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Only after we were parted did I understand the pieces of Shao that was Shao Hua.
In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth. Yet while Shao Hua remained the same, Fang Hua was already…
The Memories of Fang Hua
Shao’er, from the first time you called me master, I learned how to care about humans. You were very noisy and clingy so that I never had free time. Whenever I tried to paint, you’d get ink everywhere before standing there, all dirty and guileless, wearing a foolish smile. Once when I was playing the qin, you actually made no fuss. Instead, you carried over a basin of water to wash your hair by my side. I was astonished and ended up looking only at you. My hands brushed tunelessly against the strings without forming a song at all. I was thinking then, how my Shao’er had grown up and matured. And yet the next thing you did was fling back your wet hair to splash me all over. As a result, I broke the strings of the qin, but all you did was look at me innocently.
Sometimes I couldn’t help but think that you deserved a beating.
But I’ve never hit you before. In the end, I grew to like it when you occasionally came to sprawl lazily over my knees. Shao’er, you should know that I was never lonely when I lived by myself. But after you left, I’d lean against the yellow grave mound and watch the sun while time passed…
Han Zichuan said I shouldn’t keep you tied to such a little house, but let you live normally. I didn’t understand how normal people lived because I’d isolated myself from them for too long. My memories of that world was of a lively, prosperous place, filled with all sorts of emotions and desires, permeated with hurt and betrayal. I didn’t want you to get even a little hurt, but to stay with me instead…
Every time I saw you squatting on the ground, hugging your knees as you propped up your chin with one hand. You’d listen with wide eyes as Han Zichuan talked of the bustling marketplace with its acrobat shows, candied hawthorn skewers and the free and unbridled spirit of the jianghu, all with a yearning expression on your face. I’d been stunned. Maybe what he said was right. He understood you better than I did because I was just a Beast, an animal that didn’t understand emotions or desires.
The first time you requested to go down the mountain, I consented with a smile. I dug around my robes before giving you the copper coins I’d gotten for selling my medicines. When you left, I sat idly in the house all night until next morning, when you returned with Han Zichuan. You were in high spirits as you told me about the Lantern Festival, tangyuan, lanterns, and answering riddles…I only listened quietly with a slight smile. In the morning, I made your favorite lean meat porridge and specially delivered it over. At the breakfast table, you nearly buried your head in the giant bowl to slurp it all up like a little pig. Your eyes then were curved like crescent moons, filled with merriment. Later on, they grew gloomy.
You dawdled for a while before saying sorry, because there were only two pennies left after buying candied hawthorn skewers with my copper coins. Then you dug out the coins from your pouch, still warm, and placed them in my palm. My heart trembled as I took them back.
Sorry…your first time going out, master should have been there to let you eat tangyuan, buy lanterns, and get anything else you wanted. Yet I couldn’t give you any more…
It was my first time feeling powerless.
Seeing Han Zichuan messing up your hair, you grinned foolishly before starting a fight with him. I felt that the two of you were growing closer and closer. Shao’er, you should know that I felt a strange feeling then, one that I hadn’t felt for a thousand years. You said you’d definitely make me happy, even if it cost you your life. Master was very happy…
You should know, I wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. But there was bound to be a day that you’d tire of this life and think of how exciting and lively crowds of people could be. I feared that you’d lose yourself in that sea of people so I could never find you again. Already, I had been moved by sentiment, so what was I to do…?
Han Zichuan could read my heart. He said it was morally wrong for a master and disciple to marry. I didn’t care about secular customs, but he said I had to think of you. Shao’er…did you love me? I am just a Beast, an animal that took on human form and had my first taste of romantic love.
There were three people in our house.
I, Han Zichuan, and the very beautiful Shao’er after casting off her old self. Ever since you washed off the poison in the pond, Han Zichuan would give you increasingly hot gazes. Could you sense my unease? I felt very restless… Finally, he brought up the topic of marriage. He closed the doors to tell me that he was the crown prince and wanted to marry you…Shao’er.
I said no. He only laughed, holding a struggling oriole in his hands. He said that he heard a Fang Hua Beast could cure 10,000 different poisons. The warmth on his face faded to a foul, ruthless satisfaction. I was very surprised. He said that as long as I went along with him to save his father, he’d let you go. Though he was smiling when he spoke, he fixed an icy glare on the bird in his hands. If he squeezed any tighter, it’d probably die. How could I refuse? In his eyes, you were just like that bird.
My Shao’er was just outside, sitting in a courtyard full of Han Zichuan’s men. I might be able to beat them back and protect you…but if you were hurt even slightly, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. It wasn’t hard to save a person…as long as he did as he promised. Shao’er, didn’t you always wanted to go where people were lively? Master will let you wander the jianghu to make a living, so please don’t follow me anymore…
Master just wants you to live well.
You’ve always been both clever and foolish, foolish to the point of cute.
I saw you sneak into the palace and pour tea for me right beneath my eyes, wash me and dress me, busying yourself here and there. It delighted me that I meant something more in your heart beyond a master or your foster family…
At night, I tossed and turned in bed as I heard you puffing and stamping your feet outside. It made my heart ache and reluctant to go to sleep. It was very quiet that night, so when you finally snuck in, I was just lying motionless on the bed listening to you. You actually went to look at the things I purposely left on the table, right? Did you like them? A canister of rouge, a jade ring, a butterfly hairpin and snacks. I couldn’t bear to eat the lotus flower you brought me so I wrapped it up in the bag, as well as…the gold powder I’d managed to scrape off the walls. I heard gold powder was very valuable, so the powder from the palace must be worth even more. This way I could buy you all the things you wanted to eat or play with. Wouldn’t that be great?
I was already making plans for our future.
The wine you brewed was delicious, so I drank a lot. My mind was a bit hazy when I touched your face, tipsily asking you not to leave…I still remember the words you said then were soft and warm. You said, I won’t, I’m not going anywhere.
You promised me you wouldn’t go. I only fell asleep for awhile that night before I was startled awake. A chilly moon hung in the night sky as I heard the indistinct sounds of you talking with Han Zichuan. When I pushed open the door, I saw him pull off your face mask and gather you into his arms. In that moment, everything felt like a dream…perhaps you always liked him better than me. He was the reigning emperor and could give you all sorts of things. As long as you liked it, he’d get it for you. I was just a Beast who had his first taste of love, my chest filled with sudden pain. You called out my name with a panicked expression that wasn’t cute at all.
My chest ached as my heart hurt. I could forgive anything you did, as long as you stayed with me. Was I not good enough? Why else would you turn away so abruptly? I didn’t know how to call people. Every time I secretly dug out one of your hidden wine jugs in the courtyard, I’d finish it in one gulp. You’d always catch me, and I’d always wear a stiff expression in exchange. Then your face would fall and you’d walk docilely over to tug on my sleeve, pleading for me to forgive you.
I thought it’d be the same this time, too. I steeled my heart and told you not to come back if you left. You were so determined to leave that you really didn’t return. When I left the palace to go home, all I did was wait for you. Do you remember? When I followed Han Zichuan back to the palace, I said I’d come back after curing his father’s illness. You half turned away while staring at me and said, Shao’er…will wait here for you.
Shao’er, I remember everything you’ve ever said, but you never fulfilled that promise. It was the same both in and out of the palace…
Many days passed, but you still didn’t come back. Without you in the house, I felt helpless. Even a person used to solitude could get lonely. I began to shuttle back and forth in the bamboo grove and think over the past. Eventually, I captured a parrot and taught it to talk like you. See how similar it sounds when it says ‘Master?’
During those five years, I went searching for you and discovered that you had a new household. I saw you sitting intimately beneath the willow tree with another youth. The jianghu had rumors that you’d taken in seven princes, so I thought you found the life you wanted to live. I could only go back to the house. Before I left, I’d used bamboo to carve out various items–tables, chairs, cups and your bed…but you would never use them again. I squandered my remaining days in loneliness like some form of torture. Whenever I thought of the past, my whole body would hurt as if countless needles were stabbing me. It was enough for me to wish I was dead. I learned how to listen to the speech of the bamboo and the sound of the wind.
Actually, my life wasn’t too bad. As long as I felt no hope, I didn’t suffer…
One day, Han Zichuan suddenly appeared with news of you. He said you were called the Carefree Idler in the jianghu, with the courtesy name of Zang and the given name of Hua, and that you had taken in seven princes.
I only smiled. My body was getting worse and worse, and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to see you one last time before I died. But Han Zichuan said he could fulfill my wishes and send you here as long as I left him the Fang Hua wood after I died. Why should I refuse? I couldn’t beg you to come back yourself. If he could help me, then I’d wholeheartedly agree to his terms. With this likelihood, my forsaken heart suddenly came back to life…
Every day passed very slowly. When I picked you up from the bamboo forest, I was very happy. You must have suffered a lot on the road. I carried you into my room and took your pulse. It was erratic and wild, as if you’d incurred heavy internal injuries. But none of this mattered because you had Fang Hua…and yet I saw faint red marks on your body like signs of some forceful struggle.
Had Han Zichuan mistreated you? My Shao’er, there was nothing to fear…I’d double my efforts to treat you even better, doting and spoiling you to smooth the misery in your heart. It was fine that you’d forgotten me. I only smiled when you shared the outrageous rumors of Han Zichuan and me in the palace. Even if you thought of him as your husband, things were still all right. Being able to see you was enough for me.
We played the qin and painted; I took you to see flowers on the mountains. When the wind blew the plum blossoms all around us, I smiled and looked at you, but couldn’t see through your heart…
What was love? Did you love him already?
With my limited time, I was satisfied with holding you close, but your eyes still looked so lonely as if you’d be happier in another’s embrace. Should I let you go….? Yet I couldn’t bear to. I saw you busily hurrying up and down to feed me my medicine. It probably wasn’t worth mentioning in other people’s eyes, but it was one of my greatest joys. Shao’er, you should know that those princes were searching for you the whole time. Paper cranes kept flying into the bamboo grove, sometimes landing inside the house. I used all sorts of methods to block them so I could stay with you a bit longer. Besides, you needed me since you were still sick.
I really didn’t want to frighten you. If I had some way, I wouldn’t have let you see my scars. The bowls and bowls of medicine concocted from my flesh must have terrified you, or else why would you look at me with such alarm? You even decided to run away and disappear from my sight.
Is it because you felt distressed over me?
…I’m a fool, aren’t I.
You’d definitely say that Master is the world’s wisest, most all-knowing person, but I knew nothing about sentiment. Neither did I understand you. When I saw the faces of those princes, I realized I really was very stupid. Though my expression was calm, there was no way to stop the fluctuations of my heart. They were all so similar to me. Shao’er, you loved me. You always did, yet I only found out too late.
If I could really be reborn, it’d be wonderful…I want to take your hand and never let go. Shao’er, you should know that I’ve used all my strength in this lifetime to love you.
When I hugged you and heard you calling me master over and over again, my heart broke into pieces. But I also grew more determined to do one thing.
Don’t resent me for hiding my love when you recovered your memories. I have no way to take care of you anymore. Without my youth, I was slowly aging. All the emotions I’d experienced this life had hurt me deeply. If I were to revive again, I’d definitely drink up all your blood and take your life. It was already hard for me to bear this pain. If I came back again only to see your corpse, I’d rather have you live on by yourself instead.
Shao’er, just listen to me one more time.
If you die to bring me back to life, forcing me to live on this earth alone, I’d only suffer from our separation and waste your blood. If our love was never meant to bear fruit, then I’d rather set you free. I’d rather you never remember me for the rest of your life.
Shao’er, you’re so good. So good. There will definitely be someone else to take care of you in my place. Maybe you’ll gradually forget about me, but I’ll always be watching you from the Heavens. When you hear the sound of flowers blooming, carried along by the wind, that will be the sound of my heart beating for you.
In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth.
“Master, why do you always call me Shao’er?”
“Did you have a name before?”
“No.” They called me little ragamuffin, beggar, and urchin, but those didn’t count as names…
“Then it’s correct. When you comb your hair up, the back of it looks like a spoon handle. Don’t you think this name is pretty good?”
When he said these words, his face seemed to glow with light. His smile was very warm. Still, hearing them only made me depressed. He suddenly laughed and gathered me into a hug.
“Your name is Shao Hua.”
A long time passed before I understood that Shao Hua was Shao Hua.
In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth.
For an instance of Shao Hua, a tree full of Fang Hua bloomed.
Shao Hua remained the same, but Fang Hua was already dead…
The skies glowed with the rays of the setting sun, tranquil and calm. Fang Hua stood before the tomb in his white robes, his dim image being swept away in pieces by the wind. His head was lowered to look at me quietly, and a calm smile was on his face. I raised my face while holding back the dreary grief in my heart, opening my eyes as wide as I could to take the sight of him in…
Even though we were only a step apart, it was like the difference between Heaven and Earth. We stared at each other with all the weight of our love. I bore my pain as best as I could, groping with a hand to try and touch his flickering form.
“Fang Hua, I was wrong.” I’ll treat you better so you’re never sad again…
He only gave me a pitying smile and kept staring, as if trying to see if I was telling the truth. A sleeve rose as he reached a hand towards me. We were only a hair’s width apart, yet I couldn’t even touch his fingers. I only grabbed air before slipping right through that hand.
“I’m begging you, please don’t go.”
With no other choice, he kept smiling. I desperately tried to hold onto him, but grasped nothing. His indistinct image stood beneath the boundless horizon, disappearing after the next gust of wind. His sorrowful eyes lingered the longest before everything vanished. Nongyu was stunned. I lost all my strength and sank to the ground. Before I could react, the Fang Hua wood began to glow. I wiped my eyes on my sleeves, my mind completely blank.
The red Fang Hua wood contained the spirit of his soul and shone with dazzling light that lit up the whole sky. The setting sun gradually faded in brilliance to a warm glow. In that moment, another mirage appeared with various scenes of the past, some strange and unfamiliar as they flitted past my eyes. It was only a brief flash, but I saw all the memories buried within Fang Hua’s body. They were carved into his bones, these memories of his past life, etched so deeply that it made me ache with pain.
The clouds in the sky reflected the sunset, showing the form of a white-robed man before the burial mound. He blocked the sun with his hands as his alluring lips drew into a beautiful smile. Abruptly, he lowered his head and dug out the bit of red wood in the dirt. There was warmth in his hands as he used a small knife to whittle the branch into the shape of a hairpin.
Within a house, a white-robed man was squatting in front of the stove, carefully feeding wood into the fire. In one hand, he awkwardly held a fan to fan the flames. Suddenly, the flames leapt up from the stove, scattering sparks everywhere. Frightened, the man fell to the ground, clapping his hands as he went to fumble for water in a large crock. It took awhile before he ladled a dipper-full straight atop the cooking range. The fire went out and the man stared at the aftermath, not knowing where he’d gone wrong. Smoke had dyed his white robes gray, and his filthy face was covered in soot, except for a bright red mole at the corner of one eye. He looked adorable.
Numerous scenes like these floated past the clouds, shifting and changing as they sucked in the person’s soul. All of them flickered past my eyes…
A common-looking court lady snuck into one of the palace rooms under cover of moonlight. She stealthily leaned against a table before rifling through the bag left on its surface. The man was lying on his side on the bed, watching her work with a broad smile. When the girl turned back, he immediately shut his eyes before slowly opening them again to see her.
The court lady took out all the items in the bag. She couldn’t help but tug on her wrinkling face mask from time to time, unable to hide her surprise and delight. In the dark, he kept watching her with a face filled with warmth. The moonlight was like water, quietly illuminating the secret hearts of these two people.
In an empty house amongst the bamboo, a lifeless man walked through room after room before coming to a stop. A parrot flew onto his shoulder. He played with the bird a bit before finally showing a smile. His mouth opened and closed, as if he was teaching it how to speak. After a long while, the parrot stuck out a claw to clean its feathers.
He stopped smiling, but stood there quietly, hand slowly stroking a set of robes on a bed. He seemed reluctant to part with it before picking up a wooden comb resting on a dressing table. Fingers gripped around it so tight that they began to bleed, and yet he only lowered his head to smell the scent of the comb, eyebrows furrowing with grief. Again and again, he called that person’s name in sorrow.
The colors of the memories were much brighter now. The reflection of the setting sun brought us back to a kitchen, where a man was sitting dejectedly on the floor. He wrinkled his brows as he chewed on his sleeve, faint sweat gathering on his face. Despite his pain, he was smiling in satisfaction. Pieces of his flesh mixed with other ingredients to cook slowly over the fire. His sleeve grew damp as he carefully carried a small cup of medicine into the girl’s rooms. After a while, he remembered something and went back to wrap up some candied fruit from the kitchens. Returning to the girl’s room, he prepared to knock on the door–but saw that she had dumped out all his medicine. Stunned, he leaned against the wall, eyes closed in a helpless smile, before turning to walk away.
A strong gust of wind swept away the remaining clouds to reveal clear skies. The images grew fainter and fainter until only one remained.
The mole at the corner of the man’s eye was already dark red. A girl slept soundly beneath the covers as he watched from the foot of her bed. Outside the window, apricot blossoms fell like rain beneath the pleasant sunshine. He kept his quiet vigil, a few rays of sunlight hitting his form to give a golden sheen to his white robes. As he watched her face, he called her name over and over again, as if afraid of missing even one more second by her side.
And then, he drew closer with eyes shut to give her a kiss.
The girl simply rolled over in response. He remaining kneeling by the bed, staring at her back but not daring to touch her, face choked with soundless sobs.
The red wood faded as the mirage disappeared, leaving the skies empty. I stared upwards, my hands clenched as my heart shook. My body had long soaked up the love from all these years until it was engraved into my heart, carved into my bones, and buried deep in my marrow. It would follow me forever into eternity.
Fang Hua…thank you for loving me.
 deserved a beating (欠打) – qianda, basically meaning deserved to be taught a lesson, to be disciplined, etc.
 spoon handle – once again, the ‘shao’ in Shao’er is the same as the ‘shao’ for ‘spoon’.
 Shao Hua was Shao Hua (勺嬅是韶华) － shaohua shi shaohua, Shao’er’s full name Shao Hua (or “pretty spoon”) sounds the same as Shao Hua (or “beautiful springtime”) despite being written with different characters.
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