Mr. You’s cremation was no religious ceremony, May Linh made sure of it. So it was just her and the kid and the undertaker, who didn’t know quite what to think. He knew there was a white man dead inside this casket and he couldn’t figure out what this May Linh had to do with it and who was this kid.
“Can you leave us alone for a minute?” May Linh asked the man. It was few minutes only before the oven.
“Sure,” the undertaker said, “take you time.”
Once he had left, May Linh asked the kid to open the casket for her, which he did. There was Mr. You and the kid was stunned to see how frail he looked now. But May Linh asked him to wait by the door, which he did. May Linh, looking at Mr. You’s corpse, in the nice suit she had bought for him, seemed to ponder the situation for a second. Then she quickly took all of his clothes off, rolling them up and putting them by his feet. She looked at him, nude and dead, and realized she had never seen him with any jewel of any kind, the man had nothing on his body but private scars.
Then out of her purse, she got a little pair of scissors and a little pouch and cut Mr. You’s nails and a bit of hair, which she put in the pouch. He and the kid knew the last things that grow on a dead body, the last things alive, are hair and nails.
Then she got all the flowers that were in the room and put them around Mr. You’s corpse, and she made it all look good and she put white roses on his heart. Then she closed the casket and told the kid to get the undertaker in. So he came, all humble and sorry, whatever, working. Then he went to push on a button and just stood there, looking at his feet. The oven’s gates opened and an automated system had the casket, and Mr. You in it, slowly roll inside. Then the oven’s gates closed and there was nothing left to see. May Linh and the kid waited.
Sure enough, 30 mn later, the undertaker was back with the urn. “Thanks” said May Linh and she let the kid pay the guy. Then the kid drove her and Mr. You’s ashes home.
“Remember, tonight you’ve got to go pick up Lily at the airport, her flight lands at midnight, you better leave now,” she told the kid.
“How will I know it’s her?” the kid asked.
“You’ll recognize her,” May Linh said.
Once alone, May Linh reflected again on how this man had left absolutely no trace of himself, other than beer cans and ashtrays: he owned nothing, all of his money he had given away, he didn’t even have clothes. There was absolutely nothing left of him in her house other than what she knew of him. So she went to put the little pouch containing Mr. You’s nails and hair on her altar and set up the urn on the cupboard.
Then she turned on the stove for heat.
May Linh was in bed when she heard the car first, then the front door opened. It was still early in the morning and still dark so she didn’t move. And she heard Lily, in fact she smelled her first, come into the bedroom, get undressed and slide under the blankets. This had been May Linh’s first night alone in a long time and it had been a long night, waiting for Lily, worried the kid would do something stupid.
When she felt Lily coming into bed, she thought it was odd because she came in from behind her, like Mr. You. May Linh had gone to sleep at her usual place, on her left side and she had somehow anticipated that Lily would be on her left, like before. But Lily came from behind her, loved her body against hers and both were nude and they knew it and Lily gave May Linh a big silent hug and May Linh cried again, silently, and she thinks Lily cried too, but those tears were also happy tears, May Linh and Lily were so happy to be with each other again.
So they stayed this way for a while, in bed, holding each other. It was warm and they dozed off for a moment but there came the light of day and they got up.
Over breakfast, May Linh told Lily of Mr. You’s last days but there was nothing sad to it. May Linh talked about her school, which Lily knew very well.
“In fact, I have been talking with Mrs. Wan and we figured out a budget where I could hire an architect and build a new school, a true school. I have found a local architect and he has a nice project. I want you to meet with him, you’re always building things so you’ll tell me your opinion of him but I think he has a nice project, within the budget.”
“Did Mr. You know about it?” Lily asked.
“No, I didn’t have time to let him know, I was about to tell him,” May Linh said.
“What about you? New Orleans?” she asked.
“It’s a riot, I love this town. I love Chicago too but it’s too cold there in the winter for me. I’d rather be hot in the summer and it’s very hot in the summer in New Orleans and they have typhoons and carnival, no wonder Mr. You liked it too. I opened a massages’ parlor and you wouldn’t believe it.”
“Oh, I would,” May Linh said with a smile.
“Yes, I guess,” Lily said.
“Then what?” May Linh asked.
“Then some old fucks’ association, some zealous fundamentalist Christians, came to question the morality of my activity in their neighborhood. They didn’t even know I was a foreigner, I told them I was from Chicago. Thing is, they believed it and, to them, Chicago is hell on earth, as if New Orleans is saints’ country. Well it is. Anyhow, they were virulent, harassing clients, and I needed a lawyer and I met this guy.”
“White guy?” May Linh asked.
“Yeah, very white, a true New Orleans guy, old family, never goes beyond the city limits. Yet you know he has mixed blood from somewhere along the line. Old family. I told him that what I was doing, my massages, had therapeutic values, that my clients were feeling better after than before and were very happy with my services. I didn’t care about old crazy Christians, I just wanted to be able to work. Then this guy laughed and agreed to take my case. Not only that, but he managed to have an article in the local newspaper, the Times Picayune, about the therapeutic values of massages, my massages. So now everybody in town want to know what this is all about and I have so many clients, I had to hired Chinese women!”
And they both laughed.
“So, your lawyer, what’s his name?”
“His name is Terry LeBoeuf for Christ’s sake” and they cracked up again.
“So, did you give him a massage?” May Linh asked.
“Yes, I did,” answered Lily.
“With the part where you tell the names of every single one of his muscles and bones?”
“Yes, that one.”
“He was impressed I’m sure.”
“Yes he was.”
“So you know all about him now…”
“Yes, I do.”
“And he’s your guy?”
“Could be,” Lily said.
“Lily LeBoeuf! I can imagine Mr. You’s face if he’d known about that,” and they cracked up again and they were laughing so hard that when the kid entered, he was afraid to have interrupted something.
Lily was still laughing and, looking at the kid, “where did you get this one?” she asked May Linh. The kid had picked her up at the airport last night and that was a surprise to her. He had just explained that he was Mr. You’s chauffeur, coming to pick her up. Later, all along the way, he had spoken only in respectful terms of May Linh and Mr. You but Lily didn’t understand what was up with him or how he got involved in this.
“I sent him to Mr. You because the kid could get him high and keep him company. I had this kid before as a pupil in my school, he’s a good kid, talented and I trust him, otherwise I wouldn’t send him to pick you up,” May Linh told Lily.
“Yeah”, Lily said, “he wanted to drive; I told him I was driving this car way before he was, so I drove. We had a chance to talk, he does seem to be a good kid.”
“Ok, I’m ready to go,” the kid said. May Linh knew he had just caught a few hours of sleep and had prepped up the car then prepped up himself, like yesterday, and was ready to go back to the airport, again.
“Her flight is scheduled to arrive at 2:30 pm,” May Linh said.
“How do I recognize her?” the kid asked.
“Her name is Margaret, Margaret Law, Maggie, and you’ll recognize her,” May Linh said and the kid took off.
“Maggie?” Lily said, and she was now really puzzled, her weird eyes looking at May Linh with utter astonishment.
Iconography: picture comes from baliwwwdotcom