THE WRITERS POST
VOLUME 9 DOUBLE ISSUE
The dream of a hurricane
A SHORT STORY BY
NGUYEN THI THANH BINH, fiction writer and poet. Her most recent book is Dau An, a collection of short stories published by Van Moi Publisher (2004). This is the fifth book of the author, after Tron Vao Giac Mo Em, a collection of poetry published by Thanh Van Publisher (1997), O Doi Song Nay (a collection of short stories) published by Dai Nam Publisher (1989), Giot Le Xe Hai (a novel) published by Van Khoa Publisher, and Cuoi Dem Dai (a collection of short stories) published by An Tiem Publisher (1993). Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, one of her short stories has been anthologized in "Tho van hai ngoai nam 2000" (CA: Van Moi Publisher, 2000). Nguyen Thi Thanh Binh is presently the editor of Gio Van, a literary magazine founded in 2002 in the US.
There was no knowing whether the hurricane had blown him here, or he had brought impetuously the hurricane coming, or he has been himself the most strange and prodigious kind of hurricane.
The colour of the hurricane’s lips was the reproduction of the monsters living in deepest hells, and the hurricane’s hands were forever the running wild arrows that landed on the chest of life, tearing apart all kinds of peacefulness of the sky and silent abyss.
The hurricane was slogging in to make landfall. Yes, Isabel slammed into the city as the met office had reported, and that was beyond all prediction of weather in her.
Uh, yeah, as a matter of fact, how was he to know how quickly the weather conditions in her changed. She too, couldn’t predict how violent a hurricane would be. Was Isabel a violent hurricane, or was he a mad one (?)
In the dying light that faded into evening, she drove unsteadily to the funeral home, like a lonely ghost. The streets were so nakedly empty it would give her the creeps. Isabel had certainly taken hold of the legs of those who had a home and those who were homeless. Birds, tired or not tired yet, were not too foolish to make wing for a flight at this very moment, as homeless people huddled in homeless shelters. People and animals were nowhere to be seen, which made her couldn’t help thinking she was a glimmering ghost in the cemetery of wind.
Winds were steadily increasing, and her car was lurching, seemed to have eddied round in the storm. The view was tangled; it stretched wide and obscure. Struck by the feeling of being lifted out of the car, she wished to have disappeared in that way. Flying with the hurricane into a certain reincarnation. Wouldn’t that be fun!
Flying. How many times in the past she had closed her eyes, compulsively feeling her flying. Flying like the wind. Flying like the bird. Flying like the dust. Flying like the hurricane. Flying like imagination. Flying and flying. As it usually did when she was filled with a sense of helplessness at something disappointing, those strange wishes overcame her. And because life had much of such ‘something’, she had never lacked of those days during which she had been pulled up into the air, and thrown down onto the earth.
She fell and fell to the point her body was mutilated, yet she still felt the overwhelming desires to fly when coming the hurricane.
Over the radio came, from every broadcasting she selected, the advice of returning home and staying indoor. No one but her would assure her of the safety. It seemed that someone invisible has just helped her in turning sharply the wheel¾ the dry sound from a fallen branch made her react in a mechanical way. She drew up the corner of her mouth, showing no emotion at narrowly escaping an accident.
Contrary to her air, the hurricane jerked more and more violently, convulsion alike. She thought of her beloved ones. Where could they all be? How could they not think about taking her along with them as they drifted into a certain silent place?
Her husband and her daughter, they ought to have waited for her to come to spend this eternal night out. Such a night as it really was. Profoundly deep to where there wouldn’t be much possibility of filling it up. Black night. Deepest night. To escape from it she would have blown her soul free of her body to transform herself into a beautiful hurricane¾ a hurricane that had full power to blow all things away from the surface of earth, if it wanted to. Soaring high into the air, freeing herself from heavy human bondage¾ she flied, when seeing the sign of the funeral home. It seemed the whole of her body was as light as a thread of hair.
Night. She sat, her head sharply bowed, close by the two creatures with faces that had gone a ghastly white colour with heavy makeup. Funeral homes in the US used to adorn the dead with makeup in such a stagy manner. They seemed to prepare those soulless bodies for the parties in hell.
There was not much to say about a funeral home, even in the night the hurricane made landfall, besides unpleasant things such as water and power outages and her sitting heavily in a heap by two rows of burning white candles¾ so depressing strange.
She thought of her cousin’s sentimental boyfriend back there in her homeland. On that day, while riding a motorcycle to a rendezvous to meet her boyfriend the girl was struck by a car, and killed in the accident. He kept waiting and waiting for the girl who would never turn up. There was no answer to several calls he made. He then ran to look for her wherever he could in the town, inwardly calling her name. At last, as he had had a premonition of what might happen, and as he was informed by the commissionaire at the entrance of a theatre near the rendezvous, he came to the funeral home that was not far from there to look for her. It was bad luck on him that it was closed for the weekend. Begging in vain, he bribed the officier who guarded the mortuary into letting him in to check through the corpses. Then, for being allowed to stay to cry as much as he could, another large sum of money to the man. No one knew how long he had stayed in that room for crying, laughing, and embracing the dead body, but soon after that he was in a state of delirium, had an uncertain now-hot- now-cold body temperature.
There was a possibility that he died from cold (and severe emotional shock for sure), but his heart was always radiantly much more heat than fire. However much it cost he should be content, what with clasping her face¾ bloodless but real, whereas poor scholars in Chinese love stories Lieu Trai, by contrast, had to hallucinate the lady in the painting to satisfy his lust.
There was the story of a doctor embalming the dead body of his young patient who loved him, hid it in his bedroom for his occasional being intoxicated, or so it heard tell. And then, the story about a man who, consumed by longing, dug up Duong Qui Phi’s tomb.
Thus, women have always been the ‘fox spirits’ whose personality has remained mysterious to men.
But she herself, how was she at this very moment? Amid the setting that was, of course, incongruously unlike that of the vault in her homeland. The air was full of the scent of cinnamon from the flickers of light of the candles, instead of the reek of the corpses.
Night felt quickly. The eyes of the hurricane were ash-grey, ferocious. The surface of earth became tangled up as the hurricane flowed in like a boa, crawled heavily into the pool of mysterious night. A night of roaring gales and heavy rain. Of violent streams and pelting water.
More and more the hurricane’s breathing accelerated, furiously echoed round the space in all directions, like piercing painful screams in lust. The hurricane intensified with peak winds, and she sat with her mind filled with absurd thoughts.
Was that true that she has been clinically depressed? Surrendered to her fate? Or she was possessed by something strange, vague, dreamy¾ something in her but not her at all. This complete grace and elegance of body, this vagueness of feelings, were they all really hers? Why the hell did she think that way? Was it the howl of the hurricane, or the shrill scream of an animal about the place somewhere as it was in pain?
No. She would have liked not to reflect. Indeed, she could not think, no idea of what she has been trying to think about. Was she dead? Or still alive? Alive, then why? What was the point of living this life? And dead, why was it that she must be? For what purpose she must die in the dream of a hurricane?
The hurricane’s dream. Was it like a poet’s dream? She needed not know, nor even much noticed, how long he had been sitting there. She was there, yet it seemed she wasn’t there at all¾ her body had vanished in a puff of smoke. Coming up things of heartbreak have made her, while still alive, seem to be dead. She was dead, then he couldn’t manage to bury her alive. She called his hearty manner the caress that hid a wielding knife. It seemed she was in a tinge of surprise as she saw him. Only someone who was getting a bit dotty, if not entire foolish, went out in such a stormy weather.
He grasped her hand like he did before the hand of the doctor and shook him, “My girlfriend will not die. You must save her, please. She’s too young …”. Looking at her face, which was empty and lifeless, he sighed, “Why are you here in this terrible hurricane weather? See, your hand is bloody cold.” She looked at the wisps of cigarette smoke curling about his lips, imagined she was too breathing the smoke. “It’s damned cold, yes. But how am I to stay home without any worries in the least.” She was about to ask him if he has been here long, but stopped short, considering it was not quite necessary. Things were serious no more, since her husband’s death, and her daughter’s. But what she was to be doing in order to inquire into and solve the absurdity of life.
No one would be able to elucidate the dream of a hurricane.
Night. She opened her eyes, and saw nothing. She closed them, not looking yet seeing uncountable images drifted through her head. Specks of light diffused from her inner woman. Strange things were, she was never able to grasp any concrete thread of light, and then floating and chasing after them. Emptiness. Was it certainly true that only in the emptiness she wouldn’t be fearful of things, or something?
A quite something. She heard tell that if it were really something, love for example, it would have occult powers that made human beings be able to trample on all horrors. But, why should she mention love at this very moment? Existent, then non-existent. Non-existent, then existent (1). Now it has existed, then it has gone. Now gain. Now loss. She was trying to recall the death of her husband. That was the death that possessed her many times before in the previous nights full of haunting dreams. In her subconscious, she had blown his car round and round turned, and up to this very moment he still had an explanation owing to her for the lipstick marks and the perfume which were not her taste.
While the policeman described her husband’s death, not just the grisly pulp of a body but what having been occurred in her dreams coinciding with the reality that made her much more frightened.
It just struck her as odd: why had her husband taken away with him her beloved daughter. The child was too young to die, and she, still so young herself that she couldn’t be expected not to continue to live her life such as it was. She was wondering, however, what was the purpose of her life now. Squandering the rest of her youth, or spending all the large sum of money she was going to claim on their insurances?
It was beyond her knowing how much a person committing suicide would be distasted at his life. Or he just wanted to free himself from the untidy state that had warped his mind, hoping that everything would end up in death. To die was to enter a complete annihilation, or to begin a happy world in an afterlife, that one must experience it in order to know it. How that would be, happy or misery, she wouldn’t know as never yet had her husband and her daughter decided to come back and reveal information about their afterlives. They had gone far away, despite her belief that their souls were still haunting about.
And what was she supposed to do with those candles standing in rows, flickering as its wax dripped down drops of sorrowful date and time.
The storm raged outside. Night was so cold and deserted, and she could not get a wink of sleep. The hurricane strength induced ghostly embraces, cast a spell on evil kisses. The more heaven and earth were uncertain, the more the beings sought refuge in each other. On her way to the funeral home, she had heard the radio report the death toll – not one or two, but several people were caught in strong wind and flooding. No one could stand the hurricane’s piercing squeal. In the night late and frightening, it began to stir up her emotion¾ the two dead persons’ faces cold and waxy-white, the violent paces of the hurricane raging on across thresholds, through clumps of trees and bushes of grass, and at times wanting throwing the doors wide open to grind her down. She shook him awake, and tried not to consider him as tinder to light the fire by which she would warm the coldness of her living self.
“Hey, young man, hey… It has grown late past midnight, how come the hurricane has yet to retreat? I…”
The man was wide-awake. He just kept his eyes closed, pretending to be asleep. “Thought you slept already. Me too, I couldn’t get a bit of sleep. Just closed my eyes to rest them. You’re hungry, perhaps?”
“Hell, no.” She replied without addressing him. “Just cold. Haven’t eaten in the last two days but¾ not died yet.”
He reared up, as if he suddenly remembered something.
“Look, the candles are guttering out. We’d already burned the last ones.”
“How the hell are we doing now?” She said, nervous all of a sudden, “No power. No water. The heater is useless!”
“But I still have the whisky”, he assured her. “There are so many whiskies down my old man’s basement. If I don’t take some, it’s such a waste. The bottle will warm you up.”
He said, flung open the coat he had on, took out a bottle, and swigged. She realised that it was the kind of strong alcohol her husband used to drink, that she would be intoxicated on few gulps of it. She shook her head as she saw him offering her the bottle.
“Good stuff, eh? Spare me!”
“Well, it’s fine if you don’t want some. But there’ll be no warming in here that can make you feel warm.”
She thought of his coat. Even the manly smell of the childlike-man stored in it she wouldn’t mind¾ still, she couldn’t borrow it. As if, if she did, she seemed to extort it from him.
Strange thing was, even in the dark she still recognised in those eyes his covering something not suitable to be expressed. Skilled in tactics as she was at the age of full experience of nasty tricks in cunning affairs with men, she knew for certain that if she just turned her back on him, then suddenly spun round 180 degree turning back to him, she would catch him looking at her with a look with or without bad intention. Frequently, women such as her had proved their remarkable powers of observation.
While she was embarrassed with indecision he cunningly said, knowing what was that her intention, “I forget ’bout this. If you feel in need of this coat, I’ll be very willing to give it to you. Maleness ¾ you know what I mean. I’ll keep my mouth shut and keep up with the cold. Don’t worry ’bout me.” He said earnestly, and thoughtfully slung the coat around her shoulders. Now rising in her stirrings of emotion, but she counseled herself against being in a dream world. Now was when she must try to be insensitive. Insensitive to sufferings, insensitive to nasty tricks played on her fate. Better not to be troubled by anything. No, nothing at all.
“Thank you, thank you.” She said flatly.
“Feel a bit of warmth? You needn’t refuse if you don’t mean it, you know.” Still, his eyes were fastening on her body. Although it was no concern of hers, his maleness impressed her. It was not the coat she’d wrapped herself up in that gave off the smell of his maleness, but his protecting figure, and his lustful-moustached face.
One thing she must admit¾ without his presence that kept her company, she would have died of loneness or coldness, if not taking fright.
“Without your help, I’ll catch my death of cold no doubt.” She told him what she was thinking, knowing for certain that he knew it as if he read her thoughts.
“It’s all right now. Now rest and get some sleep if you feel the cold no more. Mind that you don’t forget to button up your coat.” He sighed, and gave his order as his eyes fell to searching her body.
It struck her as faintly amusing. It was interesting to look at his being obstinate. For no earthly reason he reminded the prey to take precaution against the marksman. ‘Button up’ was reasonable though. There was no sense in revealing herself to such a macho male. In no way he could warm her up by such a means. The hurricane might threaten, dig up into, and put such a strain on the whole cowardly charcoal space out there. But in here, the doors were fastened shut anyway. Really all that securely fastened shut. The hurricane couldn’t creep its way to her, tear apart her days which were now in deep mourning.
Inside her she knew that he had no intention. She was just playing with herself¾ with her head going wrong, having a screw loose. He seemed not to be the kind of daring person who had his nerve. And her, why was in a sudden she so obsessed with unreal happiness (happiness was never real, was it?).
“Hope the hurricane disturbs me no more.” She took hold of her breasts.
He smiled, twisting his mouth. He perhaps was not yet drunk, although his lips had gone numb from whisky. The whisky and the darkness, or the dank and stale air advancing through the vault had brought him the beautiful eyes of Satan, face from fairy tale, and the breathing from unreal world.
He started to drawl, “I’ll chase the hurricane away. You need a sleep, know that? And I need the whisky. A craving for it.”
She believed he was in great sadness. The liqueur would burn off his sorrows. But she, as she couldn’t drink, by which means would she try to burn off her grief?
She couldn’t contain herself. She couldn’t sleep. She was about to ask him for some whisky, but stopped short, “It doesn’t make sense if I want to find his lips on the mouth of the bottle”. Much of amusement, again. Never had he knew that she used to toy with her thoughts in such a way. She must now lie still waiting for the day to come. The ferocious hurricane subsided now, as he has just said. The cold had skipped off, and night was almost over, like the candles guttering out, like her. Then, she startled when realising that there was nothing in front of her. The candles were long gone. She has just closed her eyes. Opened them to realise the candles were gone. There was nothing left, nothing remained after the night hurricane Isabel raging in.
She imitated the tune of an old song back there at old times sweet and warm in her homeland, “ Oh… I…sabella… Oh… I… sabella…”, and burst to laugh, seemed like she wanted to break all of her sorrow. It seemed she made him start. His voice trailed, as if he has just been woken out of certain unconsciousness, “Who is there? What are you just doing?”
She laughed uncontrollably, “Me. It’s just¾ me. I sing lest to be bored, you know. Go to sleep!”
He said something she couldn’t make out, then managed to stagger to the bench where she was lying.
“It’s still night. Quite dark in here. Just lie still there, will you? I’ll go over, and sing for you.”
“You sing very well, don’t you?” She said, not thinking it was her who spoke. “My daughter said you work at a nightclub on weekends.”
He seated himself at the end of the bench, “My singing’s just fine. At those nonsense nightclubs, my job is to thrash, to writhe like a snake may do, that makes women caper with excitement.”
“It goes like hot cakes, eh? It’s kind of welcomed by the women’s lib.”
“At those clubs the women and young girls who come to enjoy themselves are willing to pay. For me, who’d never been much of a good student, holding no degree, the job is good enough.”
“Which types they look, the women who like relieve their boredom, or entertain themselves in such a way? Just curious.”
“Moral people, teenage louts, intellectual or riff-raff, they’re all the same, impulsive sometimes. With my being a male stripper I’d just been lucky I met your daughter.”
She was in utter bewilderment, but thought if it were entertainment then it might indeed have been there for anyone, at any age, belonging to any particular social class, to enjoy. Her daughter would probably go through it just for the hell of it, rather than seeking to make her a liberated female sex. But she thought, it was high time that men couldn’t any longer regard women as sex objects. Sex pleasure, and praise for sex ability of a sex maniac as well, seemed to cause offence as women already considered the demand for slave sex attendance to a Lord was quite a matter of old times, old-fashioned and feudal, unfair for male prostitutes and male strippers. Why was that only men had the right to seek sensual delight, the right to praise a body or to snub a beauty (?)
In a sudden, she pushed herself up, and cocked her head to look at him, “You met my daughter as she came to the club with her friends full of mischief, don’t you?”
He hung his head, as if he was thinking of his love one, “Yes. After the show that night, they couldn’t start the car. They’d have been in bad trouble, if I hadn’t helped ’em.”
Well, he always fancied his chances of playing the role of a savour. She regretfully thought of her daughter, “What a pity for my daughter. Just gone for good, suddenly.”
He looked at her crying like a little child, and soothed her, “Please don’t cry. It’s useless now. Let me sing for you, with my broken heart. It will be good.”
“All right then. Be a cicada to harp on the same string. If so cross, then I must tell you to stop.”
He sang. As if his voice rose from the broken parts of his soul. Now entangled in mountainsides or chasm the suffocated husky voice, now thrown up into the blue sky the bursting sobs. He’s been in a state of delirium, it seemed. And inventing the melody for his own sake. Without exactly needing her as a good listener. He just wanted to give himself up to the deeply moving sounds, in which he could burst into flame.
The song was in her vague recollection, like a poem upon which tears were just dried, and he was playing it through each musical note in his head perhaps.
“Be not afraid darling / Even now God has abandoned man / And Buddha been away from our mind / Everyone tries to make a pilgrimage / Cheer madly for themselves the nihilism / However it might be I’ll stay put, and wait / But unfortunately without exactly knowing what I’m waiting for / Happy and miserable am I as long as I cannot help longing / And waiting / The earth on which I live distances itself from God / You need not to live several religious lives to meet up with me with peace in mind / For in this world people worry no more / About the death of the mayflies / In the flame of burning baits / Sure you don’t know what frequency I am on / The frequency I just want you to know / Please take the signals that seem to be old / The signals that seem to make no effective use / Or you think that is only the reunion of the lonely hearts / The relation of darkness and sin / No matter – we are so lonely / To consolidate the belief that we still have each other / As when I bring the blade’s edge to my wrists and make a cut / And then the blood coming with drama / Blood with the red cells that bear your name / I’m the man who has had much sorrow / Never had I put my love on a scale / To measure out your past / And my present / For moral value will be trampled under your feet / I’m looking for you for long / From one hurricane to another / From the dream beginning the night to the one that begin the day / From this uncertainty to that uncertainty / We shall be the last prophets to preach: The thunders of love fear not backbiting / So just take my fate and torment it / Mercilessly the way you want / I want to die at your hands / I need a bit of your venture that put me on the wing / Please save a restless heart / At last – I am just an angle / Who practices to fly in hell…”
If his song, or rather his poem, like a hurricane, had made landfall to the plain in her? The hurricane that needed not to be warned by a dream of thunderbolt. And she had the impression that she was facing a sleepwalker.
“That’s enough. You sing quite all right. And cunning as a fox you’re.”
The man said, in a whisper, “Well, so depressed. Lovesick, you know.” He seemed to be talking to himself.
Without looking at him she knew he nearly succumbed to crying, burring his face to his hands. It was impossible that his loneliness and hers were quite alike. He was too young, and it was easy for him to try it again. But how much longer it took that she would be able to bandage up this wound she was bearing. Just to bandage it, let alone waiting for the wound healed into a faint scar.
“Every wound should be healed, perhaps.” She said, as if trying to console herself.
He gave a twisted smile His white teeth provided her the contrast to the colour of his black face. She recalled that she had once complained to her daughter: “Are you sure you love him? You know that you will challenge the whole of this life.” “Mom, he is just five years older than I. And about his colour, I think he shouldn’t be discriminated against because he is black, should he?” The age, the nationality¾ the limping moral value. Was there any empty space in the love world where all such things could be? If they must go out of this earth for their love life? If she were really flying high with him in this world, would her husband and her daughter who were now in hell accuse her? Of being guilty. Guilty. In the name of which belief did the society decided that it had a licence to accuse people?
He sat on there listlessly, then took hold of her forearm, slightly shook it, “You’re so sad no doubt. Life had taken away from you all those things.”
“Of course. No one would be able to fill it up. There’s a happy day for me no more.”
“I know that. Same here¾ a girl like your daughter, I won’t see the like of her again.”
“No matter this earth is so vast or it might shrink, we’re the ones who get lost all the same.”
“No. ‘cause I should get lost no more, I ask you a favour.”
“Just wait¾” She said in a jocular way, “Don’t ask until you are about to die on the scaffold.” He looked guiltily at her, slurred as if he was still in the drunkenness, “Well, if you don’t want to hear. I don’t know why I sometimes have the impression that you look exactly like her.”
Very quickly he said, before she could stop him. But how was she to stop the drops of blood leaking from his heart. Well, nothing serious. There were so many bleeding hearts in this life. Some day, the heart would be so squeezed dry it held blood no more.
She took pity on him, and on herself as well.
“Don’t drink too much. You’re clearly drunk, know that?” He nodded his head, “Maybe I’m. I’m a bit drunk. Are you disgusted by listening to a drunk who talks or sings?”
“You’re good to me. But for your help, I’d have been collapsed.” She wandered off.
“Would you please let me be the one who wishes to console you at this very short moment. You’re so young and so beautiful that you’ll rise again, after you’re slapped in the face by that devilish God up there.”
“To say the truth, I’ll never again be able to reconcile myself to life. I’m extremely annoyed with it. That damned God had badly done me harm.”
A hush fell on him. She found herself related to his feeling of powerlessness. The same feeling she got, she was defeated and powerless against the deaths of her daughter and her husband. The bondage seemed never break, and she would never be able to talk about “rising again” or “completely paralyzed”.
It seemed to be a dream, or at least she wanted to consider it a dream. The dream of a hurricane was so forceful, but so beautiful like a poet’s. She knew the days to come she must take a whole load of sleeping pills, and however it might be she would keep in mind that it was a dream. Long or short, it was only a dream.
She was covered in sweat as if she has just awoken from a nightmare. Had she been dreaming? Isabel at this very moment was expected to move away, weaken to a dry tropical depression that would have to have died in certain desert. Had just enough strength to blow away the morning dews on the stem tips of the cactuses.
1) The author follows the ‘The Prajna-Paramita-Hrdaya Sutra” of Buddhism. Quote: “… Sariputra! Form (rupa) does not differ from the void (sunya), nor the void from form. Form is identical with void (and) void is identical with form. So also are reception (venada), conception (sanjna), mental function (samskara) and consciousness (vijnana) in relation to the void …” (Translated from the Chinese by Upasaka Lu K’uan-yu).
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