Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

Sawadee (Goodbye)

 

Alan stayed in the trailer writing letters and sipping bourbon and water for a long time after work. He waited for Cass, but Cass didn't show. Finally he gave up and went to dinner by himself. He found the dining room nearly full and the bar wall-to-wall people. He paused in the dining room door long enough to make sure Jariya was on the evening shift. All of her tables were occupied, but in a minute two people got up from one of them. He made a beeline for it and dropped into a seat, tired and out of sorts. Jariya came up with a rag and a broad smile. "Sawadee, ka," she said, giving the table a thorough wipe. "Colnan tired tonight?"

"Tired and nitnoy keemau." Tired and a little drunk.

She rolled her eyes. "Mai dee." Not good. "Why you always get keemau?"

"I don't always get keemau!"

"Colnan mai sabai dee" not happy "too." She touched his arm and gave him a little squeeze and a smile. Jariya could heal just by touching.

"I'm not unhappy with Jariya." He smiled and leaned back in his chair. "You come my trailer tonight?"

"Chai," she lied. "Get off work tree o'clock. I come then?"

"I'll wait for you."

"Gohok," Baloney, she laughed. "You not dare. You tealock moho mak." Your girlfriend would be very angry.

"Mai ching," Not true. "Who's my tealock?"

Jariya giggled and held her hand flat, breast high. "Nitnoy pooying." Little woman.

Big Dang, the dining room manager, who'd been watching the byplay with a sour expression, headed across the crowded room toward Alan's table. "I come back," Jariya said and went bustling off toward the kitchen. Alan picked up his menu and pretended to study it.

Tonight Dang wore a shimmering, blue Thai-silk dress, apparently in honor of the overnight visit by the Seventh Air Force commanding general. "How are you?" she asked, icily.

"You're very beautiful tonight," Alan replied.

Dang raised her nose higher and sat down across from Alan. "How you friend?"

"What friend?"

"Lit-tun friend."

"I don't have a little friend." He swung his head in an exaggerated look around the dining room. "You see a little friend?" Alan was surprised Dang knew about his relationship with Lek, but of course all the women, housegirls, waitresses, knew everything about everybody.

"Chai, I see. You see too," she narrowed her eyes. "Lit-tun friend lub you too much. Maybe you break her heart."

"If I break her heart, it'll break my heart too," Alan said. "I'll never do that." He thought for a moment. "How's your friend?" He'd seen Dang with a colonel from wing headquarters more than once.

"He break my heart."

"Ching?" That right? Alan said, trying not to laugh. "What'd he do?"

"He say he come see me today, but he not come."

"He had to stay with the big General all day. He couldn't come see you."

"Ching ching?" Is that the truth? Dang brightened. "You see him?"

"Chai. I saw him all day. I stayed with the General too. He couldn't leave to go see you. I think he was mai sabai dee" not happy "that he couldn't see you."

"Ching ching?" Dang was really lightening up now. "He sad mak?"

"He was sad all day," Alan said.

"Mailoo," I don't know, Dang turned reflective. "Think he want to butterfly. He same you. Want to check check all pooying."

"Mai ching." Not so. "I never butterfly."

"Gohok!" Hogwash, Dang said with a stern look. "You butterfly mak mak. Break lit-tun friend heart."

"No," Alan said, turning serious as a thought struck him. "I think pretty soon little friend and I have to be finished. I don't want her to be sad when I go away."

"Go long time," Dang said in a scathing tone. "Why you fin-ished now?"

"Not a long time," Alan said. "Three months. That's not a long time. If we're finished now she'll find somebody else. Then she won't cry when I go."

Dang mused for a moment over what evidently seemed a novel idea. "You tell her find some-body else, you break her heart."

"Mailoo," I don't know, Alan said, falling into his own brand of inscrutability. "Maybe not."

Dang stood up. "You be careful what you do. Littun pooying lub you too mutz." She walked away toward the back of the room where several of the waitresses were in a tight knot, chatting.

* * * 

It was in the aftermath of one of the Thai-U.S. parties that Alan had begun the combat nap habit. According to Willie a "combat nap" was a nap that lasted less than twenty minutes; any nap longer than that was a night's sleep. After lunch Alan would return to his trailer where he'd usually find Annie on the floor, legs curled under her, ironing on a sheet-covered blanket. Alan would put a pillow on the couch, kick off his shoes, stretch out, and listen to the quiet sounds of the iron moving over the fabric, drifting off almost immediately into peaceful dreams, and waking automatically after fifteen minutes or so to gossip with Annie for a while before he went back to work.

One afternoon Alan woke from a delightful dream to find Annie watching him attentively. As soon as she saw he was awake she drew her shade, which was very unusual behavior for Annie.

"Annie kit alai?" What're you thinking? he asked.

She dropped her gaze back to the floor and went on ironing for a minute. "Lek want hab two poochai," two men, "Colnan." She looked up at him again, this time with the shade gone. "Annie see her yeteday. She go oder colnan trailer."

"What colonel?" Alan asked, rolling onto his side.

"Fat colnan," Annie said. "You know Chalui, Colnan…? lit-tun pooying…" little woman, " She come here… you see her. Chalui trailer."

Alan searched his memory. He could think of at least fifteen or twenty women who were Annie's friends and who'd been in the trailer at one time or another but he couldn't connect the name, "Chalui" with any of them. "Where's Chalui's trailer?" he asked.

"Colnan know Dhow trailer… Maior Ben stay? New colnan stay tree trailer more away. Chalui trailer."

"New colonel have eagles, same me?" Alan pointed to the eagle he'd recently been able to put on his collar.

"Mai. Hab…" She lifted her hand to the collar of her blouse and made a circle with her fingers.

That narrowed it down to perhaps twenty five or thirty people.

"You know his name?"

"Mai," she said. "Fat colnan. He come maybe tree week ago… one month."

"When did you see Lek go to his trailer?" Alan smiled at Annie's concern. Peripatetic Lek went in and out of most of the trailers every day.

"Annie come to work early yeteday. Go talk Chalui. Annie see Lek come out new colnan trailer." She saw Alan's smile and went back to her ironing again. "Colnan," she said, concentrating on the iron and not looking up at him, "Lek not go home. Stay Chalui trailer all night."

Alan knew it wasn't any use asking her how she knew. He also knew it was true. Annie might take potshots at Lek out of jealousy but he knew she wouldn't lie about something like this. He rolled onto his back again and tried to watch a gekko on the ceiling make itself invisible by being absolutely still, but the pain wouldn't let him concentrate on the lizard.

"Annie sol-lee," she said. "Think Annie talk too much."

"No," he said, still staring at the gekko. "It's not your fault. I'd have found out anyway, chaimai?" right?

"Chai," she said. "Annie not want make Colnan hurt. Know Colnan lub Lek mak mak."

"Mai pin lai," it doesn't matter, he said. "Lek was never really my tealock anyway. You know that."

"Mai," No, Annie said. "Lek Colnan tealock. Maybe Colnan not saleep Lek, but lub Lek same tealock."

He went back to watching the gekko. In a moment another jealousy pang puckered his heart. He sat up and swung his feet over the side of the couch. Annie looked up at him. "Annie sol-lee Colnan not happy," she said.

"The Colonel's not happy because the Colonel's a very vain man," Alan said.

"Annie not un-der-stand, Colnan. Not know 'vain.'"

He got the Thai-English dictionary from the end table, sat down on the floor next to her and thumbed through the tiny, fat book until he found vain. He held the book in front of her and pointed to the word. "Ti ni," here, he said. "Vain." She read it and nodded. He found another word. "Ti ni," he said again. "Vanity. Lek isn't hurting me. She's hurting my vanity."

Annie examined the Thai translation of "vanity" carefully. "Chai," she laughed. "Annie know. Annie un-der-stand." She stopped laughing and looked at him again. "Colnan good man."

"Mai. The Colonel's a mak mak vain man. Sometimes a mak mak foolish man."

"Not foolit, Colnan," she said. "Annie think Lek lub Colnan mak mak. Annie not know what Lek do. I don't know her!"

"It's all right," he said, putting on his shoes. "I wanted Lek to find somebody else. Pretty soon I'll be all right."

But he wasn't all right. Back in his office he sorted through the papers on his desk and separated the things that couldn't wait from those that could. When he'd finished what had to be done he put his feet up on the desk and listened for a while to his wounded pride. It told him that since most of his friends and most of the housegirls thought Lek was his tealock, Lek was making him lose face. He poked and prodded the vanity that told him he was so irresistibly charming that Lek wouldn't find someone else even if he told her to. He had a talk with his jealousy and tried to reason with it while it stabbed his heart with red-hot knives. But after he put away the pride and the vanity and the jealousy there was something left over that hurt even more. He thought about sitting on the bed, combing Lek's hair, teasing her about the waitresses in the Royal Thai, putting her to bed the night she was drunk. But dammit, he said to himself, those are exactly the things that would make it hard no matter when the parting came. "You did it to yourself," he told himself, finally, "You did it to yourself."

When he got home he mixed a drink and waited, peeking out the window from time to time. After half an hour he hadn't caught sight of Lek and the telephone hadn't rung. He called Ben. "You see Lek this afternoon?" he asked him.

"She came bopping through here a while back," Ben said. "Didn't she come to see you?"

"No," Alan said. "And I need to talk to her."

"Maybe Dhow knows where she is." Alan could hear Ben talking to Dhow in the background. "She claims she doesn't know," he said, coming back on the phone, "But something funny's going on. Wait a minute." Alan heard him talking to Dhow again and he waited, catching a few words but not enough to make sense. In a minute Ben came back on. "I haven't seen Dang lately either and I can't get Dhow to tell me where she is. She's giving me the I don't understand English routine. I've got a hunch they're both over at Barney's place." In the background Alan could hear Dhow saying: "Mai… mai… mai."

"Oh screw it," Alan said. "I'm coming over. Let's find both of them." He hung up the phone, rinsed his glass, and went out the door.

When Alan got to Ben's trailer the door was open and Ben was standing on the stoop. Dhow was inside on the telephone carrying on a heated conversation in a mixture of Thai and Lao. Ben's trailer was full of half-finished ironing and it was obvious that at least one other girl had been working with her — possibly two. "Something's up," Ben said. "I don't know where she called but I think she's talking to Dang right now. She's worried about something."

Alan listened carefully to what Dhow was saying. Either she was talking to Lek or talking to Dang about Lek. Twice he heard her use Lek's real name, "Boon."

"I think I know what the problem is," Alan said.

"Whatever the hell it is, it's really got Dhow stirred up. As soon as she found out it was you on the phone she went into a panic."

"That figures," Alan said. "I think Lek's got a new tealock."

"Oh oh," Ben said, thoughtfully. "Yeah. That could explain a lot of things. Dang's been acting funny the last couple of days. She and Lek have been having some strange whispering sessions." He gave Alan a quizzical look. "You sure?"

"Pretty sure," Alan said. "Sure enough to bet money on it if I had to."

"How'd that happen?" Ben asked quietly.

"I asked for it," Alan said. "I've been trying to get her to find somebody before I leave." He thought back to what Annie had said that noon and added, reflectively: "I'm not sure the guy she found was what I had in mind."

"You know who he is?"

"No. Not really. I have a rough idea of his phenotype and a rough idea of where he lives."

"You gonna tell her you know?"

"I guess I'll see if I can get her to tell me first," Alan said.

Dhow came to the door of the trailer. "Dang come now," she said. In a minute Dang appeared, coming past the end of the trailer she'd been in. It wasn't Barney's. Barney's door was only twenty feet or so from where they stood.

Ben closed the door and they sat down inside Ben's end of the trailer to wait for her. In a minute Dang came through the door at Willie's end. Instead of coming on through the bathroom she sat down in the other room next to Dhow and began working on a stack of ironing without even glancing in their direction. "Well sa-crew me," Ben said.

Alan went into the other room and stood over Dang. "Sawadee," he said.

"Sawadee," she said, sweetly.

"Lek bainai?" Where'd Lek go? he asked.

"Mailoo," I don't know, Dang said in an even more saccharine voice. "Lek not come see you?"

"No," Alan said. "Not last night. Not tonight."

"Maybe she go home," Dang said, giving him a Buddha smile.

"Knock off the gohok," Alan said. "Where is she? I need to talk to her."

"Mailoo," Dang said. "Bai bon." She went home.

"Mai bai," she didn't go home, Alan said. "She hasn't been home for two nights." He turned to Dhow. "Call Lek," he said, brusquely.

"Wait," Dang said, getting up. "I go check. Maybe I find her." She went out the door.

"Colonel moho," angry, Dhow said. "Why you moho?"

"You know why I'm moho," Alan said.

"Chai," Dhow said, quietly. "I know." She went back to her ironing. "Sometime Lek not know what she do."

In a few minutes the door burst open and Lek came flying in, her face white with rage. She flumped down in the big chair and leaned her cheek against her fist, refusing to look at Alan. Dhow got up immediately, went into Ben's room, and closed the door. Ben followed her. In a moment Alan heard Ben's outer door open and heard Dang's voice outside. Lek and Alan were alone. He sat down on Willie's bed and looked at her quietly, refusing to speak first.

After a while Lek said, still without looking at him: "Why you tell Dang we finit?"

"Tell Dang what?" he asked, genuinely baffled.

"Chai," she said, looking at him suddenly with blazing eyes. "Dang tell me. You say we finit. You hort me mak mak."

"I told Dang we're finished?" he asked, pointing toward the other end of the trailer.

"Mai," no, she said. "Tell Dang work offit club."

The night of the General's visit flashed into Alan's mind and he remembered the joking conversation he'd had with Dang, the dining room boss, at the dinner table.

"I lub you mak mak," Lek said after a long pause. "Why you do dat to me?" Her cheek was still against her fist and her face remained white but the fire was going out of her eyes and Alan could see tears in them. "Why you not tell me finit first?" she said. "Why you hort me?"

"Lek Lek," he said, gently. "Why didn't you listen to me?"

She looked at him uncomprehendingly and he knew that with her limited English and his even more limited Thai he'd never be able to explain. "I did tell you first, nitnoy, but you wouldn't listen." He took a deep breath and forced a smile. "You have a new tealock?"

"Mai," she said, suddenly defensive. "Why you say dat?" She waited, watching his face. "Who tell you dat?"

"Nobody," he lied. "I saw you with a poochai." man. "I know you didn't go home last night."

"How you know?" she asked, startled. "Who say dat?"

"Nobody said that," he lied. "I heard a little bit. I can guess the rest."

"Annie tell you?"

"Mai," no, he said. "But I asked Annie. She acted strange. She wouldn't talk."

She seemed to accept that. "Chai," she said, letting her voice rise and float like the voice of a little girl. "I see him. He kind man. Talk to me. We talk. Not do anysing."

"If he's a good man, I'm happy," Alan lied again. "It's up to you."

"Chai," she said, angry again. "Tsup to me! You hort me mak mak…" She bit off whatever she'd been about to add and stared at Alan, the anger fading visibly from her face. "Why you do to me?" A forlorn note was creeping into her voice and he could see tears in her eyes again. "I lub you mak mak… Still lub you." He was beginning to feel tears in his own eyes. "Lek newah butterfly," she went on. Newah butterfly when I hab you. No can hab two poochai. Mike good man. Lek newah hort him…"

She came and sat next to him on the bed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to hurt Lek."

"Not want hort you," she said. "But Mike good man. He stay Udon long time. Say he lub me mak mak."

"It's all right, nitnoy. Pretty soon I go home."

"Alan find tealock?" she asked.

"Mai," Alan said. "Maybe somebody to dance with."

"Alan not go wit bar girl," she said, searching his face. "Bar girl not good for you. Lek see you do, be moho mak." very angry. She reached up and touched each of his eyelids in turn. "Alan hab saweet eye." She caught his hand and squeezed it. "Lek hab to go," she said, jumping down.

"Bainai?" where you going? he asked, wracked again with suspicion and jealousy.

"Bai bon." Go home. She saw he didn't believe her and came close to him again. "Ching ching." That's the truth. "I tell Mike already. Hab go home tonight. You see." She opened the bathroom door and called Dang and Dhow. The three of them bustled around the trailer for several minutes, putting things away, and then left together.

"Well," Ben asked, "Is it true?"

"It's true," Alan said. "It's my own fault. I've been trying to get her to find somebody for weeks… Somebody good for her. Somebody to marry. She wouldn't listen. A few nights ago… A week? The night the Seventh Air Force four-star was here. I was in the dining room in a drunken stupor and I talked to Dang, the drill sergeant. I told her — sort of as a joke — that Lek and I were going to be through pretty soon."

"Oh oh," Ben said in a voice that was barely audible over the sound of the air conditioner.

"Yeah," Alan said. "Exactly. The word got around. Dang told Lek what I'd said. She lost face. She had to find somebody else fast so she could cut me off instead of the other way around.

"What you gonna do?" Ben asked, still in his quiet voice.

"Nothing," Alan said. "There's no way out of this box. She won't come back unless I eat so much crow I lose face, but if I do that that she won't come back because I've lost face."

"That wouldn't be logical anywhere else in the world I guess…," Ben said. "But here, it makes perfect sense." He went over to his refrigerator. "Want a drink?"

"Yeah," Alan said, tiredly. "One… Let's go eat pretty soon huh?"

Alan's next several evenings were frantic. At first he tried going back on the downtown circuit, hitting the Sunny Club and Caesar's with Ty, Big Mac, Ben — anyone disposed to make a night of it. But he found the atmosphere joyless, the drinks flat, and the girls boring. The fourth night he stayed on the base and drank in the Club, accompanied early in the evening by Ben and late in the evening by strangers and near strangers. The following day the condition of his head added to the chronically distant look he was developing. That night he stayed home and tried to read but the thought that Lek was in a stranger's trailer only a few dozen yards away captured his attention more often than the words on the page. When he finally gave up and went to bed he found he couldn't sleep any better than he could read. The next day he was even more distant, though he'd gone more than thirty hours without a drink.

Even before the day of the debacle with Lek the girls in the dining room had become reserved with him: quiet and unusually solicitous. In fact, Alan realized as he came into the dining room on the evening of the fifth day, everyone had been tiptoeing around him for days. He stopped in the doorway, checked, and sat down at one of Jariya's tables.

"Sawadee," Jariya said, coming quietly to the table with a menu and an order slip. "Not see you… Long time."

"Why?" Alan asked. "I ate at Jariya's table last night."

"Chai," she said, smiling at him. "You eat here but you not here. Where you go… tree day… four day? I see you but you not be here."

"Mailoo," I don't know, he said, realizing as he smiled back that he hadn't really smiled for days. "Kit mak mak." I was thinking a lot.

"Kit alai?" What were you thinking about? She almost giggled as she said it.

"Mai pin lai." It doesn't matter.

"Mai, mai pin lai," Don't tell me it doesn't matter, Jariya said, her voice gentle. "I know why." She made her usual gesture to indicate Lek: hand level with the ground and breast high. "No hab tealock. I sorry mak. Know you lub littun pooying." She paused and looked at him, dark eyes gentle. "Why you do? Jariya think you still lub her. Not understand."

"I love Jariya too," Alan smiled.

"Not lub Jariya same you lub littun tealock." She smiled but her eyes held more sympathy than amusement. "Think littun pooying lub you too. You lub pooying. Pooying lub you. What she do? I don't know her!" She picked up his order slip and went off.

Jariya was right. What the hell was he doing? He'd been telling himself how noble he was to send Lek away so she wouldn't be hurt when he left, but now that he thought about it, it occurred to him that Lek was taking it a lot better than he was. By the time Jariya came back with his dinner he was smiling again.

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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