by Wei He
There is morning, and then there is the rest of the day.
How are you doing today?
I hope I haven’t bored you so far, with my greetings.
Everybody’s attention span has gotten shockingly short. We pay attention to a lot of things and yet we pay attention to nothing. I assume you’re a man who can tell things from details? Isn’t that how you solve crimes?
I’d like to know more about you.
Are you bored yet?
Before you tell me more about you, let me tell you about me.
Just take a look at the building I’m living in, please?
An old grey building of six floors, one side of it covered with moss. The dumpster in front is always filled to the brim and smells like day-old piss. Do you know that Russian movie about a guy who has serious drinking problems? In that movie there’s a building just like this one.
Yesterday, Aunt H found a giant spider on her bathroom wall. She shrieked and started looking for her broom. Little Bug, her lanky, forty-year-old neighbor, came to the spider’s rescue. He had bought three spiders online (Buy Two Get One FREE!), and expected them to eat cockroaches in his kitchen. And they did.
I’ve lived in that building since I was born. Been thirty years now. That’s your clue there. I’m thirty. I’ve never heard any ghost stories about our building, sorry to disappoint you. And it’s not built on a graveyard. Turns out not everything old is haunted.
A handful of people died in our building because they were either too sick or too old. Oh, wait, there’s an exception. A guy on the third floor died in an accident. He was getting out of the bathtub and slipped and banged his head on the wall. But that was twenty years ago and now nobody talks about it.
Nobody deals drugs in my building, I’m pretty sure about that. Or owns a secret brothel. The only problem we have is the occasional barf on the back wall of the gatekeeper’s booth.
Oh, yes, we have a gatekeeper. He’s nice. He’s old, and probably good for nothing, but he’s nice.
I’ve been looking for an answer. An answer to a question. Dear Mr. Holmes, what do you do when you’re bored?
I’d approached a few people with this question before I decided to write to you. None of them took my question seriously.
“My dear, you’re thirty. You have to age better than this,” my mom said.
“You’re talking like I’m some cheese,” I said.
Let me tell you more about Little Bug.
Sometimes I would entertain myself by imagining him half-human, half-computer. (Dear Mr. Holmes, have you had any adventures in a sci-fi story? How about living in a world that has tobacco and carriages, and also aliens and zombies?)
The way he lifts a cup of tea, slices bread, bites into an apple. There’s something mechanical about the way he does everything. Every movement is calculated.
He’s the most boring guy I’ve ever known. But would I say he’s bored? Well. Once he wanted to find out how many balloons it would take to lift an adult pig into the air. He ordered three hundred balloons online and bought a pig at the farmer’s market. Turns out two hundred and thirty-nine balloons were enough. He was quite happy with the number.
I envy him. The way he gets excited about everything. His life is all rising action while mine is constantly anticlimaxing. Who’d want me in their story?
Did you know that the Soviet Union also made a Sherlock Holmes movie series in 1979?
I found an episode at a Russian website that also posted vaguely pornographic photos of girls. Watching you and Watson talking so peacefully, and not understanding a single word, for a moment, I thought I was watching a Chekhov play.
One thing I have to clarify here, though I’m the one reaching out to you—I’m not saying that I’m a hundred percent innocent. If you pass me in the street and call my name out loud, I’d probably turn back and say, “Guilty!”
Once I tried to copy a dance from a movie that involved waving a knife in a dangerous manner. Then I slit—not a throat—a shirt. But it was an old shirt and my mom said it was okay.
The craziest thing I did was to put my head in a fridge for six minutes. Taking a breath of that cold air was like stepping into a pond on a winter’s night. It froze up my whole body. When I pulled my head out, my breath was dripping water, and my hair smelled like chicken brisket.
Why did I do that? Dear Mr. Holmes, you must be wondering. A different person might tell you that was a suicide attempt. She might even use capital letters and creative punctuation to highlight the drama that screams for attention. Here’s an example:
#A! #SUICIDE! #ATTEMPT~~~!!!
But I can only tell you the boring truth was that I was trying to learn how slow time could be. And that was the quickest way to find out.
My mom says sometimes I look weird when I’ve had too much coffee. Which means I look at everything with a pair of hopeful eyes. Now let me tell you a story when coffee has just started kicking in.
Once upon a time, there was this Mexican gangster (a terrible man, but a great character). His teeth were so bright that you could use them as a lamp and he never washed his hands before eating. Will you believe me when I tell you there was poetry singing in his heart? Every afternoon, he’d go to a bar for some nice quiet moments. Later, he got arrested and had to stay in prison for a couple of years. There he found Jesus and became a priest with a foul mouth and an open mind. He got very popular in the community and high school kids wrote essays about him. He announced, with tears in his eyes, that he would just want one word as his epitaph: love.
L O V E
L O V
L O …L?
The caffeine circulating in my body will start withdrawing in three hours, and then I will tell you he died at thirty-nine from a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding and nobody remembered what he had said before and left his gravestone blank.
What about love? I’m sure you’d be asking.
What about it? I’d ask back.
Haven’t you ever fallen in love? Another question from you.
Right, you’re the one to talk.
Don’t you have a reputation for being immune to chemistry, Mr. Holmes? Didn’t you say you have to be aloof to stay clear-headed? You’d be thinking, you’re the greatest detective in the world and that means you’re already living a better life than most people.
Well, can’t argue with that.
I’m not saying you were asking the wrong question. For most people, life is all about being attached to something. And a romantic relationship is a kind of attachment. But to most people, life is also hopelessly and endlessly repetitive. The people we meet now may have been alive a hundred years ago.
What exactly is your bloody problem? You’d be asking me. At this point, that seems to be the proper reaction.
You’re just an unbearable anticlimax. That’d be your conclusion.
My mom, she loves watching this cooking show which tells her when to put what in what. Then she tries the recipe and fails and watches the show more.
You had been created way before the television was invented. To fully inform you on the current situation, the TV is one of the greatest inventions in history because it kills time. But time never dies; it just disappears, leaving behind a huge void that would suck the sound out of all the real things as if they’d never happened before.
There’s only one show I really like, a comedy. A few characters saying the least friendly things to their friends for half an hour. What I like about the show is in that world nobody is really smarter, they’re just stupid in different ways.
I record every episode and play it twice in one sitting and pause between every two jokes to stretch my laughter. A half-hour show kills two hours.
And I turn off the television and start to hear the quiet.
You’re a man of facts but you only live in fiction. Fiction is always more fun than reality. It is so composed, contrived. If it ends well, everybody would go home happy. If it’s a tragedy, we’d have a takeaway message and try not to make the same mistake again. Wish my life were a story, so whatever I’m doing now would be geared toward something grand in the future.
But who’d want me in their story?
You get it now, Mr. Holmes? I’m putting myself in a story by writing to you. You always get all the attention and now let me share some of that. I would love to see some action.
Do you also hear the quiet?
Wei He is a bilingual writer from Inner Mongolia and teaches creative writing at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen. She holds an MFA degree in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. Currently, she is working on a novel about her friend named Max and his various vices.