Two Nights with Suzie Wong
As soon as Jackson woke up, he knew it was going to be a bad day. His penis felt sore and there wasn't much mystery about why, only what the name of it was and how bad it was going to fuck up his life. He was hoping it was gonorrhea because that could be cured. He wasn't sure about the other stuff.
Wouldn’t it be a kick in the head to survive the fucking war and die of some exotic venereal disease he got from a woman he didn’t even enjoy?
He got up and went to the bathroom. As soon as he dropped his shorts he knew it was gonorrhea. The tip of his penis was excreting pus and when he peed it stung like hell. He’d read about those exact symptoms in a novel in college. He couldn’t remember which one, and he knew it was fiction, but still, he knew this was gonorrhea. Good fucking morning, Vietnam.
The woman in his bed stirred when he came back in the room. Suzie Wong. Her hooker name. She opened her eyes sleepily and stretched, her arms reaching overhead so far her breasts almost disappeared, Jackson watching but not getting turned on, so caught up in his own misery he couldn’t have smiled if President Johnson was standing there telling fart jokes.
“Hey, honey, you okay?” Suzie asked. She sat straight up.
“I’ve got the clap, Suzie,” he said.
She bent closer and took his penis in her fingers for a better look.
“No sweat, Jackson,” she said with a big, happy smile. “I take you to special place.”
“You’ve probably got it too,” he said.
“No sweat,” said Suzie Wong. “They fix me, too. This Bangkok. Everything no sweat.”
“But you’ll miss work.”
“No sweat. I need vacation anyway. I spend time with you.”
“We’re going back to Vietnam today,” said Jackson.
“I stay with you ‘til then,” said Suzie. The smile and cheer never left her face, and for some reason, that boosted Jackson’s spirits, even though he knew she was playing him for a tip.
Randy and Rose came down to breakfast late, Randy with a somber expression on his face. Jackson and Suzie Wong were sipping beverages at table on the hotel patio, surrounded by lush green plants and bright red and yellow blossoms.
“I’ve got good news and bad news, partner,” Randy said to Jackson as they sat down.
“All I’ve got is bad news, so let’s get it over with.”
“We can’t go back today,” said Randy. “Our bird couldn’t get out.”
“Oh, shit,” Jackson groaned. “What’s the good news?”
Randy’s face lit up. “We spend another day in paradise.”
Jackson leaned forward on the table, his face cupped in his hands. “I’m broke. I'm going to have to sleep on the street tonight unless you let me cuddle with you and Rose. And I’ve got a raging dose of clap. And when I do get back to the 'Nam, I'm going to get busted and sent to L-B-fucking-J. This is just fucking perfect.”
Randy kept smiling and shook his head in wonder. Suzie put a hand on his arm and gave it a squeeze.
“Damn, partner, that sounds like a trifecta to me,” said Randy. “But look at it this way, things can only get better, right?”
“One can hope,” muttered Jackson.
Suzie Wong took his hand. “I take you doctor, and you stay Suzie Wong’s house.”
“I’m broke,” said Jackson, like he was confessing to a priest. “I can’t pay you.”
“No sweat. You stay with me, go back Vietnam. When you go home, maybe you remember me.” She seemed as cheerful as a child on Christmas morning. “Maybe you come Bangkok and marry me, take me to U.S., I work for you, make you rich.”
Jackson smiled in spite of his worries. “I can’t get married, Suzie.”
“I know. Make joke. I take you doctor, then you stay with me.”
She said it with such finality that Jackson just nodded and said yes.
Before they left for the clinic, Jackson settled his bill, moved his some of his belongings into Randy’s room, and called his mother back in Des Moines.
Her voice was tired and fearful when she answered. He had awakened her from a deep sleep.
“Allan? Are you okay?” she asked, her voice rising with concern. “It’s three a.m.”
“I’m okay, Mom, I just need a favor. Can you wire me some of my money?”
“Where are you, Allan? What’s going on?”
“I’m in Bangkok. Thailand. On R&R.” Jackson tried to sound lighthearted, like it was no big deal. “I ran out of money and I was wondering if you could wire me a thousand dollars at this hotel.”
His mother made a series of gasps and exclamations that Jackson could hear, even on a bad transpacific connection. When she recovered, he gave her the name and address of the hotel and the phone number.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked, voice dripping with suspicion and concern.
Jackson assured her he was.
“Have you been kidnapped?”
“No, Mom,” he laughed.
“You’re not running off to Canada?”
“No, mom,” he said. “I just ran out of money on R&R.”
Which was pretty much true, except for the R&R part. And the not being in trouble part. And being okay.
Suzie Wong had the driver drop them at a plain-looking, one-story building near the R&R bars. A modest sign identified it as a U.S. Army medical facility. The front of the building had two doors.
“That for you,” Suzie told Jackson, pointing to one of the doors. “This for me.” She flashed him her life-is-fun smile and opened her door.
Jackson watched her disappear, still frozen in place by the knowledge that nothing good ever happened to him when he came in contact with the Army. The door loomed in front of him like the maw of a ravenous animal, waiting to swallow him into the madness of the world's largest corporation, where zealots and morons directed hapless masses to kill and be killed. He tried to convince himself he was just being paranoid again, but he'd danced this dance before, and paranoid or not, he was right about the fucking Army. Still, he had no choice here. He had to see a doctor, even an Army doctor. He opened the door and entered.
It felt like a netherworld inside. Like there wasn’t another living person in the place, just the dumbass GI with clap. He stepped up to a counter on his left and looked toward the back for signs of humanity. Then he saw a memo taped to the counter top. It directed him to find his medical problem in a chart on the opposite wall, note the color code it was given, and follow that color of tape on the floor to the stations he needed to visit.
Jackson swore under his breath and looked at the chart. All the possible reasons for visiting the facility were reduced to eight items. Venereal disease was its own category, undisguised by any polite term. It was, Jackson realized, the reason for this facility’s being—to treat VD-ridden troops and the girls they infected and maybe the girl they got it from.
Jackson followed his line to the next station, where he surrendered his fake Temporary Duty Orders to a prune-faced nurse, probably Army. She ignored his greeting, and pointed his attention to a sign that told him to drop his drawers. She inspected his penis, scribbled on a form, gave him the form and his fake TDY orders, and pointed for him to follow the line to his next station.
Three stations later, a stern-looking white female nurse, Army to the core, gestured for Jackson to drop trou and bend over, his chest on an exam table, his bare ass hanging in the air. She stabbed him in the butt with a needle, not trying to avoid muscle tissue. It hurt a lot more than it needed to, Jackson taking it as a reprimand, and not caring as long as he got out of there without getting nailed for having fake orders and being AWOL. She gestured for him to get his pants on and follow the line to the next station.
Jackson’s last stop was a Dutch door, the bottom half closed, the top half open. A uniformed enlisted man, a Spec 5, was waiting for him, no expression on his face. He took Jackson's fake TDY orders and the form to his desk, and used a typewriter to bang out words and numbers on another form. He came back to Jackson and handed him his orders and an official U.S. Army form listing the details of his medical visit for the treatment of gonorrhea.
“Take this back to your unit and have it added to your 201 File,” the clerk commanded. His was the first voice Jackson had heard in this weird clinic and its message was as insane as any other Army communication. Sure, Jackson nodded. Sure, he’d let his company know he was AWOL in Bangkok and got treated for clap, and he’d make sure it was all in his permanent service record so someday, when some company was running a background check on him before giving him the job of a lifetime, they could discover rock-solid proof Jackson served his country as a whoring, deserting son-of-a-bitch who couldn’t be trusted.
Not that he’d want a job where they took exception to a soldier doing some whoring.
When Jackson emerged into the fresh air and sunshine, Suzie Wong was waiting for him, beaming, eyes as happy as a kid on Santa’s lap.
“You have fun?” she giggled, as Jackson approached. He smiled. She patted him on the butt. “Hurt, yes?”
“You be fine tomorrow.” She laced her arm through Jackson’s. “We go Suzie Wong’s, see real Bangkok.”
Jackson gave her a brave smile, but the truth was he didn’t want to see the real Bangkok. He wanted to stay in a nice hotel, eat five-star meals, wallow in air-conditioning, and be treated like a king. What he didn’t want was to get beaten and robbed, or hauled off to Long Binh Jail, or even think about having sex. But the only options he had right now were to go with Suzie Wong or to find himself a cardboard box to sleep in until his money arrived.
Jackson figured Suzie Wong for a ghetto tenement, probably with bugs and rats, but Suzie lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood that Jackson would enjoy living in. The house was small, modest, and immaculate. It had sparkling wood floors and held an unpretentious kitchen and living/dining area with simple bamboo furniture. Stairs led to a main bedroom and a smaller one where a woman was dressing a tiny toddler. Jackson did a double-take as they passed the small bedroom. He had assumed Suzie Wong lived alone, maybe entertaining johns there sometimes.
Suzie smiled at his reaction and led him into the main bedroom. She placed his small bag next to the bed and turned to him cheerily.
“Suzie Wong house okay? Not U.S., but okay?”
“It’s beautiful,” said Jackson. He looked out a window at the quiet street below, trying to comprehend that Suzie Wong, steamy, dark-eyed sex goddess and professional prostitute, had one foot firmly planted in a lifestyle he could understand.
The woman and toddler from the other bedroom joined them, the toddler smiling and laughing and hugging Jackson’s leg, the woman reserved and friendly. She was also quite beautiful, with features similar to Suzie's—long hair falling in sensuous profusion like a Tahitian princess, full lips and flawless chocolate skin, and a face and body as radiant and sexy as any of the girls hustling sex in the bars.
“This Malai, my roommate,” said Suzie Wong. She said the word “roommate” slowly, making sure she pronounced the syllables perfectly. “And this beautiful baby is Lawana.”
At the sound of her name, Lawana lurched to Suzie, who picked her up and hugged her. Malai watched with a motherly smile, and she and Suzie exchanged warm glances.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Jackson,” said Malai in formal English, bowing slightly, enunciating each word carefully. When she straightened, she and Suzie exchanged glances again.
Jackson greeted her and bowed back. A breach of Asian protocol, probably, but he wasn't some damn feudal lord.
Suzie and Malai spoke in Thai while Jackson and Lawana rolled a ball back and forth, Jackson glancing up at them occasionally. They spoke casually, Malai nodding several times, Jackson thinking they were well-suited as roommates.
Their conversation stopped and both of them looked at Jackson. He stood.
“You sleep here,” said Suzie Wong.
Jackson looked at her questioningly.
“With me,” Suzie added, as if that explained everything.
Jackson looked from her to Malai, then back again, finally figuring out that they usually shared the bed. Of course, they just had the two bedrooms and the baby slept in one.
“I can sleep on the floor in the baby’s room,” he said, not wanting to disturb their order.
Both women objected in unison. It was more than politeness, Jackson realized. No mother in the world would bunk a stranger, a farang at that, in her baby's room.
“Or on the floor downstairs.”
“No, no,” said Suzie Wong. Malai shook her head and waved her hands in front of her. “No, you our guest.” The women looked from him to each other, something passing between them.
Jackson thought there was some kind of Asian custom at play here, and to argue any further would be an insult, so he acquiesced. Then he realized, and it hit him like the concussive wave of an exploding rocket, that they weren't just roommates. They were lovers. Roommates didn't look at each other the way they looked at each other.
He hid his shock—he had never known lesbian lovers before—but as he followed them downstairs, his mind was racing. To his surprise, what he mainly felt was understanding. They were probably both hookers before Malai got pregnant, surrendering themselves nightly to GIs who treated them like whores. Of course they’d want the tenderness of a woman after that. He wondered how they made love, or if they made love, or if having sex for money and doing it a lot would turn them off it altogether.
Downstairs, Suzie Wong seated him and brought him water, then went back upstairs and carried a small clothing bag downstairs, Malai following her with Lawana in her arms.
“Malai stay with sister,” said Suzie. Malai smiled and bowed slightly.
“We have good time, she help her sister,” said Suzie.
Jackson figured there was no sister, and he knew there wasn’t going to be any boy-girl sex here, not involving him, because his dick felt like a blowtorch every time he peed, and because he wouldn’t re-infect Suzie Wong anyway, even if he felt like a million bucks, so really, what was the point of moving Malai? The point was, that’s how they wanted to do things.
Suzie embraced Malai tightly, then Lawana, and mother and child disappeared down the street. Jackson watched them go, wondering what it would have been like to share the bed with two women, not for sex, but just sleeping with two soft, beautiful women and feeling their warmth and the soothing strokes of their hands on his skin. He knew it wasn't normal, a GI wanting to sleep with two women and not have sex with them, clap or no clap, but that's how it was with him; he'd always enjoyed the intimacy more than the climax, and if someone didn't like it, they could go fuck themselves.
Suzie led him back upstairs. She seated him on the bed, then sat herself at a makeup table and began un-pinning her elaborate hairdo. Jackson watched, mesmerized, as she unwound a long tress, separated it from her own hair, and carefully placed it on a form. She unpinned the rest of her hair and brushed it out, letting it fall to the middle of her back. She glanced at him in the mirror and laughed. The eye lashes were next, long and dark and elegantly curled. She peeled them off carefully and placed them in plastic holders.
Jackson couldn’t take his eyes off her. Suzie's beauty ritual was far sexier than any stag movie or striptease he'd ever seen. She stacked her jewelry on a corner of the table. She used a cream to wipe off the makeup and removed the last vestiges of her lipstick. Then she stood and peeled off her tiny dress, her bra and panties, then turned to Jackson and smiled.
“No more Suzie Wong,” she laughed.
Jackson managed to smile, but she was right, and the drama of the transformation left him agape. His sultry, lesbian sex goddess had turned into the girl next door, a pretty young woman with a happy face and a slim figure. If he didn’t know she was a hooker, he’d think she was a student or a teacher or maybe an airline stewardess.
Suzie Wong wasn’t sure how to interpret his silence. “What you think, Jackson?”
“You’re beautiful,” he said. He wanted to say more, but couldn’t think of the words so he just smiled and let the silence cover them like a cocoon. They took a nap then, their bodies intertwined, Jackson's last waking thought being that this was real intimacy. She was a hooker who was probably playing him for a big tip, but it was still intimate.
When they woke up, Suzie took him for a walk in the neighborhood, greeting neighbors, waving to shopkeepers, taking his hand now and then, making like they were school kids on a date. She supplied most of the conversation, but she spoke more slowly and less often than when they were hooker and john. Jackson realized that he was seeing the real person, even as he kept most of his person secret.
Suzie purchased dinner from a cart on the street—a plate of rice topped by a fish of some kind, cooked with its head still on. Suzie Wong engaged in repartee in Thai with an older vendor who seemed to like her. The fish was delicious.
They walked on, covering residential streets and commercial strips, Jackson having no idea where they were. Gradually, he realized no one was going to knock him senseless and steal his money, partly because he didn't have any money, but mostly because Thais were friendly, good-hearted people.
When they were exhausted, they returned to Suzie Wong's house, stripped to their underwear, and slept deeply, Suzie spooning with Jackson, Jackson thinking he'd never felt anything so warm and soft, and wondering what it was like to be in Suzie Wong's body.
Jackson’s peace ended with the bright rays of the morning sun. The contentment and harmony of the previous night evaporated and his mind fixed on his urgent priorities. Get his money, get back to Vietnam, and try to slide back into the barracks without anyone realizing he'd been gone. And never, ever go AWOL from a war zone again. Ever.
Suzie got him back to the hotel by nine. Jackson's money wire had arrived. The desk clerk gave him a discreet looking envelope containing U.S. greenbacks, twenties and hundreds. He repaid Suzie for her expenses, then bought them breakfast while they waited for Randy and Rose.
"You look pretty good for a guy who slept under a bridge last night," Randy greeted Jackson when he and Rose came down.
"Bangkok is a bridge paradise," said Jackson.
"Well," said Randy, "our plane is supposed to come in today. We need to be ready to go this afternoon. Call me here around one for a departure time."
Jackson nodded and glanced at Suzie. She was standing so close to him their bodies touched, legs, hips, arms, like they were spooning again, but in a way that other people wouldn't notice. Jackson wondered if this was a hustle Suzie did with all her johns, or just with special ones, or maybe just with him.
They talked about what to do with their half-day of freedom, but Randy and Rose wanted to be alone, and Suzie had to get herself ready for another night in the bar. She invited Jackson to come with her.
"See Suzie Wong beauty secrets," she said.
Jackson said he didn't really have any place else to go, but he was also intrigued. The driver he shared with Randy drove them back to Suzie's neighborhood and promised to return when the flight information was confirmed.
Suzie Wong chatted as they walked along the narrow streets lined with small shops and street vendors. Jackson enjoyed the lilt of her voice and her cheerful spirits, but most of his mind was occupied with a sense of dread he just couldn't shake—dread of going back to the war, of going to jail for desertion, of the aching, soulless, mind-numbing monotony of base camp life in Vietnam. He felt like he was living his last hours and willed himself to enjoy them, thought maybe they should go to Suzie's place and make love since his symptoms were gone, thought it might be nice to have the sex smell on him for the ride back to 'Nam to remind him of his moment of happiness, that flickering candle in the pitch black of the shitstorm he'd been bucking since he volunteered for Army service.
Suzie Wong’s beauty shop was like an exotic foreign country. Jackson had never been in one, though he'd passed by them often enough, always intrigued by the magical transformations that women underwent in them, always strangely attracted to aromas emanating from such places. He knew it wasn't manly to want go in one, and certainly not manly to enjoy the strange smells of perm solutions, hair-coloring chemicals, baking hair, and the flowery scents of shampoos and sprays. But that had been part of his secret self since he was a child.
Suzie's salon was compact and seductively dim, with most of the light focused on three swiveling chairs, each in front of a mirror and a shelf containing beauty tools. A young woman sat in one of the chairs as a beautician worked on her hair, puffing it up into huge balls as they talked quietly. Another woman, young like Suzie, sat under a high-pitched hairdryer that made her look like a creature from outer space, but sexy somehow, maybe because she looked so feminine and comfortable with herself as she glanced at Jackson and Suzie. A middle-aged hairdresser who had been organizing her tools when they walked in greeted Suzie and bowed slightly to Jackson as Suzie introduced him. The client in the other chair and her hairdresser exchanged secretive remarks in Thai and tittered as they assessed Jackson in the mirror.
"Are you sure—?" Jackson started to ask. He felt wildly out of place, like he was invading the women's bathroom. And yet he couldn't take his eyes off the woman in the chair and what was happening to her hair.
"No sweat, Jackson," interrupted Suzie. She directed him to a chair next to a table holding an array of nail polish bottles. "Men okay here."
"Really?" asked Jackson.
"Some come with girl friends. Some come to be girls. We call them kathoey, lady boys."
Jackson took his eyes off the woman in the chair for a second, long enough to look at Suzie and grimace, like he knew she was having him on.
"No, Jackson. Is true," she said. "They pretty. Some men like them more than lady-ladies."
"I show you kathoey later. Maybe you like?"
"Maybe not," said Jackson. But he could feel his dick starting to swell and he shifted in his chair hoping no one noticed.
Suzie sat in one of the empty chairs and stared in the mirror as the hairdresser brushed out her long locks, then she followed the woman to a back room. Minutes later, the two emerged, Suzie's wet hair wrapped in a towel. She winked at Jackson, and sat in the chair again, smiling and chatting as the hairdresser wrapped her hair in curlers. Jackson's eyes pivoted between Suzie and the woman in the other chair, whose hair was being fashioned into a towering up-do that made her look like a nymphomaniac getting into her fuck-me costume.
The woman working on Suzie wrapped her hair in huge curlers, her tiny hands moving with the speed and dexterity of a pianist's fingers on a keyboard. Jackson was entranced. When Suzie's hair was wrapped, she was put under one of the hooded hair dryers, stopping on her way to pose for Jackson.
"How you like Suzie Wong now, Jackson?" she asked playfully. "Very sexy, yes?"
Jackson smiled, trying to hide his discomfort. He could feel the curlers on his own head, could feel his own hair as long and as full as Suzie's. It was erotic and shaming at the same time. His dick was as hard as iron. Suzie noticed and bent to whisper in his ear.
"Big love later, okay?"
Jackson nodded, and she sat under the dryer and looked at him, smiling once more before turning her attention to a magazine.
Jackson watched the other client rise from her chair and come to the nail station, sitting so close to him he could smell her perfume. She was wearing a mini-skirt and a low-cut top that showed off her cleavage and her slim arms. She smiled at Jackson and said something in Thai to the woman working on her nails. They exchanged smiles and glances at Jackson, then continued to chatter, Jackson trying to watch surreptitiously, while also watching another client go from the hair dryer to the styling chair and get transformed.
By the time Suzie Wong transitioned from the dryer to the styling chair, Jackson wasn't just seeing the processes in the salon, he was feeling them on his own body. He wanted desperately not to. He wanted to feel contempt for all the silly primping and posing, but he was overwhelmed by the fantasy that it was all happening to him. It was his terrible secret, sneaking out of the dark place he'd kept it in all his life.
"You okay, Jackson?" Suzie called from the chair. She was watching him in the mirror. He couldn't imagine what he looked like, but his pulse was pounding and he was fully aroused and feeling faint. He glanced at the row of wigs on the shelf above the styling mirrors.
"Sure," he said. But his voice cracked. He was sure everyone in the place could see he was queer.
"You sure?" she asked again.
Jackson nodded. He tried to focus on her but his eyes glanced at the wig just over Suzie's mirror. It was a masterpiece of long, dark hair, with back-swept bangs in front, rising to a sexy mound at the crown, then falling in full tresses down the back. Jackson couldn't stop wishing that was his hair.
"You like?" Suzie asked, pointing to the wig.
Jackson flushed and tried to deny it, but his mouth was dry and his voice shaky.
The other hairdresser smiled at him. She took the wig off the shelf and unpinned it from its mannequin and approached Jackson, holding it to place it on his head. He objected, shaking his head, saying no, but the closer she got, the quieter his objections became, and he finally bowed his head so she could put the wig on him. He felt it slide over his short-cropped GI haircut, and he felt her make adjustments side-to-side and front-to-back. He could smell her scent mixed with the chemicals of the salon, and he glimpsed her face, still wearing a smile that said a big hairy white man wearing a woman's wig was kind of funny, but a smile that seemed sympathetic, too, like this had happened before and it was okay.
She took Jackson's hand when she was done and led him to a styling chair. When he sat, she primped and teased the hair, expanding the hair to fit his larger face and body. Jackson saw Suzie Wong and her stylist staring, locked in the moment, Suzie smiling, almost laughing, but in an affectionate way that didn’t make Jackson feel like a jackass.
"How you like?" Suzie asked.
Jackson looked at himself in the mirror. He didn't see what the others around him saw. He saw what he felt, the beautiful hair brushing against his cheeks and the nape of his neck, falling gently on his shoulders, rippling when he moved his head. He saw himself as a woman, mysterious, exotic, feminine. He could hardly breathe.
"You beautiful girl, Jackson," said Suzie.
He made himself look away from his own image to look at Suzie. She was wearing a minidress that showed most of her perfect skin and her shapely legs and clung to her bodice, outlining her firm breasts and tiny waist. Her hairstyle was very much like his wig, tall and long and full of body, with sexy ringlets at the temples. And Jackson knew at that moment that what he wanted more than anything was to be in Suzie Wong's body and wear her clothes and get his hair and makeup done in her salon every day. But that was not something any man could say out loud, so Jackson tried to compose himself and pretend like it was all a joke.
"Think I'd be a hit at Thai Haven?" He smiled and started to remove the wig. The hairdresser intervened and took it off while Jackson exchanged glances with Suzie, trying not to blush, but feeling his face get red.
"Other bars for sure," Suzie laughed. "You stay one more night, I take you, okay?"
"I can't," he said.
"I take you as my girlfriend, okay?"
"Stop," he said, embarrassed, feeling like she read him.
"I’ve got good news and bad news," Randy said cheerfully when Jackson called.
"Give me the good news," said Jackson. "I've had enough bad news for a month."
"The good news is, we can't go back today."
"Jesus Christ!" Jackson swore, thinking now, for sure, they were going to jail. "What's the bad news?"
"Well," said Randy, in his story-telling Southern drawl, "first of all, the company found out we're AWOL, and they sent a Lifer to bring us home."
"Motherfucker!" said Jackson, his hand trembling and his head feeling watery.
"Relax," said Randy. "They aren't going to bust us. They'd have to bust everyone else who ever travelled on these orders, and the officers who signed them would lose their commissions."
"So, why aren't we going home tonight?"
"Turns out Sergeant First Class Bates is giving himself a fun night on the town. He's already rounded up two girls that he calls 'his team.’ We won't see him until sometime tomorrow. We'll go back when he's ready. Probably around lunchtime."
Jackson almost collapsed with relief. Suzie looked at him with concern. He cupped a hand over the phone and briefed her on the conversation.
"You stay one more night?"
"You want Suzie Wong?
Jackson nodded again and touched her arm gently with his free hand.
"Should I get you a room?" asked Randy.
Jackson looked at Suzie. "Hotel or your place?"
"My place," she said. "I make you very happy, then you marry me, take me to States."
"Don't bother," he told Randy. "I'll stay at Suzie's and see you in the morning.”
He turned to Suzie and stroked her arm again. "You love Malai," he said. "Why would you leave her for me?"
Suzie grinned without embarrassment. "Because I want live in States. I save money and send for Malai and Luwana when I can." Her voice was jovial, like they were sharing a joke, but Jackson could feel the soft drums of a young woman's dream just beyond the jest.
"So I share you with another lover?" He kept it light, not wanting to lead her on, knowing there was no way he'd be marrying anyone, maybe ever, but for sure not until he got his head straight.
"No share, Jackson. You have two lovers and a daughter." She laughed gaily and took his hand and they went for a stroll in the soft light of an overcast afternoon in Bangkok.
They sat across from each other on the floor, their food on a low table between them, Jackson handling the chopsticks like an Asian. Suzie Wong chattered all through the meal, a meandering soliloquy on everything from the events of the day to memories of her childhood.
"You like wig today." Suzie said it, she didn't ask it.
Jackson flushed and started to deny it, then silenced himself.
"It okay, Jackson. I like you. You want boy tonight, I get you boy. You want be girl, I make you girl. I love woman. Means nothing. Means I love someone. You good man. Or girl. Either one, is fine with me. You good."
Jackson was quiet, his thoughts exploding like tracer rounds.
"What's it like to be in your body?" He blurted the words, knowing they were crazy. "How does it feel? Your skin? Your breasts? Looking in the mirror?"
Suzie regarded him curiously, not understanding the question.
"I know what I see when I look at you," said Jackson, "and I know what I feel when I touch you. But what do you feel like to you?"
Suzie looked about and shrugged. "I don't know," she said, pronouncing the words carefully. "I never think like that."
"In the salon today, I thought I felt what it's like to be you," said Jackson. "I could feel your clothes on my skin, your hair on my face, your bra on my breasts. Right now, I can feel your void between my legs. I can feel what it's like to be so light and delicate, to have big, sexy eyes and small, perfect hands and feet."
Jackson paused and touched her lightly.
"I would give anything to be you. To be in your body. It's my worst secret. I'm not really a man. I just got this body by mistake. I want to be you."
Amazement swept over Suzie Wong's face, her mouth slightly agape. She took a deep breath and touched him.
"In my village, girl marry or work. I sixteen, old man want marry me. Farmer. Not nice. He want someone cook, clean, fuck. I beg my father, please, no, don't make me do that. He say I must work or marry. Work mean go Bangkok. Sew clothes, one dollar day, all day, twelve hour. Six dollar week. Until you hands and fingers don't work right, or you eyes see blur.
"Or I can work in bars. Whore. Five dollar night. Four, five night a week. Sometime tips. Ten dollar. Five dollar. Sometimes no tip. Nice clothes. Sexy. Get VD three, four time year. Get hurt sometime. Men fuck me hard. Curse me if too dry. Hit me, I talk too much, he can't come, he no like Thai girl.'"
Suzie didn't cry, but her face was sad, like she was holding back a reservoir of tears that had been building for years. He held her hand as softly as he could.
"You see old lady in bar?" she asked.
"No," said Jackson.
"No old ladies in bars. No old ladies in sewing shops. Only old ladies in families. Grandmas. Suzie Wongs no have families. Suzie Wongs do not get old."
"But you're so happy all the time."
"No help be sad and angry. Still get old."
Jackson looked away from her, cast his eyes around the room, trying to find some sense of equilibrium. He felt like nothing was real. He wasn't a man. His hooker wasn't a sex object, she was a person with a good heart and a dim future. He could go to jail and not be as fucked as she was.
"How can you . . ." Jackson stopped. He couldn't think of the right word. ". . . You know." He shrugged.
"How can I live?" she asked.
"You marry me, take me States." She laughed at the absurdity of it.
"I can't, Suzie Wong." Jackson used her name for the first time. She noted it with a raised eyebrow. "I'm a mess. I don't know if I'm a boy or a girl. I'm queer but I'm not attracted to men at all and sex with women is just for relief. I don't fit in at home. Everything's changed in the U.S. Nobody likes GIs, nobody wants to hire one. I can't take care of someone else. I'm not sure I can take care of me."
"No sweat, Jackson," she said. "We have fun tonight. You think like you lady, I think like you lady, we make love. Very sexy." She laughed, and he laughed with her.
The driver came for Jackson at eleven o'clock the next morning. He offered to take Suzie Wong along and bring her back if she wanted to see Jackson off at the airport, but she declined. "Too sad," she told Jackson, "but I dream about you at beauty salon." She grinned mischievously and he smiled back.
"I want you to have this," Jackson said, as he handed her a wad of U.S. currency. "It's five hundred dollars. I wanted to give you the rest, too, but I might need to lay bribes to stay out of jail."
Suzie's eyes focused on the money for a second. It was more than she'd ever seen at one time, they both knew that, but her eyes shifted back to him and she tried to pass the money back. "I no want you money, Jackson," she said.
She stood on her tip-toes and kissed him softly on the lips and held his hands in hers.
"I wish I could do more," he whispered to her. He put the money back in her palm and gently closed her fingers around it. "Maybe you and Malai can start a business," he said.
She smiled, sadly at first, then impishly. "Maybe you come Bangkok, marry me, make me rich old lady."
He laughed too, squeezed her hands softly, and said, "Maybe." Then he left.
Randy leaned across the aisle of the small airplane and spoke into Jackson's ear above the din of the engines. "You got into it with Suzie Wong, didn't you?"
Jackson nodded soberly.
"Whoa, is it love? Do I hear wedding bells ringing?"
Jackson tried to hide the sadness in his face as he shook his head. "A guy could do worse."
Randy nodded like he knew what Jackson meant, like Jackson had just shared the secret of the universe. He sat back in his seat for a few minutes, deep in thought, then leaned over the aisle again.
"This was one wild ass fling, wasn't it?" Randy grinned.
Jackson smiled a little. "That it was."
"What are you going to tell your kids about this?" Randy asked.
Jackson deadpanned, "Gonorrhea's a bitch."
Randy laughed. "Seriously."
"I'm going to tell them that nothing is real,” Jackson said. “Everything you think you see is really something else."
"You okay with that?"
"Yeah, man. Sure. I mean, what the fuck, worrying about it isn't going to change anything, right?" Jackson grinned at Randy, then sat back and closed his eyes. He wished he'd given Suzie Wong all his money. He wished Suzie and Malai could have a business of their own, a café, maybe, or a beauty salon. And he wished he was flying home in Suzie Wong's body.