13 • BE KIND, Rewind
I flipped the book over and read the title on the spine. Concerning Migration. I flipped back through the pages violently, tearing a few of the edges.
…born in San Francisco…studied literature at UCLA…wrote at night…ran off to Chicago…worked as an editor for a big publishing company…
“No! No! No…”
I threw the book down on the office chair as I stood up and hovered over the control console. I startled my new Japanese companion as he was washing his burns with the towel and bowl of water I gave him. He looked up at me with a concerned face. I desperately scanned the console for the controls that played back the surveillance tapes. I hazarded a few button pushes with no success. Then, I tapped loudly on the monitor on which we had watched the video of the little boy and his mother.
“Play the tape again,” I ordered gruffly.
He looked at me blankly and held up his hands, one mangled with burns and the other holding a wet bloody towel.
He slowly set the towel in the bowl of water and stood up. The blood from the towel floated off in dense little clouds of red that undulated in the water. He hesitantly tried a few one-handed grips on the heavy bowl, each time picking it up a few inches from the console and setting it back down. I was getting impatient and a rush of energy desperately seized my body. I nudged him out of the way and swatted the bowl away from the console wildly. It shattered on the hard floor and sprayed blood-tinged water across the room and into the hallway. He looked at me stone-faced as the water rushed over his shoes. I gestured at the console again and waited, my shoulders heaving. He leaned over the console and pushed a button in a part of the array that had been blocked by the bowl. The monitor flashed to life and showed the interior of a large church. A chorus of tone-deaf Catholics was butchering some religious tune. I pushed the button to rewind the tape until the boy’s image was visible in the mirror again and paused it. I pointed at the screen, my hand shaking uncontrollably.
“Name. What is his name?” I shouted.
“Ma-tto…” he responded nervously.
“His last name. Family name!”
He nodded slowly. My chest tightened up and I leaned on the front of the console with my elbows locked. I sifted through the handful of memories about Sarah that I could effectively call to mind, but none of them revealed her last name. I slammed my palms against the edge of the console loudly.
I snatched up the book from the chair and the first aid kit from the console. Then, I took the flashlight from the open filing cabinet and stormed out of the room toward the stairwell. I stopped and waited for him to emerge from the room behind me, but he didn’t come.
“C’mon,” I barked.
He poked his head out of the room and looked down the hall at me. I shrugged and held up my hands in reply. He edged out into the hallway and I turned and started off toward the stairs. I could hear him shuffling along behind me. As we walked down to the second floor, I tried to think of the books I had read through in the library and if any of them mentioned the name of Matthew’s mother. I didn’t remember seeing it anywhere. My pace quickened in the desperation to confirm what I was already 99.9% certain of. I was born in San Francisco. I studied literature. I was a writer. I abandoned Matthew’s mother when I found out she was pregnant and moved to Chicago. And, the most incriminating piece of information, the name Charles Bingham. It couldn’t have been a coincidence. The truth was it still felt foreign to me. Like mayonnaise on french fries, the words just didn’t taste right in my mouth. But it was hard to deny the mounting evidence. The last piece of the puzzle was Sarah’s last name. Though, it wouldn’t be as simple as just finding it in one of the books. She could have remarried or given Matthew a different last name or even changed her own. I couldn’t remember and even if I could, it was entirely possible that it was something I hadn’t known in the first place. Dealing with my amnesiac mind was really getting to me. As a result, anger flowed into the river of mixed emotions that was already rampaging through me. I could feel the adrenaline fueling me and my pace quickened.
The door to the library was still standing wide open from when Tresa and I had run after my new Japanese friend. I walked straight in, threw the first aid kit on to one of the upholstered reading chairs, and started scouring the shelves. I heard him stumble into the room behind me and sit down in the chair. Most of the titles were just the names of places or people or dates. Some of the others were actual book titles and many of them were completely unmarked. A lot of the books bore misleading or unhelpful titles. I didn’t know where to start. I had to think of a situation in which a boy would use his mother’s last name. Nothing came to mind. I looked up toward the vertigo-inducing upper levels. I hadn’t gone up there before because there were only a few dim reading lamps on the second level and the third level was almost pitch black. There was no way to navigate the shelves. Tresa said she had read from almost all of the books in the library. There must have been thousands. How long had she been in the house?
I flicked on the flashlight, which thankfully worked, and hurriedly mounted the metal spiral staircase to the second level. My steps made gong-like clanging noises as I made my way up the twisting stairs in narrow revolutions. I resumed my browsing as I stepped onto the narrow walkway. The boards under my feet creaked and clattered as I moved along and I suddenly became concerned about the integrity of the walkway, but not enough to stop my search. I was a man possessed. I scanned the titles systematically, but none of them seemed relevant. I made my way around the four walls of the room, giving cursory glances to my wounded companion on the first floor. He was carefully applying the ointment to the burns on his hand with a pained expression on his face and rigid shoulders. As I watched him struggling to treat his injury one-handedly, I added guilt to my melting pot of emotions and stirred, diluting my panic. Bring mixture to a boil. I switched off the flashlight and shoved it in my pocket. With a heavy sigh, I marched back down the metal staircase and over to the reading chairs.
“Let me help you,” I said, jerking the tube from his good hand and precisely squeezing the contents onto my thumb and index finger.
He flinched, scooting back in his chair, and spoke, “finished.”
I immediately looked up at him and asked, “What did you just say?”
“One more time?”
I must’ve been losing my mind, what was left of it anyway. I thought I heard him say, “finished” in perfect English. It was his voice, minus the thick Japanese accent.
“No more?” I asked, holding up the tube of ointment.
He responded by waving his good hand in front of his burnt one and saying, “mou dekita de.”
“Okay. We need to cover it,” I explained, pulling a spool of gauze wrap and a small pair of scissors from the first aid kit.
As soon as he saw the gauze, he waved his hand more vigorously and shook his head.
“You have to let me help you with this. You can’t do this with one hand.” I slowed down a bit and repeated the important parts, “One hand…no good. I…help…you.” I sounded like a caveman.
He cringed and nodded. I peeled off the outer layer of the gauze and began to wrap his hand as carefully as I possibly could. His hand was shaking and his jaw was quivering. As the gauze met with his exposed flesh, it became wet and red until the next layer came around. I finished the wrap and looked at my work. It wasn’t half bad. I managed to separate his fingers as well, keeping the ends exposed where there were no burns. Next I took an ACE bandage from the kit and wrapped it over the gauze wrap. He started breathing regularly again and his jaw stopped quivering. The worst part was over. I used the little metal fasteners to hold the end of the bandage in place and clapped my hands together.
“Good to go.”
He held up the bulbous bandage around his hand and moved it around. He tried to move his fingers, but only the ends wiggled a little.
“Better?” I asked, pointing at the wrap.
“OK,” he said, exhausted.
I climbed back up the metal staircase, this time to the third level. I flicked on the flashlight again. It was the only light in the highest section of the room. I aimed it straight up, looking for the ceiling. It was there. It was composed of square wooden panels that were slightly recessed, forming a grid. It was disappointing somehow. I preferred the mystery of an upward abyss. The truth was most often a letdown.
I stepped cautiously around the narrow walkway, scanning the books with my flashlight. The third floor walkway was even nosier than the second level and it seemed to give with each step. The book titles were different from the ones in the lower levels. They were less poetic and more obvious. Some of them were downright juvenile. Why Me? The Scary Man on the Train. I Wish I Could Fly. God is a Jerk. The last one made me smile. I continued stepping lightly, looking for a promising title. I took down a book with a blank spine and flipped it open. Inside, there were pages and pages of childish drawings. Some of the objects in the drawings were recognizable as people or animals or buildings; others were completely abstract shapes colored in many times with crayon. It looked like the kind of crap you’d find hanging on the walls at the MOMA priced for thousands of dollars. I never understood art. I had always been under the impression that art required some kind of talent or skill, but that didn’t seem to be the case in modern art. It was as if being “modern” was an excuse to be heavy on concept and light on skill. I was reminded of an Italian artist who shit in 90 tin cans to be sold for their weight in gold. They were bought by collectors and displayed in modern art museums. It was unbelievable. One of the cans even sold for 168,000 dollars. I’d had no idea that that was art. I had unknowingly been making art daily for years. It had simply never occurred to me to sell it.
The pictures in the book were definitely the work of a child, as were the books on the third floor. Tresa had mentioned something about a chronology in the library. This must’ve been what she meant. She also said that she hadn’t been able to find the beginning or the end of the story. I took down a few of the books and skimmed through them. They were haphazardly written with spelling errors, bad grammar, and whole chapters simply missing. The pages were full of omissions and mistakes. I put the books back. It was odd to think of a child keeping journals so diligently. Despite the writing errors and missing sections, the shelves were brimming with books. Was this Matthew’s entire childhood? I was suddenly stricken with Goosebumps. There was something very creepy about it all.
I noticed a book with The Fantastic Mr. Fox written on the spine. I pulled it down, but Roald Dahl’s name was missing from the cover. I flipped it open and skimmed a few pages. It was written from the perspective of a boy, the young Matthew Fox, listening to his mother read Dahl’s classic children’s story. The book included all of the boy’s tedious questions and interruptions as long footnotes. I hurriedly flipped through the pages, scanning the footnotes for the name “Sarah” or a reference to the boy’s mother.
Out of nowhere, an intense stinging sensation seized the middle finger of my hand holding the book. I instinctually flicked my hand about in the air, unintentionally tossing the book over the handrail to my right. The book plummeted down the three stories and smacked loudly against the wooden floor below. My Japanese friend leapt from his seat in a panic and looked at the book and then up at me. My finger was burning now. The pain was intense. I stopped flicking my hand and looked at the tip of my finger. There was a black thickly textured substance clinging to the end of it. It was the same black ooze that I had seen devouring the book in the kitchen after meeting my new companion. I resisted the urge to scrape it off with my other hand, fearing that it would burn that hand as well. I pulled a loose paper out from among the books and balled it up tightly in my hand. Then, I used the ball of paper to remove the black goo. As I scraped it away, it clung to the paper and began to spread slowly over it’s folded edges. It was almost as if it preferred the paper to my hand. I threw the paper on to the walkway and kicked it away from me. The end of my finger was mangled and red and full of puss and charred flesh. A throbbing pain welled up in my finger and it swelled to the point that I could hardly feel it at all save the dull pulsing ache under my skin. I growled at the pain, gritting my teeth. Below, I saw my companion timidly flip the book over with his shoe and step away from it.
“No! Don’t touch it,” I shouted down at him.
I held my wrist, squeezing tightly, as I descended the spiral staircase again. He ran over to meet me at the bottom of the steps and looked my hand over as I held it out in front of me by the wrist.
“Abunai! Hayaku te wo aratte,” he yelled, pulling me toward the reading chairs.
I sat down in one of the chairs, my heart racing from the pain and the shock. He pulled a small translucent bottle of sterile water from the first aid kit and dumped it out over my finger. He shoved a wad of gauze padding into my hands and dove back into the first aid kit, searching for something. I bunched up the gauze and held it tightly around the tip of my finger, which was stinging harshly from the water. The sensation felt like my skin becoming as hard as stone and then crumbling into to pieces. As much as it hurt, I felt simultaneously ridiculous for being so panicked over just my finger after watching him treat his entire hand. The pain was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. I couldn’t believe how calmly he’d dealt with it all. The end of my finger felt like it was being blown up like a balloon. He pulled up a short brown bottle, unscrewed the cap, and gestured for me to take the wadded gauze off of my finger. I pulled the gauze away and looked at it. It was splotched with blood and puss and bits of blackened skin. He poured the bottle over my finger and again my instincts seized me. I pulled my hand out of the stream of clear liquid, clutching it to my chest, and jumped out of the chair only to slip on the wet floor and stumble back into the chair hard. The weight of my fall carried the chair over backwards and I rolled onto the floor behind the writing desk, producing a mixture of howls and obscenities. He started laughing and spun around to hide it.
“Fuck! Was that alcohol? Goddammit. You could’ve warned me…you…you…sadist. Ughhh…”
I rolled around on the floor as my finger shriveled up with an intense burning pain. I pulled my hand away from my chest and looked at it. The wound was bright red. Still snickering, he came around the chair and helped me to my feet. Then, he set the chair back upright and began digging around in the first aid kit again. The pain settled slightly and my thoughts returned to the book. I looked over at it on the floor, closed with its back cover facing up. The black slime was smeared across the hardback. I ran over and kicked the book open with my shoe. I pulled the pencil out of my pocket and used it to turn the pages as I continued looking for some clue about Sarah’s last name. My fellow burn victim came and kneeled next to me, holding the tube of ointment he had used. He looked up at me as if to ask permission to treat my finger. I was too focused on the book to give a response and simply nodded as I skimmed the footnotes.
I clenched my jaw as he gently applied the ointment to my yellowing flesh. I was working my way backwards, page-by-page, from the middle of the book where I kicked it open. There was nothing; no reference to his mother’s name, just an incessant stream of questions born of juvenile curiosity. I flipped forward through the book from where I kicked it open. My companion began wrapping my finger in gauze and topped it off with a tight compress made of tape. I had used the only ACE bandage on his hand. As he was finishing the roll of white tape, my eyes caught a question in the footnotes. It was on a page near the middle of the book, after which there were no more words on the pages.
“Mom. Your name’s Fox too. Why don’t you have a Mr. Fox like the one in the book?”
That was it. I was Matthew’s father.
I am Matthew’s father.
I repeated it in my head, but it didn’t take root like I thought it would. It didn’t give me the sense of peace I had hoped for. I felt ashamed and terrified and helpless. My mind was plagued with questions that I couldn’t answer. What happened to him? Why did he write all of these books? Was this his house? Where was he? Was he alive? Was he really missing his heart? What was this flaw we shared? What did it have to do with…
Nighthawks. The image of the altered Edward Hopper painting on the surveillance monitor flashed in my head. The man sitting next to the woman in the red dress was missing from the picture. It was the man that Matthew associated with his father, with me. I looked down at my clothes. I was stripped down to my pants and a white undershirt, but the suit and hat I had been wearing before looked almost identical to the ones worn by the man in the unaltered version of the painting. I strained my mind trying to put together the pieces and make the connection, but it just didn’t make any sense. I swallowed a gallon of saliva and dropped down to my knees over the book. I looked down and noticed the word “Fox” on the page beginning to fade into a dark blob. From underneath the word, the black substance ate a hole in the page and oozed through sluggishly from the other side, spreading at an almost imperceptibly slow pace.
“What is it?” I asked aloud, expecting no more than a shrug or a confused look in reply.
“I don’t know.”
I looked up from the book with urgent eyes and asked, “What? What did you say? Look, do you speak English or not?”
“Are you just messing with me or what?”
“Fine. Have it your way,” I said, standing up. “That’s twice now you’ve spoken perfect English. I’m not crazy. Well, I might be crazy, but that’s not the point. You do speak English. Why are you hiding it? You can help me. Maybe, I can help you.”
“Chaa-rii ga Japanese wo hanashiteru yo!”
“Chaa-rii ga speaking Japanese!”
“I…” I stopped with my mouth hanging open. This time, I caught him in the act. It sounded like he said… “I’m speaking Japanese?”
He nodded with wide eyes, obviously as shocked as I was.
“But…I don’t speak Japanese.”
He nodded more rapidly and pointed at me.
“I’m speaking Japanese…right now?”
“Sou…sou…yes…you are,” he shouted, his responses in a mixture of English and Japanese.
My expression soured and my shoulders dropped, hanging lifelessly from my neck as I let out a big groan. I slumped down in one of the reading chairs and tried to clear my mind. It didn’t work. It never did. My mind could not be cleared. It could not be quieted. It was like a broken Etch-A-Sketch that didn’t erase when you shook it. I was dating myself with my thoughts again. None of it made any sense. I had never studied even a little Japanese. Like most Americans, the only Japanese phrases I knew came from Buddy Hackett and Styx. I didn't even know anyone who spoke Japanese, although…Matthew did. But, to be fair, I didn’t really know him at all. Blood was the only thing we shared, and he was probably better off.
I couldn’t have been a father. She was better off without me.
Matthew’s words echoed in my head. Maybe he was right. Maybe we did share more than blood. Maybe I had passed on some kind of flaw to him, a curse. He had made the same mistakes I did. I wondered if he felt as much shame and regret as I did now. I couldn’t piece my past together, but if I could, I suspect I’d find a hollow joyless existence. I felt slightly relieved that I couldn’t remember the finer details of my life. If I really had taken Matthew’s heart with me when I left, then who had taken mine? Who gave me this flaw? Even without the handicap that the house seemed to impose on my memory, my childhood was not exactly fresh in my mind. Only now, living as a blank canvas, did I realize that the past is what painted the portrait of a man. I laughed mockingly at my own words. It wasn’t wisdom. It was obvious. Or was it?
It was almost too obvious. It was the kind of thing people would simply overlook. From my unique perspective, I could truly appreciate the meaning of it, obvious or not. Most people would never know what it was like to lose their past. But, I was not most people. I was lost. I used phrases that were there in my head. They were common phrases learned in the course of a life that I couldn't remember. I had said things to myself like “the something-est something…I had ever seen” or “never before had I…something something” or “the something-est something…in my life.” In truth, I had no idea how to verify these kinds of statements. I couldn’t recall the relevant experiences for comparison. Such phrases were so commonly used as hyperbole in English that they had almost lost all meaning. I used them involuntarily, out of pure social conditioning.
I remembered some things. I remembered Beethoven, Jeopardy, Tim Burton, the Running of the Bulls, European fashion trends, Schrödinger’s cat, Buddy Hackett, MacGyver, and 8-tracks. I remembered how to make a sandwich, the smell of coffee, the feel of wool, and the sound of coins. It was me I couldn’t remember. And now, I was speaking Japanese. Maybe I had studied Japanese. For all I knew, I was fluent in Japanese, although, it seemed impossible that I wouldn’t even be aware of speaking it. If I really was speaking Japanese, it was completely effortless. My frustration was mounting.
I looked over at my companion, who was poking and prodding the black goo with my pencil and asked, “Have I been speaking Japanese all this time?”
He dropped the pencil in the crease of the book and said, “iiya, just now hajimeta.”
“Now? Okay…” I replied, trying to figure out in my head what, if anything, had changed. “And why are you suddenly using English?”
“Ore ha not speaking English. Datte I can’t English shabereru koto.”
I looked over at the book I threw on the reading chair. Matthew and I shared a connection that was more than just genetics. We seemed to be trapped in each other’s lives. He relived my mistakes and I was reading through all of his in this…place. I met Tresa and…
It suddenly dawned on me and I felt like an absolute idiot for not putting it together sooner.
“Master!” I said loudly in a Eureka-like moment. I had honestly intended it to be a question.
He looked over at me and smiled. “Ore no friends call me ‘Master.’”
“What should I call you?” I asked hesitantly, unable to read his response.
“You mo can call me ‘Master.’ Demo, we ha mada not friends.”
“Zenzen don’t know you.”
“Yeah, that makes two of us.”
He gave me a look that seemed to suggest he understood what I meant. He collapsed into the chair across from mine and pulled a mangled pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his black jeans. The packaging was black with “Seven Stars” written in light gray lettering. He popped the end of a cigarette in his mouth and tugged a black plastic lighter from the same pocket.
“Tobacco wo smoke ka?” he asked, leaning forward and holding them out toward me.
“Maybe. I don’t know if I do or not, but what the hell,” I replied, pulling a smoke from the crumpled pack.
He laughed and flicked his lighter. I leaned in and took a long drag, watching the flame flare up and then settle into a steady stream of gray. He sat back in his chair, slouching, and lit his own cigarette. We blew plumes of dark smoke into the stale library air. My body felt heavy and my head was floating. The taste was sharp like breathing in the fumes of charcoal grill. I relaxed as my chest tingled and the smoke poured slowly from my lips. It felt good. Maybe I was a smoker. A part of my mind was nagging at me for my incredible lack of priorities. Here I was, the father of a spiritually bankrupt runaway, trapped in an architecturally perplexing house with its own bizarre agenda, looking for a possibly fictional character from a journal, and trying to avoid a black book-eating slime, and I stopped to have a leisurely smoke. Actually, it seemed like a rather good plan to me. After all, I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything that was going on. I needed a drink.
“How long have you been here?” I asked, breaking a comfortable silence.
“I don’t know. How I got here ka tte koto ga don’t remember.”
“Are you wearing a watch?”
He popped the cigarette back in his mouth and held up both of wrists toward me. No watch. I looked around at all the books on the shelves, the history of my son’s life written in the first person, and then back at Master.
“What’s Matt like?”
“Kare ha a good kid, kedo he got lost.”
“Where is he now?”
“I…shiranai. I can’t remember. It’s strange yaro?”
“Don’t get me started on strange,” I huffed, rolling my eyes as I looked around the room. “What’s the last thing you remember about him?” I took another long drag and felt my breath get heavier in my throat.
“My place de, fight yatta.”
“A fight? Between you and him?”
“Iiya. Not me, kedo with who toka can’t remember.”
“Did it have something to do with the girl he was going to marry?”
“No, chigau don’t think so. Demo I don’t remember. Matto-chan ha couldn’t find her tte koto dekihenkatta. He tried. Kare ha meccha wanted to meet his daughter ni.”
“Daughter? I…I’m a…grandfather? Matt said in the book that she didn’t have the baby…”
“Grandfather?” he questioned, raising a single eyebrow. “You ha Matto-chan’s father ka?”
“I think so…I only just found out myself. Was it a boy or a girl, her baby?”
“A girl,” he answered coldly, narrowing his eyes on me
“What’s her name?”
“Kaori ha kanojo wo named for my daughter. Kanojo name ga Misa…” he trailed off after saying her name and his eyes sank. Even the smoke he blew from his mouth and nose seemed to pause in the air at the mention of her name.
“Misa,” I said her name aloud, hoping it would make her more real to me. It was unbelievable. I had a Japanese granddaughter from a son who I’d never met and it all came together in this house. Matthew was the common denominator, but was he the architect? Did he plan this? Did he build this place? Did he really document his entire life in a personal narrative that spanned the shelves of a three-story library? It didn’t seem likely or possible. Still, everything was connected to him, me, Tresa, Master, the books, the kitchen in San Francisco, Sarah, Japan, the Chakra symbols, and now…Misa.
“I need you to tell where Matt is. So, I need you to remember. There’s a place upstairs that might help. It’s helped me remember things. Do you have any pennies?”
He seemed caught off guard by the last question. “Iiya, I don’t have pennies who mottenai. Why?”
“It doesn’t matter. C’mon,” I said, standing up and heading for the door.
He stood up behind me and followed along. As I reached out to take hold of the doorknob, a thunderous clap came from behind us and filled the room. Almost instinctively, we both ducked down and went to cover our heads. I spun around and quickly located the source of the sound; a book had fallen from one of the upper stories and landed flat on its cover near the center of the room. Master went over to the book and nudged it around with his foot, flipping it over. He backed away from it and turned to me with his mouth ready to speak when another book fell close behind him and made another ear splitting smack. He flinched and hunched over, preparing for another attack.
I ran for the stairs and climbed loudly to the third floor. Out of breath and panting, I pulled the flashlight from my pocket and scanned the walkway for movement. There was no one. In the far corner of the room, near the top shelves, there was a gap in the books. I cautiously made my way to other side of the walkway just as master emerged from the top of the stairs. I kept my light on the empty space in the shelves. As we got closer, I could see some more books resting on the boards of the walkway, some of them teetering on the edge. Something had pushed them out. We stopped, hovering just over the pile of fallen books. They were completely covered in the unidentified black substance; they were being slowly consumed by it. I shined the light up to the spot on the shelves from which they had tumbled. The shelves too were coated with the dark mold-like sludge. It was pulsating and expanding slowly as if it was alive, as if it had a purpose. Another few books fell from the shelves and crashed into the pile on the walkway, sending a few more volumes over the edge.
“Is this where you found the book you hid in the fridge?”
He shook his head, his mouth hanging open.
“Is it alive?”
He shook his head again. He wasn’t saying “no.” He was saying, “I don’t know.” I got the message.
“Look. It’s moving down from the top shelf. It’s going to destroy everything in the library. These are Matt’s books. We can’t let that happen. These are his…” I stopped abruptly, my mind gripped by an impossible idea. Before I could give it any consideration, Master was scooping up whole armfuls of books and heaving them over the railing. It completely derailed my train of thought.
“What are you doing?” I shouted.
“Saving Matto-chan’s books wo. Isoide help!”
I followed his lead and shoved my arm behind a row of books, up to the shoulder, and heaved them from the shelves. I was worried about the damage the fall would do to all of the books we dislodged, but at the same time, it was the most fun I’d had in a long time. There was something so primitive in the havoc we wreaked. It must’ve appealed to some baser instinct or some boyhood fantasy, or both. We were tearing apart a library without any fear of consequence. From an early age it’s the place where we have to behave, we have to be quiet, and we have to be serious. Now, we two grown delinquents were taking those tacit rules and throwing them from the third floor, yelling our enjoyment loudly as we did.
Ten minutes later, we had both cleared huge sections of the shelves on both sides of the “infected” area. I leaned over the railing and looked at the carnage on the floor below. There were books everywhere, on the floor, the reading chairs, the staircase, and the writing desk. One of the reading chairs was even keeled over on its back. Master looked over at me from the other side of the walkway and gave me a satisfied smile. I returned the gesture and we both descended the staircase into the ruin we had created.
“Now what?” I asked, standing knee deep in a pile of literature.
Master looked down and started laughing in a high-pitched voice. Looking around at our ridiculous situation, I couldn’t help but join in the laughter. Master pointed at my face and started laughing even harder. I had been so preoccupied with the rush of destruction I didn’t notice that my cigarette was out. It was just a blackened stub, barely poking out from the corner of my mouth. I pulled the tiny butt from my lips and flicked it across the room. Master’s cigarette was gone too. He had obviously disposed of it earlier.
Panting and still giggling periodically, I waded through the books toward the door and said, “hopefully, this bought us some time. C’mon. I need to show you something.”
He pushed his way through the piles behind me and we regrouped in the hallway outside the door. I led him up the stairs to the third level and we stopped outside the door to the clock room. I knew what to expect on the other side, but I wondered if he knew what we would find. I took the handle and pushed the door open, my eyes narrowing in preparation for the onslaught of white light. As the door swung open in front of us, he held his hand open over his eyes and squinted. The blinding light filled the room. We walked in slowly and Master’s eyes widened as they met with the huge cog clock in the center of the room.
“What…nani…kore…does it…” he spoke in dumbfounded fragments. It reminded me of the first time I had seen it.
“Yep,” I said with a smile.
We walked to where the penny was sitting on the white tiled floor in front of the clock and I sat down in front of it. Still wearing a dazed expression on his face, he followed my lead and sat down on the floor next to me. He looked down at the penny.
“You ha asked Ore ni for a penny, because this penny ga aru here in this room?”
“I put that here,” I answered, desperately hoping he wouldn’t ask why.
“When I woke up here, I had seven pennies in my pocket. They were brand new, like they had just come from the mint, but they were coined in San Francisco in 1955. I was born in San Francisco in 1955. I felt like they were linked to me somehow. I left one in each of the rooms that I wanted to stay connected to, but…” a revelation interrupted my explanation and caused me to change subjects. “Did you take a penny from the kitchen?” I nearly shouted the question.
“No,” he said without even the slightest hesitation.
“That means there’s at least one more person in this house,” I stopped and finished the thought in my head. Either that, or Tresa was lying.
He was giving me what was quickly becoming his signature inquisitive look.
“I put a penny in the kitchen too and when I went back later it was gone.”
“How do these pennies ga rooms ni become connections tte koto?”
After having offered the explanation aloud, it sounded truly ridiculous. I was embarrassed. “I don’t know. Look, I really have no idea what I’m doing. Maybe there really is no connection and maybe the mintmarks and dates on the pennies are just an insane coincidence.” I thought about all of the things that had come together in the house. They were all connected to Matthew somehow. My own words echoed in my head. Matthew was the common denominator. The chances that it was all just coincidence were astronomical. William Burroughs once said that, “…there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen,” I said it aloud to myself and evoked another raised eyebrow from Master.
I wondered whose will it was we were living out in the house. Was it Matthew’s? He was the common denominator; it was the numerators I couldn’t figure out. The algebraic terms brought me back to the number of pennies and suits, seven. I needed to identify the importance of the number. My head was swirling.
“Alright. Forget the pennies. This room can help you remember things about the past. I know it sounds crazy, but it helped me remember my name and my girlfriend and, in a way, Matthew. Just try to focus your thoughts on Matthew and what you remember about him. Try to remember where he is.”
Master nodded and closed his eyes. I did the same and focused my thoughts on all of the variables in the house that I couldn’t put together into one whole equation. I started with the number seven. I went back through all of the common occurrences and meanings of the number in math, pop culture, chemistry, music, and spiritual scripture. Suddenly, the image of a fist flying toward my face flashed in front of my eyes. It was so fast and vivid that I involuntarily flinched and rolled onto my back with yell. Master jumped and looked over at me laid out on the white tiled floor.
“Daijoubu? What happened?” he asked.
“Nothing. Nothing. I’m fine. Did you see anything?”
“My place de Matto-chan fighting with some men tte iu memory yatta.”
“That’s odd. I wasn’t thinking about Matt at all, but I saw…” I wondered if I was somehow serving as Matthew’s perspective in Master’s memories. “…don’t worry about it. Keep trying.”
He closed his eyes again and I followed his lead. I picked up from where I had been interrupted and tried to finish thinking through all of the versions of the number seven that I could recall. I started going through occurrences of the number in recent memory. The pennies, the suits, and…
I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before when I was reading about it in the book about Eastern medicine and then again in Matthew’s book. There were seven Chakras, seven centers of energy in the human body. Maybe that’s what the pennies represented. My thoughts were interrupted again by the image of crashing through something hard and collapsing onto asphalt. It was so real I could feel the impact and the pain. A small crowd of people were hovering over me and yelling. Some of them were fighting with each other and some of them kicked me brutally while I lay helpless on the ground. The crowd thinned out a little and made way for a slender man carrying an aluminum baseball bat. I tried to push myself up to my feet, but he stepped on my back and pushed me down. I started to raise my head up. I wanted to scream. As I turned to look up and beg them to stop, the bat swung into view.
Before I could feel the bat connect with my head, a staccato cry erupted from my lips and I spun over onto my stomach, flailing my legs. Master flinched and then grabbed me.
“What’s wrong?” he shouted.
I opened my eyes and looked around the big white room. I was okay. It was just another memory. Master was holding my shoulders tightly. I pushed myself up onto my hands and knees, breathing heavily and asked, “what happened after that? What happened to Matt? Did they kill him? Please tell me he’s alive.”
He looked at me in disbelief and replied, “I don’t know. I can’t remember. I’m sorry.” He released his grip on my shoulders.
He leaned over and picked up the journal that had been dislodged from my pocket. It was spread open, the pages bent and sprawled on the white tiles. As he lifted it off the floor to look at it, the ultrasound photo fell from between the pages. I reached over and grabbed it. It was completely filled in, displaying the vague shadowy image of an unborn boy, my boy. I saw fragments of the fight in my head again. I didn’t even know if he was alive or dead. I took something from him when I left and started him on a journey that would lead him to emptiness and violence. I could feel the tears building up behind my eyes and I crushed them closed, a few drops dangling between my eyelashes and falling to the white floor.
Master was flipping through the pages of the journal. “Did you write this?” he asked holding the open journal out to me.
I wiped my eyes as inconspicuously as I could and sat up. “Yeah.”
“You wrote these Kanji?”
“These Chinese characters,” he said pointing at the one on the library page.
“Oh. Yeah, I copied them from doorknobs.”
“Take a look,” I said pointing toward the door of the clock room.
He stood up and walked over to the door, bending down to read the character on the knob. I suddenly occurred to me that he wasn’t speaking any Japanese anymore. Our exchange had taken place entirely in English. At least, it was what I perceived as English. He still maintained that I was speaking Japanese. Did that mean that he was now speaking English? Or did it mean that I now understood all of his Japanese?
“Clarity,” he yelled from the other side of the room.
“The character on this door. The meaning is clarity. I don’t get it. What does the character refer to? And, why is it only written on the inside doorknob?” he asked, holding the door open and examining the lever on the door’s exterior.
Oddly enough, that was one of the questions I had failed to write down in my journal. “I don’t know,” I replied at half volume, still mulling the question over in my head.
He walked back over to me, skimming through the pages of my journal. I was still sitting on the floor trying to catch my breath. He flipped through the huge section of empty pages and stopped at the last page; his steps froze and held the journal closer to his face.
“Why did you write ‘Misa’ on the bottom of the last page?” he asked accusingly. “I thought you’d never heard of her…”
“I haven’t. That was already written in the journal when I found it in the library. It was the only thing written in it.”
He hesitantly handed the journal back to me. I took it and set it on the floor as I stood up. I walked over to my jacket, which was still laying in a heap on the white floor from when I stripped and threw it across the room in a rage. I pulled the pencil from the inner pocket and retrieved the journal from the floor. I opened to the clock room page and wrote “clarity” under the badly drawn Chinese character. I looked through the symbols on the other pages.
“Can you tell me what the rest of these mean?” I asked holding the book open on the library page.
“This one means memory, I think.”
“Yeah, I think. Reading Kanji isn’t like reading the alphabet. There’s a lot of nuance in the meaning. That, and your writing is terrible,” he snapped.
“Okay. Okay…” I conceded and wrote “memory” beneath the character on the page. “And this one?”
“It has a lot of different meanings, sense, feeling, emotion…it could even be…”
“…yeah, it can be used that way, I suppose.”
I wrote it down under the character on the security room page and flipped through the other pages. I never found the character in the kitchen. The page bore only the chakra symbol that was painted on the floor between the kitchen and the dining room. There were two other characters that I had seen, but had neglected to copy, the bedroom and the door to the outside.
“Alright. I guess that’s it for now,” I huffed, slipping the journal back into my pocket. “Can you recall anything else about Matt’s whereabouts?”
“No, I don’t know where he is.”
“Then, I have to go back to the library and find the book I was reading. It’s probably buried under one of the piles we made when we cleared the top shelves. C’mon.”
“I’m gonna look for a way out and…”
“No…” I shouted. He was obviously taken aback by my reaction. His eyes were wide and his mouth was hanging open slightly. “Sorry. It’s just…Tresa showed me the way out, but we can’t use it.”
“I don't know. That’s what I’m trying to figure out, what this place is, why were here, and what it all has to do with Matt. If we can figure that out, we might find another way out.”
“What about Tresa? Where is she?”
“I don’t know that either. I was planning to look for her after I bandaged your hand, but I can’t do anything else until I figure out what happened to Matt. I have to know he’s alright.”
“I’ll look for Tresa. I can’t help you in the library. All the books are written in English.”
“Even though you’re speaking English,” I mumbled under my breath.
“You’re speaking Japanese!”
“Okay. Okay. Just…be careful. There’s still someone else in the house. I’m going to read in the security room so I can keep an eye on you.”
He nodded and we both made our way to the door and out into the hallway. He took one last look at the giant cog clock in the center of the big white room as he was closing the door. He stopped suddenly and pushed the door back open slightly.
“One more thing,” he said, staring into the room.
“Why did the clock stop on 7:55? Or is it 19:55?”
“I don’t know. My watch is…” my words died and my brain switched back to numbers. “Wait. What did you just say?”
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