In STORYTELLING by Douglas J. Penick

About the Author
Douglas J. Penick

Douglas J. Penick

Douglas Penick utilizes historical research with a solid understanding of Chinese culture and Buddhism to make stories accessible, beautiful and enlightening. In his words, "I contribute to the mischief, longing, satisfaction, lust, sorrow and fascination which make our presence in this world a discovery of true love." The Website of Douglas. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.


This was fate, for several past lives ago, the Reverend Lo had, out of sheer curiosity, played hooky from his relentless line of virtuous incarnations and had ended up as the Little Ha-to be’s long ago German husband. This marriage had ended badly when the husband lost his money and the wife ran off to a Christian convent, thus leaving the husband broke and love-lorn and the wife plagued with a guilt she unsuccessfully attempted to drown in religious exertions. The long ago Reverend Lo had found the whole thing a bummer and quickly scampered back to the straight and narrow. The Buddhist elders who picked the incarnations to lead their congregation had effected a cover-up and filled the gap caused by Lo’s one lifetime absence with an innocuous, run of the mill monastic apparachik.

The spell of the Reverend Lo and Little Ha’s renewed meeting was broken when one of his attendants moved forward to shoo Ha aside and prevent her from copping a free blessing. With some difficulty, the Reverend Lo resumed his customary composure, stopped the burly monk, and asked the girl her name, her place of birth, and her current way of life. At first, Ha could not speak, but then in grave simple tones, always keeping her long-lashed dark eyes inclined downward, she told all. Tears rose from the Reverend Lo’s heart as he was overcome with sadness and compassion at her past hardships and inevitable fate. So, when little Ha had finished her tale, the Reverend ordered two of his senior monks to accompany little Ha back to the whorehouse, to purchase her from the madam, no matter the price, and to bring her back to the Monastery.

The senior monks did as they had been ordered, but could not overcome their discomfort and fear of subtle pollutions when they found themselves stranded on the parquet beneath clouds of pink plaster angels in the main reception room of Singapore’s third best whorehouse. Already off balance, the monks were not reassured by Madam Louey’s discreet black Chinese silk robes nor by her crisp businesslike and efficient manner, for though these men might live a secluded life cultivating inner freedom from passion, aggression and ignorance, they recognized a re-incarnated boa constrictor when they saw one. Madame Louey demanded an appalling price and further required that the Reverend Lo perform an especially complex and powerful blessing for her establishment. The senior monks had, during their long austerities, lost any skill at haggling and, orders being orders, quickly caved in. The girl was brought to the monastery the very same day, and the senior monks elected to regard the whole business as an example of the abbot’s unfathomable and limitless kindness. All too soon, these senior monks would have cause to re-consider their pious opinion.

At first little Ha was accepted as a kind of mascot-servant. Other women, though mostly elderly, crippled or blind, worked in the monastery kitchens and laundries and so her presence was not especially remarked on. A few years later, when, shortly after the full blossoming of puberty, a tall willowy and full-figured Ha began to share the Reverend Lo’s bed, she was viewed more ambiguously. It was not unknown for an abbot to take a consort, but it was not common. There was always the lingering question of whether the abbot had transcended the passions and could therefore indulge in them or whether he had simply fallen into the condition of being a degenerate pussy-hound. Similarly, it was hard to resolve whether his consort was a sacred part of the abbot’s enlightened activity or a full on gold-digger. And, it must be said that even the Reverend Lo himself, swinging back and forth between the uncharted transports of sexual passion and the unchanging bliss of perfect stillness did not know whether he was falling into an abyss or entering into a new stage of spiritual evolution, and thus could not clearly distinguish between coming and going.

Eventually however, things settled down. The Reverend Lo continued by day to meditate, teach, and perform ceremonies while his night-time bliss assumed a comfortable erotic routine. The relationship, though not enthusiastically approved by his monks and parishioners, was accepted. When Ha, now Lady Ha gave birth to three children her role as official consort was past questioning. She behaved with greatest dignity and was uniformly kind to all the members of the monastery. She was also a killer fund-raiser. For, while the abbot and the monks remained indifferent to bargaining, Lady Ha was not. Her skill in extracting large contributions from wealthy patrons when granting access to her holy family became genuinely admired. She made room for all patrons and kept the riff-raff out. At this time, she put on weight, wore colorful silk brocade, gold bangles, and dark glasses with round lenses. An impoverished hippie, whom Lady Ha had summarily ejected from her husband’s presence, said: “Oh wow. Fuckin’-A, man, when she looks at you with those glasses, it’s like looking down the barrels of a twelve gauge shotgun.”

Local big wigs and business tycoons were also cowed, and Lady Ha received big status as a broker of deals and resolver of problems amongst the elite. She was a very practical woman and became a secret power behind the scenes. And rich too, for Lady Ha did not entirely believe in benefits in the hereafter nor trust her unworldly husband’s provisions for her family’s future. She guarded her money, a rake-off really from the Reverend’s fees and a small percentage of the various transactions she promoted, with greatest secrecy. There was nothing about the Swiss banking system and Chinese factoring agreements that eluded her. She was also reputed to have dealings with all the biggest local gangsters and even to employ a small secret cadre of accomplished thugs to chastise or even dispose of any who spoke ill of her.

The public face of her big status resided in her husband and children The two boys and one girl, were all recognized by the religious establishment as themselves incarnations of other Buddhist teachers. But, while the Reverend Lo meditated, taught or performed blessings, and his wife raked in the dough, these children grew up rich and spoiled. From Lady Ha’s point of view, they did not turn out well. The eldest son, Li became a playboy and gambler. He eventually settled down as the proprietor of a tourist bar which was a front for a third rate whorehouse owned by one of Reverend Lo’s patrons. This patron was a gangster enough aware of the possible consequences of his evil deeds that he did not hesitate to take on the young wastrel when Lady Ha suggested that by so doing he might get a break in the next life. She also helped with a pending criminal prosecution for murder which magically disappeared, greatly easing the gangster’s passage through his current existence.

The second son, Yu despised from an early age all the incense, superstition and hocus pocus involved in the spiritual world. He inherited his mother’s faith in bank balances. He took refuge in numbers, math and finally computer science. He had great academic success, earned a doctorate from Stanford and eventually moved to Mumbai. There he began a company, secretly financed by his Mom, which manufactured hard drives, then a company which paid educated locals slave wages to answer grievance calls from dissatisfied American purchasers of Chinese made DVD players, and built low income housing to gouge rent from his employees. He became very wealthy, but disdained the messiness and expense of married life in favor of trans-sexual prostitutes and his ever-expanding collection of Mughal gold jewelry.

The daughter, An was pretty, restless, a poor student and had a mean mouth. From childhood she learned every obscenity and curse word in her native language and some in some others. She was expelled from high school when she became her own version of a Maoist and blew up two toilets in the women’s bathroom. Her mother’s influence persuaded the secret police to turn a blind eye, but An was immune to the blandishments of spiritual blessings or temporal ones in the form of cash. She began hanging out in coffee shops looking for a revolutionary cause to join. Soon after, she ran off with a thirty year old Austrian social democrat and aspiring sex tourist who thought all the curses An spat out randomly over iced coffee sounded musical and otherworldly. An thought the Austrian’s Aryan, tense-jawed looks and fixed stare almost resembled the revolutionary workers in communist propaganda posters. Hoping he had found true love in the mysterious East, the Austrian bought An a ticket for Rome. An, believing that Rome was still the source of all western civilization, decided to take her revolutionary mission to the belly of the beast. With a determined stride, she followed the Austrian down the airplane ramp and was not heard of again.

Behind her back, Lady Ha was blamed for her children’s failure to pursue a virtuous spiritual life, but, so long as she managed the Reverend Lu’s schedule and enabled him to fulfill his religious obligations, and so long as she saw that the monastic alms bowl was always full, and so long as her surreptitious business finagling kept the elite of Singapore at her beck and call, she retained her status. And was she happy? Yes indeedy, and she glowed with the confidence that she had reached her foreordained and much-deserved place in life.

Regrettably, after twenty-five years of wedded contentment and prosperity, the Reverend Lo breathed his last, and conscientious to the last, he did a bang up job of it. He sat in samadhi for three weeks, as his breathing became ever more faint. Crowds mobbed the shrine room to watch in silence. When he actually expired, he did not move and in the next forty-nine days he did not putrefy. In fact he emitted a lovely if strong scent like some jungle flower. More mobs. And then there were the endless standing room only funeral ceremonies. And everybody gave money. Also, in this atmosphere of heightened and miraculous sanctity, Lady Ha’s business clients were more inclined to conclude troublesome business deals and to resolve long festering disputes. More money. And in this time, Lady Ha was the central figure, moving with solemn and wistful sorrow, patting a hand here and giving whispered advice there. Even the monks were unreservedly proud of her and even those who disapproved of her status or resented her influence agreed that she was a great lady.

Alas, though all know that everything ends, none can really accept it. So it is easy to imagine Lady Ha’s growing distress as, after her husband’s great ceremonial cremation, fewer and fewer people came to call on her or invite her out for tea. Soon she heard rumors that former intimates had found new friends and former business clients were consulting an ex-advertising executive turned Hindu swami to resolve their business problems.

Lady Ha, who had always been opportunistic rather than inventive, then resorted to living the life of a rich, idle widow. She moved to a lavish pseudo-Italian palazzo replete with turquoise swimming pool, wore loud expensive Hong Kong-made dresses and gaudy jewels, had an affair with the lithe Malayan pool boy, contracted a disfiguring disease, and withdrew to her house where, out of sheer boredom, she began practicing Buddhist meditation. She died eleven years later. Her one remaining servant, an unpleasant old woman with a large hairy wart on her chin, discovered the body which was strangely shrunken to the size of a small monkey and had it buried in a nearby pet cemetery. Her sons did not find out about her death for years, and her daughter probably never knew or thought about it. So that was that.

Now, dear reader, I hesitate to mention it, but you might wish to note that in this very brief and quite plain recital of Lady Ha’s life, you have almost completely forgotten that this is really the story of the life of someone named Yuri Andropov. Having let this fact slip by until this very instant, can you not wonder how many of your own past lives you have forgotten as you remain inevitably so engrossed in the events of your current existence which seems, for the time being, to be the only real one?


Oh well, as Andre Gide once said: “To travel is to die a little. To die is to travel a little too far.” And thus, after an intense and fairly confusing post-mortem period, the former Lady Ha and Yuri yet-to-be, found her/himself manifesting as a kind of colloidal psychic apple sauce careening through the vastness of space. Images from his/her innumerable past lives flashed through her/his mind. On immediately thinking of one place or another, why, there he/she was. This endless cruising the cosmos was really fun for a while, but soon became exhausting and painfully devoid of any rest whatsoever. Thus arose the longing for a place to settle down.

Unfortunately, out of all the predilections and possibilities available in the moment to the exhausted Yuri-yet-to be, it was Madame Ha’s late period banal bad taste that came to the fore, and he found himself fatally drawn to a large tile-roofed pseudo-Italian palazzo, replete with turquoise swimming pool, and located in a gated community in Southern California. It just so happened that next to the pool a short squat man with a back covered with hair and sweat was enthusiastically humping a skinny blond who paused in her writhing and moaning to sneak a peek at her diamond wrist watch.

Yuri-to-be saw all this as clearly as did the spy satellite looking for terrorists which coursed nearby, and while the satellite had the sense or lack of imagination to keep on going, proto-Yuri did not. At the very instant that the skinny blond (her hair was dyed as were her eyebrows and pubic hair) looked at her watch and turned her mind to an impending tennis lesson to be followed by agile cabana sex with the bronze tennis pro; at that precise instant, the hairy man, with a great strangled roar, came.

And Yuri could see what a spy satellite with even the highest resolution imaging could not. Somehow, despite the careful and intimate attentions of her gynecologist, the blonde woman’s left ovary let loose a teeny egg, and towards it was coursing an even smaller black sperm that resembled in many ways the body hair of its donor. The whole scene: sunlight, house and pool, the simple congress of moist flesh in flesh was so inviting. The tension between the anxiety of the little thrashing sperm and the smugness of the waiting egg was so dramatic that Yuri just couldn’t help rooting for the little fella. Thus, as if overcome by a fit of impulse buying, proto-Yuri took the plunge.

Yuri’s pregnancy was an anxious one. For the first three months, he lived in mortal terror that he would be, as Tiffany, his Mom-to-be put it “flushed out.” From the darkness, he could hear Tiffany and Ivan, his prospective Dad screaming at one another and feel her stomping up and down the curved staircase. She shouted that she was too young, not ready for motherhood, tearfully confided that she did not wish to deform her beautiful body with its amplified titties and sculpted butt in which Ivan had invested so heavily. Secretly, she did not wish to forego casual sex for six months or compromise her future prospects for same.

When Ivan threw a dinner plate on the marble floor and drunkenly threatened to kill Tiffany if she had an abortion, Yuri was truly panic stricken. But later, when a tearful Ivan crawled between pink satin sheets and, addressing Tiffany’s rigid back, promised to set up a twenty million dollar trust fund for the baby with Tiffany as sole trustee, Yuri had to endure a somewhat painful pounding in his little dark abode, but his future was almost secure. Reassurances by Tiffany’s doctors and trainers that her body could be swiftly restored to perfection, Ivan’s promise to hire maids, nurses, a cook, and a chauffeur of her choosing, and her super sharp lawyer-lover’s inspection of the trust documents sealed the deal. Tiffany saw that in exchange for a few months’ privation, the rest of her life would be catapulted from Reality Show (‘The Survivor’) to classic film status (‘A Star is Born’). Accordingly, Yuri got to exist.

Yuri’s immediate future was now secure, but as bit by bit he came to develop in utero, he began to suspect that he had perhaps made an irreversible mistake. When his little mitten-like hands drifted around in the always jiggling amniotic sea, and happened to descend to his crotch, he found there the bud of a familiar if undesired little organ. Yuri was at first stunned: “Wha?”; then puzzled: “Hunh?”; then accusatory: “Who did it?”; then miffed: “Fucking parents.”; then he gave in to a fit of despair and rage, drumming his heels and swinging his head wildly. “Oooh, you can feel him kicking!” squealed Tiffany who actually found the exertions of her little soon to be evicted tenant both painful and disgusting. But she knew that all mommies were supposed to be pleased and proud so she beamed with newly whitened teeth and stuck out her belly. “Mmm,” said Ivan, moodily touching the afflicted area, “A soccer star for sure.” “Why not a chorus girl?” replied Tiffany who watched Oprah enough to consider herself a feminist. “Well, just so long as he’s not a fucking hairdresser,” the unreconstructed Ivan snarled back. Neither parent got the point: the patterns of thought and action whose finale they had just palpated would remain indelible in their child’s psyche throughout his life. Further, Yuri, feeling the warm pressure of his father’s beefy hand against his kicking feet, at first kicked harder, and then sensing that his act somehow comforted the pressing force, fainted. This too would remain part of Yuri’s modus operandi.

Yuri thus gained some confidence about his ability to handle his new life. And with that confidence, Yuri lost all memory of life as he had known it.

When Yuri was born, his exhibition of his first five modes: stunned, puzzled, accusatory, miffed, and enraged provided evidence for the Doctors of his robust health: “A real scrapper,” opined Tiffany’s no longer so beloved gynecologist. But Yuri’s fifth mode, falling into a dead faint gave cause for alarm. Yuri then found himself the subject of much urgent attention, and even though some of these ministrations, the needles and the cold air forced into his lungs in particular were fairly unpleasant, the overall result was just dandy. Yuri thus gained some confidence about his ability to handle his new life. And with that confidence, Yuri lost all memory of life as he had known it.

This short story has previous appeared in the online journal KALKION  11/ 4/12.
About the Author
Douglas J. Penick

Douglas J. Penick

Douglas Penick utilizes historical research with a solid understanding of Chinese culture and Buddhism to make stories accessible, beautiful and enlightening. In his words, "I contribute to the mischief, longing, satisfaction, lust, sorrow and fascination which make our presence in this world a discovery of true love." The Website of Douglas. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

LEVEKUNST interview with Douglas J. Penick.

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