Today’s story comes from my award-winning short fiction collection, Through the Opera Glass. I chose it because today is the last day of the Lunar New Year celebration for 2017. Enjoy!
A Letter from the Mine Country
Clever Fiction writing prompt: Bandana/carousing/copper. Written 5/14/12.
February 4, 1917
Gong xi fa cai, little sister! May this year of the Red Fire Snake bring you much luck. As you may well imagine, there was little enough carousing here; we are constantly busy.
Let me tell you a bit about what my life is like here at the copper mine. I am one of the fortunate ones, for it is my job to look for the ore. They don’t trust a “Chinaman” to handle the chemicals that draw the metal from the stone … and I am glad of it. I bring the stones out of the ground, as do many others, and then the stone is crushed, and treated with sulfur until the metal comes out. Then, the copper can be smelted. I have a colorful bandana that I pull up over my nose and mouth when I have to go by the sulfur pit; you would laugh to see me. I look like some kind of bandit.
Once the copper is smelted, it’s made into bullets so that our soldiers can kill people they’ve never seen. If you sense, dear sister, that I am bitter, you are correct. I will never understand man’s propensity for violence to man.
The land is beautiful here in California’s foothills, but the work is hard. I am too tired to go into Angel’s Camp, let alone as far as Stockton, to buy the things I need. We are fortunate that the Copper Consolidated Mining Company has its own store, although goods are dear; we are able to have credit there until pay day, at which time I like to joke that we give the company its money back.
I need to stop writing for now; lamp oil is very dear indeed and there is no electricity in my cabin here.
When you write back, will you tell me how Veronique is doing? I have not heard from her in some time.
Samuel (Song) Lee
Ming returned the letter to its envelope and pinched the bridge of her nose. Her brother was still in love with Veronique after all of this time. How could it be? She was the reason that he lived so far away; it had been the only way to keep both of them safe.
She opened her lap desk and took out a piece of stationery and a pen. She had to tell him the truth.
Dearest Brother Samuel:
Gong xi fa cai to you as well. I smiled to myself when I thought of my educated brother looking like a bandit.
As for Veronique, I have some news that may upset you …