The Clam Fairy
By Jane Chang Chen (class 18, 6/11/03)
I woke up with cold sweat. I did not know if it was from my menopausal symptoms or from my dream. I dreamed of Mother. She was carrying two heavy plastic bags of groceries walking briskly ahead of me. “Mom, Mom, wait for me!” I cried out, trying to reach her. But I could not move my legs.
It was Christmas Eve sixteen years ago when I flew across the Pacific to her bedside. She was sitting there, waiting for me. She was coughing. Her short gray hair had just grown out after the chemotherapy. All the other siblings were there. I was the last one to come, like a lost lamb. I stayed for two weeks but was not able to wait for her last minute, or to attend her funeral.
Mother was a kind woman. She had been brought up a Christian, a rare breed for the Chinese. All her life she had been a good example for us, physically, morally and spiritually. Yet I was not very close to her. When I was little I was wild. When I grew up I came to the States, immersed myself in my studies and lab works and later on, my own family life. The only bond between Mother and me were our letters once a week. On her very last letter she wrote: “I still kept your first letter from America… All the things in the world will vanish someday, including our pride. But our words and our love will endure. So keep on writing…”
Sixteen years have passed. I am now in my early fifties and living alone. I am finally fulfilling Mother’s wish starting to write.
As I was staring at the blank screen of my computer, trying to make up some words, I heard a few taps on my side door. I rushed downstairs. Through the glass I saw the silhouette of my sister Noor. She had called earlier that she would like to come over on her lunch break. Noor is two years younger than I am. She has our father’s face and our mother’s build and I have all the opposite. Noor stayed with our parents for the longest. She has never been married. We are both strong willed, never want to listen to each other. As a child I did not want to play with her. As an adult I do not want to live with her. We were not very close until recently she gave up her Buddha worship and joined me to the local church.
I opened the door and she came in. Her face was all red and sweaty.
“Oh it’s so hot that I am all wet.” She pulled up her shirt to fan herself. It must have been over ninety degrees in the valley.
“My, you do feel like Mom. I remember she used to sweat a lot,” I touched her belly. It was cold and sweaty, just like Mom’s, “come, let me pour you some cold water,” I got a tall glass out and fill it with cold water. She gulped the whole glass in one breath.
“I am so upset today,” Noor said.
“What happened?” I opened my freezer and took out two boxes of Lean Cuisine.
“You know, those people at work…” Noor kept on talking as she helped me tear the boxes of Lean Cuisine open, one was Teriyaki Chicken, and the other was Sesame Chicken.
I put the Lean Cuisine into the microwave oven and said to her, “Oh, well. Just do your best as a computer administrator, keep your job until you get your Green Card. Then you will be free to find a better job somewhere else,” I said, taking the trays out of the microwave oven. “There you go, which one do you like, Teriyaki Chicken or Sesame Chicken?”
“I’ll have the Sesame Chicken,” Noor continued, “what can I do? You know how hard to get a job nowadays.”
“It is true.” I took out a bag of fresh salad from the fridge, poured one bowl for her, one bowl for me.
“Yah,” Noor sighed, “and how is your writing coming along?” She took out my silverware and we sat down at the breakfast table.
“I am trying to write a story. But I don’t have anything to write about. Do you have one?” I asked her for a hint.
“Do you remember the story of the Clam Fairy Mom told us?” Noor is the youngest daughter in the family. She was very close to Mom.
“What Clam Fairy? I don’t remember a thing!” I cried.
“Do you remember when we were little, before we went to school? Every day after lunch Mom told us stories to coax us for naps?” Noor said.
“Yah, I remember. But all I remembered was she always fell asleep and we poked her eyes to ask ‘what happens next?’” I said.
“That’s because you always ran into the yard and played under the sun as soon as Mom nodded off. You never sat still. Once you climbed a palm tree like a monkey. I was wailing under the tree because you wouldn’t wait for me. You then picked the fruits and ate them. Then you barfed and got very sick,” Noor said, laughing.
“I do remember I barfed but did I really climb the palm tree like a monkey?” I tried to recollect any trace of monkey in my blood.
“You did. You know how I like to go back to that day so I can climb up with you? I was crying and crying but you went so fast,” Noor made a face.
“Oh boy, sorry about that. Now tell me about the Clam Fairy!” It was my turn to beg her, forty some years later.
“Okay, there was once a poor young man living with his parents by the sea. His name I don’t recall. He was very kind to his parents who were old and sick. Everyday he went out fishing and gathering firewood to cook for his parents. One day at the beach he saw a sea gull pricking at a clam.”
“A huge clam you mean?” I asked.
“Whatever. The young man chased the sea gull away and put the clam back to the sea.”
“Why didn’t he take the clam home and cook it for a meal?” I asked again.
“I don’t know. That’s what Mom’s story went.” She rolled her eyes and continued, “When he went home that day, he found that someone had prepared the meal and cleaned the house already.”
“Interesting. Who did it?” I asked.
“It was the clam fairy. It turned out the clam he saved on the beach was a beautify clam fairy,” she said.
“And then what happened?” I asked her again, eager to know more of the story.
“Then Mom fell asleep. That’s when we began to poke her eyes,” Noor sighed.
“Poor Mom. She was exhausted. Imagine doing all the chores by herself for the whole family of eight people,” I sighed too.
“I miss Mom so much. After she died, I was living with Dad In that old house. I could always sense that Mom was there. Sometimes I turned my head and tried to talk to her, but she was not there anymore,” Noor’s eyes began to moisten, “do you believe in ghosts? I sensed that she was there with us at church last Sunday.”
“ I did sense that she was there with us last Sunday, with the Holy Ghost, with God. I sensed she was singing off-keyed hymns, right beside us,” I said in a lowered voice.
“Yah. We all miss her,” Noor finished her Lean Cuisine and salad, “now do you have enough material to write your story?”
“I don’t know. I will try,” that’s as close as I could tell her.
“Why are you writing in English? Writing in Chinese will be a lot easier for you. I mean using our native language. Why do you always choose something hard to do?” Noor asked.
“Well, Dad told us to look for challenges so we can live fully, remember? And before Mom died, she told me I should write. Besides, I want to leave something for my son to read. He is illiterate in Chinese, you know,” there, I gave her all my secrets.
“That’s good. You have all your reasons. Now I’ll help you with the dishes,” Noor started to clean the table.
“Oh, don’t worry about the dishes. It’s one-thirty already. You better go back to work. I don’t want you lose your job for staying out late,” I then took the dishes to the sink.
“So I will call you tonight,” Noor said.
“Just leave a message if I am not in.” I never told her sometimes I ignored her calls because I needed to concentrate on reading or writing. She is so chatty that her phone calls would last three hours if I let her chat.
“Then I will see you at church Sunday morning,” Noor smiled and went out into the sun.
After I cleaned up the dishes. I sat down in front of the computer. I stretch my fingers on the keyboard and words just flowed out:
Once upon a time, there was a young man. His name
was Twuchuan*. Twuchuan and his parents lived in a little hut at a fishing
village on an island. Twuchuan’s father was blind and crippled from a fishing
trip accident. He could no longer go out fishing. Twuchuan’s mother was sick
Being the only son of his parents, Twuchuan had
the responsibility to take care of them both. He gave up his studies at the
local school because of the tedious chores he had to carry out. Everyday, he
went to the shore to catch a few fish for the meal and gather some firewood. He
wished he could afford to go back to school. He dreamed someday he could become
a teacher. But Twuchuan was a kind young man. He never complained his
misfortune. He knew that it must have been a test from God to make him a better
One morning Twuchuan went to the seashore to catch
some fish. Under the twilight he saw something shinny on the beach. Before he
could approach that object, a huge sea gull swooped down and landed. The sea
gull pricked at that little shiny thing, a little clam, with its sharp beak.
“Shoo! Go away!” Twuchuan yelled as he rushed
to the sea gull. The sea gull was caught by surprise, dropped the clam and
flapped his wings and flew away. Twuchuan picked up the little clam.
“Why! I have never seen anything so
beautiful,” he said to the little clam as shinny as pearl.
“God made you so beautiful. He must have some use of you. I should not
keep you. There, go back to the sea!”
Twuchuan waited for the next wave and threw the
clam back to the sea.
That day he did not catch any fish.
By sunset Twuchuan was exhausted yet he did not
want his parents to worry so he went back home. Before he could reach the door,
he smelled something delicious cooking.
“How strange! I wonder what that would be.”
Twuchuan said to himself as he opened the door.
“Twuchuan, Twuchuan, a young lady just left. She
was so kind and so beautiful. She made all these delicious food for us!” Mama
said, coughing from her bed.
“She said you did something good to her. From
now on she will come to help you,” Papa said, clinging to his chair.
Twuchuan didn’t know what to say. He helped his
parents to the table for the meal: there was chicken soup; there were fresh
vegetables; all nutritious, all good for health.
At night Twuchuan dreamed a beautiful young lady
in a shinny white dress. She said to Twuchuan: “I am the little clam you saved
on the beach this morning. Because of your kindness, God sent me to help you.
But you must work hard and you must help other people. Tomorrow, go to the south
side of the island, dive to the bottom. You will find clams. Inside the clams
you will find my gifts. If you take out one gift you must put something back and
you shall never hurt the clams.”
“But I want to see you!” Twuchuan cried.
“I will be with you when our time comes,”the
clam fairy smiled then disappeared.
The next morning Twuchuan went diving at the south
side of the island. At the bottom of the sea, he found several large clams. He
saw something shinny inside the clams. He gently reached the clams, took out the
round shinny pearls one by one. Then he remembered what the clam fairy told him
that he must put something back. But all he could find around him was the sand.
So he picked a few grinds of sand and put them back onto the clams.
With the money from selling the pearls, Twuchuan
was able to go back to school again. He studied very hard. When he graduated, he
took a teaching job for the village kids. He taught them to read and write, he
taught them math, he taught them poetry so that no one in the village would be
illiterate again. Alongside, he was able to establish his cultivated pearl
business and provided jobs for the people so that no one in the village would be
Twuchuan and his parents had good lives. Long
after Twuchuan passed, under the moonlight, people could see two shadows hand in
hand, walking on that beach. They said Twuchuan and his clam fairy had finally
united. ---The End.
After the typing, a familiar sense came from the back of me as if someone were watching over my shoulders. I turned around and smiled. Mother would be pleased.
* Twuchuan means fiction in Chinese.