When we get to the restaurant, Lizzie's seated at one of the tables, candlelight flickering on her face. Clint Eastwood races ahead and nuzzles his snout in her lap, but Lizzie's face doesn't light up the way it did this morning. The other customers turn around in their seats to look at Clint Eastwood, and Lizzie seems embarrassed to be the object of his affections.
"Hi," she says when I get to the table, lighting a cigarette.
I kiss one of her hands, sit down beside her. I tell Clint Eastwood to stay. He lies down on his belly in the sand, head resting between his stubby feet. The sun is setting behind us, rays flickering across the plane of the sea, and I think I'm starting to understand why farangs come such a long way to get to the Island, why they travel so far to come to my home.
"Beautiful evening," I say, fingering the knot of my tie.
Lizzie nods absentmindedly.
"Is there something wrong?" I finally ask, after the waiter takes our order in English. "Have I done anything to offend you?"
Lizzie sighs, stubs out her cigarette in the bamboo ashtray.
"Nothing's wrong," she says. "Nothing at all."
But when our food arrives, Lizzie barely touches it. She keeps passing Clint Eastwood pieces of her sautéed prawns. Clint Eastwood gobbles them up gratefully. At least he's enjoying the meal, I think. On weekend nights, I often bring Clint Eastwood to this restaurant, after the tables have been stowed away, and he usually has to fight with the strays that descend on the beach for leftovers farangs leave in their wake: crab shells, fish bones, prawn husks.
"Something's wrong," I say. "You're not happy."
She lights another cigarette, blows a cloud of smoke.
"Hunter's here," she says finally, looking out at the darkening ocean.
"No," she says. "My boyfriend. He's here."
"Don't turn around. He's sitting right behind us with his friends."
At that moment, a large farang swoops into the empty seat across the table from us. He's dressed in a white undershirt and a pair of surfer's shorts. His nose is caked with sunscreen. His chest is pink from too much sun. There's a Buddha dangling from his neck. He looks like a deranged clown.
He reaches over and grabs a piece of stuffed squid from my plate.
"Who's the joker?" he asks Lizzie, gnawing on my squid. "Friend of yours?"
"Hunter," Lizzie says. "Please."
"Hey," he says, looking at me, taking another piece of squid from my entrée. "What's with the tie? And what's with the pig, man?"
I smile, put on a hand on Clint Eastwood's head.
"Hey you," he says. "I'm talking to you. Speak English? Talk American?"
He tears off a piece of squid with his front teeth. I can't stop staring at his powdered nose, the bulge of his hairy, sunburned chest. I'm hoping he chokes.
"You've really outdone yourself this time, baby," he says to Lizzie now. "But that's what I love about you. Your unpredictability. Your wicked sense of humor. Didn't know you went for mute tards with pet pigs."
"Oh, Lizzie," he says, feigning tenderness, reaching out to take one of her hands. "I've missed you so much. I hate it when you just leave like that. I've been worried sick about you. I'm sorry about last night, okay baby? Okay? I'm really sorry. But it was just a misunderstanding, you know? Jerry and Billyboy over there can testify to my innocence. You know how Thai girls get when we're around."
"We can talk about this later, Hunter."
"Yes," I interject. "I think you should talk to her later."
He just stares at me with that stupid white nose jutting out between his eyes. For a second, I think Hunter might throw the squid at me. But then he just pops the rest into his mouth, turns to Lizzie, and says with his mouth full:
This is the complete text of 'Farangs', one of seven short stories collected in Sightseeing. Copyright © 2005 by Rattawut Lapcharoensap. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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