How long ago was it?
He looked down over the railing into the shining lights of the city. He could still clearly see that face, the face that has been haunting his dreams no matter how hard he tried to forget. It had been a long time since he consciously thought about that person, so he didn't know what had caused the dreams. It was painful to look back on that time, even now, so many years later. Why had he thought of that face? What was it that reminded him of those events? Why couldn't he just keep his past far away? He thought was getting good at it, keeping it separate from today's reality. He'd almost managed to forget completely.
Was it two years? Four? Six?
He could not remember. All he could remember was…snow, beautiful and pure.
Where Do the Colors Go?
2007 – with a few sentences added in 2014
He remembered that house. It stood there for over 50 years, withering away against the elements until its skeleton was poking through. It was an old, wooden two story, the paint chipped away completely. What was left of the windows were cracked and shattered pieces lying on the ground. Regardless of these imperfections, he wondered how it could have endured for so long.
He used to live there, happily, until that time. It was a safe haven for all of them. The kitchen would softly embrace them; the walls would echo beautiful, cheerful melodies. Looking at it now, it appears so cold, so dark and uninviting. All the little flaws that used to never matter stood out now. How could he have let it die like that?
The first time he ever went into the house, he could hear the heater screeching above the TV set that stood off to the side in the back room. He had stood in the parlor with wet shoes and snowflakes dripping from his hair. His arms were wrapped tightly against his chest as he glanced around at the other people in the house.
He remembered waking up to walk over to the window in order to get a glimpse at the early snowfall. The light from the morning sun seemed to dance across the melting ice, and darted off the nearby windows as rainbows. It was his favorite time of the year, a fact most likely due to growing up without winter. He had lived for several years in the lower area of the country, close to the islands, and it was years before he ever ventured outwards. When he was a child, he always wondered what snow looked like and often imagined feeling its touch on his skin. Therefore, when he stood at the window, a sense of contentment washed over him. He wished he could tell all the children of the world what snow looked like. He would tell them that it wasn't just chilly or damp, but it was magical, soft, and mysterious like the moon in the sky.
Snow was the only reason he did not mind living in the north.
Every night there were sweets and saké waiting on the table for everyone to enjoy. Rock music or loud, crashing sounds blared from the TV, which stayed on forever. In a group, they would talk about nothing, wasting time, trying to dissolve their sense of reality for just a moment. They needed that time together, for outside of the house, the world had shunned them, throwing them onto their backs. It had kicked them out from its motherly embrace. None of them had any real sense of education, although none of them lacked in street smarts, and they all worked jobs that required heavy labor, broke several laws, or caused them to humiliate themselves in some way. On several occasions impediments regularly stood in the path so that at least one of them - although there were times when all of them did together - had to live from the charity of dumpsters. Nevertheless, none of that really mattered, for somehow they always found a way to continue living.
He sat up in bed, rubbing his head. He looked around, resting his arm on a knee. He did not know what woke him up, but it never really mattered. He rubbed his forehead then reached over to his bedside table and picked up a pack of cigarettes. He took one and lit it, placing it to his mouth. He stared off into the distance, unblinking. He blew once, twice. Minutes passed. He glanced in the direction of his wife, who slept peacefully beside him. After a moment, he swung over the side of the bed and turned on the light. A smile washed over his face as he reached for his pants.
He knew what he would do.
That was the last of it. He threw the tank away, checking out his work. He smiled, nodding. Yes, this was right. He took out his cigarette pack, took one, and lit it. He inhaled then stood, holding it between his fingers with his arms crossed against his chest. He gave the sight before him one last look while the embers of the cigarette softly fell onto the ground.
He threw it.
Closing his eyes, a melody of his past swam through his mind. Warmth enveloped him, and his heartbeat danced in response. He could almost see the piano keys, the beautiful colors the notes made when he played. He could see the rainbow now. He could see it.
The sirens came, but he did not leave. He stood there, eyes opening. The fire had reached the tip of the house, flames licking at the frames of the windows. His eyes washed over the house, trying to memorize every detail just in case he ever wanted to summon up the picture in his mind.
He caught something; a shadow was in one of the windows. His heart sunk, skipping a beat. The shadow seemed to reach towards him. What did it want? He closed his eyes, remembering. He knew what it wanted.
"Good-bye." He whispered.
The sirens were growing closer, the lights were shining just over a block or two away. When the monstrous red truck pulled up and the firefighters jumped out with their serpentine hoses, he was no longer there.
He had just gotten out of the shower and was drying his hair. He let the towel hang around his neck and walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water. He heard whispering that stopped as soon as his footsteps echoed against the wooden floors. He looked over to the living room to see Marie and Ken sitting on the couch together. They were watching him intently as if they expected him to say something to them. Or maybe they thought he was just a ghost wandering the halls, about to explain to them how he had died.
Ken was the first to turn his attention towards the TV. He made some comment that broke the barrier. Marie turned her head back towards him and continued with the conversation.
J forgot about his water. He turned back on his heel and walked back down the hall towards his room, but paused just before he reached it. He strained his ears to hear their conversation. He couldn't make out much, and it bothered him. He silently made his way back down the hall towards the kitchen and paused just before the corner hiding away for reasons he didn't know.
"Marie.." Ken. "Promise me that you will try."
"I can't keep it up anymore. I've done everything I could within the first few months. There is nothing left." Her shoulders hung low.
"But you have to do something for him."
"I just have to wait. He will come out of it on his own." She stared down at her fingers, nodding to herself silently as if she were talking to herself, trying to convince herself. "There's no way someone can force anyone to come out of something like that."
"Yes..." There was a pause. "Hope…" Neither of them said another word.
J started to head back towards his room, but what he heard next caused him to pause.
"Marie..." he turned back, straining his ears once more."Will my old friend make it through this alive?"
Marie made a tiny noise at the comment, but never responded; she didn't have to. J's heart sunk, drowning in a pit of his own self-pity, but he didn't know what he felt sorry for exactly. Marie.. himself? He heard rustling, and he moved down the hall into the room. But his ears never left the scene. He heard Ken leave out the front door, and he heard Marie whisper to herself. He imagined her to be rocking back and forth on the couch with her hands to her face trying to soothe herself. There was a clinking sound followed by beeping sounds. After a pause, Marie called "J?" He heard the confusion in her voice that made her sound like a child would the first time they were left alone and heard a strange noise. He took a breath, relaxing his muscles and, he closed off his ears and shut the door.
Later he dressed and wandered out of the house without a word to Marie, who stared at him as if she expected him to explain something before he left. He took a cab and walked for several blocks before he paused at the tall, well-marked walls. His eyes shifted over the signs as he tried to decide if he should enter or not. Memories of the past exploded in his mind. He batted them away as if they were nothing and entered the grounds.
He leaned over a grave marker. Darkness had started to fall in, and the air had turned chilly. It nipped at his clothes when it passed, but he did not seem to feel it. Most people were rushing home to a nice warm dinner, and the street lamps began to snap on. Downtown, the nightlife awoke from its hazy dream. He looked around at the scenery. The trees had lost nearly all the beautiful colored leaves.
"'Where do those colors go? Where do they go when they die?'" He closed his eyes. He remembered each shade the autumn trees held. He remembered the burned orange, the bold red, and the earthen brown. He can picture them swaying in the wind from before, once, a long time ago.
"Why do you stare at it like that?" He was at the graveyard again, hunched over at the same grave marker. The sun was still out, barely, but the clouds were blocking most of its rays. It would rain soon. He closed his eyes tightly. He did not have to lift his head to know who was there.
"It is all I will ever see of him again." He answered, bowing his head even lower. He lifted his hand from the dewy grass and stared into his palm. He did not offer more of a response.
"You shouldn't stay here. It's a waste of your time."
"But I'm happiest here."
"You were happiest there."
J lifted his head, but Sai had already gone, his voice traveling like a leaf in the wind.
When he finally had enough, he decided to head back home. While in the cab, he watched the stores flicker by and the people inside them become a blur. He wondered if there was anything he needed, any place he had to go, but he couldn't find one. He sat back and let the driver take him home.
He came inside from the cold winds. The smell of baked goods rose up to greet him. He heard laughter farther along down the hall in the kitchen. Marie. He took off his jacket and hung it up in the closet. He walked slowly along the hall, almost dreading to see what had caused the laughter. When he got to the corner, he slowly tilted his head into the light.
Marie was standing with a bowl and a mixing spoon in her hands. Next to her was Ken, leaning against the counter, talking to her in words that he could not hear. Marie was laughing continuously.
He stood there, watching them for several minutes. His heart was pounding against his chest. It was like watching an intimate moment in one of those old movies where the music would slow, something that he should not be seeing. A part of him tugged at his heart, it was waiting, hoping. For what? For Ken to touch her, kiss her, anything.
However, Ken did not. He did steal some of the batter she was mixing and then he continued into the living room, eyes finding the TV. J could not tell what he was watching, but he was not trying very hard to either. He was watching Ken, his form. It was as if he was looking for some kind of blemish in it. They were talking about something, but his ears tuned them out. What was he expecting from them?
Ken turned back around to say something to her, licking his fingers. J snapped out of his fantasy and the full clamor hit his ears at once. The TV, the timer on the stove, Marie's laughter.
She set the bowl on the counter. "You should turn that TV off and, please, help me clean. J will be coming home soon; I don't want him to see."
J tried to catch what was on the TV, but Ken complied, clicking it off, silencing it. He joined Marie once more in the kitchen, taking some plates.
J took his chance and stepped into the room. Marie quickly took notice of the movement, her eyes catching him.
"Oh, J, you're home." She smiled sheepishly as she glanced around the room, worry washing over her face.
"What's going on?" Ken looked over to J then he glanced to Marie. Marie's eyes seem to have held unspeakable words because Ken turned his back on them. He set the dishes in the sink and began to wash them.
Marie spoke up. "J, it… It was Ken's birthday today." There should have been more to the statement, but he knew there would never be a second half. Why were they afraid? Ken. Was it really that late in the year already?
"Okay." J said, walking towards his bedroom. He closed the door on them before either could say a word. Both of them were left behind to stare for a moment at each other in wonder, then they went back to their work.
Evening came early, and Marie prepared an exceptional cuisine. J sat down at the table with Marie and Ken etc. The group had already started eating a few minutes ago, he noticed. He closed his eyes in the thought before he reached to get a spoon. He remembered in the beginning when they would wait for him to sit with them out of sympathy before they started to eat. He would never say anything to them when they did and, therefore, maybe, that was why they eventually gave up waiting on him. They had no time to waste waiting for him. It would all end soon, so he was glad they would not wait.
"I think you need to just get over it."
He slammed his fists down on the table anger rising, turning his face a light shade of red. He shouted at Ken "How can you say that? That's none of your business. I don't like you hanging around here anymore. I want you to leave and take that mouth of yours out with you!"
Ken stood up, jaws and fists clenched tight. He looked like he was about to say something, for his tongue rolled around in his mouth; however, he decided against it. His eyes showed that he was simmering down as logic swept over him.
"J, don't say that," Marie cried, turning her head to Ken. "Sit down, Ken. He doesn't mean it." Ken shook his head in reply and turned on them. He grabbed his jacket and went out into the darkness.
Marie faced on J. "How could you?" She whispered. "He was good to us, he helps pay for this house." She turned her face down to her meal. J watched her as the anger in him started to die down. There was something about how she looked, something that piqued his interest. She was not mad, she was not yelling at him. He saw a tear rise in her eye. She turned her head slightly as if the darkness in the room would shadow her face away from his view. He could still see the tear sliding against her reddened cheeks. He leaned back on his heals again, relaxing his muscles. He did not say anything when she stood up to put away the dishes. He pushed his plates away from his person and left the room.
He flung himself onto his bed, fists curled up on his stomach.
What was with them? They were always so quiet around him. What right did any of them have to continue to ignore him?
'They still care,' a piece of his mind whispered. It glimmered on a pond surface, piquing the rest of the forests interests.
He slowly relaxed his muscles and rolled onto his back, stretching out his legs. Was he losing it, or was it already much worse than that? Did his mind leave him behind long ago? From what he could tell, he started ignoring them a long time ago. He squeezed his hand into a fist again and stared at the small muscles in his hands. Did that mean that it was his fault?
Nevertheless, did he care? The pond's surface rippled once then quieted down; it could not find an answer. He turned his head from side to side as if to shake the truth out of him, but once he thought the pond would spring back to life, a great flutter of wings grasped it, and flew away with it.
Marie opened the door to the room and silently made her way into the adjoined bathroom. The light flickered on, hurting his eyes, so he flipped onto his side, facing away from it and towards the window. She closed the door behind her, enabling him to see once more. She was in there for several minutes, each movement causing a sound that J trained his ears on. Was she always this quiet? He wondered. She never said a word. He could barely even hear the sink water when she washed her face. She came back out a moment later and climbed into the space next to him. He whispered to her.
He did not know if she heard it because she never answered. She turned her back to him and was asleep in a few minutes. Her silence cost him a nights rest, for he spent the time thinking about himself.
He could feel it now. Something was different about him. What had caused this? Why was he only noticing this now?
He saw them together. Ken reached for her, touching her cheek gently with the palm of his hand.
"I love you," he said.
Marie did not say anything. Her lips quivered and tears started to form in her eyes. She blinked hard as if to get rid of them.
Ken continued. "I'm worried about you. J, he is lost to us all. You can't stay with him anymore. It isn't doing you any good."
She bites her lip as if it would stabilize it. "I cannot leave him. I chose him long ago. Now I have to stay." She couldn't bring herself to look into Ken's eyes as she speaks the words. She stared at the floor.
"You still love him?" Marie nodded, and the movement caused her to lose control. The tears started to roll down her cheeks.
Marie, is he losing her?
He runs his hand along the grave marker. The same voice asks, "Are you waiting for him?"
He plucks a weed from the ground. "Maybe," he says before he twirls it in his hand and throws it away.
"He's not coming back." He answered slowly. "There's no way he can. You have to move on. Everyone is worried about you. You're not acting like yourself."
Ken sat at the table. Marie, dressed in a robe and slippers, sat silently across from him. It wasn't a planned thing, he noticed. There was no dinner plates, no movie, nothing. Marie only had a glass in front of her.
"Marie, has he changed any?"
"He's still the same. Sometimes it's like there is hope, that there is still some life behind those eyes, but then it just…goes blank again."
"Marie, I've decided on something." There was a pause as he waited for her to look up. "I'm leaving."
"What am I going to do now? You were always there…now you're just…?"
"I can't stay here anymore. I'm moving on. I've spent so much time here, trying to make a difference, but I don't think it matters anymore. Maybe it'll just work out better this way. The past… it was important to me too, but I can't let it run me anymore. I have to get away from him if I want to save myself."
Marie tilted her head and sobbed in her hands. Ken stood, walked over to her. He touches her once on the shoulders and then pulls his hand away.
"I hope he comes back to you in time." He lowered his head and proceeded to walk out of the house.
I will join you. I am making this promise now. I will join you someday, someday soon. Will you be happy to see me there with you? You won't be alone there any more.
He didn't know what it was about the leaves, but some overwhelming urge sprung up in his chest when he looked at them. He raced to the trees, stepped on the trunk, and lifted himself to grab hold of the branches. In one sweeping motion, he tore down several of the leaves and continued to grab at them more urgently, faster and faster until there were no leaves left on the branches close to him. When he realized this, he climbed down, out of breath, and glanced around at the fallen leaves. He reached down to pick them up, and, without any hesitation, he stuffed them into his jacket.
It was a long time before he could bring himself to stick his head out of the window. There was something standing there in front of the world that bothered him, but it pained him even more that he could not. He stood beside the frame trying to gather his wits several times, but when he placed his hands on the sill, he felt like the sunlight was burning through his skin. He jumped back into the comfort of his room. When he finally did look out the window, it was dark with moon's silvery haze washing over his face.
Days passed before he had made his decision. He would be with him tonight.
J tore at the ground, digging his fingers into the damp earth, extirpating the grass in large clumps. His back was hunched and his eyes were concentrated, rarely even blinking. The cold bit at his fingers until he could not feel them anymore, and it soon began to rain; nevertheless, he continued to dig. Several minutes passed before he paused at the sound of footsteps.
He held his position until the shadow moved into his left line of sight. He turned his head slowly, blinking, trying to make out the figure through the rain. His brow knotted together once he realized who it was.
"What are you doing?" Sai whispered. As soft as it was, J almost missed it.
Lightning flashed overhead, blinding J for a moment. His gaze lingered on the spot, and he did not answer Sai.
Sai rushed over to J and grabbed his arm, hoisting him up to meet his face.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" His voice shook with anger that was sure to bubble over the surface any minute. He paused for a moment as if waiting for what he said to sink into J's mind. J did not respond, but instead busied himself with chasing the lightning bolts in the sky. Sai shook his head and pressed J closer to him. "That's someone's grave," he whispered.
J slowly turned his gaze to him, and he stared for a moment. Then he made his fist into a ball and slammed it into Sai's face. Quickly, Sai's hands reached for his face, touching lightly at the blood that began to flow. The rain swept away the marks quickly, leaving the crimson marks barely visible. For a moment, it was as if it never happened, but J reached up hit once and slammed his heels into Sai's chest, sending him crashing to the ground.
"What's wrong with you, J? You're crazy!" Sai yells from his spot on the ground. His face reddened with anger as he started to yell more, but J did not appear to listen. He sat back on the grave, and he continued to dig. "J!" Sai screamed, the anger was washing away and was replaced by fear. "J, why…? Where has your mind gone?" Panic swelled in his chest. He wondered if he should be leaving, if J would harm him, or if he should tell the police, but he never moved. He lay on the grass, watching J dig.
When he neared the coffin lid, he stopped shoveling, and threw it aside in order to wipe away the rest of the dirt. With this, he took his time as if to savor the moment when he would finally be near it. He went the extra mile to uncover the entire length of the coffin before he halted. He ran his fingers over the polished wood, smiling lightly to himself. He threw himself on the lid, stretching out his arms, his head tilted towards the sky.
Sai, overhead, moved for the first time in several hours; he leaned forward to get a better view of J. His jaw dropped slightly, and he held it open for several minutes. His eyes searched over J, wondering what to think of this image in front of him. After studying him for a few minutes, he closed his eyes and fell back onto the ground, sighing. He said something, but J did not hear him over the howling wind - wind that stole away his voice and carried it across to some unknown place.
He stood up, walking over to the pile of dirt J made, and grabbed at a pile of dirt. He let it fall through the cracks in his fingers before he fell back on his knees. He drove both hands into the pile, hastily clawing at the mush, and he threw it into the grave. The dirt hit J's feet, but he never made a sound or any movement that showed he cared. Sai continued for several minutes before he stood back up, facing the tombstone directly. He studied J's face for a moment longer.
"May you rest in peace, J," Sai whispered, and this time J heard.
J closed his eyes, a smile tugging at his lips.
The sky grew dark overhead, twilight slipping away, and the people ran home to their dinners. The bustle of the city was dying away as was the wind. J laid in his hole for several minutes, listening, but not quite paying attention to what the sounds meant. He was looking for something, searching. The light never went off.
He sat up, looking around at the dirt piled on his legs. He shook some of it off then climbed off the coffin. He ran his hands over the coffin, petting it like it was a child and he was at an adoption center, picking out man's best friend.
He slowed after a minute then sat next to the coffin. He looked over his dirty hands wondering where his mind had gone. How could he just dig up a grave? What sane person could have done anything like that?
He closed his eyes, willing his mind to find an answer, but all he could think about was what was behind the lid of the coffin.
Somewhere a light did go off.
He fingered the latch, paused a minute, gathering his wits. He bit his lip, shaking his head in his own idiocy. After all, he was in a grave. How could he decide when he should have decency? He threw open the lid.
The light fell over the insides, scaring away all shadows, revealing its secrets to him. He paused for a moment there, sucking in his breath. Tears welled in his eyes again, but he pushed them back. A knot filled in his throat, something heavy hit his stomach. He slammed the lid shut and fell back on top of it, the tears finally slipping out. He cried in anguish and in pain at himself, in his own stupidity.
He came home to a cold house, a house that had already had its warm time, its laughter's. Dinner plates where stacked drying, and all the lights were turned off. His wife was already asleep in bed. He didn't bother with taking a shower; he climbed into bed dirt and all. He tried to close his eyes, to let sleep calm his mind, but he could not sleep.
They found him in the corner of the bathroom, where the lights had been turned off, and the shower curtain was lying on the floor. He sat rocking himself and muttering words that did not seem to have any meaning. Marie covered her gaping mouth and moved over to his side. Worry washed over her face, forcing her eyebrows together and her eyes to become watery.
"Tell me," She begged. "What is it, what's wrong?"
Ken stood in the doorway feeling awkward about seeing another person in a position like this. His eyes looked everywhere but at the two figures on the floor. He looked at the walls and to the curtain, wondering what J must have been thinking and what had caused his sudden outbreak. After a few seconds, he heard him mutter, "I have to see Sai."
Marie moved back, the worry turning into confusion.
"J, how can… he's gone, I told you this, a while ago."
"I have to see him. It's been too long." Ken moved back to leave the two alone.
Marie sighed and took his hand in hers. He raised his head to meet her when she spoke. "I know, it has. It will be okay."
After Marie settled J down with some tea, she tucked him into bed and hurried out of the room. Ken stood outside in the kitchen waiting for her.
"I don't understand, Marie."
"It's just.. One moment he's screaming about hating him, hating us, and the next he's bawling over it. He's just.." he rolled his eyes, trying to search for some words. He bit down on his lip when he couldn't find anymore, and he pressed his palms hard into the edge of the counter.
"Stop it, you'll hurt yourself." She reached out to touch his hand, drawing it close to her and looked his palms over.
"Marie, he's crazy." He turned his head and stared intently into her eyes. Silence hung in the air, almost like a disease spreading through a population.
"He's not crazy."
"How can you say that? He needs help."
"No, he doesn't. He's fine the way he is. He'll get better."
"When, Marie? And what are we supposed to do until then? Everyone has been nice to him, given him his space, helped with money, and everything else. There's nothing anyone can do now. Words won't help, he's too far beyond that. He needs professional help."
"How.. How can I put my own husband out?" Tears rolled down her cheeks, dripping unto her hands, which reached to wipe them away.
Ken rolled his eyes once more, unsure of what to do. He sighed before he reached out to hug her. She pushed his hands away, inhaling deeply. Her face was red, and tears were still streaming down, but she walked into the living room and plopped onto the couch. She buried her head into the side of the armrest and continued to cry.
Ken watched her until the sobs grew too loud to bear, so he grabbed his jacket and headed out the door. Before he left, he paused slightly to give her once last glance.
During the next few days, he visited the grave of his old home for hours at a time. The ground was still charred, but pieces of green poked up from the ground. The first time he went, he didn't notice the growth. He sat on the ground, just staring until the rain soaked his clothes and caused him to cough several times.
It was the same the next time, but by the time the third visit came around, he spotted the tiny stems. He stomped on them. Then he fell on his knees and started to extirpate each one from their roots. He picked them each up and kept them until he was done; he walked over to the edge of the area, where the trees were, and he threw them out. He walked back to where he was sitting only moments before and sat back down. This time, when the rain came, he didn't leave. He bent his knees and tilted his head onto them, and he waited.
The fourth time he came it was already raining. He came prepared with an umbrella, but he did not use it. He knelt down, running his fingers through the dirt, looking for more stems. He stopped when he heard footsteps. He turned his head slightly, but he did not see anyone.
"… now you're imagining things." He whispered to himself and laughed, wrapping his arms around himself.
"You always thought you were crazy."
J strained his ears. There was someone there - Sai.
"Oh, Sai. I don't want to hear what you have to say. 'Get up,' you'll say. 'Go to your wife', you'll say. Don't say anything to me." He heard Sai inhale sharply then, after a pause, a long exhale.
"J, you can't keep doing this to yourself. I can't imagine what must be going through Marie's head right now." Concern dripped from his words, and J slowly rotated. He stared at his face, but did not meet his eyes for several seconds.
"How can you care? No one else cares anymore." He turned back around, facing the woods. He stared at his fingers, flexing his arm. "They're waiting for me to die. Hell, they probably think I'm dead already." He paused for a minute. "Maybe they've planned it this way."
"They never planned any of this. You need to listen to me. You need to go home to her, hold her, and tell her you still care for her. I know you still have some sanity left. Use it, and your life will get better. It will get back on track."
"I don't want it to get better!" J yelled, throwing dirt towards him.
"J, go home."
"Stop pretending!" He stood up, pressing his hands to his ears and keeping his eyes shut. He mumbled sentences that Sai couldn't not hear. However, he did make out one word before Sai disappeared. "Die."
He was in his room when the idea surfaced in his mind. He opened the closet door and rummaged through the top shelf. He opened a couple boxes, ran his hand through the contents, then tossed the box on the bed. He was being noisy, and Marie came inside to see what was going on.
She tilted her head, eye brows coming together. "What is it? Are you looking for something?"
"Yeah." He pushed apart his clothes, looking behind them.
"Tell me what it is and I'll go look for it."
"Pictures." He ran his hand through the back of the closet blindly then he stopped to look at her. "Do you know where they are?"
"Pictures of what?" He could see more confusion sweep over her face. Worry also lingered there for a moment.
"The old days." He didn't say more than that. She searched his face a moment then sank her head to the ground.
"I didn't think you would ever go searching for those again." She turned slightly and leaned against the wall. "I buried them."
"What?" His heart skipped a beat. He thought he had heard her wrong.
"I buried them." She looked back up at him. "I didn't want you to see them, just in case…" She looked down at his feet then towards the door.
Anger rose in him. "Marie…" His voice dripped with annoyance.
She looked at him once again then left the room. He clenched his fists together then went looking for a shovel.
Once he found one and came back out, Marie was on the couch in the living room on the phone again. She looked at him as he passed by. He heard her whisper something then the clicking of the phone being placed on the receiver again.
She shut the front door behind him and walked out into the backyard. It wasn't a very big backyard, only a few yards long and even less thick. In front of the fence, Marie had planted a bed of flowers, and closer on towards the house was a tiny table and two chairs. They used to eat outside together on nice summer nights, talking about his job, his dreams, her dreams. He could see the distance outlines of their forms. They were happy, talking about finally getting this place. How he got a new job and they wouldn't have to worry about money anymore, at least not with Ken helping them to pay for this place. He saw himself kissing her lightly, running his fingers through her hair. She was blushing slightly, she rest her head on his shoulder. That was a long time ago. Too many memories.
He shoved the tip of the shovel in and slammed down with his heel. Marie came out after him, calling him, but he did not say anything. She stood there, watching him digging up the ground. After a few minutes, he heard her move around behind him. He stopped shoveling and turned to see what she was doing. She walked passed him and then over to the flowerbeds. She pointed to a certain spot. He nodded in acknowledgment then set to digging in that area. Marie stood behind him until the hard metal of the shovel hit something hard. He bent down and used his hands to pick out the rest of the dirt. He picked up the box and tapped the tin lid. He heard Marie move and upon glancing up, he saw that she had left him alone. He did not mind. He dropped the shovel and cradled the box in his arms as if it was his newborn child as he walked into the house.
He walked to his room where he emptied the contents of the box onto the floor. He sat down and spread the pictures out before him. At first, pain bit at his heart from seeing the face of his friend.
Ken knocked on the door for the second time that night. He thought that a TV must be on, or Marie was in the shower, because she usually answers. She never really went anywhere, at least by herself, and even then, she didn't have many friends. After the third time, Ken decided to try the handle. With luck, he was able to get it open, and he stepped into the parlor. He called out her name, but there was no answer. He glanced around, becoming worried. Ken found her in a chair at the table, coffee in hand. It was slightly chilly and she draped a scarf around her shoulders. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, and she seemed to be staring at something.
She didn't glance up, so he walked around the table towards her. Again, he repeated her name, this time more loudly even though he was standing right next to her. She dropped her hand down to the table and answered, "Sorry, I didn't know you had come in." she tilted her head up towards him. "What is it?" She asked. Her voice seemed like she wasn't interested that he was even there.
"Marie, I have to talk to you. I've.. Well, I've found something." He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out several things, and set them onto the table in front of her. She glanced at them, lightly scanning the headlines before looking back to him.
"Just, please, look at them, really look at them before you say anything."
She nodded slightly and reached to pick one up while he grabbed a chair to sit down with her. He read over her shoulders lines that he already read before. Each time he looked at her face to see what her reaction would be. Every time he noted there wasn't much of a change, maybe a flicker in her eyes, but nothing like he was hoping.
J entered the room then. He watched them together looking at something, but he wasn't really all that interested. He sighed when neither of them turned to look up at him, but they still didn't move. He became interested then, and lightly stepped back around the corner. Obviously, they hadn't heard him come in, and whatever they were looking at was something important.
After a moment, they started talking, and he realized what was so important. They were talking about sending him away to some place, some place where he would be "treated" and it would be as if he was a part of a "family." He gritted his teeth, anger rising in him. Is this what they thought? They thought he needed help. What could anyone do, what could anyone know?
He wouldn't tell them, he wouldn't tell them a damn thing.
True to their word, Marie and Ken made J see a psychiatrist. And true to his own word, the only questions he would answer were obvious ones. His name, his birthday, all the silly things.
Then he knew.
He stood outside of the apartment when the sun was about to set. It was only a few stories tall, very modern in style. The orange lighting from the dying sun illuminated it so that it looked silver against the grayness the surroundings. He was there for well over 20 minutes before he walked towards the tall stone fence around it. The doors were straight ahead across the parking lot. He hung around for a while pretending to be an average person that could have lived there. People didn't seem to notice when they came out to their cars and back in again. The sky was growing darker the more he waited. He finally decided to go in, and he did once a couple came through the doors. He passed them as they waited for the elevator, and he headed to the stairs. He took his time to get to the top floor. Once he was there, he looked at the numbers on the door. He wasn't sure which one it was, but he couldn't spend the whole night knocking on each one. He ransacked his memory to the pictures. Yes, he had an idea.
With renewed energy, he rushed down the hall, only stopping once when he got to where he wanted. First, he tried the door knob. If whoever was inside wasn't who he was looking for, he would deal with it later. The door gave way into a large studio room. All was empty. He stepped inside, searching.
"No.. no.." He whispered to himself. "There's nothing here!" He yelled and walked back into the hallway. A neighbor or two down the hall glanced in his direction, looking him over before quickly going inside their rooms.
Worry suddenly clouded his mind. What if they were going to call the police on him? It was suspicious. He quickly glanced about him and headed towards a different staircase.
Once he was back outside, the sun had completely set. There wasn't much noise left, the parking lot was filled for the night. He pulled up his coat just incase anyone was watching. He didn't want to look out of the ordinary. He headed out of the area and down the street.
He thought he had been right. Wow, now he really was a fool. Completely mad. He sat on the damp earth, running his hand through his hair. He was at a park close by the apartment complex. Three were benches many yards ahead of him but he didn't feel much like walking towards them. He was thinking and wondering. Maries face jumped in his mind. He gritted his teeth and stood back up.
"You were close."
He froze. That voice. He turned around.
"Why weren't you there?"
"I knew you would be looking for me," he answered.
Anger rises in his chest. "Shut the hell up! Why weren't you there?"
"The graveyard." He growled.
~He slammed the lid shut and fell back on top of it, the tears finally slipping out. He cried in anguish and in pain at himself, in his own stupidity. Nothing was inside~
"You weren't there this whole time. You've been playing a game with me. You were never dead."
Wind blew against them from the east, playing against their cheeks. Sai was silent for a while gazing at the ground. J felt as if a million different feelings were swarming around inside his stomach like some nasty concoction made by witches who were looking to kill someone.
"All this time. You had me fooled. I thought I was crazy! I thought I was seeing your ghost, but you were there, weren't you?"
Sai shifted and looked towards the darkened sky. "I am a ghost." J's stomach surged upwards, shifting, melting back down. It was looking, searching, finally, it picked. Anger. He shouted, racing towards Sai with his fist held up.
Sai caught him easily, his hand covering his fist. His gaze finally returned to meet his eyes.
J spat. "If you were a ghost, I couldn't touch you."
"But you were the only one that could see me." A small smile formed on his lips, touching his eyes. It was sad, lonely smile. He let go of J's hand and turned to walk past him towards the apartment complex. "I can explain."
"Why would I want to hear anything from you. What could you possibly have to say?" He paused for a second, not expecting any kind of response. "More lies?"
"You don't have to come if you don't want to. I'm giving you the choice. "
J held firm while the pot bubbled through the sorting process once again. It picked and chose. He hunched his shoulders, bracing against the wind and headed for the apartments with Sai.
Once he came back, there were no mentions of the "nice people" and "nice places" anymore. They stood alone along the overpass. Their hands clinging to the railing as they looked out at the lively, bustling city.
"Sai? 'Where do those colors go when they die?'" he repeats the same old question.
Following his gaze, Sai glanced towards the trees on the right in the distance and thought. His lips moved several times without speaking before he stared forward again.
"They come again, J. They fall on my doorstep."
J's heart jumped in his chest, his thoughts scrambled about for a long moment, and then it cleared away into the darkness. His mind settled, and he felt a sense of relief. He looked towards the trees once again thinking about how many times he cried when he saw the leaves disappear.
"I want to." He looked back towards Sai does not meet his gaze at first, but then he titled his head upwards. J hoped he knew, knew that regardless what answer he received, he would follow Sai.
The morning birds started their singing when the early rays of dawn stretched forth through the streets. J sat on the bed, glancing over at Sai. His breathing was deep and regular; he must have been asleep. He went around extinguishing all the lights in the apartment save one. He paused in front of a single candle on the dresser. He stared into the flickering light almost dazed. He could make out something in its depths - a solid form, a man. He stepped back, blinked as if he had been caught up in a hypnotizing act, and then reached up.
"You shouldn't take away all the light, J. Even I don't like the total darkness." J turned back when he heard the voice. Sai leaned slightly forward, his weight on an arm.
"I thought you were sleeping."
He titled his head to the side. "I think you're the one who needs sleep, just look at your face." Sai smiles.
"And the ugly make fun of the ugly." He turned back to the candle thoughtfully. He set the snuffer on the dresser and stepped back. A hand found his shoulder. He twisted his body around.
"Rest." Sai waved his hand, indicating the bed.
J rolled his eyes and slipped under the covers. "I have a dead man worried about health, can't get crazier than that."
Sai nodded slightly, walking over towards the window. He stood to the side, arms crossed. He was glancing out towards the light, eyes blank, rarely blinking. He stood for several long minutes in silence.
"What are you doing? Why aren't you going to sleep?"
"I like to watch the sunrise. I can never see nor go out in the sun during any decent human hour, so I try my best to greet every morning when the sun is the least painful."
"Why don't you just wake up a little earlier and watch the sunset?"
Ken glanced back towards him, another sad smile on his lips. "Maybe you will understand one day." He turned back towards the view and went laconic again.
J rolled around on the bed until he flipped his legs over the edge to stand up and join Sai at the window.
"You mean it this time?" He asks.
His arms crossed over the sill, J's eyes saw the distant semicircle surrounded by beautiful pinks and oranges. "I wish I could see the snow instead of all this emptiness. All the colors have died away. But the snow -" his voice dropped. He couldn't put his thoughts into words.
"You will again," Sai promises.
"I know." J closed his eyes and breathed in the moment. There was no more pain, no more loneliness, for he had all he needed now.
He watched the sunrise, and he smiled happily when he thought about the snow that he knew would soon return.