LIST all chapters
READ previous chapter
READ next chapter

4: Waterfall song

Do not walk this mad path alone
Love is for sharing
Life is not stone

Yu Ching Li was just finishing his breakfast when the phone asked for his attention. He let it go to the answering machine first, until he heard David’s voice. Dragon

     “Hey Li—it’s safe to pick it up. It’s just me.”

     Li smiled and picked it up.

     “David. Are you on your way back?”

     “Not yet. Thought I’d take the morning off and just relax here at the bay before I get back into things. It’s gorgeous here. Checked everything out yesterday and it’s all set except for the filling. Got a couple of sea trucks who know their way around the Gap and the Bay and they’ll pick up the furniture and stuff in a couple of days so I’ll get back here then. Got any ideas for staff yet? My nets are coming up empty.”

     “I have been thinking about it and feel I have a definite solution. We can discuss it when you return. Are you planning to stay overnight again?”

     “No. Probably head back around two or so. Just thought I’d let you know so you don’t think I’ve gone under the salt chuck.”

     “Have a good morning then, and a safe flight home.”

     “I’ll take care of both,” came the reply. “See you there.”

     Li put down the phone, still smiling. He had always appreciated David’s considerate way of keeping in touch. Since the father of this man had nothing but disinterest in him, Li had become surrogate. He’d been made aware of his appointment to that office very early in this relationship.

     He had often watched as First Grandson of his friend, Edith Godwin, stuck his small nose and fingers into everything his parents didn’t want them to be in, and had often been guilty of laughing silently to himself when the child did something which didn’t amuse them, but which Li had thought of as only the hilarious efforts of a curious and intelligent young mind to get itself educated—sometimes with spectacularly unexpected results.

     That view had been expressed to Edith during one of the many visits the boy made to his grandmother’s when David had been banished from home ground for some sort of mayhem or other, and he’d often tactfully intervened, drawing the son away from the wrath of fatherly authority by interesting him in something else.

     He saw the boy a lot because Edith more often than not was ‘baby-sitting’ David, who had done something considered outrageous at home and been shipped off to Grandma’s so the parents could get some relief from supervising this boy whom they seemed to think needed a cage to contain his behaviour. It appeared that he aroused nothing but anger and contempt in his father. A week at Grandma’s always seemed to calm things down—until the next time.

     Li had done a bit of ‘sitting’ himself, when Edith had business during these times, which couldn’t include a rambunctious boy. He liked David and they got on well together, as he invented games and lent him books which he saw and asked to borrow, even though Li felt they were beyond the grasp of a child.

     Accepting one of Edith’s usual invitations to a gathering of bridge lovers one afternoon, Li had found himself sitting opposite David as his partner. He knew Edith played cards with David when they were by themselves, so he wasn’t surprised, although he thought a few other people wouldn’t look too kindly on this new innovation of ‘minding that damned kid’.

     They eyed each other, smiling, East facing West, the brown eyes kind and amused at this turn of events, and the grey ones ready for fun as the boy took a small flute from his hip pocket to avoid sitting on it and tied it—through a torn hole in the neck of his tee shirt—with the yellow ribbon which was wrapped around it.

     Becoming dummy, Li had taken the part with good-natured tolerance and then—he’d watched as a six year old mind acquired the lead and busily proceeded to demolish the opposition, to the amazement of his partner and the discomfiture of the other two adults seated there, as unintentional salt was rubbed into the wound when the winner said with a smile,

     “It was just luck. Next time you’ll win.”

     Their skill at the game had just been reduced to a casual wave of Lady Luck’s hand—by a child.

     When the tables broke for tea and Edith had come over to where the two stood discussing the play, Li remarked to her, looking down on the head of loose curls,

     “Here is a young dragon appearing in the field.”

     To which the one so designated replied, much to Li’s surprise,

     “Oh—I’m not ready to take the field yet Li. That would be arrogant. They’re too good for me.”

     “You know about dragons?” asked Li, even more impressed.

     “A bit. I’ve been reading those books you lent me—but there’s something which has been bothering me. Is it true that some dragons have three feet and some four and some five?”

     “Any dragon of the air who hovers slowly enough to have his feet counted may soon fall into the sea and perhaps have difficulty getting away from those who know how to swim there.”

     “You mean he’s a fool, don’t you, because he’s too slow to avoid trouble.”

     “That is so. It is enough for the dragon himself to know how many feet he has. Others need not know. It is better that he should concentrate on seeing through clouds and finding a correct path rather than counting toes.”

     The boy gave him a thoughtful look, then asked hesitantly,

     “Like—he should mind his own business?”

     “Taking care of one’s own affairs is a good thing and, unless it interferes with yours, others should be left to do the same. Which dragon would you choose to be?”

     “I think dragons were originally Chinese, and they have five feet, so the others must be imposters.”

     “You know how many feet a Chinese dragon has?”

     “Well, I’ve never met one, but that’s what one of the books says—so somebody must have counted. Maybe he was a slow foolish dragon.”

     “Indeed—or dead.”

     “He must’ve been very foolish then. How do dragons fly when they don’t have wings? I’d love to be able to fly. Guess I’m stuck with walking. I wonder how they do it.”

     Li reached out and tapped the end of the flute.

     “There are other ways to fly without having wings, and one who can do that need not be concerned with feet, whatever the number. That is an essence of dragons.”

     “You mean music? Sort of—mind over matter?”

     “You show wisdom for your years young David.”

     “Do you think so? My father says I’m a stupid kid and I’ll always get into trouble. Maybe if I knew how to fly it might make him see I’m okay.”

     “Perhaps fathers say things hastily without meaning it.”

     “I don’t think so. He says it all the time—and he doesn’t say it to Freddie and he’s always tripping over his feet.”

     “Freddie is younger than you, and I am sure your father could not miss seeing that you are not stupid.”

     “I don’t know. If Dad says I’m dumb I must be, because he knows more than I do. Far back as I can remember he was always saying to my mother... ”

     Here the boy struck a melodramatic pose, one hand upraised, the other on his forehead in an attitude of total despair, then continued in a mock deep voice, full of parental anger,

      “Danielle! Will you come and get this stupid kid off my back? He’s driving me nuts, always telling me how to do things and asking dumb questions. Take him over to his grandmother’s and maybe she’ll keep him for a week.”

     Li looked enquiringly at Edith Godwin, who smiled at her grandson and said,

     “Would you help bring the tea things in David? I think the ladies would like that.”

     “Sure Gram,” came the ready consent, along with an impish grin and the comment, “You want me to get lost,” and the boy left, running for the kitchen.

     “A man who does not accept his son?”

     “Well, David is something of a handful.”

     “He is just a youthfully energetic boy.”

     “His father’s favourite term for it is ‘smart-assed brat’,” laughed Edith.

     “What would he have? A shy, retiring dullard?”

     “Anthony’s rather—well—staid. He wants everything orderly and ongoing in a straight line and made to his plan, with sons like little soldiers marching and saluting. David definitely doesn’t fit into that sort of scheme. He’s always off at some tangent. His very intelligence frightens his father. What man wants to be overtaken by his infant son? Especially when his wife and mother dote on the boy. It’s been going on since David learned how to talk. Danielle tries to keep peace between them but she has two other little boys now who are quiet and obedient and she gets annoyed with him too.”

     “Such a boy needs firm guidance, not neglect.”

     “How astute of you to notice,” came the answer with a meaningful smile.

     Li looked into the grey eyes opposite and realised that this was more than idle conversation as she continued,

     “So far his guidance has come mostly from myself, but you’re right. It’s certainly time for him to associate with someone possessing other outlooks and philosophies than my own from which he could learn.”

     “You are a one woman shanghai gang,” Li laughed. “It was not for a fourth at bridge you invited me today. You want me.”

     “Can you think of anyone better?” came the question.

     “Oh yes, but they are not willing to take on little dragons. They too want pliable clay. Besides, I have flaws, which you well know. What example am I for someone else’s son?”

     “Much better than the one he has at home, actually, and I say that, sadly, of my own son. He and David are always at odds. It can only lead to trouble unless someone takes him in hand. Since you’ve walked that independent path yourself, you might be able to warn him of the bumps there. You seem to have assessed him well already and he likes you. As for the flaws, that’s what individuals are made of, and dragons of a feather do get along well.”

     “They have scales”, laughed Li, “And sometimes they are rascals.”

     “What shall we have then? A rascal who becomes a mischievous nuisance and troublemaker or one with a guide to help him see through clouds and show a right path, whether he learns to fly or not?”

     “You think there are good rascals and bad rascals?”

     “You’re better able to judge of that than I.”

     “I am well answered—but do you really believe I know where such a path lies?”

     “Yours may not be the right one, but it seems to be straighter than most I’ve come across, and I’m concerned that the smarts this little boy has could very well take him along the definitely wrong one. That way always seems to be easiest, and when I see him doing his little card tricks and magic shows—I worry. I haven’t been much among the world of men and commerce you deal with. He needs to learn from the mistakes of one who has.”

     “It is a heavy responsibility. I am far from perfect. My own ways still need curbing.”

     “Maybe the two of you can curb each other, you by the responsibility, because you’ll have to set an example—he by having an expert hand on the reins.”

     Li looked at the boy who was politely helping to set out the tea things—at the smiles the adults were giving him—at the obvious pleased expression on the child’s face as he tried to do what was right and seemed to be succeeding for a change. He looked back at the woman who, along with her husband, had helped him to become what he was now, rescuing him from a trail of disasters and bringing him to a place where he could gain a steady footing.

     “I will take this suggestion under deliberation.”

     “I have a great amount of patience. I’ll wait.”

     It wasn’t a relinquishment by the grandmother, rather, it was an enrichment, a joining together of two essential forces necessary for the moulding of one whole young man.

     It had pleased Li immensely that such a trust had been given him. It was also a way to repay. He knew well how much the woman cared for her grandson, and as he had no one of his own other than his sister, the friendship became almost a father-to-son relationship—except that this son was not the ideal material, nor was he himself the ideal guide.

     He was forever dodging and fencing and making excuses to permit the agile workings of an active and decidedly independent mind as it’s course was checked and channelled—a mind which appeared to travel on something of a parallel course to his own, and since there seemed to be no way to turn it aside he let it continue that way, only making sure the peregrinations didn’t transgress beyond what he considered to be honourable.

     He sometimes wondered who was teacher and who was being taught. It seemed that in this trio of conspirators who often bumbled off the right path, all three were forever learning from each other and making allowances accordingly while trying not to interfere with the freedom of the others. Accommodations had to be made for the interpretation of ‘the right path’—according to three free-thinkers.

Music notes

- - -

The rascal grew, learned how to see through clouds, and made his own path for his wandering feet once he’d found that those feet couldn’t walk two paths at once, no matter how imaginative the mind. That path was meandering but it was not crooked.

     Learning to fly was another matter. David, it seemed, could handle that very well—and he flew in many ways and in many directions until, gradually, methods for walking and flying which were not totally unacceptable to, and in some ways were surprisingly gratifying for, his two mentors, were found. Edith and Li acceded. They had done what they could. David was allowed to do the rest himself.

Flute with ribbon

The morning after the building crew had left, David had set to work adding his own final finishing touches to the office. He decided where his desk would go, and did a little carpentry to the floor over which it would sit. Money, he knew, was always a temptation to all and sundry. He didn’t want his cash to become a victim of sundry.

     Satisfied that the little trap door simply looked like another board and that his trigger mechanism could be worked only from the desk he would put over it, he decided to do a bit of rowing when he’d finished and before he left for the city again.

     After he’d called Li to let him know of his planned delay, he took one of the club dinghies and, after warming up with a row along the shore, he pulled for the beach to take a stroll, as morning was all honied sunlight, and yellow April was heading rapidly into green May.

     He walked slowly along the beach, enjoying the fact that pavement was non-existent and hurry not necessary, and he slowed even more as he started along a deer path which led him to the place where Shalisa Creek and Sea met and mingled, and where Deer came to drink of the freshness, taking a little salt and a little water at the same time.

     Turning away from shore there, he began walking in the upstream direction and soon found himself doing some climbing upstream, until he was alongside Waterfall, doing more climbing than walking, but the way seemed made for that and he found hand and footholds reasonably accessible, as though others had been there before him at some earlier time and had shaped the route, although it was now growing over and took some discovering.

     His muscles rejoiced in the exercise and his mind, intent on hands and feet, rocks and tree roots, cleared itself of everything except what he was doing as he worked steadily upward.

     Following beside the fall’s course he left level ground far below, and eventually came out onto a large, flat, almost oval stretch of rock in the ground projecting horizontally beside the waterfall. A fragrant arbutus tree

     Glossy-leaved, weather-bent Arbutus was leaning boldly over the wet precipice at an acute angle, holding tenaciously to its rocky slope as it reached eager arms for Sunshine, the thickness of its trunk attesting to how successful had been the grasp and penetration of its roots as it grew through the years, wooing acceptance from that hard bed where it now claimed right of place.

     The fragrance of its bloom was scenting the air as Waterfall, which it hung over, whispered and sang and shouted in many voices, while gentle Wind scattered tiny, spent arbutus blossoms, lavishly dusting everything beneath with creamy white, covering the rock David stood on.

     Granite—a single slab, unbroken and unmarred, smoothed by Sun and Rain, hugged by Salal and Fir where it met surrounding Cliff, with Fern and Moss feathering it as it touched Pool’s edge.

     Beside the little plateau a rocky basin of roughly the same shape and dimensions caught the thundering water in its downward rush, tossing it high, splashing and spraying, breezing falling flowers and mist with prodigal liberality.

     David’s imagination suggested to him that it might have been some giant who had picked up that slab and set it aside out of the path of the cataract, creating with one move both the ledge he stood on and the busy space in which the water rioted and frolicked before him.

     Walking to the edge of the exuberant pool he stood, breathing a little hard from his climb, warm and moist from that effort, his shirt clinging to him in places, damp waves of hair on his forehead, and he watched the rainbows flickering in the mist which the torrent created, his mind readied and open to suggestion, excited by this discovery.

     He was tempted to step over the edge of the rock into the pool and under the falls to cool off, but he gauged that the force of water there could be too strong and might hammer him over the basin’s lip into the spillway. That was a shower for the giant who had created it, not for a mere mortal.

     Waterfall laughed and lilted, called and whispered, dazzling, enticing, casting a spell without guile or deceitful intent.

     Strong drink, quickly intoxicating, conquering reason and freeing hedonistic delight, hearing and sight inundated, his perceptions actively courting participation in this rapture of the senses. Only Music had he embraced in this way before. That kind of thralldom was over him now.

     His ear, trained to the controlled measure and time of the classical style, heard now the free, full-throated music of the place he was in. He listened, close to exultation as the song of Waterfall came to him.

Slipping from arms of Sky
I fondle Fern here by my shining basin
lingering in this dancing pool
to dress myself in rainbow mist and flowers
before I plunge for rendezvous with Sea
that great wild lover who knows me well
All things are one here
All treasure each
An unclosed circle accepting all
Join us if you can
If you will
If you dare

     Unfettered, joyful, lusty, forever.

     As his eyes followed the cascade which appeared so frothy and soft farther down the precipice, he could almost fancy leaping into the spill, tumbling down through Water and Space, splashing and shouting with boisterous delight as he fell, down and down into that soft white cushiony mass.

     The invitation was extended.


     Before he could accept, the sudden move of a hummingbird sipping nectar from the arbutus blossoms broke his concentration. It whirred over and hovered in front of him to regard him unafraid, then took lightning flight in living ruby and garnet.

     Startled, he dragged his mind away from the dangerous thought which had possessed and led it in such a direction.

     To counteract the effect of the siren falls he turned and bent his head back looking far up through fir branches to blue sky with moving white clouds.

     After a few seconds it seemed to him that Cloud and Water stood still and it was Earth moving, tilting him over backwards.

     A falling arbutus blossom tapped on his upturned face.

     He jerked his eyes quickly down to the stone beneath his feet, almost off balance. His pilot’s senses, used to dealing with shifting horizons and moving environments, grasped the phenomenon, adjusted to it swiftly and settled the earth back into place.

     He laughed aloud, a bit jolted, stepped away from the edge of the pool and sat down on the sunwarmed, flower strewn slab to rid himself of the last trace of giddiness.

     Heat radiated and reflected around him and he took off his shirt to cool himself. Sun stroked his bare skin with hot fingers. Water still called.

     He took off his sneakers and socks, rolled up his jeans, stepped to the edge of the pool, but this time with caution, sat down and slid his feet in, dabbling them back and forth, sucking in his breath with the not unpleasurable shock from the iciness of the water, then reached out and splashed some of the refreshing coolness over himself until he was dripping with it and the cold became too intense for his feet, then he moved back to sit on the rock again.

     Drawing up one knee, he crossed his arms on it and rested his chin in the crook his elbows created, with eyes half-closed against the sun, gazing into the mad falls, listening to the voice of the water as it leapt impetuously downward.

     Provocative sounds, caressing sun, flowers and fragrance, rainbows.

     Into him, as he sat there, came the sensation that a man should not be here by himself. This ecstatic music with its timeless, unconducted orchestration was meant for a double heartbeat. A place of love, for love, and he was here alone. It was almost as though somebody told him this.

     An uncanny sense of someone nearby made him turn his head to look at the arbutus tree. Only the flowers dropping, the crisp, year-old bark peeling in the hot sun, the hummingbird once more sipping nectar high up.

     He began searching his mind for a rationale which would suit his own reasoning. He needed to put things into reasonable terms, but his inventive imagination supplied something else.

     <The concentration of the climb emptied my mind and left me unprotected, with my awareness unshackled by any dogma, and I stood in ignorant curiosity, invading a forest shrine unknowingly, confronting its Spirit solo—one which listens only to duets. Waterfall saw me alone and pitied me, and I was almost seduced for my brashness.

     <Just like my body is doing, my consciousness has taken a holiday. It should have made me aware, but I had no warning from it. When I started the climb I was busy thinking about my responsibilities and concerns far from this place and its sensuous invitations but I soon forgot that. The climb stripped my sensitivities of internal restraints and left me totally empty and open to whatever came.

     <The ability to concentrate wholly on what I’m doing at any given time was acquired to help me get into music or magic, but I’ve always been in control of it before. This was spontaneous desertion of inhibition, leaving me vulnerable to the first natural subconscious prompting which arose.

     <I almost succumbed to Waterfall’s suggested joyful self-annihilation!>

     Rising quickly to his feet he threw on his shirt, unbuttoned, thrust his feet into his old topsiders, fastened them hastily, stuffed his socks into his pockets, and left, body and mind quivering from the sight and sound and feel of the place.

     Exhilarated, on a spiralling high, laughing, he made his way back down, light-footed, reckless, as though he had drunk sweet, heady wine and was at the peak of its stimulation.

     From the steep descent he turned aside into the deer path by which he had come, and when he reached the beach he paused and turned, raising his eyes up the length of the waterfall to where he thought the rock and the pool might be. He saw only heavy green growth and couldn’t discover the site.

     Spirit of the Waterfall kept her secret well.

     “Okay,” he murmured aloud as he walked away, “I won’t do it again.”

     He caught himself talking to himself—again.

     <I’d better watch it. This is the second time I’ve let my imagination get away from me here. This place is too full of powerful suggestions. I’ve been living too much in my own world. I’d better get back to reality before I wind up in a straight-jacket.>

     Rowing back, he pulled the dinghy he’d come ashore in up onto the wharf and went to his plane, walking along its length, giving it a routine physical check with sight and touch. Unfastening the mooring line, he stepped onto the near float, nudged the plane lightly away from the wharf with his foot and bent himself into the cockpit.

     Only then, as he snapped the seat belt into place and began his procedure for take off did he feel, poignantly and deep, how truly alone he was, closed here in this machine with that beautiful wild free world outside singing and laughing and urging.

     As he taxied away he knew why. That enchanted pool had told him. He had no one he could share this beauty and these feelings with.

     The woman he knew now would never understand. She’d barely managed to maintain a look of artificial interest when, in a moment of happy enthusiasm for her one evening, he’d taken her to his floating office and played his flute for her—fool thing to have done, he’d told himself later.

     Her reaction when he’d finished had been to tell him it was a rather tedious noise to her. He didn’t really like it that much himself did he? That was to be put up with at concerts. She preferred country and western. Could he play some of that?

     He tried. He tried to close the gap which had suddenly opened between them. She laughed, and told him to get a guitar. He knew then that the space which had now widened to a chasm couldn’t be filled with his music and, somewhere after that, it became a deep canyon over which he made no attempt to build a bridge. Float plane over the Bay

     He had never before invited the women he’d known to share his music, and he told himself that unless he met someone exceptionally different he certainly wouldn’t do it again either. She had seemed so right, but that one step over into his own personal and private world had damaged the relationship beyond repair for him.

     Moving now across Water to face Wind he saw the whole thing in a different way.

     “Agh, what the hell!” he told himself, out loud again. “You’re lucky. You might have got around to asking her to live with you or something, and what a life that would have been!”

     Grimacing to himself at the idea of hiding in his office every time he wanted to play his flute, he rubbed at the scratches a thorny bush had slashed across his chest and wrists in his unheeding descent from the waterfall, took in a deep breath and blew it out forcibly at the vision of his narrow escape from both Woman and Waterfall, then throttled up to lift the plane off, heading for a lesser, unenchanted world.