Sam knew where to find impeccable fit and style that could rocket a man to another galaxy. A dangerous level. Ten seconds inside Wen Fong Tailors and a flash of patterned silk caught his eye. He pointed to it.
The elderly tailor smiled. “Ah- a beautiful cloth. “But- not for you, sir.” Wen knew this customer was conservative. The gold cloth was far too dashing for such a man of the street. The choice piqued his interest.
“No.” Sam lowered his head. “A gift. I was thinking for my wife. She often sews clothes for herself or our daughter.”
The tailor nodded. He turned, shuffled to the cutting table and unrolled the bolt to expose the silken cloth. His twisted fingers slid across the surface of the buttery silk. Once stroked, the silken images seemed to come alive. First a serpent head sprung from the cloth, its neck swiveled left then right. Watchful eyes darted and blinked beneath iridescent lids. A tiger padded paw pushed air, as if chancing flight. Suddenly, it was as if writhing dragons twisted for position.
“Beautiful choice for an Empress,” Wen whispered. “Choose a bolt for your jacket, sir.” He bowed. “ I will cut this cloth for your wife.”
“I’ll pay for it,” Sam said. For goodness sake, he wasn’t a man for charity. Not yet. Sam reached for his wallet. His head banged; he needed a pill. What the hell was going on in here?
Wen raised one palm, “Stop.” He beamed, “ No cost, Mr. Sam.”
Clarity returned. Sam lifted one hand, pressed it to his forehead, focused on his breaths. When he looked at the cloth, the dragons had settled to their one-dimensional state.
The tailor interrupted, “Tired, Mr. Sam?’
Sam nodded. He felt dead in a disgraceful life.
Two fingers tapped his temple. “Control your thoughts,” Wen remarked.
Wen measured the length of Sam’s sleeve, hummed and muttered, as he eyed his customer. The tailor recorded numerals to mark the sweet-spot where cloth meets wrist bone. His bent fingers gripped a pencil that scribbled notations into a leather bound notebook.
Several rolls of butcher’s paper covered the surface of the work table. As the tailor sketched a jacket form to paper, he spoke of the dragon’s potent power.
“Dragon has control over water, rainfall, typhoons.”
Wen paused to study his customer. He traveled Sam from head to toe as a surveyor maps land segments. Satisfied, he lifted the pencil from between his lips and placed a new marking alongside the paper sketch.
“Dragon, powerful creäture, a shape shifter like man.” He looked into Sam’s eyes and smiled.
Sam saw watery, deep pools of blue-green reflected back. It felt as if he was drowning in this man’s soul, bewitched yet unafraid. The dream like images clicked through a projector of moments. First, he dove into water, punched awake by the icy sting. Diving deeper, he came to rest upon the sandy bottom of a riverbed. His hands effortlessly lifted, dropped and rolled boulders. Some he carried.
Water flowed through Sam; he wasn’t drowning. Rather, this reverie shocked him back to life. All of these impossible feats felt possible while in the presence of this transcendent man. Troubles drifted; he was Atlas. Nothing could cut him down. Upon his shoulders he carried the weight of the world, the Sun and Moon, his wife and daughter, their puny life on Twelfth Street.
Wen coughed. Fingertips lifted the tape measure from the table. With precision, his eyes locked on Sam. Satisfied, he stepped behind his customer, measured from the base of his neck to mid bottom. “Drop must be exact, more British,” he mumbled.
Pleased, Wen draped the tape measure about his neck, stepped back and once again, his rheumy eyes peered at Sam, as if he was attempting to solve a mathematical equation of parts to form a whole. Finally he spoke; his voice, always a whisper.
“Nine attributes, Mr. Sam. Nine heavens. Nine is your lucky number.”
The tailor looked into Sam’s eyes as if searching for more proof. “Excellent, outstanding people are dragons.” He pointed a bent finger. “You, Mr. Sam are a dragon.”
Sam felt the burn rise up his neck; a fevered flush spread across his cheeks. He wondered, Am I an outstanding man?
Doubt sneered. The push and pull of vice. The gambling house, the drink, pretty women and the sniff of cash, these images dropped before his eyes like a scattered deck of cards.
Yet, this wise man thinks I’m worthy.
Sam straightened. When he spoke, the words strolled out. “I will honour the dragon.”
The tailor flashed his knowing smile and bowed his grizzled head. “Let me share the dragon’s story.” In a voice that rose barely above a whisper he began.
“Ancient Chinese, descendants of the dragon.”
Wen shuffled back and forth between Sam and the cutting table, jotting measurements to paper. “Dates back thousands and thousands of years.” He lifted the dangling tape measure from his neck, re-measured from Sam’s shoulder to wrist. “Emperors wore robes with dragon motif, imperial symbol of nobility.”
Satisfied, the tailor stopped and faced his customer. “ I make us tea, Mr. Sam.” He disappeared into a room off the back of the shop.
Sam heard a faint rustle from a distant corner. He turned toward the sound. An ornate brass birdcage stood to the right of the front window. The cage was open on all sides. Light streamed through the bars, creating parallel lines across the plank floor. Inside the cage, perched a Diamond Dove. It began to coo.
Sam closed his eyes. The rhythmic sound lulled him to imagine. The dove’s white feathers, wings outspread became an angel in flight. He felt as if lifted by steady wings. Higher and higher they flew until-
“Excuse me kind sir.” The tailor spoke; the dream interrupted, vanished.
He set a tray upon the cutting table. Steam rose from the spout of a cast iron pot. Two porcelain cups sat empty, waiting. Wen poured the tea and bowed. “Enjoy.” He waited as Sam sipped the hot liquid. A drawn out sound much like a keening sob hung over the cage.
“A moment,” he said. “My dear Empress is calling me.”
It sounded as if every heart in the world had broken.
With these words, Wen shuffled toward the cage, opened the latched door and gently stroked the back of the dove. He murmured words that Sam could not interpret. Finally, he reached into the pocket of his woolen sweater and pulled out a crumpled paper bag. Carefully he dumped the contents into a tiny ceramic bowl, an offering for his Empress.
“Ground up soup noodles,” he chuckled. “Her favourite.”
The tailor shuffled back to the table and placed the rumpled paper bag on the cutting board. He lifted his cup, closed his eyes and took a sip of tea. Satisfied, he reached for his cutting shears.
“Now I cut the cloth for your wife.” He bowed and leaned over the cutting table.
“You have a son, Mr. Sam?”
“A daughter,” Sam said. “My wife is expecting our second child within the month.”
The burn returned to his cheeks. He hoped for a boy. Didn’t every man want a son to carry on his legacy? Annie is a girl.
Wen sighed; his scissors sliced cloth. “Hoping one’s son will become a dragon?” He stepped back and looked at Sam, waited for a reply.
Sam straightened under the tailor’s steely gaze.”Yes,” he said.
Wen’s fingers appeared to dance across the silk, nimble tucks and turns folded the cloth into a tidy rectangular form. He pointed to one silk screened dragon, now still as a statue. “Four claws. Worn by princes and nobles. Perfect symbol for your Empress’s child.”
The tailor pointed to the bolts of cloth that lined the walls of his shop.
“Now determine your choice of cloth. I will work my magic, transform you.”