(ISSN: 1527-5467)
the magazine of Literature & Literature-in-translation.



JUL 1999















 Translated by N. SAOMAI

(This English translation version has been published in Songvan magazine [ISSN 1089-8123, discontinued in 2000], issue 14, Sept 1999, which is under the same ownership and editorship of The Writers Post’s publisher and editor N. Saomai / Nguyen Sao Mai. The original version has been published in the short-story collection Keo Neo Ma Chay (USA, California: Van Moi Publisher)..


   At that midnight, Van woke up, glanced aside and saw his wife, still deeply asleep. The rhythmical breathing¾ of a serene sleep¾ filled him with wonder, and he was, unexpectedly, overflow with emotion. On impulse, though not the least believing in God or heaven, Van tempted to kneel down to express a rather sentiment, the kind of his thanks and gratefulness. But he just couldn't. Most of the thoughts he had in all of his life Van always found them remaining as thoughts in his head. From thinking to acting, a normal logic, Van scarcely caught himself going through. Decisions used to come abnormally, and suddenly. Lacking his awareness of things, and not bothering to wonder what he should or should not do, Van used to stay isolated in his own world, where he had no hesitation about one pace forwards, one pace backwards, a sentimental turn, a jump, into mud, into fire, down to the abyss, even what might be called flying away from the earth gravity.

In the evening, when zooming along in heavy traffic, he glanced all round in alarm, as usual, to make sure a cop car spinning red and blue light was not shadowing him. Then if he could domineer over the car in the left-hand lane, accelerated a little to shave the one in the right just to save a distance, he would do it without the least demur, ignoring them angrily hitting their break or hooting their horn to protest. In this life of subtle jostling where there was nothing perfectly obvious as in traffic, if you could play a bit of cleverness, a bit of haughtiness, a bit of nice indifference, a bit of soft threatening, then why should be the fear of going your own way? Why must they insist on spreading such a lamenting song:


How are you to have the heart
to abandon me
to the dale,
and weigh anchor to flee?


At this moment his wife was still deeply asleep, Van thrust his feet down from the bed feeling for the slippers, but stopped short, for fear that the solitary squashing sound against the carpet would wake the sleeping. He eased himself down the stairs, opened the fridge searching for a beer. The night roaches, moving slowly or lying motionless as being asleep, were nibbling scattered crumbs. Activities in silence of the day-escaping roaches brought Van the vivid picture of a market held at night ¾ lest to be bombarded ¾in the wartime. In his dim memory he remembered having seen it somewhere.

He wanted to lean out, bathed his face in the moonlight for a moment. Tonight, the moon was full, the sky autumny. It seemed there was, in today's issues of free Viet newspapers, mention of the mid-autumn festival, cakes, and lanterns. He softly went up the stairs, returned to bed beside his wife. (Van heard a thud, like the echo of the beat of a drum suddenly struck his chest). He wondered if there was, after several changes of love, any difference between the other women who had been with him in bed (eating from the same tray, sleeping in the same cot [1]) and the one who was now called his wife?

The strong beer drove Van hazy, and sent him drowsy to sleep. A sense of floating illusion made him weary in a comfortable way. As he woke, a long moonbeam stealing through the window lit up his mouth. Van felt a cold, rippling sensation at his neck, raised his hand to touch the corner of his mouth, wide-awake. The person having lain beside him was gone. A depression was in her pillow. Van lay still and, in a sudden, was filled with worry. He strained to listen, but heard not a footstep, a shuffling sound even very soft, a little faint movement as things being rummaged. She disappeared, like a fleeting shadow. As trying to get back to sleep Van still retained his wife's body lying on its side, the steady breath, the rhythmical rise and fall of her shoulders, her short hair slanting against half of her face, the ringlet floating over her left ear. Van lay motionless, listened to the night buzzing with the sound of a certain machine. He knew he could not sleep.

One day, he suddenly caught Trang setting eyes on him, wearily observing, in a sly. Full of anxiety about how he looked at the moment, he tried to recover himself, looking at Trang and smiling bashfully, as being taken on the hop doing something disgraceful. He wanted to offer some explanation: for all his facial expression¾ of melancholy, of despair, of hope, of superiority, or whatever else might be expressed¾ he was always a gay man filled with happiness, favoured with the new love having been found. Since living together Van had tried to prove it in different manners. He wore the little shiny ring, Trang's gift, at the third finger as did a quite decent husband, to show himself no more a rogue living an adventitious life, for now he was in possession of one person. He had cut out his habit of giving himself airs and graces, seldom wore tie, just severe shirt buttoned up to the neck. His clothes were ironed smooth, by Trang, but obviously not that pointed as it had been done at the cleaner's. His leaving or coming home was almost on time. Though still wanting, he tried to break the habit of drinking beer till flushed red to ears when hanging out, three times a week, with his alcoholic mates. Mindless of paying attention to anybody's cooking skill yet he had been unreserved in his praise for the awaiting evening meals at home, regular and well prepared. However, Van still felt, in their everyday life, a certain anxiety gradually enlarging, some kind of ill tree taking root deeply in him, and since he could not uproot it, he helplessly watched it grow, with fear. If Trang and Van were playing a game in which they threw an egg to each other, like in basketball? And, if the truth was that neither of them dared to lob or to cast, but they both tried to lay in the hands of each other the delicate egg, yet still feared that the clumsiness of the partner might let it fall broken apart?

From that night of full moon Trang and Van took turn to spend their wakeful nights, times that he caught the pillow lying empty were increasing, increasing. And afterwards, whenever he heard his wife's cat-like tiptoe tread stealing back to bed he would always kept his eyes closed, snoring, pretending to be asleep, to hide the fact that he knew she, too, experienced restlessness. And because of that, sometimes, even feeling no desire, but for escaping the embarrassing pretence, half-laughing half-smiling, Van turned to make love to her heatedly. And she, too, seemed active and answered passionately¾ like an idle person of a sort, who had been bound to a sense of dejection was particularly invited to a party or to a sexy show.

Until now, however, obligations, relations, explanation, love, vow, care, sharing ¾deceitful or honest, affected or skilfully concealed¾all still touched him with emotion, and he was grateful to Trang for her admirable restraint. Never had Trang questioned him with troublesome questions about his restlessness, his worrisome, cornering him facing checkmate which rendered him speechless, forced him to swear shameless-faced and tell her the whole sorry saga of his guilty past.

Their practice of living a happy-coupled life was thus the regulate endeavours, the concealed feelings, the flaming love-making unexpected or wilful, the humorous or dramatic gestures of a play sometimes coming from a little of real facts, the unexpected pleasure of the poor heart, and the element of calculation Van, in fact, not knowing what for. However, between light and darkness, between happiness and punishment, Van felt a piece of ice gradually enlarged, indifferently sinking deep down below in the bottom of his heart.

On a morning, as Van stood drinking tea in the kitchen the lamp behind him, accidentally, threw his shadow onto the uncarpeted kitchen floor. Also accidentally, Trang stood in his shadow; his big and her little one, the two of them fit into one. Day was coming, and Trang busied herself with works. Bringing coffee to her husband, sitting next to him taking care that he was well served with breakfast, asking him what he liked for dinner so she would prepare. She planned out her day¾ cleaning the French windows opening into the flower garden, tidying up the bed room that was literally in disorder, washing, ironing, and folding all the clothes Van had put in a heap since returning home from a meeting in distance, sweeping up the fallen leaves in the back yard. By the time all the works were done she would prepare dinner. Trang talked, Van listened bleakly, but pretended to pay attention.

As driving onto the street, Van wondered, "After doing all those works, Trang always active and will finish them fast, what will she do next, and think of?" He rolled up the window against the gust of cold wind just bearing down on making him shudder.

On a weekend morning, Van woke up late and found Trang was nowhere in sight. At first he thought she was playing a joke on him, but just then realised Trang had never been much of joking. Van could not find his wife. Like in the unhappy ending of a cheap love story, Trang left a note, with careful handwriting, to say she returned to her family and would come back no more, Van should waste no time waiting.

Van found himself rock still, quite unruffled, then in a sudden, felt his heart shoot with surprise: Van felt no pain, suffering, or fear as he had long imagined.



       Translated* by N. Saomai

(This English translation version has been published in Songvan magazine [ISSN 1089-8123, discontinued in 2000], issue 14, Sept 1999, which is under the same ownership and editorship of The Writers Post’s publisher and editor N. Saomai / Nguyen Sao Mai. The original version has been published in the short-story collection Keo Neo Ma Chay (USA, California: Van Moi Publisher)..


Translator's note:


 [1] Saying: "Husband and wife eating from the same tray, sleeping in the same cot."

(*)Translated from the original version published in the short-story collection Keo Neo Ma Chay [USA, California: Van Moi Publisher, 1997, pp 67-74]  


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The Writers Post Jul. 1999
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