(chosen for inclusion in
Best New American Voices;
First printed in the literary journal Prairie Schooner;
Reprinted in Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction)
What I see before anything else, is space. The unadulterated space of central Cambodia which gives me the feeling of reaching the end of something. I look away from the window and wait for the other passengers to get off the plane. Everyone else has come with someone, and they stare at me, the lone woman in no hurry. What they don't know is that I consider this just another place, another destination, and there are so many in this world. But I think I can guess why my brother, David, came here, and why he refuses to go home. He must like the privacy of so few people, and a sun which always keeps the country warm. No winter, only a dry season and monsoons. The greenery barely has time to fade before it sprouts uncontrollably in the rains, giving the air its sultry, overripe scent as foliage invades the rice paddies and colors the fields.
The last time I heard from David, nearly four years ago when I was back in Chicago, he'd written to me in this excited scrawl that Cambodia is "clean." He explained what I already knew: at least 1.7 million people dead from Pol Pot's scourge, a fourth of the total population. All the bad karma has washed over this place, he wrote. It's annihilated past sins. This is the cleanest place on earth.