Todd in Venice

by Eugene Wildman

Appears in Other Voices #29

Todd pokes at a hot fudge sundae and tries not to think about Candace. It has been one of those days. He glances out across the way and turns to the monster instead. He pictures the monster with his wife. They stand stiffly, the young couple in love, posed as if for a snapshot. There is something charmingly old fashioned about them. Todd is half in love with her himself. He smiles and shakes his head; the monster is Pol Pot. He listens to the waitress chattering at the counter, he loves the sound of the language. He picks out words here and there, but the gist of what she is saying escapes him.

It is still light and the beach is crowded. A few sailboats are out in the gulf. Out past the ragged cluster of bathers a motorboat veers and heads toward the shore. Attached to the moterboat by a line, a chute glider hangs, framed perfectly in the window. It makes a nice composition: woman in bikini, brown skin against blue sky. Pie in the sky, Todd thinks, and gives another shake of the head. He can just about make out the details of her face. She looks almost close enough to touch, as if he could reach up and pull her down from the sky. They have cut it dangerously close.

Over the past couple of hours the bars and restaurants have been filling up steadily. During the week the town is empty, but on weekends the tourists arrive in droves. They come on package tours from all over the world. This is Saturday, and so it is already crowded. Furthermore the fleet is in. There are joint maneuvers underway, and the streets are jammed with sailors on shore leave. As the night wears on and the crowds grow more dense the Shore Patrol will start earning their pay.

Todd is not a sun worshiper, he is only killing time. He was filling out postcards but his heart was not in it. He has written the same thing on each: “Wish you were here?” Todd has run out of things to say. He is tired of words, of hidden meanings, of always talking around things. The cards are all the same too: a shot of the beach, minus of course the woman above the horizon. Lucy in the sky with diamonds. Even without her it looks like paradise.

This was not a good idea. Once he loved spots like this, but now he is feeling out of sorts and wishes his business were done. He came down from Bangkok this morning and took a room at the Sand Guest House, where someone named Kwan was supposed to call. It is a cramped, albeit friendly place directly next to an all-night bar called, inevitably, the Sand Bar. He wondered if they were being purposely clever. The sound system pounded unmercifully through the walls, the town already living up to its reputation. “The hottest spot on earth,” one of the guidebooks called it. “The town that never sleeps,” another had pronounced. Neither would he, it was beginning to appear.

He waited for nearly two hours, pacing about in his room, but the call never came. He was half expecting that would happen but was disappointed anyway. Kwan knew the monster in Paris, during his student days in the Fifties, then briefly afterward in Phnom Penh. So he says. Todd is fascinated by Pol Pot’s wife. Something about her gnaws at him, there is a truth there somewhere. He cannot shake the image he has of her, this beautiful, elegant, brilliant woman emerging from the jungle after the Khmer Rouge victory, hair turned completely white, utterly and irretrievably mad. The gossip is that afterward she killed herself, though how can anyone actually know? For him she is a kind of ultimate heroine, a modern, revolutionary Ophelia.

He can almost see it as a Hollywood musical, “The Monster in the Mist.” A couple of beautiful, well to do sisters, Khieu Ponnary and Khieu Thirith, daughters of a judge, come to Paris to study. They meet a pair of fellow students, young men beneath them in social class, and fall in love and marry despite this. He can just picture the big production number, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor and Kathryn Grayson and June Allison going into their routines. Except that the young men, the grooms, are Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, the future Number One and Number Two in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy. What more could an audience wish for? Monsters bursting into song. Imagine the fabulous duets. Ah, Love! Ah, History! It would make a wonderful musical, except for the two million dead Cambodians.

Kwan has promised the real scoop, the down and dirty day to day stuff. There are stories and even photos. “You know, sexy.” In return Todd will pay two hundred dollars. Except that Kwan has not shown. More than likely there is nothing to sell. People pretend to all sorts of things hoping to score something in this part of the world. Possibly he had second thoughts. Even now, out of power and in exile, Pol Pot is an awesome figure. The Archangel of Death. A fact that Todd might be mindful of himself. Yet he would have been foolish not to pursue it. It is coming time to renew his visa, but if he does not produce something salable quickly he will have to go home again very soon. Home to what? Not to Candace. Stupid Candace. He had actually thought they would be here together. So who is the really the dumb one? He looks up and for the first time notices the misspelling. The sign out front reads FROSTEE DIARY. Story of my life, he tells himself; the cosmos tugging at his sleeve again, trying to get his attention.

A couple of farang pass by and look in. One of them gives him the finger and commences making geek faces. Yanks, Todd thinks, who else but? Sailors out for a night on the town, gearing up for fun. Part of the joint maneuvers no doubt. The second one, a burly greaser type, gives an imitation Ali shuffle and launches a furious sequence of punches. After another few seconds they apparently lose interest and head on down the street. Into the night of mystery and shit kicking. Todd sits back and breathes easier, wondering what else the night has in store, thankful anyway they are gone.

Then the two of them are there again, lurching into the Frostee Dairy, telling the cashier how beautiful she is. They want her to leave and go have a drink. She tells them she is still on shift, not free to go anywhere. “I must to work,” she states calmly.

“Forget work, I’ll give you work,” one of them says and reaches across the counter, trying to pull her to him. “You’re a hot little dish, I’ll tell you. But you already know that, don’t you? I’ll bet you do.” He pauses momentarily. “Ain’t she cute?” he says to his buddy.

Abruptly he snaps his fingers, something suddenly occurring to him, and the pair go lurching back outside. Through the window they give another look, all at once remembering him again, but Todd stares back and they move on. Kick your ass motherfucker piece of shit cocksucker. Seething with whatever. One of them has tattoos running down his arms and legs and Todd tries to make them out but cannot. A Brit couple in the booth opposite fuss intently with their little girl, glancing quickly at the sailors and then over at him. For a moment he is tempted to apologize, assure them not all Americans are alike, are not all cut from the same cloth. But he says nothing and keeps spooning his sundae.

Todd loves being a foreigner, floating on sibilant waves of sound, lost in the music of life. Why stop the music? he thinks. Next week he will go to Penang and renew his visa there. He still has some small savings left, enough for a month, if he is lucky two. Where there’s a will there’s always a way. Plus he has met a girl, a lady bartender at one of the tourist hotels on Soi Colorado. They do not live together, but if he stays longer he supposes that they will. Yesterday she spent the night, though he was tired and preoccupied and they did not make love, and in the morning while she was still asleep he walked to the terminal and got the bus. He seems to be tired more and more.

“Tell your wife to bugger off, a day at the beach will cure what ails you,” one of the passengers observed to another as they waited at the boarding gate. Not quite, Todd thought. His life ailed him, and he had brought that with him. Candace ailed him and what was the cure for that? He finishes his sundae and steps outside.

He cannot stop thinking about Candace’s neck, slender and graceful as an ivory carving, and also marred. It is a hurt he constantly probes and picks at. He keeps replaying over and over the moment it struck him she had been unfaithful. Marsh had popped in, his pal from college days, Marshall Crane, and they sat around schmoozing and swapping stories, listening to old records. They had both been in service and come back to school. Marsh had been in Vietnam while Todd, the lucky one, did his tour in Japan. Marsh had a kind of brooding good looks, dark wavy hair, intense dark eyes, an indolent smile across his face. Women loved him. In college they were aspiring poets, but Marsh became a hotshot photographer. He did the photos for book on Peru, from the Incas to the Shining Path. That made him, and now he was famous. In a week he would be in Guatemala for a Times Magazine spread on the Maya. He was always off somewhere.

Todd’s career was more modest. Some poems appearing here and there, once in a while a travel piece, and teaching at Eisenhower College. A sense of failure haunted him, but things for once might be looking up. He had come up with a dynamite, killer idea, a thriller about the life of Jim Thompson, the American expatriate, the Thai silk king, who vanished without a trace back in the 60’s, during the Vietnam War. It was a true story and the case was never solved. He had sent out proposals and was waiting to hear. Maybe, at last, he would hit the jackpot, maybe, finally, he would break out. All he needed was a small advance, just enough to get him to Thailand so he could research the story properly. Thompson was a fantastic character, the most famous farang in Asia, a kind of male Auntie Mame, an ex-OSS colonel, millionaire businessman, and maybe, even probably, a spook. Advance or no, he was going anyway.

Candace was fiddling with Marsh’s camera, pointing it first at one then the other. Todd leaned forward and noticed a mark at the base of her neck near the shoulder. It looked like a flower. “Let’s drink to the Jefferson Airplane. Now there was a band,” Marsh said. He kept staring at the mark. After a moment he could see it was not a flower. He was shocked when it struck him all at once that it was a bite mark and she was making no attempt to hide it. Was it possible that after three years he had never noticed she had a birthmark by her shoulder? The more he looked, the more it changed shape. One moment it was a flaring sunburst, next a creature with outspread wings, a bird or some kind of flying insect, and then suddenly it became a head, with a mouth and a nose and a spray of wild, unruly hair. The hair had different shadings and densities, like a mountainous region on a contour map.

“You guys, a couple of aging hippies,” she said. “Time marches on, let’s get the hell out of here.” She sat back on the couch and the mark was no longer visible.

They went downstairs and walked to the zoo a few blocks from the house. They stood in front of the jaguar cage, looking at the stippled hide. The tawny eyes looked back sleepily. Marsh was practically scowling. “Sometimes in the rain forest, if you’re quick enough, you can see one,” he said. “Wild and free, the way God intended.” He let out a high pitched bark of a laugh.

Todd was restless and impatient to move on, but Candace was now standing transfixed in front the cheetah cage. The animal was old and had been in captivity for over fifteen years. It paced back and forth without stopping and its flabby stomach hung like a pouch.

“I hate to see that,” Marsh said. “Better to kill it than turn it into that.” One of the tigers in the adjoining cage yawned. “I don’t feel comfortable in cities anymore. Of course it’s great being here with you. But more and more I prefer the jungle, fighting mosquitoes and eating bad food and wondering when the developers will come, will it be this year or the next.”

They came out on North Park Avenue, a winding stretch of landmark houses, and for a moment it sounded as if the animals in the zoo had started roaring all at once. It turned out to be the sound of a truck rumbling down Clark Street a block away. Was it him? Todd thought. But he knew the answer. He looked over, and so quickly that he still could not be sure, he caught a glimpse of the mark again.

He has dreamed of coming back since forever. There were job offers, projects considered, but he never followed through. Somehow it took him a lifetime. He was always about to but something interfered. The timing was wrong, the I Ching advised no new ventures, the position was never quite what he wanted.

The sky is starting to darken but Todd can still hear the bathers yelling. Oblivious of shadows gathering around them. In Bangkok there has been talk of demonstrations, students and workers and business people taking to the streets demanding change. Office towers stand unfinished or empty, pollution and AIDS are spiraling out of control, while thanks to the old boy network that runs things corruption and incompetence stifle growth.

In the old days the city was a network of canals. It was always referred to in books and magazines as “the Venice of the East.” The canals are mostly gone now, sacrifices in the name of progress. One by one they were filled in and turned into roadways. The few that remain are dark, stagnant pools. Nowadays the traffic jams rival those of LA and New York. But none of that concerns him. What matters is that he is finally back.

For the moment all is calm and serene, trouble nowhere in sight. Only Todd has learned how appearances may deceive. The affair went on right under his nose, and he suspecting nothing. Surely she wanted to be discovered, but was it to taunt him or merely out of guilt? The questions eat away at him. Was she that unhappy? And how could he have been so obtuse?

Nothing reveals itself fully, and Todd has learned to live with that. The Thompson mystery is still unsolved too. Peter Hurkos, the famous psychic, insisted he was in Cambodia, as did a Buddhist monk likewise known for having second sight. As for why Cambodia, neither could say. A secret romance with the monster’s bride? That would be Todd’s choice. He would love it if that were true. But the more he learns the less he knows. As he moves closer the mystery recedes, the darkness deepening by exactly so much. Only the shadows remain constant.

The sky and the water seem to reflect each other, bits of cloud scattered in one, flecks of foam sparkling in the other. A line of coconut palms dots the shore. It must have been paradise before the tourists found it. Away from the water, as far as the eye can see, neon signs begin twinkling on. Each announces the name of a bar, far too many to keep track. The names are predictable, universal. The Tropicana. Club Me Too. The Hot Cat. The Lucky Star. The Cozy Nook. The Butterfly Lounge. Chiquita’s. The Casbah. There is at least one original, Xtasy, a cross-dressers bar.

Nothing he can think of has any appeal, though in towns like this diversions are basic. He glances impatiently down at his watch, though why should it matter what time it is? He turns onto the beach, which is smaller than it seemed. The sand, surprisingly, is also dirty. A vendor carrying a backpack and dressed in a phaakma comes over, a sort of Thai coat of many colors with almost limitless uses: head cover, hammock, poncho, toga rolled into one. The vendor reaches into his pack and holds up another like it. Todd waves him off but he smiles broadly, as if this was mere formality. Abruptly it strikes him that this must be Kwan. The vendor asks if he likes rubies or emeralds, then digs down in his pack again and brings out a box filled with brightly colored stones. “Burma,” he says, as if no more is needed. Todd knows the best ones come from there, but these might still be anything at all. He cannot tell the real from the fake, he explains. “Real,” the vendor says, “no problem.” Todd assures him he believes it is so, but what if anyway they turn out to be glass? With that the other shrugs and walks off, stopping once to wave and smile. “Burma top,” he calls back and goes on.

A few yards further up the beach Todd finds a bar set off the water. It is an enormous place called the Surf Bar that houses a boxing ring in back. Inside, a pair of teenage kickboxers are going at it with knees and elbows, adding occasional crisp right crosses. A couple of dozen hookers sit around, looking bored and giving passersby the eye.

He walks up to the bar and orders a Singha. The bartender is a woman with a long, sad face who asks what country he comes from. He is flattered she has not instantly pegged him as yet another American. She is pretty and her face is strangely like Candace’s. A girl who says her name is Noi takes the barstool next to his and starts massaging his neck. Todd tells her not right yet, he will come back later and she can finish up then. She stops but then demands a tip. He gives her the smallest change he has, ten baht, about fifty cents, which appears to be what she expected, and she leaves.

Was he asking for it? he wonders. He was the one who threw them together, always inviting Marsh over. There was no denying that. Candace hadn’t even liked him at first. He was too aggressive, what was he proving a point? But when Todd asked her what point she just said forget it. And then afterward, with his heart breaking, needing to know why, when he asked how could she, he almost could not believe his ears. “I did it because you’re in love with him,” she said. Fucking moron.

“In love with him, are you crazy?” he said.

“Of course you are. Deep down you were hoping for this. You got off on it, don’t say you didn’t. Go ahead, put it on me, I’m sure that you will anyway. But I know what I know. I took you away from him, look at it that way. I was saving you from yourself.”

“How splendid of you. So what happens now?”

“Now? Now you’re saved, isn’t that wonderful? Now you know more than you did.”

“And what about you, what do you know?”

“I know quite enough, thank you.”

Birdbrain, he thinks.

He asks the bartender what her name is and she tells him it is Bird. “Brrrd,” she pronounces it. Her real name is Nok, she explains, which means bird in Thai. She comes from the north, close to Laos, and speaks Lao and some French in addition to English. She asks where he is staying and he tells her the Sand. “Good for you, not too much money,” she says. “Better you can keep for girl.”

He raises his glass and smiles noncommittally, but before he can think of an appropriate reply the two shitkickers come rolling in. They do not see him right away, but why go looking for trouble. Todd puts the beer down and gets up to go. All he wants is to be back in his room with the ceiling fan going, sprawled out in the dark. He has been wandering nonstop for most of the day, and there is always the chance that Kwan might have called. Right then the tattooed kicker spots him. Todd can make out the snake and dagger on his arm. He waggles a finger and clenches his fist, only one of the hookers has already come over and begun massaging his shoulders. “Up your ass cocksucker,” the kicker shouts, and turns his attention to the girl.

There are no surprises when he gets back to the Sand. Kwan has not called. Todd throws himself across the bed, but just then the couple next door start making love. They are noisy lovemakers and their bed is against the wall and they keep knocking into it every few seconds. Presently the tape loop in the Sand Bar pops on, a chorus of voices singing “We Are the World.” Listening to that outpouring of idealism and music he thinks of the two of them, Candace and Marsh, and the madness of Khieu Ponnary. What finally caused her mind to sicken? The enormity of the injustice she committed herself to fighting? The world itself, where action betrays intention at each and every turn? The infinite regress of plot and counter-plot? The snakes, the insects, the rot of the jungle? Can she or anyone know what is real or not real, true or not true, good or bad? Except perhaps for the briefest of moments. Does truth not begin with acceptance of life, the speakers blaring in the Sand Bar below, the couple making love on the other side of the wall? Or had she gone so far that she could no longer remember what the world was?

He screens out the noise for as long as he can, then he showers and goes out to eat. Suddenly he is famished. The exertions of his neighbors have aroused a sympathetic hunger. Outside it has gotten more crowded. By now it is dark and the night is gearing up. He goes into a little side street place announcing good food at terrific prices, and with a sign so small you could easily miss it. Todd came across it looking around earlier, the kind of hidden treasure he likes to think he has a knack for finding. The waitress is pretty and cheerful and sits with him at the table making small talk. She doubles in brass as something more, but she is not the dish he has in mind.

The bars are going full tilt and the night is barely getting in stride. People jostle each other in the street. Girls stand outside the clubs on the beach strip, calling out to the tourists as they pass.

“Hello darling.”

“Inside please.”

“Come look at floor show.”

“Where you go?”

“What you like?”

“Where you stay?”

There are even more people than usual tonight because of all the sailors in town. The shills are out also working the street. One walks with him for three blocks extolling the pleasures of light shows. They have these shows in Bangkok too, although officially they are outlawed, but Todd has so far never gone. Here apparently they are legal and above board. He admires the poetic license of the name and tells the shill he will catch one later. But the other only shakes his head and points to indicate they are there already. Just then, across the street, he spots the sailors coming out of a shop. They stop to look about them, and then their eyes somehow find him. Todd turns to the shill and says, “On second thought, why not go now?”

The place is called Club High Life, and the audience is packed wall to wall. It is set up like any ordinary club. There is a stage directly behind the bar where a couple of girls are doing bumps and grinds to the beat of a disco tape. There are mirrors on the walls behind and in front of them, and the girls stare at their reflections while they dance, lost in themselves, as if dancing with themselves. Todd has noticed that the girls in the bars all seem to do that. In Bangkok, whenever he would ask what they were looking at, they would laugh and act embarrassed. “I don’t know,” was the usual answer. “You don’t know?” he would keep prodding. “I don’t know,” they always insisted.

After several minutes the bartender cuts the tape, the girls run off and the house lights dim. The show is about to begin. A young, heavy-set woman, a Thai last of the red-hot mamas, steps to the center of a brightly lit spot. There is a roar of approval and lengthy applause. Many of the patrons appear to be regulars, and the woman apparently enjoys a following. “Welcome to Club High Life,” she says. An assistant comes out and, with a flourish, hands her a sketchpad and an oversized felt-tip pen. The woman, who is dressed in a red gown, promptly disrobes. She is wearing nothing underneath. The tape deck is turned on again, and as the throbbing disco beat begins she squats down, inserts the pen into her vagina, and commences writing on one of the sketch sheets HAVE A GREAT TIME. She holds the sheet up for the audience to see. Still keeping the pen inside her, she draws the outline of a woman lying naked with her legs spread. It is a good representation and the audience loves it. Calmly turning to a fresh sheet, she sketches a couple making love. Beside it she adds a close-up view of the penis entering the woman. For the finale she writes in a curlicue script, the letters shaped into a chaise for the fornicating pair to rest on, PLEASE COME AGAIN. That brings the house down.

When the audience settles down again a second girl comes out. She is thin, with an almost childish body and an astonishingly delicate face. It is the kind of face that takes your breath away, burns into your brain. She is younger than the other woman, shy and skittish, but every bit the performer. There is something of the ballerina about her. She is wearing a loosely tied robe, which she steps out of as the strobes come up. Then, with the disco pulsing away, she kneels down and inserts a coke bottle, pauses for effect, and pulls the cap off. After that comes a banana, squirted perhaps a foot away. That is followed by a ping pong ball, ejected similarly into a glass. Loud cheers accompany each feat, but immediately when her stint is done, in her coltish manner she darts from the stage. Now colors are added to the strobes. Another girl, dressed in a G-string, comes out and commences a half-hearted strip. Somebody shouts, “Put it on!” whereupon she reaches between her legs and begins pulling out razor blades, one after another tied to a cord. It is a dazzling sight and seems to last forever. The color filters make the razors look like flickering ribbons of light.

Finally there is a closing ceremony. The plain white spot is back. The crowd favorite, the red hot mama, reappears bearing a yellow plastic trumpet. Todd is glancing idly about when he catches sight of his two tormentors, less than five feet away. They are bargaining with one of the icy-eyed managers, and when he turns away they see him too. The woman meanwhile puts the trumpet inside her and blows something that sounds like “Anchors Aweigh” ending with a Bronx cheer. The audience goes wild. With that she holds the trumpet out, offering it to anyone who will dare take it. With no hesitation Todd calls for it and puts it in his mouth. It has her smell and taste, and suddenly he wants that inside him. It is the taste of danger, possibly death, and he has fallen in love with it, and with her as well. He points the trumpet at his two tormentors, who gape as he throws his head back and blows it straight in their faces. That breaks the audience up again. Tossing the trumpet back to the woman, he strides from the High Life with applause washing over him.

Todd spends the next couple of hours bar hopping, until he starts getting tired. It is late, but he does not know what time it is. Apparently he left his watch in his room. Eventually he finds himself back at the Surf Bar. Bird is still there and the kickboxers too, going at it as before. Bird looks sadder, and infinitely more tired, though nothing much is going on now. The space is nearly empty. There are about fifty tables and when full it must be hopping, but only four customers are left. Todd makes his way over to the bar.

“How are you?” Bird says smiling, sounding weary and disconsolate. “You have a good time tonight?”

“Okay, comme ci, comme ca.” Again he notes the likeness to Candace.

“Nobody stay,” Bird says, with a nod indicating the nearly empty room. Aside from the few customers, half a dozen bargirls are still hanging on. Earlier there were a good twenty more, and that was before the peak of the evening.

One of the boxers delivers an elbow to the chest, following that with a knee to the rib cage. The opponent is staggered but fights back with a devastating punch to the ribcage and a roundhouse kick to the side of the head, knocking the other down and ending the bout. It turns out also to be the last of the evening.

“No customer, no money,” Bird says. “Very hard for me.”

A group of sailors cruise down the street singing noisily off key. They are trying to sing “Material Girl” and having a terrible time of it. Two of the girls stand by the door, trying to look enticing.

“Where you go?” one of them calls.

“Come sit down please,” says the other.

But the sailors have already had their pleasure, and in any case are beyond caring. A Shore Patrol jeep bounces past, then stops and makes a U-turn and shoots off the other way. For a couple of more minutes the girls stay where they are, scanning the street for possible stragglers.

Bird begins telling him about her baby at home. She has a four-year-old daughter who lives with her mother. Her husband left her two years ago for someone who is nineteen. She asks how old Todd thinks she is and he tells her he has no idea. She does not look much more than nineteen herself. “Thirty-two,” she says and looks away. She adds how expensive it is to live here, yet still she has to send money home. Her father is dead and she is the only support of her mother and the baby.

The harder she tries to make him feel sorry, the less desire he is able to feel. He would like to want her, but he simply does not. If only he did, they could go to his room, and it would not matter about the Sand Bar or the neighbors, or that sleep would be impossible.

“Please, you help me tonight?” Bird says.

“I have a wife,” Todd says.

“No good you sleep alone,” she says.

“I can’t,” he says.

“I many many trouble,” she says.

“Butterfly no good,” he says.

Todd pushes his seat back and gets up. He gives a last look from across the way. Bird is wiping the bar with a cloth, listening to something one of the bargirls is saying.

The jukebox at the Sand Bar eventually stops, at about five in the morning. He may have slept a couple of hours, but by eight o’clock he is packed and dressed. A few of the bars are open again. This early they are turned into cafes, although some of the customers have already begun drinking. He eats at a place overlooking the beach. Even at this hour there are sunbathers out, splashing in the water or stretched out on the sand. Whatever happened to Kwan, he wonders.

After breakfast he checks out to catch the minivan that goes to the bus depot. As the clerk is preparing the bill, he remembers the message that came late last night. Kwan calling from Bangkok. “Can not,” the message says.

The depot is about half a mile from the hotel, but the minivan makes a circuit through the town. It winds through back streets and residential areas Todd had no idea were there. The ride is bumpy and he drifts off, hardly paying attention. He is exhausted. He pictures the monster old and helpless, deserted, turned on by his followers. What must it be like to be born to such a fate? He is almost like a Buddha, almost a beacon of light. As if from another dimension there is a thump, but Todd pays it no mind. He is vaguely aware the minivan has stopped. Then he hears another thump, someone shouting, and he looks up.

A woman has thrown herself onto the hood. Her arms are heavily bandaged. Two of her girlfriends pull her off, but she tears herself free and begins to pound. Two policemen stand off to the side, their faces blank, emotionless. Todd finds it moving, this apparent discretion. The entire while the woman keeps shrieking, but on her face there is a trace of a smile. A smile above, or below, the pain. As if at one level it is a game, a performance, not really happening. Did Khieu Ponnary smile like that? The girl in the light show? Or Candace, fucking Marsh in their bed, while he sat bemused, dreaming in the dark?

He loved her more than anyone, how could she say that? He had. How she liked to go for walks in the rain, the way she always garbled punch lines, and liked to make love in the middle of the day. The look on her face when they were finished. And imagining him all the while. He sees Marsh, hollow eyed, gazing into the distance, mouth open, smiling, leering. Fucking bitch. Fucking bastard. Fucking shit. Fucking liar.

As her friends again pull the woman from the hood, she throws herself on the ground where she proceeds to kick and thrash about. She looks tremendously strong. Her thighs and forearms are as muscular as any man’s. And she is in a frenzy. At this point the policemen step in, grasping her legs while her friends take her arms and carry her over to the side of the road. Now she is blocking traffic. It is hard to see, he will never know for sure, and the bus already is moving, but for one split second he could swear it was Bird. All the while she keeps crying out, the words cascading and echoing through him, “I want to die . . . I want to die,” in English.