Wan Chai by Nancy Ludmerer

Wan Chai

Nancy Ludmerer

When I was 19, studying 18th-century poets in London, my sister and brother-in-law flew me to Hong Kong for Christmas so I wouldn’t spend the holiday alone. Once there, I felt out of place. They attended glittery corporate parties almost nightly. I was shy and unworldly. My brother-in-law suggested I hang out with their friend Roger — lanky, thin-faced, voluble, and almost handsome. A fledgling poet.

I never heard a word of poetry from Roger. Instead he introduced me to Wan Chai, Hong Kong’s “cove district,” and its red-light zone. I walked rain-slicked, deserted streets on Christmas eve, past girlie bars with names like The Pink Pussycat, until I found Roger’s favored haunt. There he regaled me with stories of expatriates who couldn’t “crack the code.” One rising ad exec launched the Marlboro Man campaign with the Man wearing a green cowboy hat. “Idiot didn’t know green hats symbolize cuckoldry in Chinese culture,” Roger said over beers. “It’s because the words for green hat and cuckold sound the same in Chinese.” He told me other meanings, too: that the Chinese characters for “wife” mean “under the big man.”

Heading to his apartment in pouring rain, he grabbed my arm and drew me briefly into The Pink Pussycat, where soft, non-Christmas music played and four women sat, each in her corner, haloed by chairs, awaiting customers. In Roger’s apartment, we ate noodles. Roger warned me not to cut them (“bad luck!”) and, when his black cat Mimi growled, insisted she was good luck. I drunkenly recited Thomas Grey’s ode on the death of a favorite cat. “Not funny,” Roger murmured, his face in my hair.

After we made love, Roger confessed he was the “green hat man.”

He asked me if I’d guessed.

I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t.

About the author: Nancy Ludmerer’s short stories and flash fiction appear in Litro, Fish Anthology 2015, Bath Flash Fiction Vols. I and II, Brighton Prize Anthology, Green Mountains Review, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Cimarron Review, Vestal Review, and New Orleans Review, among other fine journals. Her flash fiction has won prizes from Grain, Night Train, Blue Monday Review and River Styx and is reprinted in Best Small Fictions 2016. She lives in New York City with her husband, Malcolm, and cat Sandy, a brave survivor of Superstorm Sandy. Her flash fiction Do You Remember Me? was previously published through Retreat West here.


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