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2019

NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

Sokha paused, waiting. Clouds momentarily obscured the sun. She looked carefully to either side, glancing quickly over her shoulder. Something moved in the shadows along the alley of a boarded up house. Was that a gun? Guns! The long barrels of rifles spitting flashes of red, the color of the scarves worn by the boy soldiers. Who was there? Tires screamed in her ears. A shiny blue car swerved around the corner, music booming like gunshots, the sound rocking her off balance. Her foot slipped into a puddle of water. A chill of water rose above her shoe to her ankle. She cried out, jerking her foot away. What was in the water? She bent down, ran her hand over her instep, feeling to be certain no fat leech was puffing itself on her blood. Where was she? Who was watching? Were the guards there? She must not let them see her fear. While one hand tugged at the leech, her other dug in the murky water, burying the tiny roots of rice plants in the mud. She detached the leech from her skin and flung it as far as she could, away from the women wading in a long line across the rice field. She felt her foot again to be certain nothing else had clung there, one of the tiny thread-like leeches that could bore under the flesh and gorge deep into the body’s organs. She raised up as the blue car sped past. Cursed in silence the chhoeu sattek that had gripped her. Memory Sickness. What they had called it in the evil time. The ghosts in the night, images of home and their lost lives that flew into their minds unbidden, like slashes of lightning in the dark. People died from chhoeu sattek. Only now in America, the image that seared her heart was not from the lost life of Phnom Penh but of Angka. She stood in the bright sunlight of Cumberland Avenue, shaken by memories of standing in water, transplanting green shoots of rice. Standing hours, with nothing to keep

Something moved in the shadows along the alley of a boarded up house. Was that a gun? Guns! The long barrels of rifles spitting flashes of red, the color of the scarves worn by the boy soldiers. her standing but will and the muzzles of rifles at their backs. Sometimes her mother worked beside her, an old woman, weak from hunger and malaria. Sokha never knew on any day where her children might be. The oldest sometimes worked near the dam moving dirt or were marched to a nearby village. The younger ones were sent elsewhere, for what was called training. The day four-year-old Satya fainted in the hot sun, she was not with him. Her daughter, Nai, told them later that a guard lifted the limp child from the ground, slung him over his shoulder like a sack of grain and walked away. Chhem Sokha had waited vainly through the night for the guard to bring Satya to the hut. She did not cry, her eyes empty of tears. Perhaps, she thought, in the time of Angka, tears were rationed like rice. When you depleted your quota, there were no more to be had. She had used too many when her father died. After three weeks of walking away from their home in Phnom Penh and already sick, he squatted in a ditch beside the road and refused to move. The soldiers hustled her family forward. But not far enough to keep her from hearing the gunshots. She did not look back, afraid she might see him, held aloft by a Red Khmer soldier on the

Memory Sickness. What they had called it in the evil time. The ghosts in the night, images of home and their lost lives that flew into their minds unbidden, like slashes of lightning in the dark.

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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