We went to the village one day recently from Surin to see my wife’s older sister who is up visiting from Bangkok. She can’t come up for Songkran as her work will be too busy then, so she is up visiting early to do her familial duties. She is a good Thai daughter. Yesterday we brought her to the Big C superstore Surin so she could buy Mama a new color TV and DVD player. This is what they do really; take care of Mama and Papa with their hard earned wages. Big Sis is a hard worker with a good job in a place where all the bigwigs of the government, police and military go to eat, sing karaoke, watch the horse races and play some golf. Her boss treats her very well. She’s been there for many years. She was sick last year. Her boss paid for all her doctor and hospital bills which I thought very generous, considering he is under no obligation to do so as far as I know and have been told about this.
So we went to see her one more time before she would be leaving the village and returning to Bangkok. We planned to spend the night, and leave the next evening (Friday) to return to the Surin house, because our daughter has her English lessons early on Saturday mornings.
I’d brought along a checker and chess board and pieces, with backgammon on the opposite side of the board as well, with a set of dice included. The Thais have a strange way they play checkers. It’s the weirdest frigging game of checkers I’ve ever seen. A cement table and benches sit under a few mango and other kinds of trees on the corner of Sis 2’s Lao Khao Emporium property. It’s also ringed with some rose bushes and what I think is a Mimosa tree, although at this time of year this tree exudes a rather foul smelling sap which reminds one a little of the scent of durian fruit. It is hot, extremely hot today. I imagine you actually could fry an egg on the street pavement; certainly you could on the corrugated tin roof of the shop. But there is an occasional light breeze which can fool you into thinking you are being cooled off a tad, and with lots of half frozen bottles of water straight out of the freezer and a few cold beer Leo or beer Chang over ice it is possible to survive in the shade until nightfall, and even have some fun while learning the intricacies of the way these maniacs play checkers. Once they are 'Kinged' it seems they can do just about anything they want with their damned piece! I prefer a good game of chess myself, but it hasn’t seemed to have caught on out here in the rice field villages. A game of cards is always an option to while away the hours, but the Thais are a bit nuts about cards, even when playing for five baht a hand, and these friendly games can go on for fucking days it seems. I stay out of their card games, as these games are about as weird as their damned checkers game as well, and about as easily learned. I settle for reading the two or three day’s worth of Bangkok Posts I hadn’t had the chance to read yet the last few days, and of course lots of beer over ice (nam kaeng), any brand’ll do really today. I let the kids continue playing checkers, as they’ve kicked my white ass enough for one day, and figuring out the rules they play by is beginning to give me a headache.
Once in a while the breeze will change direction and I’ll get a whiff of that odd odor from the tree behind my seat. After the third or fourth whiff I revise my estimate of its odiferousness more toward something dead and rotting rather than durian fruit and decide to move to another seat opposite the strange stinky tree. I figured maybe the smell was causing the headache.
As I read the paper I can see some of the village teenage boys playing that woven wicker ball game where they keep the ball in the air and pass it around using just their feet, legs and chest and head like soccer. I’ve seen this played competitively on the beaches of Pattaya and Jomtien before with the guys using what looks like a badminton net or small volleyball net. Some of these guys are very athletic and talented at this game. One kid in the village of about 15 is expert at it. I sip my beer, watch the guys play around, and read a piece of news to see what the zipper heads in the governments of this crazy world are up to; which usually isn’t very good news. The beers help dull my sense of outrage of most of their stupid blundering and legalized murders, and the oppressive heat keeps me from becoming too agitated over what I am reading. I add more ice to my beer, something years back I would have considered sacrilegious, but see the Thai point of view now. If you want to relax over a nice cold brew outdoors here during the heat of the day or even the evenings, put the ice in the damned thing and to hell with the western thoughts on this stuff. Let the Brits and the others drink it warm and tepid. I’m a Yank, and I like my beer screaming cold most times; as cold as I can get it, and good whiskey neat.
I’d noticed a few weeks back that our bitch dog, Star, the great watch-dog and protector of the family, is once again pregnant. Thai dogs are like Thai women, they never look pregnant until a couple months before they are ready to deliver, or whatever the dog equivalent of time would be for this. One week she’ll look fine, the next week she’ll be looking preggers, and a couple weeks later she’ll drop another litter. I want to get her fixed, but I doubt she’ll go quietly to the vet’s office for this. I’ll need a muzzle probably. Problem is every time I leave and come back she’s pregnant again and I have to wait. Maybe this time I can get her fixed before she gets knocked up again. I chastise her for her wanton and sluttish ways, but she has yet to heed my advice and stay away from the local studs. Plus I’d probably be vilified and strung up by the village neighbors and family because everyone seems to want one of her pups when she has them. They see what a protective, intelligent, faithful and good watch-dog she is. Like I said; everyone wants one of Star’s pups. We never have a problem getting rid of them.
I’d noticed earlier in the day when we had arrived that she was uncomfortable in the blazing heat, whining and growling and churlish from the heat and heavy belly, sort of like my ex-wife would get whenever she was pregnant in the dead of summer, so I gave her a large bowl of fresh water from a bottle and added a few ice cubes to it so she’d have a way to cool off somewhat. The dog that is, not my ex-wife; she usually got ice cream.
As I was sitting there later drinking my beer and reading my paper I saw Star come out from under the communal bamboo wood platform where she was lying in the shade and start to walk around in circles licking her ass. I thought that a little strange, but dogs do weird things with their tongues and body parts, so I didn’t make or think much of it until I saw water come pouring out of her behind. She whimpered some, looked at me, and then out plopped a puppy onto the ground. “Holy shit!” I said to everyone around me, who all seemed to be oblivious as to what was happening, “Star’s having her puppies!”
Sis looked around at me and I pointed to Star and the puppy lying in the red dirt in the area where Star’s water had broken and drenched the earth. Sis jumped up and came running over to me, exclaiming and laughing loudly, “Oh, good big luck for you today! Today you play lottery!”
“What the hell are you going on about woman? The dog’s havin’ puppies I said. What are you talking about playing the lottery for?” I queried her.
“Star let you see her have first baby. This good big luck for you. Dog not do. Only to people they like too mutt. To see dog have baby is very big luck! You can play lottery today and win.” she stated emphatically and with glee while laughing her fool head off.
Meanwhile Star grabbed the newborn pup in her mouth and snuck into the water culvert by the front road running past the shop. I had recently had my wife’s cousin dig out the ditch there and clean out the pipe running under the dirt “driveway”. Somehow she managed to get herself and the puppy in there (it’s not that large a pipe really). She lay there in the concrete drain pipe and proceeded to have the rest of her puppies while cleaning off the first one. You could hear them squeaking in the pipe.
Sis filled me in on this new, to me, form of getting good luck by explaining the furtive ways of female dogs having newborns and how they try to hide from people and other creatures that may harm the puppies while they are so vulnerable, and how the bitches usually do not let people watch them have their puppies. She told me that the dog must like a person very much to let them see this, and how it was very lucky for a person to see the first puppy born.
I listened patiently, and then said, “Well, where’s the damned lottery ticket hawkers when you need one.”
Later I brought Star some food and milk and water and tried to coax her out from the damned drain pipe. My wife and Sis refused to go anywhere near Star since she had the pups, and would not help me do this. They said Star was extremely protective of her pups and had a tendency to bite anyone who went near her, or the pups, in the first week or so. I pooh-poohed their fears, saying, “Well, if she likes me enough to let me see her have the first puppy and give me all this “big good luck” you’re yapping about I am sure she wouldn’t mind me giving her some food and milk. I told them to at least hold the damned rose bush branches away while I got down in the ditch to give her the food and milk. Sis did, but was very wary, and looked about to bolt if Star showed any signs of getting defensive.
I got a bowl of milk and as Sis held the thorny rose branches away I climbed down and approached Star with the milk. She whined at me and gave me that look with her big brown eyes. She knew I was no threat to her or the pups. I put the bowl right between her front feet by the first-born pup and she drank it up gratefully and quickly. I then had Sis pass me the bowl of dog food and Star at the whole thing in a matter of a minute or two. After that I brought her the water bowl with some more fresh water and left it with her. She was having none of the coaxing her out of the drain-pipe though, but at least she had eaten the food and drank the milk. I noticed the first-born pup had white boots on all four of its paws, was a dark chocolate brown with golden eyebrows formed perfectly over its eyes. It also had a white blaze on its chest.
Soon after this the sun dropped down over the horizon like a paratrooper whose chute failed to open. It gets dark quick here.
My wife and her sisters and cousins had been cooking a feast during all this stuff with the dog and I went into our house next door and feasted on the wonderful Isaan foods they had prepared. A couple beers later and it was time for bed.
Later that night, around 3 a.m. in the morning I was wakened by a thundering crash. It was as though the damned roof had fallen in. I jumped out of bed and said something like, “What the fuck was that?!!” and made my way quickly to the living room while a few more crashing roars split the heavens above me. I looked out the glass wall that makes up the front of our house and saw it was raining, well, pouring buckets actually, and it was thundering and lightning-ing like you’ve never seen. I’ve never seen lightning like this. It was coming so fast and furious it was like watching a strobe-light out the window. It was shooting bolts so fast it was almost like daylight outside. I’ve never seen an electrical storm as bad as this one. I actually saw one bolt strike either a coconut palm or a house not a hundred yards across the street behind the houses across from us. (The next day I did find out it was a house that was struck, and I went to take pictures of it and met the people who live in the house, and also met the teenaged girl who was sleeping in the room that was hit at that time, but that is another story where I was told of some strange things, which will be told another time.) This was the first storm we’d had in months, and the rain was sorely needed. There has been a very bad drought this year. This storm would put a lot of water back into the village’s lake, and ponds, and fish-farm ponds.
While I stood there watching all this the electricity went out. Dammit. I stumbled into the bedroom by feeling my way around; it was pitch black and I couldn’t see a blessed thing. I woke my wife up, as I’ve said before it takes quite a lot to wake a Thai woman from her sleep, and asked her where the hell the electric torch was and the candles. She found the torch somewhere and went off to Mama’s house and grabbed a bunch of yellow Buddha candles for us to use (the two houses are joined by a common roof that runs from the back of our house to the front of Mama’s house). When she came back it all of a sudden hit me. Star was in the water drain-pipe with her puppies! We took the torch and went out the kitchen area door to see where Star was, well, I did at least; my wife went hunting for an umbrella with a lit candle in her hand. Next door to us Sis 2 has been building a new house, right in between our house and her Lao Khao Emporium and convenience shop. The only thing built at that point was the roof and the poles of concrete which held it up.
I dodged the pouring rain at a run from our back door to the unfinished house, almost slipping and falling on my ass in the rain slicked red mud, and ducked under the roof of Sis 2’s shell of a house. I flashed the torch around as I tried to not stumble over all the wooden frames and construction stuff lying about and all of a sudden I spotted Star, standing under the roof near me in the sand and dirt floor; with one puppy in her mouth.
“Did ya get them all out of there Star?” I asked her. She whined and looked back toward where the drainpipe was. I shone the flashlight around looking for any more puppies. There were none that I could see but the one in her mouth. My wife showed up next to me with the umbrella. I explained that Star only had gotten out one puppy that I could see. I took the umbrella from her and with the torch I went to the street and went to where the culvert and pipe were. Lightning was flashing like crazy all around me and I was scared shit that I would get fried out there looking for some damned puppies. “Big good luck my ass if that happens.” I thought to myself with dark humor.
The flashlight showed me all I needed to see. The culvert and drainpipe were a raging torrent of water filled to overflowing. I shone the light around but it was obvious if Star hadn’t gotten the puppies out they were drowned and gone. I made back quickly for the shelter of the roof of the unfinished house. A crack of thunder and lightning so loud near me I thought I would have a stroke quickened my already quick steps. When under the roof I saw my wife and Star standing there watching me.
“Did you find any more puppies under here?” I asked my wife.
“No”, she said, “I think only this one not dead.”
Star whined and went over to the lone puppy on the ground. I walked over and shone the spot of light from the torch on the little pup lying there in the dirt. It was the one I had first seen born, the one with the white boots, dark chocolate brown fur and the golden eyebrows and white blaze on its chest.
“I guess you are lucky.” I muttered to the pup.
I grabbed the puppy off the dirt and called to Star to follow and went back to the roofed area between Mama’s house and ours. Star whined, but followed my wife quickly behind me to the open gate and came inside out of the rain. We made a bed of an old blanket for her in a corner of the area not used where it was dry.
The electricity was still off; it was still raining like mad, so my wife and I went back to bed and lit some more candles in our room, saving the torch batteries for future emergencies. By morning light the rain was gone, the water had subsided, and the sun shone down like the open door to the devil’s own blast furnace. The street was dry.
I named the puppy, a girl by the way … Lucky. What else?
(The Central Scrutinizer)