Saturday, September 24, 2022

Right to the Bone (Han & Hui)

 There was once a young man who had married a young woman, but, unfortunately, shortly afterward both of his parents passed away. 

Now this young man, not exactly the most handsome groom around, was addicted to gambling and drinking, and, at the same time, he was averse to working. He would often leave his wife for two or three days to attend gambling parties. 

Probably needless to say, his wife was extremely upset over all this. 

One day, the wife was out by the river doing the laundry. A hunter with a rifle slung across his back and with a dog in the lead approached. The wife could see his visage in the reflection on the water. 

Oh, she thought, that is definitely one handsome man! To be together with a man like that, even for but a day, would be worth it!

She totally lost her interest in washing the clothes and instead just watched the hunter disappear into the forest. 

She returned home and lay down on the bed, where she sank into a near coma-like state, not eating or drinking so much as a drop of water. This went on for days, and nothing passed her lips, not even herbal medicine that had been brought to her. She also began to lose her eyesight. 

She called for her husband. 

"Husband," she said, "my time is nearly up. After I go, don't bury me. Instead, place my body in the cave overlooking the cliff and have the entrance sealed up. In time, a man will come by the house and offer to buy my bones for a good price. Take him up on the offer. Do you hear me?"

"Yes," he replied. 

And so it was done. 

Three years passed by. 

A stranger in the neighborhood showed up at the house and asked the young widower if he had any antiques to sell. The latter didn't have any because being the gambler he was, he had already long before sold off nearly all the belongings left to him by his parents. He did have something, though. 

"I don't have any antiques," he said, "but would you be interested in buying some bones?"

"Human bones?"


"I might be," asked the buyer. "I'll tell you what. Do this: show me a finger bone and I'll let  you know."

The widower went up to the cave, unsealed the entrance, and fetched one of his wife's finger bones. He brought it back to show the buyer. 

When the buyer showed interest in this single finger bone, the widower asked, "How much would you pay me for the entire skeleton?"

"Three hundred ounces of silver."

It was a deal. When it came time for the buyer to take the skeleton away, the widower suddenly held up his hand to stop him from leaving. 

"Just a moment!" he said. 

"Hold on," said the buyer. "Are you trying now to back out of the deal? I gave you your silver,  didn't I?"

"No, no," I'm not trying to back out of our deal. I simply wanted to ask why on earth anyone would want human bones. I'm just curious. That's all."

"I see. Very well. In my family, for the past seven generations, we have collected human bones to concoct a remedy for lovesickness. It's critical that the bones, like the ones I purchased from you, are the so-called 'engraved' bones." 

"Oh? And what are these 'engraved' bones you are talking about?"

"Each person who dies while longing for another person has an image of that person engraved upon his or her bones. Here, take a look at one of these bones you sold to me . . ."

The widower took a look. Sure enough on the bone itself, he could see the faint outline of what appeared to be a man with what appeared to be a rifle on his back. 

How could this even be? thought the widower. 


[刻骨] See the post for 8/8/18 for full citation.

To "engrave the bone" [刻骨]means "to remember something indelibly." It suggests that the memory, love, or hatred for somebody or something is incised in that person's very being, something deep-rooted, if you will. We reveal a similar concept in English when we say of someone that "beauty is skin deep, but ugly/ugliness is to the bone." 

Motifs: D1812.2.4, "Dying woman's (man's) power of prophecy"; F1041.1.4, "Death from longing"; M391, "Fulfillment of prophecy"; T11.5, "Falling in love with (someone's) reflection in the water"; T15, "Love at first sight"; T24.1, "Lovesickness"; T81.2, "Death from unrequited love"; T211.4.1, "Wife's corpse kept after death"; T271, "Neglected wife"; W111.4, "Lazy husband." 

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