Sunday, July 28, 2013

Part 4: Cinderella and the Great Prince of Southern China

What romantic comedy would be complete without a secret assignation or two? I hope you're liking Silvie, I do. -vw

The Evergreen Inn – Part 1

            On the morning after the Princess Banquet, Seven and Silver Bird were making their way through the forested area of the palace gardens. Seven had something that she wanted to show her attendant.
            “This is one of the best ways to leave the palace compound. I happened on it when I was only 11 years old,” said Seven. “Do you want to try it yourself or should I just tell you where to meet me?”
            “It’s not dangerous is it?” asked Silver Bird.
            “Only if you lack confidence in yourself.”
            “What kind of confidence?”
            “Oh Silvie! And you say I’M pampered. The reckless abandonment kind of confidence.”
            “How about I just watch and then decide. I’ve got my good clothes on.”
            “Your clothes will be completely safe. They will get some dirt on them and become a bit wrinkled.”
            “In that case, no.”
            “Keep yourself right here and look at that stand of mature bamboo just above us. The stalk closest to the perimeter? When you hear me make this sound, “oooo eeee oooo,” look at that stalk carefully.”
            “This is just silly. What are we? Schoolgirls?”
            “Stay. Watch.” And with that Seven disappeared into the bamboo. So Silver Bird stood there for a few minutes staring intently at the shadowy leaves and poles that made up the lattice of greenery above her, but nothing was happening and she let her attention flag and she started to look at other things.
Then the audible signal came. “Oooo eeee oooo.” Silver Bird looked up and saw some sort of monkey perched on the bamboo. It swayed the pole back and forth about three times and then reached over the boundary. Stretching its legs out it wrapped them around a similar stalk on the other side of the boundary. It let go with its arms and transferred itself across the fence. And then she realized the monkey was a person—a stark naked, royal person—a stark naked, royal person who was now waving to her.
“OH MY HEAVEN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Silver Bird yelled, and then she checked herself. Don’t draw attention, she thought to herself. “Get back here now!” she said in a half-yell. Seven seemed to understand and nodded, so she started swaying the bamboo for a return trip. “NO! DON’T DO IT! IT’S TOO DANGEROUS!” she cried. “Oh gods,” she thought to herself, “what if the stalk breaks and she dies? They’re going to blame me!”
“Lady Silver Bird?” It was a man’s voice.
“EEAGHHHH! …. I’m sorry, you startled me.” It was one of the palace gardeners.
“Not my intention. My apologies. Enjoying the grounds? I heard you yelling. Something wrong? Did you come across a serpent perhaps?”
“Oh, no. Not at all! Just enjoying the view. I thought I saw a monkey up there in the stalks.”
“Yes there’s quite a few about. They escape their masters so several run wild on the grounds. I probably just saw the same one you did. They eat the fruits so they’re a bit troublesome when there’re too many. When they become so, we simply cull them.”
“Bow and arrow. My supervisor’s son is a sharpshooter archer in the army. He comes when his dad requests him. Never misses. Kills clean in one shot. Amazing to watch.”
“He’s not out working today is he?”
The gardener laughed. “Oh no, we culled just last year, so we’re good for awhile.” He turned his head at sound of some rustling in the underbrush. “Hallo? What's that? Good morning Your Highness. I shoulda guessed you’d be about with Lady Silver Bird being here too and all.”
“Oh good you’re dressed!” said Silver Bird with great relief. Seven gave her companion a gesture to silence herself, but she just went on. “He just told me that an archer shoots monkeys out of trees.”
“Good morning, Master Er.” The Princess gave a huff, “I’m well aware of that. They let me know.”
The gardener added, “The Princess loves to climb these trees. Has since she was little, still does, so we inform her. Plus we put notices when the archer’s about.”
Silver Bird grabbed Seven’s wrist. “Good day to you. We’ll be leaving you now. We have to get to a lunch appointment. Come along.” After they had moved away back toward the main building Silver Bird said, “Are you out of your mind? How can you put yourself into such jeopardy. And butt naked. Why?”
“It’s not dangerous at all. You do have to select a stalk that is at least as thick as your thigh. Think if it as a third leg. And besides, nobody expects a naked girl in a tree. If they actually see one, they think it’s a monkey. I don’t even have to hide when I do that. I’ve made that move in full view of the working crew. It’s even better if you make the sound.”
“Your logic is faulty. They evidently expect to see a girl, let me correct myself, a grown woman in the treetops at any time. Namely YOU!”
“So much the better then. If it’s normal, they ignore.”
“What about your clothes?”
“I bundle them up and throw them over beforehand.”
“But what if someone takes them?”
“I have others hidden in various places outside the palace.”
“But what if someone takes those?”
“What kind of an idiot are you? You simply do regular inventory checks. Really Silvie, it’s not that complicated.”
“You are not leaving the palace grounds by that method,” said Silver Bird. “Someone has to be a grown-up. I swear. You royals have no inkling how regular people think. How have I not known this about you? We’ve been together since we were small.”
“There a lot of things you don’t know about me.”
“Then how are we going to get to the Evergreen?”
“By my craft we will get there. Come on.” The went back to the harem grounds and retrieved two long traveling cloaks. Next they stopped by the security station and requested a guard escort. Silver Bird made a specific personnel request and in few minutes Officer Zhou, aka “Slouchy,” was in front of them, yawning. Silver Bird had noted he had started the late shift just as the Princess Banquet was winding down. Thus escorted by a member of the Eunuch Guard and her attendant, Princess Seven was allowed to leave the palace proper to go to the neighboring temple this time to “contemplate the wifely virtues” in preparation for her nuptials.
“It will take us a few hours to get through our prayers and chants,” Silver Bird informed Slouchy. “Feel free to sit here in the shade.” The sleep-deprived guard said nothing but sat as directed. Before the Princess and Silver Bird made it inside the temple doors, Slouchy was already spread out on the garden bench, dreaming happily.
“The gods have a use for everybody,” quipped Silver Bird, “and I mean EVERYBODY in their own good time. A lax guard is worth his weight in gold at the proper moment.” They walked down to the altar where there were half a dozen monks kneeling in meditation.
“Now what?” asked Seven.
“Pick a monk and put your cloak on him and we’re off. In the unlikely event that Slouchy wakes up and checks in on us, all he’ll need to see is our cloaks.”
“What if Slouchy walks down here and takes a look at them?”
“Be serious! That would mean he’d have to take 100 steps to do that.”
“What if the monk takes it off? The cloak?”
“They won’t. They’re in the middle of a 21-day ritual where they can’t do anything. They are like inert lumps—statues made of flesh and blood.”
“I don’t think so. Isn’t it rude to talk as if they are not here?”
“Try it. Look.” Silver Bird yelled at one, pulled his eyes open, examined his teeth, tried tickling him, but to now avail. “Totally lost in the ‘now.’” She hung her cloak on the fellow she just manhandled.
“That’s amazing!” said Seven. “How does anyone have that much focus and concentration?”
“It’s really a shame these ascetics are so into peaceful living. If the army could turn them into soldiers they’d be unstoppable. You can set them on fire and they would not respond. Hang on that one.”
“He’s my cousin. He won’t care. That’s how I know about this. Lin? I know you can hear me. Hope you don’t mind? This is for a good cause. I’ll tell your mom you’re looking fine. Mm mm mm, be a good little monkie!” And she gave him a kiss. “Ready to do this?”
“As I’ll ever be,” answered Seven. And so they left by a side door and headed down into the city.
“Why are you doing this again?” asked Silver Bird.
“Your stories about marriage customs have sparked my intellectual curiosity now. I wouldn’t mind seeing the mating practices of the middle class. It’s all so practical and quaint. My marriage is just a political maneuver.”
“Malarkey. I don’t buy it. Can’t you be honest and admit you have some attraction to this Wang fellow?”
“You DO know a few things about me. Sigh! No I can’t. If I do that, then I’ll start to think about it too much.”
“Is it possible you’re falling in love with him?”
“Maybe, but I really have no use for love. It comes and goes. If you rely on it, it will always disappoint you.”
“So cynical.”
            “Not really. You know what REALLY inspires me though?”
            “Loyalty. Fidelity. I want someone who will be loyal to me forever.”
            Silver Bird stopped her right there. “Before you take another step, get that thought out of your head right now! You’re a royal, I’m a noble. The men our parents marry us to are powerful. They are educated. They are achievers. They are leaders. BUT, they’re not loyal. They philander. It just goes with power and influence.”
            “But why does it HAVE to be that way?”
            “Take the man you’re marrying, General Zuo. He’s had dozens of women I’m sure. And he will have dozens more. But you’ll be his legal wife. That’s more important than any of the others. It’s a role. It’s your duty. He will probably end up being the governor of the Northwest Territories, as will your son. You’re lucky in one way. Military men ARE loyal—to the Empire. He’d probably be loyal to you as a husband too, but because he’s away a lot, you won’t be around to provide what he needs from a woman when he needs it … he’ll just … make do.”
            “I know,” said Seven, “despite what Three thinks, I’m not THAT na├»ve. But it’s really important to me. It’s what I am.”
“Is this the Dog thing? Again?”
“It just seems so unfair that my one superior virtue is wasted in a marriage where fidelity will only flow in one direction.”
            “For people like us, marriage is not something to be enjoyed, but to be endured, and a job to be done well. For those of us NOT like you, who don’t have crazy fantasies about loyalty, fleeting dalliances of love and sex are the little spices to enjoy now and then.”
            “Ick,” said Seven. “No thank you. There is one thing that is motivating me and then I’ll be done with him.”
            “What’s that?”
            “So that we are straight, this is how it’s going to go. He and I are going to have a nice friendly, professional conversation about the banquet, he will make his offer of marriage as you suggest, I will bask fleetingly in his admiration but decline because I am spoken for and thank him for his interest, and we will enjoy one another’s company and a fine meal for one more time and part friends and colleagues. But most of all, I need to return the favor of giving him a Manager’s Gift.”
            “Manager’s Gift?”
            “Ah! THAT is a protocol of the Merchant Class, to which I now proudly belong as well …”
            “Oh you filthy money-handler! You disappoint me Seven. This is not going to be the steamy, tawdry palace romance that people will talk about for years. Will you at least tell him who you really are?”
“Of course not. And you aren’t to either. It keeps it pure.”
“Ah! Purity based on … deception … you’ve been talking to my father. Even so, it all sounds so boring actually. Like some pedestrian business lunch.”
            “Embellish it all you want, even make things up once I’m shipped off to the North. You have my permission. I won’t care. Now shut your trap or I’ll ask Daddy to raise your taxes. I am dying to experience this fabled Evergreen lunch you extol so.”

            Seven and Silver Bird were pacing about the main street entrance of the Evergreen Inn waiting for their assigned confederates to show up. “Who did you get to play my parents?” asked Seven.
            “Master Zhang and his wife.”
“Which ones? There are several!”
“The senior carpenter, his wife is a senior seamstress. They live on the grounds.”
“Oh yes. I know who you mean. They’re always very sweet to me.”
“They seemed like they would be good sports. He has a reputation as a practical joker. But the main thing is they’re extremely discreet. We should be fine with just a quick briefing seeing how we just put this together last night. Strange but they should have been here by now.”
            “You arranged a litter for them right?”
            “He said he’d arrange it himself. His nephew is a porter on staff.”
            “What time did you tell him?”
            “Halfway into the third tolling of the day.”
            “You were to tell him the Hour of the Snake. You told him halfway into the Snake Hour. Late morning.”
            “The third tolling is what I told him.”
            “He gets up in the middle of the night.”
            “Why would anybody do that? It’s dark.”
            “His staff arrives for work at the top of the Hour of the Rabbit. Early morning. He preps materials and tools for them so that there is no wasted time or effort.”
            “How do you know all this?” questioned Silver Bird.
            “I find it, … uh, helpful …, to know what palace staff is regularly up and about during each of the watches.”
            “Seven!” said Silver Bird gritting her teeth, “More of your subterfuges?”
            “What I’m saying is I think the master carpenter’s third tolling is one earlier than yours.”
            “We’d better get in there. What do we tell them?”
            “I hadn’t decided yet. I wanted to see what they were comfortable with. The safest thing is just to tell them to be deaf mutes and just nod and smile at everything.”
            “That would work,” said Silver Bird.
            “But WE MISSED THEM!” lamented Seven. “If Three got here early, he’s been with them nearly half of a full period.”
            “We’ll just have to be ready to improvise,” said Silver Bird, “we can do this. Oh, I didn’t warn you. You’ve only seen their palace face—they get flamboyant in here.” She started for the door. “Here we go. Pray that this doesn’t turn into a mess …”
            The double-door entrance flew open and the proprietor-winemaker-restaurateur Mr. Li came rushing out with his arms wide for a hug. “Ah, Silvie, Silvie, Silvie! Darling! How are you? Give us a kiss my little kumquat. Mmmmmm-wha!”
“Golden Talent!” said Silver Bird, “And they say nothing good happens before noon. Look at you. That robe’s fabulous … for a woman. You? Not so much.”
“You bitch. And what’s this? Scarlet butterfly pattern BEFORE midday? Whatever is on your small, depraved mind?”
            “Like I’d ever tell you, you dirty old man,” said Silver Bird flirtatiously. “Goldie, may I present—and don’t bow otherwise you’ll spoil the irony of this introduction—apprentice kitchen supervisor Qi. Qi? Golden Talent.”
            “I believe we have been introduced before Mr. Li,” said Seven politely.
            “Honey? Drop the formal names and leave them at the palace. First names only in my castle, pet names preferred! I just saw you two lingering out here. Orchestrating a dramatic entrance? We were waiting for you at the other door.”
            “What other door?” said Silver Bird.
            “Pish. Later. Show’s already started. You’re going to have to dive in find your cues. I’m told you’re quick—let’s see about that. Inside.” He rushed them through a beautiful open-timbered dining hall lavishly decorated in tapestries and brocades. Seven wanted to stop and take it all in but she was pulled along down a back stairway and deep into the lower level. Golden Talent continued, “We endeavor to create atmospheres for fun, frivolity, good eating, and superior drinking. EVEN at this hour. Your party is our first event of the day, my little peony. Singh?” One of Golden Talent’s employees quickly appeared. “Get Silvie off into costume and show her the basics of how we serve. Get some lotus bud boots on her. We need her down in the cellar grotto probably say in four turns of the water clock?”
            “Lotus bud boots?” asked Seven as Silver Bird was whisked away through some curtains.
            “Oh darling! You have such a cloistered existence up there on the anthill, don’t you? I had a shoemaker make up this special footwear I designed. Ingenious if I say so myself. Silvie is not the first Manchurian chippie to suit up here. They are boots that make girls like you and her walk like you’ve got bound feet. The guys love it. All of the sex game and NONE of the pain, at least until the morning after. But the pain goes away, bound feet don’t.”
            “That is absolutely indecent, decadent, and barbaric!” said Seven.
            “Isn’t it though? That’s why it’s fun. Down this way. I’ll get you a pair too.”
            “You WILL not.”
            “Listen up, your parents are here and ...”
            “They ARE?”
            “YOU need to get into character, princess, or this is NEVER going to work.”
            “I’m sorry, I just blanked. When you said ‘princess’ just now, did you mean ‘Princess’ princess or just …” Golden Talent gave her a stare that made her feel she was as dense as a piece of rosewood. “I need to be quiet.”
            “Am I allowed to slap you? Or will I get my head sliced off? Don’t worry. Your people, the Zhangs are really into this. They’re naturals. They’ll give a lot to play against. I’m always surprised at the intensity of the role players we get. They didn’t even need my tips.”
            “Tips? Role play? I don’t understand.”
            “You will, honey, you will.”
            “I really appreciate this. Your attentiveness and all, at the last minute.”
            “That’s only because you haven’t gotten my bill yet. I’ll have you know our clientele on the discreet side of the house includes MANY first citizens of our great nation.”
            “REALLY? Who?”
            “Now now. You get the same confidentiality as I give them. You are wanted on stage. Go to that room at the end of the hall. I know you will like it. Go in, look shy, demure, virginal, and by all means have fun! I have an excellent lunch planned for you that I will personally serve later. If you think things are getting out of hand, just yell ‘Water! Water!’”
            “Water? Water?”
            “Two times, that’s the signal.”
            “What on earth did I get myself into?” thought Seven as she proceeded down the hall, turned toward the doorway, and pushed aside the curtain.

The Dream Begins

            The smell of smoke from charcoal cooking fires is the first thing that hits my nose. I have stepped into a theatrical set it seems. I have wandered into a farce. But a flake of ash floats in front of my eyes. I raise my hand and catch it on my fingertip. It is large and I instinctively touch it to my tongue. It is bitter, acrid, gritty, and oily all at the same time. It is a key that turns something in my head, and I am now fully here.
            I am in a great room of a rustic cottage. The only light is that of the late morning sun which comes filtered through coarse gauze curtains.
            “Big sister. You have not dressed yet!” My little sister, she is about 11, stands to my side, holding out a tunic of hemp—it is unbleached, it has narrow sleeves. There are my black ramie trousers as well. I remove my garments and put these on. For some reason I know that her name is Jiu. She takes me by the hand and leads me outside where mother is working on embroidering a design onto a tunic. Mother’s smile is warmly lit by the sun. I lean down and put my arms around her.
            “Ah, my beautiful elder daughter! The Young Man is come much earlier than we expected and I have not finished this for you. So troublesome.”
            “Has he?” My heart jumps in my breast.
            “The fire is hot. Your father had him build it. Please draw water from the well for us child, so as to make tea.” A path leads through some trees and I find myself following my sister as we make our way to the well. A bucket is dropped and drawn and poured into jars that we have brought, which we carry back, resting every so often as the jars are very heavy.
            “The water is quite clear today,” says mother as she pours into a pot. “The Water God is serene. A good omen. Take some to the men.” I do as I am bid. I follow the sound of rhythmic pushing and pulling of a saw. I see him. The Young Man, my Young Man. He is shirtless, wearing only his trousers and boots. He is leaning over a workbench, carefully cutting a piece of wood.
            “I have brought some well water for you and my father,” I say.

            Qi! THIS is quite the odd place. Not what I expected. I don’t really understand. I was led here and told to put on this costume. And then I’m introduced to your parents who are likewise wearing these antique outfits. And then your father says if I’m to be acceptable to be a contributing member of the family, he requires that I execute a mortise and tenon joint at at least the journeyman level. I mean, he demonstrated one for me in quick order, and he’s off fetching something …”

            His speech. It’s odd. Something about it is breaking me out. The illusion is starting to fade. I must taste something! I reach down and take a pinch of the hardwood sawdust he has been creating. It is dark brown and aromatic. Mmm. The smell is enough. I am fully returned.
            “You look heated. Drink.” I hand him a ladle of water that I have drawn from the jar I have brought. He takes it from me and drinks. I look at him as intently and as sincerely as I can, trying to convey what I feel with my eyes. “Be here with me, please.” At first he frowns at me, and then his face relaxes and seems to sparkle with a smile. I ask him, “Will you succeed?”
            “I fully intend to,” he says.
            “It would please me if you would. Much more than my father.” He concentrates on his task as he finishes chiseling out the mortise. Father comes walking in to view. He scowls at me.
            “You are late!” she says gruffly.
            “I am sorry father. I have brought you some cold water.” I hold out the ladle which he jerks away from me. He downs it and holds it back.
            “More!” he barks. I oblige him, twice. He remains upset with me. “Unfilial child. Why do you not do as you are told? Expose your back.” Father picks up a leather strap and waits for me to comply. I kneel before him and pull up my tunic and bend my head to the ground. I brace for the beating. But I hear the sounds of restraint and of a struggle and I look up.
            “Stay your hand,” my Young Man says holding Father’s arm back.
            “Don’t interfere,” Father says.
            “Do not damage that which I have come to pay for.”
            “I’ll do as I please with my own,” says Father as he gives a look of disgust. “Gao! Best him!” My elder brother comes into view. Gao is tall, slender, handsome, and attired just like my Young Man, wearing only trousers and boots. My Young Man has placed himself between me and my kinfolk. Gao rushes him. They grapple for a while, but he pins Gao to ground to make his point and then releases him. Father comes forward again. Father’s arms are powerful, but my Young Man determines that Father’s old legs are weak and in pain, and he forces Father to sit down and relent.
            “As I would not allow my back to be struck, so I do likewise for her.”
            “You think you care that much eh? So let us to my table then and see how strong your purse is,” says Father as he rises with help from Gao. We return to the cottage. “Wash them,” Father orders. I pour water into a basin and wipe down both my brother and my Young Man. Father motions for me and my mother to sit alongside him at table. My Young Man takes a seat opposite us. “Put your offer on the table,” Father says.
            My Young Man opens his purse and sets nine large gold coins in a row before him. Father tries to be deadpan but I know by the twitch of his neck that is more than he would have asked for me.
            “Where is your father?” Father asks of the Young Man.
            “A distant sea journey away. Two weeks to the south. And so I must act on my own behalf.”
            “That makes it very hard for me to make inquiries.” Father taps the space next to the ninth coin.
My Young Man goes into his purse and adds at 10th to the row.
            “What is your trade? It’s obviously not carpentry.”
            “Is my joinery not acceptable then?”
            “Promising. But you need to work under me for several years to be competent, though it’s probably too late to fully train you now. However, I don’t think you have come to trade your labor for my daughter.” Father whispers to mother who leaves and then returns with Father’s purse. He gets out two silver coins and pushes them toward the Young Man. He values my Young Man’s ability more than I would have guessed.
            “My family owns farm lands and orchards in the south. I manage day-to-day affairs.”
            “So I have heard and confirmed.” Father pushes the 10th gold coin back to the Young Man. “Are you the eldest son?”
            “I am the third son.” My Young Man pushes the 10th gold coin back into the line.
            “Why do YOU manage your father’s affairs? Why not your older brothers?”
            “They are a matched pair of wastrels and drunkards who would quickly deplete my father’s estate rather than increase it. I have them on allowances.”
            Father pushed the 10th gold coin again back to my Young Man.
            “I had two bad teeth of hers pulled,” said Father.
            “May I check?” asked my Young Man. Father motioned to me to open my mouth. I was so relieved that the extractions were toward the back and not in front. “The cost?”
            “Two silver,” said Father.
            “I think one,” said my Young Man.
            “Done for that,” said Father. They were down to the small details now. How much longer would this last, I wondered. But then Father added a condition. “If she bears you a third son, strong and bright as you, you will send him to me at age 10 to learn my craft.” Father pushed four gold coins back to the Young Man.
“Isn’t your son taking on your trade?” my Young Man asked.
“Worthless!” said father, sneering in Gao’s direction
My Young Man considered this for a long time. And then he looked at me. I nodded my consent for a child who might never be born.
            “Yes, but at age 16, he will choose to continue or no,” said my Young Man.
            “Done. Tell me Young Man, what brought you here to the King’s Town?”
            “To pay respects to the King with whom my father rode and fought in the war and to pay tribute upon the nuptials of his daughter on my father’s behalf. If I may ask a question?”
            “How real is this?”
            Father leaned in very close to my Young Man and said, “It’s as real as you want it to be. However, what passes between us here only gives her mother’s and my consent. Delivery is another matter entirely.”
            “I don’t follow …”
            “When does your ship sail?”
            “The day after the Princess’ wedding.”
            “If my daughter be on your ship of her own free will on that day, she is yours. How she gets to that point is between you and her. Listen well, I am only your first obstacle.”
            “Why do you speak in riddles Master Carpenter?”
            “You will hear more riddles as time goes by.”
“May I speak, Husband?” It was my mother.
“I have a point of bargain for the Young Man. What is it worth to you to know that she herself desires to be your wife? A desire borne of affection, not greed.”
“And how would you know that?” asked my Young Man.
“A mother knows her own children. That should be worth something to you.”
            “My answer,” said my Young Man, whereupon he opened his purse, emptied all of its contents and pushed everything to Father.
            I could not count and neither could Father, but it seemed there were close to 50 gold coins and assorted silver sitting on that table. Mother smiled and whispered to Father, who then removed the fine saw that he kept on his belt, which he then used to divide the coins, nudging them into two equal piles, pulling one half to himself and pushing the other half back to my Young Man.
            “The value of my daughter’s dowry and a gift back to you, my Son-in-Law.”
            The deal was done. My Young Man insisted that he carry me to his home, so I climbed on his back so that lingering ghosts would not follow me to his house and so that the gods of his household would not see me as a stranger. We departed down the path eventually emerging at the door of his home. He carried me over the threshold and set me down in a simple receiving hall with two curtained doorways. Standing there to greet us were a distinguished older gentleman and a servant girl.
            “Welcome home, my son,” said the older man. “It appears your efforts have met with success. Welcome my daughter.” He gave us both a warm embrace and then turned and picked up a stack of elaborately embroidered yellow silks and handed them to the servant girl. “Prepare the Bridal Chamber at once. Be quick about it, but make it beautiful.” She took the bed clothing, bowed quickly and then walked in haltingly short steps through the doorway on the right. “Thank you, Silver Bird,” said the older man.
            At the speaking of that name, I came out of the dream and back into myself.

            “And so,” said Golden Talent, “at this point you have a choice, Miss Qi. The Ancient Hsia Dynasty Betrothal Experience can continue through that doorway.”
            “I will escort you through the second doorway which will take us down to an excellent repast, served inside our wine cellar grotto.”
            “What happens inside the first doorway?”
            “What usually happens after a wedding.”
            “Is it very ornate in there?”
            “Ornate is not the word. Glorious! Fabulous! Sumptuous! Sensuous! Sigh! You two! You both look so  … unpracticed. Tell you what. I’m going to have our Lady Peachpit join you at the start and give you both some expert instruction. She’s VERY good. No extra charge.”
“Instruction you say?” said Seven. “In what?”
“That,” interrupted Three, “will not be necessary. I appreciate the thought.” He gently put his hands on Seven’s shoulders and steered her toward the second door. “This has been quite an adventure already and I am ready for lunch.”
“Oh, Three. You’re no fun. Can I just take a quick peek inside?” pleaded Seven.
“No,” said Gold Talent definitively and firmly. “You go in and enjoy the full experience … or you don’t.”
“Well, let me ask then,” said Seven. “How did you happen on the taste of ash to be the key that awakens the imagination?”
“Qi, Honey? I have NO idea WHAT you are talking about,” said Golden Talent. His answer perplexed Seven—she had been so impressed that the winemaker had invented something special here, but it was all in her own head. “I wonder if I could do it myself,” she thought.

 © 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.

Sleeping in a Hammock - part 1

More than a month ago, my brother thought it would be a good idea to set up a bedroom for our father on the 1st floor of his house so he didn't have to walk up and down stairs to get to bed. I told him if he wanted it, I'd donate my bed to him--it's the same size as the one he's used to sleeping in, a full. Randy asked what I would sleep in; I told him I'd figure something out. 

I never liked my bed, so it was easy to let it go. When I tore down the linens, I realized my linens took up nearly as much cubic footage as the mattress and spring box. I had:
  2 European square pillows
  8 regular pillows, four of them feather/down
  1 feather bed
  Linen (not cotton) duvet cover for feather bed on which I would like
  2 linen pillow cases on which my head would like
  1 linen flat sheet which would cover me
  1 cotton blanket
  1 down comforter
  1 cotton decorative cover for the comforter
  1 bed skirt
  1 fitted sheet for the mattress
  6 cotton pillowcases

For those of you who don't know, a feather bed is essentially a really big, mattress-sized feather pillow that sits on top of the mattress. Mattress companies now make padded tops to add this comfort component for users. This is why you have to pay more for deep-pocket sheets fitted sheets. Linen (flax) sheets cost about 4x more than cotton sheets BTW. My mom had taught us that the components of a well-made bed were a fitted sheet, a flat sheet, a blanket, a comforter (shed in hot months), a pillow in a pillowcase, and a bedspread. When I married, my ex-wife modified things to her standard, but it was not much different. How far had I strayed!

I won't bore you with all the details (yes, you're already bored, I know--but I take heart in the fact that you've already stopped reading... ), but every detail listed is an equivocation to the fact that I don't sleep well on a regular flat bed--breathing becomes labored, suffer from dust allergies, I sleep hot so materials that wick away body moisture are better, yada yada yada ...

I slept on my living-room "futon" couch (what we call a futon is NOT what the Japanese sleep in folks, theirs is more like a sleeping bag that they spread on the floor) the next few days in the traditional flat-with-pillow position--it was awful. And then the hammock and compact stand that I ordered from Amazon arrived. It's just a 9-foot sling of heavy cotton--it is NOT the kind of hammock you see suburban American dads using in sitcoms (the sort with spreader bars which always end with the sight gag of dumping the sleeper onto the ground).

After I set it up, it was just a slip of cloth, bunched up, not looking much thicker than my arm, suspended between two metal bars--a mere wisp compared to the mountain nest of textiles, feathers, wood frames, and metal springs I had climbed into every night before. It did NOT look promising ...

To be continued.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cruelty in the Supermarket Checkout Lane

I admit it. I was cruel to someone in the checkout lane. Not too long ago I was in the grocery store waiting to pay for my groceries. I stock up for week for a household of three (me and my two adult daughters still living at home) and since we eat "close to the earth" I tend to buy a lot of produce and have a very full cart.

As often happens to me, a guy with two things asks if he can cut in front of me. I always say "Sure," but this time I said "Nope." It was late, I was tired, there had been 3-4 people will full carts ahead of me, someone probably cut me off on the road getting there, who knows?

He gives me a shocked look, like "Really dude? Like I punched him in the face. I suppose nobody had ever told him "No" before. He waits for the reason.

"Pal, you got two options made just for people like you. The Express Lane and 7-Eleven." We looked over and the Express Lane had 10 people in it. "Besides, if you think about it, you have to ask permission of everyone else behind me (there were 2). He asked the next person and she pretended not to understand English. I had apparently set a fine example of social-code-breaking for her. I was proud of myself.

Why does this happen to me? I figure because I'm usually a chump. It's probably because I'm small, or my posture or the distance I leave between me and the people in front of me. I always drive leaving 3-4 seconds of space between me and the car ahead. People cut in, never wave, I fall back. Repeat. You feel like you're falling behind. But inevitably you pass a lot of the people who jumped in ahead who have since jumped to other lanes.

Anyway I started to feel bad, like I was a rude asshole. Had I messed with this guy's faith in the goodness of his fellow man? Was the Chinese thinker Meng-Tze wrong (boils down to "Man is good")? Someone told me I was just acting like a New Yorker. But I had groceries to put on the conveyor belt and banished the guy out of my consciousness until he made a point to drop by as I was being rung up and say "Ha, got out before you!"

That episode taught me an important life lesson. If you're going to be an asshole, always pretend that you don't know English!

Don't forget to pick me up a can of sardines,