He reached the parking lot with just enough time to punch in; to beat the clock. His veteran ears had been listening to radio news about the Sarajevo trials. The unpronounceable had committed the unimaginable against the unfamiliar. “Here we go again,” he said.
“There have been countless genocides,” the newscaster said. “The Hugenots, Beziers and Albigensians. Tenochitlan. Pequots. Auschwitz and the Sicherheitsdienst.”
He reached for the off switch. Work time. “Viet Minh, Ngo Dinh Diem, My Lai.” The announcer pronounced them perfectly. These names went with his memories of friends: ‘Frank,’ ‘Stace,’ ‘Tom,’ ‘Ryan.’
His hand dropped to the car seat. “Lubyanka and Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky,” she said. “Chmielnitzki. Vijayanagara. Khmer Rouge. Khmer Noir. Rwandi-Burundi. Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith. Kampuchea. Quiripi-Unquachog. Hissane Habre.” He was pinned down.
Millions rolled into a hundred million.
The announcer explained: “This countdown during Atrocity Awareness Week uses the Voice of America Pronunciation Guide,” she said. The irony sparked against the fragment in his heart.
“The names are not so hard. Tianahmen Square. Deng Xiaoping. Try repeating after me,” she said.
“DUH-ng SH-how PEENG.”
“Duhng show peeng,” he said.
“OH-marr HAS-san AL BAS-hir,” he said, after her.
“AWN SAN soo CHEE.” Way too easy.
“RAHT-koh MLAHD-ihch,” they said.
“RAH-doh-van KAHR-ah-jeech.” She had to break for a commercial. He picked up where she left off.
“Tan Son Nhut. Binh Long. Quang Nai. Hue Phu Bai. An Phu. Loc Minh. Nui Ba Den. Bu Prang. Dak Dahm. Quang Tri.” Place names from his personal collection.
Soon, she was back, “Trien Phong. Dien Phuk. Song Be. Khe Sanh. Cu Chi.” And on.
They hadn’t completed the list when the battery, too, died.
He had to look for his hands, because he felt transparent. Powerless.
Had it taken him fifty years to see that everyone was in on it, from their DNA on up? A bus full of his accomplices rumbled by. Though his boots were bloody and his eyes were scarred with horror, they each had kept a hand on his back: Andy, Ellen, Ray, Pat. Citizen perpetrators with less exotic names. Everyone could turn on anyone.
In the silence of his car, he tried to make sense of that single syllable: ‘Work.’