The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Marian Palaia’s “The Given World”

PalaiaMarian_Credit_ Kelly Rae

Prologue

Jasper says this is the kind of heat that makes people
in Australia shoot each other. Or stab. Strangle. Run
over. Whatever. But we are not in Australia. We are in a
once-infamous city whose inhabitants still call it Saigon. It
has not rained in months, but tonight it will, and the rain
will go more or less unmentioned but not unnoticed. It will
still be hot, but the relief will be palpable. In Australia, they
will stop killing each other, but only if they get some rain
there too.
      We have been waiting—playing pool and drinking beer
and sometimes, when we can’t take it anymore, finding air-
conditioned places that will let us in. In those places, you
pay the usual dollar for a 333 beer; two more dollars for the
air. The Caravelle is one of those places, and the Rex, and
now these fancy new restaurants appearing block by block,
almost overnight. There is a swimming pool on the roof of
the Rex, and it is often full of corpulent Russian tourists,
suntanned like scraped cowhide. They are loud, and they
never come to the Lotus. This is our bar. No air-con. Rats
the size of puppies, but they stay in the dark corners, usually,
until closing time.
      The government here is renting Jasper from Australia
so he can teach young Vietnamese pilots how to fly passenger
planes. He is part of a contingent of Qantas boys—
another of whom has managed to woo me into bed, which
really didn’t require all that much effort. This other one
looks vaguely like Jim Morrison and has a room at the
Rex, with air-con and a bathtub. We are not in love; not
by a long shot. If he were one of the French boys, maybe I
would be in love. The Aussie is mainly in love with him-
self, but the bathtub is nice. It slows down the process of
going crazy.
      Back in February, during Tet, Jasper drank so much it
almost killed him and they had to send him home. The day
after the hospital set him loose, I waited on the steps of the
Rex with him while they put his gear in a cab. He didn’t
want to go. He’d found his place. He was almost in tears;
big, broad-shouldered, rowdy Cairns bruiser, barely able to
get the words out.
      “Nothing for me there,” he said. “I shouldn’t have
done it.”
      “It was in the air,” I said. “Couldn’t be helped.” He patted
my shoulder. The street was still littered with mounds of
pink paper from the millions of firecrackers that had gone
off nonstop for three days.
      They let him come back last week; he promised to be-
have. If he fucks up this time, he goes home for good. A lit-
tle while ago he headed across the street to the Apocalypse
Now, a serious bar where people go to get seriously drunk
He was shaky, even after three beers. I won’t see him come
out. I won’t see him ever again.

This selection comes from Marian Palaia’s novella The Given World, available from Simon & Schuster. Purchase your copy here!

Marian Palaia was born in Riverside, California, and grew up there and in Washington, DC. She lives in San Francisco and has also lived in Montana, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, and Nepal, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer. Marian has also been a truck driver, a bartender, and a logger. The Given World is her first novel.

Leslie LaChance edits Mixitini Matrix: A Journal of Creative Collaboration, has curated The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications and written poetry reviews for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, and her chapbook, How She Got That Way, was published in the quartet volume Mend & Hone by Toadlily Press in 2013. She teaches literature and writing at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and if she is not teaching, writing, or editing, she has probably just gone to make some more espresso.

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