The place was stuffed, and there was only one Pole Girl. It was her first time. I could tell. I had had a lot of experience, see. Her fingers strangled that pole as her fingertips glowed a white-gold. She looked nervous, watching all the people that entered—the people that either looked at her for too long or didn’t look at her nearly long enough. Her feet were an awkward shoulder width apart. But her legs. Her legs were gorgeous like glistening pieces of chicken on a hungry appetite. HolyFuckingHell. It was a damn shame she only stood there next to that pole. But, like everyone else, she was waiting.
Pole Girl nearly fell over when the Los Angeles subway moved.
My leg ached. When the subway began to move, my bad knee hit my good knee. Both knees hurt, but my bad knee felt like a thousand needles pierced through the goddamn joint. GodDamnIt. I rubbed my knee, but only for a little bit. See, I would stand if I could, but this knee acted as if it were handicapped. So I sat. I rested the hand that rubbed my knee on my belly. There was a time in my youth when I wondered what it was like to be pregnant—wanted to punch that youth right in the jugular ever since I came to looking like I was six months along. I lifted that hand to wipe the sweat off my forehead, but I couldn’t feel my hair until I found the back of my head.
That Pole Girl looked around, and I looked around too. Damn, the place was packed. People sat down and read their books, listened to their music, or stayed in their heads. The only place for the Pole Girl was the pole that was right in front of me. Then, she got to looking at the ground. Didn’t Pole Girls know they could never be invisible? In my personal holy book, it was a sin for those legs to not be stared at.
They were skinny, her legs. They were like brand new model cars that hadn’t seen the cruelty of time. Only young Pole Girls could have such skinny legs. Hairless, tight-skinned, and supple as hell.
She looked at me. She saw I was staring at her Pole Girl legs. Did she think I gave a flying shit what she thought? Did she think I cared about acting like a “decent” man or some bullshit? Did she think I gave even the littlest of fucks about her or anyone in this damn planet? JesusChrist.
Pole Girl surprised me by shaking her head no. She shook her head nervously as if it were more of a tick. I felt like I soiled myself, letting my mouth run like that. That happened sometimes. I’d think of something, and it would come out right through my mouth. That was why I tried my damn hardest to think of the weather. But a man couldn’t think straight around legs like those.
The subway stopped. All the windows were pitch black. A subway is an unpredictable bastard sometimes. It’s a fast thing, but you can never just expect it to come and go by your schedule. The bastard has its own damn agenda. And it decided to stop in between platforms. Pole Girl took out her phone from her sack and looked at it. Then, she looked out the window into pitch darkness.
“Where do you go to school?” I asked Pole Girl. We were going to stay in this subway for some time. Might as well have a conversation.
For a good second she was silent. It was as if I didn’t even say anything. Maybe I didn’t. But if the girl ever had a chance, she could use those legs to outrun a fat and crippled bastard like me.
“UCLA,” she said. She looked up at me. My leg ached again.
That took me by surprise. I thought she was a high school student. With her kind of people, you could never tell. “Good school. Football team’s doing well this year,” I said. I saw only after that she was carrying a bag with the UCLA logo. Pole Girl didn’t have a choice; she had to either tell me the truth or make a lie that would fail. MotherOfFuck. I wanted to laugh, but I hadn’t laughed in ages. Might sound all wrong. “What are you majoring in?”
“You seem to speak English just fine. Don’t know why you have to go off and study it.”
She didn’t laugh.
After a big, fat pause, I asked, “What’s your name?”
She gave me her name, but I forgot it in a second. Maybe it was because I really only heard her last name. Nguyen. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that last name— “You’re Vietnamese,” I said.
The subway started again, and Pole Girl breathed out the lung full of air she seemed to have held in. It was like she was trying to make a wish. The subway stopped after coming to the platform. The doors opened. People left, but other people filled those seats too fast for the Pole Girl. Pole Girl was too polite.
“Do you speak Vietnamese?” I asked. “Like ‘ăn cơm,’ or ‘đẹp?” She seemed unimpressed by my cheap phrases.
I was in Vietnam once. Someone told me that the Vietnam War was not a war—it was a conflict or some bullshit. Well, I told the guy to fuck off, because a war’s a war. And I fought in that war, and I hurt my knee in that war, and I saw a lot in that war. Saw stuff I would pay to have someone else see, so I wouldn’t remember. Maybe I did end up having someone else see those things.
She stopped gripping on that pole so tightly. She found that she could lean her back shoulder blade on the pole, and she wouldn’t fall over. Pole Girl learned.
She said after a while, “What’d you see?” My mouth must have ran again, but I didn’t mind it too much this time.
“A nightmare,” I said. “It’s like my brain is a movie store with only one movie about the war. I haven’t watched it in a long time, but I know it’s always there.” The Pole Girl nodded. If you lived your whole life being misunderstood, you can easily pick out the person who is the exception and stamp the reaction as understanding.
I once told Laura, the prostitute, about the war. She was an old whore—about 60 years old. A lady never told, but a lady could never lie after even her legs started to get wrinkles. Of course, I had never seen much of the area between her legs, but she once gave me a blow job with just her large panties on. She was like a wife, that Laura. She’d give my dick a suck, and I’d give her 20 bucks from my construction work, some food and water, and a place to sleep. That Laura protected her gash as if even a finger could make her more pregnant than the Virgin Mary. Not that I minded. I wouldn’t want to risk having a kid or anything—even with a 60-year-old prostitute. Well, Laura just laid next to me, her large breasts twisted around each other in a weird Twizzler sort of way, and she was about to fall asleep. I told her that I came back to America, but it was like I spoke a different language. She said, “Silly, I can understand you right now.” She just sighed and went to sleep, forgetting she swallowed my cum just a few minutes before.
I must have said all that, too, but the Pole Girl listened the whole time. She even stood a little closer to me from that pole, one hand still lightly held onto it. I always expected people to just walk away from me when I let my mind and mouth run like that, and I wouldn’t blame them.
“You look like a girl from Vietnam,” I said. Yeah, she looked like her–except for the bathed hair, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the straight teeth, and the stature, Pole Girl looked exactly like the girl in the hut village. It was the legs. They both had the exact same legs.
My platoon and I went to a village. I didn’t really pay attention to where we were going, but it was very tropical. Humidity, tall trees, stuffy heat and shit. We found a small village of people. They looked savage. I mean, they wore rags and had tan leather for skin and smelled of the worst kind of shit. They were animals. That was what one of the guys said in the platoon—his name was Rick—and the thought spread like fire around us. They were animals.
They welcomed us. Christ, they welcomed us. In a flash, we began grabbing them and lugging them to one side of the village. Sometimes we were able to grab two people at a time. They were small. Gabe mentioned that they were small like rats.
Allan patted me on the shoulder and said, “This is our reward, compadre. We deserve this.”
I found myself in one of the huts. A small girl was in there. You sometimes can never guess the age. This girl looked about 13, but I hoped to everything good that she was older. She was compliant, sure, but she looked me directly in the eye. HolyDamn. I could only say a few cheap phrases in Vietnamese, but her small eyes gave me a conversation as thick as maple syrup.
I tried kissing her. I put my hand over her cheek—my hand made her head look like the size of an orange. Slowly, I leaned in and put my lips on her dry, cracked lips. They tasted a bit salty, like sand. And she didn’t move them or anything. They only tensed. I figured that village people didn’t understand kissing.
When I pulled away, her eyes followed me. They weren’t afraid or nervous or anything. They weren’t happy either. There’s no word in English or Vietnamese that could describe her eyes. Except maybe indescribable.
There were screams outside of the hut—screams that seemed like a language I’d never heard. Maybe it was a universal language for fear, pain, and suffering. On top of the screams, there was laughter—young laughter that sounded like hyenas.
Gently, I pushed the girl to the ground. She let me take off her rags. Her arms, face, and some parts of her chest were dark and tan, but the skin beneath her clothes was pale with a touch of gold. Her eyes were still unchangingly indescribable. Her legs were long, tan, and beautiful. I touched her legs, letting my hand run up and down her skin softly. It made her gasp for air a bit. I contemplated speaking to her in Vietnamese, but the silence was way too loud for it.
Afterwards, one of the guys from the platoon came into the hut—Larry, I believe—let out a hyena laugh, and gave me orders. We lined up the people of the village. They were on their knees—some had clothes, a good majority of the women were stark naked—and most of them were sobbing. Crying is interesting, see. It either makes people completely angry or completely sympathetic. Everyone in my platoon was shouting shit at them, but I only stared at the girl. Her indescribable eyes were not looking at me.
Can’t say much about what happened next. All I could say is that it took some time—shooting, reloading, shooting again. Next thing I knew, blood welled like a large ocean that broke into streams of rivers. People don’t die easy. There were some people still blinking and screaming while blood gushed out of their heads.
I probably said that whole story aloud in the subway. My lungs hurt a little. When I told long stories, it was hard for me to breathe correctly. When I told stories, Laura-the-prostitute sat at my dining table while she fixed her nails and crossed her wrinkly legs. I told story after story to her. Never knew why. Just felt equal parts hopeless and hopeful. She would stop me a few times and tell me to breath. I had a sneaking suspicion she really wanted some silence.
And there was silence here, in the subway that stopped again. I wondered if it stopped with its own agenda like before. But the doors opened.
Before the Pole Girl left, I wondered if any movie stores were open anymore. Last time I checked, a movie store around where I lived closed down. Damn shame if they were all gone. I didn’t know whether I said that last thought or not, but Pole Girl smiled and waved at me goodbye. Her eyes were indescribable.