How Have You Been Doing?


“Hey, I’m here.”

“I’ll come down.”

Bobby rode the elevator down to the ground floor, where George stood waiting among the motorbikes.

“What ho. George.”

“Bobby. Long time.”

They shook hands and got into the elevator together.

“How are things?” said George.

“Well enough. Status quo.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“Here we are.”

The doors slid open and they stepped out.

“This one,” Bobby said, motioning to the first door on the left. He opened it and stood aside to let George precede him.

“Well, well,” George said, “not so bad. Should I take my shoes off?”

“Don’t bother. Have you been over before? I couldn’t remember.”

George shook his head. “First time. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this district, come to think of it.”

“You’re still over in District 7?”

“That’s right. You should visit sometime.”


“We can do a barbeque. Like old times.”

“Like old times,” Bobby repeated. “That sounds like a plan. Sit down.” He indicated an armchair. “What’ll you have?”

George lowered himself into the armchair. “What’ve you got?”

“I’ve got beer and whisky. And gin. No wine, I’m afraid. You’re still into wine, I take it?”

“Somewhat. Beer is fine.”

Bobby made for the fridge. “Tiger or Saigon?”

“Tiger’s good.”


“No thanks.”

Bobby returned carrying two cans of Tiger and two glasses. He handed one of each to George, who sat cross-legged in the armchair.

“Thanks,” said George. “Are all those from today?” He was looking at a collection of empty beer cans on the counter near the sink. There were at least ten of them.

“Got an early start.” Bobby sat on the sofa and poured his beer into his glass. Some foam ran over the lip onto the coffee table. “So. What’ve you been doing with yourself?”

“Nothing too exciting,” George said. “The usual life. I can’t remember the last time I drank that much.”

“You used to do it often enough.”

“Feels like a long time ago.” He paused, and a blank expression came over his face. “I miss those days sometimes. Foolish as they were.”

Bobby let him reflect on that a moment. He said, “Are you still teaching?”

George nodded and drank from his beer. “But a different gig. I teach at an office now.”

“What sort of office?”

“A corporate office. I teach some of the staff. It’s dull stuff, but the pay is good.”

“I see. You’re teaching businessmen.”

“And women.”


“And you?”

“I’m outta that game,” Bobby said.

“Is that so? Well, congrats. What do you do now?”

“Oh, not much. Some writing here and there.”

“That’s enough to hold you over?”

“Sure. I don’t need much money.”

“What about your visa?”

“I pay someone to handle that for me.”

George nodded slowly. “How’s your Vietnamese these days? You must be almost fluent by now.”

“Far from it. It’s dropped off a bit. Well, there it is,” Bobby said, pointing to the near wall against which a tennis racquet leaned.

“Ah, thanks.” George set his beer glass down on the coffee table. He stood and picked up the racquet and began inspecting it. “Been getting much use out of it?”

“Not lately. I had it restrung a while back.”

George checked the string tension with his thumbs, nodding his head. He said:

“Who were you playing with?”

“Chad’s girlfriend, Quynh.”

“Can she play?”

“Well enough to hit with. She’s had lessons.”

“Good old Chad.” George smiled. “How’s he been? I haven’t seen him in ages.”

“He’s the same. Hasn’t changed a bit.”

“I’ll bet. Give him my regards.”

“Sure. He asks after you sometimes. You should give him a ring.”

“I’ll do that.”

George checked the string tension with his thumbs again. He replaced the racquet and sat back down in the armchair. For a while neither man spoke. The TV showed a black and white film. The ceiling fan whizzed. It was nearing dusk; darkness was creeping into Bobby’s apartment. George said:

“You don’t use the AC?”

“Doesn’t work.”

“I see.”

“You feel warm?”

George shook his head. “I’m fine.”

“Another beer?”

“Alright,” George said. “But then I gotta run.”


Bobby moved to the fridge. On his way back he switched on two lights. They poured the beer into their glasses and drank. George said:

“What’s this?”

“What’s what? Oh, I don’t know. A movie. I put them on for background noise. Actually, I’ve seen this one. Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

“Any good?”

The conversation was beginning to fray. Bobby didn’t think George gave a damn about Where the Sidewalk Ends. Bobby knew George didn’t give a damn about Where the Sidewalk Ends. Bobby said:

“Depends what you like. Dana Andrews plays a jaded cop. He accidentally kills a guy. I don’t remember the particulars. Anyway, that’s the drama of it. He’s in love with Gene Tierney’s character. But he’s real subtle about it.”

George was leaning forward in the armchair with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together. He was looking at the TV, pretending to be interested in what Bobby was saying. His beer glass sat half empty. Bobby went on, for the hell of it.

“She’s mixed up in the rackets, but she has scruples. That sort of thing. The ending’s rather bleak as I recall.”

“I see.” George sighed. He seemed to brace himself for something. “Well, I can’t say that I came here to discuss film.”

“Of course. You came to get your racquet. Sorry, I know you’re not into old Hollywood. It’s a strange thing to be into.”

George looked down at the tennis racquet. A film of sweat had suddenly gathered over his brow; it shone against the light on the ceiling. “To be honest,” he said, “the racquet was just a—I’ve been a little on edge lately.”

Bobby looked at him.

“I’m sure it’s nothing. I feel a little ridiculous about it. Bringing it up, I mean. But I thought maybe you could help me.”

“Help you with what?”

“I think you know what I’m talking about.”

“I don’t think I do.”

“You haven’t asked how she’s doing.”


“You know damn well who I mean.” George wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Nguyen.”

“Ah, Nguyen. Well, how’s she doing?”

“She’s doing just fine.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“She’s always doing fine. That’s one thing I never need to worry about. But I don’t know that I can say we’re doing fine. That’s the point.”

“I don’t quite get you.”

“There’s a gap opening up.”

Bobby knitted his brow.

“A distance. She’s becoming distant. At least, I think she is. I’m not sure. It could be my imagination.” He broke off.

Bobby didn’t say anything. He sipped his beer and looked at his open balcony. Across the street, a neon Carlsberg sign glared from the roof of a quán nhậu. Bobby wanted to be outside in the open air, drinking iced beer with his Vietnamese friends. Instead he was sitting inside his apartment with George.

“I know you still see her,” George said.

Bobby faced him. “Yes. She invites me for coffee once in a while. You knew that. It’s nothing.”

“I know, I know. I’m not saying it’s anything. She’s never hidden that from me.”


“But maybe she’s—I’m just curious to know whether she tells you things.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.” George stood and began slowly pacing the room. The back of his shirt was damp with sweat. “Things she wouldn’t tell me. Things she’d only tell a close friend.”

“Am I a close friend?”

“Well, you’re friends. And you were more once. Surely that implies some—sort of special intimacy.”

Bobby made an effort not to laugh. Poor George. Poor bastard. He said:

“You want to know if she talks to me about you?”

“Yes. Me, and possibly others.”

“That’s what you came here to ask me?”

“Pretty much.”

“That’s easy. The answer is no. Not in the way you mean, at least.”

“Listen,” George said, sitting down again, wiping sweat from his forehead, “it’s awkward talking about this. I’m sorry to drag it all out. It’s the last thing I want to do. But I wouldn’t’ve come here if I didn’t have a good reason. Or if I didn’t think I had a good reason.”

“You said yourself it could be your imagination.”

“Yeah. But—and again, I’m sorry—how long had you been with her when I came along?”

Bobby was growing bored. He watched the sweat form on George’s temples. “About two years.”

“And how long has it been since then?”

“You tell me.”

“About two years.”

“What’s your point?”

“Aw, cut the shit, Bob. You know what I’m driving at. But alright, I’ll quit beating about the bush. I think she’s got someone else and I think you know all about it. Has she got someone else?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s your problem.”

“I’m well aware of that. I made my bed, right? But I thought you’d be willing to help me. I guess I was wrong.”

“I guess so.”

“It’s only natural that you’d side with her. I get it. After all, I’m the one—”

George stopped there, and his manner softened. The sweat had broken through the front of his shirt in flecks. He said with a trace of self-pity:

“You hate me, right? You’ve always hated me for it. I don’t blame you. I’d hate you if the thing were reversed.”

“I don’t hate you one bit, George.”

“Then I guess you’re the bigger man.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. The luckier man, maybe.”

George gave Bobby an incredulous stare. “What do you mean, luckier?”

Poor George, thought Bobby. Poor, poor George. Bobby had been in George’s shoes once. He’d spent a lot of time in those shoes. He was glad to be well out of them. He was grateful to George for having filled them.

“Never mind that,” said Bobby. “But if you think I hate you you’re badly mistaken.”

George sank deeper into the armchair and gazed at the floor. “You know,” he began after a minute, “I’ve always meant to tell you …” His voice faded out.

“Leave it alone, George. Will you have another beer?”

George continued gazing at the floor. Finally he looked up. “No thanks,” he said. “I’ve got to get back.”

“Fair enough. But at least finish that one.”

George lifted his glass. Mustering a pathetic smile he said, “Trăm phần trăm,” and drank it down.

“I’ll walk you down,” said Bobby.

“That’s not necessary.”

“I’m going out anyways.”


They stood. George made for the door.

“Don’t forget your racquet.”

“Right,” George said. “The racquet.” He grabbed it and trailed Bobby into the elevator.

Downstairs they shook hands. George’s felt clammy. He mumbled something about going for drinks the following week. “Let’s do that,” Bobby said. He waved as George started up his motorcycle and drove it slowly in the direction of the main road, his tennis racquet dangling from the handlebar.

Kickstarting his own bike, Bobby set off in the opposite direction. A few minutes later he stopped across the street from one of his regular drinking spots. It was a modest little eatery with low metal tables and small red plastic chairs. As he’d hoped, the owner was sitting at one of the outer tables drinking beer with his friends. When he saw Bobby approaching he pulled up a chair and shouted to a waitress.

“Hello, my friend,” he called in English. “How are you?”

Bobby greeted the party of four men, who were all at least ten years his senior. “Chào mấy anh.”

It was five seconds before he had a glass of iced beer in his hand. Ah, there was nothing so generous as a drunk Vietnamese. They clanked their glasses and drank. Yo! They clanked and drank and clanked and drank—Yo! Yo! Yo!—and by the end of the night Bobby had forgotten all about his evening with George. He had no time for such trifles.



Michael Howard

Michael Howard’s writing has appeared in Mekong Review, New World Writing, Paste Magazine, Gordon Square Review, Creative Loafing, Hypertext Magazine, The Forge, and others. He lives in Vietnam. He recommends the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, June 16, 2024 - 20:59