Wednesday, June 27, 2012

And this is for the tears that won't dry...

The word that would best describe this feeling would be haunted.  For this is the city of the dead, a city filled with ghosts.   I move warily along its streets simultaneously longing for, and dreading a glimpse of, someone I loved back when.   I've been sent up here to Tottori City for work related matters, and to my surprise I found that I've been booked into the hotel where we'd passed many nights hiding our courtship from her parents who'd disagree with my foreign blood.  Thankfully, I'm not in the room with the mythic bunk beds. 

As I walk beneath the covered streets, I'm joined by another ghost.  I try to figure out which was the street on which James lived, up until his sudden death of cancer just shy of age 30.  I'd often make the trip over from Yonago, simply for a night of drinks and laughs.  In one of this city's small bars he told me his tale of 'borrowing' a taxi that he found idling out front one night, joy riding around the corner and leaving it in the identical spot one street over.  I'll never forget the horror on his face when I reminded him that all of us foreigners had our fingerprints on record somewhere.  Another night, where we made drunken snow angels out front of a temple somewhere.   I remember feeing a little sad that he never got to see the films made from his beloved Tolkien books.  His death exactly a decade ago hit me hard.  I remember a ceremony held at his high school where we planted a eucalyptus tree in his memory.  I filled a film canister with earth there, with the hope of mixing it with the earth of his grave down in Sydney.  It was a gesture that I hoped to share with his parents.  But little did I know then that I'd bury my own son before the year was out.

I try to elude the ghosts with a coffee in a small jazz kissaten called New Orleans.  The owner doesn't have much to say other than that he is a jazz fan but isn't a musician himself.    He isn't too adept at the improvisation of conversation, and I smile at the thought that in his suit and bow tie he has all the bearing of a mortician.  I pay and move on.  The sidewalks run beneath cheap tin roofs that betray the heavy snowfall here.  The shop windows display goods that would entice no one but members of a heavily geriatric population base.  It is still very much the '70s here.  A computer shop on one street corner has a more recent touch, that of a sign announcing the arrival of the innovative Windows 95. 

The high street abuts the government offices, and not far away is the museum.  Beyond the taxidermied mammals and amphibians in formaldehyde is the folklore display, and here I am linger for quite awhile, pondering how this all defines the living present, how story is eternal.  These thoughts continue to reverberate as I move through the castle ruins and up the forest trail toward the top of Kyushozan.  Midway up I find a small shrine and in front of it are two men taking a smoke break.  Due to the day's rain, I hadn't expected anyone on the trail today.  I talk with them a while, finding comfort that they aren't so interested in my non-Japaneseness and prefer to have a real conversation.  One of them asks me quite directly if I find the people of this city to be reserved.  I laugh and say yes, thinking how the hotel wouldn't allow me to check in less than 20 minutes early.  I share with the men my feeling that people living in what were former castle towns are often less friendly, more wary of strangers who represent a break with routine.  By contrast, Yonago developed as a merchant town, and are by nature friendlier and more convivial.  

I leave the men to their cigarettes and made my way upward, wary of the steps made slippery with rain.  At the top I find a flat grassy plot where the keep once stood.  From here I enjoy a 360 degree view.  The sun has just come out for the first time today, and all begins to steam as the sodden ground begins to heat up.  Near the sea is the brown patch of Tottori Sand Dunes.  But my eyes are pulled to the Southwest.  Somewhere out in those mountains is where Ken fell and died.  I feel the tears well up, and those old crushing thoughts beginning again.  Often while alone I give them their rightful place and relinguish control, allowing grief to take me where it will.  I sit quietly awhile, my eyes looking from there to the west, to where he lived his short happy life.  Ken had been close by all morning, but now he is fully with me, where he will stay for the rest of the weekend.

I'm pulled from the dark by one of the smokers, who has now arrived up top.  He points down the hillside and says that people often find tiles from the castle down there.  It is seriously overgrown, so I say that there probably a lot of snakes in it.  I tell him I don't like snakes, and he quips, "Who does?"  I mention then the sign I saw near the start of the trail, warning of bears.  Are there bears here?  Of course not, he laughs.  But when I'm halfway down the mountain I'm startled from my concentration on slippery footholds to something large moving through the brush.  I notice a shade darker than the rest of the forest, but I can't make out anything distinct.  I'm bent at the waist, leaning toward whatever is there 20 meters away when a thought comes:  It could be three things, and two of them aren't good for my health.  With that, I move on, but unfortunately the trail passes directly below whatever it is, then turns sharply downhill.  I don't like the fact that I've got my back turned to the source of the noise.  Then the trail runs diagonally for awhile, and the thing is moving parallel to me now, just above.  It seems to be curious as to what I am as well.  I pick up the speed, but slip and fall on my back.  I'm laughing as I get up.  Why is Tottori trying to kill me?  Safe once again at the wide grassy ruins of the castle.  From the corner of the stone base of what had once been a watchtower, a group of school boys sings a serenade out over the city.


On the turntable:  Tori Amos,  "The Beekeeper"
On the nighttable:  Nanao Sakaki, "Let's Eat Stars"


blaine said...

I really like your writing. I feel like I've entered into your life story when I read it. This was rather somber but full of insights.

I've never been to Tottori but I can imagine just how it is from your words.

tadg mcloughlin said...

Beautifully written, wonderfully atmospheric, poignant.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Ted, thank you.

Michael Lambe said...

Just read it again. It's that good. You sir, are a writer.

Charles Roche said...

Thank you Ted.

Irwin Christopher said...

Blessings Ted.