Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See Read Free Book Online

Book: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lisa See
Tags: Fiction, Literary, Historical, Sagas
Unmarriageable.”
    “I would rather keep her on this earth unmarried than lose her forever.”
    “Then she would have no purpose and no value,” Aunt reasoned. “Your mother love tells you this is no future.”
    The whole time they argued, Third Sister didn’t move. Alum was spread over her skin and her feet were rebound. The next day, the snow still fell and she was worse. Though we were not rich, Baba went out into the storm and brought back the village doctor, who looked at Third Sister and shook his head. It was the first time I saw that gesture, which means that we are powerless to stop the soul of a loved one from leaving for the spirit world. You can fight it, but once death has grasped hold, nothing can be done. We are meek in the face of the afterworld’s desires. The doctor offered to make a poultice and prepare herbs for a tea, but he was a good and honest man. He understood our situation.
    “I can do these things for your little girl,” he confided to Baba, “but they will be money spent on a no-use cause.”
    But the bad news of that day was not yet done. While we kowtowed to the doctor, he looked round the room and saw Grandmother under her quilts. He moved to her, touched her forehead, and listened to the secret pulses that measured her
chi.
He looked up at my father. “Your honored mother is very sick. Why did you not mention this before?”
    How could Baba answer this and save face? He was a good son, but he was also a man, and this business fell within the inner realm. Still, Grandmother’s welfare was his most important filial duty. While he was downstairs smoking his pipe with his brother and waiting for winter to end, upstairs two people had fallen under the spell of ghost spirits.
    Again, our whole family set to questioning. Was too much time spent on worthless girls that the one woman of value and esteem in our home was allowed to weaken? Had all that walking back and forth across the room with Third Sister stolen Grandmother’s storehouse of steps? Had Grandmother—tired of hearing Third Sister’s screams—closed down her
chi
to shut out the irksome racket? Had the ghost spirits who’d come to prey on Third Sister been tempted by the possibility of another victim?
    After so much noise, and after all the attention that had been paid in recent weeks to Third Sister, all focus now shifted to Grandmother. My father and uncle left her side only to smoke, eat, or relieve themselves. Aunt assumed all the household duties, making meals for everyone, washing, and caring for all of us. I never saw Mama sleep. As the first daughter-in-law, she had two main purposes in life: to provide sons to carry on the family and to care for her husband’s mother. She should have watched Grandmother’s health more assiduously. Instead, she had allowed man-hope to enter her mind by shifting her attention to me and my good-luck future. Now, with the fierce determination born of her earlier neglectfulness, she performed all the prescribed rituals, preparing special offerings to the gods and to our ancestors, praying and chanting, even making soup from her own blood to rebuild Grandmother’s life force.
    Since everyone was occupied with Grandmother, Beautiful Moon and I were assigned to watch over Third Sister. We were only seven and did not know the words or actions to comfort her. Her torment was great, but it was not the worst I would see in my lifetime. She died four days later, enduring more suffering and pain than was fair for such a short life. Grandmother died one day after that. No one saw her suffer. She just curled up smaller and smaller like a caterpillar under an autumnal blanket of leaves.
    THE GROUND WAS too hard for burial to take place. Grandmother’s two remaining sworn sisters attended to her, sang mourning songs, wrapped her body in muslin, and dressed her for life in the afterworld. She was an old woman, who had lived a long life, so her eternity clothes had many layers. Third Sister was

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