• The Light in Our Hands

    by Emily Stewart

    Chang slid his outstretched hand in the cold stream. The paper lantern floated gently out of his fingers and began to drift away, a glowing cloud in the reflected sky. Chang straightened up, brushing his hands off on his pants. I entangled my hands in his, hoping to distract his bleak expression.
    “And that is to honor my father, and my father’s father, and all the fathers before him.” He finally spoke, gazing at the nothing but the flickering yellow lights enfolded with soft purple petals. “Each of whom died in war. It does not matter which war. All wars have become the same to me. They have all blended together in a useless clump of pain and anger, the shouts of the soldiers, the screams of the dying.”
    I watched as the light slowly drowned itself farther down in the river, dragged down by the changing tides.
    “And every day,” Chang whispered with scorn, his muscles tightening under his arm. “On this festival, I am reminded of all the people killed in the name of convoluted justice.” His chest heaving, Chang’s voice cracked. “Their ancestors must walk alone, with no one to honor them by sending cheap flower lanterns down a river. I suppose that must be all you look forward to, if you are dead. But at least you have the lesser of two evils.”
    Chang’s mouth set in a grim line. I followed his line of sight and watched with him as the figure Ling Ma appeared in the doorway, which illuminated her figure with light. Clutching the last of the handcrafted paper lanterns, she struggled desperately to reach the water’s edge. She knelt, and extended her shaking arms; but she held that lantern tight in her wizened hands. The first tear came, and then another; and she wept, holding her family, long dead and gone, close. She could not let them go down the river.
    “I would rather die than live a life of loneliness, watching every single one of my family be killed.” Chang said, closing his eyes to the pain of his grandmother and sharply turning. The movement caused me to stumble, and I caught his shoulder for support. He shrugged off my hands, his eyes fixated on the churning river’s depths, and spoke again.
    “I do not expect to live. I know I will die in war, as did my father, and my father’s father. It does not matter which war. Only a matter of time…”
    I rested my head on his shoulder, but he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice me.
    “And for whom.”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 18, 2013

    Topics: Young Writers' Corner

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