This week’s exercise based on Revenge by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Think of a negative emotion one character has for another, and think of the most extreme that person would do. Have an omniscient narrator tell the story like a fairy tale in a straightforward and non-judgmental way.
Once upon a time, there lived a girl in China called Mei-Hua, who fell in love with a wealthy man from a nearby village. When they got married, she moved in with her husband and his mother. It wasn’t long, however, before she discovered she couldn’t get along with her mother-in-law. No matter what Mei-Hua did, she would always get criticized. Nothing seemed to satisfy that woman. Not her cooking, not her needlework nor the clothes she wore. None of those things were good enough for her son, not even the way she stood or walked. Even worse, her mother-in-law often criticized her openly in front of the servants and her friends, even when they were strolling through the village in public. And through it all, she was expected to bow her head and accept these criticisms meekly. Chinese tradition dictated that she was not allowed to show any disrespect to her elders. Whenever she did dare to open her mouth, she was immediately rebuked by her husband.
After a few months, she decided she could not live with this horrible person under the same roof anymore. She could have such a perfect life if only that woman didn’t exist. She contemplated pushing her down the stairs or into the village well, but they were seldom alone together as there were always servants bustling around the house or villagers wandering around on the streets. Besides, she had to make sure her mother-in-law was completely and utterly dead. No good in gravely injuring her when she would just recover and accuse her of attempted murder afterwards.
One evening her husband decided to talk to her. “Please, Mei-Hua,” he pleaded. “Please be nice to my mother as best as you can. She is a difficult person, but she has a good heart. I am sure your relationship with her will improve eventually if you are nice to her” She thought hard about her husband’s words, and after a while she smiled sweetly, the first time she did so since she moved in with him. “You are right, my dear husband,” she said. “If I am nice to her, our relationship would surely improve.”
The next day, Mei-Hua took a trip to a far-away town. “I know how much your mother loves to drink tea,” she told her husband. “There is a teahouse in a town far away from here which sells the best tea in China. With your permission I would go and buy a packet of their finest tea.” Her husband was worried about the long and arduous journey though, and suggested sending a servant instead. She refused. “I want to show your mother what a dutiful girl I am. I am sure she will appreciate this fine gesture,” she said. So she traveled to that far-away town and bought a small packet of the finest tea available in China. Before she headed home however, she also visited an herb seller. She donned a veil before entering the store, which was not uncommon for rich women to do back then. She was sure the herb seller had no connections to her village, but it was just an extra precaution. She bought a package of poisonous herbs, which could outright kill a healthy person in a matter of minutes. When administered in tiny doses however, you could drag out the dying process for months, making it seem like a natural death.
After her return, she would make a small pot of that tea every afternoon for her mother-in-law, which she mixed with just a pinch of herbs. She insisted on making and serving the tea herself, and would not allow any of the servants near it. She also did not allow anyone else to drink that tea, not even her husband, as it was very expensive, so that they could only afford a small amount of it. The tea was reserved especially for her mother-in-law.
At first however, her mother-in-law was just as critical as usual; perhaps she even felt suspicious that Mei-Hua had suddenly become so nice and obedient. But Mei-Hua kept up the act day after day, and as the weeks passed, her mother-in-law slowly warmed to her. She even started looking forward to these daily afternoon sessions, during which they would talk and laugh as if they were old friends. She stopped criticizing Mei-Hua entirely and instead she would now say to everyone: “Look, there is my dear sweet daughter-in-law. I am truly lucky that my son has found such a nice girl.”
What solidified their relationship further was that when the mother-in-law was struck by a mysterious illness shortly afterwards, it was Mei-Hua who nursed her and sat by her bedside faithfully, never once forgetting to bring her a pot of tea every afternoon. Many different doctors came and went, but none of them could determine the cause. The mother-in-law became visibly weaker by the day, until one day she could not even speak or move and it became clear that she would die soon. Mei-Hua sat by her deathbed together with her husband. She held her wrinkled hand lovingly and kept stroking it gently. When the mother-in-law felt the last remains of her life slowly ebbing away, she beckoned Mei-Hua to come closer, longing to hear her voice one last time.
“My dear, dear mother-in-law,” Mei-Hua whispered softly while leaning forward towards her ear, so softly that even her husband could not hear these intimate words. “Such a good heart you have, but now it is failing. It is so sad that you are going to leave now that we have become so close. I will burn the remaining tea during the funeral ceremony as a sacrificial offering to you, along with those poisonous herbs that I mixed in with it.” With that she turned away and hugged her husband closely.
“Look how much my mother loves you,” her husband sobbed. “Look at the fiery passion on her face even as she is dying. I wonder what she is trying to say to us now. See, I told your relationship with her would improve if you were nice to her.” Mei-Hua buried her face deeper into her husband’s chest, trying to suppress the sweet smile which now appeared on her face.