Azuki Beans

Azuki Beans

紅豆生南國
春來發幾枝
願君多采擷
此物最相思
– Wang Wei

The photographers always come in the spring.

They come for fashion shoots, for catalog shoots, for architecture shoots.

Only the richest and the poorest ones come: either ones who are just starting out and are desperate for a fresh angle, or ones who are so well-funded they don’t give a damn. The ones in the middle are effectively kept away by their lawyers, actuaries, and wives.

I suppose I would do the same thing if I were an actuary—although god knows, if anyone is going to be here when the beams come down it’s me. The probabilities for short-term visitors like photographers just aren’t all that grave.

I understand why they choose the spring, with the buds and blossoms and bright-green shoots that are so hard to do justice in the slanted indoor light.

I actually prefer the summer, when the sheer density of deep-green leaves and pods is like an orgasm or a really good drunk, wiping everything away. Or the fall, when the leaves begin to get brittle and turn away and the pods rain down beans in sudden volleys onto the floorboards. The mice come then, like scavengers to a battlefield, stuffing beans into their cheeks and bowling them with their paws. Or the winter, when the leaves have shriveled and merged, and the vines dangle like trunks of cable inside a vast cold-war computer after the moths have nested in the relays.

###

It was winter when the letter came. I had finished construction just before the first fronts, and I was still finding sawdust in all the corners whenever I swept.

It was harmless, novel, delightful. “Red beans for true love,” it said. “Send five red beans in the envelope provided, and send five envelopes to people you trust. Good luck and true love will surely follow.”

Red beans. An excuse to leave the house. I always thought beans were white and it was the gravy that made them red. Bacon and onions and tomatoes and molasses. More brown than red actually. But I put on my boots and went out.

###

“Red beans,” I said.

The shopkeeper just stared at me and sold me a pound of bologna.

###

“Red beans,” I said.

“If we ain’t got ‘em,” the next grocer said, “You ain’t gettin’ ‘em.”

And he was probably right. He did run the biggest grocery in town.

###

“Red beans,” I said.

The old Chinese lady laughed at me.

“Love letter,” she said.

“Not exactly,” I said.

“She’s far away,” she said.

“I haven’t met her yet,” I said.

She laughed again and sold me the beans. The shop was tiny and full of strange smells. I would have to come back again some time.

###

The beans made the envelope look foolish. A letter ought to be tidy. The postman took them away.

###

The crocuses were just coming up when there was a knock at the door.

“You son of a bitch,” she said.

She was tiny, slight and angry, and she poured a bushel of red beans on my kitchen floor.

“Stupid,” she said. “Thoughtless.”

“Hello,” I said, and held out my hand.

She held up a piece of paper. It was creased, stained, and covered with names.

“This is you,” she said, pointing to a blur in the middle.

“Every single one of you,” she said. “I’m tracking you down, and I’m giving them back.” She kicked at the beans and sent them scattering.

I looked at the paper, and I looked at the beans.

“All those people?” I asked. “That’s a lot of beans.”

“You’re goddamn right,” she said. “Make me a cup of tea.

###

We were married almost fifteen years.

###

At first we were able to keep them down by crawling on the floor and trimming the sprouts with scissors. They kept coming up, and we kept cutting them down. We tried herbicide, we tried fire.

“Hey, look at this,” I said.

Tiny shoots were reaching out of the window frame. The roots must have been down in the walls somewhere.

“Bring me a cup of tea?” she said. “I’m not feeling well.”

###

The roots must have been down inside her somewhere. They tried medicine. They tried knives. They tried fire.

###

The beans like plaster, and they love lath. They like shingles. They like nails.

###

“Don’t you get cold?” asked the photographer. “In the winter?”

Warm spring air was pouring through the walls, and the tiny white blossoms were bending on the vines.

“Yes,” I said. “I get cold.”

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