"Tagomi Midori. Is this true?"
"You gave that boy—a concussion?"
"What," her father was livid, "what on Earth did he say?"
Midori didn't answer. She knew well enough he knew.
"Midori," her father shook his head, "you cannot keep on living like this."
She turned away. Her father had taken a while to get himself under control—so they were entering the housing district already.
"Six-hundred years past."
Quiet curious. The grey blocks reminded her of tombstones as they passed. Utterly silent, deserted—that's right, everyone should be at work at this hour.
"The War began—"
"Midori." Her father grabbed her shoulders and looked into her face. "If you continue in this fashion, you know what will happen."
They stood together still, as two statues on a great plane. Her father had not calmed down. She stared at him and glanced at the gravel below her feet.
"There are only so many options."
Only one, really.
"For a girl who cannot complete school."
Her father waited for the words to fade in, to echo through her mind. Then released her. She waited a few seconds longer and walked behind him.
"I wish I were a man," she thought aloud, "at least."
"Why is that?"
"Then they'd send me to the surface."
"Midori." Her father spun around—he was even angrier than before. So it was possible. His face was past red, white. "You must—promise—never to talk like that."
Her face was expressionless. "Yes, father."
She had seen a bird once. It was her favourite memory.
She had been walking through the little square, striding along, just as she was tonight—and it had caught the corner of her eye. A little fluttering at her foot. She wouldn't have thought anything of it, had not everybody around her stopped and stared.
She'd thought at first it was one of her ideas. Spontaneously come to life, like you hear things spontaneously bursting into flames and the like. Sick, obviously. It hopped, stopped, hopped, like clockwork—a broken toy. Feathers soot grey. Just like the ash. It had made such a small little sound in the silence. Like the beating of her heart when she put two fingers against it. She'd thought of picking it up, holding it close to her chest.
But then, finally frightened of the people, maybe—it flew. Just over their heads and out of sight.
She was only seven at the time. But she felt something of her mind, her soul—her Geist—go up along with it.
Would I lie to you, honey?
Would I mislead you, honey?
That night, Marie waited under the streetlight alone. She kept pacing around, like a cat. An inappropriate gesture, to say the least. It conveyed the sense she was waiting for somebody. The lights from the music hall next door flickered on, off, on, off. Could almost give someone a seizure, she thought. The saxophones drifted through the yowling words, even to where she stood. Could drive somebody nuts, she thought.
There was a noise and she looked toward it eagerly.
It wasn't him—it was a Reaper. She stepped back in alarm.
He didn't say anything.
"Are you here to arrest me, sir?"
He didn't respond but walked closer. In the circle of light she saw—it was that one. For some reason, his face had stuck in her mind.
"What do you want?"
He didn't answer. Only looked down at her.
The music seeped through the silence, and a strange feeling of control came over her. She smiled.
Would I make you go deeper
if you didn't want to go deeper, honey?
The artist only opened the door after a long while. He cracked it open cautiously at first—but once he saw it was her, he through it open and turned back inside without a word. Midori followed him.
One glance was enough to tell her—he was working. They walked through the unlit halls of his building. Somewhere was a dripping sound—drip, drip, drip—just like Chinese torture machines, the rain on Venus. Like two phantoms, creeping through Valhalla with the other spirits of the damned turning to look as they passed. She felt a crazed urge—to suddenly through her arms around his neck, possess him completely—but there were deep scores etched all over his arms. He was working.
"What's your name?"
She didn't laugh; she frowned a bit. "Is that your real name?"
He blinked. "Yes."
"Isn't that like—one of those royal names?"
"Yes. That's right."
She was surprised. He didn't ask her why she wanted it, or trip over himself. He didn't care what she knew. He knew what he wanted, is all.
"I collect them all," she explained. "Names."
I learned about it in history class, she should've told him. But who knows? Half the shit they learned in there was totally ridiculous; it couldn't even be called a lie, in good conscious.
"Where do you put them? The names."
"In a jar."
He seemed to understand. "A jar of hearts."
"Yes. That's right."
"Can I see it?"
She raised her arm.
"Do you see anything in front of you," she asked him seriously, "now?"
He blinked. "No."
"Then you can't see it." She dropped her arm back down beside them on the bed. "That's that."
Nailed neon-pink, crucified on chainlink...
"Imagine this," the artist spread all ten fingers, "if you could cut a person open—what would be inside. What must be inside."
She smiled at the floor. "The one damn place ash can't get at."
They flooded his apartment, his small room, until there was almost no space left. Only a single floor lamp that lit up the spot they sat in. Only two tall stools. And they cast shadows like puppets all over the walls.
"All the organs…the vessels…the veins…the heart…"
They were more like streaks, shrieks than real shapes of things.
If she had to describe what they were—like in one of those psych bubble tests—she would say they were thoughts. That was the only thing that made sense to her. And she believed he captured them quite well. He worked on it endlessly, only stopping when he passed out, really. And his emotions shone through and through.
He pulled her closer and she didn't even care about all the red blood that seeped over her.
What color must the heart be?