The first time she screamed in my bed she scared me half to death.
In the bar she was bright, and pretty, and constantly moving. She’d flit like a bird from punter to punter, cadging drinks, stroking fat thighs, slaying them at Connect Four. But she also bounced from girl to girl, sharing cute photos on their phones, stroking damp hair out of weeping eyes, loaning this one ten baht, borrowing ten from that one. She obviously enjoyed her job, enjoyed her life. Whatever haunted her dreams, it didn’t come from the bar.
It began with squeaking. In her dream, she was screaming, but all that came out was squeaks. I’ve had those dreams. You want to shout, but nothing comes out. You want to run, but your legs won’t move. The helplessness is as bad as the terror.
So she squeaked, and twitched, and she soaked the sheets with sweat. I’ve spent most of my life alone; just having another person in the bed makes me sleep lightly. I woke with the first squeak.
I watched her struggle, wondering if I should wake her or not. As I debated with myself she became more purposeful in her movements, pushing something away with limp hands. Her squeaks became vowels and consonants, and those became words.
“Yah, na? Yah, na?”
Don’t, okay? Don’t, okay?
Then the scream. Loud. Way too loud to come out of such a tiny little body.
I was on the outside, because I always have to have a surface to put my glasses on when I go to sleep, and I had half-jumped half-fallen out of the bed. My knees were on the floor, my chest and arms still on the bed. My heart was pounding. She had levitated a foot off the mattress with the scream and pressed herself flat against the wall.
We looked at each other wide-eyed and gape-jawed. We had pulled the mosquito net from two of its anchors. In the dark, with the net swagged between us, she looked like a ghost wearing my pajama tops.
She didn’t want to talk about it. She wanted to pass it off with a “mai pen rai” and a blow job. But I have a bad habit of prying into other people’s lives. In therapy I’ve learned it’s a reaction to all the big stuff in the world I can’t control: the wars, the famines, the tsunamis. Somewhere in childhood my subconscious decided that the small, domestic details of life could be fixed. The bad grades. The missing car keys. The broken heart. So I am fascinated with the small details of people’s lives. I ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers. Some people get uneasy when you take too close an interest in their personal lives.
Some people would rather suck your cock than tell you why they have bad dreams.
I kept badgering her but it’s a rare hooker that will let a man get into her head. She turned my questions around on me, “How come you no have guhrn-fen? Why you take so much med’sin?”
She teased me, she flattered me, she stonewalled me. She would have made a fantastic lawyer, in another life. Finally, right before the sun came up, I let her give me that blow job and we both fell into exhausted sleep.
I got an assignment writing some articles for an Australian syndicate about new age spas on Samui. Yoga, reiki massage, coffee enemas on the beach. Easy stuff to write about, free rooms and meals for a week, a decent advance and who knows what kind of residuals.
Joiners are welcome in most hotels on Samui, so I took her with me. Dressed in street clothes she was indistinguishable from a college student and it was refreshing to be addressed with peer level pronouns by taxi drivers and desk clerks. She charmed everybody she met. There was nowhere I couldn’t take her, other than to the spas I was writing about, of course.
Our third night on Samui she screamed so loud the front desk called our room. “We heard a woman screaming, is she alright?”
They wouldn’t take my word for it. She had to get on the phone to convince the front desk that she wasn’t being murdered. This time I didn’t ask her why she had bad dreams. We spooned for a while, and I accepted the offered blow job but my heart wasn’t really in it.
I could barely sleep at all after that. I’d drift off and some small noise, a tuk-tuk outside, voices in the hallway, would jerk me awake.
I started hearing “Yah, na? Yah, na?” in my sleep.
Don’t, okay? Don’t, okay?
Every time I woke up there she was, eyes open, rigid as a corpse, staring at the celling. Staying awake by sheer will power. A couple more nights and we were both haggard and short tempered. There was no more sex.
By the time we left Samui we were walking on egg shells. We were friendly to each other, but in an overly cautious, extremely formal way. She had lost face, and she needed to get away from her shame. We both needed sleep.
As soon as we got home she told me that one of her overseas boyfriends had come back to Phuket. He sent her money every month; she had to go to him.
I said that’s okay, I understand. When he leaves, give me a call.
I saw her around the island after that, and we were always friendly. That’s how it was, you know? I liked her, she liked me, but I never asked her back to my bed. About a year later she and the girls she lived with were arrested at a card game and I never saw her again. But sometimes, on a dark, humid night, the mosquitos would buzz around the net real loud and I’d hear her in my dreams.