byarm006

Illustration by Max Currie

Clear Comprehending

In Kent’s one moment of uninterrupted contemplation, he wished for penance, to finally and forever put his bloodied past behind him. His knees bent stiff and his head still throbbed with the shock of withdrawal and his recent accident, but the sensations seemed remote, part of another self, one bound to the earth by the roots of his past. He decided he needed the sum of all his pain to atone for his sins. He called upon the hurt to lead him beyond the empty room, beyond his body, beyond Allan, beyond Kumi. The greater the pain, the greater the chance he might find answers. He’d no longer have to forfeit happiness for guilt, he’d no longer think of Allan or Kumi, Ozman or Monique. He’d no longer ask himself, yet again, what might have been different that summer night in Nags Head. He’d no longer wonder where his wife was or if she’d ever take him back.

Kent pushed his mind to prayer, words to God—a god he knew little of—and let the pain in his knees and back and head and eye roll like the tides. The smarting in his head thumped just above his good eye and he couldn’t see clearly or focus any longer on the wall before him. He whispered his brother’s name, then his ex-wife’s, and engaged the pain, so strong in his back by then it made his eyes water. He guessed his spine might crumble, leaving him limp and crippled on the dusty tatami. He felt Ojisan’s eyes on him, but didn’t return the look.

A wet breeze blew through the temple, sweat cooled beneath his shirt, and a tingle rolled over his scalp. He smelled smoke from a cooking fire, a suggestion of spices that he couldn’t name in the air. He murmured his brother’s name again, his wife’s, the only words that formed in his throat. He tucked his thumbs under his fingers, an irrational trick Kumi had shown him to prevent terrible things. He tensed his back to ensure that the hurt would roam his body without favor to him or any part of him. An eye for an eye; he guessed he’d made his deal. Beside him, Midori stirred. Before him Oji-san tapped out a rhythm with the bamboo rod against his thigh. Outside, cedar tops swayed and rain poured from the overflowing gutters.

Bullet

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