Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

One More For the Ditch

 

"Nit!" Palmer shouted at the bar waitress. "Do it again."

Burchard pushed back his chair and stood up. "See you guys."

Wyland frowned and looked at his watch. "What the hell, Lloyd. It's only eleven. We don't have to do anything for seven more hours."

"Sleep," Burchard said. "Maybe you bastards don't have to sleep, but I do."

"Come on, Lloyd," Palmer said. "One more for the ditch."

"Why?" Burchard sat down again and swept his hand around the dark room. "No band. No strippers. A good night to be somewhere else."

"A night for the hard-core drinkers," Wyland said.

"I'm smashed," Burchard said. "And I'm going home. You guys' hairy legs and hairy faces don't do anything for me."

Nit came up behind Palmer carrying a tray. "Sebeny fie cent, sa." She caught Burchard studying her legs and gave him a wan smile, soft in her flat, usually expressionless Asian face. Burchard blushed and tried to look away, but his eyes were rooted in the girl's flesh.

Palmer grabbed Nit's waist and pulled her close to him. "Come back in a minute, honey. We play game first. See who pay."

"Solly, sa," Nit said. "Bar clotz now."

"What?" Palmer said. "The goddam bar's supposed to stay open till midnight. It's only eleven."

She surrendered passively to his arm. "No hab people, sa. No hab people, bar clotz early."

Palmer patted her on the bottom. "You've got me, honey. As long as you've got me you can stay open."

"Solly, sa," Nit said, patiently. "Club steward say bar can clotz. Ozzer girl go home already."

"Screw that," Palmer said. "Go tell the goddam club steward he's supposed to close at twelve. Not eleven."

"Cool it Harry," Burchard said. "It's not her fault."

"I tell he, sa," Nit said.

Palmer let her go. "She's trying to get off early." He picked up his drink and watched Nit walk away. "Nice. . . if you put a bag over her head."

"We going to pay the girl or not?" Burchard asked.

"Yeah." Palmer reached into his pocket and brought out a quarter. "Odd man buys?"

Burchard flipped a head against two tails. He got out a dollar and put it on the table. He sipped his drink. It was raw and heavy with cheap bourbon.

"Where's Chiliwat tonight?" Palmer asked Wyland.

"How the hell should I know?" Wyland said. "Probably in bed."

"Whose bed?"

"Her own. I don't know. Anybody's. I don't give a damn whose bed."

"True love," Palmer said. "For two months he spends all his time sniffing around after her, then all of a sudden he doesn't care whose bed she's sleeping in."

"She's married," Wyland said, almost under his breath, then louder: "I found out she's married."

"So what?" Palmer laughed. "That gives you two something in common."

"I don't screw around with married women." Wyland was staring down the long, almost deserted bar, avoiding Palmer's eyes.

"So what's your problem?" Palmer said. "She's married to a Thai, isn't she?"

"What the hell difference does that make, Harry?" Wyland shifted his gaze and stared at Palmer. "She's married. She's got a husband."

Palmer leaned back in his chair, sipped his drink, smacked his lips and set the glass back on the table. "Maybe she's not even a real wife, Jerry. Maybe she's a minor wife."

"I don't care what kind of wife she is. She's married. That's what matters."

"Afraid you'll get the clap?"

"For the most part," Burchard said, stumbling over "most," "The Thai are a cleaner people than we are."

Palmer smiled at him. "How come you know so much about Thai personal hygiene, Lloyd, if you're such a straight arrow?"

"Married!" Wyland said. "She never told me. She said she was divorced."

"You're a living illustration of Barnum's maxim," Palmer said.

"All that time. . ," Wyland said slowly. "Adultery."

"Not only that, you cheated on your wife."

Burchard looked heavily at Palmer. "Sometimes you're a real turd, Harry."

"Only on Tuesday nights, when there's no band." Palmer drained his glass and set it on the table with a bang. "Where's Nit?" He looked around the room. "We need another round."

"Not for me," Burchard said. "I'm going to bed."

"If you go to bed now you'll have to live through a whole morning without a hangover, Lloyd. You won't be able to handle it."

"Brown girls," Wyland mumbled. "Brown girls. . . with flowers in their hair."

"I'm going." Burchard pushed back his chair. "If sex is all you two can talk about, I'm going home."

"I'll buy," Palmer said. "We'll talk about personal hygiene."

"I'm gonna take a leak." Burchard pushed himself up from his chair and stood for a moment, surveying the empty tables between himself and the door.

"If you see Nit, tell her to get her ass back in here," Palmer said. "She hasn't even collected for the last round."

Burchard crossed the room carefully and went out onto the long, screened verandah that led to the latrines. The contrast between the night and the sour-smelling bar sobered him. Outdoors it was warm, full of stars, full of night-blooming jasmine. He turned his back on it and went into the men's room.

When he came out he heard the girl sobbing on the verandah steps. She sat hunched forward, elbows on knees, chin in both hands, long hair hiding her face in shadow. In the dim light fantastic white blooms burst from the bushes next to the stoop and mingled their fragrance with the smells of wet grass and jasmine. He stood behind her for a moment without saying anything. It was the first time he'd really noticed how soft Nit's hair was, how tender the nape of her neck. Out here she didn't seem homely.

She sensed Burchard's presence and looked up slowly. "Solly, sa," she said. "I go back bar now."

"What is it, Nit?"

"Not matta, Cap-tain." She started to get up. "I go back now."

He touched her gently on the shoulder and she sat down again. "I want to help," he said.

"No can holp, sa. Club steward say Cap-tain Palma can hab bar o-pen."

He sat down next to her on the stoop. "Sometimes Palmer doesn't think," he said. "He's not really a bad man. Just a loud one."

"I know, Cap-tain. Cap-tain Palma numba one. Tonight he hab dlink too mutz."

"It's almost time for him to go home," Burchard said. "Friday he goes back to the States."

"I happy fo him, Cap-tain. He see he wai."

"He doesn't have a wife. He's a bachelor."

Nit smiled faintly and shook her head. "Cap-tain Palma tell Tooey he wai bery sick. No can gib Tooey money." She looked at him. "Why he do dat?"

Burchard shook his head.

Nit put her chin in her hands again and went back to studying the darkness.

"Why were you crying?" he asked.

"Club steward tell Nit bar can clotz early."

"It's only an hour's difference."

"I tell some-body I go he loom"

"He'll wait," Burchard said.

"No wait, Cap-tain. He go find some-body." She turned toward him and pushed back her hair. The flat, broad planes of her face stood out in the light. "Nit not pitty, Cap-tain. No-body wait for Nit. I not go he loom now, he find some-body."

Burchard was silent. A night bird flashed by and disappeared, trailing a reedy cry.

Nit put her chin in her hands again. "Nit no hab money, Cap-tain."

"When do you get paid?" Burchard asked her.

"Get pay yeteday. Get pay again two week."

"What happened to your pay?"

"My ba-bee sick, Cap-tain. Gib money go doc-tor."

Burchard reached into his pocket and pulled out some loose bills. "Here," he said, holding out five dollars. "Take it. One hundred baht. Same as if you'd gone to somebody's room tonight."

She looked at the money for a moment, then looked at his face. "No, Cap-tain. Nit no can take."

"You can pay me back. When you get paid."

"No, Cap-tain. Nit no can pay back. My ba-bee sick long time."

He took her hand and folded the money into it. "Take it," he said. "You don't have to pay me back."

She left her hand in his and closed her fingers around the damp banknote. After a moment she asked, "You want Nit go you loom, Cap-tain."

He wondered how many rooms she'd gone to? How many Palmers had passed out next to her? How many foul-breathed drunks had slobbered over her and then thrown her out?

"Where's your husband?" he asked.

She withdrew her hand. "Hus-band die, Cap-tain. Long time no hab hus-band."

There was a burning sensation in his palm where her hand had been. He put his hand on her arm and the burning stopped.

"I want. . ."

She looked at him. Her shadowy face was composed.

"I want you to come to my room. Tonight."

"I go," she said, softly. "Bar clotz twelve o' clock, I go you loom, Cap-tain."

Burchard got up and went down the verandah without looking back.

"Whaddya mean you don't believe it?" Palmer was saying in a loud voice. "Look at Tooie. Her going rate's two hundred a month. I'll bet Chiliwat does even better than that."

Burchard sat down and finished his warm drink.

"She never asked for money," Wyland said. "Never."

"Hah," Palmer said. "But you gave her money."

"Only for things she needed."

"That's it. That's what I mean. How much?"

"Hell. . . I don't know. A hundred maybe. . . Two hundred. In all that time."

"The bite was coming," Palmer said. "Once she had you hooked good, the big bite was coming."

"You don't know Chiliwat," Wyland said.

"You think she was in love?" Palmer said. "Balls." He noticed Burchard. "You see Nit out there?"

"I saw her," Burchard said. "She's coming."

Palmer looked at his watch. "Half an hour," he said. "Somebody ought to take it out of her pay."

"She'll be here in a minute," Burchard said. "She's got a sick baby."

"They've all got sick babies. They've all got sick mothers. A thousand sad stories."

"Ever see her baby?" Wyland asked.

Burchard shook his head.

"A beautiful little girl with big eyes. Eurasian."

"I've seen her," Burchard said. "I didn't know she was Nit's"

"What's the matter with her?" Wyland asked.

"I don't know."

"She's beautiful," Wyland said. "When that little girl grows up. . ."

"She'll be worth six hundred a month," Palmer finished.

Nit came up next to Burchard and stood with one knee touching him. He looked up at her. Her eyes were dry.

"Two rounds, honey," Palmer said. "We got behind while you were powdering your nose."

"Not unnastand, sa," Nit said.

"Two rounds," Palmer repeated. "You understand that?"

"Yes, sa." Nit walked away toward the bar.

"I'll buy," Palmer said. "A going away present. When you guys sober up tomorrow, remember me."

"All those sad stories," Wyland said. "Sure you can afford it?"

Palmer smiled. "I can think up sadder stories than they can."

"Like a sick wife," Burchard said. "They can't top that, can they Harry?"

"My wife's been sick five times, she's divorced me twice, and she's died more times than I can remember." Palmer laughed and slapped the table. "I'd hate to lose her."

Nit came to the table and put down her tray. Carefully she set two drinks in front of each of them. "One dolla hifty cent, sa," she said.

Palmer paid her. "Sank you, sa," Nit said, smiling at Burchard.

Palmer lifted his drink. "Here's to Friday." He took a deep swallow and held the glass in his hand, staring at it. "You know," he said slowly, "Last night I tried to remember the names of all the girls I've slept with since I got here. There were some Nits and a few Dangs and a bunch of Leks. And some Pons. But I couldn't remember which was which. It was strange. I just couldn't do it. He set down his glass, still staring at it. "So then I tried to remember their faces. And you know. . ." He shook his head. "I couldn't do that either. I couldn't remember any of their faces. Not a single one."

Nit turned off the lights behind the bar. Two other last-ditch customers got up and bumped toward the door, feeling their way past the partially stacked chairs and sticky tables.

Palmer raised his drink, swallowed, and held the glass in front of his face again, still staring. "Just an endless succession of faceless fucks," he said. "Nameless, faceless fucks."

Palmer's words hung in the air for a long time. Slowly, Burchard put down his drink and got up. He was ten feet away before Palmer looked up from his glass.

"Where you going, Lloyd?"

Burchard kept walking. He opened the door. Nit was waiting for him on the verandah. She took his hand. He squeezed the hand gently and let it drop.

She fumbled with her purse. "Cap-tain. . . I gib you back."

"No. You keep the money."

She stood there, crying softly, holding the five dollars in her outstretched hand as he went down the steps. "I gib you back, Cap-tain. . . Tomollow. . ."

He shook his head and went on quickly into the fragrant, starry darkness.

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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