The Pendulum: A Story by Nicole Wong

The mobile stops ringing when Zach opens his eyes. He sits up on the bed and rests his forehead on the wall, unable to shake off the dream. Walking down the stairs he steps into the shifting sand when he is not looking. His feet, his thighs, his waist…he feels the heat on his shoulders, swallowing his head. Everything—the stairs, the building, the streets—sinks onto the sand, which shines golden in the sun under the clear blue sky.

Finally he called. Zach throws his phone onto his pillow and gets up. He can hardly keep his eyes open as he walks into the living room. His mother drew up the curtains last night. Hope she won’t come for another week. He opens the fridge, grabs a bottle of milk, and sees the bills under his wallet on the table. Always piling up. The alarm clock next to the TV has stopped, one leg dangling when Zach shakes it. The one on the wall says 1pm. Zach looks back and forth the two clocks and wonders what time means. 4pm meeting Dr. Chung about thesis on criminal psychology. 6pm new piano student. Deadline for applying for postgraduate studies at the end of Feb at HKU. End of March for Diploma in Music at Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Where have I put the application forms? What can I study? He takes a shower and shaves. He cuts his chin, wipes the blood on his cheek in the mirror, and smiles.

Back in his room he gets dressed and packs. He browses the missed calls list on his phone and stops at a number.

Zach starts again and again till his mind loses track of how many notes there are per second; till he feels himself losing his arms and all his senses. A string inside has broken, or a screw has come off. He stops, stands up, and switches off the metronome. He hears Desmond snoring. He bangs the piano.

-Sorry.

A voice still lingering between sleep and reality. Tears in his eyes burn. Zach does not turn around. He wants to pull Des’s hair, to see him frown, to hear him utter from pain like he has never had before. Something surges up to his throat and drives Zach to keep his mouth shut.

-I’m sorry. OK?

Des speaks with his eyes half closed. His eyelashes flutter, the shadow stretching on the wall. He rubs his eyes and smiles.

-Come over here.

Des catches Zach’s hand and puts it next to his left ear. He smiles again. So does every feature on his face. Thick eyebrows and a straight nose. His spirits and his smooth skin radiate in the dim yellow light. Zach sits down.

-Shall I stay tonight?
-Only if you want to.
-My mother says you should stay for dinner next time.
-So she knows.
-Everyone does.
-Your family’s ok?
-As long as I do well. Mom doesn’t know how boring it is to be a physiotherapist.
-Mine wants me to choose psychology over music. Stay in the university and hand over a good salary. Be the star in our relatives’ eyes.
-Hong Kong mentality. She hates me too, I suppose?
-Last night she asked me to ‘stop screwing around’.
-Tell her to piss off.
-You always know what to do and you’re carefree.
-It sucks how aimless or wishy-washy some people are.
Zach pulls his hand away.
-Are you ok?
-I’ll get some water.

Zach leaves the room. He looks at the kettle in the kitchen. There is no water in it. He pictures Des lying on his stomach on the hard mattress. He wants to stroke his fingers along his spine, down to his hips and his thighs, and increase the pressure as Des stirs. He wants to turn his body over, caresses his chest with the back of his hand and outlines his belly with his fingertips. He wants to lick his belly button, down to the dark triangle, and takes his penis in his mouth. Till the long and throbbing flooding of pleasure sets in, and the two of them disappear into a universe they share for brief, intimate moments. The bodies part, the minds a world apart. The same smile on Des’s face. Childish. Arrogant. Scornful. Adorable. Sleepy eyes and thin lips. Zach wishes it would turn into a sneer, so he can slap Des across his face, thinking it is still sexual. He feels for the handle and opens the door. Des is standing beside the desk.

-Can I look at the pictures?
-Sure.

Des flips through the album and stops at one picture.

-Look at you, standing next to this stupid statue of Mickey Mouse.
-Everything in China looks stupid.
-You look angry. As usual.
Zach looks at himself in the picture.
-You were arguing with me.
-You wouldn’t stop.
-You can’t convince someone you aren’t more intelligent when you actually think so.
-I never said that.
-You meant that.
-Leave it.
-You always have to win an argument.
-We’ll have some music.

Des studies the CDs on the spinner. He circles the air with the index finger of his other hand. He is the child pretending to be a magician to himself before opening a pack of biscuits or a box of ice-cream, fancying it an impossible task for anyone else but him. The music starts. Des turns to Zach and begins to hum. Half pouting, he mumbles in a low voice, distorting the lyrics as he shakes his head. He narrows his eyes, winks and flashes a silly grin across his face. He moves his butt, flings his legs, and swings to the wall. One slipper flies off to the corner of the room. He dances on tip-toe, pretends to spin, and increases his pace along the percussion. He is smiling with his eyes closed, the smile Zach wants to smash. Zach cannot imagine a scattered picture of this face. He does not want not to want him. He does not want to want any less. Slowly Des opens his eyes. Zach smiles to himself.

-Enough of your crappy dance.
-Ain’t it entertaining?
-What time will you leave tomorrow?
-When you leave.
-Don’t you have to work?
-How did you cut your chin?
-Thought you wouldn’t notice.
-I work with bodies.
-I shaved today.
-Don’t hurt yourself all the time.
-I was just tired. Got a new student.
-Let me help you.
-This student pays well.
-Don’t be stubborn.
-I’ll manage.
-You won’t.
-Whatever you say.

Des sees the metronome on the top of the piano and switches it on.

-Makes me think of a grandfather’s clock.
-They aren’t similar.
-Both are artistic.
-Both aren’t precise.
-One similarity.
-That’s what you think.
-Don’t be precise about everything.
-Aren’t you always precise?

Des stops the metal stick moving with a finger.

-Every time I see you I feel I haven’t seen you for a long time, and I wonder if I’ll see you again.
-That’s not true.
-What is?
-Take your finger off that thing or it’ll break!
-You always exaggerate.

Des lets go. They burst out laughing.

-Come over here.

Afloat on the music, Zach recalls the music video of the song they are listening to. The singer is singing on the ground. Someone is playing the piano. A huge pendulum hangs down from the two-dimensional, dark blue sky. A ballet dancer is sitting on the bottom of the pendulum and holding the rod with one hand as it sways. She holds out her other hand to the camera without looking at it. Zach watches the shadow of his metronome move from side to side on the ceiling. He transforms the wall behind him into the sky and himself into the dancer as Des holds his hand.

~Nicole Wong (Hong Kong)

Return to Passions: Poems and Stories about Love and Heartbreak by Young Asian Writers

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