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home : arts : arts Friday, November 17, 2017

7/9/2017 10:21:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride

By Kerry Xiong

Yellow grasses sway with the wind like a vast meadow before our village. Innocent and unsullied, they line the sandy path that leads to the farm. I never knew they could grow lonely and angry, sprouting razor-sharp buds at their greening tips, grazing any calves, ankles and feet that dares pass them. As I zip across the field, each blade cuts deeper than would meet the eye, stinging like salt on scraped skin. The grass bends forward as I move through them, some crumpling under my feet. The pounding of my heels on the rock-hard earth sends shudders up my legs, each step heavier than the last. The farther I run across the field, the taller the grass becomes. Each wheat-like bud scrapes my forearms as I jolt through them, forming a path of my own. This was straying off of the normal path, the sandy feet-formed path that all villagers traveled. But I had to stray. I suck in breath at each cut. This pain is momentary. But losing Touzajer, that would be permanent. So I keep running. This is the shorter path toward Dragon Pond anyhow.

My breath hastens and my throat is dry. But I continue. Even as my legs burn, I remind myself of the crucial effort I am making in this very moment. If today ends, my fate is sealed. The Shaman's spell is complete and spirits can no longer interfere with me. Yes, this is a sound wish from Mom and Dad. But, in my heart, it is not what I want. I want to be with Touzajer. I want to be his wife. But who can understand that? Not even Goua when I'd told her about him.

"You can't... can't just die! I'll tell Mom if you do!" was her response. Her expression was broken. Scared. Confused.

I fight for breath, biting my lip at the memory of Goua's response. I do regret my reveal of the truth to her. But at this point, that didn't matter anymore. I shouldn't have bet on her to understand. I shouldn't bet on anyone to understand. I shake off the memory as our farm emerges into view. My eyes are trained at the horizon, the line where land meets mountain. The sun falls behind a greying cloud as if disapproving my brave action. And the sky rumbles, clearing its throat.

I stop in my track to catch my breath. Before me is the hillside. Stalks of corn are as tall as I, some taller. They gather peacefully in a scatter all across the sloped hill - so peaceful, but motionless. Stationary. Restrained. Tethered down. It grows at the command of the wind, rain, and sun. But it cannot choose its path. It is much like the life I once lived before Touzajer; a life that I no longer want to live. Today, right now, I choose a different life.

I gasp for air. Wheezing sounds escape me. My head is spinning, or is it the earth? I am not accustomed to running, and have not put my legs to use very much over the past few days. And now I'd pay for it. I feel like I've been spinning in circles. My body aches at the sight of the cold dirt ground and I want so bad to collapse onto it but resist the urge. Despite the evening breeze, beads of sweat still form at my temples. My hands scratch at my hairline. I look left. Look right. And left again. No sign of him.

"Touzajer!" I yell, hopeful he'd answer.

The only response I receive is the echoing of my own voice.

"Touzajer!" I say again, tears stinging my eyes this time. I choke out a sob. Feeling childish, like a little girl who has nothing but rags to wear to the Hmong New Year celebration. She cries but no one cares. She shouts but no one hears.

But I am not completely disheartened. Beyond the hills, through the thin-trunked trees, Dragon Pond glistens. The water sparkles like pearls in light. Calm and collected, its shimmer glides across the water's surface diagonally. But, my heart is torn to shreds as clouds creep in, the day coming to an end at last. I squint my eyes as I stare down the setting sun, only a thin luminous line remaining above cloud. My feet thunder under me as I sprint toward the pond. My thighs burn like overworked arms during harvest season, but I ignore the sensation. I must meet him again. Must see him at least once more. I should go even if it is just for a moment's glance. My heart will never rest again if I do not.

I arrive at the green pond. Its surface so still, it appears as a textured blanket of little hills flowing here and there. I could walk across it, but my better judgment tells me I'd sink. Instead, I call his name across the pond. No answer. I call again, louder this time. Nothing. The water remains still. It does not lap. It is not cajoled. I drop to my knees and crumble onto my chest. I crouch down on the grassy ledge like a slithering snake, bringing myself closer to the water. My sleeves are soiled but that is the least of my worries. One arm holding onto land, I extend the other to touch the water. I feel my lips tremble as my fingers dip into the pond its coolness startling me. My fingers are wet and smell of fish and filth, but I bring them to my trembling lips to admire the wetness. Sobs escape me as defeat fills my heart; each beat sends a taste of blood up to my throat. It is a small token I have left of him - the waters from which he once emerged. It is the only thing he left me with. I dip my fingers again. Maybe, somehow, I'd feel Touzajer's presence on my fingertips.

I hear myself sob louder. Regret fills my chest as if I'd just dropped a pellet of gold into the water. Only, it is not gold but a warm tear that has slipped down my cheek and plopped into the pond, creating ripples that grow outward.

Then, the center of the pond begins to boil. I step back, but the boiling stops after a while. Nothing emerges from it. I suddenly hear my name, "Yuyeng." It is a deep voice. The hairs at my neck rise. The voice repeats again, echoing across the pond. Yet, it's not completely clear. It sounds muffled. I swallow hard. The voice is coming from under the water. Hands secured at the ledge, I leap in for a closer gaze at the water, my face nearly inches from its surface.

"Come to me," says the muffled voice.

Lightning crashes above head and I stumble, losing my hold of the dirt ledge. And plunge in; arms first, head next, half of me into the green murky water. My legs still lay on the dirt ledge, fighting for stability. Gulps of water fills my lungs, and I attempt to pull my head out of water but cannot. A force pushes me down at the neck. I cannot lift my head. And to my surprise, my legs feel even heavier. The same vicious force drags me by the ankles, lifting them off the ledge and into the water. And I sink. Drown. My arms flap violently at my sides, reaching out to hold onto anything solid, an attempt at self-rescue but to no avail. This is the end of me. I am sure.

But suddenly, I draw in breath. My eyes slice open. I am no longer under water. Rather, I am floating in a mystical parallel universe, a kingdom that can only be inhabited by dragons. My feet touch a seemingly grassy surface, but as I peer down, the ground is the color of gold. The path before me leads to a stone gated village, an establishment that hides behind a finely trimmed line of low-growing shrubs. And the land before the trees is vast; it spans the size of ten hillsides. Beyond the gates are stone roofs of house -probably the villagers'. Right in the center of it all is a narrow tower that bears a flag at its peak, its height reaching as high as clouds. Here, in this place, clouds do exist. And so do light. But there is no sun.

I step a bare foot forward. The ground glows as my feet comes in contact with it. I stumble back. Studying the ground, I see it trembling. I lift my head and my eyes narrow. Touzajer is in glistening golden armor, completely human, but he glides smoothly toward me. Slithering. My breath catches.

Within seconds, he is standing before me, my hands in his. "I thought you'd never come," he says.

"I almost didn't," I say with a quivering chin.

His breath shudders as if beginning to cry. "You're here now," he whispers, pulling me into his embrace. "That's all that matters."

Eyes closed, my cheek settles on his armored shoulder. I sniff. "Why are you dressed this way?" I pull away from him. His hands squeeze at my shoulders as mine grips at the sides of his waist. Our foreheads touch. And we stand there, silent, breathing, unmoving. He doesn't say a word and neither do I. Then, his hands maneuver down my arms, sending a tremor down my spine. He laces his fingers with mine.

"I've missed you," he says, nostrils flared, eyes still closed.

When our eyes meet, he answers me. "A golden armor for a golden wedding. Our wedding." He brings my hands to his lips and kisses them. I blink twice at the sight before. My shaman wristlet, the protective barrier, is gone. A look down at my toes and I am wearing the finest golden shoes I have ever seen. Flowing down to my ankles is a shimmering white gown with intricately woven golden scales throughout.

He lifts my chin with a finger and leans in and plants a kiss on my cheek. Hand in hand, we travel the golden path into toward the village. Our home.

St. Paul, MN


St. Croix Marine & Power

Minors Asia



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