It’s always only Rio standing there.
One night, when Lai is in bed, she thinks of her brother. She rationalizes it’s not so incestuous because she’s adopted, and plus she’s never even in her own fantasies. It’s always some stranger. A prim secretary. A school girl. A MILF. A scientist. White, of course.
In the fantasy, Jake is a carpenter, building furniture for a bored housewife. Lai thinks this is a funny setup because Jake is on a Christian kick. It’s odd since Mamma hates anything religious. She hates it like hating is a religion. It’s as if Jake did it on purpose, picked the thing that would piss their mother off the most. Lai would swear he were slow if she didn’t know better. But slow will do for her fantasy. A dumb carpenter might be just what a housewife needs.
In real life, Jake could never be this buff. In real life, he’s a distorted version of Mamma. Where Mamma is lean and lithe, he’s skinny and slight. Her dark silky hair grows thin and fine on him. Her sharp features turn crooked on his face.
The carpenter is out on the deck sawing, muscles glistening. She’s forgotten he started off as Jake because he looks so different now. He’s making a dressing table, she decides, one with a three-way mirror. The honey wood folds out into three planes under his hands. Not that she needs three ways to see herself. One is more than she can take most days. But her fantasy heroine is beautiful from all angles. Willowy as always. Brunette for a change.
The housewife comes out on the deck, carrying a tall glass of lemonade. Lai can feel the gathering in her belly, like a charge from her fingers, quivering under her skin. Will they speak? There’s not enough time. She boldly flicks a drop from the carpenter man’s jaw. To her dismay, the familiar weakness grows in her hand, the one that sometimes comes with arousal. She hates this weakness because it means she might not be able to finish, the climax blackholing before it gets out.
Quick, carpenter, make your move.
The carpenter stops, straightens. He takes the glass from her and drains it watching her. Lai feels all the housewifely trappings falling away under his gaze. Her curls straighten and frizz. Her body widens. Her eyelids unfold. Soon, too soon, it’s just the two of them: Jake, her thin, pale little brother, and Lai, fat, short, and Chinese. She goes to sleep without trying to finish.
It’s a different story when Lai is with Rio. Her platinum dyed hair is sleek, not flyaway, her body plump, not fat. The crooked front teeth are charming, the pocked skin youthful. This blooming lasts through the night, into the next day. Even Jake notices. On his way out, he stops and looks at her. Lai is standing by the window in the wrong room. She looks at Jake to play their old game.
“Vintage,” she says.
“Candy,” he responds.
“Mouse King,” he says, recalling one of their favorite childhood stories.
He straightens, about to bolt. “What you doing?”
“Waiting for Rio to pick me up,” she says looking out the window again. “Just hang on a sec and you can meet him. You’ll like him. He never says what you think. Only what you want.”
“Can’t,” he says ruefully.
Lai follows his motion through the garden. Her view is crowded with climbing roses. In the lowering light, she sees Rio push open the gate, shake Jake’s hand. But by the time she opens the front door, it’s only Rio standing there. It’s always only Rio standing there.
In the car, Lai lets her hair free, even though the wind will mess it up. Rio zips down the pastel blocks, pausing at the stop signs, kissing her at each one. She regains herself by the middle of the next block, loses herself again when he leans over. When they reach a T intersection, she looks at him, her heart on her tongue. She knows it’s no use hiding it, even though boys are bad with that kind of knowing. Maybe Rio will be different. He’s older, if only by a year, and he’s going to have a job. It’ll even be boring.
“My parents told me to be an engineer,” he told her. “And I’m a good boy. I do what I’m told.”
Lai knows this is untrue. Rio does nothing he’s told, but on the surface, he looks and sounds pitch-perfect. There’s a jazz song playing on the radio. He’s humming along, swaying from side to side. Lai sits up straighter so her stomach doesn’t stick out further than her breasts, but since this happens even when she’s standing and sucking in, it’s useless. Rio interrupts her silent flagellation with his melty voice. Everything about Rio is like honey—his skin, his hair, his eyes, his Bengali accent blended into Berkeley cool. When Lai scrunches her eyes, Rio himself is a dark golden blur.
“Come on and squeeze me, Lai darling, won’t you?” he sings.
“Oh, but I do squeeze you,” she says laughing, “All the time. I’m the squeeziest there is.”
“Asholay,” he agrees.
Lai feels she can almost understand Rio when he speaks Bangla. “Asholay,” she repeats.
He grins at her indolently, and Lai feels a thrill of fear. She tamps it down. She will absorb every inch of this experience, she will memorize each caress of his eyes, fingers, tongue. When it is over, she will have enough to feed on forever. It’s been so long already, Rio and Lai, a legion of kisses to fall back on. This afternoon alone is a lifetime’s worth. Fuck taking only what you need from it. She’ll take that and everything else too. The fog-breath air, the weak and blinding light, the loverly voice, the Rio effect. This afternoon alone is her salvation.