In this one I manage to retain a little dignity. Which, is welcome.
It is welcome to feel dignified.
You are a musician and I interview you for a magazine in your home. Your presence.
One filmmaker I interview badgered me throughout the course of our conversation for my nationality, my phone number. I just can’t believe it I’ve never been attracted to an American before, etc. But otherwise, as mentioned, Vietnam has muted my sexuality and it is quite fine. I am smitten with you though as soon as you open the door. I regret intensely that I am not considered beautiful here so that I cannot have you.
Your home is a grand ecosystem off a smaller lake and I find it attractive that you are not like most expats hiding away in Tây Hồ. It is windows and dining tables and plants. Your son’s science project. Record players and guitars. My photographer is late and so I wait to start the interview and it is just you and me. While we are still alone together you show me the library which is adjoined to the bedroom and, Jesus, the books. So many I have never seen or heard of. You are working on a project of translation. I flirt with you despite myself. When my photographer arrives I make a joke at your expense and you look at me and smile, as if you are pleasantly surprised I have any wit at all.
Weeks later I am drinking wine with a female colleague looking over the West Lake.
I am just remembering now what it felt like to have money. The self-respect granted with the ability to afford a drink or meal with a colleague. I have forgotten what it feels like to have that level of humanity. Such a small sliver of the world considered human by my own terrible logic.
You are sitting at a table with your back to me and I catch your eye on your way out. You don’t want to be a bother. You liked the article. I say, sit. Join. You are maybe a little tipsy already. You turn to my friend and tell her, Sam is wonderful she is a wonderful listener. My friend smiles knowingly at me. A few minutes later excusing herself, texting me, good luck. I am tongue-tied trying not to blunder something so serendipitous. You begin talking about your life. Your work. We have another glass of wine, we are both drinking red. It is not common to drink wine like this in Hanoi and there is an added luxury to the evening. I am in denim. How casual a night like this seems to me I pretend. I listen.
At the end of the evening we close down the bar. It is long past curfew and the streets are empty. You offer to give me a ride. I leave my Honda Wave locked in the parking lot and climb on the back of your seat, maybe first with my hands gripping behind me, but then as we make our way around the lake, the only bike on the road, my arms move around your chest.
The advantages I am afforded here due to my nationality and race. Prancing about after curfew. That they are easier to see abroad then they are at home. The history of my body pushed on the history of this land. The knowledge marring the otherwise beautiful empty roads along the lake.
When we arrive at my alley I kiss you. I am too drunk so it is a kiss that conveys the strength of my desire in a way I was careful to conceal throughout the conversation. And this will be the dynamic of our relationship going forward. My desire for you will be boundless and I will be a curiosity to you. You will enjoy me. But, I will want you.
I think often of another colleague during this time. She was in her late forties, a New Yorker. I heard you’re friends with ___? Yes I say, he's great. Do you think he’d be interested? I think he’s, what is the word, something along the lines of foxy or fine, one that conveys explicit sexual interest. I have been dating you for several months at this point and I raise my eyebrows. I don’t know, I say. I’ll ask.
I am obsessed with how terrifyingly difficult it will be to find love when I am older. If I’ve missed my chance. You two had compatible ages. Where you were in your forties, I believe, and I was twenty-four. I’ll ask, I tell her. I see myself in her want for you and I would hate to let her down.
I come over to your place in the evenings after my classes sometimes. You cook for me. Rice and egg, pour me a beer. We sit together and listen to music, or you play guitar as I write sitting in the opposite chair. You once spy over my shoulder to see what I am working on. I don’t know if you are incubating or if you just need a push. I am very attracted to patronizing men.
I meet your son and he is a delight. We spend time together. One night we eat desert and I introduce you both to Star Wars. Your son between us on the bed but you reach out over the frame to touch my shoulder, and I hold your hand. And I can think of very few memories I have that are happier or more at peace than this.
I always want to fuck you though. I wonder still if you were attracted to me, or if whatever fleeting interest was also based on some desire for, I don’t know. I am gaining weight, too many nights out keeping up with male colleagues. I want you all the time though and you barely can touch me at all. Once during pillow talk making a small joke about your ex-wife and her hyper-sexuality. I know she is a dancer. I know she is very beautiful. I know you have had many lovers who are more beautiful than me. But what could I have done differently other than want you a little less?
Another list? Why not. Drinking rượu and being approved of by your friend who owns the bar, runs the city. His girlfriend praising my dress which I have designed myself with the help of a seamstress. You settling me backstage at a concert you give and I am up, over the stage and behind — you come sit with me after you are done when you could be with anyone else. Spending nights with your band eating phở at 2am. The New York Times reporter at the small little venue. The books. You would give me so many books, ones impossible to find anywhere else. I would touch them. I would read.
It ends because I love you and you do not love me. Sitting on the floor in your apartment one night I look up at you. Maybe I should move to Istanbul?
I don’t know why this is what I say. I have been doing more work at the magazine, I have just signed another contract at my school, I am happy and content in my life. I want you to say you love me and this is the only way I know how to ask. I cannot tell you that I love you first, I cannot frighten you away like that, I cannot risk the pain. So instead I say, I think maybe I should move to Istanbul.
You look at me, and it is wrenching you give it very little thought.
Yes, that might be good for you.
And so reader, off to Istanbul I go.
The last time I see you you are on your bicycle on Đội Cấn.
Now here, your story. The one you would write if you were the writer you wish you were. I will not do it any kind of justice here I’m sorry. Maybe I should try somewhere else or maybe it is not mine to share. I’m sure it is wrong. I am sure I do not even remember it correctly.
There is a storm in Hanoi. A typhoon. A flood. And if you have not lived in Hanoi you do not understand the weather. The rain at a horizontal driving your motorbike through streets where the dirty water comes above your handlebars some places. Praying your engine doesn’t sputter out. The cold, and the hot. You are with your wife and your son is very young. Perhaps a toddler. You are overrun, afraid for your lives, forced to leave your home. You get a room in a hotel but you must still travel to find it. You wade through the flooded streets with your son on your shoulders and your small wife by your side. Taking care. But when you arrive at the hotel your wife makes a call. You hear the love in her voice and know she is having an affair. And she leaves you I believe, leaves you and your son in the hotel during the storm to make sure her lover is safe.
Remembering this, whether it is accurate or not, I am. Envy. That the man she loved was worth doing this for. I am. Aghast at my own envy. Thinking of the pain, of your wife’s pain ___, alone with your son, just so I could have you. And still. My first feeling is one of deep guttural loathsome envy. Were I so precious to be worth it.
Sam Heaps is an emerging writer who has published in a few small journals including Entropy, & Of Other Things and Collected. Sam holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she was the recipient of a New Artist's Society Full Scholarship and a nominee for the James Raymond Nelson Fellowship. Sam currently works as a Master Lecturer at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and maintains a web presence at Sam Heaps.