talk about it right away, but when you knew them they did. Older ones
So we’re drinking more, Rachel wrote.
I sent her a photo of a can of Angkor beer. The Cambodian sisters
in the office, though they never went to bars, had a brother who sold us
crates of the stuff for our little celebrations. The label had a drawing of
the temple’s three towers on it.
Everyone knows, I wrote to Rachel, this too will pass.
That winter I kept sending Rachel photos of palm trees and orchids and
any big tropical flower I saw. Who wants icy weather? I thought they
would look tempting to her, beckon her to escape.
My brother just got a bad diagnosis, she wrote in one message. It was
cancer, and not any kind you’d want. I remembered her brother, a quietly funny guy, and I said how sorry I was. Pretty soon she wasn’t writing
nearly as often. I became one of those jerks always checking his email.
I started to think that we could be Skyping, why weren’t we Skyping?
(Because I hated it, but that was an outdated reason.) I didn’t want her
to slip away.
How exactly like herself she looked on the screen, except that people
can never be remembered exactly. It felt stagey, at first, trying to talk,
and then we got the hang of it. “Nadia wants to be a designer,” she said.
“How cool is that,” I said. She was talking to me from twelve hours earlier; she was night and I was day. We waved at the end, as if we were
going off on different trains.
And that was the beginning of a great habit. We had crucial chats across
the time zones, not in the flesh but not invisible either. I watched her
explain the particulars of this heat therapy her brother was getting. She
told me the latest Trump jokes. I talked about going for a weekend to
Kampot, a couple of hours away and green and quiet. I sent her a photo
of a hammock on a beach. We got used to having these conversations.
Someday she would visit, we both said. (Not soon, not with her brother
Some foreigners went home every year or so, but I wasn’t one of them. I
did send word by email. My mother was getting frailer and looked sadly
scrawny in her pictures. She still knows what’s what, my brother wrote.
I sent him a shot of me in front of the royal palace—filigreed gold roof