Nagoya Writes

January 6, 2008

Midori Shijimi by Zach Lynott

Filed under: Issue: Dec 2006,Lynott,Prose — usbengoshi @ 7:32 am

The man comes to a large grass covered dune. Its surface is striated in Martian hues, growing from a light base to a dark, foreboding peak. A dead road rims it, pitted and forlorn. The man climbs, feet parting the cinnamon sand. When he crests he finds the sea, but he’d heard it long before, the steady crash of waves. The sky bands between the pale clouds and dark horizon. Wind beats the breakers in quick froth.

When he reaches the shore he feels the dune rear up behind him. Suddenly it’s more cragged, its features streaming off to reveal rents of granite and limestone. How did he scaled it so easily? Before there’d been the soft sand and nothing more.

The booming surf brings him back to the sea. He colludes with its flow by watching the motion of light on water; his pulse slows in time to the breaking waves; his lungs breathe in the brisk breeze whenever it gusts. The air goes hazy, infused by a yellow glow. Sensing the approach of something unknown he looks back along the beach.

Another comes through the haze. His stride’s set in a formal gait; function guides him although no uniform states his purpose. His attire is business to the first man’s casual, a creased suit that crisply snaps with the wind. He steps up and coughs, a deep bronchial wrench of sound that clears the air between them. The first man sees only the general outline of the other. Degrees of deepening shadow define his features; the setting sun haloes his indistinct expression. They stare at each other for a few moments, letting the scene around them draw its breath. Finally the business-attired man says:

“This was found amongst the effects of my charge; its incongruousness proved vexing to our investigation. I’m relieved to be returning it to you.”

A shape emerges from the interior of the man’s coat. He hands it over to the first man, who accepts . . . a wallet. Its surface is smoothed from pocket marred years to a rich, burnished brown.

“I’m sorry if it caused you any trouble. May I ask how you came by it?”

“It was found amongst the effects of my charge. Quite personal in contrast to his appearance. I felt this was right thing to do.”

“It’s good you found me. How did you know it was mine?”

“Your name’s in it. We found this perplexing. The charge was wearing running shorts at the time, was in fact in the midst of a marathon when he collapsed. By the time he came to us he was deceased.”

“Extraordinary.”

“You know this story?”

“Not quite. I’m still recovering from a marathon last week. I couldn’t complete it because I had an asthma attack, the worst in years.”

“The charge was carrying it on him; quite strange when you consider the sport. More embarrassing still was when the resident I.D. failed to correlate with the name behind the entry number.”

“Amazing. A pick pocket in a marathon.”

“Perhaps. Did you report your wallet missing?”

“I didn’t even notice its absence.”

“Didn’t notice its absence?”

“I’ve been recovering these last few days. Food was already stored, and I don’t go out much. Funny what you can get by without.”

“You live close to here?”

“I’ve never been here before. I often go out.”

“You just said you never do.”

“To other people, that’s what I meant. I’m a regular in the world. That’s why I started running: there was too much to see, walking didn’t cover it.”

“Buy a car.”

“Past incidents preclude such an option.”

“We wondered about the I.D.”

“It’s unnecessary to dwell on it. I’ve reformed: running was a big part of that.”

“Have you participated in other marathons?”

“Only a few. I prefer to go out alone.”

“But sometimes you run?”

“In marathons? Yes, sometimes.”

“Might you recognize the man if shown a picture?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’re sure?”

“Certainly there’s the chance, but I’ve only recently come here. Given the size of the race, the number of entries . . . do you have a picture on you?”

“No, it was just a thought. Forgive me. Still, it was quite large, and I’m curious. Perhaps you were placed near him. What was your number?”

“Hmmm, let’s see. I believe I was #26.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, yes now that I think I’m sure I was #26.”

“This is most distressing.”

“How so?”

“That’s the same number as the one affixed to my charge.”

“That can’t be right.”

“No, but it is. Are you absolutely certain . . .”

“Yes, I was #26.”

“Perhaps there was a mix-up at entry. Only one name’s recorded under the #.”

“Well, seeing as I have my wallet it can hardly be me.”

“Quite so.”

“Unless my life’s flashing before my eyes.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Sorry, just an attempt at humor—a sorry attempt at that.”

“Very sorry. Let’s not get absurd. For you this may be amusing, but I take it very seriously. It’s important for all concerned that things be in order!”

“Please, there’s no need to get angry.”

“You have no idea how trying this ordeal’s been for me! Even such a simple duty as returning an item becomes difficult. I’m in no way some figment sir! I’m on a specific task that must be completed, and I won’t court with absurdity. Too many roll with it, hell bent on becoming objects of derision. Not me my friend. I find a little elbow grease always smoothes some sanity into the proceedings.”

“I wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps I’d dropped my wallet while changing. Upon finding it the man kept it with the intent of turning it over to the authorities.”

“Through the whole race?”

“Perhaps I dropped it near the starting line. I was changing near there.”

“Hmmm, I see.”

“Anyway, I’m sure this will all work out. Am I needed for anything else?”

“Hm? Oh, no no. The effects are in order; I just thought I’d spare the family any further unseemliness.”

“Unseemly?”

“They were shocked by certain aspects of the charge’s life that came to light after his passing.”

“Really.”

“I can’t say more: I share a confidence, if not a life, with the charge. The family is very fragile now. The disclosure of his tattoos, though their nature be more or less benign, greatly distressed them. It was the secrecy you see, that he could hide them from others; the complete surprise of their revelation coupled with other, more disturbing facts upset them greatly.”

“Tattoos?”

“What’s the time? My, I’ve already taken too long! I must head back now.”

“What tattoos?”

“Two of them, one on each shoulder blade. Fitting considering their nature, that of butterflies.”

“Butterflies?”

“I’m sorry, but I really must get back. I’m so relieved to be through with this. They were quite extraordinary though: twin butterflies, one with its wings open, the other wings closed. They sat on opposite branches of a cherry tree, its buds only beginning to blossum. Its trunk ran up his spine and forked into two branches, at the tips of which sat the butterflies, adjacent to each other. The butterfly with closed wings sported an exterior resembling a snake’s skin. Quite vivid this, the quality of ink, the minuteness of craftsmenship, was of the highest caliber. The skin held five golden eyes which were quite startling to look upon. It was as though you were caught as prey in their gaze. When open the wings revealed their dual nature, a vibrant green that glowed beneath the light, a jewel-like cast reminiscent of a sea urchin. It was quite the sight; it reminded me of my time in the Orient, the quality of things there. Have you been?”

“What?”

“Have you been to Asia?”

“Only briefly, a few days in Tokyo, a layover between Australia and here.”

“It’s quite extraordinary, the beauty of certain things. By now it’s gone, cremated this morning. Pity skin’s such a fleeting parchment, but perhaps that’s the draw: so permament in our time, and so lost afterwords. My, you’re positively blanching! I must reign in my ruminations!”

“I’m OK.”

“Have you been walking long?”

“A few hours perhaps.”

“Well you’re turning rather pale my friend.”

“It’s nothing. I’ve been a little weak since the attack.”

“My chattering certainly hasn’t helped.”

“No no, it’s been fine.’

“I’ll be off then. Everything’s settled now. Please enjoy the rest of your day!”

The first man waves to the second as he makes his way up the shore. When the horizon consumes him the first lowers his hand, but rather then resting at his side it continues. Fingers touch cotton, pushing through the sun warmed fabric to trace the design lying beneath. The tide begins to rise, sinking his feet into the sand. Removing his hand he takes out the wallet, feeling its heft in his hand. In the waning sunset he pauses, fingers caught in the instant before opening, eyes intent as the sea rushes in, its waves almost as fast as his beating heart . . .

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