meanwhile
#1
Her earliest memory is like a dream she cannot pin down with words. An overexposed photograph, a mistake her mother would have never made. Her mother whose photographs hang on one wall in her student apartment, black and white against the white wall, an occasional burst of green, of pink.

White walls, a door opening into the puke-green corridor of her parents' first and only home together. She remembers sharing a balcony with another family, being best friends with their little boy Babak. Remembers his name and his face all these years later though he's grown now. They would not recognize each other if they passed each other in the street.

White walls, a door opening, and the sunlight bearing in her father. In her memory he is the tallest thing in the room, a mountain. Youth made nothing of the bruises beneath his eyes or the pelt grown on his jaws. Memory brings with it emotion though and the emotion she felt was elation.

Sixteen years later, she can pick a tracer of that memory out of the array on her wall. Black and white the same as most of them, her father barefoot and wearing linen pants, a linen shirt, his glasses, sitting on the floor back against the wall, her graceless arms around his neck, one of his hands clasped against the back of her head, tendons visible through the skin.

She had forgotten she had it when she was unpacking her things. From time to time she thinks of taking it down. Solidifying the schism between them.

As much as she cannot forgive him, she cannot bear the thought of forgetting him, either.

---

The other night as she was cutting across Ueno Park to reach the train station, her skin crawled. No reason for it. Class ran over so the sun was setting on the other side of the mountains by the time she stepped out into the open air but the night itself was clear and warm and it smelled of rain and cigarette smoke. Nothing out of the ordinary. Yet that sixth sense, that third eye, it knew something she didn't, and so she walked faster.

A man about her height got on the train. This was nothing new. Naomi was tall by anyone's standards, taller than both her mother and her father. Supposedly her grandfather on her mother's side was very tall. It must have skipped a generation. Nor was the fact that the man was wearing a suit worth noting. Naomi ignored him until he spoke to her.

That he spoke in English took her attention, already snared, and shook it.

"You look familiar."

She stared at him and hoped he interpreted the stare as uncomprehending. Her eyes dropped after that. They stayed down even when the man switched to Japanese.

"Ah, that's what I thought. You're the professor's daughter."

She swallowed hard and took a breath hard and did not meet his eye.

"You've mistaken me for someone else," she answered in the tongue he'd chosen.

"Is that so?"

"Yes."

The train sped along, the trees and the buildings outside muddling into a paste from which she could glean color if she focused, green and gray. Plenty of air in the train car but his presence was stifling it from her.

"Perhaps you're right," he said in English as the brakes squealed and the train began to slow with its approach. "My apologies."

"No apology is necessary," she said in Japanese.

When the doors opened the man stood and picked up his briefcase and disembarked the train. Naomi breathed fast and looked around to see who else was in the car with her. No one she knew. Other students, other men in suits, everyone on their way home or on their way out and she wanted more than anything to call her father and tell him what had happened but she had not forgiven him and besides what if that was what the man in the suit hoped would happen.

So she sent out a group SMS to her band of miscreants, five beer mug emojis and a question mark, to which David responded with a question as to location. Masami asked where did he think. It was settled. She was not going home. Not yet, and not alone.

---

The summer she was thirteen years old, a man she did not know tried to follow her home from her friend's house. She was on foot and he was in his truck. Naomi had never seen him before and she did not know his name. Some of the words he hurled out the window at her, she had never heard before. But she was afraid, and she started to walk faster, and when that didn't work and the man just accelerated the vehicle to keep up with her, she broke into a run. Took a shortcut through a stranger's yard to lose him.

That summer, her little brother was in Tokyo with her mother. He was still at that age where it was important for a boy to be with his mother. Her father would have been just fine on his own, but Naomi had fitful dreams when an entire continent and an entire ocean separated them.

He was at work when she called him, but the cadence of her crying brought him home. Hitching breaths punctuated her account of what had happened. No, he didn't touch her. No, she didn't know who he was.

Her father was so tiny compared to the rednecked asshole. His clothes could have come from the boys' department. He wore glasses even though contact lenses were a viable option. Naomi hadn't gotten a look at the stranger's license plate. All she knew was that it was a truck, and it was red, and the things he had said to her from the cab of his truck made her feel afraid.

When he returned late that night, her father had a split lip and a missing fingernail. She was afraid to ask what had happened, so she didn't. She just sat at the kitchen table and picked at her nail polish while her father made hot chocolate, with cinnamon and chile the way his mother used to.

---

If she could forget, she would not have to drink so much.

She cannot forget the last time she saw him. How she missed her connecting flight in Dallas and could not rent a car because she was not old enough so she had to take a bus and that had taken so long. How when she finally arrived in fucking Miami it was late enough at night that the local buses weren't running so she had to call a cab. None of the doors in her father's house were locked.

The silence that wasn't quite. Calling out "Dad?" like she expected an answer, receiving none. That yawning sensation, a warning, before she opened the door to the basement.

She was a child then and yet before she saw what his body was concealing, the smallness of it rattled her.

In her dreams, shadows grabbed at him, knocked him down, dragged him off into an abyss. Her mother took them as a premonition. Her mother hadn't answered her phone for days. Her mother was dead.

Her mother's arm was hanging off the side of the table, fingers twitching, grave dirt in the air.

"... Daddy?"

---

She cannot forget, so she threw her phone into the Arakawa River on her way to meet her friends and lied to them, again.
Look. I have school. And RP. And all my other time is taken up by sheer, unreasoning panic. I don't have time for Reddit.
-- ixphaelaeon
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#2
After her mother died, Naomi could have left the sorting and dissemination of her personal effects to the members of her coven. They were as dear as sisters to her mother and she often thought of them as aunts herself but Naomi could not understand why they thought she would want to go rummaging through Hinata's things after what had happened.

Most of what she learned about life she learned from her father, either through his introducing it to her as an actual lesson or from observation. That was the basis of his definition of science, after all, and science was nothing if not one of man's methods of interpreting nature. Art was the other.

"You must have gotten that from your mother," he used to say all the time, your mother laced with equal parts disdain and adoration, the latter for the woman herself and the former for her worldview.

Fingernails caked with dirt and the creases of her knuckles with blood. The scent of violets. Photographs of her everywhere, even in the house her father had bought in Miami that her mother had never lived in. She was only ever a guest there. Yet she left her things all over the place, mortars and stones and camera equipment. Naomi used to have to snag these things from her brother's hands and put them back where they belonged, as if moving them would delay her return.

She could not deal with her mother's room in the coven house after what happened, and her mother's sisters wanted to respect her wishes. They moved everything into a storage unit on the outskirts of Katsushika and mailed Naomi the key and left it at that. She knew where to find them if she needed anything.

That was two springtimes ago.

---

Even when her therapist, Dr. Ishikawa, brings him up she does not like to talk about her brother. That does not stop Dr. Ishikawa from bringing him up, because Dr. Ishikawa has the ability to hone in on the tender places and build up enough of a callous so that the precision strike does not cause too much damage to the surrounding areas.

But every month, Naomi comes in for an hour before she takes the train to campus. And every month Dr. Ishikawa asks about classes, about her extracurricular activities, about her boyfriend and her persistent fear of hospitals and how much time has passed since she has had a nightmare. She feels better than she has in a long time. She has more coping skills. She is out among the living and focusing on her future.

That is when Dr. Ishikawa brings up the fact that in all this time she has said very little about her family.

"What is there to say?" Naomi always says.
"It's important to speak of the dead," Dr. Ishikawa says this time. "Especially when the dead are your close family."
"He was my brother. He was hit by a car. We buried him. My mother died shortly after, and my father went insane. That's all that happened."

And Dr. Ishikawa will tilt her head to one side, just so, her sharp brown eyes ticking across Naomi's face. Some days Naomi stares her down. Plenty of days she looks away first, starts to pick at the knees of her jeans or the lint on her sweater.

"What are you keeping to yourself?" Dr. Ishikawa asks.

This is one of those days.

---

She didn't know who to call after she ran out of the house, that night. After her father had turned towards her covered in blood and blind with Quiet, if that's even what was wrong with him, she had seen him in Quiet before and he had never looked or sounded like he had looked or sounded that night.

That night she had run as fast as she could, faster than she had ever run during basketball practice, faster than she had ever run while chasing her brother on the beach or in the park or in her dreams, and she had barreled onto the first bus she was able to catch in such a state that the driver had not even bothered to call her back up to extract a fare from her. She was sobbing and shaking and laughing, though she cannot remember laughing. Understanding for the first time in her life what writers mean when they write of characters having witnessed something man was not meant to see.

She still had Uncle Esteban's number in her phone. Not even four months had passed since Yori's funeral. When he answered, she did not know what to say.

They had always called him Uncle even though her father did not have any brothers. Three younger sisters, but they did not called them Aunt. None of them wanted anything to do with him.

"Where are you?" he had asked, more than once, before he realized he was not going to get a response.

It didn't matter if she could tell him or not. He ended up popping up at the bus terminal. The driver had had no luck in peeling her out of her seat. She could not remember being able to see them through the grimy bus window, in the anemic light of the station. Amnesia is the best anesthesia the brain can offer the mind. She took it.

---

Two years to the day after Yori died, Esteban meets her outside of her lecture hall. It is the last time she will walk out of that lecture hall this year. She had told him she wanted to go through her mother's things, mentioned it in a text conversation she was not certain he had received because she was never certain what plane of existence he was on. It is a surprise to see him, but as far as surprises go Naomi has had enough of a dearth in her young adult life that she has trouble, sometimes, recognizing pleasant ones.

He sees her before she sees him but when she does see him she takes off at a run. The older she gets, it seems, the shorter he does. All it is is a matter of perspective. Esteban has always been the height that he is. He catches her when she throws herself at him, and he hugs her when she clings to his neck and starts to cry.

"I know," he says in his accented English.
"No you don't," she says.
"... I know."
Look. I have school. And RP. And all my other time is taken up by sheer, unreasoning panic. I don't have time for Reddit.
-- ixphaelaeon
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