Pain and Pain Pills: My Story
I’ve been putting off posting this story for eighteen months. Why? I haven’t felt ready to tell it. I feel ready now. Sort of. I’ve been putting off posting this story for the last week. I’ve got good excuses: wrapping up end of the year business, initiating start of the year business.
So here goes.
From the moment I woke up in the Recovery Room of a Big Urban Hospital in July 2018, I was all fired up on writing a memoir tentatively titled, “Sticks & Stones Will Break My Bones.” Lying on a gurney, my head swirling with the powerful aftermath of the general anesthetic, I got the title, a book outline, chapter titles, topics I needed to research (and have since researched for the most part), and a statement I wanted to make about the facts of the Attack, facts from the official police report and, later, the preliminary hearing. I wanted to make a statement about where we, as an American society founded on the principles of free debate and free speech, stand today.
The project sprang whole into my head. I was so fired up, I wanted to write complete a draft in a month. Typical me—always asking impossible things of myself. When I got home from the Big Urban Hospital in three days (that’s another story in the memoir), I asked my husband to set up my laptop on my bed. Which he did. In the few waking hours I had at that time, I sketched out the memoir as I’d envisioned it. When I was able to get up out of bed and sit on my Internet chair, I downloaded much of the research, plus bought books relevant to the topics I wanted to cover.
Now it’s eighteen months later and various factors have cooled my ardor to write the memoir, including people’s attitudes and interactions on Facebook. I’ve copied those interactions off the Internet for future illustrative use (with the names changed, the exact words edited). These attitudes and interactions constitute proof positive of the statement I wanted to make.
The facts are the facts.
But the virulence of these attitudes and interactions, the times we’re living in, have considerably slowed my pace. It may be that writing the memoir has depressed me. It may be that not being able to walk, to move the way I used to, has depressed me. What me, depressed? In any case, I’ve got several new stories to write and publish, and several new novels to finish up several of my series which are presently incomplete. I can’t afford to be depressed.
So now is the time to go back to the beginning and tell the story of my pain and the pain killers while those memories are still kicking around in my brain. My story is relevant today because, of the many crises in this country, my story has to do with the opioid crisis. National Geographic Magazine ran an article in January 2020 issue, “A World of Pain” by Yudhijit Bhattachartee with the subtitle, “Scientists are unraveling the mysteries of pain and exploring new ways to treat it.”
So here goes: To catch you up, if you haven’t been following my story.
On July 11, 2018, a sunny afternoon with the dog walkers, moms with strollers, bicyclists, and joggers everywhere, a man burst out of the flowering bushes at East 12th Street and Lake Merritt Boulevard and confronted me as I was power-walking on the sidewalk.
He tried to beat me up, I fended him off, then he shoved me into the street in front of two lanes of oncoming traffic. I shuffled my feet to avoid crashing into the cars, but the impact of his shove made me lose my balance, and I fell hard on street curb, fracturing my right hip in three places and breaking my thigh.
The police apprehended the Attacker, I identified him, then I was taken by an ambulance to a Big Urban Hospital, where I underwent three hours’ of surgery under general anesthetic. (There’s much more to it, but that’s another story.)
I was anxious to get out of the Big Urban Hospital as soon as possible. I was aware of the deadly hospital infection which plagues all hospitals regardless of their best efforts. Three months before, a former editor of mine and a renowned writer in Philadelphia had gone into a hospital for a minor procedure and died, shockingly, unexpectedly, in two days’ time of a massive infection.
On the third day after the surgery, I was running a fever of 102 degrees. I refused more fluids by IV, demanded to be released. The surgeon discharged me, and I was sent home with a walker and a big brown paper bag of pills.
Before I left, a nurse sat me down on the side of the bed and went over the single-spaced one-page printout with me, detailing instructions about taking the pills and what they were for. Most of the pills seemed ridiculous to me and not on point with what was ailing me. When I got home, I threw them all away except one.
This was the bottle of sixty hydrocodone pills, to be taken every four hours for pain. The printout had the same instructions as the label on the bottle, and as the nurse had lectured me.
For the rest of the story about my experience with pain pills, join me on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more!
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Three years ago, when I was crossing the large parking lot of my market with a full cart of groceries, I noticed a diminutive, white-haired woman struggling with her cart.
I pushed my cart next to my car, then rushed across the lot to her. I asked her if she needed some help, she said yes, and I took the cart from her, pushing it to her car, which she pointed out to me. She opened the trunk, I lifted her groceries in, she thanked me, then I pushed her cart to a cart stall.
As I walked back to my car, several people smiled at me and said, “Good for you.”
It wasn’t a big deal. She clearly needed help, I provided help. Of all my family members (and there are not many of them), I most loved my maternal Grandma Mary. I appreciate and respect Little Old Ladies.
Five years ago, I went to New York City to attend the Author-Editors Reception of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (which has since been discontinued by SFWA). I booked the Super Shuttle to and from JFK Airport to my mid-Manhattan hotel.
The Super Shuttle promised no more than ten passengers, but our driver packed in at least twenty. The Shuttle stopped at every airline terminal—there are dozens. Plus JFK was a mess, with construction and detours everywhere. A passenger said, “Hey man, we’ve been here over an hour and we’re still not fucking out of the airport!”
The return trip was no better with passengers threatening to sue if they didn’t catch their flight in time. When I came home, I told husband Tom, “I’ll never take Super Shuttle again. All the private cabs have a standard fee from the airport. It’s worth every penny.”
I’m not surprised that Super Shuttle has shuttered recently.
On the incoming trip, I got on the Shuttle with a man who had been on the same jet from San Francisco. We sat side by side with our carryon bags behind the driver, exchanged business cards, and struck up a conversation which lasted all of the miserable six hours the Shuttle took to get from JFK to my hotel. He turned out to be a computer security specialist en route to a lecture he was going to give to a board of a big bank. He was very curious about my writing career. He regaled me with stories about the computer hacks he helped resolve, I regaled him with stories about where I get my fiction ideas, research, and publishing.
The driver, while he wasn’t furiously beeping his horn, hopping sidewalks (literally) to get around trucks and traffic jams, and making U-turns, was fascinated, listening to us. And told us so when we got out at last at our respective hotels.
I was quite stiff, after sitting for six hours on a Shuttle seat. I had a large traveling handbag and my carryon bag on straps over my shoulders. The computer specialist (he was a large man) disembarked first, and then I stood with my bags at the precipice disembarking from the Shuttle. The drop from the Shuttle doorstep to the street was at least two feet, maybe three. I’m not tiny at five foot six, neither am I huge. And the drop loomed before me. The computer specialist stood chatting with the driver. I suppose if I’d asked him, he would have helped me down from the Shuttle. But I didn’t. And he didn’t.
As I sort of fell down to the street, I felt keenly disappointed that, after six hours of conversation, he didn’t think to help me off the damn Shuttle.
Husband Tom is always gracious. He always holds open doors for people, men or women, and has been rewarded with his share of women snapping, “I can open the door myself.” To which he says nothing or “You’re welcome.” He helps neighbors who are moving in, carried a large television set into our elderly neighbor’s living room. He always walks on the street side when he and I are strolling on the sidewalk, opens doors for me (which I appreciate), and helped me in and out of my car a year ago when I was unable after the Attack. Tom is courteous to me, to everyone. He is a gentleman.
Many more years ago, I went to New York City, this time to meet my book editor at Bantam-Doubleday-Dell. Tom (another Tom) took me to lunch at a restaurant, all scarlet Art Deco décor, the entrance of which was accessible only by a heavy revolving glass door. We had a discussion about how a gentleman should handle a revolving door. If memory serves, Tom Dupree, the editor, was of the opinion that a gentleman should enter the revolving door first to set the door in motion, and the lady should follow. That way she didn’t have to push the heavy glass, but only enter the door and walk through. I thought that was an excellent suggestion.
We’re living in rude, mean times, during which total strangers assault one with profanity. Everyday courtesy is not just a gesture of gentility, a sign of respect of men toward women, of the younger toward the older, but of everyday kindness. If and when I’m eighty years old and need help pushing my shopping cart across the parking lot, I hope someone will be there. In meantime, as long as I’m able, I’m here to help. I don’t think twice.
Join me on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

TaoCoverSmall

I.
Dragon
Sing Lin skips down Fish Alley, seeking fresh shrimp for Master’s supper.
She swings her wicker shopping basket with a frivolous hand, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. The city air is ripe with the odors of raw sea creatures and sandalwood incense, of the mouthwatering scent of peanut oil smoking in someone’s hot wok.
A mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu, not on most days. Certainly not on a day as fresh and crisp as this, with sunlight sparkling high above and a cool west wind from the sea. A day which Cook would have gladly savored for himself.
A lucky day.
But Cook has injured himself. His ankle has swollen up like a bundle of newspapers left out in a night rain. Cook took a wrong step into a pothole on Jasmine Avenue, and now he cannot step at all.
Cook had seized her skinny arm as Sing Lin had knelt over the wash basin, scrubbing the sheets for Master’s bed. He flung her to her feet and said, “Here, you lazy girl, go get two pounds shrimp for Master’s supper, and make quick.”
“Yes, Cook,” she murmured.
Sing Lin had washed her hands and face, and retied her queue, and smoothed the wrinkles from her black cotton sahm. And she set out with Cook’s coins and her wicker shopping basket, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. Shrimp is double good luck because, first, here she is, out of the house in such a long time. And because, second, Master will let Cook give her one spicy fried shrimp with her usual supper of boiled rice and greens. “You the shrimp girl, anyway,” Cook joked in his dour way. “Master bought you for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp.”
Two more skips and a hop and a jump, and Sing Lin finds herself among the peddlers of Fish Alley. They are, one and all, clad in blue-denim sahms. Yet all are not alike in the throng of blue tunics and trousers, a truth that even Sing Lin’s eyes can discern. The ones wearing jaunty felt fedoras have taken to the new ways of the city. The ones in embroidered satin caps have not. And the ones who cannot escape their lot in life no matter where they flee to wear the flat straw cone of peasantry. They are, one and all, men. There is not a woman in sight, unless Sing Lin peeks at her own reflection in a shop window, and even she’s not a woman, not yet.
Master employs many men just like the fish peddlers in his drayage business along the waterfront. Once she overheard him talking to Cook. They are not, of course, human beings, Master had said. They are oxen to be led by a ring through the nose. Later, lying on her straw pallet in the pantry, Sing Lin had wondered for a long time what Master must think of her.
Now she glimpses the longing and the bitterness in the fish peddlers’ eyes and something else, something strange and disturbing. Anxiety casts a shadow on her happiness, and she is only too aware she does not belong here. After all, a mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu. It’s not a proper thing. Not on any day.
Fish Alley is not really much of an alley, and certainly not at all an actual street on which horses and wagons travel as they do on other city streets. It is only a mean, narrow passage permitting pedestrian traffic from east to west and back again. Ancient shacks line its gutters, tenements abandoned long ago by fortune-seekers, their claims staked out now by landlords and merchants like Master. Within these shacks dwell the peddlers and the draymen of Tangrenbu, men tripled up to a room, drifting in and out of the city with the fickle tides of bust or boom.
The clapboard walls are covered over with bulletins, strips of red rice paper announcing the news near and far in bold, black slashes of calligraphy. Sing Lin spies a t’ai chi adorning a lintel, a little circle comprised of two teardrops, one red, one black, with a spot of each color in the opposite drop. The t’ai chi is triple good luck, that’s what Cook says. First, for the red, which is yang, thus fiery and excitable, and, second, for the black, which is yin, thus cool and restful. And third for the spots, which rouse restfulness into excitement, and calm excitement into rest.
Oh! A t’ai chi!
Sing Lin is positively glowing with good luck.
She strolls among straw baskets bulging with the sea’s bounty. There are speckled black oysters tossed on handfuls of dank seaweed. Mottled green crabs with their slow, pinching claws. And shrimp, of course, translucent blue and sooty like ill-made glass before they spill into the wok and cook up clean and deliciously pink. She pauses before a basket of salmon, lovely lithe creatures paved in silvery scales. Some of the fish are still flopping. The air is tainted with their brackishness and the smell of their blood. Sing Lin’s heart catches at the sight of the salmon struggling in their death throes.
“Hey, you little girl. Why such a sad face?”
Sing Lin turns, startled. A girl? A girl! Another girl! Whoever sees a girl in Tangrenbu? Yet it’s true, another girl stands beside her. In a black cotton sahm just like hers, a wicker shopping basket slung over her arm, ‘her queue wound around her head in an ebony crown. She is taller than Sing Lin by a handspan and very skinny. Her face is as round as the moon, her eyes almond-shaped slivers of mischief, her skin as flawless as a piece of polished ivory. Her laughing mouth quirks to the left as if she would tell you things you didn’t especially want to hear, but she’ll insist on telling you anyway. Around her neck she’s strung a black silk cord which holds, on the end of it, a tiny t’ai chi. Little shadows pool beneath the high bones of her flat cheeks.
The fish peddlers stare at her—Sing Lin can’t help but notice–as if she is a two-headed, five-legged pig.
“Well? I’m waiting for your answer,” she says. Ah. A little empress she is.
“I’m. . . .I’m sorry the pretty fishes must die.”
The girl mimics weeping and a face full of sorrow, then grins. “Your heart is too soft, little girl. Salmon is delicious! It will put some meat on those matchsticks you call your arms and legs.” She widens her eyes and drops her mouth, the very picture of scandalized disbelief. “Don’t tell me your master is so cruel he never lets a little girl like you ever taste salmon.”
Sing Lin stares down, ashamed. Her big bony toes bulge out of her straw sandals. Peasant toes. She is not someone who tastes salmon, but then–she lifts her chin–she doesn’t want to admit that to this bossy girl. “Sometimes Master gives me spicy fried shrimp with my rice and greens.”
“You mean one little shrimp, don’t you?” At Sing Lin’s abashed nod, the girl throws back her head and laughs, a sound like the tinkling of a silver bell.
The fish peddlers murmur. Sing Lin is only too aware of their eyes. “Don’t laugh like that,” she mutters. “They’re all looking.”
“Ho! Let them look. Come over here into the shade with me, if you’re so worried.”
The girl takes her arm and draws her into the shadows beneath a balcony. The balcony has a great curved railing painted the rich velvety yellow of an egg yolk. “I am Kwai Yin.”
“I am Sing Lin.”
“You are mooie jai?”
“Yes.”
“Me, too.”
The language they once spoke in the old country is as vast as the ancient land from which it had sprung. There are so many dialects that Sing Lin, a girl from the north, would have trouble understanding Kwai Yin, a girl from the south, if they spoke in their mother tongues. So they twist their tongues around another language altogether. The pigeon language of the new country. Of Tangrenbu.
“Where’s your master’s cook, anyway?” Kwai Yin says, looking her up and down. “What’s a girl like you doing, gadding about Fish Alley?”
“Cook stepped into a pothole. Now he can’t take a step!” Sing Lin suppresses a giggle, nervous and not a little awed. This bossy girl, a mooie jai, too? And her master lets her taste salmon? What else does her master let her do? “What’re you doing, gadding about Fish Alley?”
“Shopping, of course.” As if such a pastime for a mooie jai is nothing.
Which it is not. Not in Tangrenbu.
Sing Lin is bursting with questions, but her throat clenches. The balcony may shield them from the sun and from the fish peddlers’ eyes, but affords no relief from the stink of a bin filled with offal. She spies fish heads and fish fins and husked shrimp shells, the flat little mitt of a manta that wandered into some fisherman’s net. Sing Lin wrinkles her nose, presses fingers to her throat. “Oh, let’s go someplace else!”
But Kwai Yin peers into the bin, avid with curiosity. “Wait, wait. Look there!”
And there, next to the manta, lies another dead little creature, speckled gray, serpentine like an eel. But it is not an eel. It has four fragile legs, each tipped with a foot, and stubby toes, and claws as thick as darning needles. In the way that a sea horse resembles a horse, the tiny head resembles that of an ox. There are bovine ears and round eyes, a broad snout with flaring nostrils. The jaws hang slack, baring fangs that would have given your finger a nasty bite.
“Poor thing,” Sing Lin murmurs. “What is it?”
“Your heart is way too soft,” Kwai Yin says. “That is lung.”
“What is lung?”
“It’s a dragon. Did you ever see such a lousy little dragon?”
“A dragon! That’s a dragon?”
“I know, it was so tiny and weak. Thrown away with the fish heads. The sea must be awfully full of poisons these days.”
Sing Lin eyes the creature. “But there’s no such thing as a dragon. Not really.”
Kwai Yin whips around, her eyes flashing. “Then what is that, I ask you? It is lung, the dragon, I’m telling you, one of the four Fabulous Creatures. Usually he’s bigger and stronger than ten oxen. And his roar! Usually his roar shakes the rooftops off castles. Usually he’s handsome and powerful and brave. Ignorant girl, don’t you know anything about the four Fabulous Creatures?”
Sing Lin shakes her head. Yet she will not stare at her toes, not now. She’s eager to learn. “Please tell me.”
“They are the Dragon, the Phoenix, the Unicorn, and the Tortoise,” Kwai Yin says in her imperious way, counting out the creatures on her fingers. “My Teacher taught me this, and many other things.” She adds in a voice not quite so proud, “I had a Teacher once, you know.”
She pulls Sing Lin away from the vile bin. Angling down from the balcony is buttress of iron scrollwork, which reaches halfway to the street. Kwai Yin slings her basket handles over her head, and leaps up, and seizes the scrollwork in her fist. She walks her feet up the wall, hooks her leg over the buttress, and straddles it, flushed and triumphant. Mounted on her perch, she leans down and holds out her hand. “Come on up. Let’s get some fresh air.”
Sing Lin slings her basket handles over her head, too, and leaps up, and seizes Kwai Yin’s hand. She walks up the wall, too. Kwai Yin pulls her onto the buttress, and they climb up onto the cool stone floor of the balcony. They sit with their legs sticking out beneath the egg-yolk yellow railing and dangle their feet, gazing down at Fish Alley.
Sing Lin is tingling with excitement and also with anxiety. She’s never done such a bold thing, climbing up on a stranger’s balcony. She glances over her shoulder. “What if the man who lives here comes home and finds us?”
“What if, you silly girl? Do you think he’s an ogre who will eat us?” She grabs Sing Lin’s arm and pretends she’s chewing on it, which makes Sing Lin laugh. “Stop being afraid of things that don’t matter. Now, listen. My Teacher said, the four Fabulous Creatures are manifestations of the Tao. Just loaded with so much luck you can’t even believe it.”
Sing Lin peers down at the little dead dragon. How could that could be lucky?
“They are rare and flighty things, the four Fabulous Creatures. You just don’t see a Fabulous Creature every day of the week.”
“I’ve never seen a dragon in my whole life. Not even a little one like that.”
Kwai Yin bobs her head. “Me, neither. My Teacher said, if ever you see a Fabulous Creature in the world, it means that the Tao is near. That the magic of the Tao will touch you.”
Sing Lin shivers with delight. “Magic!”
“Yes, but just look at that lousy little dragon. I see no Tao in Tangrenbu. I see no magic for mooie jai like you and me.”
Sing Lin does not want to be so easily discouraged. “But maybe magic will come!”
“Maybe.” Kwai Yin shrugs. “When did you come to Tangrenbu?”
“In the Year of the Tiger. The Swallow brought me here.”
There was a time when Sing Lin could not speak of that time at all. Of how her father sold her to a slaver in the seaport. Who sold her to the master of a clipper-ship named for a quick-winged bird. It didn’t seem right that a ship with a lovely name like the Swallow was a notorious slave ship, but so it was, carrying illegal human cargo from the old country to the new.
How grateful she’d been when they dragged her out of steerage and off the hellish ship into the cold sunlight of Tangrenbu. Grateful when they stripped off the filthy rags she’d worn for weeks. Grateful still when they stood her up, naked, on an auction block, and an auctioneer displayed her to a crowd of merchants. Grateful at last to go to Master for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp. She is mooie jai, fated to serve at Master’s beck and call. She is grateful for one spicy fried shrimp with her boiled rice and greens.
She can say no more about the Swallow. What’s done is done.
“Oh ho, in the Year of the Tiger,” Kwai Yin is saying, her tone as tart as green oranges. “And how many celestial creatures did you count before the Tiger?”
Now Sing Lin grins. She likes this game of recounting the celestial creatures. She may not know anything about the four Fabulous Creatures, but the twelve celestial creatures, the creatures each of whom who rules over each year, these she knows well. Cook often asks her to recount the celestial creatures, too, and suddenly she realizes he has asked her this so she will remember how old she is. “I remember the Year of the Dog, but only a little because I was little.”
“Go on.”
“Then came the Boar, the Rat, and the Ox. Then the Tiger.”
“So you were five years old when your father sold you?”
Sing Lin says nothing. She cannot even say “yes,” though it’s true. “What about you?”
“Well, I can recount two more celestial creatures than you,” Kwai Yin says in her haughty way. “I saw the Monkey and the Rooster come and go long before the Year of the Dog.”
“Oh!” Sing Lin is delighted. Kwai Yin is two years older than her. Like a sister!
But Kwai Yin is stern, quizzing her further. “And after the Year of the Tiger?”
Sing Lin thinks carefully. “After the Tiger came the Hare.”
“Yes.”
“After the Hare came the Dragon.” She doesn’t want to look at the little dead dragon. “After the Dragon came the Snake. Oh, I’m afraid of snakes.”
“Now that is something to be afraid of. Once I picked up a sack of rice shipped in from the old country. And there, coiled underneath the sack, was the prettiest little piece of string, the color of a shining emerald. And do you know what that pretty little string was? It was a bamboo viper, the most deadliest snake in the whole world! If my master himself hadn’t pulled me away and killed it, I wouldn’t be here at all, talking to you.” She smiles at Sing Lin’s wide eyes. “Go on.”
“After the Snake came the Year of the Horse,” Sing Lin says cautiously. “Now it is the Year of the Ram.”
“Correct. And the new year coming?”
“The new year coming is the Year of the Monkey. I like the Monkey. He’s the Trickster. He likes to play games.” She improvises. “He’s the protector of bossy girls.”
“Yes, yes, very good.” Kwai Yin rewards her with a squeeze of her hand. “I was born in the Year of Monkey.”
“Then the new year coming will be your best lucky year!”
“Ho! Lots of luck, but who knows what kind.” A door suddenly bangs behind them. Kwai Yin cocks her head. “Oops, I hear the ogre. We better go!”
She swings herself over the railing, slides down the scrollwork, and leaps to the street–very much like a monkey. Sing Lin follows, clumsy with panic, banging her elbow hard on a strut of iron. There will be a bruise she will have to explain to Cook.
“Come on!” Kwai Yin says.
The girls dash away from the ogre, who is only a withered old man leaning over the yellow railing of his balcony with a perplexed look. They come to a breathless halt where the alley empties out onto Jasmine Avenue. A horse and hansom clatter by, and people stride by, too, clad in denim sahms or in the grand sweeping robes of merchants. Men, all of them men.
Men who stare at two mooie jai.
The girls press themselves against the wall of a dry goods shop, both alarmed, both trying to become invisible.
“I have seen twelve celestial animals come and go,” Kwai Yin says, shrinking from the traffic, her manner no longer so bold. “That’s why my master makes me eat salmon.”
Makes you!”
“Yes. Till my belly can hold no more, and sometimes I feel a little sick.”
Sing Lin cannot picture this tall, skinny girl eating so much salmon. For one thing, such rich meals have added no meat to the matchsticks she calls her arms and legs. Sing Lin should be glad Kwai Yin can feast so well on rich food her master insists that she eat. But her heart catches, like when she saw the salmon fishes dying. “Why does your master make you eat salmon till you’re sick?”
Kwai Yin says, cold and grim, “Because I must grow fat before I go to meet my fate.”
II
Phoenix
Sing Lin skips back to Master’s house, carrying two pounds of shrimp in her wicker basket and a handful of copper coins in change. More coins than you might think. After meeting Kwai Yin, she’s started feeling bolder herself. She smiled sweetly at the shrimp vendor instead of casting her eyes down and, in return, he gave her a very good price and a very nice smile of his own.
Cook, taking his ease in the servants’ quarters, his swollen ankle propped up on a cushion, counts out the coins. He glances up at her, startled, and parts his thin lips, revealing two fence rows of teeth stained brown by tobacco. Cook’s rendition of a smile. “Very good, girl. I tell Master you not so lazy, after all.”
“Thank you, Cook. Is there any other thing you wish?”
A tough little knotty man, like an oft-tied leather shoestring, Cook regards the whole world as if deciding how to skin and gut and slice and boil it. Sing Lin averts her eyes from him and keeps her own mouth from smiling. She’s fresh and rosy-cheeked, her hair disheveled from the sea wind, she’s unaccountably happy, and she knows Cook notices this. She knows he is speculating just exactly how she came up with the extra coins and is deciding whether or not he approves of her cleverness.
He doles out another dime from his leather purse.
Late sunlight slants over the western hills, casting long shadows over Tangrenbu. But the day is not yet done.
“Yes, another thing. Go to the sweetmeats shop and buy some sugar plums for Master’s dessert. And a coconut candy for you. But just one. And bring back change.”
“Yes, Cook.”
“And, for goodness sake, put something over your sahm.”
Cook lurches to his feet, and takes off his jacket, and pulls the garment over her shoulders. “Tuck up your hair, take a hat.” He knots her queue into a coil at the nape of her neck, jams his slouch hat over her head. The hat is way too big and smells of Cook’s sweat and his suety hair oil. She giggles, already too warm beneath the jacket and hat. Cook shakes his finger at her. “No laugh. You must pass for a boy. I made a mistake earlier today. I cannot send a girl like you alone into Tangrenbu.”
“Cook, why are there no mothers in Tangrenbu? Why no girls?”
He yanks the jacket over her scrawny chest. “The governors of the new country have passed laws. These laws say we cannot bring our wives or our daughters from the old country to Tangrenbu.”
“Why?”
“Because we came here to work and make a new life, but the governors and the people who live here do not want us to stay and make a new life after the work is done.”
Why?”
“You’re too old to ask why, why, why like a baby child.”
“But why?”
He buttons up the jacket all the way, from her neck to her thigh. “The governors fear us. If we cannot bring our families to Tangrenbu, the governors hope we will return to the old country when the work is done. But many of us cannot return. I cannot return to my wife and daughter. After all my work in Tangrenbu, I cannot save the fare for my sea passage. It would be better for me to make a new life here with my family and pay for their fare. I very much want that. But if I have no fare for myself, have can I provide fare for them?”
Sing Lin ponders that. “Cannot stay, yet cannot go. Cannot go back to family, cannot bring family here to settle down. Like a fish caught in a net, thrashing about.” She thinks of the dead dragon, but decides not to tell Cook about it. Beneath the tough nutshell of his face, she can discern the kernel of his sorrow.
“Yes. And so here we men must stay alone, in Tangrenbu. And here in Tangrenbu, there are only mooie jai and–” But now Cook claps his jaws shut.
Sing Lin is puzzled and a little frightened. “And who else, Cook?”
“And daughters of joy.”
That sounds lovely to Sing Lin’s ears. She’s reminded of Kwai Yin, of her own joy today. “Oh, I should like to meet a daughter of joy.”
“No, no! Never, never meet a daughter of joy.” Cook frowns and dark shapes move in his eyes. “You listen to me, girl. You must never go to Soot Alley. Never go to Bleak Place.”
One time, in the Year of the Snake, Sing Lin had walked with Cook past Bleak Place. It was a dreadful dark alley in a labyrinth of many such alleys in Tangrenbu. She recalls the strange, birdlike cries she’d heard when they passed by. She recalls how they’d seen men dragging something out of one of the shacks. A burlap sack that might have held the corpse of a large dog. How the men had tossed the sack onto the flatbed of a garbage wagon, and how Cook had made her hurry.
“Never, never go to those places,” Cook says and darkness moves in his voice. “For that is where the daughters of joy are kept hidden. You sabe?”
She isn’t sure if she understands, but she says, “I sabe.
And she sets out for sugar plums for Master’s dessert, plus one coconut candy for herself. She brings back the coins in change, which Cook takes, along with the candy. He splits the candy in two, giving her half, and pops the other half in his mouth. No matter. Half a coconut candy is well worth another taste of freedom.
*   *   *
To discover what Kwai Yin’s terrible fate is, Sing’s danger, Tao Magic, and the rest of the Four Fabulous Creatures, visit my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for the full story of “Daughter of the Tao” and become a patron. Help me recover from the Attack and get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
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Just in time for the Chinese New Year on January 25, 2020.
In 1996, the (now-late) editor, writer, and my dear friend, Janet Berliner had a hot streak. She wrangled excellent deals for three anthologies with Big Publishers, for which she commissioned me to contribute stories, including a story for this anthology, Peter S, Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn.
Yes, that Peter S. Beagle who wrote The Last Unicorn, which got made into a successful fantasy animated movie in 1982. Peter and Jan had been friends going way back.
The gorgeous hardcover anthology was published by HarperPrism (a division of HarperCollins) in 1996, then also in a mass paperback edition, and in several foreign countries.
Jan’s proposal to me (once again) could not have come at a better time. I’d recently finished The Gilded Age, a time travel which takes place in 1895 and in 2395, as well as Celestial Girl, A Lily Modjeska Mystery, a four mini-book series and a passionate historical mystery which takes place exclusively in 1895. I was conversant in the Chinese presence in America and ancient Chinese mythology.
The project was ably suited (once again) to my resources at hand. I wanted to write about a Chinese unicorn, not the conventional European mythical creature, but I first started with the Thames and Hudson beautiful large-format paperback, Unicorn, which, lavishly illustrated, covers just about all of the European mythology. Then, too, the dependable J.E. Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols, which covers symbols and their meanings among all cultures worldwide. Yes, there’s an extensive entry for unicorn.
But I specifically wanted a Chinese unicorn, and so I turned to C.A.S. Williams’ Outlines of Chinese Symbolism & Art Motives. The Chinese unicorn has a specially nuanced meaning, a “Dragon Horse,” and is one the Four Celestial Creatures. You’ll have to read the story to find out what the other Creatures are. No other author in the anthology had a Chinese unicorn! And other authors included Charles de Lint, Karen Joy Fowler, Robert Sheckley, and Ellen Kushner.
Here’s what one reader had to say about “Daughter of the Tao”:
5.0 out of 5 stars
A beautiful novella!
“The characters in this little book jumped off the page and you really cared what happened to them. It is a rare talent that can do that so well! This was a compelling tale of a girl sold into slavery as her culture allowed. I found myself hooked from the very first page as I followed her through the twists and turns of her life. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a character-based story with a touch of magic and fantasy to it!”
To read “Daughter of the Tao”, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and become a patron. Help me recover from the violent criminal Attack on me and you’ll get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more

CHROME.MED.295.KB

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
Excerpt 5:
Blend Day
A rude, unnecessarily loud knock-knock-knock on the door to her lair jolts Luna Lightfoot to her feet just as she’s slipping on flannel pajamas and preparing to bed down for the day.
Today isn’t any ordinary day. Today is Blend Day.
If Jamboree is a day of wild celebration, of indulging in forbidden pleasures, of making mischief, then the day that follows—Blend Day—must be observed, according to two centuries of Chromian tradition, by somber reflection, fasting, celibacy, and other forms of self-abnegation.
Some Chromians look forward to Blend Day with a self-righteous dread. To the Day when even the powerful and glamorous predator Blends bend down on their knees, raise their eyes to the pitiless stars, and ponder the meaning of their tormented unnatural lives. When every Blend curses the ancient Tweakers and the Twitchers of Emirk Corporation for creating Chrome.
Not Lightfoot. No self-flagellation. No moaning, no sobbing, no tears. She loves her puma life too much. Loves her puma talents. She doesn’t even mind that her human ancestors were political prisoners smuggled up from Croatia and blended with puma genes.
CRISPR, that’s what they dubbed it, the molecular biologists who pioneered the gene-modification technique three centuries ago. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. With CRISPR, Emirk’s technicians created entire races of genetically modified people with inheritable traits by blending the chromosomes of creatures with the chromosomes of human beings.
Blends.
Blends often sarcastically refer to each other as atlantean, beastie boy or girl, chimera, cordwainer, creep, cryptid, freak, fubar (fouled up beyond all recognition), GMO, gryphon, half-and-half, jabberwock, mockery, monster, moreau, mutant, quarryman or woman, splicer, toba sojo, weaver, or wonderlander.
Bang bang bang.
Who on Chrome could it be?
Irritated, Lightfoot waves off the World Eyes in her bedroom flashing with the news of Zena Kinski’s tragic demise. Views of Bunny Hedgeway twisting a lace hanky, dark tears streaking her plump little face, do not show the Pomeranian to her best advantage. Get a grip, Bun, Lightfoot will have to tell her. When she wakes at sundown, she’ll wink Bunny. Show her sympathetic support as a Blend-friend.
Bang bang BANG.
She stalks into the living room, the kitchen, the library, all around her lair. Aims her Tatt at the World Eyes stationed everywhere and waves them shut. When open, the World Eyes blink views to the Instrumentality of her sleeping the day away. That’s all fifteen billion human beings on Earth ever get to see of her. A puma Blend in pajamas sleeping in her luxurious lair. Curling up in the cashmere blankets. Uncurling, yawning, stretching. Curling around on her other side. Prowling to the kitchen for a glass of cool water.
For this, Lightfoot earns considerable monthly royalties from the Instrumentality.
What’s so unusual about her sleeping the day away? Not a thing. Lightfoot is nocturnal. She’s up all night, like her ancestral beast. And what she does at night, nefarious or innocent, is strictly off-limits to the Instrumentality. Terms of her contract.
Another obnoxious knock, and she sighs. The royalties will amount to a little less this month now that she’s waving the Eyes off. She stalks to her front door. “Yes?”
“Open up, Lightfoot,” says a masculine canine voice. She knows the voice and the canine only too well. He goes by the moniker of Xander King, homicide detective for the Chrome City police. “We gotta talk.”
“Have some respect, Cop King,” she says through the door. “It’s Blend Day. I’m contemplating my cruel fate.”
“You’ll be contemplatin’ more than that.”
“Excuse me?”
“You really stepped in it this time.”
You’d think him a lion Blend with a name like that, but you’d be wrong. Only a golden retriever could get away with such a grandiose name when he’s merely a middling officer in a corrupt police department on an artificial planetoid. And no, Lightfoot has never entangled herself in a homicide investigation. She’s acquainted with Xander King because she sells him hot nasty tips whenever she daintily trips across them on her nocturnal prowls through Chrome City.
She cracks open the door, leaving the chain lock on. “Dunno what you’re whining about,” she purrs pleasantly. “I’m off to my beauty sleep while fifteen billion Earthians pay to watch me dream. You’re wasting my prime time. Bye-bye, have a self-punishing day.”
“Wise up, Lightfoot,” barks another masculine canine voice. That would be Chan O’Nally, King’s partner. “The fang job at Bunny Hedgeway’s place last night. You know what we’re talkin’ about, and we know you know.”
“Everyone on Chrome knows what you’re talking about, Detective O’Nally. All everyone has to do is wink the Instrumentality.”
“We’re talkin’ about you and where you were last night,” O’Nally snarls. He’s an Irish setter Blend whose human ancestors two-and-a-half centuries ago were political dissidents incarcerated in the prison of an Asian country until the Central Committee sold them to Emirk Corporation for a rock-bottom price.
Moi?
“Quit stallin’ and open up,” King growls. “Security Eyes on the rooftop captured your beauteous image in the moonlight.”
“I don’t think so,” she says.
“Think again,” O’Nally snaps.
She thinks again. Damn, it must be true. She’s a puma Blend. No one and nothing sees her when she sets her mind on moving invisibly. No matter the surroundings, urban, suburban, or the Wildlands. No one and nothing sees her. But her mind had been unsettled last night. She herself slightly clumsy when she leapt from the bedroom terrace back onto the roof. Witnessing a murder will do that.
“Guess you weren’t up to your usual stealth last night,” King says.
Guess you don’t know what you’re yapping about.”
“Guess we do,” O’Nally says. “Get yourself decent and let us in. We gotta talk before someone less forgivin’ than us collars you for your presence at a fang job.”
“Give me a moment, detectives.”
She shuts the door.
Not up to her usual stealth?
No kidding.
She knew from the start the mysterious Rex was all wrong. She just didn’t know how wrong.
“We haven’t got all day, Lightfoot,” King barks.
“Coming,” she trills.
*   *   *
To discover how Lightfoot’s interview with the police goes, what they accuse her of, what she admits to, and especially what she doesn’t admit, visit my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for the full excerpt and become a patron. Help me recover from the Attack and get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

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Updated for 2020! CHROME, the new novel and reviews, new reviews of Summer of Love, The Gilded Age, Arachne, and Cyberweb, new stories and interviews, plus blogs, round tables, Tom Robinson’s bespoke jewelry and artwork, cute cat pictures, forthcoming works, and more! Visit me at http://www.lisamason.com

9.18.19.BOOKSHELF.5_NEW

9.6.17.TGA.1

New Review of The Gilded Age at http://sfbookreview.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-gilded-age-by-lisa-mason.html:
“The world of 2495 is at an unsustainable twelve billion population. Zhu Wong is a Daughter of Compassion, a group working to enforce the birth restriction laws. She is in jail awaiting trial when she is recruited by the Luxon Institute for Superluminal Applications (LISA, I love the acronym) to t-port back to 1895 San Francisco. She accepts the deal. Her mission is to find Wing Sing, take her and the aurelia to the mission run by Donaldina Cameron. In 1967 Wing Sing’s daughter will eventually give the brooch to Chiron at the end of his stay in the Summer of Love project.
Zhu finds Wing Sing, but she doesn’t have the aurelia. They are captured by a Chinese gang. Zhu is bought away from them by Jessie, a madam, Wing Sing stuck with the Tong. Zhu does work for Jessie, but is more valuable as a bookkeeper so avoids becoming a prostitute. Daniel Watkins is the son of a real estate magnate coming to San Francisco to collect on debts. He is low on funds and is referred to lodging at Jessie’s where his life becomes entwined with Zhu’s. Somehow Zhu is attracted to this heavy drinking smoker who has distinct views of women. Despite herself and her mission, Zhu cares about Jessie and Daniel.
I loved the character of Zhu. Somehow I wasn’t repulsed by Daniel and Jessie. They are more a product of their environment doing what they can with their sense of right and wrong. Very enjoyable, I read the last two hundred pages straight through. This is definitely a stand alone novel, though Summer of Love is mentioned several times. I’ll have to read that one as a prequel rather than book one.”
And this is from Library Journal:
“The discovery of a golden brooch that should not exist in the 25th century prompts the Luxon Institute to send a young Chinese woman 600 years back in time. She arrives in San Francisco in 1895 to prevent the future from altering the past. This sequel to Summer of Love (LJ 6/15/94), seen through the eyes of an observer from the future, juxtaposes the tempestuous, sprawling milieu of boomtown San Francisco with its shadowy underside of prostitution and decadence. Mason’s graceful prose and her skill in orchestrating a complex and satisfying plot make this a solid purchase for sf collections.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This is from a reader:
https://www.amazon.ca/Golden-Nineties-Lisa-Mason/dp/0553373315
5.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotic Read
By,Robin Booneon Published on Amazon.com|Verified Purchase
“Lisa Mason’s Summer of Love and The Golden Nineties both have this quality – you want to reread them as soon as you’ve read them. Her writing conveys an abiding love of San Francisco, and interesting bits of California history are woven into the storylines. The writing is so compelling that you feel as though time travel were a possibility. I hope she writes more of these San Francisco fantasies!”
And this is from Publisher’s Weekly
https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-553-37331-8
“Mason’s sequel to Summer of Love is a delightful expansion of that work and a major step forward for her. The tale centers on Zhu Wong, a Chinese national whose lawyer plea-bargains her release from prison so that Chiron and his companions from the previous novel’s Luxon Institute for Superluminal Applications can transport her 600 years into the past to find a macguffin called the aurelia. Once in San Francisco, 1895, Mason brings the environment and the times to life with her rendering of the city’s activities, especially its corruption. The several historic personages who appear–including Frank Norris, Jack London and Susan B. Anthony–are all given dimensions that reflect the rigor of Mason’s research without leaving the reader overburdened by minutiae. Zhu Wong finds herself embroiled in a world of decadence and prostitution; she sees friends and companions abuse themselves with such things as alcohol, cocaine and corsets. As with Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary, Mason uses the novel partially to explore the role of women in society. As Zhu grows to understand the hypocrisies of the 1890s, she becomes even less comfortable with the presumptions of her own time. She creates several “closed time loops,” apparent paradoxes that impede her mission–and, perhaps more important, thwart her own desires. Eventually she finds her way out of the time loops and in the process teaches everyone–including herself–a few lessons about life. Her bravura performance with this book should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify her position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.
And this just in from an Amazon.com reader
Buy It
By Uke Enthusiast
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
“One of my favorite books. I am delighted it is back in print. A thoroughly entertaining time travel story supported by vivid characterizations and settings.”
Book Description: The year is 1895 and immigrants the world over are flocking to California on the transcontinental railroad and on transoceanic steamships. The Zoetrope demonstrates the persistence of vision, patent medicines addict children to morphine, and women are rallying for the vote. In San Francisco, saloons are the booming business, followed by brothels, and the Barbary Coast is a dangerous sink of iniquity. Atop Telegraph Hill bloody jousting tournaments are held and in Chinatown the tongs deal in opium, murder-for-hire, and slave girls.
Zhu Wong, a prisoner in twenty-fifth century China, is given a choice–stand trial for murder or go on a risky time-travel project to the San Francisco of 1895 to rescue a slave girl and take her to safety. Charmed by the city’s opulent glamour, Zhu will discover the city’s darkest secrets. A fervent population control activist in a world of twelve billion people, she will become an indentured servant to the city’s most notorious madam. Fiercely disciplined, she will fall desperately in love with the troubled self-destructive heir to a fading fortune.
And when the careful plans of the Gilded Age Project start unraveling, Zhu will discover that her choices not only affect the future but mean the difference between her own life or death.
“A winning mixture of intelligence and passion.” The New York Times Book Review
“Graceful prose. . . .A complex and satisfying plot.” Library Journal
“Rollicking. . . .Dazzling.” Locus Magazine
“Should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify Mason’s position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.” Publisher’s Weekly
The cover, by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, is styled to look like an 1890s billboard.
The Gilded Age is BACK IN PRINT! Order the beautiful trade paperback in the U.S., in the U.K., in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, and in Japan.
The ebook
is at BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords and on Kindle worldwide at US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
So there you have it, my friends
. Bantam Books, a division of Random House, published this as The Golden Nineties. Yes, I changed the title. I think the new title is better. (Wish I’d thought of it in the first place) This is the Author’s Preferred Print Edition.
Whether you’re a longtime reader or new, I hope you enjoy this classic!
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