Kempler hates fishing.He's saddled with a niece.
| Boots are on the stairs outside the shop where my Dad's walls are lined with guns.
Kempler believed in the inevitable. He believed in the way fog rolled in over the little stump of a wharf next to his shack in the woods. He believed in the fog and the restless nights he woke dreaming of redemption. Kempler believed.
Once he had heard tell of a fish-woman. The ocean was there in its greater glory as that--as ocean, biblical in implication--had covered land. And the ocean had been and that's all there was. There had been no land vs. ocean only ocean. And not as we know it now. Not as this common body of water but as sea. How could this be, Kempler thought. And then he imagined such glory and ocean and sea. And it had come to him while he lay in his bunk bed while the moon still lay caught in the trees and barely light how it could be. Yes he had thought it could be very much so.
But he didn't believe in fish. 'Damn smelly creatures. Good for nothing but bait.' At the end of the day, though, he ate what he disliked. He drank water, ate fish. Go figure.
Long ago, not in ages, just his age, he had a wife. Kempler's wife hailed from a small town in Ireland. He invested the town with more knowledge than it possessed. But Kempler knew it and he knew also that his wife had more beauty than she possessed. This is a common thing. But to know it right off the bat is a gift because beauty and knowledge are temporal things. They had two children. Twins. Kempler and wife gave them names. The children grew. They moved away. But while they grew the country changed. Ireland became a place remembered and not at the moment. This was disastrous for Kempler because he wanted to keep the moment he met his wife and the moments of his two children's birth. It was true he, himself, was a transplant. He did not mind. It was enough to live on the legend of the town and of the country. But the idea of losing his adopted country irked him to no end. He had to deal with it.
One night he heard a knock at the door. It became harder until the door seem to rattle its noise into him, like vibration into a vessel.
"Who? Who dares?" , Kempler asked at the top of his lungs. The door ceased. But only for a minute. Then it started up again: At first a thin tentative percussion. Louder, louder still...
To put one's feet from bed to floor is quite the accomplishment if one is horizontal and the warmth of bedding keeps pulling you back. But he managed. He dealt with it.
"Coming. I'm coming!" He first sat at the edge of the bed, reconnoitered the distance from bed to door. The knocking stopped. The doorknob turned.
The door creaked open of itself. This fact knocked Kempler back to his bed and made him clutch at his bedding.
"Who...who...", Kempler breathed. He clutched for something, anything, anything to fill the hand against who knows what. He clutched the pillow. He knew it was a lousy weapon.
There in all his glory stood the British soldier. He had kilts, a high hat. It was raining. He looked a wooly mess.
"What is it you want", Kempler asked.
"Orders, sir, special deliver of her Majesty"
"Majesty? I don't know Majesty. Mistake. Maybe next house...Livingston."
"No, sir. Kempler. Oscar Kempler."
Kempler grabs the note out of the soldier's hand.
"Wait. Don't I know you? One second..." Kempler thought and thought about it. "Livingston! Livingston, is this a joke? Banging on my door at all hours of the night! How dare you!"
I was nine when I discovered I could be anywhere I wanted and then some.
Egashira fell from the scaffolds while painting. His injury followed him the rest of his life.
He was young at the time and could not shake the feeling of unreliable grounding thereafter. Sometimes he wavered while walking to his car a half block away, like a galley bound new sailor aboard high seas. Once during a sunny month he spent an entire day inside wondering what to do about his next step, and afraid to do it.
He went someplace when he fell , she said. No, I don't know where but when he regained consciousness and returned to us he was changed somehow, Tell them how,
Well. No, because that's what I asked you, remember, How is it I've changed. And you said, I don't know exactly. Different is all.
Ok, so the change was vague is the point.
That's the word, vague.
Annie Hing first saw snow from a moving train. She was 28 and had never seen anything like it. But even before she woke to it she had an inkling. It was an inkling bottomed out and inside her, not of cold but of blanketing cover, of comfort, and white, white, white. Her eyes opened and there she was passing into it.
She brought hands to face and pushed the heels of her opened palms upon her eyes to shield them against this blinding. She rested there. The train's unnatural, robust whistle hooted across winter. Someone was at the origin of that whistle pulling a cord or pressing down a lever, a button. This someone's brief motion would remain forever unknown to the world as this train made its way, right through Northwest blizzard country. Who might Annie Hing be to hoot across landscapes?
"I don't want you to tell anyone what I'm about to say," she said to the empty seat next to her, then realized.
She straightened her back, brought her wet palms down and examined the drift of snow piled outside against the border of the window, its dark corner.
The train came round a bend at Eugene into sunlight and fog. And in the distance along a flat plain she saw, or imagined she saw, two figures against the backdrop of snow. They were far enough away to obliterate any sense of relationship between the figures. Were they at play? We're they at odds?
when would this valley disappear? how long might it remain? Was it for a season then gone? why? what right had it to show itself then abandon the viewer? He stood up and by this motion allowed her three fingers to trace him for a mere second down his back. He looked back as if by this she had recalled him. But she could only submit a profile.
They had been raised disciples and that meant not marrying your kind.
Grandma's place at the Globe Hotel smelled of pinesol and clean laundry. Each of the rooms in the hotel had tall ceilings, endless by todays standards.
Ned Pierce looked over his shoulder. He was being followed. He didn't have to think if it were true or not. He was being followed. Funny. It's what made him a good native tracker. He was expensive because he was good. And the ability that made you sensitive to what you were tracking, made you know when you yourself were being tailed. It was that simple. He was being pursued.
He stopped to see if the thing stopped. An owl hooted high on a snowed branch. A dust of flakes fell to the snow carpet to the side of him. He waited. He put his head down. He listened,narrowed his eyes. And then it happened. One step. It had made the mistake. Ned Pierce raised his head. It was not the killing but the pursuit, the truck through earth, rain, sun. As if the follow through was the important part and not the taking. But perhaps it was not this way with his pursuer.
He had been living in the northwest since he was born. He understood the way snow fell and what it meant to be a mile from where you wished to go and possessing the urge to get there and should the weather shift from snow to rain to slush what it would mean to get there and the how of it. These things he knew about, not about love. Sometimes he'd look at his powerful hands and see them as that, powerful hands, and wonder. They were red from having shovelled the first all morning long, stopping, then continuing until it was dark, stopping twice perhaps to eat the snow and rest. His hair had been long then and so had his life, now they were short. It was about rest. It was about going too far, too quick. It was about becoming tired and the idea of it in his head and how it had not been so some time back and how it was different now. He listened for the soft tread on the pine forest floor. Nothing else occupied his mind nor did he have to think that. Nothing else did.
She came into view, moving from tree to tree. She was a young girl, very tall, jet black hair like the raven in old stories that you imagine when told to you. Raven black.
"You are not of my people and I am not yours so why do you follow?"
"This won't take care of them. Perhaps for awhile but not entirely. It will give them something to do."
"Sensei, shouldn't we return?"
"Why do you use that word for me?"
They had turned him loose so he had no job . He had once been employed by the government , Homeland Security , to track dopers aver the borders of Mexico and Arizona, never catching one of them, and therefore fired though no cop would say so.
They called him cowboy. He was a stranger to the other recruits. Later he found out that he killed two prostitutes out on the autobahn, he had stopped to pick them up in the ambulance that he drove. He was alone at the time. They had been stabbed several times. He told the authorities that they had fallen several times. He was short and not a tall person. He helped me with a buffer carrying it upstairs. I don't know why he did that. Perhaps Cowboy was in the group that were sitting around and not saying anything , just laughing. I said I wanted to keep buffing but the others said knock it off so I did. Just then the sergeant comes in and yells at us that we were not working and got mad. I did not say anything. Maybe that's why the Cowboy there helped me because I took the punishment along with others without complaining.
I sleep better in unknown beds. It's part of a travelling instinct. The other night I woke up and didn't know where I was. I liked that. I was in a new house , an new state, a new nation. And if only for a fraction of a second I was happy. And then I realized I wasn't. I was brought back to my fingertips. I was here in my own house, the one I had lived in for half a century. And I would live to tell about it. It made me feel trapped. I wanted out, wherever out was, I wanted it.
His mother was the one who wanted him to see the dead peson. His father, not so much.
"Go,there," she said.
The hall seemed long and empty and the open window at the end brought no comfort.
"112," she spoke again.
"You don't have to do this, son. Tell him he doesn't have to do this."
She nodded when the boy turned to the right and faced the partially opened door.
"You're here to die aren't you?", the real estate agent, Eguchi asked.
"What makes you say so?"
The boy ran to the end of the platform. He almost fell off.
----------------- Polka Dot Dress
From the hillside I looked done to the sea. Five soldiers in a year had been killed here. In perspective that was better odds than in the Vosges mountains where the odds were a whole bucnch worse.
So, I had been right in assuming none of his war buddies would come to the piano concert with him. They wanted Hawaiian music. He had played the Goldberg Variations for a time, the Aria. He had played it accidentally on a out of tune grand in a bombed out cathedral that he passed by in along the Anglais. It was a small church. He played and it came back to him. The variations s had never left . They were in his hands not such his head. He stared down at them thinking if these were his fingers and if they were made better by the dimemberement from himself. He could see the notes in front of him as clearly as if the sheet music were before him. When he stopped he brought his hands together brought his head down. Someone clapped and took him by surprise. An old woman was midway in the pews, seated way towards the back.
"That was good. Not masterful but then no one is a master of the Goldberg. You're American."
"Yes. How long have you been?"
"Oh, about 5 years."
"An untuned piano is like screeching but imagine yourself lying in bed injured or ill and you hear this' She went to the keyboard and played the variation. "Now wouldn't that make you feel better and more a better person. I mean outside the bombs and shouting. I mean cause for hope here." she played again.
She took my clothes off and looked at the scar of the shoulder wound. Put her lips there. To say she did not care about it and to assuage all. and washed, ironed them.
As I stood alone in the lobby something caught my attention. Someone was framed by the half door of a small room with a sign. It was a hat-check girl. She looked isolated at her station. I came to talk and give her my Army long coat over the dutch doorway because I felt I should and had to. It was those grey-green eyes that startled. I barely managed to speak and smile. She returned the favor putting me at ease and so we talked for over 15 minutes which did not seem long enough so I asked if she might come out from her station and go with me down the street.
"Why? What for? But won't you be late for the concert?"
I had no answer for what I thought she should know by now. Maybe she didn't know. I would be sunk if she didn't. I felt the quiver come back. It started an inch below my vocal cords and resonated through every word spoken. But I had to ask because she bloomed with being-there so I wanted to let her know that we needn't be alone. She had to be made aware of how she was and I didn't want anyone else failing to see how she was but surely everyone did, everyone must. But at this instant it was just the two of us stuck on either side of a half door. All sounds inside and out were muffled by the long coats and short jackets of the people who came between us while checking in their apparel. They would shoot a glance our way every now and then. Altogether it made our conversation intimate. Once in awhile she fixed her gaze on the worn theatre carpet and turned slightly away as I spoke. The light above fell along her neck, into the smooth shallows of her collarbone where a bead of water might rest after her bath. It made my insides churn and made me ask again and ask again for her to know me. She opened the bottom half of the door and I stepped in.
June was her favorite color. July, her taste. Her skin was her perfume. And we would sit on the balcony with our bare feet up on the railing and watch the worn out rusty bikes go by in the cobbled street below. Radio Luxembourg played Bach's Redeemer. And we would sip my hoard of hot chocolate because neither of us liked coffee though we liked the smell. She would fix me rationed eggs over rationed butter and fresh crusty bread she had gotten somehow. And we'd sit with pinkies hooked like kids and when we finally left our apartment, two empty chocolate cups would be left baking in morning sunshine. Streaks of leftover yolks would harden on the porcelein dishes until we returned after the town cannon had gone off at twelve, after our seaside bout and after the sky approached twilight behind the dizzy height of day. Cups and plates would still be in the chipped sink and hard to wash after we got back so late. It was our time. All of this was our time. I take it you've been there too.
"I'm a Jew," she once said.
"So am I."
"You aren't. You're American."
"Ok, yes, I'm American."
"Yes, you are. You have a uniform to prove it."
" But, someplaces I'm Japanese, too. And they don't have a uniform for that."
"So, which of all those are you?"
And she laughed and came and sat hard upon me.
Her mother was buried out on Chateau Hill. They had just come back to NIce when the Americans bombed the outskirts of Nice, Riguer, where they were staying with friends. Her father was still alive. He worked in a bakery. They were not very orthodox but the Germans would have rounded them up along with the other Jews had they not left.
"You only know me because of the war. Would you have fallen in love with me if there had been peace over France.
"What are you getting at?"
You Americans! War was just an adventure for you. Something out of the ordinary, your day to day lives. We are Jews. For us, war was in our house, in the kitchen, in the living room, the garden, all around. We lived it day to day. I was the face of Europe that's all I was to you. But you never loved me,me. Tell me the difference between me and France. Go on, tell me that much.
"I don't know what the hell...My , God. I saw my buddies blown up by mortars."
It's true that America shed blood here, but so did we, more so. No matter the counting of bodies. We bled more than any ally.
"I don't understand. What is it you want me to say? I don't know what my apology should be. What is it?"
"I don't know. I don't know what I mean. Take me back with you. We'll marry." It was at that moment I realized I could not take her back with me. There was so much to her, too much. And impossible to understand and beyond being French and a Jew.
I closed my eyes as she wept. I cIosed her and ,in the end, gave her whatever money I could muster.
She's dead." Her father said without looking up from the cutting board. I sat. He cut a slice of gruyere, cut it almost complete, but then brought it to me in a gesture for me to take.
"You were lovers," he said as I reached. "She said that to me once. It might have been in the restaurant. I was busy baking but I heard. She said it with that whisper her mother and she used to have. You know, with a kind of horseness and off hand." he motioned, hand futtering about his chest, smiled and looked away.
"How did she die?"
"Automobile. She was on a bicycle coming down Le Chateau from the graveyard. American jeep ran her off the road." He spoke without rancor as if it could not have been prevented.
"There's nothing left to take for granted."
"Why do you show me this child?"
He said nothing, turned and closed the door. The door would not be locked but it was clear he wished me to remain yet unbound to do so.
"Granpa said you knew my mother, monsieur. Prove it to me. Do you have a picture of her?"
She brought a photo from her toy box, swept a ringlet from her face and showed me an old photo.
"She was killed in the mountains. Defending what was hers. She's a hero everywhere. Have you heard of her?"
"What is it they say of her?"
"She was in the war and loved France."
What else do you know. Was she fat or skinny?
"Just right. A little shorter than me"
She had grey green eyes.
I can't tell that from the photo. But I guess you did know her. When I ask them, many people come to me saying they knew my mother so I talk to them and ask them questions. Most times it turns out they did not know her.
"Where do these people come from?"
"Around everywhere. Here in Nice, Alaska, China, Borneo. Everywhere. And people I've drempt. They come to grandpa's bakery.
"I see. And these people give you all the information on your mother.
"Renee, I am the true source of your mother. I did know her. No need to search or guess about it."
"I believe you when you put it like that."
"How do you know so much about my mother. Are you my father?"
"Of course not. I don't know you. How could I be? I know nothing about you."
She turned away at that and put the photo away and became self absorbed in her dolls, ignoring me.
The occupation came to an end. Maybe we saw it coming. But it didn't make the end any neater or simpler. We had lived this way for 4 months. It was in our skins by then, the way we lived. We couldn't wash it away if we tried. They say avec le temps, with time. I guess. So what do I do with this memory? Is there meaning to it?
She had on a polka dot dress. It was second hand from her sister who got it from the US, I remember the dress I said . Do you? She liked it. It was her best. Do you believe if I told you that you were her first boyfriend. But I had never thought she had anyone before me. I never had thought that way. Perhaps at one time I had thought it and did not think of it anymore after awhile when we were together. . Well, you were, he smiled. He went back to eating his cheese forgetting to offer me another slice. After you left she took to wearing the dress every day. You know it was her dress and became important to her. We were silent a a moment.
Light in Nice comes at an angle on some evenings; painters say that is unrepeatable anywhere else. It was here now along the street where we sat , in the shade where we sat, shadows chasing the half-light all around us.
"The war's over. I will return to baking. Every day there will be fresh bread to make and rolls and pastries to sell. I won't get rich but people will be satisfied." He turned his face to me.
"I'll find a job teaching I guess," I responded.
"She told me you taught history, the ancient world. So what have you learned from the past?"
I had not meant to but suddenly I was overwhelmed and I did nothing but sit there to have the waters in me rise and come through my eyes, nose, throat and I was left choking underwater.
HOW TO DISSOLVE COMPLETELY
One day Tok dissolved in the bathtub and was washed out to sea. He had done this before, always coming back. But his wife, Shiz Tokumoto, after the third time was still on edge. When would he appear again under the Long Beach wharves. Linden tree? Would he?
"You act like this is a matter of choice," Toke said to her on the second round.
"Well, isn't it? You are my husband. We have a daughter on the way," She thought to herself that he was very selfish being washed away whenever. But she did not say. He had provided for her. They lived comfortable in Belmont, California. It was close to the ocean. When he had first disappeared, Shiz could not find him in the house and was greatly disturbed. She believed she was being made fun of. Then she believed she was going mad and following in the footseps of her great grand uncle who had , in his old age, began to imagine sentient beings all around him. He took his life at 67 and left a void in her life. Maybe she thought of this and was anxious about her husband now since he dealt with time and disapperance so easily so as to not think of the people affected by his washing out to sea.
"It's oK being washed out to sea. I can imagine myself going through all the drainage, but that you prefer the insides of a sewer pipe over me? Why?"
"It's as if you're escaping and you don't mind at all, " she said.
"That's not entirely true." He looked down at his folded hands and in a measured way, responded. "Shiz, perhaps it was like that in the begining. I admit I participated too willingly, but when I tried to stop my body wouldn't permit it. It's as if my skin took on a life of it's own and it was off and floating without me or my permission. It just dissolved and took me with it."
"Please," was all she said.
Old friends brought him back. They came later to visit and drink cups of ice tea and whiskey out of Mason jars far into the night.
"I want to tell you the things I've been thinking," Shiz said.
The house was so quiet there was only the ticking of the clock on the kitchen wall above the kitchen table. It made a noise every 30 seconds as if to forecast a falling apart.
Everyone sees us as odd because were of the same race. They come to expect blended. I don't mind going against expectation but it gets tiring. Why can't they just take us as we stand, a uni-racial couple. Why do we have to be bi-racial?
As he sat he made pronouncements . And looking up at him, the weather above him, the clouds with their on-coming sheaf of rains to come, there was the placement of my nostalgia there at this very spot with no rancor left in me. There was just me and him and the weather.
It was when he wore them that they disturbed. He couldn't wait to get out of them. It isn't enough to see them displayed in a store front. You have to wear them. And that is the horror of it. They moan and all around them moans.
He had a unturned piano in the living room of the apartment house on California St.
When Oyama walked into the room it smelled of smoke and incense from a homemade thurible. It had the scent, the sense of someone else having been. This was not a room that bore no pain. It had seen plenty of it.
When Oyama walked into the room it smelled of smoke and incense from a homemade thurible. It had the scent, the sense of someone else having been. This was not a room that bore no pain. It had seen plenty of it.