2011 Blue Ridge Mountain Writers Conference FLASH FICTION First Place Winner by Julie Webb
“How will we get home?” I asked.
Huddled and still on a stripped mattress, tucked into the curves of my mother's body, I felt lost in the Cambodian countryside.
She would pull me closer and begin humming in a lazy way. With her song strolling through my mind, my heart could feel the familiar swell of the bongs and the clicking of the cymbals. With my eyes closed, I could see the flow, the color of time and the scent of sweet rhythm as it pushed and pulled my mother from one movement to the next. Even in my thoughts, she was the most beautiful dancer I had ever seen.
It was the civil war that changed things for us. I remember the week before my twelfth birthday -- April 1975 -- when the Khmer Rouge took over, closing the university and forcing all of Phnom Penh's residents out of the city.
I heard my father talking in the dark that the Khmer Rouge promised not to murder any former government officials. But my mother was not so trusting and wasn't quiet about it. Besides, she argued, every palace dancer is leaving. She was convinced that her association with royal traditions would get all of us executed.
Some of the dancers and musicians went as far as crossing into Thai, but our family found underground refuge in the northeast Cambodian countryside near my father’s cousin. I felt pinched between the greenish-blue forests that grew under and around us and the abandoned outbuilding we hid inside day after day. In the evenings, with the sun almost out of sight, my mother would coax me out of hiding into the center of the room. Her throat would swell with song.
Lifting my arm in a gentle sway above my head and arcing my body to one side, she would whisper in my ear. “The wishes and prayers of the king and his country are inside this dance. Feel it here, my little one.”
As she patted my chest, I could feel the pride of each bend and the authority of each bow as it affirmed the connection between earth and heaven, between mother and daughter, between past and present.
“This dance must never be lost, Jorani. It belongs to all of Cambodia. It is not ours alone."
And when we finished, I would ask, “But how will we get home?”