“Is it possible, in this world full of infinite possibilities, in the garden of forking paths, for a student to jot down the correct answers before reading the test?”
Let’s peek inside the House of Words.
The following short discovered its prose after a riveting, frightening chat with a woman; an ambitious, elegant, won’t-allow-me-a-single-word-in-the-conversation spunky señora. I did not obtain what I sought – at least not right away – but the discussion did gift a seed.
I planted the fat, furry nut beneath the keyboard and let my fingertips reap the story. A story an estranged wife appropriated in THE CHROME TRIALS, BOOK 2 of my young adult dark fantasy series CONCEPTION, to craft a letter to her husband:
The tale of her great-grandmother, Joy.
Joy lived in mid-twentieth century Japan. My great-great-grandfather raised her alone: His ‘skinny, awkward girl, beautiful in her own goofy way’. They followed a peaceful, frugal life, sustained by his modest earnings in the radio repair business. It would be ironically over a broken military radio, sixteen-year-old Joy first loved.
He was a soldier no more than seventeen. He came into their wooden electronics shop on orders from his captain, searching for replacement parts for a Type 94-6 transceiver. Joy tended to the counter that humid afternoon. He said “konnichi wa,” and smiled. She said “irasshaimase,” and melted. They conversed alone for fifteen minutes, a short time to fall in love, except in the teenage world, where fifteen lasts a lifetime.
The boy’s departure left Joy drained, saddened, and thirsty. Her days passed wistfully looking out the translucent paper windows, hoping to one day meet the nameless boy again; smile softly at his vivid stories and look into his eyes whenever he looked at hers.
While the boy never returned, his correspondence greeted her one evening. Imagine Joy’s surprise: Military life didn’t allow free time in excess, even less for pen and paper, and in his limited supply, Hiroki had chosen to write her!
In the letter, he spoke to her respectfully, yet with the passion of a man. He talked about teaching her the art of kirigami. About taking long walks across the city’s gardens and napping under the shade of the giant cherry blossom. Joy studied his calligraphy, obsessing over kanji characters, brush strokes and often pausing to inhale the remaining essence of ink and sweat. The girl read that letter over a hundred times a day until her spirit succumbed to the need.
Armed with his name, military address and a water canteen, Joy stole her father’s bicycle and ventured to the city. Forty kilometers separated her rural village from the densely-populated destination, and while the Empire had paved plentiful roads, the majority offered only dirt. Joy didn’t care. She was exultant, energized, and her young body committed every ounce of strength.
Upon arriving at the military outpost, she found a metal bus parked outside the gates. Excitement seized the scene as a dozen families disembarked, bags of rice and chocolate boxes in tow. Joy stopped and smiled. One day, this would be her: Wife to Hiroki; mother of his children. They would conceive twice: Hiroki Jr. and Hiro, both boys named after their father. Together, they would celebrate elaborate picnics in the city’s gardens; lay on the grass and try to guess the curious shapes sculpted in the stratosphere. Their bumbling sons would later sneak away and play while she and Hiroki held hands. Every now and then, he would look at her and smile, then she would smile, and their hands would embrace more firmly.
So vast was her elation when Hiroki walked through the gate that seeing the red-haired woman and child run into his arms threw Joy off her bike.
“Kore wa… nan desu ka?” She asked, confused, as the woman pressed her lips to her man and the little boy climbed his uniformed pants. “Kuso… kuso!” she said cursing, sobbing, hating an energetic Hiroki shower his wife and child with kisses. Joy felt the earth disappear. She tried to stand, shaking, but fell. She tried again, harder, and with a foggy head managed to escape. She mounted the bike and looked back once.
Then, she rode.
She rode on the dirt. She rode on the pavement. She rode over grass, in heat and in rain. For hours she pedaled until the oxygen impaled her chest, numbing the pain.
When the race came to its end, the girl had travelled over eighty kilometers. She bent over, delirious, and heaved, expunging the yellow disease from her stomach. She turned around, realizing she didn’t recognize the landscape, so she dragged her bicycle to the top of a nearby hill covered in hay.
A blinding flash lit the sky. An angry wind buffeted her face. Joy dropped to the ground as the loud rumble of crumbling concrete deafened her ears. Dust and smoke engulfed everything in darkness. The girl scrambled to her knees and crawled to the edge, empty of breath.
The city of Hiroshima burned, and behind a greasy veil of black hair, so did Great-Grandmother’s laughter, empty as well.
When Zelda’s wise man in a cave asks you to ‘Take any one you want’: Pause. Remember Joy and her courage to flee from love. Remember how in that single moment of lucid madness, she saved herself and the lives of her unborn children… so one could fill a bookshelf in my House of Words.