Lately I’ve been having those other dreams. Amelie is posing for me like she did back then, her hard lithe Filipina legs, long as night, wrapped in the French hose I used to buy so cheap in the ville. As she turns to face me, obsidian eyes full of nasty, breasts heaving like sampans in a storm off the South China Sea, our world explodes....
Charlie’d done us a number. For a day and a night he’d hit and run. Becker was dead. And Whitherspoon. Likewise Horton, Foote, and Campbell. Lieutenant Atkins was the last, spread out over the stinking landscape by a Chicom grenade levered under a dead dink. Back in the World they told him VC always carry a lid of Cambodian and he stopped to take a look. There wasn’t enough of him left to stuff a nickel bag.
We worked our way back to the LZ. Monsoon had started and it took all morning to get the choppers in. The pilots were grim. Nobody had to tell them we’d had our asses kicked.
They stood us down in Chu Lai. All the way back to Division I thought about what I’d seen.
The rain let up that night and they choppered in a floor show, one of those Filipino outfits that makes more money in a month in Nam than they could all year back in Manila.
This one called themselves "The Satin Dolls" and they had a little chick singer out front with long legs, black eyes, and maams like scoops of mashed potatoes. They played a greasy laid-back kind of rock n roll well enough to tease the lifers into dancing down in front. The place smelled of beer and vomit. I stood up to take a piss, not really giving a fuck cause I was drunk and tired of the war.
"You shit-faced, muthafucka?" Livingstone had a magnificent grasp of the obvious. He had his big black hose out before I could tilt the landscape straight and bring him into focus: shiny gun-metal blue-and-black skin, eyes like two prize aggies reflecting the moon. Livingstone’s hair shown like licorice in the night. He was pissing on an empty Schlitz can, key of F-sharp minor. He looked drunk too, though I was in no condition to tell for sure.
"Ain’t this a bitch?" I managed.
"Where da fuck dey get deez dink bands?"
"Whasamatter?" I said, "These the genral’s favorite."
"Shee-it. Ain’t heard no fer-real sounds since I been in this fucker."
"There it is."
Livingstone wrapped the python up and tucked it back in his jungle suit.
"Like t’ get me some a dat lil dink though," he said matter-of-factly.
Such a wish was commonplace. Grunts got notoriously little love. Brothers even less. You had to be one of the eight ofays in the rear for every one of us in the bush to get laid around Chu Lai. In the boonies we had Charlie on one hand and five fingers on the other. Firefights and Fisteen. Back here there were hootch maids and round-eye nurses and donut dollies with tight asses and all this Filipino rock n roll snatch to boot. Parafuckingdise.
I used to trip on getting lost in an endless maze of nurses’ dressing rooms at 91st Evac Hospital. I would have already had all of them at least once, even the mannish ones, and they’d all be clamoring for my services. I’d float along past rows of lockers, checking out their incredible variety, drowning in an ocean of perfume and woman-scent, like the Sex Spectre of Vietnam. They’d be adjusting their garter belts and their push-up bras, each trying to top the other with Tales of the Stud:
"He liked my shoes," said Abby, hot little Jewess from Jersey. "I had a pair of silver pumps I bought in Brisbane on R&R. He’d peel my stockings off, hand me one and keep one for himself, and... It was weird, but hey, Vietnam, right?"
"You broke him in good," topped Gloria, chestnut-red hair, athletic, about five-eleven from Tacoma. "By the time he worked his way round to me he was literally into my clothes. I used to spend the whole evening dressing him as whorish as I could. He loved my satin teddies. I had a black one that made him look sooo hot! I swear—once he had lipstick and eye-liner on—makes a girl think...."
"Get you some," said Livingstone, arcing over one of his consummately-rolled doobies. His voice slid off the edge of my mind as the boo stretched the night out in front of us.
"Better sitchu ass down, ’for you fall down," said Livingstone.
We stumbled up a little incline to a bunker and collapsed in a rush. The band was working over the Beatles’ Good Day Sunshine. It made me wanna puke. None of ’em spoke any English. They learned the words phonetically and it didn’t mean shit to ’em:
'I feel good...’ rat tat
'In espeshul way...
'I in lub n it a sunny day...’
Shit. What the fuck were we doing here? My thought found utterance the way a staff sargent finds his feet on a friday night pass:
"Shit. Livingstone, what’re we doing here?"
"Gettin high, G.I. Dunno bout you."
"Yeah," I said with zilch enthusiasm. "I’m gettin high too."
The first rocket took out the band. They say the one you don’t hear is the one that gets you. Those tone-deaf assholes never had a chance. Marshall amps, their guitars, Fender Rhodes, the plywood movie screen behind them—everything was blown to shit in a flash. The dead drunken lifers must’ve thought it was part of the show. By the time I realized what was happening, we were in a world of hurt.
We caught a second round, and another. Weird. Charlie never finds the range. He sets those firecrackers up on bamboo stilts out in the north forty someplace and just lets em fly. Like kids on the 4th of July.
This was different. He had the range all right. Right in the middle of our fuckin standdown hell opened up. Orders flew. Medics waded in. The perimeter came alive as flares were popped and our 60’s raked the shadows. Then the gunships took over. Livingstone and I sat there stoned out of our gourds watching them rain red death.
The girl was hysterical. Miraculously, she stood center stage, like Janis Joplin at Woodstock by Hieronymus Bosch. Livingstone deedee’d out through the debris, past the wounded and the remnants of the company. I followed best I could through the red and slippery time warp.
We hustled her back up to the bunker, Livingstone stroking her hair, her neck, trying to calm her. Her screams score my nightmares to this day.
She called herself Amelie. Portugeuse, Spanish, Chinese, French, with a sea-spray of mid-Pacific something-or-other thrown in for good measure. She received us in her bed at 91st Evac like Elizabeth the Queen: clean white linen and her knees up to her chin, perfume of possibility in the air. We had some time to kill, since there was no way they’d send us back to the bush with all the casualties we’d taken.
Mostly we smoked dope and pulled bunker guard for the better part of a month. Every day after he’d checked out the PX for things he thought she might like—perfume or jewelry or maybe a cassette for her tape deck—Livingstone would hump his way over to 91st Evac and sit there by her bed like Cyrano de Bergerac.
It paid off. In little more time than it takes to tell about it, Amelie was in love.
She was wearing a sky blue and white silk dress Livingstone picked up for her in An Ton. She wore satin mules he’d found in Phu Bai. She had her shiny black hair pulled back and up, held in place with two gold butterflies from Saigon. Livingstone’s eyes ’bout popped out of his head but, like always, he was cool.
"Feeling much better, G.I." Amelie said with a smile on the end of it. As Livingstone smiled back, she took his big rough black hand in her soft and tiny yellow one and drew him closer to the bed.
He bent down, drawn like an insect by her scent, and she arched up and kissed him passionately, pulling him nearer to her.
"Good enough to love now, G.I." she said as she ran her tongue around the inside of his ear. Livingstone was shuddering with excitement already. As he hoisted himself up on the bed, Amelie slipped off and knelt before him, as if he were some buddah she were about to worship.
She rubbed the front of his jungle fatigues.
Flesh upon flesh
fresh morning dew
veiled teeth, shiny lips
balm of sensitivity
no more pain
Livingstone fell back on the bed. He could see where wasps had built a nest in the eave of one of the windows of the quonset hut. The thought fled his mind quickly as it entered, while Amelie...
She was very good. She knew when to increase the pressure, when to release. She played with him the way an angler works a giant sailfish in the gulf: like Jimi’s great shimmering guitar chords, lapping out of the darkness, a dangerous thrill.
Livingstone lay casually back on the bed, supporting himself on his elbows. The planes and angles of her face, the way the light caught her eyes, her childish sounds of pleasure given and taken—all were miraculous. Her tiny body was slim, and strong as a bayonet. It may have been the grass, but Amelie’s beautifully-muscled arms and legs seemed to flow in some eternally mutable Oriental pictogram. Translation: Sex of the Gods.
She held him tight. Thumb and first two fingers—the way you hold a banana clip before you slip it home—squeezing tight, painfully tight, stopping the great beast of orgasm in its tracks. Livingstone moaned.
"Yes, my G.I. Now." She drew his fatigues all the way down to his combat boots covered in the dust of Quang Ngai. She scrambled on top of him, pausing only long enough to slip the sheer fabric of her gown up past her hips, dancer’s muscular thighs exposed.
Quickly she impaled herself, came almost immediately, hard and fast and breathless, rattling like an AK47 in the jungle.
Livingstone came right behind her. They lay together as the winter rain fell on the roof above them. In peace.
I was sacked out at last. I’d pulled bunker guard on the beach the night before. A couple of personnel clerks laid some windowpane on me just as the sun went down. The three of us stayed up all night, listening to Abbey Road and tripping on a B-52 strike across the bay. There were more acid heads on the beach than there were VC on the peninsula, so we had the idea the zoomies were showing off just for us.
"I loved him happily," went Anna, a gorgeous sharp-featured Italian from Albany.
"But I never seemed to be able to do it the way he could.
"He liked himself best, like most guys I guess.
"He spoiled me, he did...."
Old Livingstone bopped into the hootch like he was back on the block:
"I got good news and bad news, G.I." he said.
"Wonderful," I said, rubbing what little sleep I’d had out of my eyes.
"Here’s the good news." He flashed a very sexy photograph of Amelie under my nose. It was a wallet-sized version of a publicity shot she’d had done. She looked like a Filipino rock star who moonlighted as a spit-book centerfold: back to the camera, high heels, black seamed stockings, expensive slinky lingerie, no guitar.
I smiled. He smiled.
"The bad news is: we’re moving out."
"No sirree, muthafucka." He flung his rucksack on his rack. "This be some fucked-up white man’s army. Just when I get me some for-real jampot, they gonna send us back to the bush."
"Well look man, keep it cool." I gave him a couple of hits of acid. "Got these from a friend of mine. Make you feel better."
"Only thing make me feel better is E T fuckin S, man. Take the Big Bird back to Philadelphia."
We were working a new AO off a little nub of a hill called LZ Waterloo. I was walking point. Most of my squad was new, so I had mixed feelings, sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing. I hated to be up there myself, but at the same time I wasn’t sure I could trust these new guys just yet.
Livingstone was ragging me. He had a habit of running his mouth on patrol. It was no big thing. I’d known some assholes in line companies to play their transistors all day long on search and destroy. By comparison, Livingstone was the very soul of discretion.
"Hey John Wayne, when you gonna slide back and let these newbies find out where it’s at?"
I had no doubt they already knew where it was at. We weren’t humping the Old Chisholm Trail.
Before I could answer him though, they hit us. It was a classic ’bush, quick and deadly. Hot brass and spent cordite filled the air and as quick as Charlie’d come, he was gone. The last thing I remembered was Livingstone calling in the dustoff.
I was lucky. Three dead and none of them was me. I’d caught an AK round in the shoulder, nothing more than that. A flesh wound. Just like in the movies. Back at 91st Evac, the doc said he’d have me back in the bush in no time. It was a little joke they had.
Livingstone’s Satin Doll in a meadow,
a clearing in the woods or something,
with this strange sort of Chinese music
and then there’d be a flash of sound
and a great crashing rumble of light
and she’d be in a hotel room in Saigon
in a purple dress.
She’d walk up to me and I’d be on my hands and knees
and she’d pull my head up against and I could smell the smell of her
and I’d grab her legs tight up under her skirt
and I’d smoothe her satin skirt off
and she’d be standing there up against me
and she’d be all shiny in the orangey light
and I’d run my hand up and down the backs of her strong Occi-oriental legs
and she’d pull my hair till it hurt...
Singing. Amelie. She had a pure sweet soprano that made you think of home; lullabies maybe, or stoned-out weekends at the beach.
I think she knew I wanted her. She seemed to float along a plane of sunbeams, drawn to my desire as a magnet to steel. When she was near enough to touch, I realized the sweet odor in the room was not death’s but hers. It wrapped around us like the morning, clean and warm and bright.
They’d loaded me up on demerol, so by rights I suppose I shouldn’t have felt a thing. But when her lips grazed mine, sheer bliss rocked through me like fire-in-the-hole. I held her fast with my one good arm. Her blouse was soft, like her lips and tongue.
She hoisted herself up on my bed. The shiny black fabric of her Vietnamese slacks slid up her legs. I rubbed the gossamer stubble of her calves, languishing in the sound of each hair as it slid beneath my fingers.
She settled herself softly, rotating her hips gently, all the time maintaining that contact between us. Her hair fell like rain on my forehead as she nuzzled my neck.
"You like this," she said, more like an order than a question. I could only nod, hoping it would never stop. As she raised her head to look at me, I watched as she unfastened in slow succession the buttons of her blouse. She shrugged it off, nuzzling me like a fawn at her first salt lick.
Neither of us moved for the longest time afterwards, content merely to lie there, all inside and outside each other, and it was good.
The doc was true to his word. Two weeks later I’m sitting in a bunker back at Waterloo, waiting to rejoin the company. Maryjane and Dopey, two resurrected dink dogs the gun crews kept for pets, are blissed out at my feet, out of the rain and happy. Their ears prick up. I switch off Creedence. The rain is falling harder.
"Friendlies." somebody stoned remarks somewhere down the wire. The dogs settle back in. I take another toke. A little while later I recognize Ledbetter’s voice. And Fat Hugo’s from the Bronx.
They’ve been ’bushed.
Willy Stover, smelling of gunpowder and fear, throws his M-79 in the corner, just a tearful kid who’s tired of it all.
"The ’Stone is out there somewhere, man. The brother never knew what hit him."
I cup my hands around my balls and turn to face the wall.
Can we love away this war?
- I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
- A long time gone
- How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
- Libber and I go to war
- Fate takes a piss
- Thanks For the Memory
- Back in the Shit
- LZ Waterloo
- Saturday Night, Numbah Ten
a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate
Combat Infantryman Badge
Firebase Mary Ann
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?
A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers