Brandon Hobson

The Killing Fields of Cheong Ek

At the hos­pi­tal, every­one is mov­ing or walk­ing around in a small space. My kha­ki pants and shirt are wrin­kled. I have a lighter in one hand and my cell phone in the oth­er. When they let me in Nate’s room, the first thing I tell him is that I’ve decid­ed to be more orga­nized and focused.

You dumb fuck,” he says.

But I’m seri­ous. My ex-lover once said, “You’re not orga­nized. Try to focus for once. Try to pay atten­tion to oth­er peo­ple around you.”

I sit in the chair next to Nate’s bed and we talk about motor­cy­cles and music. He tells me again about the time he back­packed across Southeast Asia after college.

People were blud­geoned,” he says. “Bones and skulls every­where. Nobody killed with bullets.”

They were all blud­geoned,” I say.

He laughs weak­ly. He tells me he hates the pud­ding in this place. He says he’d like to fuck the nurse.

I’ll buzz for her,” he says. “Just wait. Her name’s Sweetbread, after a mush­room. Half black. No shit.”

I can’t bring myself to laugh with him.

When Sweetbread comes in he claims he suf­fers from a severe case of hyp­n­a­gogia, which he says caus­es him to hear voices.

It’s a female voice I keep hear­ing,” he says. “She keeps telling me to pick up pros­ti­tutes. Plus I’m hav­ing seizures.”

Sweetbread is writ­ing some­thing down on a clip­board, but she’s smiling.

Try to get some sleep,” she tells Nate.

In bib­li­cal times,” he says, “seizures were con­fused for demon­ic possession.”

We once rode our Harleys to New Orleans and stayed in a hos­tel for a week. The trip was sup­posed to keep me from being depressed. To cheer me up. We shared a room upstairs with three guys from Austin. At night we rode over to the French Quarter, then came back and sat in the back­yard and got drunk with some of the oth­ers who were stay­ing there. An old guy named Paolo played gui­tar and his girl­friend sang. At four in the morn­ing we walked down the street to buy cig­a­rettes and tow­els. The girl who worked the cash reg­is­ter looked like a gypsy.

You guys look sad,” she said.

I’m bi-polar,” I told her. “No meds. I’ve been up four days straight.”

She didn’t laugh or say any­thing. We invit­ed her to stop by the hos­tel but she nev­er showed. We walked back and got high and watched “Car 54, Where Are You?” and I fell asleep sit­ting on the couch with my head rest­ing against Nate’s shoulder.

Nate is telling Sweetbread about Cheong Ek. “You should see the killing fields,” he says. “Ride twen­ty hours in a bus, get out and see bones all over the place.”

And skulls,” I say.

That’s too depress­ing,” she says. “I’d be miserable.”

I’m not real­ly sui­ci­dal,” Nate says. “I just overmedicate.”

After she leaves, Nate says: “What’s the best thing I ever did for you?”

I try to think of some­thing to say.

Back home I can’t sleep. I take my dog out for a walk down­town, past the bus sta­tion and cor­ner shops. Behind La Cachette Bistro I share a joint with my friend Anthony, a cook who’s on break. We always talk motorcycles.

You should get loud pipes,” he says. “You should get Samsons or some loud shit.”

I want to ride some­where,” I say. “Colorado or New Mexico.”

You look sick,” he says.

Back home, I call Nate’s room.

What the fuck is wrong with you,” he says.

Nothing. I don’t know.”

It’s three in the morn­ing. He says he hasn’t been sleep­ing but his voice is hoarse. He sounds tired. “Just come by in the morn­ing,” he says. “They’re let­ting me leave soon maybe. Maybe I’m going back­pack­ing in Southeast Asia. They need me there. The moun­tains in Laos are giant and dark green.”

I want to tell him he isn’t sick. One would think this would be the thing to do.