Clash by J. J. Sinisi

The deriding stares and subtle but audible curses hadn’t started immediately, which was a welcome change, though she felt perverse comfort when they finally did. They must have been getting used to her. She’d made a habit of coming early, before most of them arrived, making a point to wear sensible but sexy outfits, tonight perhaps her best, skinny jeans, tank top and short coat to protect her from the breeze off the bay, but her most expensive and daring shoes. Mesh topped Louboutons, red soles screaming her contempt with every step, a gift from her mother she wanted to refuse but couldn’t overcome her consumerism to deny.

Jong Yu kissed her and for the last time she reveled in their disdain. She touched her red nail to the hard line of his chest and over the solid lumps of his stomach. His flesh rose. She’d miss this part more than anything, his unabashed arrogance in the face of his peers, his boldness tugging her the same way it had when they first met and she’d skip classes to lay with him for hours.

The deriding stares and subtle but audible curses hadn’t started immediately, which was a welcome change, though she felt perverse comfort when they finally did. They must have been getting used to her. She’d made a habit of coming early, before most of them arrived, making a point to wear sensible but sexy outfits, tonight perhaps her best, skinny jeans, tank top and short coat to protect her from the breeze off the bay, but her most expensive and daring shoes. Mesh topped Louboutons, red soles screaming her contempt with every step, a gift from her mother she wanted to refuse but couldn’t overcome her consumerism to deny.

Jong Yu kissed her and for the last time she reveled in their disdain. She touched her red nail to the hard line of his chest and over the solid lumps of his stomach. His flesh rose. She’d miss this part more than anything, his unabashed arrogance in the face of his peers, his boldness tugging her the same way it had when they first met and she’d skip classes to lay with him for hours.

“Khwām chokh dī,” she said to him in broken Thai.

“I miss you already,” he replied in broken English. He slapped his six-ounce gloves together and bounced away, steam rising from the heat of his body.

They closed around her and the betting began. Jong said to think nothing of it, closeness was a cultural difference and Americans overvalued personal space. Four months had done little to assuage her claustrophobia.

Once it began though, she became entranced by his skill. Watching someone perform perfection from muscle memory enthralled her. As a child, before her father died, she’d watch him draw, picture after picture, a house, a car, her sister, a hummingbird. It didn’t matter. His skill and his creased eyes melted the universe into clarity.

When Jong Yi’s opponent fell for the third time, blood and teeth stuck to his feet. He left a trail of red footprints to his corner at the park’s cage. The head of the 14K counted ten of the fifteen total words she knew in Mandarin. He raised Jong’s arm and money exchanged hands, and curses in two languages were uttered and she giggled the way she had when her father came home early from the mill with grime on his face and dinner in his hands.

Later In her dorm room, they showered together, and she helped him wash the gore from his knuckles. They lounged naked on the bed afterwards and she rubbed the coarse insoles of his feet. His eyes roamed her room, lingering on her faded posters of the Beatles and Che.

“I do not understand your people’s need for revolution,” he said.

“Are all Thai’s so loyal?”

“It is not loyalty.”

“Commitment then.”

“I do not understand this word.”

She smiled. He did.

“You never lost a fight.”

He tried to return her smile but the corners of his eyes wilted.

“I do not want to leave.”

She looked past the ridge of his hips and the plane ticket beyond.

“I don’t want you to go.”

They embraced and his heart thumped as loud as always, no less or more because of the fight.

“What if you stay? And I’ll graduate and get a job my mother approves and you can open a dojo and we can live here, in Berkley, and the yuppies from across the bay would come and use Muai Thai as a substitute to yoga, and you’ll be successful and I’ll be successful and we’ll get married and have kids and I’ll get fat and you’ll always be strong,” her eyes welled, “You’ll always be strong.”

He petted her hair and let her cry on his bare shoulder.

She knew she couldn’t understand his life, couldn’t comprehend why a Thai boy, raised in Myanmar who immigrated to Hong Kong would never be allowed to leave the streets, indebted forever to triads and gangsters. But she thought she understood his joy, thought she’d done enough to force him to stay.

She wasn’t there when the plane lifted off, couldn’t bear saying goodbye again. She told him to leave in the night, when she was asleep. She wanted to wake with him gone, their four months like a lost dream of absconded reality and he’d fight no more. He’d fight no more.

The Final Sentence by J.J. Sinisi

He caught her auburn hair through the wire-mesh even before the guard buzzed him in, feathered and longer than he remembered. Distraction captured her attention and they didn’t meet eyes until he finally sat in front of her, separated as they always were by thick glass and a five year absence.

He picked up the phone and smiled. She played her part and smiled back, her lips slow to embrace it at first but her eyes genuine and true.

“Hi Tevon,” she said, sounding tinny and robotic through the dirty yellow phone.

“Darla,” was all he could muster. He had asked her there of course, to speak with her one more, or last, time. There was so much to say, so many volumes of pencil scratched marble notebooks stacked in his cell.  But now, with her sitting across from him, so close and yet so damned far, the words fled his mind and imprisoned themselves forever from his memory.

“How’s Elly?” He tried.

“She’s good. Very good actually. Last year of grade school if you can believe that. Junior high next year.”

“Junior high. Jesus.”

“I know. Quite the lady.” Her hand dove into her large leather purse and emerged from its depths with a creased photo. “It’s almost a year old but—.” She pressed the picture up to the glass. Tevon stared at the young girl sitting on a diving board, her tanned legs folded demurely. Her feet dangled in the water, encircled by concentric ripples forever confined to the photo’s grasp. Her dark red hair stood aloft in the wind, sharing the same stolen moment, frozen in weightlessness.

“She looks more and more like you.”

“Tell me about it.” She pulled the picture down, drowning it again. “Acts like it too.”

She paused, staring into the deep chasm of her bag. He waited, phone to his ear. He heard her soft breath graze against the receiver. He remembered the many times it splashed across his face.

“She misses you, Tevon. She misses you so much. I know it’s been five years, but you left a hole in her–.” She tapped her open palm in front of her, searching for the words. He listened to the harsh clank of her ring striking metal counter. “No one’s been able to fill that hole entirely.”

He remembered the last time he saw Elly, the shy little girl clinging to his broad shoulders. Her soft tears ran warm against his face.

“I miss her too.”

Darla straightened in the stiff aluminum chair. “Why did you call me here, Tevon? Why now? I’ve moved on. Elly hasn’t yet, but we’re getting her there. A little bit at a time.”

“I needed to just talk to you, to see you. See you looking back at me.”

“I said to myself I wouldn’t come back here, but you called and I came. Like always. The least you can do is tell me why.”

He paused, wading there in the silence. He hoped the words he worked so hard on would float to the surface, hoping one final sentence would appear beside him so he could do this last thing the right way. But they never appeared. He placed the phone on the counter. She looked at him confused, but followed his lead. They stared through the glass at one another, the black wire inlaid there slicing between them, like all his bad choices coming back to distort this last image of her. Maybe that was his final sentence after all.

He pressed his hand against the glass. She did the same. Her auburn hair fell over her shoulder, reminding him of the days it fell across his big brown chest as they lay on the beach for hours in sunlit California afternoons.

The night came fast after that, and the bodies crashed around him, heavy and strong. A mixture of muscle and orange jumpsuits pressed around his throat, and his arm burned from fatigue, plunging his shiv as it did, again and again, into the belly of one of his many attackers. Warm blood spilled from the wound and Tevon gasped for air. His head drowned in darkness and his feet frantically kicked against the growing tide of blood, but his mind swam away, towards warm breath and lost, so many lost, summery days.