This is not a Prelude

By Finley J. MacDonald

Beneath enormous ceiling fans, my bride, orchid -tree blossoms in her hair, gossamer gloved, smacks down a card, giving rise to a chatter of cousins and schoolmates around the table. At a second table, older fingers raise cigarettes, pop longgan shells. Expressions graduate in sync with waves of mounting, subsiding conversation. The bridesmaid, captivated by a story, flutters her eyelids. I hear an occasional word I know, but not enough to anchor my attention.

Near the Marias River, where the Great Plains meets the Rockies, downstream from the camp of Heavy Runner, glacier-worn rocks driven by Chinook winds sometimes burst rear windows of pickup trucks parked outside a feedlot. In such gales, who has not spread their arms to be lifted, to be set down in a faraway land?

The sensation of waiting results from a fable we tell ourselves, a secret we invent and wait for. A yarn of nomadic fairies who cast down dust on prisoners, on desert children, on neglected poets, blessing them with happy marriages, children, and houses facing sea and blossoms. Azaleas, without throats or voices, interpret with silent luminosity. Do not consider this a prelude.

In view of the temple, among ascending, thickening, alley-choking, concrete stumps, the Yangs built their tower upon what land survived Grandfather Yang, an opium addict. They let rooms to workers and planted flowering shrubs on the roof. Like a bully, Tang Tower edged close, blocking out the temple and the sun. Yang windows opened to bricks and darkness, and black mold crept up the walls. In reprisal, the Yang family walled off the hutong, forcing the Tang rabble to exit from the rear. Tang boys caught the oldest Yang son out and beat him, fracturing his spine so that he stoops, craning up at you, somber and resigned. For years, he stoop-wheeled his motorcycle taxi into the cubicle that cuts off the alley. He never married.

I believe we saw that village tomb outside Jiao Qing. As we hiked above the lake’s sunset, a dozen dragon -boats pulled furrows over the water’s pink apron. In the shallows rolled suffocated, soft-bellied carp. A pianren, a codger with a bicycle cart, overcharged my future wife. The tomb wall, like the inside of a barrel, smelled of lime and damp bricks. Upon a hundred shelves, tinned ashes of a hundred men and women rested behind near-death photographs, skin taut over each skull. She slept with her shoulder in my lap on the ride back, and I drank a can of lychee beer and watched the rush of bottlebrush, camphor, dahonghua, jidanhua.

The oblivion between breaths commences. I watch radiating from my navel the lust for significance. Once, I objected to all this waiting. I’d name it. Denote it. Damn it. I’d wilt like un-watered bushes in yellow crates. Like my student, whose name is Artist, who fills his notebook with lashing palm trees. He places his head in his arms and waits for my diction to sail on harmlessly past.

I know what happens next. We genuflect at the bouquet of incense in the four-legged pot. She splashes out tea for the dead, and I dribble a line of baijiu. “Drink,” I say. “Have a good time.” My bride stands in the doorway under a red umbrella and her father flings rice, three times to the alley, three times in through the doorway. On the drive to the Triumph Hotel, we hold hands, and the best man fiddles with the CD player, and giant gravel trucks hurtle past, and columns drift by, done up in red and gold ruffles. We round an islet of sculpted hedges and neon flowers. Her second, gloved hand rests in the basket of rice, and occasionally, she salts some out the window, as if marking a path back. If oblivion becomes too dense, or death too final, we might search behind us for scatterings of rice—constellations for guiding us back to where we once lay in each other’s embrace on the red wedding coverlet with glitter in our hair like fairies knocked down in a storm.

Finley J. MacDonald grew up in Sun River, Montana. For the last decade, he has lived in China, currently in Zhuhai with his partner Yang Meiting, where he teaches English writing and speaking at Sun Yat-sen University. He is the author of a work of speculative fiction entitled Angels, Delirium, Liberty. His work has been published in Anomaly, Embodied Effigies, and Near to the Knuckle, among others.