China Doll Television

Cream-colored milk filled the cream-colored bowl and layered over a handful of frosted, wheat squares as the tale of his day spilled out onto the kitchen counter.

At 7 a.m., he woke up. At 7:30 a.m., he brushed his teeth. At 8 a.m., he dropped me off at school, then broke the speed limit on his way to the library. From dew-dipped morning, through sun-dried afternoon, until the fall of dusk right now, he wrote. And somewhere in the middle of the pen-to-paper mental drain, his phone rang.

“Hello?” … “Yes, this is Jeff.” … “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Yes! Somewhere in between “love you, bye,” when he sped off this morning, and “hey, you hungry?” when he picked me up tonight, Jeff landed a meeting with a potential investor. And by tomorrow morning, he might sign a production contract worth $8 million dollars in exchange for partial rights to a script for a Chinese mini-series that he wasn’t even finished writing.

“Can you help me?” And there it is. If I couldn’t help him finish a project that he started a year ago, I wouldn’t be sitting on this stiff, old swivel-stool, eating cereal that tasted like someone left the box open last night …

One quick read-through, and it was obvious that Henry, Jeff’s co-writer and Chinese friend from college, had won every battle that cropped up between them over the past twelve months.

Chubby, awkward Chinese boy comes to America? Check.

Hot, blonde, American chick with a drinking problem? Check.

Over-played reference to penis size?

Double check.

But Jeff wasn’t worried. “You can fix it, right?” Lapping up a mouth-full of fiber-heavy brown squares, I pretended like he hadn’t asked.

I chewed until the patience lining his jawbone bittered. I let the swallow linger low behind my teeth. I tasted him forcing me into a corner, and waited for the wet that used to pickle my lips into a smile.

It’s the crease on his forehead in between his overgrown eyebrows. It’s the pout of his pinking lips beneath the strut of his dark hair. It’s his parents on the other side of the wall, aging into sleep, thinking we’re still a couple. Those are the reasons I almost said yes.

Telling Jeff that his day’s effort was a waste because his creativity is about as original as the canned laughter I know Henry will likely write into the script would be mean. So I said nothing and corrected the grammar errors on the pages.

“Oh, you don’t have to waste your time on that, it’s all gonna be translated into Chinese, anyway.”

He asks my opinion of the plot, the theme, the characters … I keep my mouth full until all that’s left in the bowl is the sugarless soy milk his mother buys because she still thinks I’m lactose intolerant.

Nope, the girlfriend before me had the dairy issues.

And as I go to the magnet-covered refrigerator to return the non-dairy red flag to its place on the inside of the door, I stare into the eyes of the Chinese girl with the lactose intolerance who came before me. They keep in touch, they always have. Sort of like we have for the last several months in the aftermath of our two-year long, one-night-stand.

I pity the next love he will overindulge on because it will no doubt be tainted by the tortured depth of our late-night screaming, flat-on-our-ass laughing, early-morning pancaking in this kitchen … and she won’t ever compare. I know, because I never did.

“I hate it,” I told him as the refrigerator door slammed shut. I told him I think he doormatted his name onto a project that will earn him nothing but critique. Henry’s version of America is not genuine, I said. Every moment that is written into the script is an obvious invention of someone who is well-versed in every stereotype of America.

No one lives like that, I said. No one talks like that, I added. No one will believe this story.

“But the investors like it,” he said while the curl of his lashes moistened.

Then I told him that if one day I see his project on television in my own living room, apart from the carpet-covered, antique-riddled design of an unshaved, 24-year-old and his dried-out parents, I would change the channel.

I drained a glass of lukewarm water, set it back in its place on the cream-colored kitchen counter, and waited for the rain to fall.

Editor’s note: names in this story have been changed to protect the personal privacy of the characters mentioned above.

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