I should really split this next entry, but I want to move us out of this chapter and start working on the next one, so this one will be a little longer than the others. There is still one more part before we move on to Chapter 23.
In these two sub-episodes, we get to see cousins Feng and Qi interact a little. They seem to not like each other, but that can't be farther from the truth. Sparring is one way they keep their relationship interesting to one another. They live in cottages nearly adjacent to one another, and their daughters Fei and Wen are quite close. Feng often cooks for Fei and Qi because Qi bears up under some form of chronic fatigue. Feng does think Qi is a bit of a ditz, and she's right, but Qi is not stupid, oh no.
If you've lost track, here are the relationships by mother-daughter pair:
Feng (Phoenix/birds) is the mother of Wen.
Qi (Qilin/furries) is the mother of Fei.
Ting Ting (Tortoise/insects and animals with shells) is the mother of Jie.
Mei (Metal) is the mother of Ba.
Na (Earth) is the mother if Yi.
Lian (Fire) is the mother of Qin Qin.
They all are in the second scene and all have at least one line (except Wen). This scene is necessary because we have to resolve the kidnapping that was orchestrated by Qin Qin, Wen, Jie, Ba, and Yi. Fei is not copping to it in her journal entry, but she's a little hurt at being left out since she thinks of Jie and Wen as being her comrades in the 2nd age cohort of 2nd princesses.
Hope that helps you keep them straight,
as the story continues ...
Wen immediately stood, bowed to her mother, and to us and left promptly.
“Everyone. I am sorry to interrupt your dinner, but I have learned of an important matter that involves my daughter. Dr. Wong. Please come when you have finished your meal. I think you know what this is about … WHY ARE YOU SITTING THERE NAKED?”
“Um, I believe you know this is a clothing-optional facility, but in my case it’s not optional. But I’m not completely undressed. I’ve got this great orange underwear …”
“Oh Qi. My heavens!”
Auntie Feng has never totally understood our family. Or any of the Third Branch, really. Sunlight and wind are the blankets given by the gods of this Island, so Mother said that her mother told her, so what more do we need? She adopted her usual posture of closing her eyes and rubbing her face with her hands. Grandmother said you would get wrinkles with all of that kind of worry.
“Dr. Wong. As soon as you are able, please come to The Classroom,” said Auntie. “We are conducting an investigation, but we will stand at recess until you arrive.”
“I don’t need to finish,” said the Professor, “why don’t I come right now?”
“No you don’t,” said Mother. “You have not been formally released yet.”
“Can I go under Feng’s escort?” asked the Professor.
“You are NOT going with HER anywhere, alone.”
“Feng, it looks like I’m NOT going.”
“WHAT is this about?” Mother asked.
“Dear Cousin, thank you for acting as judicial officer in my stead. I really appreciate it. I am sure you did the best that you could. But are you aware that you had a jailbreak today?”
“A jailbreak? Clete? Is this true?”
“I didn’t want to go. I was forced! Please don’t cut off my finger.”
“SHE THREATENED TO DISMEMBER YOU? IN ADDITION TO KEEPING YOU IN FORCED NAKEDNESS?”
“I guess you didn’t hear about her feeding me to the sharks then? It all worked out though.”
“Qi! What kind of justice have you been dispensing?”
“MY kind,” said Mother who then she turned to me. “Fei, what do you know about this jailbreak?”
“Nothing?” It was true.
“I SWEAR, Qi,” said Auntie Feng, “the more I learn about what has happened these last three days, I can’t believe it. I ask you to handle things and it only gets more outrageous with each revelation.”
“I have no idea what you are so upset about,” said Mother.
“To start with, if you are going to indulge in the farce of putting him ‘in jail,’ you should at least monitor that he stays there.”
“I stayed,” said the Professor. “I really tried to. It was working out fine until this morning.”
“There! I feel that the best laws and punishments,” said Mother, “are the ones that execute themselves. We don’t know how they work until we test them, do we?”
“FINE! Thank you Dr. Wong for being a better keeper of our law than our own judicial guardian,” said Feng. “Bring him over when you can. And please cover up before you do, Dr. Wong. There are several of us there. Young ones too, and I’m sure you know which ones.” She strode out.
“Fei? Do you remember where we put his clothes?”
“I think you had me set them down as nest lining when one of the civets was giving birth the other day. They have kittens living on them right now.”
“That’s right. She really loved the smell of your trousers especially. But we can swap something out.”
“You put my clothes in an animal birthing pen?”
“I hope you don’t mind the smell of animal effluence Clete? It will probably wash out. The little mother just loved your scent for some reason. She was starting to nest on them anyway.”
“That’s was probably about $500 of specialized bush clothes. And you let some stinky civet have a litter on them. They probably reek now!”
“You’re angry. I can tell.”
I was expecting the Professor to yell and cuss, but then he started to laugh.
“It would be unreasonable for me to expect you to have the same respect for clothing as I have. Living here a few days I’ve gotten used to almost anything. As it as it happens, I have a clean garment handy. Right there in the corner.”
“CLETE, where did you get that? Do you KNOW what that is?”
“Some kind of kimono thingie. It was loaned it to me. It’s a long story. Tell you later. I don’t want to keep Feng waiting.”
“Let Feng wait. LET THEM ALL WAIT. I will ask you questions later. That robe … Oooo. I have an idea then. Fei, start my hair in twin braids. I’ll finish them while you go and find my black qipao. And my gold hair ornaments.”
“You’re dressing up? Into your formals? You never do that. Why?”
“I am going to show up that snooty Feng something for once. How dare she look down on me. As if I don’t know how to run a court. I have had enough. Oh and my cloak too, dear. She thinks I don’t know how to dress. Clete, Fei is going to try to tie that short hair of yours into a topknot.”
“If you want to be released on time, you will do as instructed. While we are getting ready, you will tell me everything about this jailbreak that happened today. And if you leave anything out, I will slice you up in to chunks of stew meat and feed you to the civets.”
“For a pacifist vegetarian, you’re sure quick with the threats of corporeal violence.”
“Bodies are only vessels, Clete. We just move through them like we do water. Wise up.”
“Maybe in your religion. I’m pretty attached to mine, thank you.”
“And THAT’s why you are so easily manipulated …”
“If you want me to help you with something, why don’t you try asking nice first? You don’t have to be a bully.”
“I do that because you might say no.”
“True that, and it might be because you’ve treated me like shit from the start. But then I’m always open to cutting a deal.”
“But I don’t have anything you want.”
“You might be surprised. I can always think of something. I’ve cut some of my best deals with people I hate. And a girl who's deadly accurate with a karambit might be useful to hold in the favor bank.”
After Mother and the Professor dressed, we went over to The Classroom. As planned, I entered first, made greetings in proper order and then I opened up the door to let Dr. Wong in. He stepped in, made his greetings. Lined up and on their knees with their foreheads to the floor were Qin Qin, Yi, Ba, Wen, and Jie, with their mothers standing about, all looking distraught and ashamed and chattering among themselves. But when the Professor walked in, all eyes went on him and they fell silent and just stared as if in disbelief.
“Don’t mind me,” said the Professor. “I need to set something up. Ah, I need to move the leader’s chair. You’re all staring. It’s the hair isn’t it? I haven’t been able to blink since Fei put it up. It’s so tight.”
“You are wearing Haru-dono’s jittoku, his black gauze coat,” said Feng.
“And his yukata,” said Lian. “How did you get it?”
“I ran into the Sea Witch and she lent them to me? Who is Haru-dono?”
“Her father,” said Na. “He was the Sea Witch when we were children. Why did she lend them to you?”
“She thought it was obscene for me to be running around without clothes. The Center has a different standard of modesty than here. And I kinda agree with them, so I was happy to get the cover up. Probably the only thing she had around in my size I suppose.”
“Only some of us are immodest. Those were the symbols of his office,” said Feng. “High office.”
“Is it a problem for me to be wearing this?” he asked. “Excuse me, I think I need to place this chair here right in the middle.”
“He was not well liked Clete,” said Mei, “so it’s like a harsh ghost has come in the room. Feng? Do you think it means anything that the Sea Witch would give him her father’s coat?”
“Before you continue, there is one more to join us,” said the Professor.
As directed he went to the door and let in mother, who strode in resplendent in her black dress and cloak adorned and accessorized in gold. I thought her coiled braids looked quite regal despite how fast I had put them up. She set eyes on the leader’s seat and moved directly to it and sat down. The Professor took his place on the floor, going down on his knees next to her at her right hand. She crossed her legs, motioned to the Professor to hand her the yak-tailed whisk, which he did, leaned forward, and spoke.
“You may proceed. I am listening. ”
“Who is that?” I heard Auntie Lian whisper.
“It’s Qi,” said Auntie Na. I noticed she was nodding her head in admiration.
“That’s not possible,” said Auntie Mae, “… is it? I mean, she smells not just clean, but nice. No flies. And her hair! It’s neat.”
“It must be Clete’s influence,” said Na, “he’s been living with her for three days now.”
“No,” insisted Lian. “He’s been with Lee from the start and she’s just as disagreeable …”
“It’s one thing to affect Qi, and it’s quite another to affect Lee …” said Na.
“Ting Ting, continue!” said Auntie Feng, trying not to look surprised, but I knew she was.
Auntie Ting Ting had been in the middle of recounting what she had seen of the Professor’s abduction earlier today. She did back up and repeat for our benefit. My cousins, who stood accused, where now each interrogated in turn. Qin Qin got the last word.
“We liberated Dr. Wong because we thought he was falsely accused and imprisoned. We are full adults in this political system and we were denied the right to participate.”
“May I ask a question?” I said. I was permitted. “Qin Qin! Why didn’t you ask me to help?”
“To start with, you don’t even like the Professor and you’ve said you wished he hadn’t come to The Island. And we thought you would be an intelligence risk because of your relationship to the offending official, your mother. So we wanted to give you full deniability. I HOPE you appreciate that. It didn’t matter since the operation failed. AND you think my ideas are stupid. And as much as I am used to it coming from you, I like to avoid people who prejudge and call me names.”
Her words stunned me. Had I said that? The things about the Professor, that is. I guess I had. And did she have to say that in front of him? I hate that girl.
“May I ask a question?” said the Professor.
“Stand if you are going to speak,” said Mother. He did so.
“What are you going to do to these girls?” asked the Professor.
His tone was calm, but stern. All of the Firsts seemed to be deferring to him simply because of the robe and coat he had on. I think really had brought a ghost into the room.
“Wong-dono, they will behead us for being traitors to the evil state,” said Qin Qin, very matter of factly.
“MOMMIE!” Jie jerked her head up in tears. “I don’t want to be beheaded! It’s going to really hurt! I’m VERY VERY SORRY!”
“You’re going to lop off their heads?” yelled the Professor.
“It’s in the Ley of Dog Island,” said Qin, “we all should actually read it sometime. I have.”
“Hush!” said Auntie Ting Ting. “Your little cousin is being overly dramatic.”
“Clete!” said Lian, “we will do nothing of the kind. No heads are coming off. At worst they all will get a severe beating.”
“Is that really necessary? How about they work off their insult to me instead?” the Professor suggested. “There’s a place that I was at earlier today that I would like them to go gather mineral samples that I prefer not to enter myself again.”
“That’ll work for me,” said Auntie Da Mei, “But changing the subject, Clete! Your crotch is making noise. It’s squeaking.”
“Uh, yeah. And things are moving around down low too,” he said. “Do you mind if I step outside? I need to undress to check this out.”
“You will undress in front of us. Seconds, close your eyes until I say otherwise,” said Feng.
“In front of you? Why?”
“There have been too many diversions and subterfuges in this case so far,” Feng continued. “If there is something to reveal you will do it in front of all of us.”
“Forced nakedness?” said Mother to Feng rather pointedly. “Some would think that barbaric.”
“To good purpose,” Feng snapped back.
“Buncha voyeurs,” the Professor muttered. “Fine. I’ve been parading about in a loincloth for days now.”
We Seconds of course all looked when we heard our mothers gasp and then laugh. There Dr. Wong stood naked, holding a nest fashioned out of quilted cloth with four baby birds that had just hatched from their shells. Mother said they were wren chicks.
“What the hell do I do with these?” asked the Professor.
“Let me see those! That was not supposed to happen,” said Mother. “Those eggs were cold and dead.”
“My goodness, you hatched them. YOU are their mother, Clete,” said Auntie Ting Ting. “YOU need to feed them.”
“Feed them? You mean like feed them to the civets? That’s who wanted them originally. I guess they are pretty tender right now.”
“NO! What kind of parent are you? You are terrible!” scolded Na. “You have a big, juicy red centipede sitting on your shoulder right now. Give that to them. Yi, lend him your scissors.”
“NO. I am NOT feeding them my centipede. She's my little jail buddy. I’ll go digging for worms later. By the way, are there earthworms on this Island? I haven’t noticed.”
“Clete!” complained Auntie Feng. “This is terrible! You would befriend some horrid centipede before caring for these lovely wren chicks that you had incubated yourself? That is unconscionable.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” said Auntie Ting Ting. “From what I hear, the good doctor is quite a partisan to creatures of the Tortoise Domain, and that he has healed many of them. Good for you Clete. VERY GOOD. AND, if you would rather feed those birds to the centipedes instead of the other way around, I know of just the family of giant centipedes who would take great delight in them.”
Mother seemed quite pleased at the direction conversation seemed to be going--inter-guardian war. Feng and Ting Ting tend to bicker with one another when left unchecked. I could hear her almost counting down the number of exchanges she would allow them to have before she joined in.
“Everybody settle down. Professor Wong is still under my jurisdiction, and all matters relating to his initial crime.”
“Oh no he is not,” said Feng, “you’ve proven yourself to be quite blind to what is going on even in your own house.”
“I have no problem in appreciating that the Second Princesses are capable of cunning. And I do have jurisdiction because I still hold the whisk.”
“Yes, that. You may return it, now.”
“I will, but right now it’s mine. I hope that’s all right.” Mother put the handle of the whisk to her mouth and started nibbling the handle. “I am going to conclude this case first. There will be no beatings. First, the five offenders will all apologize to Dr. Wong. I hereby place them at his command for directed labor to go get his samples or whatever, AND they will tend to those chicks until they fledge. The chicks will reside in the Hall of Justice where they will be free from predation, but they will be allowed to eat animal tissue. Clete, you are required to report to the Hall of Justice every night to visit them, warm these wren chicks in your hands, and encourage them until they leave on their own; and to provide comfort to the First Qilin Guardian Princess therein as directed in the form of body massage and pH adjusted sponge bathing. Any objections?”
“What was that last clause?” asked Auntie Mei, “You said it really fast. I don’t think I heard it right.”
“Prisoner Wong,” said Mother brushing off the last question, “you have duly fulfilled your sentence. Girls make your apologies and I want to go home and finish dinner.”
“Can I say something first? To Eve and Eight? Girls? When I called you ‘bastards’ earlier today, I was really upset at you. I apologize.”
“That’s OK Dr. Wong,” said Ba. “We didn’t know what it meant and we looked it up. And you’re right, so no offense there. Our parents are NOT married.”
“But,” added Yi, “you did call us ‘PRETTY little bastards.’ Did you really mean it when you called us ‘pretty?’”
“You goddamned bastards, of course I meant it. You’re fuckin’ beautiful OK? You’re strong as horses. You’re fast in the water. You're really naturals at electrical circuit repair. Just don’t ever pull that shit on me ever again. Got that?”
I don’t know why, but Ba and Yi took that as their cue to go put their arms around him. I don’t understand his point of laying on those empty compliments so thick. I guess they are good looking in a boyish kind of way. So maybe he was a little rude to them, but didn’t they deserve it? And did he really have to hug them so much following his apology? They were at fault. It was too much. Where's the propriety? Ugh.
© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.