On Sundays, after the rush from the church crowd, Emmanuel looks
forward to seeing the one he calls Our Lady of the Bruises. She is
in her early-thirties, tangled blonde hair, her body slim from smoking,
and when she walks through the front door, the light beating down behind
her, Emmanuel considers himself the sole witness to her face.
He sits her at the only booth where the table legs arenít propped up
with folded napkins. It is their ritual, the way she pinches the bridge of
her sunglasses, pulls them just so and smiles as Emmanuel places a glass
of ice water on the table. The base leaves a ring on the menu when she
lifts the cool rim to her mouth. For months now, since first seeing her,
Emmanuel wants to ask her, Who would do this to you?
Her face is covered in deep shades of maroon and blue, as if a hand had
pressed itself for hours against her skin. Unaffected, she orders Moo
Goo Gai Pan and laughs at the way her throat jolts through the words,
her head nodding along as if thrown around by the pronunciations.
This makes him smile. It is the only entree she ever orders, and when
he walks through the kitchen doors where Wing and the rest of the cooks
are lounging near the counter and smoking, Emmanuel holds the ticket above
his head and shakes it out of happiness. He is ecstatic, and the cooks,
especially Wing, understand that it is for our lady who boozes.
Chopped celery bounces into the middle of the wok, falls with sheets of
onions and chicken, then the white sauce that smothers the crackling oil.
Ahp! Wing yells. Emmanuel forces a domed silver top down onto a heaping
platter of rice. He holds the tray with one hand and grabs a bowl,
scooping from a vat of fried wonton, before walking through the swinging
doors with everything on a wide tray balanced above him.
At first, he doesnít notice the guy crouched in the boothís blind spot.
This surprises Emmanuel when he comes around the corner with the food. The
guy has a long beard, thick and wiry, which matches the nest-like sprouts
of black hair on his knuckles. His name is Jim. It says so on his shirt.
So itís Jim, Emmanuel muses, focusing on the greasy patch sewn
above the guyís pale heart.
Hey guy, you mind bringing out another plate? says Jim. While youíre at
it, bring us a couple of Buds.
When Jim says this, the woman shakes her head, and Jim, plucking the
table tent for Tsing-Tao, yells, Shit, woman, the Chinese donít know
nothing about beer!
In the reach-in, Emmanuel shoves through empty boxes, smacking some of
the stray bottles together. He wants to save her. Wing and the rest of the
cooks have moved on to fresh cigarettes.
Hey, boy, Wing says, laughing. Donít break up, okay?
Emmanuel cuts a look at him.
What? Wing says. She donít like my sauce? He whispers something in
Chinese, and the other cooks laugh. Emmanuel, having found the last two
Buds, lifts the bottles by their necks and smirks at the cooks.
You know, Emmanuel says to them, I think sheís with the guy who beats
Who? Wing says. Your lady?
Wing tosses the rest of his cigarette into the grill. The paper and
fibers suck down quickly into ash. He saunters over to the swinging doors
and raises up on his tiptoes to get a look through the scraped plastic
I see her, but I donít see asshole, he says. One of the cooks
adds something in Chinese, in a tone, Emmanuel thinks, that is tinged with
contempt. Wing turns and silences him with a look.
You hate this guy? Wing says to Emmanuel. He takes one of the
beers and twists off the cap.
I think so, Emmanuel says, looking back at the other cooks. They are
all grins. Some start covering their mouths with a fist. At the front
register, the assistant manager slumps in his chair and flips through a
romance novel. He is clueless.
Wing slowly unzips his pants and snakes the head of the bottle between
the open zipper. He gives it a few turns and then hands it back to
Emmanuel. Hey, donít drink, okay? Wing says.
Jim is gone when Emmanuel returns with the beers. He sets them down
making sure the woman gets the clean one. You forgot his plate, she says
and stares across the room at the bathroom door. Do you think you can grab
one before he comes back? Her voice cracks a little, which makes Emmanuel
Back in the kitchen, all the cooks are wide-eyed, expectant. Especially
Wing. So? Wing says. Emmanuel grabs a plate without saying a word and
There is still no Jim. Under the dim light of the cracked wall sconce,
her bruises look heavier to him. He refills her glass, staring at the
colored splotches swirled with maroon and blue. It is a wallop of a
bruise, he thinks, one the size of his fist. When she looks up, the world
frozen around her, he canít help himself. He blurts out, I want to kiss
His words take her by surprise. What?
I want to kiss your bruises, Emmanuel says again. His heart is racing.
He is furious. And that bastard in the bathroom, someone needs to beat him
in the face the same way heís beat you. Look at yourself! I canít even
believe youíd go out in public like this. Emmanuel holds out his hand and
tries to touch her cheek, but she cowers away.
What is it? he says. Let me kiss you there. He feels as if the entire
world has suddenly poured over him. He doesnít know what else to say.
Even when Jim grabs him by the neck and throws him down, into a few
chairs, Emmanuel doesnít know what else to say. He hears the woman with
the bruises screaming at Jim. Kill that motherfucker! she yells. She is
smearing her cheeks in all the excitement.
By this time, everyone is outside in the parking lot. They are covered
in bright light. Wing and the other cooks, the assistant manager, the
womanĺ they all circle around and watch as Jim
punches Emmanuel in the back of the head. Then it is in his face and on
his arms and his neck. It is a furious flurry. Emmanuelís mouth begins to
fill with blood, but the rest of the crowd only watches on, silent, as the
woman, smiling now, fills the air with a scream.
Jon Pineda's poetry collection Birthmark won the 2003
Crab Orchard Poetry Series Open Competition and will be published in April
2004 by Southern Illinois University Press. Recent work appears in
Drunkenboat.com, PUERTO DEL SOL, and in the anthologies
Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (University of Illinois
Press, 2003) and Screaming Monkeys (Coffee House Press, 2003).