The Little Gold Ox
There’s frost outside. One sniff of the glistening air tells me that. Frosty mornings always create discord among people. I inhale deeply and smile quietly. Then I chuckle unexpectedly, giving out the queer “heh-heh” that I often find myself producing lately. The frigid, discordant wind rattles the window frame repeatedly. In the clear sky floats a ball of red silk thread, spinning and bobbing, up and down, circling around. I can’t get the window open. I know that the bright sunlight is only a deception—the bitter cold would freeze my nose. “I have a very sensitive nose,” I say to myself, nodding firmly and staring out at the frozen earth.
Everything gives the appearance of being real. The little gold ox on the tea table is moving again, its tail swinging. “You, old boy, are already fifty-seven this year,” the mask on the wall says to me. The mask is covered with a fuzz of white mold resembling a beard. It reminds me of a jade green cobblestone that I saw embedded between tree roots poking up out of the soil at the side of the highway. One dusk I attempted to dig it out with a small knife.
On that last day, a huge crowd swarmed into the city’s streets. With surprise I discovered the scene from a very high vantage point just as it was happening. Of course, these people have long ago disappeared completely, and the incident has left me with no solid impression. At the beginning, I had pried open a window to climb into the building. In every empty room I found a pale mask. On the wall the swinging shadows of the wild vines made threatening gestures, reminding me of haunted houses. Then my face went moldy. Every time I look into the mirror, I see a hazy white oval. This is so disgusting.
My father’s brown leather jacket, ornamented with multicolored birds’ feathers, still hangs in his closet. As soon as the closet is opened, the feathers stand up, as if they were about to fly away. He spent his whole life traveling in the mountains. He looked forever travel-stained and smelled of grass. Leaning over a greasy table at a bar, he once discussed with me an intestinal disease and its cure. He was laden with anxieties.
“Before dawn, the Seven-Li Fragrance always causes me migraine, and it smells of seawater, too. The Seven-Li Fragrance must be blossoming on both sides of a seaside highway. I can imagine the place.” After these words, he lowered his head and fell into sleep.
He died of an intussusception. It wasn’t until three days later that we, together with a doctor, found him under a Chinese chestnut tree. His travel bag was stuffed with stinking orioles and turtledoves killed with an airgun days before. We simply left him there. Out of fear, we pretended to have forgotten about burying him. On our way back, Mother and I kept talking loudly to control our fright. The doctor was walking in front of us. His white coverall was stained with bird droppings, large smears of yellowish green. Every now and then, Mother cast sharp sidelong glances at me with her aged eyes. I knew that she had guessed my thought. So I jabbered on at random, ill at ease. I mentioned a past incident in a watermelon field, and asked if she could remember which day it was.
“That’s very odd.” She halted and said hesitantly, “How could I have given birth to you? I have so much doubt about it. Just at that moment, I lost my memory. So the thing cannot be confirmed.”
I carry on my father’s dream. Time and again, I feel so vividly that I touch the paving of the highway warmed by the sun, and hear mimicking cock crows. This also happens at the instant just before dawn when I smell the Seven-Li Fragrance. The dreams are drawn out, with an extremely long white thread fluttering behind each one of them just like a kite. But what is the matter with the ostrich? Ever since my father’s death, my intestines have started to twist and turn. Glaring at me, Mother ordered simply, “You have to go to the mountains.” Then she threw the blood-stained travel bag at my feet.
I intend to look for a kind of herb that can cure intestinal diseases.
Upstairs there used to live a fellow with sunglasses. This guy was about fifty, though he told everybody that he was twenty-seven. One day he entered our kitchen. With one leap, he jumped into the cistern and refused to come out. He lived in the cistern for several years like a hippo, splattering water all over the kitchen. Every time I stepped into the kitchen, he would let loose a torrent of abuse. He then disappeared with my third sister. One day when the sweet scent of the Seven-Li Fragrance was spreading unchecked, we met on a cliff. My third sister exposed my little trick with a single remark. I seemed to hear them whistling to pigeons in the bamboo forest, but I dared not turn my head, because the turkey behind the rock made me very nervous. Venus rattled past my ear, and a surreal rosy color appeared along the rim of the sky. After that they disappeared together. How very suspicious.
However, a frosty morning still makes me ready to do something—it’s my nature. So I put on my cap and shoulder the traveling bag. I purse my wrinkled mouth to whistle, and kick out my legs, causing a messy fit of noise in my intestines—gestures preliminary to a long journey. In the mirror, I see the mask spit and say, “Fifty-seven.” Then I take off my cap and sniff the greasy brim, recalling the secret of my father’s artificial leg. He kept this secret from me very carefully. His leg was of high quality and showed almost no marks of being unreal. In fact, I did not know about it until after his death. For several days, Mother appeared to be on tenterhooks. Finally, she couldn’t control her urge to tell me that the reason she did not bury my father was because of the artificial leg. She never failed to have an attack of epilepsy every time she saw that smooth pink object.
“His own leg was okay, but he broke it intentionally in order to fix that wretched thing on—one of his wild fantasies. Wearing that stupid thing, he declared forever to people that he had become a young bachelor again. He even boasted to me that the artificial leg was as soft and light as cotton, and claimed his nerves had grown into the leg. He tried to create a special image of himself.”
I found the herb in the house of my third sister’s classmate. It was planted in a huge pot placed on the windowsill facing south. It dawned on me that this woman was also once tortured by intestinal diseases. Her room was littered with old newspapers, revealing her unbearable affliction.
Everything that happened in the past is real. At the time when I met my third sister on the cliff, pigeons were whispering in the woods, and it seemed to be drizzling. I had extreme trouble opening my tired eyelids. Then all of a sudden, she started talking from behind me, laying bare my trick.
The little gold ox is pacing back and forth on the tea table. A lump of frozen cloud drifts by the window. A dolphin is trapped between the dead branches of a camphor tree. Numerous roosters are crowing one after another. The mask on the wall is talking again: “Fifty-seven years old.” This mask used to be an old fellow picking odds and ends from the garbage. Purposefully, he hanged himself from our doorframe, naked.