Friday, May 22, 2015

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 24, Part 2 - "Kinda Makes Remembering Birthdays Easy, So Close to Christmas and All ..."

Dear Gentle Readers,

If you've been checking in the last few days and not finding anything, I'm sorry, but I've been down with a flu-like illness for three days. Thankfully it's receding.

Well, well, well, we have come to an important set of conversations here as everyone sits around and enjoys the afterglow of the Seven-Seven Dance, which culminated a day of great meal preparation. I don't go so much into the things that they were eating, just imagine they were eating things that take a long time to prep, and so all of the together time was sitting around, chopping things to bits and wrapping things in bite-sized chunks.

We will also take a dive into some marriage divination. Since the Chinese were very heavily an arranged-marriage culture, there's not much folklore or superstition about seeing the face of the person you will marry in pools of water or mirrors or in dreams on auspicious days or circumstances as there tend to be in Western folkways. Professional fortune tellers were the ones to give the green light on possible matches. Always makes me wonder if you could bribe a fortune teller to give you the kind of horoscope you wanted and make sure a match went your way?

Since Dog Island is a diaspora culture, there are many remnant things that inform how people get together and form families. Just remember that these Princesses are something of an anomaly, and they are probably a little more attached to their past than is good for them ....

Even so, play it out they must if,

the story is to continue ...

We were sitting afterwards on the beach, enjoying a meal out in the open. The group had broken into two groups, by generation.  We had gotten out of our dance costumes. I was back in my chin-to-toe coverage of khakis, but they had all changed into some other kind of dress, other than their usual black-and-white workers garb. Very loose blouses with mandarin collars that buttoned asymmetrically off to the right side. Also they had trousers of the same lightweight material with flowery patterns on them. Sleeves and cuffs were hemmed with large borders of contrasting color. It was a garden of color.

     “Are the Sea Witches not invited to this event?” I asked.
     “They are always invited,” said Lee, “they never come.”
     “I think they may watch,” said Lum, “that is, I feel like they are present sometimes.”

I was reminded of that odd phenomenon of traveling invisibly on the Witches’ Path. This deserved some additional investigation, but I decided now was not the time to delve into it. There were times when I think I wandered onto it by chance.

     “Thank you for joining us,” said Ting Ting. “It was the most fun we have had with it in a long time.”
     “I have to say, your training me to walk on branches up in the canopy the other day helped out a lot, especially in the Bridge Scene. Feng said there was a score. Is it in written form anywhere?”
     “Dr. Sun left some notes, but its not in tablature or notation eastern or western.”
     “You should come by the lab and sing it and I’ll record it, so that you have some kind of record of it.”
     “A very nice thought,” said Feng, “but Dr. Sun “but unnecessary. I think the intent of the Drs. Sun was for it to be adapted through the generations. I think Mr. Sun is said to have said if he could recognize it a hundred years after he died, it would be a failure.”

Qin Qin and Ling had come over and were standing on either side of me.

     “We need to borrow the Cowherd, if you don’t mind,” said Qin Qin.
     “Go ahead, but we want him back when you’re done,” said Ting Ting. I rose and went over to the separate circle of the Seconds.
     “Excellent job today Professor,” said Qin Qin. “You’re one of us now in my book!”
     “I hope I didn’t crush any of you when I walked on you.”
     “No worries,” Dr. Wong, assured Eight, “we are a LOT stronger than you think. We are pros.”
     “What’s up?”
     “It would not be a Seven-Seven without a bit of marriage divination,” said Qin Qin.
      “You girls are wasting your time here. I’ve been single for over 30 years since my first marriage. There’s no way that’s ever going to happen again.”
     “Still,” said Qin Qin, “I need to practice. And as the Guardian of Prophecy AND Lore, I feel obligated to do a reading. You’re the first stranger to come to the Island in years. OK.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Everybody seemed to lean in. “What is your date of birth?”
     “December 20, 1958.”
     “What? I don’t think I heard that right.”
     “December 20, 1958.”
     “You sure you didn’t say twenty-ONE?”
     “Yes, I’m sure. Two zero. Here’s my driver’s license. That’s derived from my birth certificate. So you can consider it accurate. You sound disappointed.”
     “It is! No, no, no, NO! SO close. Argh. I can’t stand it!” said Qin Qin.
     “Well, he is hit on Year of the Dog and Month of the Dog isn’t he? As long as he was born after the 10th,” suggested Ling.
     “What’s on the 10th?” I asked.
     “The New Moon beginning the 11th month in 1958, the Month of the Dog, was on December 11,” Angie replied Angel. “How about the time?”
     “11:11 at night,” I said. “According to my birth certificate.”
     “Hour of the Rat,” said Qin Qin. “That’s no good! It’s way off. At least there are no dragons in there.”
     “You guys keep a lot of calendar trivia in your heads from a long time ago. What’s the point of all this?” I asked.
    “You know, if you were a little more Chinese yourself, like you accuse us of not being because we’re here in the South Pacific, you’d know what we’re talking about,” said Qin Qin slightly irked. “If you were born one day later …”
     Nu was acting quite wary about how things were going in this conversation. She had come up behind Qin Qin put her hand over her mouth.
     “I think, Dear Cousin, that is quite enough on this topic. Perhaps you should now tell him what kind of woman he should be on the lookout for knowing the TRUTH of what you do now?” She seemed to give Qin Qin a threatening look. Qin Qin relaxed, but started right up again as soon as she was unmuted.
     “I don’t believe it,” said Qin Qin. “Something’s got to be wrong!”
     “As I recall it," I said, "I think I’m supposed to be best matched to someone whose birthday is apart from mine by a multiple of four right? Tiger or Horse? Or even another Dog? Although I’ve heard it said if you marry your same year, it can be kind of a boring relationship?”
     “But,” said Ling,” I thought you said you wanted to have a very boring marriage. So you SHOULD probably go with another Dog.”
     “QIN!” yelled Faye. “Is this it? Is this ALL you’ve got? You got us all here to have this BIG REVEAL. This is the major revelation? And you have nothing. What about all these other stories and oracles you supposedly are to know about?”
     “I’m still working on those. This was going to be the main thing. I was so sure …”
     “SURE? All you had to do was ask me, or Jie, or Wen, or Nu! But NO, you’re NOT on the Junior Security Council with access to his dossier. All four of us knew this was a mismatch a long time ago.”
     “Well, it would have been nice if someone would have SHARED some of this ‘common’ knowledge …”
     “So it’s my fault that you’ve been doing a bad job of being a Guardian. How typical.”
     “Would you two stop it?” said Ling, “I’m sure you’re making Dr. Wong uncomfortable.”
     “Fine, fine, fine,” said Qin Qin. “All you doubters can continue to doubt. I’m moving on. I’m not waiting for the four-hit wonder.”
     “What is this about?” I asked.
     “According to my reading on your birthday, you’re compatible with my mother as a husband. As her only next of kin, who do I talk to among your people to arrange a marriage?”
     “WHOA there girl! I like your mom. But I am not in market for a bride. I think I’ve made this pretty clear. As for who you’d arrange it with, it would be me. And, for that matter, it would be between ME and HER. Nobody else.”
     “But just think of it. If you were my stepfather, you could take me to optometrist whenever you wanted to, and buy me clothes. You could force me to go to college and study engineering and do all kinds of things against my will! Because I’m a very obedient daughter!”

The snorts from her peers were many. Qin had joked often about pairing me off with her mother before, but was in her serious tone of voice. She’d been only half-joking. And well, as I thought about it, sure, I could settle down with Lian. Would she like it in L.A.? She’d be cold all the time. But what am I thinking? It’s way too late for me.

    “Why Qin, I’m honored that you would think of me that way being worthy of your mother. Let me just say that I promise I will think about the possibility, but don’t expect this lifelong bachelor to change, OK?”
     “That’s not direct ‘no’ so I guess that’s something.”
     “What’s so special about December 21?”
     “If you were born a day later, you’d have other options.”
     “All of their mothers would be available.”
     “Qin, that’s enough!” said Nu.
     “He deserves to know more than we’re telling him. If I don’t say it here, I will say it elsewhere. They were born on December 21, 1958. They will only marry a man with the same birthday.”
     “Your mom was born on December 20 then?”
     “No. Same day.”
     “So why I am acceptable to her?”
     “The Fire Maidens have lower standards than everybody else.”
     “Wow, that makes me feel REALLY special.”
     “I’m so frustrated. My mission is at a standstill. And today of all days would have been the best day to resolve all of this!”
     “Let’s back up a couple of statements and I want some clarification. Some of your moms were born on the same day?”
      Everybody looked to Ling. “It is as Qin Qin said. All of the First Princesses, all of our mothers, were born on the same day, December 21.”
     “We had this conversation on the first day of class. So it’s no just the year, it’s even more coincidental. You said none of your mothers are twins, or even sisters. How is this?”
     “No, they are not like twins in that sense, but they are more than twins since one twin is always older than the other. They all have separate mothers. They were born all exactly at the same minute, during the eleventh minute of the Hour of the Dog, which is 7 p.m. in the American style. As was the current Sea Witch.”
     “The Sea Witch too! So there were TEN simultaneous births. Do any of them have the same father?”
     “No. The Firsts are all first or second cousins to one another. But Na and Mei are sort of like sisters. Since their mothers were triplets and their fathers were twins.”
     “This is incredible. Excuse me. I need to confirm this.” I got up and walked back to the Cousins. I just stood there until they looked up at me. Something about my posture must have tipped them off that I knew something.
     “Clete,” said Mu, “is something the matter?”
     “I was just told you all have the same birthday, or even the EXACT same birth moment. Is that right? I mean, how is that even possible?” The silence that followed, along with pursed lips and the exchange of glances told me that this was true.
     “Who told you that?” asked Lee.
     “I did Mother, I am so sorry,” said Ling. She had come up behind me and now fell to her knees and put her head on the sand.
     “And how did the topic come up?” she inquired.

Ling kept her head on the ground, but answered.

     “Qin Qin wanted to practice doing a divination reading on Dr. Wong.” Everyone cast a glance at Lian. Qin Qin again.
     “Qin Qin, come here,” ordered Mu. “You did a reading on Dr. Wong. Please report it to us.”
     “Very well. He was born December 20, 1958, at 11:11 p.m. Year of the Dog, Month of the Dog, the ninth day, the Day of the Rooster, the first hour, the Hour of the Rat.”
     “Did you ask about any other circumstances? Accidents in the town, animal births, weather conditions, his parents coming into contact with any elements in particular?”
     “No, I did not get that far.”
     “Anything else to report or recommend within the stated terms of your office?”
     “No ma’am. Nothing more to report at this time. Switch to putongwha?”

And so it was time to be shut out of conversation and they went into executive session with that damned Manchurian dialect of theirs.

[This translation was made by the reported at a later date.]

     “He knows some of the common language and he's been learning more since he's been here. Use Court Language. Go ahead dear.”
     “First, I believe we have nothing to fear from Dr. Wong. He has done nothing but provide beneficence to our Island and its people. And in some ways I believe we have treated him poorly.”
     “And why were you doing a reading on him?”
     “I thought he might be an auspicious match for my honorable mother.”
     “Do you discern that he is?”
     “I think he would be fine.”
     “The birthdate coincidences are only two.”
     “If you want to count on the American clock, he was born at 11:11 p.m. Doesn’t that bring him up to four? If you count minutes?”
     “You are grasping my dear. You are really wanting this.”
     “No more than anyone else.”
    “I think you are confusing gratitude and schoolgirl infatuation with logical thinking. Don’t you remember that fortune-telling protocol requires you cannot do a reading on your own self, or on behalf of your relatives. That there would be bias in such a reading?”
     “In the sense that I want only the finest man for my mother, I am biased. In any case, I find him an acceptable though not perfect match. But Seven-Seven is a good day to talk about such things don’t you think? And there is NO unbiased person on this island who can do a reading.”
     “There is the Sea Witch or her daughter.”
     “Perhaps I shall ask them then.”
     “Do you realize that your mother is promised to another? The One with the Ancient Claim?”
     “I haven’t forgotten. May I say with the greatest of respect that my study of our stories and history tell me the Great Prince was a man of pragmatism, not piety nor religious dogma. He would not hold my mother to an unreasonable demand that would interfere with her happiness and progress. And so neither do I.”
     “This is a major shift in our understanding of him.”
     “If the First Princesses wish to bide their time in loyalty to a man who will never come, that is their business. While I have not yet discussed this with my mother, I believe it is time for my family to move ahead. If and when the Great Prince should come, he will have plenty of other choices. However, you are all now on notice of my intentions as far as mother is concerned.”
     “Strong words. Strongly said. I would feel remiss if I did not slap you for saying it in that way."
     "Mu, please don't." It was Na. "She is no longer a child you can intimidate."
     "Very well. I will take this to mean you have other grounds that overcome birthdates. So are you ready to make your report on history and prophecy?”
     “Not yet. I have a couple more things to confirm, but it will be soon. I have letters out to former elders of this Island. I would like to have their responses before I report.”
     “Thank you, dear. Well spoken, but I believe your judgment is clouded. Think this through some more. DO discuss it with your mother—thoroughly. That is all for now.”

Qin Qin went over and sat with her mother, who wrapped her arms around her. They were crying, but it was not shame they were communicating, but pride. I looked around and all the girls had come over to observe as well. They all sat down and apparently once the Manchurian switch got flipped it stayed there. I may as well have been dropped among Martians. I wanted to ask more about this simultaneous birth event, but that moment had passed and I would just look like some kind of weaseling idiot.

After I thought more about it, I realized Lee successfully deflected the topic and not given me a definitive answer. They had not confirmed to me that they all had the same birthday. I remembered what the Sea Witch had told me about learning their birthdays. She was apparently a part of this great coincidence too. Even though the moment had passed, I suppose I had gotten the confirmation I needed.

As we walked back the costumes and the props back to the Shrine, I caught up with Qin Qin and Lian.

     “Hey Fire Princesses,” I called out. “I missed out on hearing something important there didn’t I?”
     “You were present Clete. That’s all that matters to me,” said Lian.
     “I’ll write it up for the Annals. You can read all about it later.”
     “Yeah, but are you going to write in High Court Manchurian or Chinese?”
     “If I do, then you’re going to have stick around until I can teach YOU either then won’t you? Dr. Wong?”
     “Who taught you all goddamned these hardball tactics?” I said.
     “I learned from the best in the biz. Do me a favor Doc Doc, just for Seven-Seven?”
     “Sure, what?”
     “A little more play acting.” She took the costumes that Lian and I had in our arms. She put Lian’s hand in mine. “I’m going to carry everything, and you are going to pretend to be my parents and walk in front of me as we go back to the Shrine. OK?”

I had to think only for a second at what a good Cantonese father might do in this situation. I stopped Lian, looked her straight in the face, and started:  “What kind of a disobedient child are you raising!? She is forward and presumptuous and a disgrace! Such rude questions to be asking in public! Wife, I am mortified! And you, demon child, I expect you to pour me a glass of wine when we get home,” I complained. It only seemed natural. Lian, of course, obligingly gave me the culturally appropriate response of a good Cantonese wife, which the bounds of good taste forbid me from reporting here.  (And here I thought only Lee could muster that much intensity.)

And, oddly enough, my “daughter” absorbed all of it with admiration and affection. What a twisted kid—she would have to be to be mine.

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.

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Be truthful and frank, but be polite. If you use excessive profanity, I'll assume you have some kind of character flaw like Dr. Wong. Tks!