The House Between Time Zones
The wind was turning sharp, bitter. I was trudging through snow country to meet the widow my mother had arranged for me to marry, a girl I had never met. She was twenty-two; I was eighteen and three months. Her husband had perished in a snowstorm, perhaps blinded and frost-bitten, perhaps in an attempt to rescue their lost kitten or to procure food for the winter. My mother said his fingers had fallen off, were found by some old villagers who thrived on gossip and scandal.
My feet felt heavy and the snow deepened. In my hand, I carried the envelope containing the letter from my mother saying that I was Ryuukun, her only son, and inside the folded letter was a photo of the beautiful Minako, whom I was to marry. She was sitting by a window in a long fleecy dress, her hair black and shimmering. Her smile was as mysterious as the estranged sibling who never quite goes away.
Her house was located at the top of a tree-lined hill overlooking a good part of the Akita Prefecture, miles of blinding whiteness. The house was enormous with a roof that brushed against low clouds. I could never see its tip. I could not count the windows. They seemed to blink at me.
Exhausted, I climbed to the front door and swung the brass knocker several times. A voice chimed out, asking me who I was. “Ryuukun,” I said, “I have arrived with my mother’s letter. And there is a photo of you as well.”
For several long seconds, there was a stony silence.
“Go away,” she said, “I no longer look like the girl in that photo. My illness has aged me since it was taken. Go away. You can find another wife.”
It was getting hard to inhale the stinging winds.
“Please,” I said, “It has taken me days to reach here and now the snow is falling faster. Soon it will bury me. I will never make it home.”
I leaned my head against the huge door. I did not want to die here.
The door slowly opened. Her voice was faint, far away.
“As you wish,” she said. “Perhaps you are right. It is not safe. But I don’t want to be seen.”
I stepped inside. The rooms were spacious with little furniture. The walls were adorned with prints of tea gardens, songbirds, mountaintops.
“What illness did you contract?” I yelled out. She was nowhere around.
“I caught pneumonia walking from room to room. Some sections of this house are colder than others; there are terrible drafts. It took me weeks crossing from one side to the other. This house was built between time zones.”
I felt chilled and slightly dizzy. I imagined each room of the house in a different part of the world.
“I must see you,” I said.
“You might regret it.”
“I’m willing to take that chance.”
Her voice took on a hard edge.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Follow my voice. I am in a bedroom on the third floor, but I can’t tell you which one because there are too many to count.”
I followed her voice. I staggered from room to room. Doors wheezed behind me. When I finally found her, she was sitting up in bed, her hands folded over the woolen blankets. She had aged ten years from the last photo.
“Why,” she said,” you have become a small boy. Go look in the mirror. Look at your baggy shorts.” She giggled. Then her face contorted as she went through a spasm of hacking coughs.
I turned to study myself in a mirror on her wall.
It was true. I had grown younger from traversing the rooms of the house. A chill was snaking through my bones
Her voice was low and hoarse.
“I need some tea,” she said. “I have plenty down in the kitchen cabinet. I am too weak to get up. But it might take you days, weeks, to get back.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said, “I cannot go back home. For now, we are each other’s warm destiny.”
She smiled. Small wrinkles stretched around her mouth. Her eyes sailed over me.
“When I feel stronger, we will walk from room to room. In one room, the one where the sunlight is the strongest, the one with just the right angles of light and shadow, you will age and I will grow younger – until we coalesce.”
“It could take a lifetime finding that room,” she added.
We bowed to each other.
I went downstairs, down the long circuitous staircases where I could easily lose myself again and again, and searched for her kitchen. There, I imagined, it would be warm.
But I would not return home without a wife. The women in my village had died from loneliness. Winter had ensnared everyone. And my mother claimed that my father’s reflection still lived off the glass walls of an empty fish bowl. At night, she used to tell me, she could hear his voice from the colored stones at the bottom, promising that he would come back.
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Your Impossible Voice, Night Train, Toad, Matchbox and elsewhere. His latest ebook is Father Dunne’s School for Wayward Boys at amazon.com. He blogs here.
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