To the East of Me Is the West of You
Dating someone who lives across the International Date Line can muck around with the facts in your head. Adrian works at a resort in Fiji (where we met); when he flies in to Rarotonga (where I work as an au pair for a French couple), we gain a day. He brings me a month’s supply of free hotel toiletries; I shampoo my hair with extract of ylang ylang and condition my skin with geranium leaf moisturizer. The toothpaste comes in perfect single-usage squirts. The line of bottles on my shower shelf tells how long we’ve been together but not in terms of time.
When I visit him, I have to take a week off. If I fly via Auckland, usually a 16-hour journey, even though the distance is only 1,465 miles, the flight arrives in the evening (+1). To alleviate my hunger pangs, I snack on Japanese kaki no tane. When I get to Adrian’s cottage, first thing I do is brush my teeth thoroughly with the bite-sized toothpaste—Adrian hates residual crumbs transferring mouths. Then we tear each other’s clothes off.
Ma flies in from Hawaii to visit during a weekend Adrian is there. She’s heard a lot about him on my calls with her. Across the bar island, her eyes almost hidden by the parasol in her drink, Ma says, do you dance, Adrian? A night-club was where she met my supposed father.
Adrian laughs sheepishly.
Ma proceeds to teach him Latin moves to Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, one hand on his hip.
With all the flying back and forth across the Date Line, the actual time we’ve spent together is hard to calculate. To Ma’s question of how often we see each other, I ask Adrian what is 56 ÷ 8 (the number of weeks since we’ve met/the number of times we’ve visited each other). He says, 5?
Ma asks what our plans are for the future. Adrian answers, I’m skeptical about the future. No surprise since Adrian’s favorite work-out machine is the stationary cycle; time passes but he doesn’t go anywhere. When I was little, I believed in time-travel—if I could just find my way back to an unborn past, I’d go to that night-club and meet my Dad.
Ma adjusts her muu-muu, but all she’s doing is shifting the wrinkles and folds to a different place. A deep cleft opens up between her breasts where the neckline drops. At 52, Ma looks like she’s 40. I see Adrian’s eyes wander to it.
Adrian and I go diving. Time stands still when you’re in an underwater world, he says. At the resort, he’s in charge of the clubhouse, handles all the scuba and snorkel equipment. The sea is dying, he says—seahorses are indistinguishable from tinfoil wrappers, and stingrays are swimming amidst schools of plastic refuse. We need to rethink waste, he says. His demeanor makes me wonder whether he’s really talking about the future of ocean depths.
On all the weekends I don’t see Adrian, I lie on a gigantic crocodile float and read. I came across a phrase recently: time is a linear fixity but emotional time courses differently in each of us. Einstein believed that ‘t’ played an indispensable part in the evolution of bare stone church to grand old cathedral. What is the architecture of longing, the edifice of love? Does it evolve with ‘t’? It occurs to me Adrian always sees the sun first; me too, so close to the International Date Line. We see the same sun, but I will never catch up to him. I look up at the sun’s rays glinting off the windows of the bungalow. From this angle, the panels look like they’re on fire, and I see that time is an organic element in any chemical bond of atoms and molecules that destroys everything.
The French husband’s name is François. He’s old enough to be my father. It’s unclear what he does for a living. A lot of numbers scroll down his computer, he makes phone calls, and money rolls into the bank. He likes to stroll along the beach in linen wear and a fedora. There’s a cave he goes to; he brings a torch and a butterfly net. I wonder what he does there.
One evening, while his wife is away visiting an artist enclave (she runs an art gallery in town), he comes up behind me and kisses me behind the ear. He whispers, I love the way your shorts don’t hide anything. My ear piercing there pinches his lip. Ow, he pulls away, looking surprised when his thumb comes away with a droplet of blood. I turn around to face him.
He says, I hear you and your boyfriend in your room, you know.
Adrian is going to marry me, I say.
François stares then breaks into a grin. If you say so.
I pull him to me then and kiss him, even though I’ve been snacking on seaweed crackers. François’s kisses are hard and experienced. In a matter of minutes, we end up on the divan, breeze lifting the curtains and the pounding of surf echoing in my head.
When Adrian visits me next, I suggest that we head out for an all-day beach picnic. I know a secluded spot where there’s a rocky cave. It’ll be cool and moist inside.
Adrian says, I’m afraid of bats.
Bats? There are no bats. It’s close to the ocean. You can go snorkeling.
Water there is too choppy for snorkeling.
We stand there looking at each other, stalemated. In the end, we do what we always do, and the entire time, as Adrian’s phone goes off, telling him it’s time to head off to the airport, I’m thinking of François in another room, a paper cup held to his ear.
Elaine Chiew is a writer and visual arts researcher. She is the author of The Heartsick Diaspora (Myriad Editions) and the editor/compiler of Cooked Up: Food Fiction from Around the World (New Internationalist). Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, most recently in The Best Small Fictions (Sonder Press) and Fictive Dream.