Notes and Disclaimers: Read or Die, Read or Dream, and ROD The TV, are the property of Aniplex, J.C. Staff and Shueisha and Geneon.So are the characters of Yomiko Readman, Sumiregawa Nenene and Makuhara Nancy. And I took most of the Mexico City stuff from friends who just came back from that fine location, including the quote about the weather. In fact, I pretty much stole everything in this story. And I feel no remorse. :-)
This story is dedicated to Sean Gaffney, who called it “Title, with Slight Pretention,” a comment that never fails to crack me up everytime I think about it.
Emailing me and letting me know, is nice, too. :-)
Rooftop, With Moon Obscured
Nenene awoke with a sudden start. In rapid succession, as she struggled her way to consciousness, came the same three questions that were her first thoughts upon waking, every time.
Where am I?
What time is it?
Where is Yomiko?
Even as she felt around her, running her hands blindly across thin blankets laid over cement, the fourth, inevitable, question popped into her mind.
Where the hell are my glasses?
Once she found the spectacles in question, she pondered the answer to the first question. This was standard. In the past year or so, she had been to so many places that it had become vitally important to start with “where.” Putting her glasses on helped define very little in the darkness, but as she spun around where she sat, the sounds of Spanish music and the smell of tobacco and fried food answered that first question.
She was in Mexico City.
Nenene remembered now. This was her second night on a rooftop near Calle Donceles, the used-book district of Mexico City. She looked up at “The Citadel” the colonial-period building now functioning as a hotel that loomed over the rooftop where she sat and sighed in jealousy at the occupants’ soft beds and hot baths.
She pulled her glasses back off, rubbed her eyes and replaced them. It was after midnight, she guessed, which answered the second question. She could hear her host, Antonia, murmuring softly, and the occasional laugh from her husband, Paolo. Nenene closed her eyes, allowing herself time to acclimate to the darkness.
And, as she stood and faced out towards the rooftop that stretched out in front of the three corrugated metals walls and the blankets hung across planks that served as a shelter, she could finally answer the most important of the three questions. Thankfully, that third and most crucial question no longer came accompanied by a sense of panic and loss, as it had for so long.
Yomiko stood with her back to Nenene, leaning on the wall that surrounded the roof. She appeared to be gazing upwards, but at what, Nenene could not see. The writer took a few steps out of the shelter onto the roof. Her footsteps crunched lightly, and Yomiko looked over her shoulder with a slight smile.
“Did I wake you, Sensei?”
“No,” Nenene rubbed her cheek lightly under her right eye. “I think I snorted myself awake. What are you looking at?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.
“You can barely make out the moon,” Yomiko gestured to a lighter patch in the dark, thick, cloud cover, “even though it’s full tonight.”
“I wondered what the weather report meant when it said, ‘warm and partly smoky,'” Nenene admitted. “I guess that’s it.”
They lapsed into silence, looking out at the other nearby rooftops, noting the small fires and radio sounds that signaled human occupation. A cathedral loomed over the block, casting what little they could see of the street into deep shadow.
“So…” Nenene hesitated. “You came out here to look at the moon?”
“No. I came out here to think.” Yomiko’s voice was the same as always, but a hint of underlying tension made Nenene stiffen.
“You’re not thinking of going off by yourself again?” Nenene couldn’t keep the panic from her words. “I’m going with you. Wherever you go.”
Yomiko stood back from the wall, letting her hands drop to her side. The darkness and a slight reflection of the clouds on her glasses obscured her eyes completely. “That’s what I was thinking about. About why you’ve been traveling with me.”
Nenene didn’t respond. She knew Yomiko well enough to know that the rest of her thoughts would come in their own time. She simply needed to wait, and listen.
Yomiko looked up again, her gesture unintentionally melodramatic and full of longing, but when she spoke, her voice was happy. “I’m glad that you’re here. With me.” She turned back to the writer with a smile. “There are so many places I want to see – I want you to see.”
“So many books to buy, you mean?” Nenene laughed.
“That too.” Yomiko turned back to the wall, crossed her arms and leaned forward on them. “Sensei? Why have you never asked me about Nancy-san?”
“What do you mean?” Nenene was pretty sure what Yomiko meant, but that kind of clueless response was a perfectly normal response to sudden stress, she thought. So was wringing her hands together, repeatedly.
“If we were…ever….” Yomiko’s bravery failed her and her words subsided in a slightly false, slightly hysterical laugh. “You know.”
Nenene took a deep breath, coughed a little on the soot in the air and let it out again. “I just assumed you were. Or, really, I guess I assumed you’d tell me, eventually. If I stayed with you long enough and listened to everything you said, that one day I would learn the whole story, from beginning to end, about the years when you disappeared and didn’t tell me where you had gone or why or…” Nenene stopped herself when she could hear her voice starting to become shrill. She took another deep breath and said, “I’m sorry.” Then, “I know why…but…I thought that if I just waited…”
Yomiko backed away from the wall. “And I thought that one day you would just come right out and ask me and I would tell you. I’ve never been able to say no to you, Sensei.” She turned to Nenene with a smile visible even in the dark night. “Because I’m your biggest fan.”
The writer humphed with ill-disguised pleasure. That had been the one really good thing about traveling with the Paper Master. With Yomiko back in her life, Nenene had been writing more than she had since the early days, when she had written two books simultaneously, one with each hand. Every day had been an adventure; from the time they left Japan to travel across China and Mongolia into Russia. Always visiting rare and exotic places and bizarrely obscure used bookstores – always buying, always collecting, always depending on the kindness of strangers to find them housing and food, when Nenene could easily afford to have set them up in fine hotels and fed them at the nicest restaurants.
Nenene rubbed her cheek again with her forefinger, ducking her head in the face of Yomiko’s undisguised admiration. Nenene turned away to lean on the parapet. After a moment, Yomiko stood by her side, leaning her chin upon her crossed arms.
“So,” Nenene cleared her throat, but her voice was hoarser than she would have liked it to be. “Were you and Nancy-san…. did you…. were you…?” She finished in almost a whisper.
“For a little while.”
Nenene was shocked at the forthright admission, as much as she had expected it.
“It wasn’t so much that we were in love, but there was so much between us, and we were all each other had,” Yomiko continued quietly. “I care about her very much.”
“She obviously feels the same way about you.” Nenene said. To her relief, her voice sounded normal.
Silence fell once again, but this time it felt cleaner, lighter, not so much “between” them as around them – cutting them off from the outside world, not from each other.
Nenene thought about the other woman, a woman with a past so obscure that she had gone off to find it, with no leads, no hints of what she might find. Who exactly Makuhara Nancy was, no one knew. Not even, not especially, herself. She had left to find that past with only a vague understanding of her life and a murky, yet painful knowledge that she had been a very dangerous and evil person. Nenene did not envy her the voyage she now faced.
“Do you know what today is?” Yomiko asked, her face lifted once again to the spot in the sky where the moon was once again dimmed by clouds and pollution.
Nenene thought this over. “Tuesday?”
Yomiko’s smile was audible as she said, “One year ago today you found me in the stacks in the National Library.”
Tears filled Nenene’s eyes so suddenly that she was unable to frame an answer to this. She grunted and pulled her glasses off, wiping her face with her shirtsleeve roughly.
“It made me very happy to see you – even if I was surprised and scared, and worried,” Yomiko seemed not to notice Nenene’s reaction. “But mostly I was happy. To see you.”
There was so much Nenene wanted to say, then. So much that should probably *be* said. But she had already told Yomiko so much – and what more could she say? And why ruin this perfectly lovely evening saying it, when she could write her thoughts down…and….
And that was it, Nenene thought. With Yomiko around, Nenene had so many stories to tell, so many ideas in her head that they spilled out of her eyes and ears and her fingers could barely keep up.
When Yomiko was at her side, Nenene saw the world differently, saw that it had more colors, more people, more layers, and she wanted to let people know about those things.
But mostly, when Yomiko was in her life, she wanted to tell stories that would make the bibliophile happy. *Those* were the words that mattered.
“So, I wanted to give you this,” Yomiko was saying, “for our anniversary.” She held out a hand, something small and white in the center of her palm.
Hesitating, Nenene reached out and took the object. As soon as she laid it in her own hand the small, white ball of paper rose up and opened, like a flower in rapid-motion bloom, until a bright paper rose filled her palm. She stared at it, enrapt, for a few long moments.
Without a word, Nenene went running back to the sleeping area and came back, holding out something wrapped in plain brown paper. She started to rub her cheek, but stopped when she realized she might crush the paper rose.
“I bought this for you, but I guess now is as good a time to give it to you as any,” Nenene’s deep voice was gruff with embarrassment,
Yomiko took the package and opened it, exclaiming happily at the Spanish-language edition of the novel Nenene had been working on when they had first met.
“I, uh, inscribed it.”
Yomiko flipped to the inscription, read silently for a moment, then closed the book and pressed it to her chest.
Nenene stood, her heart beating rather more strongly than she would have thought for the few steps she had run a moment ago.
“I…” Nenene turned her face towards the obscured moon. “I mean it you know. I’m your biggest fan.”
Yomiko turned to gaze upwards, one hand reaching out to take the writer’s in her own, as the moon broke through the cloud cover and, for one brief moment, shone down brightly on the two women.
Closing her hand around Yomiko’s, Nenene looked up at the moon and shone back at it, just as brightly.