Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part VII

Second Sister noticed that the closer Wu Dan Mountain loomed the more distant the hermit became. There had been a time when he joked and talked with the children. Now even Second Sister’s most respectfully posed questions were answered in monosyllables. At night in the camp Xing Ren left the children to cook for themselves and disappeared into the surrounding forest, returning after Little Fish and Second Sister had settled down to sleep. One night on a full moon, Second Sister, who did not remain curious for long without action, silently followed the bearded sage into the forest. Careful not to wander out of sight of the fire and equally desirous to spy on her guardian, Second Sister was struck by inspiration; if she climbed a tree she would be able to see farther in both directions. Second Sister ran lightly through the trees ‘til she could no longer see the fire, climbed a tree and to her delight could see both the fire and the shape she knew to be Xing Ren. Brilliant moonlight made spying easy and as the bright orb rose Second Sister watched and watched. Xing Ren began by walking in a circle, then as though by a trick of the light he would be going in the opposite direction. As time went by his changes of direction became increasingly complex until Second Sister would have sworn on her mama’s gold turtle brooch with ruby eyes, that he looked like a dragon swimming in the air. The nearness of the shining moon demanded Second Sister’s attention once the edge was taken off her curiosity. The Rabbit That Lives On the Moon And Pounds The Elixir of Immortality was one of Second Sister’s favorite stories. Looking at the moon she recounted this tale silently to herself, word for word, just as her mother told it every full moon since before Second Sister had been born. She could almost smell her family’s farm; the honeysuckles, the chickens, onions drying, green tea and cooked rice. Lost in her memories she almost fell out of her tree when she heard Xing Ren’s voice softly calling “Shu, shu, shu, Second Sister, it is time for bed.”

They walked back to camp, hand in hand. Little Fish had already gone to sleep, hogging both blankets. As Xing Ren dug in his pack for an extra blanket Second Sister quietly asked “Shifu, what were you doing in the forest?
Sighing softly, Xing Ren felt a softening in his hard hermit exterior, “I am practicing.”
“And why is that, Shifu?”
“Because my teacher, my Shifu, will be at Wu Dan Mountain and I fear he will find my skills wanting.”

Second Sister nodded in understanding, when she attended the Iron Rabbit School of Marital Arts the teachers had always made her feel as if her skills were insufficient. What she did not know was that they corrected her because they felt she was worth the effort. After this night Second Sister allowed Xing Ren to retreat by himself. There was a night when she awoke to see him walking backwards into he camp, then disappear into the air and return again backwards. She thought she might have been dreaming.

At the Huang family farm Youngest Sister’s face crinkled in confusion as she ran her fingers over the smooth round surface of her sister’s bracelet. Usually the stories came so easily, but tonight she was not sure what she had seen in her mind. Then suddenly she told a story about a man who turned himself into a mirror and danced on the sea.