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Authors: Angie Smibert

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Memento Nora (5 page)

BOOK: Memento Nora
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Nothing Works

Therapeutic Statement


One of the hands, the one with the silver watch painted on the wrist, flopped to the ground like a dead fish. No matter how tight I ratcheted the hands to the armature, one would eventually work its way off. I threw the hand across the garden, smacking it into the bamboo gate—just as Sasuke-san walked through in his best blue suit. His only suit really. He only wore it to one place, and he looked so tired and old and small in it today.


“Ay, Win-chan,” he said. “Watch it.” He was annoyed, but not at me.


“Sorry, Grandfather,” I said. “I can’t get this stupid sculpture to work right.” Then I launched into a tirade about kinetic sculptures, school, and what an idiot Micah was. I don’t know what I said. I was just babbling to distract my grandfather. And myself. Anything to keep us from talking about


“We’ll talk later,” he said. I knew without him saying it anyway. The motion didn’t work. Another lawyer quit. We didn’t get visitation rights. Again.


Nothing worked right anymore.


“I’m going to change,” my grandfather said as he picked up the hand and tossed it to me.


“Micah’s coming over later,” I told him. “He’s bringing a girl. Nora James.”


Sasuke-san raised an eyebrow. I shook my head. Sure, I liked Micah, but more like a brother. The idiot brother you have to look out for. And maybe this girl wasn’t the best thing for my idiot brother, but that’s not what was bugging me about her. At the moment.


“Who was Mom and Dad’s first lawyer?” I asked. “That lady you liked.”


“Sidney James,” he said slowly and more like a question. “Oh,” he said silently, and walked back to the house.


I turned the mannequin hand over in mine. Maybe if I added some weight to the hand, maybe a real wrist watch, it would balance out all of the hands, keep them turning like gears. And maybe if I added solar cells and mobile processors to those sheets of canvas I’d found, it would drown out the sounds I hear in my head whenever I slow down long enough to listen.



Whatever That Is

Therapeutic Statement


From the downtown library Micah and I walked to the corner of Eighth and Day. The edge of the warehouse district. Mom had said once that this area used to be nice. Trendy lofts. High-priced condos. Hip clubs. It wasn’t so trendy now. Most of the buildings were boarded up. A bombed-out car, the rust thick on its body like scales, hugged the curb at Sixth and Day. The air smelled of rotting garbage.


I stayed close to Micah as I followed him down an alley to a chain-link fence covered with faded Nomura Electronics signs. Between the boards, all you could see was metal. Micah pushed on a sign, and it slid open like a patio door, revealing a hole in the chain-link fence.


Once inside the fence I was eyeball to eyeball with a forest of steel poles and wooden beams. My first impression was that we were under the bleachers, as if there were some secret stadium here. Turns out there was.


“What is this place?” I demanded.


“You’ll see it better once we get out from under the seats.”


We walked along under the back row until we emerged into the open. There I saw a giant playground of steel, rope, and Plexiglas. It looked as if it had been built from those metal building sets Dad bought me when I was little and then played with all Christmas Day by himself.


Micah jumped on the bleachers and bounded up to the top. “From here you can see the whole layout.”


With a groan, I followed him up there. I took in the crazy quilt of structures. A log with handholds carved out of it hanging over a partially filled pond. A big fish net flapping over a dry pond. A canyon of clear walls.


“It’s an obstacle course,” I concluded.


“Yeah, Winter’s granddad lets me skateboard on that one.” Micah pointed to a curved wall that looked like a massive wave. It had to have been twenty feet high.


“He built this whole thing years ago to practice for some goofy Japanese game show,” Micah added.


“Uh, cool.” It wasn’t.


“Oh, this isn’t the cool part,” Micah said, beaming. “Over there, behind the Spider Climb.” He pointed to a tower of scaffolding at the far end of the yard.


“Don’t they have security?” I asked. We hadn’t needed a retina or voice scan or even a key code to get this far.


Micah shrugged. “They have some sort of system on the house itself. Winter leaves the back ‘gate’ open so I can skate or hang out whenever.”


As we cut across the course, I noticed that some of the obstacles were missing pieces. Some of the rope was frayed and rotting. Boards were missing.


The Spider Climb turned out to be two walls of slippery Plexiglas you evidently had to climb to get to a rope, which you then had to shinny up about thirty feet to reach a buzzer on the top.


Just beyond the tower there was a bamboo gate. It opened into a whole different world. I don’t know what I was expecting after the adult jungle gym we’d just passed through. Definitely not this.


“This is Winter’s garden,” Micah announced as we stepped into it. And I had to admit it. This
the cool part.


A bamboo wall encircled a crisscross of polished wooden paths and white sand. It was almost peaceful, like something out of a Japanese home-and-garden show. Or a martial arts movie. Almost. Except that instead of bonsai trees and big rocks planted in the sand, there were these eerie metal sculptures. And they moved. At least the first one did.


Though it was just a few big twists of burnished metal, it looked like a hunched-over man pawing at a pool of water. His hands slapped at the surface of the water, sending out bigger and bigger ripples.


“Watch this,” Micah whispered, pointing to the next thing in the garden. It looked like a metal shopping bag lying on its side.


The water started to lap up onto the sand by the bag. Two slender black pieces of metal peeked out of the bag and felt their way to the ground. The feelers or legs crab walked themselves partially out of the bag, and the creature started to pull itself, bag and all, up the sloped walk. Its frenzied back-and-forth motion reminded me of something.


“Are those windshield wipers?” I asked, thoroughly impressed—and unnerved.


He nodded, a big grin on his face.


Something about the jerky, almost desperate crawl of the wipers dragging the shopping bag shell behind them made me uneasy. Then as the whole thing reached the top of its little hill, it stopped crawling, collapsed back into its shell, and slid back down to where it had started. It was like it couldn’t get anywhere with that bag on its back.


The next thing—a windmill of metal hands beating at the air—started moving. The flailing motion of the hands as they reached the top of the windmill and then started back down reminded me of someone drowning. A limb fell off into the sand. The spiky-haired girl from Micah’s drawing scooped up the creature’s hand and then clicked a button on a remote control. The creature shuddered to a stop.


Winter Nomura bounded up the walkway to meet us. I could imagine her skinny arms and legs spider walking her way up the Plexiglas tower we’d just passed through.


“I’m going to have to redo the servo mechanism on that one,” she said quietly, almost as if she didn’t want it to hear.


“That shopping bag crab is still the glossiest thing you’ve ever made,” Micah said.


She cringed.


“That thing is
not glossy,” I said. I blurted it out before I really thought about it. I didn’t mean to insult her work. I meant the opposite.


Winter peered at me as if she’d just noticed Micah wasn’t alone.


She looked exactly like he’d drawn her, except that her hair was now blue. She had an intensity that was hard to capture on paper. Very quiet, yet if you shook her up, she’d explode like a bottle of soda. Her almost black eyes bore through me as if she had X-ray vision and could see exactly how I worked. She was more unnerving than her creatures.


“It’s not supposed to be,” she said after what seemed like an eternity. “Glossy, that is.” She turned off that X-ray vision and almost smiled. Almost. I felt like I’d passed some test.


Micah didn’t seem to notice. Or maybe he was used to Winter by now. He was babbling on about this project of ours and how we needed her help. We let him babble.


“Your garden is beautiful,” I said, adding, “in an eerie sort of way. It’s—unsettling.”


“That it’s supposed to be,” she said. And this time she did smile.


She showed us the other sculptures she was working on—“kinetic” sculptures she called them. The last one was just a pile of canvas and wires and circuits so far.


“I have this idea,” she said, excited, “to do something with solar sails. Not sure exactly what yet.” She led us to the pagoda in the center of her garden. There she’d laid out dozens of tiny solar cells on a low table. She’d also cracked open several old mobiles and other electronica and was creating something on a circuit board. “I think the sails will be like chimes, the sunlight powering ring tones or something crazy like that. Maybe car alarms.”


I picked up a mobile she’d gutted. “I thought you weren’t supposed to open these,” I said. There was clearly a warning sticker on the back: under penalty of law blah-blah-blah.


“If you can’t open it . . . ,” she began.


“You don’t really own it,” Micah finished for her as if he’d heard it a million times.


“Anyway,” she said, “I’m going to put one final piece in here.” She pointed to the table. “Don’t know yet what it’ll be, but it’ll run off the solar panels on the roof. And it’ll kind of sum up everything.” She shrugged. “Whatever that is.”


A gate on the other side of the garden creaked open. A wiry older man, dressed in track pants, a T-shirt, and a black hat like you see in old black-and-white movies, brought out a tray.


“Win-chan, tea for your guests.” He set out cups and a teapot on the table. “Two sugars for you, Micah.” Micah bowed his head slightly. “One for you?” he asked, looking at me, scrutinizing my sugar intake, I guess. I nodded. “And a triple shot of espresso for my little whirlwind.” The liquid in the cup he handed Winter was as black as ink. “Six sugars,” he added with a grimace.


“I’m Koji Yamada, Winter’s grandfather,” he said, putting the tray aside to extend his hand to me.


“Nora James,” I introduced myself. I couldn’t help staring at his arm. Both arms. They were covered in designs. A snake flowed down his right arm with the head ending at his hand. A tiger pounced down his left arm in full color.


“Those are beautiful. How long do they last?” I asked.


“Forever,” Mr. Yamada answered, amused.


“They’re real tattoos,” Winter said. “You know, needles stabbing ink into your flesh.”


“Why?” I asked, blurting out again. Something about these people, or maybe their art, gave me the blurts. No one got real tattoos anymore. “What if you get tired of them?” I asked.


“Each of my tats means something to me.” He pointed to a cherry blossom on the left side of his neck. “Birth of my child.” He pulled down the top of his T-shirt to reveal a snowflake over his heart. “My grandchild.” He pointed to some Japanese writing on his right wrist. “My first shop.” The snake. “Knowledge.” The tiger. “Protection.


“Why would I want to change those? They’re the things that make me who I am.” Then he added, “Besides, would you buy clothes from a naked man?”


I didn’t want that picture in my head, particularly if that man had tattoos.


“Grandfather owns a chain of tattoo shops,” Winter explained in that same hushed tone she’d used when talking about her creations.


“I’ll leave you kids alone.” Mr. Yamada headed toward the back garden gate, the one we’d come through, stopping to stretch his calves on the walkway.


“Sasuke-san,” Winter called after him. “I sort of borrowed some stuff from the Curtain Cling.” She gestured toward the pile of canvas.


“Like the curtains, huh?” He sighed. “I was never any good at that one, anyway.” He disappeared through the gate.



We showed Winter our first comic. Micah spread it out on the table for her to read. I couldn’t help rereading it alongside her, and it filled me with an odd sense of pride and rightness. We really had something here.


Winter said nothing as she read. When she finished, she took an agonizingly long sip of her thick, jet-black espresso.


“I see your problem,” she finally said.


Micah nodded.


“I don’t,” I said. “I still say upload it. Who’s going to care if we send this to a few dozen kids—or the whole world, for that matter? It’s a free country.”


“Tell that to my parents,” Winter said. She collected our teacups and carefully stacked them on the tray. I wasn’t finished with mine.


“Look, Winnie-chan,” Micah said. He got up and took the tray.


“Don’t call me Winnie,” she snapped as she opened the gate into the house.


I had heard the softness in his voice and something in hers that made me wonder about their relationship. I felt a little jealous. Kind of like a third wheel. The preppie girl among artists. It didn’t help when they came back out laughing.

BOOK: Memento Nora
9.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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