A literary fraud

For once, no Thai text, but my translation of a Thai short story which is itself an ‘adapted’ translation of an English short story passing itself off as an original work by an otherwise brilliant Thai writer, of Jan Darra fame. The original story, in the left column, was written by the American writer Sulamith Ish-kishor (see bottom) and published in a 1943 issue of Collier’s under the title ‘Appointment With Love’. It was reprinted in Reader’s Digest, May 1951, where Utsana Phleungtham most probably read it … and helped himself to it. Mind you, he wasn’t alone in the fleecing game: the same story, renamed ‘The Rose’, was plagiarised by preacher-author Max Lucado in his 1992 collection And the Angels Were Silent.
When the Thai sentences are direct translations of the English ones, I keep the original wording, and translate verbatim Utsana’s tweaks. MB

Appointment With Love

Appointment with love

grand central new york 1930 hua lamphong 1928

Sulamith Ish-Kishor

Utsana Phleungtham

Six minutes to six, said the clock over the information booth in New Yorks Grand Central Station. The tall young Army officer lifted his sunburned face and narrowed his eyes to note the exact time. His heart was pounding with a beat that choked him. In six minutes he would see the woman who had filled such a special place in his life for the past 18 [sic] months, the woman he had never seen yet whose words had sustained him unfailingly. He placed himself as close as he could to the information booth, just beyond the ring of people besieging the clerks…

Lieutenant Blandford remembered one night in particular, the worst of the fighting, when his plane had been caught in the midst of a pack of Zeros. He had seen the grinning face of one of the enemy pilots.

In one of his letters, he had confessed to her that he often felt fear, and only a few days before this battle, he had received her answer: “Of course you fear…all brave men do. Didn’t King David know fear? Thats why he wrote the 23rd Psalm. Next time you doubt yourself, I want you to hear my voice reciting to you: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” And he had remembered; he had heard her imagined voice, and it had renewed his strength and skill.

He was going to hear her voice now. Four minutes to six. A girl passed closer to him, and Lt. Blandford started. She was wearing a flower, but it was not the little red rose they had agreed upon. Besides, this girl was only about 18, and Hollis Meynell had told him she was 30. “What of it?” he had answered, “I’m 32.” He was 29.

His mind went back to that book—the book the Lord Himself must have put into his hands out of the hundreds of Army library books sent to the Florida training camp. Of Human Bondage, it was; and throughout the book were notes in a woman’s writing. He had always hated that writing-in-habit, but these remarks were different. He had never believed that a woman could see into a man’s heart so tenderly, so understandingly. Her name was on the bookplate: Hollis Meynell. He had got hold of a New York City telephone book and found her address. He had written, she had answered. Next day he had been shipped out, but they had gone on writing.

For thirteen [sic] months she had faithfully replied. When his letters did not arrive, she wrote anyway, and now he believed he loved her, and she loved him. But she had refused all his pleas to send him her photograph. She had explained: “If your feeling for me had no reality, what I look like won’t matter. Suppose I am beautiful. I’d always be haunted that you had been taking a chance on just that, and that kind of love would disgust me. Suppose that Im plain (and you must admit that this is more likely), then Id always fear that you were only going on writing because you were lonely and had no one else. No, dont ask for my picture. When you come to New York, you shall see me and then you shall make your own decision.”

One minute to six—Lieutenant Blandfords heart leaped higher than his plane had ever done.

A young woman was coming toward him. Her figure was long and slim; her blond hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears. Her eyes were blue as flowers, her lips and chin had a gentle firmness. In her pale green suit, she was like springtime come alive.

He started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was wearing no rose, and as he moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips.

“Going my way, soldier?” she murmured.

Uncontrollably, he made one step closer to her. Then he saw Hollis Meynell.

She was standing almost directly behind the girl, a woman well past 40, her graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump. Her thick-ankled feet were thrust into low-heeled shoes. But she wore a red rose on her crumpled coat. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away.

Blandford felt as though he were being split in two, so keen was his desire to follow the girl, yet so deep was his longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned and upheld his own; and there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible; he could see that now. Her gray eyes had a warm, kindly twinkle.

Lieutenant Blandford did not hesitate. His fingers gripped the small worn, blue leather copy of Of Human Bondage, which was to identify him to her. This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even rarer than love—a friendship for which he had been and must ever be grateful.

He squared his broad shoulders, saluted and held the book out toward the woman, although even while he spoke he felt shocked by the bitterness of his disappointment.

“Im Lieutenant John Blandford, and you—you are Miss Meynell. Im so glad you could meet me. May…may I take you to dinner?”

The womans face broadened in a tolerant smile. “I dont know what this is all about, son,” she answered. “That young lady in the green suit—the one who just went by—begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said that if you asked me to go out with you, I should tell you that shes waiting for you in that big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of a test. Ive got two boys with Uncle Sam myself, so I didnt mind to oblige you.”

Another six minutes to twelve noon, said the clock over the platform of Hua Lamphong Station, confirming the time at his wrist. The young first lieutenant lowered his gaze with a feeling of something like worry. His face was sunburnt. Another six minutes! His heart was pounding. Another six minutes only and he would meet her. Even though she had dwelt in the most special chamber of his heart for the past thirteen months, he had never met her, but the words she wrote to him during those months had sustained him unfailingly.

First Lieutenant Boon remembered the critical events of that night vividly. The patrol he led had stumbled into a snare of an enemy patrol but he had narrowly managed to lead his men to safety.

In one of his letters, he had confessed to her that he often felt fear, and only a few days before a campaign when his name almost had to be en- graved on a monument that time, he had received her answer: Your fear is normal. All brave men know fear. Take heart. He still remembered and remembered well that it had helped him regain his energy. Even when he and his men felt that they had erred into the deathly snares of the enemy, as soon as he felt shocked and scared, he heard her limpid voice whispering in his ear – All brave men know fear. Take heart and he became instantly lucid and solved the situation forthwith.

Now he was going to hear her real voice … Another four minutes to twelve noon.

A girl passed close to him, and Lieutenant Boon started. She was wearing a red flower on her chest but it wasnt a real flower, it was a wooden one clipped to her blouse. It wasnt the little red rose they had agreed upon. Besides, this girl was only about eighteen. Krasae Suksathian had told him she was thirty. What of it? he had answered. I’m thirty-two. He was twenty-nine.

His mind went back to the book he had read in the training camp. Maughams Of human bondage, it was, and throughout the book were notes in a womans writing. He had never believed that a woman could see into a man’s heart so tenderly, so understandingly. Her name was on the bookplate: Krasae Suksathian. He asked around to find out how this amazing book had found its way there and eventually found her address. He had written, she had answered. The next day he had to venture out, but they had gone on writing.

For thirteen months she had faithfully replied. When his letters did not reach her, she wrote anyway, and now he believed he loved her, and she loved him.

But she had refused all his pleas to send him her photograph. She had explained: If your feeling for me has no reality, what I look like wont matter. Suppose on the photograph you see you find me beautiful, your prejudice may be different from reality. Suppose I am someone rather plain (and you must admit that this is more likely), Id always fear that you were only going on writing because you were lonely and had no one else. No, dont ask for my picture. When you come back to Bangkok, you shall see me and then you shall make your own decision.

One minute to midday. He took out a cigarette brusquely as if annoyed. Right now his pounding heart grew even more irregular…

A young woman was coming towards him. Her figure was long and slim; her auburn hair lay back in curls from her ears. Her eyes were what men call the colour of steel, her lips and chin had a gentle firmness. In her pale green suit, she was like a refreshing spring shower from heaven onto land.

He started towards her, forgetting to notice that she was wearing no rose bud, and as he came close, a small, provocative smile curved her lips.

Why are you blocking my way? she murmured.

Uncontrollably, he made one step closer to her. Then he saw Krasae Suksathian.

She was standing almost directly behind the girl, a woman well past forty, her hair already greying. She was more than plump. Her thick-ankled feet were thrust into low-heeled shoes. But she wore a red rose on her old crumpled blouse.

The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away.

Lieutenant Boon felt as though he were being split in two, so keen was his desire to follow the girl, yet so deep was his longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned and upheld his own; and there she stood. He could see that her pale, plump face was gentle and had a touch of clever- ness. Her grey eyes had a warm, kindly twinkle.

Lieutenant Boon did not hesitate any longer. His fingers gripped the worn copy of Of human bond- age which was to identify him to her. This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even rarer than love – a friend- ship for which he had been and must ever be grateful.

He squared his broad shoulders, saluted and held the book out towards the woman, although even while he spoke he felt shocked by the bitterness of his disappointment.

I’m First Lieutenant Boon Krit-rak, and you – you must be Miss Krasae Suksathian. I’m so glad you could meet me. May … may I take you to lunch?

The woman’s face broadened in a tolerant smile. I dont know what this is all about, son, she answered. That young lady in the green suit – the one who just went by – begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said that if you asked me to go out with you, I should tell you that shes waiting for you in that restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of a test.

= ‘Rak Thee Mai Ma’ in Sep Som Bor Mi Som, 1988
Sulamith Ish-kishor (1896–1977) was born
in London, one of eight children of Ephraim and Fanny Ish-Kishor. Her father was a well-known author of Jewish children’s literature
and an early proponent of Zionism.
Her older sister was a pioneering author
of Jewish children’s literature in English.
Sulamith began writing at age 5
and had several of her poems printed
in British publications by the time she was 10. When she was 13, her family moved to New York City. There, she graduated from Hunter College
in history and language. She wrote fiction and nonfiction mostly for children and young adults.

Utsana Phleungtham was one of six pen names of Pramool Un-hathoop (1920–1987),
best known for his erotic novel

The story of Jan Darra
(Thai Modern Classics, 1995),
filmed twice as Jan Dara in 2004 and 2013.
He was also a journalist
and a noted translator.

utsana

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