The ash – I feel it in my lungs, I try to cough it out, but the air -all air- all matter, all of myself and my thoughts seem to be part of it. Burnt beyond recognition. My ears understand only a steady keening. I don't hear my feet as I stumble onwards, grasp for the handle, its form is cold and thankfully familiar. I pull it down, the door gives way and I collapse into the room. I cough. I cough and cough and taste blood and watch my hands (scratched, bleeding) flat against the tatami. They leave crimson prints. I crawl the next few feet, make it to the bed and, without reason, grasp the pillow. I drop my face into it, inhale the scent, and begin another coughing fit.
It is almost accidentally that my hand finds the corner of the book. I pull myself into a seated position; use all my will to regain a regular rhythm to my breathing (this isn't the time to stop). My vision is blurring and I think of this; it was kept under her pillow, a child's hiding place.
* 1 month earlier
The heat of the day has disappeared. Spots of sunlight have grown dim, dimmer and left. It is a shaded part of the park in which I stand, nudging orange pine needles with the toe of my shoe. Here is an unclaimed space existing between the changing rooms and furthest cluster of trees in the park. A secret space, yes, but I am sure it is the right spot. There is a scattering of rusted cans, of cigarette butts to inform me that no, I am not the first to visit, however pioneering I may feel. I am still in my school uniform. I look down to my shoes and their embarrassing gloss against the matte of a dusty ground. Oh, pioneering indeed.
A scuffled step approaches. I believe it is her, but then again, I haven't familiarized myself with such detail as the rhythm of her walk. Not yet. A thrill of fear twists through me, cold and quick. What if it is someone else entirely? What if they demand (quite rightly) what on earth would one doing hiding out in the bushes?
But it isn't someone else. It is her.
She looks down as she approaches, kicking dispassionately at unseen debris. I inhale, hold a straight gaze and watch her wild hair, her shockingly bright tracksuit. Terribly unfashionable, but it makes sense on her I think. She mumbles some things I won't remember. The fear, the thrill twist is strangling my thoughts.
"This lonely enough?" She says, half smiling.
I nod, afraid of the sound of my voice.
She steps forward, puts her hands on my hips, bends down.
We kiss and it is messy, unpracticed and delicious.
Yes, I am kissing a girl, Elza Gray, and she tastes like Californian oranges and broad blue skies. I kiss her and imagine white beaches and roller-blading down boulevards in a distant, eternal summer; she has the skin of an American sunbather, very tanned, very lovely. I haven't asked her yet about her life there, I have been too shy.
The sun drifts further in the sky, leaving a chill and I pull back. I don't know what to say. She looks down, a small, silly smile on her face, and I laugh, I embrace her, I don't know what else to do, certainly not what words, if any, to use. This is our first kiss. This is my first kiss – with a woman. I feel reckless and rebellious and, Ara, a bit concerned that a gardener might come across us, might shoo us out, or call the police, or worse – my parents!
"Hey, now, Honey," Elza speaks over my shoulder, "Somethin' got you spooked?"
She calls me things like that - "Honey," "Sugar," - sweet things. She has always done this, even before we became close. Americanisms, I suppose.
"It's getting late… I think." I say, "I should probably start home."
"You want an escort then?"
"You have a car?"
"Car? In this country?" She looks at me as though I have a second head. "Honey, with the piled on regulations you got here I'd be deported right on home sooner than chug along in a car."
"Okay then," I smile, "I'll see you."
I walk over the slippery pine needles, kicking out so that none catch on my socks, until I get to the walkway. Back on the path I feel better, more in control, but at the same time...sadder, farther from... from a wildness, a foreignness.
"Just like that?" she calls over my shoulder.
"Just like that!" I call back, and my voice is controlled, but I don't look back. I can feel her eyes on me, feel them hot on every part on me, and scary as that is... I think I like it!
I never kept a diary as a child, so consider yourself lucky; I'm writing this for you. I'm keeping this because I haven't figured out which parts are important yet, or when I'll stop adding notes or which things you'll need to know, but honestly, some half-assed journal would have been a godsend a month ago. I don't know how it'll work for you – I wish you luck, I wish you peace and joy and whatever else you need to get through. I hope you don't need too much. I hope you don't love too much – you'll have to unlearn that.
For me it started with nightmares. The kind that you try and yell your way out of though your lips won't work, and can't until finally, when you awake, there's a metallic taste in your mouth. These nightmares followed me every time I fell into unconsciousness – I mean unconsciousness, not sleep. They all stopped with the trinket. A pen-type thing, gold, blue, very shiny. You'll probably understand what I mean – you touch the trinket and the nightmares stop. At least they stop living exclusively in your mind. They explode into daylight. The beasts and the mad women and their twisted ways of inflicting pain. Gods, so much for you to look forward to, huh?
So you get the trinket and the healing happens faster. Don't get me wrong - the pain is just as intense, the memory, too, just as intense. Take right now - I am lying on my bunk, watching the slats of the bed overhead, observing the differences in the spaces between. I do this because I don't want to move, because breathing too deeply makes me want to pass out. So instead I hear the muffled television show, the clink of chopsticks from the dorm next-door. Must be dinner time. Distant microwave beeps. Yep, about then I guess. I don't feel like eating.
If we never meet, you won't be any worse off. I'm guessing you're a girl, I'm hoping you're some kind of Olympic athlete. As for me – I'm no one. I came here (Tokyo) because I had to, Osaka had run its course – it was decided that it would be better for me to study further from historical "mishaps". My roommate calls this place Heart Break Hotel. It's supposed to be where all the rich and irresponsible kids get sent. I hope you're the responsible sort. This is one hell of a responsibility.
Three lives – three people we need to track. As soon as I can figure out a pattern as to who they could be, I'll write it, I swear, but right now I'm hanging out to see where the nightmares lead. I don't think the enemy is any further than I am. They have a kind of desperation about them. Desperate but damn strong. Getting stronger it seems. I'm doing my best to keep up.
It's getting late. My roommate will be back so I'm going to sign off for the night. So, just to summarize, I hope you're a hyper-vigilant, robotically determined, super Olympian, or are at least in the process of becoming one. I write that, because if you're reading this, it's already too late for me.
If there are Gods, may they be with you,
I walk beneath the silvery glow of the garden lamps of the estate, I watch my shadow walk beside me, then grow, stretch out to something strange. I am mindful that each step takes me closer to my front door – perhaps that it the strangeness I'm feeling. How could I possibly be inside? How could I be anywhere contained? My chest it on fire – it must be!
E – L – Z – A
I imagine the script of her name as she must write it in looped English letters. I imagine my name written similarly M – I – C…
"Darling, where have you been?"
"Good evening, mother."
My mother does not appear to agree to the goodness of the evening. She wears an evening robe and a look of concern verging on anger. Well, how could she begin to understand when…?
"You'll catch a cold like that – those uniforms aren't designed for moonlit strolls!"
"Is it cold?" I walk up the stairs.
"Cold? It's dropped several degrees! It's positively unseasonable!"
"Ara," I step inside, "I hadn't felt it."