I got to the Club a little early. We were going to meet in the mezzanine bar that looked out on the air strip. The mezzanine is open to the outside, so all of the sound of planes landing and taking off comes through into the bar area. Sometimes that taking off, for certain planes, is more like rockets being launched. More than once I have seen F4s leave the field with almost no taxi run and in, what appears to be, a vertical attitude. The plane makes a short run down the strip, tips upwards, and shoots into the sky straight up. The sound of the two engines doing what is required for that sort of take off creates a sound that transcends human experience. The scream of those engines can be heard for miles as the air frame struggles for altitude with only the brute force of the engines providing the gained altitude. There is no lift involved. Ultimately the plane reaches some obviously pre-conceived altitude, tips over into level flight and disappears as if it had only been an illusion that something had so recently been there clawing for the sky.
But the entertainment isn’t the reason that we chose the mezzanine as our meeting place. The reason is that, as busy as it usually is, the mezzanine is tranquil and sparsely populated compared to the zoo that is the first floor. That floor is a huge rambling area of bar tables and chairs extending from the front entrance to the massively long bar, a distance of probably half a football field. The bar itself is probably that long again, meaning that that ante-room, from the front door inward is over twenty two thousand square feet. And that is only the ante-room. There is a whole similarly sized, or bigger, inner area that is the dining area. It may be the dining area, but drinks flow copiously there as well. And every one of those square feet, except in the earliest of mornings is filled with military officers - commissioned and warrants – and their civilian equivalents. The mezzanine is probably not even known to most of those on the first floor who are mainly transients on brief in-country R and Rs from the haze and hazards of their daily combat filled lives. The stairs to get to the mezzanine are not obvious either, so even hardened local dwellers may not necessarily know of the existence of the mezzanine.
So it is perfect – as perfect as anything in a shithole like Saigon can be – for the purpose of the meeting that Adrianna and I had agreed to have.
Whereas the ground floor is served by platoons of slender young Vietnamese women in ao dais, the mezzanine is served only by Mary. Mary is Vietnamese like the servers on the first floor, but Mary is neither particularly young nor particularly slender. Not at all fat, she can best be described as voluptuous. I have never seen that sort of voluptuousness on another Vietnamese woman.
She does wear an ao dai. But, unlike the young women downstairs, Mary is not retiring and shy and quiet. Mary is a ribald, loud, wonderfully entertaining woman. The very fact that she uses the name Mary is a window to her outlook and personality. On balance, she always reminds me of May West.
So the relative quiet of the mezzanine was to be our refuge for our first post-bottle-of-Bordeaux encounter.
We both know Mary and like her – a lot.
We had agreed that whoever got there first would go to the mezzanine and get Mary to give us one of the not often inhabited little side niches. Those niches are parts of the mezzanine that would either be used only in an overflow situation – they are not at all convenient for the server, so Mary makes sure that no one under normal, un-crowded circumstances uses them – or in situations such as Adrianna’s and mine: we want to talk; we don’t want to be on display; and we really don’t want to be interrupted. Mary is always up for those sorts of situations, if they involve her friends, and Adrianna and I are both her friends, although she doesn’t know that either of us knows the other. Mary’s friends’ willingness to include a rather larger tip into the bargain always helps, of course.
When I got to the front of the Club I saw a familiar face. Familiar though it was, it was a face I hadn’t seen for months. I had long previous to the day currently being described realized that if one sat long enough in the main downstairs zoo of the Ton Son Nhut Officers’ Club, one would ultimately see everyone one had ever known in the commissioned military. The familiar face was again proof of that belief. It was a guy I haven’t seen since Cannon AFB where I spent the year prior to joining the war effort. I couldn’t remember the guy’s name – I thought I remembered that we had been friends to the extent of drinking together on occasion at the Cannon Officers Club and to the added extent of his having lent his drunken participation in all of the drunken theme parties (the flying grasshopper party for example – a party centered on a drink that added two shots of vodka to a grasshopper) that a group of lieutenants of which I was a member, concocted, sponsored and threw from time to time.
If he had been my mother or my father I would have wanted to avoid him in the face of my actual plans for the balance of the late afternoon and early evening. As a peripheral member of a group to which I had long abandoned membership, I was exceptionally disinterested in renewing my acquaintance.
The fact that he was loitering next to the door through which I would need to go to get to the stairs to the mezzanine presented a two edged problem. The first edge was the obvious one of how would I get past him without, perhaps being recognized, engaged and subsequently unable within any normal sort of courteous human behavior to quickly disengage myself. The second was, if I had to stay out front very long waiting for the guy to disappear inside I ran the risk of Adrianna showing up and not being able to explain my – our, really – quandary before she engaged me in conversation, and with that engagement, inevitably drawing the attention of everyone lurking at the entrance to the Club, my peripheral and name-forgotten friend among them.
“Think!” went through my mind.
So I thought. And I thought. And I thought. All I did other than think – and think to no avail – was to move back far enough from the entrance of the Club to be somewhat out of sight and somewhat obscured by the rapidly gathering multitude of, mostly men, mostly in uniform, entering the Club.
I was still thinking when I felt a pair of hands, or at least what felt like hands, and there were two of them, fingers extended as if they were probes, poke me in the ribs.
“So why didn’t you go in?” I heard in my left ear. I knew it was my left ear because she blew in it just after completing the question.
“I have always hated having my ribs jabbed with little pointy fingers - until now. Would you please do that again?”
When her fingers had touched my ribs I had felt the sharp contact of their ends, or their points, which was how they had felt, but I had also had felt an electric sort of shock-like feeling; the woman seems to have me - totally. It seems good, though.
“Hey, Lieutenant. Seen any Generals? I’m looking for one to take me to dinner.”
“I think they are all out trolling the base in their chauffeured staff limos. Best bet for you is to walk the streets.”
‘Not fair. That was mean. I was only playing.”
“With fire as it turns out.”
“Isn’t this from the script of an old Cary Grant movie?”
“Not so old. And I think you’re more beautiful than Audrey Hepburn.”
“Wow, I couldn’t have imagined that you could do that. In one fel swoop you won me back. I guess you can take me to dinner.”
“We need to clear the way first. Over by the door there is an acquaintance from my last base; I can’t remember his name, but I know him and he knows me. If he sees me there isn’t going to be any way for us to have the private discussion we are planning. At least not without being completely rude. And I have tried to drop my innate rudeness for the duration of my involvement in the war effort. That’s why I didn’t go in. I was trying to figure out how to get in without him seeing me.”
“Just wait until I get his attention and then you go set us up with Mary” she said and passed me to the front door and walked right up to the guy.
“Are you General Momyer’s aide?” I heard her say.
“Jesus Christ” I muttered through gritted teeth, but I took advantage of the diversion and darted through the door and up to the mezzanine.
“Bon soir, mademoiselle” I said to Mary.
“Cut the bullshit” she returned in perfect, Vietnamese accented English. “What you want?”
I explained that I was meeting someone special and that we wanted as much privacy as possible and could she work her magic for us and get us in a reasonably hidden alcove, but still take care of us, because the occasion probably would consume several drinks.
“No problem. Consider it done.”
I gave her a ten dollar bill from my declining hoard of greenback dollars. She was fine with script, but I thought that the real currency would give added specialness to the occasion, and perhaps enhance her already high skill level at facilitating such events.
I had just sat down when Adrianna appeared, smiling broadly. She sat down. And then she burst into gales of laughter.
“What did you say next?” I asked.
“I don’t remember. I was on auto pilot. I remember the look of a cornered rabbit being on his face. And then I said, ‘sorry, my mistake’ and brushed past to the stairs to the mezzanine. Now I’m here.”
“And I am glad” I said.
She put her hand out on top of mine and said “So am I.”
Mary had come around the corner at that point. We both looked up, hands still in place where they had been the moment before, and both looked at Mary. Mary stopped, looked, and her eyes widened a little. Then she nodded her head as if approving. Then she wheeled around and disappeared only to reappear moments later with a bottle of Bordeaux and a corkscrew.
“She knows me well” said Adrianna.
I repressed a surge of vicarious jealously.
“Don’t be stupid” went through my head.
Immediately after hearing in my head “don’t be stupid” I heard in my ear the surprisingly welcome sound of the pop of the cork coming out of the bottle of wine.
Mary put it on the table between us and said, “Back in five minutes; let it breathe”.
Adrianna smiled at her and said, “We can wait for ten. This wine needs a few more minutes.”
I thought about ordering a scotch rocks and then thought better of it.
Adrianna gave me a baleful glare as if she had known what I had thought. I was beginning to wonder how functionally sound it was going to be to have a relationship with someone who apparently could read my mind.
“I’ll stop” I thought I heard in my head.
“I am glad you got us into this private little nook” she said. “What we need to discuss will be much easier with our portal shielded from view to some extent.”
I was about to ask what all of that meant when the relative silence of the jumble of sounds and conversations from the rest of the mezzanine was shattered by the ear splitting shriek of an F4 hurtling itself into the air. The din went on for extended moments and a sort of residual echo lasted at least twice the duration of the actual sound.
We sat there and looked at each other. I noticed again how green Adrianna’s eyes are and forgot the shriek of the jet. It was a pleasant interlude that was broken by the clink of two wine glasses being placed on our table.
Mary poured a little into the glass in front of Adrianna and waited for her to go through the ritual sniff and taste, which she did with such self assurance and grace that I was not the least offended by the fact that Mary apparently regarded me as lacking even the most minimum level of knowledge of the world. “She is probably right” I thought to myself.
“Thank you, Mary” said Adrianna. “It’s great; please pour.”
So there we sat with nothing but two newly filled glasses of a decent Bordeaux filling the space between us across the table.
I realized that, after all the anticipation of something exactly like the situation I was at that moment in, I had no idea what to do, and no idea what to say. I almost felt as if I didn’t even know what to think.
She broke the spell of silence.
“Do you remember, the last time – actually it was the first time, and only time – we drank that bottle of wine and talked all night and I said ‘That was the way it was, and that is the way it has been; but that is not how it is now, nor is it the way that it is going to be. There are many things afoot that make that sort of behavior to be uniquely frivolous, and we are entering a time when frivolity has no place?”
“Not only that, but I also remember that you said something about Jacques warning you about me. I never got around to asking who Jacques is.”
“We’ll talk about him later. Right now I need to get you to see where you fit.”
I looked at her. I had always wondered not only where I might fit, but if, indeed I did fit anywhere at all. The last thing I had ever expected was that I might someday find out where I fit from such an unexpected source as Adrianna.
“Seriously” she said.
Until the bottle of Bordeaux at Adrianna’s apartment the only wine glasses I had ever seen had been the small aperitif glasses that my father used when he served his ceremonial bottle of dry Riesling to my mother and me on special occasions. That had been the only wine I had ever had until the Bordeaux of a few days before. It had all been beer before Vietnam; it has all been gin or vodka in Vietnam. And beer is drunk from a can and gin or vodka from a water glass full of ice. Wine from what looked to be crystal, full bowled Bordeaux glasses is a step for me into another way of life. I am pretty sure that it is a way of life that I am going to like. I am going like it that is, if, as I have been feeling in the run up to this meeting that my life is about to change, and that that change is going to include Adrianna. The Bordeaux and its glasses would be only a bottle and glassware without her. With her they seem to be components of something imminently wonderful.
She stared absently into the bowl of her glass, swirling it slightly, but clearly not thinking about the glass or its contents. I took her cue and remained silent. The wine was wonderful, and I could wait for whatever it was that she obviously had to say to me. That had been one of the purposes for this rendezvous, had it not? And that had been the reason for cloistering ourselves in an alcove of the mezzanine bar had it not? So I waited.
“Who do you think I am?” she said, fixing me squarely with those green eyes.
I had no idea what to say. I had no idea what she might even mean – beyond the obvious English meaning of those six little words.
“My fairy god mother?” was the best that I could rejoin.
“I am serious. If we are going to be together, at last, again, I need to know how much you remember.”
For me things seemed to be going in two directions simultaneously. On the one hand the unexpected but totally alluring “if we are going to be together” pointed to the possibility of a life to be dreamed of. On the other hand asking me how much I could remember seemed a non sequitur of cosmic proportions. I was pretty sure she was not asking me how much I remembered about our recent meeting brought on by Frank the Hiking Chicken, but any other interpretation of that question pointed to – pointed to what? Pointed to – what? I knew not.
And what did “at last again” mean?
I took a rather large sip of wine and looked at her.
“You really don’t remember me, do you?”
I took another sip.
And then, without any forethought, words started to tumble onto the table.
“I have watched you for months with an ache that sometimes has been unbearable. If I had ever thought I could be having a drink with you I would have been happy beyond belief. If I had ever, as you have just said, thought that there was a possibility of our being together, that happiness would have expanded to something resembling critical mass. So my stake in having an answer to your questions is a very large one. But other than that you are Adrianna, my across Toy Ngoc Hau neighbor who works as a civilian employee for some pseudo pod of the war effort, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know what there is to remember.”
It was a long speech, and I regretted it as soon as it came out.
“But my intentions are really good.”
Adrianna laughed that amazing laugh that I had heard the evening of my encounter with the rat and Frank.
“We really have work to do” she said.
She swirled the wine again and took a surprisingly large gulp.
“We really have work to do.”
So there we sat with nothing but two newly filled glasses of a wine filling the space between us across the table.
“So where do I fit?” I heard myself saying.
Adrianna made a little start.
But the question stood.
“So where do I fit?”
“Why are you asking me that question?”
“Because you just told me that we would talk about Jacques later and that right now you needed to get me to see where I fit.”
“You don’t need to trouble with that. That’s all being taken care of.”
“Besides, I didn’t make a date with you to be all serious and stuffy.”
Her eyes had that look that I have already begun to interpret as having to do with something between amusement and mystery. And the look never fails – has never failed, at least, in our short time of acquaintance - to put me into a parallel sort of mood; the look makes me want to keep up with her, whatever that might mean, and to go wherever it is that she is leading me. So I forgot all about where I fit and whatever it might be that was being taken care of.
“Did you make a date with me? I thought that I was the one who asked.”
“I hypnotized you into thinking that.”
“Oddly, that’s the way I would have described it.”
“At least we agree on something.”
“I really would like to find a lot of things that we could agree to.”
I was flailing at this point, following a track that I felt to be necessary, but which was beginning to require a quickness of wit and glibness of tongue that were stretching me to my limit. It was a situation that was utterly new to me. I have always been the quick one in banter, especially with women, especially women that I find to be attractive. The fact that the attraction to this one was off the charts must be affecting my abilities I thought. With a little reflection I had to admit to myself that experiencing this sort of attraction – to the point of pain - is totally new to me. I have never been in a situation even remotely similar to that which I now occupy. But not only does it feel very good, it feels very right. It feels as if I am having this encounter that, although totally new and totally unfamiliar, is with someone who is not totally new and totally unfamiliar.
“I would like that as well. To that end, I need to ask you, do you really intend to keep living in that hovel that you occupy across from me?”
I really had no idea what to say. Questions and possibilities flashed through my mind as I sat speechlessly trying to either come up with “the” answer to that question, or to fire a glibly crafted riposte that could buy me time to figure out what I had really heard and what I really should think and what I really should say in answer.
The two possibilities that seemed most likely – one because it was most likely and the other because I had an intense desire for it to be likely (sound like a fantasy though it might) – were that either Adrianna was taking an interest in my face to the world and she was going to provide guidance in living accommodations more appropriate to an officer in the US Air Force, since she clearly thought that “that hovel” (how did she know; she had never been there?) is not an accommodation of the prerequisite sort. On the other hand she could be inviting me to move in with her. I couldn’t shake the feeling that upon my answer hung a great deal, not only for me, but also for her. But I had no idea why I had that feeling. I just knew my answer to the question would be crucial.
In the event I punted.
“It’s the latter.”
“I’m beginning to wonder why I want you. You can be so dense.”
“Don’t be dense.”
She was moving her left hand up to my face – I moved to it as if drawn, which I was – when Mary appeared.
“How you like the … oh excuse.”
And she backed out.
On the way to the kiss I got to look into those green eyes from almost no distance. I really thought that I was going to disappear into them. The feeling passed. But then I was in some other place or in some other time.
I was in a dimly in a dimly lit place. And in that place was another person. That person was a woman. My immediate reaction was that she was beautiful, but I didn’t really have the time or the wits to verify whether that was really the case.
The trance-like nature of what was happening abruptly changed.
Whatever it is that anchors one in the real rather than in the imagined settled upon me. The trance had passed. I was now really there wherever that place was. And I was now really there with a woman. She was beautiful just as I had felt to be the case in the recently gone state of trance.
She moved toward me.
She handed me something and said “take this. You are going to need it sooner that you may realize.”
I took whatever it was.
Then she moved even closer to me and ran her hand along the side of my face in a caress that was soft and warm beyond description.
“This is where we began this time” she said looking at me from as close as it is possible for one person to look at another person and not be touching that person’s face with one’s own face.
Her eyes were an amazing green.
Then I returned from wherever or whenever that I had just been, and I found myself in what must have already been a rather prolonged deeply passionate, across the table, and therefore somewhat awkward kiss. I had the feeling that that kiss had been an extension of something that had happened in that other time or place
Adrianna’s hand was still on the side of my face.
“We can work out the rest over time. Now at least we have the time. But you have come to awareness of the essentials. Aren’t you glad that you came back and rescued me?”
“Was I really there – ever?”
“All the times.”
I heard a voice that I had some distant memory of having heard before.
And the kiss continued.
“You finally got it right.”
“Moustache, please” came out of Adrianna, finally breaking the connection between us that was nigh on to being eternal.
I sat there wondering what to say.
Summoning my ever present grasp of the obvious I said “Moustache?”
‘”You know him as Jacques.”