Eric Nguyen has a degree in sociology from the University of Maryland along with a certificate in LGBT Studies. He is currently an MFA candidate at McNeese State University and lives in Louisiana.
A Place To Stay
Huong and her sons had been in the country for only a month and already there had been problems. The Minhs were the first of them. Their sponsor, a white Catholic priest, had paired them together because they were from the same village. “Minh. Both 32. You will like them,” said the priest in broken Vietnamese. She found his flat accent oddly charming, like the rosary hanging from his rearview mirror. It reminded her of the ones the French and American missionaries wore when they visited Mỹ Tho in hopes of having them change their minds. She once knew a family with the last name Minh and she pictured the couple the same: young, well-off, curious.
When she met them, she was surprised. Người Việt didn’t act this way. The husband was fat and obnoxious. He was the opposite of her husband, who was quiet and considerate, thin and handsome. Her husband had written poetry in French and that was how he wooed her—with words she could barely understand. This man was loud and touchy.
“Welcome to America!” He walked toward her, arms outstretched. He grabbed her in a firm embrace. His grip was like a bear’s. “Welcome, friend! We’re all friends here! All of us!”
The smell of alcohol stung her nose and she held Phuoc closer. The man squeezed her butt before letting go and then bent over to pat Tuan on the head and came back to Huong to pat the baby. “All friends,” he repeated.
“He used to be a police officer in Mỹ Tho,” said his wife, a tall and lanky woman with hair growing down her back. “Now, he drinks!” She said it like it was the funniest thing she had ever heard. She had a throaty laugh like she smoked, though Huong never saw her do so. The wife worked the graveyard shift as a house cleaner at a hotel and left Huong and her husband alone at night. It was a shotgun home with three rooms: the first was the living room, after that was the bedroom, in the back was the kitchen. The wife let Huong stay in the front room, but after she left, the husband said she and her boys could sleep with him in the bedroom. “We’re all friends here,” he said. Huong politely refused, but sat up for most of the night, anticipating something. She was convinced every sound was either the husband or someone lurking outside, trying to get in.
The wife would come home in the morning, smelling of detergents and bleach, and quietly close the door and open the blinds.
One morning, Huong woke up and the wife was changing, stripping off her chemical soaked clothes. She put on white sweat pants and a tank top. She sat next to Huong and turned on the TV, quickly turning down the volume. A cartoon was playing. Huong heard violins and horns as a pig character was walking into a forest and yellow eyes peered out of the darkness.
“What do you think of America?” asked the wife, lighting up a cigarette. “Not all fireworks and hamburgers, am I right?”
They heard shuffling in the next room—the rustling of sheets and the bounce of bedsprings. They bit their lips. Then came a scream and the sound of glass hitting wall, shattering. Phuoc cried. Huong got up to hold him. Then there were footsteps and the sound of the bathroom door closing, the shower water pouring, the shower curtains moving.
“Have you heard anything from that husband of yours?”
“Pity.” The wife bit her nail.
“Everything will be fine,” said Huong. “I’m sure of it.”
“Pity,” repeated the wife.
Later that week, Huong left. Tuan followed her as she held a suitcase in one hand and held Phuoc against her body. They walked several blocks until she found a motel. The word, she remembered, meant place to stay. She paid for a week in cash. She shoved the other half of the converted money back into the envelope and tucked it back into her purse. For a second, she thought if she ran out of money, they would have to send her back. Like in a game, if you lost, you stopped playing. It was a silly thought.