fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Fifty Seven. {fiction}

 

The next day, Ching Shih and Gary came to Joe’s. Victorio and I were at the corral, me brushing the horses and Victorio hauling water to their trough.

Ching Shih and Gary were holding hands, like two children who were just learning how to hold hands. Ching Shih looked at the ground and Gary beamed.

“Hey,” Gary said, “is Joe around?”

Victorio tipped his head towards the cave door, “He’s inside…”

They made their way, still holding hands.

Victorio raised his eyebrows at me questioningly and I shrugged back at him.

“They want me to marry them,” said Joe at dinner that night.

I stared, perplexed, at Joe. Of all the people in our little community, I couldn’t think of any two that seemed more incompatible. Gary was warm, friendly, always saw the best in people, and was a genius at teaching the children, all who loved him wholeheartedly. Ching Shih, on the other hand, kept a distance, even from Kate, with whom she lived.

She was reserved and private, although she had warmed up to me since our trip to Silver. She was very smart, highly analytical, and took nothing for granted, especially when it came to our security. She was a great martial arts and yoga instructor, patient and clear, but all business, leading classes in each twice a week. She took her role as our protector very seriously, which we all appreciated.

The children shied away from her, and she seemed just fine with that. Ching Shih had said she had never had children because she had never wanted them.

“Well? Are you going to?” asked Victorio, mouth full of rabbit stew.

“Oh sure, yes. They want to get married as soon as possible, before the first real snow, down by the river.”

The next few days were one long gossip session and fashion show. Most of us women buzzed around poor Ching Shih like bees around a hive. We all ransacked our clothing and fabric stores to find or construct something nice for her to wear, although she seemed slightly appalled by all the attention.

Kate found a long silky beige dress in her closet. It was a little short for Ching Shih, but then I found a long lacy pale blue table runner which Jeanne sewed onto the bottom half to make it long enough. There was even enough left to top the cap sleeves. Hallie found a pretty sash of a slightly darker blue to tie around the waist of the dress.

Hallie pulled a large lace doily from underneath a potted plant at her house, scrubbing it fiercely until it gave up its store of grit and gleamed prettily again. This would go on Ching Shih’s head, our best approximation of a veil.

Naturally, we all took turns gently prompting Ching Shih to share the story of her romance with Gary, which had gone completely unnoticed by any of us. It turned out that it came down to bonsais, the trees carefully cultivated to grow in miniature form. Gary had a penchant for bonsais, and had several along a long window sill at his and Tochuku’s home.

One day, Ching Shih had come by to talk with Tochuku, about how the technology he was working on could be used for security, when she spotted the diminutive trees. Apparently she had grown bonsai trees in Hong Kong as a hobby, giving them away to friends and family when she had too many. She was surprised and delighted to see Gary’s, believing that bonsais were only known in the east.

After her brief meeting with Tochuku, they invited her to dinner, and Gary and Ching Shih talked into the night about bonsais. Gary invited her to come over and start bonsais of her own, since he had all the tools and pots already.

According to Victorio, the men were having similar conversations with Gary, although they involved the imbibing of larger quantities of Devon’s mead too. Gary said in his warm understated way that Ching Shih softened when working on her bonsais, and he had seen that beneath her business-like manner was a woman who loved beauty and housed an artist’s heart.

Somehow, he had found his way into that heart, and she into his.

While the rest of us were at least a little intimidated by Ching Shih at the very least, Gary — gentle, kind Gary — took on a protective demeanor towards her. Although not, of course, physically, since she could kick the behind of any three of us at once in her sleep.

Gary stood guard at the doorway to her soul. I did not know what needed guarding there, but he did. When we were all together, he always had one arm around her now, and she seemed to melt slightly into his side, accepting protection from these unseen elements.

The morning of the wedding dawned crisp and cold. Frost covered the ground in a sparkling latticework, like a bright white crystalline fungus. The fall sky was clear and bright turquoise. There was no wind. A perfect fall day, if chilly.

After gulping down breakfast, I rushed over to Kate and Ching Shih’s place. Ben sat in his favorite chair in the living room, grinning at the women who poured excitedly into the house. I had never been to a wedding before.

“Welcome, ladies. Welcome, ladies,” Ben said over and over, nodding at each as they entered.

“It’s awfully cold out this morning,” said Jeanne to Ching Shih, “are you sure you still want to have it outside? I’d be happy to clear out the living room.”

“Oh no!” said Ching Shih, “It’s perfect. It’ll be warmer by noon. I want to be married under the sky, next to the river, with the birds watching. The forest will be our cathedral.”

I don’t think I had ever heard Ching Shih express such a poetic sentiment before. Clearly there was much more to her than I had seen in the few months I had known her.

“You know, I have a lacy ivory-colored shawl that will be perfect to wrap around your shoulders,” said Jeanne as she disappeared to find it.

Ching Shih patiently endured our attentions while we fussed and clucked about her.

Kate first combed her hair with water, then pinned it into a couple of dozen gentle curls at the ends, so as not to shock Gary with too dramatic a transformation. The desert air would dry the pin curls well before it was time for the wedding.

Hallie had found some makeup, and obeyed Ching Shih’s admonition not to make her “look like a whore.” A little rouge, carefully spread so it looked nearly like her natural complexion. Eyeliner and mascara opened her black eyes. A little rosy eye shadow and subdued lipstick brought color to her naturally pale face.

Ching Shih flat out refused the lacy push-up bra that Olga offered her, but accepted a more matronly yet pretty version that Hallie had.

“I had this when I was a teenager, before the virus, but since I’ve been nursing I don’t think it’ll ever fit again,” Hallie said.

Ching Shih and Kate disappeared into her room where she slipped into her wedding dress. Then they returned into the living room where Kate took the pins out of her hair, using a few to attach the doily-turned-veil onto the top of her head. The shiny raven curls formed a festive, delicate border around the bottom edge of the doily.

“Whoa…” breathed Hallie, hands to her face in a humorous, classic Wow expression. “You’re so pretty!” We were used to seeing her in canvas pants and t-shirts.

Jeanne stepped forward with the shawl, wrapping it around Ching Shih’s shoulders, then pulling the ends under her arms and tying them behind her back, so that the shawl became a shrug, showing off the sculpted neckline of her dress’s bodice while covering her arms. Then, out of her pocket, Jeanne pulled a necklace of tiny gold-colored beads that had been strung to form a lacy latticework.

Ching Shih’s eyes widened at the sight of it, and her mouth dropped open silently as Jeanne draped it around her neckline, fastening it in the back.

I was so used to thinking of Ching Shih as our tough, sometimes scary, security guard and martial arts teacher, I hadn’t thought she could look so soft and delicate. When Kate pulled her full-length mirror from her room and held it in front of Ching Shih, it occurred to me that this might be a surprise to her as well, judging from the look on her face.

Jeanne turned to me, “Run and find out what the guys are up to…”

I found Victorio entertaining the children in the courtyard, teaching them to juggle.

“Where’s Gary? And the other guys?”

“They’re still at Gary’s, but Frank just walked by and said he was all dressed.”

“Can you tell them to go to the river? Ching Shih’s ready.”

“Aw, c’mon, don’t stop now,” whined Ruby, as Victorio set the balls on a table and went to round up the men.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace. Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home‘ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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