I'd love it if this anthology won. Eric has posted an exerpt of his story, The Son of Heaven, and Derwin Mak has posted details about the award. Please go and vote for us if you like our stories.
For those who haven't read it, I'm going to post an exerpt from my story, Across the Sea. To read the whole story and others from the Chinese diaspora, buy the book :-)
Across the Sea
by Emily Mah
Chopsticks made from bone or ivory, a piece of jade carved into the face of a dragon, and a piece of a lacquered bowl. The objects were laid out on a weathered plastic tray set on an unsteady card table at one end of the dig site. Kate Hu stared at them, her stomach churning.
“We'd put these at about six hundred years old,” one of the archaeologists said. “So, beginning of the fifteenth century.”
“Right,” Kate replied. “So you called --”
The sentence was cut short by the arrival of a shiny black Hummer that pulled up to the dig site and stopped short enough to spray everyone with gravel.
“-- Michael Scott,” Kate finished.
“Well, yeah,” said the archaeologist, a pencil thin grad student with thick spectacles perched on the bridge of his nose. Kenderson was his name, Doug Kenderson. “He's been talking about writing another book.”
The Hummer door swung open, and out stepped a man in his early forties with silvered hair and a perfectly tailored sport jacket over jeans. Kate wished she could turn away, but her traitorous eyes stared at him openly.
He caught sight of her at once and blinked. “Kate?” At least he remembered her name.
“Mr. Scott,” she replied.
“Dr. Scott,” Kenderson whispered. Then, louder, “You know Kate Hu, then?”
“We have met.” Dr. Scott chuckled as he sauntered over. “What brings you out here?” he asked her.
“I'm the Deputy Manager of Cultural Affairs.”
“Really? For the Tlingowa?”
No, she thought in her mind, I joined some other tribe and just decided to show up at this dig on Tlingowa land out of nosiness. She turned her gaze towards the beach, half a mile away. The sun was setting over the ocean, painting the sky with pale peach light and turning the clouds molten gold. The weather had been beautiful all week -- not something that could always be counted on along the
“How's your aunt?” Dr. Scott asked.
Kate didn't respond to that, just turned and started hiking towards her beat up old jeep.
Michael Scott had shown up at her father's apartment fifteen years ago, when Kate was nine. It had been a rainy day in
, and her father had answered the door to reveal a chubby, pimple faced grad student with a nervous air about him. Eugene
“I'm a linguistic anthropologist,” Mr. Scott had explained, “and I'd like to do my field work with the Tlingowa.”
Kate had stood behind her father's legs, peering out.
“You've got to be kidding,” said her father. “The tribe's got three hundred members, most of whom live in the city, and two fluent speakers.”
“Rumor has it there are three fluent speakers,” said Mr. Scott. “I'm looking for Bess Jenkins?”
Kate gripped her father's belt loop. Great Aunt Bess was sitting in the kitchen, rambling to herself as was her wont. Kate felt her father hesitate before he stepped back. She scampered out of his way.
“She's here,” said her father. “I'll introduce you.”
Even though Kate was only nine, she understood that her father expected this grad student to take one look at Bess and then politely take his leave. Bess rambled and ranted and was never more than half aware of where she was or whom she was with. When her father led Mr. Scott to the breakfast nook, Bess was sitting at the table muttering something about people on television trying to steal her glasses.
Her skin was fair, her eyes light gray. Like most of the Tlingowa, she had very little native blood. The tribe had been assimilated long ago.
“Bess?” snapped Kate's father. “Someone here to see you.”
Usually Bess didn't even acknowledge that she'd been spoken to, but this time she turned, blinked, and looked up at Mr. Scott. “Hello,” she said.
“Hello, I'm --”
“A giant canoe, one driven by the wind pushing against its great cloth wings, was dashed upon the rocks near the mouth of the river,” Bess said. “Long ago, long before any whites came to our land. These men were from across our sea, the only sea my people knew.”
She was speaking half in English, half in Tlingowa. Mr. Scott sat down in the chair across from her, rapt.
Kate slipped into another chair and listened. She couldn't tell if Mr. Scott understood what her aunt said.
“Five men survived, and swam to shore clinging to pieces of their canoe. Their skin was paler than ours, their hair jet black. Their eyes were tilted and dark brown, and they sang to each other rather than spoke.
“Our people helped them ashore, pressed the water from their bellies, and lit fires to warm them. They welcomed them as friends, putting beaded shell necklaces around their necks and frying them a feast of fishes. Three of the men were thin, one was very fat, and the fifth was round with a very round face, like the moon.”
It was rare for Bess to string so many coherent sentences together. Kate listened eagerly and didn't notice when Mr. Scott got out his tape recorder.
“Something wrong, Kate?” Randall McGinty asked[E1]. He was the Manager of Cultural Affairs for the Tlingowa, a job that he did in the evenings and weekends. The rest of the time he was an attorney at a small real estate practice. Kate worked as the receptionist. The fact that they were both registered Tlingowa was almost laughable, as neither of them looked native, nor did they participate in any cultural events. None of the Tlingowa did. The last of their fluent speakers had died years ago.
“Kate?” Randy prompted.
Kate blinked. “Um, Michael Scott --”
“I hear you got to see him. I have his book. He said he'd sign it for me.” Randy looked downright giddy. He even bounced on the balls of his feet.
“Oh,” said Kate. “That's nice. I was just wondering if we wanted him here on the dig. I mean, as Manager of Cultural --”
“Can you imagine the publicity this'll net?” Randy said. “I bet we get hundreds of archaeologists here next summer. Here --” he dug into his briefcase and came up with a hardcover book “-- will you sign this too? You're Bess's closest surviving relative.”
Kate stared down at the glossy dustcover for a moment, then shut her eyes. Michael Scott had recorded all of Aunt Bess's story and written a paper on “The Emerging Tlingowa-English Creole” using her tale to illustrate when and how a fluent Tlingowa speaker used English. It was a dry enough topic, but with the oddness of Bess's story, it became one of the most popular papers of its time.
It was so popular in the world of anthropology that Dr. Scott had fleshed it out into a book. It was supposed to be a textbook on how linguistic anthropologists cataloged and quantified language shift. Again, he used Bess's story in its entirety, and the book shot up the New York Times Bestseller list, making the Tlingowa one of the most well known Athabaskan tribes in the country, and exposing Bess to universal ridicule.
To make matters worse, Kate's father, who had been the Manager of Cultural Affairs at the time, had blurbed the book, calling it “hilarious” and “absorbing.”
“I'm not signing this,” Kate told Randy. She pushed the book back towards him.
“What? You don't like it?” he said.
“No,” she replied. “I don't.”
“I'm not sure if there's another book here or not,” Dr. Scott was saying as Kate arrived at the dig site that evening. “There's the beginning of one. I mean, these Chinese artifacts are most likely the product of trade along the coast. There's a lot of evidence that there was a small Chinese community in northern
in the 1400's, people who got left behind when one of the junks dropped them off and never returned.” California
“Right,” said Kenderson, the same archaeologist who'd done all the talking the day before. “So you write about how these artifacts could support Old Bess's story, but then give the more scientific explanation.”
“Sure, that's the idea,” said Dr. Scott. “But I've got to do some more looking into all this.” He turned to Kate as she approached the table. “Evening,” he said to her.
She just stared back in reply.
Dr. Scott's smile faltered, but only for a split second. “I need one of you to help look for documentation of a wrecked junk along the coast near here. A wreck so bad that only five people would survive.”
“There is one,” said Kenderson. “I already looked it up. See, if you let me use your laptop there, I can show it to you on Google Earth. It's here, where the river runs into the sea, or thereabouts.”
Kate clenched and unclenched her teeth. “Look,” she said, “you're here with permission from the Tlingowa people. You can't just --”
“Randy already gave us permission to let Dr. Scott take over the dig,” said Kenderson. “If he wants to.”
“We'll see, we'll see,” said Dr. Scott. “Huh, there was a junk wrecked just a mile out from the beach. Interesting.” He squinted at the computer screen.
“The pale men wanted to go home, that was clear. They sang to each other in forlorn tones and stared off across the sea. Although our people fed them and gave them space in our huts to live, the men preferred to sleep under the stars.
“While four of them just wept and despaired, the moon faced man started to take long walks. He came back every evening with rocks that he would grind into powder, and he'd mix the powders together.
“One night, he added ash from the fire pit to his rock powder, then held a flaming brand to his mixture, and it flared up. The rocks themselves burned.”
“He says it's too early to know if there'll be a second book,” Randy was saying into his phone when Kate arrived at work the next day.
Kate wished she had her own office. She would have shut the door and locked it. As it was, she had to sit out in the open, at the receptionist's desk, while Randy blabbed away with his office door open.
“Here she is!” Randy said. “Kate Hu. Her great aunt was the one who told the story, and her father was Chinese-American. She's got a double interest in all this, what with the archaeologists finding actual Chinese artifacts. I'll ask if she wants to speak to -- whoops, she's gone.”
Kate had gotten up and made for the bathroom. Once there, she shut herself into a stall and sat on the toilet lid, knees pulled up to her chest, forehead resting on her folded arms. It was all too much. While the cold porcelain seeped the warmth from her body, she struggled to suppress the memories that were bubbling up in her mind.
Bess had always ranted insanity for as long as Kate had known her. That story she related to Mr. Scott was the only coherent story she'd ever told, and ridiculous as it was, Kate treasured it. She wished she knew its origins, whether it had been a Tlingowa legend or just the product of Bess's addled brain.
That story and the broken Tlingowa that Kate could speak were the only relics of her native heritage that she possessed. Her mother had died in a car accident when Kate was four. Her father had used his position as Manager of Cultural Affairs to accompany Dr. Scott on a signing and lecture tour, and then when the limelight faded, he remarried and moved to
. Kate had lived with him for a few years, then moved back to Des Moines at age eighteen. It was, after all, her ancestral home. Oregon
Even though Kate was only one eighth Tlingowa and seven eighths a mix of Chinese and Danish, Bess had nurtured her cultural ties to this tiny tribe of three hundred souls who lived and worked in southwest
and owned a minuscule stretch of the[E2] coast. Oregon
Their language had died out in her lifetime, and now archaeologists with no ties to their people were on their land to dig up their history and tell their story. It wasn't right.
“Kate?” Randy called out. He knocked on the women's bathroom door. “Hey, Kate? Mike found what looks like an ancient saltpeter mine. Can you believe it?”
“The moon faced man hollowed out a stick and packed it full of powder. He carved the outside of the stick just so and bound it with a length of twine. One evening, he lit the twine and our people watched as the hollow stick shot up into the air leaving a trail of sparks.”
Kate's father placed a peanut butter sandwich in front of her and turned to Mr. Scott. “You hungry?” he asked.
Mr. Scott looked up from his hastily scratched notes and shook his head.
Bess continued on, heedless. “The moon faced man knew only a little Tlingowa, but he pointed at the flying stick and said, 'We go home like this.'"
the rest is in the anthology!
the rest is in the anthology!