Tran will not let me touch her anymore. Not like a wife should.
And who could blame her? My academic career is of no use to us here. It’s just dirt, smoke, and hunger now. I am no good at chopping wood or creating a shelter from rubbish. It is obvious to me: the men who are in demand now are those who can offer protection from the wind and rain and heat. Men with practical skills. Carpenters. Masons.
Tran is dirty these days, disheveled, but still lovely. And sexy too. Her legs still maintain the strength and shapeliness that got her to the National Ballet.
Each day we spend hours scavenging for food or pieces of trash we hope will be useful. The Revolutionary Council has forbidden us from working. Our pedigree is too urban, too educated, for inclusion in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
In the evenings we swelter, the sheets so saturated they cling to us like giant leeches. I wake in a panic several times a night, thinking I am being enshrouded and dragged into a fetid swamp.
Sometimes, when I wake from one of these swamp dreams, Tran is not in bed with me. Of course, I’ve had my suspicions that she leaves for someone else’s bed. That would be the final humiliation.
Tonight, I’ve awoken again, my breath stolen by fear. I arch my back and expand my chest to swallow as much air as the humid night permits. I grasp at the sheets on Tran’s side of the bed. She is gone again.
An image of Tran straddling the stonemason down the street enters my mind and will not leave. She still has a ballerina’s body: hard, sinewy. She glistens in the moonlight and smiles down at her lover. I let out a small groan and cannot decide if it signifies a voyeur’s pleasure or a cuckold’s anguish.
Then, another image fills the screen of my mind. Tran is in the alley behind our shack. She stands on a small packing crate, under an enormous, silver moon. Her arms extend gracefully to the heavens as she slowly spins. Then she leaps from one side of the alley to the other, like a jungle cat. She floats and swirls. I can see she is crying, her tears turned to tiny drops of mercury by the moonlight.
I cannot turn away from all this beauty. I will not risk losing it.
But then Tran is here, sliding back into bed with me.
“Where have you been?” I ask her.
Her back to me, I can barely make out her muffled reply.