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Your Time Has Come!

From Solar Girl and Lunar Boy – Stories
by Gabriel Constans

Solar Girl and Lunar Boy

“Good night,” their Mom said, as she turned on the night light by the closet.

“Sweet dreams,” said father, as he switched off the lamp and blew them both kisses.

“Good night,” Angelina replied.

“Good night,” Corey whispered, pulling the covers up around his neck.

The bedroom door had been closed but a few minutes when Corey heard something in the corner. “Haaafffeeerrrahhh,” it wheezed, then “Hoooeeerrrahhh.”

He turned towards his sister’s bed, but couldn’t see her under the covers.

“Angelina . . . Angelina . . .,” he whispered, not wanting the monster or whatever it was, to hear him. There was no reply.

The breathing grew louder and sounded mad. “Haaafffeeerrrahhh . . . Hoooeeerrrahhh!”

“Mom . . . Mom! Help!” he yelled.

“What is it Honey?” his mother asked, coming into the room.

Still holding the covers tightly around his neck, his eyes wide with fright, Corey nodded towards the corner of the room. “Over there,” he said, “it’s over there!”

“There’s nothing,” his mom said. “Look.” She walked to the corner, returned and kneeled by his side. “Go back to sleep Hon. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” She kissed him on the forehead and left.

He wanted to believe her; he really did, but as soon as the door closed it started again, only louder. “Haaafffeeerrrahhh . . . Hoooeeerrrahhh!”

Corey almost stopped breathing. Before squeezing his eyes shut, he saw a large swirling shadow in the corner. It was spinning like a top and was bigger than a giant bear. “Haaafffeeerrrahhh . . . Hoooeeerrrahhh!” it hissed. It didn’t have eyes, but he knew it was looking right at him.

“Dad . . . Dad! Help!” he screamed and started to cry.

“What is it son?” his father said, opening the door and turning on the light.

“There . . . over there,” he pointed, “in the corner!”

“I don’t see anything,” his father replied. “You must have been dreaming.”

“No,” he said. “It breathes loud; really loud!”

“Sometimes the night can be scary,” his father said, stroking his son’s forehead, “but there’s nothing there, it’s just your imagination.”

“It’s . . . it’s not my . . . my manation,” he said, shaking his head side to side. “It’s real.”

“Dreams can seem very real,” father said. “Look at your sister, she’s sound asleep. If there was something loud it would have woken her, don’t you think?”

Corey glanced at his sister’s bed, but only saw her covers. “But . . . but she’s seven,” he said. “She’s not scared of anything.”

“She can get just as scared as you,” father grinned. “If there was something in this room, she’d know it.”

“But . . . but I heard it,” Corey said, “I even saw it!”

“Now now,” father said, tucking in the covers around Corey’s neck. “Go back to sleep. Everything will be OK.”

“Haaafffeeerrrahhh . . . Hoooeeerrrahhh!” the monster moaned, not long after father had left the room and closed the door. “Your time . . . mmmh . . . has come!” it belched, swirling closer to the foot of Corey’s bed, blocking out any glow from the night light.

Corey’s mouth opened without a sound.

“No it hasn’t!” he heard someone yell. “YOUR time has come!”

He turned his head and saw his sister, in her pajamas, standing on her bed with her arms stretched towards the ceiling. A bright light glowed from her chest. As her arms dropped, the light moved from her body and became a ball of energy between her hands. “It’s YOUR time,” she said, “to stop scaring my brother. LEAVE US! NOW!” she commanded, as her hands guided the ball of light towards the shrinking shadow.

“It’s gone!” Corey shouted. “It’s gone! How did you do that?” The ball of light hovered, vibrating in the same corner where the monster had been.

“It’s easy,” his sister replied, sitting on the side of the bed.

“Easy?”

“Yeah, easy,” Angelina said, “when you’re Solar Girl.”

“Solar Girl?” Corey said, sitting on the edge of his bed. “Who is Solar Girl?”

“I am,” she replied.

“I wish I could do that.”

“You can,” she said.

“No I can’t,” Corey replied. “I’m only four.”

“But don’t you know who you are?” Angelina asked.

“What?”

“You’re Lunar Boy.”

Corey’s mouth dropped open. “I’m who?”

“Lunar Boy.”

“Who is Lunar Boy?”

“You are. You’ve always been Lunar Boy; you just forgot.”

“But I can’t do that,” he said pointing at the floating light in the corner.

“Yes you can,” she said, “You just need to find your own inner light.”

“How?”

“I’ll show you how I do it,” she said, standing and taking his hand. “Here,” she said, putting her hand over her heart. “It comes from here. It’s always here, but sometimes we are too scared to remember.

Corey took his hand and placed it on his chest. “Now what?”

“Close your eyes breathe slowly and say, “Like the sun.”

“Like the sun,” he repeated.

“I am full of light.”

“I am full of light.”

“I shine inside and out.”

“I shine inside and out.”

“I am energy.”

“I am energy.”

“I am a star.”

“I am a star.”

“I will shine forever.”

“I will shine forever.”

The next night, after their mother and father had turned on the night light, shut off the lamp and closed the door, Corey and Angelina heard and saw the shadow, even bigger than before, come through the closet doors towards their beds.

“Haaafffeeerrrahhh . . . Hoooeeerrrahhh!” it gurgled.

“It sounds like water from the bath when it goes down the drain,” Angelina said, but Corey was too frightened to laugh.

“Angelina,” he said, “I mean Solar Girl . . . do something!”

“No,” she said, “it’s time for Lunar Boy.”

“I can’t,” Corey said. “It’s too big and scary.”

“Yes you can,” she said. “Just do it. Don’t think about it, do it.”

Corey quickly climbed on top of his bed. The swirling shadow monster was almost upon him. His body was shaking, but he closed his eyes, put his hand on his chest and took a slow breath. He heard his sister say, “Like the sun.”

“Like the sun,” he repeated and continued.

“I am full of light.”

“I shine inside and out.”

“I am energy.”

“I am a star.”

“I will shine forever.”

His toes and fingers prickled with heat, as light flowed from the center of his body, shooting out through his hands. He opened his eyes. His arms were raised and his palms turned outward. The light was so brilliant he could barely see.

“You did it!” he heard Angelina shout. “You did it Lunar Boy! It’s gone!”

“I did,” he said. “I really did!”

“Now it’s for real,” Angelina grinned.

“What’s real?” asked Corey.

“You’re a real member.”

“Member of what?”

“Of the Inner Light Club.”

“I am?”

“Yes, forever and ever.”

When they were tucked into bed the next night and their mother went to turn on the night light, Corey said, “Mom, that’s OK.”

“What?” she said, turning the light on as usual.

“You can turn it off,” he said. “We don’t need it anymore.”

“Are you sure Hon?”

“Yeah,” he said, turning towards his sister and smiling.

“OK,” their mother said.

Just before she turned out the lamp and closed the door, Solar Girl winked at her little brother, Lunar Boy and they closed their eyes in the dark for a good night’s sleep, knowing they were always safe with the Inner Light Club.

Read more children’s stories in Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

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Licking His Lips

Tale from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy by Gabriel Constans.

Licking His Lips

The ally was the surest way to get from here to there. I made my break out the screened back door and high-tailed it over the three-foot wooden fence. The dirt felt good on my feet. The air was clean and warm.

I heard Rebecca yelling, “Harvey! Harvey! Come back here!” I kept moving. I had to leave that suffocating box of neglect.

It had been raining for days. Today was the first letup in the downpour. My window of opportunity had opened. Parting clouds revealed a canopy of blue-skinned sky.

“Harvey! Har . . .” Her pleading voice merged with the outdoor symphony of untuned life. Some dogs a few houses down began barking furiously and rushed to the fence as I ran by. Their snouts pushed between the slats. They barred their teeth and growled. I smiled with fresh delight and kept on running. A compost of scents invaded my open nostrils. Flowers, weeds, car oil and rotting fruit filled the air with sweet and sour fragrances of paradox.

I walked across the street to the next alley and saw a large teenage boy on one of those little bikes; the ones they ride that are for someone half their age and look so ridiculous. As he got closer, I tried to relax and keep a steady gait. He rode by, as if I didn’t exist, then suddenly slammed on his brakes, did a broody in the gravel and came after me. I expected as much. I ran with surprising speed and left the gangly creature pumping away in useless pursuit.

Not thinking this way or that, I headed north or was it south? This freedom thing had a nice feel to it . . . no expectations, no parameters, no boundaries, fences, doors or control . . . a little dangerous now and then, but nothing too bad, at least not yet.

Turning left and stepping onto the sidewalk, I almost ran headfirst into a baby carriage. The woman pushing the thing looked OK. I tried to make small talk, be polite and all; but she kept on walking, looking into the big box on wheels with oblivious love and attention. Good thing really. It could have been disastrous. One slip or mispronunciation and the charade was over. Say the wrong thing or look cross-eyed and the next thing you know she’s making a federal case out of it. “What do you want?!” “Be quiet!” “Get lost!” You know how it goes. When all you ever hear is that kind of dribble, you learn to put a muzzle on it. But sometimes I just can’t contain myself. Everything builds up until it’s bouncing around inside like a firecracker and I’ve got to explode with a good shout or holler.

Somebody mowing their lawn turned the corner and went along the side of their stucco home. A calico cat looked out a big frame window in a trance, until it saw me and freaked. Thank God the power mower drowned out her screams.

Home after home; row after row; fence after fence. They all look alike – wooden garages, tin mailboxes, aluminum trashcans and metal cars. I was just another piece of furniture, another possession in her suburban, material world. Some used luggage to be stuffed with old knick-knacks and thrown in the garage for storage.

Sure, she’d feigned affection at first, they all do. It was shallow, temporary, a superficial semblance of real friendship. She didn’t need me, never did. I was one big nuisance. It hadn’t started like that. As a baby, I could do no wrong. She smothered me with affection. But the older I got, the more distant she became. By the time I was a young man, she didn’t know what to do with me. I told her again and again that I wanted her to stay home, but she never listened. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I didn’t realize I was crossing the highway until I heard one of those skids that send shivers through your spine. I saw the tire headed for my face and jumped out of the way without any time to lose. As I zigzagged to safety, I glanced down the street and saw the black and white moving slowly in my direction.

Cops!” I sneered. “How could she? I never hurt her.”

I took off around a small house, hopped the fence, ran through their garden, climbed under a railing and wound up next to someone’s garbage. I hadn’t eaten since early morning and could feel the saliva starting to ooze between my lips. Instinctively, I knocked off the lid and grabbed some leftover bread. It’s amazing what people will throw away – perfectly good food, just because of a little spot, a bruise or some other perceived imperfection. I wondered if she would have thrown me out someday, just like the garbage. I’m not perfect. I have my flaws. Who doesn’t?

“Hey! Get out of there! Get lost!” Someone screamed. I didn’t wait around to see where the sound was coming from. I took a big chunk out of the defective loaf and dashed around a hedge. I kept walking and swallowed hard, not knowing when or where I’d get my next meal. It didn’t seem like I’d been gone that long, but the air was getting chilly and the big, hot, warm, glowing thing in the sky was starting to melt into the ground.

The hair on the back of my neck started to bristle, as second-hand thoughts intruded upon my territorial sense of temporary emancipation. “Maybe it wasn’t that bad,” I questioned, as the sky grew darker and loneliness crept into my fur, like a pack of terrorist fleas.

As I meandered over some sharp gravel, which cut into my paws, I saw some houses that looked just like ones next to mine. I must have gotten turned around somewhere. The porches, front yards and walkways smelled oddly familiar.

Before I caught her scent downwind, Rebecca grabbed me from behind. She’d make a first class hunter if she didn’t have to walk so clumsily on her two back feet.

“Harvey. Where have you been?!” She picked me up and held me close, running her warm hands over my back and face. “You naughty boy! You had me worried sick.”

She didn’t act very sick. In fact, she looked happier than I’d seen her in a long time.

I put my head on her chest, licked her fleshy pink face and whispered, “It’s good to be home.” She probably just heard, “Bark, bark bark.” but hey, I meant it.

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His Mother’s Arms – Part 3

His Mother’s Arms. Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

His Mother’s Arms – Part 3 (Conclusion)

When Jon and his mother made their return visit to the hospital, Jon let slip a comment about his mother’s headaches. The doctor, a young, auburn-haired woman, named Sally Shapiro, quickly questioned Clarisa. “When did she first have these headaches? What was their frequency and how long did they last? What was the pain like? Were there any stressful events in her life? Did anyone in her family history have similar ailments?” The last question unloaded the cart.

To her surprise, Clarisa found the attention comforting and was relieved to finally reveal her private world of apprehension and fear. She made an appointment with Dr. Choate for tests the following week. To her delighted and infinite surprise, the tests discovered nothing other than high blood pressure, which was successfully treated with medication and a change in diet.

Jon’s feet pushed hard on the rubber pedals of his new used bike. He broke free down the straightaway and didn’t let up rounding the corner towards home. His mother was in the front yard with Grace and little Mary playing in the flowerbed. Clarisa was planting spring bulbs and chatting away when she heard a holler.

“Hey, Mom! Look!” Jon yelled with delight. He felt like the sky had lifted him from gravity’s grip and pulled him, flying, up the driveway. He skidded to a stop and stood beaming like sunlight. His mother clapped her dirt-covered hands and ran to his side. She gave him a long hug, pulling his head to her tummy and exclaimed, “That was fantastic! You’ve gotten so good! Your father will be very proud.”

Unfastening the strap to his helmet, Jon unconsciously felt above his eyebrow, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and basked in his mother’s presence and praise.

THE END

Part 1
Part 2

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His Mother’s Arms – Part 2

Hist Mother’s Arms – Excerpt from Children’s short story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Hist Mother’s Arms – Part 2

The nurse, Bea, washed Jon’s forehead with yellowish-brown betadine that ran behind his ear. Bea’s brown face was surrounded by straight, thick black hair. The rest of her body was covered in white. She kept smiling and repeating, “That’s a good boy.” Her soothing voice put him into a matriarchal trance, as name-calling, rocks and falling took an afternoon nap.

Grace stood close by, rocking Mary side to side, like mothers’ of young children do. She was trying to put on a good face and comfort Jon, but he could sense her aversion to looking at his wound.

A tall mustached man, in a hospital coat, suddenly loomed over Jon.

“This is Doctor Patrick,” voiced the nurse, in a hasty introduction.

“What have we here?” he questioned, without expecting anyone to answer. He took the pad off of Jon’s eyebrow.

“Don’t touch it!” Jon screamed with fright.

The doctor ignored his outburst and stated matter-of-factly, “Pretty good one there buddy.” Turning towards the nurse he said, “I’ll need a butterfly suture set.” The nurse already had it ready and placed it in his hand.

Jon eyed the doctor with the hair on his lip, as he opened the suture kit and seeming to speak to the plastic tray said, “Son, I’m going to give you a little poke. It will sting.” Nurse Bea handed Doctor Patrick a small syringe. “Then I’ll stitch you up so good you’ll never know what happened.”

Doctor Patrick moved closer. Jon could feel his height. He looked at the doctor’s black belt and buckle, when his white coat fell open, then felt a sharp sting. He started to cry.

“The next part won’t hurt,” the physician’s monologue continued.

“It’ll just feel like someone tugging on your eyebrow a bit.”

“Son,” Jon repeated to himself. It sounded like his father’s voice. He knew his dad would want him to “be tough” so he bit his lip, counted backwards and closed his eyes. He longed for his mother’s arms and cried out “Mama!”

“All done,” chuckled the tall, black-belted, mustached man. “You can open your eyes now.” As he put the tweezers back in the tray, Dr. Patrick turned to Grace, who had just opened her eyes and said, “You have a brave little guy here.” Jon wiped away the tears with his dirty sleeve.

Before Grace or Jon could say a word, the self-absorbed doctor had gone to the next bed and disappeared behind a sliding beige curtain. Bea looked at Grace. “He’ll need to come back in a few weeks to get those removed.” She gestured towards Jon’s forehead and smiled her bewitching smile.

“I’ll tell his mother,” Grace replied, then helped Jon off the gurney and held his trembling hand out to the car.

CONCLUSION TOMORROW

His Mother’s Arms – Part 1

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His Mother’s Arms – Part 1

His Mother’s Arms – Excerpt from children’s short story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

His Mother’s Arms – Part 1

The squeaking bicycle wheels turned with mechanical persistence, as Jon pumped triumphantly across the neighborhood asphalt and rounded the bend towards home. It felt like the sky swooped down and pulled his excitement into the air. He was flying down the flat, familiar road of his substandard, military housing project.

It was Jon’s second week on a two-wheeler and his sixth year of life. He never, ever believed he would be able to ride his bike without the help of his loud, grating training wheels. “Baby wheels!” The older kids would tease.

“Now, they’ll see!” he said to himself. “I’m not a baby!”

As the cracked, weed-filled driveway to Jon’s yellow-walled, dilapidated garage came into sight, a flurry of devilishness was unleashed.

“Hey, four eyes! Over here!”

Jon glanced to his left and saw fifth graders Biff, Manny and Dennis rising behind the barren bushes of late winter, arms flexed like baseball pitchers in their windup with fistfuls of delinquent angst headed his way.

Fear jumped through his arteries, as his legs strained to provide escape. Rocks and gravel pummeled his head, neck and shoulders. The bike seemed to melt away, as the gutter made friends with his face. Anxious, laughing voices hovered nearby. “Let’s beat it before he goes crying to his mommy.” They mocked.

He looked up through a fuzzy blur. Something wet and warm was dripping down his forehead and into his eyes. He felt for his glasses but they were gone. He looked at his hand and saw red streaks on his fingers and palm. Pain made a dramatic, sharp entrance, as tears merged with the stream of bloody discharge cascading over the side of his nose and cheek like a miniature waterfall. Before he could cover his mouth, a cry of nature erupted. “Mama!” A long, sick silence followed; then he heard it again, “Mama!” and felt his lips close around the last vowel.

Without his thick spectacles, everything looked lopsided and out of control. He stood with a groan and fifty pounds of embarrassment clinging to his back. Without knowing his camouflage pants were ripped to shreds and his bike a modernist rendition of mangled metal, he carried his torn body up the driveway, through the garage and into the kitchen to find the comfort of his mother’s arms. “Mama! Mama!” he cried, moving urgently from room to room. Leaking blood along the hall carpet he finally smelled his mother’s presence and opened her door.

Clarisa, Jon’s mother, was lying quietly with her eyes shut softly when Jon entered. Her forehead wrinkled with pain at his sudden intrusion.

“Mama!”

“What?” she said, without moving or looking his way. “I’ve got one of those awful headaches again.”

“Mama!” Jon sobbed. He walked clumsily towards the bed.

Clarisa turned her head slightly and reiterated. “Please, be quiet.” She reluctantly opened her eyes and exclaimed. “Oh my God!” Jon’s face, hands, arms, shirt and pants were covered with blood and dirt. Clarisa flinched involuntarily. “Don’t move!” she said sternly.

“But . . . “ Jon pleaded.

“Don’t move!” she repeated.

As Jon froze in mid-step, Clarisa began to rise. Her head seemed to contain a ton of throbbing iron. She inched, like an antique tray of china, to the bathroom. Jon stood shaking; restraining his primordial need to throw his arms around his mother’s waist, bury his head in her soft belly and wail.

She returned with a rolled up green towel and pressed it gently above his left eyebrow to stop the bleeding; making sure to keep her freshly washed red and blue blouse from her son’s crew-cut head of filthy, oozing fluids.

Clarisa was awash with agony. Jon’s bloodied entrance had cracked the temporary sea wall she’d erected in her quiet bedroom harbor, to keep the stormy waters of her aching head at bay. She called her neighbor, Grace, and asked if she could take Jon to the emergency room.

Grace, a stout, big-shouldered woman in jeans, was there in minutes, her one-year-old, Mary, clamped on her hip like a spider monkey. After her initial shock at seeing the dazed and dripping boy, she donned her best Florence Nightingale tone of voice and whisked Jon away with repeated self-assurances. “Everything will be OK Jon. Don’t worry.” Jon laid in the back seat of her car and held the towel tightly to his forehead. “It’s nothing,” Grace continued. “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

Once Grace had left with Jon, Clarisa sank back to bed with guilt and blame bombarding her already shattered head. “What kind of a mother am I?” she thought. He looked so scared.” She moaned in pain and placed her hands on her temples. There was nothing she could do. Her migraines crept from the back of her skull, like a creeping vine, thick with thorns, once or twice a week and literally dropped her to her knees. They had increased in frequency since Jon’s father, Alex, left for another six-month naval tour in the Indian Ocean.

She never mentioned her ailment in her overseas letters. They were always short and sweet, filled with everyday occurrences and concerns. “We’re fine. Jon is riding his bike whenever the weather permits. He’s getting much better. It won’t be long until we take off the training wheels. He’s doing pretty good in school. They learned the cutest song last week. I’ll try to remember to have him sing it for you when you get home. We both miss you tremendously. Take care sweetheart. Love Clarisa.”

Clarisa’s potent fear of what her “migraines” may reveal, were batted away like an annoying mosquito. Her father had died, at the age of fifty, from a cerebral aneurysm. Her mother had soon followed suit with a number of massive strokes. She had only been nineteen when her father made his quick exit and a tender twenty-three when her mother was ungracefully removed from her life. She viewed doctors as messengers of death and hospitals as corridors of contaminated grief.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3 (Conclusion)

Whether it had been divine providence, coincidence or random luck, I’ll never know; but my faith in Buddha and the precepts were instantly restored. I attended the temple weekly and diligently started reciting my sutras. I even entertained the idea of becoming a nun, until a wonderfully romantic dream convinced me I’d never make it as a recluse.

Reverend Tsukiyama brought the application later that week, as well as some phone numbers of other families who had daughters in the program. Haha knew one or two and called them that evening. I walked into the kitchen as she was finishing her last call.
She hung up solemnly and said we’d talk about it in the morning.

“OK,” I replied, acting as if it didn’t concern me in the least. “I think I’ll call it a day. Goodnight Haha.”

I figured the sooner I went to bed, the earlier the sun would rise. I brushed my teeth, put on my nightclothes and snuggled in for the hopefully brief darkness, but the night crawled by like a sleepwalking sloth.

Sleep deprived and blurry eyed, I was waiting anxiously at the breakfast table when Haha, Chichi and Soba (grandmother) straggled into the kitchen.

“Well?” I exclaimed, almost lifting off my seat.

“Well what?” Haha replied.

“You know what!”

“Oh, that,” she said.

They sat and stared down at the table. Haha was the first to break. She glanced my way with a brilliant grin.

“I can! I can!” I jumped up and down and kissed them all. “You won’t be sorry! I’ll make you proud! Thank you. Thank you. I love you all!” I bowed so many times I thought I’d surely broken my back!

Chichi turned away and went outside without saying a word.

Haha and Soba were crying. “I’ll be all right. Don’t cry,” I said.

Chichi left for work without speaking to me.

That night Haha followed me to bed and sat on the side as I got under the covers.

“I’m sorry Hon, I didn’t mean to bring a cloud on your head.”

“What do you mean?”

“We weren’t crying because we were sad. Well, we are sad to see you go, but it’s more than that.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” I cautioned, feeling a bit uneasy.

She continued as if she hadn’t heard me. “Soba and I are happier for you than you’ll ever know. We’re so proud of you.” She smiled and started crying again.

“Haha.” I put my arms around her. “What’s wrong?”

She wiped her wet cheek on the sleeve of her silk kimono; the one Soba had given her back in the fifties. “Nothing’s wrong,” she sighed. “Everything’s right. You’re doing something Soba and I never had the chance to do.” Her eyes watered again. “I think we’re feeling a little sorry for ourselves. I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I did want to write and play music.” She paused, gently caressing the blanket with her callused fingers. “Who knows, I might have been pretty good at it too.”

“What stopped you?”

“It just wasn’t something women were ‘supposed to do’. Our duty was to home and family, but I can’t blame it all on that.” She looked away. “I was scared. I’d never lived apart from my family. I knew what to do at home. I’d seen it done all my life. It was safe. I did what was expected.”

I started feeling guilty. “If only we hadn’t come along,” I thought.

Seeming to have read my mind she quickly added, “It’s not your fault! I couldn’t imagine life without you. When you’re a mother you’ll know how much I love you. No, I don’t regret having children.” She smiled and shook her head. “It’s hard sometimes and tiring as hell . . .”

“Haha!” I exclaimed. I’d never heard her swear before.

“There’s something special about each and every one of you.” She stopped, as if she’d just realized something profound. “I wish I wasn’t such a scared-y-cat.”

“Well?” I asked.

“Well what?”

“Why don’t you do something about it?”

She blushed. “It’s too late for that.”

“Too late?!” I exclaimed. “Remember that poem you wrote a couple years ago about the farm?” She nodded bashfully. “It was great! Everyone said so. Why don’t you start writing again?”

“I wish there was time, between chores and kids I barely get any sleep as is,” she said justifiably.

“Make time,” I insisted. “Basho and Yutaka are old enough to help out. You could practice your music too.”

“You’re so sweet.” She gave me a big hug. “I’ll think about it.”

“I love you Haha.”

“And I you.” Our necks were damp with tears. “I miss you already,” she cried.

I sat back smiling. “I’m only going to be two hours away.”

“I know.” She laughed.

“Chichi acts like I stuck a knife in his back,” I said sadly, looking at the floor. “It’s not like I’m going to Europe or something.”

Haha brushed the hair from my forehead. “He’ll come around. You are like the rising sun to him. He can’t imagine not having you here.”

“You don’t understand,” I said, feeling my cheeks getting wet once again. “He had me promise . . . I promised that I’d never leave Hamatombetsu.” I hid my shame behind my hands.

“Yuki,” Haha whispered. “Yuki. Look at me.”

I looked through blurry eyes.

“He never told me about that and you know why?” Haha asked. I shook my head. “Because he knows it was a foolish thing to ask a little girl to promise. How old were you . . . nine, ten?”

I stopped crying. “I was nine. It was on our way back from visiting Shogi in Sapporo.”

Haha shook her head. “He had no right to have you make such a promise.” Haha looked out the window. “He knows you can’t hold on to joy or try to put it in a chicken pen. You have to find your own way Musume, with your own heart.” She held my hand. “I’ll speak with him. He only wants your happiness.”

In less than a month I was informed of my acceptance, but it wasn’t until my crying Chichi and I got in his old beat up truck, waved goodbye and drove down the familiar, pot-marked dirt road, that it seemed real.

Haha had been right. Chichi came back to me the morning after they’d given me their blessing to go. He told me they would visit as often as they could. He helped me pack, gave me what little money they had and said he’d always be my “Number one fan.”

I wondered if my prayers had helped push my wish to the top of the karmic pile or the Bodhisattva’s had just taken a nap and knocked it off by accident. Then again, perhaps Sapporo wasn’t the land of honey and happiness after all. I looked back at my shrinking family and sobbing friend Kiri, who were waving in the distance. Through my bittersweet tears I realized that my ashita had become imadoki (today).

THE END

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Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 2

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 2

Now I was being pulled, like an obsessive magnet, towards Sapporo’s alluring illusion of happiness. I was infected with a virulent virus known as TRISSES (The Rice Is Sweeter Somewhere Else Syndrome).
I wasn’t sure how to make my break – work, elope, runaway or hijack a bus? My teenage desire contradicted all financial logic. Our family had no savings account, wealthy relatives or hidden cash to save me from the purgatory in which I wallowed. My parents had no inkling of my nightly anguish and I wasn’t about to let them in on the secret. If they discovered my desire to go to Sapporo, their fears about “that depraved city of immorality” would descend upon me like a swarm of locusts. I had never forgotten the promise I’d made my father and neither had he.

When times were tough, I’d always been harangued into attending the local temple and praying for understanding and humility. After awhile I discovered that the prayers and priests divination’s often coincided with the will of my parents, teachers, and other illustrious icons of the community, but I figured I might as well give it one last try.

On a sunny Saturday in July, I decided to attend temple on a personal quest. I was turning eighteen in two weeks and could see the tiny grains of sand falling through the hourglass at the speed of light.
I wasn’t the kind of girl to stay home and play house or get married. Having grown up with six younger siblings, I was certain I’d rather be tortured and hanged then ever marry and have children! I didn’t mind if other women want to live that life, but it wasn’t my cup of tea or so I thought at the time.

I entertained the thought, rather briefly, about being a teacher. There were a few teachers I admired, respected and even fell in love with. Mr. Sato was my favorite. He had the nicest smile and always complimented my papers. Simple comments like, “Nice work.” would send Kiri and I into spasms of joy and late night talks about how one of us would make Mr. Sato our boyfriend. The fact that he was married, with children and twenty years our senior, seemed irrelevant at the time. Why should that matter when he was “so nice and cute”?
With somewhat more mature reflection, I doubted I could stand in front of thirty pairs of beady little eyes to impart any semblance of knowledge or words of wisdom. I’d surely wilt on the spot from fright.

Then the thought of working as a nurse embedded its tentacles in my skimming mind. That was something I knew absolutely nothing about. What could be so hard about that, I reasoned, handing doctors instruments, putting on bandages and saving people’s lives? I didn’t know about the ugly stuff, the pictures you don’t see on television – people throwing up on your newly washed uniform; exhausted interns screaming obscenities at your “incompetence”; wiping the bottom of a smelly old drunk dying from liver disease.

Haha (Mother) couldn’t believe how anxious I was to go to temple that day. “What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you so fired up.”

“Nothing special, I just want to recite sutras and pray for Buddha’s compassion.”

She looked me up and down, smiling with a look that said, “Yeah, sure.”

We arrived ten minutes early, dressed in our finest attire. I didn’t even mind wearing the totally embarrassing dress Haha had made for me to wear on special occasions. She had hand-stitched it from some strange fabric my aunt had given her. She gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday. You could see the pride she had felt when she handed me the package and bowed. Internally I had moaned. “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that old-fashioned fake-flower monstrosity!” But all she heard was my dutiful reply, “Thank you Haha. It’s beautiful.”

I rushed inside and sat on the mat. The rest of my bewildered family soon caught up and joined me, looking around nervously, ill at ease to be sitting so close to the altars.

Reverend Tsukiyama recited his ancient incantations, the followers paraded there off key voices with theatrical vengeance and everyone responded with stifled coughs and yawns. Silently, I plunged the depths of my imagination and begged the Ancestors and Buddha’s to reward me for all my good karma. “Please, please!” I begged. “Take me away from these endless fields of wheat, barley and chickens and deliver me to the Pure Land – Sapporo!”

“Get up child,” Haha whispered. “Service is over.”

The priests were shuffling down the corridor towards the hall entrance.

“Over?” I said in shock. “It can’t be! Nothing happened!”

“What are you talking about?” She felt my head. “You feeling OK Musume (daughter)?”

“I’m fine,” I mumbled, as we formally bowed and headed out. Haha kept eyeing me like a suspicious inspector.

What went wrong? I’d done everything! I helped take care of my brothers and sisters, seldom argued with my parents and never even thought about sex or drugs – well, not about taking drugs anyway. I said my nightly prayers and didn’t even hit Sashi Mutsui when she called me a “stupid little pig”.

I was a good girl. Why was I being singled out for punishment? Who were these dead priests and Bodhisattvas anyway . . . the farmers of suffering . . . the divine bean keepers? “This one’s good. That one’s bad. You deserve pleasure. You deserve pain. And you, Yuki, you have to live in Hamatombetsu until you shrivel up and die!”

I swore I’d never set foot on temple grounds again. “You call this a temple?” I admonished, looking at the empty space between the high, engraved ceiling and polished floor. “If I’m going to be stuck here the rest of my life, I might as well jump into the funeral pyre now and let my ashes blow away with the wind!”

As we reached the entrance, Reverend Tsukiyama motioned our family aside. The Reverend was somewhat of a village icon. In his forty years of service he had initiated, married and/or buried almost everyone in town. He’d known me since I was a wailing little bundle of flesh. He was a creaky, robust, silver-haired representative of communal devotion and tradition. Seeing his face reminded me of the day he caught Kiri and I orange-handed, sort of speak, on these very grounds.

We had snuck into the temple courtyard one day after school, like teenage fruit-stealing ninjas and devoured some delicious temple persimmons. They had been hanging invitingly on the lowest branch when we’d first eyed them after service the previous week. We had gleefully conspired then and their to stop by, when we thought the reverend was out making house calls and help ourselves to one of our favorite treats. Everything had gone according to plan, until we’d turned to leave and Reverend Tsukiyama entered the courtyard.
What could we say? We had orange persimmon juice all over our hands and faces. At first, it looked like he was about to laugh, but then his face turned very stern and he admonished us severely, naming every hideous realm of suffering we would end up in if we continued our lives of crime. We hadn’t known that after we’d gone running home that it had taken every ounce of control he had to not break out laughing when he’d discovered our shocked, setting-sun colored faces.

“Yuki,” the Reverend whispered. “Have you thought about your future?”

“What?” I said, still in a belligerent, melancholy daze.

“Your future. Have you thought about your future?”

“My future? It’s all I think about.”

“Well,” he chuckled mischievously. “If you don’t want to be a teacher or politician, I heard about a hospital in Sapporo that trains young girls to be nurses” his eyes sparkled, “and it doesn’t cost a single yen.”

I was stunned. He smiled a rapturous grin, then put on his stern, fatherly face. “Of course, it’s not entirely free. There is a catch.” My eyes were as big as saucers. “Once you finish their two-year program you have to work at their hospital for another two years. They provide room and board.”

I felt like I’d just been hit in the head with a large rock. “I thought you knew about this,” he said. “I’ve been telling all the girls about it.” My mouth hung open like a hungry carp.

I managed a few syllables, “No. I never . . .”

“If your parents don’t mind,” he continued, “I’d be glad to stop by later this week with the application and phone num . . .”

My shouting drowned out the good reverend before he finished his sentence.

“Yes, yes, yes! How do I apply? When does it start?”

He didn’t have time to answer. I turned to Haha and Chichi and pleaded shamelessly, “Please, please say yes!” I was jumping up and down like a kid who wanted a sweetened dumpling.

They hesitated, then Haha anxiously asked, “You want to be a nurse?”

“Yes!” I shouted. “With all my heart.”

“You never mentioned this before.”

“I thought it was impossible.”

Chichi turned stoically towards my black-robed savior and stated calmly, “We’ll think about it Reverend. It’s most kind of you to consider Yuki worthy of such a program. You know you are always welcome in our home.”

“They’d think about it?!” I screamed in my head. The answer to my prayers had just been delivered like a divine telegram and all they could say was, “they’d think about it!” I took a deep breath, put on my best face and managed a feeble semblance of control. At least they were considering it. In my vocabulary, that was as good as a yes!

At that moment my little girls promise to my Chichi to never leave our village had been washed away in a flood of excitement, but he hadn’t forgotten. Caught up in the moment, I didn’t allow myself to see the pain and sense of betrayal that was boiling under my father’s skin.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

PART 1

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