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TIME PAID FOR IS EASY TO FORGET / Lawrence Coates THEY WERE SITTING around a trash fire when the American came with Mara and took the guitar from Jaime. The fire was of old broken crates and pallets, the leavings of every port city. It had not been built for warmth; the Philippine nights were always warm and humid. It had been built for the sake of community; it gave light, and gave them a center around which to form a circle, and cost only the refuse scraps of wood from the Naval complex at the port. The American sat in the center of the group with the girl at his side and tried to tune the guitar. "Still flat," he said. "If I can just get one more turn out of it." He frowned. The E string had parted and someone had knotted the two ends together with a becket bend. He doubted whether he could tune it, or whether it would sound well if tuned. It would never have occurred to him to try to mend a string in similar fashion. He would merely have bought a new string, or a new set of six. The string parted under his thumb with the last half turn. With a sharp twang that quickly went flat, it broke and stuck out awkwardly from the guitar face like the entrails of a gutted bird. "I'm sorry," he said. "I was trying to get it just right." Jaime, the guitar's owner, took it from the American's hands and retted the string. There was no question in Jaime's mind that it had to be mended, because there was no other possibility of having an E string. The stores down in Olongapo were for the American sailors, not for Filipinos who had come from the country and ended up on the outskirts of Subie City. It was easy for an American to want things to be just right. "That's O.K. I fix it. You what name you are?" "Joe." "And what ship you are?" "The Mohawk Nation." Mara put her hand on Joe's knee and leaned against him, so that he wouldn't forget whom he had come with, or why. He had paid to sleep with her that night, and she wanted things to go well because it was the first time they had been together. Joe had danced with her in the bar where she worked, and laughed and made jokes. It was obvious that he was young, and new in the Philippines, because he had told her that she was a pretty girl. She never heard that as a bar The Missouri Review ยท 69 girl. If a sailor paid the bar fine there was no need to pay compliments. They'd been on the way to her narrow room when Joe had seen the guitar and the fire, and his eyes had brightened. Young he was, inexperienced. Joe had the guitar back in his hands, but the string again parted. "It won't work." He looked at the guitar as though it were an injured animal. "I can't get it in tune." "Make something anyway," Mara encouraged him. "You want to make something. Make a song." "It won't sound right. I don't want to play if it isn't going to sound good." He handed the guitar to Jaime. Jaime began to pick out a song without bothering to mend the string. "I can make a song for you. In Filipino. A song about a child." He played and the guitar sounded full and lovely, without any hint that a string was broken. His voice was high, nearly falsetto, and on the choruses the others joined in. Joe heard even Mara, beside him, sing; the two unjoined ends of the parted string bobbed in the air, unnoticed by anyone but him. He reached for Mara's hand. She squeezed his hand and whispered in his ear, "Let's go to the room." She thought he might be turning sad, because he was young. And she wanted things to go well, because it had been some time since she had had a steady...


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