“The Funny Thing About a Cambodian Prison”

Oh, the funny thing about a Cambodian prison, he says, is that if you have money, you can live better on the inside than you can on the out.  That’s Danny for you.  It tells you exactly what “teaching English abroad” turns out to be with him. 

Danny says he came home to take care of his dad after the old man had a stroke.  Most of us think Danny was on his way back anyway when it happened, so the stroke just came to be a good excuse.  I mean, no one had heard from Danny in a couple years, so how could anyone have gotten in touch with him.  Maybe someone would get a postcard from Bangkok or Tokyo two weeks late for Christmas.  Once I got a card from Kuala Lumpur.  I had to take it to a librarian and ask her where in Australia that was.  Hell, I didn’t know, I thought it was a city named after those little bears.

His old man never did come home from the hospital, just went to a rehab center, a nursing home and then Danny’s younger brother’s place.  Danny stayed at the old man’s house and moved back into his old room.  He got a job as a bike messenger.  That’s how I caught up with him, down at Mulligan’s crying foul about being hit by a car.  Cathy told him, “You bike messengers, you sure you didn’t zoom through a red light?” “Fucking red lights,” Danny said.  He spent the entire night telling her about Angkor Watt and Japanese vending machines that sell beer.  In the car on the ride home Cathy asked me what Danny was like in high school.

Danny’s next gig was driving a delivery van for some flower shop but everyone knew he was muling coke for Kickie Sneed in the SE.  He’d come around Mulligan’s with flowers for all the ladies.  Cathy ate it up.  She’d come home at night and put the flowers in a drinking glass in the center of the kitchen table.  About that time I started second-shift and Mulligan’s became an every night thing for her.  I’d get off work at one, get there about one-thirty, one-forty-five, Cathy’s wearing a flower behind one ear, sitting on Danny’s lap and throwing Chinese words at me as I come through the door.  One night I got out of work early and headed down to Mulligan’s, but neither had been in yet.  I called the house, no answer.  I found her car out in front of Danny’s old man’s place parked behind the florist’s van.  I thought about slashing their tires or going home for my pistol.  A lot of things go through a guy’s head and it’s easier to be ashamed of doing nothing than doing something.  She makes it home about 3 am, Danny following her through the door, explaining he was showing her how to meditate, and “Hey, if you do it right sometimes you fall asleep.”  After he leaves she starts talking about becoming a Buddhist and tries to take my mom’s crucifix off the wall.  “I’ve got to do something to make being poor not feel like a punishment!”  The cross hit the floor, the drinking glass hit the wall, somebody slapped somebody else, and somehow it ends with us under the sheets, Cathy talking Chinese in my ear and me promising to take her to San Francisco where they got a real Chinatown. 

Sure I was jealous, but, you know, Cathy used to watch Kung Fu growing up and Danny was the only guy she ever met who made it off the block.  Not long after Danny’s dad had another stroke and this looked like it.  Danny disappeared for a few days and then a few days after that and Kickie Sneed was asking after him.  Cathy saw there was a class on Japanese calligraphy at the library and I bought her brushes and ink and a sketch pad.  No Mulligan’s on Friday nights so she could be up early Saturday for the library.  I slept in late and ran out when she was gone and got a nice vase and some flowers, threw down a table cloth and made lunch.  Nothing fancy, a recipe I read in the newspaper, a stir-fry with pineapple and eggs and shrimp and chicken.  She came home, her name and mine spelled out in big black slashes on paper and we ate lunch with chopsticks and dropped our food and laughed and it lasted for hours, like when we were first dating and I couldn’t ever imagine raising my hand against her.  I broke down and wept and she held my head in her lap and stroked my hair.  There was this song I sang to her the first time we were naked together and she was so afraid of how much she loved me that it hurt.  I sang it to her again and we spent the rest of the afternoon in bed. 

Cathy framed her calligraphy and when the class ran its course she started another on the Japanese tea ceremony.  I came off second-shift and Danny’s dad died.  The funeral was held at St. Leo’s but Danny never showed.  His younger brother hadn’t heard from him in weeks and didn’t much care.  Kicky Sneed waited in the parking lot, but everyone expected that. 

After the tea ceremony came flower arranging, and when Cathy started on haikus I went back on second-shift.  No one heard from Danny, though I wouldn’t be surprised to get a postcard from somewhere sometime, a few weeks late for some holiday.  Kicky Sneed wants his pound of flesh and I’m sure if he ever gets it we’d all here about it.  Danny running out put Kicky in a bind.

I don’t regret how any of it went down.  All that Eastern spiritual stuff has really rubbed off on Cathy.  She hasn’t been to Mulligan’s in a few months, only drinks tea anymore.  The house smells of incense and we walk around in slippers all the time.  The Chinese comes out when her engine’s running.  Like I said, you only regret doing nothing.  When second-shift starts to wear a little I just remember what I took out of the florist’s van that night and it don’t seem so bad.  I figure I took enough of Kickie’s money off Danny I could go to Japan, ride one of those bullet trains.  I could go to China and get my picture taken standing on the Great Wall.  I could go to Cambodia and live like a king.

*FINALIST FOR 2014 ERNEST HEMINGWAY FLASH FICTION PRIZE 

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About Todd Covalcine

Todd Covalcine is from Cincinnati, Ohio. He is an MFA student at George Mason University. Other stories of his have appeared in Thema Literary Journal, Five Quarterly, and Paragraphiti.