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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Take Another Road," Chapter 6

Well, here it is finally!  Chapter 6 of "Take Another Road."  Enjoy...

Chapter 6--Night Musings
            Kaldera stepped onto the deck of his sailboat, and closed the main hatch behind him.  The wind had picked up with the fall of evening but he was not cold, despite wearing only a sleeveless t-shirt and jeans.  His bare feet mindful with every step, Kaldera walked forward checked the lines that held the Kudo to the dock.  The sloop was snug against the fenders; Kaldera then inspected the masthead and jib.  The lines were in order, the sails down and protected in their custom-made covers. 
            The fore, aft and sea anchors were also in place; the hatches were closed and the emergency gear stowed.  He noted to himself that Kaz and Minoru had done good work to help him bring the Kudo in line, and with a full load of fuel she would be ready to put to sea.
            He turned and looked along the dock.  The pier lay at the base of a high outcrop of land, houses perched precariously above.  A narrow gravel road wound down from behind them to the slip and to several other piers, where fishing and pleasure craft were moored.  From the Kudo’s berth, Kaldera could guide the vessel right into Tokyo Harbor in a matter of minutes.
            Satisfied all was in readiness, Kaldera stepped onto the dock and pulled up the walkway.  He walked along the thick, heavy boards to their end, where an old wooden boathouse was situated.  Up the long line of steps, Kaldera went to the second level and walked along the outer balcony, which stretched around the corner.
            Here by the sliding glass doors sat two wooden deck chairs, plus one upright, all weather-beaten but useable.  An Austin Resonator guitar sat in one of the deck chairs and faced out to sea as if taking in the view of the harbor.  Kaldera picked up the instrument, seated himself on the upright, and began to play.
            The steel strings reverberated off the metal inner cone, which threw the sound out across the water.  Using his thumb, index and middle fingers instead of a pick, Kaldera closed his eyes.  He sat as if in meditation, and let the improvised sounds take him away.  The music coming through his hands reminded him of the Piedmont style of acoustic blues, fingers spurred by the sound of decades gone by.
            As he played, his thoughts drifted back to the Kudo.  Kaldera had fallen in love with the boat the moment he found her in that yard off the Arahio Canal.  The 45-footer was not new and didn’t have the sleekest of lines, but her planing hull had been replaced and the draft was reasonable.  The Yamaha engine had been overhauled, and Kaldera had done a refit of the interior himself; but the best part about the Kudo was that she was remarkably easy to sail on all points.
            The boat was a sizeable investment, but Kaldera didn’t care.  He had loved sailing since he was young, and had done his share of it during his Gulf and Atlantic Coast days.  At this thought, he stopped playing; Kaldera set the guitar aside, and looked out across the open water and the harbor area. 
            He reached into another pocket of his pants, and pulled out a pack of Silk Cut and a lighter.  Firing up the smoke, he leaned back and crossed his legs.  He gazed over the harbor and thought of nothing; yet he seemed to find everything coming back to him.  Not all of it was wanted.
            At the exact moment of Kaldera’s gaze across the harbor waters, Minoru looked out as well, from his apartment window to a walkway that led to the street.  Presently the familiar figure of Kaz passed along it, guitar case in hand. 
            Minoru smiled.  It had been a good evening together, and he was happy to have company here for a change.  After finishing work on the Kudo, Minoru had invited Kaz to dinner with him at a nearby sushi bar.
            Kaz was a little embarrassed to say he didn’t have any money beyond what Kaldera had just paid him, but Minoru treated him, and insisted it be so.  “Don’t worry,” he assured Kaz, “I just got my allowance, so it is not an imposition.”
            He said it in that way, that practiced way whereupon he knew Kaz could not refuse.  Following bowls of excellent monkfish stew and ikura, the two repaired to Minoru’s apartment to jam.  The songs they’d been learning from Kaldera, plus a few native tunes flew from their guitars, Minoru’s Fender acoustic a loan from their teacher and boss. 
            Minoru was still learning his way on guitar, but found it not that much of a stretch.  Musically the two had bonded; they had from the beginning, Minoru was aware, and for both there was a feeling that did not need to be put into words.
            Eventually Kaz headed for home, and Minoru saw him out.  He then realized he had been standing at the window for some time; Minoru noted the walkway was now empty, and he drew the blinds closed.
            Aimi closed her laptop and set it aside on her cluttered desk.  The small lamp clipped to the top shelf was the only light in the room, and it illuminated a circular pool of brightness around her; Aimi neatly stacked her note and textbooks, and placed these inside her school bag.  The laptop was still recharging, so that could wait until later; Aimi then reached into a shelf of the desk and pulled out a black book.
            She flipped through the pages as she gazed up at the photograph; the light threw a shadow across the likenesses of Aimi and Kira, and the former sighed.  Taking up her pen once more, Aimi began to write:  “I’m sorry to say, I do find myself interrupted quite a lot of late; but sometimes it is for good.  I am still thinking about my time with Asuka; I find I really like her.  She is such a pretty girl, but beneath that is a charming, and very thoughtful person. 
            ‘I must also admit, I’m worried about her; Asuka’s father seems a very stern and severe fellow.  I would guess he is quite strict with Asuka; it makes me think that the stress I detected behind Asuka’s eyes must in part come from him.  It makes me wonder what home life is like for Asuka.
            Could it be true?  I’ve heard people say that those who are wealthy are often unhappy.  Money and possessions do not equal happiness, but then I’m not in a position to say.  Yet I think I am rather well off, and yes, happy; I have two parents who love me so much, and I love them.  I also have two of the dearest friends I could ever have asked for in Kaz and Mei; plus all the others, Midori, Kaldera, and now Asuka and Minoru.  As some like to say, it’s all good.
            I am very tired, so I must end this.  I love you, Kira; good night.”
            Aimi stifled a yawn, though no one would have seen or heard it.  She rested her head in her hand, sighed once more and sat in silence.
            Midori glanced at the clock by her bed, and saw that three hours had passed.  That was enough of studying for her history exam; it would be the first one for her on Monday. 
            She pushed back her desk chair, stood up and adjusted her sweatshirt and matching pants.  As Midori moved to her dresser, she ran an affectionate hand along the head and back of the large calico cat that rested at the foot of the bed; the big one craned her head upward and stared expectantly.  This drew a giggle from Midori, who gave the calico a rub with both hands, plus a kiss atop her head before escaping to the dresser.
            As she brushed out her hair, Midori overheard the TV show her parents were watching in the living room.  It didn’t sound like anything she cared for, and Midori planned to call it a night anyway.
            Midori set her brush down beside her makeup case, straightened the items on her dresser, then crossed the thick blue carpet to the bedroom window.  She parted the vertical blinds slightly and looked out.  The skies had darkened, but she could see across the suburban neighborhood, and noted certain lights on in neighbor’s houses.  There was the moon; it was a few days away from full, and she mused at how it would fall right on the end of the exam week.  She doubted it meant anything, but Midori continued to look up at it for a time.  There were few clouds; and as she looked closer, she thought she could make out some of the moon’s lines and craters.
            A chill suddenly went through her; shivering, Midori wrapped her arms around her body.  It was warm in the house, but Midori often felt cold, no matter the weather.  Turning away, she picked up a white towel from her dresser and left for the bathroom.
            Asuka stepped out of her bathroom, in a long white terrycloth robe.  She sat before her mirror, and wrapped a towel of the same fabric around her neck.  Her long hair was damp from the bath; she took a length of it in hand and gently brushed out the ends.  Asuka was in thought over the day’s events, the half-day at school Saturday and what would follow. 
            She was also thinking of what had not happened, and that concerned her more.  Keru had been surprisingly quiet on the ride home.  Beyond a couple of questions about Aimi and what Asuka knew of her, he said no more.  Keru stared forward, as Daisuke navigated the Jaguar through the afternoon traffic.  From the back seat Asuka could tell from the way Keru sat, that her father was angry.  Asuka feared it was because of the text message, and from being found in such a neighborhood with a strange girl.
            Keru did not, however, bring up the matter in the house openly, and he remained very quiet.  He hardly spoke a word during dinner; Asuka knew what was coming.  He would speak in private with Nanae and communicate his negative thoughts, and her mother would have to endure it, then tell her.
            Asuka did show Nanae the painting Madoka had given her, and she was very impressed.  Nanae took careful heed of the work, and noted the same details that Asuka had.  When she showed it to Keru, he glanced at it, then replied, “Not bad; it is better than some of the things I see in galleries.”
            Asuka slid out of her bathrobe, and pulled on a pink silk nightdress with thin straps, which ended at mid-thigh.  It was strange, Asuka thought:  Keru could be gruff, even irascible with certain individuals that displeased him, but with Nanae and herself, he was generally restrained.  Asuka wanted to think this was because he loved them both, and did not wish for them to see him angry.  Yet he often looked it, and to Asuka, Keru even gave off the air of enjoying that emotion. 
            Then again, Nanae was really the only one who could cut Keru off.  Her mother once told Asuka that she “spoke his language,” and that when she spoke, Keru listened, even if he didn’t want to.  Nanae had often been the buffer between father and daughter, saying yes when he said no without reason (in her mother’s mind).
            Nanae was also the affectionate one in the family, and gave Asuka the comfort and support she needed, and had to have.  All children need it, and Mom believes that, thankfully.  I just wish Father did.  He considers it weak to show the wrong emotions, to be “soft.”
            Her hair now sufficiently dried and brushed, Asuka switched off the vanity mirror light and crossed the room.  She climbed into bed and pulled the satin sheets and thick comforter over herself; Asuka then loosened the stays that allowed the falls to come down either side of the bed.  She lay against the satin-covered pillows in the darkness, and wondered about her parents, Minoru, and especially Aimi.  That girl is so fortunate; she does know how good she has it, and I envy what she has.  I shouldn’t…but I do.
            “Mom, are you awake?”
            Mei slowly slid open the door to her mother’s bedroom and stepped inside.  The room was dark, but there was just enough light from the hallway for her to see.  She walked over to the platform bed, and looked down at the sleeping form.  Her mother, Reiko lay on her side; the woman’s black hair was tied in a pigtail, and she was wrapped in a red dressing gown.  Mei reached over and silently pulled the covers over the woman’s body a little more, then slid the door closed as she left.
            She walked into the front area of the house (indeed with nearly the same configuration as Aimi and Kaz’s homes), and Mei switched off the porch light and walked back through the hall to her own room.  Inside, she cast off her black bathrobe and picked up an old green football jersey, which she pulled over herself.
            The bedroom was small, its walls painted black.  For Mei, black was a neutral color, and she was more comfortable in it than any other.  The walls were adorned with martial arts posters, including a framed one of the old UWF shoot-style promotion.  Her dressers and desk were cluttered, and fabric as well as other clothing was piled alongside a secondhand sewing machine.  Mei was never one for organization beyond her training, and her mother never protested the state of the room, as long as there was no leftover food or anything that would call ants or other such insects.
            The clock radio was playing music from one of the area stations, and Mei sat on the floor and began a series of stretching exercises while she tried not to hear the song that had begun.  It was an old American hit, covered by a Japanese singer; Mei couldn’t remember her name, but she’d heard the voice before.
“I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired…”

            Mei attended to her stretches, and thought of how the afternoon had gone.  Class today had been a good one, and Sensei Matsunaga had indicated that not only was she and another student, Ishikawa ready for the big test, he would have work for her.  Mei would soon begin to officially teach some of the lower ranks of students.
“And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone…”

            This was good news; with Reiko unable to work, her disability payments and child support did not leave much to go around.  Mei took odd jobs where she could, and offered extra coaching to her martial arts classmates.  She also gave lessons to friends, even those who could not afford them; Matsunaga had given Mei instruction for several years, in exchange for work around his dojo.  Today, Sensei had told her she was ready to teach.  That would mean a little more money, and it was something Mei enjoyed.
“A brown-eyed girl in hand-me-downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, ‘Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve…’”

            Her exercises completed, Mei climbed onto her unmade bed and leaned against the pillows and headboard.  She pulled her legs to her chest, rested her head on her knees and listened, even though she didn’t want to.  To her right, she could see into her closet, and amidst her varied clothes, that jacket.  It was a Masuyo athletic jacket, blue with white leather arms.
“To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball…”

            She turned her head the other way, and closed her eyes.  Mei was hearing through the song reminders; not exact reminders, but ones that brought up a past that wasn’t that far off.  They did not affect her today, nor would they ever again Mei constantly told herself. 
“It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me…”

            She buried her head in her arms.  In this, Mei knew she could not convince .  “At seventeen…”
(Author's Note:  "At Seventeen" was written and recorded by Janis Ian, and appears on the album, Between the Lines.)

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