fine print

Work Commitments

Article by:
Play Audio
Work Socks. Image: Emma O’Neill
Art Basel Hong Kong, March 2018

I’m speeding to opening night in a cab, checking emails, when my face goes straight into the back of the front seat. Like Princess Diana, my friend said. I collect my tooth from the other passenger seat and manage to avoid getting blood on my shirt.

Upon presentation they establish I am unmarried and advise plastic surgery. I refuse, the insurance won’t cover it. I’m not even that vain, I tell myself.

They insist I sit in a wheelchair. Seems unnecessary. The police also come in to enquire about the crash. Also unnecessary. They mustn’t have much to do. I’d like to leave now. I’d have to get another cab. I’m increasingly irritated by the bloodstain darkening on my red pants.  

On the wall there is artwork askew. I text a friend I was due to see that night. He asks me to put aside the tooth for an artwork. I will store it for about three years at home before throwing it out during an anxious rearrange. I call Nelson, who lives in Hong Kong. He’s on a date but he says it’s shit and makes his way to the hospital.

It’s been five years since we slept together during an internship, right when I’d upgraded from a bamboo mat in a hostel to a housesit in Wan Chai for an editor whose plants needed tending to. I kept them healthy enough for her to eventually hire me. It’s how I got the job I’m in now. Nelson finds me, tells me I still look hot, speaks softly to medics in Cantonese, and amuses me through to the wee hours. I realise how much I have missed him.

The toddler adjacent to me in the operating room also needs stitches in his face. I wonder if they considered his marriage prospects and distract myself from the threading needle by trying to decipher his mother. She’s shrieking about the lollipop he’ll get afterwards. The doctor’s hands are shaking, he is trying not to laugh. Nine stitches through my mouth and a forever slightly swollen lip.

The following morning, after detailing the incident my employer requests that I man the booth. I can’t, I’m missing a tooth, I explain again. Jason is sleeping on the floor of his gallerist’s hotel room. I refuse to pull down the surgical mask for him, but he takes my fair pass all the same and makes light of pretending to run the show. When I decide to tell my mother, she is suitably alarmed.

My negotiations for an upgrade backfire when they start questioning whether I’m fit enough to fly. In economy, I ask the flight attendant to please make sure the meal isn’t too hot.

Upon arrival, a family friend drives me to a plastic surgeon for a check-up. My mouth needs a rework. I feel self-conscious and joke about getting fake tits while I’m at it. We’re on deadline again, so I instead focus on rescuing the pants by boiling them in black dye several times over the course of a week. Eight months into a new job, I receive the final cheque via post for costs incurred.

Image: J.D.
Intimate Partner, August 2021

I have been cooking new things to make the most of the only IRL company I have available to me. He doesn’t take to spicy foods, I adjust accordingly.

It’s avocado season during the pandemic. The seed is successfully removed but there’s blood on the fridge behind me. The nurse and I talk about star signs, a woman named Lucy checks in after me. She has also cut herself removing an avocado seed, the third avocado slice this week, according to Aquarius.

I can’t stop looking at Lucy’s feet, they are too small. She is chair of a choir, moving house next week. Worried about the piano. I start getting annoyed by her and pretend to be faint. She leaves without treatment. Hers is a papercut, while you can see the fat and tissue of my middle finger. I’m not competitive about it though.

You do not have peasant hands, my grandmother used to say. I watch the doctor inject anaesthetic and apologise for my chipped nails. He laughs and tells me his mother had COVID-19 far away. Mine too, I empathise, though her taste buds have started to return. Four stitches, some nerve damage. I can’t tell whether he’s flirting with me but I do tell him not to wrap up too tight as I have three grants to finalise this week. I can’t let avocados limit funding grants, like they do home loans. He tailors the bandage for easier access to the keyboard.

My fingers are long and slender and last year, I received six out of the seven grants that I typed up. I like getting money for artists. I try to count the years since I played scales for my grandmother, I ignore the doctor’s suggestion to flip the bird on the way out of the hospital. I’m tired, it’s been a very social evening.

Four applications later, Grammarly has checked 23,317 words since lockdown began and in Hong Kong, Kramer has adopted a lost kitten from the wet market in Sai-Ying Pun. I suggest names: Paprika, Sumac, Fennell. The flavours I’ve been learning to use. She very sweetly lands on Saffron as a middle name. By now, I’ve adapted to washing my face with one hand and am pleading with the GP for permission to salt myself in the ocean. We are eggplants, my friend Rod once said, a little salt takes the bitterness out. He lives in the desert in Arizona now, painting flowers on enormous canvasses. Good flowers though, not the trite kind.

Three shared meals and zero swims after I’ve clicked submit for the final grant of the season, things end with the man who picked me up from ER. My sole patron during lockdown. I watch The Piano Teacher and order Shanghainese via Uber eats. In spite of medical advice, I take a dip at Redleaf the next day.