In April 1975, as the government in Saigon is falling, Michael Andrews prepares to make his way back to Vietnam to find the love he was forced to leave.
But Michael’s journey begins four years earlier. He joins the Air Force to keep out of the Army and out of Vietnam, but his first assignment is teaching English in Saigon to members of the Vietnamese military in an Army program called Palace Dog.
As an artist, and a man, before his time in Vietnam, Michael found life lonely and unsatisfying. In the midst of war, Michael searches for direction and meaning. He ultimately finds love and hope with Thao, a young Vietnamese art student, only to have their already uncertain future wrenched from them when he is pulled out of the country.
For Michael, his return in 1975 is inevitable and without question, though the outcome he hopes for is anything but assured.
I stretched out on my bed, this time placing my head at the foot to rest my cheek on the cool metal frame and look in the direction of the never-ending card game.
From the far end, Richard appeared, shuffling into the light, gripping his towel around his waist. He paused to talk with the players, to look at one or two of the hands, to make comments I couldn’t hear but that caused the others to laugh. As he began to move away, someone grabbed the back of his towel and brought it to the floor.
“All right, fucker,” Richard yelled as he turned, bent to pick up the towel, then refastened it loosely about his middle before he made his way down the center aisle.
His dark freckles seemed to be everywhere. His towel now dipped below the line that marked his tan, revealing a trace of his thick brownish-red pubic hair. Moving closer, the color of his skin changed as he passed through the light and shadows of the barracks. He was fair and freckled, yet he tanned to a color somewhere between conventional brown and fiery copper. His dark red hair was streaked light from mornings spent at the Annex swimming pool. But his body was not a swimmer’s body. He had soft curves, slight sags that showed a lazy disinterest with anything that might make his body boringly perfect. His tan came from lounging by the pool, not swimming in it.
As Richard blended into the darkness of my area, he stumbled, balancing himself by reaching out and catching the edge of the empty upper bunk.
“Hey,” he mumbled. “What’s going on?” He raised one leg and placed his foot on the corner of my wooden footlocker. “I’m really fucked-up.”
My gaze moved up the straight line of his leg, bent with the curve of his knee and thigh, paused ever so slightly at the darkness revealing nothing of his crotch still covered by his towel before moving up his flat stomach and smooth, freckled chest to the glassy disorientation of his eyes. In that moment, I wanted to draw him. Standing there, just that way.
“Where were you tonight, anyway?” he asked. “I looked for you. Thought you might want to go to the club.”
“Around,” I answered. “The library for a while. You know.”
“Randy left in his uniform,” he stated.
“He’s listening to language tapes,” I said.
A sly smile crept across his face. “Shit. He’s gone off base. Ten to one that fucker’s getting laid.”
I smiled. “You don’t know that.”
“Shit, man. He’s heading for trouble. The whores over here fit razor blades in the plastic caps of shaving cream cans and stuff them up their twats. Then when you plug them….”
I couldn’t hold my sudden burst of laughter.
“And black syph. If you get that, they put you on this ship that sails around and never docks. You never see land or people again. They tell your family you died and give them a bunch of medals.”
“Where do you get that stuff?” I asked, rolling back on my bed.
He lowered his leg, steadying himself by holding the rail of the top bunk. His head, fiery, coppery, haloed in gold, leaned in slightly and hovered above mine.
“It’s almost enough to make you queer,” he whispered, his eyes suddenly appearing lucid and clear.
I froze. Unable to move, unable to swallow, unable to blink my gaze from his. Then, just as suddenly, I relaxed.
“What?” I finally managed to ask. “Then what?”
He lingered a moment, his eyes closed. When he slowly opened them, they were glazed again. He pulled back, loosened his towel, and threw it over his shoulder as he turned. In that moment, I saw myself kneeling on the floor in front of him, burying my face in his crotch as my hands kneaded the soft flesh of his buttocks.
“Fuckin’ bore,” he muttered as he shuffled toward the latrine.