Go back


by batui4

We found the bow and its quiver of arrows jammed way back in a rusty cupboard at the rear of the drama club's prop storage closet. Every year, Washington High puts on a stage performance, and the bow and quiver were from some long ago past production. Only two of the arrows in the quiver were real - the others were shorter fakes glued to the inside, to make it look full.

I was reading an Agatha Christie in the bleachers when it happened.

Rob started monkeying around with the bow, and before we knew it one of the arrows went straight into the gymnasium ceiling, where it stuck. The strange old guy who was supposed to be supervising us wasn't paying attention. Toby warned Rob to be careful, but it was too late. Rob's second shot was much more graceful; the arrow soared cleanly toward the stage where Janey sat with her legs dangling, doing her homework. The shaft embedded itself in her calf and she screeched.

Janey is my best friend, and has been since I moved here in grade school. We had joined the drama club together because we both kind of fantasized about becoming actresses, and because there are some really cute guys in the club every year. Now we were seniors, with graduation coming up, and neither one of us was likely to gain a lead role in whatever the upcoming play was going to be. (Mr. Lopez hadn't decided yet.) I had had my chance last year, but just because I'm Japanese, or Japanese-American, or whatever, doesn't mean I want to play Hiawatha, or any other Indian.

Anyway, since it was Sunday the paramedics arrived pretty quickly and prepared to carry Janey to the ambulance. There wasn't a lot of blood, but it was really gross to see the arrow sticking out of her leg. She was still unconscious, and Rob was really getting in the way trying to, first, apologize to her (and anyone else who would listen), and second, help carry her books and things.

"Let them take her to the hospital, asshole!" I shouted at him. I'm not really a mean person, but he deserved it. What an idiot. Mr. Lopez sure picked the wrong day to leave us unsupervised, and the old guy who was there hadn't done anything to keep the boys in line.

I grabbed Janey's books and papers and started carrying them to my car. The paramedics wouldn't let anyone ride in the ambulance, so Rob and some others started making plans to go in their cars.

I don't know. Don't get me wrong, Rob isn't an asshole. In fact he's a great actor but he sure needs to learn not to take things too far. I wondered what Janey was going to say to him when she woke up. I guess I'm the only one who knew for sure that she had a small crush on him. Okay, make that a big crush. It was a huge secret because all three of us lived in the same part of the suburbs, and also because Rob's girlfriend Cindy was kind of our friend sometimes, when she wasn't being a bitch.

I had driven pretty fast, once I signed out of school and got everything loaded into my car. After taking my name, the nurse prepared to show me to Janey's room. I hurried past her and peeked into Janey's room on my own, which was a huge mistake, because the nurse looked as if she might tackle me. All I saw was a brief glimpse of Janey sleeping before I was jerked away from the door and it was closed in my face.

"Hold on, you're not family, are you?"


"Well, I'm sorry but-"

"I've got her books out in my car," I tried to explain. "The school told me she has to have her books here so she can finish her homework. It's important."

She bought my panicked expression (I did mention I was in the drama club, right?) and eventually agreed to let me deliver the books. I ran out to my car. It seemed to take forever to get to the parking garage and back, but when I did return with an armload of Janey's things the nurse was a bit more friendly. At last she showed me to Janey's room and started answering my questions.

"Your friend has had a traumatic experience, and is sleeping, so don't try to talk to her," she said. I nodded. Since my hands were full, she had to open the door wide enough for me to enter. "We're still doing some tests, and we'll be keeping her overnight for observation. She might have slipped into a brief coma after the accident but don't worry, she'll be fine. You can tell all her friends she'll make a full recovery."

"Coma?" I asked. Maybe the nurse realized she shouldn't have told me that, because she didn't say anything.

"And her leg?" I asked.

"We stitched her up nice and tight. She'll barely have even a scar. It was only a flesh wound, all in all."

I thanked the woman and she went back to the nurse's station.

They gave Janey a room by herself, which was nice. It was drab and painted in that ugly hospital green color, but it was okay enough, I guess. It had a TV. Janey looked so young sleeping in the bed, with her long blonde hair hanging over one side of the pillow. Asleep, she looked like she had in grade school. She was so cute! Her leg was under the covers, so I couldn't see it. (I didn't really want to see stitches, anyway.) I put her notebooks and things on the shelf by her bed and sat down next to her. I held her hand, wondering if she would wake up, but she didn't. Maybe she was on painkillers.

That's when I noticed a huge bouquet of flowers on one side of the room, sitting on one of the chairs. That's funny, I thought, I didn't see those a few minutes ago when I looked in, before going out to my car... At least I didn't remember seeing them. And who would give Janey flowers? I looked for a card but there wasn't one. Finally I decided that maybe the hospital had brought the flowers here, but they sure did look nice, and a little expensive.

On a shelf next to the flowers was part of the arrow, wrapped several times in a sheet of clear plastic. I guess the emergency room doctors put it there. Holding the bundle up, I unwrapped it enough to cringe when I saw some of Janey's blood on the end. Removing more of the plastic, I noticed that the doctors or whoever had sawed the wood off neatly. Turning it in my hands, I noticed that the shaft was hollow, and that's when some dark syrupy liquid started to leak out of the hole where the wood had been cut.

"Shit!" I whispered.

Reflexively, I cupped my hand and caught the thick black fluid before it could get on the floor, and hurried over to the tiny bathroom. I threw both the arrow and the palmful of liquid into the sink, and then washed my hand. Yuck, I thought. What is this crap? At first I had thought it was blood, but it was much too dark. I scrubbed with soap and hot water until it finally came off.

I started to walk back to Janey, but suddenly I felt really dizzy. You know if you get up too quickly after sitting for a long time? But my vision didn't blur or anything, I just felt really weird and unsteady, and my palm where that crap had touched the skin started tingling.

"What's happening?" I said.

I know this sounds really stupid, but the colors in the room started to change. But they were the same, still, too. The same, but different. It's like, how do you know that the colors you see match what everyone else sees? Maybe where I see green, other people see purple, or something completely different. Anyway, something weird happened to the color pink. As I left the bathroom, the pink in the flowers stood out like they were beacons or something. My eyes were drawn toward them, as if they were the most important things in the room. I shook my head to try and clear the dizziness, but it didn't help. The flowers were so important, so beautiful. I couldn't concentrate.

But as I neared them, I saw Janey's lips. They were an even more perfect shade of pink... even brighter...

Her lips were so beautiful, my eyes wanted to drink them up. I guess it was her lipstick. And suddenly I started to feel, I don't know, aroused. I was breathing faster, and like some sort of waking dream I was approaching the perfect rose tint of my friend's lips with a weird sort of anticipation that I didn't even understand, but that I felt in my hardening nipples, and further below...

I reached her bedside, and her lips were so small, while their color was so big. My hand was really tingling. It has to be that gunk, I thought. What was it? I knew the poison or whatever it was inside the shaft was doing this weird thing to me, but that didn't make it any easier to resist. I absently rubbed my tingling palm up my waist, my stomach, and over one boob and hard nipple as I leaned over Janey's sleeping form. Stop, I commanded myself, what are you doing?

I willed myself to resist, but the closer my eyes got to my best friend's lips, the more that delicious shade of pink enraptured me. I couldn't help myself. Lower, and lower, soon I could feel her breath on my face. I was so close that when I licked my own lips my tongue brushed her chin, and she stirred slightly. Thank goodness! Her brief movement away from me was all I needed to break the spell, and I turned away in a decisive act of willpower.

I was almost in tears, and one breast hurt. I realized I was still squashing my right boob with my hand, which was still tingling. I let myself go and noticed I was facing Janey's books and things. But why couldn't I see them? Why couldn't I see anything? Why couldn't I think?

Tunnel vision. Pink tunnel vision. What would Freud say about that?

Sticking out from under one of Janey's notebooks, was a brilliant triangle of pink - it's hard for me to describe - importance. The color... It was one of those fluorescent pinks that glows under a black light. Its necessity was so great that not only didn't I see the books around it, I didn't care about them. I didn't care about anything.

My tingling hand reached out for it, and by feeling the surface of the books and papers, I realized that it was an index card, or something similar, and pulled it free from beneath the notebook. It flared into brilliance in front of me, as if I had lit a match inside a cave.

I held it in front of my face, in both hands. The pink was so pure, so right. My fascination was so powerful that I felt helpless and scared. It dwarfed my tiny, unimportant thoughts. How could I be so interested in this piece of pink paper? Where had it come from? Was it Janey's? Did it come with the flowers? Had it already been here in the room, had I just put her books down on top of it? My head was full of pink fog. It was several minutes before I realized something was written on the card. It was hard to make out, because I felt so spacey and dizzy...

Finally I was able to read the typewritten text, by looking at the pink around it and doing a kind of subtraction in my head.


And the most frightening thing of all was that it seemed familiar, like deja vu, like I somehow already knew it to be true...

I don't know how long I stood staring at the card. Feeling it with my hands, the side with the typewritten text seemed to have some sort of rough flaky stuff glued to the paper, like maybe glitter except not shiny. Or at least if it was shiny my eyes couldn't distinguish it due to the numbing onslaught of pink. Some of the stuff flaked off onto the floor but I could have cared less. I tried to be careful as I examined the card, because if I held it wrong my hands blocked too much of the color, and if I got it too close to my eyes the pink darkened a shade and wasn't as pretty. Holding it sideways was almost painful. I tried to maximize the color and get as much into my eye sockets as possible...

After a while, Rob and Cindy and some other kids arrived. The effects of whatever had happened to me seemed to have faded slightly, and I hurriedly slid the card back under Janey's notebook as I heard their approaching voices. My eyes felt suddenly heavy, bored with the remaining visible bland colors.

"Hey Mouse!" someone said. I turned around and saw half of the drama club (as well as Cindy) pour into the tiny hospital room. "Is she okay?"

In the commotion, Janey opened one eye halfway and smiled at me. "Keiko," she said softly, and closing her eyes again, turned further onto her side.

I left, knowing the nurse would be along any moment to throw everyone out for making too much noise and interrupting Janey's sleep. I wondered how they had gotten past the nurses' station in the first place. The only quiet one was Rob, who seemed strangely out of character in his guilt over what happened. Well, he deserved to feel guilty.

I sat in my car for about fifteen minutes, thinking about what had happened to me (and wondering if my hand was still tingling or if I was only imagining it) before I felt like I was steady enough to drive home.

Janey is the only person who actually calls me Keiko, except for maybe my grandma. All the kids at school call me "Mouse" because my ears are shaped kind of funny. They start out going parallel along my head, but then they curve out away to the side in almost a 90 degree angle, which I guess makes me look like a mouse. (Especially after I've been swimming and my hair is stuck to my head.) They're not big though, and not ugly, so don't get the wrong impression. I don't really remember my dad, but I guess I got them from him. Plus I'm short. I've had the nickname since grade school.

I've gotten used to it by now, but at first I hated it. (My hair is shoulder length, and I usually wear it back, but in a way to partially cover my ears.)

Once in the fifth grade I was doing a class project on Japan, and I was telling everyone what the Japanese characters in my last name meant. When I said that the first one meant "field," Toby Smith yelled out, "Oh, so technically you're a field mouse!" and everyone laughed at me, and I cried in front of the class and had to finish the project the next day.

I told my mother after school and she laughed and made me some chocolate pudding. From that day on, "field mouse" has kind of been my nickname at home. It's funny how things change. For example, I used to hate Toby for teasing me. But now, well, I'm embarrassed to say that he grew up to be really cute and I have a small crush on him. Only Janey knows. So if you're keeping score, she likes Rob and I like Toby. Yes, we're both pathetic. But I have to say that I am definitely less pathetic and at least I have my crush in check.

Monday was a boring day at school without Janey. I pretty much spent the latter half of the lunch period reading. Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells take the Orient Express. I already saw the movie, but wanted to read the original. I couldn't get into it, though. I couldn't shake the memory of what had happened to me in the hospital. Finally I figured Janey might be home, and went to the payphone.

Her mom answered. She said Janey had just gotten back from the hospital. I waited patiently, until I heard Janey's footsteps approaching the phone. She didn't seem to be limping.

"Keiko!" Janey screamed.

"Hi! How are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm fine. I can't believe Rob shot me in the leg with a bow and arrow! It's like fate exists, or there is some kind of meaning to things, you know? Did he get in trouble? Like, I hope nothing happened to him!"

"No, nothing happened. He got yelled at by Mr. Lopez, that's all. He really felt bad about what happened."

"I know," she said. "I kinda listened to him and Cindy in the hospital, pretending to be asleep and stuff. Then someone played the trumpet and they got thrown out. Wow, I don't know Keiko, do you think like this is my chance?"

What she meant was, was it her chance to replace Cindy as Rob's girlfriend? I looked over at the popular seniors' lunch table, and saw Rob sitting with his arm around Cindy. She was sorting their lunches, giving her dislikes to him and vice versa.

"I don't know..." I said diplomatically. We talked for a few more minutes, but my mind wasn't really on the conversation. Now, hearing Janey's voice, my experience in her hospital room seemed so far away and stupid.

After a few minutes the class bell rang, and we made plans to meet at the mall around seven o'clock to catch up.

Rob came over to my house after school, because he knows my mom loves him and will feed him anything he wants (even the snacks that, if I eat them, will spoil my appetite). Somehow he found out that I was meeting Janey at the mall, and wanted to tag along to apologize to her in person and treat her to ice cream. I really wanted to talk to Janey alone, but she would really be pissed at me if I told him not to come. Decisions, decisions...

We met Janey in the Food Court. She looked the same as always, the only sign of the accident was a little bit of tape on her leg. (She rolled up her slacks to show us.)

"Does it hurt?" Rob asked.

"No, not really. I got eight stitches, so there shouldn't even be a scar. I hope."

"Damn, Janey, I am so sorry! I never meant to hit you. I was just playing and-"

"I know, I know." She squeezed his hand, which seemed to surprise him.

As we ate our ice cream, I thought about how odd it was that we had all turned out this way. Three neighborhood friends, knowing each other since grade school, all grown up and about ready to graduate and go to three different colleges. In a way it made me feel really sad, and nostalgic for the watergun fights and hide-and-go-seek games in neighbors' yards so long ago. Too bad college was going to separate us. I knew Janey felt the same way, but sometimes I wondered if she worried more about parting with me, or Rob...

Rob had become a popular, strong, handsome - and terminally unserious - young man. But Janey couldn't compete with girls like Cindy who had great big boobs and a butt that probably had "for cheerleading use only" tattooed onto it. And me, future writer of The Great American (Mystery) Novel, still known to everyone as "the little Japanese girl" except now I was slightly taller and had tiny boobs shaped like the tips of a Nerf football.

I fell slightly behind as we walked through the mall, totally giving Janey every chance to talk to Rob. She'd have done the same thing for me, I'm sure. As I followed them, I started to wonder about the strange gunk inside the hollow arrow. If that stuff had gotten on my skin and made me dizzy and focused all my attention on various shades of pink, as it seemed to have done, what might it have done to Janey after being "injected" inside her leg? Or had it done anything? And what about that mysterious index card? Where had it come from? I couldn't ask her about this stuff in front of Rob. I wondered if he had plans to meet Cindy tonight.

Just then I interrupted myself.

"Toby," I whispered.

He was on the other side of the mall looking at some of the silver rings and pendants in the glass case outside of LeatherWorks. It's funny that when you're young, the boys from the bad neighborhoods are kind of disgusting and dirty, but when they grow up they become tough and strong and, let's face it, sexy! Well, the cute ones, anyway. Toby wasn't the kind of guy who wore a brand new leather jacket and was afraid to get his hands dirty; his jacket was years old, worn, and I could almost smell that masculine, old leather scent from across the mall.

As we passed him, he noticed us, and nodded at me. I waved to him. I'm sure I had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face. But to my surprise I saw he didn't seem to notice, because he was staring at Janey's butt! Honestly! (Of course she was walking close to Rob, so Toby could have been staring at his butt - if he was gay that is, which he isn't, so the point is moot.) That made me a little mad, and actually a little jealous, but isn't that one of the reasons why I like him, anyway? Because he doesn't play by the rules? Anyway, I tried to rationalize it. I was hung up on him, what can I say? I thought it must have been my imagination. Damn Janey and her green slacks


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