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home : arts : arts Wednesday, November 22, 2017

5/8/2017 3:37:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride

By Kerry Xiong

My forehead is damp with sweat. I am awake and still alive. I know that for a fact because a heavy arm rests atop my belly. It's Goua. She's kicked off the bed sheets and is snoring obnoxiously like a lazy dog. I chuckle as I bring the covers up to her chin. How can such a pretty face belong to such a monstrous sound?

The rooster crows the first crow of morning. I peek through the gaps of our dried bamboo wall to check for the time. Darkness. It's still early. The sun is not yet up, but I must be. I sit up in bed and bring my cool hands to my flushed cheeks. They feel as hot as day. I sweat drenches my forehead despite the cool air of nighttime.

I come to my feet and see my reflection in the picture frame mirror hanging beside the bed. My reflection stares back at me. It's not too ugly. I'm not too ugly. My nose bridge sits higher than my sisters' and is thin and straight, my eyes, almond-shaped, are symmetrical and double-lidded, and my hair is thick and dark and long. Why is it that boys never court me?

I fold my hair into a long braid. Though I am well rested, the dark bags under my eyes and the droop of my cheeks tell otherwise. The odd thing is, I have never felt so alive. I recall the man in my dreams: He was so gentle, though his gaze was insistent and piercing. The sadness on his face was striking and memorable. His touch was an endearing sensation; though his fingers were rough, something in his eyes told me that he was not rough. It was a sensual feeling, one that I've never felt before.

My lips curl into a smile as I fold in the last strand of my hair into the braid and secure it with a string. Thoughts of him, of the unnamed man, makes me feel refreshed. My heart even hurts a little to have woken up. If only I could stay in the dream a little while longer. This feeling of excitement and anticipation, like going on a new adventure, would be longer-lived.

I head out to the back of our house to tend to my chores. I pound away the husks from a day's ration of rice grains and steam half of it for lunch. The morning air is much cooler at this time, when the sun is barely visible in the distance. But my mind is on nothing else but him. Hmong elders say that dreams are not surreal. They can tell you about your present or future. Is this unnamed man an important person to me?

I begin grinding a small pail of dried corn kernels for the pigs' morning and afternoon meals, a smile not leaving my face. Time moves so fast when I think of him. Is he from this town? Or the next? Or is he from far away? The mystery leaves me in such suspense; I don't know how to act, how to be, or who to tell. I see the faraway misty-blue mountains and wonder how it was that something so far is still be visible to a person? Are they even reachable, those mountains? How many days must one travel to get to reach them? To reach you? Or will you come to me?

The handle of the corn grinder halts as the crushed kernels empty from the base. I revolve the handle a few more rounds before refilling the top with uncrushed kernels. I don't know his name and I've never met him before. But something about him is familiar. His voice, maybe. Or was it his face? Regardless, I feel as though I can trust him when I am around him. There is nothing to fear. The only problem is that I have only seen him in my dream. But can a dream be a reality?

"Yu!" Goua calls from inside the house. She is up already. "Are you still feeling ill?"

I sweep the last bits of ground corn from under the grinder into my pail with my powdery hands. "I'm feeling fine," I say. I approach the front door.

She tilts a head at me. Her eyebrows wrinkle. "You sure you're okay?"

"Never better."

After a one-hour walk to the farm, we spend the next few hours to weeding out crabgrass. The field is nearly half done, and we must be diligent if we are to complete it by rainfall season. The sun heats the dark of my shirt, but my back burns from the inside out as I slouch over to club my hlau at the hardened dirt. Goua follows my lead, but takes frequent breaks. She walks across the field searching for cucumber vines that may have sprouted. It is a tactic we use, planting cucumbers at random within the main field, as it keeps the fruits hidden from hungry passerby.

Soon, we sit down for a lunch of white rice and salted ginger under the shade of the farm hut. Then we sit and rest for a while. The shade and breeze helps cool off the sweat from my nape.

"Let's get to work again," I say.

"You go first," Goua says. "I'm too hot; I'll rest for a bit."

I continue hammering away. The more we rest, the less progress we will make. My hlau scratches the hardened dirt with a clunk at each rake. Then suddenly...THUD. My hlau catches something hard. I go on my knees to reach for it, digging with my bare hands and scratching away the dirt with my fingernails.

My belly twists as if I've not yet eaten. My heart collapses inside my chest. I can't believe my eyes. It's a shiny scale like the one from my dream. What is it doing here?

"Yu! Are you ready to go home yet?" Goua calls from the hut at the hilltop.

I crouch down to hide the scale in my shirt. "You go first," I say. "Go and start on dinner. I'm going to go cut some pork greens by the creek and I will follow you home."

Goua gathers her hlau and lunch remains into her bamboo woven pack and lifts it onto her back. "Don't be too long," she says. She walks away and is soon out of sight.

When the farm is empty, there is an unsettling whistle in the air, like the wind is trying to speak. But I know that's not likely. Wind doesn't have life. Though spirits do. The sound jolts and becomes louder, now resembling the sound of a continuous beep. I suddenly feel like I wasn't alone. The skin on my back crawls. "Who is there?" I say out loud. Silence. The beep abruptly ceases. No one answers. Is someone toying with me? I want to scream, but know that ghosts and spirits feed off of fear. I suddenly regret telling Goua to go home. But it's okay. Everything will be fine. I'm just thinking too much.

I head down the hillside toward the river and pork greens. I only need a few slabs, and then I'll be on my way. My breathing hastens. But I remain calm.

My curved spear cuts through the stalks of banana trunks with ease, its bark peeling off in a loud slurp. My fingers are sticky with the trunk's mucus, but I don't mind it. By the time I throw the fourth trunk into my woven basket, my lips are trembling. I wipe my hands on my skirt and crouch to the ground to bring my basket to my back. My arms loop into the shoulder straps and I secure my grasp on it. The weight is heavier than I imagined. I straighten my legs anyway, but to my surprise, stumble back to the ground. My knees strike the loose rocks on the dirt ground, but I don't give in to the harsh impact. I get up again, but the load feels heavier this time a burning pain sears at my knee. A trickle of blood colors the rocks.

"Miss, you are hurt." A voice speaks from behind me. The hairs of my neck rise. The voice is familiar. A swift turn of my head brings me face to face with a familiar face.

All the aching in my arms, legs and heart arrests. My breath catches as I stare, unblinkingly. Dressed in black, striped-sleeve attire, stands a man. Not just any man. Him. The unnamed man from my dreams.

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