Sunday, November 19, 2006

Don't Read While You Eat: Part XVIII

After helping Xing Ren to the alcove off the kitchen where the children had slept and covering him with silk filled quilts, Ma Huang exited the kitchen and stood in the adjacent courtyard. It was late in the afternoon and dusk would come soon and quickly. Running swiftly in the direction of the Master’s quarters, she projected her Qi towards her goal; a crystal bowl that resided in the storage closet behind the altar. On a regular day at this time it was unlikely the Master would be in his sacred room, however, ”regular” seemed not to be a word that could be applied to current events. Pausing at the gate to the courtyard Ma Huang tried to ascertain if the Master was in his altar room, she could feel nothing; her inner sight seemed blinded. Jangled to bone she rushed forward. Could she see nothing because she was too fragmented? Or was there another reason? Just outside the heavy dragon door she quieted her breath, then pushed the door wide enough to permit her eye to peer in. The room seemed empty, opening the door a little more to permit her head she looked around. The Master was not there, the only movement, other than the beating of her heart and coursing blood, was the dust in the slant of the late sun. She glided across the carpet and in a blink had secured the crystal bowl, as she closed the door inside the room a wall hanging stirred, ever so slightly.

Clutching the bowl in both hands Ma Huang ran fast as fast through the compound. Courtyards flashed by her, windows, doors; monks barely noticed her, so swiftly she ran. The bowl was reassuringly real between her hands. Approximately the size of a human head it had been fashioned during the age of magic from a giant crystal which, it was rumored, had belonged to the Dragon Lord from Beneath the Sea. Ma Huang could not see that as she ran the bowl shimmered with greens and golds and left a small trail of purple clouds, which condensed, into silver dew. Out the gate and into the forest, running, running, that was all she had to do, she told herself; there was only running. Dodging through the trees she found the trail. An animal trail, it wiggled and twitched and ended where all the beasts wanted their search to end, at the spring. The water in this spring on this mountain bubbled up from deep within the earth; it filtered up through rock and crust to triumphantly burst forth in the midst of the quickly darkening forest.

Ma Huang settled herself by the spring to catch her breath and center her Qi. The sun had rolled over the horizon, this was Ma Huang’s favorite time of the day, though it wasn’t really day and it wasn’t really night. It was that irresistible moment of transition, of possibility. In the fading light, the colors of the forest seemed to greedily drink in what particles of light remained, sucking it from beyond the horizon until for a few brief moments they were giddily saturated; satiated with the Yang of the day. Qi restored, spirits raised by dusk and the delicious promise of night, Ma Huang dipped and rinsed the crystal bowl 9 times before filling it and setting back down the path to the Monastery.

The journey back to the kitchen was less rushed, but no less purposeful. Xing Ren lay in the alcove, sleeping heavily with a barely audible snore, as Ma Huang returned and lit three candles on the table. In the flickering light she squatted down on the dirt floor next to the place the children had last been on the Earthly plane. Holding the bowl between her hands she spoke into the water. She spoke everything she could remember about the children and when she got tired of talking she sang and when she got tired of singing, she whispered. She told of her first sight of them, of the sound of their footsteps following her back to the kitchen, of the soup they ate. She sang of the way Second Sister would play with her hair and look out the window when she thought no one was watching her. She sang of the time Little Fish had almost cut his finger chopping beets. Even as her voice grew tired she whispered of the space between the corner of Second Sister’s eye and her nose, her eyebrows, Little Fish’s slightly crooked left little finger. And when her voice needed to rest she hummed. Her back felt warm, she turned and saw Xing Ren had arisen and was standing behind her. He squatted and took the bowl, from his lips fell the story of his meeting with the Huangs and his first sight of Little Fish and Second Sister and all events that transpired. He told the bowl of the small rip in Little Fish’s tunic and the way Second Sister like to laugh before she sipped her tea. He talked and sang and whispered all he knew, all he remembered. When all was silent and the bowl was full, Ma Huang took the bowl from him and placed it in the place where they had last been.

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