Anna & Amber's Secret Powers
CHAPTER TWO: THE BOOK OF SPELLS
“Oh. Do some Chemistry online and we'll talk. Ok?” said Mom, while rooting around in the cupboard for the box of cornbread mix.
"Well," Dad droned on, not knowing about their agreement, "In the 50’s a lot of Chinese died because their leader Mao said that it was more important to find and melt down all the cheap metal in the country instead of farm, and then there was a famine. Your Aunt almost didn't survive that.”
“What’s a famine?” asked Amber.
“Something you’ll never know yourself, hopefully.” said Mom. "People die of starvation."
“You girls are skinny but I wouldn’t call it a famine around here. Eat this carrot,” said Dad, holding it like a cigar.
“Not us, China,” insisted Anna.
"It can happen anywhere. All it takes is a drought and some mess-ups by people in power.”
"Why don't they elect some smarter people?” Anna started swinging herself in the air like a gymnast by lifting herself up on the back of her chair with one hand and the countertop with her other, but she still was following the conversation.
“Well, Communism doesn’t have elections,” Dad said. “The ‘people’ are supposed to be sharing, but power often doesn't work like that. Democracy's better.”
Mom found the cornbread box and put it on the counter. “Who wants to help me mix?”
“Meeee!” Amber piped up.
“Get the whisker, and I’ll get a bowl.”
“The whisker?” Amber said doubtfully. She pictured a cat.
“The scrambler thing, the thing made of wires we use to mix stuff,” said Mom. “Its in that drawer.”
“Then your Aunt died of starvation?” Anna asked, sticking with her line of inquiry like an attorney in court.
"In the 1960's there was this Mao-led revolution to get rid of all the old styles of Imperial China. People smashed up everything and pushed everyone around,” Dad said. "So they moved to Chang Chun."
“I’m going to have a revolution against doing homework,” offered Anna.
“Good luck with that,” said Dad. "You'll have to clean up afterward for sure."
“No chance.” Agreed Mom. “I’m going to abuse my police power and make you do your chemistry homework for your own good.”
“Aww, man,” said Anna, while she was dumping the mix into the bowl. A little poof of white powder rose into the air.
“Most revolutions fail,” said Dad.
“Darn,” said Anna. She got the eggs mom had put on the counter and was contemplating cracking them on the side of the bowl.
“That’s how you have a country fall on hard times,” continued Dad. “A country is like an egg… like that egg you have there. They are very delicate and can be cracked easily. Hard to believe, but humans are that way. A very sensitive and panicky animal, sometimes they'll bite.”
Anna nodded and to demonstrate she smacked the egg on the bowl and watched the goop drip out of the shell.
Dad said, "When a country has bad leaders, things can fall apart and then people start to fight with an ‘every man for himself’ attitude.”
“And every girl,” added Amber.
“Yes, and every girl. But our country at least we can vote out bad leaders. But nothing’s perfect. Our system is the worst… except for all the other systems humans have tried! People want power in life. They want the power to get what they want and to help the world in their favor. So democracy puts power into the hands of the voters... if they can get off their butts." Dad stood up and showed the girls his own butt for comic effect. They all went "Aww, Daaad!" and turned away holding their noses like he was a giant dirty diaper.
“To answer your original question,” Mom concluded, shaking her head at their antics, "We moved. She got a job at a tea shop and then she passed away when I was about seven." She said that while dripping spoonfuls of the mix into the pan with cupcake shaped indentations.
"Then China discovered how useful money was and opened up their markets to the world. And they've been growing ever since."
"Now China is much more modern," added Mom. "Everyone's more educated now."
“Education is the key,” added Dad. "That's where it all begins. Look how much education I have and how much money I make as a teacher! See! It pays off!" He smirked and did a little dance.
“You got a little education about China and politics today too,” said Mom, smacking Dad playfully with her spoon, "despite your father's best efforts."
“Boring,” reiterated Anna, but everyone could see that she was just going through the motions of being a difficult pre-teen and that she really liked to learn things and understand how the world worked. Still, it was clear that their patience with the historry lesson was wavering as the smell of freshly baked cornbread was beginning to fill the kitchen and their attention was at the oven door where they clicked the little light on and off and peered in through the glass.
“Look, its all puffed up now!” they exclaimed.
* * *
Later, after their bellies were full with cornbread, and mom had fallen asleep on the couch for an afternoon nap, the girls finished their online tutoring which turned out to be about chemistry and then they discussed their new information.
“Mom said Linda mommy knows more about her Aunt,” noted Anna.
“We should ask her about it,” agreed Amber. "She's coming over tonight for dinner."
So that is how that evening, after dinner, when Mom was on the computer and Linda was downstairs at the kitchen table doing drawings with a pencil, Anna and Amber approached Linda.
“Hi Linda, whatcha doin’?” whistled Anna.
“Drawing,” answered Linda, showing her the artwork. It was of a little girl growing out of a cornstalk like she was corn.
“Mom told us about your Aunt who could make it rain,” blurted Amber, which drew a look from Anna. Anna had wanted to try to ease Linda into the topic.
“Yes, she could.” Said Linda.
“How?” demanded Anna.
Linda put down her pencil and turned to face the girls. “She said she had a book that told her how to do it.”
“Really!?” the girls both fairly squeaked at the revelation.
“You know,” said Linda, “I was very young.” She stopped to think. “Her name was Xu Xia Yu.” She drew the Chinese characters for rain on her paper. “Pronounced ‘shaa you’. Xia Yu in Chinese means rain.” She smiled a warm smile and tried to brush some hair out of Anna’s eyes.
“Oh my!” said Amber excitedly. “Tell us more!”
“She said she could make it rain, and that a book she had told her how to do it. I was only ten but I remember she used to say that.” Linda laughed outloud and smoothed her emerald and turquoise patterned dress a bit. “We didn’t really believe it, of course, but I guess it did rain a lot when she was around. She was an interesting woman. You even have eyes like hers, eyes with a little gleam of imagination. Her hair was white as cornsilk. She used to let me brush it. She would wear these white robes too, these flowing things with huge sleeves hanging down. There were two dragons embroidered on it, a red one and a blue one, both which were snorting fire. The fire was woven so that it converged at her neck, and from there it turned into water and the silk lining around her neck was deep blue. ‘The twins of creation and destruction work together’ she told me, and we know what water is only because there is fire next to it, so the two define each other by what they are not.”
“Huh?” said Amber.
Linda didn’t respond. Instead, she had a faraway look in her eye. “She told me she was a member of an ancient club which fought evil and championed good. She was quite a storyteller. Once she told us how on the peak of Wu Tai Shan, the Five Peak Mountain, she fought off a wild fox spirit. She said she used her magic to turn a tree near her into an apple tree, and all the apples all fell down at once and buried the fox. That’s what she said, anyway.”
“Wow, think of all the apple pie you could make,” imagined Anna.
“And fox pie,” added Amber.
“Where’s that book now?” inquired Amber.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Said Linda. Then she stopped. “Wait,” she said. “I do remember that Wai Gong, when he came to visit your mom in America the first time, when your mom and dad were having their wedding in 2001, I remember he said he brought along a box of stuff that he told us was a gift from the family to your mom and dad, treasures, he called them, that should be passed to the next generation. He said there was a lot of old family stuff in it. Who knows?”
“Where’s that box now?” asked Amber.
“Better ask Wai Gong,” she said. That was their grandfather who was visiting them from China.
“But we can’t speak Chinese,” they protested.
“Better learn some then,” she said, and turned back to her drawing.
And that was how Anna and Amber had realized they were going to have to learn some Chinese to figure out what their magic powers were all about.