L’Heure Bleue

Susanne Lee

Kari loved a solitary walk on the beach, especially on an early Sunday morning; but her absolute favorite time was at dusk.  

Dusk, that wonderfully tranquil time between night and day, when the fading light was exquisite and that blurred hazy line between rose and blue appeared in the sky.

The beach on Lamma was a refuge from Hong Kong, a pleasant mix of open space and outdoor joints serving up the freshest seafood and Kari’s current favorite, yu dan fun, fish balls with rice noodles. The view was unhampered by the neon skyline and the mass of humanity from the MTR, the minivans and the double-decker buses haphazardly spilling the masses onto Nathan Road. Everything smelled clean like salt and sea, instead of sweat, durian, and exhaust.

She felt the comforting swishing of the surf and the soft sand under her feet. Her toes freshly painted a pale pink. Kari nibbled on a daan tat, still warm from the hole-in-the-wall bakery, the Phoenix, located around the corner from Eva’s family’s apartment she was staying at that weekend. Kari bit into the creamy rich slightly sweet egg custard tart with a delightfully flaky crust, and admitted that it was even better than the ones from the bakery on Grant Street she remembered as a child. Perhaps it was being in Hong Kong.

Ryo had a gig and Kari thought it was probably good for both of them to be apart for a few days. They were completely immersed in this temporary relationship that they’d plunged head-on into deeper and faster than either one was comfortable with. It all started when they were introduced at Eva’s party, went outside to smoke, and left to eat noodles. Kari, with reckless aplomb, invited herself over to Ryo’s apartment, and it was fast forward from that point.

She walked slowly, lazily, aimlessly, far far away from the city pace. A few locals at the bakery warned her about the pollution, which had closed the beach to swimmers that day. Ahead, a crowd gathered, seemingly oblivious to that news, and she, too, was drawn in and feeling compelled to look.

Kari knew all too well from summers at Hermosa, Manhattan, and Redondo, the California beaches she frequented growing up, that congregating groups never meant good news. Here, halfway around the world, a fisherman had pulled a little girl out of the sea.

Kari never saw her face. To protect her privacy, someone had already covered her up with a bright blue tarp. What a shade for a shroud. She only saw strands of her wet black hair and her tanned limp hand with a green jade bracelet, now tinged with an ethereal pallor. That fucking superstition, a good luck charm jade that was supposed to protect her. It couldn’t save her, couldn’t do a thing against the Pacific.

A sense of horror and then sadness overwhelmed Kari and she teared up.

Kid never stood a chance against the tide.

Kari turned from the cluster of onlookers and started running away, her tears, warm, raining down her cheeks.

The tiny limp body obliterated her reserve.

It wasn’t fucking fair in this messed up world.

Kari cried for the lost girl and her dumb luck of being born in a fishing village in Hong Kong.

The sky was turning away from the dusty pink into a deeper blue. In French, that time of day had such a pretty name, l’heure bleue.

Today, there was nothing beautiful or poetic, just the foam of the waves sloshing the shore.

Susanne Lee’s writing on Tiananmen dissident Ding Ziling, Spanish surrealism and sausage, menhdi in Delhi, and the Vietnamese Reunification Express has appeared in the Village Voice, The Nation, Konch, Giant Robot and SLAM. Among her short stories, Her stories appear in the anthology PowWow: Short Fiction from Then to Now (DaCapo), the Guardian UK, the Write Launch, and Broken Pencil