1. They remind us to not drink the water in Beijing. Don’t open your mouth in the shower, don’t get ice cubes on the plane; they use their tap water.
I’ve taken my water almost exclusively without ice ever since.
2. In an overly-hip restaurant on Nicollet, I eagerly order a glass of water with ice. One at a time, I turn the cubes over in my mouth, rubbing them past my tongue. I hear them clacking against my teeth, the muffled echoes chilling my cheeks. I let them freeze the roof of my mouth.
I am satisfied, quiet. For each refill, they use their tap water.
3. We get back to the hotel just before the next day. I lay down on the rock-hard bed and my giggling roommate adds more stones to my aching stomach, breaking the rich food into gravel with our laughter. Pebbles stream out of my sides, and we stitch them back together after each chuckling rip. I fill his eyes with snickering tears, and the C-pop station chants muffled choruses, echoing from the blurry screen.
There is tai chi and zebra fruit in the morning. I am one tight-lipped shower away from relaxation.
4. Unsatisfied and talkative, I get to her house just before I leave it. I sink into her bed and grip my stomach tighter around the boulder inside it. I turn her over in my hands, rubbing her past my tongue. Her muffled sighs echo through clenched sheets. I let her buzz the roof of my skull.
She is detached, quiet. I am still unsatisfied and talkative. I am one trembling-lipped shower from release.
5. I remind myself to drink as much water as I can at home. After the vacation is over, I’ll be back to the unchilled, over-treated Atrazine syrup. For now, there is tai chi and ***** calling in the evening. I am hoping that I will one day leave vacation for a new Beijing, sleeping on different rocks and swallowing foreign stones.
I am hoping that when I return, there will be pleasantries and coffee in the morning, that I will turn some waitress over in my mind, that I will drink what she pours me and that I won’t hesitate to order ice, that refills will be on the house. I am praying that I will stop leaving as I arrive.
For now, the old Beijing dries up and crusts over and I have yet to book a flight.
I am several clogged shower heads away from a reason to stop flowing.
I am fluid, soaring over river pebbles, still afraid to sink with them.
I pray that one day, I will give someone stone ballast so we may drown in each other.