As music and splendour
Survive not the lamp and the lute,
The heart’s echoes render
No song when the spirit is mute:–
No song but sad dirges,
Like the wind through a ruined cell,
Or the mournful surges
That ring the dead seaman’s knell.
–Percy Bysshe Shelley, When the Lamp is Shattered
Ah-Qiang took Xu Ping around the house and talked about the amenities before getting ready to leave with Uncle and Auntie Lin.
Xu Ping repeatedly asked them to stay for dinner, but after carefully noting his aunt’s expression, he refused right away.
Xu Ping saw them out the door. The three insisted that Xu Ping not go so far, so Xu Ping said goodbye in the yard.
He returned to the house and closed the front door. The next moment, he heard a high yelp from Ah-Qiang outside. He stopped, shaking his head with a smile, and then returned to the foyer.
There was a staircase that led to the second floor where there were two bedrooms. To the left of the foyer was the living area and to the right a connected kitchen and dining area. An open-air deck was attached to the living area, where a small staircase led to the beach.
His brother was waiting for him to join him for supper.
Xu Ping walked over to find two bowls of steamy, hot rice, a steamed fish, stir-fry veggies, and an earthen pot. Xu Ping lifted the lid, and the steam was so strong he could not keep his eyes open. After the steam finally dissipated, he saw white, thick soup. He stirred it with a spoon and found the main ingredient to be some kind of meat accompanied by dong quai, Chinese yam, goji berries and something that looked like tendril-less ginseng. It smelled like fat.
Xu Ping poured a bowl for his brother while he ate stir-fry veggies with rice.
Xu Zheng gulped down the soup very quickly. He smacked his lips together, apparently taking a liking to the soup, and stuck out his empty bowl for another serving.
Xu Ping took the bowl and flipped it over on the table. He said looking downwards, “One’s enough.”
“Oh.” His brother paused before burying his face into his rice bowl.
Xu Ping took apart the fish removing the bones and placed a large piece in his brother’ bowl.
“Try this. Fresh salt-water fish. We don’t get to eat this at home.”
Xu Zheng took a bite.
“How is it?”
Xu Zheng considered for a moment. “No taste.”
It was dark by the time they finished supper. Xu Ping urged his brother to take a shower as he washed the dishes.
But Xu Zheng appeared rather distracted.
After staring out at the ocean from the deck window, he finally turned to his brother. “Gege, I want to swim.”
Xu Ping placed the last bowl into the drainer to air dry and wiped his hands.
“It’s too late. It’s dark outside already. It’s dangerous to go swimming now.”
He watched as the strong ocean wind ruffled the coconut tree leaves.
He lifted the back of his brother’ t-shirt up to his nose. “You sweated so much after the long ride today. You’re all stinky.”
Feeling that he was treated unjustly, Xu Zheng turned around, picked his brother up and stuck his face into his chest. “Gege is stinky, too.”
Xu Ping giggled.
He rubbed the hair near his brother’s temple as he cupped his face. “We’ve had a long day. Aren’t you tired?”
His brother shook his head. He picked Xu Ping up and did a twirl.
“I want to swim.”
Xu Ping rapped his on the head. “No.”
He dug out a change of clothes and handed it to his brother. “Go shower.”
Unsatisfied and upset, his brother trudged away. Soon the sound of water came from the bathroom.
Xu Ping carried the two suitcases upstairs planning to sort their belongings while his brother was in the shower.
He opened the master bedroom door but stopped in his tracks.
The black, carved bed was covered with lily white sheets. A feathery light canopy draped down along the four posters obscuring the scene within. Two wine glasses stood on the dresser, and a bottle of champagne stuck out from a bucket of ice. At the foot of the bed was the glass door to the second-storey deck. The quiet yet grand ocean lay in the darkness beyond the light beige curtains.
Xu Ping stepped inside and lifted up the white canopy. There was a bouquet of roses wrapped in tissue paper lying on the white embroidered duvet cover.
Xu Ping sniffed the roses and then put them on the dresser.
Underneath the bouquet was a card. He opened it, and it read, “Congratulations on your marriage. Wishing you a hundred years of happiness.”
Xu Ping crumpled the card and threw it on the ground.
He sat on the edge of the bed and bounced. The mattress was very good.
He splayed his hands across the embroidery, feeling in the dark the ups and downs of each stitch.
How many newlyweds has this bed accommodated, Xu Ping wondered.
He opened his arms and fell back onto the bed.
In the dark, he stared at the top of the canopy.
He remembered Auntie Lin walking out from the kitchen as she took off her apron. She said to him with a smile, “Mr. Xu, am I right? Welcome. You made a right choice coming here for your honeymoon. So many couples who came here didn’t want to leave, so I tell them to come here every year. That way they’d sure stay together until the…”
He recalled her face as his brother walked in carrying the luggage, as though she swallowed a duck egg whole.
The men might have been dense, but the women always had an animalistic intuition.
He saw the look of disgust on her face as she eyed him and his brother. Maybe she had seen through it or guessed, but she did not say a word about it.
However, Xu Ping was not angered. He did not feel even a hint of emotional change.
He envied her. She had a happy marriage and a beautiful life, both of which Xu Ping lacked.
As he listened to the water in the bathroom, he thought of his brother and how happy he looked when he twirled him around in his arms earlier.
Xu Ping slowly covered his face with his hands.
Xu Zheng came out of the bathroom with a towel around his neck. “Gege.”
Nobody answered him.
He looked around the second floor but found no Xu Ping. Then he hopped the steps down to the main floor but still did not see anybody.
The veins on his neck bulged out, and he balled his fists and threw his head back as he howled, “GEGE!”
Then he heard a small tink on the window.
Xu Zheng dashed over and ripped the curtains away to see his brother standing barefoot on the beach waving at him.
He opened the deck door and raced down the steps, catching Xu Ping in a hug from behind.
Xu Ping turned his head, smiling. “What’s wrong? I just came out to look at the sea.”
Xu Zheng kept his head tucked in and would not loosen his grip.
Xu Ping patted his brother’s arm. “Shh. Don’t talk. Listen.”
The waves washed over the beach in gentle swishes.
The brothers did not speak for a long time, but Xu Ping suddenly asked, “Xiao-Zheng, do you blame me?”
Xu Zheng lifted his head and asked slowly, “Blame Gege for what?”
Xu Ping did not answer.
He kept his gaze on the dark ocean as though to spy on the other shore.
Then he lowered his head and patted his brother’s hand.
“Won’t you take a walk with me?”
Xu Zheng nodded.
This side of the island was indeed tranquil and deserted. Not a single other person was in sight. The moon hung high in the night sky. The white waves continued to wash over the shore.
His brother ran ahead barefoot, chasing the tide. When it ebbed, he would step closer, and when it rose, he would leap backward.
With his own sandals in hand, Xu Ping leisurely trailed behind his brother.
They left two sets of prints in the sand.
Caught in the fun, Xu Zheng somehow tripped and fell into the water, wetting his bottoms.
Xu Ping flung his shoes away and ran over to help his brother up. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
Xu Zheng shook his head.
Xu Ping put his brother’s leg on his lap and began to rub his ankle. “Does it hurt?”
His brother shook his head.
Just when Xu Ping breathed a sigh of relief, his brother let out a loud yelp.
Xu Ping nearly leapt up in fear.
Xu Zheng held up one finger. There was a tiny grey crab attached to it.
As soon as Xu Ping gathered his composure again, he punched his brother.
Completely unaware, Xu Zheng held the finger up to his eyes and studied it very carefully before looking up and asking, “What is this, Gege?”
“A crab,” Xu Ping replied.
He leaned in to find that the crab was only about the size of three fingertips. Its belly was even translucent.
“Don’t move,” he said as he cautiously pried the claws apart and placed it back onto the sand.
The crab lay motionless for a second before flitting off sideways, burrowing into a small hole in the beach and disappearing.
Only when he crept close to the ground did Xu Ping discover the sand was littered with these holes, but they were not very visible at nighttime.
Excited, Xu Zheng lay down beside his brother and stuck out an index finger to dig one of the holes.
Xu Ping grabbed him.
He glared at him. “Wait.” And he found a stick from some bushes to the side.
“Use this,” he said.
His brother poked the stick into one hole, and before he could pull it back out, a small crab sprang out.
Xu Zheng flipped it onto its back and watched it wave its eight legs around with its white stomach exposed.
He started to laugh happily.
Xu Ping flipped it right side up and watched it run for its life.
He stood up, and after brushing off the sand on his clothes, he pulled his brother up.
His brother still wanted to play some more, so Xu Ping told him as he dusted him off, “These are the small crabs. They’re babies, but if you keep being mean to them, their mom is going to come soon. She’s as big as a house, and her claws can chop your legs off.” He stared at his brother. “Aren’t you scared?”
Xu Zheng stared back dumbly as his face paled, and he nodded.
Smiling, Xu Ping pushed him away. “Then why aren’t you running?”
His brother yelped and dashed away, but he found that his gege was not behind him. He jumped as he waved his arms. “Run, Gege!”
Xu Ping picked up his shoes and shook them as he replied lazily, “You run. I’m too tired. I can’t run.”
A frustrated Xu Zheng looked left and right before racing back and crouching down with his back to Xu Ping. “Gege come on. I carry you and run.”
Xu Ping rubbed his lips together and replied after a long time. “Gege is very heavy. You should save yourself.”
Xu Zheng said frantically, “I can carry. I can carry no matter how heavy! Gege, come on quick!”
Chuckling, Xu Ping dropped his shoes and leaned forward onto his brother’s back.
Xu Zheng grabbed his legs and started running, his back bent.
Xu Ping hugged his brother’s neck tightly and closed his eyes listening to his heartbeat.
He heard the sound of the waves, and the sound of his brother’s feet on the sand.
“Gege is a liar.”
Xu Ping opened his eyes. “Huh?”
“Gege is not heavy at all. I can carry Gege and run and run and run.”
Xu Ping placed his head on his brother’s back and let his eyes flutter shut.
Not far off was the red-roofed, Caribbean-style cottage they had passed earlier. For some reason, the lights were on.
“Gege, did the big crab catch up?”
Xu Ping turned to look. The only things in the night were the white sand, the curved coconut trees, the waves quietly hitting the beach and the stars sparkling like diamonds on navy blue velvet.
“Gege, can we stop?”
Xu Ping turned back around.
He held his brother tightly and muttered in a shaking voice, trying to fight back his tears, “Just a bit farther, Xiao-Zheng. Just a bit farther.”
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Earthern pot usually used to make soup, meat dishes or rice dishes.
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ayszhang: Hey hey~ we're almost at the end! A few more chappies to go ^^ Any predictions?!
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.