Chapter Forty Nine VI

You want to understand yourself?
Hang around a kid for a while.
Then ask them what they think.
Be sure you want to know.
                            Daphne Sylk

C-mom, Ning, Miyako, Amaya and Chan are somewhere towards the top of the mountain, camping out for the night. Chris has one of the satellite phones, we have another in the cabin. They checked in once along the way, then when they found a site to camp. It is well above the tree line, they crank up a fire and call.
Chris, “The view is worth the hike, but I am exhausted. How Chan hauled that bulk up here is beyond me. Ning and the kids are fine, took it in stride, on step at a time. The girls are pooped. We got them full, and they are bedding down in one sleeping bag. Doesn’t seem to be wildlife.”
Sis, “Not much food up there, the animals have a harvest further down. Did you find the end of the creek?”
Chris, “It sort of comes together in pieces. Packs of snowmelt in lots channels, then converging. There’s no single source.”
Lacy, “Ask her if it’s cold.”
Chris, “I heard, yeah, it’s cold. We found a spot protected by boulders, the wind sails over us. Daphne’s pal came for a visit. Sailed around over us, but I guess he didn’t spot Daph, so he floated away near dusk. It took about three hours after we got to the top of the falls. Tomorrow, we slog back at sunrise. Might be down by midday.”
Sis, “We’ll be at the falls with food and water. What you brought is holding out?”
Chris, “We’re fine. The sheer thrill of the hike, being so above everything, the endless mountain range, is its own nourishment. We are drinking lots of water and tea. Gotta go, I’m ready to crash.”
We leave at nine the next morning, Chris calls to say they are a couple of hours in, “The sunrise was too spectacular to do anything but watch. Then we loaded up on tea and the berries Daphne packed, cleaned up the site. We didn’t get moving until after seven. I thought I’d have trouble sleeping, I was wrong. The sun woke me.”
Sis, “Take your time, you guys won’t get that experience again until who knows when.”
Chris, “I’m planning a wilderness mystery. I don’t know squat about wilderness, so it will be interesting to research. See you soon.”
They click off, Sis says, “Rocking along. They got caught up in the sunrise and started a little late. They might make the falls before noon, but I told Chris to take her time and soak up the scenery.”
Nikko, “Then the girls are okay?”
Sis, “She didn’t say, which means they’re fine. It’s like her to let the kids and Ning tell their own story when they return, not tell it for them over the phone.”
“Particularly when the story is still happening.”
Nikko, “Can we go soon?”
“Yes, I know you want to verify for yourself. Going to be a helicopter mom?”
Nikko doesn’t respond. She’s our helicopter guardian, she’s protective of Amaya, it is endearing to see Nishiko so engaged. I will reward her diligence.
And I expect to be rewarded enthusiastically.
Janah, You heard her.
She’ll think she’s been promoted to Goddess Mother.

We pack up, trek the trail to the falls, sit at the edge of the pool listening to the water. I hear a song, then Amaya grinning down on us from the top of the falls. We watch the descent, Chan down first, in the event of a slip, he has the best chance of shortening it. The girls next, then Ning and Chris.
Happy hiking feet find the water, Chris moans with pleasure, “Jaysus, that feels sooo good. I’m gonna freeze them solid.”
Ning, “I don’t think sleep tonight will be a problem. I’ve learned a great deal about stamina. It isn’t Mt. Everest, but it’s quite enough for beginners. There’s food?”
I unpack a picnic of everything, even leftover fish and herb soup warm from the small fire Nikko built.
Chris, “Man, I need this. Granola and berries only go so far.”
Miyako, “We got to pee squatting by a rock!”
“That’s the trip highlight, you got to pee?”
She giggles, “Well, it was a strange sensation at first. The eagle visited again this morning, checking on us. Thank him please. I think the sight of endless mountains, and deep valleys will stay with me. I realized what a tiny thing I am.”
Amaya, “We could see pieces of the lake far below, cloudless sky, and the night! There are even more stars up there than the show we get at the cabin. The universe is stunning. It gave me, what is the word, Janah? Like I got a different view?”
“Yes, that’s it. I got a fresh perspective.”
Janah laughs, looks at Nikko and I.
Amaya, “What?”
Janah, “We are delighted to find you’ve discovered a different way of seeing.”
Amaya peeks at Nikko, smiles slyly, “Fresh perspective has meaning for you. Nikko will explain one day.”
Nikko, “In time, everything in its time, dear one.”
She’s as bad as you for catching on to people.
Janah, Yes, she’s good at it. I wonder if there’s something about seeing ugliness at a young age? I saw it, a small mostly impersonal encounter, she lived it. It must sensitize the radar, I don’t see how it wouldn’t.
Nikko, Until it desensitizes it. We found her perhaps at the edge of the precipice.

Chapter Fifty VI

This evening those of us who spent the day chilling stay up late in a marathon porch sit, then by the fire. Wine, drinks and snacks keep us fueled. We’re in full bore chat, three or four conversations floating around, David comes in at ten, hugs Ning and goes to bed. We keep rocking past midnight. I’d recount the conversation, but it was too perfectly meaningless. Delightful chatter among intimates, conversational ephemera, not intended to be profound or retained. In other words, we were batting the chaotic breeze.
The next morning, hikers stay cozy in beds, the late nighters do the same for a different reason. Somewhere around eight I emerge, start up the caffeine machines, began baking biscuits and frying bacon. Amaya pops up, steers in behind me and I get a nice squeeze, then she’s elbow to elbow with me folding dough and cutting big square chunks that would turn into fluffy biscuits with butter, jelly or cane syrup.
Bacon nice and crispy crisp. She scrambles eggs and stirs them while I stir grits, add half and half and cream cheese. Blackberries coated with sugar and more half and half, not an anorexic breakfast.
Food always gets people in motion. Soon there’s a breakfast buffet extravaganza, repeated trips back to the kitchen counter for seconds and thirds. Amaya, “Cooking is a trip. Since I am going to train as geisha, I might as well learn the down home skills of Ms. Alva. I shall be rooted in two entirely different cultures. What a privilege! It is an honor for you to know me.”
We burst out laughing, Sis says, “She’s topped you on self adoration.”
“Cripes, she’s only twelve. I’m taking it to a new level. Let’s see what she’s got.”
Lacy is beside herself, “I can’t wait. The Self Absorption Wars. Maybe a television series, American Ego.”
Amaya warms to the challenge and adopts the exact voice of John McCarthy original referee of the Ultimate Fighting Championships , she stands, hands outstretched, finger points one way… “Are YOU ready?”…finger points the other, “ARE YOU ready?” then brings them together...”Let’s GET IT ON.”
Her audience gives her a round of applause and laughter, she curtseys.
Chris, “Damned if she doesn’t sound just like McCarthy. Wonder if she knows Michael Buffer?”
We hear the precise basso profondo, “LLLET’S…GET READY TO RUMMMBLLEEE!!!”
Lacy near chokes, “It would be so cool to see her in the ring, introduced by Buffer, then her doing his trademark intro. Likely he’s protective of it though. Suppose I can’t blame him, he’s got essentially the one deal.”
“He has a unique way of introducing the opponents, different inflection on the names and nicknames. The fighters say it fires them up to have Buffer introduce them.”
Lacy, “How in hell do you know all this?”
Amaya, “Daphne watches anything that involves a fight. Even the ridiculous fake fights of the foreign martial arts movies. It is her meditation, Janah goes to the meditation loft, Daphne snaps on the TIVO. She has every UFC championship ever made, more than forty. It is great relaxation.”
Sis, “It’s relaxing to watch people get beat up?”
“They signed up, nobody stuck a gun in their ear.”
Sis, “True. But how is it relaxing?”
Amaya, “In one way I know there are two real guys going at it, in another, it is like a cartoon or a video game. I zone out and take it in. I am not pulling for one guy or the other, the match just unfolds.”
Sis, “Any entertainment could be like that.”
“True, depending on the viewer. One person gets caught up in the story, pulls for one character over another. Then it’s not relaxing, there’s emotional involvement. We don’t get that involved with the fighters, if we do anything it’s to deconstruct technique. I don’t want to attend one those things, all the noise, the aggression of the audience. Behind the screen of the TV, like Amaya said, it’s cartoonish, like Bugs Bunny on steroids.”
“You guys go home tomorrow, what would you like to do today?”
James, “I’m going to study David Li’s interactions with the animals from a comfortable spot on the porch. I’ve got Daphne’s binoculars all set.”
Kara, “I’m going to join my husband. He’s not going to see much of me for the next month, I’ve got several ideas for canvases.”
Lacy, “I presume there’s one more fishing trip, I’ll coach from the shore and keep a close eye on the fisher-persons.”
Sis, “So. Let’s get at it, Chris, you up for it? You had the big hike.”
“Absolutely. Legs are a bit stiff, the cold water will feel good. I’m going for a major pedicure when we get home, and a dose of reflexology.”
Amaya, “What is that?”
“Acupressure points on the feet. It’s like specific massage therapy, mostly on the feet, sometimes hands and ears. It’s supposed to release qi in various parts of the body. I don’t know about that. It sure does feel good though. It pays to treat your body well after treating it badly, at least has for me.”
“That is why Janah is always massaging mom and Daphne. They seem to recover from things quickly, it must do something.”
“Honey, it’s a lifesaver. There is no way Nikko and I could function without it.”
“I think Janah just likes doing it.”
Janah, “There’s that, but it’s also necessary. And the work I do on them isn’t all fun and games. You’ve seen them when I’m pressing a knot out.”
“Oh yeah. They feel it, I have seen both of then flinch. I think I would screech.”
“I’m screeching on the inside, trust me.”
We break out simultaneously, starting on our day of go slow. Since we’d had a long breakfast, I put out snacks for all day grazing until dinner. Janah to her rock, Nikko and I prep for a walk following the shoreline of the lake.
“Can Miyako and I go with you?”
“Of course, we’re going to pick up berries and herbs, it’s not a food quest though. Mostly just appreciate the forest and the lake. Do you have your performance ready? Show’s tonight.”
“Yep. I can rehearse in my head while we walk. Nikko is going to sing a poem with me, I have two songs, and a performance piece, a one woman play. It is about a half hour allowing for thunderous applause and audience adoration between numbers.”
I smile, she has my self confidence, no doubt reinforced by Nishiko. And she had, after all, created three chart topping hits with the Pamela Andersons. It isn’t like she’s failure prone.
“The audience will be on your side from the outset. I think you’ve got them in your pocket already.
“Janah said you described being in the temple as swimming in an ocean of love. That is how I think of my life. All the helping hands, no judgments, I am left alone to explore and encouraged only to be me. I think I could use a little suffering, or at least minor drama.”
“That’s almost exactly what I told my moms years ago. They refused to give me anything to act out against. I couldn’t drum up any angst to bleat about. I was a victim of angst-less angst. I rose above it.”
Amaya, “The White Queen empathizes. I tried to suffer in a broad, non-specific way. It did not work.”
“Your vocabulary is expanding.”
“Janah. My reading assignments generate lots of questions, which she does not answer, I have to look things up, then explain them to her. Maybe I could complain about that.”
“You can try. Girls have been trying for easy answers from Janah since she was eight. It hasn’t worked so far. Maybe she’ll fall for it with you.”
“Sounds simpler to dig out the answers.”
“Think of it like nourishment. Wouldn’t do any good for Janah to eat your food would it?”
Amaya, “Ah, excellent point. I had not thought of it that way. Your priesthood taught you more than martial arts.”
“Martial arts is the simple part.”

Chapter Fifty One VI

After dinner, we find places in the yard in front of the porch, Amaya’s stage is the porch. She announces the first song, I Was Here All Along, which describes a life as an image to be used, then shattering that illusion, uncovering much more than a beautiful young girl. It is devastatingly touching, straight up, no denial or avoidance.
We cry and clap.
She and Nikko do a Japanese give and take that is out of AKB48, totally cute in a slightly sexy not-so-innocence. It’s called Aitakatta (I want to meet you). Watching Nikko bounce around in teen girl abandon is other worldly.
Her third number is called Girls Can Do Anything. I trust I don’t need to explain where she got that notion. It’s hard and bluesy, with extended notes ranging over several octaves. She’s both in her element and stretching it.
We are on our feet, then settle back for the final performance, her one woman play.
She goes inside, comes out covered in a blanket, holding it around her face like a hood on a robe.
She paces back and forth on the wide porch, examining, “What is this place? Who is underneath this shroud, a phantom, trick of the mind? I see…faces! Faces everywhere, staring. It is me, shrouded, hiding….from what?....peering faces, appear on another side of a pane, blurry….vague, opaque, leering.”
She presses outward as if feeling a wall, like the mime in an invisible box.
“A box. Am I in a box….or are they? They stop, stare, stare, stare….fade in, fade out.”
She sits in the shadows, we can only hear her, “I tremble, no place to hide. Every corner lit,” she screeches, “my shroud torn from me by greedy hands!!” the blanket sails over the railing.
She stands, her face a perfect mask of fear, clutching the railing, then staggers along it, “I am pulled into darkness, dark faces…..beckoning, hands grasp, claw at me,” she grabs the railing, as if yanked at from behind , she twists and holds tight, “you can NOT possess me, I will not go with you…no…no…NO!”
A scream, a shriek splits the night, she shivers, looking around at the darkness, “Who can help me? I am finished!! I cannot bear this alone, there are too many…. losing my grip….greedy hands at me, pulling me down, and down…” she clings by fingertips to the railing, shoulders twist this way and that. It is easy to envision invisible hands, dragging her into a chasm.
“Saaaaave Meeeeee, I am falling, drowning, enveloped, my strength gone…….shiver-cold bleak ice,” her face transforms, makes us feel the cold, her voice drops into a stage whisper, “ only cold, only cold…only…so cold.”
She appears to be sinking onto the porch floor, hanging by fingers of one hand only.
“What? I cannot…..wait…there is something! I….HELP me! A hand tightens over my wrist, I can no longer hold, is this my undoing?…what?...I am lifted, away from demon darkness, taken up, bathed in warmth. I have been snatched from death’s frozen heart…I am FREE,” she twirls around, hands outstretched, “from falling into the abyss to soaring though clouds. What miracle is THIS!” She stretches her arms out to us, she is radiant in delight.
“Thank you,” she bows.
There is silence for a bit, processing the short performance, how it had brought us from the unknown, to the brink of disaster, to freedom and joy in twelve minutes. It isn’t Shakespeare, it’s better. We know the source of inspiration, and the reality of the narrative.
Amaya gets her thundering ovation. She had thanked us in a deeply personal way. Her first acting performance, written and produced from her heart. We accept her gratitude with our own.
Later, sitting on the porch, the children asleep, Lacy says, “The simplicity of the message is testament to the complexity of the messenger. I’ve had a few heart rending moments in my career, that was the penultimate. She was able to create an atmosphere with nothing but her body and her voice. A blanket I suppose, one prop. I felt pulled down, grabbed at, scared, then joyful. I’d say you have a bit of talent on your hands.”
Nikko is talking with Amaya in the darkness on the big rock. I stay out of her head, I don’t know what they discuss, but they sit for a long while, then come inside. I kiss the young one, stroke her hair, thank her for a beautiful performance, she smiles up at me. My smile usually dazzles, hers blazes, supernovas. Night Rain, a stunning blast of brilliance. I wonder how that works? Lightening maybe.
Janah, She’s raising the bar on you in the heart-melting department.
I laugh silently, “he melts my heart as well, I’m happy to abdicate for the White Queen.
You won’t suffer from lack of attention. Nikko and I will happily make up for any lost to Amaya.
I don’t mind. We have so much to do, she has the White side of life, we have the Red. We can’t guarantee anything, my hope is she never deals in the Red. She’s had her Red.

Chapter Fifty Two VI

We see the parents off this morning, they board the houseboat for the hour ride back to the fishing camp, then to the airport.
Janah, “What happens now?”
Nikko, “I suggest we let the kids find their own interest. No structure. I would like to de-structure myself. Just float along and see what happens.”
“No plan is the plan.”
And we do. Miyako and Amaya come to us and ask what we’re going to do. “Honeys, you are on your own. Invent your day, have fun.”
They look at each other, I see the wheels grinding, they race off together down the edge of the lake. David Li needs no direction, he’s occupied on the big rock, then the moose comes along and he rides off into the woods.
Ning, “Does anyone want to go shopping in the wilderness organic market?”
Janah, “A plan appears without any planning. I’m very much up for exactly that. I want to find every kind of edible we can. Shall I pack water, tea?’
Ning, “Already done. I’m set to go whenever you are.”
And they traipse off behind the cabin, up the hill, there’s no path, just see what turns up.
Chan, “If sisters would like to go exploring, I will stay and be available for children.”
Nikko, “Mistress and I will take care of children. This is your day. Find a place, in the woods, back at the falls, whatever you wish. The children will find a thousand things to do if we leave them alone to do them.”
Chan bows to his sister, “I had thought of exploring farther down the lake, perhaps then up the mountain a different way.”
Nikko, “Then do it, let’s make a pack, water, tea, snacks. If you find food on the way good, but let’s not count on it.”
She and Chan go inside, prepared a thermos of tea, water bottles, granola and berries, Nikko puts them in a backpack, Chan eases his way around the lake, then disappears.
Nikko and I chill on the porch, drinking tea, holding hands, saying exactly nothing, and saying it frequently. I hear Miyako and Amaya talking, climbing up trees, swinging from branches, then down to the lake, splashing. They find a secret shelter, inside a jumble of boulders, hop around the rocks, retreat to their hiding place. Then to the lake, splash around the shallows, then trees, then to their hideaway. They are out of sight, but not far, privacy without isolation.
The day slips away, Nikko and I can’t disappear into the bedroom with the kids outside. That’s okay, it builds a lovely tension for later.
Nikko, “’m feeling…warm.
I feel your feeling, it is creating my own warmth.

Janah, Ah, my favorite topic. Is it possible that I might be allowed to participate?
Nishiko welcomes all possibilities.

David Li walks out of the woods, “The moose took me all over, halfway up the mountain, so many animals, a big black bear and cubs, we had a nice visit and lunched together on berries and herbs. I rode the most half the way back, then decided to walk down the rest of the way. Time for a shower.”
The girls rush in a few minutes later. They are a royal mess, wet from the lake, scrapes and scratches, hair a tangle.
Amaya, “It was great, we flew through the trees, jumped in the lake, I fell out of a tree, see…?” She has a skinned knee and a bruise on her tummy.
Miyako, “Me too. I missed a branch once, then I got way out on a limb and it must have been old, it just snapped and I dropped straight down, bash! We rested up in our cave, not really a cave, just a stack of boulders with a place inside big enough for us to lie down. The lake is cold, but it felt good after we got banged up.”
“Get in the shower, you guys are crummy, take off your clothes out here, don’t drag all the dirt inside.”
Amaya, “Where’s David?”
“He’s in Ning’s shower, he won’t see you if you get going, use the one in our bedroom. I’ll get you towels.”
They leave a pile of soggy clothes on the porch and wrap themselves in the towels, then go for a hot shower. I take the clothes to the washer, David comes out clean and shiny, in his standard jeans and sandals, goes out to the rock. I check on the tree rats, they’re just getting out of the shower.
“Miyako, David’s finished, find something to wear and let Nishiko brush out your hair.”
She wraps in a towel and heads off, I dry Amaya’s back and apply antibiotic cream to her scrapes, cover one with a bandage, a couple of others only need band-aids.
I brush her hair, we decide to let it air dry.
Amaya, “Would you get my jeans and a shirt?”
I go fetch the clothes, when I return she’s staring at herself in the mirror, “I am going to be hot, huh?”
I laugh, “Don’t fish for compliments,” then I compliment her anyway, “you’re already adorable and you are already quite aware of it.”
Amaya, “Dress me.”
I look at her, what’s this about? It’s not a request exactly. I pull a t-shirt over her, then kneel, hold her panties out, she steps in and I pull them up, then her jeans.
“My sandals.”
I find a pair, she’s sitting on the edge of the bed, crosses a leg, her intention is clear, I drop to one knee and slip on the sandal, she crosses the other leg, I repeat.
I look up at her grinning at me, she leans over and gives me a quick kiss on the lips, “You make a good servant,” then she hops up and walks to the bedroom door, turns and looks back at me, a half smile, “do not forget the wet towels,” she walks to the porch.
Janah, “That was interesting.
Do tell.

The sun is setting, beautiful over the clear lake. I go inside to wash berries and herbs Janah and Ning gathered, Chan returns with more. I crush up granola, add softened butter, then berries and cane sugar, stir and put it in the oven. After dinner, we have it with warm cream poured on top.
Ning, “The crumble is so good.”
“I winged it, but I couldn’t see what could go wrong, It’s sweet and crunchy, hard to mess up that combo.”
The pan is empty, sign of something.
The kids settle around the fire in a flurry of silence. The women have wine, Chan and I, chamomile. Around ten-thirty, we wander off to respective bedrooms.  I don’t know what Ning and Chan got up to, the three of us get up to everything. It’s past midnight when we curl up and hit the pause button.

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