Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 44

Dana stopped at the scene of her wedding. She parked on the gravel shoulder, no one minded; dozens of Hyundais did the same. A lively crowd had gathered around the utaki, murmuring and waving, treading through the orchids in respectful but determined bands. Maybe two hundred. She was the only American, a head taller than everyone, easily.

On all sides people jostled. To get them here in a typhoon required some heavy news: North Korean test missile, green light for the base in Nago, anniversary of some old king or atrocity. Glen.

She could ask in her pidgin Japanese, but Dana was sick of talking. Simply wait and observe what crawls over the horizon. She hadn’t survived Yoshio by any other means. Or pop, or much of anything, if she was honest.

She just needed to get through this day to the next one, and the next, and so on until they stuck her in the turtle-shell grave with her kids. Until then, she’d get her stomach pains checked out, go back to therapy. Try for a pregnancy. Maybe she’d win the second time around; 15% end in miscarriage, it was common as bread, she was just one of the stats. Whatever the outcome, she needed support and love—whether from Haruki or someone else.

She followed the path through the utaki, under the limestone arch, to a leafy enclosure of trees and autumn blossoms. Signs in English and Japanese explaining the cultural importance. She knew the history; she was married here. At least half of us hadn’t forgotten.

Terns and egrets sang cautiously, high-pitched or hoarse, signaling for food or company or simple acknowledgement. Dana smiled at a group of old women and received incredulous stares. Black ladies not on the invite list.

The prayer block, so far, was bare but for a bobble-head doll. Stylized eyes, lead-based coloring. A tchotchke you buy at a Family Mart for the niece you never met, three thousand miles west of Naha. Appease a youthful ancestor who missed her manga. Dana shrugged and turned away, forgetting to pray, feeling some compulsion to see the waves. She proceeded down the aisle once more, with people she didn’t know or understand shouting around her, except this time Haruki was at home, feeling sorry for himself and wondering if the spasm was worth it.

“It wasn’t Etsu,” he’d said. “Just some prostitute. A girl off the street.”

Just some.

She wove through the dunes, past straight-backed retirees with canvas hats or umbrellas, to the sea. The sand fresh and cool against her soles. The air in her lungs, ripe with salt, reviving her.

Yoshio stalked through the crowd at right angles. He was hobbling, wearing a straw hat to block the sun that squeezed through the typhoon.

Oxygen caught in the doctor’s chest as though someone had tightened a microphone cable around her neck. Her broken nails bit into the bruises on her palms, on the hands she used to emphasize a thousand points in her office. You are not crazy. I am proud of your recovery. Many people wish for death.

Dana watched him root around and grumble, kick the shoreline with his good foot. Electricity behind her eyes and in her teeth. She shoved forward in pursuit, repeating the word “sumimasen” and fixing her eyes to the hitman’s spine. He looked dazed, intrigued, even, by the sand of the Okinawan shore.

Hide his gun, perhaps? Or dispose of other evidence.

She threaded the crowd, which had swollen to some five hundred, and blocked the image of Hidari from her mind. He wouldn’t be here if she was dead, she wasn’t bleeding her life out into the East China Sea. Don’t be swayed by anxiety logic.

He moved stiffly across a line of rocks, past sodden clusters of masaki, toward a gnarled hump of land with an entrance. A cave. Like those places where the soldiers had blown themselves to chunks. Knifed Okinawan kids en masse. She tasted blood on her tongue; a shallow cut. Someone yelled through a megaphone.

She waited until he was inside to follow.

Darkness. Of course darkness. It waited to claim her and prove the truth of irresistible desires. Dana waded inside, reflecting on a thousand different courses of action, choosing none. She listened to impulse now, terrified, waiting for the end she could not control.

Beneath her feet the loose rocks lay in wait, eager to sweep her to sea level. She stubbed her toe against a hefty specimen. Make a show of being harmless, appeal to any feelings Yoshio might have, but maybe pick up that rock for good measure. Never hurts to have a backup.

She eased in deeper, away from the light, the milling roar of the assembly. Scholars found all kinds of atrocities in caves, every manner of sad tableau. Under the island’s bulwark, how many unclaimed bones still lingered? The marks and ash of a generation, the chaff of war. No, these were humans, significant, real in their absence, and valued like you. Take care not to fall. The rocks were tricky; like slinking through the woods in Alabama, searching for Bernice in their private games. The pines used to creak in the winds coming off the river, showing no hints or strategy.

Alarms in her head. She froze, flattened herself against the wall. Reek of salt seeping from the country’s veins. She prayed to the cold rock on her neck: protect her, keep her safe on this irrational errand. Didn’t people talk to God in these situations? No Jesus on Okinawa, though; she must have forgotten.

Closure could never be worth this risk. Only more to lose and no data to gain from any confrontation. He would not repent. He would not change his habits at a finger-snap, turn himself in and weep. He was no antisocial, sure, but no human switches his life around in a day.

Dana breathed in measured beats, letting the sweat cool on her skin. Stress flowed through and she met it as an equal. Bid it hello, acknowledge fear and circumambient dreaminess. The pain in her stomach resurfaced.

This is the thanks I get, God.

Forced into a crouch, she prepared to vomit, but her system was cleaned out. Her muscles knotted up while the pressure in her head refused to stabilize. Sleep would be nice right about now. Curled up in bed with her kids, who would be teething, learning to crawl, to get their chubby hands on anything dangerous.

According to scans, her uterus worked perfectly. She should be able to bear children just fine, but they only came out crushed-up, messy husks. The compulsion to weep overtook her; she relented. Come what may, let the hitman put a slug in her brain. She would be healing the entire time.

Dana prostrated herself and inhaled the kelp and shells and sundry items in the sand. Like a fermenting stew in back of the fridge, something Ruki might give to Muscles and pretend to have thrown out.

She thought of Hidari Wasayama, survivor of her own ordeals. Her husband said she had lived through the war and seen the product of two superpowers duking it out on her homeland.

Bloody trails on the beach. 1945, a rainy summer, drumming the chewed-up corpses until they swelled to grotesque puppets. 105mm howitzer shells like a steady drumbeat to the slogging march. Fights for a three-meter hill. Napalming and bayoneting. Here there was close quarters combat of the worst kind; boys pushing knives into each other.

The ground was screaming, or else it was Dana’s own skull. Against all sense, perhaps, the two were in communication. She shuddered and cried, despising her failure, even though part of her knew the perception of failure meant just that: it wasn't reality. She wanted to vomit and couldn’t.

All at once, then, the feeling waned. Like a shower, switched off. Not even a trickle of pain. She stayed flat for a good minute, clenching and relaxing every limb to test the new arrangement. Definitely better.

Get up, dust off, move forward. No turning back now. She came to a split and had to decide, right or left. Left: why not, it was her dominant hand, there was no way to choose correctly. Merely had to hope.

The crowd’s sounds outside were muffled. They seemed to spiral, dampen and sink to a lover’s whisper. She walked in total darkness now, no phone to light the way. She steadied herself against the narrow walls and checked for stalactites that might intercept her head.

A distant crack; thunder. The eye had passed, then. Foolish to be out here. She continued convincing herself this was all inevitable, that she had no say. Left fork, right fork, stand still, retreat. It all ended at the same coffin.

Well, if that was so she could choose a route dispassionately. Take a moment and meditate, figure it out.

Dana embraced her kids, her spouse, a dead and dying family in recovery. She faced them with love and detachment. Then she went back the way she came, took the other path, and slammed into an overhang.

“Jesus Christ.”

A lesson. She ducked and was more careful. There was pain in her forehead, all down her neck. Her body deserved a hospital and steady care; so she chased a killer into a cave.

A moan like the cry of a woman at her child’s grave. Not from her, though the voice was so similar her heart quickened. Just the wind.

When the earth started cracking, she was well-prepared. Only an event, in progress. A great blossom of dust and scree that coated the rank, oppressive air. Dana was severed from the exit, her connection to the beach and relatively free society, and dust streamed into her lungs, and she fell to her hands and knees. Blood squelched in her callused palms.

This is what you get, she thought.

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