Paushuan\’s Stories

五月 14, 2006

The Lost Dream

Filed under: Short stories in English — paushuan @ 1:02 上午

The Lost Dream

In some distant arcade, a clock tower calls out six times and then stops. The young man slumps at his desk. He has come to the office at dawn, after another upheaval. His hair is uncombed and his trousers are too big. In his hand he holds twenty crumpled pages, his new theory of time, which he will mail today to the German journal of physics.

Tiny sounds from the city drift through the room. A milk bottle clinks on a stone. An awning is cranked in a shop on Marketgasse. A vegetable cart moves slowly through a street. A man and woman talk in hushed tones in an apartment nearby.

In the dim light that seeps through the room, the desks appear shadowy and soft, like large sleeping animals. Except for the young man’s desk, which is cluttered with half-opened books, the twelve oak desks are all neatly covered with documents, left from the previous day. Upon arriving in two hours, each clerk will know precisely where to begin. But at this moment, in this dim light, the documents on the desks are no more visible than the clock in the corner or the secretary’s stool near the door. All that can be seen at this moment are the shadowy shapes of the desks and the hunched form of the young man.

The young man is soundly asleep. He dreams that he has become a butterfly. He flutters his wings and flies freely, thinking that he is nothing but a blue butterfly with shimmering orange circles on his wings. When he is tired, he’ll let the breeze carry him around, or he’ll just perch on a stem and rest. When he is hungry, he’ll suck the nectar until he is full. And when he is thirsty, he will drink the dew on the rose petals. A wasp stings him when he happens to land on its back, mistaking the wasp for a female butterfly. Thus his life as a butterfly comes to an abrupt and tragic ending.

Then he dreams that he comes back to life as a humming bird. Like the butterfly in his previous life, his main source of food is nectar. But occasionally he will eat small insects he finds in the flowers. Unlike the butterfly, which can glide on the breeze and fly with ease, he has to flip his wings eighty beats per second. Since he uses so much energy, his heart beat is very rapid, 1260 beats in a minute. He is tired all the time, but he can’t stop fluttering his wings, otherwise he will fall to the ground and die. One day when he bumps into a wasp in the pistil of a honeysuckle, he kills it and enjoys a hearty meal.
Of course, he has no idea that it is the same wasp that killed him in his previous life. After he eats the wasp, he becomes so heavy that he can no longer flutter his wings; he drops to the ground and dies. A cat finds his body and eats him up as a snack.

The humming bird comes back to life, taking the form of a pit bull. His master is a little boy who loves him dearly. He feeds him, strokes him, takes him for walks, and plays with him. For some strange reason, other people shun even the sight of him. He wonders whether it’s because of his looks. One day he goes to the pond and looks at his own reflection in the water. He finds out that he is not only ugly but fierce-looking. He becomes very sad. One summer afternoon, a cat comes to his backyard. He is so excited, thinking that the cat wants to be his friend. But when he runs over to approach the cat, the cat arches his back like a bow and hisses at him. The cat’s reaction arouses the most savage nature in him. He leaps over and tears the cat to pieces. After the owner of the cat finds the cat’s dismembered body, he shoots the pit bull with a bee bee gun.

The dog reincarnates as a baby boy. He is raised in a happy family with loving parents. For some unknown reason, he never likes his father. He always keeps a distance despite all the efforts his father makes to exemplify his love. Now he has grown into a young man who spends all his time in the library to look for answers to questions that have puzzled people for centuries. Eventually, he will find the keys to unlock all the mysteries of this universe. He knows that for sure.

When he awakes, the dream vanishes in the misty morning fog. He doesn’t remember any part of the dream, especially the face of the man who killed the pit bull, the face of his father on the day he was born.


受保護的文章:Father and Son

Filed under: Short stories in English — paushuan @ 12:58 上午


The Saucer Fairy

Filed under: Short stories in English — paushuan @ 12:57 上午

Polly Ho Ho/1

The Saucer Fairy
by Polly Ho

It happened when Jing and her three daughters were sitting on her bed, playing the Saucer Fairy game for the first time. The only time.
“I want to know where Kang is,” Jing said, breaking the silence. She noticed the finger she placed on the ring of the saucer was shaking. But the saucer was motionless, as if it were glued to the paper underneath.
Turning her head to face her mother, Jing’s oldest daughter Bin asked, “Mom, why would you ask a question like that?” Her young, flawless face was calm and placid, her eyes clear like spring water. The red blouse she was wearing seemed to have drained all the color from her face; she looked extremely pale, like a
porcelain doll. “We know where eldest brother is, and you do, too,” Bin said. Jing’s heart ached. Even Bin, the one who was closest to Kang, acted this way. What could she expect from the others? Jing could not blame Bin. Children are forgetful. After all, it had been many years since Kang passed away.
“When people die, they are buried in their graves. Where else can they be?” Her second daughter Yuan said, her eyes looking cold behind the thick lenses of her wire-rimmed glasses.
“Nonsense! What does a child like you know about death?” Jing was angry; her face turned red, but under the fluorescent light, it looked almost purple. Enraged, Jing felt her head begin to throb painfully. Propping her head on the pillow, she closed her eyes, thinking that she’d feel better after resting for a while. Then she felt something soft touching her forehead. She opened her eyes. It was Hui, her youngest daughter. She was kneeling in front of her, stretching her hand to massage Jing’s temple.
“Mom, are you all right?” Hui asked gazing at her mother, her eyes widening.

“What a toad-eater!” Yuan sneered, sticking her tongue out and making a funny face.
Jing looked at her sideways, but decided not to say anything. She didn’t have the strength to reprimand this sharp-tongued daughter of hers.
“I’m fine,” Jing said, smiling faintly, taking Hui’s small hand and holding it in her palms. “Just let me rest for a while before we continue.”
Hui, the ten-year-old, was such a good child, a lot more docile than her two sisters. Jing simply couldn’t help doting on her. Yuan was five years older, but the age difference didn’t mean anything. She often found fault with Hui and bickered with her as if they were the worst enemies. As for Bin, a high school senior, Jing hoped she’d treat her little sister with a little affection, but unfortunately, she didn’t.
Oh, if only Kang were alive! He was the most loving brother to Bin and Yuan. He always held Bin’s hand wherever they went, worrying that she’d get lost if he let go of her. And when Yuan was a baby girl, Kang used to carry her on his back. More than once she got him soaking wet, but he just changed his shirt without saying a word. If Kang were still alive,
he would love Hui dearly. It broke Jing’s heart that Hui never got to know him. He was dead by the time she was born.
When people passed away, they ceased to be. But to Jing, Kang was definitely an exception, otherwise how could she explain his visits in past years? And the strangest thing was that he grew bigger and taller each year, just like any normal child. She understood that he only appeared in her dreams, but it seemed so real each time. Although he looked a little older in each visit, she knew it was Kang. No doubt about it. The broad forehead, the thick eyebrows, and the almond-shaped eyes remained exactly as before. Walking toward her, he smiled and waved his hand, as if he were about to call out, “Mom!”
Though not a Christian, Jing went to church sometimes. The priest said that when people died, they either rose to Heaven or descended to Hell. Oddly, where Kang went didn’t seem to bear any resemblance to either place. In one dream, she could clearly see that Kang was standing on a small hill; below lay a village filled with vast rice paddy fields, and golden grains

swayed in the breeze. Surrounding the rice paddies, there was a winding river shimmering under the sun like a silver snake.
Scattered on the field were rows of houses with gray walls and crimson roofs, their black chimneys puffed out slender threads of smoke, which slowly rose into a bright blue sky. She knew she had been there before, but couldn’t remember when.
The saucer remained still. Tilting her head, Jing looked at the clock on the lime- green wall by her bed. The longhand briskly moved forward with a buzzing sound, which startled Jing. It was 8:37. The color of the wall pained Jing’s eyes, as if they had been squirted by lime juice. It was the painter’s fault. Had he not persuaded her to use the “most popular hue of 1962 in Taiwan,” she’d never have picked such a chintzy color. She had thought that a livelier coat of paint would uplift her spirits, dampened by her husband Liang’s sudden departure. She was wrong.
The painter did a sloppy job. There were green speckles all over the hardwood floor; even the black lacquer frame of the picture on the wall was stained with a streak of paint. What a shame! It was
Ho/6 Jing’s favorite picture, taken in a studio on Kang’s first birthday.
Looking closely at the picture, Jing could find droplets of paint on her face right under her eye sockets, as if she were shedding green tears. But she looked happy, smiling, white teeth gleaming. Liang seemed uncomfortable in the new suit Jing made him wear, stiff-necked and taut-faced, but from his gentle, smiling eyes, Jing knew he was happy, too. Baby Kang was sitting in Liang’s lap, stretching out his chubby hand—-so fat that you could see five little dimples on his knuckles– toward Jing, begging for a hug. Kang loved embraces. When he had just learned to walk, he’d wobble over to Jing, tugging her skirt, trying to climb up to her warm bosom. At first, she’d ignore him, or coax him to play by himself. But he wouldn’t let go of her. When she finally gave in and picked him up, he’d kiss her and slobber her face with his dribbling saliva, which smelled like a mixture of sweet vanilla and milk curd. When nursing, Jing was enveloped by this distinct scent, and it gradually seeped into her skin and became part of her. Even now, years after Kang’s death, she could still smell him, especially on a sultry summer night after waking from a dream.
But right now the only scent she could smell was the turpentine in the fresh paint.
How cute Kang looked in the picture! His face was as round as a bun; his fine hair sticking up, tiny nose crinkling, black eyes sparkling, and rosy lips open, laughing. He looked like the dolls Jing used to make from rice dough when she was a child. She remembered how frightened she was bathing him for the first time, she feared he might dissolve in water. What an idiotic mother she had been, Jing thought, shaking her head.
At first, Jing didn’t want to play the Saucer Fairy game, regardless of its overwhelming popularity in Taiwan. It was a game for children, not for adults. Besides, it wasn’t even a game, strictly speaking. The thought of inviting the spirit of a so-called “fairy” to the house was terrifying enough, much less capturing him in a saucer and asking for his advice. That was why she gave her daughters a flat “No!” when they asked for permission to play at home. But she finally gave in, thinking that it probably wouldn’t do much harm if they only played once.

Jing hated to make decisions. Normally, Liang was the one who gave the final word to the girls’ unusual requests. But since he moved out, she assumed his role
as the sole decision maker. In the beginning, she was so indecisive that she often went back on her word, which irked the girls. After six months, she finally had the hang of it, so she thought.
It was a Saturday evening when the girls began to play. They sat at the round dinner table after their mother finished washing the dishes and went to her room to rest. Bin was the leader of the game because she had watched her friends play in school and had learned the rules. After placing a large piece of paper filled with Chinese characters on the table, she fished out a saucer from her book bag and began to tell her sisters how it worked.
“First we’ll invite the fairy to stay under the upside down saucer, then we place our index fingers on top. Then the fairy will collect our Qi and use it to maneuver the saucer.” Putting the saucer in the middle of the paper, Bin said, “Once the saucer is moving, you can ask the fairy a question, and he’ll guide the

saucer to search for the proper character to answer your question.”
Pointing at a black arrow drawn on the rim of the saucer, Bin continued to explain to her sisters, “See
this thing? When he finds the character, he’ll stop the saucer and point the arrow at it.”
“It’s too complicated, I don’t want to play.” Hui said sliding down the chair.
“Don’t you dare quit!” Yuan grabbed Hui’s arm and pulled her back to the chair, grumbling. “It takes at least three people to play, and you know it.”
“Sit still, Hui.” Bin leaned closer to Hui and stared strait in her eye. “Nobody leaves this table until I say so, okay?”
“Okay,” Hui said pursing her lips. She stopped wiggling.
“Now, there are two things that you should never do,” Bin said, her eyebrows knitted. “Number one: Don’t break the saucer. Number two: Don’t say anything disrespectful to the fairy. You don’t want to make him mad.”

“What’s going to happen if he’s mad?” Hui asked, her hips squirming on the chair, which made a squeaking noise.
Bin sneered, “I’m not going to tell you. You always ask too many questions.” Bin said.
“Yeah, Hui’s too nosy.” Yuan snickered, clicking her tongue.
“I’m not!” Hui protested, tears welled her eyes.
“Shush, both of you!” Bin said placing a finger on her lips. “Now everyone put her index finger on the ring of the saucer.”
Both Yuan and Hui did as told.
“Now focus your mind on the saucer and don’t think about anything. I’m going to ask the fairy to come now.” Bin drew in a deep breath, eyes closed. “Oh, fairy, fairy, any good, kind fairy, please stop by and help us answer some questions.”
The three girls waited in silence, gazing at the saucer. It didn’t budge. Bin pleaded again. Nothing happened. Again and again Bin pleaded, but the saucer remained frozen on the spot.
“Umm, let’s stop for a while. I need to think,” Bin said, taking her finger off the ring. “It always
worked in school…” Suddenly, her face lit up. “Oh, yes. There were always four of us when we played in school. We need one more person.”
“But you said three is enough.” Yuan raised her hand to adjust her glasses, gawking at Bin, her voice
low and raspy as always. “Where are we going to find another person this time of the day?”
“Let’s ask Ma to join us!” Hui jumped from her seat, clapping her hands.
“No, she won’t do it!” Hui shook her head, frowning.
“Well, she might, too. I’ll go ask her.” Bin said, leaping from her seat briskly. Trotting to her mother’s room, she turned around, warning her sisters. “Don’t touch anything while I’m gone.”
Jing was reading the evening newspaper in bed, her head propped up on a pillow when Bin walked into her bedroom.
“Ma, we need you to play with us. It didn’t work with three players.” Bin stood by Jing’s bed, wringing her fingers.
Jing took off her bifocals and stretched her arms, yawning. “I’m tired. Don’t want to get up.”
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Bin snuggled next to her mother and smoothed the creases on the bamboo mat. “Why don’t we play on your bed? That way you don’t even have to get up,” Bin said, smiling.
“No!” Jing blurted out abruptly, Bin’s body heat made her feel anxious. She was in no mood to play.
“Please Ma, please!” Bin begged like a little girl, looping her arm through Jing’s.
“You’re sweaty,” Jing brushed Bin’s hand off and sat up straight, pulling a handkerchief from under the pillow and wiping her arm. “Look, you got me all wet, and I’ve just taken a bath.”
Fixing her eyes on her mother for a moment, Bin got off the bed and stood by the wall, hands folded on the chest, lips pursed, eyes welling up. Her expression reminded Jing of Kang.
Ten years ago, Kang had had the same expression on his face when Jing had forbidden him to go swimming with Little Liu. But Jing gave in as Kang looked at her with those sad, damp eyes. “All right, you may go!” she said, fluffing his hair, smiling. “Be careful, promise?”

Hugging her tight, Kang nodded, his hair tickling her chin and making her laugh.
In retrospect, she understood she shouldn’t have made such a crucial decision without consulting Liang. But she couldn’t. He was gathering data in a remote
village where no telephone was available. Besides, Little Liu had sworn there was no danger.
Patting Kang’s head, Little Liu had said, “Mrs. Zhou, the water in the pool is so shallow, it barely reaches his chest, so there is absolutely nothing to worry about, I promise you on my life, he’ll be safe.” And she had believed him. Little Liu was the top student in the class Liang was teaching, he should know what he was talking about. After all, she had never heard of any accident happening in the swimming pool in the Municipal Recreation Center. Little Liu was right, there was noting to worry about.
Kang walked out of the house in a white button down shirt and a pair of navy blue shorts that Jing had just taken off the clothes line. Raising one arm to sniff the sleeve of the shirt, Kang said, grinning, “Gee, Mom, I can smell the sun.”
Those were his last words to her.
It baffled Jing why she thought of Kang so often, especially during the time when Liang first moved out. Liang probably would not have left if Kang were still alive. A father was bound to his son. Jing knew that Liang held her responsible for Kang’s death. He blamed
her for allowing his only son to drown. She realized that for the past ten years he was unwilling to forgive her, and leaving her was only a matter of time. Of course, his involvement with his student helped him make up his mind.
The thought of her son softened Jing’s heart. She sighed, reaching out for Bin’s hand and pulling her to the bed. “All right, I’ll play. Go get your sisters.” Jing said nudging Bin’s back.
Now Jing and her three daughters began to play the game, each sat facing each other. Suffering from back problems, Jing had replaced the mattress with a wooden board and a straw mat to vent the summer heat.
“The surface is hard and smooth, no problem for the saucer to move about,” Bin said, placing the paper and saucer on the mat, smiling.
Eager to play right away, Bin only explained the rules to Jing briefly, completely forgetting to mention
the precautions. Leaning her head against the headboard, Jing glanced at the saucer mindlessly, thinking about the last time that she, Liang, and the girls had lain in bed together.
Both Kang and Bin slept with her and Liang before they were old enough to go to kindergarten. As for Yuan, a colicky baby who cried day and night, she never had a chance to sleep with them. “I don’t know about you, but I need to get some sleep,” Liang said, burying his head in the pillow and fanning his hand. He gestured to Jing to take Yuan out of the room. When Hui was born, Jing and Liang had been sleeping in separate beds already; so the notion of Hui sharing her parents’ bed was unlikely.
“It’s moving! It’s moving!” Hui cried out, pointing a finger at the saucer. Yes, the saucer was moving. At first, it staggered, then inch by inch moved out of the center and started to glide in small circles, like a child learning to skate, timidly, haltingly. Soon it picked up speed and began to draw larger circles.
Jing couldn’t believe her eyes.

She watched closely and found that everyone was barely touching the saucer, therefore ruling out the likelihood of any intentional maneuvering.
And the way it was moving here and there reminded her of an adept and graceful ballerina.
“Now, the fairy is ready for questions. Who wants to ask first?” Bin said, her eyes darting from one face to another.
“Me! Me! Me!” Yuan’s cheeks turned red; her raspy voice was loud and clear, beads of perspiration shining on her nose. “Saucer fairy, are you a man or woman?”
The saucer slowly glided toward Yuan, stopping briefly as if greeting her, then it began to swirl, circling round and round. Suddenly it stopped. The arrow was pointing at the character “woman.”
Incredible! Out of at least two thousand characters, the fairy picked that one almost instantaneously. Jing was impressed.
Excited, Yuan smiled, bending her head closer to the saucer and spurting out another question. “Where are you coming from?”
The arrow pointed at “Tian,” meaning “heaven.”

The answer obliterated Jing’s misgiving of having confronted an evil spirit from the underworld. Jing let out a long sigh, relieved.
“Who’s next?” Bin asked, her eyes sparkling, her face a pinkish alabaster. She looked elated.
Bin was a typical Chinese beauty: small frame, willowy waist, large eyes, crescent- moon shaped brows, petal-like thin lips, and straight, white teeth. No wonder Liang loved her so much.
“Mom, how about you?” Hui wiggled closer to her mother. “Don’t you have a question to ask?”
“Well, I haven’t come up with one yet, you go first.” Jing said with an amiable smile, raising her hand to pick a piece of lint from Hui’s bobbed hair. She knew that Hui could hardly wait for her turn; she could tell by the feigned calmness in her voice.
“Thanks, Mom, you’re so nice,” Hui said, rubbing her face against Jing’s shoulder while Yuan rolled her eyes. “I… ” Hui took a quick glimpse of her mother and said, “I want to know when Daddy is coming home.”
Jing felt a pang in her heart. How strange Hui would ask such a question, given how little affection her father had shown toward her.
Liang never loved Hui, and she knew it. That was why she kept shunning him, making herself invisible when he was around. On the day Liang lugged an over-
stuffed suitcase out of the house, Hui stayed in bed, flipping through a comic book while her sisters stood by the open door, looking at Liang’s gradually receding figure and crying their eyes out. Now the truth was rising in the hot sultry summer air. Hui missed her dad. She wanted him home, badly.
The saucer moved. It began to draw large circles on the paper.
Hui fixed her gaze on the saucer, waiting for it to stop, her eyes two blazing black balls, burning with anticipation. Hui loved her dad, regardless of how he felt about her. To this day, Jing couldn’t understand why Liang loathed Hui so much. Even before she was born, he had decided that she was unworthy of his love. He had urged Jing to abort the baby when she first found out about her pregnancy. Jing had blatantly refused. What did the baby have to do with their wobbly relationship? Besides, judging from the shape of her bulging tummy, everyone was positive that it was a boy, including the doctor.
“Didn’t you always want a boy?” Jing asked Liang, standing akimbo, her small round belly thrusting out fearlessly. This time her mind was set. She wanted to keep this child. And Liang couldn’t do anything to stop her. After all, the baby was inside her, not him.
Jing’s optimism soon affected Liang. He was led to believe that the little tadpole swimming in Jing’s womb was indeed a boy with a tiny penis like a newly hatched sparrow, tender yet vigorous. It was a promise to keep his family name alive, at least for one generation, and maybe two, three, ten, or even hundreds of generations, if he got lucky.
Liang had even named the boy “Nian,” meaning “Longevity”.
They were wrong. Dead wrong. The nurse trotted in the corridor toward Liang, announcing joyously, “It’s a girl!” Liang turned around and hurried out the hospital door without saying a word.
“No, I’d never do a thing like that.” Liang denied it every time Jing retold the story, calling him all kinds of names. But Jing knew it was true. Although she was somewhat lightheaded after childbirth,

she was not crazy. She remembered what she saw. Jing could not understand why Liang was so heartless.
Although disappointed, she loved Hui just the same. Why couldn’t Liang?
Months later, Jing found out the truth. Liang had been in love with a girl in one of the classes he was teaching. The romance had been going on for quite some time. And he would have run away with that young girl, if Jing were not “positively” pregnant with his son.
In fact, everything had been planned. Liang had even bought himself and his girlfriend train tickets for An Ping, a remote city 300 kilometer from Taipei, where he had found a teaching job and rented an apartment. But because of Hui, he had to put his well plotted scheme to a halt. As the girlfriend found out the truth, she hastily married a man handpicked by her parents.
Jing understood that Liang blamed Hui for his misfortunes and ignored her as if she were nonexistent. Trying to make it up to Hui, Jing tended to lavish attention on her. But in Liang’s eyes, Jing was playing favoritism, an accusation Jing considered remotely justified.
“You smothered Hui exactly the same way as you did Kang,” Liang had said.
Jing retorted, “Since when have you become such an expert on love? Does it have anything to do with that precious girlfriend of yours?” She sprinkled salt on the spot where it hurt the most, smiling grimly. Infuriated, Liang turned around and left, slamming the door behind him. To avoid fights like this, Liang used all kinds of excuses to stay out of Jing’s way-—meetings, conferences, field trips, and so on. Soon he didn’t even bother to come up with any. He had another affair. She was a taxi dancer in her late twenties, a luscious looking thing with a full figure and long, wavy hair falling down to her slim waist. When Jing questioned Liang about this woman, he narrowed his eyes, raising his eyebrow and asked, “What do you think?”
Throwing a rhetorical question was Liang’s sly way of acknowledging the accused crime without having to admit it. Now Jing knew that he was indeed having an adulterous relationship with the sexy taxi dancer to whom all the professors’ wives called “little enchantress.”
The saucer moved slowly, as if trying to make up its baffled mind. It circled round and round,
haltingly, haphazardly. At last it stopped. The arrow was pointing at the character meaning “long.”
“How long? A month? Six months? A year?” Bin asked anxiously.
The saucer stopped, and the arrow was pointing at the character “Heng,” meaning “forever.”
“You mean it might take our dad forever to come home?” Yuan asked, glaring at the saucer.
Dead silence. The answer was what Jing had expected. Well, who cared whether he was coming home or not? Jing didn’t want him home. In fact, she had decided not to take him home even if he knelt on the floor and begged. She could no longer tolerate his treacherous behavior or share a husband with another woman. A wise woman once compared a man with a toothbrush. “They are similar in a way that neither is a public entity,” she said. How true! The thought of shoving a soiled toothbrush in her mouth made her feel dirty. She didn’t know why she had allowed it for so many years. Now that he was gone, she could return to
her clean self again. Stripped naked in the bathroom, Jing had an urge to scrub every inch of her skin with antiseptic solution. But she changed her mind after dipping her finger in the Lysol bottle and watching it swell up like a sausage.
Instead, she scoured the bathtub for hours till she could hardly move her arm. When finished, she locked herself in the room reeking of disinfectant.
She sat on the damp floor and cried till one of the girls banged on the door, asking to use the toilet.
As Jing threw away the Lysol bottle together with Liang’s old comb, rusted razor, broken scissors, caked Vaseline hair wax, empty after-shave vial; she looked at herself in the mirror and sighed in relief. She had finally gotten rid of him.
Now, judging from her daughters’ anxious expressions, Jing realized that she could never do away with him. He could live in his daughters’ hearts for as long as he wished. How unfair! Was I not a good mother? Jing asked herself. I sacrificed my life, cooped up at home, nursing, changing diapers, cooking, cleaning, laundering for all these years, and they never appreciated me. What did Liang do? Nothing! He
abandoned them, walking away from all his responsibilities; and yet they missed him. How
heartless could they be! Kang was different. He would never treat me this way. He understood how much I had done for this family.
Oh, Kang, where are you?
So Jing asked the fairy one more time. “Where is my son?”
The saucer stayed still. Holding their breath, Jing and her daughters waited in silence. And they waited. Finally the saucer began to rattle, gliding to one side, then switching to another, as if incapable of making up its mind.
Then it halted abruptly.
“Oh, it’s ‘Tian’, our brother is in heaven,” Hui laughed, pointing a finger at the character.
“No, look carefully, the arrow is pointing at ‘Di’, the character right next to Tian,” Yuan corrected Hui.
“Doesn’t ‘Di’ mean earth or dirt—” Hui gasped, covering her mouth with a hand.
“What are you saying?” Jing glared at Hui, her eyes burning in anger.

“Take it easy, Mom. Can’t you see the saucer is still moving? Let’s wait and see what the next character is.” Bin said looking at her mother, pleading.
The saucer stopped beside “Xia”, meaning “under”.
Shocked, the girls looked at one another, exchanged weary looks and then fell silent.
“Under earth! My Kang is confined underneath earth,” Jing murmured, repeating it again and again as if savoring the bitter taste of these words. Then she fired off in a fury, “No! My son is in paradise. You lied!”
No sooner had Jing finished shouting when the saucer began to spin. It was twirling so rapidly that it almost lost its balance and flipped over. In the end, it stopped by the character “Wang,” meaning “defiance,” or “recalcitrance.”
“Mom, the fairy is extremely angry. Please say you are sorry,” Bin pleaded, her face taut, her frightful eyes gazing at her mother.
Jing made no response. She didn’t hear Bin. The only thing she heard was a trilling sound, as if hundreds of cicadas were beating their translucent wings. No, this was insane. Kang was
only a child who committed no crime; he couldn’t be cast to underworld, that horrifying place inhabited by sinners. He was to live in the beautiful place,
growing bigger every day, falling in love, and having a family of his own.
“Why? What did my son do to deserve this punishment? Why? Why?” Pounding the bed with both hands, Jing started to wail.
Bin and Yuan had never seen their mother go berserk before; they sat frozen, not knowing what to do. Hui scooted over, wrapped her hands around Jing’s neck and asked, “Mom, are you okay?”
Jing brushed off Hui’s hands, burying her head in her lap, sobbing, her shoulders shuddering.
“Mommy,” Hui sniffled. “Please don’t cry.”
On her knees, Bin shuffled to her mother’s side, putting a hand on her angular shoulder and said, “Mom, it’s just a game, don’t take it too seriously.”
Jing made no response.
Suddenly, Yuan pointed a finger at the saucer and gasped, “Look, it’s moving on its own!”
Yes, for some strange reason, the saucer began to make circles on the paper again. And this time when it
stopped, the arrow was pointing at one character first, and then to another as it moved on.
“Suicide!” One of the girls cried out.
Millions of sparkling stars exploded in Jing’s head. And then it was total darkness.
When she came to, she found Yuan and Hui staring at her wearily, and Bin squatting on the floor, picking up little white fragments looking like shards. Now she remembered. She had hurled the saucer to the wall and it smashed to pieces.
“Bin, stop what you’re doing,” Jing sat up waving a feeble hand.
“Mom, I can’t —” Bin said squatting on the floor, putting a piece of shard in a trash bag, averting her mother’s eyes.
“Yes, you can. Just go, all of you!”
Lying in bed, Jing’s head was throbbing in pain as if someone had driven an ax onto her skull and split it in half. She sat up, stretching her arm to take the Tiger balm from the night stand and smearing a generous amount on her forehead. Then she lay down and closed her eyes. Inhaling the bitter-sweet smell of the

ointment, and feeling its soothing coolness penetrating her forehead, she felt better.
So, that monstrous idiot had the nerve to call herself a fairy! Jing knew she was nothing but an imposter, an evil spirit, who maliciously stirred up chaos in her family. Who was she trying to fool by saying that Kang was confined in the underworld? As if that was not vicious enough, she claimed it was the punishment Kang deserved for taking his own life. Outrageous! Besides, it was a plain accident, and Jing knew it. She heard it loud and clear when Little Liu testified at the police station.
In tears, Little Liu had said that when he went to the bathroom, Kang was in the children’s section, kicking water, waving at him with both hands, laughing cheerfully. But when he returned, Kang was gone. Little Liu went crazy. He ran around the pool like a mad dog, shouting Kang’s name over and over until he lost his voice. Then he dived into the pool, searching, grabbing every little boy’s limbs to get a closer look at their faces. And still no Kang.

“How am I going to tell my teacher?” Little Liu knelt on the cement floor by the pool and wailed while people called for the lifeguard. By the time they
found Kang in the adults’ side of the pool, it was too late.
Jing never forgot the sight of Kang lying in the hospital bed. He was stripped naked; his bulging tummy looked enormously big, too big for the skinny body of her eleven- year- old baby. And water continued to ooze from all the openings in his bluish, swollen body. Jing threw herself on the bed to cover him, screaming at everyone to leave her alone with her son while the nurses and the police grabbed her by the arms and shoved her out of the room. It was then Liang appeared at the other side of the hallway, one shoe missing, running limping toward her, shouting nonsense. She passed out before he reached her.
For the past ten years, she had tried to erase that last scene in the hospital from her memory. But her thoughts weren’t something she could control. Kang’s gruesome image came and went, quietly, stealthily, like the tide in the middle of the night. Every time the tide ebbed, she felt a small piece of
her heart was taken away. After all these years, Jing felt so empty that she thought she no longer had a heart. She cried, touching the heart-shaped silver
pendant Liang bought her on their wedding anniversary, a year after Kang’s death.
Jing wiped the tears off her face with the corner of the blanket and buried her head in the pillow. It was stuffed with dried chrysanthemum petals, which made a light chafing sound, like an autumn wind blowing over a reaped cornfield, desolate and mournful.
What if Kang did commit suicide? No! He was only a child, a happy child, regardless of how mature he was compared with other children of his age. At times he seemed lost in his own thoughts and appeared to be indifferent to his surroundings. But by and large, he was cheerful. He always grinned with his tiny canine teeth in full view every time he greeted people. “What a delightful little boy!” Women would pinch his cheek and praise him, while men patted his head, nodding in agreement.
It was Liang’s fault if Kang was unhappy. Liang was too strict with him. He claimed that he loved his son dearly, but the way he expressed his love was
certainly out of the ordinary. Although Liang never punished Kang physically, he often scolded him. True,
all fathers had high expectations for their sons, but Liang’s standard was too high for anyone. He chided Kang whenever he didn’t measure up: trivial things such as bringing home a mediocre report card, reading comic books, shunning sports, spacing out, or wearing Bin’s clothes.
Liang was angrier than ever the time he caught Kang trying on his sister’s skirt. To Jing, Liang had been over reacting. It was nothing unusual for a boy to dress like a girl, Jing thought. Mother dressed little brother in pink and red outfits when he was young. And Father even went as far as giving him a girl’s nickname—Lotus–and demanded everyone in the household, including the servants, to address him by that name. Jing understood her parents’ reasoning. They thought by disguising him as a girl, they could deceive Heaven, who inclined to snatch a baby boy away from his family out of jealousy.
But Liang didn’t believe in such “superstition,” and Kang’s behavior was definitely unforgiving. Just a few

days before the accident, Kang was berated for wearing Jing’s pink fingernail polish. Throwing him a bottle
of rubbing alcohol, Liang roared, “Get out of my sight and wipe that off! You are a disgrace to our family!”
Did Liang’s ruthless words drive Kang to end his life? Jing thought. No, it couldn’t be. He loved me. He would not leave me willfully, knowing how heartbroken I would be without him. Oh, Kang, Kang, how could you do this to me?
Jing fell asleep between sobs. She revisited the place Kang appeared in her dreams. But this time, Kang was not standing on top of the hill, smiling at her, instead, he was drowning in the winding river surrounding the village. Struggling in a raging current; he was immersed in water except for a frail, uplifted arm signaling for help.
And Liang was standing on shore in howling wind, hair flying wild in the air, throwing a rope to the water to save his son. But whenever Kang was about to catch the rope, the wind blew it away. Frustrated, Liang began to curse Heaven, clenching his fist in defiance. Finally, Kang caught the rope. Excited,

Liang tightened all his muscles like a bow to pull his son to shore.
As Kang was a few feet away from the shore, Jing saw a shadowy female figure emerging from the water, holding something sharp and snapping the rope in half. Kang fell into the river and vanished instantly.
“Kang!” She cried out loud, but her voice was gulped down by the wind. All she could hear was the pounding sound of drum beats. Horrified, Jing woke up from the nightmare, soaking wet. As she sat up and pressed the pillow to her chest, she could still hear her heart pounding.
The female figure in the dream remained in Jing’s consciousness. Who was she? Why did she sever the rope when Kang was about to be saved? Who could have done such a malicious thing? Jing tried to remember her face, but couldn’t. She had never shown her face. All Jing saw was her silhouette; even that was partially obstructed by her long hair. Jing couldn’t think of any woman she knew with hair that long, so long that it almost reached her buttocks.

Jing shrieked as it suddenly dawned on her that years ago her hair was just as long as that faceless
woman. She did it for Liang, who claimed that he couldn’t take his eyes off her silky hair when they first met. “Don’t you dare cut it!” Liang had said, lying on the grass beside her, holding a handful of hair in his palm, sniffing it. She laughed and pushed his hand away. Since then she wouldn’t let any barber
touch her hair, which grew longer and longer till it passed her waistline, almost touching her buttocks. She finally had it chopped short after she had baby Kang. It got in the way when she was nursing, bathing, or changing diapers.
No, it wasn’t me, Jing thought, shaking her head vigorously. I never had a curvy figure like hers. Touching her slightly protruding belly, Jing reassured herself. It must be that phony fairy again. She sneaked into my dream and acted out the terrifying accident to make me feel guilty. How vicious! I didn’t allow the accident to happen, Little Liu did. It was his negligence that got Kang drowned. I trusted him and put my son’s life in his hands, just because he was Liang’s best student.
What about Liang? Shouldn’t he take part of the blame? Had he not brought Little Liu to our home in
the first place, nothing like that would happen. “You are the one who made the wrong decision at a pivotal point and caused our son’s death,” Liang had yelled at her, his eyes blood- shot, his body shaking.
Even though he was probably right, he should never have blasted out something so hurtful. Didn’t he
understand how distressed I felt losing Kang? How did he have the heart to blame me for his death?
To Liang, playing the Saucer Fairy game must be another wrong decision then. Although reluctant to admit it, this time Jing knew she was absolutely right. Had she not opened the door to welcome the slandering imposter, she would not have heard those hideous lies about Kang. It was unbearable to think that Kang was trapped in hell, surrounded by pools of blazing fire, mountains of sharp knives, ox-headed and horse-faced demons, and despicable, emaciated human forms in cuffs and chains.
Again, it was Liang’s fault, too. He shouldn’t have left her, knowing she could never make a sensible decision on her own. You shouldn’t have left, Liang.
Didn’t you once agree to stay by me till the very end? What made you change your mind? Am I that terrible?
Oh, Liang, please come home, I need you!
The thought of wanting Liang back surprised Jing.
She didn’t know what got into her head. Since the day he moved out, she never missed him so much.
Suddenly, Jing heard a faint thud in the back yard. Liang! She jumped off the bed and dashed to the window.
Peeking through the sheer curtain, she saw a large shadow under the willow tree. A prowler! Jing’s blood froze. But wait, the shadow moved and split into two dwarf figures. It looked like two little animals. Dogs? Cats? No, it was Bin and Yuan squatting side by side! Relieved, Jing switched her eyes to the clock, wondering what they were doing at this late hour.
Jing decided to rush to the yard to find out. But when she stuck her feet under the bed, looking for her slippers, she heard Yuan’s raspy voice.
“I’m scared, Bin. What if it doesn’t work?”
“Hush! You don’t want to wake up Mom, do you?” It was Bin’s muffled voice.

It seemed the two of them were up to something mischievous. What could it be? Jing decided to stay in her room and eavesdrop.
“It’ll work, Yuan. We did everything as they told me before. They said all we needed to do was to bury the shards under a willow tree, light three incense sticks, kowtow to the fairy, and beg for her forgiveness.”
What? The girls stayed up just because someone had affronted the fairy? Jing held her breath and continued to listen.
“So, she definitely won’t punish Mom for breaking the saucer, right?”
“No, she won’t.”
“But didn’t you say she might shift her anger and punish us?” Yuan’s voice quivered.
“Yes, there is a chance she might do that. But don’t worry, she won’t. She’s a good fairy who won’t get mad at children.”
“Good. I’m grateful as long as she doesn’t do anything bad to Mom.”
“Yeah, losing Dad is bad enough, how can we afford to lose Mom?”
“You’re right, Bin,” Yuan began to sniffle as she clung to Bin’s shoulder.
Blood rushed to Jing’s face. She felt ashamed. She never realized how much Bin and Yuan loved her– enough to endanger their own lives. And what did she give them in return?
Pressing her forehead against the window pane to cool off, Jing tried to remember the last time she
showed affection toward Bin and Yuan, but couldn’t. Was it after Kang’s death that she stopped embracing them, nuzzling their hair, and telling them how much she loved them?
Was it the same time she started to push them away, saying, “You’re too old to act like a baby!” whenever they threw themselves in her arms? And after Hui’s birth, things got even worse. She had spent most of her time in her bedroom, door shut, cuddling, cooing Kang, no, Hui, and wouldn’t even budge no matter how hard they banged on the door.
“Liang, go find out what your daughters want,” Jing yelled at her husband, who was grading papers at the desk by their bed.

What kind of mother was I? A dead fish would be warmer and softer. Tears rolled down Jing’s cheeks as she looked at the two small figures squatting under the
tree, and the incense heads burning like tiny red lanterns.
Now Jing understood that Kang was dead, and no matter where he was he could never come back to her. Also, Hui was not Kang’s replacement or Heaven’s compensation for her loss. She refused to allow her
motherly love to be buried with her son any longer. She needed to dig it up, dust it off, polish it, put it back in her heart to keep it warm and tender for her daughters.
From now on, she would do everything possible to make them happy, even it meant that She had to win Liang back. She wasn’t sure whether she was strong enough to rid herself of all the sinister thoughts lurking in her head, but she was willing to give it a try.
With this in mind, Jing left her room and rushed to the garden.

“Bin! Yuan!” She ran over to her daughters and put her warm arms around their shivering bodies, tears bursting out her eyes. “I love you!”
Seemingly startled by their mother’s affectionate gesture, the two girls froze.
“I’ve heard every word you said to each other, and I’m ashamed. Can you forgive me?” Jing said, looking deep into her daughters’ eyes.
“There is nothing to forgive, Mom. We love you.” Bin said. Yuan nodded her head and rubbed her eyes.
A sheepish voice suddenly rang out from behind.
“What are you doing this late at night?” It was Hui. She stood by the door, her flowery blanket in one hand, and a cloth doll in the other.
“Oh, Hui, come over here!” Bin and Yuan cried out simultaneously. Hui ran over to her mother and two sisters, dragging the blanket along.
Bin and Yuan opened their arms to embrace Hui, and the four of them huddled together in silence for the longest time. Finally, Jing let go of them and said, “It’s getting chilly, let’s go back to the house and get some sleep.”

Watching the three girls walk hand in hand in front of her, their delicate frames bathed in translucent moonlight, Jing beamed. Life was good, she thought.


Facing the sky, Kang kicked water in the pool. Except for a few fluffy clouds, there was nothing on the vast, crystal cerulean vault. He closed his eyes and imagined himself floating in it. Each cloud was
shaped like an animal. He glided past the wagging tail of a dog, swung on an elephant’s trunk, and soared on an eagle’s wings. Finally, he hopped on the back of a whale, which took him to the roaring waves of the ocean. Kang felt as free as a bird. Dad’s chiding, school mates’ ridicules, and Mom’s suffocating love were left far behind. He hadn’t been this happy for a long time. He continued to kick the water, hoping that he could float in the gap of time till eternity.
Suddenly, he felt a piercing pain in the calf of his right leg. It struck him like a thunderbolt and put him in a state of shocking fright. Before he could
open his mouth to yell for help, he found his body sinking. Through the glass wall of water, he could see people in colorful swimming suits walking by the edge of the pool, but no one saw him. He tried to shout, but the only thing came out of his mouth was a string of bubbles. The bubbles were going up, and yet he was sinking. A million threads of refracted
sunlight were glowing in the water like the green fireworks he saw at the Lantern Festival. How beautiful! Kang thought. He stopped struggling and
let himself go. Before he lost consciousness, he suddenly remembered a village that Mom and Dad had taken him to once. In the small farming town, there lay acres of rice paddy fields, and waves of golden grains swaying in the wind. Surrounding the rice paddies, there was a thin, winding river shimmering under the sun like a silvery snake.
Scattered around the field were rows of houses with gray walls and crimson roofs stood in silence. Chimneys on top of the roofs puffed out slender threads of smoke, which slowly rose up to the blue sky.
(The end)

受保護的文章:The Ghost in the Woods

Filed under: Short stories in English — paushuan @ 12:55 上午


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