The last person I turned to greet was Aunt Rose. Of the three aunts, I knew the least about Aunt Rose. She was also the shortest and the darkest of the three. But she was Filipino, and most Pinoys I've met are short and brown. She had caramel colored skin and dark eyes with irises so black, it was sometimes hard to make out the pupils. Her hair had been cut to shoulder length, and a red hibiscus flower was tucked behind right ear. "Aunty Rose," I said,"Did you get a new haircut? It looks fantastic, especially with that flower!"
Aunt Rose reached up with both hands and touched her hair, smiling, "Oh, I did cut it two weeks ago. Thank you."
I wasn't really sure about the information I gleamed about Aunt Rose; there was a mystery as to her origins, and the few stories I've heard about her seem to change depending on who was telling them. Thus, I called her the Moon Dragon, ever changing, sometimes unseen, but easily recognized in whatever form she presented.
I've heard rumors that she was gifted. As a child, she was able to see spirits. The nuns who raised her once found her dancing in the cemetary deep in the woods; when they asked her what she was doing, she told them that the spirits were playing songs and singing and dancing with her. This frightened the Sisters, as this cemetary was used to bury those the Church considered lost and unsaved--the ones who committed suicide, the unrepentant pagans, and the excommunicated.
One of the Sisters grabbed Moon Dragon and told Moon Dragon to stop making up stories, and that Moon Dragon couldn't see Spirits. Then the Sister let out a scream and covered her eyes with her hands. The other nuns panicked and asked the Sister what was wrong. Holding her hands out in front of her face, the Sister screamed that she had gone blind. Moon Dragon told them that one of the Spirits was angry at the Sister's dismissal of the Spirits existence and had taken the Sister's sight as punishment.
At the orphanage, a doctor was summoned and he confirmed that the Sister was indeed blind. The cause was a great mystery. That night, loud sounds of singing and dancing were heard in the orphanage. The frightened nuns could not find the source of the noise. The next day, they found the chairs stacked on the kitchen table all the way up to the ceiling, all the cabinets opened, and all the kitchen knives were stuck in the rafters. Convinced the orphanage was possessed, the nuns asked the priest to do an exorcism; it failed. That night, laughter was heard in the gardens and blue flames were seen dancing in the dark.
Moon Dragon told the Sisters that the Spirits would only leave if they were given passage into the next world. To achieve this, the cemetery must be sanctified. Driven by fear, the Sisters and the priest went with Moon Dragon into the woods towards the cemetery. There, the priest blessed the grounds and performed the last rites. When the ceremony was over, a murder of crows emerged from the trees and circled overhead, darken the skies for several long, terrifying minutes before moving westward. When the group returned to the orphanage, the blind Sister's vision was restored.
The first time I heard this story, I thought, eh, maybe that Sister had diabetes and it caused her to be temporarily blind; the children probably made all that noise and stacked those chairs and stuck those knives in the kitchen; they probably had flashlights and sneaked out in the garden, too. But the people who've told me this story believed it. They also claimed that when Moon Dragon was 15, she met a young American missionary. She married him and joined him in his work in the countryside and jungles. Eventually, they were reassigned to Africa, where they not only spread the teachings of Christ, but performed several exorcisms as well. When they came home to America, they took to ministering to the streets, often towards the forgotten and seedy elements of society.
Now, while I do doubt some of these stories about Moon Dragon's gift, I do confess that there are two incidents that shook my cynicism. Last Thanksgiving, Moon Dragon was present at the dinner presented by Hostess's aunt. Hostess's aunt was a workaholic and high maintenance; now she was a nice enough woman, but often exuded a high and fancy attitude. It made her seem like a snob, but she wasn't really one. Aunt Fancy was married to a quiet, friendly fella, I'll call Uncle Job. It was an interesting marriage, as Aunt Fancy took charge and did all the talking, while Uncle Job was in the background. Though Uncle Job had retired, his wife encouraged him to get another job, because she wanted the finer things in life for them.
Anyway, at the dinner, Moon Dragon told Aunt Fancy to take some time off and enjoy spending some time with Uncle Job. Aunt Fancy laughed and said she and Uncle Job would have a lot of time to spend with each other in a few more years once they've made enough money. Moon Dragon got this faraway look in her eyes and said, sometimes, we have less time than we think, and they'll never be enough money to take the place of a loved one. Aunt Fancy replied that while it's true money couldn't replace a loved one, it can buy a lot of things one loves.
Everyone at the table started laughing, including Moon Dragon, but I saw her eyes had darken and seemed to shimmer, like she was on the verge of tears. No one else paid attention, but I got the chills. Then later on, I saw her walk over to Uncle Job, and asked him if he was happy. Uncle Job smiled and said that he was. He was the proud father of 3 girls, and he was just blessed with his first grandson last month. Uncle Job was in a celebratory mood and had a few drinks all ready. Moon Dragon smiled and touched Uncle Job's shoulder, though I could see that it was a sad smile on Moon Dragon's face.
That was on Thursday night. Saturday evening, Aunt Fancy was at her shop, selling household goods. She got a frantic call from her 2nd daughter. Uncle Job had been admitted to critical care in the hospital. Sunday at dawn, he passed away. He had cancer, and it was extensive. The hospital was unable to stabilize his condition, and he literally bled to death.
When I heard about Uncle Job's passing, I was stunned. I also recalled Moon Dragon's expression that last dinner. I wondered, could she have seen his death coming? After the funeral, Aunt Fancy did not feel like celebrating Xmas, so there was no tree set up and Xmas lights were off at her house. She was in mourning; her daughters had to band together to work through their grief. A few days before Xmas Eve, I was over at Hostess's house for dinner, and she had invited her Aunt. Moon Dragon was also present. Aunt Fancy was still grieving. She made a comment that this was the worst Xmas ever, and that she did not know what she going to do now that Uncle Job was gone.
Aunt Fancy was afraid she was going to lose her home. It was a new home she and Uncle Job had purchased three years before. This was a large home in a gated community, and it was going to be their retirement home. With Uncle Job gone, the money coming into the house was significantly slashed. Moon Dragon had that faraway look in her eyes when she took Aunt Fancy's hand. Moon Dragon told Aunt Fancy that for now, it was still her home, and she should celebrate Xmas because Uncle Job loved Xmas. She told Aunt Fancy to hang Uncle Job's Xmas tree star this year. It was an old tree topper that had been replaced years ago when Aunt Fancy started to buy more expensive angels to top her Xmas tree. Aunt Fancy had tried to throw away the star, but Uncle Job refused. It was the first tree topper he and Aunt Fancy bought during their first Xmas as a couple.
That night, when they were going through the attic, Aunt Fancy and her daughters found the box that kept Uncle Job's star. Aunt Fancy wasn't sure if the star would still work, but even if it didn't, it would still go on top of the tree. When she opened the box, she found a folder. Curious, she opened the folder. Reading the contents, she let out a gasp and tears flowed from her eyes. Her daughters were alarmed, and asked her what was wrong. But Aunt Fancy could not stop crying and was unable to answer her daughters. She gave her daughters the papers while she held the star in her chest.
I was still at Hostess's house, talking to her when her cousins called. I was worried that something bad had happened to Aunt Fancy. When Hostess hung up the phone, she told me the incredible story. It seems the papers they found with Uncle Job's star was a life insurance policy Uncle Job had taken out years ago, without Aunt Fancy's knowledge. It was more than enough to pay for the house and have some left over. It would seem that Uncle Job had made sure his family was taken care of when he was not around. Hostess cried, saying that it was a Xmas miracle. I got goosebumps thinking about Moon Dragon. Did she know about the life insurance policy? It was a little eerie that she insisted that Aunt Fancy use Uncle Job's star and put up the Xmas decorations.
But as unsettling as her supernatural abilities were, I was more concerned with rumors that Moon Dragon had connections to the underworld of society. In her time ministering with her husband, she was a comfort (and some say a safe house) for a number of street criminals. I've heard whispers that she still maintains contact with the criminal elements, and many sought her out for refuge or advice. And these criminals have often served Moon Dragon's purposes in return. Among the several people who adopted her as their mother, I counted former convicts, thieves, and thugs. While some of them seem to have achieved normal lives working normal jobs, a few of them never specified what exactly they did or where they worked. But I did get the feeling that they were fiercely protective of Moon Dragon and her husband.
I've often thought it was strange how Moon Dragon sometimes wore a rosary, especially since she was a Protestant minister's wife. But I suppose it's hard to give up the Catholic roots, considering the Church did raise her in their orphanage. And she was wearing her rosary now, white metal and black stones.
I stepped back, smiled at all the Dragons, and asked them to follow me to the dinner table, where I would serve them some food and drinks. As we made our way into the dining room, several people came up to greet the aunts, some bowing, some hugging them, and others waved from across the rooms. The dinner table was round, and it was a good thing, as it would mean that I didn't have to worry about seating positions. The round table worked for King Arthur and his knights because it showed they were all equal, no one better than the other. This dinner table served the same purpose for the aunts.
However, I made a note that since I greeted Jade Dragon first, it would be appropriate to seat either Snow Dragon or Moon Dragon first. I decided on Snow Dragon, as the other two aunts were still greeting some of the guests. Then I helped Moon Dragon and Jade Dragon to their seats. I asked them if they wanted some tea, soda, water, or some wine. I also told them there was beer available and winked at them; the dragons laughed and requested water. So I go up and fetched them bottled water from the fridge. I made it a point to serve Moon Dragon first, then the other two. There, I thought, now I've made sure not to favor any of them. I then told them about the food and asked them what they wanted to eat.
Snow Dragon said,"Oh, we can get our own food in minute, but let's just talk for now. It's been a while since we've last spoken." and the trap was sprung!
I was pinned down and the dragons launched their assault. Before I could say anything else, Moon Dragon asked,"Where is Hostess?" Those black eyes boring into me.
"Oh," I replied,"she's out back visiting with her cousins from out of town."
Snow Dragon asked,"and where is Oaf?"
"I'm not sure," that part was true enough, but I fibbed,"I think he was with one of his neighbors talking about lawnmowers."
"Where are they talking about lawnmowers?", Snow Dragon pressed.
Oh, crap, I thought, she can smell my little lie. Time to sell this lie! "The garage is where Oaf keeps his lawnmower." That part was true.
"Oh," now it was Moon Dragon again,"but the garage was closed when we arrived."
Son of a bit--, those damned black eyes saw everything. So, I pressed on with my lie,"I think they went in through the laundry room door. But I'm not sure." Then I thought about the perfect escape,"But I can go look for him to let him know y'all are here."
I proceeded to stand up but my escape was cut off by Jade Dragon who said,"I heard there was fight earlier with Oaf and Hostess about the party."
Dammit! One of her spies must've reported the scene from earlier. I was amazed at how fast Jade Dragon came across this information, when it took less than five minutes to get from the foyer to the dinner table. When did she receive this news? Was it during her meet and greet with one of the many guests? Or when I went to get them water? Regardless, I had to spin this favorably. "Oh, it wasn't a fight. Just a little misunderstanding."
But Jade Dragon was relentless,"I heard he was not happy with some of the guests," all three aunts had their eyes on me now, gaging my reaction. I made sure my face remained calm. Tricky, tricky old ladies. I pondered my answer quickly; I wasn't sure what the old bitties were after, but I couldn't let them think that Oaf had a problem with Hostess's family or guests. It would earn Oaf the wrath of the Dragons and it would cause some damage to Hostess's reputation.
Now, while it's true that Oaf did have a problem with Hostess's family and some of the guests, that wasn't my concern. The only thing that mattered to me was protecting Hostess, even if it meant defending her idiot of a husband. God that guy got on my nerves sometimes. So I lied some more,"Oh, no. Oaf doesn't have a problem with the guests. What happened was that he and I went to get some chairs and we thought we had enough. When we got back, we found out there were more people than we expected. When Hostess asked us why we didn't bring enough chairs, Oaf said because he thought we had enough."
The Jade Dragon's eyes narrowed,"Really?" Oh, oh, I thought. She continued,"I heard that he pointed out the cousins saying he didn't know they suppose to be here."
Ah, crap. Think, man, think! I thought to myself."Oh, no, he was just surprised that the cousins showed up and that he and Hostess hadn't prepared any of the guest rooms for the cousins. He thought they might all be a little crowded over at Hostess's sister's house. He was just worried the sister's house wouldn't fit them all. And he wished they had time to prepare some of the guest rooms." It was a blatant lie, of course, but I looked at each dragon's eyes without blinking as I told them this crap.
The dragons sat there, assessing the truthfulness of my answers. And I sat there, trying to exude calmness and confidence while planning my next move. Snow Dragon started again,"How nice of Oaf to worry like that."
"Yes," I replied,"well, they are his family now, so it's kind of the right thing to do."
Moon Dragon said,"Oh, yes. That is nice." She smiled at me,"You know, sometimes, it's hard for some people to accept Asian culture."
I smiled back,"You know, you're right, but some people can learn to adapt," I paused,"like me, for example," then I laughed.
The dragons laughed, too. Ha, I thought, I think I've managed this pretty well so far. So I continued,"You know, it's all about understanding that sometimes, people have different ideas and cultures, and the important thing is to respect those differences and treat each other well". I was smug, thinking, yeah, I should run for public office; I've lied and spewed enough crap in the last ten minutes.
Then Moon Dragon said,"You know, my husband and I had some of these problems the first few years we were married. But I suppose that's natural when two people from different cultures get married. There will be some problems."
I nodded my assent as Moon Dragon continued,"I imagine it must be the same with Oaf and Hostess."
"Sure," I said.
"Really," asked Snow Dragon,"Can you give us an example?"
Oh, muthafuc-, I've walked into an ambush! I had to think my reply carefully. On the one hand, if I started to name some problems between Oaf and Hostess, the Dragons would have ammo to use against them. Not to mention I would be betraying Hostess's confidence. On the other hand, if I didn't name any problems, the dragons would take it that I was being dismissive in the conversations and they would know that I was lying to them. That would still raise more suspicions about Oaf and Hostess's relationship. Plus, I'd end up in some hot water with the dragons. I was caught in their trap, and my next answer would determine if I would escape unscathed or be devoured by predators.