5.09 / September 2010

What I Have Been Doing Since I Was Last with You

listen to this story

I have been married. I have been divorced. I have been pregnant, since I was last with you.

I have sat on the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake in the afternoon–the lake in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, whose waters are a mysterious moss green.

A gentleman from Moscow stays four blocks away on a wide, tree-lined avenue. I meet him in the evenings. We have dinner at the restaurant of his hotel. We share languid meals of pho: soup made from rice noodles, beef and spiced with chili and lime. On days beset by chilly torrential rain, I order banh ran man, a slightly sweet, fried bread, stuffed with savory meat.

After dinner, we drink Vietnamese coffee, so black and sweet, it lays warm on our insides like liquid chocolate. After coffee, in a daydream-drenched silence, I watch him smoke a cigarette.

The Russian’s mouth is a fortress for a broad, hungry tongue. When he makes love, he silences with the sort of kiss a rapist might deliver.

Each afternoon at one-thirty my mobile rings; each afternoon he begs an evening meeting.

By the arrival of mid-afternoon, my presence in his blood has begun to wane. He is in need, he says, of replenishment.

One afternoon shortly before I took his call, I sat by Hoan Kiem Lake. A woman appeared very close to the place where a large, haunted tree hovered over the water. This woman looked exactly as I had looked two years ago, right after you left me. But her eyes were no longer red, no longer ruined.

She sat down. She looked pointedly at me and then she smiled.

In the evenings, with the Russian, I laugh.

He holds me close as we walk back to his room, down hallways attired in chinoiserie furniture and vibrant purple orchids doomed to live what remains of their short lives in vases.

On these evenings, we partake in a ritual: as I undress, he speaks momentarily to his wife and then his children.

His words are like the flapping of raven wings.

When he completes the call, he walks over to the bed where I lie supine. He raises his hand, which surfaces soft as cream, and rests it against my cheek.