Palm-of-the-Hand Story: The Blue General
by Mark Cody Poulton, Victoria, Canada
After my mother-in-law died, my wife and daughter were sorting through her things. When they opened her wallet, a funky smell filled the room. My wife pulled out something papery inside—the skin of a snake. It was good luck, I learned, to keep a bit of snakeskin in your wallet. Just as a snake can slough off its skin and it’ll grow back, so you can peel away your banknotes and they will magically reappear in your pocketbook. My wife unfolded the snakeskin. It was large, about the size of a sheet of foolscap. “I bet this skin is from that aodaishō that lived in the Nishiki house,” my wife said. The aodaishō, or “blue general,” is a rat snake, large but harmless. The Japanese call them guardian spirits.
Until she moved in with us, her mother had run a fruit stall in Nishiki Market. She and Mitsuko lived in back of the store, as did just about everybody in Nishiki. The long, narrow houses were connected one to the other, all down the street. Mitsuko said that as a girl she could climb from one laundry rack to the other without stepping out the front door to drop in on a neighbor.
Her mother told her that one night, when she was young, she came down with a high fever. As she lay on her futon, she listened to the pitter-patter of a rat in the rafters. Then, zurizurizuri! the slithering sound of the aodaishō in pursuit, and no more pitter-patter of rat feet. That night, her fever broke. Her mother swore the snake had cured her.
Hearing this story, my daughter laughed. “You don’t think grandma was really a snake, do you?”