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Lit Lovers Rejoice! Sir Archie Ferndoodle Rides Again.

28 Mar

by Roger White                                                                              


Fellow time/space voyagers and other occasional devotees of “This Old Blouse,” I am more tickled than a coffee can full of dung beetles to announce the return of my dear friend, back-porch expectorational master, and legendary raconteur of the obsequious and purulent, Sir Archie Ferndoodle (applause, applause, applause).

As I’m sure you remember, the esteemed Dr. Ferndoodle holds an associate’s degree in postmodern comparative limerick studies from the University of Southern Panama’s Correspondence College and has been featured five times in the American Anthology of Poetry. Just a few of his classics include “Oh, Staff Sergeant, My Staff Sergeant!,” “Why Is the Man Always from Nantucket?,” and possibly his greatest epic, “The Squirrels Stopped Talking to Me Today.”

Sir Archie has a rare treat for us in this installment. In his inimitable style, the Fernman has taken several classic tunes from the songbook of popular culture and rendered them as his own, with updated, shall we say, acerbic lyrics so pertinent to today’s manic milieu. Or something.

Disclaimer: The Spouseman—and the newspaper/periodical/bathroom wall compendium in which this diatribe appears—doesn’t necessarily agree with the views and opinions of Sir Archie. He is his own woman, and we bear no responsibility or legal burden for his espousings. So there.

With this heartfelt caveat (and sincere attempt to head off legal action), I give you Sir Archie’s renderings. By the way, it’s important to keep the tune of Archie’s specific song choice in your head for these to make any sense whatsoever. If that is, indeed, possible. So. Archie’s first offering is called “Ivanka in the White House”:


Ivanka in the White House

(to the tune of “Drive My Car” by The Beatles)

(verse 1)

“I asked my girl where she wanted to be,

In New York City or in D.C.,

She said Daddy, I wanna be near you,

In the White House with Jared the Jew.”



“Ivanka, you can have the West Wing,

We’ll set you up with all of your bling,

You can sell your furs and your rings,

And Dad will tweet for you.”


(verse 2)

“Barron’s got a floor to himself,

With a team of counselors for his mental health,

But Melania and I aren’t sharin’ a bed,

So you could move in with me instead.”



“Ivanka, you can have the West Wing,

Or you-know-where, I won’t say a thing,

Damn, it’s so good to be the king,

And Putin, I owe you.”


“Tweet, tweet n tweet, tweet, yeah!”


Um, ok. For his second favoring, the Fernman has rendered this ditty entitled “Perry in Charge”:


Perry in Charge

(to the tune of Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady”)

(verse 1)

“Well, I’m the Energy Top Dude,

And now solar power’s screwed ’cause oil’s my cash cow,

Yeah, I ran for president,

I told Donald to get bent, but that’s all past now.”



“I’m Rick Perry, woah, woah, woah,

I’m Rick Perry,

Those rumors are false, ’cause I’m no fairy,

And I’m towin’ the Trump line.”


(verse 2)

“Well, I’m not sure what I do,

But I think I make the rules on nukular weapons,

But this can’t be as hard

As Dancing with the Stars, man, I was steppin’,”



“I’m Rick Perry, woah, woah, woah,

I’m Rick Perry,

Renewable power’s our adversary,

Let’s build that pipeline.”


And last, and surely least, Ferndude gives us “Lysergic Wood,” which he says is his ode to psychedelic substances:


Lysergic Wood, An Ode to LSD

(to the tune of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”)

(verse 1)

“I once ate a squirrel,

Or should I say the squirrel ate me,

He showed me his brain,

We baked it into a nice quiche lorraine.”



“We smoked purple crayons,

As the walls melted into the sea,

Then Timothy Leary appeared

And said why’d you take three?”


(verse 2)

“I played canasta with Jesus,

His Holiness beat me two games out of threezus,

Then me and the squirrel flew to Mars,

But squirrel wasn’t squirrel, he was Pat Benatar.”



“We smoked purple crayons

As robots made love to the cow,

Then Hunter S. Thompson said man you’re in big trouble now.”


(verse 3)

“And when I awoke,

I was in a cell with a large man named Mel.

He kept pinching my ass,

Dear God from now on, I’m sticking with grass.”


Roger White Sir Archie Ferndoodle holds an associate’s degree in comparative limerick studies from the University of Southern Panama’s Correspondence College. Sir Archie’s classics include “Oh, Staff Sergeant, My Staff Sergeant!,” “Why Is the Man Always from Nantucket?,” and perhaps his greatest epic, “The Squirrels Stopped Talking to Me Today,” For further adventures, visit



It Could Have Easily Been ‘The Old, Rugged Noose’

14 Dec

by Roger White


Leave it to the creative mind of Gene Roddenberry to send me into yet another mental wormhole. And I warn you from the outset, this particular “thought experiment” may be potentially upsetting to the less open-minded, strenuously dogmatic, sense-of-humor-challenged, and/or excessively pious of you. You’ve been warned.

Curled up on the comfy couch watching an episode of Roddenberry’s original “Star Trek” series recently, I was thrown quite unceremoniously into a fit of conceptual conniptions by a particular scene from the 1968 episode entitled “Bread and Circuses.” My TV-watching fare of Shiner, Fritos, and . . . er, certain aromatic herbal nourishment may have contributed significantly to the wormhole process, but I digress.

This Trek episode, in which Captain Kirk and crew are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet where a modern-day Roman Empire rules the land, juxtaposes the culture, garb, and traditions of ancient Rome with Caesar Packing Heatcontemporary technology. Hence, you have emperors, senators, and proconsul types handing down edicts over loudspeakers and gladiator contests broadcast over network television.

However, the scene that shoved me down my own little space-time porthole of pontification was the one in which Kirk and company are captured by Roman guards wielding submachine guns. Woah. (And this episode came out in ’68, mind you—two years before Andrew Lloyd Webber armed his Romans with automatic weapons in Jesus Christ Superstar.)

Anyway. That’s when it hit me: What if the Romans—our ancient Romans—had possessed such technology? Of course, the mind reels with infinite possibilities (like what if Spartacus had had access to F-14 Tomcat air cover). But what I became fixated on was the impact on Christianity—not the religion as a whole, mind you, but merely the symbolism involved.

You see, the universally recognized metaphor for the Christian faith is, of course, the cross. Why? Because that’s how Jesus was put to death; the sign of the cross symbolizes His victory over death. But what if crucifixion hadn’t been the means of execution for the Roman Empire? What if, for example, electrocution had da chairbeen the execution method du jour? Think about it. Gold necklaces worn by faithful folks around the globe would have little electric chairs dangling at the end.

Or what if execution of criminals had been accomplished by hanging, for instance? Nuns far and wide, instead of making the symbol of the cross when they prayed, would arch their necks at severe angles and pull on imaginary nooses to display their piety.

Or consider lethal injection. Churches from Brownsville to Bozeman, instead of featuring outsized crosses on their steeples, would display great hypodermic needles to call the faithful to worship.

OK, wait! Hold it. Wait a minute. Put the pitchforks down. Douse the torches. I’m not demeaning Christianity by any means. I’m not poking fun. I was raised Southern Baptist, for crying out loud, by a God-fearing momma in the heart of the Lone Star State, here in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt. All I’m doing is saying “what if.” In an alternate universe somewhere just east of Andromeda, who’s to say one of these scenarios isn’t playing out this very microsecond?

Who’s to say that on an alternate Earth right this minute Alternate-Earth Christians aren’t gathered in their houses of worship singing their praises thusly: the noose“At the chair, at the chair, where I first saw the light…” Or maybe country-and-western singers on Ganymede are paying homage this very moment to “The Old, Rugged Noose.”

And consider traditional sayings and adages. “It’s not my cross to bear” on Europa might be more along the lines of “It’s not my chair to sit in”— or “It’s not my chamber to enter.” Whatev.

No! No, please, put the garden tools down! I’m just saying “what if,” that’s all! It’s just a thought bubble!

I gotta quit doing Shiner and Fritos with “Star Trek” so late at night.


Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious offspring, a very obese but mannerful dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit Or not.


Just What IS The Oklo Device?

13 Sep

Dear This Old Spouse Followers, Friends, and Faithful,


Join me on an adventure, if you would. Do you want to read something truly terrifying? I’m serious here—for once. I have a startling, unsettling story for you.


It’s called The Oklo Device.


The earth’s mysteries have always intrigued me. Despite all of our scientific and technological advances, there are still phenomena on this planet that remain unknown. Unexplainable. This one, in particular—the mystery of the Oklo mines—has fascinated and vexed me for so long that I finally sat down and wrote a book about it.


Oklo_Cover_hi-resThis much is fact—you can look it up. In the spring of 1972, nuclear scientists at a uranium enrichment plant in southeastern France made a shocking discovery. While studying samples from a uranium mine at a place called Oklo in the central African country of Gabon, French researchers found that the atomic energy was all but depleted from uranium mined at Oklo. Uranium can be altered in this way by only two means—through either an atomic explosion or in a nuclear reactor. These samples, mind you, were proven to be hundreds of millions of years old. It was clear from their evidence that these ancient uranium samples had undergone some type of nuclear reaction eons before man ever walked the earth. After considerable consternation and debate, researchers theorized that this must have been an absolutely unique but natural process. Although the Oklo site is the only known location on Earth where such a reaction has occurred, this sole explanation for a prehistoric nuclear event has been accepted as fact for more than 40 years. What is baffling to me is how this potentially shattering discovery has received such little notice in the media.


There have been alternative theories, but no one has seriously challenged this fantastic truth—until now. Go here, if you would:


At the bottom of this web site’s page, you’ll see a link labeled “View” under a headline that says available reading formats. Click on it, and you’ll have access to this astonishing chronicle.


If you remain intrigued after the first 50 pages, e-mail me at, and I’ll give you the rest of the story. Tell me what you think of it—what you think is true. Please share this story if it took hold of you. There is more out there than most of us know.


An Insider’s Peek at Hollywood, Part II

26 Mar

by Roger White

I suppose I had my one real insider’s look at how Hollywood works some years ago, when I attended a screenwriters’ session on how to “pitch ideas” to producers during an Austin Film Festival annual gathering of would-be writers.

A panel of so-called idea people (a Hollywood oxymoron if I ever heard one) sat at a table and critiqued writers’ script ideas, based on approximately 30 seconds of monologue. If writers didn’t have what the idea people called a high-concept proposal, if writers paused for a breath, if writers tried to explain a complex plot turn, they were toast.

The guy who won the pitch contest did so with the following idea, I kid you not:

“So you’re walking along the street, a nice sunny day, and suddenly everything goes blank. Then you’re like HOLY F@#K!! WHERE AM I?!”

“Ooh,” said the idea people. “Nice.”

Cursing and yelling seemed to be high on their list. “High concept,” to these folks, who I must say all looked to be about 25 to 28 years old, meant explosions, gruesome terror, betrayal, deadly animals, killer robots, slasher horror, or Brad Pitt. This particular pitch session occurred as the movie “Snakes on a Plane” was in production. One of the idea people could hardly contain himself as he explained what a fantastic high-concept film this was going to be—a classic in the making.

“Imagine it,” he gushed. “Snakes set loose on a plane! Don’t you see? There’s no way off of a plane. And all these snakes are slithering all over the place!”

I sat and wondered how this expert panel would have rated the opening scene to the 1951 epic “A Place in the Sun,” in which Montgomery Clift is quietly thumbing for a ride along a lonely stretch of road. It was then and there I realized I would never be a Hollywood screenwriter. No, not sour grapes. I’m just not young and stupid enough.

Am I alone here? With very few notable exceptions, this is the state of film-making today. If it bites, blows up, bleeds, beheads people, or is Brad, it’s got a green light. If we run out of ideas, we do it all over again as a sequel.

Even my kids, teenage movie buffs both of them, understand by now the banal, bottom-line instincts of your basic Hollywood producer. Both my daughters are big “Twilight Saga” fans, but even they balked at the notion of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Wind—Part II.”

Did I say “Wind”? I meant “Dawn,” of course. This latest gem, which opens in November, is a part two within a multi-part series of movies, mind you, all of which are looking more and more like the same vampire movie with simply fresh blood and longer fangs.

This got me thinking again. What if the great citizenry—that’s us—rose up and dictated to Hollywood: No More Sequels! I know, I know what you’re going to say, what about “Godfather II”? Simple, this is the exception that proves the rule. Just about every other sequel I can think of never should have seen the light of day. Here are just a few: “Basic Instinct 2,” “Caddyshack II,” “Grease 2,” “Jaws: The Revenge,” “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” “Dumb and Dumberer,” “Blues Brothers 2000.” The list is damn near eternal.

I shudder to think of the results if such movie-making titans as director Stuart Rosenberg (“Cool Hand Luke”) or Robert Mulligan (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) had been under similar pressure to squeeze out sequels. Oh, the horror.

Come to think of it, there’s no time limit on butchering classics. They have a new “Three Stooges” now, for crying out loud. So, as much as it strikes terror in my heart, you might look for these titles soon at a theater near you:

• “Cooler Hand Luke: Revenge of Them Damned Eggs”

• “To Sir With Even More Love”

• “Citizen Kane II: Rosebud Returns”

• “The Ten Commandments II: God’s Revisions”

• “Real Gone with the Wind”

• “Bonnie and Clyde Part 2: They Were Only Flesh Wounds”

• “The Post-Graduate: Revenge of the Robinsons”

• “Mockingbird II: Rise of Boo Radley”

• “Dueling Wizards of Oz: I’ll Witch-Slap You”


Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit

Follow the Tunisian Parakeet

16 Jan

by Hashiell Dammett 


In 1539, the Knights Templar of Tunisia paid tribute to Charles VI of Portugal by sending him a Copper Parakeet encrusted from beak to claw with the rarest of jewels; but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token, and the fate of the Tunisian Parakeet has remained a mystery to this day.

OK, Spade. You know what to do now. It’s all up to you. Mrs. Wonderly claimed not to know Mr. Cairo, but you know better, don’t you? Hurry before it’s too late.

You take all your men, go around the cliff to see Maria. She’ll give you a bag. (DON’T OPEN THE BAG, SPADE!) Carry it as if you couldn’t care less, but don’t let it out of your sight. Maria will give you the sign when it’s time to rendezvous with Count Umlauf atop the cliff face. It’s a narrow passage–one man a time, and slowly!

When Count Umlauf allows you to light his cigarette, make sure he sees you with the bag. Don’t dally there; you needn’t give Umlauf more than this. He should head to the old church when he knows you and the bag are secure. When you see the Count go inside the old church, tell one of your men to give Maria the green-light signal. Then, leave two men atop the cliff as a scout and a decoy. Take the rest of the men and proceed to Café Carismo’s, where a man in an off-yellow pantsuit will hand you a key in exchange for the bag you got from Maria.

Take the key, swallow it. Then have dinner with your men on the back patio. Some of the men will want to dance to the salsa playing downstairs, and that’s OK; just remember to warn them about the beggars in the kitchen. About an hour or so after you’ve digested the key, you’ll feel the need to go. When you do, take the back stairs down the employees’ hallway to the men’s john. You’ll see it on the left near the portrait of Emperor Hirohito.

Once you’ve excreted the key, you’ll notice that your body fluids have engaged a biochemical reaction on the key’s surface. Keep watching the key!! And don’t make any noise!! They’ll be looking for you by now.

When you see the three-digit code appear on the key, wipe off the key, pocket the key and return to your table nonchalantly. FOR GOD’S SAKE, MAN, WHATEVER YOU DO, REMEMBER THE THREE-DIGIT CODE!!  Even I don’t know what it is.

Now. By now your men will be wondering what the hell’s going on. Tell them the invasion is off, and that Plan DV 1 is now in effect. They’ll begin smelling the odor on your person because of the key and become suspicious, but this is all right. Your men were expendable, remember? Tell them to take Arturo and proceed across the harbor to the warehouse near the docks. I know, I know that you trained them all, Spade. I know you became like family. But we had a job to do, remember? Snap out of it, man. Just know that they died believing in the cause.

When you see the three-masted schooner set off a flare at the deep quays of the harbor, you’ll know that they’re all dead. Only after that will it be safe to use the code. By the time you pull up to Sardi’s, Samantha should be waiting for you. You remember her, don’t you? Settle, settle down, boy. You’re a married man now. Those days are gone. We were lions, weren’t we? Funny the CIA never knew, but they’re idiots anyway, aren’t they?

This is no time for sentimentality, Spade. You know what’s at stake by now. Samantha will take you up to the bar, and that’s where you’ll find Angela and the Chinese twins. God, I hate dealing with those fools, but this was the ONLY way. Believe me. You’ll have to small-talk and schmooze for half the goddamn night, but keep your cool. When the night’s winding down and the twins have gone back to the casino as they always do, that will be the golden moment, Spade old bean, old horse pill.

Angela will ask you if you remember Morocco. You may or may not remember, but just play along. God, Morocco. Remember Panzi and Vic and that weird sidewalk artist or whatever she was? You were a wild man, Spade. I didn’t know you could do that with your genitals. Christ, man. Ah, hell, all water under the bridge, right? Anyway, when Angela mentions Morocco, this will be your cue to give her the three-digit code.

Just remember, Spade, she’s vulnerable. I don’t think you really loved her then, but, God, Angie thinks the world of you, so if you’re gonna be a player with her, then for God’s sake, be sweet. Anyway, when you give her the code, she’ll tell you what night Mr. Cairo plays poker. That’s when we will find the Tunisian Parakeet. Keep your wits about you, Spade. That, and your .44, are all you have now. I would say good luck and Godspeed, but I know you don’t believe in that stuff.

Go on. Get outta here. If everything hasn’t gone completely to hell, we should see each other again in Caracas, come spring. You do need a shave. Keep your powder dry, old friend.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit

Lenticular Haiku, by Sir Archie Ferndoodle

9 Jan

by Roger White

Fellow time/space voyagers and other occasional devotees of “This Old Blouse,” I am more tickled than a duffel bag full of marsupials to announce the return of my dear friend, front porch sartorial mentor, and fellow breakfast-nook philologist, Sir Archie Ferndoodle (applause, applause, applause).

Yes, the former poet laureate of the Greater Southwestern Scribes Society, which meets every third Thursday in the back of Sue’s Salon in Cement, Texas, has been gently coaxed out of quasi-retirement to once again bless us with phrasings, words, syllables, parts of syllables, and renderings of nocturnal animal sounds from the Ulan Bator region as only Sir Archie can. (And remember, if you mention this column at Sue’s Salon, you get 10 percent off a five-ounce jar of Sue’s Coconut Heel Scrub with the purchase of at least $20, not including her patented Tomato-Lye Jamboree Hair Tonic.)     

As I’m sure you remember, the esteemed Fernie holds an associate’s degree in postmodern comparative limerick studies from the University of Southern Panama’s Correspondence College and has been featured five times in the American Anthology of Poetry. Just a few of his classics include “Oh, Staff Sergeant, My Staff Sergeant!,” “Why Is the Man Always from Nantucket?,” “The Squirrels Stopped Talking to Me Today,” and his latest, “A Stitch, a Horse, and a Can of Pearl,” which was the inside-cover poem in the most recent edition of the Cement Area Greensheet.

The more astute of you may have seen Fernie’s hand in the Christmas edition of “This Old Mouse.” Raise your hand if you had the notion that Sir Archie was the ghostpen behind“The Nitrous Before Christmas.” Well, you’re dead wrong; I wrote that while flying low in my dentist’s office, but I did have ol’ Fernie in mind. In fact, he may have actually inhabited my body during that whole experience, but we digress again.

So anyway, without further magoo, I give you Sir Archie Ferndoodle, who has just returned from a five-month sojourn at the Tao Sendaha Haiku Sweat Lodge, just north of Pittsburgh.


Lenticular Haiku

by Archie Ferndoodle


Hand old, withered

Extended to young happy boy who

Smiles and

Coughs up a small border town near



Deposit slip with no meaning flutters

In brown surge of empty day. I find Julia at

Home making love to the Buick


Better judgment whispered

Toyota, Toyota.

Toyota. Smash hindsight with

Bitter hammer of stoli rocks. Ah.


Three grateful invertebrates argue

On who passed

Wind while each ascends

The assistant professor’s





Trees and earth know much more

Than they sing

To man accused of listening of listening

Of listening to Alex

Trebek and his minions. Only refuse

And then hear again, the daily

Double. Oh! Bodies of

Water for Four



Heat. No heat. Heat. No heat.

Damn toaster. Fling the

Shiny monster down the hillock to

CRASH waves of filament element

Parchment and wire. No heat toast is mere

bread and


Dear Julia. I’m trading it



Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit

Chapter 1 Excerpt: 815, A Hiroshima Story

2 Jan


815: A Hiroshima Story

A novel by Roger White

“Fate is in Heaven, the armor is on the breast, success is with the legs. Go to the battlefield firmly confident of victory and you will come home with no wounds whatever. Engage in combat fully determined to die and you will be alive; wish to survive in the battle and you will surely meet death. When you leave the house determined not to see it again you will come home safely; when you have any thought of returning you will not return. You may not be in the wrong to think that the world is always subject to change, but the warrior must not entertain this way of thinking, for his fate is always determined.”

— Uesugi Kenshin, Feudal Ruler, Echigo Province, Japan


“What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.”

— Father Pedro Arrupe, 28th Superior General, Society of Jesus


Chapter One


In 400 B.C., Greek philosopher Democritus pondered the following: If one breaks a bit of matter in half, then breaks it in half again and again, how many times could it be broken until it becomes too small to divide anymore? He reasoned that there must be a point, too minuscule for the human eye to see, at which a particle cannot be further divided. This threshold, Democritus argued, was at the level of the atom. Satisfied with his finding, he concluded that nothing more truly exists except these basic blocks of matter and empty space: “By convention bitter, by convention sweet, but in reality atoms and void.” His peers, however, Aristotle among them, held Democritus’ revelation in very low regard, thus sweeping aside atomic theory for 2,000 years.

It was not until the late 18th century that a vanguard of philosophers and scientists, English chemist John Dalton among them, revisited the notion of a submicroscopic universe consisting of the most elemental units of matter—units that dictated the very nature of all existence. In his landmark work A New System of Chemical Philosophy, Dalton purported that “[t]hese observations have tacitly led to the conclusion which seems universally adopted, that all bodies of sensible magnitude, whether liquid or solid, are constituted of a vast number of extremely small particles, or atoms of matter, bound together by a force of attraction . . .” Over the next century, advancement of atomic theory, now championed by the best minds and distilled by technological progress, eventually opened the door for those who would delve deeper. On March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, a Jewish salesman and his wife celebrated the birth of a baby boy: Albert Einstein.

Yuki means “luck,” and of this, my brother had precious little. I suppose saviors seldom do. It is not their job to deal in luck.

On September 20, 1937, my family celebrated Yuki’s third birthday. I was nine; my sister, Hana, eleven. It had been a sun-soaked autumn afternoon, and hot, yet the air was as crisp as new linen, reflections off the Seto Inland Sea crystalline and white, as if all life had pure focus. Our family and a few friends chattered brightly on the covered deck of our home in Kure City. My father, Taro, whose name means “first born son,” was the third son of a career soldier. Taro was stationed at Kure Army Base across the city, and it was not his Army pay that provided our small, elegant home overlooking the sea. Our mother, Aya, married beneath her station. The peril of imminent poverty was a constant; Aya’s parents maintained unwavering expectations and a contempt tempered only by the hope that Aya might soon be an honored military widow. I, of course, knew none of this at the time. Even war, always near to each of us in this period, was somehow kept at arm’s length to Hana and Yuki and me because we lived in a children’s world. This would all change soon.

Amid the knot of emotions my father felt when his orders came, relief was surely the strongest. To Taro, a division of Chinese regulars would be a welcome alternative to life under the eye of our disapproving and brittle grandmother. Yuki’s birthday dawned two weeks before Taro’s unit departed, and Taro beamed, a proud father for the gathering. My father’s love for Hana and me was strong and sure, and the quiet safety I felt in his arms as a child would remain a precious memory throughout my life. We were his flowers. He would always greet us: “There is Hana, my lotus. There is Aimi, my cherry blossom.” But I knew, as did Hana, that when my mother produced Yuki for him, that Taro felt he had finally succeeded: a boy! The round and robust Yuki fashioned an expression on my father’s face that Aya had seen only once before, when Taro had taken home a festival prize of two new shoes and a shaku of stewed beans for having the strongest towing ox in all the prefecture. On the day of Yuki’s celebration, my mother was serving wine and milk after we had returned from the Shichi-Go-San festivities at the neighborhood Shinto shrine. On the way to the Shichi-Go-San ceremony, held to ensure health and prosperity for boys ages three and five, Yuki tripped on a deep crack in the walk and tumbled into the street, squarely in the path of a horse and cart hauling manure. We stood, frozen, as the great dappled horse trotted over Yuki, each hoof hitting only pavement. The cart wheels rolled on, leaving Yuki untouched between them. He didn’t utter a sound. My father picked him up and dusted him, then hefted him high in the air.

“He has good fortune,” my father said.

Now on our family’s covered rear deck facing the glassy sea, Taro again held Yuki under the boy’s arms, lifting him. My mother, Aya, whose name means “colorful,” bent in her usual black kimono to serve more wine. Hana and I sat, doing our best to demonstrate respectful attention. However, our older cousin Akira was in attendance. He was fourteen, and he was lithe. My father tossed Yuki in the air, and Yuki giggled and gasped with delight. Obviously anxious to escape the oblique angles of intent and inflection aimed at him by Hana and me, Akira politely stood and walked to Taro.

“May I?” Akira asked.

My father nodded, giving the boy over. Akira held him as Taro had. Yuki smiled and slobbered, reaching a hand to his cousin. Akira tossed him once, and immediately upon catching him, tossed him higher. Yuki squealed.

“Careful,” my father said automatically.

The deck was cherrywood, originally open to the southern sky. But when she had her first child, Hana, my mother wanted to nurse in the shade as she watched the boats on the Seto Sea. So Taro surreptitiously gathered some precious scrap metal from the Army base and built her a roof. Where the metal panels overlapped, my father had secured them with three-centimeter pins. The first good storm to blow in from the inland sea ripped the pins out and sent one panel scything into our neighbor’s garden. Taro then replaced the pins with thick carpenter’s nails. The nails, each as long as a man’s finger, Taro had driven down into the top of the roof to meet a corresponding slat of wood underneath. The long lower halves of the nails were exposed to the deck below, and my father later told my mother he had meant to cut them off, or at least bend them. He never got around to it.

Our cousin tossed Yuki again, sending him laughing high into air. Then came the fourth toss. Yuki left Akira’s arms, propelled like a happy rocket. We watched, stone, as we had when Yuki fell under the horse earlier that day. Akira was an athlete, with natural muscle, and he knew his strength. He knew he could send his little cousin as high as the ceiling without touching it. Akira didn’t see the carpenter’s nail.

The fourth toss.

We saw it many times. In our dreams. In our wishful replays of time, in which things could be changed, in which we could stop events that aren’t to be stopped.

Yuki soared, free and smiling, his cousin’s open hands waiting for him like two white, graceful petals. My mother turned from her pouring, somehow knowing to watch. My father’s jaw tensed. He said nothing, but he knew. Instinct had him hold his breath. At the apex, Yuki’s broad smile remained, but his eyes went blank, dull. There was a strange, wet, almost imperceptible cracking sound, like the snapping of a single raw soba noodle. At the apex, Yuki’s flight paused – time ceased – and he hung there, adhered to the deck ceiling for two eternal beats. The carpenter’s nail.

Yuki descended into Akira’s arms, and our world was altered.

The walls were gray, and the ceiling was ivory at the prefectural hospital. Although the September heat outside shined through the pale sky so that it made rippling ribbons of distant vision, it was mitigated by excited breezes now and again. The breezes themselves were merely the heat pushed and pulled, but they felt good against the skin. Within the narrow hospital walls, windows were shut tight. The air was difficult and heavy to take. We sat in white chairs along the gray wall, my father, my mother, Hana, and me, our faces wet like moist, fat plums.

Determined not to weep, my mother nervously leaned and fussed with Hana’s hair, which was tightly bound at the back into a single tail. Hana kept her black hair bound so at all times; only when she slept did she undo the tail. Hana’s name meant “delicate flower,” but I was silently conflicted about any possible correlation. My sister’s ears were large and round, and they perched at wide angles to her slender head. Hana’s insistent cloistering of her hair only made matters worse. She was teased often by the crueler classmates, who likened her ears to that of the fins of a chozame river sturgeon or the great wings of the white oleanders that bloomed in the nearby countryside every summer. I watched my mother needlessly slick back Hana’s hair, and I immediately understood why she did it. She was keeping herself busy. So I kept myself busy watching her. My father caught his breath and released it over and over. He covered his face with his hands and sagged forward, then he rose from his chair and walked to the doors of the emergency ward. The doors had no windows, but he stood there nonetheless, as if closer proximity would improve the situation. Then he returned to his chair and slumped into it. Taro repeated this many times. And still we waited.

Suddenly, my father curtained his face with his large hands and sobbed, softly. Tears pooled instantly in my eyes, and I lost clear sight. Seeing my father so, I wanted only for things to be right again. Taro was my mantle, my shield. From the pit of my belly, a fear gnawed. I was nauseated. I worried for my safety, our future. Then a squat man in a white cotton mask and scrubs turned the corner up the hall. Behind him marched six men wearing black socks, black shoes and nothing more. We sat petrified, family tradition against the unusual, until the nude parade went by.

“Recruits,” Taro said.

Hana burst into a bubbling giggle.

I laughed, too, laughed hard against the round tears cascading down my cheeks. As the last of the pale buttocks disappeared into a room far down the hall, the doors to the emergency ward swung open.

“Howaito-san?” the slight doctor inquired, removing his cotton mask as Taro rose to give a shallow bow and shake his hand. The two men talked in close quarters, in whispers, and I could not hear. Then the doctor put a bracing hand on my father’s shoulder and turned away, leaving us alone again.

My father faced us, betraying no emotion. “He said we should make funeral arrangements. Yuki will not survive until morning.” Between Hana and me, Aya shrunk face down into her kimono, her raven hair meeting the black silk, making my mother seem to disappear into folds of darkness.

We went home that evening without my mother. She disobeyed Taro, and she sat up all night in that stiff white chair in the hall of the prefectural hospital. They wouldn’t let her see her son, but they could not make her leave. The night was still and solemn at our house, as was the surface of the Seto that lay beyond our deck. It seemed the great Inland Sea was waiting, too.

“How is Akira?” I asked Hana, after she and my father returned from our cousin’s house three blocks from ours. I had been instructed to stay home while Taro gave the sad news to his sister-in-law’s family.

“He attempted seppuku,” Hana said breathlessly. “They have had to restrain him.”

“Oh, God.” I reeled at the thought of two deaths come from this. “Is he injured?”

“No,” Hana reported. “No incision. Apparently, he tried to use an apple peeler.”

My mother told us later that she had been informed more than once that night that the hour was at hand. Still she never began her prayers for the dead and dying. She refused to believe them. And Yuki survived, quite belligerently. After he defied the doctor’s initial pronouncement, he further complicated things by quickly regaining a modicum of vitality. During Yuki’s first week of recuperation, his head swelled to almost twice its normal size. Inner cranial pressure was choking his brain, the doctor gravely told Taro, and if he lasted the week, he would be no more than a vegetable. By midweek, however, the swelling had subsided, and Yuki opened his eyes. When he laughed and reached out for Aya’s arms, we squealed in unabashed delight. That was when we noticed his eyes. They functioned in a bizarre, chameleon-like fashion, the left eye moving an instant faster than the right. Each of us took turns hugging and petting our baby boy, careful to avoid the great gauze square that protected the top of his head. Holding his face in her hands, Aya beheld her only son, her head angled in the bliss that is a mother’s love. The attending doctor came up quietly behind us, shaking his head, confounded. He told my mother to ask Yuki if he knew who she was, and she did so.

“Ah,” Yuki answered.


“Ah,” he repeated, trying unsuccessfully to pronounce haha, the casual term for mother that all children knew before their second year.

I would come to find that his chameleon eyes and his verbal difficulties were by far the least fantastic of Yuki’s symptoms.

My father’s Army unit was scheduled to depart for the Chinese theater in two days. Fresh troops were needed in defense of Manchukuo, according to the newspaper. Despite China’s agreement to the truce that liberated the province from the ruthless Manchurians, the Chinese continued to antagonize, as evidenced by the Roko Bridge Incident in July and their unabashed provocations that led to so much bloodshed at Shanghai, my father reported. The day that Yuki came home from the hospital was Taro’s final day of furlough, and my father was set on spending every possible moment with his family. It was with great effort that I held back my tears. Taro soothed me, as he always had, assuring me that his was a reserve unit only and that the Chinese forces were far inferior to that of the Imperial Army. “I hear they are throwing clods of dirt at us in Shanghai now,” he laughed. “They have no mechanized units at all. Their training is shoddy.” The vision of my noble father in full military regalia, dodging no more than enemy sod, dissipated my black cloud, and I soon found myself in spirited play.

Doctor’s orders prescribed strict bed rest for Yuki. My mother tried earnestly to enforce this, but Yuki would have none of it. It was obvious to Hana and me that our father was quietly proud of his boy’s vigor, but each time Aya would look to him for support, Taro would dutifully scold Yuki to stay down. Still, our brother insisted, and even Aya relented when he began toddling around our front lawn, chasing the shuttlecock Hana and I batted back and forth in our game of hanetsuki.

Though it had been only two weeks since the accident, much had seemed to change. The sultry days of September had passed into a cool early October, and the plump cicadas perched in the gingko and cherry trees serenaded our play every evening. At Nigata Elementary, I had been chosen to represent my class in the school talent display at the upcoming Kure Port Festival. I soared with pride with this announcement, wondering what tune I would play on my bamboo flute. Hana then informed me that the fourth-grade contribution to the festivities involved a short play only, traditionally showcasing our prefecture’s industry and natural resources. Hana had played a succulent maguro tuna when she had been chosen. I found that I would represent the beauty and pride of one of Kure’s principal industries. I would be a battleship.

The war had come home to our neighborhood, as many of the men in my father’s unit were from Kure and the surrounding towns and villages. Children with fathers departing for battle wore their strips of red cloth on their chests, round little badges of great honor. We were proud, excited, and terribly afraid. And I had begun my strange and wonderful relationship with my baby brother. Through our next eight years together, Yuki and I would play and fight and love and hate – and forge the most uncanny, mysterious connection I have ever known.

The next morning, a Saturday, Taro’s unit gathered at the Kure Army Base, where a long, sand-brown train would take our fathers and uncles and brothers far away. A strange storm teased and threatened from the sea. Black clouds full of lightning and rain assaulted the bay, yet we remained untouched, save an angry wind that snatched hats and turned shoulders. My father claimed it was a good omen—the kamikaze come to usher them to victory. I wished the rain would come ashore to camouflage my sorrow. My sister Hana kept giving me sideways glances and rolling her eyes as I wiped mine. How could she be so sure in her smug disdain, I wondered. Did she know something I didn’t? She was two years older, so obviously she was more learned in the ways of war and emotion. Perhaps it was as my father had said, perhaps taking the field against the Chinese was no more dangerous than routine drills. I took solace in my sister’s displeasure. I was overreacting; our father would be home from his fulfillment of duty with souvenirs, with the coins that he always brought us from his unit’s maneuvers, and with stirring tales of triumph.

Little Yuki played at our mother’s side, leaning into the persistent wind, stumbling and laughing, oblivious to the clusters of military men bidding their families goodbye. Aya kept shushing him and dispatching Hana and me to keep him from rollicking into the other groups. Finally, Aya reached into her purse and gave him a piece of paper and pencil. Since the accident, Yuki had become fascinated with drawing. His creations were little more than haphazard lines and scribbles, but he would spend hours in rapt endeavor. He took the paper and pencil our mother offered him, and he immediately sat himself down on the slate gray pavement.

Someone blew a shrieking whistle, and the men in their tan uniforms began pulling away from their loved ones and falling in line. Taro took turns quickly hugging each of us. He picked me up and let me hide my face in his neck.

“Otochan,” I found myself sobbing. “Father, don’t go away.”

“Aimi,” he whispered. “My blossom. I need your strength. I need your smile while I’m gone. Please, for me.”

I pushed a crooked smile in place, then I buried my face into my father again. His unique aroma, that wisp of Shiseido shaving lotion and clean sweat that I knew so well, I drank in between my staccato breaths.

“Aimi, I have told Hana to be at mother’s side. She will need her help. You,” he said, putting me down, “I need you to help look after Yuki. He may need special care. You know that, don’t you?”

I nodded, eyeing Yuki busy at his doodles. The doctors, despite Yuki’s remarkable progress—or perhaps in retaliation for it—stubbornly insisted that he was either steadily succumbing or spiraling downward to the eventual intelligence of a tuber. Yuki stopped his scribbling momentarily to watch a young couple nearby. The wife, a slender and small thing dressed all in white, put something in her soldier’s palm and closed his hands around it. “For bravery,” she said, and they held each other desperately. I turned from this to regard my parents.

“Don’t do something stupid,” Aya instructed. “If it gets bad, hide. Run if you must.” I didn’t consider my mother unpatriotic; she was simply an even-keeled pragmatist. She figured Taro could best serve the Empire by surviving to help her raise his children, not by carelessly dying in some ramshackle Shanghai alleyway. Hana and I admonished our mother with our glares, but I secretly agreed with her. My father pursed his lips and issued a crisp shake of the head to his wife as she brushed and picked at his uniform. He shouldered his long rifle, adjusted his scabbard, and bowed, giving me a sly wink. Run, father, I silently pleaded as he turned from us and joined his fellows. Run and cover yourself and stay safe, and return to us. I watched Taro in formation as an officer began taking roll, and I wondered if Taro’s mother had charged his father similarly. Both of his parents were dead, gone long before Yuki was born, before I had turned four. I never really knew them, except for vague images of grandfatherly arms and memories of hints of grandmotherly smell, and the stories Taro told of his father’s service in the great Russian war. Aya’s parents were conveniently absent from Taro’s sendoff. I have little doubt that had they attended Taro would have pursued Gram Manami across the Army base with his longsword. Manami, whose name is a combination of mana, or “affection,” and mi, or “beauty,” was sour and coarse-looking. Hana and I often joked in private that our radiant mother must have been adopted, and Hana bristled whenever Manami suggested, as she did often, that Hana was the very image of her in her youth. Typically, when she and Gramp Yori made a rare appearance at our home, Gram Manami was scornfully silent with regard to her son-in-law. During their most recent visit, however, upon Yuki’s return from the hospital, Manami just couldn’t help herself. She and Aya were taking tea on the deck. Taro had just finished forlornly hammering the deck ceiling’s nails, pounding them down to harmless angles. Little Yuki was mimicking our father, using his toy hammer to drive imaginary nails here and there into the floor. “I still can’t quite believe it all,” my mother said. Gram Manami noted that Yuki’s eye movements were queer. “Yes.” Aya nodded slowly. “His speech is affected, as well. We’re not certain of any other affliction. It could be months before anything else manifests. Even years, the doctor said. It’s just . . . so surreal.” “So tragic,” Manami added dramatically. She stood and inspected one of the nails Taro had hammered down, then she inspected Taro at a distance. “So avoidable,” she said, loudly enough. I cannot recall ever seeing such an expression of naked fury as the one that steadily fixed itself upon my father’s face.  He said not one word. It was surely deference to Aya and the stature of her father that prevented Taro from crumpling up the old woman and heaving her from his deck. Gramp Yori bobbed serenely in the rocker next to Manami, pretending not to hear. Taro stiffly strode into the house and stayed there until his in-laws departed. Aya could only shake her head at her mother and utter a helpless sigh. All I knew about my grandparents’ standing in the community was that Gramp Yori was in manufacturing. I didn’t know what he manufactured or where he manufactured it, but even at the tender age of nine I understood this: there was money in it. As schoolchildren, we studied about the Meiji Restoration and our national slogan of fukoku kyohei — “enrich the country, strengthen the military.” By the early 1900s, our country was a power on par with those in the Western world, and the men who put us there reaped the benefits. Taro simply said old Yori was in the right place at the right time. My grandparents’ house across the inlet from us was not a palace, but with eight rooms, four baths, four gardens, and a private temple on six parcels of land, it could not be labeled austere. They had three servants and a motorcar, and they wanted Taro to retire from the military and go to work for Yori. Taro politely refused. When my father re-enlisted after Yuki was born, Yori wrote a letter to the Ministry of War requesting reconsideration due to family hardship. When that gamut failed, Gram Manami began inquiring as to when Taro’s unit might be dispatched to the front.

So here was Taro’s commander, barking his troops into formation, marching them to a train that would take them to another camp and another debarkation point, fulfilling Gram Manami’s wish. As the last of the men boarded the train and families waved their farewells, the purple blue skies that had hung so ominously over us finally let go, and fat drops of cold rain spattered on the pavement. Soon the rain came like water spilling over a fall. I looked up, thankful, and I wept amid the sound and the chaos. I turned, expecting another chastisement from Hana, but she was weeping, too. So was my mother. “Come,” Aya finally said. She snatched up Yuki, and we ran with the others for dry shelter.

The tottering streetcar we took for the crosstown journey to home was stuffed with wet, silent, stubbornly smiling people. It was one of the most Japanese of traits—to smile. It mattered not if you loathed the person in your company, if your soul was in the deepest throes of the abyss, if you were giving birth to a sea heron, you always presented a pleasant demeanor. I never knew differently. I smiled at the ancient woman pressed against me, her damp and dingy blouse offering an odor of fungus.