Life, defamiliarized

In the east, the apartment buildings rise into the evening. The multi-colored lights in their rooms blink slowly on and off like approaching airplanes. Against the intensely black horizon, their size reminds me of the gods from the Cthulhu mythos, but more benign somehow, quasi-angelic: a reversal of the fall of Lucifer.

Clusters of trees between houses, their trunks so tall and so slender that I can’t understand how they hold up their huge, unwieldy bouquets of diamond-shaped leaves. A tiny Shiba Inu dog lying on its side in a miniature Japanese town enclosed in trees. An orange tabby cat poised by a vending machine. Thickets of bamboo, so dense no light can make it through, and the vaguely mechanical sounds emanating from somewhere within. The dirty patina of old coins exchanged during purchases of yuzu-flavored soft drinks at a lonely convenience store.

The nighttime view from my window reminds me of a gloomy 80’s music video, slowed down fifty-percent; dark, melodic, glittery, soft, the cars visible as beams of light, moving at a steady pace, in and out of my line of sight. おつきさま, the full moon, penetrating through a field of clouds with the brightness of a switchblade.

Dimensions are altered slightly here in Japan. The cars seem designed for Polly Pockets, but the insects are massive. Cicadas, wasps, and moths flit through the air with gold thoraxes the size of human thumbs. Compound eyes unreal in their size. Animals crop up in uncommon circumstances, like omens from nature I don’t know how to interpret. A bone-colored crane motionless in the middle of a river. Monkeys close enough to touch, emerging during the autumn rain to crawl along the phone lines suspended above a shrine. A single olive-green lizard I’ve named “Marmalade,” found in a paper bag on my shelf.

In Kyoto, with Strawberry, I walk through the nighttime, along the bridge straddled by a sprawling bamboo forest. It is late into the evening on Sunday, and we are mostly alone in Arashiyama. A typhoon warning has prompted an exodus of tourists and the shuttering of the cat café, the tea parlor, and the kitschy smattering of Edo-style souvenir shops dotting the main road. Immersed in a darkness that arrived swiftly and unexpectedly, we linger by the river’s edge, the mountains close enough that I feel their figures present as third parties to our conversation. Strawberry leans against the railing and his eyes, though stripped of color in the dusky conditions, gleam with an authenticity untouched by artifice. After a lifetime of cultivating a suspicious nature aimed mainly at my own behavior, I am thrown by how deeply and fully he believes in an idea, a conjuring, of me, that I myself have never trusted.

A tiny bookshop open in the hour before midnight, where I flip through pages of a Japanese fairy tale, a butcher called “Fishery and Chicken Tanaka,” an eggplant-purple subway train leading back towards the city proper. The night like pitchblende. Aphrodite in the foam. The wind, felt and not seen, from the kingdom east of the sun and west of the moon.

How important is shared sense of humor in a relationship? How important are common priorities and visions for the future? Under his clothes, Strawberry’s skin is like almonds split open, in color and odor. The sudden protagonist of a folktale à la Oscar Wilde, guided by a lark of silver, a witch in disguise, and a god clothed in peach blossoms, I arrive at a final miracle. The birds outside, lost in a song of autumn. The once-green leaves, shedding in whirlwinds, a shallow tide of amber, orange, and watermelon red. A twin-sized mattress, moved to the floor, and fitted with navy blue Mickey Mouse sheets. How likely is it that Strawberry might be the one I’m writing about in all my stories?

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