It was a crowded day at the theatre with not an empty seat to be found. The estimated capacity, according to the usher, was about 200; so this was certainly quite the turnout. I don’t know exactly why I bought a ticket. They were reasonably priced and gave the promise of a memorable performance; so perhaps I was simply bored. As I sat in my seat, patiently waiting for the show to begin, a man called out to me. He was sitting in the seat directly behind me.
“Quite the turnout, isn’t it?” The man said to me. As I looked at him, I was surprised to see that he had a striking resemblance to a man from my hometown. I paid it no additional mind. Despite the resemblance, he clearly was a different man. There was something in his eyes, a certain kind of knowing.
“Certainly is. Hopefully the show lives up to the expectations.” I replied. The atmosphere among the crowd was a bit unusual. Sure, there was the typical chatter, but there was a sense of urgency. The theatre-goers came with eagerness, that’s for sure. Perhaps the lighting affected the mood as well. The room was dimly lit, and the lighting within was a deep blue. This shall be an interesting show indeed.
“Oh, no worries there. I’m sure they’ll be quite entertained.” The man said ominously. I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t. I simply waited for the show. After a few minutes, a blue light shined upon the center stage, revealing a lone man.
“I bid you all welcome!” The showman exclaimed. He was very sharply dressed. He had a black and white tunic, though the white appeared rather blue due to the lighting. The showman continued. “In lieu of my master’s arrival, I’d like you all, if you please, shift your attention to the quill and paper sitting in the trays in front of you.” Surely enough, I looked and saw a quill and paper sitting in front of me, though I didn’t remember them being there before.
“I want each of you to write down your heart’s desire. Then fold your notes and place them in the cup to the left of the paper. Our assistants will come and collect the cups shortly.” The showman said. I looked and saw a cup. Something was certainly off; I definitely didn’t see a cup before.
“Choose wisely.” Said the man behind me. I barely had time to think about my answer before a woman, presumably an assistant, came to the end of my aisle. I quickly folded the paper and placed it in the cup. An odd thing happened then. The paper melted into a liquid that sat in the cup. It looked and smelled vile. As I stared at it, baffled, the fellow next to me cleared his throat, subtly reminding me that he was waiting. I handed the cup to him to pass it down. I helped pass down those from the people on my right as well.
“Keep an eye on your cup. Don’t lose sight of it.” The man behind me said. I planned on keeping track of it anyway. I watched as the woman set down the cup on a table. It was on the front-right corner, so it was easy enough to remember.
“Excellent!” The showman said with a clap of his hands. “Now, my dear patrons, your greatly-appreciated patience is about to pay off! My master, Lord Niu, has finally arrived!” As the showman finished speaking, a large, blue apparition appeared behind him. It was humanoid with large, bulging white eyes. Though it appeared quite resplendent with its dull blue glow, those eyes betrayed a hungry animal lying within.
“Now!” The showman started. “It’s time to begin the main event! I shall announce the name of an animal. You are to imitate that animal as best you can. The one in the crowd who does the best impersonation shall have their cup drunk by Lord Niu, and their wish shall be fulfilled!” The showman walked up to the front of the stage with the light moving with him. “The first animal is...parrot!” He announced.
I watched as the crowd lukewarmly started imitating the colorful bird. They didn’t seem too convinced of what the man was saying. There were a few arm flaps here and a squawk there. I myself didn’t care to participate, so I stood there, content with observing. One man eventually perched upon the top of his chair and squawked a mighty squawk while aggressively flapping his arms. Then he screamed. “SQUAAAAAAWK! THE FIRST ANIMAL IS PARROT! ANIMAL IS PARROT!” The showman laughed at the enthusiastic display and applauded. He turned to Niu, who nodded.
“Wonderful!” The showman exclaimed. “Indeed, the parrot is known for repeating that which it hears. Well done!” I watched as Niu approached a cup and drank from it. Apparently, he already knew which cup was the right one. I looked over at the parrot impersonator and saw that he was now attended to by many beautiful women. The crowd saw this and many had the look of envy in their eyes. I looked back to Niu and he seemed to be glowing a bit brighter than earlier.
“Alright! Well done for our first victor! Now, the next animal is…dog!” After he announced the animal, I noticed people were much more enthusiastic this time around, including those on either side of me. I watched this show for over an hour as people tried their best to get their wishes granted. I noticed that each round went a bit longer than the last. It eventually got to the point where people never stopped acting like animals, even in between rounds. Also, even the people who received their wishes continued to act like animals, perhaps seeking even more of Niu’s favor. As this was going on, Niu appeared brighter and brighter while the light around the crowd became darker and darker. This has clearly gotten out of hand.
“My friend, come with me.” The man behind me said. I’d forgotten about him, though it seemed he retained his humanity as well. After growing disturbed by what I saw, I decided to follow him. We stepped around the others across the aisle. They didn’t seem to even notice us, being too busy trying to imitate a horse. The man took me up to the stage, right in front of Niu and the showman.
“Leaving so soon? Wouldn’t you like to see the ending?” The showman said. I had no clue what he meant by leaving. We walked onto the stage, after all.
“No, thank you. I’ve seen this act enough times to know it never ends.” My acquaintance said. I had no idea that he had been here before. What was even more baffling is that he returned to such a place. The showman gave him a knowing smile and nodded. “Ah, well, losing one won’t hurt us anyway. Be on your way now.” He said.
My acquaintance looked at me. “Get your cup and drink it.” He said sternly. I quickly located my cup, but hesitated to drink it. After all, it was still repulsive to my senses. “Hurry!” He said as he drank his. I held my nose and drank it. To my surprise, it was sweet to the taste. In fact, it was absolutely delightful.
All of the sudden, I was no longer at the theatre. I was instead standing in a grassy field. My acquaintance was also there, standing near a tree. “Where are we?” I asked as I approached him.
“Outside the city, where that theatre was.” He replied. “If you hadn’t drunk from that cup, you would’ve been trapped in that show for the rest of your life.”
I took a deep breath, buried my face into my hands, then let go and exhaled. That was certainly going to be the last time I buy tickets for anything. “What made you help me of all people?” I asked
“It’s my joy to go to the show and rescue anyone there who can be rescued.” He said cryptically.
“And what made you believe you could rescue me?” I asked.
“I saw your answer. That’s how I knew.” He responded, then walked away.
I laughed. Who would’ve guessed that submitting a blank paper was enough to pass the test?
The Chemistry of Chaos
It was a quaint little street, really, like something out of a play. Cobblestones lined the dusty edges, a tidy, neat postcard image. The early dawn showed vendors lining up their shiny items at their stalls and the occasional early-riser inspecting the wares on sale. A grand palace rose high in the middle of the street, pristine windows and blue velvet curtains posing an elegant image.
Look a little deeper, though, and you start noticing things. You see the guards lining up near the vendors with their shiny rifles; the guards a little too eager, the people a little too scared. You see the grand, imposing structure of the palace—as the curtains shift in the windows, you glimpse the life of the nobles, of regal stature and monarchy and feasts too extravagant for anyone. The casual indifference of aristocrats, the hidden, yet intent fear of the commoners. They built an empire from scratch, but they forgot the delicacy with which a kingdom is ruled. You see the clear split in the world, the palace impeccably clean and spotless, the much smaller houses coated with a fresh layer of ash and dust.
For me, the most fascinating thing about the science they now call chemistry is spontaneity. Drop a metal into acid, and it stills sit for the briefest of seconds—the calm before the storm—and then sputters and hisses and explodes. And it’s just a matter of seconds, just a few small moments where it releases a pent-up fury before dissolving away into nothing, back to the clear solution it was at the start. Almost like nothing happened.
Instability leads to the reaction, a tipping of scales at just the right moment and with just the right force. And it starts so suddenly—I believe, in the time we’ve had ourselves this intriguing little chat, the equilibrium in the streets below has been shattered.
It began slowly, almost nothing, a bit of unrest, the guards saw to it immediately, but it built up, small actions combining and synchronizing in the most beautiful way, too fast for the guards to stop it, and there it was, that final moment, just a fraction of a second where everything stood still.
The catalyst. She would despise being compared to one, I’m sure. But she did it, she stirred up the frenzy and the energy of the mob, and with the smallest action she pivoted it into action. The simple flick of a match, the simple destruction of a monarchy.
The next part is the simplest: chaos. Where carefully strategized synchrony breaks down into mindless movement, where laws crumble to anarchy, where the composed, imposing figure breaks down in terror.
The street blazed; people ran wild and something inherently human, something deeply animalistic showed through. The smell of soot and smoke singed the air, and you could taste the flames when you inhaled, you could feel the catharsis of revolution. The blue velvet curtains were set aflame; slowly, they burned down to the ash that now coated the crumbling walls of the palace. The façade and the once-fearless leader break with nothing for them to cower behind. The fall of an empire, a new one rising from the ashes.
Dusk comes cascading upon the tumbling scene as screams mingle with war cries upon the road that used to be the epitome of elegance. A revolution is what you would call it, I suppose, but to me, it looks rather like a dance; one of the fae, the terrible and irresistible beauty of it all, the compulsion to dance till your feet bleed. That kind of violent desire and that kind of reckless despair attuned to their fears and their hopes, an unstoppable force and an immovable object. The merry tinkling of shattered glass darkens the street as flames move through the houses and twinkle in irises. You would look at it and see destruction and ruin; she saw righteousness, a wrong done right. You would see animalistic horror and violence; but she, she sees a once-imperceptible anger and a want for revenge. You see havoc and immorality; she sees the death of oppression and how the ends justify the means. In her eyes, clear after so long, she sees the infamous rage and cruelty of the aristocrats tumble back down on them, and in the true spirit of a catalyst, she is enthralled by the rage of the chaos and the peacefulness of vengeance.
She sees it still, years later, the street much cleaner, the fires put out, the broken glass swept off into the drains that line the path. She believes in it, in them, as she looks out through pristine windows and blue velvet curtains. The vendors with their enthusiastic wares on sale, the townsfolk up early for the market. In the palace, built up from its ruins, that once more stands tall in the center of the street.
Look a little deeper, though, and you start noticing things. You see the guards lining up near the vendors with their shiny rifles; the guards a little too eager, the people a little too scared. You see the grand, imposing structure of the palace—as the curtains shift in the windows, you glimpse her life, of regal stature and monarchy and feasts too extravagant for anyone. The casual indifference of aristocrats, the hidden, yet intent fear of the commoners. She built an empire from scratch, but she forgot the delicacy with which a kingdom is ruled. You see the clear split in the world, the palace impeccably clean and spotless, the much smaller houses coated with a fresh layer of ash and dust.
What can I say? Patterns reiterate themselves. Stories come full circle. History repeats itself.
A Special Plant
Once upon a time there was a little cottage that had a garden. The garden was large and beautiful. Flowers waved gently in the breeze all spring and summer long. Tulips, lilacs, daisies, sunflowers, bleeding hearts, crocuses, buttercups, violets and many more grew there. Cobblestone paths wound about the garden, with benches under shady trees. A pond with goldfish swimming in it sparkled in the sunlight.
The owner of the cottage was a gardener; he was old and gray-haired but his shaky hands were gentle when they touched the satiny petals of the flowers. The flowers all adored him greatly and were rivals for the most attention. The kind gardener distributed his praise evenly between them all.
In the early morning hours you could hear his voice saying, “Ah, daisies dear, how much you have grown! And how fresh you look, violets…” as he went down the paths and greeted them all by name.
The flowers all knew each other well. The violets were quiet and unassuming; The daisies were cheerful and happy; The lilacs were somewhat more sophisticated and tended to stay apart; The crocuses were happiest in colder weather and complained of the heat on warm days; The buttercups spent their time in the sunlight laughing and singing; The bleeding hearts whispered sadly together; The tulips gossiped all day long; The sunflowers were bold and somewhat impolite. But they all knew what the characters of the others were, so they lived in contentment together.
On a usual day all the flowers were awake and over the garden was a hum of voices. They were always talking, unless the gardener was in the far corner of the garden, for there, beneath a little white gravestone, lay the gardener’s little girl, Rosalynn, who had just changed from a gentle child to a delicate young lady when she fell ill.
All events in the followed the same pattern year after year. Or they did until the day the gardener came in with a scraggly little plant. He carried it over to the corner and, using a trowel, carefully planted it. He watered it and tended it attentively. The other flowers grew envious; for the new plant was receiving more attention than any of them. They watched her grow day by day, and mocked her ugliness.
“Look at her!” scoffed one of the tulips, “See her thorns on her stem?”
“She never says a word!” declared one of the daisies “Is she too ‘distinguished’ to have anything to do with us?”
“Maybe she thinks that she is a princess.” a buttercup said scornfully.
“Perhaps she is shy, and that is why she is so quiet.” suggested a gentle violet.
The others laughed and said that was ridiculous. They spent their days taunting the poor little unattractive plant. She never said a word, but sat there silently and cringed slightly when their laughter grew loud enough to reach her.
The poor little plant was shy and dared not say anything in her own defense. She treasured the moments when she received gentle words from the gardener. But she wondered why she was so hideous. It was true that the little plant had thorns, but she did not choose to have those! The plant fought back tears as she whiled away her time alone in the corner. Slowly she crept closer to the little white gravestone next to her. She was very lonely, and there seemed a kind of companionship in the little gravestone. She felt, somewhere deep down in her roots, a connection with it. The little plant tried her best to shade the gravestone from the burning sun, and sheltered it from the pounding rain. She protected it carefully, and began to feel that perhaps it wasn't too lonely in the corner of the garden.
Days went by and the little, brave plant slowly struggled and grew. She began to grow over the gravestone and she got bigger and stronger. Yes, she had the thorns still, but no longer was she scraggly and weak. Buds began to form on her. They were at first a soft pink and then they began to darken to a lovely crimson. The other flowers still mocked her though. They were not close enough to see the buds. Though perhaps even if they were they would not have seen them, for they had blinded themselves to any beauty in the unwanted plant. They could not see a use her since she did not compare in loveliness with them.
All continued until one dawn, when in the early morning light, the buds unfolded. Deep crimson flowers lay bright against the white gravestone and contrasted against the green grass. The little plant gazed down at herself in amazement! The gardener stepped down the path, and leaned over. His gnarly fingers gently brushed the petals of the flowers. And his eyes filled with tears.
Softly he whispered, “Ah, now my little Rosalynn has roses to keep her company. You know,” addressing the little plant, “You have a very important job: keeping my little girl company. She was your namesake, so you are very fit for the job.”
The little plant raised her head high and thought proudly, “I am not just an ugly thorny bush! I am a rosebush!”
Thereafter, the little rosebush was very happy. The other flowers apologized for their rudeness, and of course, being the sweet little plant that she was, the rosebush forgave them. They all grew to be great friends, and everyone confided their deepest secrets to the lovely, sweet and caring plant. And on soft summer days, she leaned close to the little white gravestone. So captivated and absorbed did she look, one would swear that wonderful secrets were being whispered to her. And who knows; maybe they were!
Love in the Tinder Forest
In the Tinder Forest there lived a marvelous bunny rabbit. What marked him as marvelous was his fantastic set of ears. They were grey and fluffy and had a marvelous sheen to them, like little flecks of silver had been distributed throughout by a particularly tasteful hand. And as the marvelous bunny hopped through the forest the other animals whispered to each other, “Such fantastic ears.”
The marvelous bunny didn’t particularly love his fantastic ears, he thought they were a tad ostentatious, but rather than spend his time arguing about why he wasn’t marvelous, the marvelous bunny accepted the perks they granted and went about his days. It was these marvelous ears, after all, that afforded the bunny his lackadaisical and romantic lifestyle. The marvelous bunny’s fantastic ears wrapped him in the warm blanket of having something that the other bunnies in the forest, undeniably, did not have.
Day after day the marvelous bunny hopped from one grove of the forest to the next, meeting female bunnies and spending the night with them. Then awakening the next morning to the sound of the crickets chirping, the little birds singing, and the jealous frogs croaking “Bounce on bunny, bounce on bunny. How can you be satisfied with just her?” And our marvelous bunny happily obliged those voices, hopping to the next grove or clearing, and repeating the charming and wooing all over, and then waking up the next morning to the sound of the crickets chirping, the little birds singing, and the jealous frogs croaking “Bounce on bunny, bounce on bunny. How can you be satisfied with just her?”
The marvelous bunny and his fantastic grey ears continued on like this, never questioning or regretting his wanton ways; awakening each morning and hopping away. His epic love and curiosity sated him. Exploring the great Tinder Forest was his true love, and each nook and cranny he uncovered made him feel full.
It was not until he came across a small clearing with a beautiful pool of still water that the marvelous bunny took pause. In the middle of the reflecting pool his image stared back at him. Good gracious, he mused, how beautiful these ears have become. And it was true; the midday sun shone down and caused his grey -with silver flecks- ears to shimmer relentlessly into the pool. They were coruscated on a wavelength hitherto unknown to him. Just then, he heard a rustling in front of him, and, almost as if by fate, a gorgeous brown bunny hopped out of a bush into the clearing. They spent the afternoon admiring themselves and each other in the pool. Then they bounced happily around the clearing and surrounding trees throughout the evening. By the time the moon had reached its peak in the serene night sky, the two rabbits were curled up together in a little burrow just past the clearing, behind a little bush, and around an oak tree.
The marvelous bunny awoke and stared lovingly at his gorgeous burrow-mate curled up so gently against him. But soon his happiness turned to anguish, he remembered that, as it did every day before and would every day after, the morning would arrive soon and with it the sound of the crickets chirping, the little birds singing, and the jealous frogs croaking, “Bounce on bunny, bounce on bunny. How can you be satisfied with just her?” The thought terrified him; he didn’t want to bounce on. This gorgeous bunny was the singular rabbit that he wanted to be satisfied by, to love and to snuggle, for the rest of his days. How could he prevent those terrible morning calls?
Unable to sleep, the marvelous bunny hopped over to the peaceful pond. He gazed at himself, even more beautiful in the silvery moonlight than earlier, and began sobbing. It wasn’t long before he heard behind him, in a startling baritone, “Hoo, Hoo. Young rabbit, hold your tears. Hold your tears. How could something so beautiful be so sad?’ The marvelous bunny, quite shook, could see from the reflection in the pool that behind him was a tremendous grey owl. The tremendous owl, perched in a tree at the edge of the clearing, continued, “Pray now, young rabbit, tell me what it is that has brought out this melancholy. What is it that troubles you?”
“You see,” replied the marvelous bunny through tears. “You see, I am afraid of the sound of the crickets chirping, the little birds singing, and the jealous frogs croaking, ‘Bounce on bunny, bounce on bunny. How can you be satisfied with just her?’ Tomorrow morning. I am sure that it will break me away from my beloved, just as it has every morning prior and just as it will every morning for the rest of my life.”
“I see,” she said after a long pause, ”I see what you fear, but it is easily solved. For what you fear is just a sound, and if you cannot hear the sound you shall not be tempted.”
“But how can I ignore such a racket?” snapped the marvelous bunny.
“All you must do,” replied the tremendous owl, “is give me your fantastic ears, and you will be troubled no more.”
The marvelous bunny, taken aback at the suggestion, peered at himself again in the moonlit pool. His ears shimmered; they were as calmly perfect and peacefully elegant as ever. But, he thought, the tremendous owl is right. Until I get rid of them, the grotesquely beautiful things, I will never be at peace. I will hear the call every morning and bounce on, away from my beloved. Our marvelous bunny had made up his mind.
“Yes owl, I accept, I will give you my ears. But how…” He turned around to face the owl, expecting her to be on her perch. Instead she was towering over him, having silently glided down to the pool while the marvelous bunny had been thinking to himself, and extended a massive talon, pining our marvelous bunny to the ground.
“And may you never hear such a racket again,” said the tremendous owl, as she reached out two talons and clamped them onto the marvelous bunny’s fantastic left ear. Then, pinching and puncturing, she tore the ear from the marvelous bunny’s head. The bunny was shocked, too quickly rent to make a noise, as the tremendous owl began the process again with the other ear.
After finishing, the tremendous, marvelous owl lifted herself into the air with the bunny in one foot and his fantastic silvery ears in the other. She eclipsed the moon with her tremendous, marvelous silhouette, dropped the bunny into the pool, and flew away. The bunny, weightlessly drifting down into the water, was still for a moment before all of his functions came cautiously back to him. He paddled to the edge of the pool, lifted himself onto the bank, and shook himself dry. He gingerly felt the now smooth spots where his ears had been. He peered back into the pool, still rippling, and saw something like himself, but not quite the same. The bunny hopped away in a thick mist of questions, not sure what to make of himself and the events of the night.
The next morning the bunny awoke cuddling his beloved. He looked around with trepidation, expecting the worst, expecting the sound of the crickets chirping, the little birds singing, and the jealous frogs croaking, “Bounce on bunny, bounce on bunny. How can you be satisfied with just her?” But he heard nothing, and his beloved, gorgeous bunny turned over to face him and they smiled together and spent the day hopping, and jumping, and bouncing to and fro- together and happy.
That night they cuddled comfortably. Their burrow was now more complete and inviting. Our bunny could not imagine a more perfect moment. The moon rose over the pool and lowered back to the earth, as they passed the night curled up as one. The next morning, once again, he did not hear the sound of the crickets chirping, the little birds singing, and the jealous frogs croaking “Bounce on bunny, bounce on bunny. How can you be satisfied with just her?” and smiled. He turned over, excited to see his beloved, gorgeous bunny next to him and begin another perfect day. But she had left. Gone, just like his fantastic ears.
Half of me
It was a brisk winter morning by the lake the last time I met the demon.
He appeared as he always did: unexpected but with the subtle, foreboding twinge of cold twisting my stomach. Shivering, I pulled the heavy uwagi coat tighter over my kimono--the demon offered his Montbell down jacket. I declined.
Following the creaking bamboo grove on my left and keeping the demon between myself and the reflections of the orange sunrise over the lake to my right, we shuffled along the marked trail, our breath misting the air and mingling between us. With falling snow coating our tracks behind us, we walked a good hour in silence before his graveled voice carved through it.
"Do you still hate Japan, Naomi?"
Fear didn't grip me. Instead, my chest tightened with nervousness, my throat with shyness. I kept moving forward, one foot in this world and the other in the next. Snow danced in a breeze, powdering the slumbering pines, barren cherry and plum trees, and my wrinkled face, which began to match the paleness of the demon's own.
Folding his arms, he again broke our silence. "Japan has insulated coats, you know." He frowned. "You'll freeze out here in a kimono."
"I'm fine." I rubbed my hands together. Paper-thin and dappled with dark liver spots contrasting with my slightly lighter brown skin, they were numb to the cold. "I brought something to warm me up."
The demon sniffed; a sly smile parted his lips just enough to see one scraggly fang. "That's why I came."
"That's why you always come."
"Tell me again why you let me."
"You help me understand things."
"Is something troubling you?"
In a sense. But I wasn't ready to let him know that. Instead, I unwrapped a red furoshiki cloth and handed him something I had kept out of my world for so long: a piece of cornbread.
He snatched it and scarfed it down. "I haven't had this in years."
"Brings back memories, doesn't it?"
"I wish they sold these here."
"I'm baking it again because I finally understand what I am."
"Took you long enough."
"Do you remember how many times you tried to tell me?"
"I can't quite recall." His quiet smile said differently.
I bowed my head, clutching the furoshiki to my chest like armor. "Three times."
As snow gathered upon his hair of matted snakes, he listened to my memories float in the breath connecting us, the lake's rolling waves lapping away my words.
In the schoolyard
"Hey, Naomi. Hey! Wait up," the demon said, his high-pitched nasally voice needling into my ears. He sidled up to me, sniffing the hardened leather randoseru on my back like a stray dog.
"Got any left? Gimme some."
The demon liked cornbread. Throwing him a piece usually got rid of him. Rummaging through the cloth pouch hanging off my side to pick through the lunch I wasn't planning on eating anyway, I averted my eyes so I wouldn't have to look at the wriggling mass of worms piled atop his head and his inward-turning fangs. But mostly, to avoid looking into his fiery eyes or seeing his dark skin.
"Give it over, Naomi."
I fumbled out the entire cut of bread and handed it to him. Our hands brushed as he took it; the two tones of our skin briefly matched shades: chocolate-brown against a light bronze. The sun had shaded his, unlike mine, which had been dark since I was born. He could be as pale as a lily if he wanted to, but spending so much time out of the world he should have stayed in had tanned it.
My teeth ground together at the thought.
"Where do you get this bread anyway?"
"My mom makes it." I bowed my head and swiftly jogged toward the iron gate of the school.
Catching my sleeve, he forced me to face him. Crumbs dappled his shirt as he gobbled down the last of the bread. "Why're you leaving?"
Frustration pierced my throat hard enough to shove an answer through my clenched jaw: "Because I hate Japan."
"But you've never lived anywhere else."
"That's exactly it!" I bolted.
Reaching the front gate, I jerked it open just enough to slip through. Now I was free of stares, sniggers, classmates' nagging to stroke my curly hair, their giggles when I struggled with words and insistence that I wasn't one of them. Even though I was--sort of. My father is Japanese.
Well, they wouldn't "other" me anymore. Especially not Yui and her horrible group. For the rest of today at least.
Though the demon shouldn't have been able to leave the school grounds, he wiggled his way through the gate, grinning. Cornbread mash filled the gaps in his teeth. "Yui again?"
"Leave me alone."
Skipping ahead of me, he delighted in getting in my way and making my steps falter. "They get to you 'cause you let 'em, you know."
"I don't let them. They attack me."
"You're putting a target on yourself." He pointed to the woven Shinto omamori--talisman--hanging off my randoseru and then to the golden cross around my neck. "Two targets, really."
"Three if you count my skin." I buttoned up my top button to hide my mother's birthday gift.
"If you hide that you'll get teased more."
"It doesn't matter. I can't hide my skin."
The demon snort-laughed. "You could, you know, like a mummy."
"How do you ignore them? The stares and the name-calling, I mean."
The demon shrugged, his pointed shoulders bending skyward like two orange traffic cones. "I guess they don't bother me as much as they do you. The others don't see me as I am because I don't let them. That's all."
"Maybe they're blind," I said. "Or you are."
"I am, now!" He shut his eyes tight and stuck his arms straight out, shifting from foot to foot as he shuffled around me. Pointed nails on the end of his fingers swiped playfully at the air.
I turned and ran. He gave chase. Then I chased him. Then we chased dragonflies until we both collapsed from exhaustion beneath a huge stone torii gate leading to a shrine to Omi Hachiman--whoever that was.
Sweating, he sucked on my thermos while I caught my breath. Above me, a thick twisting rope--shimenawa--dangled between the gate's stone columns, and hanging off it, four strings of zig-zagging folded paper--shide--swayed in a breeze. Made of a strip of paper folded into several uniform rectangles that looked stuck together at the corners, the shide had a curious quadruple Z-shape. The rectangles seemed to fight against each other as the wind lifted the paper at the angles, but they didn't tear away.
"Praise and lies may be snakes and spies so find the clear path between them."
I cocked my head at the demon. "What?"
"You asked how I ignore bullies. That's what my Dad tells me to do."
Advice from Enma, the King of Hell, himself. "Does it help?"
"Sometimes." He handed my thermos back. "But it's easier if I just focus on me, you know?"
I didn't know, and his smirk told me he knew I didn't.
"Nao, you're so hung up on what you are, you can't see who you are. But we're sixth-graders now. Almost adults. We can't hide what we are, not to ourselves or others, so just be what you are and find who you are."
"I know what I am!"
"I dunno. I like butterflies and the color orange."
The demon laughed. "You're not saying it. It was hard for me to say 'it,' too. We're different, you and me. You gotta see that. My Dad told me I had a truth I couldn't embrace, and everything got better when I could. I mean, when I could embrace my truth, the difference between me and them, then people saw me for me."
"What does that mean?"
"Embrace? It's like a hug. You gotta give the thing you hate the most a big ol' hug. Or you know, you'll always be sad or angry or something."
What kind of demon was he, anyway? Hug the things you hate?
"Who do you hate right now," he asked.
"Yui." And there was no way I was going to give her a hug.
"She makes fun of me. Calls me 'burnt girl' and 'dirty.'"
"Because of your skin."
"Do you hate your skin?"
I nodded harder. "If I had skin color like everyone else--"
"You don't. And who gave you your skin?"
"My mother. She's not Japanese."
"Do you hate her?"
I folded my arms. It was her fault I was who I was.
But hate? Hate? Bunching the fabric of my collar, I clutched the golden cross I had hidden.
Mother knew me as well as she knew the color of her own skin--black, and two shades darker than mine. Her skin drew her away from America. She wanted to live in a world where she would have a clearly defined reason to be an outsider, not just because of her skin. She chose Japan and struggled with its language, culture, and ideals. But her struggles made her stronger. She said it would make me stronger, too.
I doubted that.
The demon frowned. "Do you, Nao? Do you hate her? You gotta say it if you do."
I toed the gravel underneath my feet. Whenever I had a problem, her smile was a warm tea on a cold morning, and her hugs tight. "I can't hate my mother." She gave three gifts to me, after all. Life. A cross, though Father didn't believe. And her skin. "I don't."
"Then you can't hate yourself. Because that would be like hating your mom."
"Did your father say that, too?"
The demon's grin became fire. "Yup. If you can't hug your skin, go hug your mother. I do. I give my dad loads of hugs."
I smirked at his casual admission of affection, but he just grinned harder.
"Embrace your truth, Nao."
"They'll still make fun of me."
"They still make fun of me. Because being different in Japan is like being a wolf in a flock of sheep. Except the sheep eat you." He gnashed his teeth and growled. Cornbread bits spotted the torii gate. "We are strong wolves, though, right? We can't let the sheep see that, or they'll get scared off. I don't want to be scary. There's nothing wrong with wolves living with sheep, you know."
"What if I want to be a sheep?"
"You can wear their wool if you want, but you'll look silly."
"Are you saying, 'just be myself?'" I wrinkled my nose at him. "Being yourself" didn't work here. Japan wasn't an American after-school special.
His eyes darkened as though insulted, but he just laughed. "No. That's stupid." He squinted his eyes up at the crooked paper shide above us. "If those paper things there were straight, they'd be boring, huh? But they're not. They're cool. They know they have to zig and zag, or people wouldn't think they're cool. And what if they were straight?"
"But they can't be straight. Shide aren't made that way."
"Right. And if they were, people would yell and scream to change them back. So why try changing what they are?" He stood and stretched. "Being crooked is cool. And if you try to fix yourself, people will see right through it. Got it? My dad says, 'Don't worry about being yourself.' You will be, even if you try not to be. People make fun of you if you try not to be you, right? But if you be what you are, that won't matter. First, you gotta know what you are."
"Your dad is pretty smart."
"He sure is. So you gotta know who you are. So who are you?"
"And what are you?"
I wrung my hands. "Half. Half-Japanese. Hāfu." I slurred out the English loanword with the thickest accent I could muster.
The demon's brows furrowed. "No, you're not. You're not half of anything because your mother wasn't born here. You are Japanese. Like me."
"The shide is Japanese because of the way it's folded. But it's still just paper." He shoved a pointed finger into my chest, striking my cross and making it dig into my skin. "You. Are. Japanese. A bit crooked, but that makes you cool, Nao."
He ran off, leaving me under the torii, embarrassment prickling my cheeks.
My wedding day
Cheeks stained black with running mascara, I stood in my street clothes between two chairs, glaring at the cursed garments I had to wear: an ivory white wedding dress with satin fixings and lace and an equally white kimono embroidered with nigh-invisible bleached cranes. They draped over the backs of each chair like the dead and gutted hides of a pure animal.
A heavy hand settled on my shoulder, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Furiously sniffling and rubbing my eyes, I turned, expecting my husband--only to be confronted by the demon, his lizardlike hands cradling a half-eaten cut of cornbread.
"You're not supposed to be here," I said.
"Relax." Then, as though sensing my disdain at his crime, he crammed another mouthful of bread into his gob. "Stole it off the catering cart. Want some?"
"No. Get out."
"I can't just leave a bride crying in her dressing room, Nao." He adjusted his bow-tie, adorning it with a smattering of crumbs. "Why aren't you dressed?"
Because seeing both dresses laid out before me reminded me of my split culture? Because I can't disappear into the white fabric of the dress nor wear the pasty white makeup the kimono requires without accenting my darker features? Because it feels like I have to choose one culture over the other? What would a demon know, anyway?
"I don't know." I sat on the floor, refusing to look at his pallid complexion and brows furrowing in infuriating confusion. "I guess it feels like I'm being forced to choose between two things that don't fully make sense and one thing I thought I was so sure of."
"It's tradition to wear multiple dresses."
"But why this dress?" An accusing finger directed at the western-style wedding dress pointed my ire.
"It's still a tradition, even between Japanese people who don't have the culture behind it. Didn't you pick it out yourself? Your husband is excited to see you in it, too, you know."
My eyes dropped to the floor where a twisting pattern of grey and red in the carpet seemed to suck my soul right into them. I could be there, between the patterns, pounding at teardrop bars, screaming, and nobody would hear me. Maybe it would be safer to lock myself away.
"Do you just want to wear the kimono?"
I shook my head. "It's not about the dresses. Am I doing right by myself, marrying a..." My eyes began to wet again. "A..."
The demon smiled. His teeth glistened as though drinking in my misery. "Another hāfu?" He laughed. "Uma wa umadzure--horses prefer the company of horses, Nao."
"Birds of a feather flock together," I translated into English, heat tipping my tongue. "That doesn't mean I can't think about everyone who would expect something like that from... someone like me. And be ashamed by it. Does that make me a horrible person?"
"No. Those thoughts really define you. A zigzagging paper shide, Japanese, in all respects."
I glanced at both dresses again; the demon cradled his head in one hand, sucking in a slow breath between the gap in his fangs.
"You're torn between two things," he said, "but not entirely. You speak your mother's language, but you know less of her country than your own. That makes you Japanese with a few perks."
"Does it?" I narrowed my eyes.
"Teenage mutant ninja what?"
I shrugged. "Kōga?"
"Turtles, Nao. Your mother would say that without a beat. But could she name all the ninja clans of Japan?"
"Japanese with a few perks." The demon winked at me then indicated the dresses. "Your husband wouldn't appreciate you doubting your marriage, you know."
"I wish I could walk confidently between two cultures as he does."
"So do it. You eat curry and rice, but you aren't Indian. You drive a Mercedes, but you aren't German. Cultures merge and cultures change. There's no shame in being a part of two different cultures. Nor choosing the best parts of several others to make them your own."
"Because struggling with the choice is what makes you, you, isn't it?"
"It gives me the chance to still be unsure. To still choose the path that's right for me."
"Nao, you don't have to choose anything. Just be you."
"What about your choice to live in your world or ours?"
"To hell with choosing in which world. I chose to live. You did, too, Nao."
I hugged myself, pulling on my sleeve to hide a ragged scar on one wrist.
The demon knelt by me and placed a soft hand over mine. "By forgiving our wrong choices and extending love to all will rid our mind of evil and thoughts of separation. It's not you against yourself, Nao. Or us against them."
"It feels like it is."
"It does, sometimes. Let them think their thoughts and live in their world. But shine your love upon them, anyway. Isn't that what your little man on the cross tells you to do? Shine into the darkness so that you may wake from dreaming a nightmare of life."
My cheeks again prickled with tears.
"I can stop this marriage if you desire. Right now, with a snap of my fingers." He held up his saw-toothed index finger. "If you need more time--"
"No," I shook my head, then stood and snatched up the wedding dress. "Getting married is the only thing I truly feel sure about. This one?"
The demon laughed, then picked up the kimono and draped it over my empty forearm. "The duality of life is in your arms, Nao. If you focus too hard, you will only see a single point."
The demon cleared his throat, his muffled footsteps in the snow slowing. "And the third meeting?"
"Right here. Right now. You, the cold, and the lake."
He glanced out toward the island in the center of the lake, where a spindly cherry tree craned upward, stretching its crooked trunk toward the sky, catching snowflakes. "So, you need me to help you understand one more thing."
"No. I need you to understand."
The demon cocked his head; snow crystals fluttered to his shoulder.
"I've had a hard time understanding what I am. It's given me great pain."
"A pain we both share, as you know."
I nodded. "Pain is like kintsugi, filling in the cracks of a broken bowl with gold, creating something altogether whole, but shattered on the inside."
"But more beautiful than before the bowl was broken in the first place. And stronger, too, Nao."
I smiled. "I guess you already understand."
"I might, but I'm not in your head, you know. All I know is that pain hurts, but how we deal with it becomes our inner strength. And we all deal with it differently. Because we're all different, no matter the color of our skin or where we were born and raised."
"We are against a world that holds hopelessness and hope, ignorance and knowledge, happiness and sorrow. Love and hate."
"Darkness and light." His gaze centered again on the cherry tree.
I stopped and tilted my head up, letting the falling snow melt on my face. "If I focus too much on one thing, like whether I am Japanese or American, or something else entirely, the pressure of all my other choices becomes too much to bear." I took the demon's hand in mine.
He squeezed tight. "Nao, you know I've always said--"
"Be both. But I can't. The choice of one or the other makes me, me. I understand, now. And I want you to as well. I don't have to be Japanese. I don't have to be American. Or both. Or neither. I can be Japanese. Or American. Or both. Or neither. I can always choose whenever I want, anytime I want. I don't have to be defined by what I am, because I can always change what that is."
"Are you avoiding choosing?"
"No. My choice is that I don't have one, and that makes me strong."
A grin gnarled up the demon's face.
"I hated Japan for so many years. Until I saw it as part of me, not as something to strive for. Or an adversary. That's why you and I are different. I am not bound by trying to live in two cultures or worlds at the same time. If I want fish for breakfast, I'm having fish. If someone chides me in English, I'll give them snark right back. If someone calls me foreign in my own land, I can just smile. Because I know what I can be. And that's ever-changing."
The demon's hand slipped out of mine, and his features melted from sharp and ragged, returning to the soft, confident tones of my husband. "Figuring this thing out they call hāfu is so difficult. I'm glad I could spend so many years with you working through what it means. But I must ask, what spurred your sudden answer, Nao?"
"Cornbread. For our grandchildren. I want them to know what they are before they start to question who they are. Because, ultimately, knowing who they are takes a lifetime. Knowing what they are shouldn't."
"And what will you tell them?"
"That they're beautiful. And that even if the blood flowing in them is different, they are Japanese." I winked at my husband. "With a few perks."
"I'll take those perks, too." He held out his hand for another piece of bread, which I gladly offered.
He paused, the cornbread halfway to his mouth, glancing at his white skin peeking out from underneath his down jacket sleeve. He pushed his sleeve back to reveal his skin and the faded, almost invisible scars crisscrossing his wrist, then scarfed down the bread.
"You'll catch a cold."
"Maybe. But I'm choosing not to hide anymore, either." He laughed. "It feels good to get rid of that demon, doesn't it?"
I laughed with him. "It'll be back when doubts creep up on me. Besides, everyone is married to their demons. Only ours can smile back."
I sniffed her ass. She had meatballs with a little parsley in them, boiled and not fried. But more important it was that sour smell, a sour smell that would change, that would ripen. She was almost in heat.
I asked her for her name and she peed on the rock for me. Didn't want to talk. I took a deep breath, letting the complexity of her odors coalesce.
Alexis.. what a beautiful name. I sniffed at her ass again. Careful. She's high-born. you could see that easily and she considered herself superior. From a good home and all that...
A sniff is an art. You want to come close, you ache to come close, to smell more, but if your cold, moist nose touches the skin, well.. she'll know you for the mutt you are. I sniffed and enjoyed. The aroma of the meat balls. If she shits, it will taste good.
And she did. Dropping small, dry pellets. Another urge to resist. I'm hungry, I thought, but if she saw me eating that, well... there won't be any chance.
So I sniffed her again, promising myself that I'll come back for those later.
"Alexis is a beautiful name." I said awkwardly.
"Thank you" she said her first actual words. She had the voice I Imagined her to have. Rich and demure and soothing. My heart was racing.
We walked on the newly wet grass, it had rained in the night, and I became self-conscious, worried that my coat had gotten wet. Would that put her off? She didnt seem to be. She didn't seem to care much about me.
"my name's Black Foot, because.."
"Black Foot. Yes.. I got it. "She said. It was obvious that she would not sniff me for all the pork in China. Probably for the best, I wouldnt want her to know what I had last night for dinner.
"I've never seen you this part of the park before" I said, luckily that I managed to stop myself from completely revealing that it's more than just a park for me. That this was where I lived.
"No. first time here for me."
"Want me to show you around?"
"That would be fine, Black Foot."
I started the tour, walking on the soft, wet grass. Our first stop was the notice rock. It had the odor of almost a hundred dogs, or maybe not, I'm not so good at math, everybody peed there.
General queries: "where is the best place to get a meal?" "Does anyone know if the park attendants are dangerous?"
Notices: "golden retriever, 9yrs. Looking for a partner that's fun." and so on.
She sniffed it all, showing disapproval for some, smiling at others, but didnt reply.
"How about this?" she asked.
"That notice about the symposium"
"Oh..that" I hadn't noticed it myself. 'A Symposium on canine-human relationship in the age of uncertainty.' With guest speakers and so on and so forth, the usual display of the academic types, jawing their way. I never attended the symposiums if I could help it.
But Alexis..She probably was the cerebral type..
But if I take her there, she'll meet other dogs, and I'll have to get in to those ridiculous pissing contests. Especially if it's someone like her.
but if I refuse to take her? She'll see what a dumbass I am and I wouldn't have any kind of chance.
But hey..it didn't mean I had to take the shortest route..
"well yeah, the symposium is a bit far, though, do you have time to travel? Do you have time? I mean your human .."
"Yes.. I have lots of time." she said. Slightly smiling at my confusion. She sees right through me, I thought.
"Anyway, the symposium starts later on, so we have time."
Time to get my act together, I thought.
Kites, what is the human fascination with kites? They run along the walkway, struggling to get that piece of paper in the air.
"so ridiculous " I explained "they run fast, pulling the kite. When they stop, turn around to watch the thing it falls 'cause no one is pulling it..." we stood over them, on the raised terrace. I could see her smiling a little, just a little.
Maybe just to be polite.
This is one of my best lines!
It usually works for me when I take a girl here, to see the apes in action.
We kept watching the humans goofing around with the kites; first the children would try, fail, try again and fail again, eventually tiring of it, and their parents would come , show them how it's done, and fail just as bad.
And then there were the regulars- people who come there almost every day, or at least every weekend, these are the experts, old an wizened in the ways of kite flying, they had no children to show off to.
We met Samson on the way to the orchard. The little mutt smiled at her, grinning his snub-nose of a grin.
"What have we here?"
Alexis moved slightly to the side and gave a slight sprinkling on a rock for him. a high-born would never introduce herself verbally. But I was very happy that she didn't give him much of her pee to smell, really just a few drops.
Was she saving it for better acquaintances?
But then again, Samson was fixed. His humans had gotten tired of paying the vet every time he got into a fight over a female and had him snipped. If they had done it sooner, at least he wouldnt have lost an eye and most of his tail. There was a patchwork of scars on his stomach and back, monuments to the stitches and the fights he had probably lost. Samson was tough, but not very big.
"How you doing Samson?" I called out to him, denying him the courtesy of replying Alexis in kind, and not giving him an Impetus to sniff her ass. He would probably touch his whole wet nose in there and she'll bite him herself.
"Can't complain. You hear about Sweet?"
"No, what happened?"
"The stupid bastard ate rat poison. Again! I mean if you see a human, in a yellow overall putting a bunch of these food pellets around, I mean...no free lunches right?"
"Well, like you said, he is a stupid idiot" a concurred, momentarily forgetting that I was entertaining a lady.
"So is he dead?"
"No. but if you stayed by the pond last night, the big pond, not the small one.."
"He was there, howling all night like crazy, throwing up everywhere. I come over to him and say 'Sweet-didn't know you had so much in you!!' but I saw him this morning, going over the trash near that kiosk so I guess he's back to his usual nasty self"
"He's lucky to be alive. "
"You're kidding? They dont put enough of these pellets to kill ol' Sweet" he said, turning to Alexis "I mean, he takes a mouthful of these, says to himself 'these taste funny' and than tastes the rest just to be sure that it's rat poison. But that dog is so big and so fat that they would need to deliver the pellets in a truck"
Alexis didn't smile. She seemed bored. And the crude language that Samson used was beneath her. We said our farewells and left.
A grove, an orchard where the humans grow fruit, but not in this park, these fruit trees are not meant to produce. No lemon trees or peach or plum. Just long rows of cedars and pines, with winding cement walkways between them, shaded, and cool.
We avoided the hard cement and treaded on the rotting, damp needles. A wonderful smell of earth.
"This is my favorite part in the park" I confessed, as we walked on the slight slope of an artificial hill. "When I feel like I need to think, or just enjoy a moment of silence, I come here.
"It is very relaxing" she agreed but seemed cold. Distant, thinking to herself.
"Are you ok?" I asked.
"Yes." She said hesitantly, "why do you ask?"
I could not say anything. So I didn't answer. We kept walking.
"Tell me about your humans. Are they nice?" I asked her.
"Yes, they are a nice family. A young couple. They had one son, and two years after that, twins."
"Twins? I didn't know humans have litters. How amazing"
"It's not a litter, just the two. Very noisy. And the parents are very busy. Three young children. " she said. " but I have my own place. Near the TV... It's warm there in the winter. The man likes me a bit more than the woman but they both take care of Me." she said, and somehow I saw that this last statement was causing her some confusion.
"I have a human too"
"Really?" she said, surprised.
"Yes. I'm not like all those street dogs here. I have a human as well."
"Ok" she said.
"He comes every day, in the evening, brings me food in nylon bags. Sometimes it's sausage in tomato sauce, sometimes it's some fried chicken. "
"But you don't live at his place?"
"No. I don't. I own him, but he's free enough to go home"
"Don't you mean the other way around?" she said, smiling.
"No, I own him. He brings me food. He pets me. But I don't have to go to his home to get it. It's much better. Nobody sticks me in an apartment all day long with nothing to do but to count the floor tiles"
"Is that what you think I do ?"
"I didn't say that. I just said that this way is better for me. I enjoy all the benefits of owning a human, but none of the drawbacks."
"I see" she said. Hesitantly. "Still, it's nice to be indoors when it rains. "
"It does. But I find places where I can keep warm and dry when I need."
"So you think that my way of life is worse than yours."
"Not at all. If you like that kind of life you can have it. I mean, I've just met you today, but you strike me as an intelligent, free-spirited dog right?" I said, slipping in a compliment.
"I guess so"
"So. You obviously live the way you do because it's what you like best. And if you like something you can have it. If you don't, just change things. "
"I see.. And how about Samson? He looked a bit ragged"
"Oh. him? " I said, unhappy that she turned the discussion over to other dogs. "Well.. He lives here, but he doesn't own a human. He used to. But he got fixed, so he ran out. Doesn't like humans much. On the other hand, he's crazy about cats. Goes dancing with them whenever he can."
"Yes, I could see the scratch marks. " she answered. Smiling.
"I have another question"
"What are you required to do? I mean, you own how many, five? Six humans? What are you..eh.. Required to do?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you told me about your apartment and the babies. But, what are your responsibilities over there?"
"I don't know, chasing rats out, or barking at strangers, or licking their hands.."
"Licking their hands?"
"Yes. I would say that this is my only responsibility to my human, he gives me food, and I lick his fingers from the grease" this made her laugh for a moment.
"Ok, I would say that I have some responsibilities. If there's a stranger coming, it's expected that I bark. I mean they would more often than not tell me to shut up, but I know that deep in their heart they are quite pleased that I'm keeping them safe."
"Ok. What else?"
"Just keep them company. Humans need love more than anything. And if you show them love, well.. it makes their life happier."
"Your humans seem very needy. Aren't they?"
"They are. Very needy. not so much now that they have the twins, but they are still in need of me to show them affection. "
She fell silent. "But from what you say, the human that you own is just the same. He would come, bring you food, and he needs you to show him some love. Doesn't he?"She fell silent.
"He does, but maybe he's a bit more crude then the humans you own. You should hear him talk, as he pets me. I mean the words that come out of his mouth are just crazy. I think maybe he has problems. I've heard it said that even humans have psychological problems sometimes. But maybe this is because youre a high-born. I'm clearly not. Not even close, so I could only get this poor, lonely, crazy bastard"
"I see." she said. "Maybe mine are better. But of course sometimes they get angry at me. It's even funny sometimes." She said smiling, remembering something. "I mean, I usually control myself, but it is fun sometimes to get them riled up. Let them sweat a bit. You know, appreciate what they got"
"No. I wouldn't, that poor guy is the only human I ever owned. "
She said no more, now deep in thought. I let the matter go and we continued on.
We found a fire hydrant, dripping water down. Was this the law with fire hydrants, that they could not keep their water in check?
We had a slow drink. Refreshing cold water. Here was a place were birds sang, and there was a soothing noise. The sounds and that damp smell of rotting leaves, a heaviness that I always associated with death. You die and you are covered in this mass, slowly become part of if. How rich and luxurious it must be. I could smell her again. She was apprehensive about something but I could still not tell what.
A slight rise in the earth, made in crescent shape was where the symposium was to be held. All around-trees, but humans rarely walked near this place, except of course the odd child; Human children seem to have the worst possible sense of direction. They get lost even in the middle of the park, and start crying until somebody takes them to the police station, and they call for the parent on the screechy speakers, would something something come to the information booth and pick up the little runt..
We arrived just as a learned Dalmatian, slim and clearly high-born had concluded his lecture. Some grunted in respect. He walked away from the center of the stage, his tail raised in pride.
I don't know why , but I have never liked high-born males. There was always something about them. maybe too clean, I don't know. High-born females, however, like Alexis was a dream for me. I was glad we missed that twerp.
Next came an old mutt. Tall and thin, with mangy grey fur. Good. Somebody that would actually have something to say:
"Thank you Dr. Rolls for your wise words" he said, he had a sober, throaty voice. "Friends. My name is Maxwell and I'm a historian. I would like to give today a historic context to the relationship between human and canine.
Let's first identify how canines live besides humans today. I can put it very shortly indeed-not good. The truth of the matter is that it has never been worse.
Many thousands of years ago, our ancestors had chosen to own humans. Perhaps it started when we saw how useful they were in providing food for us; we were in the woods, traveling, half starved, and the reason for our starvation was the human's success. So somewhere, we made a decision; We will tolerate their demands of us in exchange for the food we needed- And it worked. We got what we wanted, and humans became more and more dependant on us. Dependant on our senses, on our instincts, on our compassion." he said, clearing his throat for a moment.
"and this dependency led to a sense in us of ownership. We aren't their partners, a partner you can take or leave.
Partnership also implies equality. And there certainly none of that. we provided safety forf them and kept them as happy as they could be, and they gave us what we needed. But it was clear who had the upper hand in this relationship. So a sense of ownership was created within us. and with ownership, naturally, comes responsibility. We feel responsibility for our property. Sometimes we even come to love them. So Things were good for us. We went with the humans wherever they wanted to go and cohabitated every spot on the plant, with us as a dominating force.
How much power did we have back then? It must have been Immeasurable. An uneducated hunter-gatherer relied on our judgment; whether something was safe or not, whether they can trust this person or that. We needed only to show dislike, or bare our teeth a little and they would get the message. That way we could steer them on a better course. And thus their dependency deepened. Even today, we see examples for this; I have talked with many police dogs who practically govern affairs for the policemen. humans have such blunted senses, much more then their ancestors, that they can't even smell the aroma of cannabis.
Now let's face it- it was for the better. We are, after all superior to them. And unlike them, we are generally benign. But things could not have stayed like this forever; Humans are individualists. They seek freedom. And they sensed their dependence on us, and loathed themselves for it.
And so they forced themselves into changing their existence, their livelihood, to one where they are less dependant on us. We call this change the agricultural revolution.
The first step was a mere emulation, or transposition of the canine-human relationship to other species. Like we controlled them They started controlling herds of cows and sheep.
And all of this, still because they couldn't stand being owned by us! But what do you know- with all that livestock, They seemed to need us even more! Because these animals were even more vulnerable , more unintelligent than the humans! They had to start worrying about wolves and lions and tigers killing their newly-domesticated animals. So instead of losing their dependence on us, they in fact grew to be more so. And we were required to facilitate their needs, of course to our benefit as well.
But As you can guess, this greater dependence was exactly what they tried to escape. And so they developed their agriculture further in hope of distancing themselves from us.
They began to sow the earth, and grow crops. This by the way was a dietary change that they were not equipped for, I mean, just look how fat they are!" he paused with this anecdote, some laughed. But it was obvious that this crowed wasn't big on humor.
"But now in the farms, they still needed us," he continued "to scare away the crows, and the foxes. To warn them from thieves. So they were still unable to break free. But the dream of freedom from dogs never died in them. At this stage this unfulfilled dream had new manifestations to antagonize us they began to have CATS, which have absolutely no actual value to them. But this antagonism was not enough to give them the freedom that they needed. So they escalated their hate. They began to have dog fights and used our name as derogatory expressions. And most Important-they began to leave their farms, moving slowly to villages and then to towns. There, the need for us , at least as guards against the wildlife is indeed reduced. But here again- they could not escape the need for us. Because their new, communal kind of existence; living in such close proximity to each other, demanded a way to settle disputes and protect humans from other humans! And we were asked again to guard homes, from thieves and murderers, even to serve in their wars.
Here new change happened; the more they settled in cities, escaping their comfortable servitude to us, the more they began to look on us with nostalgia. Their idyll of the country life isn't complete without the friendly loyal dog. And we utilized this of course to increase our sense of ownership. I mean, if you could, wouldn't you? so this love-hate relationship continued, they hate us , and they need us. for changing reasons. " he said. Pausing again, slightly out of breath.
"But now, my dear friends we come to our recent history. And things are indeed not good. Up until the last century, humans found us quite indispensible; we were efficient guards, we were a psychological crutch for them, especially in their increasingly confusing urban existence.
now , however, we find ourselves in a new era. Developments in how they build their home
have all but eliminated our role as guards, either from man or animal and those electronic contraptions called televisions are superior to us in entertaining them and giving them existential comfort.
More and more we see humans unowned by dogs. Or if they have dogs, they choose to have smaller, less 'doglike' dogs. Excuse me, by the way, if this offends you." he apologized.
"And they use elaborate justifications for this; it's cruel to keep a large dog in a city apartment. it's too expensive. This is nothing less then a shirking off of their dependency on us as their owners! This is the escape they had dreamed about so long.
Of course the hate that humans had long held for dogs, has never died! They tried all these many years to break free, they had to completely change their lifestyles to facilitate this so-called freedom, at their own terrible expense!
But now their goal is finally at hand. They are alienated enough and eventually will be independent enough to succeed now where they could not have before.
Do not be deceived by the pampering that you receive. And some of you do receive much, of that I can see! Some of you are dressed in clothes and treated like human babies. A clear example of displacement if there ever was one! The rest-even if you are lucky enough to still own a human, you are a chore to them, a chore that exists by a declining norms. Inertia snd no more. An excuse is all it takes to have a dog put through intolerable cruelties like castration or worse yet, abandonment. Just think about the idea of castration. It is nothing short of the prevention of the next generation!
Who would have thought this possible only a generation ago? And if this is the present generation, can we not see the next? Will the next generation be kinder, when it's obvious that their entire civilization is based on our removal? Today we can't enter public buildings, tomorrow; we will be altogether abandoned or worse. Don't be fooled by the apparent development of new purposes for us. It is true that they now use us to find bombs, and guide the blind. But even as we speak, new technologies are being developed to replace these newly-found uses. They are working hard at this and rest assured that they will succeed!
And don't forget the cruelties committed against us. ..."
Alexis moved away from the congregation of the listeners, she obviously had heard enough.
I followed after her silently. She obviously did not know where she was going, but I didn't dare interfere with her thoughts. something was on her mind. So we walked on. I will get us both out of any path she leads. I thought.
We reached a section of the park that was flat, and was filled with marble and bronze statues all of the realist variety. Men and women , heroically posing. Presumably the greatest and noblest of the humans; here a man holding a rolled scroll, with a raised hand, as if preaching, his sermon long lost in time. Another one, of a young naked woman, holding a tennis racket.
Beside the statues, the expanse was filled with benches, and weeping willows. Their branches now green with new growth after the bitter winter.
Alexis finally stopped in front of a bronze statue of two men, wrestling each other. They had a strange expression of joy on their face.
She started crying.
I was surprised and rushed closer. She was of course not surprised by my appearance. I made no attempt to hide the fact that I was following her.
"They left me here. " she said, crying Quietly.
"Who Who?!! Who do you think? you stupid mutt." She rasped. Clearly in pain, it hurt a bit to hear her say that.
"How do you know?"
"They.. we..Live on the other side of town. They drove almost two hours to bring me here. They gave me a good meal, patted me and walked back to the car."
So that was it! Everything made sense. This is why she was so quiet.
"I mean they had the first baby, and they lost sleep over it, but with the help of the nanny, they managed to take me out every day. But after the twins were born, I've felt them getting colder and colder to me. They were fighting over me too. And today the woman shouted at me when I hesitated going into the car. Don't you see? I'm abandoned now. And what can I do?!"
I thought for a while how to cheer her up. It is a rare thing to see a being so superior fall so low.
There was this bitter, ache at the roof of my mouth, the feeling I get. I used to have it when I was young, just before crying. Just before the tears flowed. Now the tears are gone. I never cry, but this bitter feeling I still feel sometimes.
We kept silent for a long time. The wind started blowing, ruffling the old fallen willow leaves, and the bows bending slightly, showing their respect to the wind.
"Well." I started. "From all the places to be abandoned at, nothing beats the park. I mean.. Look at me. I'm a street dog by all accounts, but I'm fat! I'm practically waddling around. So don't worry about it, in no time, you'll see what a stroke of luck this is for you. And.."
"If you want to own a human again. It's relatively easy. Humans after all are so easy to manipulate. And you , you are not a simple dog like me, you are high-born and everyone can see that. You're the type of dog that people pay for at the pet store. "
"I don't know how to acquire humans. How to ..get them to want to take care of me"
"My humans got me as a present from one of their friends; I never had to work at keeping them"
"So, I'm not sure if I can do that. What if what that Maxwell guy said was true? What if I can't find a human? I'll live on garbage like a rat?"
I saw where this is going. She actually took seriously the bullshit she heard in that lecture!!
Why is it when we are down we seem to be open to the worst possible ideas? Why can't we be optimistic when we're in need of it?
"Alexis. You seem like an intelligent dog. Why do you take what that idiot said seriously? Don't you know that this symposium is just another in a series for him? Next week it will be about our relations with cats, maybe titled 'why can't we get alone? Contemporary thought about Canine dog-relations ' and later on it would be something else. If you listen to that, and take it seriously it would be good for only getting more depressed. And definitely not good for you. I always say-screw those egg heads" I explained.
"I'll tell you what, if by this time next week you wont be owning at least one human, I'll..I'll..I'll sniff Samson's butt!"
This made her laugh a bit.
"But today, if you would like .. I can take you to my human. Like I said, he's crazy, but I'm pretty sure you will like his cooking. Just remember to lick those fingers. Does that sound good?"
"It sounds good"
And we walked on. It was late afternoon and we had some time to kill before my human came..
Who’s for Dinner?
In some cultures,
they love their neighbors.
they might eat ’em.
If you’re not sure
which is which,
be careful how
you treat ’em.
VIDEO VERSION: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59-Y0mkIyAw
The stars circle in the sky
Pinwheeling from place to place
But when seen from another eye
They seem to stand in space
They look down at you and me
Probably dead and gone
And though I know you cannot see
I do not wish the dawn
Stars, spin in the cloudless heaven!
Fish, spin in the bottomless sea!
I will ground myself with my pen
And my paper will act as my lee
For though the fish swim with a will
And though the stars are dead
My pen and paper are finally still
My story can be read
If silence was deadly~ I’d be already gone by now. Why did I agree to do this alone, and in the forest?
I peeked at the bushes around me. Whatever I heard, it sounded really faint. It has been a long while since I’ve been waiting.
How long did it take for it to show up? Or was it that it wasn’t yet time?
All of a sudden, the sky started to change colour. The clouds started to vanish like smoke in the sky as if they were being blown away.
A band of different constellations began to form in the sky: the plough, andromeda, hercules and perseus. From the night sky a band of stars descended, making their way toward me.
I panicked and hid behind one of the giant trees. The stars shimmered and burst forming something before my eyes.
My heart was beating rapidly once I saw my guide before me. It looked like a great wild cat, or tiger. I did not know what to do from here.
The creature slowly approached me and it purred. It’s stripes that glowed with a blue radiant light. I smiled and patted its head.
The other creatures would have to go through my guide before they got to me. I sure was lucky that my guide had arrived in time~ right before nightfall.
14 - Say yes
I know you're probably introverted and don't like being social, but say yes.
Say yes to the party.
Yes to going on a walk with her.
Yes to being his partner.
Yes to orchestra, yes to newspaper, yes to the basketball team.
Yes to going out, yes to making any type of memory.
Because a lot of students go through high school and their teen years waiting for something out of a movie to happen to them. High school is a very romanticized time. It's not at all like the books. Don't wait for it to be like the books. Instead of just existing, and waiting, do anything. This is a time where you can break rules, you can pull an all-nighter for fun, binge a tv show season in two days. Run onto the abandoned railroads, kiss that girl, go for the prize you said you didn't care about. If you don't, high school is going to flash right before your eyes. You're gonna learn to drive, pick a career path, probably fall in love, cry a lot, take a Bio test, all of that before you know it's happened. So be ambitious.
Make memories that will last a lifetime and a half.
PS. Also, laugh. And wear deodorant. Sadly, no secret code.