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from the June 2018 issue

Belly Up

Thailand’s Prabda Yoon, who made his WWB debut in our October 2017 issue, returns with the tale of a transgender woman at the end of her rope. 
 

He picked up the nickname ’Mantique from his friends during his time at university.

Because among the guys in his class—all rather busted-looking—he was hailed as the most romantic.

Because he already had the nickname Man.  

Because he didn’t like the nickname his father had given him and preferred to style himself more femininely as Tooktique.

Because Man was romantic, because Man was Tooktique, because Tooktique said flamboyant, because flamboyant said femme, because he was she.

Thus, Man was ’Mantique to her friends.

She was proud of the moniker and fully embraced it when referring to herself.

“’Mantique thinks… ” She often started a conversation that way, substituting her name for the first-person pronoun, because every sound that found its way out of her mouth really communicated ’Mantique’s thoughts, not Man’s, not those of Apichart Piangwang—the full name on her national ID card. Whenever anyone asked, “’Mantique, what’s your real name, missy?” the question tended to make her head do a prissy little spin, because it wounded her feelings, being suddenly reminded that her true name was Apichart.

What is true, what is false, what is real, what is fake? For ’Mantique, ’Mantique’s real name is just ’Mantique. As for that Mr. Apichart, that was a technical error, a flub on the part of ’Mantique’s parents who got frisky before they knew better. But ultimately, the one who’s going to write the script of ’Mantique’s life is ’Mantique, that’s what ’Mantique thinks.

“My real name is Ro-man-tique, darling.”

*** 

’Mantique thought today at sunrise would be a good time to kill herself.

Each to his own perspective. Some people look down on suicide as a cowardly choice, as an easy and irresponsible way to escape problems. In Thai, a euphemism for suicide is “shortsighted thinking,” but ’Mantique thinks you should give credit to people who have the guts to really carry it through all the way to the end. Us mortals, we’re usually afraid to death of getting hurt. To get themselves to the point of jabbing, stabbing, hacking, slicing or shooting at their own flesh, people need steely resolve, the resolve to go through with it once and for all (or more than once if they don’t quite die. Hahaha!).

’Mantique thinks ’Mantique’s jealous of these people, because ’Mantique’s not decisive, ’Mantique’s half-brave, half-skittish, half-dreaming, half-doing, half-this and half-that, but ’Mantique never “goes ahead with it,” as they say in English. Because of this, no one believes in ’Mantique, no one loves ’Mantique for real. They dupe ’Mantique then dump ’Mantique, then dupe then dump, like that, over and over. ’Mantique’s no piece of trash. Ah! Ah! Don’t dump ’Mantique—the Magic Eyes of the trash campaign see you!

’Mantique’s sick of ’Mantique’s own inadequacy, sick of having to be lonesome again for the umpteenth time, sick of the tiny little rented room that doesn’t have a chic vanity table, sick of the nocturnal life that leaves ’Mantique’s under-eyes puffy . . .  So, this morning, ’Mantique thinks ’Mantique’s going to commit suicide.

Eeeek! But the thought of stabbing ’Mantique’s own plump and tender organs with a sharp object, ’Mantique can’t, darling. The idea makes ’Mantique shudder. Pouring drugs down ’Mantique’s own throat, that’s not ’Mantique’s strong suit either. ’Mantique has a history of allergies to too many kinds of medication, and ’Mantique doesn’t like how they taste. So, after sitting down and mulling it over, ’Mantique thinks ’Mantique’s more suited to jumping from a great height. By the time the blood spills and splashes and splatters, ’Mantique won’t be around to witness it any longer. It seems like a more pleasant way to go.

Once the method was chosen, ’Mantique jumped right on it, darling, dashing upstairs to reserve the rooftop of the apartment building for the occasion. In a million years, ’Mantique had never graced it with ’Mantique’s presence, no. It’s a filthy place. Late at night, often there are teenagers sitting around in a group up there, drinking and keeping themselves entertained with dirty tales. It’s a cross between terrifying and disgusting, a combination that’s just too intense and probably very dangerous for a prim and pretty person like ’Mantique. So ’Mantique had always refrained from wandering up there, for the peace and prosperity of all involved. But this morning, ’Mantique was on a special mission that necessitated the climb.

Let ’Mantique tell you about it . . . It can count as ’Mantique’s daily dose of humor.

’Mantique went up there and stood awkwardly on top of the cement parapet on the rooftop, peeking down at the concrete surface of the road below. Because it was still early and the sun hadn’t entirely detached itself from the horizon yet, mosquitoes swarmed and swooped all over the place. Upon seeing ’Mantique’s gorgeous skin, they probably felt peckish, so the whole horde of them started biting and nibbling on ’Mantique along the entire lengths of ’Mantique’s arms in a feeding frenzy. It bugged ’Mantique, even though ’Mantique was just about to jump off the side of the building toward death. But ’Mantique couldn’t stand it and had to spare almost forty minutes swatting the mosquitoes. Darling, ’Mantique had a fortress set up to fight off the enemies. ’Mantique stood there, slapping, intent on eradicating them all. There were over a hundred dead bodies before ’Mantique was finished. Hands all smudged with tiny little bloodstains, ’Mantique was worried about ruining ’Mantique’s fine skin, so ’Mantique had to run back to the room and wash the grossness off and rub moisturizer on after. Once that task was accomplished, ’Mantique went up the stairs again, intending to face death once more.

Too late! Not the time of day, darling, because it wasn’t quite seven a.m. yet then. The air was still fresh, with the moist scent of morning dew periodically grazing the nose. The elements of dawn were all there. But it was too late because when ’Mantique craned ’Mantique’s neck to look down for the second time at the ground below—gray, trimmed with white-ish, yellow-ish lines—the fear of pain poked up in ’Mantique’s bosom. ’Mantique was thinking, that’s concrete, darling self. That’s no cotton wool, no silicone, no waterbed, no bouncy rubber, no velvet, no wool—that’s something really hard, like, painful-hard, hard enough to crack your bones in the blink of an eye, and it’s not the kind of hard ’Mantique likes either. No, thank you. ’Mantique thinks it’s too cruel, it’s not romantic. ’Mantique thinks a person like ’Mantique should at least get to go in a tasteful and graceful manner, like a well-composed painting that possesses elegance, that’s moving, that conveys death in the abstract.

’Mantique thought a change of plans might be better: to die by jumping off a bridge.

Because that would be a true return to one of the four elements of life, a romantic separation from the earth, ’Mantique-style.

’Mantique thinks ’Mantique should get dressed, flag a taxi in front of the building, and tell the driver to step on it to get to the Suspension Bridge before 7:30.

And then she really did so. At the foot of the bridge on the Bangkok side, when ’Mantique shut the door of the pink-and-white taxi behind her, most people’s clocks and watches read 7:23. ’Mantique thought she had correctly estimated the time, but she had no way of knowing for sure because she had decided not to put on a watch before leaving home, and the clock in the taxi was defective. For upward of a month, it had said that the time was 4:36, that was what the driver told her. Only we know that ’Mantique had arrived at her destination a good several minutes ahead of schedule.

Walking up the curve of the bridge, ’Mantique didn’t even so much as glance at the water flowing alongside her below because she didn’t want to lock eyes with her own graveyard before the necessary moment.

But then the necessary moment caught up to her fast, at the bridge’s midway point. ’Mantique thought the coldness of the water she saw below was probably no laughing matter. She clenched both fists, as if doing so was a means of gathering the strength she needed to jump, ignorant of the fact that hardly any physical power was required. Really, what ’Mantique should have been gathering were memories, those that might have been hiding deep within or fallen through the cracks in the nooks of her brain or the crannies of her heart, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the battered, the memorable and the forgettable.

Had ’Mantique ever wondered why memories that deserve to be forgotten manage better than the ones that deserve safekeeping, to keep flaunting themselves, taunting us? Because even though it’s impossible, deep down everybody hopes to have a chance to do over something that won’t stop gnawing at us. Even though it’s unrealistic, everybody wants to have a giant eraser hidden inside of them that they can pull out and use whenever they make a blunder.

They say memories are like scars. ’Mantique doesn’t like scars. ’Mantique wonders why these so-called living wounds must stay alive. An entire person has to cease to exist in order for these permanent marks to give up their existence. ’Mantique thinks it’s such a waste of a life. But that’s that. What can you do if it’s the only way?

’Mantique thought she should have her eyes closed when she stepped off and let herself fall from life, so she wouldn’t have to witness the vertical rush of the world zooming by. ’Mantique thought she might throw up otherwise.

The second she threw her body over, what was going through her mind?

’Mantique thought her body might get nibbled on by fish in the near future. What an unpalatable image.

Layers of air never helped buoy anyone up. Shivers ran through her whole body, as if the soles of her feet had holes allowing air to enter and squirm inside of her, forcing blood cells of both colors to become jammed at her temples. ’Mantique couldn’t think anymore.

Then, before she hit the surface of the water, her body started to fall more slowly, which she found rather strange. ’Mantique still didn’t dare peel her eyes open, fearing that she would see something unpleasant, like a reddish liquid or some roundish gobs sticky with mucus.

But ’Mantique’s curious bone couldn’t resist. ’Mantique’s thinking, what’s happening here? Suddenly, the belly feels bloated and stretched taut, as if it’s struggling to push something out, as though it’s slowly inflating like a balloon—yes, like a balloon with an air pump sticking into it. But there’s nothing sticking into ’Mantique. There’s only air that’s going by in the reverse direction, but that shouldn’t be spiky enough to pierce the body and make it expand. ’Mantique thinks it’s time to inspect the situation with ’Mantique’s own eyes and see what’s going on with ’Mantique’s svelte body.

Aaah! ’Mantique’s belly is puffed up as round as a ball. It’s ripped to shreds the trusty T-shirt that was meant to be taken along on ’Mantique’s tour of the next world, and now ’Mantique’s outie belly button is exposed, looking oddly like the stem-end on a fruit. And ’Mantique feels, too, that instead of dropping further down and into the water according to plan, ’Mantique’s inflated belly is buoying up ’Mantique’s body, preventing it from falling with the motion of gravity. If that isn’t strange enough, it’s now gradually shooing ’Mantique back upward, encouraging ’Mantique to float exactly like a balloon. Or is hell turning ’Mantique away? Or perhaps ’Mantique’s extreme romanticism is better suited for angels than for the Guardian of Hell?

There’s nothing ’Mantique can do. ’Mantique is floating up higher and higher. ’Mantique wonders whether anyone on the streets below notices this miracle. ’Mantique thinks it would be good to try flapping ’Mantique’s arms, just for kicks, so ’Mantique looks more elegant, so it looks as if ’Mantique were the one directing this upward movement. Otherwise people will think ’Mantique swallowed a cheap balloon from a temple fair into the belly—that doesn’t sound romantic at all. ’Mantique’s flapping ’Mantique’s arms, pretending they’re wings of a bird. If ’Mantique flashes a little smile, it’d probably look like ’Mantique’s having a good time flying.

Hey you, Suspension Bridge, we’re at the same level again. ’Mantique didn’t think we’d ever meet again. Oh, whoa! Bye, Bridge, ’Mantique’s belly is so impatient. Is it in a rush to shoot up and go explore Mars or what? The higher it’s getting, the more speed it’s picking up. This is freaky in a different way. Good thing ’Mantique’s not afraid of a little height (not just not afraid, loves it even. ’Mantique likes them tall and fair. Hahaha!). ’Mantique’s never been on an airplane. ’Mantique’s only heard people talk about how, from the window, everything below looks tiny like toys, like Barbie’s stuff. ’Mantique’s getting a pretty good sense of that firsthand now, and ’Mantique’s liking it.

Reflections on the surface of the water look so beautiful from here. The orange sunlight is skimming the raised bits of the water section by section—’Mantique’s not describing it well because ’Mantique’s not gifted at using words nicely to describe an image in a way that tugs at people’s heartstrings. But ’Mantique likes to try because ’Mantique likes to read touching poems. Reading them gives ’Mantique the feeling that something nice-smelling is blooming under the eyelids. What’s happening to ’Mantique now lends itself to being turned into beautiful phrases, but sadly ’Mantique can probably only do what ’Mantique’s abilities will allow. If ’Mantique floats past a S.E.A. Write poet’s window, ’Mantique will drag him out and ask him to help compose a poem, but probably no S.E.A. Write poet’s awake yet.

Where is ’Mantique floating to? It’s starting to get higher and higher. Ahhh! Real birds! A whole flock of them. Give a little way, pretty, please. Phew! Even in the open sky, you can still run into things that make your heart race.

Why didn’t ’Mantique die, even though ’Mantique was dying to? What’s happening to ’Mantique’s belly? What sneaky thing has wiggled its way in there? Or has it had these parachute-like qualities from the time ’Mantique’s eyes opened to see the world for the first time? ’Mantique doesn’t recall being aware of this. Or is ’Mantique pregnant! That’s going a bit overboard. Even if pregnancy were a possibility, it’s unlikely that it would be so lightning-fast. In sum, ’Mantique thinks it’s impossible to know the real reason why the belly inflated…

***

“Hey, isn’t that Man?” Mrs. Urai Piangwang flinched when she saw a round-bellied human floating in the bit of sky outside her window. 

“Don’t utter that name within my earshot.” Mr. Apichai Piangwang doggedly kept his eyes on his newspaper, his right hand holding a plastic coffee mug by the handle.

“But—our Man is floating in the sky with his belly puffed up. Look!” Her voice was animated and concerned. When she became certain that what she saw before her eyes was her only son, she was even impelled to slide the sash window up (and it was a window that hadn’t been washed or opened for years) and stick her head out to get a good look. “Man! Man! Man, my son!” She yelled into the morning air.

“Don’t bother with him. It’s his business what he’s up to. Since he doesn’t care about our feelings, why should we care about him?” There was so much bitterness in Mr. Apichai’s tone that he was gagging on it. Whenever his wife mentioned their son’s name, he inevitably gave the same speech, as if he had it memorized. The wound deep in his heart that was still raw had never begun to heal, no matter that a new forest could just about be melded out of the calendar pages that had been torn off.

“But—our son’s floating in the air! He’s not just walking by the house. Aren’t you going to look? How the heck did he get himself into this?” Mrs. Urai turned to say to her husband and then quickly slipped her head back out, tilting her face toward the sky. “Man! Man! Can you hear your mother?”

“That’s not out of character for him, these wacky, weird things. He just loves to seek out outlandish things to amuse himself with, absurdly going off and doing this and that. Any moral compass he ever had was shattered to pieces long ago. We’re lucky he isn’t living here with us anymore. Otherwise we’d embarrass ourselves all the way from here down the whole street.” Mr. Apichai cleared his throat as if to hack out a ball of pain.

“Man!” Mrs. Urai tried again.

This time, ’Mantique happened to be looking her way.

’Mantique thinks the little woman at the window over there looks familiar. Aaahh! It’s ’Mantique’s own mother! ’Mantique hasn’t seen her for ages. Must wave hello before the belly takes ’Mantique floating up too far for us to see each other.

’Mantique frantically waved her right hand again and again.

“Hey! Man’s waving to us!” Mrs. Urai shrieked with joy. 

“So what!” Mr. Apichai said, teeth gritted.

But he took a peek out of the corner of his eye.

The hole in his heart had never closed up . . .

 

From Moving Parts, forthcoming 2018 from Tilted Axis Press. © Prabda Yoon. Translation © 2018 by Mui Poopaksakul. By arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

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