some will tell you I am a liar. Perhaps
they will say this memory is just mine alone, for there is only one
picture of her.
Only one. Taken the summer before her marriage. She is standing in a
wind, the ends of her sleeves suspended in midair. Her shirt is the
ash. She is squinting as well; it must be the sun. Behind her, a fading
cloudless sky that betrays nothing. Like the arms that hang limply at
sides. Like the mouth that has become one crease. Wisps of ebony hair
her eyes. Her skin must smell of fresh lavender and dew.
I never knew who she was.
this though: She was fifteen
when she was married away. Indeed, she had been promised shortly after
birth, her family’s line already fading from a litter of
daughters. She spent a
single year with him in the town of P—, inside that terrible home
endless halls, the hanji-papered
walls, deep within the belly between its wings. She would move quietly
the maze of rooms, the newest mistress of this estate that could house
entire army of brightly robed sons. As she stepped carefully through
hallways, the maidservants would stop their sweeping, their fixing and
perpetual polishing. They stood close to the walls and bowed deeply
nodded. Yes, carry on.
for all this calmness, for all
the elm wood chests filled with crimson silks, the balconies branching
hidden rooms housing ancient scrolls consecrated with faint writing,
this the paths still led to one place, the one body that possessed
territories, whose name was lord. He was the tiger’s shadow who
night, hungry for her, whose footsteps chanted through the hallways,
her room without a word, and she unwrapped herself before him.
was the first month of 1947. An awful coldness
in the air that was no cooler than his skin.
night, her quarters were always
dark; he preferred it this way. He preferred to steal underneath the
of shadows to find her awake on her bedding, or if she seemed to be
to pull away the heavy blankets and feel the formless breasts rise
involuntarily against his palms. She preferred the darkness too, though
never enough to cease his hands, or keep him from moving his body until
on top her own, until it devoured her whole and she could feel him
grimace. The delirious gaze that told her everything about him. And
who she was. The darkness never enough to hide this.
He would not stay with her to the
morning. Not the first night. Not once. Never. Without a word, he
into his robe and disappeared through the sliding door, the sight of
eventually erasing but not his smell, thick and without modesty,
her no matter how hard she scrubbed, or what petals she pressed against
wrists. All this apparent in the dawn’s dimness when she
awakened, the scent of
him there, there, and there.
the second month in the house in P—, she could already feel it
aching that woke her from slumber, from the center of a dream in which
could see her village still before her, the dogs padding along the main
filling the afternoon with their short yelps, their wet snooping, and
elder women are seated in small groups outside their doorways, smoking
reed pipes. They call out to her with their creaking voices, through
silver-studded teeth and plumes of breath, and soon the air is
from beyond the village outskirts, there is the steady noise of a river
louder. It’s a strong clamor, heavier than anything she has
known. She looks up
to see the mountains collapsing underneath the rushing water, entire
being swept toward her upon the river’s rage. And when the
current reaches her - it takes only a moment - she opens her eyes, and
stumbles from her
vomit into her wash bowl.
When he hears of this, look how
broadly he smiles. This man rewarding his handiwork with luminescent
halts his undressing, places his hand atop her belly. Where is the
he lights it to gaze upon the frail frame that will have to adjust if
child is to bear his kin.
If it is a boy, he tells her,
there will be a great celebration. A boar will be slaughtered and
roasted, an orchard will be harvested and its fruits set in pyramids
upon silver plates. Gold will be melted down and formed into heavy
rings, and plum wine will fill every cup for many nights. There will be
much feasting, perhaps a family holiday. Birth portraits will be
If it is a girl, well. She
can have another child, and another. And do
not despair if there are many girls, her daughters can help prepare for
the celebration when it comes.