Only subscribers may read this in its entirety. What follows is a free preview, truncated midway through.Barney says this is the kind of heat that makes people in Australia shoot each other. Or stab. Strangle. Run over. Whatever. But we are not in Australia. We are in a once-infamous city, which its inhabitants still call Saigon. And it has not rained in months, but tonight it will, and will go more or less unmentioned, but not unnoticed. It will still be hot, but the relief will be palpable. In Australia, they will stop killing each other, but only if they get some rain there too. We have been waiting for the rain while playing pool and drinking beer and sometimes, when we just can’t take it anymore, finding air-conditioned places that will let us in. In those places you pay the usual dollar for a 333 beer, two more dollars for the air-con. The Rex is one of those places, and the Caravelle, and now these new fancy restaurants appearing block by block, almost overnight. There is a swimming pool on the roof of the Rex, but it is often full of fat Russian tourists, sun-tanned like scraped cowhide. They are loud too. They never come to the Lotus. This is our bar. No air-con. Rats the size of puppies, but they stay in the dark corners, usually, until closing time. Barney is here on a wet lease to Vietnam Air, teaching their pilots how to fly. There is a whole contingent from Australia: Ansett boys. One of them has managed to woo me into bed, which really didn’t require all that much effort. He looks vaguely like Mel Gibson. And he has a room at the Rex, with air-con, this Aussie boy. We are not in love, not by a long shot. If he were one of the French boys, maybe I would be in love. The Aussie is mainly in love with himself. But the air-con is nice. It slows down the process of going crazy.
Tonight, since it’s slow, and she is not needed to flirt and serve drinks, Phượng and I are hanging out at the front window. It is octagonal and quite large—maybe six or eight feet across—and contains not a bit of glass. The sill is fairly wide, meaning a person could sit on it if she were so inclined, and often I am. At last call, Tho, the bartender, will close the rusted aluminum accordion shutters and latch them with a heavy round padlock the diameter of a dessert plate. I wonder if the shutters are made, like so much is here, of metal salvaged from crashed American war planes. I wonder about a lot of things, at this window. Last call is still hours away.
It is April. Bill Clinton has recently re-established diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and I am thirty-eight years old. If I subtract the years I cannot remember, my age is about twenty-three. This is not really that funny. I know that. But it was not deliberate. Some things just happen. Shit happens. Everyone says so.