Spring thunderstorm

Sunday, 2018-11-04 11:48:28
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One day before the wedding, he knocked at the door of his bride’s apartment to ask her a question. She screamed "No!" He turned away, and fifteen minutes later, he returned with a shaved head. In spite of what she had said to him, he was not wearing a groom’s suit. She burst out crying and wiped the tears.

Two years later, they became a target for all the curses that could be hurled at them. She was sixteen years older than him, opening them up for criticism. She was then both the choreographer and main dancer in many performances. She had narrowly escaped from being dismissed from the theatre due to the scandal, but the head of the troupe had insisted on keeping her.

After Christmas, he moved to live with her in the first-floor apartment. He immediately threw all the presents for her from other men into the fire.

On New Year’s Eve, returning home from the market, she found the thach thao (heather bell) flowers as red as flames in the middle of the room. She could not believe her eyes, because she had never seen this kind of flower before. It was so romantic. He had found them while trekking in the mountains. That night, she made a red cocktail, wishing them a happy New Year, although nobody noticed.

Yes, they were happy together. Yet, this happiness had come with a lot of wounds. However, they got used to hearing the gossip. It was said that that kind of love could not see any future. Even she, while raising her glass with him, thought that he would leave her.

At midnight, he presented her with those flowers. They then drank cocktails and went to the dance club. They felt that time had not gone by: the red thach thao flowers blossomed in the mountain as usual and the night was as sweet as ever. Those wrinkles around her neck seemed to disappear. When people were happy, they did not feel that they were walking on the path to death.

She threw herself into designing a new dance. She worked day and night, practising and choreographing the new dance, entitled In Search of the Lost Paradise. The director of the theatre would embrace her, crying again and again, "As I told you, nobody could ever step into your shoes."

Six years went by. She herself could not believe that they had lived together for all those years and now they could declare that they would live together forever. They both felt that this love was fragile, particularly because it had to endure the harshness of the world around them. But he started thinking about possessing her by not allowing her to dance with any other men. He wished that she would give birth to a child for him and she would stay at home. All these plans of his had made her so sad. She was grateful to him because he had lived by her side and had given her inspiration. But the day she had met him, he was still a young man of 24, but now he was 30.

She could not sleep a wink that night. He lay still, breathing regularly and burying his forehead in her shoulder. While sleeping, his face was very handsome. But she did not look at him. She looked out the window, to that lonely moon in the sky. The round moon was changing into a crescent moon. She thought: "So in heaven, time does not stop."

At the end of that year, he drove his motorbike to that mountain. He was surprised to find that a large road had been made close to the mountain gorge. A wild area had been turned into a motorised road.

By the roadside, a row of shops had appeared. A little girl was roasting a dried cuttlefish.

"That red flower? Oh, there are still so many, uncle, in that gorge over there!" The girl took him along a trail. On the way back, hearing thunder in the sky, the girl cried: "A rainstorm, you know. Quite strange. Why is there a spring thunderstorm?"

A violent thunderbolt cut her off. They both ran to avoid the rain. But in the end, the rain had caught up with them. As soon as they arrived at the shop, they were wet to the skin. The shop owner laughed at them.

"It’s so early to have a storm. It’s been changing now," she said.

"Not so early, mum!" the girl said, changing her clothes behind the curtain.

"A storm in early spring, you know. Is it not early?"

They heard ringing laughter.

"I’ve been waiting for the storm since May, so it’s very late, mum."

He took off the shirt and dried it over the hot coals. The girl sat before him with tousled hair. He thought about that small bride he had left behind, about his close-shaven head. He burst out laughing. The rain stopped and he hurried home with a bouquet of red flowers for New Year’s Eve.

She was waiting for him in their cosy apartment. That blouse printed with small violet flowers made her look light and pleasant, yet deep in her eyes, confusion was hidden. That afternoon, she had been held up on the steps of the theatre by the thunderstorm. The director of the theatre had a heart-to-heart talk with her. She had told the director her worries. In the end, they called a taxi to visit an astrologist who was in town. Having seen her face, he said that she was experiencing bad times and that a bad omen was waiting for her.

"No! Nothing has ever happened to me!"

She was feeling happy; she was working devotedly; she was in love and being loved. He insisted that she was going to have misfortune, but she only smiled, showing that she did not believe it.

"I’ll be back here one year later. So if you need me then, I’ll help you," said the astrologist. All the wrinkles on his face shrank. It was seven o’clock in the evening. She was worried about going home.

She rearranged the dinner table, hung the new curtains and put the brand new dress on the hanger. Tonight, when the song Happy New Year rang out, they would go to the ball room as usual. She started sneezing. A vague feeling of foreboding overtook her. But he was coming home with a bunch of the red thach thao flowers in his hand. She became happy.

Another year passed. The director of the troupe still had trust in her and her dances were still highly appreciated. Her neighbours and friends became used to seeing them together. The dance In Search of the Lost Paradise had been performed time and again in grand programmes. But she felt downhearted because she was a sensitive woman, because her students looked strangely at her. Those young students who had once been so confused and awkward before her now looked cute and charming. She understood that she was in their way. And what was more, he seemed to be unsatisfied with her and she felt hurt. That year was a very bad year for her, like a bad day in a beautiful autumn.

At the end of the year, she was invited to a festival in the coastal city. She asked him to go with her, but he refused. She was surprised because he had never refused her anything.

"I only want to welcome the coming year, as usual."

So she had to please him by staying at home. Her wish to spend a night far from home ended in smoke. She felt that her energy was running out, just as that astrologist had said to her. He said to her that day that nobody was strong enough. Only love was invincible and eternal. For this reason, she went to get three small packets. One packet was written had the word "Pillow" written on the outside, which would be placed under the head. Another packet said "Bath", the powder of which would be dissolved in water for her daily bath. The other had the words "Herbal Medicine" which would be mixed in a glass for him to drink. This would help keep him together with her.

It was an evening without rain. He was not only her love, also her life, because without him, she would not be able to create more dances, or in other words, nothing more. She wanted to have him not only because she loved him, but also because she wanted to exist.

He was not yet home. She put her dress back on the hanger. The medicine had already been mixed in sparkling red wine.

She was waiting for him patiently, while the wall clock was ticking regularly.

Later he was told by the neighbours that she had left the apartment at about six o’clock, carrying a suitcase in her hand without saying good-bye to anyone. But she dropped in on that poor woman guard who had a sick child and gave her some money.

He put the flowers into the vase. This was the first New Year’s Eve that he had to wait for her. He also wanted to change their old tradition and go to the hall of a large hotel. He had purchased two tickets for this purpose.

It was ten o’clock at night. He rushed to the bathroom to change. There he saw that dress she wore every year. He sensed that something extraordinary was happening. He rushed to ask the neighbours where she had gone.

He wanted to run to the station, but the clock struck midnight. The old year was going out.

It was late, so he went to the hotel alone.

***

The train had been gone for quite some time. She was sitting there silently, looking out of the window with bright eyes. The roads, cross roads, the roofs, then the vast fields, all were passing before her so fast.

Her mobile phone rang.

She heard the voice of the director of the theatre.

"I’ve told you already. Nobody else can step into your shoes, do you know that?"

She laughed, her eyes welled up in tears. No, don’t put your head into the sand like an ostrich. You and I have to face unpleasant things now. I’ve got to go, and you too, director, she thought. The light of the young moon and the graveyards outside the city stretched before her eyes. Down there, there were also the people. She smiled a cold smile at the thought. While waiting for him, she had worn the dress and found that she could not wear it any more!

Later, after having left the place, she knew that she had escaped a serious crime. The evergreen trees planted in the vase had withered in the middle of the spring.

On the eve of the new year, he went into the dance hall. The festival had already started with its colourful atmosphere, including plenty of red thach thao flowers. His heart sank. Right at that time, a young girl came out of the crowd. It was she who had sent those tickets to him. She secretly wished to see him come alone. Now his presence without his wife made the girl happy.

"Why are you so late? It has already started. But it doesn’t matter. We still have tango and waltz dances. Will you dance with me?"

In deep sadness, he nodded as if there was no other way.

The girl’s enthusiasm and innocence and her exuberant body suddenly awakened him.

He went straight into the dance hall. The tango started. He turned and faced that girl.

He knew that he had escaped from childhood. That was what he would remember years later, but now it could not but be stopped.

By Tran Thuy Mai
VNS