SpagettiOs and Cherry Licorice

by wm. butler

Arthur Ellis was eight years old when his family moved from Taipei to Shanghai. Arthur’s father Henry was a manager for Esscore a company that provided components for cellular phones. Henry was the supervising director of Asia and often traveled between Japan, Taiwan and China. Arthur’s mother had been a Pilate’s instructor, but had recently changed over to Hot Yoga. She spent her time working out, having lunch, getting manicures and spa treatments and having cocktails with other Expat wives that lived in their compound on Haumu Lu near Century Park in Pudong, which was the new district of Shanghai. Arthur rarely spent time with his parents as his father was always traveling and when he was in town he spent most of his time at the office or entertaining clients for business purposes. Arthur’s father liked to call what he did bringing home the bacon, Arthur’s mother often referred to it as “stuffing the bacon any chance that son of a bitch got.” Arthur’s mother was always out “trying to have some semblance of a life” and would leave Arthur with Mrs. Zhang the Ayi.

Arthur’s mother got angry with her husband a lot as he seemed to come home smelling of stale cigarettes and beer most nights. Arthur was not sure as to why his mother was so upset because it seemed to Arthur that she always smelled of liquor and Esse Menthols herself. All Arthur knew was that the cigarettes and beer often lead his parents to fighting about his father’s friend “Wei Wei” and his mother’s writers circle of “hen pecking bitch whores”. Whenever his parents would get into it they would send him off to play outside in the compound with the other Expat Children.

On one such day while Mr. and Mrs. Ellis where arguing Arthur made his way outside to the green space behind the clubhouse pool. Often the compound children would gather there and play games on the green. The games were always planned and carried out under the strict and carful supervision of a group of girls ranging in age from eight to ten. The leader of the group was one Susie Chin from Hong Kong. She was nice enough though a little bossy, Arthur didn’t mind much since he thought she was very pretty. Most often the games that were being played were variations of house. The game wasn’t much different from home since most of the girls would strut around with slender blades of grass in their mouths ranting about their no good husbands. Today as Arthur approached the green he could tell that a different game was being played. There was a large group of boys and about five girls. All the boys were lined up in an orderly fashion, each standing in front of one of the five girls. Arthur walked up to his friends Bobby Wilkinson and asked what was going on. Bobby told him that they were playing “Hostess”. Arthur didn’t know what “Hostess” was but Bobby Wilkinson told him that it was a game that one of the girl’s fathers had mentioned to one of his friends where in you give the hostess money and she gives you a drink and a kiss. Arthur found the game confusing since he had never heard about paying somebody to kiss you before, but he had nothing better to do so he decided to play along. Arthur asked Bobby how much it would cost; Bobby informed him it would cost one Yuan. Arthur dug into his shorts and found what he needed. Arthur waited his turn in line and slowly moved towards his drink and kiss. He had only ever kissed his grandmother and mother before and he could say with some certainty that he wasn’t a fan of kissing since his mother’s kiss always tasted like stale cigarettes and his grandmother’s kiss was no better because it tasted like waxy peppermint mixed with her favorite drink gin.  But since Arthur had never kissed a girl his own age he thought he should give it a try. The longer he waited the more nervous he became. What if he didn’t like it?  He was seriously considering turning around and going home when he came face to face with Susie Chin. She stood giving him the stink eye with her hands on her hips.

Well? Said Susie Chin.

Arthur’s palms began to sweat as he handed over his coin. Susie brightened and snatched it from his open hand and tucked it into her pants with a flourish just like a magician. She then slapped a Hi C drink box into his hand and leaned forward and planted a big wet one right on his lips. Susie Chin tasted like Cherry Licorice and SpagettiOs. Susie Chin was delicious. Arthur was stunned. He felt his pulse race and his face turn red. He was a rabbit caught in the headlights; he didn’t know what to say or do. Open-mouthed and incredulous he had no choice but run away, he turned and as fast as his little legs could pump he ran home. He felt exhilaration and wonder upon kissing a real girl for the first time. He was in love with Susie Chin! He ran all the way back to his villa, running into the house without even taking his shoes off he almost ran right into his father. Arthur was flush and out of breath as he began relating his story to his dad. But Arthur’s father cut him short and steered him into the living room where his mother sat puffy eyed and chain smoking.

Sit down Arthur. You mother and I have something important to talk to you about.

Arthur was confused and thought maybe he had done a bad thing by kissing a girl and wondered if that’s why his mother looked so upset. Before he had time to wonder further what was wrong, his father patted him on the shoulder and gruffly spoke these words,

Son, we want you to know that it wasn’t anything you did, your mommy and I love you very much but sometimes…