The Copper Amulet and the Ginger Cat

Rekha Valliappan

2nd place winner of The Accent Prize

 

“The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.” -Epicurus

 

           It started with a ball of lilac yarn.

           Popped high into the air from a wicker basket, Ginseng, the ginger tabby, its subtle lines crouched in delicate suspension, leapt. It pawed, scratched, and tossed the ball of wool down the front steps into the garden and wild brush beyond. The twins, laughing merrily, gave chase, preoccupied with a game of their own. In a trice, the little girls and the cat had rounded the corner of their large dilapidated Victorian. Only the medley of their voices and purrs rang out.

           Nenek Nora was softly humming a haunting folk song of the coconut-palm blossom invoking the sea spirits. "Let those from the sea return to the sea, and those from the land return to the land." Ensconced in her rocking chair on the wide granny porch that wrapped itself around the house, she knit a green and mustard shawl. Fall winds were picking up over the hills of Apex, carrying with it the smells of musk and compost. The chimes peeled discordantly, causing a flock of nesting crows and resident Carolina wrens to screech volubly and take flight. Several times she had to tuck wisps of silvery grey hair into place under her granny cap. Her gnarled fingers stiff and painful with seasonal arthritis trembled with each Purl-knit Purl-knit. Her mind tended to wander excessively, which it was doing now through fitful slumber. That was when she gazed into space with the gnosis of a cat, almost comatose, an expression of contentment suffusing her half-open heavy eyelids, conveying the impression that she was both asleep and awake. She was transported to an assorted world which, in truth, only she could invade.

           The half-knitted shawl slid to the floor. Ginseng, as old as its mistress, had returned from its jaunt. It was a masterpiece of an exotic species, with a air of disdain aesthetic sense in distorted proportions. Purring softly, it stretched, fuzzy tail swishing like a catkin. gravitating towards its comfort zone, it plopped seductively into the basket of yarn nearby. Ginseng had its own ideas about everything. Such was the aristocratic quality of its elegance buried deep within its remote past. When proverbially it would have given chase to the occasional field mouse, which it no longer wished to recall. Or only invisibly. Inconspicuously. Those were the days cats worked fundamentally harder for a living. But now, in America, life on a diet of fish, meats, and food pellets was cat wilderness. Life was blissful.

           “Nenek! Nenek!” Nora gave a start, struggling to open heavy eyelids. It was Faridah, gently but excitedly shaking her awake.

           “Yes, yes, what is it child?” Nenek looked confused, squinting at Faridah's grubby, tightly clenched little fist, “Look what we found—”

           “No! Ginseng found—It's mine!” chipped in Natasha boisterously.

           “I saw it first—You grabbed it from me!”

           “Give it back!” Faridah dodged the outstretched hand, pirouetting around, her face wreathed in smiles. She tripped clumsily over the rocker leg, falling onto the wool basket, disgorging several balls of brightly-colored yarn in all directions, and displacing the snoozing cat. The object in her hand flew across the patch-rotted wooden slats of the porch with a metallic tinkle.

           Ginseng, back arched, hackles raised, bristling in every marrow, orange fur standing ramrod stiff, spent several seconds malevolently spewing profanities in inscrutable 'hissing' cat language. Having decided it had said enough it headed quietly into the house. Natasha giggled. In old age, Ginseng was as full of unexpected utterances as its mistress.

           “Children! Children! Whatever are you’ll up to?” Nenek sounded cross.

           “Bring me that at once!” ordered Nora, eyeing the black sphere suspiciously. She went cross-eyed as she pointed to the mud-caked object which looked like a monstrous dung beetle on the floor.

           “Ginseng found it in the woods behind the house. Natasha was gathering pine cones...” Faridah sulkily explained, embarrassed by her fall.

           “Not! Acorns...”

           “Pine cones...”

           “Acorns...”

           “Pine cones...”

           “Quiet!” yelled Nenek, in exasperation. They studied the object lying in Nenek's knobby palms as she tried to dust it off.

           It was curious looking. Jagged and bent around the edges, it had a copper tone with verdigris patina. Tarnished by age, where it had not rusted. It appeared to be a broken part of a larger whole, some oddly-shaped markings carved into it.

           “Like Ginseng's eye...” Natasha offered gleefully, glad to be the one to break the silence.

           “Same green, too,” chorused Faridah, when Nenek started to tremble violently mumbling incoherently in an unknown tongue.

           “Nenek! Nenek! What is it? What's wrong?” Faridah shook her worriedly. Nenek did these disconcerting things sometimes.

           “We must get rid of it at once.”

           Nora looked distraught, eyes bulging. “Call your mother. At once.” She began mumbling, “How could it have reached here? in our house? …After all these years? ...that woods belukar is full of ghosts pontianaks.” She said aloud, “How many times I told you not to go there? Call your mother, child…” and she struggled out of the rocker, hurriedly waddling into the house.

           The children stared after her disbelievingly, their clamors to know more going unheeded. “It's your fault. Now Ma will be angry with us for upsetting Nenek."

           “Not me,” protested Natasha, “You showed it to her. I told you to hide it! Then we could—”     

           Nenek was back. She appeared fragile and spent and just a trifle calmer. “Your mother can't come—some important work. She’s having the car sent around with Tia in twenty minutes. Be ready to come with me” was all she would say, “Now run along you two.”

           The girls were totally mystified. Tia, the girls’ babysitter, helped out when class schedules kept their mother, Alice, late at Pelham College, where she taught Art History.

           Nora resumed knitting with crablike hands that shook, instantly tight-lipped. Her mind was anything but calm. Breathing heavily, eyes as if she had been dealt a deathblow, she appeared lost, plunging against her will into the harrowing spaces of being. Moments where even tears dare not roam, that fateful afternoon...

 

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           It was the summer of fifty-two. School was over. Nora, Jennifer, and Leela had rushed to Ma Chik's wonton mee food stall near the fish market in the village Kampung Jawa for her assortment of delicious tapioca cakes kuehkuehs. Ma Chik was of Siamese descent and spoke a pidgin Malay in musical tones. People had a hard time understanding her, but she drew huge crowds.

           She was also a bomoh of sorts and could tell fortunes by staring into an old brass spittoon. Word soon spread that she was possessed of strange powers. She could make men climb trees with the ease of an orangutan or disappear like a nighttime shadow. Ginseng was one herbal remedy she used for prowess. Beads, bamboo sticks, and little pieces of green jade were others.

           That fateful afternoon, Ma Chik had a surprise in store for the girls. They had trembled in delight. She had handed each an ancient copper talisman known for showering its wearers with great wealth, good fortune, and the eternal afterlife of kings. It had traveled far from distant lands, and an even more remote past.

           “One condition! Return here upon two decades to burn or bury the amulets where it will never be found.” The caution went unheeded in the turmoil.

           The pragmatic choice was to run. But three girls had found themselves impelled instead by the gravity of the moment. Each had intoned magic gobbledygook, repeating after Ma Chik who was pawing the air in the terror-stricken frenzy of a cat sharpening its claws. Their queer, lilting singsong sounded like nursery doggerel to them.

           “Life charmy I be not yield, Brightest O Sun, Twins of Bastet be, Many-fest-Station of Re.” Each girl had gazed longingly at the copper and turquoise piece of jewelry with the shape of a large cat's eye cut into it. It was enticing. The drone of mosquitoes and smell of incense rising from the arabesque holder had added to the soporific effect.

           Cats roamed in cryptic realms known only to cats, Ma Chik was explaining in a hollow, measured voice, gesturing and pausing dramatically as the smoke from her homemade cheroot stung their eyes. They were not psycho, which many think. All cats were half djinni, mythical creatures of grace and benevolence, spirits of the mortal world come to earth. They roamed on the silvery moon's dark side and stole dead people's souls on their way to Paradise.

           They could even walk on clouds, floating like balls of cotton wool. Nora was immediately transported to faraway lands of longhairs, calicos, and wedge-faced beauties. The further up the Milky Way she traveled, the deeper she was lost in the gardens of feline aura emanating from Ma Chik's theatrical gestures. A delicate purring tinkled in her ears like a Sufi chant dhikr. The bobtailed blue-grey Korat, in looks and demeanor like a Singapura entrancement, the color of dark rain clouds over green rice fields, floated into view, bringing with it images of her beloved super-alleycat kucinta, the luminary of the riversides and monsoon drains longkangs. Yara was a glowing sweetly remarkable six-fingered ticked tomcat, which was the only household pet she had ever known. It was telepathic, had an astonishing IQ, and weighed in at a whopping 100 lbs. Nora sang reverentially, recalling its mysterious beauty. “The hairs are liquid with roots like pearly shell and tips like slate and eyes that glow like purple morning dew on a lotus leaf.”

           Ma Chik was carried away in the epiphany of life and death and love. She burst into a dance drama, swaying to the revelation in a strangely macabre tailless Manx-hybrid style dance. At seventy-two years, she was not a spring chicken.

           Jennifer gawped. She detested cats. They were pure evil. They spread disease. She remembered catching cat flu once, which lasted for weeks. It came from eating her grandaunt's lumpy kitten meat rice dumplings, which made the icky green bile substance rise in her throat. Commiserating, she squirmed at the thought. She suppressed her horror by remembering the culinary travel tales of a portly gentleman named Mr. Pickwick and his artful companion on the English countryside in their food forays. “Remember Mr. Sam? He’s always so clever. They eat the same baked cat pies lor. All over London. People there are so big, so strong. So much fuss for nothing. Now eat,” her grandaunt would expertly admonish, hovering protectively over her rice dumplings.

           “Have you ever eaten a cat?" Jenny managed to mumble under her breath, “It tastes like a toad.” She was hushed by a frown.

           Leela had all but dropped off to sleep, utterly bored. Not in her entire life could she recall a single similar cat 'pooja' as she was witnessing now having been performed anywhere else in the whole wide world. And she had attended many. Elephants, snakes, cows, monkeys, tigers, lions, peacocks, garuda, rats, even, but never a cat. Her carefully constructed panchatantric animal world felt permanently shattered into adichotomy too outstanding to ignore. When gentle Nora burst into soulful cat-song, and even the rebellious Jenny had begun to idiotically cat-mumble, the farce was proving too outlandish for even the complacent Leela to handle. Everyone looked unflappably ludicrous. A little longer and she was sure she would explode. The chuckle was difficult to suppress, was fast bubbling out of control from her belly up. She struggled with trying to stay focused on Ma Chik instead, on her cat pantomiming.

           “Destroy the charm,” Ma Chik again gravely forewarned in a sepulchral tone. the foreboding rang with barely and sent a nervous chill through the room. “Two decades! Promise me!” Each girl, impressed, solemnly swore. They were impatient to be gone.

           That was the last they would ever see of Ma Chik, the Siamese seer, friend to all.

           The curious boon that she had so predeterminately delivered in halcyon generosity one fateful afternoon, would alter their destinies in the coming years. Bright or sordid, who could tell?

           Over the years, Kuala Lumpur would mushroom into a modern seething city of towering steel and glass. The old village of Kampung Jawa, with its quaint country roads fringed by banana and frond-leafed oil palm trees, would no longer exist. The Great Wall Mall, a huge development of brand name retail outlets and stores, would take over the intersection where Ma Chik's little hawker stall once stood.

           She returned to Chiang Mai, it was rumored.

           In the interim, Ma Chik would be long forgotten. As would be the cat’s eye amulets.

           Except for the one time Nora would encounter Jennifer at the Subang International Airport. Nora had been returning from a 3-week vacation to Europe, while Jennifer had just arrived from a working holiday in Osaka. It was awkward. They scarcely recognized one another. One was a mother of four, the other a fashionable accountant at the pinnacle of her high-powered career.

           Neither dared to voice what was being left unspoken. The forgotten promise of long ago. Nora would feel the sense of betrayal, but the opportunity to mention it would be lost forever.

           And then, one day, the curious had occurred, which should have sounded an alert, but which was hardly noticeable without hindsight.

           Nora’s son Adam, a Ph.D. student pursuing Archaeology at Brown, had found himself on the team exploring the sites of the temple of the Cat Goddess Bastet. The main dig lay outside Beni Hasan south of the Nile Delta between the excavations at Bubastis and Tanis where, reportedly, more than a hundred thousand mummified cat remains were discovered. The project was the ongoing joint collaboration between the Universities of Bonn and Southern California.

           In Malaysia, it would create an upheaval such that, in the days that followed, every newspaper would report how, while doing excavations outside the site of the digs, a scarab shaped copper amulet with Eye of Ra engravings had been picked up under the top-soil: “A miraculous find by a young doctoral student, an assistant of the crew!”

           While excitement had grown intense, this particular piece of ancient jewelry would be scrutinized by world experts. Analysis determined it beared hieroglyphic inscriptions within the metal grooves of the eye that read—‘The manifestation of Ra rules, the Chosen One of Ra.'

           The media, afflicted with high frenzy, would go into overdrive, daily pitching stories of unprecedented cat adoration and worship in ancient Egypt. The elation it would spread resulted in a spike of kitten sales nationwide. Cat Gardens and Happy Fat Cat Stores would spring up virtually overnight in all major metropolis. For the first time in fifty years, cats would outnumber dogs as a favored household pet. The Royal Cat Club Kelab Kucing Malaysia di Rajah, which had lain mostly dormant for decades, would receive a revitalizing boost, even deluged with inquiries. It would result in the First National Cat Contest in which every variety of cat would participate, representing 40,000 households, from Maine Coon, Javanese, Bombay, Siamese, Burmese, to Turkish Angora, Persian, Russian Blue, Devon Rex, Chartreux.

           A Cat Census would be ordered to keep track of the preponderance of this beast of good fortune. People would hold 'cat parties,' in their homes, on the streets, in marketplaces, festooning them all with sculptures and posters to celebrate.

           It would result in a spate of songs dedicated to cats. Towns and bridges would be renamed after the Cat Kucing. Adam would be turned into the proverbial Cat-Hero.

           The bonanza would sky-rocket further, when the Journal of Antiquities would later go as far as to describe it as the fabled remnants of King Solomon's Mines. While the whole country was still celebrating, the Third International Conference of Antiquities was being held in nearby Bali. Papers were being presented on this remarkable find by Anthropology Professors from across the globe. These would later be reported in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

           It was the day, at midnight, when a stray ginger cat with bright green eyes and thick orange fur would sashay its way into their homes like it was on a catwalk. The destructive tsunami which had torn into the islands of Phuket and Bali that day was visceral. Wild winds, storm surges, and life-threatening, forty-foot waves had made match sticks of boats and coastal structures. It churned the Indian Ocean and South China Seas into maelstroms.

           It had come like a thief in the night. No one had been prepared for the havoc it was to wreak in the weeks to come. Vivacious Jenny, proudly single till the very end, had been on the ill-fated Eastern Cruises plying the route to Kuala Lumpur. She had been attending a seminar in Bali and had been persuaded by Sunny to take the cruise ship back. Stolen moments. It was to be their last rosy-fingered peach blossom time together. Such was the devastation of the ocean's cross-currents that her remains, together with Sunny and three hundred others, would never be found. 

           “Hold all calls,” she had spoken swiftly to her secretary Tracy over the intercom that last day in her plush office in the heart of the business district on Mountbatten Road, “An important client—I do not wish to be disturbed.”

           Tracy had been used to her boss’s hectic work schedules. It had been approaching lunchtime. And Sunny had rung.

           “Sorry, but she says no calls.” Tracy had politely replied.

           Sunny had been the recent beau, “That's all right. Just tell her can’t make it right now—will be seeing her tonight, though.”

           The door to the main office had opened and Jenny had rushed out, grabbing her crocodile leather handbag, urgently and casting a hurried glance at the clock. “Let me have the schedule again,” she had called out to Tracy.

            Tracy had flipped open the Appointments Book, with Jenny running a quick eye down it. Very well she had said, ten minutes for lunch, five for a quick call to the audit firm in Singapore, another five to work on her Agenda, and she would barely make it in time for the Annual Meeting that afternoon.

           The tiny diamond ring on the third finger of her left hand had winked mockingly.

           Dwelling on has-beens had been her attitude. The engagement had been broken long ago. Eric had eventually married and was out of her life. So she had traded the large champagne colored stone for a smaller one which had sat daintily on her tiny finger.

           “There's an entry in the Specials Book...” Tracy reminded her, breaking into her reverie.

           “Sorry, I was somewhere else,” Jennifer had shaken herself mentally, “You were saying...?”

           “Here,” Tracy had said, handing Jenny the little black notebook. In it were listed mainly personal matters—dates, family events, birthdays, anniversaries. She had stared hard at the rough entry. Its perplexing brevity could not be missed. It was not the first time Tracy had felt inadequate, attempting to draw her boss's attention to something she was clearly uncomfortable with. The entry was outdated. 'Ma Chik - Amulet.' She had checked again the date and had shivered involuntarily. Oh yes, that copper amulet!

           And then she had done an odd thing. She rushed to her mahogany desk, pulling open the lowest drawer. Fumbling, she had found the ornate carved wooden box. It had been many years since she had opened that box. With nerveless fingers she had drawn from it the blackened copper talisman covered with verdigris and resembling a dead beetle. It was in a state of decay. She sniffed it. A faint cheroot and incense odor had filled her nostrils. It inflated her innards like a helium balloon. Memories coagulated thick and fast, and she was white as a skull.

           “Here, take it. It’s yours now. I won’t be needing it. Does wonders. Guaranteed.

           Just a little polish with some vinegar and it will glow,” would be the last words Jenny would impulsively utter, pushing the box persuasively into Tracy’s hands and running out the door to the elevators.

           When news of Leela’s sudden demise had appeared in obituaries within a week of Jennifer’s, Nora had been galvanized. She would have missed the obituary altogether had it not been a full page spread. While the news had come as no surprise to all those Leela had surrounded herself with, to Nora the shock had felt uncanny. Two of themgonewithin days! She was spellbound, utterly bewildered.

           But the ineffectual Leela had been battling her own inner demons for an entire decade. Cosmopolitans and margaritas had thrown her down a spiral of drugs, followed by treatment and psychotherapy. She woke up with constant headaches, mostly from hangovers. Opening her eyes before noon with light filtering through her chintz curtains always hurt, hammering blindingly behind the eyeballs. On occasion, her stomach had heaved in queasiness. That was when she had been forced to get onto wobbly feet and lurch her way to the toilet, sometimes making it in time, often falling short.

           The maid who would slip in unnoticed, nose crinkled against the smells, had many a time found disorder. “Oh, there you are, Kalyani,” Leela would softly say. “Such a headache I have—get me a couple of the blue pills and three of the pink—have the children left to school? What time is it? Oh God, my head!”

           She would then stare hard at the cuckoo clock hanging over her dressing-table, “Goodness, don't those clocks ever work?! You know, I have never seen that cuckoo...they say it sings. Sing cuckoo!” and with one weak sweep of her arm she would fling her pillow at it.

           “Yes, Missy. It’s a quarter to one,” the maid would quietly reply, surreptitiously tidying up the room, “Shall I bring lunch or breakfast?”

           “Neither,” Leela would wince, “Just some toast and coffee—and don't forget the pills.” Maybe she should take a double dose. “Get me the whole bottle,” she would add as an afterthought.

           She should not have been doing either. She should have been running her perfect home. She should have been grouting the cracks when signs of strain had first started to show. It had been the real reason Gopal had walked out of her life forever. Augmenting a vicious cycle of damage and despondency.

           “Run my bath, Kalyani, will you? I don't want to be disturbed the rest of the afternoon,” had been one of her last instructions to her maid, as she had taken the proffered tray, “I'll call if I need you.”

           “You have an appointment with the doctor,” Kalyani had dutifully reminded.

           “Today?” Leela had shaken her head confusedly, “It was postponed...?”

           “Today,” the maid had repeated.

           Doctor?! Leela had struggled hard to focus. If only this pain would diminish. News of Jenny had ratcheted up the headaches. She sipped slowly at her steaming coffee, almost in a trance, soothing strains of M.S. Subbulakshmi's signature Dhyanaslokam wafting towards her. Carnegie Hall. What a mellifluous concert that was!

           Suddenly she choked, heart pounding erratically, tray flying across her blush-colored satin Lili Cassandra Versailles French bedspread. She tore at her clothing in desperation. “Oh my God! Yes, the copper amulet—Kalyani, quick! The doctor—” she spluttered, coughing in fitful spasms until she was blue, “Find—if only I ...”

           It had been a large ceremonial cremation. Leela had many friends and acquaintances. Like a demonic madwoman in the throes of recklessness Nora had anxiously driven that evening after the funeral to Kampung Jawa. To rid herself of the copper amulet once and for all was her immediate target.

           Her trepidation had been extreme. She never made it. Past the busy traffic intersections of Petaling Jaya, in her haste to arrive at high speeds their Mercedes-Benz was T-boned by a utility van running a red light. It would slice their vehicle in two. Nora, airborne at the moment of impact, would be catapulted in an instant onto Jalan Templar. It would claim the lives of her entire family, their bodies strewn in bits and parts several hundred meters along KL Highway. Except for Adam. Interestingly, he would emerge miraculously unscathed, with not a single visible scratch.

           People were flummoxed. It would be the talk of the town for several years to come, guaranteed to last a couple of generations at the very least. Nora who had been comatose for the better part of a year, suffering a severe brain and spinal injuries, would be receiving the best of hospital care. Partly medically induced, her ramblings would be of cat colonies in dank and dark rain-filled sewers. Her armies of lean and hungry cats, marauders of rat burrows, would infiltrate wet butcher stalls and dried salted fish stands.

           She would walk a maze of grimy, narrow alleys and walkways and the endless dwellings of over-crowded Chow Kit among over-sized fish heads that spoke with their protruding eyes staring glassily, their bones devoured of all flesh.

            All she saw was a staggering array of high-on-crack cats of every hue and color, shorthairs and longhairs, domestic cats and feral cats, petrified cats and fearless cats, bobtailed cats and kinky-tailed cats, on the walls, on the floors, on citadel ceilings, in longhouses, on attap rooftops. Their unblinking gaze forever unflinching! Plotting! Scheming! The doctors concluded her olfactory receptors were in disrepair.

           “Make haste—” spake the Goddess of Bubastis. After extensive surgery to her left leg, partially in Kuala Lumpur, then in London, followed by orthopedic therapy, she had eventually recovered some use of her paralyzed limb. Recovery would take three years. She had in due course joined Adam and his wife Alice in their suburban home in North Carolina.

           It would be a brief respite. What would become of three copper amulets none would know. It would not surface.

           Until, years later... The Live Science Monitor would publish an extraordinary report of another early Bronze Age scarab shaped copper amulet found on land surface in the Negev area, this time by a young Lebanese student. The site would be identified as the copper mines of Jordan, south of the Dead Sea and the Jezreel Valley, historically a rich metal production site for excavations of ancient pottery shards and mummified funereal remains that were a feature of the Faynan Region brought all the way from Cyprus. Radio carbon testing of the metal object would determine it to be the Pharaoh branded copper amulet of Sheshonq I ‘the Chosen of Amun/Re,’ a powerful military ruler of ancient Egypt.

           Oddly, by the time of publication of this new Report, Adam the Cat-Hero whose famous find of years ago was on permanent display in the British Museum of Egyptian Antiquities would be long dead.

           The bizarre trajectory his debilitating illness would take would stupefy many. Its speed and spread as it devastatingly metastasized from inoperable pancreatic growth would stun the medical community. Released from stupor, they would collectively charge the cancer's fatal flourish to a hearty disregard for modern medical practices brought on by a fervent stubbornness to cling to household cures. At the heart of the argument would be the traditional medicinal root, ginseng.

           None were permitted to view the corpse. Family and friends would be numbed, confused beyond comprehension. Adam would in time be forgotten. No one would speak much of him or his family history. History spoke sometimes in whispers, it was said. Adam would be buried quietly in the cemetery overlooking his dearly beloved Cat Gardens of Mata Kucing.

 

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           “Nenek! Nenek!” the children were clamoring noisily, shaking her awake,  “The car is here.”

           Nora rose unsteadily to her feet, adjusting her spectacles as she picked up Ginseng, lying asleep on her lap, the leather pouch containing the charred copper amulet clutched feverishly in her hand.

           “Ginseng is coming, too!” the children squealed in unison as they piled into the car, riveted by irresistible fascination at the prospect. Ginseng purred in contentment, eyeing the back seat interior of the car pensively. Then promptly dozed off.

           “Take us to the Jordan Lake please,” Nora instructed Tia dourly. She felt overcome by weariness. It was a short drive. They picnicked often by Beaver Creek.

           “Can we go by Lanier Falls?” demanded Natasha, bobbing up and down in her excitement at the prospect of her favorite campgrounds.

           “Please!” begged Faridah.

           “Please!” chimed in Natasha. The rapids at the Falls with its backdrop of maple and spreading oak trees was particularly picturesque at this time of year.

           “Children, we are not having a picnic. We have work to do,” admonished Nenek sternly, “First, we are going to drown this dirty beetle which the cat dug up. Then if we have time we will see.”

           “Do you hear that Ginseng? We are going for a boat ride!” Faridah screeched aloud, giving the orange ball of fur a tight squeeze. It was wrapped snugly around Nora's right ankle.

           Rudely awakened, Ginseng yowled like a banshee in protest, jumping nimbly on the gear shift before landing atop the dashboard of the Buick where it crouched precariously. Tia suppressed a scream as the gears shifted. The car swerved wildly, narrowly missing the divider, throwing them hard to the right, tires screaming, hard to the left, before recovering gravity. It lasted a few seconds.

           “I want the canoe,” piped in Natasha, giggling uncontrollably at being tossed. She was pinned against the window.

           “No! Pedal-boat,” retorted Faridah, who was splayed on the floor of the swerving vehicle where Ginseng had been.

           “Canoe!”

           “Pedal-boat!”

           “YEEOWWW!” the cat yowled.

           “Quiet!” yelled Nenek severely, her voice muffled and sounding vaguely distant. She was struggling in vain to wrench the orange fur ball from off her face where it was lodged tighter than a mushroom growing out of deadwood.

           Soon, order was restored and the journey resumed. Nora had her glasses firmly on her nose. Ginseng was to stay on her lap the remainder of the trip. As for the two little girls, they were not to say another word till the lake was reached. After which they were all to remain in the car with Tia till Nenek returned. The girls looked crestfallen.

           She would not be long, she assured. The boatman would accompany her. She would drown the beetle in the middle of the lake, the deepest part where the lake looked the greenest, where it would never ever be found, where the currents of the Cape Fear River would carry it powerfully along as it emptied into the Atlantic Ocean to stay lost and buried forever.

           Beaver Creek was soon reached. The colors of the autumn were starting to show on the falling leaves. The children stood forlornly, silent, clinging tightly to Tia as Nenek trudged in measured stride to the boathouse, never once glancing back, one arm holding the softly purring ginger cat now comfortably reclining with demure dignity. The other clutching the copper amulet. They were not to know then, but they were in for a long wait.

 

 


Rekha Valliappan writes, blogs, edits, armchair explores, and volunteers. Some of her writings have been published and others are forthcoming. She seeks to create fiction peppered with a poetic vein that draws on the culture, society, folklore, and literature of her international experiences. Her deepest influences are histories, words, art, the natural world, family and beautiful minds. Her educational background includes a M.A. in English from the University of Madras, India and an Honors LL.B Laws from the University of London. She has taught college English and Law for some years. While she has spent much of her life in the nonprofit sector for women, children, literacy, social service international clubs, organizations and charities, she also does some freelance journalism and novel chapters on the side. For leisure, she enjoys old movies, good music, literary classics, mystery and suspense, P.G. Wodehouse and cheesecake. She was born in Bombay and lived some years in S.E. Asia, where she emerged as one of the 'Short Story Contest' winners in Malaysia. She has three children and two grand-children and currently lives with her maltese-poodle on Long Island, New York, surrounded by trees, mammals, birds, many books in need of reading, chocolate ice-cream in the freezer and a pair of walking boots. Now that she has waited long enough to call herself a 'writer' full-time, she is into furthering her creative writing pursuits. Follow Rekha on her blog at silicasun.wordpress.com / or on Twitter or LinkedIn / or contact at rekhavalliappan5@hotmail.com.