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Arduous Parting

Throughthe silver clouds and befogged air of Guangzhou,hark the ears of the Eternal gods upon the gently splashing oars of a lonely bamboo boat on the Huang River. Upon this boat stands a thin and emaciated figure, draped in an old, oversized farmer’s tunic, worn at the sleeves, revealing unfurled stitches at the collar. A broad bamboo hat covers his face in tired shadows, but the loathsome eyes gleaming beneath were unmistakable. His name is Lin Bao but the village boys taunt him as “old Lin” and mimic his tired, shaking walk in ceaseless laughter. As his boat drifts down the river, Lin looks up to see gorges rising above him like mystical phoenixes soaring toward the heavens, shedding vivacious green plumage in their grandeur. His chest heaves heavily and murmurs of dearest wife, young Ming, I have not forgotten you... echo the empty gorges. Dearest... Ming.... Forgotten... Forgotten... Forgotten....Each echo grows lonelier, herald to no listener but song less finches and solitary pear trees swaying in the wind. Suddenly, his oar falls and his breath grows short as he crumples to his knees in grief. Convulsions shake his body as he cries Ershe Nan de Tong Qu...Ershe Nan de Tong Qu... Twenty years of sorrow.

Twenty years ago, young Lin Bao shot down the Huang river in an old rotting boat. His oars splashed loudly as the current rushed past the boat and into the air in iridescent showers of red and gold. “Lin! Slow down! This old thing is going to break!” Lin turned around to see his frightened mother of fifty cowering in the corner of the boat, grasping her pale fingers against a wrinkled face. “So then it breaks! we'll swim to the village!” Distracted by his mother’s protest, Lin missed the river dock and had to swing the boat around in a breathtaking arc.

“Well mother! I guess you were spared.&rdquo

“S...St...Stupid...b...boy...tsk tsk... takes after his father...”

The two climbed out of the boat onto the gravel strewn path leading towards his fishing village. All around them, the melodious bellows of greenfinches and the rustling of dried bamboo created a euphony of sound as sweet as a Chinese lute on a moonless night.

“How old is little Ming now? He must be ten years old already! Ready to tend to the house aye?”

“Yes mother, but he is still skinny for his...”

Aye-yah! I always said to feed him the lavender rice, not the southern rice...”

Gradually, the path widened, exposing a bustling village of be-queued Chinese peasants hidden amongst the tallest bamboo reeds. “This way mother,” Lin gestured quickly for his mother to follow. “Good afternoon, Yang. Hello there! Salmon? No, not today, thank you.” They weaved their way slowly through the crowds until they finally arrived at his small thatch. He pushed the door open and hung his farmer’s hat on the wall. “Great eternal gods! this is some heat. It hasn’t been this hot since the last summer of the ox.” His mother nodded her agreement as she brandished a faded mahogany fan from the folds of her robe. “I think there’s too much Yin and not enough Yang...." Lin waved his hand apathetically, “ Ah mother, no one believes that Yin Yang nonsense anymore...,” and sauntered towards the family shrine. “Oh Lin, you’re back. Is mother here as well?” Luan Hau, Lin’s wife stepped out from the bedroom in a single motion, her ebony locks caressing the air. Two almond eyes starred beautifully behind sweat drenched hairs and a curious necklace hung around her ivory neck. It was the character Jia or “Family” imprinted in exotic white jade, strung with a thin red string. “Yes Luan. We had a splendid boat ride didn’t we mother?” His mother glared menacingly and Luan laughed, “Oh Lin, you know better! Did you remember to skin the perch for dinner?” The perch! He forgot again. “No I forgot dear, I’ll do it after take a bathe,” Lin rushed out the door. “Aye-yah, hurry back! We’re eating soon!” Luan yelled after him. But she was too late, he had already leaped down the gravel path and dived into a bush shaded pool. Suddenly, there was a rustle and a murmur from behind him, “Father, why are you bathing in a pool of mud?” Spinning around, Lin found a frail boy of ten smiling mischievously beneath an oversized hat. “Little Ming! Mud aye? Hmm I guess your right. Well it’s fashionable to smell like trash nowadays-all the poor fishermen do it. But hey, go skin the...Are you listening? Go skin the perch for dinner. Gan Qui! Hurry!” The boy grinned jovially and ran off, holding his huge hat against the wind.

By the time Lin arrived home, the Chinese sunset had already erupted past the farthest mountains, setting the Huang river ablaze like a hundred fire jades. He sat silently at his chair, shaking water from his ears and admiring the fragrant smells of cooked perch until everyone arrived for dinner. Amongst mouthfuls of food, conversation was lively and tea made from ginseng leaves was passed around as the lantern wavered against the fleeing vestiges of day. After dinner, small green squares of delicious moon cake were brought out. Why moon cake Father? To celebrate the new moon, Ming. When’s it coming? In a moment. When’s a moment? Soon. When’s s-?Aye-yah, just wait Ming! From the abyss of night rose a colossal moon, its unadulterated light pouring through holes in the thatch until the earthen floor lit up as if sodden with fresh snow. Everyone sat in awe for inexplicable moments. Elbows fell relaxed, transfixed eyes shone pure light back to the heavens. Lin felt a hand on his shoulder, “Dear, it’s too hot to stay up. We’re going to sleep.” “Oh goodnight Luan, good night everyone.” They left, but he remained, eyes set on the moon. Finally he stood. Dearest Moon, why do you smile so broadly? I can feel your warm bliss from a thousand leagues away! He smiled. Perhaps it’s because you’re amongst the stars and comets. Quietly, he rambled into bed where the day‘s fatigue caught him in its numbed grasp. As he drew the rough blanket over himself, he could still feel the warm summer winds caressing his cheeks and make out the image of the burning lantern flickering into sleepy shadows. That night, he dreamt of a dragon god, a fiery red fiend soaring through the river gorges, scorching the wooded mulberry trees. The dream felt so real. He could almost taste the heat.

LIN! WAKE UP!" Lin's dream hazed eyes opened slowly as the dim images of red and orange flames licking the air erupted around him. "Lin!! please wake up!" LUAN! he shoved the bed covers aside and winced through the waving plumes of smoke to see Luan struggling to stand up. I FORGOT TO PUT OUT THAT LANTERN LAST NIGHT! “Lin! Lin!” The sickeningly cries persisted, interrupted only by ghastly coughs. “Luan! I'm coming!” He leapt upward, kicked away an inflamed table and sprinted towards her. But before he could get there, there was a thunderous crash and the bedroom ceiling collapsed over him, splintering his right leg. He screamed. “LIN!” Luan gasped and plummeted to the ground, her silky hair shooting dust into the heated waves. Lin screamed again. He tried to stand, but fell as the flames seared through his tunic and ripped at his chest. His breath grew stagnant, his hazed world blurred in gyrating agony. Just as he thought he had drawn his last ash filled breath, he heard a muffled yell and felt two calloused hands pull at his armpits. "Save...Luan...Save..Save....Save......" He panted out a few words and fell unconscious.

As the scene around him came into focus, Lin coughed vigorously, pushing away the sour smelling herb held at his nose. My God, the poor man...The child was only ten...What do we say- He’s up! He’s up! Looking skyward, he vaguely distinguished four sets of worried eyes searching his pale face. “Luan! Ming! Mother!...Somebody help them!” Silence. Awkward murmurs.

Where are they? What happened to the fire?

A gruff fisherman stepped past the bystanders and shoved Lin forcefully to the ground.

Lin! Your family is dead...they...they were lost in the fire...”

Lin sat up excitedly. His eyes burned with anger.

No! that's a lie! I'm going to save them!

He tried to stand up, but as he did, he heard a horrible crack and crumpled to the ground. "Lin! Stop this! your leg is need to lay down! Please stop this!" Three large men pinned his arms down as a new splint was procured. But Lin would not be held down. He struggled against his friends, flailing arms and choking on thick tears. “LET GO! LET ME UP. TRUST ME I CAN WA-” someone hit him across the head. He glanced upward to see a cliff fading blurrily through his tears. Another hit. This time he fell.

Ershe Nan de Tong Qu...twenty years of sorrow...cries Lin....The image of the same cliff reappears slowly, his boat drifting closer with every push of the river current. He slowly rises to his feet and picks up the oar. With a swift thrust, he lodges the boat against the shore and climbs up the beaten path that still dots the mountain side. He is only fifty years old, but his hair has turned completely gray and his feeble, shaking body hobbles above a walking stick. Lin, your health! listen to me, you’re dying. Please get some rest...and...and...take this elderberry...but you have to let go Lin, let go of the past.Lin waved indifferently, “Ah, what does that doctor know anyway? There is only one thing I care about.” His family. Nothing but ashes now! Lost in a terrible fire! All his fault! He was the one who left the lantern burning! He was the one who set the dried bamboo thatch afire! “AHHH! I‘m so sorry...I‘m so sorry...I‘m so...” He cries inconsolably, shedding tears that have pattered the tired earth for twenty years, muttering the same phrase he has called to the deathless wind for twenty years. Twenty miserable years of poor health, bitter sorrow, and regret. Finally, he reaches the top of cliff and stands on the edge perilously, daring the wind to send him plummeting to his death. At the bottom skipped four toddlers, screaming out a famous ditty in childish fervor:

On grave sweeping day it rains!

On grave sweeping day it rains!

On grave sweeping day it rains!

Their high pitched voices screech, mischievously repeating each line trice into a little song. He wipes his tears along the wrinkles of his hands and pulls out a object from his tunic. It is Luan’s old jade pendant. The character of “family” is worn, missing a few pieces, and its luster glowed a pale, dirtied white. It was the only thing he salvaged from the fire.

Through the winding roads walk melancholy strangers!

Through the winding roads walk melancholy strangers!

Through the winding roads walk melancholy strangers!

A gust of the northern wind rushes past him in a deafening clap. Lin teeters dizzily on the cliff’s edge, his own lightheadedness swaying him. Must lie down, he thinks, I feel so f-faint. Lin curls up on the ground, clutching the pendant with his body facing the river below him. Luan...Ming...Mother...Luan...

his eyebrows droop languidly, his hand falls limp, and he feels himself drowning in dismal shadows.

I quietly inquire ‘where can I forget my sorrows?

I quietly inquire ‘where can I forget my sorrows?

I quietly inquire ‘where can I forgot.

A splash. The children look up astonished. What was that? A ghost! No you’re just trying to scare me! I think something fell from that cliff over there. They look up. Nothing I guess. The song continues:

The cow herder shakes....

The cow herder shakes a dismal finger........

The Cow herder shakes a dismal finger...........only in Life’s paradise....

Only in Life’s paradise

In the muddied depths of the Huang river sinks the jade pendant. It hits the water and zips along the current, but falls steadily as the river moves onward. And if the ears of the eternal gods hark closer, they will hear the melancholy crying of Lin’s spirit echoing the gorges and much more faintly, a deep gurgle. It is the gurgle of the ever flowing river- a gurgle of ineffable bliss.

Story Contributed by Albert Hwang (),630-357-6629, United States of America

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