[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Bruno Maddox, has ended. Original price: $3. Final price: $19.50.]
Did she love me? Nah. Did I love her? Yeah. So I got her this wooden map of Thailand with four hooks sticking out. Figured she could use it to hang items on — you know, in her future life. Whether or not she chose to let me be a part of that.
I wrapped it up best I could. Frank’s cologne came in some green tissue paper which I tried using first, but the hooks and the peninsula kept poking through, or seeming like they were about to, so I went back to the shop and bought a little girl’s raincoat with a white fur hood. Back in the room I stood on the coat and tore the hood off to make a pouch for the map. It looked good, and I felt a tingle of hope and fear. Because my love was real.
Our flight was at seven, checkout was noon. Frank and Headcase were having pints at the roulette table in the lobby and I said I was going quickly say goodbye to Sick Mick at the hospital. “Tell him he’s a woman,” Headcase told me, looking at the wheel and fingering his chips. “Since when is alcohol a poison?”
Her mum let me in and shooed me to the back. The door was open and she was on the bed reading a magazine very intently.
“I love you,” I said, when we were sitting on the bed together.
“Yes,” she said. “I love you.”
I shook my head. “No,” I explained. “Love…” I pointed to my chest and mimed lines going from my heart to her face. “I love you.”
She watched closely. Her long hair brushed her crossed legs as she nodded. “I love you.”
Down the corridor, a door slammed. I told her I’d got her something.
The lads still give me guff about it. “I know what you’re thinking,” Sick Mick’ll say if I daydream in the cafeteria, and that’ll set the others off, which I like because it makes me remember her.
But it’s not what they think. You see, she didn’t know what it was. I had to explain that this was her country, and that there were others, and about the world, and I left her there staring at it. And while I do often think of her, when I wake up, or coming back hammered after being out with the lads, it’s not sexual in nature. Well, it feels sexual, but what I see is her at a podium, dressed like Margaret Thatcher, addressing the International Union of Nations or something, jabbing the wooden map I gave her at all the sheikhs and toffs and monocled kings, shouting the words to the sad, sad song she sang that first night in the bar at karaoke. She sang it in Thai, that night, but the English words were behind her on a screen:
Leaves are falling on my heart.
Why did you set fire to our love?