Thursday/Friday, April 25-26, 2019

I walk over to the bed and give her a kiss on the cheek. I do it twice. I know she feels my presence. She’s beautiful. Radiant. Charming. Intelligent. Full of wonder, curiosity. She gets tired, bored, somewhat distant when I lose my cool. The heat here in Da Nang has now become anchored at 88-90 degrees. We’ve been living for the past five or six weeks in a third-floor apartment on a side street about five or six blocks from the beach. There’s a dog across the street that always barks. Our landlord doesn’t really speak any English. His wife does. They are very sweet and they don’t bother us. We bother them, I’m sure, when we’re having sex. She’s on her period now, though, and I’m sure she’d be thrilled with me revealing that to the Internet.

        Actually, she might take it well.

        One night, when she asked me what I wrote about, I told her. Sex.

        “Really?” she responded in her heavy, thick Chinese accent.

        “WEELIE,” I retorted. She rolled her eyes at me.

        “WHEELIE?” I echoed. This time, she swung at me.

        Yesterday she had somewhat of a rough day. We both did. It was the culmination of weeks in an attempt to apply for a Schengen visa. For Europe. The European Union. American citizens can get in pretty much anywhere around the world with a U.S. passport. Chinese nationals don’t have that same luxury. The day began with her wanting to reschedule—she’d just gotten her period. I felt annoyed. Most of my adult life in the past three or four years had been spent as a loner, nobody writer. A writer? That was only some cliche bullshit I wrote about.

        Cramps are no game. I waited around the city center after crossing the Dragon Bridge with her on the back of the scooter. I was getting a little sick of driving around Da Nang. The drivers were atrocious. Anyway, I waited for her. Got her a snack and strawberry tea. Went to the visa place, got in the elevator, up three floors. Some guy was there, a security guard. “Can you speak slowly?” he asked. She came out, eventually, and I handed her the strawberry tea. Apparently, it was going to elicit a hellish storm of muscle spasms in her tiny gut, just above the baseball-style undies she wore when she got her period.



I rescued you, or at least I tried

you were crying a shitstorm on the steps in the heat
wearing your long white button-down shirt, stylish
black pants, silky
white shoes that looked like something a Greek princess
would wear
you were bending over in public but not in the sexy
way, touching your toes with your
tongue
I felt bad, stressed, worried, annoyed—goddamnit

here

we

go

the security guards out front of the building
eyed me up as I helped you across the sidewalk
“can you get on the bike?” you moaned a
yes
and we rode away from the city center
like a swarm of ants, a duo
involuntarily riding away
from having to prove to the authorities that we were
honest
citizens

and just a few blocks from the apartment, you said:

“can you stop? I need to throw…”

you couldn’t finish your sentence and I swerved
kicked out the stand
from under the bike, stopped and
waited
while you started to cry
“we’re almost there,” I told you but you weren’t
listening to me, you were in endless pain
I looked out at the street, bored Vietnamese people
were sitting at sidewalk cafes
in
their buttondown shirts, blue, gray, not feeling
much of anything save the heat

we made it back

and you
collapsed
and I felt like a medic, no time
you dropped to your knees
and I took your tea, helmet, fedora
put them on the scooter, and lifted you up
you helpless
like that

I tried

carrying you

up a spiral staircase
but it was no
use

“come on, babe, you gotta
suck it up…”

and once you were up there, you howled
and I couldn’t take it, looking up ways to
help

anything

to stop
the pain, the howling, the crying…

like you in the bathroom

the other day, nearly locking yourself in there
crying out loud
for no reason
at all

I got you a warm towel, rubbed your stomach
and cursed the angels for laughing while you cried in the middle of the afternoon, goddamnit

I just wanted the day to be over, I wanted you to not be in pain anymore, I wanted you to stop crying—

“baby, you can’t just scream at the walls, you have to
be strong,” I said, losing my
nerve

you wilted and thrashed, writhing
eyes clenched
tightly

I touched your face
and saw thirty years
into
the future

this is what it all amounts to, I said
to myself, to nobody
at all

then I kissed your lips,
with nothing
left
to say.




BETHLEHEM CAN WAIT

I was studying the walls and she walked up to the door, my door. And knocked. Hmm, I thought. Who could that be? Here I am, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Minding my own business. Teaching English to kids in China. And here she comes, switching up everything, meandering in the night across a second-floor tree house. One next to the other. She, in one. I was in the other.

        “This place is not fit for guests,” I said to the door.

        She knocked again.

        “I’m all outta soap and Cheez-Itz. Please try again in about a week.”

        She knocked, slower this time.

        “Look!” I shouted. “I’m not some chump. Now go away! I prefer silence and masturbation at the end of a long day.”

        She laughed.

        I got up, went to the door. Opened it.

        She was standing there in Chinese glasses, Mandarin pouring out of her eyes.

        “What do you think about windows?” she asked me.
        “I keep them closed,” I told her, slamming the door in her face. I reached for a bowl of noodles under the desk, washing it down with a 500mL bottle of Thai beer. I chugged half of it. Like a bottle.

        “You’re a baby!” she whined. I heard her walking away.

        Good. I thought.

        Good.

***

There was a moment the other day when I came back from working at a local cafe here in Da Nang. I heard the strumming of a guitar. It was the silent picking of notes, soloing. But it wasn’t very good. In fact, it was ineffectual, childish, girlish, churlish, candid, and I thought, oh, she’s farting around, this is fine. She’s not cleaning, cooking, washing dishes. And there she was in the window pane. Hair in ponytails on either side of her dome. She looked very Chinese, very tan, very sexy, and without a care in the goddamn world.

        “This is so nice!” I said upon entering.
        “What is?” she asked with a smile.
        I went over to the kitchen, reaching for a butterknife. I got one. Then I spun around and it tossed it at the front door.

        The smile left her face.

        “What the hell did you do that for?”

        “Oh, fuck. I dunno. Percussion.”

        She got up, frowning.

        “In China, we call your kind a Chin Zhang Cho.”

        “Do they wear capes?”

        We both evaporated into necklaces that hung around the necks of children learning English in Trinidad and Tobago.

***

I could hear her crying, uncontrollably. In the bathroom. The door was shut. I went over and knocked.

        “Hey, what’s wrong?”

        “Nothing…” she managed to say through her endless sobbing.

        “What do you mean? You’re crying.”

        She didn’t say a word.

        “Can I come in?”

        Still nothing.

        I turned around, looking for something. Then I got the hat she bought for me that I hadn’t worn. Quickly, I’d gotten the idea that I could go in there and ask her if she was crying because I hadn’t worn it yet. Instead, when I got in there—I lost my courage. I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t. I reached out and touched her dark skin. She was sitting on the floor in her long, red dress. The one with the white polka dots. Her knees were raised and she was leaning on them with her arms, hands, elbows, and head. Sobbing. Sobbing. I said nothing.

        What could I have possibly done? I thought to myself, stroking her thick, dark hair. What did I say? Was she stressed out?

        I left the bathroom. Sitting down on the couch. I Googled it.

        Apparently, there were dozens of websites for people who cried uncontrollably. I didn’t feel like reading about that or tear ducts or looking at pictures of people who were crying like there was sand in their eyes and they couldn’t get it out. That’s what blinking was for.

        I’ll just leave, I told myself. I’ll just go out and let her cry and when I come back everything will be better, this will pass.

        I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t leave her in the bathroom crying her eyes out.

        I went back in there.

        Sobbing, sobbing.

        I walked away again. Went out through the door.

        I’ll get some water. Maybe she’s thirsty. Maybe she’s dehydrated.

***

The weird thing about being a beer drinker and a writer is that sometimes you have to live. Sometimes you have to fall asleep with your arms around her. Sometimes you have to fall asleep with your arms around the nothingness of your own life that you made with your own two hands, lackadaisical and nonchalant. What had you been focused on all those years? You thought you knew what you were talking about and you thought you knew where you were going. You thought feeling like you were a writer was enough. Well, guess what? It wasn’t. You had miles to trek like a savage miscreant splurging with your dreams and not working for them, expecting good things to happen just because you felt special, deluded, distant, and parched. Yes, see. That’s the thing. When you’re a beer drinker. You have to actually get up and get yourself another beer. You have to be the one to find a bottle opener, get the top off, taking that first sip. Lifting the beer to the ceiling, to the sky, in a silent prayer. You don’t pray, you tell yourself, placing the slushy bottle down onto the counter or near the sink or on your desk or kitchen table. You drink with the music flowing, always. You just have to live your life. That’s all there is to it. And drink. Yes.

        Why not?

***

We don’t need character development. We don’t need MFAs and MBAs. We need her standing at the ledge with her laptop in front of her. “What’s that you’re reading?” As I’m kissing her neck.

        “It’s a new book I downloaded.”

        “Oh yeah?”

        The text is in Mandarin.

        “It’s about women,” she tells me.

        I laugh. “Well, that’s funny. Because I’m writing a book about women.”

        “You’re writing a book about women?” she scoffs, somewhat interested. But not really.

        “No,” I tell her, “I’m just kidding.”

        They keep telling me I’m going to be a famous novelist. I’m this, that, the other, an orangutan, not prepared for life, I need a career, I should be more like this, that, I shouldn’t drink so much, you’re crazy, they tell me. There’s something wrong with you. Good! I think, fine. Great. It’s hot and the lizards are out there, somewhere. Standing in the middle of the street. At the last second, when a scooter is approaching, they dart off into another direction, unperturbed. They find their flies, get a good hiding spot when the heat is bad enough to cause freckles and warts. They don’t bother with stress or four-year degrees. They simply live. Aren’t religious. Don’t worry about the size of their asses or whether or not they can find the right job.

        Everything they need is right in front of their faces at all times, no matter where they go. Crawling on the walls. Crawling into my coffee cup in the sink in the middle of the night when I’m thinking about everything.

        “I can’t save her,” I hiccough.

        “You can’t save anyone,” she tells me, “you don’t even want to save yourself…”

        “What?” I jolt up in bed and realize abruptly that she’s no longer lying beside me. Instead, she’s on the couch. By herself.

        She moves, slightly. I’m wondering if I’d been talking in my sleep. I saw Santa Claus peeking over the ledge after witnessing a music video in my head. A strange, strange dream.

        That’s what I get for eating right before falling asleep.

        “I’m going to get up,” I’d told her, “I’m going to get up and write…”

        Just before that, I’d spent about two hours cooking her (and me) some dumplings. She snapped (snapped?) a few pictures of me cooking. I made her dumplings with eggs and cabbage. After bringing her home some gifts after a tough day living with blood in her stomach.




what about her street smarts?

it’s not like she went to Dartmouth
and if she went to UPenn, it was only coz her dad was
rich

and if she went to Rutgers or Rowan or if she listened to Rachmaninoff, I didn’t care about that
what I wanted to know
was
could she play
a musical instrument with grass in her ears?

did she quit and give up
when a beachball hit her across the nose?
would she hold her face and cry or would she
kick my ass? I don’t know if that’s an appropriate
question

but what about her
street smarts?

she said she was a journalist
but I remember one with jet-black hair
who was exotic and traumatized
so the Internet helped her to
feel
like she mattered, I guess

and I stayed away from her, stayed away from
most of them
except the ones with
tattoos

I liked that, it made me feel like pain for fun
was acceptable—and I know that’s not a good instinct
but still, that’s more interesting than a Yale professor
with gray hair
whose
whole life
has been dedicated
to a piece of paper
that was birthed from
the State

what are her street

smarts? and can she walk around at
night without feeling like a beaver
or snake is hounding her shirtsleeves

if I feel like walking away from her
at a lazy intersection
in some foreign country

and she’s wearing a bathing suit as a bra?

will I turn around
or will I let her go, thinking
fuck it

she can
protect
herself

oh, I don’t
know, maybe she likes shiitake mushrooms
that’re undercooked
and can’t stand the
cold
from the AC

while I’m sitting on the couch, eating
the weird texture
sweating

thinking about earlier in the morning
with her making a snowball
of my cock, drooling

“yes, baby, I love when you
paint my face
with reds and orange
and I don’t care what my friends
think…”

neither do I, I tell her

yanking at her
nipples

what’s it like, I wonder, to lie around
all day
in your underwear

and no

bra?

like you

really

wanna

know.


the morning sounds from under the stairs and out into the street

I am thinking of the boredom
in what people say
as I’m making some Vietnamese coffee in a mug on the counter
she’s in the bathroom after rising from bed
and holding her open arms out to me
“I forgot you were naked,” I tell her
even though she
isn’t, she’s wearing a baseball

and I’m holding her
thinking about that one time in Cambodia
when we sat across from each other in a French bakery
under her eyes all puffy and from lack of good sleep

the coffee isn’t as hot as when it first dripped
from the heated water and I’m not thinking about
what I wrote the night before, haven’t read any-
thing yet
thinking about leaving this third-floor apartment
after spending the majority of 6 or 7 weeks here
and now that we have about half of our visa left
in Vietnam—and now that we’re waiting on her visa
for Germany (if it goes through)—we’ll be moving
outta here, into a nearby hotel for three nights
and then an apartment down in the hipster area of town
where we’ll be staying for another month

all those sounds out there and her creaky nose
in here, the rumblings of the morning at 8:14
just after sending an email to my job as a freelancer
will these fuckers keep paying me like I’m nothing?
and sending out another email in re: to a job in Spain
where maybe
people are friendlier
than America—

I haven’t even mentioned the medical student who
came up to me on the beach
on Easter Sunday, like an interviewer, he wanted to
know who I was, where I was from, and where
I was going … he spoke slowly in a blotchy English and
I spoke slowly as well, telling him that beer
was much cheaper here and the sun
was strong, getting there—after the rainy season

he nodded and our conversation ended
when he had to take a call
and my beautiful girlfriend came walking up to me
in her blue bikini
spiking my soul
with blood and
maybe

love

and two days later, another kid came up to me on the beach
and wanted to bullshit with me about himself and me and
what I was doing in his country, his English was a little
better—he wanted to tell me
that I looked like
Mr. Bean

I thought that was funny and he offered to buy me a beer
but I shrugged that off coz I had piss filling up my bladder
and he walked off after telling me that I was very
friendly

and I thought about my scooter not starting
for two days straight
and all the Vietnamese people who came to aid me
in my time
of need

like always

I was collecting myself for something
bigger

like a woman
holding a little baby girl while telling me,
“you gotta start it right there, like
this!” she’s imitating me, mocking me—the little
girl with bright, vibrant, timeless, forever
eyes

or maybe it’s a nose
bleed
that disrupts my typing
in the morning, a Friday morning
our last in this
third-floor domicile

Vietnamese coffee flowing
work transitions waiting on the wings of a bat, blind
and hunting for noisy insects
going nowhere

no more
barking
dog!

just a little more coffee
strong

a cleaner nose
and ears
listening
to music

my own

and maybe

yours

too.


see previous issues: bryanwilliammyers.com