Click to read Man's Last Song full Chapter ONE.
Dogs can be heard barking in the distance. Song Sung finds that relatively reassuring; some have started to howl, especially on a full-moon night, to theatrically declare their return to nature, reversing centuries of fussy breeding. It gives him the creeps nonetheless. Now that there are no more dog biscuits with nutrient labels, they’d eat anything, including people. Preferably people?
Yes, they must find humans tasty, even rotten ones. The feasting faces of the German shepherds remain vivid in his mind after all these years. He can still hear their ravenous sound; every slurp, snap, yank, squirt, and grunt. The stench had made the air viscous, keeping everything in suspension, trapping the flies in its space. Blood dripped in slow motion from slimy jaws, like molten plastic.
Man’s best friend. Sure, when we manufactured dog food. Wolves. That’s right. Wolves.
I’ll end up wolf breakfast.
He wonders how thoroughly wolves kill before muzzling in. They’re supposedly smart hunters, like humans, perhaps just as cruel. He sees himself pinioned by four big dogs. Canine teeth penetrate his flesh like ceramic nails, clamping the bones, pushing deeper into his guts. He writhes weakly, keeping his eyes closed, trying to relax, submitting. Entrails are being ripped out, but there’s no pain, just a feeling of becoming lighter, being reduced . . .
To dog food.
Stop it! He curses his actively silly imagination.
Why not turn back for a warm drink and more sleep then? No. Keep going. No backtracking. Call it pride, stupidity, whatever.
He clutches the walking staff tighter, and treads on.
Dense fog covers everything like a divine correction fluid, attempting to smother the creator’s faulty designs. Why bother anymore? Song Sung thinks. There’s hardly anyone left.
He labours a deep breath; gummy air sinks inside damp lungs. The atmosphere seems anoxic. Can asphyxiation happen gradually, imperceptibly, like boiling frogs? Probably.
The misty world started out enchanting this morning. He even thought it romantic, and gaily pronounced so. Then it turned insufferable without changing appearance, suddenly. Or is it me again? But at least it looked calm from the house. Suffocating, but calm. Out here, in the middle of the grey viscous air, he’s flustered by the roiling turbulence. He opens his eyes wider, as if that would help him see further; but depth has been lost, compressed right against his face.
It’s silent, eerily silent. How come? Where are the birds and their clamourous twittering? There should be hundreds of them about the big banyan. This time of the day? He’s not sure . . .
Am I still alive? Do lost souls know they are dead?
Rhea’s right; it’s dumb to go downhill in this weather. Even dumber to take the footpath rather than the main road. “Dumb it is then,” he mutters grumpily. Pushing the whiteness in front, he walks trancelike towards the overgrown Old Peak Path.
What’s another day? Not to say a few hours to wait out the fog, Rhea had urged gently. What’s the hurry? Is everything OK? Yes, of course. Everything’s OK, he assured. Just can’t stand this fog; got to go where there’s air.
Where there’s air . . . ? Right now?
Yeah, right now, sorry. I can’t breathe. Fogs up here last forever you know.
Sure. Whatever you say. She returned to the dishes.
She normally leaves the evening dishes for the next morning; cleaning up in candlelight is a pain. Scratching absentmindedly at a speck of food on the porcelain dish, she considered different approaches: A soft purring? Matter-of-fact announcement? A light-hearted “guess-what” surprise? One way or the other, it must come out, soon. He must be told, soon. Why not now? The secret that shouldn’t be has been growing inside, like indigestion: Burning, gurgling, refusing to go through, too chicken to come out.
Just turn around and say it. Speak: That’s all it takes.
That’s right; that simple. But she said nothing, and stared at her hands instead. How pampered they once were. How silky and diaphanous their skin used to be. And how impermeable and slack they now looked. The tiny furrows and creases seemed a touch more prominent, a bit more assertive then . . . the last time she checked? Just a bit, hardly noticeable, but she checked often. Ageing doesn’t just happen does it? It creeps, steadily, stealthily, relentlessly, all over you, and stays.
The knuckles . . . look at them. One molecule a time, they swell. One of these nights, while sleeping, unsuspecting, the last breaking molecule would be deposited; the final straw. She’ll wake up to the arthritic pain of red, swollen knuckles — a trademark of old ladies’. Time was undoing her. All quite subtle, but nothing escaped her unforgiving self-scrutiny. These hands, under a thin lace of suds, bluntly reminded she was forty-eight. So what, she thought with a burst of positive energy. I’m still the youngest woman around.
Fine, but old enough to know not to confuse men at the wrong moment. When is the right moment though?
Not today. Not today anyway.
She could hardly believe the hesitation: Why do I need courage, as if guilty of some unforgivable wrongdoing? Oh well, be patient, time’s ticking — slowly for once, on my side for once. Before long, I’ll be able to sit back and let events take over. In the meantime, I can afford to dither. Can I?
Too late now anyway. Song was antsy, eager to get out, pausing at the door for a recognisable farewell — any sign to demonstrate her wholehearted acceptance of his sudden swing of mood and anxious departure. Rhea swallowed her brooding thoughts, but refused to lessen his unease. Such a petulant man sometimes. She scratched at the dish again. It squeaked; the speck of food had long gone.
Fog had sneaked through every crack and joint of the lavish mansion, creating big wet patches everywhere. Water droplets slithered down the walls as if they were melting. Everything smelled of mildew. A dull silence throbbed in Song’s head, pouncing him from within. Silence is supposed to be relaxing, but . . . He had to go: Now.
“Sure you don’t want to come?”
“No. I’ve got lots to do here. You go.”
“Should I get a few buckets first?” He saw the pails sitting in the living room, ready for their daily trip to the stream.
“It’s OK. I’ll do that a bit later, when the fog has cleared.”
Just a bit later, it’d clear. Not forever my love. Do you hear?
Posted 12 Oct 2010 on Guo Du Blog
Revised 5 Feb 2011, 10 April 2011, June 2011