Saigon Fable
E.E. "Doc" Murdock

(From his novel, My Vietnam War)

Back in Basic Training, they said if you get sent to a foreign country you should behave in a way that upholds the honor of the U.S. Army. One thing for sure, you're not behaving in a way that upholds the honor of the U.S. Army. You seem to be lying on a floor. You are hearing noise. Shouting. Loud music. Is it still the same night, the night when that kid got hurt at the dice table? MPs came. Dragged him off. You went back inside. You tried to make the reality of what happened go away by engaging in some real serious drinking. You slugged down glass after glass of Wong's amorous-making, woozy-making house drink. Damn stuff sneaks up on you. Might be best to take a little nap. Let the old brain have a nice little rest. Close eyes. Try to sleep. But the concrete floor is hard, and there's a smell. What is that smell? You open your eyes. Something smelly stuck to floor. Throw-up? Yours? No matter. Ignore it. Take nap. But it's hard to nap with so much noise going on. Shouting Arguing. All too loud. Music starts, scratchy, distorted music, fading in and out as it tries to find its way into your brain. Hey, that song sounds familiar. It's trying to penetrate your tired brain, but it's getting all mixed up with the yelling and laughing and cursing and complaining and threatening. "I'll smash your fuckin' face in." "Oh yeah, you and who else?" A glass shatters. Must be another fight. You brush the glass splinters out of your hair. Yelling gets louder. Cursing gets meaner. The music tries to compete, but it's all gabled. But familiar. Some kind of radio-type American rock. Trouble is, the music is so loud it can make a person's head hurt. You put your fingers in your ears, but it doesn't work. Still too loud. And a crappy song besides. The kind of music Brent calls teeny-bopper music. "Turn it off!" Uh oh. Did you yell that out loud?

A face appears. Looks down at you. Your blurry eyes try to focus. It's a Vietnamese face. A pretty Vietnamese girl face. "Hello, pretty girl face." Did you say that out loud too? Pretty girl face comes closer. Must be one of Wong's girls, but she doesn't seem familiar. If only you could make your eyes focus, you might recognize her. Maybe she's a new girl. If only you could make your tongue talk, you could ask her why she looks so sad. She sits down on the floor next to you. Hello, pretty girl. Want to share my floor? She takes your hand. Her hand is small, delicate, a caring hand, a hand that wants you to be happy, to be at peace, to not be so worried all the time. Who is she? Even with your blurry eyes, you can tell she's more beautiful than any girl you've seen in the entire twenty years of your wasted life. She's thin, exotic, almost dream-like in her white silk dress. Her pretty face leans close to your face. Is she going to kiss you? With the bedlam of the noisy bar all around the two of you-men drinking, men gambling, men shouting, men fighting, men not upholding the honor of the U.S. Army-she seems to be going to kiss you. Nice.

But wait. No, she's only whispering something in your ear: "You want story, soldier?"

A story? Sure, a story would be nice too. Then the kissing.


"Long time ago, poor man go to forest. Family starve. He want find wood. Trade wood for food. But when he get to forest place wood all gone. Trees all cut down. He walk and walk, but see no tree. Then he see one tree all alone. It look like very good tree. Man very happy. He think, I cut down tree. Take back to village. Get food for family. Man get ready to hit tree with ax, but very beautiful woman come right out of air. She stand in front of tree. She say, Stop! No cut down tree. I spirit of forest. I live in tree. Last tree left. She disappear. Strange smell left behind, like flower, sweet flower man never smell before. Man drop ax and rub eyes. Did he really see spirit? Maybe he imagine her. He not want to make spirit of forest mad, but he need tree. Else family starve. He start to hit tree with ax, but spirit come back, right out of air again. She say, No cut down tree. I give you better thing. I give you horse. Man think horse very good. He think I take horse back to village. Trade for much food. But he think maybe spirit try to trick him. He say, First let me see horse. Spirit make horse. It come right out of air, like magic. To man, it look like very good horse. Man very happy, but he not let on. He think he good trader so maybe he get more. He say, Horse look old. I rather have tree. He get ready to hit tree with ax. Sprit say, Stop! This no ordinary horse. This magic horse. Hit horse with stick three times. You see. Man find stick. Hit side of horse three times. Magic thing happen. Gold coins fall out back side of horse. Man very happy. Try to pick up gold coins, but they gone. Man get angry that spirit trick him. Spirit say, That only to show. You not cut down tree, next time horse make real gold. You keep horse. You keep gold. Man agree. Lead horse away quick before spirit change mind. Man walk on road. He walk and walk, long time. Come to inn. He hungry. He think I stop. Get food. Get drink. Man eat and eat and drink and drink. Time come to pay. Innkeeper say, Give me money. Man lead innkeeper outside and tell him stand behind horse. He say, Here is pay. Man hit side of horse three times with stick. But what come out of back side of horse not gold coins. It big smelly pile phân bón land on innkeeper foot. Innkeeper very angry. He beat man very bad with stick and take horse as pay for food and drink. Man go back to forest to find spirit that trick him. He find place, but tree gone. Only big pile phân bón there."


Her story is over. It was a funny story, and it makes you feel a little better. She manages to get you up off the floor and into a chair. She gently explains that the rule is you have to pay money. She signals to Wong. Wong comes and you give him money. He goes away. She brings your hand up to her cheek. Your hand is getting wet. Is she crying? Why is she crying? She helps you to your feet, and you put your arm over her shoulders. She's strong, very strong. She helps you stagger down the narrow hallway until you get to a battered wooden door with peeling paint. She opens it and guides you inside. It's a small room. So this is where the girls bring the soldier boys. Such a grimy little space for doing what used to be called making love. A narrow little bed is pushed up against the wall. No other furniture. But why would there be anything but a bed in a room like this? This room is where the pretend loving takes place. No need for anything but a bed. It's dark in the room, except for a bit of flicking light coming from a candle on a cardboard box near the door. A little carved-wood Buddha sits cross-legged behind the candle. The Buddha has a fat tummy. Why do Buddhas in this country all have fat tummies? The people don't have fat tummies. The little Buddha is smiling. Why is he smiling? Does he know what goes on in this room? The girl leads you to the bed. She helps you take off your clothes. Thank you, nice girl. Better to not have clothes on. Too hot for clothes. She pushes you down onto the narrow little bed. She stands there looking down at you. You stare up at her. What happens next? Isn't she going to lie down too? She pulls her silken dress over her head and carefully hangs it on a big nail that's been pounded into the wall. She turns to face you. You blink your eyes to clear them: this you want to see clearly. Her slim little naked body is a shimmering marvel in the dim flickering candlelight. It's a beautiful body, more beautiful than you ever imagined a body could be. So thin. So delicate. Her skin looks so smooth and delicious you want to reach out and touch it all over. But why doesn't she come to the bed? Isn't that what's supposed to happen? She just stands there. Is she giving you a chance to look at her body before the next part happens? But wait, you told yourself you didn't want to do the next part. You don't want to be just another sweaty American who pays a bunch of money to climb on top of one of Wong's little girls. You don't want to be just another ten-minute trick. You promised yourself your first time should be something special. But maybe this girl is not one of Wong's girls. You've never seen her before. She seems so young. Maybe she's a local girl who just wandered in. But what would she be doing in a place like this? No, she has to be one of Wong's girls. Must be new, just in from the countryside. But if she is one of Wong's girls, why doesn't she come to the bed? Why is she just standing there looking at you? Okay, you should just look at her too. She's very nice to look at. You want to examine every inch of her lovely body. But then you notice her eyes. Dark eyes. Those eyes are watching you closely. What are those eyes looking for? Are they trying to see inside your brain? Don't bother, pretty girl. Not much in there anymore. That brain in there used to be smart. Smartest kid in the whole damn high school. That's what everybody said, but now there's nothing much in there but boozed-out, drugged-out, worn-out mush. You want to look at her nice body some more, but you can't seem to look away from her eyes. Why is she looking at you like that? And why isn't she in a hurry? Brent always complains that whenever he goes to the back rooms with one of Wong's girls, they use their tricks to get you to finish quick, and then they put their pretty white dresses back on and go back out to the bar to get the next guy. But this girl is not doing that. This girl is just standing there. Her eyes are calm, but intense, as if they're trying to tell you something. Those dark staring eyes are enough to make a drunk guy not so drunk anymore. What is she seeing? Just another naked young soldier, one more soldier come from far away to make war on her country, or is she seeing through the pretense, seeing the real you, the lonely, much-less-experienced-with-girls-than-he-pretends-to-be guy who isn't quite sure how the hell he ended up as an American soldier in some God-forsaken hot and steamy country halfway around the world from his home in Arizona? Those eyes may be seeing too much. You have to look away.

As if that was a signal, she comes to the bed. Is this it? Is it going to happen now? Is what you've been wanting, but resisting, for all these years going to happen now? Maybe you should just let it happen. You're no longer in Arizona, no longer the lonely, moody outcast. And besides, the girl you thought you were waiting for is probably meeting cool new guys back there at her fancy eastern college. She's probably already forgotten about you. You said you wanted to do something different with your life. Okay, here's your chance to do it.

She lies down next to you. You hold your breath. What is she going to do? But she doesn't do anything. She just lies there, staring at you. What are you supposed to do now? How does this work? Are you supposed to grab her and begin? Or is she supposed to grab you? Maybe she's waiting until you're ready. Are you ready? Actually, you are feeling a little shy. But why should you feel shy? She's the girl. You're the guy. She's the one at risk, completely naked, in bed with a foreign soldier who is also naked. She's entirely vulnerable. In fact, she's so young and so thin, she looks fragile. Not only that, but in her country, what she's doing is undoubtedly considered to be shameful. But her eyes are not ashamed. Now you are the one that feels ashamed. You tell yourself you should stop your damn foolish lusting long enough to ask yourself just what did you intend to do to this fragile young girl? You know the answer to that question. You know very well what you intended to do. Well, it's what you're supposed to do, isn't it? Isn't it what all the other soldiers do to these girls in these back rooms? Isn't it what these girls are paid to let you do to them? So, why aren't you doing it? You should have gone ahead and done it the moment she took off her dress. Even though you've never done it before, you know how to do it, so why hesitate now? But still, you're unsure. All you can do is stare at her eyes. Those dark eyes calmly gaze at you. You're forced to turn away. You turn onto your back and look up at the ceiling. Parts of it are peeling away and hanging down like thick cobwebs. It reminds you of where you are; a grimy little room in the back of a sleazy bar/whorehouse in Saigon. You tell yourself to snap out of it and enjoy this. You paid good money for this, so shouldn't you at least enjoy looking at her body? You turn back to face her and let your eyes wander over her entire naked body. Beautiful. Just beautiful. You try to find another word, but there isn't one. Beautiful is the only word for her. And young. And pure-looking. Yes, pure is a good word for how she looks. Her body is as innocent-looking as the body of a child. But that thought startles you. Just how young is this girl? In the flickering light of the candles, it's hard to be sure, but she looks pretty damn young. You sit up to look at her more closely. There's no doubt about it: she is young, very young. She's very thin, and her breasts are too undeveloped to really be considered a woman, even in this insane country where lots of child-women earn American dollars by selling their bodies. The dead giveaway is that she has almost no hair down there between her legs, only a dark triangle of beginning fuzziness, not even enough to hide the shallow crevice that leads downward. Crevice? That's something you never noticed in the pictures of naked women. Maybe it's usually hidden by their pubic hair. Do all women have that kind of crevice? Or only young girls? You're fascinated by it. You can't take your eyes off of it. It's as if it's drawing your whole being toward the magic place it leads to. You tell yourself to stop looking at that place. And stop thinking about her age. Either do it or don't. It's a straightforward process. No great mystery. Natural even. All you have to do is climb on top of her and enter where that crevice is leading you. You should just go ahead and do what she undoubtedly wants you to do, what she's probably waiting for you to do. But although she is undeniably exquisite, and overwhelmingly enticing, you still hesitate. Why? Is it her youth? A word creeps into your mind: forbidden. This is a child. Back home they would call her "jail-bait." Back in America you could be put in prison for what you're thinking about doing with this young girl. You try to push such thoughts out of your mind. This is not America. This is Vietnam. The rules are different here. You try to tell yourself she couldn't be that young, could she? She seems entirely feminine, despite her apparent youth. And besides, even if she is very young, she's undoubtedly as sexually experienced as any of the other girls here. But the more you look at her, the more doubts you have. She doesn't seem to be at all like the other girls. Maybe this is her first time too. Was she forced into this? You imagine somebody threatening her, maybe holding her family hostage unless she does it. Or maybe it's her parents who are making her do this. They need money. She's a good girl, loyal to them, wanting to help them. You lie back down. You tell yourself to just stay where you are and look at her body. It is enough. She's so beautiful, you should be content to just look at her and enjoy this moment. Your mind tries to put her essence into some kind of words. She's . . . flawless. Yes, that's the word, flawless. She's perfect, as if no man has ever touched her before this moment. Is that possible? Such perfection hardly seems possible here in Wong's dingy little back room. No, she can't be just another one of Wong's girls, but if that's so, what is she doing here?

She waits, still calmly watching you, allowing you to look at her body all you want. The situation is very confusing. You begin to doubt this is even real. That last joint you smoked must have been a lot more potent than you thought. Or maybe Wong put something in that last drink. Maybe it knocked you out. Maybe this is a dream. Otherwise, how could such a lovely young girl, a dream of perfection, really be here lying naked next to you? But it feels real. You can feel the warm moist air of the room. You can feel the damp pressure of your own naked body against the mattress. Yes, it all seems completely real. And she seems real too, more real and more wonderful than anything that's ever happened to you in your entire life. Okay, this must not be a dream. She's just waiting, waiting for you to start. But if that's it, why isn't she in a hurry? If she's here to provide sex for money, why isn't she urging you to do it and get it over with? She isn't doing anything, and she hasn't uttered a word since the two of you entered this room. You have to decide what to do before it's too late. Brent says Wong has a time limit when one of his girls takes a soldier to a back room. When your time is up, she'll get up and leave. So why aren't you doing it? Every part of you wants to make love to her, but for some reason you just can't bring yourself to begin.

Finally, apparently sensing your uncertainty, she reaches out to pull you close. You put your arms around her. So this is it. It's about to finally happen. Your whole body is ready for it. You feel her lovely little breasts against your chest, firm and cool. Cool? How can that be in this terrible wet heat? But she doesn't do anything else. She just holds you. You know you should get started, make some kind of move, see how she reacts. You cautiously put your arm between your two bodies and slowly begin to move your hand down toward that thin triangle of girlish hair you saw between her legs. You move your hand down very slowly, almost apologetically, but just as the tips of your fingers cautiously begin to touch the first few delicate hairs, she gently moves your hand away and whispers, "Shh, shh." Why did she do that? What does shh mean? Does it mean she really doesn't want you to make love to her? Maybe it's her way of telling you she's too young. It would be wonderful to make love to this beautiful young girl, but you can't. She's only a child. You tell yourself to be content just lying here with her. Do you really feel content? You do feel somewhat content. Your feeling of agitated worry that's normally lurking inside you seems to be gone. How odd. Maybe you're even feeling a little bit happy. It's like remembering an old feeling, a feeling you haven't had for a long time, maybe not since you were a child. You allow that feeling to grow, and soon you're getting so comfortable, you begin to feel sleepy. But you don't want to go to sleep. You don't want to let this moment go. You are determined to keep your arms around her and try not to go to sleep. You're afraid if you don't hold on tight, she might disappear into the night and go back to whatever dream she came from. You turn your head to stare up at the ceiling. In the flickering candlelight, you see what looks like a face up there. You know it's only the rusty stain of an old roof leak, but it looks like the face of some kind of demon. You don't like it. You feel the edge of worry starting to creep back into your brain.

As if she senses your worry, she snuggles closer. She begins to whisper in your ear. "You should no be here. You wrong for this place."

What did she mean by that? You shouldn't be here? Where? In this room? In this country? You try to push away the cobwebs of drugs and alcohol to figure out what she's saying.

"You no fit here. Much danger for you." Her voice is urgent.

Danger? That's for sure. There's a war going on here, isn't there? But maybe that's not what she meant. Maybe she somehow understands that you are no soldier, no killer of men. You consider how to explain it to her. You want to tell her how you ended up here, how your old pal Brent convinced you to join up to avoid getting drafted and sent to Vietnam. You begin: "Back home . . . in America, when you get to a certain age, you get drafted. Into the Army, you know? You don't have a choice. So my friend Brent said if we-"

She puts her finger to your lips. "You listen," she whispers. "I tell. You no sleep."

"Okay," you whisper back. "I won't go to sleep. I promise."

She begins to tell you another story.

"Man catch soft-shell turtle. Bring turtle home to eat. Tell servant girl kill turtle. Cook turtle for supper. Man go. Servant girl get out knife. Make knife sharp. Start water boil. But turtle talk. Say, Please no kill. I hurt no one. Eat only green plants next to river. No eat flesh. Only plant. Please let go. Someday you get reward. Girl have knife in hand. It good and sharp. Must kill turtle. Master say want eat turtle for supper. Turtle say, Please. Take me to river. Servant girl look at knife in hand. Throw down knife. Hide turtle in cloth sack. Take turtle to river. Let turtle go into water. When master find out, he very angry. He tell girl go away from house. Never return. Poor girl thrown out on street. Only clothes on back. Man tell neighbors not hire her. Girl have nowhere to go. Cold rain come. She go to river to hide under wooden bridge. Girl have no food to eat. No blanket. She get very cold. She get very weak. She get sick and have terrible fever. She sure she going to die. Turtle come up out of water. See girl under bridge. Turtle come up on land. Begin cover girl with mud. Special mud from bottom of river. Make girl warm. Soon girl feel better. Turtle bring girl fine green water plant and good white water root to eat. Girl soon feel better. People see turtle help girl by river. Bring other people to see. It miracle, they say. Master of girl come. He see miracle too. He say he sorry. He take girl back to house and let her be like daughter. He tell people he never eat turtle again."

She finishes her story, and stares into your eyes. What is that look? A question? Is she asking if you understand? Were you supposed to get something special out of that story? It was a story about being kind to animals. Okay, it was a nice story, but why did she want to make sure you stayed awake to hear it? It was only a story about a servant girl who saved some turtle. But what was that about you being in much danger? Does the story have something to do with that? You try to think of something to say, anything to make her happy. "Nice story," you say. "Poor little servant girl. She got thrown out and got sick. All she did was save the . . ."

Again, she puts her delicate finger to your lips. "You listen." Her eyes are urgent. "Time come. Great danger. You save turtle."

What a strange thing to say. A time will come when you're supposed to save some damn turtle? Does she think she's some kind of fortune teller? What's she up to? She's watching you. Those eyes. So dark, so intense. What is she trying to say? But maybe she didn't mean it literally, that thing about saving a turtle. Maybe she just meant you should be kind to all animals. Nothing wrong with that idea. Being kind to animals is probably part of their Buddhist tradition. Maybe that's all she meant by it. But what was that about not belonging here?

She looks deep into your eyes. Such penetrating eyes. "You remember. Yes?"

You nod. "Sure, be kind to animals. Especially turtles. Nothing wrong with that idea."

She lies back down next to you. She strokes your cheek. "You sleep now." She begins to whisper into your ear again. Is it another story? Something about mysterious creatures that live in the jungle, creatures that move silently like the mists, more felt than seen. Her whispered stories are hypnotic. They're making you feel very sleepy.


You open your eyes. Something is wrong. Your sleepy peacefulness is gone. The old lurking anxiety that has long lived inside your mind has returned, once again trying to invade every part of you. What has happened? Why are you sweating? Are you in danger? Then you remember: the girl! You reach out for her, but your hands find nothing but the wadded-up pillow. That sweat-stained pillow is trying to deny that she was ever here. It's trying to tell you she wasn't real, that you dreamed her. Can that be? It's dark. This must be the same night. The usual noises are coming from the street outside, shrill arguing voices, a dog barking in the distance, a motorbike passing with harsh overconfident loudness. You realize your head hurts. How can it hurt so much? Did you really drink that much last night? Think. Try to remember. You were in Wong's Bar. Something bad happened. You were taken to this room. A girl, a wonderful storyteller girl. But where did she go? Why did she have to leave? You feel a terrible emptiness, the kind of emptiness that comes when the last of your hopes have been abandoned. You're hung over, dizzy, feeling like crap from head to toe. You feel like you're about to throw up, and you don't care if you do. It's all meaningless anyhow. Pain is meaningless. This war is meaningless. Being a soldier is . . . not meaningless, worse than meaningless-stupid and wrong. You should not be here. She said that, and she was right. You're not a soldier, never will be. Somehow she knew that, knew the reality of your situation. And now you're left alone, lying in a sad little bed, feeling empty, empty of expectations, empty of purpose, empty of confidence, empty of hope. Anything you had, or thought you had, before this moment is gone. Your aspirations have been revealed for what they were, naive self-delusions, childish fantasies that should have been given up long ago. That realization drains you of hope. Any hope she gave you is gone too because she's gone. You stare up into the darkness. That rusty stain up there. Looks like a face that's somberly staring down at you. You saw it before in the candlelight. But wait, what happened to the candlelight? You look around the room. No candle. No carved wooden Buddha. Nothing but the scuffed wooden floor, the pessimistic stained wooden walls, a cracked, unpainted wooden door that looks like it's been kicked open one too many times. The sad little room is telling you that this is the true reality, telling you that your dreamy fantasy of being in a magical world with a beautiful storytelling princess was just that, a fantasy. You are nothing but what you always were, a confused young American, often depressed, generally uncertain, directionless as ever, and stuck for at least a year in Vietnam, the last place in the world you want to be. And that for damned sure is no dream. All you feel is dread, an intimidating feeling of foreboding that hides deep within you. And although you may not want to admit it, you've had such feelings before. Sometimes it unexpectedly overtook you when you were out on your long solitary hikes in the desert. It came on at night when the moody desert sounds talked to you about your wasted life, your pointless existence. But the next morning, the hot desert sun and the clear cold reality of pragmatic cactus plants and restless coyotes tracks all around your campsite were enough to push the feeling away-for a while, anyhow. But here, in this forlorn country, you can't seem to find any way to shake the feeling. It won't leave you alone even when you're at the warehouse surrounded by the other soldier-workers. It's there with you when you walk the streets among the Vietnamese people. It infiltrates you, possesses you, and you know it's going to get worse and worse until you finally give up and face the fact that it's not going to go away until you can pour enough booze into your body and inhale enough strong Vietnamese pot smoke into your lungs to convince your brain that you are serious about not wanting to hear any more of that shit so it will finally oblige by shutting the whole damn thing down to the extent that you can once again be absolutely sure that nothing at all matters anyhow.

No, no, no, you can't allow those dark depressing feelings to take you over again, not now, not after you just had a wonderful night in bed with a wonderfully mysterious storytelling girl. You tell yourself that although you are in a strange foreign country, a country being devastated by an insane war, it's also an exciting country, with interesting foreign people, including a wonderful girl. So don't just lie there letting those damned old dark feelings consume you. Get up and go find her!

You sit up. The room reels. Hang onto something. It usually calms down in a few minutes. You wait. The world stabilizes. You pull on your pants. Your wallet falls to the floor. You check it. Most of your money is gone, but you knew it would be. It doesn't matter. Somehow you make it to your feet. Your head fills up with angry pressure. It hurts more than is possible. You lean against the wall and wait for the pain to go away. But it doesn't go away. Maybe something inside your head is broken. Maybe your head will hurt like this from now on. You look back down at the narrow little bed. A depression in the middle of the worn-out mattress shows where you were lying, where the two of you were lying. You fall to your knees to smell it, and you're in luck: some of her scent is still there, only a tiny bit, but it is her. You try to remember what it was about her scent that was so wonderful. There on your knees, you pray for the essence of her to come back. You want it. You need it. You close your eyes and concentrate, and finally, the essence of her begins to clarify deep inside your mind, the way stirred-up water settles out and gradually becomes clear. It is her aroma; it is her. You take in a deep breath of her. You allow the scent of her to fill you. It's deep and arousing, like some kind of exotic, but maybe poisonous, forest flower. You take in as much of her as your lungs can hold. You hold your breath. You don't want her to get away. You stay there on your knees, grateful that at least this part of her remains. But how long can you hold your breath? You begin to grow dizzy, but you resist breathing, not wanting to lose this last remnant of her. But then your body fails you; it wants air, even if you don't. You're forced to let your breath out. It comes out in a whoosh, and you know that the last essence of her is gone, drifted away to mix in with the stale air of the room; her wonderful fragrance has been gobbled up by the smell of old, wet cigarette butts, by the booze-tinged sweat of the prior inhabitants of the room, by the motorbike exhaust fumes that seep in from the street. But you are absolutely sure it was her scent that was there on the bed, if only for a moment. It means she really was here earlier tonight, in this very bed. But if she really was here, why was she here? She couldn't have been one of Wong's girls, could she? She wasn't at all like them. You look toward the door. Why did she pick you out of all the other young soldiers who hang out in Wong's Bar? Maybe she came to find you. Maybe she planned all along to bring you back to this room. Maybe, to her, you are somehow special. Didn't she say something like that? You try to remember. She didn't speak much, mostly just told stories. But maybe her stories were more than just stories; maybe they held answers. Maybe that young Vietnamese girl knows something you don't know, something that can save you. You have to find her. You struggle to your feet again. Uh oh, still dizzy. Everything in the room is moving. Fight it. You have to go back out there and find her. Everything depends on it. You stagger out of the room and down the hallway to the bar. The bar is still crowded: gamblers still gambling, soldiers still talking to the girls. Is she among them? No, only the usual girls. They look tired. Must be getting close to dawn. Brent is not here. Did he already leave for the warehouse without you? No, it's still dark outside. Music begins to blast out of the big old speaker up by the ceiling. What is it? Light my fire? Morrison? Whoever it is, he's too loud. Painful to your ears, to your brain. You put your fingers in your ears and lean back against the wall. Maybe you should try to make it to your usual bar stool, your watching place. You could get a drink to steady your nerves, then look for her afterwards. No! Stop thinking like that. You have to find her. You may be woozy and feeling sick, but you can't pass out now. You have to keep looking. Where is Wong? He'll know where the girl went. He has to know. You find him just outside the front door. He's trying to drag an unconscious black soldier out into the street. You pull at Wong's arm, but the little Chinese man won't look at you. He's grunting and sweating as he rolls the heavy soldier off of the concrete porch. Finally, when he's finished, he turns to you. He's not happy to see you; you can tell that by the sour look on his face. He has a dirty towel over his shoulder that reeks of the same kind of sour as that look on his face. He wipes his sweating forehead with it.

You ask him where the sad girl went.

He says, "What girl?"

You say, "The strange beautiful girl with the sad face who sat under the table with me last night and held my hand and whispered a funny story into my ear about a horse that pooped gold coins instead of horse shit. Only she didn't say horse shit, she said phân bón. Wong, what does phân bón mean?"

Wong just stares at you. He doesn't smile. Wong never smiles. He says, "No such horse. No such girl. You go back sleep."

Wong is not telling you the truth. He knows there was a beautiful young girl, but he won't admit it. He even knows who she is, but for some reason, he won't say. He goes behind the bar and won't come back even though you demand it. You chase after him, but he ignores you no matter how much you beg. Where is she? Why won't Wong tell you? You have to find her. Everything depends on it. You try to think what to do, but your brain isn't working very well. Maybe Wong is right. Maybe you should go back to sleep. You can try to find her later. You stagger your way down the hall and back into the room. It's hot in the shabby little room, stifling. You kick off your pants and fall into the bed. You're about to fall asleep when you smell it: her wonderfully intoxicating aroma has returned. It proves she was real. The filthy mattress no longer smells of sweat and sex; it smells like her. Her magical odor has become part of the bed, part of the entire room. You sleepily let yourself merge with her scent and soon you find yourself in the silence of a treeless field covered in exotic flowers, the kind of flowers you can only find in an enchanted forest.


Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.


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