Bedtime texts – short fiction by Kevin McGeary


Fantasising about Minnie was the best way to ignore his sister’s snoring. On the top bunk, where he could still smell shoes and discarded instant noodle packets, he saw Minnie the way she appeared last week on Lianhua, a breeze blowing black hair over her eyes.

It was there, under the watchful statue of Deng Xiaoping, that everything had gone wrong. His imagination wasn’t strong enough to alter what had happened. He saw himself whip out his English grammar textbook and three pages of hardcore Japanese porn fall on the grass. Minnie gave that absent gap-toothed smile that appeared to have nothing to do with happiness or amusement. The magazines weren’t his; they were courtesy of his prankster roommate, the spotty police chief’s son who went by the name of Angelababy.

As he felt the train slow down, sliding into another dark town, he focused on Minnie’s buttock cleavage and the way it rose above her dropped waist jeans.

“I need to borrow your phone,” his Sister Yezi called from below after being woken by the alighting passengers. He wiped the phone on his blanket before handing it down.

She was probably going to call someone and re-hash the story of her phone being pickpocketed at Luohu Station while she waited in the ticket queue during the pre-holiday rush. Shorn of his phone, he pulled out his astronomy magazine.

On the night of September 23rd, the visible constellation would be Aquila. The first novae – very old stars that suddenly become bright again – appeared there in 389 CE. It was a Mid-Autumn Festival tradition to look at the moon at the same time as those one could not be with, but he was more interested in the stars.

Yezi handed back the phone before heading up and down the carriage returning phones she charged overnight using a mobile device. This was her latest little earner. At the station, she hawked items that would be useful to those who were cramped in the abattoir for passengers with the cheapest tickets. These included pillows for sleeping standing up, adult nappies for those unwilling to queue and spiked shoes for women who encountered lecherous men.

He spent Mid-Autumn Day at home, agonising over whether or not to message Minnie during the moments he wrested the phone from Yezi. In the morning they went hillwalking, his father ushering his grandmother up and down the steps. Over dinner, after everybody was done talking about money, the conversation turned to life at Shenzhen Polytechnic.

“Tell them about your roommates,” said Yezi.

“The funniest guy in our class has the English name Angelababy. Last week he passed around mooncakes that were filled with shaving cream,” he said.

“Strange English name,” his Father grunted.

“You think that’s strange?” said Yezi. “Tell them your English name.” 

“E.T. It means alien.”

“He loves astronomy, but his grades were only good enough to get into English,” said Yezi.

“English isn’t so bad,” E.T. muttered. “The worst class is Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory.”

“Why?” asked his father, looking up at the framed picture of the Great Chairman he had hung up in the living room.

E.T. thought back to the time he walked past such a class and saw how all but two students were asleep. He didn’t know how to describe this to his father, so he talked about Angelababy instead.

“There was this time Angelababy scribbled Deng Xiaoping’s famous line about pragmatism in my textbook. But instead of saying ‘It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.’ He changed the ending to ‘As long as it’s delicious.’”

His father managed a polite chuckle. Bad jokes were at least better than talking about finding a job after graduation or Yezi’s marriage prospects.

E.T. slipped out of the house at 8:30, when the family slouched around the television. He took the phone from the table beside Yezi before stealing out the door. She would not miss it as she was hypnotised by the matchmaking show in which the boys tried to promote their most attractive assets and the girls were offputtingly honest about their requirements. In the elevator, where some residents had left their garbage bags, he messaged Minnie as the screen blinked low battery.

Hi Minnie, if you get this can you be looking at the stars at exactly 9 pm. The most visible constellation tonight is the Aquila. Let’s make the most of being out of Shenzhen and watch the stars as if we are together.

How upset was she by the Japanese porn incident? Angelababy told E.T. not to worry: “She’s from the same town as me. We’re all very humourous.” E.T. wasn’t sure. Minnie seemed to find Angelababy funny. When he made a joke in their hometown dialect, she covered her face with a piece of paper to chuckle.

Used to the Shenzhen weather, E.T. only wore one layer. He felt like sprinting, just like the children who were holding lanterns bigger than themselves. He crossed the bridge over the chocolate-coloured river to reach a part of the hill that was not near any footpath. He found a spot on the parched grass where, to keep warm, he walked in circles to the rhythm of the hip-hop music emanating from the shopping mall where schoolboys practiced breakdancing.

The phone died at 8:52. He had nowhere to look but the sky. Lanterns floated up like escaped souls, but E.T. was underwhelmed by the stars. Where was Aquila, anyway?

When 9 o’clock had gone, he began his return home, buying a watermelon along the way to give his excursion the appearance of utility. He considered wandering over to the shopping mall in search of excitement but, in the end, his habit of abiding by curfew was too strong.

The sofa was more spacious than the beds at Shenzhen Polytechnic, and E.T. slept more deeply than usual. He dreamt he was in English speaking class with Mickey, their foreign teacher. For the test last term, E.T. and Angelababy acted out a job interview, Angelababy landing the gig of porn star by citing his experience as a Chinese government official.

E.T. realised afterward that if he was a bit more cunning, he could have acted out a date with Minnie instead, like some of the other pairs did. He saw himself dating Minnie, singing to her and drawing spontaneous applause from the class.

Yet even his dreams were too conservative to allow him to get what he wanted.

E.T. woke up late, almost at nine, and saw his Grandmother in a grey flowery top skirting over the surfaces with a duster. When he finally got up he noticed the phone missing. Yezi made a living selling phone chargers of questionable safety and this one was dangling close to E.T.’s head.

Yezi’s bed, with its mosquito net, was empty, so he sidled up to the bathroom.

“Sis,” he said, tapping on the door. “I need the phone.”

“Gimme a few minutes,” she groaned. Her single status and lack of coyness about her bowels may not have been unrelated.

“Hurry up. I’m expecting some messages.”

“You got some messages. Voice messages. Someone called Angelababy.”

“No, no, don’t play them now.”

E.T. heard the recording play from outside the door.

Yo motherfuckers, Happy Mid-Autumn!

I love you all. In the face. Twice.

P.S. E.T. What the fuck is Aquila?

Kevin McGeary is a Guangdong-based songwriter, musician and translator who works in international communications for a Chinese company. Since early 2014 he has had an Ahab-esque obsession with writing fiction and eventually intends to publish a collection of short stories that revolve around Shenzhen. Check out his music videos on YouTube