My house by the beach in this always warm southeastern Asian country, where old Mr. Me have been so happy for a few years and where May Linh first, then Lily then Maggie came to live with me in the nude, by contract and with a nice salary of course, had been invaded by goons from Hong Kong looking for Maggie. They spelled murder and set the house on fire. I didn’t have time to protest before they knocked me unconscious. Last thing I heard what Maggie screaming.
When I came to, I first smelled coffee and, for a split second, everything was normal, then I felt the pain in my chest and on the side of my head and I moaned. Then I had a tough time opening my eyes, I could feel my face was swollen, but I could already hear May Linh and Lily, speaking in their language, as if I couldn’t hear. Then they saw me waking up and coming back from the dead and they were right with me. I realized where I was: in the guest-house.
Funny thing is, we didn’t need to talk as I could feel them probing my mind. When I tried to say hi, I realized my jaws were numb. Then I remembered, Maggie, the goons, Jacky Chan, the house burning, May Linh’s piano, the money, Lily’s collection of Chicago Bulls’ caps.
“I’m sorry,” I managed to say. And then I started to cough.
Christ, again my lungs wanted out, I was coughing and coughing a life of goddamn cigarettes and my brain felt about to explode because I couldn’t breathe and I was passing out again but Lily got a hold of me and she expertly and delicately brought me to my senses and, after another bit of coughing, I was back on earth. Why? Why? Why? After a while, I was finally sitting on the bed and they gave me coffee. I guess I was ready for something stronger but there was no liquor in the guest-house and I wasn’t quite ready for a beer.
“The house?” I asked.
Lily shook her head.
“The car and the bike,” she said.
“I let them loose last night, half of them have probably been eaten by snakes or something other by now,” she said.
I didn’t asked about Maggie, I didn’t want to know the answer. They didn’t mention her either.
“Let me see it,” I said.
“Ok,” Lily said.
And they both came to help me up and only then did I realized that they were not naked. What a shock! They were both wearing bathrobes and I understood, or I think I did, that, with such danger, those fucking Chinese goons, who wants to be caught naked, again?
“You’re ok?” I asked them.
“Yes,” they said.
“Am I ok?” I asked. They smiled.
“Yes you’re ok,” Lily finally said. “Just broken ribs, a huge hematoma to your head – you had some kind of concussion I guess – but for the rest of it, I think you’re ok,” she said.
“Fucking assholes,” I managed to spit out.
“If that guy had wanted, you’d be dead now,” May Linh said and I knew she was right. Had they wanted, they could have killed us all.
Then I understood that, last night, May Linh and Lily had to carry me in here and that must not have been easy.
It was early morning, so I had been passed out several hours. Coming outside of the guest-house, at first I saw nothing unusual, just the jungle whose ruckus was now fading away as the sun was rising. After a few steps, I realized we were all barefooted and each of those steps was hard as I could feel the pain in my chest and my ribs. Breathing was difficult and I had another coughing fit. I coughed and spat, including a bit of blood, bent over the path. But then I knew I’d have to straighten up and face the day. So I controlled my coughing as best as I could and I started walking again with May Linh and Lily helping me on both sides.
Then I felt the heat before I could see anything and we couldn’t go through the usual path anymore so we had to come down through the jungle to the beach. Once I got there, after much grimaces, I saw the house was gone, completely gone. Where there used to be my home, my wonderful shotgun house, there was now a huge pile of ashes still fuming and charred trash still burning and so twisted it didn’t make sense. I mean it was gone. It was an old house, made of wood and straw, add the gasoline and it vanished with the flames and everything inside with it. Everything.
I wondered if this was some kind of godly punition for me having succeeded in getting away from the world’s follies and living with naked women where all taboos had disappeared. Maybe not all but some of them. Could anyone be punished for living the way he likes it although not hurting anyone? I guess. Anyway, innocents are murdered and maimed every day, everywhere, regardless of race, religion or sex, or maybe because of race, religion or sex. Whatever. Maybe it was just my turn, maybe it was written. Then again maybe not. I remember this humongous typhoon and it didn’t hurt us. Men’s meanness is a lot more powerful than nature’s wrath I guess.
The weird thing is, the only part of the house that was still standing was the concrete recess under where there used to be a back porch, were all the typhoons’ protection stuff was stored away, how ironic, but the thing was that, now that the house had burned down, I could see how the architect had also used this recess as a retaining wall to hold the dune and how smartly that was done. The house had not burned down, I would have never known. Other than that, there were only embers.
This place was history and we all knew it. So we stood there, on the beach and there was nothing we could do. It was so sad, we decided not to stay any longer, we’d go to the capital, to that apartment-hotel I knew. But we were left with absolutely nothing, no more money, no more anything and, first, we needed clothes and something to eat for May Linh and Lily and I could use a drink. “Carter,” I said. So Lily hurried to the guest-house to put on a pajama she found there and then I saw her go up the dune, through the jungle to go around the firework and then she went to the Lemon Tree. I heard that she took the car.
With May Linh, we decided to rest on the beach – well I needed the rest -, so we ambled to the edge of the forest, where the beach meets the jungle. She helped me down and sat next to me, right against me, and we just sat there looking at the ocean and the big sky and it was a beautiful day.
I caught a glimpse of May Linh’s breast through her loose robe. She saw it and let the bathrobe fall off her shoulder and she was nude to the waist and beautiful and we looked at each other eyes and immediately fell into each other arms and we hugged very tight and hugging hurt. And I could feel her skin, her breast against my chest and I didn’t care that it hurt and I could smell her fragrance although it had a burnt taste to it in her hair and, hugging like this, we started to cry silently. I could feel her tears on my shoulder and I guess she could feel mine.
And then we couldn’t help it and we started to sob and then tears came pouring and we sobbed and we cried, holding one another, and even crying hurt. And then there were no more tears but we still didn’t move and hugged each other a very, very, long time, not moving nor saying anything, so long in fact it became uncomfortable and I had another bit of coughing. We hadn’t said a word, like usual we didn’t need too. So we just sat there looking at the ocean and the big sky and it was a beautiful day and the sea was calm. It was almost high tide by now. No swimming today, I thought. No more swimming at all and it hurt just to think of it, no more May Linh and Lily diving and I felt like crying again.
Then Lily came back and found us there. She told us that Carter knew already something had happened because some fishermen said they had seen a big fire on the beach. He had just gotten the news because boats were only coming back with the high tide.
“He was about to send someone when he saw me,” Lily said. “I told him we were ok but the house was burnt down. I didn’t mention Maggie.”
So she had clothes for everybody. At the Lemon Tree, Carter didn’t need much clothes either so I had a pair of shorts and a flowery shirt. Lily had gotten thongs for me and she had a dress for May Linh and a pair of pants and a blouse for herself and bras and panties and flat shoes for both of them. From Carter’s wife I guess.
Back in the guest-house, I drank two shots of the Tequila Carter had given Lily. They dressed me up first. Just lifting my arms was excruciating, as if dozen of spikes were coming through my lungs. When I was finally clothed, Lily smiled. “There now, you look like a surfer” Lily cracked up and May Linh couldn’t help but laugh too. And I would have laughed as well if it didn’t hurt so much just to breathe. Anyway, I couldn’t see myself and I could only imagine the sight of old Mr. Me in surfer’s clothes. So I laughed in my head. Then I look at them dressing up and it hurt again when I saw their nude bodies disappear from my eyes.
It went really fast after that. It’s funny how it always really takes but a few minutes to leave from anywhere and be gone. May Linh and Lily helped me up the dune, and again we had to go around the inferno. Once up by the garage, I had a last look at the beach, the ocean and the big sky and I got in the back of the car, with May Linh. I saw my face in the rearview mirror and indeed, I looked as if I had a bout with Mike Tyson or been beaten up by Terminator. Lily sat behind the wheel and off we went.
It was the last I saw of the ocean and the first time I was in the car with Lily driving. I was goddamn impressed and then I realized she had been driving many times these past two years, I just didn’t ever go with them. Or when we did drive together, I was driving. In any case, for some reason, I was proud of Lily’s driving, she was good.
“Everything is ok with the apart-hotel?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Lily said, “I made the reservation while with Carter.”
“Great, thanks,” I said.
It was a five hours drive to go to the capital so Lily turned on the radio. Some sweet and slow jazz came on. It sounded like Miles Davis because the trumpet was really good but it was not Miles Davis. A copycat I guess.
Soon I could feel the hum of the road and May Linh’s body next to mine and I dozed off and I think May Linh dozed off too.
Iconography: Abstract by Ellar Wise