Article by A. Scott Buch
The Palace looked marvelous against the clear sky in autumn although there was no palace there anymore; and because he was only remembering the time when they had visited Da Ming Gong together in the late spring. He was growing bored of seeing Ming and Qing era reconstructions – due to his infatuation with the Tang and such figures as the romantic poet Li Bai.
Because there was nothing there really to see one had to use the imagination.
She was even Chinese but perhaps her nationality colored her perspective with shades of melancholy rather than pride.
“This place was destroyed,” he’d stated with confidence, though he had been trying to search her for the real answers.
“It’s a pity,” she replied.
There were museums everywhere in China, it was true, and he had felt that she was hungry; although she’d said otherwise when he had asked her directly.
That was what he was remembering as his stomach growled, purchasing a bottle of chilled green tea from a clerk at the counter on the first level of the underground museum. He drank it down rapidly, the sound of air being sucked out of plastic echoing upwards through the spacious hall.
“Who designed this place?” he had asked her, feeling a bit foolish.
“This place?” she echoed.
They were standing near a plaque that, despite a number of awkward mistakes in its English translation, seemed to communicate an informed view on Chang’an during the Tang dynasty.
Purposefully she separated from him, and his childish curiosity kept him unaware of her pretentious hurrying. She didn’t like to meander, especially in such places. Often she thought of him as a burden, like an annoying younger brother.
“Look, this is what you like.”
They’d been separated for a time, but then suddenly she was calling him over to her. Being still immersed in wonder, just like he was peaking through the clouds of thought, he snapped to attention at the sound of her voice.
Hung on the wall was a charming painting that depicted the young poet – his face flushed with wine – and his feet sprawled on a table where a brush, ink and paper had been prepared for his next composition. The eunuch taking off his dirty boots looked resentful, and the other figures in the painting seemed to be staring at the banished Immortal with disdain.
“Look like … really a playboy,” she had said. And reading her tone, he felt like she was disrespecting a legend of Chinese literature.
Outside on the grounds of the former palace, they lingered for a time without both realizing why. In the moment there and then, standing in a place where Emperors once stood, the feeling must have
become too heavy; and the fact of time and its infinity, the destruction and the creation from destruction, it had made them bind together and separate just like the pull of gravity.
With the spreading orange and red hue of nature lit by the setting sun, it occurred to him that this was the twilight of his heart, since autumn had come and their love had freshly died. In the spring time, they had laid a lavender blanket over the dew wet grass and sat on it with books and oil pastels. They’d stayed well past noon and without even realizing the significance of where they were and the place in which they’d occupied for a moment that could not repeat.
Now he felt the weight of that moment more than his heart could bear. Why was it always being destroyed, he thought. They built it back up time and time again, only for jealously and revenge to arrive and level it with the touch of a hand. What greatness can we really achieve other than to give our heart to another, and to fortify it inside of a palace that towers into the heavens and beyond?
Then with a sudden change in weather the sky started to darken. There were no visible clouds though at once he could feel small droplets of rain on his wrists and the back of his neck. The park in which he stood, where the Palace of Great Brilliance once existed, was empty on this autumn evening.
“The weather is so nice today,” he had said in the spring, trying to make the kind of positive small talk that might indirectly change her mood from stormy to that of its natural radiance.
He couldn’t remember what she had said to that. And because spring had long been gone he felt like he was losing himself too. The autumn wind was picking up.
“Where do you want to go now?” he asked her, knowing what she was likely to answer, and indeed, the question bothered her. But she didn’t let her annoyance show on her face.
“Anywhere is Ok.”
He used to think that they would travel the world together. He used to think that they could weather any storm that threatened to tear them apart. But the foundation of their relationship had always been built on its previous destruction.
They had not gone far into the place where the palace had once stood, and so as he pressed on further into the massive emptiness of former glory, he remained in doubt of whether or not he discovered the reason why it had been destroyed, if it would help him to accept the fact of its destruction.
But pressing on with heavy steps towards the distant lake in the phantom rain, he knew well that the security guard in the electric car, moving steadily in his direction, had designs to escort him away.
Their conversation was brief. He’d asked why he had to go and the guard had explained that the weather was not good now.
He could see that a number of boats were still floating idly inside the reflection of the lush green hill on the tiny island.
He watched them as the car sped him away back to the front entrance of the inner palace. If there remained any secret to discover inside the mystery of the relic of Da Ming palace, he’d have to return back in the winter time, because by the summer, he’d be gone.