Silver Linings Cafe

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Sunday 8:00 a.m.

The rooftop garden was untouched by Oriana’s grief from last night. The tomatoes are fat and healthy, ready any day to be plucked. The leaves on the zucchini plants have unfurled, ready for the upcoming summer. It’s the herbs that draw most of my attention. I can not resist the sweet scent of basil leaves or the sharp freshness of mint.

The crisp scent of earth and leaves fills my senses as I prune and clear away some of the dead leaves. Every now and then there’s a bit of rubbish in the gardens. The wind is infamously strong, rolling across the ocean, through town, then rolling back as it hits a wall of mountains. Sometimes the local wildlife drop bobbles they stole.

A plush dinosaur keychain somehow found its way among the green peppers. A child somewhere in town is missing it. I can tell it was loved by how worn it is, the stitches frayed and loose. I’ll task one of the neighborhood cats to return it to the proper owner.

A raven caws behind me. She has finished the task I gave her.

“You found the husband?” I ask as I pat the dirt from my hands.

She croaks a series of sounds and I can hear her distaste. She holds no love for the human. I can understand her dislike for a man who would abuse both his spouse and his children. But it’s especially frustrating for a raven. Their bond among kin is strong

“Very well,” I tell her and begin to remove my gardening apron. “Let’s pay him a visit and see what we can do.”

She hops eagerly across the rooftop and posts herself by the door. Her croaks reveal that he’s at home alone. His family likely left for the shrine in the mountains just as I had requested.

I toss the apron into the chest by the rooftop door. “Thank you,” I tell her and brush a finger along her neck. “You and your kin can help yourself to the garden. So long as you mind your manners and not be too gluttonous.”

She bows her in silent agreement. The deal has been struck.

I head downstairs through the apartment and out the back. My bicycle rests by the door. It’s in good condition though a bit rusted from the rain that makes its way beneath the awning. The turqouise paint is starting to fade in patches where the sun has baked it. It’s age makes me think about how long ago it was when I first swam ashore and declared Japan my home.

Three years, perhaps. And to some it might sound short. To wanderers as myself, it is a lifetime.

The raven circles down from the rooftop and onto the rim of the bicycle’s basket.

“Lead the way,” I tell her.

She waits for me to get seated before flying off down the alley towards the road.

I follow after her. I pedal faster, the wind twirling through my hair and caressing my skin. Sunlight and shadows play across my vision, red brick sidewalks change to white concrete the further into town we go. The bike’s wheels hiss and the chain clicks as I coax the bike a little faster.

The raven keeps a decent pace ahead of the bike. She is swift as she dodges between city trees and street lights but circles around when she’s flown too far ahead. Her flock keeps its distance from us, their croaky voices guiding her safely through noisy traffic.

The bicycle races faster as the wind turns in our favor. We fly further north into cluttered residential areas. Houses are stacked against each other, windows pressed to windows, cars squeezed into patches of concrete.

We turn sharply uphill. The wind swells at our back, carrying feathered wings and pushing metal frames to the hill’s peak. I can hear the soft grumblings of the mountain’s voice in the wind. I can not listen. My attention is on the raven as she lands on a column of tan brick in front of a white-washed house.

I slow the bicycle in frontt of the brick wall and iron gate. There isn’t much between the gate and front door. The small space meant for a garden is paved over with concrete. I think perhaps it’s there to lock his family inside rather than keep anyone out.

I park it against the brick post. “Shall we head inside?”

She caws and clicks her talons into the brick. Her flock replies but they are not as eager.

I walk through the unlocked gate and up the meager path. The house is average for one in Japan. It’s narrow and tall, squeezed into the space that was available, newer and more modern.

The front door is locked but with a tap of my finger, it loosens and the door falls open. I step inside and hear the feathers of the raven hushing as she flies closer to take a peek. Politely and almost mockingly I alert him of my presence, “Good morning! Forgive my intrusion.” I slip off my shoes just as the raven flies past me to land on the back of a kitchen chair.

I hear clattering like aluminum slamming into a table. “Damn woman can’t even lock doors.”

My lips thin as they curl into a bitter grin. I move down the hall and into the joined kitchen and living room. “I hope you don’t mind my letting myself in. You have a lovely home.”

He rounds the sofa and our eyes meet for the first time. He’s a short, older man who drank enough beer to widen his stomach. His voice is gruff but it’s a poor attempt to sound stronger than he is, “We’re not buying anything. I’m not interested.”

“Oh, I’m not here to sell.” I eye the raven who is watching him fiercely. I can feel her hatred for the man and see the feathers along her neck rise with irritation. “My friend and I have come here with a proposition.”

He snarls and the air is musky with yeast and salt, “A what?”

I try to swallow the scent but my nose crinkles. I look at the coffee table at his feet and find the array of beer cans littering its surface. The house is well cleaned, though. Kanae’s desperate attempts to make her home feel welcoming are evident in everything.

My gaze returns to his face. “You’re going to head upstairs and pack a suitcase.”

His smiles, a wide toothy grin, and a husky laugh rolls out, thick with whatever food he has been eating. “Why the hell would I do that?”

I flourish a hand and the wind slams the front door closed. “Let’s be civil.”

“You walk into my house with your pet bird and order me around?”

I hold out open palms and focus on the anger that is rolling around in my chest. I focus on the raven’s anger, her pure disgust for the uncaring father who harms his children. She saw him, watched him as he squeezed his daughter’s arm and nearly broke it. I pull all those emotions and twist them together into a gnarled darkness that seeps into the corners of the room. It writhes across the curtains, swallowing the sunlight, and slinks along the floor.

I let my tone darken. I step forward with the shadows, bringing them closer to him. “If you don’t listen to my orders, I can promise you that when your family returns, you will be nothing but bones and ash.”

His breathing is labored. Disbelief flickers across his face, pinched brows and widening eyes. He looks at the beer cans and questions if he’s drunk. He chuckles and marches forward, “Get the hell out of the house.”

The raven yells a raspy sound. Outside there’s a cacophony of ravens circling the house.

I throw a hand forward and the shadow rears up out of the floor, a dark tidal wave that arches over him.

He stumbles backwards. He falls into the coffee table, scattering beer cans across the floor. He’s breathing heavily and every breath comes out in a puff of cold smoke. Frost gathers where sweat had layered his skin moments ago.

He squeals, the violent beast reduced to a mouse. “What is that? What are you?”

I remind him again, sweetly jeering, “You’re going to head upstairs and pack a bag. You’re going to request a transfer at your company and move very far away from your wife. You will never see her again. Understand?”

His eyes never leave the shadow figure. He nods his head and doesn’t stop nodding until the shadow recedes back into the floor. He rolls off the table and scurries to his feet. He gives the raven and I another glance then leaps for the stairs. He runs up them two at a time and from sound alone we can hear him packing.

“Keep an eye on this family,” I ask the raven.

She croaks. She had already been planning on it.

I grab the recycling bin and with the raven’s help, we clear away the beer cans and trash. We draw back the curtains and open the windows. I gently encourage the wind into the room, the scent of spring spilling in to erase the musk of beer and sweat. The house already feels different, brighter as golden sunlight spills across the living room.

The husband clomps downstairs with his suitcase heavy with clothes. He’s cursing under his breath but quiets at the sight of us. He keeps his distance as he backs out of the living room towards the foyer. “She’s nothing without me. If you think she won’t be begging me to come home, you’re wrong.”

I can hear the raven’s annoyance rolling around in her throat like a suppressed growl. She wants to pluck out his eyes for good measure but I shake my head in protest.

He slams the door shut behind him.

I give her a slight smile. “That went better than I expected.”

She isn’t as optimistic as me. Her hard stare makes that obvious.

“We can’t kill him,” I reason. “That’s murder.”

She croaks in protest.

“Killing mice for food is different than getting revenge. It stains the soul.”

She gives another croak, anger darkening the sound.

I shake my head slightly. “We can’t turn him into a frog either.”

Her mind remains unchanged. She hops towards the window and flies out to join the rest of her flock. They greet her warmly then fly off on the next gust of wind.

I try to convince myself, as well, that we have done the right thing. I can not justify murder if I know there is another way to protect Kanae and her family. The ravens will keep a close eye on them for now. That, at least, can give us all some solace.

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