Rainbow Memory


Truly the light is sweet (Eccl. 11:7).

Chi Yun blew the cloud out of her mouth. Surely it was cold enough now in northeast China to make the cloud turn to ice. But it wasn’t. However, the thought of her breath turning to drops of ice made her giggle, and the muted sound filled the miniature ice pagoda. “Even the sounds are cold in Harbin,” she said and giggled again.

Humming a melody Papa had taught her, she slid across the ice floor. The sun, about to go down, sparkled through the side of the pagoda, making the ice bricks look like diamonds.

“We must go.” Papa interrupted her thoughts.

Chi Yun hated to leave. There was something magical about being alone inside walls of ice. But she knew that she would be back. Tonight the colored lights, frozen into the ice blocks, would be turned on to make rainbows of ice.

Her own name, Chi Yun, meant “rainbow in the sky.” Mama always said that Chi Yun was her rainbow that made all the storms worthwhile. Mama said that everyone needed a rainbow to carry in his heart so that dark, stormy days would be better.

“Come,” Papa called again.

“Yes, Papa.” Chi Yun left the dreamy ice pagoda and entered the smoggy world of Harbin.

Papa was already walking away. Chi Yun hurried to catch up to him. All around were palaces, cathedrals, animals, and dragons of ice.

At the edge of the park, they exited through the ice fence. Taxis honked, and bicycles jingled past trolleys that buzzed along electric cords. Chi Yun almost forgot about the magic of the ice carvings, but the cold air filled with Chinese voices more animated than usual reminded her that she was not the only one excited about the Ice Lantern Festival. Near the gate, vendors were setting up boothes of bing tanghulu (a sugared fruit on a stick), bear paws, salmon, nose of camel deer, and, of course, ice cream.

But Papa was starting up the road on his bicycle. There was no time for treats. If she didn’t hurry, she’d be left behind.

Chi Yun jumped on her bicycle and pedaled after Papa. It was frightening to travel the crowded streets, but today she kept her thoughts on the ice festival so that she wouldn’t think about the fear.

They rode past the Songhua river from which the blocks of ice had been cut to make the sculptures. At one hole, people in bathing suits were diving from stacks of ice blocks into the water. Chi Yun shuddered to think about it, but Papa had told her stories of the summers when he yearned for the cold winter swim and how much fun it was.

When they reached their small apartment, Mama was waiting. “Is it finished?” she asked. “Is it beautiful?”

Chi Yun was surprised that Mama was excited. Usually Mama was much to busy to be excited. “Oh, yes, Mama! Papa has built for his company the best ice pagoda of all. You will be proud.”

“We must hurry,” was all Papa said. “The lighting ceremonies are to begin soon.”

They ate quickly, then bundled and rode their bicycles back to the park. It was dark and without any magic at all. Chi Yun huddled close to Mama while Papa hurried ahead to the pagoda. Outside the gate, vendors shouted, crowds pushed, and taxis honked. It was difficult to even think of bing tanghulu in the shadowy dark.

But after a speech that Chi Yun could not hear, a rainbow of lights suddenly punctured the night. Red, blue, yellow, green began to blink in the ice with a brilliance that chased away the darkest of shadows. The magic was back!

Chi Yun walked around with Mama to see the beautiful sculptures. When they came to the replica of the old Russian church, Mama took her picture there. Chi Yun’s heart skipped as they passed the huge dragon, now alive with color. It had been magical this afternoon—now there was no word to describe its beauty. Soon they arrived at the pagoda. Papa was greeting visitors and telling them about how he had made it and about his company.

Waiting until no one else was inside, and closing her eyes, Chi Yun walked through the small door to where she had danced in the afternoon. She made her way to what she thought was its center, then opened her eyes. The sight took her breath away. She was enfolded in a rainbow.

She tried to memorize every ice brick and colored light so that the sight would still be hers long after it melted. She savored the chill around her and the scent of bear paws floating on the cold air. It was like a dream in which every happy dream she’d ever dreamed had come true. “It’s perfect!” she whispered aloud. “And when it is no longer perfect, this ice rainbow will still be in my heart. Its light will chase away the dark!”

“That’s right,” a voice behind her said.

Chi Yun jumped. She’d heard no one enter. She turned and saw Mama standing in a halo of yellow and red lights. “Always seek the light and keep it within your heart,” Mama said.

Chi Yun ran to Mama and hugged her tightly. “I will. This will be my rainbow memory.”

“Like you are mine, my little Chi Yun!” Mama smiled, adding, “And now it is time for bing tanghulu.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Don Weller