The Fall

Vega was only equipped with the knowledge that she was here before, an irrational optimism and the desire to undo the seal that doomed her to oblivious uselessness. Now the time called for unthinkable measures, and she didn’t want to think about what mother would do…or even worse, the expression of sheer disappointment and worry upon her father’s face, if she ever see her parents again. They only ever wanted to protect her, love her, and she appreciated it, but she couldn’t bear to see them shoulder everything.

It was her turn to help, they cannot carry the world with their sheer power for so long. So she snuck out in the dead of the night, went to where she knew her mother store the seal. She really should be more careful, her assumptions about her own child’s limited powers allowed her to get so far. The moment she seized the green jewelry and it immediately answered her will, she realized she was so confident that she assumed she was going to return on time, that she didn’t even kiss pa and ma goodbye, didn’t notice the little fluff that hooted and leapt after her right after the bright light engulfed her.

All she felt was the tug of gravity, and she was falling.

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The Girl

She had a monster, and he agreed to tame it.

He heard the door ring and knew it was her and opened the door. His sister showered him in thanks, made promises of her child’s angelic qualities, hugged said child, hugged him, and was gone.

“So, it’s just the two of us,” Only several hours, but he grumbled to himself. “Stop staring and get your ass in here.”

The little girl blinked at the harsh tone of voice, glared at the language by narrowing her large almond eyes, a splitting image of the mother that just left. “A true gentleman invites his guest into his household.”

Ah, it’s been a while since he’s heard that tongue he hated; so he turned, left the door ajar and her with the decision to follow suit or not, “That was an invitation, enough,” He added. “And, I am no gentleman.”

She pouted.

****

She evolved. It only took a month.

“Uncle, uncle,” She would call in her sweet voice, musical like her father’s. “What are you doing?” Her small chin would then place itself upon the edge of his table, her small hands grabbing the sides to see.

“Work,” He grunted just beyond the patter of keyboard. “Go and finish destroying my living room, please.”

For a six years old, she was quick to catch on sarcasm, “I didn’t destroy it last time, it was just…furnishing.”

“Wow, ‘furnishing,’” He angled his laptop just enough to meet her demanding gaze. “Such a big word. Do you even know what it means?”

“Of course!”

“Well, the random paint splatters don’t seem to agree.”

“The walls were too boring!” She crossed her short arms. “Just like you.”

“Oh, too bad that this boring uncle was going to take you out for ice cream, but since you think it so boring — ”

“ — Yay, ice cream!” As she dashed out of the room, presumably to get her purple boots even though it was the middle of summer, he couldn’t help but smile.

But that simple exercise stung, smiling took too much and he just opted to press the knots in his back and hand.

****

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Don’t have one.”

“Why?”

He regretted his honesty, didn’t think that would call for even more questioning. “Don’t really have time for that kind of things?”

“Then what do you have time for?”

He opened his mouth to speak, the hand in his doesn’t seem so small all the sudden.

He wanted to snap, “Walking annoying children across the street to sight see,” but blurted instead, “You.”

It’s the same thing, same idea, he just didn’t want to waste that many words on her, that’s all. She smiled and pointed at another fluffy puppy.

****

Her condition made her older than her age. She knew she was special, that she was born with too much power, that her existence was unusual.

“Mommy said she named me after a bright star,” The girl was proud, musing in childish existentialism wrapped in blankets, staring at the stars hiding behind storm clouds and flashes of lightning. “If I die, I can be a supernova.”

“You won’t die,” His voice demanded no argument, though the words were nothing that he expected to pair with a cup of chocolate as he handed her her own mug. “I will make sure of it.”

She whispered a small thank you, snuggled with her blanket until that was insufficient and she went to him, stared at him a little before demanding a warm hug and fell asleep in his arms.

****

He knew all would come to an end, eventually. As he watched the girl levitating his living room’s sparse decor with the latest spell he taught her — also to be his latest regret — he caught himself beaming idiotically with stupid pride. He was grinning stupidly, and it was less painful now, he scoffed at himself, continued reading.

“Uncle, uncle!” She sounded far, probably strayed away to the dining room to steal some cookies on his unawares. “Uncle!”

The last call was too shrill to be playful, and he shot out of his seat to her in a panicked tumble, tripped on a dangerous chair and slipped on coloring pencils. God, his apartment was turning into a kindergarten, he forgot fear like this until now.

She curled into a little ball on the kitchen floor, a shattered jar of cookies next to her. She used her spell, he guessed, and that was the limit. So small, sobbing, he lulled her in his arms and convinced her that all was just a well-timed shadow, an imagined face she often pointed out within the tiles or towels and no ghosts plagued her mind.

“They said such horrible things,” The tears washed his shirt. “They were here.”

He knew this day would come, and that her visits were all for this day, anyway. Only a couple of months, a child take so little time to trust and attach. So, she, too, will forget. He, again, would live but be forgotten; but, he learned to smile and that was enough, “Forget, then, my sweet star. Sleep and dream, for the nightmares would be gone when you wake and see.”

And so she closed her bright, teary eyes, dreamed.

****

“So, you’ve done it?”

“Sealed her powers, and she should be fine as long as she doesn’t remember.”

“I cannot express my thanks.”

Nor can I, he watched the woman turning to her love, who carried the sleeping child in a careful cradle. They paid their respects, but he was simply paying his dues. They left just like the way they came, silent.

He was left, again, just like the way before, silent, though the corner of his mouth curled rebelliously.

XLI.

It really didn’t help stabilize the earth beneath him when a man-crow carrying his beloved niece literally swooped down before him. He was faint, and the need to maintain an assuring smile for Athlemwas a chore he did not anticipate to be so bothersome. Athlem tugged herself closely to his side, rebuked his stubbornness in remaining standing with a quiet glare and pursed lips.Lyra threw herself at the two of them in renewed joy, which Horatio appreciated but did not understand, “What’s wrong, you saw us mere instances earlier.”

The girl mumbled, “I know…but it felt much longer.”

They set out for Etzion soon after, unwilling to indulge in the moment of familial unity lest it be ruined by the more clever ones of the searching guards. It was quieter than Lyra was accustomed since Jiube had yet to acceot the two additions to their travels: its owner seemed to share the same sentiment, preferring to scout ahead or to stay behind with Jiube’s temperamental whims. 

A few days into their travels, the Creator doused the world in His mighty tears. In response, they’ve found refuge within an inn intending to stay the night to give Horatio time to inform his brother and not ambush the Etzion king with an unannounced visit. As Horatio went to find ink and leaves while Aldebaran for the mysterious whereabouts of Jiube, Lyra found herself alone with Athlem. The older woman perched upon the bed meditatively, her usual disguise shed: the usually closely plaited hair were freed into a gentle flow of silken locks framing her tender cheeks. Just how could one possibly be fooled to think her a man? Perhaps men thought that a mind so brilliant cannot be feminine, and that women were only characterized by their fragile, shapely forms to be worshiped, which unflattering clothes could easily hide. 

The thin shower of lights from one of the brief breaks of pouring rain fell across the physician’s lap, striped her shoulders, illuminated hair. As Athlem gathered the miniscule warmth from the dull stripe of light before her, Lyra rummaged through so many questions conceived during her misadventures, dared — prompted by the sense of security and the warmth of company — to recollect the images, those flashes of darkness came to focus. Cruel words spat at her face, the spit merely a disgusting guise for valuable information. What did that despicable priest want from her again…?

“The seal,” Her mouth found the words before her mind put together a coherent thought. “Have you heard of it? The traitors seemed to be in search for it.”

“Seal?” A voice of continued dreamy contemplation. “Perhaps…but if Lord Claud sought the thing upon my mind, he is very much misguided.”

“Oh?”

“The seal…I am not perfectly knowledgeable of it, for even Horatio knew very little, is an artifact of sort. An inheritance from your grandfather that was meant to be passed down to his heir. Some suggested that he gave it to his favorite son, Lucem, instead, and I hardly have any clue as to what type of incredible power it harnessed nor its whereabouts. But, what good had it done its supposed owner?”

Lyra was bitterly disappointed by the revelation, but grateful for the confirmation of her inferences and moved to more trivial topics. Then odd, bright colors twinkled and smiled playfully.

“I must ask.” Lyra tilted her head in silent inquiry, “Of the Nokshan, I meant.”

Lyra wasn’t sure why she turned away, hiding a burning cheek, “What of him?” Was she smiling?

“Are you fond of him?”

“What, no!” The snap was too loud to be blameless: as always, the physician’s diagnosis was flawless.

“Do you know,” Athlem teased her flustered niece. “A Nokshan’s familiar is connected to his mind and soul.” Lyra could not help but burst out laughing at the thought of the fluffball and the stoic Nokshan being so intermittently linked. 

Athlem continued, “Don’t you think Jiube is quite fond of you?” Then the fluffball ceased to be funny.

Lyra froze mid-laugh, scoffed, “Stop that, it’s only because I feed it so much.”

“Oh, so you are his soul’s food.”

“Ath, please,” Lyra drew her legs to accompany her in her contemplation. “How in love could he be with an individual who stabbed and nearly killed him?”

Athlem was undeterred by the denial, “I supposed I am not one to judge or say from a study over several short days, but just don’t be fooled by yourself.”

“I know,” She knew the physician’s words were dual-sided.

“Just because he is the first decent man you have ever met besides your uncle doesn’t necessarily mean that he is the only one,” Athlem gave a conclusive nod. “And your uncle sets an incredibly low standard for ‘decent’ characters, anyhow.”

As though sensitive to such attack upon his character, Horatio knocked upon the door and stuck his head in at the utterance of the last line; he blinked a few times, “What did I do this time?”

Athlem raised a brow, “Not only is he guilty, he is clueless: one of the many offenses, perhaps, is barging into conversations unannounced? That is quite an indicator of cheap characters indeed.”

Horatio rolled his eyes, “I am merely here to innocently report that I’ve sent my (very much unreadable) letter and that, as always, you are beautiful.” 

Athlem snapped and threw a cushion, “You smug little–” Horatio quickly shut the door, the pillow struck the handle and the two laughed.

Lyra marveled at the delight and warmth of these brief moment of domestic felicity, could not help but loosed her usual leash upon her imagination: if she was in Athlem’s place, meditating, reaching her hand into the sparkles of sunlight. She would jest with her beloved whose perfect features would wrinkle in feigned hurt at her banter, the cool midnight then quip back in wit at her.

She hated it, the whole idea, of course. She blushed. At her foolishness, of course. 

So he said…

So he said, “My daughters would never want to commit suicide: even if they do, then that’s just too bad since life has so many burdens harder than college decisions,” when my mother urged him to stop throwing temper tantrums this month.

Hours later, he texted her, threatening her that he would kill himself if she continue to work at the magazine company she recently joined.

So he said, “Girls should only be educated so they would be more reasonable,” when I asked him about his opinions of women’s education.

He spat those words over a bowl of rice that was meant to be shared between the four of us as it wolfed it down, slurping miso soup and drowning pork katsu that he forced us to order even though we all hated fried things.

So he said, “It’s funny because I would want my daughters to be independent, but my wife should just stay home and make sure everything is good.”

Another bite of katsu. My sister set her chopsticks too hard onto the table while my mother shushed her. A “but you are part of the problem” escaped. Days later, he demanded to see everything in my sister’s phone since she came back from interning at the most prestigious research facility in Taiwan 10:00 p.m. since she wanted to buy some desserts before heading home. He suspected that she has a life.

How dare she have a life.

So he said, “Why didn’t you tell me her college decisions earlier so I don’t have to worry?” when my mother told him about my UCLA acceptance and scholarship a few hours after it came out.

I looked at my future. It’s as cloudy as my mother’s brows as he continued to bicker and threaten divorce, suicide while she continued to hide the atrocity from me.

You know, the usual.

So he said, “Is $200,000 enough? If we sell the house you are living in right now, sell your stocks, and I give you some money, we will have that. The three of you can live off of that for a while. Would you settle with that?” when he threatened divorce, again.

How could he know? That’s the amount he didn’t pay when my sister went to UCSD full ride. That’s the amount he would have to pay had I not also secure nearly equally financially beneficial deals with my colleges. I suppose I will no choices when it comes to my college decisions.

So he said, “You guys are so cold and logical” whenever we tried to reason with him.

Cold? I wish that I am frozen, logical enough to know that it’s not my fault when mother is forced to put up with him. How can I logically convince myself that I am not a shackle, and that my absence would allow her freedom? Am I not the cage? Her fear of her daughters being fatherless, her daughters being declared the “children of divorce” kept her there.

How much would it take so he would stop? I suppose I can only experiment.

Pen

As I wrote with it I wondered if my mother knew of my elation and glee when I discovered that this was the pen of my favorite bedtime story, of her tales of her father. And finally I was worthy of holding its ink black body.

Excalibur could not have given me better assurance.

As I continued to write I wondered, does my grandfather know? When he, working his multiple jobs and dancing around the wealthy spheres of rich people, would find this pen as he cleaned out the backseat of his taxi, and that this pen will be my sword, my joy and my love? I know that he thought about returning it, he told my mother that, but he wasn’t sure how he would contact the dozens of people whose lives had bounced off from his life faster than a ping-pong ball against table corners the second they paid and left.

So, he adjusted his cap, unnecessarily straightened the half-empty bottle of coca cola in his cup holder as his thoughts temporarily quenched his constant thirst for the sugary drink (that his family later named author of his diabetes, which is in term the author of his bedridden state). He thought of his daughter…her eyes bright but her mind brighter.

When was the last time he’s gotten her something?

So, he slipped the thing into his shirt pocket, into his daughter’s hands, and now

into mine.

Now, now, the pen bleeds into tales, now, weaving fantasy and dreams and objects of the metaphysical. One of them is about a girl with her grandfather’s pen, which he found it in the back of his taxi.

Chinese New Year

This is the time of the year when I am typically encouraged to do things in excess: eat a lot of traditional foods that are supposedly directly related to good luck, smile a lot at church friends or relatives like a seasoned politician meeting their voters as ballets of judgement in the form of gossips are casted, cringe a lot as the presence of my father guarantees unnecessarily awkward situations and grin a lot as the red, incensed envelopes under pillows are a lot more detectable than the princess’s pea.

Or perhaps it could be more like yesterday night — for just like Christmas, the actual feasts of Chinese New Year happens the night before — just the four of us at home, the winds whipping windows while we wait for one of us to ruin the moment of seeming perfection.

Fried Rice

The restaurant bloomed with conversation, laughter and aromas of foods world-renowned. From tables to tables men and women confined by western vests and crisp shirts and formalities of service offered refills of tea paired with polite, forced smiles to contrast with the genuine ones of their customers. I don’t blame them, though, since they had no reason to smile through labor. Besides, I, too, donned the mask of cordiality.

The disaster took off later than I expected: the four of us had already been seated, and my sister has yet to wince too audibly at the way my father emptied the teacup with an ambition that he has never applied to business or relationships. When we browsed through the menu with the expected glee of immigrants returning to the warm waters of their home country, surrounded by authentic dim sum from Ding Tai Fung, my father glared through his nostrils at the menu he grabbed from mom.

He set the book flat on the table and pointed repeated at an item with his middle finger, and my sister arched an eyebrow: this was no expected behavior of a doctor, much less a father, “What about it? Use your tongue.” I jabbed at her ribs with my elbow, and she flinched and marked the order sheet with a tally.

As we waited for food, my sister and I continued marveling at the mind-blowing plot of a video game while mom marveled at her two daughters’ endless, giddy chatter, her chin rested upon her hands cracked with house chores and her petite frame squeezed against the wall of the booth. He occupied about 80% of the seat, most of which were just his arms colonizing the table.

We moved up from the video game to something I was more interested in, “He message me yesterday, and –”

“– Last time when I came here, I was with Pastor Yen,” Oh, here we go again. “We ordered…”

…A beef noodle soup and a basket of pork dumplings. Each. I made a mental tally upon a wall of marks, more maimed than the prison walls in cartoons or mangas. The same story, again. The same lisp and awkward pauses for thoughts. The same jokes.

And, if we don’t laugh, he would repeat the tantrum: the second we get home he would snap at my mother once they are alone. “You guys always exclude me.” “You guys don’t care about me.” “You guys are ungrateful money suckers.”

I have many walls of tallies, yet I never wanted to use them.

So I laughed, swallowed the bitterness of sarcasm with a gulp of tea and laughed. Asked questions like the studious pupil I strove to be. Listened and nodded and attempted to catch those expressionless eyes dulled by stubborn ignorance and ignorant stubbornness.

Bless the Lord, the food came.

Bamboo baskets veiled by water vapor followed by wontons stirred in spicy sauces topped with glimmers of dark green scallions, all harbingers the object whose picture my father assaulted with his relentless middle-finger tapping, an even mound mounted with its somber, white plate.

Out of politeness my mother complimented, “That looks delicious” as the plate of fried rice was gestured to be set in front of my father.

“Past Yen’s favorite dish,” He said, a spoon raised, prepared to unearth the bone white bottom of the plate.

“Fried rice is my favorite, too,” I blurted out.

Except I wouldn’t order it here in a restaurant. Fried rice belongs to the sanctity of home, spread out on a plain dish or packed into a bento, not mounted in a mound that Emily Dickinson would write about.

“Would you want to try…” My mother started, but saw that he’s already wolfed down half of the small hill, now crumbling with each hungry slurp.

“I thought we would order things to share…” My sister got another jab from me and returned a “Hey!”

Throughout this conversation my father did not pause in his thorough vacuuming of the plate.

Ha, for this is the only time he would ever deign to vacuum.

It was only when he was done that he sat back, belched, and scratched at his belly.

“Was that…good?” I ventured conversation.

Of course, he didn’t hear. He never hears. Instead, he draughted my mother’s tea cup despite her protest and began, “You know, last time we were here, Pastor Yen said…”

I stabbed the pork dumpling on my plate and watched it weep in my stead.