The terror

I feel the terror follow me wherever I go. The terror is shaped like my mother, aged twenty-nine. Her long hair is the color of hot, oily espresso, of dark deer hides, of tan desert landscapes. On an alien planet, there are sunsets cast in the same shattered amber as her eyes. I turn around and catch a flash of her unsmiling expression. There’s a trail of freckles across her nose—a feature she had lost by the time she became my mother.

The terror tracks me down the street, into the train station and then onto the rapid express. Suburban Tokyo speeds by in a parade of squat, cement-block apartment buildings and forlorn pine trees. The sky is a patch of cloudy blue that appears only occasionally, crisscrossed in telephone wires. I can smell the artificial scent of her shampoo. Something sweet, frothy, approximately tropical. I count the seconds behind each breath—three in, three out—and try my hardest not to retch.

She follows me into a labyrinth made of tall garden hedges. At the labyrinth’s center, inside a pavilion of wood, the terror takes on a different shape. We cross swords under a red sky. I say everything I need to say. I hold nothing back.

When I react in anger, I feel the terror. It’s a wave that the ocean of my memory will always remember. When I break a boundary, I feel the terror. It’s a pit with no bottom. Soupy darkness that coolly eliminates every sensation. No, it does more than eliminate sensation—it erases my defining traits, like acid. It renders me less of an identifiable person, the way wind and time corrode a body into a corpse. In the presence of the terror, I can feel myself actively decompose.

I read my writing and see the terror everywhere. I see myself trying to reason with it, and, when that inevitably fails, I see myself plead with it. All the strength in me can keep it at bay only a little while. Pinpricks of blood dotting the margins. There’s so much anguish in my diaries I shock even myself.

But I feel the terror most acutely when I have no desire to write at all. It’s not that the terror takes away the desire. It’s that it knows how to get me to reject the desire, so that even writing brings no relief. Clothed in cheap chain-link armor, I feel the terror approach, an ochre sun at its back, with its strongest weapon. My mind trembles in total panic until even the panic subsides, and then I am left with nothing. My soldier’s shield lies in pieces in the pavilion. The terror takes the only way I have to express myself and casually, with no trace of violence, snaps it in half.

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