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Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 2a up 20170224)

Posted: Wed Apr 27, 2016 11:35 pm
by brythain
Editor's Note: It was not until the middle of the twenty-first century that my acquaintance Moriko returned to Japan. My husband had harsh words for her, and required a mild reprimand. Effectively, I was forced to liken him to his father in at least one unsavoury aspect. He recoiled as if I had slapped him, and I felt so terribly ashamed. In the end, things worked out well. I can assure you that this tale, at least, had a happy ending. Also, it is a companion story to that of Mori's long-time friend, Suzumiya Suzuki.

— H; Andorra la Vella; 2070

Crane—A Dream of Molly

Chapter 0: Creation (1989-2004) (this post, see below)
Chapter 1a: Crane (2005-2006)
Chapter 1b: Craving (2006-2007)
Chapter 1c: Cracking (2007-2008)
Chapter 2a: Prologue (2013-2020)


Chapter 0: Creation (1989-2004)

My story might be said to have begun in what you'd call Lucknow, a town far to the north of the Vindhyas. Yes, this is probably not the story you thought you’d be reading, this being a primarily Japanese environment and whatnot. I bear you no ill-will, whether weeaboo or otaku, honourable nihonjin or clumsy gaijin. After all, I’ve somehow ended up a bit of each.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Moriko ‘Molly’ Kapur, 5’6” (or 167 centimetres) tall at one point in my life, and then of variable height thereafter. I had dense black hair in my youth, short and scruffy; it grew out long and straight in my teenage years. Later, I kept it long and braided it into two shoulder-length plaits—I adopted red ribbons in high school, and now the red on grey pleases me in my old age. My eyes are greyish-black, reflecting as purple or dark green or even amber under different lights.

Meet my family, such as it is. My parents were students at the University of California, Berkeley during the turbulent 1970s and 80s of Reaganism and science fiction. They returned to Japan, the clever second son of a high-caste family from Benares and the rebellious third daughter of a lower middle-class family from a village in Japan. She was pregnant with my elder brother, a man I haven’t met for decades and whom I have no desire to meet. I was born long after the worst of the family imbroglio had subsided, on 22 July 1989.

Molly Kapur was fourteen when her male parent decided to marry her off in a strategic alliance of sorts. I’ve tried writing about myself as if I were someone else, but it doesn’t quite work. I shall desist.

I remember Mother being rather upset; in her view, such behaviour amounted to something worse than child slavery. I had no opinion, since I had learnt early to avoid having opinions when surrounded by my paternal extended family. Taking a train that was packed beyond bursting and full of the stench of the great unwashed was not a problem. I probably stank as badly underneath the scented water. I was chaperoned, but company is sometimes no protection against disaster.

They say that destiny derails the plans of men and women. I prefer to think of such things, however, as train crashes inflicted on the locomotive of destiny by the stubbornly perverse antlike tracks of humanity. That’s how it was for me. I woke up in some private hospital feeling curiously light-headed.

Mother was furious, but not with me. My male parent was absent, and whatever betrothal plans he’d had for me were not only out of the window, but buried deep down in the valley with the rest of the train. Nobody, it seemed, would marry a bride with no legs, no matter how fair and functional the rest of her was. Such is life.

Stung into activity, Mother threatened to slash through her Indian family ties as with a katana, and managed to extract concessions. I was to be sent back to a school near her ancestral village, a school which was relatively expensive, but which catered mainly to unfortunates such as I. Mother got concessions, my male parent got revenge. The bastard registered me as 'Molly', a name I'd never liked.

And that is how Molly Kapur, or at least the girl I was then, ended up at the Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy. Everyone called it Yamaku for short. I hated it.


Re: Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 0 up 20160427)

Posted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 2:03 am
by Blank Mage
And like a true Elder God, the AtDverse grows another arcane tendril.

Don't shoot her in the head this time.

Re: Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 0 up 20160427)

Posted: Sat Apr 30, 2016 9:10 pm
by TubaMirum
There is no greater evil than an unliked nickname :)

I'm certainly looking forward to where you plan on going with this, especially now that life is finally giving me some more time to not only read but even formulate responses! Maybe next week I can start writing again too? Well, enough making this about me, lovely chapter! Succinct and effective.

Re: Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 0 up 20160427)

Posted: Sun May 01, 2016 3:02 am
by brythain
TubaMirum wrote:There is no greater evil than an unliked nickname :)

I'm certainly looking forward to where you plan on going with this, especially now that life is finally giving me some more time to not only read but even formulate responses! Maybe next week I can start writing again too? Well, enough making this about me, lovely chapter! Succinct and effective.
The first real incarnation of Molly in AtD was in Suzu's arc, where the first chapter of Book 1 switches PoVs between Molly, Suzu and their mutual friend Isamu 'Big Sam' Tokagi. Thank you, and let's all hope things keep going well! :)

Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 1a up 20160502)

Posted: Mon May 02, 2016 10:17 pm
by brythain
Crane—A Dream of Molly

Chapter 1a: Crane (2005-2006)

I’ve always hated school. For three years, the only thing that always kept me from running away from Yamaku was the realization that I’d probably end up somewhere worse. In the first year, I found myself in that random grab-bag of cripples known as 1-3, with Saki Enomoto as queen of the lot. I thought she was a rich, privileged bitch—a lot like yours truly.

Saki, with her honeyed voice and oh-so-genteel fake behaviour, was the person I disliked most in all the school, I think, until I decided that her friend Lilly Satou was worse. But I’m running ahead of my story now, and the selectively razorsharp pen of my editor won’t tolerate that for long.

So there I was, Moriko/Molly, dour and glowering. My classmates gave me a wide berth and called me Mori in a compromise that worked well for everyone. I’d sit in the rightmost seat at the front of the class, because in my experience teachers tended not to look at the leftmost or rightmost front seats—but if you sat near the door, people would keep handing you things to pass to other people. My seat was next to the window, and looking outward into the light provided welcome respite when I needed it.

I missed my legs.

That was the greatest tragedy of all. There was some discomfort and occasional pain from the ugly, ugly, hateful prosthetics. They were the best my male parent’s extortion of slum dwellers in Mumbai could afford. But they occupied the mental space that my missing legs thought was theirs.

In the silent nights I spent in my claustrophobic cell on the second floor of the Female Residential Block, I’d curse at my neighbour Suzu’s odd sleeping hours while my legs cried out to me that I’d betrayed them by putting these titanium/graphite composite things in their place. They were beautiful prosthetics if you wanted to admire them dispassionately—but I couldn’t, and so they were things I would throw violently into the corner of my room when nobody was looking.

And of course, filled with hate and a sense of ugliness, I found myself unloved and avoided by all—except, strangely enough, that peculiarly resilient but always sleep-disrupted neighbour of mine whose name was Suzumiya Suzuki. This is not an ‘origin story’, however, so I will just say that she and I became friends, and leave it at that.

“Teach me the English,” she’d say. “English, to teach me, please?”

I would try hard not to laugh. After all, for most of my kind, English is nearly a mother tongue; Queen Victoria was our maternal ancestor in terms of the linguistic legacy of independent India. I forbore to laugh simply because I liked Suzu, and she was the first person to actually act as if she wanted to be my friend.

One day, I had an inspiration. I had always found the works of Jane Austen to be deadly boring, sleep-inducing—and so I decided I’d introduce them to Suzu. The cynical irony of it appealed to me, somehow. At the age of almost-sixteen, with one’s life as a beautiful long-legged halfbreed supermodel already over, sneaky pleasures would have to do. And thus was the English Literature Club born: Suzu, bless her sleepy little heart, went to pretty Miss Miyagi and got her to be teacher-sponsor for this exercise in not-quite-futility. Thus did pride and prejudice meet sense and sensibility.

With my practical joke rendered innocuous, I fell back on melancholy. I’d been idly reading about the classical humours: black bile—melancholic, yellow bile—choleric. It struck me that I was indeed a hybrid of both. Haha, watch out, world. Not. I was stuck with metal legs.

Or they were stuck with me. That was the thought in my mind on one of the dreariest days of my life. There was no lightning, no sudden spark of inspiration—all that I can remember was a desire to be free of at least one set of chains.

I stood up, locking my shiny knees, and essayed a stately pirouette around the room. As usual, the faint clinking and clanking and uneven frictional sensations enshrouded my nether regions. It struck me that I’d possibly never be able to achieve orgasm without some form of musical accompaniment. What did I know? I was only sixteen-ish.

I looked in the mirror, that other self-mocking device I’d deliberately mounted, full-length, on the back of my room door. Attempt the difficult: balance on one thin composite leg. Attempt the dangerous: twirl with both arms outstretched, and then bring them downward to the hips. Attempt the…

Desperate. Not for the first time, I gazed at myself, naked and brown and trying desperately to suck in my hospital-deconditioned babyish gut-fat. I was getting there, I decided. I’d be beautiful again. I admired the ‘me’ that I would become, in my imagination.

Long skinny inhuman legs. Some poise returning. Damn it all, I looked like a crane, both the bird and the machine.

But the red-crowned crane is the national bird of Japan, my motherland. And so it was that I told myself, “Moriko, you will soar.” I smiled a sinister smile, there in the privacy of my room. Suzu had given me a box of chocolates in return for my inestimable services in providing her with Austenite entertainment. The red ribbon still lay on my dresser.

With renewed purpose, I tangled that crimson banner in my braids. Time for rebirth. This crane would live a thousand years.

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Re: Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 1a up 20160503)

Posted: Mon May 02, 2016 11:14 pm
by TubaMirum
Curiosity transforms into attention with this chapter it seems. The introspection and asides are fascinating, and it's alarmingly bleak at time.

The ungainly crane grows now into her new legs. Is it flight that lies ahead for her next? :)

Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 1b up 20160518)

Posted: Wed May 18, 2016 11:42 pm
by brythain
Crane—A Dream of Molly

Chapter 1b: Craving (2006-2007)

I was in the second year of senior high school. What does one do when one is seventeen years old and has no legs? You could starve to death when miserable. I almost did, and the girl I mocked the most, my poor dear Suzumiya, who called me Mori when I called her Suzu, saved my life. She fed me. She cooked. She had friends. They became my friends, or at least, they wanted to be.

I took up archery, because the range was on the other side of the school from the running track, which depressed me. Also, I’d never have to see Emi Ibarazaki except on the rare occasions when that feckless female would run around the corridors, colliding with all and sundry. On such days, I’d wonder what would happen if I stuck out a titanium leg. Maybe we’d get entangled, our sweaty half-legs entwined in broken composite shards—my titanium, her graphite, an orgy of dislike.

But, archery. It builds upper-body strength and grace, you know, the way the school teaches it. I was taught to pull a daikyu, the Japanese longbow, from a sitting position, strangely balanced on my non-legs. My non-ankles would tell me they were hurting, but obviously, I had no ankles to hurt. Some ancient warrior once said, “What’s the point of firing a light arrow over a great distance? It will not penetrate armour. What’s the point of firing a heavy arrow over a short distance? Your enemy will be closing in on you. Learn the sword instead.”

I disagree. Arrows of any mass can do interesting things. I was light, and I had no legs, but I could pull the equivalent of fifteen kilograms if necessary. This was something I gained over two years of painful struggle and training. It left me with muscles. My fondest memory was that of beating the Ibarazaki girl in a wheelchair competition. She hated the wheelchair after that: it had become a symbol of losing. Then again, she had disliked the wheelchair even before that.

Who was I to think about Ibarazaki that way, though? I was very cold inside. The only thing I had warmth for was Mother, and it scared me. I’d read too many stories about mother-obsession, and it seemed like a terribly unhealthy thing to me. What I wanted was to be more normal, to have a love-life, perhaps.

And so, I fell in love. Or at least, I tried.


“I keep thinking I’ll break you, Mori,” says the large and inelegant fellow next to me. I’m sitting tucked up in the curve of his long body as we share a peach sundae downtown. The cold, sweet, creamy stuff fills my mouth, even as I turn to look at him. Big Sam is a lovely guy. But he’s terribly self-conscious.

“No, Tokagi-san, you won’t break me,” I drawl. “No matter how much sticky stuff you pump into me, I won’t break. I might get a little thick around the middle, but that’s about it.”

He blushes amusingly bright. He’s what I’d characterize as an ‘Okinawa farmboy’, except that name-calling isn’t my game, since I’m vulnerable to being called worse. “I don’t know why you talk like that.”

“Because I have a quick wit, and you deliberately act dumb, silly boy.”

He sighs and turns to our sundae as if it holds all the mysteries of the universe. In and out, his long spoon goes, leaving a little less for me. I grin. He’s sulking. He isn’t really slow, just a little out of shape, perpetually anaemic, and very strong for his build.

Suzu is in love with him, I think. But that’s not my problem. Big Sam is in love with me. I enjoy that, because it makes me feel useful. This is the curse of the girl who reads too much and too cynically—everything comes to me in terms of plot effectiveness. I’m the apex of the triangle. It’s a good place to be.

I lick my lips and give him a tender little peck. I’ve got my own man-boy, and life is peachy. Later, I’ll go back to the gym and work out with the kettlebells. I have clearcut abdominal muscles, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Damn it all, it is my problem. Suzu’s my friend. Suzu dug me out of a Moriko-sized hole when I was underground. Now I’m in another hole. I do like being loved, but it isn’t fair to anybody if there isn’t some degree of reciprocity. Isamu Tokagi doesn’t quite make me wet. He doesn’t quite make me hot. Besides, these things don’t work out so easily.

I imagine that if someone like Hanako Ikezawa could find unconditional love in any form, it would be worthwhile. It would challenge me to try it. But it won’t happen for her, and it won’t happen for me.

I look at Big Sam with some regret. The poor man will be shattered. “I keep thinking I’ll break you, Sam,” I rehearse in my head, wondering what I should do next.


Ageha Asai, from 2-4, is my best friend in the Archery Club. Her problem is some genetic error that makes her look like an elf—tall, thin, apparently fragile. She has long limbs and large eyes, almost as if she’s a manga character. But she’s almost always happy, and she’s very passionate about people. We call her ‘Ah-Ah’.

“Oh, Mori,” she says. She’s all warmth, she likes touching. I’ve learnt to let her hold onto my elbow when she’s talking. “I hope Suzuki doesn’t mind that I’m talking to you so much.”

That’s Ah-Ah for you. She is far too concerned about social implications, too careful about not ruffling other people’s feathers. I sigh and smile at her. Smiling at her is easy: she’s the kind who invites it. “Ah-Ah, Suzu isn’t like that. Besides, I can’t talk to her about this particular thing, and I don’t think it should go anywhere near the gossips of the Literature Club.”

“Oh no, no, never, Mori!” she says, all slim and wide-eyed, her long arms flailing around in a fluster. “What can I help you with?”

Her voice is seductive, but nobody really notices. That’s sad. I bite my lip a little, still uncharacteristically undecided, and then I tell her about Big Sam.

“Oh dear, Mori, this is trouble,” she says seriously. “Oh dear, what to do?”

She frowns a little, which is a strange thing, because cheerful Ah-Ah frowning is a bit like an eclipse of the sun. I stay silent, because there’s an obvious remedy, and I want to know if it’s obvious to her too.

“You’ll have to hope he loves Suzu back, Mori. It’s not fair to let him love you if you don’t feel that way. Love is two-way, you can’t forget that!”

Ah-Ah is smiling again. I hate that, because she’s right and it feels as if she’s mocking me, and yet I know she’s not. She’s not the sort.

“Thanks, Ah-Ah.”

“It’s only common sense, Mori. Boys don’t have it, though; sometimes you’ve got to be patient with them!”

Something surfaces in the dark midnight waters of my brain. “Ah-Ah, which of the boys in your class is most like me?”

She grins—a happy, unburdened smile of glee. “Uchida!”

“What? Your class rep?”

Takano Uchida is the only Uchida I know, and he’s always neat, smooth, dispassionate. I don’t think he’s anything like me. I must have a very obvious look of disbelief on my face, because Ah-Ah opens her eyes wide ands says, “You don’t think so? Both of you are formal in a wicked but positive kind of way!”

“I’m nothing like Uchida! Besides, he has a girlfriend and I don’t.”

“Oho, Mori, didn’t know you were swinging that way!”

I can feel myself blushing. That’s not what I meant, and she knows it. But she’s already talking before I can say anything.

“Mori, Uchida doesn’t follow common sense either, in matters of love. He’s attached to Suguhara.”

At Yamaku, I must admit, there are people with far worse conditions than mine. Sharp-faced little Suguhara, with her thin nostrils, piercing gaze and perfect skin, with her tight lips and exact enunciation, has always struck me as the ultimate geisha. But that’s not her real problem: dying inexorably of one of those irreversible degenerative diseases is the main thing. She’s very open about it, unlike Enomoto, whose condition’s seriousness is not common knowledge.

If Uchida really loves her, he is truly a fool. And then it hits me. Harsh as my thoughts might seem, they’re that way because I envy him.

“I didn’t know that. What do you mean by ‘attached’?”

“He’s sworn eternal love to her. If he could marry her, he would. His parents have threatened to disown him. In reply, he’s threatened to move to Nagasaki to be with her in her last days. She’s said he must be crazy, but she’s given up dissuading him. She’s admitted she loves him too.”

Ah-Ah unreels this movie clip from her class, all her passion and enthusiasm burning in her words. A tear slips from the corner of her eye, like a hot little drop of molten glass. I’m captivated. I’ve not seen her go ‘full-drama’ mode before.

“Uchida, really?” I’m also still stunned.

“Yes, Mori! Can you believe it?”

“No.” Or at least, I can but I don’t want to. I wish I loved someone that way.

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Re: Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 1a up 20160503)

Posted: Thu May 19, 2016 11:15 am
by brythain
TubaMirum wrote:Curiosity transforms into attention with this chapter it seems. The introspection and asides are fascinating, and it's alarmingly bleak at time.

The ungainly crane grows now into her new legs. Is it flight that lies ahead for her next? :)
Oh no, not for now... ;)

Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 1c up 20160530)

Posted: Mon May 30, 2016 12:41 am
by brythain
Crane—A Dream of Molly

Chapter 1c: Cracking (2007-2008)

And then it was my final year at Yamaku. I had no time to think about life, until after. I looked back on the ruin of my days, and I left it all behind for a different land. The crane had flown from the green mountain.

That’s the short version. But to leave everything behind me, I had to purge it from my psyche, my sense of self. I had to imagine it had all happened to someone else, and so I wrote it as if it were a story—a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. It wasn’t until a few decades had passed that I realized how much of an idiot I had been.


Molly Kapur sits in the front left corner of the classroom, knitting with half her mind in between classes, absorbing gossip like a sponge with the other half of her mind. Sometimes she needs a third half of her mind—she never was any good at math, she excuses herself even though it isn’t quite true—to pay attention to her neighbours, tall Isamu ‘Big Sam’ Takagi who sits on her right, and Saki Enomoto who sits behind her. She has to pay attention to Sam because he’s still in love with her, and to Saki because, well, besides being Class Rep, she can be very dangerous.

That all changes, of course, the day that neatly terrifying petite pretty Saki announces that her timetable for death has moved up. It’s not so much that she says this, but that she announces she’s moving to 3-5, that legendary class where people who can’t attend normally scheduled classes go. With a trace of clever spite, Molly notices, Saki gets Mutou-sensei’s approval to appoint Shizune Hakamichi her replacement. Inwardly, Molly sighs, both with resignation and approval.

Resignation is there because everyone could see it coming. Shizune, when she had been class representative of 2-1, had always targeted Saki at Student Council meetings, for what reasons only the two of them could know. And now the class would know what a dictatorship really was, apart from the jokes they’d made about Saki being a benign dictator herself. Approval is there because Saki’s revenge looked so much like peacemaking, looked so innocent, looked so Saki in the ways Saki looked when people admired and loved her.

Of course, all those were ways in which people could never admire nor love Molly Kapur. If Molly looked behind her to the back of the class, she’d see Taro Arai, who had loved Saki all along, and who had never got anything out of it. But you could see that the chunky master-chef-in-the-making loved Saki anyway, innocently and nervously. He’d probably hate whoever got her seat, just on principle.

Term hasn’t properly started, and already so many moves are afoot! Shizune and her ‘voice’ have been promoted in from 2-1. Rin and Emi have already managed to get transferred to 3-4, after sweet little Suguhara’s eventual demise has left yet another vacancy in both that classroom and Takano Uchida’s heart. Interesting dynamics will probably appear in that terribly depleted class. Molly wonders what Uchida will be like this year, and resolves to ask her good friend Ageha for more news. In Japanese schools, people don’t move around so much: what does it all mean?

The other person who is likely to oblige with useful opinions, if asked nicely, is Natsume Ooe. That one reads every single notice the school puts out, and is able to offer enlightened—and enlightening—commentary on it all. Natsume sits at the right rear corner of the class, diametrically opposite to Molly. Heterochromic Nat was once very good friends with fair Saki, she has heard—but somehow, things have not quite been the same for a while.

So many things to do, and it’s only the first part of April! Molly leans back, puts her knitting aside, tries to concentrate on calculus and thermodynamics.


“I’m not in love with you, Mori,” says the big man slowly and sadly. This big man is Isamu, of course. He’s gone the way of so many other big men in her life. The only one she hasn’t tried yet is Maeda, who is always grouchy anyway.

“Well, that’s not really much of a problem for me, is it?” Molly says brightly, even though her heart is clenched resentfully within her. He’s lying, she thinks. He has to be. She’s seen how his gaze travels up her thighs. “It’s not like I ever had a crush on you either.”

She sees him slump inside his big frame. “It’s not… I do like you a lot, Moriko. But I don’t think you want me to.”

He doesn’t think she wants him to? Fine. Then she doesn’t. She continues being cruel for a while, until he goes away. Then it’s the next day, and she has repented, and she is sorry and apologizes. But it’s too late. Truth has a way of making itself true.


At the end of the year, Molly realizes that everything in her three years here is false except her friendship with Suzu. That is the least expected of all outcomes. She has always thought of her friend as only superficially her friend. And then over the last few months, as people decide—as they always do—what friendships to keep and which ones to leave alone, she realizes that when she goes off to America, the one person she’ll miss is Suzu, who is going out with Big Sam.

In some alternate universe, everyone came out happy. But this doesn’t seem to be that universe. Molly shrugs. She’s become accustomed to her pain.

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Crane—A Dream of Molly (Chapter 2a up 20170224)

Posted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:47 pm
by brythain
Crane—A Dream of Molly

Chapter 2a: Prologue (2013-2020)

My life story, I thought, would end in San Francisco, or perhaps in one of the other sainted towns and cities along the Pacific coast of the self-styled greatest country on earth: the People’s Republic of California. That it didn’t was not my fault. Who knew that the machine of the world would count me amongst its cogs and pinions?

So this is Moriko Kapur, whom some called ‘Calpurnia’, and she’s just graduated from a university somewhere approximately along the dream-world of her Pacific coast, the coast that doesn’t really exist except in her imagination. Poor Molly. Poor me. Let me backtrack a bit, and think about what to tell you of my history, in little snapshots of the past.


In the postgraduate class, Molly Kapur ignores both of them, the all-star but really quite bright linebacker on her right at two o’clock, and the equally large but a lot less muscular programmer on her left at ten o’clock. She only has eyes for the one before her, at the next table, at midnight. That one, she thinks, is a strange one.

He’s Indian. Which is not to say that he is a misnamed native of these shores, this less-than-perfect union. He is a son of Kerala, which she is willing to bet nobody else in this classroom knows anything about. If this were Berkeley, it would be different. But this is not.

And so, she thinks to herself, this one is strange and very interesting, and perhaps worthy of dalliance. But what if she lets him into her jeans? (Or lets his genes into her, which is a different matter?) Will he baulk to confront the alloyed enigma of her steampunk legs? Or will he fetishize or romanticize them?

She wonders, and is hooked on this artifice, this wondering state of mind. She fantasizes about him, and gets everything wrong. But she won’t know about that for a few more weeks, at the earliest. And she won’t realize she didn’t know until a few months after that. And one year after it all goes pear-shaped, she’ll know most of it, and pretend it never happened—except that she can’t. Total time taken: six years and a bit.


He looks at her, the big man he is, and bows in greeting. He sees deeply and with great sadness that she was never really his, was never ever his. He gazes at her and her daughter.

As she nods in reply, Molly thinks he is at peace, contemplative. That’s because she’s been out of Japan so long that she can’t read him, nor people like him, anymore. He’s actually forlorn, lacking in hope and in guidance. He wants to help, and he doesn’t know how to, so all he does is stub out every little fiery spark of dreaming that glows in his head when he looks at her.

“I’m here, Mori,” he says, simply and directly as he always has been.

He’s a few hours late, but she tries to keep it light: “Did you have a good flight?”

“They held me up because I’m from Okinawa.”

“They thought you were a terrorist?” she says, half-joking.

“Well, I’m large,” he says, and leaves it at that. They both know what he means. He can look threatening even if not saying anything. And he can sound threatening if he speaks, even while trying to sound harmless.

“I don’t know what they thought I was. I had to repack my suitcase and fix it with duct tape when they were done.”


This isn’t the Mori he knows, the girl with the scything commentary and the rapier wit. This is someone fumbling for words, and forgetting her lines.

“You appear to be in excellent health. That is a cute little one you have there. Very small and red, like a plum.”

Molly blushes, not being herself at all. “Thanks. Her name is Rekha. She’s only a couple of months old.”

In his mind, he translates this as ‘beautiful flower’, Reika. It’s a tiny and entirely justifiable error that most Japanese make. Some day, some lucky guy will make the same mistake, as events will show. Today is not that day.

He bites the bullet he knows he’ll have to swallow. “And how is your husband?”

“Um. We are… not together.”

Awkward silence. He has bitten the bullet and found it to be something else. Uncertain as to what it is, he looks down. Mori in slimfit jeans looks like an absolutely normal human being. You can’t tell she’s all cyborg from just below the hips, the wet dream of a certain class of information-age videogame warrior.

He doesn’t want to think of himself that way, since he’s never been that kind of man. Now, he works for local government, or at least he thinks that’s a good way to describe his work.

That’s nice, he’s about to say, but he realizes this is not appropriate. That doesn’t leave him with very much. Just as –she– didn’t leave me with very much, the voice in his head mocks.

“Ah.” He startles himself, breaking the silence. “That’s unfortunate.”

“No, no, not at all,” replies Molly, not meaning any of it. It’s just that she’s relapsed into partial Japanese courtesy, now that she’s talking to this one. “So, how have you been? I’m sorry that we hadn’t enough time in between to catch up properly.”

It had been an impulse, he understands now. A sadness wells up within him. She had needed a friend, and she’d made the invitation without thinking it through. Now, he would be an inconvenience, or at the very least a difficult presence. That’s what he reads in her tone of voice. He’s not completely wrong.

It had been an impulse, she too understands. She had needed a friend, and she’d realized she really had none that fit the bill. Except Isamu Tokagi and Suzumiya Suzuki, and Suzu wasn’t the right kind of friend at this time. Big Sam’s presence was reassuring; she hadn’t been sure he would appear. Now, however, she feels a kind of hope, coupled with regret: she’s noticed the ring on his finger.

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