Dragon Sword

A blind swordswoman in China seeks revenge on the cunning and deadly Manchu general who killed her parents.

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24. deep night

 

Zu and the mute boy have taken a small room on the first floor of a squalid inn. Torn and stained straw matting for beds, a few thick gray cotton quilts rolled up against a wall. A little charcoal cooking stove and an iron teapot.

 

 

 

The light is from a tuft of cotton soaked with oil, in a small earthenware dish. It gives off a sputtering flame and produces wisps of smoke. The odor is a little nauseating.

 

 

 

You can hear a drunken voice chanting in another room. Then from farther away a woman's rising, birdlike orgasm-cries, cut off by stark silence.

 

 

 

The boy falls asleep on his mat facing the wall. His thin back turned to Zu.

 

 

 

The boy's bare feet are exposed in the flickering lamplight. The soles are almost black with dirt.

 

 

 

He hugs himself as he sleeps. Sometimes he lets out a moan or swallows his saliva.

 

 

 

Zu, seated with her back against the wall opposite the boy, carefully cleans and oils her Dragon Sword. Wipes it with a soft cloth then applies a coating of clove oil to the steel. Finally, she dusts the blade with powdered stone from a small cotton pouch she keeps in her bundle.

 

 

 

Then she resheathes the blade, sliding it into the cane sheath so slowly it makes no sound at all.

 

 

 

She sets the sword cane gently against the wall by her head.

 

 

 

After a few moments of stillness, she crouches and feels along the wall to the quilts. Lifts one and goes to the boy and spreads it over him. Tucks it close against his body. He lets out a soft snore and a gurgle of saliva but doesn't wake up.

 

She gathers the other quilt about her shoulders. She wraps it about her. She sits down cross-legged against the wall, in the same place as before. Then, after an even longer stillness, she bends sideways and blows out the trembling flame.

 

 

 

Blows out its heat.

 

 

 

 

 

It's still dark.

 

 

 

She lies down on her back with the quilt on her body. Everything is wide open. There is no difference between inside and outside, it's all the same deep, wide and fast moving river.

 

 

 

She, the blind woman, sleeps with her straw sandals and that worn blue cloth bag under her head, she sleeps without shutting her eyes, they're still half open to the lunar whites, she sleeps floating on the raucous clamor from other rooms and also the shouts and the continuous singing and babble from the streets of Dragon Gate, in the stench of the toilets in the little alley and the wine and the cooking, she sleeps and dreams yet in her dreams she rarely sees so much as a fragment of image, she dreams all night of sounds, smells, tastes, and oh yes of touch, why not, she dreams she is being kissed and touched by a man who handles her gently yet with controlled fury and makes her body shiver from its deepest inside.

 

 

 

 

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