The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction

Read The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction for Free Online

Book: Read The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction for Free Online
Authors: Violet Kupersmith
Tags: Fantasy
in the whole wide world,” he says. Gag. I translate for Mr. Henry and he laughs.
    “Let me tell you something about women. Translate for me, Phi. Did you know that in Hanoi, they say the most beautiful girls live in Saigon? In Saigon, they say the most beautiful girls live in Hue. In stuck-up Hue, they say that Saigon is right. But everyone is wrong: There are no beautiful girls left. Pretty faces, sure. But then they ring their eyes with all that dark makeup. They wear see-through blouses and run around in packs, shrieking and squealing and always fiddling with their cellphones and their dyed hair.” His voice breaks off, and when he speaks again there is a note in it that I’ve never heard before. “Whatever happened to the simple girls, the sweet girls, the girls that you could sing about? All my life, I’ve only ever known one girl like that.”
    I don’t translate the last bit. “Who, Auntie Linh?”
    He snorts. “Of course not. It was a girl who stayed in the hotel once, a long time ago, passing through, from—oh, I can’t remember anymore. But she stole all our hearts in the week she was here. I was a bit younger than you then, weedy and small, and she only had eyes for Hai and your father. This wasbefore your mother was in the picture, by the way,” he adds, because he can tell that I am trying to calculate the dates in my head. “And before your father started to go …” He makes a waggly finger gesture by his temple. “Well, you know. I think they both believed that they could get her to stay somehow, and marry one of them. That’s how besotted they were—we were—with her.”
    The American has been quietly drinking his beer this whole time. Though he can’t understand, his smile has faded slightly and his eyes flicker back and forth between the two of us over his glass. But I can’t worry about him right now; Mr. Henry has been gradually tilting forward over the course of his little speech, and by now he is slumped over the table, barely holding himself up on his elbows.
Don’t pass out yet, Mr. Henry
, I think to myself.
Hold out just a little bit longer
. I am acutely aware of my own heartbeat. “What happened?” I ask softly.
    He gives a hollow little laugh. “What happened? You already know what happened. Of my brothers, I was the luckiest,” he says, and then his face hits the table.
    For a moment everything is frozen. Then Mr. Henry snores loudly. The world clicks back into place and I remember where I am, and that the American is still sitting across the table from me.
    An awkward silence, punctuated by Mr. Henry’s periodic snoring, ensues. I register the American picking up the pitcher and reaching over the mass of Mr. Henry to refill my glass. More silence. Then he clears his throat and says, out of nowhere, “Your English is really good, did you know that?”
    I snap my eyes up from staring at my unconscious uncle.
Of course I know how good my own English is
, I think, my lip automatically lifting to sneer. Then I realize what I’m doing and want to laugh. I don’t know why, but Mr. Henry’s story has me rattled, and now I’m grateful to the American for saying something irrelevant, something innocuous. For breaking the spell. My cheeks are warm, so I know that I am approaching drunk, but I’ve still retained my pandering ability and reply, “Do you really think so? I’m flattered. In school it was the only class I liked. But I get so embarrassed about my accent.”
    The American gives me what he probably thinks is a gentle, friendly punch in the shoulder with his gigantic fist. “Aww, Phi, don’t even—your accent is great. Your English is great, really great. In fact …” He breaks off to drain the rest of his glass, wipes his mouth on the back of a huge pink hand, and leans toward me over the table. The alcohol on his breath is overpowering. “In fact, I want to make you a proposition, Phi. I know this is a bit sudden, but don’t think I’m just saying this

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