The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (2)
Paul Malone, Padraig O’ Gorman, Alin Narmin, Elena Soriano, Geanina Turcanu, Petra Haiderer, Eithne Bradley, and Keith Gray.
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From the lookout I spotted the box kite tangled in a beech tree in the woods below. Tomato red at one end, avocado green at the other (like the topping on my morning toast) the kite tussled with the branches in the breeze. And like me, metaphorically at least, the kite was struggling to break free. Over the hills we both longed to fly—up through the atmosphere— over Vienna to the east and beyond. To Japan maybe.
The breeze found its way through the zip in my thin Übergangsjacke, giving me a shiver and a thrilling revelation: I had just seen the box kite’s owner walking through the woods: a young Japanese woman wearing a white and cherry spotted dress with a ribbon at the waist. Simple, elegant and vintage. She looked as though she’d just stepped out of a time machine… from 1942 or thereabouts. And she trod barefoot through the wild garlic that carpeted the forest floor, her white slippers in hand, all the while peering up at the trees.
I was about to call out to her, offer help if needed…invite her to lunch even (she really was beautiful), but something held me back. Her fearful expression, I guess. She was searching for something. The kite, I know now. But I didn’t know then. I imagined a Japanese WWII fighter plane—the Kawasaki Ki-61 (I still have the model from my childhood) crashed in the trees. Her lover climbing out, a bloody scratch above his brow, a pistol in his hand— one he wouldn’t hesitate to use on me.
Now that irrational image fizzled away. Only she remained. “Your kite!” I shouted triumphantly and took off down the lookout stairs, the theme song from “Merry Christmas
Mr. Lawrence” running through my head.
On reaching her, I guess on entering her sphere of influence, my confidence evaporated. She sat down, with elegant poise, on the grass and took me in. Her oval face, her sparkling, green eyes cradling irises of sunflowers (like the Afghan girl of all those years ago). She studied me, with complete candour and without any hint of embarrassment. Her finelydrawn cheekbones enhanced her full, delicate lips. I was immediately beguiled.
She produced tobacco and papers and expertly rolled a cigarette. Then a silver zippo, flipped it open, for all the world like I had seen Steve McQueen do. Something I had regularly failed to do, practicing, in front of my bedroom mirror. Taking a long draw on her roll-up, she said,
“You don’t have to be like that, you know. You can be different,”
I was unprepared for that strong, silken voice which sent a thrill through me. “All those myths you have imbibed since you were a kid. The English exceptionalism. All those false notions of civilised stoicism and bravery. Dunkirk. The Blitz. Lawrence of Arabia. The whole strong, white, male trope. And of course, the stiff upper lip.”
She chuckled at this. Her laughter music to my ears. I dissolved.
“It must be so hard to keep it up. The charade. To live that way all the time. To have those myths coursing through your brain and imagination. The good news! You don’t have to be like that.”
Shocked by her insight, her words pierced between sinew and bone, exposing me. How did she know this stuff, sounding like a recording of my wife. Coming from the mouth of this poised, strong, beautiful, woman the words finally rang true.
“And I can tell you, we’re certainly not how we were depicted to you, us women, us Japanese.”
Somehow, she seemed to have the upper hand.
I felt weak.
“Have we met before?” I managed to mumble. She looked so familiar.
“Not in here,” she said, gracefully exposing the pearls in her mouth. “Now, can I please have my kite back?”
The kite. I had forgotten all about it. But it wasn’t in my hands. I turned and raised my gaze up high to look at the trees. Nothing. Had I picked it up?
“Looking for something?” asked the woman, and as I turned back to face her, the kite was right there, moIonless on her lap.
“Didn’t you just ask me to….” I began.
“Oh,” she giggled, waving me off, “I wasn’t talking to you.” Her gaze moved beyond me. “I was talking to him.”
Suddenly, I felt empty.
Breathing became harder.
There was coughing.
Eventually, I managed to turn.
Nothing but darkness – a sempiternal, nameless abyss.
And then I felt a jolt through my enIre body.
Sweaty. Agitated. Gasping for air.
Welcome to my world.
Shaking, I managed to get out of bed and crawl into the bathroom.
There I was, facing myself from the other side of the mirror.
Her again? asked my reflecIon.
Yes, I replied.
Oh, Oliver, you poor man. Yuma, Yuma, Yuma. I wonder what she’s doing now.
I clenched my fist and raised it up high, ready to smash the mirror to pieces.
But of what use is smashing a mirror, when that which it reflects remains intact?
My screen went dark.
– So, what? What do you expect me to say?
– I say, yes of course! We must submit it.
The work is done, I really like it, and we have nothing to lose.
Wait, let me click back to the conversation screen to see you again.
Can you still hear me? …I can see you, but the image looks frozen.
– Yep, it´s ok. I was just…looking at you. Argh! You know what? If this quarantine goes on much longer, I will use all the stuck energy I am piling up, to drive the 2000 km that separate us with the bike.
– Good idea. Lov´you too, black panther. We will manage. We have been separated this long more than once.
– Yes, but not with this incredible corona-uncertainty at so many levels. We always knew how long it was going to be. I need to believe that everything will be alright…Help me to focus on all the things that are working well and all the things we can still do.
– Like our lungs, the internet connection and Vienna Shorts-Kurzfilmfestival. By the way, thank you for the file with the subtitles and the credits, I will include them today. I hope my surreal story will be successful. It was not easy to include all suggested topics at once, but I think I managed well. What do you think?
– Mystery, love, melancholy, dreams, history, culture, politics, self, mind, attraction, doubts, surprises…Yes, you certainly did. I can see and feel all of them clearly in the plot. And much more. It is a multilevel story that could go anywhere.
– Now, your turn. Tell me, how is your project going? And, is everything ok with your job?
− You know my methods, Watson! I’m not walking away without a prize. Getting you to meet this deadline was my top priority ”job” since the bloody quarantine started. And that box, we successfully ticked tonight. So… now that we’re through with practising your pitch for the selection committee, I want the full story! From ”what use is smashing the mirror, when all that which it reflects remains intact”, if you may.
− If so say you… let the hunger games begin!
”A reflection of an experience distinct to Oliver’s own, woven on sounds, smells and textures as real as you and me. A shadow-show which dimmed out but an inch, in 39 years of tussling with it. Still, despite time causing little if any impact on Yuma, who remained equal with her ageless beauty and style, Oliver did grow objectively better equipped at handling her ethereal, nocturnal visits. Years down the road, all that therapy, powered up by biological processes which turned him into the strong man he is today, conquered the space beyond the paralysing icecap, once freezing the breath of the three-five-seven-nine-and-even-eleven year old boy, whenever Yuma showed up.
The three weeks since he joined the continental air crew however have brought about an unsettling regress: the regularity of the nightmares, formerly overlapping Oliver’s wife’s night-shift dictated work patterns, dissolved into a freshly re-found old routine. His sleep ended in sweat and tears by 03.47 AM, every day. Like he was a child all over again! They warned him, back in the UK, against Vienna’s vibe, driving one mad for no apparent reason. ”I am already as mad as a March hare”, he thought ”and flying keeps me grounded.” He confidently ruled out any charms possibly working on him…
Until this unfolded!
– So, what do you think? There are all these ideas, I can’t see how they fit together yet and I have a hard time getting the story to move forward. It feels as stuck as life at the moment. I‘m developing a habit of waking up at 3.47AM myself….stop laughing. I can hear you chuckle. For once it‘s nice that the screen is frozen again.
– O, come on, Watson. You know you dive into your figures’ lives like that. Let‘s break free somehow, have some crazy fun. How about a party at 3.47 AM!?
– What? Even the screen shook loose with that.
– Tonight we’ll plan on a 3.47 call. We could do it just the two of us or, even better, get a group together. And see what happens.
– You’re nuts.
– Yes, and it feels great. I‘ll call Jason, Victor and Sarah – she might also be up for it. The midnight ghosts will tell us all about box kites, Japanese girls, armed lovers and life behind mirrors. In any case: no nightmares or lonely thinking at 3.47AM.
– You really are nuts. But that could actually be fun. Daisy and Mark might join in. I‘ll think about one or two more. And I‘ll get myself to some icecream to add the „raid the icebox“ feeling.
– Ok. Starting to feel like the real thing. Let’s try to set it all up and talk again around 7pm to see where we are.
– Perfect. Talk to you then, and, Black Panther, thanks for the energy boost.
It is an energy boost he needs, waking at 3.47 to talk to the group. Their faces are ghostly against black backdrops, lit green by the light of their screens in a hall-of-mirrors of the night. Jason and Victor want to talk about the downed Japanese airman. Sarah wants to talk about the box kite, what it means. She is eating ice-cream out of a tub.
Black Panther joins the chat. He yawns and shivers. Watson picks up a pen. He looks out at the city, blank with sleep.
They bounce sleepy ideas off each other. The time trickles by. Nobody is inspired. It is nearly four in the morning and this was a bad idea.
He is suddenly in a wood, bathed in sunlight. Green and pink. He jerks awake. He was dreaming upright.
– What about Oliver? he says, but the group are logging off, shutting down.
He leaves too, goes back to his stale nest of a bed and lies down. He tries to think of Oliver – his face drawn with lack of sleep, all those stolen hours lost and gained over times zones – but all he can think of is her.
She is like freedom, this girl in the woods. No walls, no restrictions. Barefoot, not even a jacket. Light as air over the treetops, like the kite itself.
Watson doesn’t notice himself slipping into sleep. But his dreams are of a wood, green underfoot with the wild garlic of spring. He follows a path out onto a meadow.
She is there. Of course she is. She is flying her kite now, bright colours against the enamelled blue of the sky that Watson has barely seen in weeks.
She turns to him, and smiles.
– You, again? she says.
Watson wakes when she says those words. Of course he’d been there so many times before, never knowing how to move the story forward. Maybe never knowing how to move himself forward either. Too much rewriting. But as he wakes this time he suddenly knows how to finish.
He sits and writes Oliver back under the trees with Yuma:
‘Show me how you do it.’ I pointed at her silver zippo. ‘Teach me how to light it like you do.’
Yuma thought this both odd and funny, but acquiesced. ‘It just takes practice.’
‘I suppose everything does,’ I said. ‘Writing, creating, changing – just being. But we don’t realize how often we practice, do we? Most of the time we don’t realize what we’re even practicing for.’
I fumbled the zippo. I dropped the zippo. I scolded both myself and the bloody zippo in frustration. But I kept picking it up and trying again. Picking it up and trying again.
‘We practice for the following day,’ I said, getting the hang of it. ‘We rehearse for the next person we meet. Hopefully we change for the better.’
Yuma liked this thought. When she saw I’d produced a single steady flame from her lighter we grinned at each other with a child-like pleasure. She pulled the box kite down from the tree. It’s fragile paper sides ripped as the sharp branches tried to hold on to it. I helped her and we forcibly yanked it free.
‘You want me to burn it now, don’t you?’
But I shook his head. ‘How will we change if we destroy the memory of why we wanted to change in the first place?’
I took the broken kite and my new practised skill with me. But I gave her back her zippo to keep.
Watson types ‘The End’ and leans back in his chair, stretching his neck and shoulders as he rereads his words. Not perfect, but it never would be no matter how many times he rewites it. Maybe his next story would be closer to perfect. Maybe…
He emails Black Panther and the others before getting up to make himself a strong cup of coffee.
‘It’s done,’ he tells them. ‘Let’s move on.’