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Authors: Lisa Brackmann

Hour of the Rat

BOOK: Hour of the Rat
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Also by Lisa Brackmann

Rock Paper Tiger

Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Brackmann

All rights reserved.

Published by
Soho Press, Inc.
853 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Brackmann, Lisa.
Hour of the rat / Lisa Brackmann.
p. cm
eISBN: 978-1-61695-235-8
1. Art dealers—Fiction. 2.   Americans—China—Fiction.
3. Missing persons—Fiction. I.  Title.
PS3602.R333H68 2013
813’.6–dc23      2012046282


To my parents, Carol and Bill. Thank you, for everything.


, or is this bullshit?”

The ducks sit on top of a large metal grill, a skinny rectangle as long as a pool table. Glowing coals underneath. The duck at one end is crispy brown, like Peking Duck. Which I love, but who knows how long it’s been sitting here? Moving down the row, the next duck is … I don’t know, boiled, maybe, the flesh a little greyish. The one after that is raw, I think, its feathers plucked, the naked skin yellow and pimply.

Harrison Wang shrugs. “As a piece, I think it’s not terribly sophisticated.”

Harrison, who knows from sophisticated, has dragged me along to this art opening. Some new-artists collective way the fuck out in Tongzhou, an eastern suburb of Beijing, in a patchy area of old red brick buildings and white-tiled storefronts between high-rise developments where the buildings are named “Rotterdam,” “Bordeaux,” and “Seattle.”

I mean, Seattle?

The opening is in a tumbledown warehouse across the ring road from the fancy developments, behind a row of cheap restaurants, electronics stores, foot-massage joints and

, the character for “demolish”—is already slapped up with white paint on the exterior walls.

Inside, it’s a dirty concrete slab, some lame performance pieces, big acrylic paintings with a lot of naked butts, cartoon farts, and McDonald’s references. It’s freezing, which is why I was drawn to this stupid duck thing in the first place, because the lit coals make it warm. Guests and artists mill around, drinking Yanjing beer and eating
yangrou chuanr
, which normally I’d be all over, but the meat on these is so small and gristly that I wonder if it’s actually mutton and not dog instead. Or rat.

I was born in the Year of the Rat, and eating my birth animal seems like it would be bad luck. So I stick to the beer.

“Why are we here, again?” I ask.

“I’d heard good things about the painter,” Harrison says, flicking his hazel eyes at one of the giant canvases, one where a fat naked guy whose face is done up in Peking Opera makeup lies sprawled across a red Ferrari, his guts spilling out of his sliced-open stomach.


“I agree with you, it’s disappointing.”

I hold my hands over the grill. They’re red with cold, throbbing like I’ve had them dipped in an ice bucket. I should have kept my gloves on.

Harrison doesn’t seem cold. He’s wearing a knee-length coat, black, some kind of soft, thick wool, and a black-and-red cashmere scarf. He looks like the centerfold in some men’s fashion shoot.

He’s my boss, sort of.

I manage the work of a Chinese artist. An important one. Which is pretty funny, considering that I know fuck-all about art. Which is why, I guess, Harrison keeps trying to get me to learn.

“This duck thing is lame,” I mutter.

The next duck, predictably, is a dead one with all its feathers still on. Just a whole dead duck. Lying on the grill. Long neck stretched out at a weird angle where I have to think, Oh, they killed it by breaking its neck. The exposed eye looks like dead, rubbery plastic. Some feathers have fallen onto the coals. They smell like burned hair.

“But why is it lame, Ellie?” Harrison persists.

“I don’t know, because it’s a bunch of dead ducks lying on a grill,” I say.

Except the last one isn’t dead.

It’s wrapped in Saran Wrap sealed with duct tape. Hardly even struggling by now. Lying on the grill, making little duck noises, you can’t even call them quacks. Shuddering.

“This is fucking disgusting.”

“You don’t think that it is perhaps a statement on the reality of what we consume?” Harrison asks mildly. “Stripped of its packaging?”

“I don’t care.”

I’m going to do one of two things. I’m going to run out of the room, or I’m going to pick up the duck.

I pick up the duck. It quacks and convulses in my arms.


Somebody—the artist, I guess, some tall guy with glasses, wearing a green Mao jacket over a Polo shirt, a real one, with the little horse (I think it’s supposed to be ironic)—comes running over. “You can’t do that!”

“I’m responding to the piece, asshole.”

He tries to grab the duck, and I kick him in the shin.

Saobi laowai!
” he yelps.

“Yeah, your mother, whatever.” I’ve been called worse.

The duck squirms in my arms.

A couple other guys coming running over, and suddenly it seems like most of the crowd has turned toward us.

Hey, it’s a better show than the art.

“How much for the piece?” Harrison asks.

“What?” Asshole Artist stutters.

“How much for the piece?” Harrison pulls out his wallet. It’s this beautiful soft leather thing that’s thin enough to disappear in his back pocket. And yet I’m sure it holds plenty of money.


up at a veterinarian’s office in Sanlitun with a dehydrated, malnourished duck.

“Stay overnight, I think she is okay after that,” the vet says.

Afterward, we go to a rooftop bar where the “mixologist” does a pretty good margarita.

“There’s a wildlife sanctuary in Yanqing County that I think will take her,” Harrison says.

I stare out the window. There’s a great view from here of Sanlitun Village, this upscale shopping mall with edgy smoked-glass buildings, overpriced hamburger restaurants, and all kinds of luxury shops including an Apple Store, where people line up and riot over the latest iPads.

“Thanks,” I finally say.

Harrison shrugs. “You were right. It was bad art.”


get out of Beijing.

There’s the fact that the air is trying to kill me. No joke. The American embassy over in Chaoyang does readings of the air quality in Beijing, since the Chinese government doesn’t, or won’t reveal the results anyway. A while ago it was so polluted that they ran out of normal descriptions and came up with one of their own, so what went out over Twitter was that the air was “crazy-bad.”

BOOK: Hour of the Rat
12.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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