From “Malaria”

Edward and the tramp steamer crew go on shore leave in Macao….

The Barker: Welcome to Macao. (Bows deeply)

Rudolph lights a cigarette. Edward has a bottle. Rudolph slaps an arm around Edward. Rudolph wears his swallowtail coat. He is amped. Shades. Rings on his fingers.

Rudolph: Tonight. Oh yes. Tonight we will be bad.

Edward: Yeah!

Rudolph: We will be tearing’ the lid off this town!

Edward: I hear it!

Rudolph: We will be gettin’ into the grease. Doin’ the tango. Slow dancin’ in hell’s all‑night kitchen.

Edward: Don’t you tell!

Rudolph: Oh no. Leave our haloes with the coat check gals. Gonna’ walk down big street, put our thumbs on it, and squish it around. Tomorrow, get up without a recollect. And a clean bill of health.

Edward: What we gonna do?

Rudolph: Do? Gonna’ tear down the orphanage! Burn down the trade school! Blow up the farmer’s market! Gonna’ do anything! Gonna’ do everything! ‘Cause…’cause…we can’t do this no more. Can’t live like this. With this clanking in the dark, this poundin’s steel. And you never know when the pilot’s gonna’ rack it up. Water rushin’ in. Like a spear in the side. A dream a’ disaster. Ain’t no way to stop it. Break jail, baby! They comin’ in the mornin’! When that norther hits, man, ain’t no wrong, ain’t no right. All there is…what’s left. And what’s left tonight…is us. Tonight baby. To‑night.

Edward: Hallalujah!

Rudolph: What you ‘fraid of?

Rudolph whirls Edward around as Charlie enters. Charlie catches his arm, continuing their stroll.

Charlie: I must apologize. Macao’s weather is a trifle sticky.

Edward: Hotter’n goddamn hell in August.

Charlie: The best way to acclimatize is to restrict your movements during daylight and concentrate on nocturnal activities.

Edward: I’m only here this night.

Charlie: How fortunate. All of us are here this night. I assume you seek the astonishing amusements.

Edward: Was lookin’ for some grub.

Charlie: Macao is graced with multiple attractions. A great many of these come readily to the overheated temperament. (Makes sucking noise.) They typify seafaring towns more than distinguish them. However, I think you will find Macao’s unique location, the knife of the West poised upon the lip of the East, creates a richly fertile atmosphere for adventure.

Edward: Hot damn.

Charlie: Far from home, far from constipating influences, young men and ‑‑ oh yes ‑‑ young women breathe the opium that is free will.

Edward: Been hearin’ about this opium

Charlie: And a spectral orchid blooms amid their red, moist internal organs. You can follow this orchid’s bouquet wafting along neon quaysides and fragrant alleys. For your convenience, Macao manufactures, bottles, and merchandises this perfume in an astounding array of … dispensers.

Edward: Sir, I like what yer sayin’. Don’t understand a word of it—

Charlie: We go to the visual aids. Look! Geek eats a live chicken! Sugar and Patsy juggle ben‑wa balls! Play gutbucket on the Magic Flute! Featuring the Egyptian Slave and his Majestic Countenance!

Edward: Good gravy!

Charlie: You have heard the tale of ten‑thousand butterflies?

Edward: Don’t believe so.

Charlie: All denominations accepted. Souvenirs available at the snack bar. Ohhhh, wait. Too too predictable? Yessss. You crave exceptional therapy.

Charlie turns Edward toward the audience.

Charlie: Step on down.

Edward: Well…what is it?

Charlie: The back room. The black room.

Edward: It’s safe, ain’t it?

Charlie: What do you care? You’ll be gone tomorrow. Out on your ship. Safe at sea.

Edward: Yeah, but….

Charlie: Who will know, Edward? Who will ever know? What are you afraid of?

Edward steps forward. Ruby steps up to block his path. She swings him around and seductively takes him on a walk.

Ruby: Well, yuh come to the right place! We got smackers and slippers and even a trapeze artist! We’re talkin’ clean the tubes, steam the pipes, shift the gears, an’ grease the pistons!

Edward: Uh…you have a menu?

Ruby: Sure! This your first time here?

Edward: Chinaman fella’ said nice place…down the….

Ruby: Poor little bugger!  Let me see them hands! Oooh. Fingers worn down to the nubbins! They grindin’ you down, boy. Got you chained to that anchor and a-locked to the drive shaft. Tonight, you go free. Tonight, lay down your troubles and let Ruby cushion yer ache. Forget your boat, forget your job, forget your point a origin. Say, now. They grow fruit like this in Nebraska?

Ruby places his hands on her breasts.

Edward: Kind of.

Gently, Ruby removes his hands.

Ruby: Makes no nevermind to me. Yuh little shit. Yuh want long blonde corn silk, close yer eyes and it’s all hands. Let’s you and me take a wander. Off to the untamed countryside. We got knolls and glens and brooks and meadows like you never rolled down. It’s Sunday in paradise. Perfect place get lost. Come along, little bubby. Follow the smell. What ye afeared of?

Ruby abandons Edward. He stumbles aimlessly. A soft, golden light rises on Eileen. She angles from the audience. She’s wrapped in a quilt, her shoulders and back bare. Eileen looks over her shoulder.

Eileen: Hello, Edward.

Edward: Jesus!

Eileen: Who you think it would be? Girl’s got to keep busy while her man’s away.

Edward: How’re you here? I mean…I was just lookin’ for—

Eileen: I know what you’re lookin’ for.

Edward: I am not here to get—

Eileen: Too bad.

Edward: I’m sorry, miss. I thought you were someone, but I don’t think you’re who—

Eileen: I’m me. You’re you. Here we are. A million miles from a living soul. Just you, me, and our…secrets. Ain’t this how you dreamed it? All those times we went to grange socials and you talked up my poppyseed cakes?

Edward: You make right fine poppyseed—

Eileen: Strolling past the wagons. Past the willows. Walking the line between the windbreaks. The grasshoppers rising in front of us.

Edward: That one time—

Eileen: When you noticed a stray hair or two stuck to my neck. When you watched my lips whisper a‑men. Tell you, my man, my eyes never quite closed. I always heard that silent whinny. Sensed that tremor in the flank. I could watch the pictures in your head like they was throwed up on a wall.

Eileen rises. Walks up to face him.

Eileen: Let you in on something. All us women? We know. We all know. We all laugh. And we all wait for you silly buttfuck assholes to get your cheap acts together. But, when y’all asleep, we slip out of those white four‑by houses and walk down through the corn. Where it’s silent, and we can smell the earth. And we take off our shoes. Feelin’ the sod between our toes. And we start runnin’. Runnin’ with the corn stalks tearin’ at our nightgowns and our hands tearin’ at our nightgowns until all you can see, here to horizon, is women. Runnin’ naked under the moon. Runnin’ with their arms up and their eyes shut, runnin’ blind and silent, in a night as big as the ocean.

Eileen wraps Edward’s shoulders with the quilt.

Eileen: Man sees that, we cut ’em up in little pieces.

Eileen begins to exit. Looks back.

Eileen: So. Edward. Love. What are you afraid of?

Eileen exits. Ship whistle.

The Barker: Pulse of overheating screws. Scrape of anchor chain. Quiver in the ship’s spine as the bow shaves water. The temporary gray, rust-striped hull. Fog sealing over its greasy wake.

Sound of rushing water, deafening, followed by softly calling seabirds.

The Barker: See the mosquito’s nip bear fruit. The protozoan unfurls like a jolly roger. Sprouting black and red sails. See it navigate arteries and veins. Lymph and nerve bundles. First one, and then another.  And another.  See…the organism strike back!  White corpuscular ships of the line! Cannons blasting! Grapeshot ricocheting off cartilage, off bone! Sparks fall. Settle. Smolder.

The Barker remains poised as Edward turns to face audience. He shivers and sweats. His eyes are closed. The quilt hang around his shoulders.

Edward: I was a cornsilk boy from Nebraska. Sturdy stock. Pi’neer Indian killers. Swedes and Micks and folks with burnin’ eyes. Put a shovel in the ground, turned that soil, an’ found worms. This a good place, they said. An’ it’s ours now. Plowed the buffalo grass an’ bachelor buttons. Planted their feet. Laid their towns. Level‑headed folk buildin’ square shacks along straight roads that rolled right up into the sun. But the rain stopped. The corn died. The good black soil turned to sand. The wind stepped up, an’ the sky turned brown, an’ folks fell down chokin’, gaspin’ for air. Gaspin’ for water. Gaspin’ for anythin’. I run off. Where the world curved. Where the day changed. Where there were new places. Faces. Accents. Odors. Smell ‘a burnt poppies. Candles flickerin’ on the gravestones. Mauve, scarlet, chartreuse robes. Cardamon. X‑otic ports o’ call. Hong Kong. Singapore. Manilla. Macao. Macao….

His eyes open. Haunted.

Edward: I’ll die without my wife.

The Barker: Fever.

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