|Chinatown, Victoria, British Columbia|
The two of them have been visiting me frequently for over twenty-five years. They live in my head, their stories pushing against me, waiting. I see them taking shape even as I drive, as I shop and chatter, fold clothes, fill out forms, wipe away drool and pluck errant hairs. They live with me.
Jackson is Chinese and worked as a waiter in a tiny Chinese restaurant in Carrboro, North Carolina during the early eighties. He was tall for an Asian man and very thin. He never smiled and nearly always stared. He permed his hair for me, gave me orders, deflected the wrath of the owner and the chef. He was inscrutable except for when he whispered. You are like Bond girl, he said, for your eyes only.
Joni was from a suburb of Chicago, perched on an orthopedic chair behind a modular desk in the center of the research department at J.C. Bradford and Company in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. She had been dumped by a married man whom she had followed down south. She lived in an apartment with a tiny white dog who had traveled with her in a Greyhound bus with his very own suitcase. She was forced to find work, had landed here, the receptionist, the mistress of phones. Her hair was high and bottled blonde, her skin porcelain covered in beige, her nails precisely manicured. She wrote in a tiny script on pink message slips that she slipped into marked slots on a black plastic turntable. She wore tight pencil skirts and even tighter sweaters. I sat behind glass in the office directly across from her in the late eighties. She disapproved of me, I'm certain, because I was in my early twenties, beautiful, a businesswoman who earned far more than she, attached to a young man, a life ahead. She frowned when I twirled the turntable and pulled my messages out. They piled up while you were out, she said, for that long lunch.