James adjusts his glasses in the dark. All the lights are turned out except for the small overhead lamp that is too dim to read by. The plane is flying over the dark, glassy sea. Everyone is asleep, heads barely visible above the headrests. Beside him, Lynx is snoring, his eye mask half off, earphones loose. A slow, sad song trickles out through the earpiece. Lynx has been drunk for days. James wonders what happened with the girl they’d never met and the house in Gwangju they’d never been to–when Lynx told the story he told it like a fable, a story of disappearance. Gone, missing, vanished.
He catches his reflection in the open window; his glasses make him look like he’s underwater. Toward the front, someone else has their light on. James try to see who it is but he can’t quite make it out. Across the aisle, he sees Ree’s tattooed forearm dangling over the seat, still dressed in clingwrap, sweating blood. They are flying home from somewhere far. He forgets. When they get back, half of what Ree’s done on tour will be illegal.
James has heard it all before, has spent nights doubled over in laughter with Toyun as they took turns impersonating their manager. You must work hard, you must focus! He is James Damage Control Kim. He doesn’t get why they keep screwing up; it isn’t very difficult not to. He stuck lists on their dorm refrigerator–remove photos of: pub, beer, cigarettes, taxis taken at night, leather jackets, anyone who might be a woman who isn’t part of the crew, instead upload photos of: dorm, living room, hotel room littered with comics/videogames/takeout containers, members laughing in a van, members sleeping on a plane. #Paris #NYC #Shanghai #London #Tokyo #BuenosAires #ASCS7 #fighting
Yes, applicable. Lynx is mad at Ree is mad at Toyun is mad at DH is mad at Minkyu is mad at Gin. Who owns the dance break? Who gets to be the center? Who winks at the camera two minutes in? The songs change, but when the music stops, someone has to be left standing.
Her skirt was patterned in black and white houndstooth, flaring out right above her knees like a tent that reminded him of lightning grazing the pale metal wing on a plane. When it billowed in the breeze it stung the backs of his eyes like static, screenburn. It made him dizzy.
She was sweating through her shirt and loose strands of her hair were plastered to the sides of her face. She was brushing his eyebrows back with a small comb. It had taken them forever to get his contact lenses in and now they were running behind schedule.
You have to practice, I keep telling you.
Her earrings clinked together as she shook her head.
They were shooting for the trailer and photobook that would go with the release of their latest album–Kronicle, in which seven heroes travel through time and space to save a beautiful girl. They were on location for two weeks in a city that kept slipping his mind–Copenhagen? Reykjavik? Prague? Sunlight through a screen, slightly overexposed film. The set was at one of the ruins of one of the castles that had been restored just enough to still look broken. James imagined a giant coming in to sweep through the courtyard, picking up the tower and crushing it between his fingers like sugar, dusting it so it was just right.
Tents were set up along the courtyard, white and bearing the entertainment company’s logo. The lawn was green and gray, barren in areas but still too bright to look at directly.
She lined his eyes with gel the colour of gummy shark candy.
He could feel himself tearing up.
A tear slid down his cheek.
She clicked her tongue.
She did the other eye quicker and then patted this face with the sponge again.
Why do I have to do everything around here? The people in makeup are slackers. They didn’t even use waterproof.
That’s why you’re the boss.
Up close, he saw the little creases around the corners of her eyes, fine like folds on Japanese paper. #1000papercranes #makeawish
Hah. Flattery will get you nowhere. You’re worse than my son.
How old is he?
When she reached up to part his hair to the side, he chased the glint of rings on her finger with his eyes. He felt his left contact lens slip.
His eyes were welling up. He tilted his head back to keep the tears from messing with the eyeliner. His eyelid kept trying to close, shuttering like a broken projector.
She held his eyelids apart between her thumb and forefinger and blew until the lens lay flat. His vision cleared, sapphire on silver. She smiled.
Are you okay?
Did I ruin it?
Just don’t close your eyes.
He sees the flight attendant by the emergency exit and waves her over. Her floral scarf is the color of a bruise in the dim light. He envies the others, the way they are proud like cars with broken windows.
He is James the shame Kim. When he first arrived from California, they introduced him as the foreigner. No, no, no, he’d protested, like saying it again and again would make it true. It didn’t–but it wasn’t always so bad. It gave him the luxury of exclusion.
Before they boarded the flight, Lynx was telling the story again. They were two days into rehearsal when they phoned to tell him she was gone. None of the guards had seen her, her clothes were all there, all of the jewelry he bought her. She just vanished. Maybe she left you.
Toyun offered advice, Minkyu recommended a playlist, Gin offered a round of drinks when they got back. James dug into his bag and produced his passport, boarding pass.
The flight attendant arrives. Yes, sir? When he tells her what he wants it comes out like sin, through gritted teeth, without eye contact: vodka, please.
Today, they travelled back into the past. All seven of them were dressed in victorian era costumes: top hats, monocles, walking sticks. It was the middle of summer. Sweat sped down his spine, a liquid bullet trapped in a barrel of silk and skin. The motif was blue velvet, their suits varying in shades from sea to sky–midnight, navy, teal, turquoise.
Wait, maknae. Instax first.
The flash punched a cerulean hole in his vision. #nofilter She glanced at the photo before tossing it into a box with the others.
She smoothed his collar and steered him toward a tree where the crew had propped a full-length mirror up against the trunk.
The suit caught in the sunlight, blue laced with silver.
He turned, clicked his heels together.
She handed him a cane with a lark on the hilt. He looked at her in the mirror.
Well? She was smiling.
I don’t look like myself.
The pilot announces the turbulence like a guest on a radio show. The red sign goes on–please stay seated. James wakes up, irritated. What remains of his drink is shaking on the tray, the half-melted ice making a sound like teeth in a ceramic jar. It’s still dark.
He picks the glass up, looks around for someone to give it to. The crew are also strapped in, seated. Water drips onto his lap, making crescent moons on his jeans.
The plane loses altitude, tilts to the left–he feels it in his stomach like a coin dropping in the dark . Not to worry, the pilot insists over the audio system. If you feel short of breath, please wait for the yellow masks to drop.
They didn’t want to hire an actress so there wasn’t actually going to be a girl. All seven of them found this hilarious, laughed themselves useless until their manager had to yell at them a little. All day long, the director had hurled romance prompts at them as they ran down the corridors and then out into the courtyard: imagine the love of your life is being stolen away by a bandit! Run! Bring her back!
James was exhausted. They’d asked him to repeatedly jump over a small wall that wasn’t as small as it seemed.
Toyun was imitating the director. Go get her!
Are we the heroes or the kidnappers?
Ree asked no one in particular if they were done yet.
Minkyu had already untucked his shirt, the back of it nimbus-gray and creased from him sitting on the ground.
Gin was asleep with his contacts on.
DH had put a hiphop record on.
Their manager motioned for James to come over.
James looked up. Already, he could hear Ree walking away, DH turning the volume up, Minkyu digging his heels into the dirt, Toyun pretending not to notice.
You will save the girl.
He thinks of the plane going down: he can imagine their bodies being fished out, bloated and caught in netting like beached dolphins, calamine-pink.
He thinks of Toyun floating face-down, red hair like fire under the sea, imagines the plastic peeling off of Ree’s tattoo like moist onion skin, pictures Gin’s faux-leather bag floating like a drowned dog. If it happened now, it wouldn’t be so bad. At least the black box wouldn’t catch them arguing over center, vocal, dance, rap, girls, dishes, detergent.
They put her in a gown the color of seafoam with sleeves that rolled down and out at the shoulders. They’d swept her hair to one side, told her to hold the long skirt up so that the layers underneath showed: cream, champagne, gold. She didn’t look like herself.
The cameras panned around her, carried by sweaty men in oversized shirts with black face towels that hung around their necks. The title track played in the background, something about time and love and waiting.
She stood like grass trying not to sway.
We just need to get the elbow, the hair, the dress.
Oy, James. Get in there.
He walked toward her, the silver hilt of his cane slippery against his palm.
Tilt your head up! Unbutton your blazer, put a hand on your hip.
He did as he was told.
The cameramen circled like vultures.
She turned, faced him.
The final chorus swelled.
GO! Run into his arms! He is the love of your life, he’s finally come to save you from the evil people who want to keep you trapped. He’s journeyed through the past and the future and the stars to come get you.
Drop your cane and save her!
Look her in the eye!
He looked up.
She was running toward him, her face the color of blood in milk.
You’re the hero!
She reached a hand out like someone drowning–he caught her, pulled her toward him. The cameras switched. When she turned, the skirt of her dress fanned out, unfurling like surf crashing onto stone. He picked her up and she made a sound and he almost believed it.
The seatbelt light goes green and startles him. The glass slips out of his hand and makes a dull sound on the carpet. The flight attendant rushes over to pick it up. Her skirt matches the seats. His hands are cold. Outside, lightning crosses the inky sky, cutting like a plane through water.
The ceiling fan was honey-colored, tipped with red. It was two in the morning. Everyone had left. She stretched, lifting her palms to the ceiling.
Okay, okay. Let’s get this over with, I’m exhausted.
The room was littered with suits in cloth cases.
He was standing at the foot of the bed. The television was on, playing a game show that required contestants to finish absurd tasks in sixty seconds.
She held the suit up against him. It should be a little bit loose on top so don’t mind that.
In the bathroom, he put his glasses by the sink, shed his clothes and put the costume on. It was light gray with white running through it. The shoulders were padded with material that reminded him of football players’ uniforms. He looked in the mirror. He was blurry.
There were photos of children stuck to the glass like Fragile stickers. Two rings sat beside a pink toothbrush: one a plain platinum band, the other silver with a single pale blue stone.
James picked them up, felt them against his palm like ice in a warm mouth.
He put them in his pocket.
In the room, she was running her hands over the empty suits, zipping them back into their cocoons, tucking them in as the people on TV tried to blow paper windmills into woven baskets and failed.
They were drifting through space, clad in different metallic shades of gunmetal gray going into silver into white. Music blasted at them. Dance break. They glided across the floor. The rings were heavy in his pocket. James felt them crashing against one another as he moved.
Lynx was missing so they danced without him, trading in their signature flying V for a plateau that he and Ree shared. The set was all white with glass windows. They spun thrice, landed back to back, eyes to the camera. Someone yelled something. The lights went off. Everyone, take five.
James watched her fanning herself in the distance. She had her back to him. Her hair was piled high on top of her head. They turned the lights back on. His vision was spotted again. Someone else came over to wipe his sweat and then re-paint his face. Would he be saving the girl again today? He was asking just to be prepared, just to practice, just to work on acting. The girl didn’t know, bowed, left. The director’s face was green-blue from watching the screen. The manager was shouting into his cellphone. This time, louder: Hello?
Outside, everything is white. The sun is up, they are flying through a cloud. He wonders if they are invisible to birds–phantom noise, ghost plane. He tries to make himself a list of things to say but it was so long ago now: I found them, I forgot about them, I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry for having waited so long. The crew asks them to please straighten their seats to prepare for landing. Finally, he is sleepy. He closes his eyes, can hear the others waking up. Someone is asking what time it is. James would answer but he doesn’t know.