“The conduits and habits of love vary widely, but the need is universal. We can forgive each other…” Joe looked up from his notebook. “Sadder but wiser—what do you think, Batman?”
“No need for the Gettysburg Address.”
“Ah, mmm. ‘Good luck. Thanks for everything. Aloha.’ More like that?”
“It’s all in the tone, Joe.”
“Right.” Count on Batman. Stay in the groove, no time for bitterness. “How about some Bach? Or, Cyril Pahinui?” He thought of Cyril’s father, Gabby, sitting in Shipwreck Kelley’s, strong head and neck, a handsome man, a survivor, talking excitedly to a female fan. The Pahinuis were keepers of the groove.
Cyril’s guitar filled the room with open booming music. When the island boys got hold of Spanish guitars, they hadn’t taken long to trade flamenco for the Pacific. Love and loss were small pretty birds above the endless rolling.
“I’m feeling better. Think I’ll go for a walk before dark. Want me to shut this off?”
Joe put a flashlight in his pocket and left. He turned down Soi 2, the first lane he came to, getting away from the bikes, cars, and tuk-tuks. The one bay machine shop was already closed. Two older Thai women were drinking tea at a metal table in front of where they took in laundry. It had been hot earlier, but it was cooling; the sewer smell was beginning to abate.
He came to an intersecting lane, narrower, unmarked, and followed it around a curve. A middle-aged man was clipping a green plant hanging in front of a wooden house with tall paneled doors that seemed from another time. “Sawat-dee kap,” Joe said.
A few minutes later, he followed another lane, new to him. It was nearly dark. He hadn’t gone far when there was a burst of high pitched barking, followed by a woman’s scream. The sound came from ahead, around a bend in the lane. Joe hurried forward, moving to the side and taking the flashlight from his pocket.
The woman screamed again. Joe shined his light on her. She was leaning toward a dog who was attacking and retreating. The woman looked at Joe and pointed, “NgO! ” A short thick snake with diamond markings was coiled just out of striking distance from the dog. The dog jumped back and forth, challenging closer and closer. The snake struck; the woman screamed; the dog leaped sideways. The snake fell forward. Before it could coil, the dog was on it, jaws gripping behind the head. The dog bit and hung on, growling and shaking, snapping the head back and forth until the snake stopped writhing.
The woman put her palms together and bowed her head. The dog’s fast breathing was loud in the silence.
After a moment, she motioned to Joe. He followed her to a house where her husband listened to the story. “Thank you,” he said to Joe. He fired off instructions. His wife went into a car port and reappeared with a cardboard box and a shovel. He took them from her and gave Joe the universal come-with-me wave.
When they reached the snake, the dog was curled on the other side of the lane, resting. It was smallish, short-haired, white with yellow patches. The man handed Joe the box and stood still, assessing. He stepped forward and smashed the snake twice with the flat of the shovel. He took back the box. “Dead for sure,” he said.
He shoveled the snake into the box and closed the top flaps carefully. Joe pointed at the dog. “Your wife almost stepped on the snake. Is it your dog?”
The man smiled. Nothing in the universe belongs to anyone. “Soi dog,” he said.