Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Two Deadly Spiders
A certain blind sat at his table before a bowl of wonton soup. It was still steaming, and he leaned over the bowl, vapors rising to his nose. He held a pair of chopsticks in his right hand, clicking them together with anticipation.
He was very poor. His room was small with no windows, and he slept on a matt. Stacks of books and scrolls, which he could no longer read, surrounded the wobbly table where the old man sat.
He didn’t notice that hanging off the ceiling above him was a deadly spider, the legs thick and hairy. It almost seemed as if the spider was looking down into the bowl of soup. It was said that one bite of that kind of spider would cause the victim to suffer immense pain for two days, until finally their bodies would give up and they would die.
The landlady usually cleaned the old man’s room to make sure it was safe from these deadly spiders, but the room hadn’t been dusted and the cobwebs hadn’t been removed in several weeks, because the lady’s sick brother was staying with her, an alcoholic near death, who moaned day and night for more drink and the names of different women.
She still brought the blind man his meals, but taking care of her brother, she sometimes forgot, and today this bowl of wanton soup was all she had brought him in three days. He was very hungry.
He took his chopsticks and picked up something from the bowl, squeezed it a bit to test its density, and he knew it was some deep green leaves of bok choy. He lifted the leaves dripping with broth to his mouth, blew on them and ate them. They were delicious.
He mindfully put down the chopsticks, knowing exactly where he had left them, and he picked up the bowl and drank some of the hot broth. He set down the bowl, reached for his chop sticks, and at that very moment, the deadly spider on the ceiling lost his grasp of the wooden beam and fell down from the ceiling, floating down like a feather all the way into the bowl. He splashed down at the same time the blind man put his chopsticks into the broth and felt around for a wonton.
The spider, stunned from the heat of the soup, suddenly tried to swim for life to the edge of the bowl, but the chopsticks came after him like giant claws in a Japanese monster movie, and the sticks picked him up by his fat body, his legs desperately trying to break free.
The old man lightly squeezed the chopsticks to test the density of the wonton, which caused great pain for the spider, and it didn’t feel right or normal to the man. He figured it was a new kind of wonton, maybe a bit overcooked, but he was hungry.
He brought the spider to his mouth to eat it. The spider fought to free himself from the sticks, his legs going wildly, and at the moment the old man brought the deadly spider to his lips—one of the legs slightly brushing his nose—the landlady knocked on his door.
“Are you listening to me?” she said. “I’m afraid this is going to be your last meal.
My dear brother needs the room. He’s not going to get better and even though he spent his life drinking and all the bad stuff that comes with it, he’s still my brother.”
The old man put the chopsticks back in the bowl, and the spider, relieved for a second chance at life, ran fast over the mounds of vegetables and wontons to escape from the bowl.
The old man knew nothing was certain but the fact of food, so he picked up the chopsticks again, determined to enjoy his last meal in the room he had lived in for seven years.
He plunged the chopsticks to the very bottom of the bowl, and he picked up and bunch of noodles and pulled them out of the broth. They rose from the bottom of the bowl like a mountain growing from the water, a magic mountain, and the spider, still trying to fight its way out of the bowl, rose up on the snakey terrain of the noodles, all his legs trying to grasp solid ground.
The old man brought a bunch of noodles to his mouth, and the rest of them hung down all the way back into the bowl and soup, and the spider climbed up the noodles toward the old man’s chopsticks. The man bit into the gathering of noodles, sucking a slimy swirl of them into his mouth, releasing the bunch with his lips and teeth, until they fell back into the bowl, along with the spider, who splashed on his back into the broth. His frantic legs twittered.
Just then a second deadly spider, the same kind as the first, crawled down from a wall, across the floor, up and down a stack of books, and up the legs of the table, onto the surface. He walked toward the bowl, as if drawn by the smell.
The old man loved the taste of the noodles, so salty, so delicious, so hot, and he mindfully put the chopsticks down on the table, lifted the soup bowl and brought it to his mouth to drink. The spider inside the bowl tried to swim up to the other rim so as not to end up in the old man’s open mouth. The little creature had to use the man’s teeth to push off from with three legs, and he swam up the bowl.
Meanwhile, the other spider stepped onto the pair of chopsticks, and before he was even half way across them, the chopsticks rose from the table into the air like beams on a high-rise construction sight, and the spider held on. The old man wanted a wonton, so he took the chopsticks and put them into the bowl, and the second spider, not wanting to plunge to his death, crawled up the chopsticks, ready to bite the old man’s fingers for relief, one of his legs touching the hair on the old man’s knuckle.
But right when the spider’s sharp, venomous teeth reached the old man’s hand, the chopsticks plunged a second time into the bowl and the spider slid down the slick wood. The old man grabbed a wonton in his chopsticks, or so he thought.
It was, of course, the first spider, caught in the pincers of the sticks, while the other spider was right above him on the sticks, hanging on for life. The old man lifted the sticks and brought them slowly, mindfully, to his mouth. He blew on it, the hair of both spiders waving like grass in the wind.
Right before he got the supposed wonton in his mouth-- the spiders ready to bite his flesh --the landlady knocked again, loud, angry.
“You hurry up with that soup and go,” she said. “I’m sorry, but he needs the bed!”
The old man put the chopsticks back into the bowl, and both of the deadly spiders took the chance to crawl out of the soup and up the side of the dish, where they rested on the rim like two friends taking refuge on the edge of a rescue boat.
The old man held his hands together and prayed for forgiveness, because he had been so divided in his heart that he was ignoring the gift of food, and even if he did have to find place to live, right now he had delicious, hot soup.
He picked up the chopsticks, plunged them into the bowl and picked up a wonton.
The spiders watched from the rim of the bowl. The old man blew on the wonton, and put it into his mouth.
It was so juicy, shrimp, pork, so delicious, so wet.
He ate the rest of the soup, all the wontons, all the leafy green bok choy, all the noodles, and the two spiders watched him from the rim like proud parents. When he was done eating, he sat back in his chair, held his stomach and let out a satisfied burp.
Note: I got the idea for this story while I was eating a bowl of wonton soup in the San Francisco Airport. I was on my way from Modesto to San Diego. I had been on the road for Undending Rooms over two weeks, and I was very tired. I hadn’t slept more than a few hours in the last few days. That morning I had to catch a small plane at five a.m. from Modesto, and while waiting for my transfer in San Francisco, I decided to have some breakfast. The San Francisco airport is the best in the US, for its Asian food.
I purchased a bowl of wonton soup. As I ate, I tried to read a book called 101 Zen Tales. I was trying to eat a steamy leaf of bok choy and hold the book at the same time, and the hot broth dripped off of the leaves and onto my hand and wrist and chin, and it burned.
My internal voice kept yelling, Shit! Damn!
I wasn’t being very mindful.
I was being impatient.
I was taking the gift of food and cursing it.
I put down the book and ate my wonton soup. It was delicious.
Still, as mindfully as the experience might have been, I couldn’t help but think about how much I liked the soup, how simply by putting down the book and concentrating solely on the food in front of me, I could enjoy it on an entirely different level. Every spoonful was a gift.
It made that bowl of soup the best gift I could ever receive. I become one with the soup. :)
And being a writer, I couldn’t help but think, I should write about this experience.
Then the first line of the story shot into my head like an arrow: "A certain blind sat at his table before a bowl of wonton soup."
Obviously, the language of the story was influenced by the koans I was reading at the time. Would I otherwise write a line like, "He was very poor."?
As I followed the language into the story, I was surprised by the second deadly spider, but I'm more than willing to let the language of a story determine the meaning.
I'm working on a new set of stories, and this story may very well make it into the collection.
For this post, I added some pictures I found on the web.
The spiders pictured may not be accurate representations of what spiders look like in the blind man’s corner of the earth, but he can’t see them anyway.:)