Bridget is on her way to Mong Kok to buy a goldfish. She’s been told that they bring good luck. They aren’t allowed pets in her building, but she can’t imagine this would apply to a fish. She’s taking the metro to Kowloon, something she hasn’t done alone before. In the subway there is a store selling fine combs, brushes, hair clips made of jade and tortoise shell. A sign in the window reads that the comb can provide a smooth journey in the fortune-seeking course. Also loving care and health. At a nearby temple, people pray to win money at the races. Money is god.
She moves down Nathan Road. Above a Crocs shop is a duty-free medicinal store, where you can buy dried sea cucumbers to cure the heart. At the goldfish market, customers kneel before plastic bags filled with fish and wonder which fish will bring the most luck. They spend hours examining the bags. Some have only one black or gold fish. Others have several. In one bag there are dozens of tiny pink frogs, perched one on top of the other. Their tiny pink feet press against the bag as they all peer out in the same direction.
At first Bridget thought she’d just go and photograph the fish for her blog; instead she has decided to buy one. She could use a little luck, and the kids might like having a fish to take care of. There’s one that seems to be looking at her with its dark, beady eyes as if it wants something but isn’t sure what. Its mouth is pressed against the plastic bag as if sucking at a mother’s breast. She snaps some pictures of it. The little pink frogs, too. Then she takes the bag off the rack and tells the salesman that she’ll buy this fish. She gives him a few Hong Kong dollars and then, not knowing what else to do, puts the fish inside her purse.
She decides to walk back along Nathan Road before catching the ferry back to Hong Kong Island. It’s a hot, muggy evening, threatening rain, and when she reaches the Peninsula Hotel she decides to stop in for a drink. There’s a bar on the top floor—the Felix. She and James went there once when she first arrived in Hong Kong. Condé Nast Traveler called it one of the sexiest bars in Hong Kong. It’s a retro place. Small and narrow with pink leather seats and an art-deco bar that stretches along the window and offers a spectacular view of the harbor.
They haven’t been back since that first time almost nine months ago. This was before the children arrived for the start of school and before James began his travels for the software distributor he works for. Hong Kong wasn’t exactly a promotion. It was more of a lateral move, one they thought about long and hard. It was clear that the company had gone in a different direction than they’d anticipated in the five years since James signed on. Taking the job seemed like the only way to keep a foothold in the company. Of course, they joked about that British expression—Filth: Failed in London; Try Hong Kong. James hadn’t exactly failed. As his boss put it, he just needed to be retooled.
He’s in Singapore this week. Or is it Bangkok? At times Bridget has trouble keeping the weeks straight. Anyway, he’s always home by Thursday night or, at the very latest, Friday morning. And they have their weekends together. Still, sometimes the days drag. Sometimes the weeks feel longer than they should.
She gets off the elevator, and there’s only one seat at the bar, crammed between a large British couple and a man with graying hair who’s hunched over a beer. As she squeezes in, the British couple doesn’t move, but the man slides down to make room for her, and she thanks him, carefully adjusting her bag so that her fish doesn’t get crushed. The man has a large silver ring on his middle finger and a big fat watch on his wrist. As he sips his beer, he’s leafing through a catalog about imported watches.
Bridget orders a glass of white wine that arrives with a bowl of assorted nuts and some sweet bits of cracker. She sips her wine, looking straight ahead at the harbor. James should be in tomorrow night, maybe in time to go to dinner. There’s a sushi place she’s been wanting to try—or that place on Java Road that Anthony Bourdain loved. Maybe she’ll text James. A date night, perhaps?
The man next to her has put his catalog down. He’s gazing out the window. And the British couple is paying up and leaving when he says, “I always love coming here. Best view of Hong Kong.”
Bridget doesn’t mind the company. “You come here alot?”
“Oh I haven’t been here in years, but I used to live here. A lot of my business was in Hong Kong. This place hasn’t changed.”
His gaze wanders, and Bridget isn’t sure if he’s talking to her or to the bartender, or even to himself. “When was that?”
“About ten or fifteen years since I’ve been back. But this bar’s always the same.”
“So you’re staying here?”
He hesitates for only a moment. “Always. It’s the best place in the city, if you ask me.”
Bridget laughs. “That’s a lot of bests.” He’s resting on his elbows, looking at her with his intent, gray eyes.
“Yes, I guess it is.”
“So,” she says, not sure why she wants to encourage this conversation. “What brings you back?”
“Oh, it’s a long story…” Bridget can tell from the way he’s looking at her that he’d like nothing more than to tell it. Bridget nods and he signals to the bartender for another beer and to refill her glass, which isn’t quite empty. “It’s on me,” he says. “My name is Pete. Pete Beckman.”
She’s not entirely comfortable giving her full name so she says Bridget Reuter, using her maiden name, a name she hasn’t used in a dozen years. Pete shakes her hand. “I’m very pleased to meet you,” he says. “Well, it’s strictly business. A new business venture that I’m excited about.” He leans a little closer. “So in December, I met this guy. A real phenomenon. He happens to be one of the world’s best airbrush artists. The BBC is going to do a special on him. He does all this shit for Harley. He can make a gas tank gorgeous. You name it—flames, skulls, flowers, girls. Your animal spirit, the demon god you worship, your long-lost love. He can airbrush any of it onto the side of a Harley 475. Last year at Sturgis—you know what Sturgis is?”
Bridget nods. “It’s that big motorcycle gathering.”
Pete seems relieved that she knows. “So at Sturgis he was named number one airbrush artist.” He’s staring at her. She’s not sure what it is about him. He’s handsome, in a way. “We met up in December and we just hit it off right away. It was as if I’d met a woman I was supposed to love for the rest of my life. It was all meant to be. I was going through a rough patch. My wife had just divorced me the year before. I used to have a house in Nassau, a condo in New York, a share in a ski lodge at Stratton. But I lost it all in the divorce, but that’s another story.”
Pete takes a deep breath. He’s looking into his beer as if he’s ashamed of something and Bridget isn’t sure what he wants her to say. “Anyway, this idea just came to me, right out of the blue—I said that these images would make great phone covers. I mean, look at the shit they’re putting on cell phones these days. Rabbits with ears, weird animation figures, goofy stuff. But what if you could get a cell-phone cover anywhere in the world with beautiful airbrushed images. So I said to him, ‘What are you making, $20,000 a year? Well you can make ten times that. You need a marketing strategy.’ So I told him, ‘You can keep on doing gas tanks and fenders or you can partner with me and we can take this global.’ I’ve worked it all out. It costs me only four dollars to manufacture a cell-phone cover. I’ve had him do some samples—I wish I had them with me—but they’re just beautiful. I ask people, ‘What would you pay for one of these? Would you pay thirty-five dollars?’ And you know what. People said they would pay more than twice that.”
Bridget doesn’t think she’d pay thirty-five dollars and certainly not seventy for a phone cover. She looks at Pete skeptically.
Perhaps sensing her doubt, he almost starts to whisper. “Then there’s the customized side of this business. I told Matt that we could also have a part of the business where we do special orders, for people who want a specific image on their phone. Think about it. Next to a tattoo, our cell phones are the closest thing to our skin. So why not paint on it your hopes and dreams, your secret loves, your happy place, where you want to be. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you like that? Something to dream about? Something to reach for? Right there in your hand, every time you look at your phone.”
“Yes,” Bridget says, “I might like that.” Pete looks at her empty wine glass. Before Bridget can shake her head—because two glasses of wine really is too much for her—Pete signals the bartender, and a moment later he slips two fresh drinks in front of them.
“So what would your image be? What would you want on your phone?” There’s something in his smile she doesn’t exactly like.
“I don’t know. The faces of my children, I suppose.”
Bridget has a sense that the bartender is listening to them. He has a look on his face as if he is mildly amused. Pete leans closer. “Really? Is that what you’d want?”
“Yes, I think so.”
Pete turns back to his drink. “I’m not sure that’s what you’d put on your phone.”
Bridget is taken aback by his presumption. After all, he doesn’t know anything about her. But then she pauses. “I guess I don’t really know what it would be.”
Pete nods. “Well, if you figure it out, let me know.” He hands her his card. “Or you can find me here. I like to watch the sunset.”
It’s dark as Bridget comes out of the subway at Central and makes her way up the city’s escalators to her apartment. As she rises, she feels like a toy moving along an assembly line. Buildings loom around her. Buildings made with slave labor, narcotics profits, and money laundering by the biggest criminal organization in the world, the People’s Liberation Army. Still, it’s astonishing to see them. The verticality of the city is mind-numbing. No wonder wealthy residents were once carried up the hills in sedan chairs by porters. In Hong Kong people are always going up and down. At first, Bridget’s calves ached, but she got used to it after a while. It is a city of ramps and moving walkways and escalators running downhill until 10 a.m., then uphill again until midnight, accommodating the flow of the crowds.
Hong Kong is different than what Bridget expected, but then what had she expected? Perhaps she’d looked at too many pictures of a harbor filled with junk boats and Chinese men with long braids. For some reason, she hadn’t imagined that they’d live on the eighteenth floor of a high rise among the hundreds of other high rises. She’d envisioned a house, a garden, afternoon tea. She thought she’d pick up some Cantonese and that she and James would head to Phuket for the weekends. Instead, James is mostly in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur during the week—or, if he’s in Thailand, it’s Bangkok—and he always wants to be home with the kids on the weekends.
It’s late when Bridget gets back. Almost nine o’clock. She tosses her bag onto the desk in the entryway and leafs through the mail. Nothing but bills and a postcard from her mother, who is visiting the Grand Canyon. In the kitchen, Mia, her Filipino helper, has left her a bowl of noodles with beef. Bridget pops her head into Melissa’s room and Melissa, who has her headphones on, jumps, startled.
“I don’t know how to come into this room and not scare you,” Bridget says, smiling at her daughter. She kisses Melissa on the forehead and is shrugged away, then goes down the hall and peeks in on Andy and his friend, Hiroto, who are doing their chemistry homework together. Her children are just at the age, fourteen and eleven, respectively, when they don’t really need her anymore but want her nearby. She is a kind of chaperone who is supposed to be present, but not around.
In the kitchen, Bridget eats the noodles, not bothering to warm them up. She settles into a chair in the living room with a book. She reads for a while, then stares out the window, the book open in her lap. At night when James is away, she likes to watch the stock ticker on one of the distant buildings go around and around. Usually she sits in an armchair in the living room, pretending to read in case the children come to ask her something, which they rarely do. In the light of the ticker, white birds soar. Bridget thinks they are gulls, but she isn’t sure. Every night they fly in loose figure eights, circling in and out of the lights.
The ticker circles the top of the building—all illuminated in neon. Though it is several blocks away, the ticker helps her situate herself in space and time. It tells her the day and the weather (fog, inevitably). It gives endless global stock and commodities reports that Bridget doesn’t entirely grasp, though she understands from living here that this is what makes the world go around. She likes the colors, often pleasing shades of blue. She reads the Hang Seng index and the TWI—whatever that is.
The European markets are flashing now. And the NASDAQ is down. The Dow, too. Does anyone really watch these or care? Besides people like her? Not that Bridget has ever thought of herself as lonely before. Though sometimes she is alone.
Bridget wakes with a start and the feeling that she has forgotten something. She runs through a checklist in her head. Kids should be up and having their breakfast. Homework done. She canceled James’s dental appointment for Monday. She’s roughed out her morning blog post about the Felix. Just a few sentences on the retro pale-pink leather seats and the view of the harbor. Not a word about the clientele. She’ll write something about Kowloon and the fish market as well.
As her coffee is brewing, she remembers her fish. She races to the entryway, where she tossed her purse the night before, and has a horrible feeling that the fish will be dead. But when she pulls the plastic bag out of her purse, she finds it alive, dazed by the light. It looks glassy-eyed and confused, as if woken from a dream, but otherwise it seems all right. Still, how can you forget that you have a fish in your bag? That certainly can’t be good luck. This isn’t like her at all. She’s not sure what to do with the fish, so she fills a large tumbler with tepid water and drops it in. It swims around, bumping its head on the glass.
Obviously it needs something bigger, so she finds a glass mixing bowl and dumps the fish in there instead, where it seems to revive. It starts swimming in circles. She should have gotten it some food and a proper bowl, and she makes a mental note to do it later. She should give him a name—for some reason, Bridget has decided it’s a boy. Tony, she thinks. He looks like a Tony. Then she decides that in the evening she’ll let the kids give it a name. She wonders if it will bring her luck.
Just before noon, Bridget heads out for a run along the meandering paths on Morning Trail. She’ll jog down from Victoria Peak. The vegetation is dense in the hills above Hong Kong. Indeed it is a jungle. Seventy years ago tigers still roamed in these hills. Now it’s just wild boar. Bridget likes the new red growth on the Japonica trees, the purple butterflies the size of robins, which, when she first saw them, she mistook for birds. When Bridget was a girl, she called butterflies “flutterbyes.” Her father loved to make a joke about that. He used to call her his flutterbye, that way she was always flitting from one thing to another. Ephemeral beauty. Never sitting still.
After her run and a shower, it’s still early. The kids won’t be home for hours. She does her write-up on her blog that she jokingly calls “A Housewife in Hong Kong.” Before moving abroad, she did arts-and-culture reviews for local papers. It was never actually a calling because Bridget has never had a calling per se; rather, it was just something she liked to do. Her blogs were read mostly by her family and friends, who think she and James have more or less lost their minds, moving overseas. She writes about tidbits that she finds, things she learns. What do fireworks, foot-binding, noodles, and organized crime have in common? Answer: They were all invented in China. Her father loved that one.
As she writes, she feels as if someone is watching her. She turns and finds her fish staring at her. It looks bug-eyed but determined, as if it wants her to do something. She decides to get him a real bowl and some fish food. She gets dressed and roams around her neighborhood, looking for a pet shop where she can get a proper bowl. Maybe one that has some coral and interesting plastic underwater toys. She doesn’t find a pet store, so she pokes her head into a hardware store. All they have are high-tech appliances.
Next door is a store called Travelmaid. The “I” is in the shape of a woman’s body. Direct from the Philippines. The sign in the window reads, we specialize in perfection. In the window are dozens of pictures of young women, girls really, in pristine white uniforms. “Urgent,” a handwritten sign reads. She stares at their faces. How old could they be? Eighteen, twenty? Not much older than that. Are they really making beds and doing the dishes? Bridget sees her reflection in the glass. Her blondish hair could use some highlights. She’s not forty, but she’s looking washed out. Using the glass as a mirror, Bridget puckers her lips, smears on lipstick, then heads back to Kowloon.
It’s late, so she decides to take the Metro instead of the ferry. She swipes her Octopus card and in a half hour she’s on Nathan Road, where she finds dozens of shops that only sell supplies for fish. Clearly good-luck fish are a huge industry here. She buys a bowl and some fish food. She also buys a plastic palm tree, a mermaid, and fake coral that it can swim in and out of. It’s just after five, and before she lugs all of this back to Hong Kong, she decides to stop into the Peninsula.
Pete’s already there, nursing a beer. He looks a bit more disheveled than he did the day before. He’s got stubble. He’s on his phone. Without even turning to look at her, he says, “Pull up a seat.” Then he puts his phone down.
“Just checking my messages. I’ve got a lot of meetings set up over the next couple of days.” He raises his hand and Ricky, the bartender, gives a nod. He puts a glass of white wine in front of Bridget.
“You remembered,” she says to Ricky.
“It’s my job,” he tells her, and sets a bowl of nuts in front of her as well.
Pete turns to her. “You still want your kids on your phone cover?”
Bridget hesitates. “I don’t know. I’m not so sure.”
“Maybe you want to go for something sexier,” he leans forward, almost whispering into her ear. “Maybe it’s something you don’t even know yet.” Then he turns and looks at her and seems almost surprised. “You look different.”
“It’s the lipstick.”
“Tell me about yourself,” he says. “I did all the talking yesterday, didn’t I?” Was it only yesterday, Bridget wonders? It seems as if it was days ago. “What brings you to Kowloon?”
Bridget looks into her wine glass and laughs. “I came to buy a fish.” Pete nods as if there wasn’t any other answer she could give.
James surprises her that evening by getting home early. They head to Tung Po on Java Road for dinner. It’s the restaurant Anthony Bourdain raved about and Bridget has been wanting to try it. Afterward they take the tram over to the Happy Valley Racecourse. Expats sit on one side, Cantonese on another. They meet a group of friends who all clasp giant plastic mugs of beer while Chinese women in uniform, wearing masks, with lanyards around their necks that read temporary clean up after them.
“I’m exhausted,” James says as they get home. He takes off his tie and tosses it on the bench. Then he glances over at the sideboard. “What’s with the fish?”
Bridget shrugs. “It’s supposed to bring good luck.”
At the ferry terminal to Macau, among its noodle shops and Buddhist centers, are advertisements for massage parlors. Baby-faced girls sit or stand in weird poses, legs spread, butts raised, breasts bared. You can make reservations at the Playmate Club, Boss Health Spa, Good Delux, Grand Dragon, Rio Sauna, Mona Lisa, Darling Massage, Asian Girl, Lotus Flower. Girls who don’t look older than fifteen or sixteen. One girl with dark eyes, a small pouting mouth, and thin limbs in an odd, pretzeled pose, stares out at her. Who was she? Doesn’t she have a father who loved her, a mother who searches for her? What promise of a better, more lucrative life had led her here?
“These are pathetic,” Bridget whispers to James as they stand in line along with hundreds of Chinese, waiting for the ferry to load.
“What?” James says. His eyes look sleepy. Bedroom eyes.
“These girls. I don’t think some of them are much older than Melissa.” She sighs.
“Welcome to Asia.” James doesn’t even seem to be looking at the pictures. It’s as if he’s seen it all already. Bridget looks up at James. They’ve been having sex less and less lately. He’s gone most of the week and comes home exhausted. If she mentions that they haven’t had sex that weekend, he only grows more tense and annoyed than he already is, as if she were nagging at him to take out the trash or help her pick out a new refrigerator. Sex has become a chore like everything else. One of those things in the lives of a couple, like paying the bills and picking the kids up after school.
At times she wonders if he doesn’t partake of other pleasures on the road. After all, he’s in Thailand and China all the time. Does James find girls like these on his weeks away? Is this part of the arrangement with his contacts all over Asia? She’s heard other wives with the same complaint. No sex at home. A friend in the building told her in the elevator that her husband had come down with crabs.
Suddenly the doors open and people push ahead. Bridget always feels as if she could drown in these crowds, but at last they are on and they get decent seats by the window. Their hydrofoil skims the surface of Victoria Harbour. It’s a foggy morning, but she can make out the Kowloon Peninsula. “I’m going to take a little rest,” James says, shutting his eyes. As their boat skims the water she wonders if Pete will be at the bar later that night. Suddenly it occurs to her that she won’t be able to see him until Monday. She has no idea why she is thinking about him but she is.
When they get off the ferry they grab a cab to the casino at the Venetian Macau, where the dealers who are not dealing are all scrolling through their phones. The casino is eerily quiet. The dealers who are dealing do so in silence. Bridget wonders if they are robots. She wonders if they would buy airbrushed covers for a hundred dollars. And if they did, what would be their hopes and dreams?
Monday morning, Bridget wakes to James taking his shower. He’s leaving for Saigon. As she listens to the water running, she realizes that they forgot to make love all weekend. And she’s not sure they made love the weekend before, either. She wonders if they need to put up a Post-it that reads “Make love.”
As James is walking out the door, he peers into the fish bowl, which she’s moved to the kitchen counter so that it will have more company, and shakes his head. “Just one more thing to take care of, isn’t it?” Then he gives her a kiss as he leaves. She gets the kids up, and as they’re eating breakfast, Melissa turns to her. “Did you know that fish are declining as pets?”
Bridget blinks. “No. And why is that?”
“Because you can’t take a selfie with a fish.” Andy starts laughing and almost spits out his cereal, but Melissa goes on. “It’s true. I read it.”
“Well, you could freeze the fish and take a selfie with it,” Andy says.
“I think we should give him a name.” If it had a name, Bridget thinks, maybe they’d care about it more. “How about Tony?” she says. They look at her blankly. “How about Flounder?” she suggests, trying to evoke Melissa’s favorite childhood movie.
“Oh, Mom,” Melissa says, “Grow up.” A few minutes later, they grab their bento lunchboxes and they’re out the door. Once they’re all gone, Bridget putters around. She opens envelopes that contain bills and solicitations. She puts the bills in a growing pile of ones she plans to pay. She has a strange habit of not paying bills until the last moment. Then she sits, watching her fish swimming in circles in its bowl.
It seems as if it is looking for something. Its eyes are a bit cloudy, as if it has cataracts. She doesn’t think the fish has really settled in. It doesn’t seem to have recovered from the night it spent in that plastic bag in her purse. Perhaps it needs a companion. Another fish.
Her heels click along the pavement of Nathan Road as she goes back to where she bought her fish. She feels eyes on her. Strangers watching her walk by. She envisions a Chinese businessman with a twenty-five thousand dollar Rolex asking her to tea. When she reaches the goldfish market, she feels tired. There are so many of them in plastic bags, and all those little pink frogs, standing on each other’s backs. She decides that one fish is enough. Then she heads to the Peninsula Hotel.
Pete is nursing a beer as she hoped he’d be. He’s wearing that same beige jacket. She can see that it’s a bit frayed. And the collar is grimy. She slips into the seat beside him.
“I knew you’d be back,” he says. Again he doesn’t look around.
“Do you have eyes in the back of your head?” she asks, signaling the bartender, who is already pouring her wine. She hasn’t been a regular at a bar in a long time.
“Something like that.”
The bartender is about to bring Pete another beer, but he asks him to wait. “I’ve got to go easy. I’ve burned some bridges in my day,” Pete says. “I once ruined my best friend’s birthday party.”
“What happened?” Bridget asks.
“Oh, it’s a long story. Mostly about booze. Anyway, after that I got sober. I’ve been sober for years but I’m finding I can handle my alcohol now. Not a lot, but a little at a time.” He holds up his beer. Two was the number he decided he would allow himself when he started drinking again after his mother died, though Bridget noted that the first time she saw him he had three. “I have no idea why her death tipped me over the edge. We’d never really gotten along.”
He peers out the window at the high rises. Hong Kong harbor shimmers in the crimson of the setting sun. Fragrant harbor. That’s what the name means—because of the spices that traveled in and out of this port. It’s anything but fragrant now. He began coming to this city twenty-five years ago, when he was trying to make a go of the small valve-manufacturing plant that his father and uncle had turned over to him.
After they finish their drinks, he settles up. “I know a good noodle shop. Are you hungry?” Bridget is suddenly hungry, and so they head out along Nathan Road, where Buddhist nuns, their heads shaven, giggle as they window-shop, pointing at Italian shoes and enormous diamonds. Mainlanders pack the dozens of jewelry shops, stocking up on silver and gold. Old homeless women push shopping carts filled with cardboard.
At an intersection, Pete pauses to look at the watches. It’s as if pirates had landed in Mong Kok and dumped a loot of Rolexes. Some of the watches cost as much as five hundred thousand Hong Kong dollars. All the men’s watches have names like Submariner, Explorer, GMT Master, Cosmographer. As far as Bridget can see, the women’s watches have no names. They are anonymous. Other shops display solid-gold Disney characters—Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck. Necklaces with three solid-gold pigs, gemstone-studded sandals. Old people on bowed legs stagger by. A café offers “live darts.”
“You seem to like watches,” Bridget says.
“It’s an old hobby of mine.”
The noodle shop is a hole in the wall, not very clean. They walk in and see the owner spitting on the floor. Pete reassures her, “They make the best bowl of stir-fried noodles for two dollars anywhere in town. I could eat here every night—couldn’t I, Chen?” The owner in his dirty T-shirt nods as Pete and Bridget sit down. He orders two bowls of the stir fry with extra veggies, and then checks his phone.
“You check your phone a lot,” Bridget says. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just waiting for Matt to get back to me on a few things. I want to let him know that the signs are really good. In fact, a few of my old clients and distributors are interested in the idea of customized phone covers, targeted for bikers, but then why not target them for anyone? Why shouldn’t a doctor or a garbage man have a design that he wants on his phone cover, too?”
Pete’s mind is working on overdrive. “That’s always the way it is with me,” he tells her. “I’ve got too many ideas, but I need capital, investors. Ideas by themselves are nothing without a way to implement them. It’s like a nuclear arsenal. North Korea may have the weapons but they haven’t mastered the delivery system yet. That’s when you can start to worry. When the delivery system is in place and their crazy ruler is ready to fire.”
Their noodles come, hot and steaming, and Pete gives the owner a thumbs-up as they settle in to eat. He’s slurping them up, scrolling through his phone as if he expects some impor-tant message to surface, or at least for Matt to text him and say that he’s got things moving on his end. He also wants to Matt to sign the contract with the exclusivity clause, making them partners in the phone-covers plan. He’s got a good feeling about these phone covers, he reminds Bridget as she twirls her noodles onto a fork.
He finishes his noodles, lifting the bowl to his lips to drink the broth. Bridget does the same.
“That was delicious.”
“You just have to know where these holes in the wall are,” he says. “A native took me here years ago. I come back whenever I’m in town.” Bridget is already making mental notes, struggling over whether or not to blog about this place when Pete takes her by the arm. “Come on. I’ll walk you to the ferry.”
They’re walking down a dark grimy street when Pete puts his arm around her shoulders. Bridget thinks she should pull away, but she doesn’t. Instead she leans against him. And before she knows what’s happening, he’s kissing her. His lips are soft and warm and she tastes his tongue, feels his hands as he pulls her closer and closer as if he wants to pull her inside of him. Now he’s pressing her against a wall—and yet, at the same time, he’s gentle. He’s kissing her in a way that she hasn’t been kissed in years. She becomes aware of everything around her. The sound of footsteps as people saunter past, the smells of grilled fish and oranges, a warm breeze around her neck.
“Let’s go back to the hotel,” she whispers in his ear. “Take me to your room.” And he pulls away.
“Not now. Not tonight,” he says. “I want you to be sure.” And he holds her close as they walk to the ferry.
In the dark, the Star Ferry zips across Victoria Harbour, its hull slamming the surface of the water. All around her Hong Kong shimmers. Everything is bright, vibrant. It was as if some blurry filter had been lifted. Bridget’s skin tingles.
When she gets home, her kids are in their rooms, doing their homework. Melissa has her headphones on and doesn’t even look up when Bridget checks on her. Andy appears to be doing his homework, but when she moves closer she sees that he’s playing a video game. “Do your homework,” she tells him. He nods as something that looks like a spider devours his hero.
It’s late, but she decides to go for a swim. There’s a pool in the courtyard of their complex. She puts on her suit, a robe, and grabs a towel. The air is chilling as she slips into the water. She swims a few laps, then just floats on her back, staring up at the sky. Around her the buildings rise like a strange forest she’s lost in. Nothing happened between them. Not really. It was a kiss, that’s all. He didn’t try to bring her back to his room. He didn’t force himself on her in any way. He kissed her. Things happen.
Lying there, floating, Bridget makes her decision. She won’t go back to the Felix. She will not see Pete again.
He is only going to be in town, what, another few days, a week until he ties up his distribution deal. She walks back to the apartment, and in her purse she finds his card. She tears it into shreds and tosses it down the garbage chute, where it will go into the compactor and then with great efficiency be picked up in the early morning by the sanitation workers, and Pete and this whole sordid business—because it was almost sordid—will be done.
In the morning, Hong Kong is draped in fog. She can’t see the buildings across the way. Still, she feels something, something she can barely remember. That odd feeling of satisfaction that comes after sex, except she hasn’t had sex, but then she realizes that she did in a dream. For the first time in a long time she is looking forward to something—to someone.
She grabs a taxi and goes up to Victoria Peak for her morning run. She’ll run all the way down back to her apartment. If she runs, she will wear herself out, she will be tired. And she very much wants to be tired. She wants to exhaust herself. It’s still foggy at the top of the peak, but as she descends, the fog begins to lift. Gulls screech overhead. In the trees, songbirds flit from branch to branch. As she runs, she stumbles on a root, then quickly rights herself, and something catches her eye—a flash of purple. Those large butterflies she saw before. All around her are dozens of them: yellow ones the size of saucers; others like tiny blue droplets. What do the Thai call butterflies? She learned it one weekend when they all went to Thailand for a quick getaway. Tiger ghosts. That’s it. Fierce phantoms.
Later that day, she puts on her black cocktail dress and drop earrings. High heels. Carefully she applies lipstick, eye shadow. She even uses eyeliner beneath her eyes. She’s going to tell Pete that now she knows what she wants on her phone cover.
When she reaches Felix, the sun is setting. A vibrant red sky greets her, illuminating the pink bar, but Pete’s not here. There are a few empty seats, and as she tries to decide what to do, the bartender catches her eye. “Your usual?” He knows her now. She’s become a regular. He knows that she drinks French Chardonnay. Nice and dry. “Yes, my usual.”
As she sips her wine, she wishes she hadn’t torn up his card. It was an impulse, just like so many of her impulses. But he’ll show up. He said to her, didn’t he? That she’d know where to find him? It doesn’t take her very long to finish the first glass. When the bartender comes over to pour another she asks him, “Have you seen that guy? The one I talked to a few times. He was staying at the hotel.”
Ricky shakes his head. “Trust me, he wasn’t staying here. That guy was lucky if he could afford a flop house above an opium den.” Bridget looks at him. “Last time he came in, he stiffed me on the tab.”
“You mean he didn’t pay?”
“That’s exactly what I mean. He said he had to take a call and walked outside.” He shakes his head. “Never saw the guy again.”
“How much did he owe you?”
Ricky shrugs. “Two hundred Hong Kong.”
Bridget finishes her wine and asks for the check. She leaves the bartender an extra two hundred. When she heads home, she’s feeling tipsy. She feels herself weaving along the sidewalk. Not a pretty sight, she thinks. As she makes her way along Nathan Road, a well-dressed Chinese man says something to her. Something she can’t quite make out though she can tell from the tone of his voice, the throaty innuendo that he’s offering her something. She sees the glimmer of his Rolex in the pink neon lights, and she pushes past him toward the ferry.
At home the kids are in their rooms. In the kitchen, the fish that has remained nameless observes her as she walks past. Mia has left some rice and vegetables for her, but Bridget just goes and sits in her chair in the living room, where she watches the stock ticker. As soothing as a mantra in its repetition; something hypnotic in the way it circles round and round. It never tells any terrible tales. No murders. No disasters. Just the global markets. The NASDAQ is up; the European markets are down. The Dow is holding steady. When the ticker goes dark at midnight, Bridget gets up and moves through the apartment, turning off the lights on her way to bed.