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Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Take Another Road," Chapter 4

Here we go with Chapter 4 of "Take Another Road."  Hope you enjoy it...

Chapter 4--Minoru’s Ligeia

            “There is no point, among the many incomprehensible anomalies of the science of mind, more thrillingly exciting than the fact--never, I believe, noticed in the schools--that in our endeavors to recall to memory something long forgotten, we often find ourselves upon the very verge of remembrance, without being able, in the end, to remember.”

--“Ligeia,” Edgar Allan Poe

            A stringed arrangement played over Minoru’s stereo at a high volume as he stood in his bathroom.  Just out of the bath, a towel wrapped around his waist, Minoru used a second one to dry his hair.  Through the small window, now partially obscured by steam, he noticed night had begun to fall.  He would soon head over to Asuka’s, to play at the family’s dinner party.

            Minoru enjoyed performing, and it was one of those few things he realized that offered him release.  He carefully brushed out his hair, ensured the careless nature of his thick tresses, then stepped into the next room. 

            The apartment was small; Minoru’s creature comforts were not many, but they suited his needs:  the futon was well-built, but inexpensive, the wall-to-wall carpeting cheap and looked like it had been taken up from someone’s office.  The dresser was secondhand, as were the TV, stereo, and the lone easy chair.  He also had a small kitchen, though cooking was not something Minoru indulged in that often.

            Dressing in black jeans, a matching shirt and leather vest, Minoru cast his eyes on the silver picture frame to his right:  the photo was of a woman, perhaps in her early thirties.  She was not the most attractive of the Japanese lovelies; she had a plain, honest-looking face, but her warm smile more than made up for that.

            Minoru smiled back at her as adjusted his belt.  He was happy to have met the new people; even better was to see Aimi again, and meet her family.  Kaldera of course had been the catalyst for all of it, as he had been for Kaz.  I know that some people, Mother would not be pleased with my associations; but I am quite certain you would not disapprove, as you moved above your station, and did so with honor.  I only hope I can carry myself as you did.

            When I met Kaz, I knew I’d met a true friend right away.  He has become my sidekick, the unnamed narrator to my Dupin as it were, from Poe’s mysteries.  I certainly did not plan that, for I see him as my equal.  He is talented, and he is such an honest and decent fellow.  Two people of such different circumstances and backgrounds, in the same, strange city--that sounds foolish, but it isn’t.  It happens every day, and I am so pleased to know we get along.

            Kaldera is another; a gaijin, yes, but a man who’s been many places, seen many things and he continues to find his way, wherever he is in the world.  The music we make together is wondrous, and I hope for more.

            I also hope for Asuka--I was able to persuade her to let me bring her to Masuyo today; she too, needs to see more than what she has.  It’s not her doing, but I wish to help her, if I can.  I do love her dearly, as dearly as I loved you, Mother.  Wish me well on this quest, as you have all others.

            The CD player switched to a new track, a jarring blast of horns, drums and guitars.  A drum kick, and Minoru found himself moving quickly to its punk-like cadence as he checked for all he’d need tonight.

“These are the stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Not exactly the boy next door

He’ll tell you tales of horror, and he’ll play with your mind

If you haven’t heard of him, you must be dead or blind…”

            Minoru slid into his long, black coat, and slung his shamisen over his shoulder.  He checked his wallet and Metro pass, switched off the stereo and the lights, and was out the door, as the song still played in his mind.

“These are the stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Not exactly the boy next door!”

            The atmosphere at the Okuda home was a convivial one, as all crowded themselves around the living room table for dinner.  The meal was a simple one, augmented by a bottle of sake that Kaldera brought as his offering, plus a basket of daifuku, the rice cake pastry a homemade gift from Mei.

            Aimi looked around the crowded table as her family and the guests ate their fill.  It was a fun evening, with family and friends, Aimi thought; as her father often said, it didn’t take much to have a good time.  The topics of discussion flew fast, with school, exams, the trip no one seemed to be taking, and other matters talked of.  Before long, Kaldera and Kaz brought out their guitars, and the music went into the evening.

            Kaldera was pleased to learn that the Okudas would be at the club Saturday night.  Kaz indicated he would go, his parents not having said he couldn’t.  Aimi wondered if he had even seen his folks today. 

            Mei added, “Midori’s coming, and her folks, too.  They’re up for it.”  Midori’s adoptive parents were Japanese; they lived in a slightly more upscale neighborhood (something Mei didn’t seem to mind, in that case), and they were a young, outgoing couple that all knew from school meetings and events.

            “Mei, how about your mom?”  Kaz asked.  “Think she’ll be able to come out?”

            Mei shrugged.  “I dunno.  It’s day-to-day with her, but I’ll see.  Today was a rough one; she was in bed for most of it.  She did say I should go have some fun.”

            Aimi turned to Kaldera.  “So, tell us about this band.”

            Kaldera chuckled.  “Well, they’re all Japanese; younger people, and all in other groups.  This is a side project for them; I just like working in with others, and they have all picked up on what I do.  Most of the music is from other writers, people I’ve worked with over the years, but I do a few of my own songs, too.”

            “Such as?”  Kaz nudged Kaldera with his elbow, drawing laughter. 

            “Okay, I suppose that means I’m on.”  Moving to the couch, Kaldera took up his guitar and placed a capo on the fourth fret, while everyone took up the two chairs or spots on the floor.  Kaz sat beside him, and made a quick check to ensure his guitar was tuned. 

            “I play this guitar in D,” Kaldera explained, “mostly for a certain song.  But I move up for this one.”  Playing a quiet opening lick, he explained, “I wrote this one recently, and I may do it tomorrow.” 

            Kaldera began to fingerpick; the chords were simple, but to the others, he’d begun a journey, and all were rapt in attention.

“I’m feeling not myself

Outside of me

& I am not sure

What I’m to be

They say we are vessels

Some hold, or let out

Believe I’m the latter

For the things I’m about…”  

            Kaldera began to strum the chords, his voice taking on a low, ragged tone.  The words were introspective, and Aimi felt he was letting some of himself go before them.  It was a rare thing.

“Sail my vessel

Across the waves

Through space and time

& all my days

& I will find

That which is mine

& the place

They call the universe…”

            Everyone was nodding in appreciation; Aimi and the rest were caught up in the song, and all applauded its end.  Kaldera nodded his thanks, but looked at the floor, a strange expression on his face.  At length he spoke:  “That song says much about my life, the past, present and future.  I wrote it recently, and perhaps it has to do with my sailboat.  I find my work in getting it ready to go to sea is really just part of my mission.  I at this point in my life believe that my music, and what else I do to bring people together, is my vessel.  I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but we are all vessels.  This is just how I do it.”

            All seemed to understand, which Kaldera appreciated.  “Actually,” he said, “that’s another thing:  Kaz will back me up when I say that the boat is nearly ready to go; I was hoping some of you would be interested in a trip, perhaps to one of the islands.  It’d be good for me to be among friends, but it would be beneficial to all.”
            ‘Nuh-uh,” Mei said, holding up her hand, “but thanks.  I get seasick if I even set foot on a dock.”

            Everyone laughed.  “Understood,” Kaldera replied, “but you are always welcome, Mei.  I live above the boathouse where I’m moored.  It’s large enough to accommodate a crowd, and no one bothers me there.”

            Aimi voiced her agreement, and her parents were satisfied.  “I’ll have more details next week,” Kaldera said, “but I am aware you have exams.  I’ll make sure it’s done after all that.”

            He then removed the capo from his guitar.  “If you don’t mind,” he went on, “here’s one a friend of mine did.  I’ve always loved it, and I’ll do it Saturday.  You know this one, Kaz.” 

            Kaz knew right away what song Kaldera had in mind, and set his hands in place on his guitar.  A series of accented chords, and they were off.

“Nobody left unbroken

Nobody left unscarred

Nobody here is talking

That’s just the way things are…”

            There were just three chords in the song, and the lower tuning of Kaldera’s guitar made it sound very different.  Aimi could not contain her smile; Kaldera was letting himself go, and in such an unselfconscious way.

“Sister lost soul, brother lost soul

I need you…”

            Asuka stepped into her bedroom and turned up the faded lights.  The room, much like each in the Tanaka home was done with her mother’s eye, with alterations for Asuka’s preferences.  The walls were papered in dark burgundy and overlaid with Lotus Flower patterns, the carpet in white.  Her bed (not the traditional futon or platform style, but one fully off the floor) was queen sized, with tall brass frames and burgundy falls.  Her dressers were of fine, dark mahogany; in the corner beside them were a crossed pair of field hockey sticks, and above these a school team’s picture, a pair of trophies on either side.  A small television and stereo were placed against the wall to face the bed, and a door led to a private bathroom.

            She slid out of her heels and cocktail dress, the latter a short, one-shoulder affair in black with silver accents.  Walking to the closet near the window, she put the shoes away, and lay the dress aside over a nearby chair for cleaning. 

            Reaching into the closet, Asuka drew out a pale green silk robe.  Putting it on, she walked into the bathroom and switched on the lights.  To the left was a large sink and mirror; to the right was a large tub, and she turned on the silver spigots to draw a bath.

            Facing the mirror, Asuka removed her hair clips and tossed them next to the sink.  As Asuka washed her face to clear it of makeup (though her use of it was minimal), she thought about the evening, and its confusing ending.

            This was not exactly a dinner party, more a meeting of Keru and the two aforementioned colleagues that were involved in the family’s food distribution company.  These gentlemen were about the same age as her father; one Asuka knew was a sales manager, the other the head of marketing.  The talk at the large dining table that night was mostly about the international pipeline of goods, and what was to be done in the current economy.

            The two suited men sat beside Keru at his end of the table, their wives alongside.  Asuka was seated beside one of the ladies, and Nanae occupied the place next to her, opposite her husband.  The meal was excellent (Nanae’s cooking had, this night as on all others earned high praise), and was served by three of the uniformed kitchen staff.

            The whole affair however was a drag for Asuka; all the talk was of business and Keru did most of it.  For her part, Nanae made certain Asuka was included in the conversation; but Asuka realized that she never understood much of her father’s business, yet this was something she would need to, as she grew older.

            Minoru arrived after dinner, and entertained all in the living room on his shamisen.  Seated near the fireplace (a real one, this time), he played for the assembled, and as always he was quite good.  He mostly stuck to traditional pieces, including one that was requested.  Keru was quite pleased, and Asuka noted her father even smiled during the performance, as he and the male guests smoked his favored Altadis Corona cigars.  One of the few things she knew that made him do so was certain music--the shamisen was his favorite instrument (though he did not play himself), and Keru also admired certain classical composers. 

            Asuka watched and listened to Minoru as he played.  He was so focused when he played, yet his visage never changed; it remained calm, even through the most difficult of pieces.  He received a well-deserved round of applause afterwards.

            On the deck outside, things changed.  After packing his instrument away Minoru had stepped outside with Asuka.  The evening was cool but not chilly, and Asuka stood with him as they admired the night sky.

            After praising him for his performance, Asuka moved close to him and placed her arm around his waist.  This made Minoru smile and he asked, “Have I improved over the last time, Asuka?”

            Asuka smiled.  “Of course you have,” she replied.  “You get better each time I hear you, and Father seemed quite happy.”

            “Well, everyone did seem to enjoy it,” Minoru said, and he looked away again.  “I appreciate Keru’s interest in my music, in fact everyone’s.  I--” 

            He was about to continue when Asuka slid in front of him.  She leaned back against the ornate metal railing, and moved her hands up to Minoru’s face.  Before she could go further, Minoru took a step back.

            “What’s wrong?”  Asuka straightened up, and as she did Minoru placed his hands on her bare arms, more protective of himself than in affection towards her.

            “Wait.”  Minoru looked behind him slowly; there was no one in the hallway or the living room.  He then turned back. 

            “Asuka,” he began, “I’m sorry.  I don’t think this is the place for what you wish.  If your father should see, I think he would be angry.”

            Asuka shook her head.  “I don’t believe that,” she replied.  Actually, she thought Keru might be, but at this point she would accept anything her father might view.  “Minoru,” she began again, “I think you know how I feel for you.”

            “I do, and I’m honored by that, but…” Minoru could not finish, and Asuka saw an emotion she had never seen in him—fear.       

            “What is it?”  She asked.  “Minoru, what is wrong?”

            Minoru took Asuka in his arms, and looked into her eyes.  “Asuka, you are my dearest friend,” he said quietly, “and I do love you--but as a friend.  I am afraid--yes, I am afraid of ruining that friendship.  What we have--that means more than anything right now in my life.”

            Asuka nodded, but beyond Minoru’s words she was excite--by the feeling of his arms, his body so close to hers.  She tried to listen; but in looking at him, Asuka knew there was more that Minoru was not giving away. 

            “I understand,” she told him, “but nothing you could do would ever harm that.”

            “I suppose not.”  Minoru kissed her cheek, and added, “I just don’t think this is the right time or place, I’m really sorry.”  He turned to head back inside.  “I have to go.”

            The other guests were just getting into their coats to leave, and Asuka joined her parents in seeing all out and wishing them a good night.  This done, Asuka wished Keru and Nanae the same and went upstairs.

            The bath was ready, the tub nearly full, and Asuka shut off the water.  Before disrobing, she went back into the bedroom and stood at the window.  Peering through the curtains, she looked into the night and wondered about Minoru.  Something was wrong, and she wondered what it could be.
(Author's notes:
"Edgar Allan Poe" was written and recorded by Lou Reed, and appears on The Raven, 2003.
"Sail My Vessel" was written by me.  It has not been recorded.
"Sister Lost Soul" was written by Alejandro Escovedo and Chuck Prophet, and appears on A.E.'s Real Animal, 2008.

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