In today's installments we switch points of view again. Ling, the 2nd Guardian Princess of the Water Element, and Lee's daughter, recalls what happened on the next day in our story, while a group of her cohorts were at work. We catch them at work harvesting seaweed that they cultivate on large heavy ropes that are kept underwater, so this is workplace banter.
Just for a recap, Dr. Wong was arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed for smuggling contraband onto Dog Island--which is in itself something of an irony, since the island was once a place that pirates would use a refuge having plundered vessels at sea. But sometimes it's the people who live by breaking the rules of others who construct even stricter conduct codes upon themselves.
We haven't looked upon Ling for a while. If you think about the nine 2nd princesses as a group, she is the eldest and probably the tallest of them. She is very level-headed and responsible, and she can be bossy if she needs to be. She thinks of herself as the big sister to all of them. Wen and Xiaomei are both smarter than Ling is, but both tend to a bit of shyness and insecurity (but that's changing).
Thanks for reading.
PS Earlier this week I was changing settings on my blog thinking that Dr. Wong has such bad potty mouth that I probably should self-disclose this story as adult content and I left that way for a day, but realized that middle school children use just as much profanity, so it's back to regular settings. My M-F blogging is SO G-rated (a picture postcard of the beach every day basically), that it seemed silly.
I'll just be putting a warning about foul language whenever Dr. Wong appears. Also, while people in this story will be said to have sex and to have had sex, and will have sex, those acts will never be explicitly described. Or if they are described, it will be in such a dry, ironic way, nobody will ever get turned on ... so relax. This could be on network TV at 8 PM with bleeps.
And so the story continues ...
Island Time: Dragon, Month 7, Day 2, Xingqi 6
U.S. Time: Saturday, August 18, 2012
[Reporter’s note: a written recollection by Ling, whom I asked to recall what she remembered of this episode]
The tide looked like it was going be especially low so we were sent down to the south beach to harvest the seaweed that we cultivate in the shallow water. The cultivation ropes are quite heavy when laden with crop and it takes at least five of us to elevate them on the posts before we trim the weeds from the ropes and put them in the baskets. The weed will later be pounded and dried and then roasted. Water work is always very tiring because of the resistance you encounter when moving around in it. However, it does make your body feel lighter.
As usual, Mei and Fei volunteered for this duty because it’s one of the few jobs you can perform without any clothes on, in front of everybody, and not receive criticism from the First and Second Branch mothers. Jie would be here too if not for the upcoming festival preparations that she alone is responsible for. In addition to me, Nu and Wen were assisting.
I tried it once, leaving my clothes off, that is, at Fei’s insistence, and I enjoyed the freedom of movement without anything on (it was certainly warm enough), but what I did not like was Old Rex coming out to watch us. Rex was not on the Island then, but I don’t know how I’d feel if Dr. Wong saw me. Of course, today he is confined to Auntie Qi’s house and yard and he would be contractually restricted to the Chilin domain this week anyway, but still, I can’t do it. As to Rex’s leering, Fei put it to me this way once. “My mother told me. We are females. It is the way of males to observe females. To expect something else of them is to expect them not to hunger or thirst. Rex no longer looks at me because there is nothing else to see. You, on the other hand, are fascinating to him because you are entirely novel.”
When midday came we were at our energy limit and had to take a break. We sat about in a circle on the beach and opened up the lunch that had been packed for us. It was a meal kelp-wrapped rice balls stuffed with shredded fish. Auntie Feng had made them up for all of us so they were especially tasty. She had packed several hard-boiled eggs as well.
“I love your mother’s food,” said Nu. “If there were a way she could cook for all of us all of the time, I would do whatever the Firsts asked of me.”
“What are you talking about?” said Mei. “You ALWAYS do whatever they ask!”
“I mean, I would do it without complaint.”
“Do you EVER complain?” asked Xiaomei.
“I complain in my heart,” Nu insisted.
“Now THAT is something that I want to hear out loud,” said Xiaomei.
“There are so many eggs this last week,” I said, changing the subject slightly. “What’s going on with the chickens Wen? Are you feeding them something different?”
“Don’t get used to it. It will stop soon,” said Wen.
“What do you think is causing it?” asked Fei.
“Loooooove music.” She made a point to hold out her syllable. “That’s what I think. But now that’s all stopped,” said Wen.
“Love music?” said Nu and myself.
“The chickens like the yueqin music Dr. Wong has been playing,” said Wen.
“No more though.”
“No more though.”
“What happened?” asked Nu.
“Well . . . Fei’s mom has got the professor ‘confined’ for some reason,” Wen asserted.
“He’s not confined,” said Fei, “he’s just … visiting?”
“OH?” Wen countered. “But just before that, Ling, your mom spent a night berating him bringing us ‘these,’” she said indicating the sunglasses we all had on, “… not that I’m complaining—and before that he was hospitalized in The Outside after falling off the cliff. OVERNIGHT even! He’s been so busy with all these incidents. Seems like it’s been forever since we’ve had a writing or math class with him. Something is going on.”
“But what does that have to do with ‘love music?’” I asked.
“Oh, that’s right,” said Wen, “you’re on the other side of the point near the noisy generator so you haven’t heard it. Jie probably has no idea either. Obviously Nu knows about it?”
“Oh yes, especially when the wind is just right.”
“What!?” I complained.
“You know the day after the professor and her mother had their so-called ‘date’?”
“Tell me what happened to your mother,” I asked. “I have only gotten hearsay and all kinds of snide remarks from my mom.”
“Well, we all saw him kiss her in the dark, and they just kept going at it until she called me over. I took her to our bathhouse and gave her a cold bath. It didn’t help that much. She was totally itchy and clingy, she was like any of she-mammals when they go into heat. I’ve never seen her like that before. She was restless the entire night. I figured I knew what the cure for her was.”
“LING. Time with the male who got her into that state! You need to go work in the mammal pens more. But even if Dr. Wong would have been obliging, and I am sure he would not have been—he’s such a gentleman, if foul-mouthed—I would have never been able to get mother past Auntie Lee. I eventually asked Auntie Lum to brew a sedative and that seemed to help at least to get to sleep. She hasn’t been totally herself since.”
“I had NO idea all that had gone on,” said Ling. “Nobody tells me anything!”
“Oh yes, things did not settle down in the southwest sector for hours,” said Xiaomei, “Auntie Feng has been very carefully avoiding Dr. Wong ever since, it’s pretty funny. She’s normally so unflappable.”
“I know!” said Wen. “It’s like she’s turned into a shy little girl where he’s concerned. Mother is always so stern and serious, especially with me. Well the next day, after dinner, he came over and to see if she was all right. Mother told me to tell him go away. He yelled into the house and said she was being childish. He said he had come for her to make good on giving him his yueqin lesson. He went into the classroom and fetched it, sat on our screen porch and just started playing his American rock and roll guitar patterns on it. She opened up the wall panel and yelled at him: ‘That is entirely inappropriate! Do it right!’ She fetched her own instrument and sat opposite from him on the other side of the screened wall with her back to him. ‘You play what I play. I will have nothing else to say to you.’
“She played a phrase. He would play it back. If he got it wrong she stamped her foot. Occasionally she would yell ‘Baka!’ THAT was more like my mom. So she taught him a song that night entirely without words. He came over every night after dinner to do the same thing and learn a new song. And then they would rehearse the ones they learned earlier. When they played last, he was playing melodies and my mother was improvising counterpoints. He’s actually quite a good musician.”
“So THAT’S what he was doing when he said to my mother he was going to his guitar lesson when he left those nights,” I said.
“Together they’re so … what’s the word Dr. Wong uses all the time about the Firsts? … ‘kooky?’” said Wen. “He’s being kooky himself. Anyway I call what they do ‘love music’ since they’re both letting the music say what they won’t say to each other. I think my mother is in love with the Professor.”
“Do you think he is in love with your mom?” asked Fei.
“I doubt it. He seems to avoid all emotions of that kind don’t you think?” said Wen, “He’s so hard to read. He certainly enjoys himself while he plays with her, but he’s always has a preoccupied look to me, like he’s thinking other things than what he’s doing.”
“The term they use in English is ‘absent-minded,’ I believe,” I said.
“Hmm. In any case,” said Wen, “mother should just get over it and have regular conversations with him again,” said Wen. “At least she was always in a good mood after he left. The funny thing is, you know the chicken coops are not far away? They all started laying more eggs once the yueqin lessons started. I think it’s because the yueqin sounds carry so effectively—they hear it and it soothes them. But they eggs are tapering off now that he has not been here for a few days. And mother is back in her stern moods.”
“Those lessons aside,” said Nu, “he seems to prefer spending time most with Ling’s mother, I think.”
“That’s just silly,” I said. “They can’t possibly like each other, they fight so much.”
“But they eventually quiet down,” insisted Nu.
“Well, over in my area,” said Xiaomei, “I overheard my mom talking to Auntie Lian asking what pretense she could come up with to give him another bath. Lian said just invite him over, but mom said ‘Oh no. That would be so forward. What would he think of me?’ And they would go back and forth. Then Lian just retired to her porch and lit a cigarette to enjoy the smell. He’s obviously on their minds too.”
“Ahem,” it was Qin Qin accompanied by Yi. “I need to add that my mother lights her cigarettes for the smell, but she doesn’t inhale them.”
“How long have you been there?” I asked.
“Long enough to hear that I think the Second Princesses need to take another vote on my proposition soon,” said Qin Qin.
“We’re practically all here anyway,” said Yi.
“No. We need to wait until everyone is present,” said Qin. “Anyway, we were sent to bring you Seaweeders some freshly brewed tea. That’s done. And now that we have proper equipment, I’m going to attempt my first deep dive, over there.”
“Turns out she’s really good at diving. We’ve been practicing,” said Yi.
“Not really,” said Qin, “I have to work on holding my breath longer.”
“So are you going to go where the sunken boats supposedly are? Just past the dropoff? Where it’s really deep?” asked Nu.
“I’m going to see how far down I can get down there to see and back in one breath.”
“Aren’t you afraid of the big sharks that live around there?” Nu asked.
“We saw that happening way over there,” said Qin pointing to a large flock of birds hovering and then diving into the water maybe two kilometers away off shore. “We figure there’s some kind of fish swarm so probably all of the sharks are feeding over there. And if they come back, they won’t be hungry.”
“Did you tell your mothers what you are doing?” I asked. “That might be a bad idea.”
“Professor Wong says he avoids asking questions where the answer is sure to be no. It’s just one attempt. Wish us luck!” said Qin Qin as she and Yi removed their clothing and picked up the large paddle board that we kept on this beach. They pushed themselves out to the ancient buoy that had been set up to mark the dropoff. We sat quietly watching them pull on their masks and disappear into the water.
“She’s confident now, isn’t she?” said Nu.
“It helps to see well,” I said. “And she believes she can now.”
“I’m just happy and relieved she’s not so much an annoying brat anymore,” said Fei. “It was a good thing that she got that part-time job, but now she’s got the teacher’s-pet act going.”
“Fei,” said Xiaomei, “would it kill you to say something positive or encouraging about Qin? She’s not even here, so she doesn’t have to even know.”
“I used the words ‘happy’ and ‘good’ didn’t I?”
“Give up Mei. They will NEVER get along.”
“So Wen,” said Fei, “what do you think of her idea of Dr. Wong possibly being The One? Now that your mother seems to be interested in him?”
“I don’t know what to think,” Wen replied. “Mother confided in me that recently that she has begun to have her doubts about the Island’s legends, she was wondering what that means for her, and ultimately, for me.”
“Really? Real doubt from the ‘First of the Wise’ among the Security Council?” said Nu. “That is surprising. What DOES it mean?”
“Well, she said it means nothing for her. ‘I’m too old. Too old for anything to matter anymore,’ is what she said.”
That thought shut us all up for a bit. All of the heavy lifting and cutting and carrying was very taxing. None of us were in a great hurry to start back up.
“Oh look! They’re back up!” said Nu. She stood up and waved. They waved back and then made their way back to us. “Did you see anything?” asked Nu.
“Hold out your hand,” said Qin. She dropped a round piece of metal into Nu’s hand.
“A coin. There’s Latin or Spanish on it. I think it says the name Sebastian,” said Nu. “So the stories are true? Are shipwrecks down there?”
“We got down there at the end of our breaths, but I saw something and just forced myself to push down a little more to something that looked like it used to be a boat,” said Qin. “I just happened to see that.”
I said, “You may be the only persons to have ever gone down to any ship there and not get eaten by sharks. Do you think there’s more of this down there?”
“It was all black down there to me, but it’s very likely,” said Yi. “I remember my father’s father saying that his father came here on a ship that was at the bottom. The week before they shipwrecked, the story goes that they had been able very lucky to raid three ships that had already sold their goods, so that the captain basically had there three treasure ships’ gold in his quarters.”
“Did your great-grandfather ever try to retrieve the treasure?” asked Nu.
“Yeh-Yeh said his father always said he was never so glad as when that ship broke apart and he could get off and he never wanted anything to do with it ever again. He was kidnapped into their service. He was a slave boy and they were apparently cruel to him. About sunken treasure Yeh-Yeh said he was fond of saying, ‘It’s just shiny metal that will ruin your life, do not pursue it. My Dog Island girl, your mother, is my treasure.”
“Here,” said Nu, handing back the coin to Qin Qin.
“Give it to Yi, since her family maybe has a connection to it,” said Qin Qin.
“I don’t think I will tell Mommy about this,” said Yi.
“Fei,” said Wen, “speaking of secrets. When I was there last night, he was acting oddly. Guarded. Do you know why the Dr. Wong has been staying at your house?”
Fei was quiet for a time. “I do.”
“Why?” asked Wen.
“But I’m not supposed to say. My mother told me to keep it to myself.”
“I think we had an agreement among ourselves,” said Nu, “that we were supposed to report anything we learned about him? Since this may be something very important? To ALL of us. That he might be something that our mothers might be blind to?”
“I don’t remember agreeing to that.” We all stared down Fei and she obviously felt very guilty. “He is under house arrest. The supply delivery he had arranged was a violation of our law.”
“WHAT!” yelled Qin Qin. “Everything he did was a benefit to this Island!” Fei kept her eyes down. Qin went on, “There’s more isn’t there?”
“So when Ba and I found him on the beach,” Yi halted. Nobody wanted to say it. “You don’t think they put him through the, … the Redemption Ordeal? Do you?”
“I am not going to say anything else. Please don’t push me. He’s here isn’t he? So he survived? Right?”
“The Firsts have been hiding this all from us,” Qin was outraged.
“You know, my mother,” said Fei, “has been one of his fiercest opponents from the start. But the more time he spends with her … sigh … ”
“What?” I asked.
“Last night she slept more peacefully next to him than any time I can remember. There was a lot of getting up and settling down, but they finally relaxed into each other.”
“He was under your roof?” asked Nu, “violating the Sleeping Law? With your mother? The Guardian of Justice? How hypocritical is that?”
“They were outside under the trees.”
“In the same hammock? That’s cheating.” said Nu. “Were they doing … umm ….”
“NO! They were in separate hammocks.”
“They may as well have been in the same one,” said Wen, “they were hanging pressed up against each other. Yes, like lovers. A very convenient workaround for Aunt Qi. I watched them all night, just like you Fei. But no, nothing happened like what you are imagining, Nu. I’m starting to wonder if Dr. Wong was gelded. Don’t you? I mean, since the one time that he kissed my mother, all he seems to want do do with her is just play music. That’s it.”
“He’s just really old,” said Nu. “Males lose potency no matter what species.”
“I’ve heard enough,” said Qin. “I don’t want any more details.”
“Seems like unusual happenings have become usual now,” said Yi. “I don’t know what is normal anymore. Do you have any conclusions to tell us yet Qin?”
“No, not yet. I hope some of you are starting to be convinced that Dr. Wong is someone special. I do have a new lead though. A puzzle more than anything else.”
“A puzzle?” I asked.
“Since I have a lot of you here, maybe you can help me on something I have been working on, but can’t solve. Natsuki asked me to scan some the The Outside’s ancient documents but they’re in a code I can’t break.”
“What kind of code?” asked Xiaomei.
“Numerical mostly. I copied some of it onto a paper. It’s in the bag with the tea thermoses.”
I fetched the bag and we passed around what looked like numbers written in Chinese with a few other modified characters. I couldn’t tell what it was, but then Wen spent some time staring at it. She started to hum, but her face looked puzzled.
“Do you see something?” I asked.
“If I didn’t know better,” said Wen, “I’d say it looks like tablature writing.”
“Almost like written music. It’s instructions to a musician who plays a plucked instrument on what string to pluck, upstroke or downstroke, which stop to press, when and if to slide or bend the sound. That kind of thing. But …”
“But what?” asked Qin.
“It can’t be music. The notes that they would describe on like a guqin or a yueqin or a zheng would not make sense, nor would they sound good as a song. It’s nonsense.”
“The Great Way take me in!” said Qin. “THE LADY’S GUQIN IS A SYLLABARY!”
“What is a syllabary?” asked all of us.
“A directory of single-syllable sounds,” Qin said. She grabbed Wen by the wrist, pulled her to her feet and pulled her along as she ran.
“Where are we going?” said Wen.
“YOU CAN’T TAKE HER!” I yelled. “WE NEED FIVE FOR THE SEAWEEDING.”
“YI! TAKE OVER!” Qin yelled back.
“I HATE SEAWEEDING! YOU OWE ME BIG!”
“I JUST PAID YOU IN GOLD.”
“I CAN’T SPEND THIS! IT’S WORTHLESS. GIVE ME SOMETHING REAL!”
“QIN! YOU’RE NAKED! AT LEAST PUT ON CLOTHES!” yelled Xiaomei.
“THIS IS IMPORTANT!”
“Mei! YOU are telling her to cover up?” I asked. “The Professor really has turned order upside down here.”
“She’s going to feel awkward later,” said Xiaomei, “and Aunt Lian will scold her.”
“Qin won’t care,” said Fei. “Do you think she’ll ever tell us anything that she is working on?”
“I don’t know. She doesn’t have much time left,” I said. “He’ll be leaving soon. I wonder what she will do with herself when he’s gone.”
© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.