They bloom, both at once, at the autumnal equinox. The petals open up, causing pink mouths to part, breaths to escape like ghosts. Ink smears at the rough touch of fingertips, dragging underneath the thickness of skin. Blood beats underneath, hurried by looks and the way the blanket tangles at the foot of the bed.
Thick smudges of life cross between them, between lips kissing for the first time, the fourth, the thousandth.
Jade has been here before, heard the sound of this voice, this singing against the wind. She knows the words to this song by heart, has memorized this melody. The dance is not hard to learn; the movements of her hips, her hands, her fingertips.
She finds that her body feels good, and that her bones are remembering the feeling.
The sun greets them; it ushers them in. They do not let go.
Takeko can feel hands around her waist, lips on her back, tracing the lines of the muscles as she moves. She can almost remember this. The echo of these motions, the word is on the tip of her tongue, like a promise.
Touch, like the razor-point of a tattoo gun, moving across her skin. This is only as real as the marks they leave.
Time passes. Hearts beat. Thighs are slick with guilt, longing. She opens against uncalloused fingers that explore, replies in turn, her own silent chorus.
She twists her hair back, after, starts another day.
“Is Jade in the mood to flirt with you, with names on a screen?” She holds the doll in front of her, consulting the porcelain figure. Flowers wrap her face, the screen, like a picture frame. They watch, and it is a strange kind of connection; this world of men behind screens each watching one woman. One girl.
They send her messages: I love to compliment Jade’s body.
She should show us. Make us beg.
Head tilts to one side, the other. She consults the doll, straightening her small dress, the one with the patterns of flowers, smoothing her wiry hair. Shades of indigo. Twists the small head to face the screen.
Another: Get on with it.
“Hm.” She crosses her arms, sets her companion aside. “Maybe she will be convinced if you buy one-on-one time. Maybe she will be in the mood then.” She tugs the wig, wishing, always, that the one set of eyes she cared about were watching her, and lets her body drop backwards onto the floor.
(If they see up her skirt, she doesn’t notice, doesn’t care.)
She can feel the floor, and her body sinking into it. She feels like lead. “Maybe not.”
There is hardly any wind, but the thrust of the bicycle against the still air causes her hair to move. Tiny tendrils against her neck. Jade watches, transfixed, alternating the press of her cheek against Takeko’s back with turning her face upward, memorizing everything about this moment.
The way this feels must be the way of something so much more. To have one’s arms around the one she loves. This must be how it feels to awaken knowing that the day holds promise, instead of merely hope.
Muscles work and she clings tighter, feeling Takeko’s stomach expand as she takes a breath, pull in with every exhale.
Jade is slowly, with each note of the song, becoming a part of Takeko. As much of her as the yellow petals that creep around the back of her arm, flexing and relaxing.
Jade hides, pretending she is invisible. The car starts up and her mother has taken the baby and too few bags and stuffed them all inside. Jade cannot be seen, and so she is forgotten. Jade’s father shouts after the cloud of exhaust, coughing out sounds that are angry, words that jump from one sound to the next.
Jade ducks between trees until the end of the lane. Her mother sees her then, finally, stepping free of the leaves, and turns back smiling. “I will be back soon, bao bao.” And she waves, catching sunlight between her fingers, casting shadows upon the road.
“You will not forget me,” Jade shouts back, struggling to be heard over the grunts of the engine, now farther away than ever.
The needle presses down and Takeko grits her teeth. She will endure this.
She hisses, her fingers curling up into a fist as the tattoo gun rounds her elbow; she pounds at the arm of the chair, but she will not make a sound. She will not give in.
The old master kills her time and again, the waves of pain flashing behind her eyes. But it is not the same. She does not crawl from the rubble, she does not watch the buildings fall.
After, Ching touches the fresh marks, his face impassive. His fingers come away as if stung.
On the way from school, she cuts through the cemetery and sees the plant, recognizes it from the way it has crawled up her father’s arm for years. The studying doesn’t last long, and for the time it does, her mind wanders. She thinks about the heat of the girl next to her, the curves of her body. Like waves, gentle, and she wants to navigate them. To find the ways that no one else has.
When they kiss, the sun dies. “It is nothing,” Takeko whispers, moving her fingers against the softest flesh she has ever felt. She always knew it would be like this.
And so, when the earth shakes, opens up, she is not surprised. She lets herself be shoved away, immediately less.
“Zõu kāi,” the girl shouts, her voice so different from when they whispered and laughed only moments ago. Her eyes are white There should be coldness in her place, but the heartbeats start back up, in a different rhythm.
She should cry, but she doesn’t. She knows this, knows that being afraid is okay. But she crouches in doorways, feeling the earth give way beneath her feet. There is nothing she can do. Nowhere she can go, while the world crumbles.
Dìyù is open, everywhere. She, only, doesn’t realize it.