Excerpt of Under Fishbone Clouds by Sam Meekings
(Page 1 of 5)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
The Year of the Dog
Beginnings are always difficult, especially when you have lived as
long as I have. I could start by telling you that this is a simple story
about two hearts and the way they are intertwined. But that wont
do. The Jade Emperor would not like that at all. I think I will have
to go a little further back.
In a small border town huddled at the furthest reaches of a
northern province, there was an old teahouse. It was winter there,
thousands of years ago. And inside was the owner, his face flushed
despite the frost that had turned his windows into rivers of curdled
milk. He bolted the door at the end of the night and ran a wet rag
through his hands. As he moved, sweat slipped between the folds
of his shirt. He had been pacing between the tables since morning.
Lukewarm tea sat in a squat clay cup on one of the dark wooden
tables, the leaves sunk to the bottom like broken lilies given up
The teahouse was situated at the end of a long, narrow street
that looked as though it had been sculpted out of ice. It was one
of the last buildings before the city trailed off into tracks darkened
by the reach of the mountains misshapen shadow. Since winter
began, the owner had not had enough customers to afford to keep
his tattered lanterns lit. Even so, he had not become accustomed to
waiting. Instead, his eyes had taken on a furtive quality, as though
at any second he would be ready to reach for the taper and strike
the small room into life. He sat and sipped his drink, almost dropping
it when he heard the timid taps at his door.
On the other side he found an old man who appeared to be at least
a head shorter than himself, although this might have been due to
the way he stooped and held his body at an angle, looking like his
left side was weighing his right side down. He looked to be at least
double the owners own age. The owner ushered the man inside,
anxious to keep the cold wind from sneaking in, and guided him
to a chair. He turned to light two of the thinner lanterns, which
hissed at him as the oil caught. The old mans face was sunburnt
and as lined as if it had been whittled from oak; his beard was like a
birds nest flaked with ash. One of the mountain people, the owner
muttered to himself as he heated some water. Definitely from the
mountain probably hadnt even set eyes on a coin in years.
Seeing no need for the swan-necked pot perched proudly in the
centre of the room, the owner filled two cups straight from the pan,
adding a stingy pinch of dried leaves to each. He sat down at the
same table as the old man, and both of them clasped their hands
round the cups.
From the mountain? the owner asked.
The old man nodded slowly, not taking his eyes from the steam
rising off the tea in front of him.
Bet its cold up there this time of year. Streams must be frozen
The old man nodded again. They sat in silence for a few minutes.
As the owner rose from the table, the old man spoke. Do you have
anything to eat?
The owner looked back at the old man for a moment, considering
the scraps in the kitchen. He was embarrassed with himself,
but he asked anyway, Can you pay?
The old man traced his hands across his grubby jacket and shook
Its all right, the owner sighed. Im about to eat anyway. Just
Soon he returned from the kitchen with two bowls. They ate.
By the time they pushed the bowls away darkness had settled like
dust between the tables. Yet before the owner had time to suggest
setting up a makeshift bed in the back, the old man had got up
from the table.
Thank you, but I must keep moving. Ive still got a long way to
Excerpted from Under Fishbone Clouds
by Sam Meekings. Copyright © 2010 by Sam Meekings.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.