and she lives in the present and she doesn’t have to save China. Not this time. In this story, she has to save the world because it’s going to end tomorrow. Only Mulan knows. She’s tired of saving things though, tired of saving empires just so they can grow, whether it’s ancient China or Santa Clara or San Jose or whatever the Spanish colonized—she doesn’t know, she doesn’t care. What do you call defending that which turns monstrous?
She knows she isn’t far off.
She’s also starving. She’s stolen her roommate’s car keys and driven herself to the country club the next town over—the one with a golf course so green it may as well be fake. But it doesn’t matter. Mulan is sublime. She’s bleached her hair blonde around her ears, the strands so thin they could be tendrils of dragon beard candy, freshly flossed. Don’t worry. Her brains are still gray; her flesh is still pink, red, five parts glory and one part courage. After tossing the tub of Manic Panic, Mulan buckled herself into a sporty 2012 Lexus and walked her kitten heels through the lobby and into the reception area before seating herself at the sparsest table.
So far, so good.
She’s arrived just in time. She’s missed the early stuff: the socializing, the ring exchange, the hor d'oeuvres. Right now, everyone’s crowded at the open bar. The empty seat next to Mulan has a table-card that says ‘Shang,’ which makes her huff. The actual Shang—long dead—would’ve huffed too. In the corner, Mulan’s ex has his hand on the waist of his new bride. Some natural blonde. They’re posing, making finger hearts and cheesing widely.
Mulan looks away. She taps her fingers along her plate. She’s here for the food. For the spite. Attending her ex’s wedding is supposed to distract her from how she’s going to do jackshit about the world ending tomorrow. Focus, she tells herself. She wobbles her way towards the bar, slams down two double Hennys (on the rocks, thanks, no I’d rather not give you my number, sure, I’d like another), and comes back to a woman seated in Shang’s spot.
She says her name is—
It doesn’t matter. Mulan recognizes her though it’s been years. Chang’e.
“You’re not —” Chang’e says, tapping at the table-card for Mulan’s seat. She’s stupid-hot, moreso than Mulan remembers. Glass skin. Lipstick shiny in a patent leather way. Hair down to her nipples.
Mulan shrugs. Her hair smells astringent. She ignores it. “And? Your card doesn’t say Chang’e.”
“The wife was in charge of seating.” Chang’e nods at the blonde across the room. “She can barely tell any of us apart.”
Mulan laughs. Chang’e smiles. Flash of teeth, a jaw of milk.
They drink. A steak comes between their conversation with momentary bloodiness, and then they sit through the cake cutting and a dozen toasts, but those too pass. Mulan gets tipsy. More than she lets on. When the teenagers begin dancing, she palms Chang’e’s shoulder and looks at the lipstick, still unsmudged. This is what it’s come to, Mulan thinks wryly: the world will end tomorrow and all I want to do is fuck Chang’e.
Chang’e asks Mulan if she wants to go back. Back where? Chang’e tilts her handbag, a golden little pouch, so that Mulan can look inside. Pink silicone, an unmistakable pair of ears. Mulan flushes.
They end up crowding into a storage room away from the celebration. Chang’e slides four fingers along Mulan’s thigh and Mulan reaches up and she finally smears the lipstick. Her fingers come away tacky, adrenaline-shot and shellacked. Mulan wants. She mouths her way down Chang’e’s neck, and with one hand she tugs at Chang’e’s underwear and with the other she reaches for the silicone rabbit, thinking wildly that of course it would’ve come back as a vibrator, but then Chang’e covers Mulan’s hand with her own and turns it on and—
There are some things that Mulan likes to keep for herself.
The morning after, Chang’e rides shotgun in the 2012 Lexus. A wedge of sunlight fattens along her chest and Mulan suddenly wishes that she’d had her strap last night, imagines filling Chang’e with—
She shakes her head. She steers.
They hurtle down the 101. Years ago, before giving up, Mulan traveled to New York. Her return flight descended post-sunset. Everything was so denim-washed that Mulan mistook the mountains for the sea. Water dancing like a heartbeat. But it had simply been the land, a hunched silhouette.
Today nothing is dark. California rushes by, phosphorescent. The world will end with the sun ablaze, and no one knows but Mulan. Chang’e hums a tune about wanting something to last forever, for something to be real like forever. The bridges gleam: cream stone high-ponytailed with shaggy cypress. Each tree is an unruly tongue reaching for the sky. How many Chinese came here before her? Mulan wonders. Chang’e fiddles with the A/C.
“It’s broken,” Mulan says when Chang’e frowns. “The vents blow hot air year-round. Not sure why.”
Chang’e sucks in her teeth. “I’ve got this,” she says. Her lips are faintly smudged. Mulan might like her, but there isn’t time to find out. The Lexus winds past one, two, three cement-slathered animals. Roadkill. But they’ll all be dead soon.
Tonight, as the world ends, Mulan will press her lips against Chang’e’s ear and wish not for more time or for a second chance but rather for something she can’t really put into words. Maybe just a chance to revisit the next moment: Chang’e fumbling with a dial. The car groaning as if inconsolable. And then all at once: the rush of cold air, hitting them both in the chest and the throat and the eyes. The frigidity catches them off guard, turns them breathless. And when they can breathe again, Mulan looks over and so does Chang’e, and together they shout in one single undulating—