1. The dead porn star wasn’t as handsome as he could have been. His abs needed work. His hair was an uncombed mess. A farmer’s tan cut through his broad biceps. He had a flat ass. He wasn’t as handsome as he could have been, but he was undoubtedly handsome.
The evidence that can be known outlasts all beautiful memory.
2. In his videos, the dead porn star has a great smile. White teeth. Deep dimples. Pink lips frame a light moustache, and a line of beard carves out the angles of his jaw. When he speaks in Japanese his mouth puckers in a way that makes his teeth magnetic. They shine like polished metal. His partners wear blindfolds or hide behind dark sunglasses. His partners do not smile at all.
3. My ex adored the dead porn star. He wasn’t dead when we started dating, but he was dead by the time of our last phone call.
4. My ex was tall but not too tall. My ex was young but not as young as me. He rode the MRT to work but drove his own car when he took me out to dinner. He loved talking about the colonial backdrop of Victorian literature and gossiping about the assassinated senator’s crazy TV personality daughter. He sang Tom Waits in the shower when he thought I wasn’t listening, Tom Jones in broad daylight just to see me blush. My ex spoke four languages, two of which I understood and two of which I didn’t. He would put his mouth to the back of my neck and whisper in Cantonese or Mandarin, I was never sure which. When I asked what he had said, he would reply that it was how much he loved me or how handsome I looked. I never found out what he actually said, but I know that it was never the same thing twice.
My ex was an enigma, an eccentric, a loud sleeper. My ex was himself, and that by itself was unfathomable.
That’s what I loved about him.
5. My ex lived in an enormous old house in a rich subdivision, where the houses took cover under the long shadows cast by towering malls and high rises. The property was his parents’ house but they were somewhere far away, living a better life. It sat high on a cobblestoned wall that must have once been a hill, surrounded by a tall wire fence, and from a distance it looked like a basketball court or a prison.
6. As far as I knew, no one lived in the house except him, though it wouldn’t have surprised me to have taken the wrong turn to the bathroom one day and ended up in the laundry room with a gaggle of housemaids gossiping about their employer’s new lover. It’s likely that the house is bigger in my memory than it was in reality, but when I think of the space that my ex inhabited, I find myself walking down a long corridor, wondering which way to turn.
7. I never met any of my ex’s family. Maybe. There was a time I arrived at his house in sweatpants and sneakers. At the top of the steep staircase that crept along the cobblestone wall, before the small black gate opening into a concrete yard stood a man in a brown suit. He said he was my ex’s uncle. That’s not right, he said he was called Uncle. An unknown accent thickened his deep voice as he spoke. The man didn’t look at all like my ex, with his leathered face surrounded by salt and pepper hair. He wore a hat that matched his suit, like he was in a movie.
8. “Where is the boy?” asked Uncle. This was the very first thing he said to me.
“I don’t know, sir. I can let you in, I have a key.”
He clicked his tongue and pressed the electric doorbell three times. He stood for a moment before turning around and pulling the brim of his hat lower over his eyes. “Tell him Uncle is in town,” he muttered as he passed me down the stairs. I watched his brown hat until it disappeared behind a corner.
9. I told my ex about the encounter over dinner and he asked what the man had looked like.
“Brown suit,” I said.
“Ah, the wrong one,” he said before lifting his plate off the table and walking disinterestedly to the sink. A loud rush of water let me know the conversation was closed.
10. Over the course of our relationship I found myself dreaming of my ex almost as frequently as I was lulled to sleep by the inescapable drone of the city: horns, police sirens, the hum of endless construction. Boring dreams. Meaningless dreams. Dreams where we held hands on a beach with the sunset in the backdrop. Dreams where I was sitting in his car with the wind speeding past us, my head on his shoulder. Dreams where we would fuck.
My daydreams were vivid enough. I watched color television. I followed art blogs. I don’t understand why what I saw when I closed my eyes at night was so gray and mundane. Why I wasn’t a pilgrim or Prince Charming. Something else beginning with a P. I suppose that’s my problem. I have no imagination.
11. Counterpoint. I did come up with the name.
“Why does it need a name?” That’s what my ex said.
“It’s romantic,” I said. “Like the House of Usher.”
I don’t recall how he looked. Probably lightly bemused. The eyebrows.
“The House of Tan is a shitty name,” he said. He pulled the sheets up higher between us and exposed his pink toes, trying to bury themselves in the spaces between mine.
“It doesn’t have to be your last name,” I said. He was smiling, maybe?
“You choose the name for our house, then.”
“Really? Um. The castle. No. Landing or keep or—”
“Take your time.”
When I eventually did settle on a name, he had fallen asleep. In the morning, he told me the name didn’t make any sense. And I said it’s mysterious, that’s good enough.
12. Most of my memories of my ex are in bed. I’d be sleeping over for the night and we’d crawl up together under the ragged blankets. Legs tangling and untangling as the night went on. Both of our laptops overheating on one side, playing noise pop and videos of zoo animals eating. Sometimes he would bury his nose in the space between my shoulder blades, and sometimes I’d flick his left nipple, the one with the piercing. Small moments of intimacy. The first time he showed me the dead porn star was one of these.
13. Swanlike? Cocksure? Enflamed? None are quite right. The dead porn star moved with both grace and irreverence. A natural athlete whose animal thrusting betrayed an undertow of honest gentleness. He enjoyed himself. Not many of them do. If you watch enough porn, the difference between the actor that does and the actor that doesn’t becomes obvious.
14. I was engrossed in the video but not nearly as much as my ex was. I have always been able to see what he saw in the dead porn star. No. That’s untrue. I was always two steps apart. Seeing him seeing. His excitement was a shadow on the proverbial cave wall. I was removed from the truth of him. The dead porn star was undoubtedly attractive, but I wasn’t attracted to him. Not like my ex was.
We lay there and watched and my hand wandered between us. He looked at me with feigned surprise and I smiled. His hand reached down and touched me.
15. When the dead porn star deftly moves in and out of a quivering body as it repeatedly mewls a well-rehearsed kimochi ii, the eye is drawn from mouth to hands, from hands to hips. His pectoral muscles heave as if he is carrying a great load, as if he is in love, as if he is in a movie about parasitic aliens, and though his handsome yet relatable character survives to the end, throughout the film, the actor’s body breathes with the possibility of infection.
16. “Don’t tell anyone,” my ex said. “That I have a favorite porn star.”
I grunted in reply. Wondering, who would want to know?
17. For a long time I didn’t think about the porn star. Then, he died.
18. It was a summer death. Every hot pink queer news website made at least passing mention of the dead porn star. Some of them dedicated vigils in his honor. One or two of them talked about the boyfriend he left behind. A Chinese immigrant on Japanese soil.
19. My ex talked about the dead porn star all night, like he was a family member who had died without warning, and I didn’t interrupt him. I thought about the dead porn star’s immigrant boyfriend. A video being shared at the time showed the porn star talking in jovial subtitles while his lover sat in the background with a mute smile.
Months later, I’d find that not a single one of those websites had followed up on him.
No one asked, “Where is he now?”
No one asked, “How is he dealing with a grief he had to share with so many people who couldn’t possibly know the man he knew the way he did?”
But did he know him any better? All I remember was his silence. What did the two of them talk about? Did they understand one another? What kind of relationship can a person have with someone who can’t speak their language? Whose mouth can’t quite catch their lover’s name?
20. I couldn’t imagine it. That was my problem.
21. I saw my ex and Uncle together only once. I was in a crowded coffee shop at a plaza I’d never been to, and I had just given my order when I saw them out of the corner of one eye. It was so loud. The entire coffee shop, the entire street, the entire city was just one unified roar and nobody seemed to notice.
I carefully turned my head, trying to watch the pair without alerting them to my face in the crowd. I hid. I couldn’t see the younger man’s face, but of course it was him, how could I not know him when I saw him? The man in the brown suit removed his hat and he pointed into it, ran a finger round the rim and pressed the finger to his lips. Now here’s a secret. The younger man was leaning across the table, looking into the hat, looking as if he was going to fall in. What was inside the hat?
Endless darkness, as far as the eye could not see.
The barista called my name and sweat cleaved lines down my back. Neither of the two men had looked up from their exchange. A pang of doubt. Was it really the two of them sitting there? I can’t say. I left that place, I must have. What happened after that draws a blank.
22. My ex was once a boy who came up to me in a bar I’d been dragged to and told me I looked like someone he knew. My ex was once easy, like a song you make up the words to sing. My ex could have been anybody. That’s what I liked about him.
23. That first meeting he told me a story. It went like this:
There was once a boy who took refuge in an abandoned mansion during a thunderstorm. He didn’t know it, but the mansion was haunted by a demon who knew all the secrets of the world. The boy crawled into the first dry bed he could find and soon fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, as the storm raged outside, the boy was woken by a knock on the door. He opened it and saw a man dressed all in white, down to his sharp white teeth. The man spoke to the boy.
“I am here to chop you and stew you, unless you can correctly answer my question. Do you know the master of the house?”
“I don’t,” said the boy.
“Very good,” said the man. “The master will grant you any knowledge you desire, if you are alive by dawn.”
A little while later another knock came and the boy opened the door to a man all in red, down to his blood-red gums. The man spoke to the boy.
“I am here to burn you and blight you, unless you can correctly answer my question. Can you tell me why I am now covered in blood?”
“I can’t,” said the boy.
“Very good,” said the man. “The master knows everything there is to be known, more than the greatest of men, more than the greatest of gods. He is the death of time itself.”
When the rain dwindled to a soft hush, another knock came and the boy opened the door to a man all in brown, down to his long wooden tail. He spoke to the boy.
“I am here to brutalize you and violate you. I am here to hang you by a nail from my wall. Unless you can correctly answer my question. Tell me my name.”
“That isn’t a question,” said the boy.
“Very good,” said the man. “I am the demon who lives in this manor and I will impart to you, my guest, any truth in all the world. What is your question?”
Do you know what the boy asked the demon?
“How do I leave?”
24. Later that night, I wandered the house that had not yet been named, wearing his boxers and a blanket. The walls and cabinets held hundreds of portraits, photos and paintings, of relatives distant and near whom I would never meet. I went around them looking for a familiar face, catching only my own in a mirror. I smoothed my uncombed hair and listened to my ex’s breathy sleeping.
25. In the morning, he made me waffles with jam on the side and asked when he could see me again.
26. “That can’t be right,” he said, scratching his head.
“You were drunk,” I said. “Then you were asleep.”
“No, the waffles,” he said. “I’ve never owned a waffle iron.”
Neither of us were bothered enough to dig through the cupboards to find out.
27. If there was a single reason for the dissolution of my relationship, I can’t tell you what it was. Things fall apart, but not all at once. A piece at a time.
28. What were we even fighting about? That was the last time I saw him. I remember the bar. I remember the wind in the streets. I remember the feeling in my chest, his hand on my hand, and my hand knocking it away. He wanted something from me and he couldn’t find it. I wanted something from him and it was there, it was right there. Why didn’t I take it?
29. We broke up on the phone. In a way, this was a compromise.
30. Though he’s been dead for years now, the dead porn star’s videos still make the rounds on certain sites. A few of them are brand-new, never before seen. The same ageless face, the same deft fingers manipulating the pulse of a warm body. I watch them looking for some trace of him.
31. Once, just once, I ran across the interview of the dead porn star. Someone had uploaded the video alongside those where his body was on full display, glistening. Maybe it was a joke. It had that soft buzz of low quality. Graphic artifacts catching in his five o’ clock shadow. For a moment, I thought he looked pale and tired. But he didn’t. He looked as he always looked, and his forgotten boyfriend had been cropped out.
32. I sometimes pass by the subdivision my ex lived in. I heard a rumor that he’s left the country. I don’t know if that’s true, but it doesn’t make a difference. I haven’t seen him since. The old house I named is still sitting on its stone hill, not looking like anything but a house from a distance.