Quality Checker: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria.
“A nested coffin?” I was a little lost. I had grown up in the city, and even my deceased grandmother was cremated. Not to mention the difference, this was my first time seeing what a coffin even looked like.
“Didn’t you notice that it’s bigger than a normal coffin?” Seeing that I didn’t understand, Shi Yitong immediately started to gesture with his hands. “This is a nested coffin, which means there is a ‘coffin case’ outside of the ‘coffin’. The inner coffin is the coffin that directly holds the deceased, while the outer coffin is a coffin case encasing the inner coffin. Normal people use only a simple inner coffin because they can’t afford a nested coffin. It’s a lot more complicated to make the coffin case than to make the coffin. I really don’t understand why grandpa would make such a coffin that’s both hard to make and sell.”
We opened the coffin and left it under the sun according to Mr. Wen’s instructions. Shi Yitong even mumbled to himself, “This coffin has been in the dark for so long, it really needs some sunshine.” Then we followed Mr. Wen’s words and found eight sturdy men in the village. Shi Yitong tried his very best to persuade them, he even promised to pay them, and they finally agreed to help us. In the end, I gave Shi Yitong one of the bells I got from Mr. Wen yesterday. We climbed up to the roof together and started to shake the bells hard while facing the yard.
“Is that all?” Shi Yitong asked.
“I guess so,” I answered with some ambiguity. At least I think I remembered all the steps.
Yet a day went by and Shi Yitong’s grandfather’s condition did not get any better. Not only did it not improve, it became even worse.
“What’s going on? The method he told you is not working!” Shi Yitong exclaimed anxiously, “So that Mr. Wen you talked about really is a swindler!”
“Well…” I was a little embarrassed, not feeling much better than Shi Yitong. I had to force myself to explain it, “He didn’t say it would take effect with just one day. Let’s try it for one more day.”
Just like that, Shi Yitong and I repeated those same steps the next day. The crisp ringing of the bells reverberated from the roof to every corner of the yard. However, when the following day came by, our effort was still fruitless.
Shi Yitong’s grandmother still attended to his grandfather with great care every day. However, no matter how much she looked after him, and no matter how much medicine he took, the old man’s condition still did not improve. Sometimes he would suddenly wake with a start, mumble some indistinctive words, and then lose consciousness again soon after.
Shi Yitong and I were desperate. He went all over Yan City almost in a craze, seeking help from doctors and spiritual masters, and yet no one could give a clear explanation about what was going on. When he came home after being busy the entire day, Shi Yitong had no choice but to repeat Mr. Wen’s instructions once again with me.
That night, no one said a word at the dinner table. A stiff atmosphere pervaded the air.
After dinner, Shi Yitong went into the bedroom to take care of his grandfather while I could not bear the suffocating atmosphere in the room any further and went to the yard.
The inky sky was filled with stars, I raised my head and couldn’t help but stare in awe. It was a beautiful scene that I could not even imagine when I was living in the city. Yan City was small and remote, but the entire city was enveloped in a tranquil atmosphere, seemingly inaccessible yet harmonious. The pace of life slowed down entirely in this place.
I thought of my own family and became a little envious of Shi Yitong who was able to grow up in this place since childhood.
“Came out for a breather? Aiya, you’ve worked really hard..”
I was surprised and turned back to look. It was Shi Yitong’s grandmother who was talking to me. I was so deep in thought that I didn’t even notice her.
His grandmother was wearing navy-colored cotton clothes and was sitting on the stairs in front of the door with something in her hand. As I took a closer look, she was actually making a pair of shoes with cotton cloth under the moonlight.
“Xiao Tong must have cultivated for three lives to be so fortunate to have a good friend like you.” His grandmother smiled at me, the wrinkles on her face smoothed out. “Thank you for helping out our family so much.”
“It’s not like that.” I immediately waved my hand in denial. “We’re friends, so of course I should help him with small things like this.”
Grandmother smiled gently at me, but her brows and eyes soon dropped again. She sighed and picked up a shoe which had a half-finished bottom. She looked at it carefully under the moonlight and mumbled.
“I used to make shoes for my old man since long ago. He’s always not used to the shoes they sell out there, saying that they pinch his toes, so I would make new shoes for him every year.
And he wears them every year. Every year around this time, I start to make shoes so that he can wear them by the time it gets cold in autumn. Ah, but I don’t know if he can wear them this year.”
Sadness bubbled up in my heart, and for a moment I didn’t know how to comfort this frustrated old lady. All I could think of was a feeble consolation, “Grandmother, don’t worry. Grandpa is a lucky person, I’m sure he’ll be able to pull through this!”
At the same time, I started suspecting Mr. Wen whom I’d seen that day on the hill behind the school. Was what he said true? Was the method he gave me right? Or even… did he really exist or did I just have a daydream?
That night, I went to bed with a strong feeling of uneasiness. During my stay in Shi Yitong’s home these last few days, I had already become used to the rural area’s hard yet warm bed. Sunshine seemed to have left its warmth on the blankets. However, I tossed and turned restlessly that night, unable to fall asleep.
Probably at around three or four o’clock in the morning, I finally dozed off. Right at that moment, I had a dream.
In my dream, there was an old man and a little boy. I recognized the old man as Shi Yitong’s grandfather, but he was much younger in the dream. The boy was about ten years old. He was wearing loose-fitting clothes, his pants tied with a belt and would sway back and forth on his thin legs as he ran. He had a big straw hat on his head, his face was covered in dirt, and he’d reveal all the teeth in his mouth whenever he smiled.
“Grandpa! Grandpa!” The boy was jumping on the riverbank, his arms swinging. “Look at me! I caught a frog!”
“Really? Let me see.” The old man walked towards him with his hands clasped behind his back. The moment he saw it, he laughed, “Tong’er, how is this a frog? This is a toad!”
Upon hearing that, the little boy became dispirited and threw the toad far away with a swing of his hand. The toad fell onto the water plants with a “croak”, then immediately dived into the water and disappeared.
“There’s nothing fun about catching toads. Come! Watch how grandpa catches fish for you!” As he spoke, the old man rolled up his sleeves and jumped onto a stone on the riverbank.
“Fish! Really? Can you really catch fish?” The boy looked at his grandfather in excitement.
“Of course. Just watch!”
These scenes were like memories, slowly flowing into my head. Soon after, the scene in my dream changed again.
This time, the little boy became a teenager. He was about thirteen or fourteen years old, around the age for a youth in junior high school. The setting of the dream was this same yard, even the furnishings hadn’t changed much. The dirt ground was still a dirt ground, and the willow tree was still a willow tree.
The boy was sitting on the threshold crying. A young man and a young woman were standing next to him. They seemed to be his parents.