Red Line Beijing

While balancing among Beijingers in the subway car, taking shallow breaths to keep from sucking cigarette smoke, I think we met. It was the first time since the divorce. Your face was the only one without a wintry aura of an upheld cellphone display. I want to say, it wasn’t that I meant to ignore you. I wasn’t trying to shun. My hand slipped from the oily hand noose while subway tunnel lights, embedded eyes, shocked alive through my window image. That’s what threw me off. That, and your face looked reworked: now Roman nose, now scalpel eye.

What makes, recreates, a reflection? For me it was darkness outside the subway car’s windows. For me it was you. Plastic surgeons remade you in someone else’s image, and in so doing, what we meant to each other’s been recast. It aches in a waystation just beyond mendable.

I jumped out near soldier-patrolled Heaven’s Gate, climbed subway-station stairs from cool-to-warm, and gestured, slow cast of one hand, as if to reshape my shadow rainbowing into summer sidewalk vapor.

Justin Nicholes is the author of the novels River Dragon Sky (2012) and Ash Dogs (2008). His stories have appeared in Cleaver, The Saint Ann’s Review, Slice, and elsewhere. He used to live in China, but now he lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Jiang Jia, and newborn son, Byron.