Not A Bad Day

Contributor: Henry Lu

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Author’s note: this tale is reconstructed from a bunch of recently unearthed Han Dynasty scripts in Anhui Province, China. They are ink on woods and ink rubbing on hemp papers and are by the hand of Prince An Liu (179 BC – 122 BC).
After a breakfast of millet pancakes with tofu, Prince An Liu practices calligraphy. Today he writes down his favorite Confucius motto: “I would rather subsist on a diet without meat than downsize to a dwelling without a bamboo grove.” His handwriting, though meticulous and beautiful, lacks something of his own craving. Like all his elixir concoction hitherto, it’s missing the magic of immortality. “Send it to Regent Ho,” he instructs his royal butler, “as a token of gratitude for his supply of rare herbs, metals and minerals to my alchemy lab.”
The most recent shipment from the Regent has included gypsum which, the Prince has discovered via a sheer “what-the-heck” trial, can coagulate soybean milk into something he has christened as “tofu”(“bean curd”). Overnight, tofu has become a national sensation. The Prince, forever self-deprecating, dismisses his popularity as “15 minutes of fame”, not knowing that his phrase will be recycled some twenty centuries later into the parlance of time. His nephew, Emperor Wu, is fully aware of the Prince’s sway on the national sentiment. The Prince’s friends, including Premier Tien, have cautioned him about the Emperor’s unease. “Blood is thicker than water,” they tell the Prince, “but not thick enough to form indemnity against political purge.”
The Prince considers a coup d'état – as some of his advisers suggest – utterly unobtainable. He must come up with the elixir as quickly as possible. Then he can retire from politics and live as a recluse – but forever – in a Taoist temple, and wait for his nephew to die. Time is running out and everyday he must get a step closer to his goal. Today, he plans to mix an egg (the symbol of life) with some gold powder (the symbol of permanence) and see what happens.
The Prince punctures an egg with a pin and carefully enlarges the hole to the size that allows free flow of egg white but still small enough to retain the yolk inside the shell. The Prince sprinkles gold powder into the bowl of egg white, along with a potion of proving vitality-enhancing property. He sends it to his focus group consisting of the nation’s leading Taoist and Confucianist scholars. While waiting for their feedbacks, he orders an early lunch with some of his own aphrodisiac condiments – a slice of slow-stewed deer antlers and a handful of pickled caterpillar fungi. Before long, sensing he is about to pop a chubby, he sends for Lady Forsythia, the latest acquisition of his harem, and returns to his bedroom for a recess.
The romp in the bedroom lasts for three hours, ending with Lady Forsythia’s impromptu lap-dance accompanied by the Prince on the ocarina. Both of them indulge in generous amount of warm sake. Struck by a literary lightning conceived in the tryst of Muse and Dionysus, the Prince takes sudden leave of Lady Forsythia and goes to his study. There, he sits down and writes a twisted fable of a village elder whose horse one day defects to the Huns’ camp, only to return again on his own, bringing along a herd of the Huns’ horses. Thrilled with the sudden windfall, the elder’s son rejoices in riding the stallion every day till he breaks his femur in a freak accident. The Huns soon pour over the Great Wall and invade China. Every young man in the village is conscripted and dies in the battles except the cripple. At every turn of events, a fortune disguises itself as a misfortune while giving birth to a real misfortune in the end. The Prince orders to have the story gift-bounded and donated to the royal library. He does not know yet that the gist of it will become the most popular proverb in the Sinosphere, serving as the Eastern version of “every cloud has its silver lining”.
The Prince then goes to the opera stage in the garden, hours late for an appointment with a group of martial art masters. For their divine patience, he rewards them with a demonstration of Tai Chi, a slow motion version of Kung Fu he has invented, inspired by the graceful, slow demeanor of a turtle, a long-living species the Prince regards as role model.
After that he returns to his lab, where on his desk lie the glowing feedback from the focus group. Understandably, the purported life-prolonging effect is yet to be seen but the flavor and color is palatable and welcoming, with no ill side effect. Smiling, the Prince watches the sunset and listens to the frogs croak, drifting deeper and deeper in thoughts. Suddenly, he picks up the egg shell with the yolk still inside and studies it for a long time, as if admiring the perfect drilling he has done to it. He puts it down atop a mini hibachi grill, with the hole facing straight up, and lights the charcoal. The yolk sizzles and emits a disagreeable sulfurous smell; within a couple of minutes, hot, smoky air gushes out like a geyser through the tiny hole in the egg shell. With a pair of chopsticks, the Prince turns the hot egg shell so that the air hole faces straight down. The instance he relaxes his grip on the chopsticks the egg floats up in the air. It manages afloat for a while, a little wobbly, like a baby bird learning to fly and eventually crashes onto the floor when the hot air runs out. The Prince cries with joy. He has just created the world’s very first hot air balloon. Subconsciously, the Prince knows he will not live long enough to discover the magic of immortality. But there are days when he gets closer. Today is not a bad day.

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Henry Lu is a computer programmer by day, a painter and writer by night. Some of his paintings are installed in certain Federal Government buildings in DC. His fictions have appeared, or are forthcoming, on Postcard Shorts, Nanoism and Absinthe Revival Press' Summertime Anthology.
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