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home : arts : arts Wednesday, November 22, 2017

3/21/2017 4:19:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride Chapter Two - Ugly Crabgrass

By Kerry Xiong

I lay in bed and remember Grandpa's stories. Though I'm grown now, I can still remember the sound of grandpa's voice. The way he'd clear his throat free of mucous each time he began. How his face would wrinkle as he spoke fervently about the characters, lengthening his vowels and pursing his lips. And I'd laugh.

If he were here now, he'd have a say about Mom and Goua's argument today. He is an elder and wants to see us children get on in life. Courtship. Marriage. He'd probably chastise me about my age. Eighteen years is too old for a maiden. But I wouldn't have been put-off or angry by that. Goua, my sister, probably would though. She is one year younger than me, seventeen, but this is still quite old.

Today, Goua and Mother had argued again. But Goua didn't cry; she never does. Mother seems to yell at her more often lately. Goua, an avid fan of rest, does not work very hard at the farm - nor at home. She particularly loathes the life of a housewife anyway, so can care less if no one courts her. This is sad for Meng, the gentleman that has been coming around for her.

"May I also come to help you farm tomorrow?" Meng had asked her that day. It was late June, and our farm had been sowed earlier in the month. The skies were clear and air mild. It was due time for weed plucking in the field, and Goua, of all people, should know that more hands were appreciated. But she didn't express so.

"Stop being a work-crazed," Goua had chided. "You act as if you've nothing better to do."

"Of course, son, you may accompany us," Mother had interrupted, giving Goua an evil eye.

And that was that.

When he'd left, Goua exploded to Mother, saying, "You want him to come to the farm so badly, then YOU go with him."

"Lazy as YOU, you should be thankful that a man wants to be close to you!" Mother had rebuked. It was unkind, yes. But over the years, Goua and Mother can only stand to speak to each other in this tone.

Night came on. Goua and I lay silently in bed. I listen to the sound of crickets mating outside our wall.

"Yuyen?" Goua says.


"Why must we marry?"

"Because we are girls and we'll need a man's strength to help us farm for the future," I say.

"Why don't you talk to any men?"

I turn to her and wrap an arm around her waist. "I'm not as pretty as you, Goua." I hear her smile. "And I'm older, too, so no one would want to court me."

She turns to face me. "You think I was too mean to Meng?"

"Do you?"

She looks away and doesn't respond.

"Cheer up. When he comes tomorrow, you can make it up to him."

Morning has a natural way of waking us. Usually, the slits on our bamboo wall invites slivers of sunlight that warms where it touches. I don't get to wake up to this today. But Goua will. She needs it more than I. I must get up before the sun to prepare for the farm. It is my routine - grinding corn, pounding away rice husks for the day's meals, cooking breakfast, wrapping lunch in banana leaves, and gathering our tools. When Mother and Father awake, Goua helps me serve breakfast before our one-hour walk to the farm.

I carry the heavier load this morning so Goua will feel less burdened. She hadn't spoken a word all morning, not even to me. Mother and Father, with hlau (garden tool) held over shoulder, she walks ahead of us.

"Cheer up," I say, looping my arm through hers.

Goua twist her lips in disdain. Her eyes dart ahead to Mother, as if cursing her in her head. "Mother treats me like I'm an animal up for sale." She pauses, waiting for my counter-affirmation.

I smiled slyly. "Your pretty face will afford us a good bride's price, no doubt." Goua snaps her tongue and throws my arm away from her. She laughs and hits me lightly.

We finally reach the hillside of our sloped farm. The lot is so vast; stretching in the far west to the east, where up high sat the gleaming sun. At a glance, it seems inconceivable how only a few pair of hands can tend to this whole plot of land. But it is always the case that the thought of it seems way worse than the work itself.

I make my way down the slanted hillside careful not to crush the little buds that had sprouted. The dirt is hard and hot under my feet, so dry that I can sense my heels starting to callus. Yet, the air is wet and forgiving as if it had just rained. But that is unlikely as it usually rained in July.

My teeth churn as I noticed the ugly crabgrass that had sprouted alongside our plantings. I bring out my hlau and begin pounding the rock-hard ground. Goua does the same.

"No sign of Meng?" I ask Goua. Hands over her hips, she breaks to catch her breath.

"No," she manages.

"See, don't be so unkind to him or else you will regret his not coming." I tease, knowing well the undeniable connection between them.

I bring an arm to dry my hairline of sweat, when suddenly a heavy wind whips across my body, throwing me off balance. The rush passes through me, bringing on a cold sensation to my arms and travels to my fingertips. I shake my head lightly and blink a few times. The world appears... foggy all of a sudden. The mountain range looks faint and indistinct. The trees surrounding our farm are out of focus. Goua, I want to call out but cannot speak. My lips tremble. I cannot feel my arms or legs. What is happening? Why am I inaudible?

It is as if time had slowed. My head is spinning. Or is it the world? I tumble onto my side; my body feels paralyzed. I hear my own heartbeat as my chest rose and sunk, my breathing hastening. The dirt is warm against my cheek, but that does not comfort me. I feel the ground shake as Goua, not far from me, pounds away. I can hear the arduous strikes of her hlau into the hard soil, scraping away the ugly crabgrass with a satisfying crunch. Mother and Father are on the other side of the hill; they can't help me. What is happening to me?

In the far distance, I see something. A glow. A glitter, almost. From far away is a sparkling lake beyond the trees. But something else lurks there, in the forest. Peeking out from a bush is a pair of pale, pronounced horns, like that of the Ghost Deer's. But it soon fades. I blink my eyes. Was it an illusion? No. Because even more distinct now, I see it. Standing in its place, at the edge of the forest among the trees, is a man. A tall man. Taller than Meng. He is dressed in shimmering New Year's clothes.

I hear Goua's voice. But the world goes dark.

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