Jindo, Korea Grandmother and Tiger Monument
As promised, I am posting the prologue to my novel Moonlight Dancer. You can decide if I violate any of agent Kristin Nelson’s prologue injunctions that I discussed in my previous post. I would love to hear what you think.
Well, sort of. I’m also scared to hear what you think! Therein lies the writer’s dilemma. But–GULP–here goes. (I included page one of chapter one to give you some reference.)
* * * * *
By the time I reached the end of the land I had renounced prayer.
The gods no longer spoke to me.
Standing there, wind whipping my skirts, looking toward Jindo, I couldn’t help but remember the legend of our island. Why not, if doing so would delay me? I welcomed even a pause of ten heartbeats. I could slice open my palm and apply a red pepper poultice to the wound, yet the pain in my heart would exceed that 10,000 times.
If only the gods had spoken to me that day. If only I had seen their silence as disapproval. But as we say, wheat bows its head deeper as it ripens. This means, Kendra JinJu MacGregor, wise people are humble.
On that day I was neither wise nor humble.
Instead, I stood at the end of the land unable to move forward, unable to retreat, and thought of the legend. Once, in the long past time of tigers and dragons, Grandmother Bbong yearned to rejoin her family.
A streak of hungry tigers, so the old ones say, had driven the villagers from their homes. Grandmother fled, but churning seawater surrounded her so she could not cross to Modo Island where her family had rafted to safety.
At the end of the land Grandmother wailed and prayed, prayed and wailed.
That night, the Sea King appeared in her dream. “Tomorrow,” he told her, “follow the rainbow.”
In the morning a ribbon of dazzling colors rose over the waters. As Grandmother stepped forward, the Sea King parted the waves. Suddenly, a walking path broke through the waters all the way to her family on Modo Island.
Every year since then, the sea splits for one hour on one day in the fourth lunar month, and the mysterious path between the islands appears.
That’s where I paused, unable to do what I came here to do. The sand beneath my feet was dry, but time was short. Below the cloud layer, a muted gray sky pressed into the sea, pressed into my heart.
I fingered a triton I had fished from the rocks. I didn’t bend my ear to the shell in case the ocean echo no longer chuffed inside its delicate coils. Kneeling, I kissed the baby’s ear, nuzzled the soft down on his head and offered him the shell.
“HanGyu, listen,” I said.
But he was distracted. Following his upward gaze, I spied a white-tailed eagle arcing her wings. No doubt she had cached her chicks beneath her.
I should have seen that as my sign. An eagle protects her young. In this way my older sister had implored me to protect HanGyu.
As she lay dying, Unni held my hand. “Tell me you will raise my son.”
My tongue lay like a sleeping dragon in a rocky cave.
Unni raised herself on one elbow. “Promise me. Take my son to a village where we—our class—are not known. You have money. Purchase him a good name.”
She clasped my arm in a fierce grip, a strength I had not seen in life. A pity she had not this strength to fight the devilish Japanese soldier.
“Promise me,” she said. Her fingers loosened.
Younger sister, I wanted to say, “This is nonsense. You will not die.” But that was impossible since I could foresee her future.
If only I had foreseen my own.
Unni’s chin trembled in her last moments. I’ll never forget her chin, that dimple. How could I when I see it now reflected in her son, his face pointed to the sea eagle? But his eyes—a soldier’s eyes, dark and alert.
As we watched, HanGyu and I, the eagle tumbled toward the sea, trailing a ghostly shock of white in her wake. A glance at the sky—I had meant to keep the sun in my sight, but while I wasn’t looking it had crept away.
No time, no time.
Water stole over my toes. Flicks of sea gained the sandbar.
Of all hard things I will tell you, younger sister, this is the hardest. I gathered my skirts, already stained by the water tip-toeing up the sides of the sandbar. I gathered my nerve and kissed the soft spot on HanGyu’s head as I set him down. I hardened my mouth against the soft spot in my heart.
How misguided I was! How I burn now with gnawing, unending sorrow. Unlike the Sea King, I cannot roll back the waters of time. This scene I have watched in my mind 10,000 times in the four hundred years since the day I turned and walked and would not witness the cold waters close over the baby’s head.
(End of prologue; now, first page of chapter one.)
The doll wore white silk and a melancholy gaze.
Kendra MacGregor stared at the twelve-inch figure.
Rays of light glinted on the cloisonné hairpick that pierced the doll’s chignon. Its Korean skirt billowed like parachute silk over what Kendra knew, without knowing how she knew, would be underneath—inner trousers and a stiff underskirt.
“Kenni, come on,” her friend Anna called from the next aisle. “I’m starving.”
Lips parted, Kendra remained motionless. The shaft of sunlight pierced the glass globe and played about the doll’s features, dancing in its dark irises. For a moment she thought she heard the doll whisper.
The shelf was not so high. Kendra stole a glance around. Good, she was alone in the dimly lit warehouse aisle. Without further thought, she climbed. She wedged a foot at the base of one shelf and reached to the next, pulling herself up. Almost there—
“Can I…help you?”
She jerked, concentration broken. Her fingers lost their grip. She clawed the air but tumbled backward. Just as her foot collapsed beneath her, firm hands grabbed her. Her blood stirred beneath the sure touch.
“Oh,” she gasped.