Excerpt of Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan
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A Brief History of My Shortened Life
It was not my fault. If only the group had followed my original
itinerary without changing it hither, thither, and yon, this debacle would never
have happened. But such was not the case, and there you have it, I regret to
"Following the Buddha's Footsteps" is what I named the
expedition. It was to have begun in the southwestern corner of China, in Yunnan
Province, with vistas of the Himalayas and perpetual spring flowers, and then to
have continued south on the famed Burma Road. This would allow us to trace the
marvelous influence of various religious cultures on Buddhist art over a
thousand years and a thousand milesa fabulous journey into the past. As if
that were not enough appeal, I would be both tour leader and personal docent,
making the expedition a truly value-added opportunity. But in the wee hours of
December 2nd, and just fourteen days before we were to leave on our expedition,
a hideous thing happened . . . I died. There. I've finally said it, as
unbelievable as it sounds. I can still see the tragic headline: "Socialite
Butchered in Cult Slaying."
The article was quite long: two columns on the left-hand side of
the front page, with a color photo of me covered with an antique textile, an
exquisite one utterly ruined for future sale.
The report was a terrible thing to read: "The body of Bibi Chen,
63, retail maven, socialite, and board member of the Asian Art Museum, was found
yesterday in the display window of her Union Square store, The Immortals, famed
for its chinoiserie. . . ." That odious word"chinoiserie"so belittling in
a precious way. The article continued with a rather nebulous description of the
weapon: a small, rakelike object that had severed my throat, and a rope
tightened around my neck, suggesting that someone had tried to strangle me after
stabbing had failed. The door had been forced open, and bloody footprints of
size-twelve men's shoes led from the platform where I had died, then out the
door, and down the street. Next to my body lay jewelry and broken figurines.
According to one source, there was a paper with writing from a Satanic cult
bragging that it had struck again.
Two days later, there was another story, only shorter and with
no photo: "New Clues in Arts Patron's Death." A police spokesman explained
that they had never called it a cult slaying. The detective had noted "a paper,"
meaning a newspaper tabloid, and when asked by reporters what the paper said, he
gave the tabloid's headline: "Satanic Cult Vows to Kill Again." The spokesman
went on to say that more evidence had been found and an arrest had been made. A
police dog tracked the trail left by my blood. What is invisible to the human
eye, the spokesman said, still contains "scent molecules that highly trained
dogs can detect for as long as a week or so after the event." (My death was an
event?) The trail took them to an alleyway, where they found bloodstained slacks
stuffed in a shopping cart filled with trash. A short distance from there, they
found a tent fashioned out of blue tarp and cardboard. They arrested the
occupant, a homeless man, who was wearing the shoes that had left the telltale
imprints. The suspect had no criminal record but a history of psychiatric
problems. Case solved.
Or maybe not. Right after my friends were lost in Burma, the
newspaper changed its mind again: "Shopkeeper's Death Ruled Freak Accident."
No reason, no purpose, no one to blame, just "freak," this ugly
word next to my name forever. And why was I demoted to "shopkeeper"? The story
further noted that DNA analysis of the man's skin particles and those on both
the blood-spattered trousers and the shoes confirmed that the man was no longer
a suspect. So who had entered my gallery and left the prints? Wasn't it an
obvious case of crime? Who, exactly, caused this freak accident? Yet there was
no mention of a further investigation, shame on them. In the same article, the
reporter noted "an odd coincidence," namely that "Bibi Chen had organized the
Burma Road trip, in which eleven people went on a journey to view Buddhist art
and disappeared." You see how they pointed the shaking finger of blame? They
certainly implied it, through slippery association with what could not be
adequately explained, as if I had created a trip that was doomed from the start.
From Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan. Copyright Amy Tan 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Putnam Publishing. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.