Short Stories

Fiction

by Barbara W. Klaser

A sample of the author's short fiction.

Barbara W. Klaser, romantic mystery author, photo from 1970's.

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Zen and the Art of Picture Hanging

Lamont pointed to the hand-lettered sign on the door of our Zendo. "Have you read Michael's haiku?"

This is the day of
Our teacher's first meeting here,
So be on your toes.

I shook my head. "That's not haiku."

"Sure it is, Chloe. Count the syllables."

"Haiku isn't just about counting syllables, Lamont." I glanced at my watch. "I thought you and Michael were shuttling Akira Roshi from the airport. Shouldn't you be on your way by now?"

Lamont looked about to argue, but instead he checked his watch. He opened the door and called, "Michael! Let's go."

Our new Zendo had opened one week earlier. I'd begun to wonder if I was the only one who took it seriously, until Lamont spent $835 of his meager earnings on the framed Katsushika Hokusai woodblock print now gracing our wall. Lamont's gift of Blind Men Examining an Elephant had been a personal sacrifice for him. Since then, he'd begun to take on more responsibility, which was a great relief to me.

We were all new to Zen, and beginner's mind was supposed to be a good thing, but we hadn't felt good floundering our way through these past days. Tonight our new teacher, Akira Kotara, would join us and assume the position of Roshi for our new community.

Half an hour later, Michael called me from the airport on his cell phone. "The traveler is in transit."

"You sound like the Secret Service. His plane must have been early. Good thing you left when you did."

"Yeah, but he seems confused. Just a minute."

I heard people arguing in the car. One voice said, "Daughter! Grandbaby!"

"What's that about, Michael?"

"He wants to visit his daughter and grandbaby. Are you sure he agreed to speak at the Zendo tonight, Chloe?"

"Certain. Persuade him to come straight here with you. People have begun to arrive already. It looks like we'll have a big crowd." I disconnected, thinking I understood now why such a respected teacher had agreed to lead our small Zendo. He was moving here to be with family.

Minutes later Michael and Lamont entered the Zendo with a slight, older Asian man between them. Each grasped one of his arms. He spoke to them angrily, and not in English.

I knew Akira Roshi had lived in the U.S. for several years, and when I'd spoken to him on the phone I'd barely detected an accent. Now I wondered if he'd been speaking through an interpreter. I walked over to meet him, and introduced myself.

"We spoke on the phone a few days ago." I noticed Michael and Lamont gripping our teacher's arms as if he'd try to escape. "What's gotten into you two?" I whispered. "Let go of him."

They let go, and he shook himself.

I smiled. "Do you speak English?"

"English yes." He appeared to relax. "Daughter. Grandbaby. Jefferson Street." He pointed at a photograph in his hand of a young woman and child.

"They're lovely. Are they the reason you decided to move here and teach us?"

He pointed at the photo again. "Daughter."

"Well we're honored to have you here. We look forward to your teachings and direction." I added under my breath, "Boy, do we need direction." I led him toward the front of the room. "Do you need a few minutes, or are you ready to begin?"

He held the photo out again. "Now, please." Of course, he must be anxious to get through this and on to see his family. I gave a brief introduction to the group, then invited Akira Roshi to speak.

"Akira Roshi? Speak?" He looked lost.

"A brief talk on Zen," I prompted him quietly. "Remember? We spoke on the phone about this. It's the first meeting of our Sangha." I left him to take my seat on a mat near Michael and Lamont, eager to listen.

The newcomer stood in front of us, observing his audience for a minute in silence. He glanced to either side of him, then behind him. "Ah . . ." He walked over to the Hokusai print, pointed and said, "Blind men."

His English wasn't up to it, but most of us knew the parable of the blind men who examined an elephant. Each man described the elephant to the king in a different way, because he had examined only one part.

"Blind man hang picture . . . so." Using both hands, he adjusted the frame on the wall so it hung dramatically askew.

He pointed at Michael and Lamont. "Blind men take me from airport." He stalked to the back of the room and out the door, which closed with a bang behind him.

We looked after him. A minute passed, then another. A few people pondered aloud the philosophical significance of his words and actions. I looked at Michael and Lamont, and whispered, "What did you do?"

Finally the door opened and we all turned our heads as another man entered. He was taller, younger, and rounder than our earlier visitor, and he wore the traditional garb of a Zen monk. His smile broadened as he approached the front. He spoke in perfect English.

"I am Akira Kotara. So sorry I'm late, I expected someone to meet me at the airport. As I arrived in a cab out front, I met an unfortunate fellow who's visiting the U.S. to see his daughter and grandchild. He told me a strange tale of being abducted from the airport. I stopped to give the cabby directions for him."

Akira Roshi rubbed his hands together and turned slowly around, admiring our new Zendo. He paused facing the Hokusai print, which still hung askew.

"Curious." He turned back to face us. "What is the significance of hanging the picture in this fashion?"

*

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Zen and the Art of Picture Hanging completed July 9, 2004; published here on November 12, 2004.

 

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All characters and events in the novels on this website are fictitious, they are solely products of the author's imagination. Any similarity to real persons or events is purely coincidental.

Copyright (c) 2004 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved

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