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Manoa 14.1 (2002) 70-83

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Nguyen Qui Duc

All week, Mr. Toan kept busy changing the oil in his car, fixing the brakes, and adjusting the engine hoses. The gold Toyota, still fairly new, was a gift from Vinh, his eldest son. He had received it after he had been in America for three months.

It was the end of autumn; by the time his three kids came home from their jobs or from school, it was already dark. They didn't say anything about their father's tinkering with the car. Cuong, who had changed his name to Cowen, once told him, in English, that he should just take it to a mechanic. Cuong was the last son, born only three months before the end of the war or, as Mr. Toan would say, when they lost the country. Mrs. Toan escaped to the United Stateswith Cuong, his two older brothers, and his sister. Mr. Toan was captured while stationed in Quang Tri and was taken to the Truong Son mountains as a prisoner.

Mr. Toan's kids always stayed in their rooms. They listened to music, watched TV, or were on the phone for hours. Or they'd be in front of the computer. They'd show their faces at dinner, chomping pizza, hamburgers, or fried chicken. They were such animals. If their mother asked about their days, they'd mumble back their answers. They disappeared into their rooms again after taking turns doing the dishes. Mr. Toan was just a ghost. Didn't say much or smile, and laughed even less.Yesterday, Cuong asked his mother what his father was doing with the car. His mother said, Oh, well, only your dad would know. I don't know. She spoke in English, and Mr. Toan could catch just a word or two. He'd studied English for nine months, from the time he arrived in America. But he was old and tired. Whatever he learned, he forgot. His old friends would ask. He'd smile. Oh, I'll survive. Cut grass for a living. What do I need English for? The more I study, the more I forget. The less I study, the less there is to forget. If I don't study, I don't forget.

After eating, Mr. Toan would go to the basement to wash his clothes. Normally, he'd sit and read the newspapers he found in theVietnamese grocery store downtown. His wife left him alone.

Over the weekend, Mr. Toan cooked a big pot of noodle soup.Vinh, whose name was now Victor, ate two bowls. Each of the others only had a [End Page 70] small bowl, but didn't even finish that. Cuong was glued to the phone, making plans to meet his friends at some restaurant. Loan (Lou-Ann) and Tuan (Tony) were out until late. Mr. Toan stayed home with his wife but said nothing much. Mrs. Toan's maiden name had been Van; now she was Vanna. She was a real estate agent and was doing well but had to put up with demanding hours.

On Saturday morning, Mrs. Toan asked her husband to come along when she was showing some houses. She could drop him off at their friends'. Mr. Toan asked her to stay home because he wanted to talk to her. She said, Whatever it is, it can wait. I have an appointment—I have to go. He went back to tinkering with his car. He had been an officer in the armored-cars division and wasn't afraid of tanks, so the Toyota was no big deal—except for the electronic parts that were too modern for him. Finished with the engine, he went to place a few cardboard boxes in the trunk. In the past weeks, he'd picked up things from both Vietnamese and American stores and put them in the boxes.

Sunday night, everyone went to bed early. No one said anything to him, and no one wanted to hear much from him. The weekend had gone by like any other.

Monday morning, everyone left the house...


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