What would lure me to such forbidden decadence, my love affair with the Mandarin? The Mandarin was warm, a balmy breath that wrapped around my naked neck, stripped of the winter scarves of Northern winters. This is what seduced me to hop on a plane into the Mandarin’s welcoming arms, a whisper that promised nights of unending pleasure, days of attentive pampering. There by the Sentinel of the River—the bronze Tequesta Indian blowing into a conch shell, a call to the waves and the sunlight that washes the perfection of your bodily architecture—begins my love affair. Already I catch wind of the familiar sweet cologne seeping out from the sliding doors that seal out the tropical heat. I enter the lobby and am immediately bathed in the Mandarin’s scent—the memories come back, the story replays again in my mind, the paradise that awaits, the inevitable goodbye. Already, I fear saying goodbye.
The Mandarin calls me by my name.
What woman does not swoon at the sound of her name, an affirmation of an identity long erased by (fill in the blank): motherhood, matrimony, monotony?
You remember, I tell the Mandarin, coyly, as I’m led into the room. Always, the same room.
How could I forget?
The room greets me with a view of the city to which the Mandarin’s identity is tied to; tropical greenery of breezy palm trees, the squawking chorus of migrating birds of the rainforest, the glimmering city skyline with fit joggers along Biscayne Bay. The Mandarin is Urban Sophisticate. Global in taste, but drawing from the passion of local roots. That said, you never quite know where the Mandarin is from. Asian? The name suggests. Latin? The style is everywhere. Is that a Mediterranean dish the Mandarin just served me? But this is Miami, where identities are mutable, and the pleasures of many continents converge in one big gaudy rave of the senses.
I lay myself down on the Mandarin’s bed. I swim in a sea of silken sheets, uncrowded, except for the soft duvet that the Mandarin readies for me every evening until my return. The room is prepped with dim lights. We like to watch the evening Miami skyline in our solitude, hidden from the world, until we finally succumb to the matter which brought us together.
The Mandarin comforts my body: Blind to age (the Mandarin has concoctions for that). Knowledgeable in the healing power of touch (divine massages that loosen every knot in my body until I dissolve in a puddle of bliss). The Mandarin is ever so gentle, pampering me with endless pleasure. Endless, except…
In the morning, breakfast waits for me by the foot of the bed. The curtains are drawn open to let in the fresh light of the Miami sun. How can oatmeal be this good?
And when I dare leave for awhile, a prelude to what will soon come—to contemplate my trip, to tease the Mandarin that I will never come back again—I return and find the Mandarin has tucked perfumed bookmarks into the pages of my reading books sprawled on the bed. I pull out a bookmark and see an imprint of the Mandarin’s tattoo, an eleven-bladed fan, though to me it looks so Venusian, it can only be the shell from which Aphrodite emerged and released heavenly pleasure upon us mortals.
Here, I have no dirty laundry. So I put in a sock (just one, because who would suspect a sock?) so that the Mandarin can launder it and I keep the Mandarin’s scent with me until the memory bleeds.
Over an evening cocktail looking out at the bay, I begin to contemplate the dilemma that always embitters us. Leaving.
And I’m not made for it, either. You know that. It’s who I am. Besides, you have your own life too.
And then I taunt myself with the impossible. Do I go back to that life? Can I stay with the Mandarin, forever?
You know the answer. Still, we like to hurt each other with this tennis game of the heart. And I pen the Mandarin’s praise, at risk others may embrace the intimacy we shared. I don’t kid myself that these nights don’t play out in other rooms, with different people.
The Mandarin is an unforgettable affair that at most, you revisit to reclaim a little bit of heaven real life can never offer you. To stay suspended in such pleasure would bankrupt the soul. Besides, isn’t half the fun always coming back?
Baggage beneath me, I look down at the fading Floridian peninsula, wondering—where to, next?
Stephanie Nina Pitsirilos is a public health crusader, writer and (can you tell?) fan of The Mandarin. Her two novels are on the market for an agent. She can be followed @zoehealth. My Love Affair with the Mandarin is a work-in-progress for her third novel.