For the Life of Thi Lin Klein, p.1Jack Twist
For the Life of Thi Lin Klein
A Novel of the Vietnam War
by Jack Twist
Published by Jack Twist
Copyright 2013 Jack Twist
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission, except for brief quotations to books and critical reviews. This story is a work of fiction. Characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
In 2009 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s annual Fiction Award came to an end. No entrant in the competition would be published that year and so, of the hundreds of manuscripts submitted, no one winner was chosen. Instead, a final four were chosen for special mention. For the Life of Thi Lin Klein was one of those four.
The American Girl
She had been warned, from the moment she made her plans known. It was a war zone after all, even in those safer southern parts. But she flew in anyway, as soon as her visa was approved, alone, with nothing more than a suitcase, a wish to fulfil and that propensity to see things in a positive light. An alien humidity greeted her as she stepped from the plane onto the open tarmac. Heavy clouds billowed overhead. Tan Son Nhut Airport, Saigon. September, 1971.
The war was around a decade old by then. American and American-backed initiatives occurred so incrementally it is difficult to name an actual starting date. But it was a time when western armies contained few women, very few outside medical staff, and she was neither soldier nor health worker. She would avoid the danger areas, where they could be reliably identified, and she planned on a short stay. Still, her visit worried those who knew her, and those who came to know her.
I was one of those who came to know her, well enough for us to agree to meet up after the war, ‘back in the world’. She had more confidence in that world than I did, a greater capacity for hope, which I liked to see as something in her personally, and not just an American thing. We had known each other just eight days, and although we spent fifty odd hours of that time very close, as close as two lost and frightened strangers might get, it was still not a long time. And we were young, and from different countries.
But if there was something fanciful in the rushed, frenzied moments of our agreement, I know she meant what she said. My word was less reliable. I made no real commitment as I talked up the possibilities of seeing her again, in a different time, in a different place. Our heart-to-heart took place on a stormy night in a humble hotel room in Saigon, the rain lashing the little balcony so hard that some of it came into the room. We marvelled at the force of it, wished it would ease.
One day the war ended, the curtain closing finally on those images of ignominious defeat, old newsreel clichés today, a communist tank crashing through palace gates, helicopters pushed off the sides of aircraft carriers like redundant junk, and people scrambling to get away from their own country. That was April, 1975, and some six months after that, four years from when I had last seen her, I set off to find the girl I’d promised to see again, back in the world. Well, more or less promised, trusting always that circumstances permitted.
And I gave her no warning, arriving in a small mountain town in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies hoping to track her down. She was twenty-five years old by then, quite possibly married, with children. Babies. I didn’t want to think about babies.
Watching the little airport terminal empty of people wrapped in furs and heavy jackets while the snow piled up outside, I wondered if I might be doing something less than proper, arriving unannounced. Like a stalker, an unwanted memory from the past, leaving the young woman little or no way to refuse my approach. No. I would call her first. And I didn’t have to say where I was. Anyway, she might have left this town, this district, long ago.
The friends I had left in Los Angeles saw nothing unbecoming in my behaviour, just something foolish, or so they intimated, laughing at my reticence. ‘I’ll call her from Vancouver,’ I told them. I told myself that from there I’d really know how serious I was. Because I had been the one to break things off, such as they were, ending any potentialities by not replying to her only letter, which arrived a couple of months after our parting at the airport in Saigon.
I like to blame the war for not writing back, the aftermath of confusion and regret. And my concern for the shock she must have been suffering still, because she was more deeply affected by what happened than I was. She was in a different world now, so far, in so many ways, from where we had been. She had a need for closure, as they say today, as if she could ever really close those things out completely.
Feeling that way, I sensed in her letter, behind her attempts at familiarity, a fear of a return to it all. I might have imagined more of that fear than was really there in her letter. It was a difficult time. The memories still fresh. And whatever the precise import of that letter, I judged it through my own sense of a need to start again, to forget and move on.
In any event I did not reply. When I heard no more her silence encouraged me and if I could never properly put her out of my mind, so much nobler then my resolve to leave her alone.
But now here I was.
At Vancouver I should have tried to phone, at least gone searching for a phone book, but I anticipated, procrastinated again, until the last call for the flight to her town. And I was on the plane, then circling in what to me seemed impossible cloud, as the pilot waited for a blue patch through which to descend, and miss the mountains as he did. Cold, unfamiliar Canada felt suddenly disconcerting. There I was in a town where I knew no one, well possibly no one, somewhere near the British Columbia-Alberta border.
The affable motel proprietor clearly thought I was running from something, arriving in winter, alone, professing no interest in skiing. Our conversation quickly waned and I went to my room, unsure whether to call at all in the morning, even should I locate her phone number.
Eight days. No more than three together. Four years ago. In the world’s most tumultuous and devastated corner at the time. Her personal turmoil. Her state of mind. Would she really want to be reminded of all that? And then there were my needs. Did I want to bring it all back into my life? I had at least a week to get to New York and meet up with my friends. Back home I could explain this little trip into the mountains as part of the holiday. I could finally forget her, and as they say, move on.
But in the morning, even a reluctant Canadian morning, the sun no more than a colour of warmth, a range of white peaks beyond the motel window and the valley of the town leaned into the sky in one direction. There was a jagged, haphazard uniformity about them that both defied and declared the clarity of the blue, and seemed to point the way.
The motel manager seemed brightened too by the sun and the blue and white world, might even have been pleased to see a suggestion of goodwill in my eye, where last night there had been a downcast and defensive redness. He poured smiles and coffee as I sat smelling bacon from the kitchen.
“Klein?” He frowned. “No. I know most everyone in town. Do they live out of town maybe?” He returned soon after with my breakfast and a phone book. “Here. There’s a Klein up in the valley. That’s well out. Just because they have a telephone doesn’t mean there’s any other power out that far. Everyone in this country has a phone. In case you get snowed in.”
And so I was committed, took my time with my breakfast, prepared myself.
A male voice answered. “Hello?”
“Hello. My name is Mark Ross. I’m not sure if I have the right number. I was h
“Yes, I know her. She’s my sister. She doesn’t live here anymore.”
There was a pause before he said, “she moved away nearly four years ago.” And before I could summon the nerve to ask where to, “Is that an Australian accent?”
“Are you the guy …? What name did you say again?”
I told him.
“Do you know Abbie from when she was in Vietnam?’
“Yes. That’s right. I … I should have tried to contact her. I’m travelling with some friends and took the opportunity …”
“Where are you?”
“I’m at the Lake Motel. Here in town.”
“You’re here in town? How long are you staying?”
“I’m not sure. A few days. I made no definite plans … in case …”
There was another silence before he said, “well, look. I remember your name. Abbie told us about you. And since you’re here in town, do you think we could meet? If you want? If you have the time?”
For the Life of Thi Lin Klein by Jack Twist / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes