Meanwhile, Fa Switch had raced back to her house on Tamany Lane at top speed, pushing stragglers in the garden aside and running so fast that her feet almost looked as if they were not touching the ground. Evening pushed into night, streetlamps clicked on, and curious townsfolk looking out their windows saw a black blur flying through the streets. A cold wind blew and they drew their shutters closed, lighting fires and candles and huddling around their kitchen tables with warm bowls of soup.
“Marie!” Fa shouted, bursting through the front doors. The house was dark and still. “Morgan! Mina! Answer me now!”
She flew up the flights of stairs. Rooms lit up as she passed them, scouring their corners and crooks with her sharp black eyes. She checked every bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, the attic, and the basement, shouting for her daughters with all the air in her lungs. Her eyes glowed darkly as she cursed herself inside for losing track of her girls, for being a terrible mother, for falling into the trap of memory. She tried to quell the growing panic, knowing that she had the powers to find her girls, and that the spell would work better if she were calm. She took a deep breath and walked to the first floor, where a bitter cold wind blew through the mouth of the open door. She must have forgotten to close it in her haste.
She shut the door then poured herself a glass of water, going over the spells she could use, clearly and methodically, in her mind. This was the focus and assiduousness that Marie had inherited—the steady work ethic that in one Chinese tale had given an old woman the power to sand an iron rod into a needle. And it was because Marie utilized this inheritance that she was able to perfect her powers far beyond any of her sisters—though she was not necessarily the most powerful. It calmed Fa to know that her other daughters were most likely with Marie, because Marie was also the daughter who performed best under pressure, having mastered like Fa the art of Buddhist detachment. The other sisters had their strengths too, of course, and as Fa thought of them her heart shrank in sorrow and worry again. No, she told herself. After everything, she had raised them well. They would be able to take care of themselves until she got there, she was sure.
Yes, she continued to assuage herself, going over each daughter’s strengths. Mara had inherited that sense of honor, an innate loyalty to bring brilliant light to the family name. It was that same sense of honor that led Fa to flee China in the first place, when she realized she had tainted her own family’s reputation beyond repair, that the only way to restore it would be to make a name for herself in a new land. Although in Mara, the filial loyalty had led her to forsake her Chinese culture in order to blend in—to try to marry into a traditional American family—Fa still understood in her heart that the root of everything was Mara’s deep love for her family.
Then there was Morgan, with a fiery soul and fighting spirit to match a true woman warrior. This hot flame of survival was what had allowed Fa to survive the hardships of coming to a new land—a vast and angry ocean, tides and winds that seemed to all be united against her. When she finally arrived, it had helped her survive and adapt to the strange new circumstances. This burning temper in Morgan reminded Fa so much of her own mother, who had been named Tielan—steel orchid—after the legendary woman warrior Mulan.
And finally, there was Mina. Little Mina, who wouldn’t hurt even an ant in her path. Mina personality was the quietest but yet the most valuable: she was kind, generous, and humble. There is an old Chinese fable about a family of twelve boys whose father comes home one day with a bag of twelve pears. The youngest son, a tiny child named Li, is allowed to pick first because all his brothers love him and wish to spoil him. Instead of picking the biggest, juiciest, or brightest pear, however, Li immediately picks out the smallest, ugliest pear. When his brothers contest, he smiles wide and says, “This is just the right size for me.” Well, Fa thought, Mina was like this brother. In a family of strong personalities that sometimes clashed, Mina was always the silent mediator, generous to everyone and never asserting selfishness.
A firm resolve hardened inside of Fa as she thought about her sweet, innocent Mina, who hadn’t even yet developed her powers. She thought through the different spells that would help her locate them. The simplest one required a part of the person that you were trying to locate: a hair, a fingernail, or more grotesquely, a piece of their flesh. This spell would allow her mind’s eye to fly above the town as if on a cloud, and then use a piercing telescopic and magnetic vision to find the missing person. It would take too long to find a hair in each girl’s room, Fa decided. She knew, however, that there was a variation of the spell. As their mother, Fa could use a spoonful of her own blood, which also ran in her daughter’s veins.
She gulped down the rest of her water, and grabbing a sharp knife from the kitchen, walked upstairs to the attic, where her scroll of spells and looking bowl were kept. She opened the creaky door of the attic, kicking up clouds of dust, and waved an arm to light the candle at the center of the table. It was only after she stepped inside and closed the door behind her that she realized she was not alone.
In the bamboo chair beside the table, a hooded figure bent over Fa’s scroll of spells, examining the foreign characters with utmost care.