Excerpt of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
(Page 2 of 4)
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"Girls!" Mama called up the stairs to us.
That was enough to wake up the others and get us all out of bed. Elder Sister
hurriedly got dressed and went downstairs. Beautiful Moon and I were slower,
because we had to dress not only ourselves but Third Sister as well. Then
together we went downstairs, where Aunt swept the floor, Uncle sang a morning
song, Mamawith Second Brother swaddled on her backpoured the last of the water
into the teapot to heat, and Elder Sister chopped scallions for the rice
porridge we call congee. My sister gave me a tranquil look that I took to mean
that she had already earned the approval of my family this morning and was safe
for the rest of the day. I tucked away my resentment, not understanding that
what I saw as her self-satisfaction was something closer to the cheerless
resignation that would settle on my sister after she married out.
"Beautiful Moon! Lily! Come here! Come here!"
My aunt greeted us this way each and every morning. We ran to her. Aunt
kissed Beautiful Moon and patted my bottom affectionately. Then Uncle swooped
in, swept up Beautiful Moon in his arms, and kissed her. After he set her back
down, he winked at me and pinched my cheek.
You know the old saying about beautiful people marrying beautiful people and
talented people marrying talented people? That morning I concluded that Uncle
and Aunt were two ugly people and therefore perfectly matched. Uncle, my
father's younger brother, had bowlegs, a bald head, and a full shiny face. Aunt
was plump, and her teeth were like jagged stones protruding from a karst cave.
Her bound feet were not very small, maybe fourteen centimeters long, twice the
size of what mine eventually became. I'd heard wicked tongues in our village say
that this was the reason Auntwho was of healthy stock, with wide hipscould not
carry a son to term. I'd never heard these kinds of reproaches in our home, not
even from Uncle. To me, they had an ideal marriage; he was an affectionate rat
and she was a dutiful ox. Every day they provided happiness around the hearth.
My mother had yet to acknowledge that I was in the room. This is how it had
been for as long as I could remember, but on that day I perceived and felt her
disregard. Melancholy sank into me, whisking away the joy I had just felt with
Aunt and Uncle, stunning me with its power. Then, just as quickly, the feeling
disappeared, because Elder Brother, who was six years older than I was, called
me to help him with his morning chores. Having been born in the year of the
horse, it is in my nature to love the outdoors, but even more important I got to
have Elder Brother completely to myself. I knew I was lucky and that my sisters
would hold this against me, but I didn't care. When he talked to me or smiled at
me I didn't feel invisible.
We ran outside. Elder Brother hauled water up from the well and filled
buckets for us to carry. We took them back to the house and set out again to
gather firewood. We made a pile, then Elder Brother loaded my arms with the
smaller sticks. He scooped up the rest and we headed home. When we got there, I
handed the sticks to Mama, hoping for her praise. After all, it's not so easy
for a little girl to lug a bucket of water or carry firewood. But Mama didn't
Even now, after all these years, it is difficult for me to think about Mama
and what I realized on that day. I saw so clearly that I was inconsequential to
her. I was a third child, a second worthless girl, too little to waste time on
until it looked like I would survive my milk years. She looked at me the way all
mothers look at their daughtersas a temporary visitor who was another mouth to
feed and a body to dress until I went to my husband's home. I was five, old
enough to know I didn't deserve her attention, but suddenly I craved it. I
longed for her to look at me and talk to me the way she did with Elder Brother.
But even in that moment of my first truly deep desire, I was smart enough to
know that Mama wouldn't want me to interrupt her during this busy time when so
often she had scolded me for talking too loudly or had swatted at the air around
me because I got in her way. Instead, I vowed to be like Elder Sister and help
as quietly and carefully as I could.
Excerpted from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See Copyright © 2005 by
Lisa See. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House,
Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.