Yuugen

Created October 26, 2017

[1] “Yuugen” is an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses that are too mysterious and deep for words.

This story was mostly inspired by the artist Kupka and his ideas on the world we see being a world of appearances, that there is deeper knowledge in the world that we cannot see. Even so, he believed we could rise to a higher standing of what we don’t understand. But if I am to choose a painting from him that inspired this piece, that would be “The Beginning of Life” and “The Piano Key/Lake.”

Rows of cars lined along the curve, the parents inside waiting for the first kid to barge through the elementary doors. Waiting on the corner of the street were other parents who only lived a few blocks from the school. Keisuke was among them; though, he didn’t live near. Normally, his daughter would take the bus home, but on this day, his car was parked down the street. He did this every time he promised to take his little girl to the park. So, he watched the doors, waiting for his little angel to come sauntering through. At 2:15, children barged through the door with chaperons leading. A seven-year-old came out, flinging her backpack. Her long brown hair bounced as she ran passed the other kids and down the street to Keisuke, who welcomed her with open arms.

“How was school, Coco?” Keisuke said after giving her a tight hug.

“Really good,” she said. “Ms. Clare said the theme for class today was friendship, so we played a lot of partner games. After, she asked how many friends we had.”

“And what did you say?”

She shrugged. “I said I didn’t have any.”

Keisuke paused. “Why would you say that? You have plenty of friends. What about the girl that came over last weekend?”

“She’s cool, but I only invited her to be nice. You see, many people say I’m their friend, but I don’t see any of them as my friends. They just don’t seem to click with me.”

Keisuke gave a little chuckle. “OK, well, let’s hurry down to the park so you can tell your mom all about your illegitimate friends.”

“They’re not even illegitimate,” Coco said. “They’re more like half known acquaintances.”

They both laughed. Coco grabbed her father’s hand, and they walked down the street. Two blocks from the school, Coco’s eyes caught onto pink, yellow, and white flowers. It surprised her to see them piled in a random spot in front of a telephone pole. Right in the center of the flowers was a tall white cross.

“Dad, what’s that?” she said as she pointed.

Keisuke turned his head. “Oh, that’s a memorial. Someone must have . . .” he paused, thinking of the right phrasing. “Someone must have had a bad accident.”

“What kind of accident?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Can I go see it?”

He hesitated for a moment. “Well, just for a second.”

They walked over to the telephone pole, stopping shortly in front of the flowers. Coco stared at them, wondering how long they had been there. They were bright and pretty, so it had to be recent. Still, she worried the wind would blow them away. Her eyes trailed up, following the paint strokes on the white cross. There was a name: Israel Mitchell. Keisuke nor Coco had ever heard the name before, but Keisuke shuddered when he saw below it that he was only eight years old.

He held out his hand. “OK, Coco. Time to go.”

“Wait.”

Keisuke lowered his hand.  He stood and watched as the little seven-year-old clapped hers together before closing her eyes. Slowly, she bowed her head. Keisuke watched, amused. His parents had taught him that way of showing respect for the dead when he still lived in Japan. When he was only five, they moved to the suburbs of San Francisco. A little out of practice, he stood by Coco’s side and joined her. When they finished, they hurried over to the park.

For the next few days, Keisuke couldn’t help but eye that memorial when he drove passed it to pick up his daughter. Coco insisted that he pick her up every day so she could walk her to that memorial to show her respects. So, he did. On that Thursday after doing her new routine, Coco stared at the painted blue name.

“I wonder what kind of person he is,” she said after a moment. “I’d like to meet him.”

The phrase turned Keisuke’s stomach a little.

Coco stared at the flowers. They were still radiant, but just looking at them made Coco wonder who had put them there. Did his mom? His dad? “His family must be upset,” she said.

More than upset, Keisuke thought. He couldn’t imagine the pain of losing a child, and he didn’t want to. But he saw compassion in his daughter’s eyes. Compassion towards a stranger she never even knew.

Keisuke turned to his daughter. “You’re right,” he said, kneeling down to her level. “His parents must really be upset. Distraught even. Losing someone you love is a very painful thing and can break a person.” Coco lowered her eyes. Keisuke lifted her chin. “Let me teach you something. Do you know what kintsukuroi means?” She shook her head. “It’s when someone repairs pottery with gold. They join the broken pieces together, believing the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. Even though this is a painful moment for them, they can still be repaired and be more beautiful than ever before. But it can take some time.”

Coco stared for a moment before nodding. Keisuke stood up, dusted his knees, and took Coco’s hand. They walked silently to the car. As they did, Coco looked back to the white cross, her widening eyes lingering.

The next day when school was out, Coco raced through the doors to Keisuke. It surprised him a little. Coco was always excited for the weekend, but never ecstatic.

“What’s with all this energy?” he said. “Did something good happen today?”

“I met a friend.”

A friend? As in a friend to you?”

My friend,” she declared with a sharp nod. “They’re going to be at the park by our house today, so I want to join them. Can I?”

“What about visiting the grave?”

She waved her hand. “I don’t think Israel would mind. So, can I?”

Keisuke didn’t hesitate with his answer. He was happy and a bit relieved that someone finally broke his daughter’s acquaintance zone. So as soon as they reached the house, Coco kissed her mom hello, threw her backpack on her bed, and darted out the door.

“What’s she in a rush for?” Kelly, Keisuke’s wife, asked.

He smiled. “Kokora finally found her friend.”

“As in a friend to her?”

He nodded.

She chuckled. “About time.”

Coco didn’t come home until five minutes before dinner time. Her parents noticed how jovial she was, and it brought a warmth to them. For all of next week, she went out to play with her new-found friend. At that point, Keisuke wondered if he should meet her friend’s parents. He didn’t even know her friend’s name. But his wife brushed it aside, telling him there was no need. That stifled him, especially since Kelly always wanted to know things like that.

One Saturday, Keisuke was in the kitchen with his wife preparing sandwiches for lunch when music suddenly filled the air. It brought a smile to both of their faces.

“It’s been a while since I heard her practice the piano,” Kelly said.

He nodded. “Still sounds good, though.”

“Yeah, well, she chose the wrong time to start practicing because it’s time for lunch. Can you go get her?”

“As you wish, your queenliness.”

She smiled and nudged him away. Keisuke exited the kitchen and walked through the living room. As he did, he heard Coco’s voice.

“This is my favorite song,” she said. “My dad taught me.”

Keisuke’s brows furrowed. He turned the corner, but it was Coco sitting alone playing the piano at the far left of the bench. He called her name, and the music abruptly ceased. She turned, attentive, but Keisuke stared at her as he leaned against the wall.

“Coco,” he said. “Who were you talking to?”

“My friend.”

“Your friend?”

She nodded.

Keisuke shifted against the wall and crossed his arms. “Well, where are they?”

“He’s right here.” She gestured to the empty space beside her.

Keisuke slowly nodded. “Well, what’s his name”

“Yis.”

He slowly nodded again. “Well, lunch is ready.”

“Oh, can I just finish showing Yis this last song?”

Keisuke pursed his lips. “Sure,” he said.

Coco smiled and turned back to the piano and played. Keisuke stared at the back of her head, befuddled, before walking back to the kitchen. As soon as his wife saw his dumb stricken face, she asked him what was wrong.

“Kokora was just talking to herself.”

“You’re just now noticing?” she said. “She’s been doing it all week. She says she’s talking to a Yis.”

“So I’ve heard.” Keisuke turned to her. “Is that normal?”

“I think she just has an imaginary friend. It’s not unnatural. I had one when I was five.”

“But she’s seven. She doesn’t even believe in Santa Clause.”

His wife simply shrugged. Just then, the piano ended its melody, and Coco came running in. Keisuke sat down, watching as she pulled up an extra chair.

“You can sit here,” she said, patting the wood.

Keisuke glanced at his wife for a second, but she simply gave another shrug before asking Coco if Yis wanted anything for lunch.

“No,” Coco said. “He said he’s not hungry.”

Coco’s mother nodded. She placed the dishes on the table before taking her seat next to Keisuke. As they ate, Keisuke couldn’t help but glance at the empty seat from time to time.

“Yis is really smart,” Coco suddenly said. “He’s been teaching me a lot.”

“Oh, really?” Kelly said. “Like what?”

“That everything is connected. We’re connected to nature, the universe, and even each other. He said that if I had someone in mind and concentrated really hard, I could feel what they feel. Or if I think about someone I haven’t talked to in a while, I could suddenly get a phone call from them.” She took a bite of her sandwich. “What do you think about reincarnations, dad?”

Keisuke jerked, a little caught off guard. “Where did this come from?”

“Yis brought it up.”

He paused for a second. “Well . . .” He paused again, trying to gather his thoughts. “Well, I’ve heard stories from my parents about people being reincarnated into animals, but I’ve never really thought much about it.”

Coco nodded. “Did you know the universe doesn’t think time exists?”

“Why is that?” Coco’s mother chimed in.

“Yis said so. He said we just made up time. He said that when a person dies, they can come back as a person from years in the past. He says when I die, I could come back as Cleopatra or even Hitler.”

Keisuke and his wife froze, staring at Coco bug-eyed.

Coco shook her head. “It’s OK. There’s a lot of things we don’t understand. People’s sight is limited to what’s really in the world.”

Coco gobbled her sandwich in a snap, and, calling to Yis, ran out into the living room. A minute later, the piano blared throughout the house. Keisuke and his wife exchanged glances, speechless.

 

Two weeks of watching Coco run around talking to “Yis,” Keisuke still couldn’t fathom how his little girl could talk to thin air like it was an actual person or understand the information she spewed day by day. She’d say how bodies are just shells for the soul or that if we ask, the universe would tell us anything we wanted to know. Not only that, he and his wife found Coco’s recent behavior abnormal. She started asking to help around the house every day or go grocery shopping. She cleaned her room and kept it tidy, which she had never done before. She constantly smiled and was more hyper than a hummingbird’s wings. Above all, she always said “I love you,” to Keisuke and his wife if she was leaving the house or just leaving to go to another room.

One day, Keisuke found Coco on the living room floor with yellow streamers, gold glitter, and glue. He watched her drain the glue into a plastic bowl before dumping the entire bottle of glitter into it with a few streamers to top it. Then, she grabbed a wooden spoon and mixed the batch.

“Coco,” Keisuke said.

“Yeah, dad?” she squeaked.

“What are you doing? Is this project for school?”

“No. I’m just trying to make gold for you.”

Keisuke paused and thought for a second. “Why?”

“So you can repair yourself. I want you to be beautiful when I’m gone.”

Keisuke froze.

Coco continued to stir until the glue was no longer white. She grabbed another container on the floor and poured it in.

“Kokora,” Keisuke finally said. “Why would you say that? That . . . That won’t be for a long time.”

Coco simply smiled. She finished pouring the mixture in the container. She shut it with a red top and gave it one last glance. As soon as she did, a quick peck landed on Keisuke’s cheek.

“I love you,” Coco said. And they held their gaze for a single beat before she decided to dart off, leaving the container on top of the piano, and leaving her father speechless yet again, this time with a troubled mind.

 

Keisuke couldn’t shake off what Coco had said that day. Why was she even thinking that? Perhaps it had something to do with Yis. Either way, it shook him to the core, and the following Monday when he waited at the bus stop, he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

He looked at his watch. It was 2:30, but there was no bus in sight. He didn’t think much of it. The bus was late sometimes. But then he glanced at his watch again. 2:45. Then 3:00. 3:05. 3:07. 3:08.

The bus never used to be this late, Keisuke thought.

At 3:12, Keisuke’s phone buzzed in his back pocket. It was Kelly. He answered with a soft, “Hello,” but the words that came at him were frantic. Her breathing was rugged and her voice shook.

“There’s been an accident,” she choked. “It’s her school bus . . . Kokora is in the hospital.”

Keisuke had never run so fast in his life. He darted home after the call, and he and his wife scuttled into the car before taking off to the hospital. As soon as they barged through the doors, they saw a group of parents lingering in the waiting area. Some huddled over children with brushed limbs and scratches, embracing them with tears rolling down their cheeks. But the other parents leaned anxiously in the chairs, their eyes dark.

The two parents went up to the front desk. “Excuse me,” Keisuke’s wife said, her voice breaking. “We’re Kelly and Keisuke Matsumoto, the parents of Kokora Matsumoto. Is she . . . Is she alright?”

“Let me check, ma’am,” the nurse said. The woman scanned a few papers before pursing her lips. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but your daughter is being prepped for surgery. She had severe trauma to the head. A few kids did, actually.” She paused, catching herself. “The doctors are working as fast as they can.” She paused again, unsure of what to say. “You can . . . wait in the lobby until the doctor comes out.”

Kelly gave a weak nod, but she wouldn’t move from the desk. She couldn’t. Keisuke had to gently grab her by the shoulders and lead her to an open seat. He grabbed her hand tightly and whispered, “It’s going to be OK. She’s going to be OK,” over and over, trying to calm his wife and himself.

Waiting felt like an eternity. Keisuke watched doctor after doctor coming out, and each one had a certain stride to them. The one with good news would come out with a gentle smile and a tall posture. She’d say words Keisuke couldn’t hear, but he didn’t need to because the family would beam and cry tears of joy. But the other doctor with horrible news would walk slowly, their lips pursed. He’d let out a sigh even before saying the first word. And that sigh told all. His soundless lips would move, and seconds later, the family would be on their knees crying puddles of broken tears.

More time passed. The sun was at rest but none of the remaining parents were. They still sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation like Keisuke and Kelly.

“Mr. and Mrs. Matsumoto,” the doctor called. Their heads darted up, and so did their bodies. They rushed over to the doctor both anxious and terrified to hear the news of their daughter. They stared and waited. The doctor pursed her lips and sighed. Keisuke didn’t need to hear the doctor’s words. He saw enough grieving families that day to know what she was going to say.

 

They weren’t the same. Keisuke watched his wife stare at Kokora’s room every day since then. Kelly wanted to blame everyone, blame the bus driver for killing her child, blame her husband for not picking her up to take her to the park, blame herself for never having the time to pick her own child up from school. But she knew that wasn’t right and set it aside. Still, Keisuke took on the blame for her. Why didn’t he drive up to the school that day? Why hadn’t he listened to Kokora and her words? If he had taken her seriously, would she still be here?

For days, the house was silent. Kelly and Keisuke said fewer and fewer words to one another each day. Their movements were empty, their bodies simply existing. Keisuke often took off walking down the street in silence. Tears running down his face. Some days, he’d take his car and drive around the school. Flowers, pictures, and candles dressed the fence bordering the building. It was a cruel thing for the school to do. A cruel reminder of how heavy a child’s casket was. It was because of this, that he never stepped out of his car. He’d drive right through, often passing Israel’s grave before driving on. For days, he followed this routine. Until one day, an overwhelming clutter of emotions forced him to park his car.

On the verge of tears, he trudged slowly up to the fence, trailing it until he finally saw Kokora’s photo. He couldn’t help but grin at the blinding smile she wore. But then the tears suddenly trailed down his cheeks. He shook his head, unsure of what to do or what to say. Instinctively, he clapped his hands together, closed his eyes, and bowed.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

Keisuke opened his eyes. He stared at Coco’s picture for a few more minutes before turning away and walking down the street, heading to her favorite park. Two blocks down, he decided to stop at Israel’s grave. He never really paid attention to it until Coco did, but he wanted to respect her by respecting Israel. He stood by the withered flowers, put his hands together and closed his eyes. And he realized. It wasn’t until he lost a child that he could finally express how much Israel’s parents must have felt. And that thought alone brought more tears to his eyes. But he moved on, walking until he heard children in the distance.

Keisuke sat on an open bench and watched the contented children, imagining Coco among them. Her favorite part of the park was always the swing. She’d kick her legs so forcefully until she reached a desired height before leaping forward, scaring the wits out of her father. Keisuke grinned at the thought, but an ache in his chest followed.

“You OK, sir?”

Keisuke jumped. He turned to see a boy staring at him. “Oh, I didn’t see you.” He subtly wiped his eyes.

“Why are you crying, sir?” the boy said.

Keisuke simply smiled and said, “My daughter used to love this park.”

The boy didn’t seem to care. “People will stare at you, you know.”

He paused. “Where are your parents?”

“At home.”

“You’re here by yourself?”

“No, I’m with a friend.”

Keisuke nodded.

“Do you believe in ghosts?”

Keisuke paused at the random question. “No.”

“What about spirits?”

“Aren’t they the same thing?”

The boy shrugged. “What if you saw one?”

Keisuke thought for moment. “If I saw a ghost . . . then I’d have to believe, wouldn’t I?”

The boy nodded.

“Why would you ask that?”

“Because a spirit is following you.”

Keisuke eyed the boy strangely and looked around before giving an incredulous chuckled. “Well, that would explain the small chills,” he joked.

The boy narrowed his eyes.

Keisuke waved his hand. “Look, you should just go back over there and play with your friend.”

“But she doesn’t want to play right now,” he said. “She wants to talk to you.”

“Oh, really?” Keisuke sighed, rubbing his temple. “Fine. I’ll play along.” He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. “What does your friend want to talk to me about?”

“She wants to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For praying for her.”

Keisuke furrowed his brow, trying to remember when he ever prayed for anyone.

“I wanted to thank you too,” the boy said.

“For?”

“For praying for me too.”

Keisuke dropped his head, letting out another disbelieving chuckle. “Kid,” he said. “I don’t know you. I’ve never met you until now. I don’t even know your friend.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Really?” Keisuke crossed his arms. “What’s her name?”

“Kokora.”

Keisuke froze. Slowly, his mouth began to fall, but no words would.

The boy shrugged again. “She said it’s OK if you don’t want to talk right now. You can talk to her when you go home.”

And with that, the boy turned and ran back to the playground. Keisuke watched him, dumbfounded. The boy climbed passed the other kids and up to the tubed slide. Before he could go down, Keisuke shot up and ran toward him, calling to him.

“Hey,” Keisuke called. “How do you know that name? Kid! Did someone put you up to this?”

The boy stopped and looked down on the man rushing towards him. He simply shook his head.

“Come on, kid. Please don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not,” the boy said. “She’s my friend. And my name’s not ‘kid.’”

Keisuke stopped just shy of the slide. “I’m sorry,” he said. “What’s your name.”

The boy stared at him, his jaw churning. He turned away for a split second to put one foot inside the slide. “I’m Israel,” he said. “But everyone calls me Yis.”

Keisuke was speechless.

In that moment, the boy gave another shrug before throwing himself down the slide. Keisuke quickly snapped himself out of shock and ran to the end of the slide, waiting for the boy to exit. But he never did.

All the way home, Keisuke shook his head, mumbling, “That wasn’t real. That wasn’t real.” He parked his car, went through the doors, and paced. That boy wasn’t real, he thought. He couldn’t be. If he was, why could he see him? If Kokora was truly there, why couldn’t he see her? The questions boggled his mind. None of it made sense. Distraught, Keisuke hit the keys on the piano. A thunderous chaos of sound clattered along the walls. Slowly, Keisuke sank on the bench, sobbing uncontrollably. And slowly, the sound in the air faded into nothing.

It took a while for Keisuke’s wails to calm. When they did, he stared at the black and white keys. Kokora used to sit right there on the bench with him and play, her small hands gliding to a fro. Keisuke placed a finger on a white key, then another until he played a slow tune. But in the middle of the melody, his fingers grew motionless. There on top of the piano was the container of glue and glitter Coco had made. Keisuke never touched it since the day she died. He sighed, took his hand from the piano, and let in a deep breath.

“Coco,” he said.

That’s all that would come out. He stared at the keys, waiting. Waiting for anything to happen, but nothing did. With a heavy sigh, he stood up. He turned to his right where Kokora’s room was. Inside, he could see his wife huddled on their daughter’s bed, her shoulders slowly rising and falling. He turned away. As Keisuke ambled away, a dink caught his ears. He quickly swerved towards the piano. Keisuke’s eyes slowly widened. He took a slow step forward and looked down. There on the piano, a single key was pressed down, leaving a high tune echoing throughout the room.

“The Beginning of Life”
“The Piano Key/Lake”

Image 1 found at: Pinterest

Image 2 found at: Frantisek Kupka, Piano Keys lake, 1905

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