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The Mountain's Hand

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She doesn't really know how it began. She only knows when. On her fourth birthday she takes the subway for the first time. Her mother lets her choose their seats and she can’t stop smiling at her new red shoes. They are shiny and cheery and squeak a little from being so new.

The announcements are made by a lady with a nice sounding voice, but some of the announcements aren’t in Japanese. Her mother says they are in that mysterious tongue, 'English.'

It takes them about forty minutes and one transfer, but at last they’re in Ginza. Mama takes her to a beautiful cafe and they order cake and she gets to choose a toy from the department store. Momoka is pretty sure that life could only be wonders from then on.

The sun is flirting with the horizon and the eastern sky is beginning to put on its stars when they buy their return tickets. Momoka feeds hers into the machine and gleefully takes it back when the gates open. She puts the slip of paper into her peach-colored purse while Mama smiles and tells her how grown-up she is.

The ride back starts out the same. Only the lights start to flicker a lot, but no one, not even Mama, seems to notice. Then the train goes bumpety-bump bumpety-bump harder than before. She’s scared, but she’s four and that means she can’t be a baby.

Then the white lights turn off and a pinky-red light turns on, making funny shapes on the floor. The train stops. A voice makes announcements, but it isn’t the nice-sounding lady.

Maybe it is a robot. Maybe it is a ghost. But it is a strange voice like in a movie with magic. A lady opens the door to the car and she almost walks by when she notices Momoka.

Momoka tries to remember the lady later. She draws pictures though none of them seem right but all of them seem true. The lady has skin like hot cocoa and big pretty green eyes, with a soft voice and softer hands. Sometimes she is grown lady. Sometimes she is a only a high school girl. Sometimes her face is scared. Sometimes her face is kind. But always, always, always she has a book.

She asks Momoka some questions. They sound important even if Momoka doesn't remember them. Then Momoka asks to take the book. It turns pink, her favorite color, and she puts it in her peachy purse while the lady smiles and says how grown-up she is.

After that there is the sound of a man's voice, then the lady's voice, and some noises that might be made by animals. The lights turn on. Mama is still smiling and talking. No one talks about the darkness. Her purse is heavy with the book.

She puts the book on her bookshelf. That's where books go. The pages have no writing, only lines. Mama says that's a 'diary.' Her writing isn't so good for a diary just yet. Papa says he thinks it was silly of Auntie to buy it for such a little girl. She doesn't tell him Auntie couldn't have bought it for her.

One day after she goes to school, a sunny building with lots of other children and a chance to wear a crisp new uniform, the book has words in it. But they are big hard words with characters in them and they are not on every page. After she meets a boy in music class that makes her think of a bird with a broken wing, the 'diary' fills up with more big words. Then a beautiful girl, maybe the most beautiful girl in the whole world transfers to her class. Gold is the only way to describe her hair and she's more lovely than all the lilies in the world. The diary fills up with longer entries now.

She's almost six when they visit the Tower on a school trip. From far it's like a giant man has come down to earth to watch over them. He flickers with lights when the offices are in use and when there is a holiday they put spotlights on him. When she was just a three year old silly baby she asked her parents if he was 'God.'

Of course now that she is almost six she knows he cannot be God. But she still wonders if he is meant to look like a god. After all temples have statues of gods. He was made by a very important man and everyone says that man has a gift from god. Teacher says Yuri's dad is that man, but Momoka thinks that Yuri is much more wonderful than any big statue.

Everyone takes pictures with the little disposable cameras their parents bought for the trip. Momoka buys a miniature of the statue and some souvenir cookies for her parents.

Keiju and Yuri don't come on the trip. They are both sick a lot this semester, but their parents don't answer the phone when Momoka's mom calls.

One day Keiju doesn't come to school anymore and teacher sends home a thick envelope. Mama and Papa make sad faces and say it's time for her to learn. There is something else in the envelope the school sent. It's called an informative pamphlet. The words are in pretty colors, but they aren't pretty words. Mama reads it slowly and tries to explain where the pamphlet is a little too short.

The title is 'CHILD BROILER.'

There can be no unwanted children. When there are unwanted children then society breaks down. So if they are too young for the government school, which is only for big boys and girls over ten years old, they can be sent on the train. The train takes them to the broiler. It's very far away in Hokkaido.

Mama and Papa explain that it is a very old tradition in every society on earth that unwanted children must be cast out if no one comes forward to take care of them. They say it's not so common anymore in Japan because Japan is a wonderful modern country.

Something in her chest breaks apart. The world isn’t full of wonders. It is rotten and unfair, like how you find a shriveled kernel inside a shiny nutshell. That night she doesn't sleep much and at last she wakes up when the book falls off the shelf. For no reason she knows she walks over and picks it up. In the dark she can read it. The words are written in light and they're easy so easy to understand. Her mouth makes funny shapes as the mysterious syllables come out, bubbling up past her lips and seeming to burn burn burn.

She has a fever that lasts three days. When she's out of the hospital Keiju is back in school. The teacher apologizes saying the school was 'misinformed' and that Keiju was only visiting relations. The cheery Child Broiler pamphlet is still on the coffee table at their house. She wishes it would go away.

They learn characters in school and she can read some of the 'diary' now. Sometimes the entries are just like something she would write and sometimes they are true events that happened. Other entries sound so grown up and far away, describing things like a 'first kiss' and 'high school entrance ceremony.' Maybe the Momoka of the Future is writing in the diary. That makes her happy because it makes life sound like a fantasy book and not a horror movie.

Still the book is a little scary. She remembers the night of the fever and her mind won't let her forget it. The pretty pink diary sits on her shelf for two months.

Prince Goldie dies.

He was like a dancer, with veily fins and twisty movements. She won him at a summer festival and Papa proudly bought her a shiny tank for him to live in complete with a miniature castle and bitty underwater trees. Before her parents wake up and can see Prince in his final rest she tiptoes over to the shelf.

The words still burn, but it's smaller and more concentrated. She gets a big burn on the hand that won Goldie at the festival. Prince Goldie opens his eyes and swims towards his favorite tree and looks right at her.

Mama and Papa yell at her. They say she isn't to turn on the stove when they are sleeping. She doesn't say anything back but "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." She isn't sorry. She's too happy for Goldie to be sorry.

But the curtains in the kitchen don't have blue flowers on them anymore. They are white and lacey. Mama didn't buy new curtains. She says she has had white and lacey curtains for a long while because the style is called French cafe and has been all the rage. When they go to the department store that day Momoka sees that all the pretty blue flower curtains are all gone and the sales lady says blue flower curtains haven't ever been in style - only French cafe curtains.

Goldie is alive, but no one uses the hiragana 'ye,' ‘wi,’ or 'we' in school anymore. Momoka thinks that sometimes the book changes too much. It doesn't change the Child Broiler though, even after the accident with the kitten and her leg is broken. Maybe she's too little and the Child Broiler is too big of a wish to change.

She eight years old and she learns not to use the book too often. She tells herself she will not use it anymore unless she can break the Broiler. Until she finds something else is breaking.

In the diary her first kiss is with Keiju under the cherry blossoms behind the high school when she's fifteen. In this life it's with Yuri, in the park, in the shadow of David. Maybe it doesn't count because they are not boy and girl and because it is feather-soft and completely childish. But Momoka says 'I love you' over and over and means it so much her chest almost breaks open again.

She's in the hospital for two months. The doctors don't know what's wrong with her. In David's place is a red-and-white copy of the Eiffel Tower and Yuri lives with her aunt.

One day Keiju is late so she rides to school alone on the train

There is a man on the train. His voice is familiar even though he has not yet spoken a word. The white lights turn off. The pinky-red lights turn on. She takes the book from her school bag. She knows what to do.