The Search for Xiao Li'd Head: A Magical Tale of Female Re-Memberment

By Storz, Moni Lai | Hecate, May 1996 | Go to article overview

The Search for Xiao Li'd Head: A Magical Tale of Female Re-Memberment


Storz, Moni Lai, Hecate


Once upon a time in a country far far away (some say it was somewhere between the great mountains and China but most say it really does not matter for the story could have happened anywhere), there lived a girl called Xiao Li or young plum. Xiao Li was like any other little girl - happy when fed and sad when hungry. Each morning when she opened her eyes, Xiao Li would climb down from her warm kang and run outside to play. There she would prance around till she smelled the millet gruel her mother had made for her breakfast. In this land long ago and far away where the winters were deep and cold and the summer short and light, Xiao Li, like the little plum that she was named after, grew large and sweet and held much promise although she never thought about it.

Then one day the sunshine went out of her life, the kang turned cold and the millet gruel was no more. Her mother died. Her father brought another woman that Xiao Li had to call stepmother.

The mornings turned bitterly cold. Xiao Li's stomach empty of food and full of pain, shrunk to the size of a glass bead. Her cheeks lost the glow that used to remind her mother of the plums that grew in their back orchard. Instead of hopping out of her warm kang each morning, Xiao Li had to crawl from a corner next to the stove where the firewood was kept and where mice and other little rodents gathered and munched through anything that they could find. Xiao Li, terror stricken every night as the creatures drew nearer and nearer to her bare toes, hardly ever slept. Hunger and terror produced ghost-like visions. Apparitions floated in and out of her consciousness, between naps that lasted a few minutes, sometimes a few seconds. In these nocturnal visitors, she found a sense of relief and release from her material existence. It was during one of these visitations one night as she sighed for her mother, that a light flashed past her half closed eyelids. When the light vanished, she saw her mother, a silhouette of delight. Xiao Li pleaded to her to return. 'Help me mother. Make me warm again. Fill my stomach with food and above all, mother, chase away the mice from my feet.' Her mother shook her head sadly. 'Ai ya, my daughter, my beloved little Plum, mother has watched your suffering long and hard. You who have come from my womb, what hurts you hurts me doubly.'

Xiao Li wept. Pushing her clenched fists into her mouth to muffle her sobs, she again pleaded: 'Take me with you, mother for I cannot bear to stay in this house one minute longer.'

Again her mother shook her head.

Suddenly the cock crowed.

'I have to leave you, my daughter.'

'NO.'

But Xiao Li was speaking to the empty air around her. Rubbing her eyes, she thought she had had a dream. Heavy hearted and feeling as if her mouth was full of ashes, she began her household chores: fetching water from the well, chopping the firewood and feeding the chickens, weeding the vegetable patch and cooking and sewing and tending to stepmother's babies. All these and still receiving her daily dose of scolding and caning from stepmother.

One day when she was shivering with hunger, she stole up to the stove when her fat stepmother was not watching and gulped down some soup. She choked and coughed, drawing her stepmother's attention to her. In a fit of rage, her face turning purple, her stepmother grabbed her by her long hair and dragged her outside. She spat on Xiao Li, shouted abuse and kicked her in the stomach several times.

'Dare eat my food, dare steal from me, you wicked creature, daughter of no one. How dare you, there, a kick here and a slap there.' Stepmother kept beating Xiao Li until her fat arms couldn't hit any more. Still angry, stepmother rushed for an axe. In several quick strokes, she hacked Xiao Li into several pieces.

'I will not feed you to the pigs,' stepmother screamed. 'My pigs are worthy of better things to eat.' So she rushed into the forest and flung bits and pieces of Xiao Li far and wide. …

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