W11-Mo+Yan-Autumn+Waters

W11-Mo+Yan-Autumn+Waters - Columbia University PTess New...

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Unformatted text preview: Columbia University PTess New York Chichester, West Sussex 1995 Columbia Univorsiry Press Copyright G W P IFill. rights resewefi University Pres flail-predation of assistance given by :I'__.'r".'_:-' the publiution of this anthology. library of Congress Cataloging—in-Publication Data The Columbia anthologyr of motlern Chinese litera- ture I Ioseph S. M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt, ed- itors. 1;. cm.—{Modem Asian literamre series 1W AISBN o+13irofioo3-4 '- 1- Chinese literature-floth eenqu-Translanons 1 into English. 1. Lou, ]osepll S. M.. 1934—- 11. Goldblatt, Hotvard, 1:939— lIl. Series.- PLaEi5E-E1CE4 1994 fies-I'Dflms—dtm 94-35304 Cl? rid editions of Columbia University Pr ncl durable acidwiree trio-337654311 19339311554311 The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature Joseph S. M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt - EDITOES'-~- _ Columbia University Press N E W '1' U R K i 446' _(1956* ) Autumn Waters Translated by Richard F. Hampsten and Maorong Chang ing in my grandfather’s eighty-eighth year, all tn seated on a folding stool, leaning against the eyes closed, resting his spirit. Flt about noon, my mother sent me out to fetch him for the midday meal. I ran up and shouted my message loudly, but got no response. I gave him a push with my hand, and only then did I discover that he could not move- 1 ran in to tell everybody. They rushed out and clustered around him, pushing and pulling and shouting to him, but in the end all their efforts were to no avail. Grandfather had died in the most dignified fashion, his face as ruddy as if he were still alive, in a way that made people venerate him. The people of the village, every one, said that he must have accumulated many meritorious deeds in his previous existence, because only that way could one enjoy such a comfortable death. Everybody in our family shared in the glory of my grandfather's death. It was said that Grandfather, set the house on fire, and run off wit One fine spring morn the people of the village saw hi wall of our vegetable garden, when he was young, had killed three men, h a girl. They had then fled here from Baoding and become the first pioneers to settle in our village in Gaomi County. At that time, the northeastern part of Gaomi was still untamed land, much of it marshland, with wild grasses growing knee—high, a series of connected pools, home to brown rabbits, red foxes, speckled ducks, white egrets, and many other unnamed creatures who filled this marshy land that man had rarely penetrated. It was here that Grandfather came, bringing the girl with him. That girl, in due course, spring of the year, and aft Grandmother pulled a gold hairpi became my grandmother. They fled here in the or they had nested in the grass for a few days, n from her hair, took the jade bracelet from 43o Fiction Since 19,76 her wrist, and sent Grandfather to a far-off place to sell them and buy farming tools and the household utensils they needed. Then they moved to an odd—shaped hillock right in the middle of the marsh and built a shanty to live in. Once they had done that, Grandfather began breaking the soil and Grandmother caught fish, thus disturbing the calm of the great marshland. Word of what they were doing slowly spread, news that was talked about rather like a fairy-tale: a young couple in the marshland, the man dark, tall, and strongly built, the woman lair—skinned and pretty; and there was also a child, who was neither dark nor lair . . . and later bands of brigands and bandits moved into the area, set up their villages and hamlets, and created a world unto themselves—but that comes later in the story. By the time I was old enough to understand things, that odd-shaped hillock had been leveled by the "poor and lower-middle” peasants of eighteen villages round about, and the swamp had, as it were, grown up. Year by year there had been less rainfall, and it was now hard to find water. Every four or five miles there was a village. I listened to people of Grandfather’s generation talk about the past of this place, ranging from geographical descriptions of the environment to strange tales, and i always felt in these stories a wild surge of ghostly rain and supernatural winds, glimmering now here, now there like will-o'-the wisps. Real or false? How was I to know? My grandparents broke the ground and planted their crops, caught fish and shrimp, hunted foxes and rabbits. In the beginning they felt a certain amount of fear, and in their dreams memories returned of those human heads, dripping with blood. But as the days passed, the vision grew fainter and faded away. My grandfather would say that in the great marshland there were no soldiers and no officials, that the sky was high and the emperbr far away, but there were great hordes of mosquitoes. On days before rainy weather, one often saw swarm after swarm of them skimming like black smoke over the heads of the grass and the face of the open water. If you reached out you could grab a small handful. There were times that, to escape these mosqui— toes, Grandfather and Grandmother dove into the water, leaving only their nostrils poking out. Grandfather also said that there among the wet grasses, whenever evening drew on, they gave of]? a pale bluish-green shimmer, one streak joining with another, and flowing like water. The crabs living in the mud of the swamp took advantage of this phosphorescent glow to hunt their food, and if you went at dawn to look at the silt beneath the surface, you saw nothing but the trails of crabs' claws. These crabs grew as big as horses’ hooves. As for me, I’ve never even seen these crabs, let alone eaten one. Listening to Grandfather talk abont the marshland as it used to be cast a spell river me: I wished I had been born sixty years earlier. ' Summer passed into autumn. The sorghum my grandfather had planted turned red-ripe in the sun, the stalks of millet drooped their heavy heads, the MGYAN 431 cornsilks dried out, and a bumper harvest seemed assured. My father was still in Grandmother’s belly, growing feathers and wings for hatching, just waiting for the right day to fly-out and make his own hardy way in this world. A few s before the harvest, a sweltering heat suddenly set in: great iridescent day e clusters of cloud scudded about at clouds hung over the marshland, hug random, like stampeding livestock, and the waters of the marsh reflected their swiftly moving images. Rain fell in torrents for many days, and the marsh ollen with water. The rain gurgled, a white fog rose and groped its y without cease, without lifting. Grandfather in his rage cursed heaven and earth. Grandmother felt a series of pangs in her belly. She said to Grandfather: “I'm afraid I'm about to give birth.” Grandfather "If it’s time, it’s time. This wretched weather, I wish 1 could stab a hole in jtl" lust in the middle of his cursing, he saw the sun peer out through a crack in the clouds, rather tentatively at first, but soon it shot out two or three beams of strong white light and swept out for itself several paths of clear sky. I Grandfather ran out of the hut, excitedly looking at the sky and listening to the sound of the rain gradually diminishing on the marsh: in the air a few rain still flew aslant., Over the marshland the waters had terrupted expanses; the grasses, yellow and green, were in the midst of the waters- The sound of rain airy sound of the wind. High up the sorghum and the corn were grew sw way about, night and da said: silvery threads of risen, forming unin lifting their exhausted heads ceased; now, in gust after gust, came the he there, Grandfather stood looking at his crops: in fairly good shape. His face took on a look of joy. Following on the sounds of the wind, innumerable frogs began croaking all together—-the whole marshland was quivering. Grandfather went into the hut and told Grand— mother about the clouds parting and the sun coming out. She told him that each pain in her belly was worse than the last, and she was afraid. Grandfa— ther tried to comfort her: “What is there to be afraid of? When the melon is ripe, it falls off the vine.” As they were talking, they heard from all directions bling and booming like rolling thunder and seem— ing to compress into itself all the croaking of the frogs. Grandfather again ducked out of the hut and saw great yellow waves, high as a horse’s head, surging from every side, bellowing as they swept forward to converge on their hillock. In an instant, the waters of the marsh grew several meters'deep. It seemed as if all the frogs had drowned. The heads of the wild grass were underwater; only Grandfather“ s sorghum and corn were not submerged. But in a short time they too went under. No matter which way you looked, all you saw was yellow water—nothing else. Grandfather heaved a long sigh and again went into the hut. Grandmother, naked, lay moaning and gasping on the hay mattress, her disheveled hair filled with bits of hay, her pale face splotched the color of ashes. “There is a flood coming.” Grandfather’s voice was heavy with worry. Grandmother’s outside a weird sound, rum 43; Fiction Since 193:6 moaning stopped; she get up and slowly walked outside to look. At once she went back in, all color drained from her face, her features distorted with fear. For a long time she said nothing, and when she did open her mouth it was in a dry wail: “Owl—Owl—lt’s over, |G'ld Third, we won’t get out of this alivel" Grandfather helped her lie down on the mattress and said: “What’s the matter with you? You and I have killed people, we have set fire to a house, so what is left to be afraid of? At the very beginning we said that if we could just spend a single day together, we'd gladly die together; and now how many single days have we passed together? However high a flood, it can’t submerge a hill; however high a tree, it can’t pierce the sky. You just go ahead and have that baby—I’m going to take a look at the water.” My grandfather broke a branch off a tree and, taking an oblique path down the hill, walked several dozen strides to the water, where he planted the branch firmly into the earth beside one of the tongues of water randomly licking upward, and climbed back up to the top of the hillock to survey the waters. Facing the sun, he could see only a few stones’ throws ahead, since his view was blocked by its dazzling reflection off the water. In the other direction, however, there was no limit to the distance he could see. All that met the eye was muddy yellow water, lcome from God lmows where and going God knows where, strand after strand of it, pounding against the hillock, coiling itself together, forming itself in black eddies big and small, straight into which, from time to time, he saw one or two stupid frogs throwing themselves, and once they were in, he never saw them come out again. The stick my grandfather had pushed into the ground was new beneath the surface, which showed that the water was still rising rapidly. Looking out over this vast world of surging water, my grandfather himself had some misgivings. At one moment there was a great emptiness in his heart, turning it into a stretch of lonely wasteland ; at another, it was full, as if all his vital organs had congealed in one. In the time he stood there gaping, the water rose several inches, and with every inch the little hillock shrank. Pits he noted this, his heart grew cold. He looked up and heaved a long sigh. There above, through cracks in the clouds, he saw great patches of clean blue sky, and the broken gold—edged clouds were fleeing for dear life before the streaming winds. Grandfather pushed another branch down into the earth at the water~ line, and he relaxed the muscles of his face as he climbed back up to the hut. Te Grandmother, whose legs were working up and down spasmodically, he said: "Are you going to hear me a son?” In the evening, Grandfather went outside again to look at the water. The colorful clouds that filled the sky seemed also to float hazily in the muddy water, red against red, yellow against yellow. The water level had stayed where he had marked it, and Grandfather felt relief. Over the surface of the water surrounding the hillock huge flights of large silveragray birds danced Mun-ran _ 433 and swooped in the air. He did not know what l-cind they were. Their cries were at once sly and eccentric. On the feathers of their wings shone the glow of the sunset. He watched them dip, one by one, into the water and rise again, each with a white fish in its mouth. He felt a certain emptiness in his own belly, and walked back into the but to build a fire for the evening meal. Grandmother’s face was covered with sweat, but she did not fail to ask about the state of the flood. Grandfather said that the level was beginning to drop, and that she should just stop worrying and have the child. Grandmother immediately began crying, and said: “Old Third, I am .getting old. My pelvic bones just won't Open, and I'm afraid the child will not be able to come out!” Grandfather said: "Nothing of the kind. Stop worrying.” The kindling was wet, and when it caught it filled the whole hut with black smoke. The darkness of evening came on little by little, like smoke slowly advancing to enshroud the watery world, the water birds crying all together as, flock by flock, they alighted on the earth of the little hill. Grandmother had too much to do to eat, so Grandfather gobbled down a few mouthfuls, his stomach seeming filled with rotten grass. The oatmeal he had stewed with slices of fish grew cold and congealed in the pot. That same night IGrand- mother felt pangs from time to time and moaned sporadically—but my stubborn father kept procrastinating and refused to drop down to the grass. Grandmother was so impatient she said to my father: “Child, come on out! Don’t put Mother through such fiendish torture.” Grandfather was sitting beside the hay bed, fidgeting from his inability to help, in his mind forming vague plans for something else, speaking only in broken sentences that erupted like belches, and then giving up altogether on talking. Pale yellow moonlight timidly filled the hut, tinging my grandfa- ther’s shaved head and tinging my grandmother’s ghostly white body. Crick— ets were lurking in the dry grasses of the hut, rubbing their wings against each other with a dry susurration. 1from all sides came the crashing of the water, like a herd of crazy horses, like a pack of wild dogs—sometimes like a galloping horse, but not exactly, sometimes like roaring water, but not ex- actly—now far-off, now near, faint and then loud, constantly transforming itself. My grandfather peered out of the hut: the moon was casting its light on a hillock completely covered with the wild birds, and their whiteness was dazzling. On the hill were scattered a number of chestnut trees, apparently not planted by men, small trees that had not yet borne fruit. fly daylight one could see that autumn had already fallen on their leaves, and now in the moonlight he could not see the leaves, but in the obscurities where they should be he could make out some sort of strange fruit hanging from the trees, every crotch and every branch bent down with its weight, shaking the leaves into rustling. On a closer look, he knew that the trees were filled with the big birds. Grandfather and Grandmother both felt numb, and they had no idea when they fell asleep. 434 Fiction Since 1976 Next morning at dawn, they saw that the half pot of cold porridge was gone, licked clean by rats, and in the hut several score foot~long, hungry rats were running back and forth like a weaver’s shuttle. Grandmother did not have the stomach to look at them, but lay tossing and turning on the bed, dry traces of sweat still on her face. Grandfather picked up a stick and began chasing the rats, but they were fiercely defiant and had the burglarious intention of jumping up onto the beams. After he had killed a dozen or so, they resentfully withdrew from the hut and scattered over the hillock to look for food. By now the birds were flying over the water in search of fish, leaving beneath the chestnut trees mottled white and black blotches of feathers and excrement. The sun began to emerge from the yellow water, resembling a blood—red persimmon that would cave in if you poked it. Then to the east sky and water grew to be the same color, squeezing between themselves a Spin“ ning, intensely red ball. For a time the ball grew golden, then for a while silver, and then its form changed from clumSy grossness to artful elegance. Tiny sun, vast waters—and-sky. My grandfather checked the state of the waters, saw that the stick he had planted yesterday was still just at the edge, the water now calm and rising no more, with none of those great mad waves rolling anywhere; waters smooth as a mirror, eddying still, but merely at the surface. On the water ring after ring of floating debris circled the hillock. Grandfather fetched a long—handled grappling hook, bated his arms, which bulged with muscle, and moved along the water’s edge drawing the floating objects in. Trunks, cupboards, roof beams, wooden racks, drifting trees, iron pails—all sorts of things neatly lined up behind him. Grandmother’s groans were no longer loud, but they came continuously. Grandfather set his jaw and grimly redoubled his efforts, as if by doing so he could get his mind on something else. The tips of some chestnut trees showed above the surface, some large, some small, theirleaves looking dead. Near these trees Grandfa- ther spied an object bobbing up and down, indistinctly black and white. he he collected his forces and threw out the iron hook, he heard in the water a double popping—poof poof—and then saw in the water two blackish-red slicks parting from each other. He struggled to haul in his catch, then his gut clutched and knotted up. He retched mouthful after mouthful of yellow water. What Grandfather hauled in with his iron hook was a EDrI‘pSE. Its clothing was tatters and patches barely hanging together over a body swollen to the tightness of a drum. The legs were rigid, all ten toes splayed stiffly apart, the belly distended like an inflated balloon, its navel deeply sunk within. Higher up, the corpse's right hand was formed into a fist and the left hand twisted at an odd angle, with only its thumb and index remaining—of the other three, only stumps remained. The cadaver’s neck was long and thin. Grandfather’s hook had pierced two black holes at the shoulder blades, and from these MDYAN _ 435 streamed filthy water that stained the neck. On the chin was a circle of whitish beard, matted together. The mouth bared two rows of strong black teeth; both the upper and the lower lip must have been eaten away by creatures of the water. The nose still protruded sharp and clean as a bamboo shoot. The left eye socket was a gaping hole, into which silt had settled; the right eyeball dangled by its snow-white nervedfibers down to the ear, staring at the world in black and white. Iust between the eyebrows was a round hole. The hair was grizzled black and-white, the skin of the scalp wrinkled like wild sillnvorms that have spun themselves out. Almost at once the dead body attracted swarms of flies and began to give off a foul odor. My grandfather closed his eyes and pushed the body back into the water; having no heart to go on fishing things from the flood, he cleaned the grapple vigorously, then, leaning on it, he made his painful way back to the grass hut, vomiting as he walked. Grandmother, by now totally exhausted, lay there like a stranded fish, jerking spasmodically from time to time. She looked at Grandfather as he entered the hut, and smiled wanly at him: “Old Third, have mercy on me— kill me! i just don’t have the strength to bear this child of yours." My grandfather seized her hand and squeezed it tight: the eyes of both were brimming with tears. Grandfather said: “Erziaojie, I’m the one who's ruined your life. I should never have brought you to this place.” Grand- mother’s tears were streaming down her face. She said: “Don't call me Erxiaojie.” As Grandfather looked at Grandmother, he began to think of the past. The pangs came on Grandmother again, and she cried out, a phrase at a time: “Did Third . . . be merciful . . . kill me . . . ." Grandfather said: "Erziaojie, you must not give in to negative thoughts. just keep this in mind: we’ve gone through thick and thin together. When it was time to kill those, men, you handed me the knife; when it was time to set the fire, you brought me armfuls of grass. Our journey was thousands of miles long, but your little feet walked them. Do you mean to say you can’t bear a baby no bigger than a cat?” Grandmother said: “I don’t have a bit of strength left.” Grandfather said: "You just wait a bit—I’ll cook something for you." Grandfather clumsily cooked up half a pot of food, filled two bowls, and held one out to Grandmother, who lay there and weakly shook her head. Grandfather grew angry. He threw one'bowl out the door and bellowed: “All right, if it’s dying you want, we'll die togetheri You die, the baby dies, and I die l” After he said this, he did not look at Grandmother again, but stared at the hungry rats outside as they fought like famished wolves for the spilled food- Gathering all her strength, Grandmother jerked herself up me sitting position, grabbed the bowl of food, and began shoveling it down. She ate as the tears streamed down her cheeks. Grandfather, moved, stretched out his big hand and began stroking Grandmother’s back. 435 ' Fiction Since 193:6 That day my grandmother fainted three times, and that evening she lay on the bed, face up and rigid, like a corpse. Grandfather had been nursing her, sweating all over, his face stained with tears. By evening, his eyes were sunken and his face unshaven, his mind awhirl. Dusk gradually filled the hut. And great numbers of the large birds were flying back to the hillock. As on the previous evening, the crickets whirred their wings, sobbing their complaints. The pack of rats outside the hut raised their heads from time to time, tiny eyes gleaming like coals. A wide beam of forlorn moonlight shone into the hut and on my grandfa- ther and grandmother. He was a splendid figure of a man: in sunlight, with his eagle-like black eyes narrowed, his chin sunk in his hands, his body bent into the form of a hungry eagle—then he truly seemed a hero at the end of his tether. My grandmother was swan-necked and full-breasted, with lovely shoulders and pointed little feet, her belly protruding to cradle my father. At the time of my father's nativity, there were a number of rare and mighty omens, but he still grew up to be a kind-hearted, honest peasant. Light from the sun setting in the west and light from the moon rising in the east enveloped my grandfather and my grandmother, leaving them as clean as if they had bathed. The rats probed and felt their way into the hut; seeing my grandfather motionless there, they ran wild. Everything in the hut became blurred and indistinct in my grandfather's eyes. 'Lying in the moonlight, raising a_hand or kicking out with a foot, my grandmother resembled a great wounded bird. The sounds of water and the screeching of water birds assailed them in waves. Toward the eighth hour, my grandfather felt a chill along his back, and he shivered. Peering intently, he saw a large creature wriggling its way along the path of moonlight into the hut- He was about to cry out when he heard a human voice coming from the creature. A woman's voice: "Elder brother. . . save me!. . ." Grandfather jumped to his feet. By the flickering light of their precious candle, he saw a woman lying prone on the floor, gasping for breath. He helped her to her feet and sat her down on a pile of hay. The woman seemed like a lump of mud: she sat there with her shoulders drooping, her neck wobbling from one side to the other, her black hair streaming down over her shoulders, bits of hay caught in it. She was dressed in purple, and the clothing, clung to her body. Her breasts protruded like two bun%firm, cool, smooth. Over eyes set far apart, her eyebrows arched upward; her nose was high- bridged, her mouth wide. "Where did you come from?" As soon as he had asked it, Grandfather knew it was a stupid question: soaked from head to toe as she was, where else could she have come from but out of the water? The woman gave no answer; her head lolled over on one shoulder, and she arc-ran 43? fell to that side. Grandfather steadied her, and listened to the words she mumbled: . . Elder brother, give me something to eat. When Grand— mother became aware that someone had come in, she momentarily forgot her own troubles. She moved to one side to make room for Grandfather to bring the woman over to the bed, to get her wet clothes off, drape some of her own garments over her, and have her lie down beside her. Grandfather stepped over to the pot and scooped up a bowl of food, then with chopsticks fed it to her hit by bit. Rather than chew the food, she simply swallowed it whole, her stomach rumbling, and in a moment it was gone. Grandfather filled another bowl. The woman sat up on the bed, drew the clothing up around her, took the bowl and chopsticks, and began feeding herself. Grandfather and Grandmother had not seen another person for a long time, and at first when they saw her eating so wolfishly, they felt a secret fear—was this a human being or a spirit? 1When she had finished off the second bowlful, the woman gazed pleadingly at Grandfather. He brought her another. Her way of eating gradually became more mannerly, and when she finished the third bowl, my grandmother said: "You had better not eat any more.” The woman looked at my grandmother in surprise, only then realizing that there was another woman in the hut. She put the bowl down and asked for no more. A dark gleam showed now in her eyes. She sat stunned for a while, then thanked them over and over. Grandfather asked her a few more questions, but she evaded them with indistinct mumbles, and he stopped asking. The pains hit Grandmother again. The woman looked at her, and under- stood at once. She got up, flexed her waist and shook her legs a few times, then leaned over and began stroking Grandmother’s belly. The woman smiled, but said nothing. She drew a handful of hay from the mattress and scattered it bit by bit over the floor. She bent down and from the heap of wet clothing drew out a black pistol, which she thrust against my grandfather’s chest. She shouted to my grandmother: "Get up! If you don’t, I’ll kill him!” Grandmother quickly rolled out of bed and stood, naked, in front of the woman. “Bend over and pick up the hay l scattered on the ground—pick it up one bit at a time, and straighten yourself up each time!” commanded the woman. Grandmother hesitated. The woman said: "Are you going to pick it up or not? If you don’t, I’ll shoot." Her eyes were fierce, and her crisp words came out like steel pellets dropping into a copper pan. Gleams of candlelight glanced off the pistol. Pit that moment, it was as if my grandfather and grandmother had lost their souls: in their minds they felt not so much fear as a catatonic disarray, as if entering into a dream. Grandmother bent over, picked up the hay a stalk at a time, placing it on the cooking platform. She repeated this forty or fifty times. Her water had burst and was dripping down between her legs. Grandfather had gradually regained his senses and was glowering with 43,8 Fiction Since 1976 burning eyes at the woman, breathing heavily. The woman turned her eyes on him and gave him a sweet smile, her cheek flushed red as a flower, and she spoke in a low voice: "Don’t move.” In a louder voice she said to my grandmother: ’“Pick them up and be quick about it!” My grandmother finally finished picking up the hay, and she cursed amid her sobs: "You bitch!" ' The woman put the pistol away, laughed rather loudly, and said: “Don’t take it wrong, I’m a doctor. Elder brother, get me a knife and scissors and some clean rags. I’m going to help this lady have her child." Speechless, my grandfather thought this was some supernatural being come down to our human world. He hurried to find knife, scissors, and the other stuff, following her orders to scour out the pot and boil water. Soon clouds of steam began rising through the cover of the pot. The woman rinsed out her own jacket and trousers and wrung them vigorously, then stepped out and changed her clothes in the moonlight; my grandfather saw quite clearly her body, as purely white as silk, and was filled with veneration, as if he were gazing at a holy image. The water was boiling now. The woman, her clothes changed, came back into the hut and said to Grandfather: “You get out." My grandfather stood outside in the moonlight, looking at the silvery water under the half—moon, sometimes with a transparent mist floating be— tween it and the sky. As he listened to the clear tinkle of the lapping water, the veneration grew stronger in his heart. He finally knelt down and, raising his head, he prayed to the bright moon. From inside the grass hut came a sound of run! too! My father had entered the .world. My grandfather, tears on his face, dashed inside. The woman was washing the blood from her hands. “What is it?” my grandfather asked. "A boy,” the woman said. My grandfather quickly sank to his knees, and said to the woman: "Elder sister, in this world I can’t repay your kindness, but in the next life I’ll be happy to turn into a dog, or a horse that you can drive.” The woman smiled faintly and fell over on her side, already sleeping like one of the dead. Grandfather lifted her on to the bed, stroked my grand mother, looked intently at my father; and, with the lightest of treads, went out of the hut. The moon was now at its Zenith, and from the water came the splash of a great fish. . My grandfather followed the sound to find the great fish, but what he saw was an orangeecolored object afloat there, bobbing up and down as it raced toward the hillock. He started with fear. He hankered down and examined it minutely, found that it was round and smooth, slapping the water with a who! who! loin. It came nearer and nearer, revealing the whiteness of a lamb movan ' ' 439 and the blaclcness of coal, black pushing white forward, whipping the surface of the water into silver scales and chips of jade. The first morning after my father was born, the hillock encircled by the autumn waters was very busy. Inside the grass hut my grandfather was standing, my grandmother was lying down, my father was sleeping, the woman doctor was leaning against the wall, a person in black clothing was squatting, and a girl in white was sitting. The floating object my grandfather had seen in the night was a glazed pottery vat, containing a girl in white clothes, pushed forward by someone in black. This person in black was short, with a face more bones than flesh, deep eye—sockets, eyeballs white as porcelain, a pair of ears stiff and angular as fans. He was squatting, and he spoke in a nasal mumble: “Brother, have you got any tobacco? Mine got soaked in the soup.” My grandfather shook his head and said: "For half a year now I've not even smelled tobacco smoke.” The man in black yawned, stretching his neck far out, like a black fence— post. Around his stakelike neck hung two black cotton cords, at the ends of which two hard black objects were tucked into his waistband. The man in black stood up and gave himself a thorough stretch. My grandfather's eyes were fixed in a frightened stare at the pair of Mausers at the man’s waist—— the palms of his hands were clammy with sweat. The man in black glanced down at his waist, bated his teeth in a fierce smile, and said: “Brother, rustle us up something to eat: we’re all friends and brothers in this world. I spent two nights and two days steeped in that water, all for the sake of her.” The man in black pointed at the girl in white, who was sitting upright. Her body was large, but she had the face of a child: the features of her face clustered together, the bridge of her nose straight, a small, dainty mouth with moist red lips, very large eyes with practically no light in them. It was from the continual groping of her hands that you knew she was blind. She was wearing a dress of thin white silk, clutching a three-string gin to her bosom. Her movements were slow, light and floating, like a person in a dream. My grandfather poured two pints of rice into the pot, added ten fish, then started a fire. -White smoke and red flames rushed out the cooking—hole. The man in black coughed, straightened up, and left the hut. From the big pottery vat he extracted a bag and from it dumped a heap of brass cartridges. He rubbed the ass—end of each one, then pressed it into one of the clips. The woman in purple, who had proclaimed herself a physician, could not have been over twentysfive. After sleeping like the dead the whole night through, she was now feeling alert and vigorous. She was leaning against the wall of the hut, braiding her black hair with both hands, and coldly watching 44o I Fiction Since 1936 the antics of the man in black. My grandfather could not forget the terror of her pistol, and his eyes kept returning to her waist, but there he could see no bulge at all. In the course of one night, these three strange creatures had surfaced on his hill. Though my grandfather had killed people, he could not help feeling some trepidation. As he cooked the food, he tried to sound out their mystery. Grandmother was weak; she looked about for -a while, then gave it up and closed her eyes. The woman in purple gracefully walked up in front of the blind girl, squatted down, and in a soft voice asked: "Younger sister, where are you from?" “Where are you from? . . . Where are you from? . . .“ The blind girl repeated the words, then suddenly broke into a smile, and on her cheeks two dimples were revealed. “What is your name?” the woman in purple asked, again in a soft voice. As before, the blind girl made no answer, but again the sweetest of smiles came to her face, as if she had entered into some very happy, very far— off world. My father began to wail, loudly, tearlessly, without opening his eyes. My grandmother thrust one brown nipple into his mouth, and the crying ceased. - Occasionally there was the crackling of the burning twigs and grass, making the sound of the waters far outside seem even deeper and more mysterious. The man in black was bathing in the daWning light: on his fate and neck a coating of rust seemed to grow. The golden yellow of his cartridges glistened, from time to time drawing the eyes of those inside the hut. The woman in purple walked leisurely out of the hut and up to the man in black. With an expression on her face that looked like timidity, she asked hesitantly: “Uncle, what are those?” The man in black raised his head to glance at her, smiled hideously and said: "Sticks to stir the fire with.” “Do you blow through them?” she asked, foolishly. The man in black stopped his work and raised his chin. His eyes flashed like lightning in the clouds; from his pointed chin an animal smile rippled upward: "Blow one and see!” The woman in purple spoke fearfully: “I just don’t dare, I’m afraid once l’ve blown I won’t be able to get it out of my mouth !” The man in black looked at her suspiciously. Hurriedly collecting his cartridges, he stood up and slowly walked his bowalegged walk up to the hut, from which the fragrant smell of fish was waiting. There were only two bowls. After filling them, my grandfather respect- fully presented one to the woman in purple. Grandfather said: "Elder sister, please partake of our food. Ours is a poor household, and we’ve nothing better to offer you. Wait until the flood goes down, and I’ll find a better way to thank you." M o v a N 441 The woman’s eyes narrowed in a smile. She accepted the bowl, and handed ' it to my grandmother, saying: “She is the one who has suffered most. You must go and catch more fish, and make some soup for her: carp is good for the energy, and silver carp will make milk.“ My grandmother, tears in her eyes and with trembling hands, took the bowl. Her lips quivered, but she could say nothing, and when she lowered her head, a teardrop fell on my father's face. My father opened his black eyes wide and lazily regarded the rnotes of dust floating in the air. Grandfather then picked up the other howl, cast a look at the man in black, and said in apology: “Elder Brother, I’m sorry—you’ll have to wait for a while.“ He went over again to the woman in purple and handed it to her. The man in black, however, reached out in mid—air and took the bowl of food, and a cold smile appeared on his face. Grandfather held down his unhappiness, and took out his anger in a series of conghs—retching them out one by one. The man in black had grabbed the bowl of food, but he did not eat. He squatted before the blind girl, the bowl in his left hand, the chopsticks in his right. He scooped it into the blind girl’s mouth. Still clutching the three string gin to her bosom, and with her neck stretched elegantly forward and her chin slightly raised, she was like an unfledged swallow waiting to be fed. At the same time as she ate, she strummed on the gin: fut lung doong, bu lung doong. - fifter feeding her two bowls of food in succession, the man in black was somewhat breathless. He raised his sleeve to wipe the blind girl's mouth. He then turned around and threw the bowl down in front of the woman in purplei “Well, Miss, it’s your turn now,“ he said. The woman in purple said: “Perhaps you should eat first.“ The man in black said: “I’ve done nothing special, so I’ll eat later.” The woman in purple said: “Be careful your gun doesn’t go off by ac— cident.“ Grandfather told the man in black what the woman in purple had done the night before, thinking he should understand a few things. The man's cynical srnile never left his face. Grandfather asked him: “What are you laughing at? You think i'rn lying to you?“ The man’s look became serious, and he there's nothing extraordinary in all. that. Don’t we all qualities to survive in this world?“ Grandfather said: “Well, not me.“ The man in black said: “Yes, you do, or living here in this godforsaken marshland.“ As the man in black was talking, he spied several large rats poking their snouts through the walls of the hut, attracted by the odor of the food. His mouth went on talking, but his hand went down to his waistband and pulled out a Mauser: pow! pow! Two crisp sounds, blue smoke poured out of the answered: “I wouldn't dare. But possess some special you wouldn’t be grubbing out a 442 . Fiction Since 19;;6 muzzle, the smell of gunpowder spread through the hut, and two rats were smeared over the threshold, bits of white and red scattered about. My grand- mother, startled, dropped her bowl, but my grandfather was wide-eyed. The woman in purple fined her green eyes in a piercing stare on the man in black. My. father snored away. The blind girl strummed the strings, bu lung doong, bu lung doong! My grandfather now lost his temper and shouted “You’re out of your mind!" The man in black burst out laughing, lurched across the room and stood next to the pot, from which he shoveied out some food with the spatula, and began eating as if no one else were present. When he had eaten his fill, he offered no word of thanks. He bent and patted the blind girl on the head, then took her by the hand and led her stumbling out the door. He sat her down to bask in the sunlight, drew both pistols out of his waistband, and playfully began shooting at the big birds which were disporting themselves as they looked for food in the water around the hillock. Every shot hit home. Soon a dozen carcasses were floating on the water, their red blood diffusing around them. The alarmed Hock took flight, flying as high and as far as they could, but some, hit by other bullets, dropped straight down, slinging red patches onto the water. The face of the woman in purple had an ashen pallor as she approached the man in black. He took no notice of her, his dark face tilted upward to the sun and glinting like steel. He was chanting or singing, accompanied by the int lung doong, bu lung doong of the blind girl’s strings: "Green grasshopper, purple cricket, red dragonfly, white crow, blue swallow, yellow wagtail.” "You really must be the greatly renowned |Old Seven,” said the woman in purple: The man in black darted a glance at her: "I am not l131d Seven." "If you’re not Old Seven, then why are you such a crack shot?” The man in black tucked the pistols into his waistband and held up both hands, showing all ten fingers: "You see . . . am I Did Seven?” He spat into the water, and some small fish swarmed around the phlegm. “Dear foster— daughter, you go on singing from where I left off,” he said to the blind girl in white: "You sing: white crow, blue swallow, yellow wagtail. . . .” The blind girl smiled faintly and began to sing. She still had the voice of a child, moving in its innocence: “Green grasshopper eats green grass stems. Red dragonfly eats red bugs. Purple cricket eats purple buckwheat." "Fire you saying that Old Seven has only seven fingers?” the woman in purple asked. The man in black said: “Old Seven has seven fingers. Anyone with ten fingers is not lOld Seven.” "White crow eats purple cricket. Blue swallow eats green grasshopper. Yellow wagtail eats red dragonfly.” "Since you’re such a good shot, you must count as number one in lSaomi County.” MDYAN 443 “I am not like Old Seven. Old Seven can drill a fly on the wing. I can’t." “What's become of Old Seven?" “1 got rid of him." “Green grasshopper eats white crow._Purple Cricket eats blue swallow. Red dragonfly eats yellow wagtail.” Sunshine flooded the hillock. The water birds were fleeing in all directions, the water’s surface shone brilliant and peaceful, the half—submerged chestnut trees stood motionless. The woman in purple rubbed her hands together, and from out of nowhere, lilte a flash of lightning, a Luger leapt into her hand. She aimed it at the man in black, squeezed the trigger, and the bullet struck him in the chest. He fell face-down, slowly turned his body, and looked up with a happily smiling face: ” . . . my niece . . . done a good job. . . you and your mother were stamped from the same mold. . . ." In tears, the woman in purple shouted: "Why did you murder my daddy?" The man in black, with an effort, held up one finger and pointed at the blind girl in white. There was a gurgling sound in his throat, then the hand fell back, and his head rolled toward the ground. ' A large, black-feathered rooster strutted up, stretched out his neck, and called: “gang! gang! gnng!——ow!” The blind girl was still strumming on the strings and singing. And the flood waters began to ebb. When I was a very small boy, Grandfather taught me a nursery song: Grasshopper green. Cricket purple. Dragonfly red. Big crow white. Swallow blue. Wagtail yellow. Green grasshopper eats green grass stems. Red dragonfly eats red red bugs. Purple cricket eats purple buckwheat. Big white crow eats purple cricket. Blue swallow eats green grasshopper. Yellow wagtail eats red dragonfly. Green grasshopper eats big white crow. Purple cricket eats blue swallow. Red dragonfly eats yellow wagtail. Comes a great rooster, sticks out his neck, and cries gang, gang, gangs—aw! 1935 ...
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