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The Open World

The long summer twilight filters through the leaves of the birch trees in the front yard, throws lacy patterns on the yellow walls of the bedroom. In a jar next to my bed, the fireflies my brother and I caught earlier in the evening crawl up and down the glass, their light gradually fading. The dormer window, an eye onto the open world, frames swallows winging past. Through the wall, I hear my mother crying, my father’s low tones. But this is better than last time, when they fought in my room and I pretended to be sleeping. And it will be better than next time, my eighth birthday, when I will fall asleep to the sound of their arguing and wake to find that it’s snowed during the night and my mother is gone. Giant icicles hang from the eaves, break free and plunge into the drifts. Until I leave for college—and even sometimes now, at twilight, or just before I wake—she is heels clicking down the sidewalk, a dark-haired woman turning away to light a cigarette.

You and I met in Bangkok, there to report on the refugees flooding in from Myanmar. It was a year later, when we went to Havana to write about people who’d tried to escape, that we found out I was expecting. I’d filed the story and you’d finished taking the photos; we were talking over lukewarm Cristal beers in the dingy, deserted hotel dining room. “In spite of how things might seem, history doesn’t have to repeat itself,” you told me. We went walking along the Malecon promenade next to the sea. A storm was rising: clouds scudded across the sky in the time-lapse photography that was one of your specialties, the illusion of quick forward movement. Waves crashed over the sea wall onto the road. Move back, a policeman shouted, es muy peligroso. But we stayed where we were, you with your arm tight around me, telling me everything would be all right, the salt water cascading over us, starfish and seaweed tangling in my hair, the hair of a woman washed up from a shipwreck.

I live alone now in Japan, a place that suits me, an island country of walls made from stone, frosted glass, paper screens, glances, what is left unsaid...