Last Updated on January 6, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1426
The narrator, Thomas, lives with his father following the death of his mother. Thomas was born in a refugee camp in Guam and named after an American who had given his father a compass. His father, Mr. P., served in the Vietnam War and has raised his children with a firm sense of discipline. He has also spent his marriage entertaining the company of many other women, which created ongoing conflict and tension in their household as Thomas was growing up.
When the story opens, Thomas is finally able to meet his father’s girlfriend, Mimi, and put a face to at least one woman who has captivated his father’s attention. Growing up, he was unable to ever make such a connection, so this encounter is oddly interesting to Thomas.
Thomas holds two jobs in order to pay his rent. During the day, he is a customer service manager for a medical supplies company. At night, he is a watchman for a luxury high-rise. He doesn’t mind the night work; following the death of his mother and the end of his marriage, he has been unable to sleep. During his lunch break, he frequently calls his ex-wife, Sam, a high school math teacher, just to listen to her answering machine. He also calls her some evenings, allowing her to answer and then counting the number of times she says “Hello” before hanging up.
Thomas’s marriage dissolved when he was unwilling to become a father. When she turned thirty-four, Sam told him that she was ready for children. Thomas replied that he didn’t think he was ready, and Sam tried to convince him that he wouldn’t turn out to be the father that his own father had been. Her efforts to persuade him to change his mind had not proven successful.
On a day off, Thomas’s father decides to spend some time with him. He asks how long it’s been since Thomas has seen Sam. Thomas replies that the last time Sam called was to offer her condolences on the loss of his mother—months prior. Mr. P. tells Thomas that he looks terrible and that it’s time to do something about it. He takes Thomas for a haircut and then drives him over to Sam’s for a surprise visit. Although Thomas believes this is a mistake, he follows his father’s lead.
When Sam opens the door, both Thomas and Mr. P. are surprised to find her visibly pregnant. She invites them in and offers refreshments. Looking around, Thomas doesn’t see anyone who could be the baby’s father. Mr. P. grabs a beer and makes himself comfortable. Sam tells them that she has recently been to Vietnam, a place she and Thomas often talked about visiting; however, Thomas never had any real desire to visit the country, as he had never been there before. Sam tells Mr. P. that perhaps he should return one day for the sake of closure, but he is adamant that if he returned, the communists would proclaim him a war criminal and he would never be heard from again.
Thomas notices that Sam has kept many of their memories together on display in her house. He spots a photo of her leaning into a man with sandy-blond dreadlocks and asks whether this is the father of her baby. She refuses to answer, telling him that she doesn’t owe him any answers. Mr. P. leaves the room so that the two former spouses can talk privately. Thomas presses her for information, and Sam reminds him that a woman can have a baby by herself and doesn’t need a father to do so. Thomas scoffs at this answer and prepares to leave; Sam tells him not to come back.
Outside, Thomas gets into the car with his father but is surprised when Mr. P. commands him to stop and turn off the lights when they are even with Sam’s car. Thomas does as he is told and watches as his father takes a knife to all four of Sam’s tires and then smashes her windshield with a heavy rock. When Mr. P. gets back into the car, Thomas tells his father...
(The entire section contains 1426 words.)
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