Thursday, September 24, 2009
The Old Me
[Excerpt from FLESH, forthcoming novel, 2011, Black Heron Press]
In my twilight years, my possessions are sparse.
Among a few things I keep, there are two items that have been with me for who knows how long. You see, like most Annamese I don’t keep track of my age. In fact, a French priest I knew once remarked to me that most members of my race did not even know their own birthdays. Like being born into this world was enough a burden, he said. But they are old, these articles, at least sixty years or so since I had them at sixteen.
One of them is a pocket watch. You open its cover and on the inside there’s a woman’s black-and-white picture. She has been dead for many years now, but it still stirs me to gaze at her. She looks fifteen or sixteen—I’m not good at guessing a person’s age—and her black hair, parted sharply in the middle, coils in a long braid over her shoulder. I say my father was a lucky man, and I’m his fortunate son who has survived everyone in the family, including my angelic little brother. This watch belonged to a man who betrayed my father so he could step into the woman’s life—my mother. They were part of a gang of outlaws led by my father. All of them were beheaded except the traitor, who was rewarded handsomely and disappeared thereafter.
The other article is a human skull. It sits on my window ledge looking out from its empty eye sockets at birds, trees. Sometimes moths get into the eye cavities and flutter around until they give out and die. But there it sits on my window ledge, aged in ivory yellow—the traitor’s skull—and I bear him no more hatred. I polish him now and then, for I know his occult neatness. He used to arrange his slippers outside his sleeping chamber, so precisely even you could draw two parallel lines on either side of them. Only then could he sleep. His loveless, enigmatic life happened to cross mine.
[Image from www.zipheron.com/