"Dailies" by 2007 Literary Awards Program Second Place Winner, Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith

Dailies

It happens at the forty-third second. Forty seconds in, however, my two sons are safe in Vic Morrow’s arms, the helicopter’s whirring blade is exposed and stilled, and I know that when I thumb the PLAY button, the blade will continue spinning above them, its rotor a broken tail; sparks will gush from where the ammunitions team miscalculated the blast, the palms and tall grass growing out of the water will bow down, succumb to the wind created by the helicopter’s blade, and the water will wrinkle. For that moment they are supposed to be safe and Vic Morrow is to bring my sons, Chien, 7, and Thanh, 8, safely out of the rice paddy. That’s what the script called for. That’s what John Landis had in mind for his segment of Twilight Zone the Movie: a bigot undergoes what it’s like to be hated and in turn assumes a heart.

But it has been twenty years since that day in Rancho Cucamonga where they filmed the Vietnam segment of the story in a hangar the studio constructed to facilitate a real helicopter, a hangar large enough to construct a body of water with reinforced beams, tarp, chicken-wire and rocks and dirt dump trucks unloaded for men to rake unevenly around the bottom. The point of the rocks, I heard Landis tell his assistant that day, was so that Vic Morrow couldn’t get sure footing, that when he thrashed through the water it would look more believable, like he was truly struggling with more than just trying to get two boys across the water to safety. Twenty years and Chien and Thanh should be living in a house of their own, with a wife and a child or two barely out of preschool, jobs in which they wear suits, go to offices with their names engraved on plaques which sit atop their desks, or perhaps continue a career in film. But this is not the case.

I push the PLAY button, and the helicopter’s tail is a sparkler, the rudders of the chopper get entangled in the wavering palm fronds and the aircraft begins to fall on its side, the blade turning, turning and completing another rotation before it comes down like God’s hand and cleaves Vic Morrow, Chien and Thanh in two at the waists. Just a clean swipe through their torsos, their top halves turning with the blade and falling forward, felled like crop. Just as quickly their legs disappear beneath the water. And the camera wavers from its place, and off-camera there are voice-overs of muttered “Jesus,” “Oh God,” and “Shit,” and then I appear, just my shoulder, then my back, and I’m walking toward the man-made rice paddy, toward the helicopter lying on its side in the rice paddy, its blade dug into the pond’s bottom, stuck and useless. I even turn back to the camera, turn back to Landis and the others, mouth open, eyes blinking before stumbling forward and reaching the paddy overrun by crew members with fire extinguishers, and they run around me, flank the helicopter to put out the tail, rescue the pilot consumed in flames. Once I get to the grassy bank, I reach down, and this is where I PAUSE. No more. Not even Anh, my wife, has seen this part of the tape, much less any of it.

I reverse all forty-three seconds, and the helicopter rises from the water and rights itself, the blade rewinds to give back what it took; my sons’ halves come together to make them whole again. The tape reverses to where the sparks flood back into the rotor as the tail heals itself erect, and the chopper untangles its slender feet from around the palm fronds and rises, heads toward the back, and Vic Morrow’s progress is smooth, effortless as he carries my boys back to the opposite bank. The water begins to calm as do the palm trees and the helicopter descends behind the trees; Vic’s pants as well my sons’ pants are dry, and they are standing in the grass. The lights merge like sunrise, and the grip stands with clapboard in hands, stands with Chien and Thanh and Mr. Morrow, waiting for John Landis to cue the helicopter. And it keeps rewinding to the beginning, and the TV screen is the color of an artificial sky.

You probably think it is odd that a man, a father, would be in possession of such a tape which shows my sons’ death, but it makes a lot of sense. There exists this need to go over what went wrong. The helicopter malfunctioned. The pilot tried to control what was out of his hands, and so blame must be placed on someone. So you go to court every day to listen to the testimonies, and you try to concentrate on the replies to questions, the cross examinations, but you sit there, still remembering the moments before the cameras rolled, the morning you woke up your sons at five in the morning so they could take their baths, dress in clothes your wife had washed and ironed the night before; and you sit and eat a bowl of rice pudding with your sons while you wait for your neighbor, the assistant to the director, to knock on your door because the limousine had arrived, and you think of the long ride to Rancho Cucamonga, and how you’ve never driven in a limo before, driven in a vehicle that allowed you to stretch your feet with your sons resting against you.

Blame must be placed on someone.

The courts acquitted Landis of third-degree manslaughter, of negligence for wanting to duplicate reality by having a helicopter in the hangar, not some prop operated by cables and cranes. Vic Morrow is not at fault; he is dead. That leaves me.

You have to understand, adults tend to think nothing can go wrong if they’re there.

The wives cannot figure it out. They say it isn’t your fault, that you did everything possible, that you made several attempts to bring back what you lost, but for days and months and years you know they think about it, think, it wouldn’t have happened had I been there. They think about what exactly were you doing. Did you turn your head, turn your back to look at something else? Pondered over what you wanted to do?–perhaps the upcoming work week? Anything else other than our children? And they think because of that one moment you thought of something you shouldn’t have, turned your back for a moment, even blinked, then it is all your fault. Some will say it, and these end in divorces. Some will not say it, but you know they think it in the way they sleep away from you at night, clinging close to the edge of their side of the bed, and you listen to the pattern of their breathing and wonder if they are truly asleep; or they speak less and less, and when they do, their eyes make brief contact, or they stay in another room they normally wouldn’t for long periods of time to work, to read, to listen to music, even to fall asleep.

That was the case with Anh, my wife, who, a couple of months after the verdict, left me.

There was no talk of even separating. We had accepted fate, each other’s doom of being childless. There were no signs of her wanting to leave, but sometimes it takes a simple task for the person to come to some decision. That was the case with Anh.

For months she stayed out of the kitchen, but one day she decided to cook sweet and sour soup, a dish that required a whole catfish though cut into sections, tails and gills, eyeballs and head still intact. I have seen her wield a cleaver above her head, bring it straight down upon a gutted, scaled catfish, severing tail from mid-section, mid-section from head, and she did it with such precision, such accuracy, the steel blade cutting through skin, pink meat and bone only to be met by the thickness of a chopping board punctuated both habit and skill. But that first time she attempted to cook, she had the catfish, wet and clean and gutted and laid out on the chopping board, and she stared at it, knowing what she had to do. The cleaver was in the drawer where it had always been, and it was knowing she had to open that drawer for a cleaver, for an item whose purpose was solely used for cutting meat into parts that made her slump to the floor and cry. Trembling, she brought both knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, and her spine curled. I went to the kitchen when I heard crying instead of a cleaver, instead of steel thwacking thick wood and I found her on the floor. I went to her, went upon my knees to cradle her. I held her until the crying died, until her panicky intake of air settled, and her trembling body folded into me, and on that kitchen floor I swear she grew smaller in my arms. Her body curled until I thought I was losing her, and the light of day, fading.

“I can’t,” she said.

“It’s OK. I’m not hungry.”

“No,” she shook her head. “I can’t stay in this house when there’s no life left.”

I held her tighter and asked, “Do you want to see our sons?”

****

How I came into possession of the videotape is a story in itself.

It was the third day of deliberation and my wife decided to stay home, partly because she believed it would not happen, and if not, why sit and wait for another day to pass, wait for the prosecuting lawyer to meet us outside the courtroom to tell us with shoulders shrugged and low voice to go home. Maybe tomorrow. I’m sorry.

My sons will never hear that: Go home. Maybe tomorrow. I’m sorry.

And so on that third day of deliberation I sat on one of the corridor benches with my brown bag lunch of tuna fish sandwich, a Bartlett pear, and a small tupperware of egg custard, and my thermos of hot green tea. Like the previous days, I sat there and watched men in dark suits and striped ties, pushing spectacles and bifocals up the bridges of their noses, clean chins and parted hair lines walk up and down the corridor along with women in blouses, double-breasted blazers, gold, round earrings, and barouches on their lapels. So much sunlight streamed through the tall windows that third day that I had to face the thick, tall cherrywood doors in front of me.

It wasn’t until he sat down that I realized it was him, John Landis, and he did a double-take when he noticed me. He looked down the corridor, past the wide columns of sunlight to the other benches. However awkward it was, we both knew it would be insulting if either of us got up to sit at another bench.

I glanced at my brown bag and thought of starting my lunch, but it was only 10:30. Instead I uncapped the thermos and poured a cup of tea. Sipping my tea while sharing a bench with Landis made me realize something: he hadn’t been here waiting the previous two days, which meant the jurors came to a verdict.

I turned to him and said, “They will not find you guilty.”

Landis turned to me, frowning behind his big, round glasses.

“What’s that you said?” he asked.

“They will find you innocent.”

Landis brought his head back to nod, but it froze at the moment he was supposed to bring it forward. He sat in that position, stilled by what I had just said.

“You are innocent and my sons are dead. What do I get?–my wife and I?” I picked up the brown bag that sat between us and I slid closer to him.

“What do we get?” I repeated.

He frowned, and without moving his head, his eyes went from corner to corner before settling on me. “I don’t think we should be talking,” he said, and he even looked the other way.

But I remained seated beside him, left to stare at the marbled floor, the specks of dark gray in areas, the swirled, curled wisps of smoke embedded in the center of each large square that spread and dissipated, and Landis knew I was still sitting beside him. His shoulders and his left leg angled away from me until I could only see the back of his head.

“They will never grow up,” I whispered. “They will never get married, and I will never have grandchildren.”

Without looking over his shoulder, Landis shook his head and said, “We shouldn’t be talking.”

“They don’t know what a broken promise is, nor have they made promises old enough to break.”

Landis straightened up and swung around to face me.

“Look, I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sorry it happened, but what do you want? What do you want?” His eyes grew wide as he leaned in my direction. “You want money? Is that it?–money?”

“No,” I shook my head, for Anh and I had already received an insurance check from Warner Brothers for accidental death. “No, I do not want money. Something more important than money.”

“Then what?”

“I want to see my sons again.”

****

The editor who handled the dailies called and said it would be at least a week to transfer raw stock to videotape and to include what I asked for, and when I said, “A week? That long?” he replied he had to find my sons first, locate them in reels and reels of footage. So each day I waited, thinking perhaps he’d be a day early in finding my sons. For that whole week I imagined him in the editing room, surrounded by canisters of film. With rolls draped over his shoulders and around his neck, he raised dailies up to the single bulb above him, going from roll to roll, searched frame by frame to find my sons alive in celluloid.

As promised, they came a week later. I opened my front door that morning, left the black screen door with iron bars locked in place, and I stood there all morning staring through the tiny perforated holes, stared at the house across the street, its front lawn speckled with ripe, black olives that had fallen from the dust-coated trees. I had to frown, stand away from the screen door, shift in place to get a clear picture of the house, the lawn, the trees, for the holes in the thick black door were tiny enough to blur my vision and make me dizzy at times. I stood there listening to squealing breaks as cars approached stop signs, listened to the engines rattling as they excelled from the standstill position, and always I frowned at the cars that passed, noticed the drivers turning their heads, and I’d think they were reading the numbers nailed against posts, above front doors, painted on the curbside, and a couple of times I wanted to run out, hail the driver and yell, “Here. You’re looking for me.”

But I stayed rooted in place. And then my neighbor came out of his house, the assistant director who had asked if my boys wanted to be in a movie. Barefoot and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, he walked the length of his driveway while talking on his cordless phone. Hand stuffed deep in his jeans pocket, he stood at the end of his driveway, looked up and down the street, then made his way along the curb where he balanced himself, stopped, and continued talking on the phone with toes hanging over the curb, and I wondered if he knew of Anh’s decision to leave after the verdict. Said she could not stay in a house that had only half a family living.

I watched the assistant director and hoped he’d go inside before the tape arrived, but it was nearly noon when an El Camino pulled up the driveway, and a young boy got out, left his car running. The assistant director looked up, stared at the car, at the license plate, then at the young boy walking up my driveway, and he remained fixed at the curb. The boy walked up examining the videotape in hand. He was very young, hair in his face, an unbuttoned flannel shirt, wrinkled khakis, and he kept looking at the tape, passing it from one hand to the next, and I turned the knob of the heavy screen door, and the loud click of the bolt sliding free made him stop and flinch back as I stepped out onto the porch.

He sighed and approached me and gave me the tape.

“There were supposed to be several copies. Three copies,” I said.

Mouth ajar, eyes blinking, the boy stared at me, and his lips moved to form words. He closed his mouth, tucked in his lips then said, “This is all they gave me.” His shoulders rose into a shrug. I looked over his shoulders at the assistant, who immediately lowered his head and began walking back to the driveway and faced his house, and from time to time he nodded his head, as his voice carried. It was my words of assurance that it was okay that made the boy’s shoulders drop. I took the tape and handed him a folded bill, and he opened it and said, “Thank you.”

I stayed out on the porch until the boy reversed out of the driveway, and my neighbor turned around, surprised I was still outside. He headed back inside and closed his door.

I immediately went into the den and slid close the double doors that met in the center. Anh was asleep in the bedroom. She stayed in bed when she did not have to work, and she slept and rose and fell back into cotton and fluff, and as the days progressed, her body entangled and swathed in sheets of deep sleep from which she could never wrest herself free.

I sat before the blue screen. The tape was in the VCR, the remote control in hand, and I kept looking back at the closed door, anticipating Anh’s entrance. But I kept telling myself, she is sleeping. She won’t wake for a while, and I pressed the PLAY button. Immediately I was startled by my sons standing erect and whole next to Vic Morrow, the palm trees leaning forward in the background, the tall grass wilting in the foreground, separated by a body of water. I wanted to yell for Anh to get out of bed, to come here and see our sons standing, see their limbs moving, their lips stretched by laughter, and maybe she’d give staying another thought.

The grip clapped the boards together after John Landis shouted, “Action,” and as the grip left the scene, the helicopter rose from behind the trees, and Vic Morrow grabbed my sons underneath their arms. It was like he held them too tight because my sons cried and yelled, and I wasn’t sure if they were acting, but Vic Morrow was grimacing and squinting against the wind blowing in his face as he took that first step into the rice paddy, his leg sinking to the knee, and he stumbled forward, but he caught his footing. He took that next step, and he took it slowly, though the script said he had to hurry, but he was feeling his way around, feeling the unevenness of the bottom as he lumbered to the center of the paddy, the waves lapping against his legs. And then the spark came from the helicopter, and the rudders caught in the outstretched palm leaves, their stiff blades entangled, and the helicopter fell on its side, the blade twirled, and I could see the blurred whirl of the blade as it cleaved them, and their legs fell away from them, dropped in the water as their top halves propelled forward.

Men ran to the chopper with fire extinguishers, and I made my way to the paddy, looking back at the camera. I went to the paddy, groped my way through the tall grass and froze there at the embankment before reaching down and taking Chien in my arms and then stooping down to raise Thanh by his collar. I walked away from the paddy, away from the men showering the chopper with white sprays of powder, and it looked as though I was carrying prop dummies, removing half mannequins from the set, their arms dangling at their sides, their fingers curled and stiff. I made my way toward an area and sat on the floor. Bringing my legs underneath me I sat there and held Chien and Thanh, aware that their legs were somewhere in the water, and I wanted to lay my sons on the floor and retrieve their other halves, to arrange them so that they were whole again. The other men waded through paddy, and they all stood in a circle around Vic Morrow, floating face down. I continued to sit on the floor and held my sons close to me.

****

My wife does not know it, but when the movie was eventually released after talks of shelving the film, I took off from work and went to the theater. It was a matinee screening, and so there were only some two dozen or so people who purchased tickets, went inside and stood in line to buy popcorn and Raisinets, Jujubies and Red Vines, Butterfingers and Reese’s Pieces, Cokes and bottled water before heading inside the auditorium. I headed straight for the auditorium, for I was still overwhelmed by parking my car among others who were interested in the film, seeing the title Twilight Zone the Movie on the marquee among the other films, waiting in a short line to hand the cashier two dollars and fifty cents.

After buying a ticket, I went into the theater and sat in the back while others, loping in with big buckets of popcorn and cellophane wrapped boxes of candy and waxed cups of Coke and Sprite, judge their eyesight with the rows they selected, felt the seats that promised comfort. And I remember sitting there by myself, thinking that in a few moments I will see my sons on the big screen, and I felt the tears rising, felt my face scrunch up, but what kept me from crying were the people walking in and settling into seats.

Then the theater dimmed, and I sat there through previews of upcoming movies: All the Right Moves with Tom Cruise, but one in particular caught the air in my throat: Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd. The director: John Landis. And then the theater went black, the screen a dark mute, and the studio’s logo, a big “WB”, took up the whole screen before fading and John Landis’ piece was first, and in a way I was glad, for if I wanted to, I could leave as soon as it was over.

FADE IN: RAINY NIGHT. Dan Akroyd, a trucker, pulled to the side of the highway to pick up a hitchhiker.

“Thanks,” the hitcher said. “I appreciate this. I really do.”

“Hey, no problem. I know what it’s like to be stranded.”

“Well, thanks all the same.”

“Sure. Where are you headed?

“New Mexico. Las Cruces, or close to it.”

“New Mexico. I can take you there. It’s on my way, a long ways, but I can take you there. You might want to sleep.”

“Naw, that’s OK. I’ll stay up and keep you company. I mean, if you don’t mind?”

“No, I don’t mind. It’d be good. We could tell each other stories. You know any stories?” Dan Akroyd asked.

The hitcher rubbed his hands together to restore warmth, and after thinking about it, he shook his head. “But I bet you got plenty of stories, riding around the U.S., I’m sure you got stories.”

Dan Akroyd laughed and said, “Yeah. I got stories. I got plenty. You want to hear one? A scary one?”

The hitchhiker shrugged his shoulders, peered through the windshield wipers working furiously against the rain and darkness.

“Yeah, sure,” he finally said.

“Well,” Akroyd began, “there’s this man.”

CUT TO: DAY TIME. Vic Morrow behind the wheel of a car. He slammed the heel of his palm on the horn and yelled at motorists to go faster or move aside. When at an intersection, he rolled up his window after telling a homeless man asking for a handout to get a job like the rest of them. He pulled into the gas station and aligned his car next to one of the pumps. Vic got out of the car and parted a path through a group of black kids to enter the station.

“God! Gas prices are up. Unbelievable. And now two-seventy-five for a pack of Marlboro’s?” he exclaimed when he read the price. “Talk about being Jewed.” He motioned to the Indian clerk wearing a turban. “All hell breaks loose in towel-head country, and us Americans pay the price. Is that how it works?”

And as the Indian clerk rang up the cost on the register and fingered each slot for the correct change, Vic Morrow shook his head and said, “You’re not worried. I bet you pocket most of the profits. Don’t you?–then send it back home so more of you can come over. Like we need more of you when we got lazy blacks hanging outside your establishment.”

The Indian clerk looked at him, then counted the change in Vic Morrow’s extended hand.

It was when he left the store tapping the pack of cigarettes against his palm that the day suddenly turned to night; a group of men awaited him outside the store. Adorned in white hoods and robes, they brandished torches and shotguns and called him boy, and asked what was a nigger doing in a place meant for whites, and when he insisted he was white, it angered them, and they slipped tight the noose around his neck and led him to a tree to lynch him, but the rope snapped, and he ran. He kept running until he stepped on a landmine that propelled him through the air and he landed face first. He raised himself upon his elbows, dazed, and Nazi soldiers seized him by the arms and called him kike as they led him to a train where other Jews in striped shirts and pajama bottoms, and the gold star of David fixed upon their chests above serial numbers waited in line to board, and while Vic Morrow waited in line to board, he saw his chance and ran, and he sought safety in a nearby trench, knee high in mud, and he stooped over, gripping his pant legs at the knees as he heaved and heaved to catch his breath while the night lit up with bombs and flares and machine gunfire, and an oval object plopped in the mud beside him and he stared at the spot where it landed before the explosion threw him once again, and he rose up, dazed to discover vines dangling from tall trees that hovered over him.

“Don’t move you gook,” one American said, and Vic looked up to see himself surrounded by M-16s pointed at his head. “Run and we’ll shoot your slope ass to shit,” he threatened, and as he got to his feet, he ran anyway through the jungle of palm and coconut trees. He crouched near a bush and heard crying. My sons crouched nearby, and when he noticed them, a helicopter roamed the sky above, and the pilot shined a light on him, and Vic took up my sons, and ran.

I sat up in my seat then, and still there seemed to be something pressed against my chest, like the air inside forgot to move, circulate. His feet sloshed through the water, struggling against the relentless suck and pull of the mud. And still he moved forward, losing his balance, then straightening up, and my children cried and gripped his arms. He made it across, and aside from everyone else in the theater, I could tell the scene of them making it safely on the bank did not match, for there was hardly any wind wilting the tall grass around them. My sons seemed shorter, and Vic Morrow was heftier in size. But they were safe. And that was when the people in the theater stopped munching on their popcorn, turned to each other for confirmation of what they heard–a person crying. They looked about them to try and locate where the sound came from, but I had gotten out of my seat by then and left.

My first thought was to get in my car and leave, but there were people waiting in the lobby for other movies about to start; or standing in lines at the concession stand, and still more handing tickets to the person to be ripped in half. Not wanting them to see my wet face, I immediately went to the bathroom. Still, there were men standing against urinals or washing their hands, so I locked myself in one of the stalls and sat down. I sat and thought about what I had just seen, how complete the scene, yet I felt cheated, for I was the only one who knew the finished product had been completed with other actors, someone else’s children. And my mind went back to that day Chien, Thanh, and I waited for the assistant director to pick us up from our home. And as we got into the limousine that morning, I remember passing through that threshold of what I thought was promising.

We had never driven in anything like a limousine, nothing this long, smooth in ride, and plush. The closest I could think of were the local buses in Saigon, crammed with passengers even standing up in the aisle, suitcases and bamboo baskets of live chickens at my feet, shoulders turned in to create personal space, and always there was the lingering smell of petrol, thick and grating along the inner lining of the throat when I swallowed, coating the hairs in my nostrils. In the limo I could stretch my feet just as the director’s assistant could lean back on his side facing us, legs crossed at the ankles. Not even President Diem, before he was assassinated, drove in such fine a car, though he had always been driven in his Rolls Royce with the South Vietnamese flags of blue and yellow propped near the headlights, flags that fluttered and clapped the speed the car traveled down the narrow streets back to the palace. I figured not even Diem had this luxury of riding in a limo, with his sons.

With Chien and Thanh sitting on either side of me, I stared at the bucket filled with cans of Coca-Colas and Ginger-Ales peeking from beneath mounds of cubed ice. And it was early morning, 6:30, and Chien asked if they were for us, and I told him I think so.

“Can I have one?” he asked, and Thanh sat up.

I stared at the cans. These were items we had in Vietnam but I occasionally had one, for these drinks were considered luxury items, something I could only afford to buy once a month, if that. So I asked the assistant to the director if my sons could drink a Coca-Cola, and he pursed his lips and shook his head and said, “They’re all for you. Help yourself,” he waved his hand at the bucket of canned sodas.

Chien and Thanh lunged for the bucket and clutched cans of Coca-Colas, pulled back tabs that spat sprits of brown foam, and immediately tilted their heads back and drank. Halfway through they were trying to control their burping, their stomachs full and churning with the carbonation.

“Not too fast. Not too fast,” I said. “Slow down.”

They rested against the leather seat of the limousine, and Chien asked, “What are we going to be again?”

“You already know.” I said.

“What are we going to do again?” Thanh asked.

“I already told you.”

“Tell us again,” Chien said as he brought his legs underneath him, the can of Coca-Cola cradled to his chest.

“Mr. Morrow is running for his life. People want to capture him. They want to even kill him, but he’s running for his life. And he sees you two, and he knows they are after you two as well, so he wants to save you. You have to cry at this point because there are soldiers on land, and there are those in the sky. And you have to act like you’re really frightened, I mean really afraid. And Mr. Morrow will grab you, take you up in his arms and he will run with you tucked underneath his arms, and you have to hold onto him. You have to hold on tight because he’s going to run with you, carry the two of you across the water because he’s trying to save you from those who are trying to kill you, kill him. And if he goes, you go. That’s important. Hold on. Mr. Morrow can’t do it without you. He’s old. So he needs your help to hold onto him.”

“Older than you?”

“Yes. Older. So hold on.”

“But you could do it. If you had to, you could carry us, can’t you?”

“Of course.”

“You would never let us go?”

“No. Never.”

Chien and Thanh nodded their heads agsint my chest as they raised their heads to sip their Coca-Colas.

“And what will we be? In the movie, what are we?” Chien asked.

“Will we be bad guys?” Thanh sat up. “That’s why they want to kill us because we’re the bad guys? We robbed a bank, like in the TV shows?”

“No,” I shook my head. “No, not bad guys. You’re good guys, and so is Mr. Morrow, and he is saving your lives so you can live for a long time.”

“Then what are we? What do we play?” Thanh sank back against the seat.

“You will play yourselves. You will play Vietnamese boys. That is all.”

“Is that all?” Chien sighed.

“For now,” I jostled his shoulders. “For now. But later, something else.”

“Like a robber,” Chien insisted.

“Or a cop,” Thanh chimed in.

“Yes, a robber or a cop. You two can play cops and robbers. On TV, in movies.”

“Or a doctor?” Thanh frowned. “I can wear a mask. I can cut open people and fix what it is that hurts them.”

“Even that guy in the wheelchair who’s always in court?”

“Yes, a doctor or even Perry Mason,” I said. “We’re in America now. In America, you can be anything you want.”

“We could be anything then? Anything we want?”

I stared out the window as we continued to travel up HWY 5, the dark tint deflected the sun rising behind the mountains to our right. And if I lowered the window, I’d feel the blast of the morning air, and I knew I would squint at the brightness of its slow rising over the mountains. The sun’s glare cleaved the land and sky in two, its rays, sharp shards piercing the brown and blue, the young horizon of the day. And my sons sat quietly marveling over the possibilities of what they could be.

“It’s true then, dad? We could be anything? Anything at all?”

“Yes,” I said. “Anything.”


Genaro K? Lý Smith was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam in 1968. In 1972, his family moved to Los Angeles where he earned a B.A. in English from California State University, Northridge in 1992. He later earned an M.A. in literature and an M.F.A. in creative writing from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA in 1999. He currently resides in Ruston with his wife Robyn Ashley, and he has been teaching literature, composition, and creative writing at Louisiana Tech University since 1999.

His works have been published in the Northridge Review, Amerasia Journal (UCLA), turnrow, Scene Magazine, dis-Orient, Christmas Stories from Louisiana (UP of Mississippi), Gumbo: An Anthology of African American Writing (Doubleday/Broadway Books), and he has earned first place in the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Fellowship competition, received both the Louisiana Division of the Arts Artist Fellowship and mini-grant, and second place for Poets & Writers Exchange Program.

6 Comments

  1. Robyn

    Thank you for this intriguing story. I was completely captivated.

    Reply
  2. Ellen Robinson

    “Dailies” is brilliantly done. Smith writes with such sensitivity and feeling that the reader feels the emotions and experiences are his own. The story is beautiful and deeply moving.

    Reply
  3. Becca Bowen

    Spellbinding. The more you read the more you want to read. Amazing talent flowing through each word.

    Reply
  4. Deanna

    I remember when this tragedy happened. I looked up the story after seeing in the Louisiana Tech magazine that it had won an award. The scene with Anh and the catfish is extremely powerful. Wow!

    Reply
  5. Amanda

    This was an amazing story. I was definitely captivated and really could feel what was going on in the father’s heart. Mr. Smith you did a great job, thanks for being a great teacher and an amazing writer.

    Reply

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