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from the August 2012 issue

Kid Sister

. . . and so my timing was thrown off. And so a space opened in my emotions. I became proud because I was so happy, and then, at the exact moment I had wished would last forever, before I could even ask, in about a second or so, I dove into the sea, ahead of Hiro. If only I had held on to his hand and we had gone under at same time, we could easily have made our way through the most massive of waves. What a shame, when Hiro had held out his hand, to share the joy of the sea with me. Hiro’s hand. Ordinarily I would never have been able to hold his hand so casually. The sea at the end of summer. The powerful waves that heaved themselves profoundly up against the sky, then crashed down so forcefully that they seemed to bite into the sand. I would dive under just before they broke. A few seconds later, when I stuck my head out of the water, the collapsed remains of the wave would already be behind me, powerless. I had played like this again and again, but then suddenly, I was directly caught up in the swirl of a wave. Unable to tell up from down, I was pushed into it. Swallowing sea water, my body twisted around and I nearly lost consciousness.

. . . but in reality the moment lasted perhaps only two or three seconds. From out of nowhere two arms grabbed my almost broken body and pulled it out of the swirl. Before I knew it, I was sitting with my legs stretched out, still wrapped in Hiro’s arms. Are you all right? he asked, rubbing my back. I nodded, and then smiled at him. Flustered at being in his arms, I felt my body burn, even as I continued to tremble. Hiro’s younger sister Keiko and my older sister approached slowly from the dunes. What happened? Are you OK? I stood up. Yeah, I muttered. I tried to smile, but I ended up in tears. She had me worried for a moment there, Hiro said. She gets so carried away, my sister remarked quietly.

. . . after that we went back under the parasol and drank some juice. The older girls set out to have fun by the water’s edge, but instead of going back into the sea, I began to build a mountain with sand. If you don’t put on a blouse, your sunburn will get even worse, my sister told me, but I just continued, pretending I didn’t hear. I didn’t want to cover the new swimsuit my mother had bought me. It was an adult swimsuit, orange, with big pads inserted at the chest. Last summer, when our father fell ill and died, swimming had been out of the question. This year, after obon, when the dead spirits return home, my grandmother had invited me and my sister to her house by the seaside. You must be feeling lonely, she had said. It was certainly lively and fun at my grandmother’s. My twenty-five-year-old uncle, who was still single, and my aunt, a university student—Hiro and Keiko, that is to say—were there; my other uncle lived in the outbuilding. I only had my primary school swimsuit, so my mother bought me a new one. My sister, who was in high school, had to make do with her old swimsuit. To me that was bliss. The sand was hot and no one was around. The beach season had already ended. I dug a tunnel in the sand mountain, added a spiral-shaped road and made a fort at the top. I also made windows. My dry back was still being grilled by the seaside rays. The older girls collected small stones and compared them under the parasol. Hiro was swimming far out alone. The girls were drying their wet hair with the towels. With her head tilted diagonally and her mouth slightly open, my sixteen-year-old sister looked adult, like Keiko. Soft shoulders. Shiny white legs. Come here, she called. In my new adult swimsuit that was all wrong for my thirteen-year-old body, I didn’t answer her.

. . . but I decided to swim just one more time. I didn’t want them to think I had become scared of the sea. From the edge of the water, I went forward until I was in up to my hips. I stretched out my arms and set my body afloat. Each time a collapsing, foamy wave approached, my body was gently rocked and lifted. Soon, Hiro would return to me from the open sea. I could see the color of your swimsuit all the way from out there, he might tell me. Just then my right arm hit something and pain pierced my flesh. Without really knowing what had happened, I ran back to the older girls, hugging it. I wasn’t bleeding. There was no visible wound. You must have brushed the tentacles of a Portuguese man-of-war, what bad luck, Keiko said as she inspected my arm. Upon hearing this, my sister gazed at my arm and laughed anxiously.

. . . and so we had to rush back to the house. Red welts appeared on my right arm. With Hiro walking in front, I kicked the sand mountain with all my might and made sand balls that hit his bare legs, right on target. What was that for? He said as he looked back without stopping. That was all. I was angry at the sea, at the sand, and at myself.

. . . and then that night, I couldn’t sleep but began to cry. My sister woke up and asked, What’s the matter? The sunburn hurts so bad, it’s like my back is on fire, I said through my tears, and my sister sighed, You’re such a stupid child, she said, and then, very quietly, she too began to cry. I didn’t ask her what was wrong.

 ©  Tsushima Yūko. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Gitte Marianne Hansen. All rights reserved.

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