"Curtain Coming Down" by Susan Dale

Susan lives in Ohio.


© 2010 Susan Dale


On Saigon’s stage of terrors, the terrified puppets of U.S. occupation, the brothers Ngo Dinh could feel their strings loosening to dangle precariously.  The oldest brother, Khoi Dinh, and his son had long ago been riddled by death’s final bullets.


Brother Nhu Dinh: a viper writhing in yellow silk suits with his pale face revealing dangerous drug habits. Often he played center stage in a sinister choreography of five-man cells and bloody purges.  Nhu’s bride in her cameo role as Beautiful Spring remained the sharp dagger at Nhu’s side.


Brother Thuc Dinh: President Diem’s older brother was also the Archbishop of Hue. He disguised himself as a fox in the forests where he made arrangements for Diemese soldiers to cut the wood by which he constructed lucrative real-estate holdings. To add to Thuc Dinh’s wealth, Diem’s soldiers gathered the sticky liquid of rubber trees that ran in rivers of profit from Vietnam all the way to Australia.


Brother Luyen, a leaping fish swam to London where he donned an ambassador’s robe, and thus arranged for his fortunes to be increased with currency exchange manipulations.


In top billing was the star, Diem, South Vietnam’s president. Portrayed as a penguin, he waddled from one Saigon crisis to another, from one US ambassador to the next, through Buddhist uprisings to the monks’ burning sacrifices. Surviving many assassination attempts, he continued to talk his way through corruptions into monetary bribes.  But colors were clashing.  The monks’ saffron robes with Diem’s white, sharkskin suit. The white livery of Nhu’s secret police with the black pajamas of Giap’s sappers. U.S. soldiers’ camouflage against the red bands of guerrillas.  Diem babbled endlessly into betrayals, into double dealings. He carried his rosary through a mandarin history that traveled a crooked path from France to the U.S., from Hanoi to Saigon.


In early August, the young prince of Camelot and his court in the kingdom across the sea began to lower Saigon’s curtain. And as the curtain was coming down, thrashing dragons were sprouting blazes of fire.  McNamara, the messenger from the states, counted every wave as he sailed across the sea with a deck of double-dealing cards in his back pocket. He showed only enough cards to instigate a coup among the dragon lords.  The time was close at hand: the dragon lords circled the mandarin’s Byzantine castle. A whirlwind of rockets and mortar rounds shattered the opium dreams going up in smoke. Barging tanks bombarded castle walls until they came tumbling down.


In the wake of the besieged fortress and the turmoil that followed, many treasures, including ancient drums and the priceless jewels of the Emperors‘ Court, came up missing.  Down for the last time fell the bamboo curtains. And out from behind the curtain waddled the mandarin and his Machiavellian brother. They tried escaping through the secret tunnels that took them underground and delivered them to the ancient Cham capital of Cholon.


Into the last act of this Oriental drama (clackety-clack) comes the broken-down Renault taxis. The doors of taxis expelled Camelot spies who kept to the shadows. They took cover within Cholon’s smoke of spirit lamps toasting opium. Dodging around the shop houses of Chinese merchants, they hid amongst the silent crowds gathering to watch another chapter of their troubled history. Round eyes joined with the slanted eyes of Cholon’s Asians. From behind bamboo curtains all were taking cover to watch the final act.


Crashing cymbals announced the dragons that surrounded the Cha Tam Church to capture the top-billing players of the southeast stage, Diem and Nhu.  The dragon lords attached metal wires to the brothers’ wrists before they shoved the corrupt mandarin and his evil-prince brother into the back of a chariot. The chariot raced through monsoon clouds. Ah, but when it emerged there were no more brothers, even as the chariot ran with the blood that stained the secret burial grounds and robbed the Asian phoenixes of their immortality.


All was not yet over. Cymbals of revenge clashed on the remaining brothers. Shots rang out to bring down Can. These same shots summoned Thuc to a hasty exit. Donning bishop’s robes, Thuc summoned a chariot pulled by Roman horses renowned for their silent speed. Chariot of fire, horses of holy dispensations carried Thuc on winged flight from Hue, all the way to Rome.








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