secret daughters of autumn
by dm gillis
The sky smelled like smoky tea and was lit at the edges, curling like orange leaves. That evening, a wife he’d once had would celebrate her birthday like a Japanese princess. Their daughters bowing in improvised paper kimonos, somewhere on another side of town now mysterious to him. He sat in an abandoned doorway dry-mouthed, developing plans. To somehow find shoes. To somehow find a meal. He plugged his ears with his thumbs, mere finger wouldn’t do. He squinted, his face rigid and grimacing. But he still heard the voices. A determined choir singing. Birthdays demand gifts. If he could find shoes and food, or if he couldn’t, he might deliver one.
Shoelessness in a world of plenty is a perplexing thing. He sat in the doorway at shoe level, with his spare change can. It was impossible from this vantage not to notice that all of the people passing had shoes. Some were very nice. Others unfashionably chosen from sale racks. Still others, he saw, were in varying states of disrepair, heels and soles worn past reasonable limits. Even a pair of these would suit him now. But who would give him shoes? When quarters and dimes were so hard to come by. Maybe it was his guru looks. He was wild eyed and unshaven. Should a raving holy man walk the planet well shod? Perhaps shoefulness was unholy.
Voices surrounded him. Some told him lies of love. The honest voices hated him. Birthdays demand gifts. A gift for a Japanese princess is no small thing. She’ll despise it, no matter what. But he knew its importance. She had been beautiful enough to love once. Beautiful enough for there to be children. The two daughters who he remembered smiling. Forming their words. Learning to use their index fingers to point at things in the world. The honest voices hated him. He stood to walk. There are believed-in journeys, a voice had once told him.
He was an unincorporated son, barefoot on the autumn sidewalk. Impatience on the crazed faces of the sane. The light saturated him. He was a mural; he was a mirror. Tell us what can be done. Give him food not money. Where is God? God is in His Maui timeshare. God is on the internet. God is an NRA gun advocate. When choosing a gift for Shogun royalty, simplicity is best. A length of silk, vermilion as a Torii Gate. A hand fan of tsunamic arcs, the doomed depicted humbled before their deaths. A red light is a sanctioned invitation to stop. Take it and reflect. He recalled gifts at their wedding, money and shining things. He had heard the voices then, too. But he had kept them secret. He pretended they were part of the ballroom crowd. The wedding guests would have laughed if he’d told them. Then burned him like a witch. He had remained well standing and worthy in that marriage. Until the night brightened, and the angels coaxed him away.
He saw a yōkai demon in a shop window, tattooed upon a smooth coughing stone. There were just simple nickels, silver in his pocket. They were perfect poverty. He saw more then, too. The blunt attenuating prescriptions. The haughty knowingness of assigned strangers. Voices shouting run. And now this unhaveable thing. Carnal. Like a dog. But glorious. When it cried out, the children heard. In the darkest of childish nights. And it changed them forever. His feet were too naked for so prosperous a city. Even café dishwashers had shoes. Open, said a sign on the shop door, like an accusation. The wife he’d once had had accused him. A voice had once told him to drown. But he could only swim.
There was his reflection in the shop window, and a glut of stones in the city. The stones once departing on a train. In railcars strictly reserved for stones and shadow. There was nothing left to breech this plate glass horizon. He remembered the blue clan mondokoro in their daughters’ eyes, and the dolls of Hinamatsuri watching him from shelves. He had heard the hiss of their whispers. Oh for a stone. The police and their fear. Fearsomeness in their fear. The two-way crackle. Mental male. It was a cop mantra stanza. There were no poems about it. No paragraphs in novels. No hasty wise graffiti. His fists were not stone. But the glass shattered, nonetheless.
Blood is always a surprise. How it resides like a neighbour, behind its own sober walls. We gaze upon it when it comes, pooling in Einstein’s gravity. Razor swords in paper rooms. Contradiction is a forgiven lie. The wife he’d once had had never loved his gifts. He reached in and took the thing, anyway. And escaped.
Somewhere that evening in the deciduous city, their daughters, who were still very young, served tea to the wife he’d once had. On their bended knees, geisha-like. Their beautiful eyes and small busy hands.