The days leap-frog one another faster than I can write them all down. Some nights and mornings I have to read you a journal entry that’s two or even three days old, just because, by the time we find somewhere safe to sleep, I’m too dead tired to record the actual day that’s hopped right over us and splashed into the murky, monstrous bog of night.
But, I wish. I wish that you would stop me mid-sentence. Mid-lie. I wish you would put up one finger and butt in: “No, dummy, that wasn’t today. We got chased out of the soba joint by that great big mean Mama-san with her great big ladle flying over her head, yesterday! Today was a great day! Today we ate like salary men, because I had the neat idea to wear service aprons I plucked off some poor sap’s clothesline this morning. And then we scoped out the biggest, busiest lunch place in the business district, and nobody looked twice at us quietly bussing away half-filled bowls of rice and soup, some with hunks of meat glistening fat, and huge shrimp waving their tails at us, begging for their tasty corpses not to be wasted in the trash bin. How could you be getting today confused with yesterday?!”
But you never butt in. You never realize that yesterday wasn’t today. Or that today wasn’t a week ago. You only know, for awhile, once I tell you our bedtime story, “What happened today,” and again when I tell you our wake up story, “What happened yesterday.”
Today was a great day. Today we made so many onigiri out of the abandoned rice, nori, meat and seafood we liberated from those wasteful salary men and women, rushing away from their meals in a flash of funeral black and bruise blue. So many rice balls, we’ll probably stay full for a week.
And today we lucked out on finding a warm garage to spend the night in. A happy, prosperous family, off on a weekend trip, it seems; their car gone, curtains shut tight like Ms. Yuhara’s pursed lips when I used to annoy or worry her (they’ve probably been pursed non-stop since our escape). Someone forgot to lock up the garage, haha! And it’s outfitted with piles of flattened cardboard, newspapers and moving blankets.
I’ve learned a lot about shelter-building from watching the sad men who live so neatly in their cardboard boxes at the bigger city train stations. I built us this little shelter before dinner, and lined it with the newspapers and blankets, and even made us each our own futon. Yes, today was a great day. One for the books. This book. But tonight, I can’t read you “What happened today.” And tomorrow, I won’t be reading you, “What happened yesterday.”
Because tonight, after our onigiri dinner, cross-legged on our cardboard front porch, I thought about those frog statues outside the house where you’d swiped the service aprons (blue denim with huge pockets and rawhide leather ties). I asked you if you remembered the frogs, expecting the usual sad, wondering, side to side shake of your head. I was just trying to fill the silence that had stuck between us as we sat, picking rice grains off our laps. But you remembered them! Twelve hours later, and you still held those frogs behind your strange, silvery eyes. I was knocked out when you grinned at me, a funny, sheepish half-grin I’d never seen on you, and when you answered, “Yeah, that’s why I stopped at that house. They were so cute, the little ones on the big ones. Then I saw those denim aprons flapping in the breeze, ‘flap! snap!’ and I felt like the frogs had stopped me for a reason. Pretty sure I’ve never stolen anything before in my life, but it just seemed like destiny, this once. It seemed okay.”
And then I asked you if you’d ever played leap-frog. I’d forgotten that this was the wrong kind of question for you. You got sad again, thinking maybe you just didn’t remember ever playing it. I wanted to cheer you up. “Never mind, I said, “I’ll show you how to play it now.” You didn’t understand what to do when I crouched down like a frog and pointed to my shoulders, “just grab on like a little frog and hop over my head.” And how your lost expression zipped around your face, a fly I was desperate to catch. “Here, I’ll show you. Crouch down like this.”
The howl that tore out of you when I pushed down on your shoulder blades, about to leap over. How it cut right through my skin and lodged deep inside my ribs (where it hides and shivers, even now), because it reminded me of me, and I never dreamed that we could be so similar. I’d only ever seen you like a lonely lily pad, floating on your silent, small pool of present moments. How you howled and howled and wouldn’t stop, and I was sure the neighbors were gonna call the cops, and I couldn’t make you uncurl from your frog position; if I touched you at all your howling got louder and more shrill, until finally all I could think to do was to put on my helmet and run straight for a wall.
Smash! Into walls. Smash! Tumbling our shelter to the ground. Smash! Into a toolbox. Smash, smash, smash! And then I fell onto the smashed cardboard, blood in my mouth because I’d smashed my nose on something. And you, like a teapot that’s boiled away all its water, your howling faded away to whimper, then nothing but fast, heavy breathing. Then you stood up and stepped over me, dragging away a dented sheet of cardboard and a moving blanket to the furthest corner of the garage, as far from me as you could get. You seemed to fall right to sleep.
So, tomorrow. Tomorrow I hope you’ll laugh, again, at the angry, ladle-waving Mama-san, her fat cheeks puffing pink with rage as she chases us, the half-full bowls exploding on the pavement as we drop them and run with all our strength. I hope you’ll wear that sad, wondering look when I get to the part where we walk empty-bellied all night long, finally curling up around each other inside a shrub dotted with tiny, pale yellow buds, like stars. I hope you’ll smile, again, at the part where we named constellations until we each drifted off to (unremembered) dreams.
I’ve already cleaned my blood off the toolbox’s steel handles, and stuffed the denim aprons inside. We’ll leave them behind, since they might remind you of leaping frogs, and me of something inside you that I’m not yet ready to understand.
I hope, just this once, you’ll keep on forgetting what happened today.