The smell of fried scorpion on a woman’s breath always reminded Matt of Shin Shin.
High heel cock rock boots, tiny white teeth. The love child of Hello Kitty and David Lee Roth. Shin Shin.
“This could be very fucking bad you know,” Matt says to Roger, turning his frustration to the film script he’s been working on.
It’s about to be made into a movie but the producer’s son has been cast into the lead role.
“This could be ten years of my life that’s going straight down the toilet.
“If this guy’s a bad actor, I may never recover. I have to just grab it. Snatch it back. That’s the only way anyone will respect you.”
“But wouldn’t it be good to at least see it get made?” asks Roger.
“No. No it wouldn’t, not if it’s going to come back to ruin my entire professional career.”
The men play acoustic guitar at a weekly jam night.
It’s the only night at the local restaurant that diners consistently avoid.
But the unplugged enthusiasts don’t seem to notice.
Harriet joins them.
They invited her for a drink after she walked in on their “gig”.
They order a bottle of red wine.
Matt’s running his hands through his hair.
Roger’s acting dark and mysterious, but it’s not working, he’s American.
All he really wants to do is play guitar like Hendrix so he can get a girl who loves him.
He is convinced all the girls in China prefer Matt so he tries to smile less and hides the fact that he manages stocks and shares on the internet.
When people ask him what he’s doing in Beijing he tells them he’s making a documentary.
The men pick up their guitars and bang on the strings as though they are laying bricks.
“Listen to my wildest dream, I’m going to do this, stop playing and listen to my dream will you?” says Roger slamming down his guitar and pawing his friend’s shoulder.
“I’m going to make a fucking documentary. About how it really is for Chinese people. It’s not all about censorship and repression. – most Chinese people don’t feel that way at all.
They don’t give a shit about politics, they’re going to their jobs and falling in love and walking their dogs in the evening.”
“That’s fucking right,” says Matt.
“There is so much bullshit reporting going on in the Western press.”
“Can I say something,” says Roger butting in.
“I don’t mean to bitch but can I just say something about the gig tonight?
“Do you think someone was singing out of key?”
“Yes, I do,” says Matt all clipped British sincerity.
“It was Narelle, right?”
“What was her problem tonight anyway? I don’t really mind that she sings off key but she was definitely in the shits about something.”
Harriet looks bored. She doesn’t care about Narelle’s lack of musical skills.
She knows the whole band is core fucked and will play out of key forever.
She just wants to drink and sing some songs in a place where nobody knows her.
She opens up the songbook and starts.
The men are rapt. She can actually sing in tune and they’re looking at her like she’s Joni Mitchell.
Matt’s eyes are rolling into the back of his head with pleasure.
“We need you,” he says pointing at her like a drunk in pick-up mode on the dance floor of a country disco.
“You are exactly what we fucking need.”
Roger agrees but blames all the band’s failings on Eric, who uses jam night to learn the mandolin and hit on women.
“You know I hate to bitch because I love Eric, but I wish he didn’t play his mandolin so damn loud.
“To tell you the truth,” he says, “and I hate to bitch because I love Eric, he’s one of my best friends but do you notice how the decibels go through the roof on that mandolin as soon as a good looking girl walks in the room?”
Harriet tries to look interested and she’s noticing that Roger is patting her arm.
She chooses another song. Again the men are astounded.
“I love this girl,” says Roger turning to Matt and putting his arm around Harriet.
“Let’s go to the Forbidden City tomorrow,” he says. “I’ll show you around.”
They sing another, Harriet enjoys accidental moments of drunken harmonies with Matt as Roger plays the guitar.
Roger throws his guitar on the tiled floor, outside the first shade of daylight.
“She likes you more than me, I saw it. I just saw it,” screeches Roger unleashing his jealous streak and, smashing his head on the table.
“I saw it before. She likes your dark brooding miserable demeanor and what am I to her? Nothing!”
“She doesn’t like me,” says Matt calmly.
“And besides, I’m in love with Shin Shin.”
“Well I don’t care anyway,” says Roger, “I don’t even believe in love.”
Silence for a few seconds.
“Can I just say something about Narelle?”
“We were going to do a gig at the Sandglass on Friday night.
And Narelle – she thinks she’s good friends with the owner of the place but really she’s outstayed her welcome, hanging around there all day and night like it’s her lounge room or something.
And anyway, she knows this other Spanish guy Carlos who actually plays guitar really well.
And before we know it, she tells the owner that Carlos is doing the gig.
Why did she do that?” he yells banging his fists on the table and throwing his head down onto Harriet’s shoulder.
Now even Matt is bored. He tries to change the subject.
“I just want people to respect me,” he mutters, hands wringing with renewed anxiety about his film script. I just want people to respect my work!”
“You know Matt, I respect you” he says stumbling over to Matt’s side of the table, putting an arm around his shoulders.
“You know, most people can’t stand Matt – they think he’s a complete prick.” he tells Harriet.
“But I love him, he’s one of my best friends.”
Matt dissolves into misery and laughter.
“Matt. You are a great guy and who cares what anyone thinks anyway?
You and I are going to make a great fucking documentary.”
“You know Roger, I asked Shin Shin to marry me,” Matt says in a quiet voice.
For the first time in many hours Roger is quiet. His mouth is open, eyes bulging and he is swaying. Almost like he’s choking on a pork dumpling and has just realised he can’t breathe.
“Don’t you fucking tell anyone Roger!” Matt screams and reaching over the table to grab Roger’s collar.
“Promise me, you won’t fucking tell anyone!”
Roger makes a quick recovery.
“Matt, Matt, Matt, how long have you known me?” he says in his sunny American way, now reaching over the table.
“Roger… Roger!” Matt knows he’s made a mistake.
He sees Shin Shin’s tiny white teeth laughing at him mockingly behind his back with every ex-pat in Beijing, her cock rock grey suede high heel boots relentlessly stabbing his ego into oblivion as he lays helpless, kicked to love’s curb.
“Matt. I won’t tell anyone anything about me that you don’t want me to,” says Roger, eyes closed, head flopping down.
Matt is relieved. He knows the man in front of him, black hair falling over his pale, overweight face, will remember nothing in the morning.
“Roger,” Matt says softly, looking up from the table, embarrassed to ask.
“Do you think Shin Shin will say yes?”
“Say yes to what?” says Roger.
“Yes to marrying me.” says Matt.
“Why not?” Matt says.
“No – because the only thing Shin Shin can think about is herself. She’s too busy slicing her way through people to appreciate what she has with you.
“Maybe in a couple of years time she’ll look back and realise what she lost but no, I don’t think she will say yes to you.”
Matt is quiet. Harriet is too.
“But Narelle!” Roger explodes, throwing himself on the table.
“She’s a bitch! She stole our fucking gig man. She gave our gig to Carlos. How could she do that man?”