Literary Hook: ‘The Year of the Ox’ — a short story inspired by Chinese New Year

Christine Swanberg
Christine Swanberg

By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet

The following was inspired by Chinese New Year.

The Year of the Ox

By Christine Swanberg

As the surprising San Francisco sun fiddled its way through Chinatown, feathers of light fell on green papayas, jicama, and the orange and white gold fish that swam in aqua plastic tubs, Natalie heard the funky beat of a slightly off-key band. Careening the corner of Pacific and Grant, a Salvation Army combo blistered the air with a simple Souza march. The earnest bang of the drum and the tuba’s fervent bellow excited her, suddenly bringing back a memory of her own childhood. Natalie had been assigned drums, an odd choice for a girl coming of age in the early ’60s. She had been told she had a good sense of rhythm, but she had secretly suspected middle school drums was an assignment given as a last resort.

Behind the Salvation Army band, a 1959 long, black Cadillac inched along. In the front seat, an old Chinese man sat like a Buddha. Propped up by two younger men, presumably the sons, was a huge, framed photo of an old woman, presumably the old man’s wife. The frame was draped in Hawaiian orchids. A funeral. The procession turned the corner, and Natalie heard the beat faster and harder, like a heart palpitation on Dolby stereo. A crowd gathered around a small group of children who were dressed in bright gold, black and red regalia. The tallest child beat his own drum, which had bold Chinese characters on it.

With each fierce percussive crescendo, the beat built to a climax, then took a breath. What a way to go, Natalie thought.

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet. She received the Lawrence E. Gloyd Community Impact Award at the 2012 Rockford Area Arts Council State of the Arts Awards.

Posted Feb. 19, 2014

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