Reunion Eve
Joe Ashby Porter

In darkening blue, serene Venus assumes her place above a sliver of moon, and familiar constellations twinkle one by one above the sand sweeping away forever from the lighted pavilions, the chatter and wail, the laughter, the wraiths conjoining and disjoining perfectly confident in the invisible shield Abu Dhabi has diverted from the military to shelter Engineering University class reunion ceremonies out here in the desert, a killer app. "Yoji Tanaka" in Roman characters reads the tag Yoji clips to a lapel. Straight toward him wobbles a sand devil like a funhouse reflection until poof it shivers down into its myriad grains. What's this, loping by and chuckling through the cold? A spotted desert hyena, evidently real and all unaware of the light and sound environing Yoji and other near comestibles, although in the opposite direction the shield reconstitutes even some version of her stench.

    Yoji estimates chances of finding love, amusement, enlightenment, death and so forth among classmates returning perhaps like him for the first time from wherever, he Yoji from Florida whose impacted air admits rather less starlight, he at full stride in military systems with nothing really to prove to anybody who might recall a retiring puffin-like Californian leaning toward chaotics, rolling up lab sidewalks more often than not, and singing karaoke weekends. Probably nothing to write home about will ensue, and no regrets, sometimes you follow instincts for sentimental reasons. These days, in any case, there's a certain pleasure to take from actual physical meeting, and perhaps even from the long flight through a corridor whose unbreached security broadcasts its own pheromones, a systems engineer well knows.

    The reunion committee lodges twenty-fifth year alumni in their original quarters in the compound when possible. Yoji's however having been razed, he has deposed his affairs in a cozy bed-sit halfway up a high rise overlooking the new sports palace. Thence whisked here via hushed monorail, for grazing and schmoozing before tomorrow's opening ceremonies back here under the vast Bedouin tents yonder. For the moment, how about retreating from the yawning desert for some refreshment at the class oasis?

    All these people! Many have returned with families, companions, bodyguards, but could the class really have been so large? Do we have here an inverse of the memory effect by which places grow as they recede into the past? Yoji accepts a savory tidbit from a smiling and delectable waiter, and champagne from another. No need yet anyway to network with the little court there about class president BŽrŽnice Llodra, she an international whiz in electoral engineering, rumored to have Guatemala in her pocket.

    Exchanging affable smiles with long-lost acquaintances, Yoji makes his way through a palm grove to a pergola of turquoise lace where he sits like a pasha on a tufted ottoman to survey the plaza, across which he happens to notice me, no larger than a bumblebee nor any more legibly gendered yet, proceeding among idle clumps and groupings in his direction.

    By degrees I grow into a fellow oriental male with a runner's build, indeed attired in a jaunty sweat suit, and beaming-at Yoji can it be? Let me come closer, enough to see my face, vaguely recognizable with its hollows and beetling brow. Now I wave. Yoji glances back over his shoulder. Unless I'm greeting a bougainvillea, it seems I have him in mind. Now full size, taller than Yoji, not five meters away I exclaim, "Yoji! No idea you'd be here. How the hell are you?"

    Yoji takes in my lapel label, "Clyde Song." It rings no bells, yet it certainly could attach to one of the suavely ambitious Asian Americans who composed above a quarter of the class. Ever game, Yoji stands and extends a hand. "Clyde. You've hardly changed." We sit and exchange pleasantries about old days, and fill each other in about what has ensued since. We seem to have shared several of the faculty, emeriti now if not deceased, though never together in a semester. I have especially fond memories of Heifitz in genomics, the pied piper who lured me into biomed engineering where I've been moderately successful and happy, I explain, working two decades now for a military-industrial consortium in high Montana, with mouse hearts that arrive halved, quartered, or otherwise sectioned in chilled vials.

    Plausible enough and, in any case, what might a crasher hope to gain here, beyond another notch on his belt? Plausible as a cucumber I touch simu-fire to the tip of a simu-Gitane, inhale with evident satisfaction, exhale through lips whose fullness looks unassisted a wobbling ring and through it a feathered plume, I like a black-and-white revenant from the last century's talkies colorized with swooning whispers of olive and lilac in the waning natural and waxing artificial light.

    The plaza is filling with alumni, from guarded and opportunistic fifth years to thinning fortieth and forty-fifth years basking in glorious pasts or sternly unapologetic, almost proud of blighted promise, while outside a swaying caravan pads by, muffled sheiks adoze atop clinking unhurried camels, scimitars in tooled scabbards.


    "I've never succumbed. But, where did you live, Clyde? My poor memory's not what it was."

    "An Alembic suite, all three years, although roommates varied. You may have visited, it wouldn't surprise me, social as we were."

    "Visited," "social"-can I mean to suggest hanky-pank? Unlikely as it seems, the fact remains that many budding engineers did hook up to blow off steam. Although surprisingly little of that succulent history remains, you'd think at least my mouth would have persisted, even despite some resemblance that keeps interfering, yes a screen face perhaps. Yoji nods. Afar in his mind notes strive toward a circus tune, fraud, a classmate misrepresenting himself. Wasn't there records falsification and a hush-up? A smell of rat lurking in the second half of the alphabet? Could it have been Clyde Song? Or, if Song, could I have been using a Chinese given name back then? Certainly my face, blank and noncommittal as middle C, might have been designed for duplicity.

    But who is this waving? Caucasian in a drapey spindrift leisure suit, oxblood tasseled loafers, a silvering comb-over above a well-tended smile broadcasting friendliness. "Yoji, Clyde! When did you lads arrive? It's been too long. I've always meant to get in touch. Yes, thanks, good to get off the dogs. How the hell are you both? What might lure you out to C™te d'Ivoire for a residency?"

    Sandy, Sandy Worth, one of the best-hearted in the class, in materials then and making something of a mark recently in liminal foams. And, oh my, this does come back, with Sandy there was indeed hanky pank, very cheerful, until he married . . . Khaled, wasn't it? Circumspectly Yoji asks whether Khaled is at the reunion.

    "Possibly. We lost touch after divorcing, after he decided he was more a ladies' man. Fine while it lasted, no regrets. I hear he's shifted into psychic engineering. I've played the field since. But how about you? Either married? This is fun. We should do it more often."

    "How about a hug for old times," Yoji says. What a busy life, to have all but forgotten this charmer whose neck smells warm and costly, and what a pleasure to feel his delts and traps. "Sandy, we were counting on you, Sandy the Great."

    Networks crinkle from the corners of my smiling eyes, betraying only a bland and reserved politeness. "Sandy, Yoji, my friends, I need to turn in early. Grab me some winks. Catch you both tomorrow."

    "Okay then."

    "See you, Clyde. Maybe us loners share a breakfast table."

    Sandy and Yoji ease themselves onto the ottoman to catch up. Over Sandy's shoulder I shrink strolling away until behind four doddering South Asians and their walkers I disappear. Sandy chuckles. "I've come across you on the web more than once, but not Clyde that I recall. I hope he's doing okay. Where were we?"

    Now in the gathering dusk and rising neon, down assorted runways spin clockwise dervishes in white, crowns of elongated fezzes circling above belled hems, right palms up, left down, eyes lost. Yoji calculates the hour, unable decorously to consult his wristwatch. Time for a quickie? Oh but Yoji, for heaven's sake, how reductive must this get anyway? Seriously. "You're mainly on site then in the C™te? I've never visited any of West Africa."

    "All the more reason," says Sandy. "I freelance security, but I've been there long enough for a general sense of opportunity. Come for a month, see how you like it. Nice beaches. The systems folks would welcome somebody with your credentials. Do think about it."

    "Thanks, Sandy. Let me know if I can reciprocate."

    "Check, although I am indeed on site, with a vengeance. This is my first trip away in two years."

    "Big project?"

    "You might say. It's my mother. Dad died twenty years ago, and she coped on in Providence where she had friends, though no family there or anywhere else, except her only child whom she visited annually, and I hopped back when possible.

    "But the last time there I noticed signs of onset of the big A or a similar dementia. Long story short, I've moved her to my place in Abidjan, until the Îprogress' of the disease necessitates a dedicated facility. She's semi-lucid much of the time if diminished, but she needs more or less constant supervision. I love the old bird, Yoji. Your parents alive?"

    "In Connecticut, happy as clams not to be bothered by me or my brother and his wife and the grandchildren. You and Khaled didn't have kids, did you?"

    Now above the shield velvety black has fallen even westward. In their ecstasy the dervishes whirl away through dozens of fretted arches as the invariant chordal hum of their music begins to arch, and to plunge like Arabic nun, throwing off sinuous derivatives that shudder across come-hither syncopes and ellipses, and a belly dancer materializes, spangled and veiled, eyes black as desert night, bare jouncing belly dragging bare feet across the marble, jeweled fingers through the air and lightly across Yoji's shoulder and Sandy's. He winks. Yoji says, "I can't help feeling flattered." If less now by the presumption of preference, more by the mere appearance of interest. "For the female-cathected the oomph of this dancing probably obscures what the rest of us, me anyway, see better. I mean, it fairly flaunts procreativity. And one wonders, to what end?"

    Sandy shrugs and shakes his head. "But say, Yoji, between you and me, I'd just as soon keep my distance from that Clyde Song. You probably don't recall, but there were ethical issues, attempted identity theft I believe, a little cloud over him our last year. I'm not here for albatrosses."

    "Done," Yoji says. "He seemed pretty chummy but we should be able to lose him, should he decide to brazen it out." Demure, Yoji continues, "Where'd you say they've put you? I'm in one of the new eastern block."

    "My old digs in Scheherazade II. Third floor corner, as you may recall."

    Half a football field away the belly dancer fends off children who suppose her bangles party favors and whose lax parents, probably fifteenth-years, have themselves begun a line dance, hands on each other's love handles, knees lifting here, here, there. "It's coming back. Interior window boxes, pink and white petunias? Stress vector gradients on the bedroom wall?" Gulp. "You still collect Bakelite? Is the sunken garden still there? You know, Sandy," Yoji, Yoji, "I wouldn't mind dropping by for a look while we're here, stroll down Memory Lane if it's not inconvenient or whatever." Yoji, wherever did you learn these floozy manners?

    Eyes atwinkle, Sandy nods. "How about now? There's Veuve Clicquot in the fridge, and we can order up."

    How will it be? For that matter, how was it? Did routines develop? Yoji has a hunch it was ardent in its way, and generous. Resumption should be a bodily karaoke, ready (even still) to be carried away, if just as happy with the slow and steady, old sobriquets welling up, thigh across thigh, tasting. Yoji smiles. For goodness sake, even should Sandy be angling for someone to spell him with his declining ma, even so unlikely an eventuality might spin out into any number of satisfactions, and ditto for the still more improbable case that tonight should prove the whole story full stop. Ditto and ditto. Yoji claps a hand on Sandy's strong fragile shoulder. "Good idea, pal. Off we go," back under palms to the brushed titanium monorail terminal at the vertex of turning searchlights beaming up through the shield.

    Ahead on the right who should Yoji glimpse but me, Clyde Song or Sung, not yet turned in after all, haggling with a rug merchant, both squatting at a kiosk. Down the weathered back of the merchant's neck hangs a graying lock escaped from his turban. Although I face Yoji almost directly, the peacock-blue rug unrolled on the pale marble laminate so absorbs my gaze that he has no fear of my noticing him. Watching, bingo he realizes that the face interfering with its pesky resemblance to mine belongs to screen actor Henry Silva, elusive because oriental merely in roles. The falling away of error-I genuine oriental at least-gives Yoji the same relief as when a truant word returns to the frustrated mind of its own accord, having proved proof against alphabetical or other snares.

    Alert Sandy? No real need, Yoji reflects, nor even to quicken their pace. Monorail cars depart each five minutes, and nobody needs a wet blanket at this juncture, much as there may be to lose. Let sleeping dogs lie. Sandy and he should be wending their way through dim acacias, or climbing a seldom-used stair, or even clinking flutes of bubbly by the time I disembark onto the university compound platform.