Shutter Steps (SS23 for StealthyWolf)

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Feurox
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Shutter Steps (SS23 for StealthyWolf)

Post by Feurox »

Shutter Steps

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I don't believe in art. I believe in artists.
Marcel Duchamp

“Isn’t that the guy that put a urinal in a museum?” Natsume asks. She twiddles her pen between her fingers, which is a trademark move of hers.

“He’s one of the most prolific and revolutionary artists of the twentieth century, Natsu,” Naomi explains. She doesn’t look up from the magazine she’s perusing.

“But yeah, he’s the urinal guy,” I say, and Natsume nods gratefully.

“So, why should we write about some dead guy and his urinal?” she asks.

“Well, the competition prompt is: ‘What is art?’ Why not start with the man that prompted the question to begin with?”

I shrug, and Natsume laughs.

“I’m not convinced, and by the look of it, neither is Misaki.”

Naomi drops her magazine and stares me down.

“Et tu, Brute?”

I open my mouth to reply, but Natsume bursts out laughing before I even get the chance. Naomi pouts and crosses her arms across her chest.

“Don’t bully Misa,” Natsume elbows me gently in the side. “She’s delicate you know.”

From behind me, I hear Hanako shift uncomfortably. Probably at the mention of someone potentially more delicate than she is. I turn and flash her a smile.

Beside me, Lelouch writes something hurriedly down in his little journal, before lifting it up for us to see.

“Why don’t we ask some artists?” Natsume reads aloud for him. “Hey, good idea Lou!”

Lelouch looks satisfied with himself and smiles at us all. I return it with one of my own.

“I guess we could interview members of the art club, I’m sure Mr Nomiya could recommend some people to talk to,” I say.

“If he ever stops talking about himself, sure,” Natsume jibes. “But why interview the art club guys, what do they know that we don’t?” Hanako gives Natsu a short courtesy laugh.

From the desk at the front of the room, Mr Sakamato, our literature teacher, coughs into his closed fist. He doesn’t look up from his book, but the stern cough reminds everyone that there is indeed a teacher present, and that bad mouthing the other academic staff is probably a not a good idea. Natsume offers an apologetic shrug, and Mr Sakamato sighs, shaking his head in disappointment.

Mr Sakamato has a thin face. He reminds me vaguely of my homeroom teacher, Mr Mutou, because they both share this kind of sunk and sullen look. Like they’re perpetually on the verge of falling asleep, or like they’re always replaying a bad memory in the head.

It was Mr Sakamato’s idea that we enter this writing competition, and it was also his idea that I join the Newspaper club in the first place. I have to admit, I had my doubts at first, given the reputation of Natsu and Naomi as both massive gossips and massive bitches. The former is absolutely true, but they’re really not bad people. They’re loud, and they’re a bit spacey, but they’re not mean. The worst thing a person can be is mean.

The newspaper club room isn’t really a club room so much as an old office. Mr Sakamato was kind enough to lend the room out to us after school with the provision that he gets to oversee the activity of the club. He was a journalist before he was a teacher, and I think somewhere deep down his passion for journalism still shines, however dim.

“What does a good journalist do?” he asks without looking up from his book.

I offer Naomi a confused shrug, but she’s lost in thought.

Lelouch holds up his little journal.

“T-they investigate a-at the source,” Hanako says.

“Correct, Hanako,” Mr Sakamato replies.

“I-It was actually Le-lelouch, Sir.”

Mr Sakamato looks up from his book and nods at Lelouch, who looks quietly satisfied. “Ok, so you have two questions. The first is the titular question: ‘What is art?’ It’s a misdirect. There’s no answer, and the judges know that. What matters is the second question: ‘Who knows what art is?’ That’s your article. Lelouch is right.”

Lou and Hanako are other recent additions to the newspaper club. I think that was also one of Mr Sakamato’s ideas. Another one of his good ideas, that is. He tends to have good ideas. I think Hanako took more convincing than Lelouch did.

I smile at Lelouch, and he smiles back.

“Ok, so we need to open a dialogue with the art club, does anyone have any ins there?” Natsu asks, now nibbling on the end of her pen.

I grab my camera from my rucksack and switch it on.

“I took some photos at the art display last October,” I explain, scrolling through my photos. Naomi pulls up a chair beside me.

“Right! And we wrote a piece for the paper.” She gets quite animated, flicking through her notepad. “So, there’s Tezuka, she’s the abstract artist.”

I pull up the photo of Tezuka, standing gormlessly beside a painting with a screaming face disappearing into the void.

“She paints creepy stuff, and she’s impossible to interview,” Natsu laughs. “You can have that one Lou.”

Lelouch rolls his eyes but writes TEZUKA in massive letters on his notebook.

“Then there’s Takashi, from our class. Takashi Maeda. He’s an expressionist I think.”

I flick through to the photo of Takashi standing next to his display piece. It’s a sad sort of piece, with loads of faceless people, all in a row, lined up like a firing squad. They’re stood against a wall, and in graffitiesque letters is the word: ‘LIABILITY’. Takashi is beaming a cocky sort of grin.

“And then there’s Saki Enomoto,” Natsume remembers, rubbing her chin in thought. “What does she do again?”

I find the photo of Saki. She stands soberly beside a painting of a woman holding a watch and looking down on the water.

“R-r-realism,” Hanako answers.

“Right, realism.”

“Well, Takashi and I have a history,” Naomi explains. “Not one I’d like to dredge up or invoke in the name of this contest, I’m afraid.”

That’s an interesting wrinkle, and I make a mental note to ask her about that later. You know, like a good journalist.

“I can talk to Takashi then,” I say, and write his name down on a piece of paper with the word ‘expressionism’ beside it.

“That leaves Enomoto to me,” Naomi laughs. “And Mr Nomiya to you, Natsu.”

“Great,” Natsume says sarcastically, and we all laugh.

Mr Sakamato coughs again, and we all look to him.

“It’s getting late,” he points to the clock on the wall. But it’s stopped.

“Sir, that clock says three A.M.” I say.

He looks up at the clock and lets out a short chuckle. “Much later than I thought then.”

We gather up our things and switch off the laptop that Mr Sakamoto kindly brought in for us to use. I pick it up and offer it back to him. He reaches for it but hesitates.

“Why don’t you hand that to Hanako, since she’s the resident scribe. You never know when inspiration will strike.”

I slide the laptop over to her, and she picks it up carefully. Natsume places a hand on her shoulder and she visibly cringes. “The chosen one!” Natsume laughs.

Mr Sakamoto laughs gently. “I believe that you five can win this competition if you play to your strengths and listen to one another. You’re talented writers, and a talented photographer. Remember, you only have until winter break.”

“Aye aye, Cap’n,” Naomi jokes, as Mr Sakamoto ushers us out into the hallway and Hanako slides the laptop into her rucksack.

The golden light of the evening has already spilled out into the hallway, and the scent of food carries along the hallways from the cafeteria. Natsu’s nose twitches like a greedy house cat waiting for its dinner to be served. Lelouch’s stomach growls loudly.

“Cafeteria it is,” Naomi says, and the four of us start in the direction of promised food. Hanako’s rucksack must be a little heavy with the laptop in. Lou sees her struggling and offers to take it for her.

“Thanks, Lou,” she timidly replies.

He nods back at her.

“So, you and Takashi?” I ask Naomi, and her cheeks go a little red. “Is there anything that might trip me up in the interview?”

“Well, Takashi is a dick,” Natsu answers.

“Nat!”

“What, it’s the truth!” she defends herself.

“Semi-useful,” I reply, and Naomi shrugs.

“He’s not a dick, but he’s a bit self-centred. Takashi thinks his art is incredible, and it is, but there’s something a bit obnoxious about people who know they’re talented. He thinks he’s going to be famous, and maybe he will, which makes him even more annoying.”

I nod and make a mental note. “And you and him? How did that happen?”

“Do you want to know how it happened or how it ended?” she asks, a slight smirk on her lips. Natsume’s eyes twinkle. There are two stories here.

“Do I only get one?”

“For now.”

“Then tell me how it ended.”

We arrive at the cafeteria just ahead of the usual dinner time rush, and Lou lets out a sigh of relief. He doesn’t like crowds, I’ve learned. That makes two of us. Three of us I think, glancing at Hanako as she emerges from behind Lou, her new human shield.

“He fell in love with someone else,” Naomi says, but she doesn’t sound hurt. Like she’s said it over and over again, and now it’s just become a fact. I turn back to gauge everyone else's reaction, but only Hanako reacts. She looks dejected.

“His own reflection,” Natsume mutters under her breath.

“Natsu!” I exclaim, and Naomi chuckles a little bitterly.

“She’s sort of right. He fell in love with someone more like him and less like me, but they didn’t stay together.”

I offer a sympathetic smile, but Naomi just looks through me. She looks briefly as if she might cry, but not at the mention of Takashi. At the mention of his reflection.

“I’m over it. Him,” she corrects.

Clearly.

We join the relatively small queue for food and grab trays. It’s Nikujaga tonight, and some vegetarian thing that I won’t be considering. The food here is okay, but it lacks any real excitement and is sort of haphazardly placed on the plate.

With food in hand, we find a free table and sit down, with Lelouch and Hanako beside me and Natsu and Naomi opposite. Behind them, the golden evening light stretches along the floors, like a curtain that’s been ripped from the window. It’s getting really cold outside now, but what did I expect from late November?

Lelouch writes something down in his notepad with his right hand whilst he stabs blindly at his plate with his left.

I take the notepad from him once he’s finished scrawling.

“Any idea how to interview Tezuka? Isn’t she a bit elusive. Like trying to interview a ghost,” I read aloud.

Natsu chortles, and a bit of her dinner falls out of her mouth. Gross. “It’s like conducting an interview in a different language, and someone punches you in the stomach every forty seconds for good measure,” she laughs.

“How will she punch him; she hasn’t got any arms,” I say.

“Figuratively, Misa. Figuratively.”

I shrug.

“One of us should probably come with you for it,” Naomi adds. “In case things get lost in translation.”

“Shotgun not,” Natsu says, and everyone chuckles.

“Hanako, why don’t you go with Lelouch for that?” I ask, carefully, like tiptoeing around a landmine.

She freezes up, but takes a deep breath. “I - I can do that.”

I push my food around the plate, thinking about this interview with Takashi. I hate talking to new people, especially people I only vaguely know; that’s even more awkward.

“Talk of the devil,” Naomi whispers across the table.

I turn around and watch as Saki Enomoto, the third of our targets, lowers herself onto a bench with her cane beside her. There’s another girl with her who has long white hair, Rika Katayama.

I do not like Rika Katayama. I shake my head.

Saki has one of the degenerative diseases and is a part of the terminal club here. The students who might die soon, and who don’t shut up about it. I knew one of those. Know. Knew.

In fairness, I would probably be the same if I had Huntington’s instead of scoliosis, it must be really awful knowing your situation is actually hopeless. What else can you do but complain about it?

Naomi’s face sours a little as she watches the girls. I sense another story there, but I fear I may have drawn too much blood from this stone already, so I don’t press it.

Yamaku is a beehive, or a hornet’s nest. All around, the semi-docile bees linger, individual people pollinating a communal story, a living thing that weaves between us all. Or maybe it’s like a still lake, even a single stone across the water’s surface can bring all of it, everyone, up to the surface in a frenzy.

That’s what good journalists do. They kick the hornets’ nest. Sometimes to their own danger. I think that’s why Naomi and Natsu have developed such a reputation. I also think that’s exciting, and a bit intoxicating. Here, in the canteen, with the buzz of other students around, you can almost feel the stories waiting to be written.

But life is easier on the periphery. It’s easier to watch life go by from the sidelines, through the lens. I’ve always preferred other stories to my own.

Just as we’re finishing up our food, and the conversation between us dwindles to just idle gossip, I hear the dull chime of my mobile phone. I reach into my bag and yank it out. Naomi eyes me curiously.

[Hey! I’m waiting for you in the usual spot. Are you coming today?]

I bite my bottom lip and thumb back another reply.

[Shortly. Just finishing dinner with the newspaper club.]

“So tomorrow morning I’m going to talk with Nomiya and see if I can get permission to conduct these interviews. Everyone be ready to arrange their meetings.”

“Aye aye captain,” Naomi salutes. I laugh and give one as well.

Lelouch writes in his journal.

“Meeting finished for the night then?” I read aloud for him.

Natsu laughs, loud enough to draw the eye of the other cafeteria visitors.

“Meeting adjourned. Go and do whatever it is you people do after dark.”

Lelouch shoots me a smile, and Naomi rises first from the table. Hanako bows and darts off immediately. Like she was waiting to go the whole time. She probably was.

We each head off in separate directions. Lelouch joins a group of guys from our class sitting nearby, Taro and Akio, who are loveable misfits. Naomi darts out of the cafeteria, and Natsume starts talking to someone on her phone. I hear her mention the name Ikuno, who is another girl from Class 3-3.

With a general wave to the cafeteria, I head back into the corridor and catch the last of the evening sun as it settles beyond the frosty windows.

I meander down the hallways, some idle gossip piquing my interest as a few groups of other students pass me, but nothing that makes me stop and listen in too intently.

Finally, out the door and down the pathways, I take the path less travelled to the benches by the sports fields. The cold stings me.

Ahead of me, I see a figure sitting on a bench, his pale skin looking nearly translucent in the back-lighting of the setting sun.

He waves at me, and I smile.

Instinctively, I grab my camera. Sometimes I wonder if the only way I can see the world is through the lens of a camera, so that every moment can last forever.

On a bench under the light, sitting almost completely still, is Kazuki. He’s one of the few guys that wears the school jumper, and he has a near permanently serious expression, almost like Mr Mutou or Mr Sakamato. That, or he wears a confident smirk. Kazuki Fukunaga, or Kaz ‘Fuck you’ Fukunaga has developed a bit of a reputation at Yamaku for his curt attitude, for his brutal honesty, and for being a bit of a womanizer. Other than me, I’m not sure if he has any friends.

I press the shutter button and capture him, the very last flickers of sunlight breaking through the trees behind him as he sits still on the bench. He notices me, and stays still for the shot.

A perfect picture.

I lower my camera and wave to him as I approach.

Kazuki returns a short wave. I reach into my bag, produce two cans of coke, and offer one to him. He cracks open the tab and takes a sip.

“Yo, Misa, long day with the private eyes?”

I laugh. “We’re writing an article on art, and it was our first meeting,” I explain. “It ran a bit over.”

“No shit,” he says blankly. “Got your interviews all lined up?”

“Yeah, I drew the short straw apparently – Takashi.”

Kazuki laughs without a smile. “Yeah, he’s an asshole. Good luck with that.”

“So, everyone tells me, but I’ve never spoken to him, not even in class.”

I sigh and take a swig from my coke. A couple of first year girls pass us, and they shoot me a concerned look, but continue on. Probably because associating with Kazuki is a one-way ticket to getting your feelings hurt.

“You’re not missing out,” he shrugs. “What’s the assignment anyway? What are the art douchebags of Yamaku up to?”

I snicker. “Something like that. It’s ‘what is art?’ Naomi said it was a nasty one, but it was her idea so…”

“Nasty is right, that’s a bullshit question if I ever heard one.”

“I don’t know, I kind of like it. It’s interesting.”

Kaz scoffs, finishing off his can of coke in a decisive swig. “Art is just this thing we do when our words aren’t good enough,” he says cynically. “Any other interpretation of it is just an attempt to sound clever.”

That’s Kazuki ‘Fuck You’ Fukunaga for you. He doesn’t waste time when it comes to telling you his thoughts. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him.

“Well, I’ll be sure to take your statement for the article.”

Kaz laughs and puts one of his legs up on the bench.

“Hear that Yamaku? I’m the new art snob now. Call me a prodigy! Kiss my golden ass!”

I laugh. He offers me his hand as he steps properly onto the bench to survey his imaginary kingdom.

“And this here is the best damn journalist, queen of Yamaku, Misaki Kawana!”

I take his hand and step up onto the bench beside him.

“A speech for your fans, my queen?”

I look over the imaginary crowds below us. They cheer and clap below us. Thousands upon thousands of adoring fans, looking up at the regal couple, in all our golden glory.

Kazuki does look regal, with the final rays of the setting sun above casting its beams down on him, bathing him in light as the trees sway dutifully behind him. I take in his expression. His signature cocky smile and his deep brown eyes. His scarf flutters in the heavy wind.

“I love you,” I tell him.

He wraps his arm around my shoulder and pulls me into a hug.

“And I love you, Misa.”

I bury my head in his chest.


I take a deep breath and knock on the door to the art room.

No answer.

I knock again, a little louder this time. A grunt comes from the other side of the door.

“Enter!” comes a loud and pompous reply. That’s Maeda’s voice; I recognise it from the times he answers in class.

Natsu texted in the morning as promised. Her message was a little cryptic, but I gather that Takashi already knows I’m interviewing him. I look down to my phone again.

[You’re up. You have a meeting with Takashi at 6pm. Bring a SLEDGEHAMMER or you won’t get through.]

I slide open the door and I’m immediately greeted by the warm light of the art club room. It’s brighter than any other classroom thanks to several spotlights scattered around the room. Standing in the dead centre of this golden room with his back to me is Takashi, one hand stroking his chin and another twirling a paintbrush in his fingers. I lift my camera instinctively, and position Takashi within the frame, his golden shadow draped limply across the floor. He has a bandage over his right ear, the only visible thing to connect him to Yamaku.

“That would be a rude thing to do, Misaki Kawana,” Takashi says without turning around to see me.

I lower the camera slowly and enter the classroom fully. I feel like a foreign body, invading an alien space.

“Sorry, I just thought your pose and the light would make for a good photo,” I explain myself as Takashi makes another confident streak with his paintbrush on the canvas.

Takashi finally turns to face me. There’s a streak of red paint on his jacket sleeve, and he pops his cuffs with a flourish.

“I can’t argue with that. I am a fascinating and beautiful subject.”

What an ass.

“Right, well, I’m here to interview you about art,” I explain weakly.

Takashi nods in affirmation and gestures for me to sit at one of the high tables next to him. I oblige and pull out a small notepad from my backpack. When he looks at me, it’s like he’s looking past me, or like he doesn’t really register my presence.

“So, what exactly is it you want to know?” he asks.

This sort of annoys me. It’s my interview, let me ask the questions.

I take a look over at his current project. It’s hard to tell exactly what it is, but the colours are pretty.

“So, the journalism club is doing a competition. We have to write an article based on the question ‘what is art?’ and we thought maybe, being an artist, you’d have something to say about it.”

Takashi strokes his chin in thought, and smiles widely, “Yes, you came to the right person then. First, let me ask, what do you think art is exactly?”

I remember what Natsu texted. The word ‘SLEDGEHAMMER’ stands out. Natsume may speak in code, but I have a fairly good idea of what she might be suggesting. Push his buttons, I think, make him want to tell me.

So Takashi has a superior attitude. Make him explain it to me like I’m stupid. Be stupid.

“I think art is, like, pretty things, you know? It doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s expensive” I say, dragging the word ‘like’ out for effect.

Takashi sighs and drags his hand down his face, before bursting into laughter.

“You don’t suit the bumbling idiot, Misaki.”

I guess he saw right through that. I shrug. “Alright, well I haven’t decided what I think art is yet. Kazuki says art is what we use when words are no good.”

Takashi smiles and strokes his chin, readjusting to sit comfortably on the stool behind him.

“Kazuki huh?”

“Yeah, we’re close.” I reply, accidentally mirroring his readjustment with one of my own. “He’s the reason I joined the journalism club. One reason, anyway.”

“Oh?” Takashi half-asks. A sudden glum expression comes over him.

It’s not hard to imagine why. Two strong personalities, they’ve probably had some confrontations in the past. I’m team Kazuki all the way. “Yeah.” There’s a moment of awkward silence. “So, what do you think art is?”

Takashi props his head on his hands and looks off to the side for a moment. There are paintings in various states of completion on easels all across the room. He nods in the direction of a particularly cryptic painting; it’s clearly a Tezuka special.

“See that painting there?”

I nod.

“What does it say to you?”

I look a little closer. It has a few swirling red colours. There’s an angry looking storm in the centre.

“I really don’t know.”

Takashi smirks. “Exactly.”

I tilt my head quizzically.

“Art should say something. Tezuka is a really talented artist, but her art is vacant where it matters. It doesn’t say anything. Now look beside it.”

A little to the right of the painting is another easel, this time a much more realistic looking painting. It depicts a man behind bars, he wears a sad expression, and there’s some religious iconography on his forehead.

“That’s by Akemi,” Takashi explains. “His grandfather was a prisoner of war.”

“So it’s about political imprisonment?” I ask, scribbling down a note of the name and Takashi’s words.

“Maybe. The point is that it says something.” Takashi looks back to me now. “Art isn’t just a substitute for when words are no good, it’s about saying something you couldn’t say with words.”

I jot that down.

“So art is about political commentary?” I ask.

“Good art,” Takashi replies. “Good art does and says something, at least it tries. Sometimes that’s political, sometimes it’s sardonic. But it always comments.”

I look behind Takashi’s shoulder at his cubby. It’s filled with pieces in various states of completion.

“And what does your art say, Takashi?”

With a confident smirk Takashi jumps to his feet and swaggers over to his collection. He rifles through them, muttering to himself, before plucking out a canvas that’s filled with vivid colours. It looks a bit like a face, and a smaller figure in the corner. It makes me feel a bit peculiar, and has a sort of paranoid vibe.

He takes his previous work down from the canvas and swaps in the new piece. Or rather the piece he wants to talk about.

“What does my art say, Misaki?” he asks.

I look closer. It’s beautiful, but somehow a bit daunting. There is a single white dot near the centre, like an eye looking down.

“It’s about being watched,” I answer him.

Takashi’s face lights up.

“Exactly!” he exclaims, “You have the eyes of an artist, Misaki!”

I can’t explain it, but it feels good to get complimented by Takashi. I know he’s a bit of a snob, but I can barely keep my smile from my face.

“So what exactly are you commenting on? Society?” I ask.

Takashi stands back from his painting and strokes his chin again. A solemn look comes over him.

“That’s a bit broad. It’s about Yamaku, and a bit about all of us.”

He laughs, and fakes a deadpan expression.

“There is a boy in the art club. He is blind.” He says in a monotone voice.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s something Tezuka says constantly. I don’t really understand her obsession, but everyone describes him as a prodigy. Same with Tezuka too. Same with me.”

With the sun starting to set behind him, Takashi’s sudden seriousness makes him look a little inspirational.

“I suppose people are inspired by you all,” I offer.

“Maybe, but we’re really nothing special. There are a million artists, what makes one a prodigy and another just an artist?”

“Rising past their limitations?” I ask tentatively.

“Ah,” Takashi nods. “Are you limited, Misaki?”

I, uh. “What do you mean?”

“Your limitations, what are they?” he asks, taking a step closer to me.

With him standing closer I catch the faint smell of his aftershave. He looks down into my eyes deeply, and I swallow hard.

I think I know what he’s asking me.

“Scoliosis.”

“Is that a limitation?” he asks me again.

“Well, that's the reason I’m here,” I offer.

“But does it limit you?”

“It affects me,” I reply firmly, and he backs away from me. I didn’t realise quite how close our faces had gotten until then.

“Do you see this bandage?” he asks, gesturing to his head.

I nod at him. “You have tinnitus, right?”

“Yes, but that’s not why I have the bandage.”

An interesting crinkle, and not one I was aware of.

“I see it.”

“I have a tumour,” he explains. The smile on his face vanishes. “On the brain. I’ve had surgery after surgery.”

The eye contact returns, and within a moment, his cocky smile is back. “It’s terminal, I’m afraid,” he continues. “Apparently that’s what makes me a prodigy. It’s easy to follow someone’s artistic career if it only lasts for a few years.”

I try to process that information. I consider making a note of it, but think better and close my notepad. Takashi nods at me in approval.

“I find it hard to talk to people,” I finally say. “Sometimes I think I can only see the world through the lens of a camera. Sometimes I wish I was dead, so I could watch the world as a ghost.”

Takashi’s eyebrows narrow, and he makes an ‘oh’ noise.

“My Scoliosis. It’s noticeable. I know it is. When I was younger I had to wear this back brace. Actually it was a back correction bracket, so I looked a bit like a robot with it on,” I explain. The memories of being teased come rushing back to me. “It was easier to be in the background, to create degrees of separation. The ghost is the ultimate separation, just enough to watch.”

Outside, somewhere in the far distance, somewhere in a memory, I see Kazuki grabbing a bully by the collar and throwing them to the floor. The thought makes me a little sad.

“So, you are limited,” Takashi states. He straddles a line between judgement and understanding, and the corners of his smile falter just a little.

“Yes. No. I don’t know,” I answer. “No more than anyone else really. Everyone has body confidence issues. I’m nothing special. It isn’t even the reason I’m at Yamaku. Not really.”

Takashi closes the distance between us again. His eyes are really piercing. “Of course you’re special, Misaki. Maybe for reasons you don’t even realise.”

I step back and take a deep breath. “Art is about sending a message,” I say.

Takashi nods. My heart pounds against my chest. I take another deep breath and steady myself. Outside, the golden light has retreated into darkness. “Can I get a photo of you with your latest piece for the article?”

Takashi shifts uncomfortably. “You shouldn’t really take photos of art; it takes something away from the original and you only ever see a pale reflection.”

I can’t help but feel a little offended by that. “Photography can be art.”

Takashi shakes his head. “Of course photography can be art, Misaki! Photography can be some of the most beautiful art in the world, and the most powerful. But that isn’t the same as taking photos of art, is it?” His rhetorical question catches me a bit off guard, especially considering I was expecting him to be more dismissive. “But is your photography art?”

“Well, it’s for the article,” I offer weakly.

Takashi strokes his chin, and shrugs.

“Very well. You may photograph me and my piece.”

I grab my camera again and wave my hand for Takashi to get into position beside his canvas. He tries out a few poses, some arrogant, some wistful. Eventually he settles into a position, and I click to capture him.

Image

“May I?” Takashi asks, gesturing for me to show him the photo.

I take the strap from around my neck and pass the camera to him.

“No, not this photo. Your art.”

I tense up again.

“I don’t really take artsy photos, just photos for the club.”

“Well, I still want to see,” he explains, moving closer to me again so that we can both look at the screen. I reach up for the camera and operate the buttons to scroll through my photos. With his hand on the top of the camera and mine on the bottom, I become painfully aware of our proximity yet again.

What is this game of cat and mouse he’s playing?

We cycle through my photos. A photo of the view from Yamaku way down into town. A photo of a flower I thought was pretty. A photo of the bus into the city, that one was for Naomi. A photo of an empty park bench, suspended in evening sunlight. A handful of still places.

“The world according to Misaki Kawana,” Takashi mutters low, the warmth of his breath sending a tingle down my spine as his words gently brush my ear. “I see the eyes of an artist in you.”

“I don’t really…”

“Take artistic photos?” He interrupts. “I beg to differ.”

“Art is in the eye of the beholder,” I say. A quote from somewhere. Maybe from Kazuki. Maybe from class. Maybe I made it up.

“And you have very pretty eyes,” Takashi whispers, a playful smirk on his lips.

I can’t decide whether I want to smack him or kiss him. Maybe both. Maybe neither.

“Give me my camera back,” I finally say, as the silence and tension between us starts to thicken into a soup.

Takashi nods, and releases the camera, nearly dropping it into my hands. “You have talent.”

I feel a knot tie and untie itself over and over in my stomach as I back up towards the door.

I bow, and turn around, but before I can escape, Takashi calls out to me.

“Today everything exists to end in a photograph. Maybe we can meet, and you can show me the world through the camera lens.”

I cross the threshold into the hallway and keep going until I’m outside the building in the cold winter again. I slump against the wall, and take several deep steadying breaths. I feel as though I might vomit. I feel dirty.

My phone vibrates in my coat pocket. A text from Naomi.

[How did the interview go Misa?]

I close my eyes and let the cold sink into me. Eventually, after too long, the rising bile in my stomach settles.

[All good!] I reply. Thankfully texts are naturally devoid of emotion. I scroll down my phone. A text from Naomi. A text from my brother. A text from Dad. A bounce back from the cell provider.

Suddenly, I feel lonely.

Despite the chill of the cold wind against my fingers I start flicking through the photos on my camera. The photo of Takashi, the photos of landscape after landscape, empty space after empty space.

I sigh, and head off in the direction of the dorms.

I barely pass anyone, as most people have already settled inside to avoid the cold, but I do catch a glimpse of that Rika girl sitting with Saki Enomoto. They eye me warily as I pass them, but don’t say anything. They’ve got something in their hands but I’m past them before I can really check it out. Fine, I wasn’t in the mood for a conversation anyway. I still feel as though I might throw up.

Back inside and up the stairs I can’t help but let out a sigh of relief, the sight of my room a welcome safe haven.

I unlock and open the door. Immediately, I’m greeted by the sight of Kazuki, with his feet up on my desk and a book over his face.

“Make yourself at home, why don’t you?” I tease, and close the door behind me. “Does a locked door mean nothing to you?”

“Not yours, no,” he laughs. “How was the interview with Takashi?”

I sigh and fall backwards onto my bed. “It was heavy,” I confess. “I expected him to be more of a dick.”

“Give him time,” Kazuki laughs.

“He was pretentious, sure, but he didn’t really strike me as a bad person.”

Kazuki shrugs, and nearly falls backwards off the chair.

“I know what you mean, Misa. He can be quite charming, can’t he?”

“Yeah.”

I look up at my ceiling. There are maybe thirty photos pinned there, looking down at me. Photos I’ve taken over the course of several years at Yamaku. Photos that tell me who I am. Photos of my family. A few photos from first year, when I was friends with Ikuno, and when I was friends with Akio. Photos of the past.

In the dead centre, a photo of Kazuki and me. His arm around my shoulder, a dumb grin plastered over his face.

“Do you ever miss the past, Kaz?” He raises an eyebrow, so I continue. “Sometimes I go there, in my head. Is that crazy?”

He looks down at me sympathetically both from the chair and from the ceiling. “There’s nothing crazy about thinking about the past, but you can’t live there.” With a shake of his head he seems to cast off some bad thought. “The past is a pretty place, but when you look back at the past you see what you want, not what was real.”

I let out another sigh, and Kazuki reaches over from the desk and squeezes my hand in reassurance.

“Goodbye seems so short. Forgetting seems so long,” I misquote some poetry I heard in class, and Kaz chuckles.

“I know you’ve butchered that.”

We laugh. It’s stupid really, this is all so stupid. I look back up to the photos of us.

“Everything exists to end in a photograph,” I repeat.

“Not everything,” Kazuki replies. “Some things never end.”

“Everything ends eventually,” I reply.

Kazuki doesn’t say anything, but gestures to the shelf over my desk.

“What about that? What about our permanent winter?” he asks.

A small snow globe, a gift from two winters ago from our trip into the city. Except all the snowy stuff on the inside has gotten stuck to the edges, and no matter how hard I shake it, they won’t come unstuck. Leaving the small town within it trapped in a perpetual stillness.

I look back up to the ceiling, to a photo of Kazuki staring out of the window on our bus ride back from that same city trip. Out of the window behind him, the still and silent snow.

Sometimes I can’t help but see that silent stillness everywhere in the world.

I pat the space on the bed beside me, and Kazuki joins me. His arms wrap around my back and my waist. His lips find my neck, and then my hands descend beneath my blouse and beneath my skirt.

My hips, my breasts, my throat.

My hands.

“I love you, Misa,” he whispers into the crook of my neck.

But it isn’t real.

And it never was.

We lock lips in our eternal winter.


Last edited by Feurox on Sat Dec 30, 2023 7:20 pm, edited 3 times in total.
My Molly Route
Ekephrasis and Other Stories
I hate when people ruin perfectly good literature with literary terminology.
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Feurox
Posts: 366
Joined: Mon Sep 02, 2013 2:03 pm
Location: England, Oxfordshire

Shutter Steps P2

Post by Feurox »

Everything you can imagine is real.
Pablo Picasso

The camera strap around my neck feels like a noose. How does Misaki carry this thing around all the time? It’s heavy.

Lelouch taps me gently on the shoulder. But even that little physical contact makes me flinch. With his little notebook in hand, he smiles sympathetically.

“I-I’m ok,” I answer him. He takes his notepad and scrawls something else on it.

[Do you want me to lead the interview?]

I take a deep breath and shake my head. I know Rin, even in the limited way that anyone can really know her. I’ve eaten lunch with her, and she’s probably the only person I’ve ever met who looks right through my scars.

That’s not really it though, is it? It was always as though Rin was looking right through me. She never recoiled, or averted her eyes the way that everyone I’ve ever met does. She just stares right through me. Right into me. Somehow that feels even scarier, but Lilly and Hisao helped me get this far.

“I c-can d-do it,” I say firmly, and Lelouch smiles, before sliding the door to the side and heading into the art room.

In the centre of the room, leaning back on a stool with her legs lifted to paint, Rin barely registers our presence save for a short grunt of acknowledgement. She has a small space heater beside her to keep her warm, presumably because wearing additional layers would restrict her movement.

Light cascades into the room as the afternoon becomes evening, and the trees shake violently in the wind outside. Leaves fall, a clock ticks steadily and loud.

“H-h-hi Rin,” I say. Lelouch waves at her from beside me.

“Hello.”

She doesn’t turn around, and makes another flourish with her feet, flicking blotches of blood red paint across the canvas.

“You are here to interview me. About art,” Rin states bluntly. “Nomiya said I should tell you what I think about art and that you have interviewed Takashi.”

I presume that her last statement is a question, but it can be difficult to tell with Rin, seeing as she offers no inflection. “Y-yes. Misaki interviewed T-Takshi two days a-ago,” I answer.

Finally, Rin turns around to face us. Lelouch grabs two chairs and places them in front of her, gesturing for me to sit down. How gentlemanly!

“Hello Hanako,” Rin says, looking at me for the first time. It makes me feel a bit peculiar. “You are Lelouch yes? Emi says that you are very quiet.”

Lelouch settles into the seat beside me and offers another genuine smile. He writes something in his little journal and shows it to Rin, who patiently waits for him.

“Yes,” Rin says. Everything she says feels as though it could be the end of the conversation.

“S-so we--”

“Takashi says that Misaki is an artist,” Rin states from out of nowhere.

Lelouch offers a sad sort of smile and nods his head.

“She t-takes photographs,” I explain. “She let us b-borrow her camera t-to take a photo of you.” I hoist it up from around my neck.

“That’s nice.”

“Y-yes,” I stammer out. The three of us stew in an uncomfortable silence before Rin scratches her head with her foot. “S-so, the q-question is, what is a-art?” I ask. Rin looks vacantly between us.

“Emi says she talks to herself.”

“Who?” I ask.

“Misaki.”

Lelouch’s face takes on a sudden seriousness, and he tenses up.

This is a rumour I’m familiar with. Yamaku is a small school, and Hisao and Lilly are sociable, Hisao especially since he started his science club with Mr Mutou. Word gets around quickly here. Run out of a class in the middle of an exam? Word gets around. Talk to yourself in the cafeteria? Word gets around.

“I don’t know,” I finally reply. Rin doesn’t look very fazed either way.

Lelouch taps me on the shoulder and shows both Rin and me his little book.

[Misaki is a nice girl. We shouldn’t talk about her behind her back.]

“But she isn’t here?” Rin asks. “How can we talk behind her back?”

“It m-means wi-without her,” I explain. Rin just shrugs, which looks a lot more expressive without arms.

Lelouch forces a smile again, and opens his notebook to a fresh page.

“S-so, the question is, what is a-art?” I ask again.

“Okay,” she replies.

We sit in silence again. All three of us. I can’t help but feel that having Lelouch and me conduct this interview was a mistake. And then Rin’s attention gets caught by Lelouch spinning his pen around in his fingers.

“Why don’t you speak?” she asks him.

“H-he has a-aphasia,” I answer on his behalf.

“Okay,” Rin replies, suddenly looking up to the ceiling. This is going nowhere. “I collect people.”

“C-collect people?” I think Hisao mentioned something about this once before. How Rin makes these collections of people.

She nods her head. “Can you two communicate without speaking? Neither of you talk very much. Maybe you two come as a pair?”

I blush and feel Lelouch’s eyes on me. He puts something down on the page again and shows it to Rin.

Rin leans forward to read it, nods, and returns to her relaxed and uninterested position. “I suppose you complement each other.”

Ok, now I’m really curious to see what he wrote.

“I don’t know what art is.”

Finally, an answer. A deeply unhelpful answer, but an answer, nonetheless. Lelouch scribbles it down in his notepad. It’s difficult to say whether he’s quoting her or getting ready to ask for an explanation, but if it’s the latter then he’s probably barking up the wrong tree.

“W-why do you p-p-paint?” I ask tentatively, whilst we have her focus.

“I’m good at it. Apparently,” she explains. “It is easier.”

“E-easier?”

Rin stands up from her stool and sort of lunges forward, sort of like she’s trying to swim. Her expression takes on a sudden frustration. “Easier than this.”

“T-than l-life?” I ask. “Than t–t-talking?”

Lelouch snickers to himself, and shakes his head side to side. He hastily writes something in his pad of paper. [Are we a trio?]

I blush, but Rin smiles! It’s sad, but that might be the first time I’ve seen her smile in the years I’ve known her. Known of her, at least.

“Maybe,” she replies.

“S-so are you an artist?” I ask.

“Does painting make someone an artist?” Rin asks. I don’t detect any malice in her question, even though that is the kind of thing you would say to ridicule someone for being stupid. “If you decided to paint, would you be an artist?”

“I’m n-not an artist,” I answer.

“Do you paint?”

“I draw, sometimes.”

Lelouch looks over to me and smiles.

“Doesn’t that make you an artist?” Rin asks, tilting her head to the side like a lost puppy.

“I’m not v-very good though,” I confess.

Rin shrugs at me. “Does being good make something art?” she asks.

We’re going nowhere fast.

With a somewhat dramatic sigh, Lelouch closes his notepad and points to the camera around my neck.

“If you h-had to say what art is, what would you s-say?” I ask her, trying to get back on track even though we’ve been thoroughly derailed.

Rin just shoots us that familiar placid look. “It just is.”

It just is.

“Okay, can we also t-take a photo of you? F-for the article?” I ask.

“Like Misaki?”

Lelouch nods.

“Okay.”

Rin jumps up from her stool and stands beside her canvas, with that sort of lost look that she so often wears. It takes some shuffling, but we line up the shot for the article.

Misaki’s camera feels expensive in my hands, but it’s intuitive. Rin stands gormlessly beside the violently frightening thing she’s been painting.

Image

With the click of the camera, I immortalise Rin. It’s not as clear a photo as some of the ones I’ve seen Misaki take for the newspaper, but at least Rin is in it.

“Thank you Rin,” I bow. Lelouch mirrors me, before moving the chairs we used for the interview back to their original places. Rin eyes me up and down the way that toddlers do, not in horror but in innocent curiosity.

“You’re different now,” she finally says.

“M-me?”

“You,” she replies. “You move now. You were still before.”

“I was s-still?”

“Well, no. You were very flighty. But you were still in other ways,” she explains. Maybe explains is a strong word.

I think I know what she means, but it’s not like I’m a different person. Am I?

“T-thank you,” I answer her.

With another polite bow, Lelouch and I leave the art room. The interview was somehow quicker and longer than I thought it would be, but the sun has well and truly set regardless. It’s dark, which makes me somehow feel lonely.

As soon as we’re outside of the art room, I sigh. Lelouch looks at me empathetically. He lifts his little book to talk to me.

[That was weird. I have more questions now.]

“Y-yeah. I think she said that art is personal, in her o-own words.”

Lelouch smiles again. He has a handsome sort of smile, one that feels very genuine. He shows me his book again.

[I didn’t know that you draw. I’d like to see some, one day.]

I return his smile, but I can already feel the crimson rising in my cheeks. I’ve never shown anyone my drawings, and I’m not very good. Other than Lilly, I’ve never told anyone I draw either. Well, now I have.

“I’m n-not very g-good.”

[Isn’t art subjective?] he writes on his little notebook. [Maybe that’s what Rin was saying,] he adds after a moment.

“M-maybe,” I answer.

[Do you want to get some food together? It’s just before the dinner time rush.]

I nod, perhaps a touch imperceptibly, so follow it up with a “Yes.”

We wordlessly begin walking in the direction of the cafeteria. The halls are silent and empty. There’s something a bit of ethereal about campus at this time of year, when it gets so cold that everyone heads back their homes or their dorms rather than milling about and hanging out the way they do in summer. It makes the world feel somehow less than it really is.

It feels strange to be going for dinner with someone other than Hisao and Lilly, or alone. I mean, I’ve eaten with the whole newspaper club once or twice since I joined, but that never feels like a decision to do so rather than an obligation. I feel as though I’ve spoken to more people in the last two months than I have in the last three years at Yamaku.

Ever since Hisao arrived, things have been in motion. Maybe things were in motion before, slowly, but it wasn’t like things are now. Maybe it stung a little bit when Lilly revealed her feelings for Hisao, but if I could go back or if I could change the past I wouldn’t, because it turned out that what I needed from Hisao was the same thing I needed from Lilly but never really had. A friend.

As Lelouch and I walk through halls between the art room and the cafeteria, it strikes me just how comfortable I feel beside him. Maybe it’s because of his aphasia, since he doesn’t bother with any small talk. Or maybe it’s a side effect of finally feeling as though I have friends, not carers. Maybe Lelouch is another friend waiting to happen, since he doesn’t seem to look ‘at’ me either.

The thought makes me blush again. I think about Hisao, how we play chess together in relative silence in the tea room whenever Lilly is busy with her student council responsibilities. I think maybe Lelouch and Hisao are similar; quiet.

Handsome.

I shake off the thought. I made the mistake of thinking Hisao was attracted to me once. I don’t want to make the same mistake again, only to have my heart broken.

Lelouch taps me on the shoulder and shows me his notepad. He’s a quick and quiet writer.

[Do you want to find a table while I get some food?]

I lift my head and look around. I didn’t even realise we’d made it to the cafeteria, but I guess time flies when lost in a reverie. Lelouch is smiling at me.

“O-okay,” I reply.

The cafeteria is quiet at this time. Most students come later, and several clubs run well into the evening. With the cold, I expect a few students just settle with the dormitory kitchens rather than make the pilgrimage to the cafeteria. If I didn’t have the interview with Rin, I would probably have just eaten ramen from the kitchenette.

Despite the quiet, there is still that audible murmur of chattering that seems to carry itself in the air whenever I’m here. It’s taken years for the lingering paranoia to settle. It still hasn’t, not completely, as I can’t help but feel that whenever I hear that faint murmuring I’m being talked about.

I find a seat near the windows, out of the way enough to be comfortable but obvious enough for Lelouch to find me again. It’s a little drafty, and outside, with the complete dark, I can only see my reflection. I stare at her in the glass. She moves now, apparently. We share a secret smile.

I fiddle with Misaki’s camera and bring up the display. The photo I took of Rin glares at me. She looks confused in the photo, which is par for the course. It feels a bit like an invasion, but my curiosity gets the better of me and I flick back through the other photos. Apparently, Misaki is an artist.

The most recent is a photograph of Takashi, stood in front of some colourful but odd geometric painting. It’s better, more focused than my photo of Rin, but fundamentally they’re quite similar. It doesn’t feel very much like art itself.

The next is a quiet park bench with streams of sunlight breaking through the trees behind it. It captures a perfectly wintery evening. Maybe this is more art, but I guess it still just looks like a photo to me. It’s a spot on campus, but something about it feels odd. Like it’s missing a subject. For some reason, the photo makes me a little sad.

Image

The rest of Misaki’s photos are from various newspaper club things, a few from before I joined. Honestly, I’m surprised by how few photos there are. She’s always staring at her camera and fiddling with it. Sometimes, when I look at her in class, she’s just staring through the lens, and for all that obsession, there’s very little evidence of a life lived here. Maybe she backed up her photos recently.

I look up from the camera to see Lelouch standing over me. He smiles patiently and places a plate of food in front of me. It’s a curry dish, with a strong aroma. He lowers himself to sit opposite, with his plate still on the tray he used to carry them over. It looks as though he got two of the same.

He quickly opens his notepad. [I didn’t know what you’d like, so I thought curry and rice was playing it safe.]

“It’s p-perfect, thank you.”

I didn’t realise just how hungry I was until my food was sitting in front of me, and we both tuck in wordlessly. It’s odd, but I haven’t felt this comfortable in silence with anyone other than Hisao and Lilly.

As I near the end of my meal, Lelouch slides his notebook across the desk to me.

[It’s great to meet you. Properly.]

“M-meet me?” I ask after swallowing the last of my curry. Lelouch takes the notepad back and writes again.

[Yes. I knew of you, but now I feel like I’m getting to know you.]

I blush and avert my eyes. I need to calm down, or else he’ll think I’m still the same flighty weirdo I was before.

After a few deep breathes I try to return a smile that probably comes off a little stilted.

“T-t-thank you, it’s n-nice working with y-you,” I stammer out.

[Likewise,] he writes.

I have a sudden intense urge to live in this moment forever. But times moves forward, not back. The moment passes before I can stew in it.

[We should get back to the dorms soon. And you should give Misa her camera back.]

I nod and stand up from the table. Lelouch continues to be a gentleman as he takes my plate from me and places them back on the return counter.

Nothing can prepare me for the seemingly artic chill outside as we pass through the door onto the school grounds. I’m woefully unprepared for today’s temperature as my thin waterproof betrays me immediately and the cold penetrates.

Lelouch insists that I take his jacket, and with how cold it is, he doesn’t take his pen and paper out to communicate but instead thrusts the jacket at me repeatedly. I relent at accept it from him with a meek thanks, but I can’t help but feel guilty as we reach the intersection between the girls’ and boys’ dormitories, and he trembles from the cold.

I offer his jacket back to him and he takes it from me with a grateful, cold, nod.

“I’ll s-see you tomorrow, for the club m-meeting,” I tell him, and he smiles.

With another nod, Lelouch disappears into the dark between path lights and the boys’ dormitory. Even in the cold, I feel compelled to watch him go. I lift the camera to my eye and watch him disappear through the lens, somehow another world between us.

I lower the camera. I’m happy with the world right in front of me now, I don’t need an intermediary.

The warmth from the dorm spills out beneath the door as I approach. Inside, a few second years I don’t recognise mill about in the kitchenette, and the smell of burnt popcorn floats through the air. I can’t help but notice some of Yamaku’s more distinctive students sitting in the common room, as Rika Katayama, a second-year girl, lays asleep with her head in another girls lap. Saki Enomoto, I think, and from what Hisao told me about her, she’s one of the more tragic cases here.

The girl smiles at me and throws a small wave, so I return a polite wave of my own. Half a year ago, even that little social interaction would have proved difficult for me.

I trudge up the first set of stairs to Misaki’s floor, her camera still around my neck. She lives on a floor with the girl from downstairs, Saki, and two others girls whose names I don’t know. From a door at the end of the hallway I can hear the faint sound of music, and from outside of Misaki’s door I hear her talking. She must be on the phone. Or maybe she’s talking to herself.

I stand outside but her conversation doesn’t sound like it’s wrapping up anytime soon, so I knock gently on the door.

The talking becomes whispering, before Misaki opens the door only a crack. That’s a move I’m familiar with.

“Oh, Hanako!” she exclaims. “Just a minute.”

She closes the door again and then I hear shuffling behind the door. She had a wild sort of look in her eye, like she’s been exercising or something, but I would have probably heard that.

After a few moments the door swings open just enough for her to squeeze through, and she shuts it behind her. I wonder what she’s hiding in her room, or maybe she’s just careful with her privacy. Her hair is a bit messy, and she’s changed out of her uniform into what looks like work out gear. I get the slight smell of sweat as she stands before me, smiling.

“How did the interview go?” she asks, taking the camera from me. “Thanks!” She flicks the screen on. “Hey, this is great! Rin looks so Rin-like you know?”

I smile. “It w-went well, I think. Th-thank you for letting us b-borrow your camera.” Misaki looks at me, her eyes darting between me and her dorm room.

Image

“Good! I always thought Rin was a bit strange but she’s really talented, so maybe she had some wisdom,” Misaki laughs.

“Ind-directly, I think she w-was very helpful,” I admit. Misaki nods. Her eyes are a slightly bloodshot. Maybe she’s sick?

“Indirect is her usual way,” Misaki says with a guilty sort of laugh. “Well, thanks again for bringing this back, I’ll see you tomorrow in the club meeting?” she asks, placing her hand back onto her door.

I nod and turn to walk back to the stairwell. I can feel Misaki watching me go, her eyes on my back as I walk. Something about the way she was acting and looked bothers me, so I turn around just before the stairs. She’s still just standing outside her door watching me.

“M-misaki?” I call out.

She looks at me with a perplexed expression and raises and eyebrow.

“A-are you okay?” I ask.

“Wh-what do you mean?” she asks.

I think back to what Rin said, and to the photos on Misaki’s camera.

“I just m-mean, you seem a l-little off,” I explain.

“I’m good, thank you.” She can probably tell that I don’t believe her. “It’s just that I have someone in my room.”

Something in my stomach sinks.

“W-who?” I ask, and Misaki bites her lip, visibly contemplating whether to tell me or not.

“Kazuki,” she finally responds.

Kazuki…

I feel a sudden desire to bolt.
“K-K-Kazuki?” I ask. “C-can I s-say hello?”

Misaki’s eyes narrow. “Another time, maybe.”

“Okay. S-see you tomorrow,” I manage, before heading up the stairs to my floor.

By the time I’ve reached the top of the stairs, the day and that conversation catch up with me. I lean my head against the door to my room. I feel as though I might vomit. I am completely drained.

Before I can enter my quiet sanctuary, I hear the door behind me open and turn to see Hisao in his green pyjamas shooting me a warm and inviting smile.

“What’s up Hanako?” he asks, the warmth of his smile morphing into concern. It’s a sight that makes me feel a bit sick.

“L-long day,” I explain with a sigh. “I’m okay,” I clarify. The last thing I want is Hisao and Lilly to worry about me. Again.

Hisao wordlessly steps forward and opens his arms out to offer me a hug and I accept. He used to hug me as though I would shatter. Maybe I would have. I’m stronger than that now, even if I sometimes feel as though I might crack.

“The interview with Rin went well then?” he asks.

I feel the crimson rise in my cheeks. “Yes, I t-think so.”

“Hanako! Come in and get warm with us,” calls Lilly from her room. Despite the cold, she’s still in those short dark navy pyjamas that cling to her thighs and breasts. I think she wears them specifically for Hisao, because she used to wear a much less flattering pyjama set. The thought makes me smile, because behind the ladylike mask, Lilly can be a bit of a pervert.

“Okay.” I comply and follow Hisao into Lilly’s room. They’ve set up a kotatsu in the centre of her room, with a dayglow power cord peeking out from beneath the large and rather fluffy looking blanket. With how cold it is outside, I admit that it looks extremely inviting.

“Would you like some tea, Hanako?” Lilly asks.

“T-thank you Lilly,” I reply, taking a seat beside her and sliding my legs underneath the blanket. The warmth is heavenly.

Lilly reaches for the teapot whilst Hisao gently taps her hand and passes her another cup. The two move near perfectly in sync. Lilly pours the tea into an ornate looking cup and passes it to me. The scent of juniper berries hits me immediately, and then the scent of lemon. Another one of Lilly’s fancy tea infusions; Sencha, probably.

“So, how did the interview go, Hanako?” Hisao asks, taking his seat opposite me. He smiles at me, and I immediately think of Lelouch. I feel my cheeks go a little red. “Sordid, huh?” Hisao laughs as he notices me blush.

“It was f-fine, but c-confusing.”

“I fear that confusion is common with Ms Tezuka,” Lilly jokes. Well, I guess it’s not really a joke since it’s true.

“That’s the truth,” Hisao adds. “I think I understand one out of every three things she says.”

“I don’t t-think she was b-being deliberately c-confusing,” I explain. “It’s like she w-was more interested in, Lelouch and m-me than the interview.”

That familiar playful smile appears on Lilly’s lips, and Hisao raises an eyebrow.

“So, it was a team assignment?”

I take a sip of the tea Lilly poured. It’s the perfect temperature.

“J-just Lelouch and me,” I explain. “B-but I borrowed M-Misaki’s camera.”

Hisao’s face becomes a little sad. Everyone does that when they think about Misaki. They used to do that with me. Maybe they still do.

“Have you eaten yet, Hanako? We have some cakes,” Lilly explains, the same sad look on her face.

“L-lelouch and I had d-dinner after the interview.”

And just like that, their smiles return. “That’s lovely! Lelouch is a great guy.” Hisao places his hand behind his head. “He actually helped me start the science club.”

That’s a wrinkle I was unfamiliar with. I tilt my head at him quizzically.

“Yeah, he rounded up Akio, Taro, and Ikuno and told them I was thinking about starting the club, and they signed on immediately. The original four.” Hisao laughs. “Now there are eleven members and counting!”

Lilly giggles beside me. “I do believe Hisao has become something of a nerd, Hanako.”

“W-wasn’t he always?” I joke, and Hisao places his hand on his heart.

“Bitter betrayal!” he laughs.

I take another sip from the tea. I could probably fall asleep in here, with my legs beneath the heated blanket and the playful banter between the three of us. Lilly once told us she sees us as her little dysfunctional family. It was one of the reasons she stayed, instead of disappearing back to Scotland.

While I object to the idea that we’re truly dysfunctional, it’s true that Lilly and Hisao are the closest thing I have to a family now. Even as they’ve become a couple, I’ve never really felt excluded by them, or as though I was third-wheeling. Even now, sitting with them, I feel safe. It's comfortable.

“I n-needed this,” I confess as I feel my shoulders relax.

“Is something the matter Hanako?” Lilly asks, and I sigh loudly.

“I r-returned Misaki’s camera to her before I c-came upstairs,” I explain. “I heard her talking with K-Kazuki.”

Lilly bites the end of her thumb. “That’s troubling.”

Hisao looks perplexed, but takes a sip of his tea quietly.

“Perhaps I should let Nurse know." Lilly’s face shows her concern as she thinks. “Shizune and Misha mentioned that the situation was worsening, but I believe the consensus was that making her join the newspaper club was helping. Obviously, we’re not meant to know these things…” She trails off. “That must have been upsetting. I’m sorry Hanako.”

“I j-just wish there was s-something we could do.” Misaki is a nice person, and she really is talented.

Hisao places his tea down on the table with a gentle click, finally asking the question he’s clearly been thinking. “Who is Kazuki?”

Lilly’s face scrunches up in thought.

“H-he was a second y-year. Wh-when we were second ye-years,” I explain. It’s always hard to talk about the students who didn’t make it.

Hisao’s eyes narrow as he stares down into his own cup of tea. It’s a familiarly pensive expression, one he often does when he gets lost in thought. “He passed?”

“At the end of the last academic year, yes.” Lilly explains. “He was rather upfront about his mortality, and was a bit… abrasive.”

“P-people were afraid of h-him,” I say, thinking back to second year. I never met him, but even a social outcast can hear a rumour that’s not even spoken behind someone’s back. Kazuki wore that rumour on his sleeve.

“I believe that Misaki and he knew each other before Yamaku.” Lilly takes a loud sip of her tea as the room becomes a little icy, despite the kotatsu. “She transferred in shortly after he did.”

“Were they together?” Hisao asks, rubbing his chin reflectively. “I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to lose a loved one like that.”

Lilly’s face scrunches for a moment. Hisao’s own mortality clearly on her mind. It’s on mine.

“N-no,” I answer him. “Misaki and Kazuki didn’t d-date.”

Lilly looks as though she may cry, but she exhales loudly. “His heart belonged to another,” she finally says.

Hisao nods solemnly.

“I’ve seen Misaki talk to herself before, but…” he trails off.

“She’s not talking to herself,” Lilly says.

“She’s t-talking to him,” I finish the thought.

The silence becomes so thick you can taste it. Our little family stews in the quiet.

“Well, shit,” Hisao finally says, breaking the silence.

I look out of Lilly’s window into the dark.

I see the three of us.

And for a moment, when I squint, I see the pale apparitions of mum and dad sitting beside us.

But it isn’t real.

It never was.

Lilly squeezes my hand.

And I’m reminded of the distance between myself and my reflection.

I close my eyes completely, and replay Lelouch’s warm and gentle smile over dinner.

I smile with him.


Last edited by Feurox on Sat Dec 30, 2023 8:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
My Molly Route
Ekephrasis and Other Stories
I hate when people ruin perfectly good literature with literary terminology.
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Feurox
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Location: England, Oxfordshire

Shutter Steps P3

Post by Feurox »

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.
Dorothea Lange

I flick the snow globe on my desk, but nothing happens. The snow that should shake up and fall just sticks stubbornly to the curved walls. Nothing stirs inside the little houses, and nothing changes outside of them.

“It’s broken, that’s that,” Kazuki says, his face half-obscured by the pillow he’s sunk it into. He’s not wearing a shirt, or trousers. I’m fine with that, even if it’s a lie.

“You know, I didn’t think I’d be staying this long,” he says, half-heartedly throwing the duvet over his half-naked body.

“I asked you if I was crazy before,” I say, still shaking the snow globe. No luck.

“Well, the answer is complicated. Do you know that I’m gone?” Kaz asks, a devious smile on his lips.

“Sometimes. Sometimes it’s like you’re real. Sometimes you’re a memory. Sometimes I’m all alone.”

Kazuki swings his legs out from under the sheets. They ripple with muscle, but I think maybe that’s an invention. I didn’t pay much attention to them while he was here before.

“Sometimes I can’t tell the real you from the you that I imagine,” I continue. “You blur at the edges now, like you’re out of focus.”

Kaz laughs, “Ever the photographer Misa.”

Outside, it’s snowing. It has been snowing relentlessly for several days. Some of our lessons even had substitutes because the teachers were snowed in or otherwise stuck. It’s a weird contrast between the stillness of the snow globe and the constant blizzard of outside.

A streetlight outside my window illuminates a small circle below it, like a spotlight without a focus subject.

“Maybe you’re crazy, sometimes,” Kazuki explains. “The same way that I exist, sometimes.”

He runs a finger down the back of my neck, and my whole-body tingles at the sensation. Something within me, something primal, stirs.

“But this part, this is a fiction,,” he says, placing his lips to the back of my neck. My hairs stand on end and a bolt of lightning shoots through me.

Before I can embrace the feeling, a loud bang comes from the window, and the residue of a snowball slides slowly down the glass. The sound made me jump out of my skin, and the arousal is replaced with anxiety as I stand up from my desk chair and look out the window.

In the perfect circle of light, Takashi waves at me. I lift the window up.

“What’re you doing?” I shout down.

He lifts a finger to his lips to symbolise a ‘shush’.

I raise my hands up beside my head and shrug, the universal symbol of confusion, and Takashi waves me down.

“What does he want?” Kazuki asks from behind me. He’s thrown a shirt on but is still sans pants. “That guys is bad news Misa.”

I grab my jacket from its spot draped over my desk chair and pick up my camera. I open the door to the hallway, and Kazuki watches me through the gap in the door as it slowly closes.

Chatting in the doorway opposite me, Saki and Rika turn to look at me.

“Misaki, what a pleasant surprise,” Saki says. She looks at though she’s been crying.

“Saki. Rika,” I reply curtly, Rika rolls her eyes.

“Still talking to your imaginary friends?” Rika asks, with no attempt to hide the venom in her voice.

“Rika!” Saki gasps, “That’s cruel.”

My heart beats fast in my chest, my hands curl up into fists. But I breathe in and let it go.

A voice inside me, maybe Kazuki’s speaks out.

Twist the knife. Hurt her.

“No, but Kazuki still visits me; he doesn’t mention you,” I answer her.

Rika’s face scrunches up in anger or maybe heartache but Saki grabs onto her arm and shakes her head.

“You’re fucking deranged Misaki,” Rika barks back. Saki looks visibly upset.

“And you’re a slut Rika. You were a pitstop in something real,” I reply with a shrug. If Saki wasn’t holding her, she might try to smack me. But I think I could take her.

“Kazuki never loved you, not like that,” Rika replies, but the venom has dissipated a little. “He would feel sick if he could see you now.”

“Stop it you two,” Saki interrupts. “He wouldn’t want this.”

I pull the collar of my coat up and storm down the hallway.

“Misaki, wait –“ Saki calls out after me, but I’m already down the first few steps. We’re not friends, and I have no interest in hearing any more of what Rika has to say about me.

Down the stairs to the first floor, two first years I don’t recognise eye me curiously. I’m shaking, and I finally unclench my fists and see the small scarlet half-moons where my nails dug into my palms.

I barge past them and hear one of them call me a ‘mad bitch’ as I push through the double doors into the pelting snow. I take a left out of the doors, and nearly take Takashi out as he comes around the corner at the same time.

“What took you so long?” he asks with a dumb smile plastered on his lips.

“I bumped into some bitches.” I explain. “What do you want?”

“Charming Misaki!” he laughs. “I thought we could continue our conversation from the art room, and maybe search for the perfect photo together.”

I instinctively grab my camera and tuck it under my jacket to protect it from the falling snow. It’s all I am, and its mention makes me conscious of that fact.

“Why?”

“Look around you Misaki, look how beautiful the snow is! Besides, with my artistic vision and your photographical talent, we could really make something special.”

What an ass.

“I was busy you know,” I protest, but I start to walk beside him anyway. The snow lands in my hair, so I put up my hood and tuck my camera until my jacket.

“Well then, I apologise for interrupting,” he laughs. “But from the angle I was standing in you looked to be fiddling with something absentmindedly. I didn’t see the harm in distracting you.”

We pass by another one of the path lights. Takashi looks at me with a handsome and confident smile. “Let’s go to your bench.”

“My bench?”

“The one from the photo. The one I’ve seen you sitting at alone.”

“I’m not really –“

“Not really alone, right?” he interrupts.

“Kazuki,” I say.

“Kazuki.” Takashi mulls the name over again, like he’s tasted a fine wine and its reflecting on the palate. It’s the same face my dad makes, anyway.

“You probably think I’m crazy, huh?”

There’s a momentary silence, and for once, Takashi drops the smug and self-satisfied look.

“No, I don’t, actually.”

We stop in the path between two streetlights, I can only really see the dark shape of Takashi, but another dark shape materialises behind him.

“I think you have the eyes of an artist,” Takashi repeats from earlier in the week. “I think you see Kazuki in the same way that artists see the angels in the marble.”

“You undersold the degree of asshole, Misa,” Kazuki laughs from behind Takashi. “Tell him he’s a pompous freak for me?”

I drag my hand down my face and sigh.

“Stand still Takashi.”

I unholster the camera from inside my jacket and position Takashi’s silhouette within the frame. Beside him is the shadow of Kazuki.

“You want me to put my fingers up behind his head or something Misa?” Kazuki asks, but I ignore him.

“Is Kazuki with me?” Takashi asks.

“Be quiet.”

A break in the snow, and I take the shot. The light of the flash lights up the black night sky like a bolt of lightening or a shot of artillery. Each snowflake suspends for a moment in motion.

In the echo of the flash, I glimpse the curvature of the snowdome walls encircling us. Above, I see the bulbous peak. And then, the darkness comes rushing back in as the flashlit image of Kazuki and Takashi dissipates back into the swirling snow.

I feel a little sick.

“May I?” Takashi asks, holding his hand out for my camera. I carefully unwrap it from my neck and pass it over to him. Without it, I feel heavier.

He pulls his glove off which his teeth and cycles through to the photos, shielding the little screen with his arm.

“I look like a ghost, how spooky!” he laughs. “Can you see Kazuki in the photo?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” I answer.

“Yeah, like there’s science involved,” Kazuki scoffs from behind me.

“Well, it’s a brilliant photo, but I don’t know about perfect yet.” Takashi strokes his chin in thought as I take the camera back from him. “Let’s try again.”

I sigh. “Why? Why this sudden obsession in photography?”

Takashi laughs. A strong wind shakes the trees, and the cold rushes past and through me.

“Everything exists to end in a photograph,” he repeats from the other day in the art room. “Something about being near the end of my own life makes me appreciate that sentiment.”

I pull my collar up to shield me, even a little from the cold.

“I guess the dead and the dying find themselves in Misaki Kawana’s frame.”

Takashi steps closer to me, his face just centimeters away from mine. A plume of frozen breath hangs in between our noses.

I smack his face with an open palm.

Man, that hurts my hand.

“Good smack Misa,” Kazuki says from behind me.

Takashi lifts his hand to feel the already red part of his cheek, and slowly turns his face back to look at me. His smile has gone, but rather than anger, he looks at me with sympathy.

“You mistake my observation for an accusation, Misaki,” he explains, slowly lowering his hand and placing it instead on my shoulder. “I don’t think you’re crazy, I think maybe you have a gift.”

We stay stood in that silence; our breath hangs in the air between us. Inside me, something churns.

“When did you start seeing Kazuki again?” Takashi asks softly, his hand still on my shoulder.

I shudder. “It was two weeks after the funeral,” I explain. “He was waiting for me in my room, like nothing had happened. I ignored him at first, I thought if I ignored him for long enough he’d go away. I thought maybe I’d gone crazy.”

There’s another strong gust. Takashi keeps looking into my eyes.

“There’s nothing crazy about wanting to stay with the people you love,” Kazuki says from beside me.

“You’re not crazy. In fact, it’s a comforting thought to think that I might still exist after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.” Takashi chuckles. “As long as someone remembers you, you’re never really gone, you know?”

“Maybe that’s the point of art,” I say. Takashi’s eyes light up. “To leave a little bit of you behind.”

“Then it’s like you never have to say goodbye.”

“Things change and that’s just life. Sometimes there’s no goodbye.”

Kazuki shuffles uncomfortably from behind Takashi now.

“Misaki, don’t,” he pleads.

The snow beats down on us. It settles on Takashi’s head and the arm outstretched between us.

“Did you ever get to say goodbye to him?” Takashi asks. His forehead inches closer to mine.

“No,” I answer honestly. The memory makes me feel sick. “He died thinking I hated him.”

“Did you?”

“I could never,” I answer definitively. A few hot tears sting my cold cheeks.

“Because you loved him?”

“Because I love him,” I correct him. “But he loved another.”

Takashi places his lips to my forehead. It’s a comforting feeling, even if it’s from what amounts to a relative stranger.

“You know Kazuki is the reason I joined the newspaper club,” I say, maybe to Takashi, maybe to myself. “Well, I was heavily encouraged to do so by the school, but I thought I could reinvigorate my love for photography. I hadn’t taken a photo since he died by the time I joined the club.”

“Maybe you can change the past,” Takashi whispers. “Maybe that’s your power, or your art.”

“It’s not,” Kazuki says firmly. “You can never change the past.”

“That’s the thing about photographs. Maybe that’s the thing about art more generally,” Takashi muses His breath warms my nose as he exhales. “They don’t show you the past, they show you a glimpse of the past. And you can edit it, you can warp it.”

“That’s your power, Misaki. You can take a perfect picture of the past and live it, again and again.”

I close my eyes, and Takashi’s hand moves up to cup my face. It warms my cheeks.

I look back into the past. A past that never really existed. Takashi kisses my cheek this time. I feel another stirring from within me.

It isn’t love. It isn’t even lust.

It’s loneliness.

“I quite like living on borrowed time,” Takashi whispers, “it makes living in the moment a lot easier.”

We lock lips, gently, as though we might both shatter.

“I don’t live on borrowed time,” I explain. A wave of complete despair overcomes me. “I don’t really live at all.”

Our lips find each other again in my perpetual winter.

I open my eyes, but Takashi’s remain closed.

And in the perfect circle of light behind him, Kazuki watches silently.

I warp the past around me.

And suddenly, Takashi becomes Kazuki in my arms.


“So, how did you get on with Takashi?” Naomi stabs at the food on her plate recklessly. Natsume watches me cautiously from beside her. This is the first meeting since we started the interview project earlier in the week, and it’s clear that the pair are anxious to start actually writing.

“Fine, I think. Do you want to see my notes?” I slide my notepad across the table before either of them can answer. I don’t tell them that I saw him last night as well. I don’t want to tell anyone that. “He’s an intense person.”

Nastume scoffs but Naomi just gives me a sympathetic nod. It figures that she’s used to his intensity, since they used to date.

“Intense is right,” she laughs. Lelouch offers me a sympathetic smile and slides his notebook across the table. Naomi picks it up and reads it aloud. “Rin was also an intense interview, but we got some useful snippets from it. That’s great, Lou. Well done to you and Hanako!”

Hanako nods politely. She hasn’t touched her own plate of food. She doesn’t make eye contact with me.

“The interview with Mr Nomiya was a bust,” Natsume sighs loudly and Naomi giggles. “He kept telling me about his youth as an artist. He called himself young Dorian Gray. I don’t think he’s ever read the book.”

I laugh at the absurdity. If Mr Sakamoto was here, he’d probably tell us off for being rude about another teacher, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Especially for teachers like Nomiya.

“I spoke to Saki, and got a few notes, but in truth I just wanted to size her up,” Naomi says.

Lelouch tilts his head quizzically, and I share his confused expression. Meanwhile, Natsume rolls her eyes. She already knows what Naomi is on about, clearly.

“Saki was the girl Takashi cheated on me with,” she states bluntly. “I wanted to get the measure of her.”

Oh, to have been a fly on that wall.

“A-and?” Hanako asks, surprising everybody at the table bar Lelouch, who shoots her a smile.

“Honestly Hanako, I was disappointed. I thought it would be somehow gratifying, but I ended up really liking her. She cried a lot, but not in a satisfyingly apologetic way. In a ‘life is so cruel’ kind of way.” Naomi explains, still pushing her food around the plate until a potato careens off onto the table. “Sorry.”

“P-people are c-complicated,” Hanako replies with a barely perceptible shrug. “B-but I’m sorry you d-didn’t g-get closure.”

Closure huh? Somehow the word feels funny coming from Hanako. Her eyes finally lock onto mine.

“Thanks, Hanako,” Naomi replies. “So, we’ll send all our notes to you to collate and then we’ll reconvene to talk about the actual article.” Natsume nods beside her. “Anything to add Natsu?”

“Nothing that comes to mind.” Natsume shovels a forkful of her dinner into her mouth. “Oh, we still need a photo of Saki,” she adds without looking up from her plate.

That’s my job, I suppose.

“Can you do that Misa?” Noami asks, but its more of a courtesy. I’m the only one with a camera.

“Yeah, I can do that.”

“Thanks,” Natsume says between bites of food. “I wanted to say, you three have become invaluable members of the club.”

Naomi nods, and Lelouch smiles. First at me, and then at Hanako. They share a long look.

All around us the life blood of Yamaku courses. People talk, sometimes in whispers if it’s scandalous, but there’s a general hum of conversation. I close my eyes and lean back into the streams of conversation happening all around me, the life happening on every table.

I prick my ears to life and think about my supposed power: to change the past.

“Bored of us already?” Naomi asks playfully.

I open my eyes again and return to reality. “Just thinking,” I explain.

“You do too much of that,” Natsume laughs.

“Sometimes in your head is the only place you’ve got,” I answer her.

Naomi bites her bottom lip, clearly troubled. “I’ve learnt that sometimes being in your head is the worst place you can be.”

“That’s bleak,” Natsume counters, moving on from her own plate of food and stabbing a potato from Naomi’s.

“Reality always comes knocking,” Naomi chuckles. “Sometimes the best thing a person can do is stop thinking and start living.”

“Saki really did have an impact on you, huh?” Natsume laughs.

Naomi stares down at her plate of food as Natsu stabs a piece of tempura. “Maybe she did.”

I look down the table. Lelouch and Hanako are too engrossed in their own quiet, or rather, their silent conversation, to care about the conversation going on beside them as they slide a notepad back and forth.

Something in Naomi’s expression fills me with a profound loneliness, and I suddenly feel guilty for sleeping with Takashi, even if they’re not together anymore.

A sick feeling inside me rises.

And then I see Kazuki again, staring at me from across the cafeteria. An angry expression on his face.

“I’m sorry, but I need to get some fresh air,” I excuse myself as I rise, and send cutlery clattering down the table.

“Misa –“

I practically run from the cafeteria. Down the corridor, where notices about the winter festival hang limply and where a handful of students mill about outside the art room. I vaguely hear one of them call after me as I pass them, but I don’t slow down.

I look back and see Kazuki walking after me, his hands in his pockets and his eyes fixed straight on me.

I reach the stairs and take them two at a time upwards. My camera swings around my neck, nearly knocking me off balance. A tumble down the stairs would likely send me to the hospital, and I hear the sound of Kazuki’s footsteps echoing up behind me.

“You can’t run away from me Misa,” he shouts up the stairs, but I keep going until I reach the top of the stairs, winded, and push open the door to the roof.

The cold hits me like a brick and I can barely breathe. A fresh blanket of snow has settled, and in the dark it becomes difficult to see the rickety chain link fence that separates life from death at the edge of the building. I shuffle forward and hear the familiar steps of Kazuki closing in on me.

I place my fingers on the chain link and look down into nothing but swirling darkness.

“Don’t be stupid Misa,” Kazuki says from behind me. I don’t turn to look at him but instead look straight down into the dark. “Can you see our little kingdom down there?”

I pant and the plumes of my frozen breath shoot straight upward. Sure enough, below in the shadow, I can just make out the faces of our imaginary subjects, they chant upwards, they raise their hands to catch me if I jump.

“Do you hate me?” I ask, looking down into my kingdom of nothing.

“Well I wouldn’t have slept with him,” Kazuki laughs. “But I don’t actually love you like that, so I don’t care who you fuck.”

My heart breaks a little, the chain link rattles beneath my fingers.

“I know you, and I know what you’re thinking.” Kazuki explains. “Life is for the living,” he whispers. “You have to decide whether that’s you.”

“Life doesn’t feel like living without you,” I whisper back. My tears freeze on my cheeks. “I barely felt alive before and I certainly don’t feel alive now. Nothing brings the feeling back to life.”

All around, the snow falls into nothingness. There’s no skyline in the winter, and when you look up, there’s no sky either. Just fathomless dark above and below.

“You can’t change the past Misaki. Death doesn’t unring that bell. Death doesn’t change the past.” Kazuki places a hand on my shoulder, and I feel his warmth rush into me. “If I know that, you know that. Takashi is wrong.”

“What am I supposed to do without you? You died thinking I hated you.”

Kazuki chuckles, and when I turn to face him, I see the tears clinging to his own cheeks, frozen in place. “If you really believed that, why would I be here? This doesn’t feel like a typical haunting to me.”

I laugh at the absurdity. He’s right. Or maybe I’m right. I haven’t been able to tell us apart for a very long time. I place a hand up and his palm meets mine.

“I don’t know where I end and you begin,” I whisper. “I don’t even know who I am anymore. Sometimes I think I’m more Kazuki than I am Misaki.”

His eyes stay locked on mine, and his other hand finds my waist. “That happens to everybody Misa. Falling in love with someone means giving up a piece of yourself.”

A strong gust of wind rattles the chain link fence, and the cold washes over me like I’ve fallen from a great height into the sea. I close my eyes and see two young kids playing in the snow outside their parent’s house. I see two teenagers in the arcade of their local town, being harassed by some neighbourhood bullies. I see one of them punching a bully, and then I see the older of the two young teens place a hand on the girls shoulder. He tells her that it’s kill or be killed in this world. He tells her to show him her teeth. He calls her his queen.

They sit on the end of a shallow dock, watching ships pass in the distance, passing a vintage camera between them and looking out into the distance. And then, they’re at a festival, holding hands as they pass between the stalls, salmon upriver. They play games as the snow falls around and on top of them, and they buy one another a memory disguised as a souvenir, a snow globe and a photo frame. Then they’re back at the dock, older now, throwing rocks into the sea and watching them sink below the surface.

I open my eyes, and see those two young teens sitting on the other side of the chain link. They sway their legs back and forth in the wind, and out in the dark, I see ships careening into the snowy waves. They sink below the horizon.

“The past is a pretty place,” Kazuki repeats, “but it’s no place for the living.”

Kazuki pulls me close to him, and wraps his arms around me. “I’m scared of the future. I’m scared of a future without you.” One of us says.

We slowly sway in the cold wind and snow. “The future comes whether you’re ready for it or not,” Kazuki says. “Soon we’ll have to say goodbye.”

“Stay with me until I’m ready?” I ask, looking up into his compassionate eyes. Sometimes I forget the colour and they change in front of me like water spilling on a painting.

“As long as I’m with you, you’ll never be ready Misa.”

“Just stay a little longer? Another day?” I plead. “Promise me.”

“Misaki?”

I turn to face the source of the voice. Saki stares at me, a perfect rectangle of light emanating from behind like she’s standing in front of the doorway into heaven. I must look completely mental, dancing alone on the roof. I turn back to Kazuki but he’s gone, not even a trace remains in the swirling snow.

“Hello Saki,” I reply curtly. “You’re interrupting.”

Saki nods her head, “I thought I might be, but you’ll have to forgive me for the intrusion regardless.” She steps out into the darkness with me, but she leaves the doorway open and spilling its light across to us. I shrug as she approaches, her cane tapping against the soft snow and dulling its usual metallic thump.

“I saw you running from inside the art room,” she looks at my face and presumably sees my tear tracks. “I won’t insult you by asking if you’re okay.”

She passes me and stands in the dead centre of the roof, looking all around at the chain link that entraps us. Out in the dark of the world, I hear a siren singing its swan song.

“I come up here a lot,” she explains. “It’s a peaceful spot, and it’s nice to have the option.” She grabs onto the chain link with her trembling hand and gives it a firm push. It groans, clearly not very safely affixed to the roof. “It would be easy, wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I reply. But I do.

“Yes, you do. Everyone does. Especially here, at Yamaku. Especially the ones like me. Like Takashi. Like Rika, like Hisao.” She hesitates for a second, “like Kazuki.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say after a period of uncomfortable silence. “You didn’t know Kazuki like I did.”

“No, but I know Rika better than you do.” Saki smiles at me. “Whatever else you might believe, she loved him. She loved him right until the end. Just as you did. Just as you do.”

We pace back and forth around one another, circling like vultures.

“Rika told me that Kazuki was a photographer like you,” Her eyes are a deep and sympathetic brown. “She tells me that he was very fond of you.” She laughs, sadly. “She even said she was jealous of you.”

“Yeah, the camera I use was his,” I reply and avert my eyes from hers. “Why did you follow me up here?”

“Like I said, everyone at Yamaku has thought about it. I couldn’t live with myself if I saw someone in trouble and didn’t help.”

“I’m not going to kill myself,” I answer. “So, you can relax.”

“But I still want to talk with you.” She bites her lip and thinks for a moment. “Considering you fucked my ex-boyfriend of like a week, I think you owe me that much.”

I feel my heart sink in my stomach, but a primal feeling within awakens. It’s Kazuki. Show her your teeth.

“At least I waited until he was single, unlike you.”

Saki shudders at the accusation, she regains her composure quickly and smiles again. “Not entirely unwarranted, but I think you should talk to me still. I bet Naomi hated me until we spoke, too.”

“How do you know she doesn’t hate you now?”

Saki shrugs and lowers herself onto the snowy bench that sits against a sturdier part of fencing. She motions for me to join her, but I stay standing. It makes me feel as though I have some power over her.

“Because she told me so, and because she knows the truth.”

“That you and Rika are sluts?”

“That in all things, there are multiple angles to view things.”

I instinctively grab my camera, but then I let it go.

“I’ll start by saying that I’m not mad –“

“You don’t have a reason to be mad.” I interrupt her.

“Well then it’s good that I’m not, huh?” she asks rhetorically. “I’d also like to say that Rika was out of line yesterday.”

“How do you know?” I ask.

“About Rika?”

“About Takashi.”

Saki chuckles. “Misaki, darling”–the word ‘darling’ makes me want to punch her–“Takashi shoved that in my face the moment he had the chance. This morning, to be exact.”

I feel a small sting of regret, but I was using him as much as he was using me, I suppose.

“Takashi is a prick,” I say.

“That’s true. But you knew that before you slept with him, didn’t you? Let me guess, he told you about his brain tumor and played the ‘I’m dying’ card?”

I nod.

“You know people that are dying can get away with a lot. By most accounts Kazuki was an asshole too.”

I consider interrupting her again, but she’s right. Kazuki ‘Fuck You’ Fukunaga isn’t a nickname you earn for your acts of chivalry.

“The thing about dying, is that it makes you appreciate things. It makes things that are otherwise normal exceedingly special. I think you know what I mean.”

I nod again, and think back to the snow globe and its silent stillness.

“He’s an intense person. He’s able to make you feel as though you’re the only other person that sees him,” she continues, and another bitter wind blows. I think for a moment I see Kazuki, but he’s gone before I can focus on him.

“That’s why Takashi is a talented artist, and that’s why he’ll never change. He doesn’t have too anymore. He can screw you and everyone else until he’s dead because he’ll never have to grow up.”

“That’s sad,” I finally say. Saki nods in agreement solemnly.

“It is. But he doesn’t care. Hence our breakup.” Saki sighs and lets out a sad laugh. “To him, art is about getting what you want. Legacy, sex, reputation, whatever. And when he’s gone, that’s it. Either his art remains and he’s done something, or it doesn’t. Either way, he won’t care. He’ll be dead.”

“The dead can care,” I argue. But Saki shakes her head beside me.

“No Misaki, they can’t. The dead can’t do anything. The dead are dead and that’s that.”

I turn on my camera. The last photo, the one of Takashi, glares up at me.

“So, what is art about, if it’s not about leaving something behind?”

“Everybody looks for answers in art when there aren’t any,” Saki says, swinging her legs idly from the bench. “That’s like life. And it’s everywhere.”

There’s a moment of silence between us. I shake again from the cold, but somehow, I don’t feel it in my bones anymore.

“That’s what art is to me, anyway,” Saki adds, not really looking at me anymore. “To me, art is about doing things for the people you love. Painting or picturing the world around you as it is to you, not to anyone else. It’s about capturing moments, not ideas, not messages, not even legacies.”

“Art is about the signs of life,” she says decisively.

I look down at my camera again, and flick through to the picture of the park bench. No Kazuki. Not anymore.

“I keep seeing signs of death,” I tell her.

Saki shakes her head. “Look around you Misaki. There are signs of life everywhere.”

The trees whistle in the wind, Saki chuckles. “Look here,” she points to the small bench beside her. “Signs of life.”

Two Styrofoam cups, filled with tea, sit frozen and half buried in the snow. A snow-covered bento box on the roof perfectly preserved in the cold. The icy remnants of someone’s lunch. Two people.

“Still life,” I answer her. “Frozen life.”

“Still life is still life,” Saki answers. “A photograph or a painting is a moment of motion.”

I sigh. Saki gestures for me to give her a hand up, and I do. “I wish I could see life the way you do. I wish I didn’t see myself as somehow separate from it,” I admit.

“You’re closer than you think, Misaki.” Saki pulls me into an awkward hug, but it feels nice. “The hardest part about art is knowing when it’s time to let go of it. People spend their whole lives pursuing it, but the truth is, it’s meant to be let in and then let go.”

“That’s life,” I answer her.

“That’s life.” She chuckles gently and I feel the reverberation on my head. “Let’s get that photo you need for the article before Naomi has another reason to hate me.”

I laugh again, and we make our way into the golden door of light. The warmth envelops us immediately, but my fingers are still a little numb from the cold.

Down the stairs and back to the art room, we barely pass a soul, save for the janitor who simply nods at us. Most of the classroom lights are off, but the art room remains open.

Saki peers into the room before I enter to see if anyone else is there, and though there are signs of life, open cans of Coke-Cola and an empty instant ramen pot, it’s empty.

“Shall we?” she asks, placing a painting from her cubby onto an easel.

Saki’s painting is a complete contrast to Takashi’s. It’s a picture of a girl from my class, Molly Kapur, and she looks really happy. It’s not some complicated style with some complicated message. Just a picture of a friend.

“Is that Molly?” I ask.

“It is!” Saki exclaims excitedly. “She’s a cherished friend, someone who always makes me smile. I thought I could return the favour if I painted her.”

“It’s really good,” I tell her and Saki bows.

“Thank you.”

I pull my camera from around my neck and Saki stands beside it calmly. It takes a moment or two of shuffling, but I eventually line her up in the right way, and I click the shutter closed.

Image

“Thank you, Misaki.”

“No, thank you Saki.” I answer her. I do somehow feel lighter than before, even if I’m just as confused.

Saki grabs her painting and places it back into her cubby carefully. Outside, the snow gets heavier. She looks out into the dark, mesmerised.

“I’ve always found the snow pretty, but it can be a bit oppressive, huh?” she asks, not really talking to me anymore. “It can make you feel trapped.”

Saki and I stare out into the darkness. The snow beats down.

And in the darkness, standing between us in our reflection, I see Kazuki.

The dead, the dying and the living.

But I can’t tell them apart anymore.

In one of the spotlit circles beneath us, we see the other members of the journalism club. Naomi and Natsume walk ahead, and behind them, unusually close to one another, Lelouch and Hanako. She’s wearing his jacket and they walk with a sway that nearly sends them bumping into one another.

“It looks like your friends are heading for town, do you want to join them?” Saki asks.

The snow starts to stick to the window of my snowglobe world. Kazuki stands ominously behind us in our reflection.

“Can I stay here, for a little longer?” I ask. My eyes sting, my stomach churns, my heart beats.

Signs of life.

“For as long as you need,” Saki replies. She places a hand on my shoulder and heads to the door. “I’ll be outside, if you want to join me after.”

She closes the door behind her leaving me standing in the art room surrounded by these signs of life and the dark outside.

I raise my camera and flick through to the photo of the park bench. To the photo of Kazuki.

My thumb hovers over the delete button.

I close my eyes.

Everything exists to end in a photograph, I think.

I call out to Kazuki, from the dead centre of this ephemeral place between signs of life and signs of death. From the place between waking and dreaming.

But nothing happens.

I stare out into the perpetual winter.

And in the darkened reflection, two shapes emerge.

But I can’t tell them apart anymore.

Maybe I never could.

The battery of my camera dies, and the screen fades to black.


Last edited by Feurox on Sat Dec 30, 2023 8:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
My Molly Route
Ekephrasis and Other Stories
I hate when people ruin perfectly good literature with literary terminology.
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Shutter Steps Notes

Post by Feurox »

So first of, thank you if you read through those 18K words for my Secret Santa story this year. My victim this year was the lovely StealthyWolf, and below was the prompt:

Image

Rather fortunately, I had wanted to write a Misaki story for a long time. (Now I've gone Misaki mad!) I had about 2K words on a Misaki story already, and then this prompt fell into my lap. Not only did I know I wanted to transform the story, I also knew that I wanted to write something with punch- because StealthyWolf has made such an impact on the forums with their lovely 'Uncertainty' fic and their lovely and thoughtful comments on everyone's story. I hope you enjoy this story bud!

Of course I have an absolutely huge amount of thanks to give. First, the lovely photos are courtesy of the talented and amazing Sharp O! This story would only be half of what it is without you, you have my eternal thanks.

And where would I be without the wonderful and supportive Noticemeoppai. Your constant discussing, feedbacking, spagging and nagging are what make me the writer I (hope) I am. Thank you endlessly and always mate.

Lap, as always, I owe you an enormous debt already. Your proofreading and general feedback is worth all the credit in my stories, and I am flattered that you think them worthy of your attention. Thank you, so so much.

Some honourable mentions go to ScramblersandShadows whom I discussed this story with in its early conception, and of course, Prof, who organises these wonderful things! Thank you, Prof.

I'll send some songs over Discord for the few who are interested.

Many thanks everyone!
Feurox

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Re: Shutter Steps (SS23 for StealthyWolf)

Post by StealthyWolf »

Sits back in awe, probably a little star-struck.

I... don't really know how to start this. Actually, that's a lie. I do. That was god damn beautiful, Feurox! I'd say you'd out-done yourself once again if it wasn't so repetitive. I couldn't ask for a better story and I'm glad that I played some part in bringing it to life. And yes, this certainly did pack a punch. Forgive the walls of text incoming! Also, many thanks for the kind words!

To buy myself a bit more time to get all my thoughts in order I want to talk about how this prompt came to be. Back when the prompts were first handed out I had a few thoughts. One was that maybe I'd made my just a liiitle too convoluted and challenging in the end. And two, I remember you stating at one point early on that you felt like the prompt you got was crafted perfectly for you, or something along those lines. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a glimmer of hope you got mine at that point and while that's not completely true that I made this prompt with you in mind, it's not untrue either. I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to structure my prompt so I went through a series of old SS's and tried to draw inspiration from them. One that stood out to me immediately was the prompt you got for "An Empty Space where a Person Should Go" and the story that followed. At first I just tried throwing random people and objects into the mix, but it didn't feel right so I went with a slightly different approach. I imagined a story of my own and tried to distill it down to a few seemingly innocuous details and boom, there it was. I was interested in stories that follow characters less prominent (at least from what I've seen) and was wondering what perspective other might have on them. The fact you had Misaki on the mind already is icing on the cake.

To think it would lead to a story like this sis something else though. First off is the first star of the show: Misaki. Her story here is, in a word, tragic. She not only lost the love of her life, she lost her dearest childhood friend. Her protector. Her shield. Her rock. Her hope. And she didn't just lose him once, but twice. First she lost his heart to another, then to the sands of time. I don't think there ever is a right way to grieve loss. You just do. Sometimes it's quick and painful, but quick none-the-less and you can start in on your future. Sometimes it's long and excruciating and ugly and it refuses to let you go. Sometimes you don't until the day comes that you do, or until someone is grieving you. Kazuki is quite explicitly the ghost in Misaki's head that she refuses to let go of - but eventually she must. Saki says it best in that last conversation. Sometimes you don't get a clean resolution, but that doesn't mean you can't have closure. And just because you have closure, doesn't mean that it's over. The past is always a part of us, but we don't- we can't live there. We live in the now, relentlessly marching towards the future, and you can either embrace that fact or let it consume you. Seeing Misaki allow herself to finally do the former was really nice to see. I loved the idea that art is a way for us to accept something about ourselves - be it in the past or present - and embrace it for all it is, then let it go as needed. To expand on this idea, and the characters' "definitions" and answer to "what is art," I think writing is much of the same for me. Though in the forms of words, stories are tales told in ways hard to convey through normal conversation. What I mean to say here is that that part of the story spoke to me on a personal note and hits home. I agree with it.

The comes the story of Hanako and Lelouch, and once again it is a doozy. Speaking back to that previous summation of grieving, I think Hanako most aligned with "sometimes you don't until the day comes that you do." I think she had long since accepted her parents' deaths, but she couldn't leave the past. She was stuck there for the longest time until Lilly and Hisao showed her a path to the present, and then with Lelouch a path to the future. A nice reflection of stories happening here. Hanako's a step ahead of Misaki, and she recognizes this in parts of the story. Maybe she's not yet at the point to help others like she's been helped, but even being able to recognize it means she has been able to move forward - if all the other changes didn't already make that clear. And their story of finally moving forward together gives hope that Misaki is on her way to doing the same.

Right, I could go on and on about the characters but I don't ant to end up writing something as long as the story itself here ;), so here's a few rapid-fire points. The looming tension in Lilly and Hisao's relationship with regards to the possibility of Hisao's own mortality coming into play is a nice touch, along with the fact that they don't let it stop them from living in the now, and just living. Rika not being able to handle the loss of Kazuki and blaming Misaki is harsh, but it's her own version of grieving. Ultimately I think this story is about the past and grief, or something along those lines. Her reaction reminds me of Naoka Ueno's from "A Silent Voice" after Shoya is injured. Then Rin's perspective on the titular question and that entire interaction was nice as well. I like the role Naomi and Natsume played in the story as well. You can be someone who watches the world around you, but you should do it with your own eyes. Something Miskai needed to learn. Saki being an in-between for Rika and Misaki was also an interesting spin on her character. She has a bit of a prickly edge to her here, but it's only an edge. Ultimately she understands the affect people in her position have on those around them. She can sympathize with people like Takashi but still not agree with him nor forgive his actions, which I dins to be quite a mature take on her end. That maturity helps Misaki come to see what she needs to do to move on, and I like to imagine a friendship between the two blossoming. Perhaps this'll lead to a road of recovery for Rika as well and maybe one day Rika and Misaki will be able to overcome their issues with each other and bond over what Kazuki meant to them.

Sheesh, as I said I could go on and on, but I want to get to the next part. I loved your interpretation of the prompt and the story-beats extracted from it. The uses of the snow globe and meaning behind it, the frozen lunch on the roof, Hanako finally feeling a sense of deep warmth in her life with her new family, and the camera and everything attached to it. Just, mwah, fantastic. Definitely a very different story than I had imagined - in the best way possible. If I had to nitpick anything, it'd be that Lilly's role was a little smaller than I had hoped. But that's only because her role was in Hanako's story more so than Misaki's, and it was still a big part of her half of this story, so it works out in the end. I had not considered Rika becoming the "antagonistic" force of the story (to some degree), but that also worked out pretty well. If anything I had expected whoever got this story to twist Lilly's involvement to becoming the antagonist, but I didn't want to influence how the three mentioned characters were involved so I left it up to interpretation. Glad I Did because it lead to quite an amazing story!

Well, I think that wraps up a lot of what I want to say about it here. Thanks for the amazing read and fantastic SS entry! As I said earlier, I couldn't be happier with this outcome and I'm happy it gave you inspiration! Speaking of which, this has definitely helped spark a newfound inspiration for some of my own works, so thanks for that as well! Now, time to go give that music of yours a listen to ;)

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Re: Shutter Steps (SS23 for StealthyWolf)

Post by Sharp-O »

Feurox wrote: Sat Dec 30, 2023 5:44 pm

First, the lovely photos are courtesy of the talented and amazing Sharp O! This story would only be half of what it is without you, you have my eternal thanks.

As always, I aim to please... curtsies

This was heavy. You've really put Misaki through the wringer recently and this was utterly tragic in all the trademark Feurox ways!

The part that really stood out to me though was Hanako and Lelouch. Maybe it's because of how I've written Hanako adapting to friends outside of Lilly and Hisao or what I'm planning on doing with Lelouch but their little friendship was very interesting to me.

An amazing SS entry and a brilliant piece in general, my guy!

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Re: Shutter Steps (SS23 for StealthyWolf)

Post by Mirage_GSM »

“H-he was a second y-year. Wh-when we were second ye-years,” I explain.

My first thought was that he had been held back...
And there I was wondering that the story was hardly bleak at all up to this point... How naive of me! :oops:

That said, it was as always a brilliant story. Not much more I can say that StealthyWolf hasn't already.

Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.
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