Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

Book: Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente Read Free Book Online
Authors: Catherynne Valente
possibly have been written for any purpose but to crawl inside her and dwell there like a holy thing, so that this book would not be ashamed of her profligacy.
    And Yumiko was touching it, thinking Sei still asleep. Sei crept out of the ryokan bed and peered around Yumiko’s naked waist to read along with her.
    There is a story told in Aomori Province concerning the patronage of trains. The Kami of the Wind and the Kami of Engines struggled over who would bless the trains of Japan, who would earn the right to enfold them into their long arms. By this time the folk of Japan were closed up into trains for hours upon hours each day, and in the cities of the Kami there was a great consternation as to who should receive the numerous silent prayers for punctuality, for speed, for unmolested progress. The Kami of Wind stood upon a platform of orange clouds and argued that the trains belonged to him, for their great speed sent up such currents of air, and the high platforms of the Shinkansen entered into his territory, and he shook them daily with his breath. The Kami of Engines, not very beloved among her kin, stood upon a dais of crushed automobiles and sewing machines drenched in old oil. Through her greasy hair she glowered and said that any machine which churned fuel and ate kilometers was hers and hers alone to adore.
    The debate continued so long that the attending Kami fell into a deep sleep, for public debates are more tiresome than either the participants or the audience care to admit. While their assembled family slept, the Kami of Wind stole onto his opponent’s dais with the intention of destroying her and assuming the trains for himself without contest. He drew a great breath to push through her heart, but as the breath was drawn into its fullest, the Kami of Engines stepped into his arms and kissed him, pulling him into her with great violence, so great that the whole of his breath was spent into her. But the air rushing through the heart of the Kami of Engines only fed the fires within her, sending them high into heaven, and she consumed him utterly, and thus the trains worship with the song of their passing the Kami of Engines with her long, oily hair.
    It was terribly difficult for Sei to watch Yumiko read the book. To see her lay her thumb in the spine and let the soft cover fall over it. Sei winced, bit her lip, crushed within her the desire to snatch it back. Yumiko had gotten miso on the corner of a page. You’re ruining it! the heart of Sei cried out. But was it not fair? Had she not allowed this girl’s mouth on her throat, her hands within her body? Did she not know the secret things of Yumiko: that her deepest skin tasted of the sea? That her cries were high and breathy, like a child’s hiccups? Did Sei not owe some few of her own secret things in exchange for this knowledge?
    She chewed the inside of her cheek. No, she thought. Yumiko has other lovers, but I have no other books. Yumiko marked her place and looked up.
    “And he was your first?” she asked archly. “The man who wrote this?”
    Sei blinked. “Not my first, of course not. I’m twenty, not twelve.”
    “No, not your first lover. When you dreamed of the fortuneteller, was it after this man?”
    “And then me.”
    “It’s not like I went looking for you.”
    “Do you think I’m calling you a whore?”
    Sei picked at the threads of the futon. Women were difficult; she had always found them so. They were like hoary old fish, keeping to the lake bottom, harder to catch than men, harder to keep. And they just looked at you with those armored piscine eyes that showed nothing at all until you turned away out of shame at some act for which you could not begin to answer.
    Yumiko pushed A History of Train Travel firmly back across the tatami. Sei grabbed it gratefully, held it to her chest to warm again with her skin against it. Yumiko shook her head.
    “I want to take you somewhere tonight, Sei, will you come?”

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