A foreigner turns a Chinese girl on, a bit hastily, to LSD
“It’s so cute!” she said, fingering the little square of paper with the image of a joker, like a Barbie Doll’s playing card. “What is it?”
“You put it on your tongue and it makes you see things.”
“Colors and things.”
“Really? Like this?” She placed it on her tongue and tinkled a laugh.
“No, wait! I was going to do it with you later, maybe this weekend. I wanted to tell you more about it first. Jesus. Well, okay. Oh, boy, here we go.” He separated another tab from the perforated blotting paper and put it on his tongue. “Yeah, like this.”
“How does it make you see colors?”
“It’s a drug.”
“A drug? I don’t understand. It’s so small. Will I die?”
“No, no, you won’t die. You’ll get high.”
“In a little while.”
Qingqing was over to see her new American teacher’s apartment. The evening after the first day of class he had been sitting in the foreigners’ office with the door open when she walked past. A moment later she craned her smiling face in the doorway.
“Oh, hi, Cupcake. Please come in,” he said.
“I’m not bothering you, teacher?”
“No, not at all. Call me Anthony.”
“You remember me already!”
“How can one forget a name like that? How did you choose it?”
She planted herself on a chair next to him. “I want to open a cupcake shop after I graduate.”
“A cupcake shop? But you’re majoring in English. I thought you guys are training to be English teachers. Can you make a living selling cupcakes?”
“I want to have a try.”
They went for dinner at a restaurant near campus. Anthony was struggling with his chopsticks. Qingqing stood behind him and placed her arm alongside his to show him how to do it. He could feel her breast on his shoulder. He was twenty-three and newly arrived in China with a freshly minted bachelor’s degree and his first fulltime job, teaching English conversation in a Beijing college. She was twenty-one and one year away from graduating. But these particulars weren’t all that important to them at the moment.
“If you want, we can go to my place and listen to some music together,” he said.
“Now? Go to your apartment?”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be right now, but we could, anytime you like.”
“Wow, I can see your apartment?”
Outside of class she had never been face to face with a foreigner before. She had never visited a single man’s home. She had never had a boyfriend, unless Rongwei could be considered a “boyfriend,” though all they had done was take a few walks around the school grounds the previous year. One night, he grabbed her hand. She didn’t know what to do and hesitated. They parted awkwardly. She felt sorry for him and resolved to keep hold of his hand the next night, but he avoided her after that. She no longer had a boyfriend. She was perplexed for a long time about it.
Tonight was different. She was entranced, her body heaving with a fever she had never known. She once had a foreign female teacher with eyes as blue as the sky over Tibet. Anthony’s eyes were even more spellbinding, so light gray they were as clear as ice, as silver as mirrors, as transparent as illuminated fish on the ocean floor. His curly brown locks bounced and frolicked on his shoulders like a chocolate cat, the hair on his chest was as fragrant as grass, and his flesh glowed from the holes in his jeans like sunlight. She had wanted to grab his hand right there in the office, and did grab his hand in fact while helping him with the chopsticks.
Anthony too was entranced. Qingqing’s eyes were as soft as the fur of a black rabbit, her skin as lustrous as a banana milkshake, her breasts as big as a pair of teddy bears. They were so big they got bigger each time he looked at them; so big they took on a life of their own, as if she were carrying a jumping sack of fish on her chest; so big he was amazed she wasn’t shocked by them herself and seemed perfectly unaware of them; so big they were likely keeping most boys away, but not Anthony. She was dazzling, an unimaginable dream come true.
He put his arm around her on the couch. She pouted. When he grabbed her hand she pulled it away.
“What’s the matter?”
She got up and stood over by the window, her back to him. “You know, what you did is very serious.”
“You mean the acid?”
“I’m your student, and you just held my hand. It takes weeks before a girl will let a boy take her hand. You’re my teacher. I respect you. We shouldn’t do this.”
“I’m sorry, Cupcake. I’m just expressing my feelings for you honestly. I really like you.”
She came back to the couch and sat flush next to him, though stiffly. She didn’t know how much longer she could hold out. When he took her hand again, she curled hers into his. Gingerly he lay his arm across her shoulder and rested his fingers on her breast. She gave his hand a sharp slap. This went on for a while, each subsequent slap lessening in force until his fingertips were allowed to flutter about her cleavage like a bird.
“We’re about to embark on an exciting journey together, so we need to get more comfortable,” he said, pulling her down on the floor and sitting her between his legs. “This will be a big new experience for you, but I’m right here behind you, guiding you the whole way.”
With her expansive hips and bosom, she felt like a Buddha in his arms. Indeed she now struck him as rather fat, if glamorously so, like some mythological female joined to the body of an animal. He slipped his hands under her shirt and unhooked her bra. “There, isn’t that more comfortable?”
Hormones of desire and fear radiated from her. The adrenalin stench synced with the sustained blast of Green Day so that he could smell the music.
“Your heart is racing. Are you afraid?”
She blushed and whispered the words so quietly he could barely make them out. “I’m shy.”
“I’ve never been touched like this before. I’m a virgin. If I get pregnant, it will be a disaster, you know.”
“Don’t worry, we don’t have to make love. I just want you to feel free and relaxed.” He tugged at her bra. “Why don’t we get this out of the way? It’s ugly armor.” Reluctantly she pulled it off from under her shirt. “You’re so beautiful. I can’t understand why you’ve never had a boyfriend. If you were in the US every guy in the university would be after you. No one has ever hit on you before?”
“I feel dizzy.”
“You’re getting off? I’m starting to get off too.”
“Why am I dizzy?”
“Are you having visuals?”
“The walls are breathing.”
“Yep, you’re getting off. Breathe with me, and everything will breathe as one. Go with the flow. Pretend you’re floating on a magical, multicolored sea.”
He embraced her more tightly from behind and at last had his hands on her naked breasts, her magnificent breasts, until he saw how shapeless they were, flattened out on her belly like deflating balloons, and how slimy with sweat underneath. She eased back into him and dropped her head on his shoulder, but she was not in the mood for kissing.
The initial effects of LSD tend to be pleasant, even under potentially adverse circumstances—a bad mood, the wrong locale or people, a high dose. It’s like the cannabis high, but more electric and focused. It doesn’t even feel like a drug, just a better state of mind. Perceptual distortions may begin to occur, but they are gentle and fascinating, quite outside yourself, as if you’re attending a performance. You can still function splendidly in your everyday activities, if anything even better, on the acid-enhanced state of mind.
As the effects gather momentum, the visual distortions grow in strength and blossom, and are accompanied by equally momentous temporal and emotional distortions. Instead of objects changing in space, you may see things that aren’t there—genuine hallucinations. Instead of time seeming to speed up or slow down, it simply falls apart or fractures and splays. Instead of mere feelings of euphoria or apprehension, you are overwhelmed by emotions so novel and intense no language exists to describe them. And all of these things are experienced at the same time (provided “time” is still operative in the familiar sense).
With Anthony at the helm and a wide-eyed Qingqing strapped to the mast, it was smooth sailing on the magical sea for a spell. That was until things got disorganized.
At some point Qingqing got up to go to the bathroom. She seemed to be spending an inordinately long time there. He heard her fussing with the bathroom door, opening and closing it, opening and closing it. At first he thought she was having trouble shutting it all the way and wouldn’t use the bathroom until she had succeeded in locking it. But he had not recalled any problems with the door himself and so got up to see what was going on. “Are you okay?” he said.
“I can’t get out of the bathroom.”
“But you are out of the bathroom.”
“No, I’m stuck inside it.”
“Cupcake, you’re standing outside the bathroom.”
“Help me get out of the bathroom. The door doesn’t work.”
“How can I help you if you’re already outside it? C’mon let’s go back into the living room. Are you finished with the bathroom?”
“No, I’m in the bathroom and can’t get out.” She was holding onto the door and she wouldn’t budge.
“Okay, let’s try this.” He pulled her inside the bathroom. “Now, let’s leave the bathroom together. See, how easily the door opens?” He escorted her out of the bathroom.
“No! We can’t leave,” she said, terrified. “The door doesn’t work.”
“Yes, it works. See, you’re already outside. We’re standing in the hallway.” By this means he was able to free her from the bathroom, and they went back to the living room floor.
Soon he heard the bathroom door opening and closing again. He wasn’t sure if he was repeating the same incident or time had jumped and she had somehow escaped from his arms and back to the bathroom without his noticing. A third alternative was that this was her first trip to the bathroom and the previous incident was in fact her second trip. Or this was her third trip to the bathroom. Whichever the case, she would not get settled in the living room until the affair with the bathroom was over and done with. He got up to go look.
“Don’t go in! Someone’s in the bathroom,” she said. “I can’t use the bathroom.”
“Cupcake, you are in the bathroom. It’s you who are in the bathroom. I’m in the bathroom with you, too.”
“Oh, my God.”
“Let’s take a bath together.”
He turned on the bathtub faucet. The water exploded out so violently he had to shut it off; one more second and the building would have collapsed around them. “Okay, maybe later. Let’s go back to the living room.”
“No. I’m not finished.”
“Do you have to pee?”
“Don’t leave me.”
“I can’t pee with you here.”
“Then I’ll leave.”
“I’ll turn around. Pretend I’m not here.”
“I can’t pee.”
He walked out and gently shut the door. Back in the living room, he noticed the music had stopped playing on his computer, which was odd considering he could still hear the music at full blast. Meanwhile, the bathroom door started on its old routine. Once again, he wasn’t sure whether this was the second, third, or fourth time he heard her struggling with the door, though he was pretty confident it wasn’t the first. Actually there were multiple versions of what was going on. She was variously standing at the door, on her knees at the door, inside the bathroom, outside the bathroom, or sitting with him in the living room; she was in various states of undress. Anthony was having trouble understanding whether he was in her presence observing her, considering whether to go observe her, or only remembering observing her.
The elisions in space and gaps in time dividing up and reshuffling these competing versions of the trips to the bathroom were not the result of the fading in and out of consciousness, as under extreme alcoholic inebriation or anesthetizing medication. Instead, the logical faculty is jumbled while the consciousness was fully intact. The awareness is disoriented because it incorporates everything; it is crystalline in its inclusiveness. Time is enhanced and sharpened, transformed into something complex and superior to so-called linear time. It can flex and join at the ends and snap back like a toy or a whip; it can shiver and wiggle; it can then organize itself into an elaborate formation. He saw that he was experiencing on the outside what Qingqing was going through on the inside.
“You’re stuck in a fractal,” he told her. “We both are.”
Anthony got out his cellphone to message a friend back in the States. “hey jeff that acid I got from you before I left is it different from the stuff we had before i know you said it was good but its really powerful and im pretty fucked up right now”
“the joker acid yeah its 270 mikes i thought u knew”
“how strong is that”
“the usual hits are maybe 50 this is an owsley dose”
“in homage to owsley the great acid chemist 270 is said to be the minimum dose needed to experience the full effects of lsd”
“minimum dose?!!! seems more like the full effects squared okay thanks”
“can u ride it out”
Riding it out entailed typing away on his cellphone in the living room in the midst of dealing with a curled-up Qingqing on the hallway floor. To be more precise, he was observing himself typing away in the living room at the same time he was observing himself with her in the hallway. One of these two events was real and the other a memory but which was which or which came first he could not tell: both were equally distinct and apparently simultaneous. Of course, he had already made countless trips to the hallway to check up on her so it was really a moot point. The only difference was she was now naked. He opened the door, stepped in and found her and himself as well on the bathroom floor with her clothes scattered about.
Some of the confusion, he realized, could be attributed to the discovery that the entire apartment had shrunk to the size of the bathroom. In fact, if he stuck his leg outside of the bathroom, he could extend it comfortably into the living room, whereas in the normal state of affairs he could not even see around to the living room; he had to walk a few steps down the hallway and turn to his right. The apartment was elastic and had curved around, bringing the living room into view and enabling him to lay his leg down the entire length of the living room while the rest of him was in the bathroom.
“Let’s get your clothes out of the way before you pee on them.” He tossed the clothes into the bathtub. “Now, let’s get you on the toilet to pee.”
She was slippery from perspiring and very heavy. He grabbed her under the arms from behind, and with one leg wedged against the bathtub and the other against the apartment door at the end of the hallway, he tried to lift her, whereupon her arms slipped through his grasp. He tried grabbing her around the ribs but she again slipped through him, breasts and all. She seemed to have lost all motor activity. When he succeeded in pulling her up as high as the toilet seat, he discovered it to be quite a ways away, so far away as to have shrunk in the distance to the size of a teacup. He worried he would miss wide of the mark but by now placing one leg inside the bathtub for greater leverage and the other against the apartment door, he was able to position her correctly and settle her on the seat. With this, she was able to relax and pee.
He could barely recognize the girl with the face of a rabbit who was grabbing onto the toilet bowl for dear life. Inexplicably, the entire bathroom floor was covered in her urine. She was sweeping up the urine with her hands and shoving it into the drain.
“Everything’s melting. The floor is melting. I don’t want to fall through. There’s paint everywhere. Wet paint everywhere. The paint is melting off your face. See, it’s on my hands. Look at all the colors moving on the floor.”
They were sitting on the living room floor together next to the toilet bowl, his arms embracing her around the waist. Either that or she was still in the bathroom. In any case, the living room and hallway had collapsed into the bathroom, so there was nowhere else to go.
“Anthony!” He found her on her knees slapping her hands in the mess on the bathroom floor. “I can’t see myself.”
Anthony swept her up. “I’m right here with you, Cupcake.”
“I’m dripping down the drain!”
“I’ve got you.”
* * *
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The Exact Unknown and Other Tales of Modern China
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