The muffled whiteness fell in thick flakes, a final
quickening before winter settled into the cold, hard rut of death.
Halfway up the slope, pine trees shifted under their new mantle. A few
sighed. The rest braced without protest. In weather like this, tracks
might last an hour; less if the wind picked up. If a man wanted to walk
up the mountain and disappear, I told myself, this might be his best
Fix these lenses, will you, Inspector? Theyve iced up again. Where are the lens caps? Every damn time, same thingthe caps vanish. I brushed the snow from my coat and glanced back. Chief Inspector Pak was scrambling up the path, the earflaps on his hat bowed out, chin snaps dangling loose. No matter what, the man would not fasten those snaps. They irritated him, he said; they cut into his skin. Unfastened, they also irritated him. Gloves irritated him. Scarves irritated him. Winter was not a good time to be around Pak, not outside, anyway. The binoculars hung from his neck by a cracked leather strap already stiff with cold. Twenty years old, maybe thirty, East German made, and not very good because the Germans never sold us anything they wanted for themselves. The focus wheel stuck, even worse in cold weather, so objects jerked into view and then out again. We had bought ourselves two choices: blurred or blurred beyond recognition. Cleaning the snow from the lenses would make no difference.
Here. As soon as he caught up, Pak thrust the binoculars at me. Cant see a damned thing. He fiddled with the snaps on his chin strap. I dont like snaps, did you know that? Never have. Too damned difficult to undo in the cold, especially when youre wearing these damned gloves. If you have to take off your gloves to work the snaps, what have you gained? Who invents these things? Does anybody think anymore? Does your scarf itch? Mine is driving me crazy. Do something with these lenses, would you?
I felt around in my pockets for something to use. There was nothing but a few sandpaper scraps and two wood screws, one a little longer than the other. They both had round heads, with slots that didnt fit any screwdriver I could ever locate. Not useful, I thought to myself. So why had they been in my pockets for years, transferred from one coat to another? The coats would each be discarded over time, but the contents of the pockets were impossible to throw away. Simply because you dont need something at the moment, my grandfather would mutter when he found what ever Id put in the trash pile, doesnt mean its worthless. I could hear his voice. Look ahead, hed say as he carefully examined the discarded object before handing it back to me. Dont forgetbamboo scraps and wood shavings. Even two thousand years ago some damned Chinese carpenter knew enough to save them. When the kingdom ran out of everything else, he used the bamboo scraps to make nails. Got him in good with the Emperor. Do you suppose youre smarter than he was, do you imagine the present is all youll ever have? I never knew what to say to that.
Maybe that was why so many things ended up in my pocketsa subconscious bid not to run afoul of my grandfather, but also a bid for an unknown future, a sort of materialistic optimism. Maybe even Marxist in a way, a pocket theory of labor. After all, somebody made those two useless screws, though they were metal, not bamboo. Inspector. Many animals hibernate in cold weather; I drift into philosophy. Inspector! Pak pointed impatiently at the binoculars I was holding. My thoughts drifted back to the lenses. With what was I supposed to clean them? There was nothing I could use in my pockets. Did I have dried grass in my boots? Was I expected to use my hair, like one of the heroines in a guerrilla band of old, scouting for signs of the Imperial Japa nese Army in the icy forests of Manchuria? I stamped my feet to restore a little feeling. The real question was, what were we doing here, hours from anywhere, squinting up at a mountain of frozen rock and groaning trees, our ears burning as the temperature plummeted? Mine were burning. Paks earflaps were loose, but at least they were down.
Bamboo and Blood. Copyright © 2008 by James Church. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Thomas Dunne books, an imprint of St. Martins Press. All rights reserved.
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