Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente Page B

Book: Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente Read Free Book Online
Authors: Catherynne Valente
like a story her mother would have told her, and she had thought of the weepholes that presided over her mother’s birth, and the beautiful trains that must have borne witness to such a thing.
    What is happening to me in this old, old city? I cannot stop chasing my thoughts around, around and around. Where am I going, O Monk, O Mother, O Rabbit in the Moon?
    The place Yumiko wanted to take her was called the Floor of Heaven. A small plaque above the door announced as much in quiet hiragana like the fall of sudden rain. Yumiko held her hand tightly, still wearing her school uniform.
    “Why do you wear that fucking thing?” Sei asked. “You’re not in school anymore.”
    Yumiko giggled, put her hand over her mouth, and then stopped abruptly, utterly serious. “I enjoy the archetype,” she said. “It’s our greatest export, you know, this skirt, these shoes. It’s like being a kami . I embody .”
    Yumiko knocked at the door, and when it opened reluctantly, stuck out her tongue with the catlike pleasure she had shown when she had done the same for Sei. The man in the door-shadow looked quizzically at Sei. She unbuttoned her blouse with calm fingers. He grunted acquiescence.
    Inside, there was soft music, koto and guitar played together, and long copper-colored couches. There were tables and drinks of exotic colors, as in any club Sei had ever seen—black wood and a green vial on it; graceful fingers tented against the belly of a glass full of pink froth. The room was sparsely populated, patrons in clusters like grapes, no one dancing, no one laughing.
    There were, as there would be, maps on the walls, of London, Paris, Buenos Aires. Low whispers floated above the drinks.
    “Tell me,” Yumiko said, pressing her cheek to Sei’s on the empty dance floor. “Do you want to go back?”
    “To Tokyo?”
    “Oh. There. ”
    “It has a name.”
    Sei found that she had trouble saying it: a foreign word, and she balked at the admission that she knew the name of an impossible place, even to Yumiko, who presumably did not think it impossible at all.
    Sei thought of the trains, how perfect and white, how swift. The man playing the viola, how his hair had fallen over his face like a mourning veil and the train cars, ah, the train cars had opened for him, their doors like rapturous arms!
    “It wasn’t a dream.”
    “No. Better than a dream.”
    “Yes, I want to go.” Sei clenched her fists against the desire for it, for those trains, trains that would nod sagely at everything in Kenji’s book, saying: yes, that is what we are . She thought of Tokyo, waiting for her in the north like a crocodile, languid, vicious. What waited for her? Her tempered glass booth at Shinjuku Station, the endless tickets for everyone but her, her Japan Rail uniform with its crisp lapels? It was nothing, all nothing, because it was not there , not those trains, not that place.
    Yumiko put her thumb against Sei’s lower lip as though marking her place in the book of her. “That’s what we all want, Sei. Hardly anyone even comes as far as this place, where we can find each other, like drawn to like. Where it is so easy to find a street which ends in that city. They built the Floor of Heaven about twelve years ago, when there were enough of us in Kyoto to need it, to long for it.”
    “Who’s they ?”
    “I don’t know, really. Big money, from up north. I don’t really know about the higher-ups, the important people here who figure out how to be important in Palimpsest. I’m just a tourist, you know? But the club makes things so much simpler. You’ll see.”
    Sei looked around the room—hardly a couple did not embrace, and hardly a couple’s eyes met. They grasped each other shaking like invalids, impassive and fanatical. Sei’s eyes watered. She thought she understood it, the anatomy of what Yumiko offered her—she could guess at its musculature, the number of its bones. It’s like a virus. This is more like a

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