The Backbone

A calligrapher sat in his library, staring at a blank sheet of paper, an inkstone, and a brush, for he wished to compose a love letter to a girl who loved him, whom he loved dearly. For some time, he had delayed inconfessing this love, and she had been more than patient. This morning, as spring rain fell beyond the sliding doors to the garden, he decided he must make a decision and confess. To confess he needed backbone. Even eels, as unstable as they seem, have backbones. The man dipped the brush into the ink and drew a mouth in the shape of a box, a downward curving line below it, and then another mouth in the shape of a box. There before him glistened the character for backbone. It was perfect in form. When it had dried, he put it into a wooden cylinder for carrying scrolls, and made his way to her home. It was autumn there, and she was raking orange leaves, her long hair blown awry now and then by little gusts of cold wind. She was thinking to herself how the wind was like a river ten thousand leagues long, but surprised by his sudden appearance, she dropped the rake. The man approached her, embraced her and kissed her, saying, The backbone is a journey from mouth to mouth. He unrolled the scroll. They gazed at it together as orange leaves rained from above. And then they kissed again. The girl stopped kissing him and looked at the scroll once more. I will not marry you, she said abruptly, nor be your lover. A calligrapher should know that what look to be mouths in this character are the stylized forms of vertebrae in the original ideograph. The backbone is not a journey. It is a sequence of vertebrae. And even if these boxes did signify two orifices, what evil designs and intentions do they signify? The moment is ruined for me for all of eternity. I cannot be with you. And I do not like eels. 

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