Big Cat

In the dream, she is always being chased by big cats–lions, leopards, tigers, panthers. It begins at the K-Mart outside the compound where she is putting a packet of coffee grinds into her shopping basket. She hears a sound like a coin hitting tile and thinks she’s dropped something important: a key or a pendant, a silver heart on a chain. She looks around. The strangers in the shop are staring at her. As the missing object forms in her mind, the skin of the dream shifts and there is a cooling of the light, an elongation of its edges. Her eyes drift toward the window where she notices the shape of a giant cat crouching in the distance, watching her with yellow eyes. Sometimes it is wide and golden-maned, other times sleek and black as night or tangerine-striped or amber-spotted–sometimes it is all of it in turns, shedding skins as it saunters toward her. It walks slowly, shoulder blades lifting like waves before they hit the shore. She makes for the door to lock it but when the latch catches, she always ends up outside. She bangs on the glass and the chimes ring. The people continue to shop, putting onions into their carts. She walks backward with a hand to the wall, keeps her eyes on the beast. It yawns. When she turns to bolt, she feels it break into a run. She wakes up.
+++++ There is a hot pink alarm clock by her bed, beside it are books still wrapped in plastic. The large tree outside her window shades her from the sun. She has only seen the K-Mart once, when she first moved in, her heart skipping staccato with excitement as she looked out the tinted back window of the SUV that carried her here from the airport. The sign was bright red, lit even if the sun was high and unforgiving. Outside there were lime-colored plastic chairs on which teenagers were eating pink strawberry ice cream and pastel green melon popsicles, tongues out while texting on their cellphones. She imagined herself heading there every other week to buy dinner when she was lazy to cook, pictured herself heating the small tinfoil container, dropping the egg into the soup. Maybe Friday would be movie night, and this was where she would run to get cigarettes or ice cream or beer or whatever it was he wanted.
+++Today, she is in the white kitchen preparing coffee, having a blueberry-flavored cigarette that she holds up to her mouth with a pair of tongs; nicotine stains the fingers. The purple wall clock hanging over the fridge reads 09:30 am. It’s sunny outside; from here she can see the two body guards changing posts–going over reports, explaining which deliveries have arrived and which ones haven’t. The groceries got here at 8:00 am but she has been awake for hours, soaking her feet in nectarine-scented bubble wash. Now they feel baby-smooth in her high heels which make dents in the carpet like teeth on flesh. Croissants, cupcakes, and finger sandwiches are set to arrive in thirty minutes. Last night over the phone said he would be here before noon. He said he couldn’t wait. She could see the smoke curling out and over his slightly parted, slightly glossed lips. Luckily, she thought while painting her nails a deep teal, you never have to.

He was wearing dog tags that swung from his neck and flashed silver under the bright studio lights. She was nervous. She’d prepared for the interview the only way she’d known how: learned hello, thank you, goodbye. She was angry with her editor. It was a fluff piece. He was punishing her. The press kit said to look for studio 32B. She was early. The room was white, brightly lit. She was caught off-guard by the aesthetic of the event: bright fur coats, leather mini skirts, pop dance music playing on top volume, teenagers holding glowing bulbs in fluorescent colors.
+++ The studio chairs were littered with shirts, shoes, shawls, wigs. She was told to wait, was given a glass of water.They were dancing, filming what she knew would be the opening segment for the broadcast. She sat and watched them: seven tall dominos all in a row, each one dressed in a leather jacket dyed a different color–different but the same. They dove to the left in a chain reaction as the drum roll went and then slid back up as the synth started. His hair was platinum blonde. He was the last to go, having landed on all fours and got up in time to spin on his heel, slip out of his jacket and throw it off-set before walking slowly toward the camera, running a hand through his hair and looking into the lens to say the song’s last line. Someone yelled something. The music stopped playing, the lighting softened. Her eyes had trouble adjusting. He stepped off the set, swinging his red leather jacket over his shoulder. Someone called his name. He turned on his heel and waved. She looked up and for a while thought he was waving at her.

The table is set: embroidered placemats, delicate saucers with candied flower patterns, and cake stands are arranged; water is set in a decanter shaped like a swan. This morning, his eyes are gray. He gives the bodyguard a gift–a lighter–and is clapped on the shoulder before being let in. When he steps into the living room, she takes his coat and hangs it on a rack made to look like a birch tree with pink lights for flowers. His hair is violet.
+++++ Coffee? He sits at the dining table and crosses his legs while playing with the handle on a turquoise cup. She goes into the kitchen, catches her reflection on the microwave’s glass door and makes sure everything is in check: fuzzy white sweater, hair curled around her face, a teardrop-shaped stone hanging from a delicate chain around her neck. She hears him singing to himself; she has already memorized the words to the new single so she sings along. She is subscribed. She trips over the last chorus and gives up. She should practice her second voice. She returns with the pot and pours, takes a seat opposite him. He begins to tell her a story about food, places, people, flights, flights back.
+++ She has seen it all online: them goofing off backstage, them playing pranks on the plane, them being shy when meeting with politicians, them playing different games with ridiculous consequences. It had been so funny watching it alone. She’d spent the whole night in her bathrobe, laughing until her stomach ached. She takes a sip of coffee, careful not to let it touch her teeth. She realizes he is waiting for her to laugh so she does, trying to reenact herself watching the story he was telling. He reaches for a cupcake. And how have you been? He leans over to traces circles on the back of her hand. The cups are turquoise, the coffee is poured.

They moved into a quieter room for the interview. The translator introduced her. He didn’t need any introduction, so it wasn’t given. He was sprawled out on the sofa, long legs clad in ripped, black denim. Sorry, he said in his language. I need to stretch my legs. She was surprised at how soft spoken he was. The translator’s voice echoed in the big room, trailing their conversation like a shadow at sunset. It’s fine, she said in English. He smiled wide, sat up. Care for anything to drink? Whatever you’re having. The translator said he preferred coffee himself, thanks.
+++ He returned with the drinks and set them down, the cherries floating above the ice. That day, his eyes were light green, rimmed with deep violet kohl. She pressed record and looked at the notes saved on her phone. She was sweating. So, is it your first time here? He looks at her and shakes his head slightly. No? He shakes his head again. The afternoon sun catches his pale hair and it looks like he is dripping light. Ask me something the others wouldn’t usually. She hesitates. Is it lonely being an idol? Not where you’d expect. The translator struggles. Where, then? He grins but doesn’t say anything. She crosses her arms over her chest, laughs. Fine, different question: is it fun being an idol? More than it should be. What do you mean? I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you, he said in English. The translator looks afraid. She smiled. Really, Tom Cruise? He leaned forward, touched her hand and drew a spiral on the inside of her wrist. He took the recorder from her. My turn. It doesn’t work that way. Doesn’t it? Sunshine leaked from the corners of him–collarbones, earlobes, crossed legs. He spoke into the receiver. Where do you go when you feel lost? She took a long, deep drink and cradled the cherry with her tongue. The sea. He’s grinning. I can’t swim.

She feels as though they’ve begun to fight but everything is going well. He’s complimented the assortment of bread, the set up, her hair, the sweater. She’s said how much she missed him. She’s asked after all six of the guys, using their real names, adding the appropriate suffixes.
+++ He is launching into another story: Ree was telling me that he knew a guy who could get us some blow if we wanted. Ree–rapper, dancer, born 12 April, third from the youngest. She cuts into a chocolate croissant. Of course, this was at a shoot for a music video so there shouldn’t have been any of that there but Ree is crazy. He laughs to himself. There was a little hill of the stuff. He gestures with his hands. Ree is crazy, he repeats. She has never met Ree.
+++ Did you enjoy? He licks some butter off of his top lip. He is shaking his leg. She knows it’s to the beat of one of their songs. She recrosses her legs. I brought it home. He is dancing inside. Her heel catches on the carpet.

The apartment was in the middle of the business district, at once posh and shabby; the elevators were new, the furniture wasn’t. The living room looked out onto a mall that looked out onto a man-made replica of a venetian canal. He took off his electric blue coat and tossed it on the couch. Underneath it, he was wearing all black. He looked too bright for the room. She fussed over her things–ran her hands over the worn edge of the sofa, a loose thread on a pillowcase, a bit in the wall where the paint was chipped as if begging them to smoothen, to pull themselves together, to become silver like he seemed. There was a haze over everything: the whites looked gray, the grays looked green, the blues looked black. He looked at the photos on the fridge. They didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. There was no one to translate.
+++ She opened two beers, reached over to hand him one. He caught her, drew a spiral on the inside of her wrist with his pinky, and lead her onto the couch. They drank the beer and set the bottles down, laid hands on each other. His hands were cool. She felt feverish. He undid the button on her blouse, pushed her onto all of her frayed things.
+++ She ran her hands through his hair. When she tasted his mouth, it was like being hit out of a tree by a stone: she felt something unspool inside her, coming loose and falling onto the floor in heaps like threads of gold or the pages of a newspaper.

Mind the floor, she says sharply when they kneel down to bring their faces to the closed toilet lid. He takes off his shoes, sets them by the door. The bathroom is immaculate; embroidered guest towels hang from a rack by the shower. It smells like strawberry air freshener. He takes the packet of white powder from his pocket and cuts it into two thin lines. Here, she says, and offers him a bright orange pinstripe paper straw. Thank you. She catches her reflection in the full-length mirror and adjusts her top. He meets her eye in the mirror. Shall we? He goes first. She thinks he looks small, hunched over dust.

That night, she educated herself. After he had gone home and tucked himself back into his dark clothes and his dark car, she took her laptop into the kitchen, turned the lights on and began to search: Lynx ASCS7, Lynx performance, Lynx facts, Lynx age. She scanned the info sheet, sped over real name, date of birth. She read the comments: I LOVE YOU, Please come here!, Tell me I’m your girlfriend, Say “I love you” in your next video and I will be your fan forever!, I will support you until I die OPPA!
+++ She opened new tab, moved onto performances at variety shows, TV stages, festivals–recognized the dance from earlier, decided that she liked it, watched it again in 1080p with subtitles for the songs. She watched it with him in a pale green sweater, with him with cotton-candy pink hair, with him in nothing but a faux-fur coat and leather pants, watched him dance in different skins, each time marveling at all the things that could be done with one body.

They ran away and locked themselves in a suite that overlooked the ocean. His hair was blush pink. The manager was angry. She couldn’t understand the texts but she knew they were threats like she knew it was raining outside even in rooms without windows. His phone kept ringing so he threw it into a pail of water. She was wearing an orange bikini; he was wearing matching red-striped tops and bottoms. They hadn’t been to the beach yet.
+++ She was just learning to speak his language. Coffee do you want? She picked up the receiver. He corrected her sentence construction and nodded. Yes. His eyes were sky blue. She wondered when he put them on. Two coffees and a bread basket, please. Thank you. She hung up. He was rubbing sunscreen onto his nose. Are we going to the water? He pressed his forehead onto the glass sliding door that lead to the terrace. Maybe later. She flopped back on the bed and tried to hear the water rushing onto the shore. The receiver was crooked in its cradle.

They’re lying on the bright purple rug in the bedroom. He’s naked. She refuses to undress in the daylight. He has gotten two new tattoos. One is a dancing girl by his elbow. Fans have wondered if it is for another idol who dances in another group. He denied it in a broadcast, all while bowing humbly to acknowledge that he admired her work but was committed to his fans.
+++ He is on his side. Can you stay the night? He props himself up on his elbow. We have rehearsal early tomorrow. Then wake up early. He shakes his head. Ah, you know I’m not good in the morning. He sits up. The other tattoo is an old Latin saying, misspelled. Suit yourself, she says, tossing him his pants. He catches them. Don’t be like that, he says, his voice always softer than she thinks it will be. He tries to tell her an anecdote about his mother and his father but it hits her like bones against a wall–she can only understand the skeleton of it. You have practice tomorrow. She gets up, walks into the bathroom to fix her eyeliner, see if it’s smudged. She wishes he were a tyrant. He slips the pants on. He is on his feet, is already chasing her into the other room.

The manager barged in while she was napping naked on the bed, curled around herself like a nest in the shade of a tree. Lynx was in the bathroom, preparing lines for later that night. She started, reached for the sheets. They were too far away. The manager walked past her, yelling Lynx’s real name. She’d forgotten it wasn’t a secret. In the hallway, the cleaning lady was taking photos. They were speaking fast and loud. Lynx was coaxing. Something broke. She looked up and saw a flurry of white powder. They weren’t going to make it to the ocean. He came out dressed, wearing shades over his eyes. The manager took the cleaning lady’s cellphone. He closed the door. She made for the bathroom. Get your things, the manager said to her, looking at his phone. We will go to the airport, you will follow in a separate car and fly back where you came from.

It was the Tweets that got stuck in her head. I doubt they are together; look at her. She is maybe only a assistant. Stylist? Lynx-oppa WHY? You betray me, I thought you said you love us all but you don’t. I will unfollow, I waste so many money on you! She followed link after link, saw the photo snapped of them looking out the balcony window: his hair is iridescent, she is nearly invisible. Is that her? They leaked her name. She deleted her different handles seconds too late. Why does she curse? Attached: a screenshot of a particularly bad day in August years ago where she wrote fuck this, fuck that, fuck it all. She is not worthy!!! Her phone was flooded with text messages. The one from him read: I will not let them. Missing object, she thought. Let them what? She lay back on her tattered furniture. She could not put the unravelled thing back together.

There was no wedding. The other six weren’t dressed in similar suits, forming a gradient of blue from navy to royal to sky. Lynx was not in white. His hair was ink-black, his onyx eyes rimmed emerald green. He was wearing a turtleneck that curled under the crook of his jaw. The manager was angry. Lynx had missed two concerts. They said he was sick. The fans didn’t believe it. Liar! She caught her reflection in the glass of the board room. She had curled her hair, had bought a new dress, had painted her lips pink. They got her in through the basement parking stairwell and then the service elevator. Here, he said, pushing the document across the table. It was a contract. She signed it with a fountain pen, the deep blue sinking into the paper. I won, she thought. I won. The manager gathered the papers. It has been arranged. He looked at Lynx. She will proceed to the house, we leave for tour tomorrow at 06:30–the car will be there at 05:00. Lynx nodded and then bowed like a lion to a man with a chair.

When he leaves, she makes peace. She kisses him on the mouth before they open the door and stands behind it as she lets him out. I’ll see you soon, he says. The sunlight fades like a polaroid setting into itself. It catches his hair and turns it the color of dusk.
+++ He claps the bodyguard on the back. The bread on the table has been attacked by ants. She throws all of it out, even what the ants have spared.
+++ She goes into the bedroom, undresses and leaves the outfit in a puddle. Let them think I’ve melted. She pulls a small suitcase out from under the bed. In it are her old clothes: jeans, a shirt, plain black flats. She puts them on. They smell like somewhere else. She takes off her earrings and the necklace shaped like a tear, and leaves them on the end table with the hot pink clock, the unread books. She takes a small bag with her wallet and passport in it, doesn’t leave a note.
+++ Walking to the open window, she tiptoes around the purple rug. She climbs onto the sill, puts out a tentative foot. She avoids the curtains, afraid the house will grab at her, catch on her edges. She inches out and onto the welcome branch of the waiting tree. Back pressed to the tree trunk, she gets ready to scale the fence and pauses to watch the sun setting over the K-Mart, its sign still bright and red. She traces loops onto the bark. When her feet touch the pavement, she breaks into a run, the missing thing cracking in her like a whip, snapping awake.

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