I settled into the wicker chair and contemplated my drink. For some reason, Vietnamese tonic water is blue. The aroma of quinine and gin stimulated my nostrils. I started to take a sip, when I noticed I had an erection. Strange, I thought. I'd been somewhat dejected lately, and here I was sitting on a hotel verandah with a bunch of guys.
The whispers went round the wide porch, with its beautiful white columns. "Roundeye."
I turned in my chair and saw her. Surely the erection was from sensing her, not the gin. Beautiful long, blonde hair cascaded from under her cap, and even at this distance it was obvious that she was one of the few that could make a baggy, fatigue uniform look good.
"Roundeye." The word rocked the porch of Saigon's Continental Hotel. Every eye was on her.
"Shit, just our luck, one damn roundeye left in town, and she likes girls," came from the table next to me. The blonde was holding hands with a young Vietnamese woman as they approached the hotel.
All eyes on the porch were riveted as she hugged the shorter woman, then kissed her as they departed. Both were in tears.
Like cattle, myself included, the eyes all watched the blonde ascend the steps and cross the porch. She passed through the french doors and sat at the bar just inside. Conversation returned to the war, but it just wasn't the same.
I was sick of it all. Three tours. First flying F4 phantoms, then as a forward air controller in O2s. My last mission had almost been my last. An almost spent, stray round penetrated the Cessna's thin skin and-yes-I was shot in the ass.
I was sick of it all. Now assigned to HQ 7th Air Force, I was in the ridiculous position of identifying targets for Washington's approval to ensure political correctness (Although, we didn't use that term in those days). No dummies, the North Vietnamese. They moved targets before approval came.
I was sick of it all. I loved the Vietnamese; great little capitalists. Give them a chance and the country would again be the jewel of the Orient. I hated the looks in my friends' eyes. We were running out on them. They knew it; I knew it.
Enough of my ruminations. A few bold warriors made forays into the bar to approach the blonde. All were rebuffed. She sat by herself. One of the few white women left. We were pulling out. Why was she here?
What the hell, I thought. I hadn't had an erection for three months. Apparently she had done it to me from a distance, when I couldn't even see her. All I wanted was conversation with an American woman. No, I was lying to myself. I was horny for the first time in three months. My two Vietnamese girlfriends had left for their villages. I'd sent them off after guilt pangs rendered me almost useless. I really did like these people, and here I was taking advantage of their women and now, running out like a rat.
I wrote a note.
"Hello, my name is Jeff. I suppose those other guys used up all the good lines like 'Hey baby what's your sign.' I'm desperate to talk to an American woman. Would you mind? I'm the ugly Captain sitting at the corner table to your left."
I sent the note with the waiter. I watched her open it, then drop it to the bar surface. She ordered another drink and continued to sit and face the wall. I could see her shoulders shaking.
I sipped the cool drink. My initial excitement was gone, as it became apparent that I had another five months to go for... what... conversation... sex...
I turned back to the street. Trucks everywhere full of farm produce, cloth and a myriad of goods choked the streets. Damn these people were good. The markets were getting ready to close and another day finished. Idly I watched a team unload...
"Hey dumb-shit. Look alive. You just won the prize," came from the table next to me.
I turned and saw her waving to me.
Now the eyes watched me, as I crossed the porch.
"Maureen," she said, holding out her hand.
"Jeff." I held her warm, small hand.
"Just talk? The guys were probably laying bets on who would get a chance with me. Guess you won."
"Really, Maureen, I just want to talk," I lied. "If you want me to go back..." "No. I feel so bad. I just let my secretary, Phong, go. She and I were so close. I hate leaving like this.
She turned to sip her drink, and I let my eyes wander. Red Cross, her nametag said. That explained the long unmilitary hair. Her eyes were bloodshot and dried tears stained her face.
"You're going to miss this place too?"
"Yea Jeff. I feel like I'm abandoning a child. I never should have come."
The next two hours went quickly. We talked of the war and how we had both initially regarded the conflict as an adventure, then fallen in love with the quiet Vietnamese. I told her of my flying and how I missed my dead friends. She talked of her parents and how horrified they were when she had joined the Red Cross.
I mentioned how I had felt the day I first saw a picture in the Stars and Stripes of Jane Fonda sitting on an anti-aircraft gun pointed into the sky. It didn't mention the date, but I could have been flying that day.
She stared at me, then stabbed me in the heart. "My husband's in Canada. MIT graduate. Lost his deferment."
Now I noticed her rings. Out of practice, I guess.
We switched to safe subjects. We spoke of Erasmus and his criticism of the church, but my mind was on her full lips. I tried to concentrate on the orphanage, where I taught the Catholic sisters English on weekends, their strange pronunciations so strange as they copied my southern accent. It did no good. I would miss them. I wanted her.
We spoke of Descartes, and his rational approach to philosophy, but my mind was on her legs. Thinking of my friend Minh at my favorite restaurant did no good. I wanted her.
We spoke of Goethe and his views on nature, but my mind was on her hair. I wanted to touch it and no thought of other friends could negate that feeling. What a woman. It had been three hours.
Too soon, I saw her return her female things to her purse. Damn, I thought, as I enjoyed the remnants of another erection that had appeared moments earlier. Another five months...
"Want to sleep with a protester's wife?" My head snapped up; my mouth hung open. Her eyes held mine.
"No," I heard a voice that must have been mine say.
"No?" Didn't think I would ever get turned down in this town. And you're the only guy I've asked.
"No means I don't want a protester's wife. Yes, means I want you, because I want you. I don't bear him any ill will. He can do what he wants."
She stared at me for what seemed a full minute.
We climbed the stairs, as the elevator was out as usual. She lived in the hotel and had a small room on the third floor.
We stood on her balcony and looked down at the town.
"Jeff, I've never been so bold with a man before."
"I believe you."
"I know this sounds like an old movie script, but I couldn't be alone tonight."
There just weren't any words, so I kissed her.
"Wait, I've got to freshen up, she said, "I'm going to take a shower. You could use one too." We both stood with the usual sweat rings extending from our armpits.
I stayed on the balcony and watched my beloved city as it began to rain. Big, fat, drops spattered everywhere. The stench of hot asphalt reached my nose as the streets turned a muddy black. Briefly I thought of Maugham's "Rain" as the drops turned to torrents. Behind me I could hear the shower. I removed my shirt and felt the water soak my hair and run down my chest. It was warm and pleasant.
Soon I felt her presence. The erection returned. A hand went to my shoulder and a female form in a towel pressed against my back. I could smell strawberries from her shampoo. Strawberries, it had been so long.
Reluctantly I broke from her and showered. Finding no towel large enough to wrap around me, I walked nude into the apartment. Maureen was still on the balcony, standing in the rain. I removed her towel and pressed my naked body against her. With my nose in her hair, I inhaled strawberries.
She turned and for the first time in my life I really kissed a woman. On the bed, I approached her with tenderness. She was in a hurry, but I made her relax. There can only be one first time. Lightning split the sky, and I had momentary glimpses of her soft breasts. Her hand moved down my stomach and I felt her search, until she had my aching cock in hand.
She cried, and I kissed her tears. Our lovemaking was long and slow. Technically I had always been good at sex, but never before had I felt more than surface emotions. We fell asleep in each other's arms. Late that night, I awoke to hear her struggling. The twin clinks on the floor told me that she'd removed her rings.
Decades later I stand naked on another balcony, looking down at the world. I still hate myself for leaving my Vietnamese friends. It starts to rain. The asphalt turns black. I think of days past. Then I smell strawberries as warm breasts caress my back.