Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 47

Before the turtle-shell grave of his children he kneels on the wet stone, dampening his khaki trousers. Most of the other tombs are haka: box-shaped, in the style forbidden to commoners until the 20th century. So his is unique.

He has brought rafute, soki and soba, beniimo tempura, sata andagi. Tea and his old senshin, left to warp in the rain.

Please let their spirits be at rest, be content, be willing to help him in his life. He had done so much wrong. He would do better. He sobbed without shame; then with shame, piling on his shoulders like wood.

Behind him, a matching cry.

“Who is this?”

It emanates from the bushes, but he does not find it. Farther down. He walks along the roadside, embarrassed, accepting his flushed cheeks, feeling the rain start to pelt him once again. The eye has passed; it is moving on, to grant another plot its reprieve. He sees flashes of white in the ferns.

Unmarked van. Smashed hood, scattered parts, and inside: little Kumiko. She shies away from him, he speaks to her in Okinawan.

“Do you know your phone number, so I may call your parents? I will not touch you if you do not wish. My name is Haruki Tamashi; I am a teacher at Ryukyu University. You don’t have to trust me, but I will help you. Are you Kumiko Natsuharu?”

He sees the girl’s mouth is taped. Horrified, he reaches over and, with careful, consoling words, peels off the adhesive.

Kumiko is screaming.

“I will help you, I will help you, I promise.”

Promises mean nothing. She carries on at the top of her lungs.

Haruki grabs the girl on impulse, swings her over her shoulder, and runs back toward his car, weeping openly, screaming along with the girl.

“Help. Help. Please someone, help. I have found Kumiko.”

As if newsvans would arrive at once. He remembers he has a phone, he dials. As he waits he loosens the girl’s bonds, and she sprints away, across the road, toward the ocean.

“Kumiko, please, wait!”

The rain intensifies. Haruki gives chase, through scrub and palm, down an incline into white-sand beach. At the edge of the East China Sea she stops. She is quiet now, facing the dawn. Red and gold and violet stretching in imperial rank across the horizon. She turns to face this strange man.

“Sir, I am cold.”

“Yes,” says Haruki, wearing a broken smile. “Yes, let’s go wait in the car. My car, not that van. Your mother and father will be coming soon.”

“I don’t know what to say to them.”

“You don’t have to say anything. They will be overjoyed to see you. We are all, I am so happy you are alive. Are you hurt? My God, I’m sorry, I didn’t even ask. You have bruises, I can look to see what is in my trunk.”

“I am just cold,” she says.

He allows a wide berth as they trek back to the car. The rain shines like neon tracers, thunder coughs in a howitzer’s bass. Haruki trembles in position. He sees Izuma on a cheap bed, moaning, coaxing from him private desires. Give me a son. He thinks of Dana, caught in the downpour.

With Kumiko in the passenger seat Haruki averts his head, still outside, and vomits quietly into the flood. He coughs and wipes his mouth.

The first police car traces a ghastly two-tone glow up the highway. Haruki waves. He opens the driver’s side door and climbs in for a respite, wiping his eyes, tasting the reek of his own bile. He is a man. He will grovel on his knees to his wife. Therapy, humiliation, whatever.

Muscles cozies up to Kumiko and lets her scratch under his chin.

The professor hums a famous Shoukichi Kina song, “I Want to Give Every Heart a Flower,” and Kumiko picks up the tune. The cat purrs and begins to settle in.

“My mother likes that song,” says the girl.

“Mine too,” says Haruki. “It is her favorite.” He makes up new words to the melody:

“Little girl with your nightmare

You can cry

I’ll protect you in the night, where

Life won’t die.

Little girl with your daydream,

You can smile

I’ll be right here waiting

On the Ryukyu isle.”

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