Part two of an ongoing series.
In the boy’s room were the remains of a life.
Clothes scattered across the floor. Piles of old hard-drives, busted speakers, a well-loved guitar. Cool, morning sunlight crept through curtains and washed silently over the end of all things.
Kiko stepped gingerly through the mess, desperate not to disturb any of it. She could feel the woman’s eyes on her back, willing her not to interfere. She had shown Kiko through the house, taken her to the room, but had stayed half a metre back the whole time. Kiko could understand. She was carrying finality into the woman’s life like a virus.
“No photos? His friends?” Kiko gestured to the empty walls.
The woman croaked from the hallway, staying back from the room. She was safer out there.
“He threw out all his screens a couple of months ago.”
“Why’d he do that?”
The woman shrugged. “Didn’t need them, I guess.”
On a small desk, Kiko spied a stack of papers. She could almost hear the poor woman’s heart somersaulting inside her chest as she began to rifle through them. At some point, someone would have to start the rifling.
Flyers, scrawled notes; the normal clutter of a nineteen year old’s life. Phone numbers and meeting places and the names of bars.
Near the bottom of the pile, though, a map. It was a printout of a satellite view of the area surrounding Osaka. The city’s massive spaceport was a cluster of detail in the lower corner, giving way to wide, clear mountains. Hand-drawn lines, co-ordinates, details circled in pen. Kiko turned back to face a grieving mother standing alone in a hallway.
“Was David planning on going to Japan?”
David’s mother, Paola, knelt on the living room carpet. She carefully laid out a series of items, lining them up in a neat row, a silent narrative.
A broken tablet, screen cracked. A few phrase books. A muddy pair of sneakers. A single, fingerless glove, wool fraying. A GreyLink swipe card. And a large leaf, stiff and brown. Everything taken from an old black backpack.
Kiko knelt down beside Paola, and picked up the leaf, examining it closely.
Paola watched Kiko in silence.
“So he worked for GreyLink?”
Paola shook her head. “I don’t know where he got that card. Must have picked it up while he was over there, I suppose. These are all the things he brought back with him. He never unpacked.”
David hadn’t been planning on going to Japan. He’d just got back.
Travelled alone, left quickly, on a whim, hadn’t even discussed it with his mother. Taken a train, then flown out of one of the eastern air terminals. He’d been back home nearly a week when he went out to meet a friend. That was last night, and last night, he didn’t come home at all.
Kiko had asked about the friend David was going to meet, but Paola didn’t know. Probably a lie, she had sighed, serene. Probably a lie.
The map from David’s room showed a path leading away from the bustling Japanese spaceport and into the thick mountain ranges above. The hills were peppered with old villages, temples and graveyards. Beautiful, quiet country – there wasn’t much of that left. A nice place to visit, Kiko supposed.
“You know what they say about Osaka?”
Paola didn’t respond.
“They say that’s where the Settlers first showed up. That maybe that’s where they ended up, too, after it all.”
“Maybe,” Kiko accepted. She carefully laid the leaf back into the line.
Paola had declined Kiko’s offer to take her to the hospital. It had seemed like a strange choice to Kiko at the time, a cold choice, but Paola’s reasons were starting to become clear. This was a woman who knew all the facts that she needed to, and now would try to hold onto her memories, keep them in an order that made sense to her. Like forgotten items laid out on a patch of carpet.
“Most people who go to Osaka are going up.”
“David always wanted to go to space, it’s true. Talked about it every day when he was a child. Would write down the names of planets and stars and galaxies on his arm. But his lungs were too weak.” Paola shook her head. “They say that in Japan, the sky is still sometimes clear. And you can sit in a forest, surrounded by snow, and watch rockets fly into the night sky for hours and hours.”
“I’ve never been.”
“David tried to sign up, a couple of years ago. That’s when he found out about his lungs. He used to get sick when he was small, but I thought all kids get sick like that sometimes.
“When he failed the GreyLink medical, he stopped talking about space. All of a sudden. Was still happy, still had friends, still had energy. Just cut this one piece of himself away, locked it up, didn’t ever look at it again. It made me very sad.”
Kiko nodded. Tried to imagine what that was like. Thought of Jones, sleeping somewhere. Of her own bed, cold and inviting. Wondered what piece of herself she would cut away if she could.
“Will you catch whoever did this?”
Kiko studied Paola’s face.
Paola nodded calmly.
“Why did David go to Osaka?”
Paola carefully picked up each of the pieces of her son’s final trip, and placed them back into the pack. She stood, looked down at Kiko.
“I think he just liked the quiet.”
Kiko sat in her car. Rubbed her knees for warmth. Squinted into the morning sun, her eyelids heavy.
On the passenger seat, her tablet flickered through images of David, dead on a hospital bed, formless. Next to the tablet, David’s map of the quiet mountains of Japan.
Kiko stared at the map, traced her eyes over the line of David’s pilgrimage. Near its zenith, written in tiny script, the words: “ALL THINGS.”
If she could, Kiko would cut away her bravery. Lock it up. Never look at it again.
As Kiko’s mind gave way to sleep, she began to dream of rocket ships, bright lights streaking upwards into a clear, winter sky.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Images copyright David Keen.