Archive for the ‘BYRM – An Excerpt & an Illustration’ Category

BYARM_20

Illustration by Max Currie

The current pushed against him, the water high and rushing; his feet slipped on the slimy green rocks. What felt good at first had become dangerous. One blunder and he’d slip under. Kent had never been a strong swimmer. How cold would it be under there, legs and arms stretched out like a big X, face up in the water, floating on to Tokyo and into the Pacific right on out of this island country? He looked to the other side, its steep bank nearly thirty meters away and covered in green grass, bobbing nests of dense green vine, and trees that leaned into the river, their branches and leaves pulled by the high water. He had to get out before something stupid happened. He stepped backward, stumbling and sliding. The water grew deeper and closed around his balls in an icy grip. He stood with his arms up and out at his sides, a ridiculous figure once again. He could no longer tolerate the life he lived, something had to change. Midori was right: Have you seen yourself, Kent? As he turned in the rushing water toward the bank, which seemed to stretch farther and farther away, Kent put his foot down in an overconfident search for a rock and found a hole instead. He went under, flapping his arms above his head in an attempt to stay upright, swallowing a gulp of river water.

As he surfaced, water rushed in his ears and he took in another mouthful. He coughed till his chest burned—as if matches were lit in his lungs—but he couldn’t stop coughing. I’m drowning, he thought, in four feet of water. How stupid. A final stupid act to close a stupid life. Kent drummed his feet over rocks but couldn’t steady himself as the river caught him in its current and pushed him downstream with the sand and the deadwood. Panic took hold, his stomach and chest tight, still on fire, his throat achy and the water sour and cold in his mouth like a bitter tea. His foot caught between a rock—a foothold—but his ankle twisted painfully. Kent bit hard into his tongue as his knee slammed up into his chin and he tasted blood. He tried to spin his body, again flapping his arms in the air and water, but the current pushed him forward, twisting his torso upriver and his legs towards Tokyo.

High up on the riverbank, Kent caught sight of a blurry figure in yellow. Would Ozman watch him drown, the river doing his dirty work for him? A wave of water washed over his head. When he looked up to the riverbank again, the yellow figure was gone. He wanted to reach up and pull Ozman, if it was him, into the cold water with him—just the two us now, friend, but he ran his knee into a large shallow boulder. As he reached his arms around the big gray rock, someone called his name. He could turn, he knew, and see his nemesis—how odd to have a nemesis—grabbing his crotch and laughing at Kent drowning before him in the river. He pressed his cheek to the cold rock and hung on, afraid to turn his head and look. With his name on the air, pulsating pain around his ankle and knee, the water rolled over him and all he could think about was the hockey bag that held his life’s belongings, Allan’s urn. How pathetic he would look to embassy officials when they gathered his body and his few possessions to ship home and discovered that he had no home, no place at all.

Bullet

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

BYARM_22

Illustration by Max Currie

What Are You Made of, Rich Man?

Kent felt as if he were on another sort of retreat—more of a camping trip for misanthropes in the solitary mountains. Or worse. Had Renzo duped him? By retreat he meant rehab? Midori the group leader about to guide him through a twelve-step program or prep him for some bizarre plastic surgery, a dramatic identity-altering procedure. In the bathroom, Kent tried to piss but nothing came; still his bladder and kidneys ached. Had the shabu ruined him so? The bathroom was basic, a mineral-stained ceramic hole in the ground that led to a backyard septic tank. The closet-like space smelled of rotting wood and wet earth. He emptied a tin bucket of its stale water and refilled it with water that flowed brown from the faucet. This was no resort. He poured the water into the toilet, watching as it splashed to the bottom. A tiny sink, barely big enough to fit his hands into, was to the right of the toilet, above it a small mirror framed in washed-out pink plastic. He gently removed the eyepatch, his eye still an enflamed mess. And now he had a gash on his forehead, handstitched by a Buddhist monk. Kent splashed mountain-cold water on his face, careful not to wet the bandage. Dark circles had dug in under his eyes like topographical tattoos.

Midori knocked on the bathroom door. “Breakfast is ready when you are.”

“Thanks.” A mosquito buzzed in his ear, reminding him of the pests that had swarmed Ko Chang, leaving him a welty mess in his first week in Thailand. “Another minute.”

“Are you okay?” she said through the door.

Where did this stranger find such tenderness for him? Kent sniffed. Something didn’t smell right. He’d never felt so off, so lopsided. He sank to his knees, couldn’t quite catch his breath, scared of what he’d done, of the emptiness before him, not a hint in this world of what waited for him. Up in the Japanese mountains with a woman he barely knew, a madman on the loose, and Kumi, or the idea of her growing fainter each day. The prospect of a return to Tokyo for a diminished version of what he’d once been, even if the idea of making a career behind the microphone didn’t seem so bad, it left him lonelier than he’d been since Kumi changed the locks on their condominium and dumped the hockey bag in the hall. He’d survive in Tokyo but there was no one save Renzo there to pick him up at the train station when he returned. No apartment to crash in for a few weeks until he got settled. He wanted out but had no home, no place he could land. Still, he guessed he’d need to leave this quiet place in the anonymous mountains. Now, if Kent looked for a starting point, which he knew was foolish, not a reliable beginning but, at least for him, a point of reference, a moment at which he could point his finger and say Ah Ha! this or that is to blame, he ached to hold the gun once more, just as he’d once dreamed of jumping from a couch in a rented beach house on Nags Head and—missing his brother.

What are you made of, Rich Man? Ozman sang.

PART TWO

ALMOST, AT TIMES, THE FOOL

baby_illustrations_4

Illustrated by Max Currie

Kent stumbled from the car as if he’d forgotten how to walk. Everywhere he looked, he saw Ozman’s mohawk, the bizarre tribal tattoos, and steel-toe boots. His right forearm ached, and Ozman’s mad grin flashed before him. Good God, the man was still loose in Japan, and coming after him. Kent felt certain it was all a joke, and, if not, that Ozman would have been captured by now. Japan was a small country. How long could a man like that roam free? Kent started again with the understanding that he’d lately been captured by every cell phone in the Kanto Plain. He’d broadcast his whereabouts since leaving Tokyo. All Ozman had to do was search the web. Stargazer.com alone probably had a map of Japan with a red line tracing his path, a series of cell phone photos marking his passage northwest. And the corrections officer had verified that Ozman was coming after Kent.

This time Ozman wouldn’t waste his time with torture; he’d kill him.

Kent’s gun had sent Ozman to prison, the 9mm an impulse buy in a Roppongi bar from an American sailor stationed at Yokosuka with the US 7th Fleet for $2000. A high price, but the easiest way to find one in Japan. When he first held it he knew he wanted the pistol. Though he’d fired the gun only once—an accident in which he shattered the floor-to-ceiling mirror in his bedroom, he liked having it. That day with Ozman, Kent had held the gun for all of ten seconds, slamming the clip into place before it fell from his trembling hands. As he had reached to retrieve it, Ozman appeared at the closet doorway and kicked Kent in the gut, sending him to the floor. Kent remained hopeful—he could do this, he could outsmart, outtalk, and outthink this Neanderthal. He rummaged for another weapon, coming up with a shoe—a Gucci loafer with a heavy heel. But Ozman was already there, pointing the Beretta at Kent’s head. He disengaged the safety and pulled the slide, loading a bullet into the chamber. Looking for this?

Ozman now had nothing to lose. How long would it be before he tracked Kent down? And his idiot agent had sent him on this errand to the mountains for some meditation and a documentary, as if Ozman couldn’t find him here. Kent should’ve been on a plane to Hong Kong or Taipei, a safe haven from loonies with no passport. Kent lit a cigarette and tried to think. But his eye throbbed and his hands shook so bad he had to stuff them in his pockets. He folded his fingers around his copper pipe.

He waved a hand at Midori. “I’ll be back.” And walked toward the restroom.

Bullet

BYARM_13

Illustration by Max Currie

On Shabu Kent believed he could find a way back to what he’d once been, the only thing in his life besides Kumi that ever made him feel that way. Kumi had saved him from what he’d left in the States. From Allan’s death and his mother who fell deeper into an already dangerous alcohol dependence and seemed unable to forgive him. From his stargazing father who offered no solace beyond the possibility of reincarnation via suicide. Kumi’s love and his popular success as RI-CHU-MAN-SAN! had convinced him that he was better than the person he’d left in America, that he was capable of being someone beyond the seven-year-old infamous for fratricide.

On shabu, Kent believed his life would turn around. Kumi would take him back, and they could start over for real this time. Ozman would be captured, his sentence lengthened, security in his cell heightened. Kent would return to Tokyo, rebuild his career, and forget Monique and Ozman. He’d forget Kumi had ever left him. Forget Renzo’s ridiculous publicity stunt. Together he and Kumi would once more become Tokyo’s Favorite Celebrity Couple.”

On shabu, Kent sorted out the disorder of his life. His thoughts marched along single file. On shabu, Kent trusted his life was fixable, that the chain of events which had led him to Japan and on to Tokyo sound stages and his life with Kumi, and, finally, to a small town in the mountains of central Japan would also point him right back to Tokyo and the good life he once enjoyed.

Bullet