The ocean of clouds was occasionally interrupted by shafts of sunlight falling on La Circena—an old house near the cliff in Positano. Soft water drops and softer drips of light were all that remained from the storm that had passed. The curtains flowed with a rasping sound as white linens, stained by salt and age, caressed any furniture in reach. Its thin glass windows were always open with no blinders, just old varnished oak frames blending with the warm yellow walls. It was home to Naoko, a happy parody of what she had when she was younger. She left the balcony and glided to the kitchen in her white gown, feet kissing the parquet floor
Naoko took a breath, the smell of salt that rolled in from the open window mixed pleasantly with the lime scent from the tea Okyo prepared before he left for work. Her tea was the right amount of warm as it went down her throat before she pulled her hair up into a mess held by a simple bamboo comb; as she usually would when cooking or doing other tasks that need attention. Much to her relief, her grip held when she took a knife out of a ceramic bowl. She was getting stronger and holding things was easier by the day. She began carefully slicing the portobellos, followed by the golden chanterelles. There had to be some Parmigiano-Reggiano somewhere, she always grated it last—it wasn’t something she particularly enjoyed even before the accident, but now she was just barely strong enough. Still, it was good practice if she wanted her body to have strength to do anything else in future, and it helped that she could share the fruits of that work with her husband.
Naoko stroked the paper with watercolour. Brushes were the first thing she was able to hold after the accident. The strokes came naturally; painting was always a part of who she really was and where she belonged. This was a painting she had started months ago, before the accident. And as it goes with watercolour; it requires care, and dedication, for one wash wasn’t enough for her. She would augment it daily. The beauty lay in the mistakes, made evanescent with each new layer. And Wakkanai was a place of many mistakes—mistakes she had not earned forgiveness from, and so, the painting demanded watercolour. Layer by layer, in dark shades of blue, streaked in white, slowly recreating that unforgiving cold sea.
Naoko could remember the silence outside as Haruka, her mother, ripped through the painting of a moonflower. She had never gotten the shading of it right. It didn’t give the impression of fragility the real flower did. So she had tried convincing herself that that one didn’t matter. She just wished it wasn’t so quiet outside, only the sounds of the beach gave any company—she was sure anyone passing could hear. Her tight grip on her paintbrushes was her only tether, so she snapped them instead. She moved to her favourite painting, one of a small red hitodama drifting towards the moon in the middle of a storm; with the broken brushes, she tore the canvas, breaking the frame with her feet. She would not have more taken from her. Shoving Haruka aside, she finished the destruction she started. That night had ended with flames outside her house consuming the remains of what had until then been her life’s work, including her primary school family drawings. They wouldn’t get to take those from her either. She walked back into her dimly lit room where Haruka sobbed on the floor of their wood and paper home.
“Get out Haruka,” she said.
“I tried everything, Naoko!” Haruka’s voice breaking, “You just won’t listen…”
Naoko remembered those beautiful ravaging waters that stroked her heart. She remembered watching them from the cliff outside town, as she avoided her house for as long as she could. She remembered the first time she heard Okyo’s music. She remembered his smile, and the decision to share her cliff. She remembered the music; she missed the music. She remembered deciding with Okyo, to leave and not look back. She tried not to. She remembered receiving a simple bamboo hair comb in the mail. The only thing left to her when Haruka took her life. She remembered looking back. So many mistakes…
The painting demanded watercolour.
And so, she fed it—in a now dark room lit only by her flames; an orange, green and purple sheen over varnished wood. Like northern lights on the paper.
Okyo arrived later than usual. Naoko opened the door. The town below glittered like fireflies and the red afterglow from the sun danced its way out with the shadows, littering the sea with pink-orange glitter. Okyo looked worn. She touched his face, rubbing a lazy tear away.
“Naoko. This can’t go on.”
Naoko suppressed an urge to grimace, her flames dimming, “You should eat first. Let me warm the food.”
Okyo stared deadpan at her attempt of evading the conversation. She smiled in fake obliviousness until he left to freshen up. She then went to warm the food, adding the freshly grated cheese to it.
He came down minutes later, his body dry, eyes sunken. His face had been accustomed to smiling, which caused permanent wrinkles. Even with the pressed lips he had as he sat down, one could tell this was a man used to happiness.
Okyo started playing the harp. The first pulls were out of note—jarringly interrupting the whisper of the breeze, though he recovered momentarily. The hands moved with a careful elegance, giving the atmosphere a cold metal feel that seeped into her very soul, moulding it with each pull. The fires cast a halo on him. She stood transfixed, the memory of all the years she had loved him condensed into a single moment.
“My moon… how I’ve missed hearing you play,” she said, half to herself.
“Naoko, we can’t keep doing this… I can’t—every day I have to see him free, laughing, living. Does he even remember your name?”
“You agreed to let it go Okyo. Please… I’m getting stronger every day. I’ll be my old self soon.”
“You won’t be your old self—” his voice straining, much like his initial harp notes, “you’re dead. I go to bed every night. Praying. Naoko. Praying that this is all just a bitter dream. And that I’ll wake up with you by my side.
“You know what’s the heartbreaking part?” he paused with a pained smile, “I do. Every day, I wake up with you by my side. And you’re as beautiful, as kind, and… that hurts more. Why does it feel like an even crueller joke?”
Naoko staggered; her flames almost faded. The memory of that night—illuminated by the lampposts which were made hazy by the wine, and his smile beamed like moonlight. She was so proud of his recital, so was he; he had made it as an artist. In Italy! All of his dreams were coming true. She crossed the road looking at his excited little victory jig, making light-hearted jabs at the silliness of it. She remembered the elliptical green leaves of the tree, heavy with pomegranates, just beside him. Okyo looked back at her, not quick enough to do more than call out her name. The look on his face: absolute terror. Eyes wide enough to drown in. A tear fell from her face. She hated remembering that—hated what was robbed from them.
“Don’t say that…” she paused, “we have each other. That’s all that matters.”
“It’s too much Naoko… even playing became too much ever since that day—” he paused, letting out a long sigh. “Do you ever wish we had stayed?” he nodded to her painting, her lights too dim now to allow them to discern anything more than the silhouette of it.
“Sometimes—maybe if I had stayed. Haruka… she just needed somebody that listened to her—I knew that. But I couldn’t shake my disgust at her being so weak, I think… I was just caught up on the idea of being strong…” she paused shaking the thought off. “No. We wouldn’t have been happy there. You would’ve stopped playing long ago, settled for an accounting job that would still be no good to my parents. I wouldn’t be happy either. Were it not for you, those cliffs would have taken me long ago. These last three years have been the happiest of my life. And deep down I know you feel the same.”
Okyo had a sad smile as he nodded in agreement. And softly said, “every moment like this makes me feel like I belong… Thank you—for staying,” he let out a long, exasperated sigh, “It still doesn’t make this right. I’ll make him pay. I promise.”
“You need to let it go… It was a mistake. We all have our share of those. He was drunk, and so were we.”
Okyo opened his mouth but closed it, shaking his head in resignation. Naoko hated this particular habit of leaving things unsaid. But for once she was grateful for it—not wanting to drag this conversation any longer.
“Let’s just be the normal us. If only for a night. Come; eat,” she said holding her hand out to him.
That night they talked about how their days went over dinner and after dinner, danced a little. She held him tight. Later falling asleep to the green, purple, and orange glows huddled together. For the first time in a while, she slept peacefully; no nightmares of car accidents; no memories of a colder sea called home. She instead watched his peaceful stillness. Now she shared in it.
Home called her with a vengeance the next morning, and so she set sticky rice boiling in a pan with a dash of apple cider vinegar which never truly pervaded above the smell of the sea. She spread the nori across the blue granite counter—now with vigor—she added the thin salmon fillets and a few strips of cucumber, spreading the rice on top as soft steam raised from it. She let it sit in the fridge covered with saran wrap, unhappy at how soft and easy the ingredients were, at how little give they had, at how they didn’t fight back, at most they slid from her hands but they never fought back, not like the cheese in the grater.
With her feet steadier on the wood beneath her, she walked to her painting, letting her hair down from her trusty comb. She drew a breath and decided that the painting could use one more mistake; she brushed on a blood-red tint, caressing the cliffside with it; the colour slowly dripped down to the ocean, flowing through previously clashed waves. Wild powerful swipes were interrupted by pauses, in which she held the brush to drip every few seconds. She followed the memory of Okyo’s song from the previous night that held her like a ghost, haunting her limbs, until Wakkanai was a sky made of red stars against the dark sea and darker cliffs—weeping just as she was.
She only noticed how much time passed when abandoned by the sun; the flames flickered brighter, casting that familiar aurora over the house. She walked to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of red wine. She looked down at the town’s spider web constellation of lights with gnawing anxiety. The orange fire flashed and then vanished, followed by the purple—her heart catching in her throat and her hand gripping with all her power on the wine bottle, bathed in green light—then, the final flame vanished, leaving a hollow howl.
“What have you done, my moon? Was what we have not enough for you?” a final tear slid down her face, but it was the wine bottle that struck the floor spilling through the darkness.
The New Moon gazed over the old house by the cliff in Positano. The night was clear and the wind solemn, blowing at empty windows that for the first time in over three years sat closed. The northern lights no longer shone.
Jellajam, Jay Finn, Joshua Cochran, Nezzeraj, Suspense, Bookish Azn,
Theodore Bechlivanis, Mo, Nyambura “Mike” Mutanyi and Ndinda Kioko
Owen Uachave is a writer based in Nairobi. Their writing is mainly prose and poetry, with a focus on magical realism and speculative fiction. They are primarily interested in the phenomenon of loneliness, its causes, its manifestations, and its consequences; and they pursue this through the use of place as a gateway to characters.
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