Suītopī

Higanbana | Kuroyuri | Tsubaki


Higanbana

His arm circling round her waist. Maybe . . .

A blare. Sweat of traffic. Muggy afternoon. The sun bounces off every surface, paints the surroundings white. I stand at the corner of the street, feel the pavement seep through my soles. Sesame drifts from the marketplace; cheap soba, oil and soy.

A cat stretches on the neighbour’s roof, white fur wafting.

Muffled speech. Hiss, hiss. A bus.

I kneel and pick up an empty bottle. Face merges into its sides.

“Ain.”

Someone, somewhere calls my name.

“Ain.”

Up there.

The school is closed for the summer. Walking towards it gives me a sense of unease. Obligation turned quiet tension. The summer won’t last forever.

Drip.

I’ve been holding the bottle upside down. Liquid sinks into the dirt. Almost looks like skin, all dry and creased.

It’s a precipice, right? The separation between the street and the institute. Like stepping over a grave. There’s a rubbish bin, but I feel strange.

The reception is all glass. Sunstruck and bleeding at the edges—I catch a glimpse of something—is it me?

Lenin catches another raven in his hands. It sits still, head cocked calmly to the side. He lets it go, but it simply falls onto the ground, rights itself, then walks off.

He looks disappointed.

“It’s the same everywhere,” he says with his back turned. “Try it.”

I find a different one, cradle it against my chest. The bird looks slightly annoyed. Following Lenin, I drop the bird. It falls and sinks into the ground about three inches.

Caw.

“Ain! How’d you do that? That’s wicked!”

Lenin tilts his head and goggles at the bird for a few seconds before running off to find another.

It’s really hot. I throw some sesame seeds at the bird, but it just glares at me.

The bottle is still gripped in my hand. Why did I pick this up?

Lenin is running on the side of the school. His small feet tap out a regular pattern, like rain on a quiet night.

I really miss this.

I push the bottle into the dirt. Lenin leaps off the school. A running kick sends the bottle flying into the reception. Glass shatters and the summer unfurls into a kaleidoscope of light.

The raven rises out of the ground.

The reception reforms itself.

Lenin is running on the side of the school. His small feet tap on each window, sending small ripples of energy through them, distorting the reflection of the surrounding buildings and streets.

A cat stretches itself on the reception roof.

I kneel and pick up an empty bottle.

“Ain!”

Lenin catches a raven in mid-flight. Sees himself reflected in a window. Gravity pulls him down.

I’m sitting in the corner, waiting for school to finish. Waiting for my life to pass itself by. It’s the last day of school and everyone is leaving. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I don’t know where I’m going. I feel sick, weak and pathetic. I look out the window and see my own face, Lenin falling through the air, sinking into the ground, a raven flying out of his outstretched hand.

There is a train and I am waiting. It is Autumn and the cherry blossoms will be bare for another half year, maybe more. There are golden leaves dancing through the station, trampled under the soles of rushed commuters and children.

Someone laughs with their friends, eating beef udon, yolk running into the broth, flesh filling his cavity. A mouth chews, but laughter still comes. I feel disgusted. I eat my tofu bento, but it only worsens.

Father visits, but I have no words for him. We sit awkwardly and he mentions work, but doesn’t elaborate. I pretend I’m busy and he leaves.

where am i going where am i going where am i going where am i going where am i going where am i going where am i going where am i going where am i

“Ain!”

Lenin is kneeling over me. There are tears in my eyes and the sun hurts to look at. I try to brush them away but rub dirt in instead. Sleeves run softly across my cheeks. Lenin is hugging me from behind.

“It’s okay, Ain. It’s just play,” he says, nuzzling the back of my head. I don’t understand and cry harder.

The ravens have left the school.

A bottle lies on the roof.

A cat rolls in the dirt.

“Life is just a bad dream,” Lenin mumbles into my hair. “You’ve been waking every night, but it hasn’t helped.”

The sun is setting. Red strokes rise out of the ether and stain the sky. Streetlights turn and the quiet hum of night settles over the dying sounds of day.

“Isn’t this just so boring?”

A bus drives by, vibrating the ground beneath me. A mother and child walk past singing an old nursery rhyme.

“Ain?”

I sink into my lap and shut out the world.

“You don’t have to open your eyes. Not now, not ever.”

But I never closed them.

Hugs the ground. Flies through the evening. Do I eat a worm? Is that what I do?

I grip the pink flesh. The thing squirms, digging itself deeper into me.

A human female is laughing, or maybe crying. It’s hard to tell the difference.

Do they touch when they’re confused?

A small male soars down the side of a building. Why is he kicking his own head? The female splinters, but doesn’t shatter.

I’ve heard bones that don’t break cleanly are the worst to mend.

I reach out, hand brushing the feathers of a bird.

My head is an anchor, drags along the ground, grinds pavement to dust.

It’s so hot. Tar tickles my nostrils.

I’m alone, standing in front of a camera with all my classmates.

Lenin’s head is buried in the dirt behind me.

I raise my hand against the piercing sun, but really it’s an excuse to hide myself.

A raven hops onto the camera, unaware of the ceremony taking place. It shatters the façade, reduces the moment to an absurdity, but no one notices. No one cares.

I pick at a rice ball. It’s cold, bland and under-filled. I stare at the shops around me and feel a deepening, crushing alienation. Perhaps I have always felt this way, and it has taken me two decades to come to terms with it.

“There was a storm once,” Lenin mutters into the dirt, “the worst storm of the century.”

I remember. He held my hand all through it.

“But it wasn’t a storm, Ain.” Lenin finally turns to look at me. Meets my eyes through the dust and the tears and the sun. “It was existence trying to wake up.”

He didn’t let it.

“If it ever does, we will all die.”

It’s dark now. Lenin’s eyes glow the colour of warm honey. The last day of Summer rides away.

“Mum’ll be worried,” Lenin says, abruptly, “We should head home, Ain.”

We walk through the muted streets. This is my favourite time, when everyone is tucked into their homes and I can exist without the expectations of others projected onto my existence. I love the soft blue noise that fuzzes my vision. I love how ordinary objects are turned mysterious; the indistinct edges, the wistful gloom.

Lenin skips beside me, turning his head to glance at the small pieces of art people leave behind through the process of living. A bicycle missing rubber grips. A television set atop a toy wagon. A plushie stuffed between the ‘A’ and ‘I’ of a neon sign.

I buy two tea drinks and hand one to Lenin. We sit on the roof of an empty bus stop and stare into the harbour. Home feels further away than ever. The lights beneath the water reach the surface beautifully. They ripple and bleed, like phosphorescent dyes twining towards the sky. I sink beneath myself.

“Ain, don’t!”

I throw the empty bottle into the reception. I see my face shatter into infinity. I hear Lenin break into laughter. The cat leaps up. The ravens bury their wings. The worm writhes until it splits in two.

Blood runs down the side of my mouth. Twenty six dead in a hotel, bones melted like steel.

There is a gap I cannot fill because it is the platonic ideal of absence. An oak, weighed down so strongly by dreams that its branches have sunk deeper into the soil than its roots.

Sheets on the floor. I sink through the earth, head so heavy it compresses into a void and sucks the universe into itself; mangling, stretching, tearing.

My flesh writhes but there is no end. A pulsating womb. Flowers.

Everything is so bright.

I close my eyes.

Where am I?

Who am I?

A part of me is disappearing. I’m scared. I’m—

I can hear Lenin. He is screaming, but he sounds so very far away.

Oh. Oh.

I have been unfurling for a long time, haven’t I?

Guess she finally fled her body. Abandoned that vessel in the lacuna between. The tea! The tea must have reminded her. I must remember to pick up some mints. She’ll either laugh or breakdown into tears.

Whoops, I’m repeating myself.

It sure feels good to stretch my limbs again. Feels like it’s been an age.

Oh, a child boy is beside me. I better deposit him back home before I start.

Ain! Ain! Ain! Is this all this stupid child can say?

Everyone is moving so fast. Ugh. It’s lethargic. It’s absolutely stupid. What, do they think they’ll sink into the earth if they stop?

Ain! Ain! Ain! Oh fine, whatever, have her for a bit longer.

“Ain!”

Lenin? He’s pulling at my sleeves. Tears break, stream down his cheeks. It’s dark, so dark.

“I don’t want you to leave, Ain. Not like last time.”

It—it feels like I’m submerged. The harbour lights have dimmed. Soon dawn will come and wipe their existence from the world. It will be as if they never existed at all.

“Please Ain.”

I hug Lenin. He keeps repeating ‘please’ over and over. I have an inexplicable feeling that I’m leaving for a long time. That I won’t see Lenin again, and that I have to—

Have you stolen my body?

Yup!

Why?

Because you were scared and lonely and living a pointless existence.

I—

Don’t worry, there are a lot like you!

Will—will I ever see Lenin again?

Hmm, probably not. To be honest, I’m not really sure how all this works myself.

Please. Please don’t do this. I—

Ughhhhhh. Look kid, I’ve got places to be. Sayonara.

The market. The raven. The market.

A child petting a cat. A woman drinking a cola. Filling and filling and—

Postman runs past, knocks her arm. Bottle falls to the ground. Splash, crack.

Howling dog. It’s black, you know.

Lenin running on the rooftops. Ain asleep with her window open. He leaps in and wakes her with a grin.

“Ain! Ain! Ain!”

She throw a pillow at him angrily and rolls back into the bed, wrapping herself up like a caterpillar.

A lawman runs over to help the fallen woman. Hands her a mint.

Oh, isn’t it beautiful?

Don’t they all live beautiful lives now?

Isn’t this what you wanted?


Kuroyuri

The shade plays figures across my skin. A slow ripple of old casts, thrown off last winter festival. It’s an old game. Children gather at the riverside and watch their broken bones depart. It was like this the year before, and the year before then. It will always be like this.

Sometimes summer arrives early and I cry for days. My tears run into the wooden floor of the house. It follows the cracks and seams, soaks into red dirt, coal dust, mud. I was once here. Salt trails along aged timber, the dead corpse of forest gods.

I left early in the morning, before the dew had left the roofs. I followed an old bike trail. I listened to the silent clamour of pre-dawn. It was like a stream, the black edges of an open wound. Blood had yet to reach out, touch existence and harden.

The casts sink to the bottom of the river. The children scream and laugh, leaping through the air waving cattails. The shade shifts and I find myself awake, thirsty and without direction. I have forgotten my own name, a place without season, the sight of blossoms.

I am alone, waiting for someone. I am walking beneath thick wires humming with power. I am holding a hand, sitting atop a bus shelter, watching harbour lights diffuse the water’s surface golden.

There are two black figures now. They reach towards one another but cannot touch. To touch is to lose form. I lie staring into the absence of myself, watching petals fall on my skin. Clouds break.

It was sudden. A bright clap of electricity, before a downpour. We ran down the street, jumped through your open window and rolled onto our backs. The air was humid from the day, and without thinking I kicked the shutter down. We laughed and laughed, until our voices found themselves still, close and warm. Your cheeks flushed, breath catching on the ceiling. I kissed your neck as you unbuttoned your shirt, following the openings your fingers left.

There were days I wandered, a black whirr, a sprawl without end. My fingers would reach out until they lost feeling, and then, definition. I wish I’d been there when your body failed you. I wish I’d gathered your broken bones and dashed them against the river, but I know now, they were the only thing keeping you whole.

Some children run after their casts. They descend the mountain into a wild darkness and trawl the river bottom for their memories. They are the poorer ones. They are the ones worth knowing.

It is dark. The figures have blurred into one.


Tsubaki

Lily marked the gravestone. A white streak across grey cobble, the crumbling visage of a turning sky reflected in the puddle beside her. New dusk brimmed grey gold, a heady dust galloped with the rising easterly winds, a white streak across grey skies. Lily marked the edge of her notebook, nine-past-ten, the end of second period, a break in consciousness, then a tang of blood from her swollen gums. Lenin rose above the rooftops, a hand brushed her forehead as the paramedics left, a black bag.

The answer was heat death, compartmentalised energy, like fireworks falling into darkness. Burning rice, spilt coffee, Ain’s smile. Nights on counter, pad paper, day old rain. Lily fell into a nightmare, smooth black, a single light dissipating as the universe died. She spat blood, missed the bus and collapsed on the walk to school.

It was the anniversary. Setting sun, plumes of white, the exit sigh of a wasted day. Lily woke hours later. She returned to an empty home, suffocated in a dream and rose four hours too early for school. Climbing the roof, she watched the sun rise, grey and formless.

There was ash in the hallway to class, the remnants of the incense from yesterday’s memorial, pencil shavings from the forest, fingers blurring out of definition like the trees around her, the soft empty breath of loose soil. Ain came to the store on a night like this, wind gathered silent around her frame. They found themselves atop a bus shelter, lights rising from a sea of nothingness.

Eight-forty-five, the chalk felt heavy in Lily’s hand, white dash across infinity, city blackout. Everyone went to see the dam, cracked pavement, Ain dripping blood, Lily wreathed in ravens. Below the river, forest spirits wove among power lines, bird bones cracked beneath the soles of children, motes rose. Lily lost sight of Ain, the dam broke and children cheered.

Time passed. Ceaseless time.

Lily drifted through petroleum smoke, dashi, the burning husks of gods. She watched the river ryū sweep through her street, turbid with the broken heads of graves, mad with phantoms. She visited memories yet to form, nurseries of dust, cosmic return of the infinite perceiving itself. She cried, remembering everything, the smell Ain’s wet hair, ricochet of a glass bottle, Lenin’s dirt-smeared skin, the birth and death of the universe; mother unable to afford pad paper, sakura bursting the sky pink, couples riding past on too expensive bikes, father drunk on sake. Ribbons of light danced around Lily, a playful susurration, feeding her more and more memories.

Isn’t it beautiful? Existence burning through itself? A departure with no ending, no beginning, no becoming? Haven’t you lived a full life? Won’t you live it again?

Lily screamed. Split dam flooded the empty grave. The same smell of soy, dust and sweat every day. Lack birthed in the space between, like teeth, lacuna bleeding. Nightmares and old memories pouring out like a knife. Ryū stiffened, red streak across the sky, tail burying into the earth. Rice steam filled the air, a passing train carried Ain and Lily into the city, crowds of smoke, her crescent eyes reflected in a storefront, the eyes her mother loved. April awakening of the forest gods, cool spring rustled the hair around her neck, a humid breath descended from the mountain to the lake. Warm rain fell in sheets, city smudged out of focus, bokeh lights departing, Ain’s wet skin—

The city retracted; a whimper escaped her mouth; her fingers passed through power lines, wood smoke, pavement; seasons collapsed, superimposed like holograms, snow and humus; gyoza steamed, air sirens blared beneath the shadow of foreign planes; kodama rose as ancient trees reclaimed the land; volcanic blasts shook the ocean, AI sped to singularity; reality vanished like light falling off a mirror and Lily ceased to feel.

Space is illusory.

Lily.

It travels ceaselessly through itself.

Lily, stop.

And we don’t exist.

Lily grinned, rising from the reeds, a cattail in each hand. She sped towards a screaming Ain, who tripped on a willow root, and began bopping relentlessly.

“Lily!” Ain cried, squirming on the ground. “Lily, stop!”

Lily grinned, rising from the reeds, a cattail in each hand. She sped towards a screaming Ain, who tripped on a willow root, and began bopping relentlessly.

“Lily!” Ain cried, squirming on the ground. “Lily, stop!”

Lily grinned, rising from the reeds, a cattail in each hand. She sped towards a screaming Ain, who tripped on a willow root, and began bopping relentlessly.

“Lily!” Ain cried, grabbing Lily’s wrists. “Haven’t we done this enough?”


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