This story is by Nyse Vicente and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Stop crying will you? What a depressing way to die.” Mom leaned her head back. She looked at the clock, then at me, then back at Ayumi. “My son’s doing a better job than you are. And children aren’t meant to follow orders.,”
Ayumi let out a small laugh, letting her fingers interlock with mother’s own thin ones. She shut her eyes, taking a deep breath in. I think she was trying to stop crying because mum told her to.
‘And quit your job. Go to Kyoto. You were happy back then. Atsuto already offered a place at his for now.’
Ayumi pushed her glasses upwards. That meant she was Thinking About It. She took a few paces away from the hospital bed.
“But my job-?”
“Damn your rutting job. You look like you’ve aged fifty years in that advertising company. And you’re barely twenty-five. Go back to Kyoto”
Mom turned towards me, giving me a wink. That meant she was proud of me. She never cried about It. Not even when the doctor said she had three months left to live. ‘Feeling sorry for yourself is for losers,’ she told me ‘and I’m not a loser, and neither are you.’
Everyone in school thought otherwise. Even the teachers. The teachers just didn’t Show It. Which was silly of them because they always told us to Tell the Truth.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get a part in the school play. I just think you’re better behind the scenes. You enjoy that, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t Miss Yates,”
Miss Yates cocked her head to one side. “Could you repeat that please?” she shifted in her seat, straightening her back. “Oh, I mean, just a l-iii-ttle more clearly,”
My stomach coiled just thinking about it. I knew why I didn’t get a part in the school play. But Miss Yates always liked to play Let’s Pretend. Even when it wasn’t break time.
“Rowan, stop sucking on your sleeves.”
I looked up. Ayumi gave a half-smile. “Were you daydreaming again?”
I gave a small nod, before looking at mother. Her chest looked as if it had sunk in on itself. Little bubbles of froth dribbled down from her lips and onto her neck. That never happened before the Sickness came. Now it happened all the time.
“Leave her be,” Ayumi whispered. “Your mother’s asleep.”
“Should we go back home now?”
Ayumi nodded, taking me by the hand.
“Will we go to Kyoto like mom asked us to?”
Ayumi stopped and squeezed my hand. She didn’t say anything. That meant she didn’t know how to respond. If someone didn’t know something you had to teach them.
“You have to say yes or no.”
Ayumi turned towards me “What?” she paused, biting her lip “Oh. I don’t know if we are going to Kyoto, Rowan.”
We walked out into the hospital corridors. A few nurses gave us a smile. One came up to us. That meant she wanted to Talk to me. I hid my face against Ayumi’s stomach.
“Hello,” she said
“Rowan, look at the person.”
I didn’t want to look at the person. Ayumi’s shirt had the warm scent of vanilla and jasmine fabric conditioner. The Outside World was full of harsh lights and bleach and people who play Let’s Pretend.
“I don’t want to.”
“Never mind,” the nurse from the Outside World said, “have a good evening.”
We made our way to the car park. Rain lashed down. A few people threw away their cigarettes onto the concrete pavement, running inside towards the reception desk.
“Ayumi, how is she?”
I hid my face against Ayumi’s stomach again. She patted my head but I felt her abdomen tighten. That meant she was About to Explode. She wasn’t really going to explode. That’s what she says when she’s getting annoyed.
“Not okay. How else do you want me to answer Ren?”
“When are you going to send that kid off to an orphanage?”
That was just silly because Ayumi had said a lot of times that I wasn’t going to be sent to an orphanage. He just didn’t Get It. I wanted to tell him. But he couldn’t understand me. Only Ayumi and mom could.
I turned my head away from Ayumi to look at the person. Ren from the Outside World smiled at me. I didn’t smile back. He gave me an Icky Feeling.
‘Can you even understand half the things that autistic kid is saying?’
Ren didn’t understand. “I can’t speak properly because of apraxia. Not because of my autism”
He let out a low, hollow laugh. It was the kind of laugh that sent pin-prickles down your back and made you want to go home and hide in a blanket.
“I’m going to rip the rutting shards out of you.” Ayumi snarled. Her hands shook. That meant she was Exploding.
“He’s autistic for God’s sake!” he shook a violent finger towards Ayumi. “So what? You’re now sorry for him?” His lips trembled “You’ll ruin your life over a kid Ayumi? You understand, don’t you? You’ll ruin your life once you’re his Guardian?”
He took a step back, shaking his head “I love you Ayumi, but this won’t work. How can we form a family? With that kid walking all over you?”
Ayumi’s squeezed my hand “Get lost, Ren”. She opened the door. Actually, she nearly yanked it but I don’t think she meant to so I didn’t tell her. “Rowan, get inside. And to answer your question, yes we are going to Kyoto”
“And that’s how we got here,” Ayumi took another sip of the matcha tea Atsuto offered. His house was warm, comfortable. And a nice change from the harsh lights from the New York City Hospital. Atsuto said natural lighting was better. I wish I could tell that to the nurses but they wouldn’t Get It.
Even mom agreed with us. That’s why she had been buried under Atsuto’s cherry blossom tree. I think that made her Happy because cherry blossom’s are her favourite. But many thing’s are mom’s favourite. I am her favourite. And Ayumi. And Kyoto.
“What are you smiling about?” Atsuto said, looking down at my cup. ‘Wait, you finished it already?’ his eyes widened. That meant he felt surprised. Or it meant that he liked me. I think it was both. I can tell because I looked at the person.
‘One question at a time.’
‘Sorry?’ he leaned his head in
‘One question at a time,’ Ayumi said, ‘you’re asking too many questions at once.’
“Oh. Sorry” Atsuto bowed. My smile broadened. I liked Atsuto. He liked all the things I did. Not everything. But he liked fishing and Naruto and fantasy books and he was trying to Get Me. Mom told me Atusto had been Ayumi’s childhood friend. I think they are still friends. Even though Atusto’s face went red when he saw Ayumi. I told him it was silly to be embarrassed around your friend. But he told me he would Explain It Later. I was still waiting.
“I’m smiling because all of mother’s favourite things are together.”
A tear fell from Ayumi’s face. It was still hard for her to Talk About It.
“Don’t be sad,” I said ‘Mom gets annoyed when you’re sad about the cancer. Smile Ayumi’.
“How about another episode of Naruto?” Atsuto said, “I’ll make popcorn.”
“I think that would make me happy,” Ayumi smiled, “I think it would.”