|Edition description:||First Trade Paper Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A new position falls into the hands of one who, living, dreams. I bought this notebook in the airport when we arrived in Puchai, and, instead of keeping a journalwhich always feels lonely and pointless to meI’ve decided to write you a letter. IT WILL COME TRUE.
Ulla and I are in the Central Dakhong Railway Station, waiting for the 12:13 train to Mai Mor. The station is rumbling and hot and cavernous and painted floor-to-ceiling in volcanic orange. Ulla has wandered off in search of a bathroom and I’m sitting on a bench, guarding our bags. Andwhere are you?
For some reason I imagine you lying on your back in a field, sipping from a can
of beer, surrounded by animals: ducks and snakes and wolves and cats and
hummingbirds and rabbits. Maybe even a cow, standing in the shade of some nearby
trees. They’re all just kind of hanging around, ignoring each other; even the ones that are natural enemies.
Then you sit up and make a circle with your thumb and forefinger and look up at
the sky, and you can see me through it.
Our flight from Newark was seventeen hours and twenty-three minutes, non7
stop. Ulla took a pill and was unconscious for most of the tripshe can sleep like a bear when she needs to. I spent my time playing solitaire and drinking tiny bottles of Boodles gin mixed with Puchalicious-brand tamarind soda. After a while, I put away the cards and opened up our Pocket Adventure: Puchai! guidebook. I’d meant to read it before we left, but had never quite gotten around to it.
This is from the introduction:
“The Kingdom of Winks” is a phrase that conjures many images: Saffron-robed monks and tantalizing bar-girlssun-drenched beaches and moss-encrusted mountainsthe exotic nightclubs of Dakhong and the picturesque rice farms of Hattanai Provinceworld-class hotels and soft-adventure experiences in the jungle. Puchai may be miniscule in size, but irregardless, this charming country offers a myriad of cultural and sensual contrasts for the visitor on
holiday. Whatever you seek, Puchai’s scintillating blend of age-old tradition and modern amenities makes for the most unique holiday available to date. Truly, this land of contradictionsby turns zestful and tranquil, resplendent and subtle, soulful and hedonisticnever fails to delight your senses and/or your spirit. The Puchanese are a mischievous and happy-go-lucky people who are sure to greet you with a wide smile and their trademark “wink” of the eye. Puchai isn’t known as “The Kingdom of Winks” for nothing! Winking back at them is a sure-fire way of saying: “I like you, too. Thank you for welcoming me to your country. I’m really excited to be here, and I look forward to experiencing everything it has to offer!”
I put the guidebook down and rested my forehead against the window, barely
able to keep my eyes open. The sun was rising and I watched the cloudsthin and
feathery and edged with pink and goldslowly creep across the purplish sky, coming together as if trying to form characters in some forgotten language. And then, like a film reel stuck on a frame, their motion abruptly ceased. My heart hammered in my chest when I saw that they’d taken the shape of six enormous letters.
My own surname, written across the sky in fire.
The airplane’s engines had come to a complete stop, and we were hanging
silently in mid-air, like a cartoon character who’s run off a cliff and hasn’t realized it yet.
I continued staring out at my name, suddenly grasping its meaning: the plane was
about to crash, and in a few moments I would be dead, along with everyone on board.
I glanced around at the other passengerswondering if each of them saw their
own name in the cloudsthen squeezed my eyes shut. I was hoping to see highlights from my life flashing by in rapid succession, but all I saw was empty blackness. And thenas if you were sitting in the seat behind me, murmuring the words into my earI heard your voice.
I opened my eyes with a start. Ulla was awake now, shrieking wildly. Turning to
her, I grabbed her wrists and said: “Don’t panic. Everything’s going to be all right.” My voice had gone up an entire octave, wobbly and sharp, and it seemed obvious that I was lyingthat everything was not, in fact, going to be all right. Ulla’s palms were damp and sticky and her shirt was stained dark brown, as if she was already covered in blood.
I looked into her face and said: “Goodbye.”
Ulla stared at me with a mixture of confusion and alarm. Several other
passengers were watching us closely. She glanced around at them, then leaned in close.
“Are you okay, Boyd?”
I looked out the window. The sky was clear, the engines were humming, and the
plane was moving steadily through the air. “Weren’t you just screaming?”
Ulla had taken my pillow and was rubbing it in her lap. “I screamed because you
were flailing around in your sleep and spilling soda all over the place.”
I searched the sky one more time. “I sawI mean, I thought that we were going
to....” I felt my eyelid give a little twitch as the passengers around us began to whisper to one another. “Never mind,” I said, pressing my hand to my eye.
For the benefit of the onlookers, Ulla patted my arm. “Just a bad dream.”
Our plane was now making its descent into the soupy yellow smog that hung
above the city of Dakhong. I saw that we were passing over a railroad junction, and instinctively lifted both my feet off the flooreither for good luck, or to ward off disaster. I forget which it is.
A driver hired by Mai Mor College was waiting for us at the gate, holding a
paper plate with MR. + MRS. DARROW scrawled across it. His rendition of my name
was reminiscent of the DARROW in the skyit almost looked like the same
handwritingand the similarity made my stomach tighten.
Ulla and I changed money at the airport (dollars for prik), and then we were
driven out to the train station in a pini-minia small, noisy, three-wheeled vehicle that looks like a cross between a rickshaw and a Vespa. We rode through the industrial outskirts and entered the traffic-clogged streets of downtown Dakhong, inching past a succession of skyscrapers, markets, exotica clubs, shantytowns, and temples (which are known as mâdans, Ulla informed meshe finished reading the guidebook weeks ago).
Blue-black fumes poured out of the tailpipe of the pini-mini, and by the time we reached the train station, I felt another one of my out-of-body experiences coming on. After some difficulty, we managed to purchase two one-way tickets to the town of Mai Mor. I’d wanted to spend a few days looking around Dakhong, but Ulla is eager to settle in before she starts her new job. She’s been hired by Mai Mor College’s Faculty of Theatre Drama to help organize and stage-manage the big talent show (the Expo Taang) that’s held in conjunction with the town’s annual ‘Festival of Taang Lôke Kwaam Banterng Sumitchanani.’ My own job prospects are sketchy, although Ulla’s new bossMrs. Haraporn Leekanchanakoth-Youngsuggested in her letters that I might be able to work at the English-language school run by her husband. I’m anxious to start earning some prik: I owe Ulla nine hundred and eighty-three dollars for my plane ticket here.
I’ll bet I can guess what you’re wondering at this point, Hap: What are Ulla and I doing here? Why Puchai?
There are a lot of reasons. One reason we left New York was because Ulla had
harbored romantic ideas about moving to a foreign land ever since her semester abroad in Luxembourg. Another reason is thatapart from my part-time job designing brochures for the Department of Public Health and Mental HygieneI didn’t have much going on back in the city, and I thought that a change of scenery might do me good.
And another reason I wanted to leave home, if you really want to know, is the
man that I call the White Sikh.
I call the White Sikh ‘the White Sikh’ because he’s a white man who is a follower of the Sikh faith. I also call him the White Sikh because I don’t like saying his actual nameShawn Talbot-Singhaloud. He was Ulla’s boss at Gelder & Ventry, and, not too long ago, I learned that Ulla and this Sikha married man in his mid-40’s, with three young childrenhad been meeting up in the stairwell during their lunch break for a daily make-out session.
After this revelation, Ulla and I went into a tailspin that lasted for several weeks, though we never broke up for more than an hour at a time. When I had to go to the Catskills for Maury’s wedding in January, Ulla decided to join me at the last minute, and we ended up having an unexpectedly fun time togetherit was as if our problems vaporized as soon as we left the city limits. On the drive home, Ulla told me that she’d heard about a job opportunity in Puchai, and was seriously thinking about applying.
We discussed it for a while, and after a few minutes of tense silence, Ulla asked me if I’d like to go with her.
You said: Let’s do it.
Over the years I’ve gotten used to hearing your voice in my headprodding and
cajoling me, as if you were constantly looking over my shoulder, judging every decision I make. Usually I’m pretty good at ignoring you. This time, though, an idea occurred to me: maybe, as an experiment, I would try listening. Starting with this decision, I’d make a practice of doing what you told me to do, and see if my life improved. The thought of traveling to some small random foreign destination with Ulla terrified mefor a lot of reasons. But maybe that was why I had to go. Things couldn’t have gotten much worse.
I forced my lips to move before my brain could second-guess itself. “All right,” I told Ulla. “Let’s do it.”
Half an hour later, I asked: “Where’s Puchai?”
Table of Contents
The Absent Present,
Your Finale Voyage,