New fiction: Mark Crimmins captures a sensory snapshot of Hanoi, Vietnam.
When you sit on your narrow balcony’s air conditioning unit and peer beneath the tangle of exposed power lines down onto Ly Quoc Su Street and see a woman in a pointed straw hat pushing a bicycle, its handlebar pannier full of brilliant green avocados, its luggage rack dwarfed by a round straw basket a yard in diameter adorned with color-coded fruits as vivid as a still life by Cezanne; when you notice a tiny storefront six feet wide and read the sign above its shuttered windows: WAFFLE HOUSE—THE FIRST TIME APPEARANCE IN VIETNAM; when you see an even tinier store—this one three feet wide—selling bamboo screens that are rolled up and stacked like carpet rolls on the sidewalk, the aged merchant sitting by them on a wooden stool four inches high; when you look at the closed metal gate of the Huang Mai Café, its neon sign flashing the word COFFEE in bold red letters, and see a smart young woman glide up on a new scooter, park it on the sidewalk, remove her green-beaked helmet, and reach up to touch a secret button concealed beneath the store’s street number, the gate rising slowly like an old skool cinema curtain to reveal five irregular columns of large plastic coffee tubs balanced on three huge earthenware vessels, the containers stenciled with a slender red and yellow two-tone animal silhouette that scurries (and poops) over the word Weasel; when you watch a large Hyundai bus pulling up in front of the Central Backpackers Hostel, and read the sign painted on its side in red caps, HA LONG FANTASIA, and smile at the subscript written in smaller blue italics (Beyond Your Expectations!) as the bus comes to rest in front of the hostel steps, where hip and hairy residents sit smoking and dreadlocked next to the banner advertising the hostel’s rates—five dollars a night, including free breakfast, free WiFi, and free beer; when you look down the street and see the façade of a building peeled off and exposing (like a living diorama of human activity) five levels of the building’s interior—first floor: two shirtless workers bashing on corrugated steel panels with hammers; second floor: a woman in a straw rain hat and loose blue cotton clothes sweeping newly set cement with a grass broom; third floor: a large pile of sand, beside which a muscled worker is swinging heavy bags into a neat stack; fourth floor: a man in a beige jacket and green pants flattening newly-poured concrete with a large heavy wooden square nailed to the end of a piece of two-by-four, who then stops and gingerly—he’s forty feet above the sidewalk as he perches on the edge—takes out a measuring tape and a trowel to detail the perimeter; fifth floor: a stepped-back concrete platform flanked by fluted faux deco pillars, where the only sign of life is a single plastic water bottle with a blue top, placed like an offering in an elongated recess; when you see the sign for the Nam Hair Salon and realize its subtitle both describes the salon in diacritical Vietnamese and expresses an accidental affirmation in American English: GO VIET NAM; then you are glad that you came to Vietnam, glad that you came to Hanoi, glad that you chose to stay in a small hotel on a side street of the Old Town, and glad that you are sitting on this balcony, balanced on this air conditioner, peering beneath the bundle of power lines three feet from your head at the life of the city, the life of the street, the life of the people, at life, at life, at life.
Mark Crimmins’s fiction was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize, a
2015 Best of the Net Award, and a 2015 Silver Pen Authors Association
Write Well Award. His short stories have been published in
Confrontation, Cha, Split Rock Review, Penmen Review, Trainless
Magazine, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Kyoto Journal, Prick of
the Spindle, Microliterature, Eclectica, Cortland Review, Tampa
Review, Ellipsis, Columbia, Queen’s Quarterly, Apalachee Review, Del
Sol Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Flash: The International
Short-Short Story Magazine. His flash fictions have been
published in Happy, White Rabbit, theNewerYork, Eunoia Review, Flash
Frontier, Portland Review, Pif Magazine, Gravel, Eastlit, Restless
Magazine, Atticus Review, Apocrypha & Abstractions, Dogzplot, Spelk,
and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He teaches English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.