By the end of the first month, Wayne was smoking dope bought by his friends’ yobosayos from the Korean pharmacy, which the GIs weren’t allowed to enter. The stuff was weak, low grade compared to what people grew back home, but it was all there was. He’d roll and smoke joints at night in one of his buddies’ hooches while they were out in the Ville. Back in his bunk he’d listen to the Armed Forces radio play all the good music he grew up with, fixing his eyes on the Bible, trying to get past Genesis. That lasted a few more weeks until his buddies got tired of his using their hooches and yobosayos to get his stuff. “Get your own shit, you cheap lazy motherfucker,” one of them said. And so one Friday he went out with them to Duffy’s, intent on doing just that.
Instead he ended up at a skivvy show. He’d chosen a girl at Duffy’s, and was trying to explain to her that he just wanted her to buy weed for him, that he didn’t need anything else, but her English was minimal and she kept putting her hand on his cock, which had been painfully hard since he’d seen her. She wore one of those VD cards around her neck, announcing the date of her last check up, certifying she was clean. “No sex,” he kept saying as she rubbed his crotch. He’d been masturbating every night, thinking of Bonnie and her breasts just after Allison had been born, puffed up like a stretched balloon, and how one night when she was sleeping he’d put his mouth to one and sucked on the sweet, warm milk. She’d put her hand on his head, like he was a baby, but didn’t stir, and he’d continued until he’d had his fill and could fall back asleep. He thought of that many nights, and also imagined having sex with Betsy Lynn Stewart, who he’d gone out with in tenth grade before Bonnie, hers the only other breasts he’d been allowed to touch. After he masturbated he asked God to forgive him for thinking of another woman besides Bonnie. But now with the girl sitting on his lap, rubbing him with her thighs, he had to leave the bar before he did some real sinning. He stood abruptly, tipping the chair back, running out of Duffy’s just as he had the first time, the girl from the bar following him. He wondered if he should try one more time for the weed. A few of his friends emerged from Duffy’s with arms around the girls they’d paid for the night.
“Come on, buddy. We’re going to a skivvy show.”
The girl grabbed his hand, leading him along with the others to a side street, down the steps of a nondescript building marked by black Korean letters. They walked into a room that looked like a makeshift movie theater, with a tiny projector in the back and a pull-down screen like those used for showing slide shows back home. The seats were folding metal chairs in neat, spacious rows. A Korean man emerged, Mr. Jung, as thin as Mr. Lee at Duffy’s, wearing a black suit that would not be enough to keep the chill out, as the room was barely heated. They each paid him two dollars. Wayne half expected Mr. Jung to return with popcorn and Cokes, but he didn’t. Wayne kept his coat on, a thick down parka, and he and the girl, “call me Iris,” she’d finally whispered, took the last row. She held her hand out in front of his chest. “One dollar,” she said. He fished in his wallet and gave her a dollar. “You get me weed?” he asked. “Okay,” she said, tucking the folded note into the waistband of her hose. She wore a short checked skirt and he wondered if her legs were blue under the stockings, for he could not guess how she withstood the cold in so little clothing. Instead of popcorn, Mr. Jung passed out joints, which he then lit for them ceremoniously.
“This is some special shit, Wayne,” Sam said. Then the lights turned out and the movie began.
Although the film was grainy with splatters and skips, poorly produced and edited, there was no doubt that Wayne was watching a homemade porn flick. He had looked at Playboy in high school a few times, and he’d even seen an X-rated movie one night in Nashville. But this movie, which featured a man having sex with two women, was different. He felt like he was watching someone’s real life, sordid as it was. The girls moaned artificially at regular intervals. Bonnie’s breathing was never regular like that, and she only called out every now and then. But the sex on the screen was real and he was transfixed. He was barely aware of his own body, his penis erect again, nor did he notice Iris moving from her chair and unzipping his pants. He noticed only a warm sensation below, but his mind was not attached to his body, and it felt like one of the wet dreams he had when he was younger. There was something different in the joint he was smoking, too. He felt that he was levitating. When he looked down and saw Iris giving him the blow job he patted her head and he thought of Bonnie touching him when he’d been at her breast and somehow that made it good and all right, that he was still okay with God somehow, that He understood how hard things were, that Wayne was doing his best.
Named one of “today’s strongest emerging talents in literary fiction and poetry” by the Huffington Post, Sybil Baker is the author of two books of fiction, The Life Plan, a comic novel, and a linked short story collection, Talismans. Her MFA is from the Vermont College of FineArts. She spent twelve years teaching in South Korea before returning to the States in 2007. She is an Assistant Professor of English (Creative Writing) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where she is the Assistant Director of the Meacham Writers’ Workshop. She is currently on faculty of the first international MFA Program at City University of Hong Kong and is Fiction Editor at Drunken Boat.
Adapted from Into This World by Sybil Baker. Copyright © 2012 by Sybil Baker. With the permission of the publisher, Engine Books.
Author photo by George Conley