Face–Mask

We met in 2003 at the Wickham Hotel in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, while he was on holiday. Tall, handsome, studying English and Korean at university. Dimples fixed in place on his cheeks as he danced and sweated in the humid air of the club.

When I flew to Shanghai to visit him, just a few months later, it was like a ghost plane. The few passengers, mostly Chinese businessmen returning home, sat as far from each other as possible, like gas molecules spread out to occupy a closed container. Face–masks secured firmly over their mouths. His university enacted a lock–in policy during the Labour Day holidays, Láodòng jié, to limit the spread of SARS. He had to sneak out to see me.

His Mum cooked us Shanghai river crab for dinner. He introduced me to his ‘girlfriend.’ We went to his Dad’s restaurant and ate wagon–wheels of sweet, sticky lotus root for dessert.

It was twelve years later that I wrote a short story about a gay man whose ex-boyfriend appears on the Chinese dating show, If You Are The One, never really expecting that the strange fancies of fiction might come to haunt me as fact.

Then, in October 2015, with the short story already accepted for publication by Antithesis Journal, a lazy Saturday night at home sitting on the couch, sipping wine, picking at my dinner. I glanced at the subtitles as his Chinese name flashed on the screen in SBS subtitle's yellow. Not a big deal – it’s a common name – but could it be him? Emerging from the light as the audience cheered, he appeared. More buff, he’d clearly found the gym in the years that stood between us, but with that same face. Those dimples. It was him.

He went home with his favourite girl. I dreamt of the sticky lotus root dessert and the taste of his kiss.

By putting aspects of real life into my fiction, had I opened the door for fiction to hit back and place itself into my real life? The short story, now published, laughs at me whenever I open it.

On that plane to Shanghai, naïve and young, I never wore a face–mask.