Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 17

Haruki panicked in his bathrobe, craving peace or TV. He sipped a Calpis yogurt drink to calm his nerves as he stewed in the blue, late-night glow. Sex with Dana could upset his balance, spark an itch that only walks alone could cure. But the storm was furrowing the edges of Okinawa City and he didn’t want to be caught in a downpour, habit or no.

“Young Kumiko Natsuharu was reported missing today after failing to come home from school yesterday afternoon. Her teachers reported that she was present in all classes, and witnesses claim to have seen her leave the school. Anyone with information pertaining to Kumiko’s whereabouts is encouraged to call the following number.”

Haruki sighed in a way that brought together all his knowledge of Okinawan suffering, his theme of choice. He drank his yogurt on a checker-patterned couch from his college days, resting the cool bottle on his knee and savoring the path of it to his brain and back. Time for bed, then. Maybe a song would work its way into his dreams.

Little girl with your nightmare

You can cry

I’ll protect you in the night, where

Life won’t die.

Muscles clambered into his lap, meowed a command, and settled in. Obediently Haruki stroked behind his ears. He tried to forget the stress of the day as they sat washed in the television’s field, tracking the news while thunderheads anchored in the night sky.

It wasn’t like making love to Okinawan women; Dana growled and leveraged control, or cracked jokes while Haruki labored over her. She didn’t pretend to cry.

Muscles the Cat, eschewing more delicate forms of communication, sunk his claws into Haruki’s thigh and was hurled viciously across the room for his unprovoked violence. Dignity bruised, the animal yowped in a foul humor and darted off to vandalize some beloved cushions.

The professor frowned in disbelief while he wiped blood from his robe, probing the shallow wound as if challenged by an old omen. His parents had raised him to believe in kami and blessings and evil spirits. Make the gods happy and everything will be okay. No hell, no heaven, just one continuous gene pool, living and dead. After your body perished you became a kami, first lower level and eventually, hopefully, one to whom many people offered gifts. Tradition dictated you helped your living relatives when they were in need; you wintered in the mountains, in the jungle, and hung around the pristine beaches in the summer.

Haruki padded into the kitchen and reclaimed the cat. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he said, his face falling.

In shame he crept to the guest room and stood before the butsudan. Respect for the aged, Keiro no Hi, yet his too-soon babies would never taste its bittersweet fruit. He prayed to their souls, lit incense, kindly asked them to watch his back, keep him helping others. When she’d gotten pregnant—twins!—he’d called everyone in town and extolled the universe. The family ideal. He said, “No squid ‘til they come,” because it was thought to cause miscarriage; not that she was so enamored of arthropods.

Back then, he’d longed to find the nicest guitar, or senshin, for the fortune-telling rite that highlights the first birthday party: set a few gifts in front of the kids and watch what they crawl to. The object she chose would, in a kinder world, guide her future career. Calculator for business skills, pen for writing, red rice for abundance.

“No scissors,” Dana had said. Scissors were only for girls; meant you’ll be a good housewife and mother.

No scissors. Didn’t matter in the final account, a boy and a girl in a turtle-shell tomb by the highway. Elia and Jun.

At least he’d had his wedding, south of Naha at the utaki. Shivering before the high stone arch, never mind it was summer; his wanderlust life pressed to finality by one of the noro priestesses still at work in the region. The light in his parents’ eyes as he strolled through royal mauve orchids.

Outside, rain punctured and softened the earth. Haruki smiled at the conflation of the weather with his thoughts and felt a penetrating sadness. He recalled all the things he had done in his life, the things he had done today. He regretted much. But he loved his wife, and his job, and his friends, and he would step forward tomorrow with the knowledge that his home, however shaken, would remain.

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