Her tongue swelled on my tongue. It was difficult what she had captured. The falling light? The rind of limoncello? The tall vortex was holding my face hostage. Black high heels. Exquisite tight leather pants. My friends had drifted far into the bathroom. Their faces, floating plastic coins, visible, blurry, pressed to the corridor of the bar doors. In the backdrop—the clinking drops of slot machines. My mouth was busy; my lungs were busy. She was going to take me home. First into her mouth and much later, sprawled out in her condo. The Vegas light hadn’t fallen and the traffic had been halted by the soundtrack of 2 am on repeat. She drank too much, but drove me to her place anyway. You are going to be safe. You are going to be safe, she kept on repeating, while swirling in her forerunner. In a Vegas bathroom, she drank my gaze, and in one glance, offered me her entire wardrobe of feminine ardors: breasts, skin, thong, fingers, tongue, eyelashes. She had the perfect symmetry of East and West. This half-Korean, half-Russian beauty. Submerged beneath, I had no idea what corridor to exit. Taking my hand into hers, she informed me that she used to be a circus performer, a contortionist who fit into a 9-inch box, and an elephant trainer. But now, she was just a high-paid masseuse. Her income was elaborate like a Russian doll. One head of income emerged from another. And so on and so forth. My desire for her increased as she increased the pressure on my hand while aiming for my lips, swollen with the polyamorous light flickering back and forth in between the cracks of my teeth. She held my tongue in place for a very long time as though my tongue was a stargazer that she must corner. The pleasure of holding still for those perfect Korean-Russian lips was intoxicating. She clipped my taste buds like tongs in a salad bowl. That pleasure. Oh my god. At last, she released me back into the glittering disco lights and asked me what kind of poetry I wrote and if I had any memorized, and if so, if I didn’t mind reciting. And like most things in life, the sky of her mouth began to pour rain. Droplets of emotions here and there and then I learned that she had just, in one night, gambled away 10 grand, her partner of 5 years was never around, and her father had died of pancreatic cancer. She poured this information out as if it were pocket change she must get rid of, as if it were a burden, dangling in her pants pocket. Or making too much noise and amplifying with the strides she made.
Where I came from: I had been at my mother’s shop for 12 hours, working 14-16 hours a day maintaining a dry-cleaning, seamstress business. I had flown in months ago to help out. Her business continued not to thrive and I missed being with a woman. To relieve the stress, I told her I would try not to be home tonight. My mother helped me dress. If you must seduce a woman, this is the way to go about it, my mother informed me casually. Treating me professional like one of her clients, she donned me in high heels, dark clothes that spoke to my curves, and told me if I came home tonight, she might as well fold her business. It was her business to make women sexy. My understanding of one-night stands was formed by the movies I watched: basically, bad sex and intoxication and forgetfulness the morning after. But this Vegas demoiselle’s fucking was heartbreaking. She had changed into a cotton dress, exhibiting her exquisite thighs as she sprawled out on her sectional sofa. She wanted to watch La Vie En Rose at 2 am with me and so we watched La Vie En Rose at 2 am. I wished I had time to Google if it was okay, under the one-night-stand rule, for us to watch sexy, devastating foreign films. I thought people just fucked and shuffled immediately into amnesia. I wasn’t prepared for Edith Piaf and her. So we watched Edith Piaf and her sad, murmuring voice. As it echoed through the different corridors of her condo like teabag chimes, she petted her cat and I wondered, what was her partner thinking, deserting this intoxicating island for more circus life. I saw a few scars on her arms and wrists, fading lightly, and asked about their history. From training elephants, she informed me. Sometimes they had gotten close. She petted the forehead of the cat as she told me more about her childhood in the circus. Her mother and father did it and they taught her and so she did it. My father died of pancreatic cancer, a horrible death, she told me. So much pain. She sent money to her mother to help her cope, though she struggled with the domineering effect of her mother. No matter what she did, she was never enough, good enough. There was so much wind in her voice as I listened. I felt as if I was having a three-year relationship with her packed into one night. I recall Edith’s face and the emotions, flickering, of the Korean-Russian in the backdrop. Her face was more dominated by Asian features, black almond eyes, black eyebrows, eyes that curved upward. They looked like monarch butterflies, wings clipped by flight, by duration and wind. I felt so sad and leaned back. Then she spoke about her father. Her bitter relationship with her mother some more. I felt like I had leaned back into time. Into a place where heartache would no longer exist. Though I had been drawn to women emotionally, she was the first woman I was drawn to sexually. In the most provocative way possible. I told her hardly anything about me, simply that I write and teach. She was so beautiful and so melancholic. Must beauty and melancholy coexist always? I didn’t have the sensual language then to communicate to her how incredible she was—her face, her curves, her thighs, her emotional confusions (have I mentioned yet her thighs?), this immaculate aura of her feminine exquisiteness, all there, available for her partner and I was there instead—a fable perhaps on a nonexistent mantel of falling light.
Where I came from: I had come from the Midwest. Long before landing at McCarran Airport, I had been involved in sexual relations with two white boys, one from Florida and the other from Nebraska. I had come from Iowa, land of bovines and white people. I had lived in Iowa City, an intensely progressive place, for over twenty years. I went in search of closeness. The emotional perspective of One Night Stand is the paradoxical approach to finding emotional fulfillment by going off to an island alone in search of intimacy. The only kind of intimacy one finds is one with coconuts, the sea, and Robinson Crusoe. The type of desolate, platonic lust one would experience with Friday, Crusoe’s peripatetic companion. And, when perhaps the Korean-Russian felt the hunger of my desire for her or perhaps the music from the film had become too unbearable, she walked up to me and began to unravel sensuality out of my tongue. She kissed and peeled me away, layer by layer. She removed inch by inch of her dress, her height, her languished melancholy, and by then, had already pinned me to the sofa. Tell me what you want and I will please you – she kept on repeating – firmly and gently as she entered me. I remember her lifting her long finger from the curtain that hid my hierarchy of grief and pleasure and began to surround me with a silence. Much later when my lungs had the capability to develop their own photographic lenses, the vapor of sorrow I felt became my own pleasure. What she had done was traffic my clitoris through enclosure by zooming in and out – making me exposed before exposure. In retrospect, after I studied what had happened to me viscerally – literally, I had become a tripod of some sort, her fingers, the eye that pointed toward light and perception— and somewhere inside of me I deflected the images of ecstasy and melancholy and distilled them somewhere along the uterine wall. I heard the clicking and flickering silence. During her opening of me, perhaps it made room for Edith Piaf’s voice to siphon itself inside me. So perhaps what had been displayed on the theatrical uterine wall of mine was not a silent film of pain or pleasure, but an opera of hysterical beauty. Our pleasure brought me into her bedroom. The bed appeared as if it were on the floor, but upon closer inspection—in the bright Vegas morning—it was a very low platform made out of wood. The platform lifted the bed off the ground so it appeared as if it were floating like a boat. Empty water bottles were ubiquitously scattered. After pinning me on the bed, she fell asleep. I stared up at the empty sky of her ceiling. I was experiencing an extreme degree of insomnia as the loneliness began to climb the rope of my body into the first chamber of my heart. Had I known I would bloom this way—forever into the sultriness of loss—would I have allowed her to buy me the drink that brought me here? There were other things I had left behind to emerge into this woman’s form. That same evening my trans friend had designed an entire evening with me and her partner. Her partner who survived being cut to pieces by a serial killer. All three of us were to spend an evening in her pink palace, but the Korean-Russian captured my tongue and held it hostage. We were to become girlfriends domesticated by pink and in pink; instead I went after what I had wanted for a long time – to be touched by a woman who wanted me too. (Much later in life, in Paris, the third time around to be most precise, I came to know loss as betrayal and betrayal was, then, a symbol necessary for change). Everything disappeared that night. Except maybe that kiss that made my tongue feel like a stargazer. And maybe, maybe the way she entered me with her camera-like fingers— she made my body feel like literature, a place for the endless gaze.
Vi Khi Nao was born in Long Khanh, Vietnam in 1979. In 2013, she graduated with an MFA in fiction from Brown University, where she received the John Hawkes and Feldman Prizes in fiction and the Kim Ann Arstark Memorial Awards in poetry. Vi’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, The Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review and elimae, among others. She is the author of two novellas, Swans in Half-Mourning (2013) and The Vanishing Point of Desire (2011).