “I don’t think I’ve had to do this much thinking since I joined this company,” Arthur added, moving his shirt sleeve across his forehead as if he were swabbing his drenched face. “I’m starved” said Audrey looking back down at her papers. “I’m headed to Chinatown to get a bite to eat at Jade’s, would you like to join me?” Arthur blurted out the invitation with a matter-of-fact tone on his voice.
“Sure, sounds like a good idea,” Audrey replied without looking up at Arthur.

Is it cheating? Arthur had thought to himself before asking Audrey to join him for dinner. After all, he was still married, but he’d been separated from his wife for a year and five months, and the prospect of reconciliation remained uncertain. Yet, he felt the nagging sensation that there was something clandestine about the invitation.

They’d decided to meet at the corner of Worth Street and East Broadway, where Arthur kimball knew of a place called Jade’s. The duck dumplings and steamed buns are very authentic there, he'd told Audrey. Audrey arrived first at the rendezvous and waited near Chatham Square for Arthur to arrive. She stood under a large statue of Lin Zexu, a Chinese scholar most recognized for his constant position on the “moral high ground” in his fight against the opium trade in the 18th century, but only recognized in the 20th century as a hero in Chinese culture. All this information Audrey had learned while waiting for Arthur to arrive. She had developed a habit when waiting at doctor’s offices, or elevators, of flipping on her smart-phone and searching random facts on the Internet. Standing under the statue, the name Lin Zexu, had sparked the irresistible temptation of killing time by looking up random facts about the man under whose statue she waited.

The sky had turned a gunmetal gray with clouds threatening to storm. Audrey spotted Arthur Kimball waving his right arm to get Audrey’s attention as he dodged the slow moving traffic to get across the boulevard.

‘Meet Lin Zexu” said Audrey to Arthur with a mirthful smile on her face while pointing to the erect statue atop the hexagonal pedestal.
Arthur laughed. He bowed his head towards the statue then, shifting his body, made the same gesture towards Audrey Wallace. “A pleasure, I’m sure,” he muttered with a whimsical smile.
“Sorry I’m late,” apologized Arthur. “I got caught in traffic near Oliver Street,” he said calmly.
“No worries," Audrey replied as she dropped her smart-phone into her purse.

The sound of car engines rushing about made it difficult to continue their brief exchange of platitudes. Arthur Kimball pointed towards a wedge of a building dwarfed by large edifice next to it, and began moving in its direction. The wind ruffled Arthur’s hair as he and Audrey Wallace walked briskly to their destination. Audrey’s nostrils caught the familiar scent of Chinese cuisine, it sparked vivid memories of take out meals in white paper containers, consumed in front of the television with her current boyfriend. Is it cheating if you go out for dinner with a married man? Audrey asked herself in her mind, while she kept step with Arthur. She'd quickly dismissed the thought. After all, this was just a friendly outing with a supportive colleague, she’d thought.

Jade’s was as traditional as any Chinese American restaurant in the city. The floors were covered with cream colored linoleum that matched the decor of the walls. The place looked more like a diner than a Chinese restaurant. They were not there for the glamour, they were there for the food; which, according to Arthur Kimball, was the best in the city.

Audrey Wallace and Arthur Kimball had been seated at a table near a large window that looked out to the street. Audrey had noticed how passers by would casually smile when they looked into the window. Their smiles were reminders that she must keep in mind that this was a casual outing, and that she and Arthur Kimball were colleagues out for a bite.

Arthur Kimball ordered a bottle of Sake, which the waiter brought instantly. The pear-shaped bottle looked comical next to the two cups that were the size and shape of a thimble. “Do you like Sake?” asked Arthur as he poured himself a cup of the warm libation. “I’m not sure,” Audrey replied moving her head closer to get a whiff of the liquid. “I’ve never tried it” she said. “Really?” muttered Arthur with a faint smile on his lips. “It’s rice wine, isn’t it?” murmured Audrey. “Actually,” Arthur replied with confidence, “It’s a common mistake to call it rice wine. The process of making it resembles that of brewing beer; so in many respects, this is rice beer,” Arthur said, then picked up the small container and handed it to Audrey. “Here,” he said, “I’m sure Lin Zexy won’t disapprove,” Audrey laughed as she picked the cup from his hand. “Lin Zexu!” she said, still laughing. "Although, I’m sure some would find Lin very 'Zexy' in China" she quipped. Arthur laughed nervously after he realized his mistake. “This is good,” blurted Audrey as she made clicking sounds with her tongue, “not as bad as I’d thought,” she said as she handed the empty cup back to Arthur.

Arthur picked up his cup, which he had filled to the brim with warm sake, and held it between his thumb and index finger. He mad a saluting gesture towards Audrey and made a toast: “Here’s to Sexy, or Zedexy, or whatever his highness’ name is,” then he lifted his elbow and brought the small cup to his lips. Arthur’s Adam’s apple moved up and down as he swallowed the sake in a single gulp. Audrey watched him with amusement.

By the time the first course of duck dumplings arrived, they had cleared two bottles of sake. Audrey felt warm and happy inside, the sense of time had completely vanished from her mind. She could see herself moving her hands and fingers in slow motion, like an outsider looking in through the window. She noticed that the air in the restaurant felt heavy, the noises of the people and traffic outside the window mingled with the clinking of glasses and the sizzling of fried food cooking on the grill inside the restaurant. She saw the shadows from the yellow-ochre light of the Chinese lanterns hanging at either side of the table forming shadows under Arthur Kimball's eyes. Arthur Kimball looked graceful and distant to Audrey. She could see him gesturing, laughing, and saying things she did not comprehend. The numbers on the large commercial clock on the wall seemed to morph into Chinese characters that melted onto the walls that surrounded their table. Every now-and-then, Audrey felt the presence of a waiter moving things around the table; pouring, lifting, and constantly replenishing the liquid in the pear-shaped bottle.

As the night grew longer, her visions grew stranger: at one point, she no longer recognized her surroundings. The smells were different also: she caught the strong scent liquor mixed with cigarette smoke that sparked visions of her boyfriend embracing her after intercourse. She looked out a window and saw tiny people moving faster, and faster in the street below. The people she saw no longer seemed to care that she was with Arthur Kimble, whom she knew was not her type at all. Audrey could smell the grease from the restaurant on her hair, and she felt the sensation of watching a movie at home with her boyfriend, only now, she was a character in the movie; moving through scenes of streets, with doors of cars opening and closing, stop lights turning green, scenes in rooms of lovers in beds, and of hot baths and cold drinks. Her world had become a strange vision spinning out control, until it went completely black.

It’s the morning after. Audrey Wallace is in her kitchen. She’s coloring her hair to boost her self-esteem. She uses Brazilian-red, from a do-it-yourself-in-the-kitchen-sink kit, to transform her luxurious blond mane into a flaming Brazilian red. She wears the latex gloves included in the hair coloring package to prevent the red-dye from staining under her fingernails. The gloves are flimsy, they smell like the drug store. She slips the gloves on tugging at their inflexibility, whispering to herself: “please don’t rip.”

She shuts her eyes instinctively when the stinging smell of ammonia reaches her nostrils. Her eyeballs glide from side-to-side behind their lids and project images that solidify and dissolve, triggering stinging recollections that loom in the gigantic void of her self-imposed darkness, they’re echoing moans, and groans, that chill her bones and send her heart into despair. The flickering afterimages press her brain and prick deep into the pit of her stomach.

Her eyes remain tightly shut as the tips of her fingers rub her scalp making thick, rich, rough, loud noises inside her head. Her nimble digits mix the dye rhythmically into the tangle of tresses. She nimbly works the reddish goo into her tangled mane allowing the hard surface of her skull to guide her progress.

She tucks her head under the faucet, chin-to-chest, to rinse the excess dye, and to clear the thick fog enveloping her mind. Reddish water trickles down her face and mixes with her tears. The red liquid spurts like blood from an open wound, it splashes and splatters, forming rivulets that snake down the alabaster sides of the sink and disappear into the black hole of the drain.

Guilt and shame reflect in Audrey Wallace’s eyes as she strains to read the fine print on the side-panel of a small box sharing counter space with the coloring kit: “It’s the only emergency contraceptive available in just one pill, so you get what you need right away. The sooner you take it, the better it works.”

“Bastard,” she whispers to herself.

© Oswaldo Jimenez August 2012
artzineonline@gmail.com

The River
Oswaldo Jimenez

Lawrence Frost ( Larry to you ) was the only child in a household where love and responsibility had always gotten along very well. He’d been born under the sign of Aquarius to an upper-middle-class family who had  provided him with the right education which had buoyed him to success.


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