By Joseph Palmer
Ranma could still make out his footprints on the top of the fence. Not that it mattered to anyone, only he ever saw the top, and he didn’t mind a little dust up there. It did mean that he had been this way before, but not so often that his prints obscured each other.
He was trying out a new route to the Akane’s house, his train fare jingling in his pocket, saved for a snack out later with Akane. The trains didn’t save him much time anyway, by the time he walked to the station, caught the next one, and got off in Nerima, and walked to the doujo, he could run from his house to the Tendou’s.
His house, he thought. No, not really. It’s mom’s house. Pop and I live there now but... words failed him. It felt good being close to his mother again, but it was more like another stop on the training tour, only this time his mother was along to teach as well. His table manners had improved steadily, it was either that or starvation. The same went for pop, dinner time was best behavior time for both of them. They both proved to be quick studies.
He noticed a busy street ahead and turned down a quiet narrow back alley to avoid the traffic. Eventually he would find the best route between his house and... he paused. Then his feet started moving him forward again. No, it wasn’t his home anymore, was it. He felt like he’d spent a lifetime there, in a way he had. He’d become a different person in the nanichuan, and that person had become a part of the Tendou home and doujo.
He looked up at the backs of the shops he was passing. There was a new spaghetti place opened here, he thought he’d have to take Akane there sometime. He smiled a moment at the thought.
He heard a dog barking in a backyard somewhere up ahead. He liked dogs a lot, and if they barked and growled at him walking by, he’d jump down and try to make friends. They saw something in him too, since after a sniff of the back of the hand they became all goofy and happy to see him.
We’ll have a couple of dogs at the doujo, he thought. He liked the idea of having dogs to chase around the back yard with, and there was always the added benefit of keeping cats out of the yard. He leapt from the fence and walked along the miniature canyon of alley walls, looking for a gate or a gap where he might see the dog. He found it 2 doors up, a young yellow Labrador, part puppy, part grownup, barking furiously at some trash cans just out of the radius of his chain.
Ranma whistled to the dog then sat on his haunches and waited. The dog turned and sniffed twice in his direction. He whistled again and the dog began to walk to the gate, his path somewhat randomized by the mad thrashing of his tail. Ranma clucked at the dog, who had fallen on his back for a tummy scritch, just outside of Ranma’s reach.
A rattling in the cans caught both their attentions. A large orange tabby casually jumped to the top of one of the cans, sat, and eyed them defiantly. The Labrador responded by twisting to his feet. He raced for the cans, his growl nearly masked buy the stampede of his feet. His charge stopped just before the chain enforced his reach. The cat turned and jumped to the top of the wall and eyed the dog. The dog however, was having none of it. He rushed the wall, this time pulling the stake that held his chain. He made it far enough to catch the smallest tuft of hair from the end of the cats’ now fluffed tail, which disappeared over the wall and out of sight.
At least out of sight for the dog.
Ranma was not so lucky. The combination of a debilitating fear of cats, mixed with Martial arts reflexes and training, and his present position (still on his haunches, waiting for the dog), left him few options. If a lucky soul had happened to have had a camcorder trained on Ranma at that instant, the resulting tape might just have won him enough money to send half the prefecture to college. At Stanford.
Ranma landed on a sidewalk, narrowly missing a young couple who had passed the point just seconds before. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It’s gone, he thought. I’m safe. But there was still something...
He opened his eyes and found himself in a cemetery, somehow familiar. He turned around and paused, confused for a moment by the writing on the stone before him. Tendou. Akane’s mother. He was for a moment embarrassed, he’d arrived in such an unconventional way, and he hadn’t really planned to stop here. He bowed deeply for his unintended intrusion. The stone was the same as ever. Stone. He almost expected to feel a presence, something external.
There was a fresh chrysanthemum in a small vase at the base of the stone. Mr. Tendou must come often. Ranma brushed away some dried rose petals that had fallen from an adjacent monument. What really is this place? There’s just this stone to mark the final resting place of a wife and mother.
He looked up the path to the entrance, the one that normal people use. She came through there, he thought, tracing the footpath before him. And they placed her... here. Right here. The end of a journey and of a life.
He stared at the path. If you drew a line from here, you could trace back though her life, he thought, to every place she had ever been, every time she had ever been there, all the way to the moment she was born.
He tried to imagine her life. Born just ten years after the war, he’d been told that she was born in the house, in the back room where Mr. Tendou now slept. He closed his eyes and saw the Tendou home, as if he could somehow see through it from above. A white glow emerged from the back room followed by the cries of a newborn. The beginning of that line that ends here. The light left a trail, like a glowing white string behind it. At first the light hardly left the downstairs, then a loop or two out into the garden and yard.
The path knotted through the home and backyard, up and down the stairs, in and out of every room, in and under the doujo, the first occasional trips outside the walls. A little girl before school age would not see much else, an occasional trip to the store, once or twice a trip to a relatives house nearby. Then would come school. The white light moved like a firefly between the home and school. Ranma watched it from above, high enough to see the whole town. The line meandered back an forth to school, to the playground, to friends homes, then on to the next school, and then the next. She never went to college, but stayed at home to help her mother, and to occasionally work out with her father in the doujo. Now there were trips to shopping, with an occasional trip to downtown Tokyo or outside of town to stay with relatives.
As he watched the white light grew brighter for a time, then there were two lights, one white, one slightly bluish. The two were nearly inseparable for a time, then apart for an instant or two, but never very far. Kasumi, he thought. He watched as the two lines treaded through the house, retracing the pattern of a generation ago. Presently the white line again grew brighter then separated, this time the new light was tinged gold. Nabiki. The three lights wove through the house and yard, weaving a new layer of color. The lines stretched from the house out to the shopping district and the nearby parks. The bluish light began to spend more time in the yard and away from the others, and became more distinct, the white giving way to blue. Again the white light grew stronger, then split, leaving a pinkish light. Akane. Another layer of threads painted the house, the girls left a dense weave throughout every corner and closet as they played. One by one the girls started to leave the house for school. Ranma smiled as each of them left their increasingly independent paths behind.
The white light flickered and went out.
Ranma was startled, he blinked and looked at the stone. The white light had gone out, and the last part of her journey was dark, and the line came here. For the first time the other lights wove a path here. To this spot. Ranma looked at the path below his feet, then to the sky. The sun set, the sun rose, the moon spun dizzily around, and the earth drew lazy circles around the sun. But the path still ended. Here.
He closed his eyes again, fighting back tears. The other lights grew more distinct, Kasumi turning a blue so clear that his eyes would never see it, he could only imagine it. Her path continued to school for a while, then built up a solid pattern in the home, tied with knots to the local shops and neighbors.
Nabiki began to glow a metallic gold, her path ranged from school to the local shops popular with girls in her class.
Akane turned a sunset red. Ranma imagined he could feel the warmth of it on his face. Her path followed Nabiki to school but returned home to the doujo in the afternoons. Soon the doujo took on a red glow from her time there, just as the kitchen had become blue.
Kasumi filled the home with blue, perhaps soon to start the process all over again.
Nabiki bounded back and forth to school, sometimes stopping off in town, sometimes out with friends.
Akane went to China, and for the blink of the eye the red light was gone.
Ranma fell to his knees. He looked at the path. She would have been taken through here to be with her mother. Her line would have ended. Here.
He knelt there a long time, his tears wetting the path.
In time his feet traced the path out of the cemetery and onto the street. As he passed the shops he noticed that things were getting more familiar, he was getting closer to... he shook his head. Not that again.
A vegetable merchant recognized him and called out a greeting, for an instant he thought he saw a flash of blue there, then a glint of gold from the ice cream girl, and a ray of crimson from the bookseller. He passed an old woman washing her sidewalk with a wooden bucket and ladle. She smiled at him and for an instant there was a flash of white in her eyes. He smiled back, wondering if he could leave his light in someone else.
He entered the front door and called out his greeting, as he removed his shoes he heard Akane rushing in from the other room.
“Close your eyes!” she called.
He closed his eyes and waited.
Akane was wearing a red sun dress. She stood for a moment like a model, then spun around, the dress swirling to a stop.
“What do you think?” she asked.
Ranma was struck silent. The dress was perfect for her, it fit her figure and her personality.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like red?” she asked.
Tears welled in his eyes, he reached out and took her in his arms, and hugged her. After a moment he whispered in her ear.
“No, I love red.”
Thursday, October 17, 1996
For Derrick, who shone with a sort of silvery light.
“Red” 1996 Joseph Palmer
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