by Stephen Silke
Delaney was talking from the window side of his queen bed into a speakerphone that was propped up by a few hotel towels. “I’m in Oxford in August, then Scotland, and then France. Will you be in civilization?” In a quick little tantrum, he stuffed his earplugs into their wadded wrapper and threw them against the wall, as if they had not served their purpose, and removed his socks using only his feet, grunting and struggling to remain in a restful position. Two pillows propped him up under his folded arms behind his head. A third pillow and a complimentary USA Today were both on the floor between him and the flat-screen TV.
“No,” came Zander’s voice from the phone. “I definitely will not be in Europe.”
Without raising his body, Delaney gathered both socks onto his right foot and kicked them off in the general direction of his luggage. “I know, shot in the dark,” he responded. He was lying on his back wearing a black ribbed T-shirt that was a size too small for him and some plaid silk boxers that buttoned up at the crotch.
“Sorry, but we’ve already done that anyway.” Zander’s voice sounded shrill and logical.
“Tragic.” Delaney tried not to sound too disappointed.
“I was thinking the Philippines or Mongolia.”
“Sheesh, up the ante?”
“We could meet halfway, in Bangkok or Dubai?”
“See, that’s what I love about you,” Delaney said. “The ease with which you dispatch me because I don’t have an extra couple grand and some malaria pills.”
“Usually, people dispatch themselves without any help from me,” said Zander. “And malaria’s almost dead here. You just need the couple grand.”
“Damn. My dad’s paying for all of us to go to Europe. A family vacation. That’s the closest I can get.” Delaney got up. “So what’s happening right now where you are?—I mean right now at this very moment?” He stood in front of a west-facing window, looking out over San Diego Bay, examining the war ships that were docked on the island across the water. The air-conditioner whirred a well of cold air into the room, and he suddenly shivered, his voice taking on a hollow pitch that was less than a yell, but loud enough for the speakerphone to catch it.
“I’m in my apartment in Guangzhou, near Hong Kong. Had a class this morning, will have another later today.”
“Is it hot or cold? Rain? Any girls over? Sorry—that last part always slips in there.”
Zander coughed on his end. “Wish I had AC. Very hot and humid today. Girls? None here now, but there usually are. I’ve gone for the Asian persuasion.”
“Yeah, but no need to tell me—I’ve read your blog. You’ve got girls all over the place, you lucky bitch.”
“Yeah, Orchid was first, then Star, then Peach, then Kitty.”
Delaney absently scratched at his thigh. “Delicious.”
“A month back I was with a lovely lady named Beautiful. Well, her name was Meili. In Chinese it means Beautiful.”
Delaney scratched a bit more. “That’s a lot of pressure. It’s like being called HeyZeus or something. Like you have some Spanish mother always expecting you to be perfect.” He walked over to the air conditioner terminal and started mashing some buttons.
“No pressure here, just good times. My Chinese name is Sun Ke. But some students call me Long Long.”
“No joke, it means Dragon Dragon.”
Delaney laughed again. “I don’t get it, because you look like a dragon? So how tough is it to teach there? I got fired from my teaching job in Coronado, right after they put me up in a hotel. The rich kids complained to their parents. They said my class wasn’t fun enough. My boss was saying stuff like, play some games, talk to them about stuff they’re interested in—I do suck at teaching though—”
“Teaching really is tough sometimes. Some classes don’t care. Some ask me all kinds of political questions. Depends. I have a lot of freedom. I can pretty much do whatever I want—Dragon is more about character than looks.”
While Zander was talking, Delaney went over and flopped down on the bed. “I wouldn’t know where to begin on politics. All of my answers would be really jaded. I would say something like, pick the three worst possible people to vote for, and then imagine they are all running for president. OK, OK, maybe not that bad, but you know.”
“I try not to come across as jaded,” Zander said, “just skeptical and critical.”
“Yeah, it’s obvious that your kids love you though. Heck, you end up dating them when they leave your class. But you’re really gifted, man. I mean, I can tell from the pictures of the student trips you’re posting online. And they treat you with respect. So are you ever coming back to the U.S., or are you a permanent expatriate?” Delaney took up a pair of plaid shorts and began to put them on while listening.
“Well, I hope to return. I guess I’m an expat now, but I’ll probably go back at some point to go to grad school. I miss certain things about the States, like food and friends.”
“What will you study?” Delaney asked.
“Maybe International Relations, or History of Religions.”
“Aren’t you Buddhist now?”
“I have to tell my students that just because I’m from the U.S. it doesn’t mean I’m a Christian.”
“I’m surprised you can talk about religion on the phone?”
“Why couldn’t I?” asked Zander.
“Isn’t China communistic?”
“I’m not Chinese or Buddhist. I do meditate though.”
“Oh yeah? I meditate too. It really helps calm me down.” Some silence followed and Delaney zipped up his shorts. “—Yeah,” he continued, “seems like my only marketable skills are meditation and the ability to Swiffer an entire apartment floor in one pass—but really not even the meditation is marketable.”
“That’s your problem,” said Zander. “You keep trying to be marketable.”