By Katherine Lien Chariott
The man in the bed calls you Mary but your name isn’t Mary. The man in the bed is an American. He wears a green uniform when he isn’t in bed; gives you green dollars when you get out of the bed. So many green dollars it’s hard to believe: just for coming to the room; just for coming to the bed. The man in the bed calls you Mary, but this doesn’t matter because he gives you green dollars. This doesn’t matter because he’s leaving tomorrow. The man in the bed is leaving tomorrow: in the morning, he will go back to Vietnam. In the morning, he will go back to his war. So he asks you, tonight, if you will miss him. Tonight, he asks you sadly, Will you miss me, once I’m gone? Of course, you say that you will; you promise to miss him, but the truth is that you won’t miss him at all. Not that he’s been cruel, this man in the bed. Not that he’s been bad, this week when he took you out in the city, throwing down green dollars at restaurants and stores. He hasn’t been bad, these nights you stayed with him in bed; he’s even been kind, and though you won’t miss him, you haven’t minded him like some. You haven’t minded him like the others, not until this very moment, when he reaches out and touches your shoulder gently. He touches your shoulder so gently, as if you’re not here for the green dollars, and he asks you your real name. Automatically, you tell him; whisper the words in the dark. He repeats them once, and then again, and, suddenly, you hate him. This man in the bed, you hate him now more than all the others that came before, all the others that will come after, all the others combined, because he touched you gently in the dark, because he called you by your real name. Because he said your real name, not once, but twice, as if his green dollars have bought even that; as if his green dollars can buy everything his green uniform won’t let him take. You hate him, this man in the bed, and, as he holds you, you imagine him dead. You hope that, when he gets back to Vietnam, it happens. Close your eyes, see a man who looks like you (the black-haired child of a farmer, like you are) come forward from the jungle; kill this foreigner where he stands. But then you look again at the man next to you—only eighteen years old, he’s just a few years older than you are—and you burst into tears. Wipe those tears away now, and kiss him this one time for free. Kiss him, just this one time, Mary, because you want to.