Lacquer Fish

You’re the only friend that I lost in such a horrible way.

You said that you would speak to me again. As the time approached I saw the stone in a shop; smooth and black, dozens of layers of lacquer, and shining with two iridescent red and orange goldfish. It was from Vietnam. I bought it for you, for when we’d speak once more.

You didn’t speak to me, so months later I bulled my way in. Then it didn’t seem right to give a present.

I always knew that you had the softer heart, that you cared deeply about me, when most of the time he didn’t give two straws for me. He never seemed to care as much about people as you. Meanwhile you and I talked and fought and cried on the phone together. And I knew all along. I knew we all might have been happier if only I had fallen in love with you instead, and I have never forgiven myself for that.

We once amused, frustrated, and relied upon one another, but those days are growing longer and longer ago. I gave you the stone with the lacquer fish some five years after I first acquired it, and for a different reason than first intended.

I gave it to you before you went away, because, although not much farther apart than before, I knew you would be more gone than ever. You’re moving on so that memory seems stranger and stranger. The stone may no longer be here to catch my eye, but that hasn’t prevented me from thinking of you and your two fish.

I hope you’ve kept them.


Marielle Beauchene

Marielle couldn’t help but give another small, inward sigh of relief that she and Aneirin were still together. She had been dreading this morning. Next to her, Aneirin was smiling at their new teammates and teacher as if this were perfectly natural, but she kept her fingers close to where his white tabard trailed in the grass, shining bright.
She remembered him out in a rainstorm when they were both six years old, laughing when the lightning came, and though she’d wanted to go inside he made her see a part of his delight. In the backyard on his tenth birthday, when both of their extended families had gathered. That year the apple trees had been overflowing. She remembered the pyramid of presents stacked back in the cool, dim living room, while outside aunts and uncles and cousins crowded around him, a mass of heads and noise, but through them all she was still able to see a corner of Aneirin’s smile, a ray of his light, and that was enough.
She remembered him two months ago when his wink, and a ripple of the sunlight around her, gave her the win in her last sparring test of Rank 1.  She did not remember the expression of the girl she had been matched against. And there was a twinge of guilt.
“But what does it matter, Marielle?” he’d asked later, smiling and shaking his head. “You’re better than her anyway.”
And Marielle had subsided, even though she didn’t believe him. Not always. But to believe in anyone, or anything, the way she believed in Aneirin, was incomprehensible to Marielle.
As their families always said, they were sun and moon to one another.


Fan Rhee

Fan wondered if she was the only one made uncomfortable by the stillness that had fallen over their newly-formed squad. Sitting under a few stunted trees on the edge of a dusty ring, Umi faced the pond in the next field over and closed her eyes as if in meditation; Hildr was out of sight, seated on the other side of Umi’s chosen tree; and Marielle, who had been embarrassed in front of the whole Rank 2 class, was listless, her hair falling down in front of her face and her food largely untouched.

Excepting Umi, they were all dusty and sweaty. Their instructor, Shamira, had left them alone for lunch, and now that Fan was done eating she wished that she could fade away, as her older brother was so adept at doing. Hwan had ignored her in the classroom that morning, like she was nobody at all – to the point that she wondered if he would still smile at her when he got home.

He would, wouldn’t he? Unconsciously, she raised a hand to her ear, gently tugging at the lobe in a manner that she could feel, but hardly hear. In Fan’s case, it was good that Shamira spoke so loudly and moved her lips with such emphasis; this way, she could understand the instructions.

Aware that she would not notice the small noises that could bother others, Fan tried not to fidget as she waited for Shamira, facing a world that was as quiet as if padded by cotton.

Hildr Ostergaard

When Hildr’s older cousin had earned his Rank 3 badge, he’d patted her on the head and told her that either one day she would discover her true calling in battle, or she’d find herself at the bottom of the heap and go back to the farm.

In retrospect, she supposed that he was being condescending. But Hildr was not prone to resentment. And now that she was sitting next to Umi Kiritaeke, who used four-syllable words that Hildr had never heard before, who scooped up a pond merely by shifting the weight of her dainty body, and who drank cold tea with her eyes half-shut as she rested in the shade, her cousin’s motivations couldn’t have mattered less.

Moulded like a doll, and yet unconscious of her appearance. Denied the constitution of a warrior, and yet awe-inspiring.

Step One was to figure out how to talk to Umi Kiritaeke.

Step Two was to become strong enough to stand at her back, always.

High School Boys and the Battle of Brick’s Hill

The road was free of cars at 3:30pm and only a distant, lonely train on its elevated track punctuated the quiet of the suburb. They were marching up an incline past two houses which had been recently dismantled. So there were piles of yellow brick across the street, while on their side the sidewalk was bordered by a stretch of green, the grass threaded by a bike path which looked like it had gotten lost on the way to somewhere.

Lana: overly casual, “It’s crazy that its taken me this many years to realize that the little pockets in push up bras are the perfect spot to keep that tampon that I’m going to need around x o’clock.”

Rob: “The hell, Lana?”

Lana: “What?” as if she hadn’t just planned that out like a major poser.

Yves: “Ahaha-ha,” he laughed uneasily, “you know, guys -”

Kou: “Of course its a push-up,” he muttered acerbically.

Lana: “Woah! Hey!” Rounding on Kou. This is not where she thought her tidbit of wisdom was going. “Everyone wears push-ups! How else do you think we’re supposed to approach the ridiculously high standards set in people’s minds by billboards like-”

Rob: “For King Kai’s sake, shut up Lana.”

Lana: “-that one?!?!” she cried, pointing wildly.

Kou: to Rob, “Nice one.”

Lana: “Seriously?”

Yves: already too carried away to remember that he was trying to change the subject a moment ago, “Oh man, remember when Goku and Piccolo had to get their licenses?”

Kou: “Timeless…”

Lana: a loud harrumph.

They were almost at the top of the hill when,

Rob: “So I count ahead another thirty days or whatever so I know when to avoid you next, huh?”


Thus began the battle of Brick’s Hill.



Translation – Crépuscule sur verre

Twilight on Glass

She tempted me with wine, cake, and grapes. I found her in the hemisphere of fronds and glass that made her sun room, her crystal world above the ravine.

Disquieting, gamine looks – a suspiciously solicitous manner! Between crumbs and cream and many sips, I gave in, asking what she wanted.

The birds around the greenhouse took to the air in a tumult.

I said, “The world, it lives on, and here you are surrounded by sunbursts, rain, leaves, until the end of days.”

Contrary, her eyes sparkled. But she admitted, “It’s true – I have every season, and at the same time, that which pleases me. Maybe flowers as jewelry among the snow.

“And yet, where are the delusions of our lush centuries gone by? Give me the man who errs, who chases all the mania of myth. That which the few children today would never believe.

“Yes, I want credulity, surrounded by its fairies and beasts. Give me phenomena still unexplained. Give me the universe without map, and thus without end.

“I want a magician – no, I want to be the magician myself! Humor my caprices, Theo, and give me that piece, Theo, for fear of being cursed!”

Since she had scarfed the last of the pastries, my only recourse was wine while she laughed at the silence of glass and sky, of grass and earth, of the twilight of man.

At last, “That’s all?” I demanded. And she inclined her head.

I left half full, despite all the desires that had been elaborated. At that moment my only thought was:

“It would have been easier in springtime.”


Elizabeth Cook, 2016