(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story opens with the reflections of an unnamed narrator, a former refugee who muses that it is strange that the first picture in his memory is that of a shower. He tells how the ship he was on, carrying nine thousand refugees from Vietnam, anchored at the American island of Guam at about 3:00 a.m. on July 5, 1975. After leaving the boats, the refugees first headed to the showers, where they washed after their long journey. The showers, the narrator explains, then became an important part of their daily lives. Every day, as they would line up before the showers, they would socialize and exchange news.

The narration then shifts to a refugee camp in the mainland United States, at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. The showers there were also important but cruder than those in Guam. The Pennsylvania camp was divided into sections, with each section of about one hundred people assigned to a small, dark shower room, with three showers so that three people of the same sex could wash at the same time. Because the shower rooms were airtight, some people used them as steam baths to cure colds. Many people went into the shower to tape Vietnamese songs and the voices of their friends.

While showering one day, the narrator hears the confessional story of one of his fellow refugees. Described as shy and in his mid-fifties, the man had his wife, his daughter, and two sons with him in the camp. His family was more complete...

(The entire section is 583 words.)