Back in utero, as we say—aka district Ueno of Tokyo’s notorious demon gate—after two years of what you might call a pilgrimage that started when I saw Professor Hamasaki let a young woman die. I used to say he killed her, but let her die is more accurate and somehow more horrible. I was watching when his arm reached out of the swelling waters and grabbed her ankle, using it to pull himself onto the mangled tower protruding from the drowning bay. This was no action of deliberative will, but a panicked expression of survival, organized by a cortex in crisis, bubbling up from reflexive processes fathoms below the last ditch regions of a lost cause. That he managed to catch hold of anything was pure chance. But when he scrambled over her it weakened her grip. He was up above her by the time the next wave hit. I saw him glance back only once. When she screamed and fell. He didn’t flinch or reach for her, not even in a parody of pretending to try and help.
I pictured the scene night after night until all I could do was hit the road, a road that started in a refuge camp west of Daishoji and brought me all the way to a penthouse apartment in Los Angeles. I had to find him. To figure out what had gone through his head. What was going through his head now. How swiftly and irrevocably they’d traded places. What parts of her had stayed with him? And what had he lost? And what parts of him had she dragged down under those dark waves, as her desperation swelled and her gasping terror was silenced.
(rough draft: rev. 3)