THE WRITERS POST
VOLUME 5 DOUBLE ISSUE WINTER 2003 SPRING 2004
NGUYEN THI THANH BINH
WHEN THE SNOW MELTS
(translated by N. Saomai)
Every time the snow was falling I couldn’t sit still. I loved snow, of course. But what made me plough my way across the town¾ quarters after quarters, in the whole of vast space which was completely glaring white, only Heaven knew. Wandering aimlessly till my lips turned purple, my hands grew numb I then realised that I never brought along my jacket. It seemed that if I was a bit late those marvelous bunches of snow-flowers would be swallowed by the delicate sun rays materializing out of the other side of that mountain.
But it differed this morning.
After preparing myself enough with sweater, shawl, some coffee, preserved apricots, and bit of melody music in my car I went out¾ to the snow. Indeed, in a day of such weather one must be either out of his head or staring mad to leave his house. The more the city was paralysed in the snowstorm, the more I felt the road in front of me inviting me to a cold, friendly place that haunted my memory. I did not know why I agreed to pay him a visit as his sister Ngoc at distance complained about her acting-up brother.
I lowered my voice, said to Ngoc over the phone, “When an idiot like me plays the do-gooder for an insane like your brother, then this life must be pronounced no cure!”
My friend’s roaring laughter at the other end of long-distance line echoed in the receiver, “Hey girl, please don’t make me moved to... laugh. Indeed, I think you’re the only person who may understand the weird of him.”
“I’m not a psychologist, you know.”
I answered Ngoc. In my mind, suddenly, question marks hung over the fate of the man, as well as over my own. A drowning person like me, how was I to give him¾ the man in boat accident, my hand to grasp? He and I, each of us had gone through life with much cumbersome luggage packed with figures and pictures, hopes and despairs, refusals and invitations, encounters and farewells, beginnings and endings. It seemed there was no joy waiting for me at that end of the tunnel. I did not know why I agreed to go there. To comfort the man as Ngoc requested. To light a dim light for that isolated darkness. It was strange indeed.
In the morning, when looking at myself in the mirror I almost abandoned the intent to pay Tuong a visit¾ Ngoc’s brother, the man not seeing the sun for thousand years. (Well, my friend tried the art of the soundbite to describe this extremely lonesome situation). Sickly pale from sleepless nights the sight of myself in the mirror looked strange to me. Ngoc had entreated me to throw all my sleeping pills into the rubbish bin, but never she knew that I had to take ‘morphine’ to kill the pain which wrung my body miserable.
I was dying, and Duy had heartlessly departed. I was fully aware that Duy couldn’t take it forever a sick person with mercurial mood swings as I has always been. Duy said that not only I have been ill, but also I tormented him mercilessly with all my perennial dismays. We should pull at each other no more, as we knew that without happiness love could not be. That was the reason we were pleased to forget each other.
I was now a living corpse, waiting for someone¾ not Duy, it would never be Duy again¾ willingly to come to bury me deep into the dark tomb. Well then, Duy had departed. Was there anyone left who could light up my lifetime smouldering wishes? Anyone with whom I could light the last fire of my dying existence?
I had muttered to myself in the morning. I almost missed the chance to meet Tuong, the man who had also a pale skin like mine, had also countless sleepless nights as I did.
His house was far away from the city. After Duy’s leaving I had learn to drive and resolved that we feeble female must be able to do whatever men did. At times I wanted to forget all about worries, all about sorrows, to love this life heartily. I wanted the unpleasant experiences that happened between Duy and me were just what featuring in a dream. Living together all those three years was a dream indeed. Only the time, during which Duy and I went our separate ways, was not long enough to be call ‘past’. But Duy was the past already, was blurred already behind the fine blind of my tears. I could not keep Duy, like I could not the bunches of snow-flower fluttering in the wind. Quite unexpectedly, Tuong was in the same situation.
I found the house, in which Tuong has been living, was more to my taste. Just seeing its isolation on the slopping hill I found myself quite enchanted with it. The roofs looking old and neglected, the brown doors being morosely closed, and the bench stripped of paint, all captivated me strangely.
I was about to ring the bell when I remembered what Ngoc had said to me, “Just open the door and come in. My brother has the habit to leave the door unlocked. Like he’s waiting for someone to come. The thieves, indeed! My sister-in-law had long passed away. Over a year now.”
I felt a shiver. It was because of the snow, or it was because of certain terrible ideas lingering in my head, I did not know. As I was just gently pushing the door, the sound of piano-playing floated from a room made me more in embarrassment. There he was. I watched him from the back, seeing only his long hair hung down like Jesus’, and his lethargic sitting figure by the keyboard that produced entangled sound. Hearing the noise, but Tuong didn’t turn his head, just heaving a gentle melancholy sigh.
“Is that you coming home?”
I put my hand on my chest, felt chilled to the bone.
“Well, I’m Thanh Mai, a friend of your sister.”
Still, the man didn’t turn his head. He pressed a key on the keyboard, producing a sound that was heard like a sob, and said unconsciously, “No. It’s you. I’m here waiting for you for long. You’ve been sick. Why don’t let me take care of you? Where have you been hiding?”
On impulse, I was tempted to run towards him, hugged him tight, and cried freely leaning against his emaciated shoulders. I, too, have been sick; I had a much longing for those sweet words. But Duy had not said so. Duy already left me to being withered out like the corpse of a leaf. Duy disappeared much easier than I had expected. This had tied in my soul a knot which was impossible to come undone. Still I held against him a grudge, and bitterly thought it was beyond my strength to take on anyone revenge. At that moment, I suddenly wanted to return to life. To live my life to the full, and the wild. To live like never had I lived. Of course with somebody it wasn’t Duy. It was a strange Tuong, a steadfast lover who heartily and romantically loved his indisposed wife.
She knew her illness was incurable, made sacrifice and departed, lest he felt pain and sorrow. It was a lie as she made him, and her family, believe that she has been all those days joyfully living on since she broke her vows. As she did so she thought Tuong ought to have subdued his sorrow, to have forgotten her¾ the one of betrayal. The story was complete fiction, and Tuong at last discovered what’s fact. Since then he was much more dead than alive, occasionally confusing dream with reality. Ngoc said that there would be no one could revive him.
I, too, was living but not much different from a soul of unjust death haunting the cemetery of life.
I said, rather muttered to myself, “I wish I’m Mai of yours. But I know I’m not. I’ve just one coincidental word Mai in my first name.”
“I see, you’re Thanh Mai instead,” Tuong seemed coming to life, swivelled round, “Ngoc often talks about you. I’ve always soullessly been like this. Please don’t laugh.”
“Just call me Mai. I’m ill and cold to death. Why don’t you take care of someone has just come from a far distance?” I said, honestly, not knowing all would be changed after my saying. Tuong’s eyes, coldly blank and soulless, blink slowly.
“That’s right,” he gave me a warm smile, “Come closer, and sit by me. Let us fling all windows open wide, and watch the snow falling. Also, let the windows of our souls open.”
“But why?” I asked obtusely like a kid seeing a new game but not knowing how to play.
Tuong rose from his seat, led me to the window, and said in a dreamily tone of voice, “To live. What else it would be for? You see, the pines out there are still deeply green and full of life. We must not give up, must not surrender to life.”
It seemed I became supple in his arms, feeling unreal, “And the snow is always spotless white, richly poetic, isn’t it?”
For a short moment we were both bemused, and his voice became more and more attentively, cheerfully inviting. The snow flowers, of extraordinary beauty, were more and more in the bloom. The magical hand of God seemed tireless in adorning the nature. Contemplating the romantic beauty of the nature, I wondered if I was stupefied by the fresh white and provocative flesh of the snow, or by the stirring warm of the male odor exuded from Tuong.
I was waiting from Tuong the deficiencies that Duy had not been able to bring me. I hungered for happiness, the simple happiness, like a caring gleam of eyes of someone who was attentive to someone. That was just what I needed, but Duy had heartlessly refused me. But then, I myself was not Tuyet Mai, how was I supposed to bring Tuong, foolishly, the playing out fantasies. Being content with artificialities to replace what I did not have, it was merely the falsity of it.
That evening Tuong begged me to stay, and leave him no more. I refused rather weakly, “Then just pray the heavy fall of snow be long, so I cannot go anywhere. Much better if I could be buried deep in it.”
He covered my lips with his finger, hurriedly held me close, hugging me tight. He kissed me passionately, but tears shed in my eyes as I felt lonelier than ever. I responded to his kiss again, and again, in a sorrowful manner; but perhaps Tuong did not notice. He kept talking excitedly:
“I’ll keep you mine for the all of my life. If you’re to be sick, I’ll take care of you. O Lord, how come your hand are so cold?”
I had a fear that I had gone too far, to the point I would be completely and unconsciously lost. What would happened then, when I would be ‘me’ no more, when Tuong able to get out of his delirious dream? Empty space remained empty space after all.
“Well, I’m sick. Don’t you see?”, I smiled, sadly and awkwardly.
Tuong ran his hand through my hair, said in a soothing tone of voice, “Try to take your medicine, and you will soon get well. Tomorrow, I will take you out there to play in the snow.”
In a sudden, I could not control myself, “It will begin to thaw tomorrow, and we have the chance to play in the snow no more.”
Tuong frowned, blew a ring of cigarette smoke towards the ceiling, “That’s an unkind thing to say. This snow season will end, yes. But another will be coming.”
I closed my eyes, tried to enjoy to the full his sweet reassurance. Tears were bound to fill up my eyes.
“And this love season ends, another is to come. Only one thing you must believe, that I will never again be the one who brings you the snow.”
That night, together we carried ourselves away, like a snowstorm. I stepped into Tuong’s life like the haunting ghost Tuyet-Mai. All were illusions. Illusions of a love could never be in this life. On that morning, as Tuong was sleeping, gently I closed the windows. I stood still seeing the snow became lighter, fluttering in the sunlight and in the wind of a new day. In distance, loads of snow hung on the branches of the pine trees looked like the little bears lying in a lazy manner. The morning sun would be coming soon¾ to melt, to melt gradually those bunches of snow.
NGUYEN THI THANH BINH
(translated by N. Saomai, from the original ‘Khi tuyet tan’
published in Song Van magazine, issue 2, 1996)
Editorial note: All works published in this issue are simultaneously published in the printed Wordbridge magazine double issue 3 &4 Winter 2003 & Spring 2004. (ISSN: 1540-1723).
Copyright © Nguyen Thi Thanh Binh 1999, 2004. Nothing in this issue may be downloaded, distributed, or reproduced without the permission of the author/ translator/ artist/ The Writers Post/ and Wordbridge magazine. Creating links to place The Writers Post or any of its pages within other framesets or in other documents is copyright violation, and is not permitted.