Summer Shorts: Friday Night Fug

Our summer shorts season ends – by Christian Shepherd


They never stop here this time of night.

Her deadweight numbs my shoulder as I stand in the middle of the street recycling gestures: dog-pat wave, five finger swipe, one finger salute.

An orange blink registers and we're in motion. I launch her into the cab before our predecessor leaves. She lies where she lands, splayed across the backseat like roadkill, indecently exposed skinny limbs jutting at improbable angles. As the passenger door slams shut, I resolutely take my place by her side.

“Xiāng Jiāng. Huā Yuán.”


“Xiāngjiāng huāyuán.”

Staring out towards the empty road, the driver casually shakes his fat head, rearranging the flabby folds of neck below.


The back of his walnut-knuckled hand gives me a dismissive wave.

Take the airport expressway. Exit at Beigao Bridge.

He shoots a disdainful look in my direction before his glare settles on the crumpled figure beside me. The signals become emphatic; with bulbous eyes and raised brows, he flicks an outstretched finger towards the door: take your mess elsewhere. 

I begin making my demands on repeat. By the time he speaks, I've already won.

Don't understand … Don't know it … Shift's over … It's too late … Too far …

We set off.


Under the whines and grumbles of engine and driver, my celebratory cuss goes unheeded. Sore loser. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother.

He's first to flout the no smoking sign. Annoyed at this initiative, I swiftly follow suit. The call-and-response round doesn't go to plan: drag, hawk, gob, exhale; drag, rasp, splutter, spit; splat.

I give up. The cool breeze sooths my pounding head while smoke clears the car's fug, masking the rotting stench of sick and bringing clarity to my rumination. It wasn't her fault, I guess. My morose reaction to the night’s events must’ve been obvious, my reasons easily intuited. We each have our own approach to jealousy: I lash out, she collapses in.

We arrive at the gate. The guard's flashlight and stern leering face rouse my tangled companion. Steeling myself, I put a reassuring hand on her sticky shoulder and move into the beam. He scowls, nods, and waves us through; we’re too well acquainted for pleasantries.

Which way?

Straight on … right … straight on … left … LEFT! Turn around … right … stop here.

I hand him a fifty and let my loitering hand demand the remnants of change. Small victories are earned, not gifted.

The doorbell echoes three times before the trail of illumination snakes its way from the bedroom down to the door.

“What the…”

She stands statuesque against the hallway’s glow, silenced by the sight of her friend (‘the sensible one’) too drunk to stand or speak. Her... No. His baggy shirt flaunts the beautifully brazen nakedness beneath. I suddenly forget my lines, so carefully constructed on the drive from town.

“Sorry. She's fucked. Couldn't take her home. Folks'd flip. Yours are away again. Can you look after her?”

Furrows in her forehead weigh up commitments: caring for a friend or doting on pent up teenage desire. The second opportunity is rare but boyfriends waiting for sex are more forgiving than friends deprived of beds.

She meets my look and, mistaking longing for pleading, agrees to take her. I complete the transaction with quaking hands, my nerves amplified by criminal thoughts and the growing threat of discovery.


Her shout is my cue to leave. I consider taking my time just to see topless help arrive from upstairs, watch the smug self-satisfied grin melt from his angular face. Or, better still; elicit the impatient, bitter, and boyish complaints selectively voiced when no girls are present.

"See you Monday."

It's not worth the wait. He could play the considerate-guy hand as well and his bluff is better than mine. I can't take being upstaged again.

I light up for the walk home. Outside the gate sits a lonesome taxi resting against the curb. In the streetlight I can just make out the driver's oversized head wedged uncomfortably between seat and window. I walk in his direction, half-pack peace offering held aloft in front of me. Small victories, when earned, should be shared.

Christian Shepherd is based in Beijing. His previous story for the Anthill was Dark DisplaysChristian also writes a blog at Theseus’ Thread, and you can follow him on Twitter @cdcshepherd

This story was an entry for Beijing Cream's Flash Fiction for Charity competition. Read the finalist stories at Beijing Cream