I Dream In Italics, Eat In Mandarin and Order In English At the Noodle Shop by Dena Rash Guzman

The inner window of this noodle shop is steamy. There is a down of rain out the door but my hair hangs in perfect, shiny waves of ethereal beauty. I am confident in this place, all grace and poise. I am nimble at the wonky stool, defeating its short leg and cracked vinyl cushion.

I am worldly and relaxed as was Thomas Jefferson in France. I can read the menu and know what I am ordering when I ask to have what the woman two seats away is having.

I wish it was this way. The only down is the fine one of perspiration adorning my clavicle and upper arms. It’s hot, in here and out. “The heat leaves me in a perpetual state of inelegance.” I read that somewhere once as an accompaniment to a photo of a slightly rumpled girl in a dirty looking bonnet. You could see the dust of the street caught in its weave and in the stain of her tired mouth. That’s me, minus the bonnet. My hair is disgusting. It is extra special American style disgusting. I want noodles but don’t know what is on the menu, so I do that thing white people love to do, and point and nod at what my neighbor is eating as though I am certain this will bring epicurean satisfaction. I heave myself and my perpetual inelegance up onto the stool and manage to knock a bottle of something oily onto the floor.

Stepping deftly around the slick, the waitress kills me with a cleaver. She has had a long day. She works at a hotel too, a weird but lovely business hotel near the old Shanghai airport. She is a server at the buffet where I had my breakfast this morning, and she was kind to me after my husband publicly chastised me for not knowing how to ask for ketchup in Mandarin. She was sympathetic then, but everyone has bad moments. She lost her cool and killed me for being a clumsy white girl. She didn’t notice how I floated up to my stool with the grace of the Princess from Mario Brothers. She saw only my gaffe. I don’t take it personally as I am sure she didn’t recognize me from earlier in the day. I imagine refusing to press charges if I had only survived, telling the police she slipped on a stray noodle and didn’t mean to cut me. I feel deep compassion as the last of my life leaves my body to mix with the oil on the grimy linoleum floor.

I watch as the familiar waitress finds a mop and a broom to clean my mess. I’m embarrassed. I always make a scene. I have done this sort of damage at McDonald’s and I’ve done it at Bouchon. It’s so hot in here. The heat hurts my feelings and my stomach is turning inside out in hunger. Finally, my noodles come and are as I ordered; coiled in the bowl, just as my neighbor at the counter had them. The romance of such happenstance is manufactured. It’s never good as it is for Anthony Bourdain. I suck down my soup of noodles, leaving behind a little pile of meat too sinewy for my tastes. I pay and leave. The waitress smiles at me as I go. She’s sweating, too.

Dena Rash Guzman is a Las Vegas born author living and working on a farm outside Portland, Oregon. A collection of her short stories is due in 2012 from Shanghai's independent English language press, Haliterature (www.haliterature.com). She edits the literary journal Unshod Quills (www.unshodquills.com).