She goes out in the mornings and doesn’t come back until late in the afternoon. I don’t know where she goes. I tried following her once but I lost her while waiting for an opportunity to cross the street. Scooters sped all around me, horns beeping, and I couldn’t keep my eyes on her without the possibility of being struck down.
What do you do, I ask her.
Look at things, she says, shrugs her shoulders, not interested.
Do you meet people?
She shrugs again, just people.
I want to ask more but I know it will go on like this for as long as I ask. There will be no answers, not really. She looks at people. She had Pho for lunch. She drank ice-tea in a park and ate a nice pastry.
Sometimes she buys things. Dresses. A jade Buddha she keeps by the phone that never rings. A small conical hat made for a small child. She places the hat by the TV. It stays there for days and then one morning, when I wake, it is gone.
I want to ask her what happened to it but I don’t. I remain silent
Already, I know that there will be a day when she doesn’t come back. When she just wanders out too far and it’s too late to turn around and she will be lost to me. I see it in her eyes. Her drifting, further and further. It’s a look both vacant and confused. She doesn’t know it herself, but she is going and soon she will be gone.
It’s something that should scare me to death, but I’m drifting away too. I feel it in my skin. It’s in the way I get out of bed in the morning and wander downstairs and smoke with the concierges and drink Vietnamese tea and just watch the traffic go by. I stay in the same spot but I am drifting, drifting.
I watch her back as she walks past the table where we sit on the sidewalk and we don’t even acknowledge each other. I watch her walk away and she never looks back. Never glances over her shoulder at me. And know it will come soon, any time now. I will go to sleep without her and will wake in the morning and know that I will never see her again, my wife. Gone forever.
It will seem to me that I was always heading for this place. That I was meant to be here. Soon I will be just another part of the scenery, here every day, smoking, drinking green tea in the morning and beer in the afternoon, going to bed drunk, someone who belongs here. Someone who might have been here forever.
Maybe the plane will crash, she said. There was an eager look in her eyes that I pretended not to see.
It won’t crash, I told her, don’t worry.
It might, you don’t know for sure.
When the announcement was made that our flight was boarding she was the first in line, ticket and passport thrust out in front of her.
After take off she fell asleep almost immediately. At the first sign of turbulence I gripped at her arm with my hand.
Grow up, she said, shaking my hand off.
Not so sure now, are you?
What’s your problem?
She sighed, closed her eyes and pretended to go back to sleep.
Later, at the hotel, she told me that maybe it would be another flight going down with us in it.
I dreamt about it, she said.
I’m sick of hearing about this, I told her.
One of the wings will break away, burning fuel will cover us and when we scream the flames will eat the sound.
This is insane, this is bullshit.
Why is it bullshit? It was in a dream I had - your eyes were two black holes in your skull and even then you were trying to look at me, trying to find me with your hands, trying to hold me.
Even then, burning up, I couldn’t be free of you.
Stop talking, please, just stop talking for five minutes.
But as it was happening, as my skin was melting off my face and your hands were flailing about trying to find me, I was completely calm. I wasn’t afraid. Even though my mouth was open, screaming, I knew that this is how it was meant to be.
I’m going out, I said, I’m getting out of here.
I was calm, she explained, because it was what we deserved. It was what I knew would happen all along.
Dogs have been going missing.
It’s on the news and in the newspapers. They tell us not to leave dogs unattended in back yards, to keep them inside if at all possible. If at all possible, they say.
But someone is stealing dogs. They say it is groups of people. They tell us that it is groups of people stealing dogs and then using them to train other meaner dogs to fight. They are being used in illegal underground dog fights.
That there are illegal underground dog fights in this small city on the coast is news to me. When I think of dog fights I, for some reason, think of Benicio Del Toro. I think of Benicio driving around our street in a car loaded with thugs.
He points a lazy finger at a house and his thugs unload from the vehicle and come back with a struggling dog. Benicio blows smoke into one of the thugs face. Benicio has a moustache and gold jewellery.
After thinking these things I worry that I am a racist. For about thirty minutes I worry that I am a racist. That I have racist tendencies. I worry that they are ingrained.
They tell us that the bodies of dogs, the torn bodies of unidentified canines, have been found in unusual places. That they have been turning up in dumpsters around the city.
They say that if you love your dog, that if your dog is an important part of your life, one of the family, you will not leave him unattended. The chief of police has appeared on television warning the owners of dogs everywhere that it is possible that their dog could be next. Organized Crime has no morals, he said, they aren’t above anything.
I worry about this. About living in a place where there are people who ‘aren’t above anything’. Walking to the library I wait for a car to pull up beside me. For thugs to unload. For a beatdown to be delivered. I will not take it like a man.
I don’t know how to take it like a man. I don’t even really know what it means.
At the library I can’t hire out a book because the computer says my address is in doubt. I tell the woman behind the counter that every time I come in my address is in doubt.
Why is my address always in doubt, I ask.
She tells me that computers are made by men and being made by men they are bound to make mistakes from time to time. She actually tells me this and even though I find this to be an odd thing for a librarian to tell me I smile and nod my head and manage to produce something that resembles a chuckle.
Later I will wonder if she was trying to tell me that computers contained an inherent weakness passed down from their human creators. I will think about this for too long. About machines making human mistakes.
I was highly medicated and my emotions seemed to come to me from a great distance. By the time they reached me they were so dulled down that they were barely what you could describe as emotions. They took so long to reach me I had time to study them as they drew closer.
This is something like sadness, I’d think, this is something close to joy.
I’d become preoccupied with things. I don’t mean to be vague, but that was part of the problem, the vagueness of what I was preoccupied with.
I spent a lot of time laid flat out on my bed imagining a different kind of life. It was not an exciting life. It was just a life. One different than the one I had. In this new life I had a boring job I went to each day. In the afternoon I came home from work and complained about my job. My girlfriend listened sympathetically and then she complained about her job.
We took turns complaining about our jobs and then we watched TV until it was time to go to bed. On the weekends we went to bars with our friends and we got drunk and laughed and in the mornings we were hungover. It was a happy life, I think.
It seemed to be the kind of life I should have aimed for.
In my real life my girlfriend came home from work and asked me what I did all day to today. What did you do today, she asked.
I told her that I’d spent the day working on ‘my novel’. But the truth was I’d spent the day downloading movies and TV shows that I would never watch. It seemed important that I downloaded these things and that I filed them away. While my shows downloaded I’d go to the bedroom and think about my other life.
Sometimes waves of pleasure would flow through my skin and I’d smile with my eyes closed and be thankful that I was medicated.
It sometimes felt that I’d become lost in the world or that I had no place in it. Normally, this would depress me and I would seek out alcohol to numb myself. But now my not having a place in the world just seemed like a fact. It was a little piece of knowledge I’d been blessed with.
For a long time I was angry with the world. Or the world was angry with me. I couldn’t decide witch. I felt a great pressure to ‘be something’. To do things other people did.
During that time I tried to do the things other people did. But I was not good at doing those things. I worked in a hotel cleaning rooms that people with more money with me spent their holidays. I rarely had to talk to anyone and in a way I enjoyed cleaning up other peoples mess. It’s like meditation, I liked to say, cleaning rooms creates a great peaceful nothingness in my mind.
But after a few years they got sick of me coming to work hungover and I got fired and I moved back to my parents house and got drunk as often as possible.
My father told me I was a drunk, but it didn’t really matter to either of us because he was a drunk also.
In my head I was imagining a time in the not so distant future when I would be a great success and everyone who had ever doubted me would be taught a great and valuable lesson. But what that lesson would be was unclear to me at the time.
It was an uncertain time in my life. I tried things and failed at them and eventually I realized that some lives are bound up in failure.
While my girlfriend is at work I think about these things and about how I might try to explain it all to her, but whenever I try she gets this confused look on her face as though I might not be who she thought I was. That I might be someone else altogether, not exactly a stranger, but something close to that.
We’d stopped on the highway somewhere between home and the place we were coming from. There were tall pine trees on either side of the highway and the sky was flecked with stars and, in the center of the windscreen, the lights of a aircraft blinked.
What are we doing, she asked me.
My hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles glowed white. I looked back over my shoulder to where my son slept on the backseat and a great sense of regret flowed over me.
I felt I’d been here before, at this same spot, the same trees and blinking light.
It’s late, she said, I have class in the morning.
I looked at her then, her face pale and thin and pretty the way it had always been and I wanted to tell her something but I knew it would only hurt her.
It’s okay, I said and took the keys from the ignition. I flexed my hands, trying to get blood flowing, trying to fight that tingly feeling.
Honey, she said, a halt in her voice, something breaking.
The call came through late Sunday night, Saigon Time. My father. Your mother is in hospital, he said, she’s not doing well.
Confused I tried to remember the last time my father had called me, but I couldn’t remember a time. I don’t think he’d ever called me. He wasn’t the kind of guy who called anyone.
What’s wrong with her, I asked, what’s happened?
They’re not sure, he said, she’s having trouble breathing. It might be her heart.
I tried to picture my mother struggling to breathe. A hospital room. Doctors standing around, perplexed. A breathing apparatus attached to her face. It was difficult.
I could imagine everything, the whole scene, but I couldn’t picture my mother’s face. It was just a blank surface with a oxygen mask attached to it.
Are you there, he said.
They don’t know how long she has left. They don’t know if she is going to make it.
I thought you should know.
He sounded calm. Detached. Someone in an office making a courtesy call.
What would you like me to….do?
I thought you should know. I thought you might like to say something to her.
What, I said, is she there, are you with her?
And then, quickly, I started rubbing my phone against my jeans and saying Dad, Dad, I can’t hear you. Dad, I said, are there, you’re breaking up. There’s a strange sound, I said, it sounds like the wind.
Sometimes John asks questions. Sometimes John asks why we are here or how long we’ve been here.
Why are we here, John asks.
His eyes are usually glazed over by this time and little streams off sweat are trickling down his forehead and cheeks. Occasionally he will rub his eyes when the sweat stings him there.
Drunk, I will look at him. I will study him closely. And I will wonder why he only asks these questions when he is too drunk too walk. Why is it only then that John misses home?
In the shade we drink cheap margaritas that taste suspiciously of pure alcohol and we watch the ocean lap at the beach and we sweat and we wait for something to happen.
Have another drink, I tell him and wave my empty glass at the waiter, don’t spoil the mood.
What mood he says?
She leaves the baby, the new born, in a dumpster in a park not far from where she lives. She places the baby on top of the empty bottles and cans and rotting food and she does it gently, she does it with great care.
The baby is looking at her with it’s cloudy blue eyes and, for a moment, she thinks of the story of Moses. About how Moses’ mother had placed him in a wicker basket and set him adrift on a great river. She remembers a childrens book she once read in Sunday School. The drawings of little Moses sailing down a fierce river, a crocodile floating beside him, mouth open.
For a second she hesitates. The baby opens it’s mouth, closes it, opens it again, purses it’s little pink lips. And then she is walking and as she is walking she feels a whole new life opening up in front of her. A whole other life. Each step a burden gradually lifting.
At night he thought about calling the police. During those lonely hours, drunk and alone, he thought about summoning the police to his apartment just for someone to talk to. He would make a scene. He would wait for their knock at the door and then he would scream at the top of his lungs, he would throw things, barricade himself in the bathroom.
Come and get me, he’d scream, come and get me you bastards.
And when they finally had him face down on the floor, knees in his back, he would burst into to tears and sob uncontrollably and he would pretend that they were holding him. He would pretend they were trying to comfort him in some mysterious way .
Because he felt that he needed to be comforted. But there was no one to comfort him.
Sometimes he called his brother and tried to explain what was happening to him, but it was late and his brother had work in the morning.
You’re drunk, his brother said, pull yourself together.
It’s all coming to a head, he said.
What’re you talking about?
It’s all coming to an inevitable conclusion.
Jesus, his brother said, can’t you get a grip on yourself? Can’t you just be normal?
Okay, he said, okay.
You can’t keep calling like this. I have a job. I can’t take these calls anymore, do you understand that?
Yes, he said, okay.
I’m tired of your shit.
I know, he said, I’m tired too.
Well do something about it.
I’m trying, I’m doing my best.
You’re not, his brother told him, if this is your best you should be concerned.
And then he hung up and thought about the police charging in and spraying him in the face with pepper spray and beating him with batons and about how good that would feel. How that seemed like the answer to everything.
She dropped me off on the corner of some street of some town and she said, please, please don’t try and come back, please. And I just shut the car door and stood there on the corner of some street and I was swaying a little as she drove off.
And I watched her drive off. I stood there and watched her drive. And I was thinking – should this feel bad, should this feel terrible, should my heart be breaking right now?
But it didn’t feel bad, or it didn’t feel that bad. It was just a feeling, you know? It was just ‘one of those things’.
I knew she loved me and that I loved her, but I knew, also, that I was one of the unloveable kind of guys. I was the kind of guy you fell in love with when you were thinking – this is the worst thing that I could be doing right now.
She was thinking – do not fall in love with this guy.
But she fell in love with me.
And I let her go like that because I knew that it was the best thing. For her. I knew that I was wasted space.
There was always this hole in my chest, this deep chasm that I could never fill. And it never really felt like I had to fill it anyway. I just did what I did, and that was the end of it. I drank and took my pills and whatever came of it came of it.
You couldn’t blame me.
Sometimes I tried to feel bad about it. Sometimes I tried to feel sad. I’d think – I wish I could be a better person, I wish I could be the kind of man she deserved. But, the truth is, I never wanted that. I never wanted to be better, or good, or anything.
I just wanted to be.
So, I was standing on the corner of that street and I watched her drive away and I saw the brake lights on her car light up all red and I thought – please don’t stop, please don’t, leave me here, please leave me here. And I watched as her car just sat there in the middle of the street, waiting, waiting for something, for me to run towards her, to say – I’m sorry, baby, baby I’m sorry.
But I waved instead. I gave her a casual wave. I raised my hand – I’m okay, leave me here. Leave me here to roam.
There were lights in the distance. Places I knew I could get a drink. I had money in my pocket and there were places I could disappear. I just needed some time.