Paris in Cambodia

There was a point where she was sure someone had recognized her. She was on the streets of Siem Reap, near a line of outdoor restaurants, their proprietors cooking over woks fired by smoldering portable stoves for tourists sitting in plastic chairs around wooden tables. A small boy was pestering her to buy postcards — ten for a dollar, he told her. “Where are you from?” he asked. “I can name all the capitols of the states. You buy my postcards if I tell you the capitol of your state? Alabama, Montgomery. Alaska, Juneau. Arizona, Phoenix. Arkansas, Little Rock. …”

There were Chinese tourists in the street restaurants mostly, but there were lots of white people, too. Backpacker types: tall boys with blonde beards, dreadlocks or ponytails, and long shorts; girls with head scarves, long cotton skirts, and sandals. They saw her. Or, did she just think they saw her? They didn’t seem to recognize her. They looked dirty. Why did they look so dirty? Two weeks in Asia, she had at least washed every day.

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Paris in Disguise

In the one spartan bathroom in a tiny inn somewhere in southeastern Laos, the young woman leans over the sink and cries. Beside her on a flimsy, tin shelf sits the box she had the taxi driver purchase from a beautician in the central market of the little town. She weeps as she applies the black dye to her short, golden hair, the golden hair from a million photographs. Once she was a golden girl, a princess — no, a goddess. Now this cheap, crudely applied dye is transforming her into someone ordinary.

From now on, it’s going to get harder.She has never been ordinary. For a time she lived among the ordinary, but it was only for show. When the lights went out, and the cameras stopped rolling, she was still the same, an Aphrodite far removed from the masses.

She never thinks of Arkansas anymore. Not until now. This is what the local women there do to stand out, with their platinum dye jobs and country music hairdos. And here she is on the other side of the world doing the opposite, putting on a disguise. A goddess among mortals. And when she has completed her work and looks at herself in the mirror, she can cry no more. That person she was is gone now. That jail in Los Angeles was just the start of her penitence. From now on, it’s going to get harder … until she is free.

Paris (A Fable)

Midnight in Los Angeles, the press and paparazzi crush against the high fence outside the county women’s correctional facility. Word had gone out only an hour or so before, confirmation of rumors swirling the past day. Anticipation is high. A week’s incarceration, with little news, and now this, hushed, in the middle of the night — that was the plan. So much for the plan. The doors open, the usual chaos ensues. Everyone rushes forward. Flashbulbs bathe the scene.

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