Mother confirmed that we were on the right path.
It had changed a lot. What had been a little trail was now
completely overgrown with waist-high miscanthus. Acacia trees
packed closely together lined both sides, forming an inky black
curtain that blocked out the sun. It was gloomy and ominous;
only a few indistinct patches of light slipped through the breaks
in the trees. The wind had a bitter chill and smelled of withered
vines and rotting leaves. Mosquitoes danced among the trees,
humming incessantly, unsettlingly.
Mother hadn’t slept well for days. She said that Father had
been sending her dreams. In them, he was a half-buried evil spirit;
only his head, his features indistinct, protruded from the earth.
His eyes were bursting out of the deep sockets that held them.
His toothless mouth was a black hole from which issued terrifying, miserable cries. Half of his face had rotted away, revealing
the ghastly white bones beneath, while wet blood clung to the
other half—his head looked like a putrid orange.
Father passed away 11 years ago. I’d only been to his tomb
a few times since.
But, according to the customs of our ancestral home, the
time had come to remove his bones from their temporary resting
Emerging from the forest, the mountainside was covered in
white miscanthus plumes billowing about like snow in the wind.
Black clouds like piles of dirty rags pressed darkly against the
horizon. Underfoot, clumps of wild caltrop and sensitiva intertwined,
digging painfully into our soles as we walked the path.
Far ahead, Uncle broke trail, leading my younger brother and a
group of laborers hired to help collect the bones. As they cleared
the grass, their bent-over bodies bobbed up and down, appearing
and disappearing in the windswept themeda triadra like abandoned
graves adrift amongst the surging waves of a grassy sea.
Moving in the direction Mother had pointed, my brother discovered
Father’s grave beside the path.
Father’s grave lay all alone on a sandy hillock on the mountainside,
a muddy yellow pile of earth covered in tangled vines.
Green moss had defaced the headstone, mottling it like a weeping
face. Two dust-filled flower vases lay there mute and long
neglected. The sun’s rays shot through the breaks in the clouds
like a flight of arrows, shining down upon the pristine grave
mound, scintillating off the rough surface. Yet the piercing light
did nothing to relieve the lonely silence of the scene.
Mother says Father died of alcohol poisoning.
Even now, I still can’t forget that quiet night.
There was a brilliant moon in the sky, and its light poured
through my window like water. As usual, I was curled up in the
bedroom reading. All was beautifully serene, quiet and perfect.
Then Mother suddenly screamed from the bathroom. Her cry cut
through the night’s soft skin, revealing the flesh and blood
underneath. The clatter of confused footfalls seemed to shake
the earth, and rattled me as well. I shot downstairs towards the
soft pool of silken light spilling into the hall, my ears ringing
with the sound of my sister’s wails, Mother’s low sobs, the
neighbors’ cries for help, and my own ragged breath. The voices
ahead of me drew me forward, pulling me step by step towards
the source of the light. As the circle of luminescence grew
brighter, I felt only the rapid contraction of my pupils. The people
around me flickered indistinctly, then everything exploded
into a silent expanse of whiteness.
I was enveloped in a white fog. Through the cracks in the
wall of people, I caught a glimpse of Father’s naked body.
His corpse leaned crookedly against the toilet, rigid and
contorted like a twist of hempen rope. His penis had shriveled
into a small piece of black flesh that lay impotently between his
legs. The once-black savannah of his hair had gone ashy-brown
like desiccated rice straw. A flame-like flush burned from his
chest to his neck, and his face had gone a greenish black, like a
pig’s liver starved of oxygen.
I suspect Father had hated his life, which had hardly been a
From the day of his birth to that of his death, Father had
held Fate at bay by the sweat of his brow.
When the Japanese drafted Grandfather to fight in Southeast Asia, my then-13-year-old father assumed sole
responsibility for the family’s livelihood. He took my crippled
grandmother and my still-swaddling uncle from the familiar
confines of our hometown and brought them to a strange city to
seek their fortune. Thirty years spent digging rocks had roughened
Father’s personality and scarred his body. His rutted, . . . .