May Linh had agreed by contract to live nude, and more, around my house by the beach in this southeastern Asian country. And for three weeks now, we had learned to share the space next, but with, each other; I knew more now about classical music than I ever did, she knows now how to swim. But she took all of her days off at once and was now gone for a week.
“Hey Mr. You, what brought you here today? Long time no see…” That’s what Carter said when he saw me come in. May Linh had been gone for a couple of days now and, if at first old Mr. Me appreciated being alone again, I soon found myself turning round in the house, not quite knowing what to do. Even spider solitaire was boring. So I figured I’d have a drink at the Lemon Tree and see what Carter had to say.
He was happy to see me I guess. I guess I was happy to see him too.
“What’s up Carter? I said.
“Same old, same old,” he said.
So I sat at the end of the bar. It was early evening and it was apparently a slow day for business.
“A beer?” he asked.
“A beer”, I said. That seemed to make him cheerful.
“Mr. You,” he said, “you’re a beer guy, that’s a fact, so let me show you a beer I just received straight from across the planet.”
“OK, sure,” I said.
“Look,” he said, and he was excited, “it’s called the Préaris Quadrupel (he had to read it twice). It’s from Belgium. Do you want to try it!” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
So I did. Being French, I could tell of Belgium’s beers burnt malt aroma but not much more than that.
“Can you feel the caramel, the tingle of vanilla?” he asked.
Shit, I thought, we were in bumfuck in a southern Asian country, thirty miles away from the first train station, discussing the merits of a Belgium beer.
“How did you get this?” I asked.
“A friend of mine in Brussels, name is Cathy,” he said. “I think her boyfriend has a brewery or something and she sells beer. She’s a good friend and she told me about that new Préaris Quadrupel brew and she’s good with beer I know, so I asked her if she could ship me a couple of cases to this hole here in southeast Asia. For my good clients I said. She said yes and shipped me the stuff and I got it two days ago. I paid of course. I think it’s pretty good. I’m not so sure about the name though. So what do you think of it?”
“I think it’s fine,” I said, “and I’m ready for another one I guess.”
“Well, it’s not like I have a lot of them,” said Carter.
“Ain’t I a good client? Isn’t that’s what you just said?” I asked as I drown my bottle.
“You’re not a good client,” he exclaimed. “You don’t come often and, when you do, you scare the tourists and you only drink cheap beer, most of it you don’t pay.”
“Well,” I said, “this is because I beat you all the time at backgammon.”
“Yeah,” he said, “you’re the only who can beat me here so I have to tolerate you.”
So we played backgammon and that night he got lucky with a bunch of doubles. I drunk a few of this Quadruped beer, whatever the name is, liked it, and then went back to whatever tap beers Carter had, Aussie’s beer for all I knew. It wasn’t a busy night. He told me summer was the low point in the touristic season. The low point????
Anyway, I knew Carter had been here a long time, loved the place, had married local and had children and started this resort about ten years ago. He was doing well and I knew he was happy to be behind his bar every day, ordering his beer from ‘friends’ all over the world. I’m pretty sure he had in his cellar the best beer garden in this part of the world, and beyond, and he wasn’t even Irish. I wondered if he had had to deal with local bad guys. I assumed he had to pay someone along the line, just like in any civilized country.
“So,” he said, “you have been here in this town for what, ten weeks, three months?”
I remembered the day I arrived in this country’ main airport, in the capital. I had never been here before, I had what was left of aliens’ money and I had that scheme in my head to retire from all villainies of this world and to hire three women to live nude with me in my secluded house by the beach where I’d spend the rest of my life surrounded by beauty. Carter had no idea of the time I stayed in the capital, in a nice hotel. He couldn’t know of Mrs. Wan, and would probably be surprised to learn that I bought the house four of five months ago already. I couldn’t tell him of Dr. Vermoelen’s office.
“Yeah,” I said, “a little more than two months, it’s about right.”
“Did you learn any of the language they speak here?” he asked.
Well, I wasn’t even trying. I didn’t have the time anymore to master a new language, not enough to even engage in small talk only. I knew I wouldn’t dare mispronounce any word so I didn’t pronounce any. Yet, with my experience of living in foreign countries, yes there were words I could now recognize, hello, thank you. Anyway, living like a hermit, I rarely had the occasion to be surrounded by native speakers, other than when I was in a bar and, for the past three weeks, I hadn’t been to bars at all I realized.
“No,” I answered, “I didn’t learn any of the local language.”
“So you don’t know what people here are saying about you, do you?” Carter said.
“No I don’t know. What are they saying?”
“Not much really. They say you are a writer. Is that a fact?”
“I was, maybe.”
“Aren’t you glad that I’m doing the talking?” he asked all of a sudden.
“Yes, I am,” I said.
“Anyway the locals here don’t see you much and they don’t dare speak about you in public, or to me, or to my wife. But they talk about May Linh.”
I froze. What??? May Linh!!! How did he know her name? Who else knew her name? What did the villagers know about her? What did Carter know about her?
“What do they say about May Linh?” I asked, trying to hide my concern.
“They don’t say much really. They just wonder what she does for you, what’s her job exactly.”
“And what do they think is her job exactly?”
I could tell Carter was a bit embarrassed because he brought me another beer, not even pretending to ring it up. He was saved because a bunch of tourists, including a bunch of young guys, arrived all at once, within fifteen or twenty minutes. They must have been on the last train, arriving in town at 8:05 pm, 35 miles away. Indeed I remembered now seeing a local guy parking the shuttle a while back. They were maybe fifteen or twenty of them and Carter was busy for a while sending orders to the kitchen, serving drinks and making sandwiches. Soon tourists were happy to have arrived and were talking aloud and buying rounds to each other’s.
I just sat there drinking and thinking about May Linh being the talk of the town. If they knew her name, it could only be because she gave it to them! Well, I trusted her; I guess she knows what she is doing when she gives her name to someone. And then I realized: how could she not give her name when dealing with the delivery boys? And the cleaner? And the florist? And the fishermen? She couldn’t say ‘Hi, I’m Mrs. You’! So of course she gave her name and they knew it!!!! They ALL knew her name!!!! What in hell!
Then again, I guess she showed up in their life just like she showed up in mine. And if they could only imagine she’s naked all day in my home – and that’s maybe what they’re imagining – they would go berserk just like I did. Or, then again, they’d burn us both at the stakes.
Anyway, Carter was back in my corner of the bar. “I’ve seen May Linh several times,” he said. “She came here once to buy goggles in the shop next door but I see her often at the market. She looks like a nice lady.”
“Look,” I said, “although you’re Australian, have you ever heard the words ‘Gens de maison’, in French?” I asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” Carter said, “like someone ruling the place for you, like Mary Poppins the old mate.”
“Yeah,” I said, “and that’s May Linh’s job, if so they ask.”
“Shit man, you’re lucky, she’s very good looking.”
“Well, come on, look at old Mr. Me…” I said, shrugging. “You’re the lucky one, you married your own local May Linh and you still have time.”
“It’s not the same,” he said.
And I knew what he meant. Maybe.
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