My first question was: Who copied the thought in my head without my permission?
My second question was: When the thought grew more powerful, could its mere conception be considered a crime?
I was wandering about at the scene, looking for an answer, until you took my arm and led me here.
When you were a child, you must have played with fire.
You must have savored the experience: the match burns shorter and shorter in your fingers and the painful, burning sensation in your nerve endings forces you to drop it, but for an instant you are reluctant to see the light go out.
During the Ghost Festival in the seventh month, you’ve seen the sacrificial paper curl up in the flames, the blackened paper with crimson edges roiling with the seductive tongues of fire in an iron brazier. Squatting there, I felt the ground start to heat up. Even when my face was burning red and my feet had turned numb, I was still poking and looking, searching for paper that had not yet turned to ashes . . . .
“Namah Amitabha, tathagata . . . .” Paper figurines were lowered into the fire amid the chanting of the Reincarnation Mantra, as if conducting a dialogue between the land of the living and the nether world. “Ami patuta, vikarati, Ami patuta, vikarata . . . .” Being burned to ashes, I thought, was one way to end—to end the feelings of gratitude and resentment that were impossible to disentangle.
You’re too conscientious. It’s only a case, but you’ve
spared no effort, even trying to learn about my past. With a wry
smile I look at an old manuscript of mine that you hold in your
hands, a short short story called “Love Nest.”
After counting the pages of the photocopied manuscript, you put one copy in your file folder and hand the other to me.
The words I’ve written now seem unfamiliar.
It’s a simple story: A man directs a monologue at a house he has designed. He thinks about the past, looking very guilty, because,
Their living conditions have never been ideal: a duplex crammed into a noisy alley; they have to climb three flights of filthy stairs in the dark to get to a small apartment made of con-struction materials that are showing their age.
The reason why he blames himself also has something to do with his job:
. . . as an employee of a construction company, over the past few years, he has drawn up many floor plans for clients and has supervised workers in putting up model homes. His salary isn’t bad, but he is unable to give his wife a house he has personally designed.
This time, he finally has a chance:
. . . according to the blueprint, the most unique feature of the new house is the rhomboid-shaped skylight. On sunny days, bright light splashes on the floor from the skylight, like sparkles reflecting off a crystal chandelier. On wet days, raindrops shatter against the glass. He can visualize, during the endless days that follow, the look in his wife’s eyes as she loses herself in the sound of the rain.
He doesn’t like phony, gaudy colors. In his striving for an ingenious touch, the ground floor of his house is encircled by a white porch. In the cool summer evening breezes, he imagines, his wife can sit in a rocking chair on the porch, as watery moonlight trickles down the fair skin on the down-covered nape of her neck. . . .
“The writing is tight and refined.” Waving the file folder in your hand, you look at me somewhat incredulously, trying to discover something in my dull expression. Of course, what interests you most is the surprise ending:
Now he looks up at his wife, whose expression shows no sign of resentment. The woman in the picture frame is staring at him—watching him consign the newly built house to flames. . . .