This piece was written in response to a prompt from my IRL Writing Group. We had to write a short story based on a postcard. My postcard had the picture of a Chinese tiger with the caption “Year of the Tiger” written beneath.
Her father always said she had too much yang, not enough yin. It was because she was born in the Year of the Tiger, he said. Girls shouldn’t be born in the Tiger Year. It was a waste, he said.
Instead of quelling her stubbornness and diminishing her yang, his words only served to make her more defiant and she fiercely held onto her birthright, the tiger.
As a child, she collected tiger figurines, stuffed tigers, and key chains and T-shirts with tiger motifs. Anything that bore the resemblance of a tiger was added to her collection until her bedroom was filled with tigers in every shape and form. Her father would just shake his head and mutter, “Too much yang. Too much yang.”
Predictably, her teenage years were filled with conflict. Father and daughter did not agree on anything.
“It’s not fair,” she would cry. “You can’t treat me that way. You are no longer in the old country!”
“You are a girl!” he would yell. “You are not supposed to talk to your father as you do. You bring great shame on this family.”
She continuously disobeyed him; skipping school and staying out late, drinking with her friends. For her nineteenth birthday, she committed a grave act of defiance; she got herself a tattoo on the small of her back. It was, naturally, a tiger. When her father found out what she had done, he exploded. She had never seen him so angry.
“You have defied me and shamed this family. You will leave my house. Now.”
He turned his back to her to signify that he was finished speaking and that his word was final. She threw a few things in a bag, kissed her mother and her brothers goodbye and left the house without turning back.
For years she drifted aimlessly eventually meeting a kind man who appreciated her tiger traits. They married and had children. She had so much joy in her life but with each milestone she quietly noted the absence of her birth family. Only her husband knew the story of how she had left her father’s house and how deeply she was affected by his rejection.
One day, she received a phone call. It was her older brother.
“Come quickly. Father is not well. There is not much time.”
She hesitated for only a moment, not sure that her father would want to see her and not sure how she felt about seeing him. She threw a few things into a bag, kissed her husband and kids goodbye and drove the couple of hours to the hospital where her father lay dying.
As she entered the room, she drew in her breath at the sight of him. The passage of time and the cruelty of sickness had diminished his body, leaving him nothing more than a whisper of the man that he once was. The smell of death clung to every surface in the room. She was not prepared for the effect this would have on her and she nearly doubled over from the force of it. Overwhelmed with sadness and regret, she stood there staring at the skeleton in the bed.
He must have sensed someone watching him and his eyes fluttered open and scanned the room until they fell upon hers. It was only a fraction of a moment before recognition seeped in and as it did, one single tear slid down his wax paper face. It appeared to take all his effort as he reached a hand towards her, beckoning her to come closer. Hesitantly, she moved towards the bed and took his cold, bony hand in hers. A single word escaped his dry, parched lips, barely audible but unmistakable, nonetheless.
The smallest of smiles played on his lips.
It was in that moment that she knew he was gone. She sobbed for all the missed years, for her children who didn’t know and now would never know their grandfather, for the forgiveness that she felt for him at that moment and for the forgiveness that she would never receive from him.
But forgiveness comes in many forms and as she slowly disentangled her hand from his, something fell onto the bed beside him. She reached over and picked it up. It was a key chain. Warmth washed over her as she recognized it. It had been hers. Attached to a short silver chain was a round, gold medallion and upon it was engraved a proud figure. Gently, she ran her thumb over the words beneath it and she was smiling beneath her tears as she read them aloud…. “The Year of the Tiger.”