{ 3 Tales of Temptation }

Rose | Salon | Friends

I wrote these 3 stories as part of a collection of 10 but was unable to continue due to pressing concerns. So here you go: what I've been up to this couple of months away. Enjoy -and share them for free!

{ Rose }

Rose among thorns. The bundle of bones I had become, wrapped in a tight, padded tracksuit in midnight blue, looked on through a frayed balaclava at the tattoo forming on her sleek upper arm.

It wasn’t that beauty had died, nor that it had been perfected, but that it was being celebrated in ways purer than it had ever been, even in the time of Esther.

The cyborg artist leaned back in his mesh swivel chair, his thick, veined fingers withdrawing from the needle gauntlets. Unusually, small prune shaped head with granny glasses turned to me and inquired in Cantonese: will that be all?

I looked at “Rose”, spread naked upon the Tyvek lined couch, her lashes caressing her pierced, inked skin. 200 credits passed wireless through a fist to fist punch, like an eye-wipe at an auction. Money these days lingered nowhere.

She got into her sleeveless catsuit of silky chiffon and we made our way out of the box and container city, to the squat of low plastic tables where fake meat noodles were hawked by the corridor exit. The gritty broth wet the corners of my balaclava as I slurped from the cracked China bowl.

You’re beautiful, she said -like she always did whenever I took my vegan meal. Then an apologetic girl with acne served hers: a slice of orca flesh, skin, fat and all. It was just an inch or so square, propped up on a bed of GMO alfalfa -at last, healthiness that tasted as good as it was beneficial. The meat was free range, as the food chain had been restored from over fishing and intensive farming. Barring cannibalism, always feed, harvest, and eat the highest, most prolific of God’s creations. As such, a square of orca flesh was all the meat she needed for a day.

I never want to see your body again -actually a compliment. The tracksuit I wore kept me from losing water, thus nutrients, kept me at a constant metabolic rate. They had discovered that a form of inner body stasis dramatically lowered a person’s nutrient requirements, provided they were ethnic Chinese. A soft pack of Yuri-nade recycled sunflower wine was in my pocket. We tore two holes in the foil sandwiching an intestinal tubing that coaxed out our salve and mingled it with the nutrients within. I drank greedily of the mixture, of the sweat of her mouth.

What passes for art in a beautiful world, but the capture of pure pleasure? We wandered through the exhibition piazza of mindless clones created for and driven by the fixation on sex, perfect men and women who only lived for a single orgasm, entombed in synthetic nano crystal. She stopped to run her fingers over a slab pocked with their ejaculates, looking into my eyes, gray and weary for sleep, behind the ribbed balaclava.

And the symbiotes we had become, never more apparent.

“Why do eyes never touch -those windows of the soul that share so much, but ears brush against one another in search of neck, and mouths press together in search of permission, fingers locked not from doing harm in pursuit of such, but to milk every last drop of it, selfishly, in forced reciprocation.”

Across the reservoir hung a long thin bridge, made firm by the gravity of the moon. There was a sign at the crossing points of times it was open for each lunar passing.

She stared into my eyes, gray and weary for sleep. And above, the Sea of Tranquility reflected in the midnight blue waters of the dam. The moonlight glinted in her eye, dancing with the wavelets below and I touched it to mine, not directly but through a single tear released psychosomatically. And the bridge, perfectly motionless for the Moon’s gentle glide. Across the sky, stars shone that knew our names. And the waters of the reservoir middled between their banks, as sight met sight in perfect tangent to the gentle curve of walkway. This was beauty -this was art.

{ Salon }

Somehow I had always to wait my turn whenever I went for a haircut. I once had thick locks of burnished copper, streaked underneath with oyster shell highlights. The ladies loved it when I angstily raked my hair through my fingers, head bowed over the lecture theater folding table. Large glasses slipping down my nose, hunched over in a dark knit cardigan.

Thing was, I never liked scissors snipping away around my face.

The hairdresser may have been pretty. She had a peach shaped head topped with a peroxide French bob that obscured her lashes. And as I was waiting, a buck toothed kid with cross eyes took his seat, helped in by his expectant mother. They spoke in dialect. Swiveling in the padded armchair, his eyes searched for her in the mirror just as mine did from behind my magazine -was she pretty, our hairdresser?

She looked at me, painted eyebrows and mascara glimpsed through her straw colored fringe, and pulled the boy close to her chest. She smiled down on him, his head nestled between her breasts, slipping freely beneath the salon-issue black tee she wore. And the kid, he must have been 14, heaving as he stiffened uncomfortably in his too-small downtown Parkson-bought shorts, his restrictive white cotton full briefs. It could have been me. I crossed my legs and waited patiently.

Years passed. Then decades, and the unisex salon at New Town, an upstairs shop house which smelt of keratin and ammonia was still there. Advertised by a black sign with a swoosh of hair and shoulder, stood by the stairway. I crept up slowly as my knees ached. Something to do with my mother more than the rheumatic monsoon weather.

Do I have to wait? I asked like pouring sugar into a coffee, hand reaching for a magazine. The hairdresser was younger than me, and eager to please the day’s first batch of customers. A teenage girl with a gummy grin and wide almond eyes was seated in the high-backed leather chair. I want to look like Dua Lipa, she effused, drooling slightly. But the hairdresser motioned her to another seat where a young man with a sharp nose and basketball helmet blow-dry took care of her.

You can give me whatever you like, I said, trying to lean back into her bosoms but the mechanism of such somehow eluded me. The hairdresser caressed my sparse locks. You’re thinning on the left side, she said. You have a lot of new growth that is slow -that’s why you lack confidence. You can if you really try.

Apparently my head was her crystal ball. But would she show me some love?

I’m a writer, I told her. Novels. I described my series of books set in the universe of the InterFaith.

And you’re unmarried? Her breasts pressed nearer.

Had a girlfriend -once.

She puffed, which smelled of bubble gum and mint thins. I looked at the girl in the other chair being transformed into a singing stage siren. Her tongue in one cheek, barely concealing her smirk. Hands gestured about her head, instructing how she wanted her hair to clump in long waves -really long ones.

And how about you? She sized up my skull shape with long painted fingers, comb over? I told her I knew my head was a good shape. Yes, it’s pretty much standard. Maybe take it all off? No, leave a little as streaks, I suggested. But you’re too old. Don’t attract unwanted attention. She’d apparently been around the block more than I suspected.

All you need is a trim and a wash.

Look my age, sure.

I thought I saw the buck-toothed kid slip in. He never fixed his teeth but had grown well into his slim merino suit and shiny Doc Marts. He made it and his wire brush hair had suffered none for that.

Here to pick up your daughter?

Ha-ha, yes.

The hairdresser smiled (at the sweet smell of success?). That will be just $30.

Tears are one thing that shows up clearest in a mirror, especially one so large and close. But then she tipped the chair around-back and my lank locks fell into the small sink basin where a shower drizzled water over my forehead.

You should tell the truth more, she advised, instead of sugar-coating other people’s medicine. So she knew -everyone did, maybe.

This is an iron, okay? This, a blow-dryer. Don’t be nervous... and this man is my younger brother. Oh! Good, I slipped semi-Freudian. I wouldn’t need to tell him to leave us alone.

There was a woman here, I began, with the same hairdo and I... I hesitated to say what I really wanted.

She had a way with younger boys who needed IT. Yours doesn’t, even if I were topless.

And as she ironed and blew my hair into ribbon wafts that fell naturally about my “very standard” skull, I began to grow in confidence. I didn’t need bosoms to lay in. I didn’t need ONE ex-girlfriend. Maybe the poetry I sent her that lost me my side coverage was unwarranted and the meds I took for the sake of Mother, that stopped me rising up the pecking order were a ball and chain of my imagination.

Then the hairdresser began scrunching at my hair energetically, giving it volume. You look better now -almost what I’d call good. I smiled. But that doesn’t mean you get a night job here or my “younger sister” for a snack. Do you pay or play?

Tennis -yes...

Then I have a backhand I need to improve, and you’ll buy me a short Lacoste dress which shows everything. We kissed professionally, at least our mouths seemed to connect in the mirror, quite convincingly. She carried on tidying up my ends.

{ Friends }

Saguhathi Chandramatha and I. Best mates. Co-workers down at the docks. He was Sinhalese and I was Sino-Tamil. Strange he never asked for my name, and I never offered it, being to everyone’s sensibilities, more appropriate for our relationship.

Transport! Came a shout. My friend looked up from his meal of rice and creamed bitter gourd, fingers dangling over the sulfur paper, moist with gravy and saliva. From our shady perch under the overhang, the sun, glinting off shiny, glossed concrete, off the sides of the docking towers. Come on! He unfolded his legs, touching me on my shoulder.

Dozens of Pondicherri, oiled with NeemKool, heads covered down to their chins in fraying straw dipped in the salt water, loincloths about their hips, rushed towards the descending airship, floating on Bayer Glo Gas. Organic radioactive particles that puffed its lifting bladder four times as effectively as hydrogen, confined in pure electrosynthesized gold-plated graphene.

Saguhathi looked at me. We all appeared the same: strawheads with blown out eye and mouth holes, shadowed dark as a coal pit. But I knew it was him. I was an empath. I silently giggled. I was anonymous, invisible to their hearts, their searching eyes recessed into the damp straw. We lashed down the transport. Monkey-types, A for advanced, and B for leaders, drones came swinging up the lashings, scampering over the taut micro-toughened fabric with Geiger counters in their snout mounts.

Buzz-O. He was called that, Saguhathi pointed him out -a drone bully. He wore the chip-embedded armband around his left bicep. I hadn’t much of a clue why AI needed the stick while work itself was supposed to be their carrot. Maybe a scientist could explain. Buzz-O was the Monkey types’ pronunciation of “Boss”. They gathered round him to receive praise or punishment. Life was the job, slacking was the rod. Buzz-O laughed from behind the straw that hid his identity as he dislocated a drone’s arm limb, its mouth flashing static.

One day, Buzz handed me his armband while he took a dump. Don’t put it on, he said as if to say: now fukk off, small fry. I looked at the control strip, then at the scars, new welds on the monkeys. Our hearts mingled as one troop. The drones bludgeoned Buzz to death in the latrine as I looked on, anonymous. 3 soulless holes in a helmet of dry yellow grass. The control band on my bicep.

Now it soon happened that a most precious cargo was to dock. We were notified by the Whiteskins not to fail. It was the arrival of Lois, their fallen princess. She was going into exile in the subcontinent. To one of the summer palaces of the former Raj to birth her illegitimate male child. Or so Saguhathi told me. He patted me on the shoulder, touched my armband. You’re the bully now, he said -go command the reception.

Princess Lois was as beautiful as a camel in a burkha. Dressed in white linen, layers of it hid her bulging womb and her cheek, a sliver of silver that glinted like the crescent moon after Muharram, her quizzical eye like a pearl nested in an oyster. I took off my hat. I knew she was smiling behind the thick sun-reflecting concealer and her hands had gone down below her bulging belly, beneath the gossamer fabric. I let fall my loincloth as she fingered my ripped muscles.

Being an empath, I was easily able to hide and haze over the drone Monkey AI sensors that reported to the colonial masters. Lois touched my tender parts, my seed laden figs on their branch. And we made love in her stateroom as everyone waited in the afternoon sun. Later, another Pondicherry was savagely whipped for it. Someone I had randomly triggered through the troop’s circuitry.

Some weeks passed, and Saguhathi fell very ill. He wouldn’t take off his straw, just lying below the overhang, unfinished food by his side, swarming with bottle flies.

Has anyone any drugs? I asked. Shakes of straw-covered heads. Several transports apart, there were usually secret consignments of contraband. I knew. I poked into the cargo hold, in between the crates, commanding 2 monkeys -an A and B-type. We found the hashish through machine-learning and as I handled the vacuum shrink-wrapped fermented snuff, I knew I would be found out at the loading bay.

So I started a commotion on the docks by yelling “Radiation!”. Everyone struggled to get the cargo off the compromised transport and I made sure everyone’s nails caught some of the marijuana. There was no charge.

Saguhathi sucked on my fingers like a newborn on its mother’s first-milks. They were sore for days from his desperate, careless teeth.

My friend, he steadied on my shoulder as we walked slowly along the dock during the evening cool of downtime, how can I repay you? He peeled off his straw, and there were three lashes across his face, now healed from the God-sent hashish.

He didn’t have to say anything. I wept inwardly over my earlier indiscretion. You’re the bully he said, tapping my chest as he dropped off the pier side to dip in the ocean. I heard a whisper, maybe it was just a thought:

Someday you’ll do the same for me, Friend.

Indeed it was the same month that the Whiteskins returned with the Princess and her premature newborn. Point out the one who did it, Boss, said the Lord. But I wouldn’t. You’ll be severely lashed then, and I was bound up, my arm band stripped off my bicep. Replay the spool, Lead B, commanded the technician in chief.

The records were incriminating. I was to be flogged and burnt with acid all over my body, my soft parts. Lois looked on impassive, through her silver make-up. The pearl missing from her eye. Later, I was informed that it had been gouged out during days of torture after which she gave me up. I had not banked on that.

I was scourged, bound and thrown into a pit dug in the red clay, filled with flesh-burning acidic loam. The rest of the Pondicherri started shoveling the slow-dissolving peat mix over my body and when I was buried to the neck, the Lords and their entourage turned sharply, departing in their mechanized convoy.

Saguhathi knelt by the side of the pit, weeping. The control band on his bicep. He began to dig with his hands, even as they wore ever more sore, wrestling away the B-types with their tasing bites. He dug for half an hour to free his friend.

FreeLunch.my, C. K. Yap, yapchenkuang@outlook.com