Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Rock

The burnt out warden's house perches on the top of a steep but lush cliff in the center of the island.  Only the outer wall frames remain standing, with evenly spaced windows on the sides.  You can picture the lovely house it once was, with an arched roof and flowery curtains that covered those gorgeous windows.  You could almost see the curtains fly up in the island breeze on a sunny day, as the windows are open.  You catch a glimpse of the lady of the house cooking the warden's dinner when their children play outside or finish their homework on the kitchen table.  The day is clear, and the red splendor of the Golden Gate Bridge stretches out on the left, as angel island and the Oakland bridge crouch on the right,  dozens or so sailboats breaking up the expansive blue water in between.  

You can almost forget for a moment then, that across the narrow road winding up the hill, there sits "a federal penitentiary housing some of the most dangerous criminals."  You imagine the aroma of the stew and the sound of those childrens' laughter must have reached some of the cells facing the right directions. 

Then you'd walk up around the bend to enter the prison.  You stop for a moment to question the wisdom of this decision as the structure swallows you with its weight and sturdiness, impressing upon you the one way nature of its design.  You steel yourself for a second or so, then you walk in to hear the babbles of languages of the world echoed throughout the brick and stone surroundings.  It nearly takes you out of the moment, reminding you this is but a tour, and you paid for the privilege of coming in and going out at will.  Then you are handed an audio guide with instructions of how, where and when you shall visit each site within the building, with a voice that didn't invite questioning or disobedience.

So you follow, a tinge of reluctance tarnishing the excitement and curiosity swelling at the sight of cells, photos, and the authentic period voices that told the stories.  Walking down "Broadway", you jump at the photos of young and tender faces in prison uniforms -- they could be college students,  or someone's high school sweetheart or brother, they are sons and fathers of the family they belong.  They could be that friendly but shy neighbor next door who doesn't talk much but seems completely harmless, if only you lived in their neighborhoods fifty somewhat years ago.  You come up close, as you are told, to those iron bars painted pink but emits nothing warm and fuzzy, and see a coverless toilet sitting next to the head of that single bed, marking the loss of freedom for something so basic as a bathroom break outside, a privilege enjoyed by a first grade child when he asks.  There isn't room for anything else in this five feet by nine feet space, but an air of desolation, hair raising eeriness, filled with silent screams of all its occupants that seem imprinted on the walls, like desperate claw marks of caged animals.

Courtesy of Alcatraz History (linked)
Then you turn down C-D street and are invited into an open cell inside the D-block.  You hear the voice introduce its history as one of the isolation unit for ill behaving prisoners.  There is a tiny square of opening on the solid door, the closing of which shuts out light completely.  You heart races then clench, breath held for as long as you could stand it without realizing you are doing it, mind racing about nothing whatsoever, yet racing in any case.  Two seconds pass, you think it's two hours and you may explode, missing the warm fuzzy airiness of those pink iron bars all of a sudden.

These cells face windows that look out across the water onto San Francisco.  It's so close that on new years eve, you hear on the audio, music and laughter of girls would float across the water into the ears of prisoners on the wings of wind.  Darkness then becomes all the more unbearable at this,  tears would well up into the eyes of those with the most hardened hearts, sitting alone, allowing a needle of light and songs to penetrate, piercing that spot of vulnerability in them that was buried so deep they were all but forgotten.

You can't help but wonder why?

How can we - a civilized culture, build such a barbaric instrument of torture for our fellow beings?
Then you hear shots fired, sharp and crisp, like fire crackers exploding against all the concrete and irons.  You hear people shouting, first the surprised shrieks of guards rushing in to find prisoners with guns on their hands, then the low and menacing commands from the prisoners demanding the final key to their freedom.

"Give the key or some people are gonna die!

Then another shot.   And just like that, they'd taken the life of a son, a friend and a father. 
The tender young face you saw earlier suddenly contorted into the face of a murderer as you hear his quickened breath and you recognize the hunger in his demands - so knife like that you shiver from hair to spine.  You catch a glimpse of this violent escape attempt on the audio guide, happened over sixty years ago right here on the patch of concrete you are standing.  All you want to do then is to withdraw from that dark thought, conceding there is no easy answer here as you move away from the leaden doors and the smell of harsh soaps still floating off of those cell blocks.

You turn off the audio guide then, and along with it all those gloomy voices and piercing stories floating in your head for the past hour and half.  Walking back out into the open, filling your lungs with the cold but refreshing wind and warming your skin under the blazing sun, you smile at the sight of your return cruise ship moving into the dock.

A pelican flies by, neck bent into an S, wings extended to float him above the sea breeze.  He lowers down and makes a dive into the swell but comes up empty.  A hungry nest at the pelican's tonight.  A fish's life spared.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


[Beijing, Nineteen Eighties]

We pass by the famous Drum Tower on the corner and the wonton restaurant on its right on the way home.  Me wanting to linger and savor the aroma of wontons fat with meat stuffings and broth dripping with flavor and spices; mom pulling and coaxing me away before even a word of this request can form around my lips.

Down the street is the lone corner grocery store wherein we find our weekly provisions, a strip of pork so thin it promises transparency, bowls of pickles and soybean pastes and mountains of cabbages.  There is a whole candy and cake section consisting of three whole variety of sweets, which I visit, inhale and admire at every chance but isn't privy to their actual taste until much later in life.  

It draws me in still, the very existence of that section nearly cancels out the terror of having to walk by the lady standing behind the counter on the opposite side with a sizable meat shaving cleaver and an even more sizable scowl, both permanently affixed to even the shadow of her shape I'd glimpse out of the corner of my eye.  

The sauce counter, directly facing the door, with sweets on its left and the meat counter on its right, also draws me in like what a magnet does to a lost needle.  The heavenly aroma of soy, aged vinegar and fried soybean paste triggers a raw response in me, allowing me to dream about noodles with soy sauce, lunch without any threats of greens, and the comfortable familiarity of what you've always known, like the daily chat with an old friend. I'd also dream of volunteering for sauce fetching duty when I grow up, and just like Luo I'd be able to pocket any loose changes from the trip into my own savings envelop.

But there is no time for any of that this morning.  Everyone is heading to work so we rush home to find that dad has just got up so I sit down and read a story while he is getting ready. I read by myself as I know mom will purse her lips without being able to fully hide the smile that is adding a beautiful set of curves to her eyes and she will whisper something about me to dad real quiet but I can still just make out my name.  Dad's mouth will momentarily go from down turned corners to upturned ones, with parenthesis lines around it like adding emphasis.  He is almost as tall as the tower, with broad shoulders and arms that lifts me up so quickly it feels like flying.  His eyes always look clear and happy when it holds my reflections, even when life is too heavy and the weight is wearing on the down turned corners of his mouth.  

The stove buzzes a little when dad lifts up the cover for cooking and flames come through the holes in the coals stacked up inside.  They call it the bee hive coal, as that's what it looks like.  I don't ever see any bees confusing it for a hive though which is a good thing. 

Later on, mom is to sneak out quietly without saying goodbye.  I cry when I find out but without an audience I stop quickly.  Dad is to take me to the garden of children riding on the cross bar of his bicycle before going to work himself.  He wraps me into a cave of cotton and body heat when he reaches the handle bars riding away.  I would cry again at the sight of him leaving, siting by myself on the frozen playground of the garden.  At night, I wouldn't sleep but I'd stand on the bed looking outside, waiting for every shadow to materialize as mom, and every sound to turn out to be dad's, coming to pick me up and take me home.  I don't understand why they always wait until the last day of the week to come by, in fact I don't understand the difference as every goodbye seems like it is forever, and every reunion gives me hope that I will never have to return again.  The moments in between are spent waiting, dreaming about all the corners of my world back home and occasionally responding to commands, both the ones dad left me or the ones the teachers have just issued.   On Friday, right after lunch, after I am told I must finish all the boiled cabbages in my bowl or my parents won't be coming so I'd stuff them in my mouth to show a clean bowl, tears streaming from the stiff ridges of the vegetable pressing against my throat.  That is how dad would find me, week after week, chipmunk cheeked, wordless and watery eyed until I outgrew the age of the garden of children. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Bus Stop

[Beijing China, 1981]
We stand on the narrow curb waiting for the bus to arrive.  I am bundled in layers of sweaters and a coat with a hood wrapped tightly around my face, making me look like an over stuffed, rigid but blinking, toy doll.  The cold air bites my hands and lips, cutting deeper welts into the already dry and cracking skins.  The frozen concrete below seep frost into my feet through layers of socks and plastic bottomed cotton shoes.

There is a small crowd around us, a cloud of gray pants and blue cotton jackets with hands crossing into the opposite sleeves. My brother Luo left the ear covers up on his aviator hat so his ears are as red as the sugared cherry pops on display at the snack cart behind us.  Mom takes out the bus fare, and we watch three icy coins transfer from her hand into Luo's, an occasional sparkle escapes when the edge catches the weak but rising glow of the winter morning sun. 

It is only six o'clock.  But the commuting cyclists streaming through the Anding Street bus stop pronounces a busy and definite beginning.  A beginning of the day, of the week; or if you are Luo, the first day of school, with classes starting at seven.  He stands there hands in his pockets and a canvas school bag crossing over his shoulders, chest so full of purpose it rises even above layers of winter coats.

The bus lets out a heavy sigh upon pulling into the stop.  The crowd doubles in size as soon as the bus appears.  The door opens, as much a mechanical effort as a result of the neatly packed riders pushing through, and hardly anyone can move in or out.  The few who step off seem to punch a hole through the human wall blocking the door and stumble out, nearly falling at the last step but manage to stand, to my great relief.

Luo shuffles towards the opening but I lose sight of him immediately.  The crowd gathers at the door and swells to cover the entrance, reminding me of the time when I saw the pouring of a bucket of tar smoothing and covering any openings in its tracks.   I shut my eyes for a minute, counting to sixty, as Luo has taught me to spare me the worry of seeing him squished.  He is the "fat" one in the family, with cheeks unusually chubby for having our daily diet of rice and salted cabbages.  But at six year old, he hardly weighs nor measures half the size of the other commuters,  waxy and ill fed they might seem judging by the necks and limbs sticking out of the bulge of their jackets. 

When I open my eyes, I see Luo standing on the highest step by the outer edge of the bus with his face peeking through the elbows of two other commuters.  A big, round and ruddy smile emerges to show us the space where he lost a tooth last week.  He shifts and twists until one of his arm is free, waving and shouting:

"See ya later, be good for mom!"

Mom takes a step up, and places her foot in the jam to block the bus door from closing.  As she grabs Luo's waving hands, she gives it a few gentle squeezes.  She is smiling and whispering something I can't hear.  So I smile too, and waving back at Luo.  Luo shakes himself free, chiding her:


The commuters standing near the edges, teetering on precious little floor space with nary of a whole foot each, looking for the solidity of the door on which to lean, join in mumbles and looks of disapproval towards her. 

She nods apologies and steps off, grabbing a hold of me and wrapping her arms so tight I can hardly breathe, watching as the bus pull away from the stop.  Luo's face red as a candle lit lantern, seems to stay before my eyes long after the bus has made the turn around the corner.   I turn to ask mom:

"When I grow up, do I get to ride the bus by myself like Luo?"

"Call him Big Brother, not Luo like us.  And no, you will not need to go to the Korean school like him.  Your father can take you to the neighborhood Chinese school when you are five."

"Why don't I need to go to the Korean school?"  I am as relieved as I am curious.

"Because you are a girl, so you don't need to carry on the family tradition. Luo's the first son, so he has responsibilities to marry a Korean girl when he grows up, and carry on our family's custom and heritage.  Now, let's go home."

I can already read "Little Horse Crossing The River" by myself, even retelling it to other children in the courtyard like a proper scholar.  But I can't make sense of what mom just said.  I don't know what heritage means, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the way mom and dad pickle cabbages for all the days of winter when there is nothing else to eat.  But the wind is picking up speed and ferocity, threatening to topple me over and blocking me from further scholarly reasoning.  All I can think then, is the lucky bus and its riders, who will have the pleasure of Luo's company for the next forty five minutes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jenny (Part III)

Jenny was right about my pneumonia.  Though the doctor was worried by the high fevers and my X ray results of my lungs, I was fine during all six days of stay in the hospital so they released me on the seventh.  Jenny never made good on her plan to keep in loose touch with Maria. Instead she stayed close to me, and the other younger kids.  Maria tried to exchange letting Jenny wear that little crown, the one with sparkles that shone in our eyes, for playing exclusively with her but Jenny said no.  I also stopped crying myself to sleep at the thought of my parents and friends on the outside, much to their collective relief and surprise.

So when the doctors told me my parents were here to pick me up, I didn't jump or ran to tell everyone the good news.  I walked slowly back to the ward, heads so low I saw every little rock and creature crawling along the side walk.  They hurried to their destinations, while I dragged my every step.  Then the wind picked up speed out of nowhere, picking up sand, dust and every inch of gray and throw them all at me, pelting me in a solid rain of ashes. 

When I finally arrived at the door, I looked up. Throw the gray mist of wind tunnels and shaken leaves, I saw Jenny standing at the balcony talking to the girls in our ward, pointing to the sky while the other children, each of whom a beneficiary of her kindness at one time or another, listened. She looked as pale and thin as I always remembered, she was tall but still a child inside and out, but she had captivated the attention of others like she had mine.  Unlike the wind powered dust storm our city is famous for in early spring days, she did it with a life force that ran as quietly as a small stream that nourished until it ran itself out. 
I felt the sting of tears then, I whispered goodbye under my breath, afraid to disturb their talks, but she turned and saw me, pale faced, red nose and watery eyed. She knew it wasn't the sand storms, she knew it was time, and the calm on her face disappeared when she lowered her eyes and then ran like the little girl she never seemed but always was.  She ran to hid herself from the rest of us, leaving the hall hollowed with a frozen wasteland of whites and gray shadows.

I didn't bother with the motions of packing and goodbyes.  I knew my parents would rather fuss over it so I sat on the bed staring into space.  Our window framed a world we can hold between our palms, so in the comfort of all those behind it, I had relinquished the need to return to the massive city beyond it, to the giant courtyard in which I lived.  Even though my house was the size of a shoebox, it suddenly seemed as though I might drown in it, in that ocean of people, activity, of hushing and fussing and hovering, and worst of all, of the prospect of going back to the galaxy of school.

Jenny came back then and sat next to me once more.  Collecting together the few items of clothes to keep her hands busy, she tried to put some senses into me, and perhaps into herself.

"Hey, it was great having you here, we had fun didn't we?  But it's time to go back with your parent, like the doctors said."

I couldn't think of anything to say except:

"Can I come back to see you?"

Then without hearing her answer I felt dad picking me up silently and turned to leave.  I didn't know when he came in, and why he sneaked up on me the way he did. Perhaps he saw something, and instincts took over.  I didn't protest, so we stayed silent while he carried me home, my ears deafened by the ocean of city sounds or perhaps it was the sound of nothing at all, the sound of a closed book and a tiny rock tumbling over a grassy hill, crushing any tender growth of moss grown in the briefest mist of rain.

The next day came and went. So many relatives and my old friends in the courtyard came to see me and brought me their best (secretly stashed) fruit and sweets.  I was eager to go see Jenny and didn't want to have anything to do with anyone, the world so alien and scary without those sterile white walls, the comforting clinks of the medicine tray and most of all, without Jenny's soft voice and gentle laughter.

Dad dismissed my requests to go back to the hospital right away fearing I will catch another infection.  I sulked until I became fully recovered in his eyes the following week and he reluctantly took me back.  As I rush through the familiar corridors waving excitedly at every familiar face, my heart thumped at the sight of our room.  Jenny was standing at the far corner, even more frail than I remembered.  Compared to my "healthy" friends, She looked shrunken, aged somehow, her hair fraying away and grayed by the sunlight streaming through the window. Even her skin had become translucent, nearly melting into the overly washed and faded hospital gown.  Then she smiled and I recognized her again, heart flipping with both joy and bitterness. Neither of us ran towards each other.  Five thousand words developed from five thousand years of civilizations at our disposal, yet we felt the divide between the world of health and hospital standing tall, beyond penetration or crossing over.  We just stood there, smiling and nodding for an eternity, our legs leaden with the weight of trying.

The second time I went to see Jenny was a month later, but I did not find her.  No one could tell me where she had gone, or what had happened to her.  The hospital changed, so none of the nurses I knew were there anymore either.  I looked for Maria but she had been picked up or transferred too.  For months I wondered about her. Had she gotten better so her parents had finally came to take her home, like mine did?   Or had she been transferred to a bigger and better hospital for advanced treatment?  Or..., I didn't want to think further but I'd return every few months to ask about her, to see if maybe she had returned, or maybe if I could run into one of the nurse I knew.  I searched for her in vain.

Two years later my family was moving to another part of the town, hours away from the hospital.  Though Jenney’s words and actions stayed with me, I had transitioned into my normal life of school and friends, her memories a shadow held in a distant yet bittersweet corner of my heart.  While I struggled with every aspect of this move, I more than anything wanted to check in the hospital one more time, and that's when I found nurse Yang.

Nurse Yang worked in our room sometimes when I stayed in the hospital that week but I never ran into her before in all my visits, it was almost like she was hiding from me.  That day, she was waiting in the room, our room, and told me in hushed voices that she was not supposed to say anything, but she knew I had been back many times, and she wanted to let me know what had happened to Jenny.

Jenny's parents had wanted to try an advanced experimental surgery to correct her heart defect once for all.  It was very risky, but Jenny wanted to try it too.  They moved her to the specialist hospital for the surgery, thinking she'd stay there until she’d completely recovered from it.  But she never did, as the surgery created a complication and she passed away shortly after that.

I could hardly remember how I walked out of the hospital that day, but I remember shaking so much my muscles ached later, like I was hit again with deadly fevers, and for moments I almost wished I were. So afraid I was to be discovered that I had learned something I was not supposed to, I hid my tears like I thought Jenny would have done, and held my head high like her, whenever someone walked by me.  But when the night was set and the world settled down for bed, her pale and translucent face, her lighter than wind physique, and her gentle laughter would come in and out of my dreams often, breaking my heart and my dreams over and over again with all that I remembered of her and all that I imagined she’d become.  This continued until the drama in my own life grew to a proportion that overshadowed her visits with a dream of a different kind, darker and scarier. 

I want to think of Jenny as being misplaced in another hospital, not another world like what the nurse had told me.  She had simply gone for a visit, that's all.  I want to believe that someday I would turn the corner and run into her, and though we'd both changed we'd still know, instantly, who we were and who we are, even as we stand and stare at each other for an eternity.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Part I of this story was called [Jenny On the Side]
* * * 
I woke up with a start at the edge of a dream with silent screams until I could feel cold sweat dripping down my forehead and my spine.  The room was quiet, peppered with the sound of children snoring, but not much else was going on.  The wind had died down, so even from the height of this fourth floor children's ward, you could hear no whistling against the windows as usual and the tips of branches swayed only gently on occasion.  It seemed everything was quieting down for the moon to rise and take center stage, spilling its soft glow over onto our bed covers, silver plating the metal IV stands, and rescuing the concrete floor from its ugly day dress of harshness and bland into a soft pattern of spots and shadows.

I focused on breathing deeply like Jenny had taught me, but my thoughts were so jumbled as I had dreamed about her.  I had convinced her to become my sister so we could play together all the time.  But when I took her outside to meet my friends and play jump rope, she had collapsed, grasping her heart, her face so pale, eyes closed, no matter how hard I shook her and called her name.

I turned to see Jenny lying safely in the bed next to mine, and when I concentrate, I could see her chest rising and falling under the covers just so slightly but evenly.  I knew I just had a bad dream, probably because of what happened earlier that day.

Tommy from across the hall had been released in the morning, and when nurse Yang had taken him around to say goodbye, I was sitting next to Jenny playing cards.  She looked up at him, recognizing the packed up bundle nurse Yang was holding, and the plain clothes Tommy was wearing, and her face turned dark like the once blue summer sky covered by rain clouds minutes before the storm.   I imagined she was going to cry next,  but she smiled instead.  She walked up and punched Tommy lightly on the arm, and said:

"Hey, now we could finally have some peace around here.  No more Tommy trucks coming through, huh?!"

Tommy had been a very talkative eight year old, and he snored so unabashedly we could hear him on warm nights when the doors are left ajar.  We teased him relentlessly but he just put up huge grins on that ruddy red face of his.  His voice may have been a bit too loud, but his friendly and hearty laughs stuck with us.  Though it's only been a few days since I'd known him, I was not happy to see him go either.

Tommy returned Jenny's touch with a gentle pat, uncharacteristic for him but not surprising either, considering how frail Jenny looked.   We said our goodbyes, and just before he turned to leave, he looked at us and said:

"Please come and visit me when you are better, I live on the street right next to the bell tower, number 79,  just ask around for me."

With that, he was gone.  I blinked my eyes a few times to check if he was a dream, but I knew he wasn't when I looked at Jenny.  She was even paler than before, her brows twisted into a knot and her eyes hollowed out like two bowls of emptiness.  "Tommy had only been here for two weeks..." she later said. It occurred to me then that she hadn't seen her parents for as long, and that she was wondering when would she finally "be better" and be released like every other child into the arms of family and, more permanent friends.

The thought had cut into me like when I stepped onto a piece of broken glass the other day.  I could only imagine how Jenny felt watching everyone who came in here leave so quickly.  I wanted her to stop hurting, but I did not know how.

* * *

I had always wanted a sister.  The courtyard I lived in housed fifteen families, nine of which had sisters in the family, the other five had brothers.  My brother was the "cool hand Luke" of the neighborhood, regardless of biological relationships, the boys living in the 200 yard vicinity followed him around like puppy dogs.  The girls however, made me envious of their sisterly bond.  Somehow, my brother was always too far away to rescue me from the younger sister who slapped me for grabbing her tea cup a bit too harshly, or from the older sister who double slapped me for making her younger sister cry, even if she was just faking crocodile tears.

So when I saw Jenny blue over the departure of Tommy, or any children for that matter, I had an idea.

Why couldn't she be my sister? 

In my mind, it was the perfect solution to everything.  She would go and live in my house, and we'd play and go to school together.  Mom and Dad are so busy with their work, they'd hardly notice it and we'd take care of ourselves even better with Jenny around. 

But Jenny had pointed out she still needed to stay in the hospitals and in my zealous attempt to help with her sadness, I had forgotten how ill she was at the same time. 
Next day at my check up the doctor gave me a clean bill of health, and that meant soon it would be my turn to say goodbye to the gang at the hospital, and to Jenny.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


photo courtesy of Google images

"Good night",  and with that, my brother Luo shut the light and returned to his room.  I stare out the window in search of a star, a street lamp or a shot of moonlight, in vain.  I think I see shadows, but mostly I thought about him - my friend Haoyi.

Yanyan told me this morning that Haoyi was locked into the storage room by his uncle and I opened my mouth to respond but nothing came out.  I picture him in that windowless "cell", fist pounding on the door, skin giving way to the inflexible reality of wood and metal.  He'd not care about that, even if he is bleeding. He'd shout and scream, even if no one is listening.  He'd jump and climb, even if there is no way out.  Jin Wei told me later that he was locked for running to the river to meet us last night.  His uncle, it turned out, thought poorly of his report card and had wanted him to spend the summer in lock up and "reflect on it".

Well, probably not about grades, report card or anything like that.

But would he reflect on the beginning of the year when we first met?  That incident at the cafeteria on the first lunch had got us both in arms.  Then I heard his laugh, it was more like a howl, yet when he wore it with the confident of a young wolf, everyone accepted it; and soon, him.   I didn't know his secret, but he was always the one igniting classroom pranks, often to the dismay of his teacher and the delight of his buddies.

Or would he reflect on our first trip together, when we officially formed "the group" with Yanyan and others?  We, not exactly orphans of the seventh grade, but left behind as our parents went aboard to study or to work, and to secure a brighter future.  We bonded over our fate, along bike trails, amongst the soaring pines and wild flowers dotting their fragrance over the mountains just beyond the city walls. 

Last night Jin had kissed Yanyan for the first time under the big willow besides the river banks. I had blushed like it was me, and I blushed some more when I turned to see Haoyi's dark eyes flew over to me, somehow flashing a spark under that mop of curly black hair of his.  I turned to look away, then back, then away again, mustering words that had completely escaped me, which was rare.  The same seemed to be happening to him, though his dark skin betrayed no changes of color, lucky bastard.

So instead of meeting at the river like we always did for summer nights, among the company of frogs, dragonflies and fireflies, we are each lying wide awake thinking about each other, and our little group.  Mostly I thought about him, wishing and hoping that the knock, quiet as a mouse, quieter than the sound of a rock hitting my window, is from him, coming for our first kiss.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The door creaks loudly when she pushes it open.  It startles her but she steps out onto the warm patio.  The pale concrete and white fences doubles the voltages on the already bright sunlight, blinding her momentarily.  She slips on her glasses as she walks pass Tommy's ultra zen patio just steps beyond Andrea's, decorated with a single tasteful tea blooming tea tree.

She walks on to see Sally's the one already out with her husband Kent, firing up the grill.  A minor miracle it seems, as they stand in a patch of hardly visible open space among two prized roses, snow white cup shaped lilies against tall dark leaves that is as much art as plants, and several hanging pots of pink and white blooms.  A line of topiary hedges stand in attention towards the back wall, turning out that new generation of spring green leaves rebelling against the neat dark lines drawn by their ancestors.   On a tall stool, a plate of tender cut steaks lounge in a spa of marinates and exotic spices.  She waits, for that first sizzle, when all prep work completes and a piece lands onto the grill. 

"Sss.... crack!"   The coal explodes at the excitement of fragrant fat drippings splashing down onto its hot surface.  A firework of flavors flew up all around the patio, so palpable she almost reaches out with her tongue to catch a morsel.  "Ah...", she hears the collective inhale of the neighborhood including her own, a valiant attempt at drinking in the taste molecules, quenching the thirst of their parched palettes. 

"Hello Marianne, how are you this evening?"  Sally finally looks up and her round face blossom into greeting itself.  Kent nods stoically yet convey no less welcome at the sight of Marianne stepping out.

"I am fine, thank you."  Pulled from her world of silent thoughts and imaginations at light speed, she nearly stumbles and falls from motion sickness and disorientation.  She casts her eyes quickly to the ground, not realizing the residual frown between her brows escaped no one.  "Your dinner smells wonderful..."  she adds after a pause and some thought, as she moves to leave.  She can't manage her social masks with her observing neighbors somehow.  Perhaps it is like a neglected grill crusted in frozen icicles, a significant warm up time is needed before it can get properly lit up again. 

"Thank you, we like to use the grill".  Sally replied as Kent bends down to wipe off the bit of sweat forming on her forehead, a gesture too intimate in its thoughtful consideration and everyday familiarity.  She flees with a quick: "Thanks but I've got to head out...."

"Have a good evening Marianne!"  Sally chants cheerful behind her, waving with her spatula over the top of the fences.  Marianne waves back with a half smile on her way out to a painfully slow escape.

Her own patio just a few low walls apart from Sally's is not without life.  A few pots of Aloe Vera, split from the one mum had given her a year ago, are thriving under her mindful negligence and nature's seasonal rainfall designed for its survival.  She likes to think of them as babies, of the original plant except she can no longer tell which is which.  They are equally green, pointy and sharp against the otherwise deserted concrete slab that is her patio.

She tried but couldn't push away memories of lush growth from the past, plants that won competitions. Prized roses, artful lilies covering the colors of the rainbow,  thirsty but bountiful hydrangeas and her favorite, fragrant blooming tea trees.  Children, from those who coo and giggle in the snuggles of her embrace, to those who ran and hop and investigate snails, lizards and toads, used to crawl, stroll or run happily in her expansive garden, lined with soaring spruce, maple and pines.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Blessings Of The Week

Inspired by a blogging friend Happy Frog and I, I wanted to occasionally do a "round up" sort of post.  Inline with the name of this blog, it will be called "blessings of the week".

  1. The moment I pressed "e-file" on all the various tax forms was one of pure relief.  This came after several long days (weeks? can't recall) of figure crunching, which utterly eludes me despite of my Asian heritage and fairly respectable education records.
  2. The Boy came home yesterday with a cut and swollen lip yesterday from an aimless basketball.  I applied ice and we watched a movie together while his hands are occupied holding up the ice pack.  The afternoon felt like a weekend, peppered with occasional ice cream pops and refreshing cold drinks.
  3. He went on CCN (A school broadcasting network almost entirely staffed by kids) as an all star anchor person delivering the news and orchestrating the switching of the programs.  I almost couldn't recognize the child before me, remembering his slight stutter and deer in the headlight look during his kindergarten debut on the same program.
  4. Booked and looking forward to the trip a bit up north during spring break.
  5. Having a new career path laid out, one that fits my talent and personality so brilliantly and one that is in the company of such creative minds at Google: 
  6. The weather has stopped going through the yo-yo this week, and seem to be heading full speed to summer. Everywhere you look, there are colorful skirts and sandals dancing up and down the quiet gray sidewalks. I defrost my perpetually cool skin in the sun long and often, with only a hammock missing.
  7. During one of the rainy days I was driving around feeling as moody as the sky which alternated between a blast of sun and hails all day long.  Then a ladybug landed my window and gave me inspiration for this little tweet:
    a ladybug lands on my window, 
    while clouds push the sun behind puffy shadows. 
    The rain sings in crescendo, 
    when I dance over that pesky puddle.


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