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East Asian Contemporary Fiction

Akari picked up her guitar, sat down on the balcony, and gazed out at the city.

Distant honking, dogs barking somewhere in the world below, lights flashing everywhere as the world inched toward twilight. The warm breeze brushed her cheek, and in the wind she could smell a burning hint of smoke and exhaust fumes.

Akari closed her eyes, and imagined the world in flames.

When she opened them again, her eyes caught the tinge of red lining the horizon. Off to the west the sun is setting behind the rise and fall of the buildings and the hills; off to the east, the expressway is lighting up, filling up with cars stuck in gridlock. She waited for the sound of a guitar string, some chord, some magic movement in the wind—but nothing came.

For another hour, Akari sat there, guitar on her lap, humming lost melodies and playing forgotten chords. Nothing came to her, even as the city began lighting up the dark. A galaxy in the moonlight. She hummed another line, but forgot it immediately. It didn’t stick; it gave off no spark. She needed something quick, but even as she waited another minute, another two, not a chord progression came to sweep her imagination. Time was ticking, and if she listened carefully, Akari could’ve sworn she could hear it pass overhead.

Heaving a sigh, Akari placed her guitar aside and walked over to the kitchen for a glass of water. It was dark in her apartment, the lights turned off, the only light the faint final hint of evening sunshine seeping in through the half-parted curtains leading out to the balcony. In the dimness, the apartment claimed a new look; a nostalgic, near-melancholic atmosphere—the clothes draped over her couch, all the creases making shadows in her rug, the cups and cans left on her table along with her laptop, her linoleum floor catching the glow of the orange light, her dining room chairs with their long shadows stretching over the walls.

On her kitchen counter was a framed photo of her mother. Leaning against the door of her fridge, taking sips of her glass of water, Akari stared at the photo—she looked at the letter in front of it, and felt her chest tighten. She needed to write this song, quick.

The doctor said her mother’s days were numbered, that no one knew how much longer she had left. Who knows when Akari’s last visit would be. It might be next week; it might be tomorrow. She couldn’t place her bets on next week. She must think like there’s no tomorrow, like her mother’s dying now.

She’s got no time to lose. And yet here she was, struggling to come up with a melody; let alone chord progression.

Akari felt slightly irritated with herself for that…

Washing her glass, Akari took a glance at the bills tacked up on her fridge door. The electric bill next week, water bill two days from now, rent tomorrow, student loans, money she owed her friends.

Akari pressed her lips—she had enough for rent, but only barely enough for the water bill. She had left it unpaid for the past five months, and now it’d piled up to thirty-thousand yen; about two-thousand more than the amount of money she would have left after paying the rent. Which meant that she needed to get a gig quick, or else have her electricity cut. At least the money Akari owed her friends could wait, but she wasn’t sure how many more times she could say “I’ll pay you next week, I promise!” to them before they start growing tired of her.

But first, she needed to get this song done. Akari must have it ready by tomorrow…

Akari didn’t know how long there was left.

She returned to the balcony and sat listening to the wind again. She’d tried listening to the stars, but they didn’t answer her, either. She waited and waited, the sounds of many different chords, the sounds of guitar strings, and stray fragments of melodies bouncing in her head slowly turning into a chaotic mess or some amalgamation of noise. She couldn’t think straight, anymore; she felt dizzy and frustrated and tired. She was frustrated with herself, tired with herself—why couldn’t she come up with anything?

She started questioning her talent with music. She started wondering, was she any good at all?

All she did, in small clubs and bars on weekends, was play other people's songs. She sang covers, sang whatever was requested, anything she could think up of on her acoustic guitar. She had never sung her own songs in public. And besides, they only paid her for other's songs, anyway.

But when she thought about it, she wondered why she couldn’t come up with something. Sure, she had been a musician for seven years and had been playing music since she was twelve, and seven years may not be that long a time, but she felt frustrated with herself. Especially because she knew she could usually come up with something, even if she would later dub that song ‘merely okay’ later on. Now? Not a thing came to her; no melody, no chord progression, no nothing.

After a while, she wondered if it was because of the pressure, that she had to write something, that she had to make something, a song, out of nothing. When she thought about it, she realized how ironic it was—the irony that songs only came to her when she didn’t need them to.

Thinking that, she let out a sigh: What the hell.

Just then, a loud crash came up from below. Akari stood up and saw that a car had crashed itself into a tree near the stoplights. The car’s hood was somehow on fire, and in the darkness, the flames danced bright orange like a bonfire. People were shouting, though their voices came up as mere muffled cries to her.

It was then that something clicked inside of her.

Akari dropped down and grabbed her guitar. The music was coming back to her.

A chord progression came together, fully formed in her mind, and bit by bit, the melody flowed out of her. Akari grabbed her phone and recorded her hums and mumbles, and returning inside to her computer, she wrote out the lyrics.

By nine o'clock, she was done.

Stopping at stoplights, the lighting is just right

The purple and the light red peppering the sky

And sitting there I'm like, “I'll love you till I die”

'Cause with you by my side there are stars in my eyes

It's almost midnight and I'm feeling light

Are those stars in your eyes? ‘Cause they look just right

And sitting there I'm like, “I want to tell you, like

“I'll love you till I die; I'll love you till I die”

Thank you

For just being beside me

Thank you

For just being there for me

Thank you

Thank you

Thank you

Thank you

For those nights here, Mommy

Thank you

For simply existing

Thank you

Thank you

Thank you

Akari didn’t know why the song came out the way it did, or why it came out the moment the car crashed, but it was better than nothing. All she hoped now was that her mother would love it.

Later, after her mother died, she wrote another song.

Akari felt it was a better one, too…

I shut the door and threw the keys on the table

Then shut the curtains and sunk in the couch

I feel the sun shine coldly slightly over me

Then I spun around and walked up the stairs

Over here sat memories, pictures where

A family, we all cared

An emptiness we all share, now

I look and wonder, where you've gone

Now am I on my own?

Doko iru no?

I spin under the surface

I’m searching for a purpose

Alone, now you’re gone

Oh mother thank you for this

Life that you have given me

I picked up my phone and looked at your last message

Then I scrolled and looked through all the rest

Pulled up my photo album and my gallery

Then I turned away and rested instead

Over here sat memories, pictures where

A family, we all cared

An emptiness we all share, now

I look and wonder where you've gone

Now am I on my own?

Where are you now?

Watashi no omou

Nandemo shiranai kara

Kono seikatsu mada

Okaa-san arigatou

Doko iru no?

I spin under the surface

I'm searching for a purpose

Alone, now you're gone

Oh mother thank you for this

Life that you have given me

July 08, 2021 20:06

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2 comments

Mellanie Crouell
20:01 Jul 13, 2021

Amazing!

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Adam Wan
20:47 Jul 13, 2021

Thank you! It's been a while since I last got a comment, I appreciate it. Thank you for following, too!

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