From Issue 13: Lodestone (Flash Nonfiction)

"Lodestone" originally appeared in Issue 13.

Lodestone

By Isaac Yuen

I would later learn that the ship had only been here a month and change, that it was a recent addition to these bouldered shores I keep returning to, year in and year out, regular as the tides that brought all eighty-nine meters and four thousand deadweight tonnes of the Sunrise Orient here to wreck herself on granite and basalt. A former freighter bound for Indonesia, she had suffered a steering failure and was listing to port with an unsecured cargo of cement. Abandoned by her crew with the engine running, she ran aground here, came to rest here, beckoned by the same currents that now roll in band after band of neon lap sap, Cantonese for rubbish, British for garbage, forming the wrack line of soda bottles, broken foam coolers, and shrunken foil balloon heads that greets us at Tung Wan Tsai, this “Little East Bay.”

"Pity." My uncle says, laconic.

If I had ever set foot on the north side of Cheung Chau, it was long ago, in another life. I trail the two brothers in matching sunhats, watch them pause and shake their heads at the sight of the beach before moving on. They are busy retracing the routes of their birthplace for the first time in three decades. After a while one of them stops, gasps, grips his right side to work out a stitch. He is my father, now older in flesh than the still of the grandfather I hold forever static in my mind, when I was young, when I was free, long ago in another life. Everyone had returned to this sandbar, Cheung Chau in English, long isle in Chinese, to lay my grandmother to rest beside her husband. Blood to bone. Bone to ash. Ash to urn and earth and sky.

 *

We rest under a hilltop pavilion. The April haze is not enough to dull the bright noon day, and to the north we can see clear across to Hong Kong. Closer to the northeast lies Lamma Island, marked as long as I can recall by a trio of smokestacks jutting out of the top of the coal-fire plant. My cousin pulls a dosimeter out of a plastic bag, informs us it's a yellow kind of day. I want to ask why he carries a radiation detector, what yellow means, what he has been up to since we last crossed paths years ago, but the moment passes. We are shy and the view is grand, so we go on taking in the polluted sea breeze, watching the oil booms around the drowned freighter bob to rhythm, going on as the unfinished beings we are.

For the first time this trip we snap family photos. 61, 59, 32, 25,14, 7; I count the rings of our years rippling out from this origin space. My youngest sister with her red-bell hat and gap-toothed smile clambers onto a nearby railing to pose for a picture, and in the bottom corner of the previewed shot I spot a whip of burnt orange in the form of a tail, followed by a line of spines, then a crest, and suddenly an entire dragon appears—a changeable lizard basking on this rock an hour's ferry ride from the mainland. I ponder its journey. It pays me no heed. Perhaps this Cheung Chau, this long isle, acts as a lodestone, luring ships and lizards and the whole of the world back to its magnetic shores, exerting a force that keeps calling me back, here always, home again.

***

Reprinted with permission of the author

Isaac had this to say about "Lodestone":

It was my fourth time back in five years, all funerals. The regularity honed each trip into routine and ritual; it was simply something I would do from now on.

After affairs were sorted, we took a family hike to the north side. The sight of the beached freighter struck me. I thought of the allure of this isle I once called home. Of the people and objects and events drawn to its shores. Of magnetic properties, blood’s pull, the sea’s insistence. I wrote this after learning the shipwreck became a hotspot for wedding photographers. I haven’t been back since.

Isaac Yuen’s work has appeared in Flyway, River Teeth, Zoomorphic Hippocampus, Orion, among others; he currently pens essays on themes of nature, culture, and self at www.ekostories.com (Twitter handle: @ekostories)