At the very beginning

Excerpt from The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book of short stories called The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith.

I WILL START at the very beginning—the beginning we all were taught as children.

Thousands of years ago, a dragon prince and a fairy spirit fell in love. They married, and the fairy bore one hundred eggs, which hatched into one hundred beautiful children. However, the dragon lived beneath the sea, while the fairy’s home was in the mountains, and they could not be together. Fifty of the children went to live with their mother in the high hills of the North, and fifty of the children went south to the coast, where they learned to fish and make boats while their father watched over them from his palace beneath the waves. These children were the first people of Vietnam.

There is a place very close to the center of my country where the green fingers of the southern mountains almost touch the sea. The water there used to be the loveliest in all of the country—warm, clear, and teeming with fish. The buildings of the fishing hamlet by the bay were painted pink and green and turquoise, and the crumbling remains of a Cham temple overlooked it all from the hills. On the outskirts, where the town began to give way to jungle, in a yellow, colonial house, Vu Nguyen’s wife was giving birth. Huong came from a long line of beautiful and tempestuous women, and she thrashed and let out long, guttural screams while Mrs. Dang, the midwife, tried to calm her. Vu was pacing out by a bamboo grove in the yard, trying to ignore the sounds from inside and occasionally looking up at the rainclouds curdling in the sky. It was the beginning of the monsoon season.

Eventually, there was silence from the house. Vu drew in a long breath, looked up at the dark sky, exhaled, then turned and went in. He came across Mrs. Dang first; she was in the kitchen making a pot of tea, and Vu blanched when he saw that she had not washed her hands. He was a very slight man, and at the sight of her fingers and forearms stained with red he almost fell over.

“Anh Vu, congratulations! I’ll bring you a chicken for supper.” In addition to being the local midwife, Mrs. Dang bred noisy brown chickens that were always escaping from their pen and running loose in the streets. “Now go in and see your children!” She grinned at him with betel-nut–stained teeth.

“My children?”

“Ai-ya!” Mrs. Dang exclaimed, striking her forehead with her hand and accidentally smearing it with red. “How stupid—I spoiled the surprise!”

Vu rushed into the bedroom, where he found Huong and his surprise. His wife’s hair was matted and sweaty, and she had a cigarette in her mouth and two little bundles in her arms. Twins. Timidly, he approached their little trinity.

“They’re girls, Vu,” said Huong, exhaling a gray ribbon of smoke. “I know that’s not what you wanted. And there’s two of them.”

Vu came over and sat on the edge of the bed, carefully avoiding the soils from the birth on the sheets. The babies were awake and blinking their eyes—blue eyes in dark faces. Milky blue eyes, like those of Siamese cats. Outside, the distant rainstorm rumbled. Vu shuddered.

He named the girls Vi and Nhi.

Have you read any short stories by Violet Kupersmith? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Frangipani Hotel – Summary

From the story about a beautiful young woman who shows up thirsty in the bathtub of the Frangipani Hotel in Saigon many years after her first sighting there, to a young woman in Houston who befriends an old Vietnamese man she discovers naked behind a dumpster, to a truck driver asked to drive a young man with an unnamed ailment home to die, to the story of two American sisters sent to Vietnam to visit their elderly grandmother who is not what she appears to be, these stories blend the old world with the new while providing a new angle of insight into the after-effects of the war on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam.

Copyright © 2014 by Violet Kupersmith

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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