I have three ways to look at the world around me.
First, with my eyes big. That’s when my teardrop eyes, as my mother calls them when she traces my face with her finger, scoop up everything. Like a net Urashima Taro throws out in the blue ocean. My picture book hero. From our kitchen table, I watch Mama change Kanta’s diaper. He is in a crib. I see his chubby legs kicking the air.
The way I used to practice pedaling with Mama, when Mama was all mine. We laid down on our bed, squeezed together. Our heads on a big, marshmallow pillow, her hair tickling my cheek. Ready, set, go, she’d say, and we’d pedal air. Mama’s shiny legs shot up. Her sparkling red dress spread on her belly. I tried to pedal like Mama. She would go faster and faster. I couldn’t catch up. But she’d hold my hand so we’d be together. Over the moon. Under the rainbow. She’d steer us. Until our doorbell rang and Aunt Nightie stepped in, like a ringmaster. Mama kissed my head and when she stood up, her red dress flowed down. Like a curtain at the end of a puppet show. She put on shiny lipstick. Time to go to work. I told Mama she could go to a ball instead. Dance and find a prince like Cinderella. Good idea, she said, and gave money to Aunt Nightie. Mama tucked me in bed and named everything Santa Claus would bring me: a red bike, a piglet, a plateful of anpan pastry, a Daddy. All came true except for the red bike. Did Santa Claus forget? Maybe he can’t find my new home. Is he mad like Papa because I’m not good at pedaling? No. Can’t be. Santa Claus never gets angry. Maybe he is busy. Like Mama.
Papa is awake. The clock goes ding dong dong. I count to ten. But the ding dong dong continues. He is brushing his teeth. He will come sit at the table. Soon. Now, Kanta can shake his rattle. The one I chose for him with Mama. I wanted the stork to hurry up. His turn’s coming soon, Mama said. She was right. The stork brought me my ter-ri-fic little brother. I want to play with him. Kanta shakes the rattle with a piglet’s face. One green ear, another blue. Red, orange, yellow beads are jumping up and down in the piglet’s ears. Like popcorn. Mama doesn’t have to take it away from him. Kanta giggles with his rattle. I smell his poop. I pinch my nose. Mama smiles. Maybe Papa might let Mama feed me. Scrambled eggs with cheese. A ketchup heart. My stomach starts crying. Oh, stop. What if Papa hears it?
Another way to look is squinting. I see a pencil, an eraser, and a notebook on the kitchen table. Papa sits in front of me, but he is not there. He appears, only in part, when his bear hand slaps mine. How many times do I have to teach you the same thing? When I use my fingers to count, his big hand jumps at me again. Stop it, you look dumb. With my half-closed eyes, I count the bananas he drew. Yellow sticks. I wish he would draw faces on the bananas. Big smiles. No angry or crying faces. Papa’s hand is gone. I only see my red hand.
The third way is my secret. Even Mama doesn’t know. Mama and Papa and Kanta are gone. Punishment, Papa says. He doesn’t like a girl who’s stupid. Do your lesson. I shouldn’t be crying, but I can’t stop. The kitchen is cold. I cover my eyes with my hands. Spread my fingers. Only a little bit. It gets dark. I hear the fridge. It’s humming. Cars are honking far far away. I wait. I count, one..two..three. Play hide and seek. Then I’m back with Mama. Those mornings with a black bean pastry waiting for me on a table. Mama is beside me in our bed. Sleeping. I watch her. Blue eyelids, long shiny eyelashes. Red lips, half opened. I climb off our bed and sit at the round table. I bite my anpan. Sweet black beans melt in my mouth. It is quiet. Mama likes quiet when she’s sleeping. Curtains are closed. Mama likes dark when she’s sleeping. I take out my Poko-chan. She’s my baby sister. I share my anpan with her. Yummy, yummy. Good girl. I hold her. Wrap her in Mama’s red dress lying on the floor. I wait for Mama to wake up.
The sun shines into our kitchen. I feel warm. I open my fingers. Like that peacock I saw at a zoo. Papa took me there when he was not my Papa. He pulled my hand and knelt in front of the peacock. I was so scared. Of many blue-green-orange eyes looking at me. All at once. I couldn’t move. Then Papa scooped me up, up on his shoulders. From high up, the peacock looked small, even pretty. Papa’s laughter made me bob up and down. Mama pressed the button of an instant camera. She held the photo for Papa to see. Come on, she said, and waved it like a wand. Gradually, Papa and I appeared out of whiteness— first like ghosts. Magic. That night, Mama tacked the photo by our bedside and said, I found you a Daddy.
I walk around our apartment, with my fan-hands covering my face. Between my finger-bars, I see Papa’s dark blue jacket hanging on the wall, my workbook on the table, Kanta’s walker, Mama’s fluffy slippers. I put my feet into her pink slippers. Warm and soft like Mama’s hug. I can be with Mama again. Hear her say, My lovely, Emi-chan.
Papa says I’m daydreaming. Bad girl. Lazy girl.
Dreams are what you have when you’re sleeping. So how can I dream now? My eyes are open. I want to ask Papa. But I don’t. I do my addition. To keep his hand quiet. To make Mama stay. I hear raindrops. I wish Mama would laugh like before. Her laugh that comes in different colors. Like my crayons in my cookie can. My favorite is her drumbeat laugh. She opens her mouth in an O, shakes her shoulders, and holds her stomach. Mama can fill the room with rainbow.
But Papa doesn’t like it. He says Mama must laugh like a butterfly. I’ve never heard butterflies laugh. Dogs bark. Cats meow. Kanta giggles. When Papa is home, Mama covers her mouth and laughs. There is no sound.
Papa draws apples and bananas. My stomach cries. He hears. It makes him draw big apples. Snow White’s bad apples. I squint my eyes. I fly to Emi-land where Mama and I live. Just the two of us. There’s a round table, with a plate full of anpan. Milk for me, coffee for Mama. We sit on our sofa bed and go yummy-yummy, watch my favorite cartoon. Wilbur is so cute. Some Pig. I slide on Mama’s lap and feel her laugh. She calls me Ter-ri-fic. Ra-di-ant.
My stomach stops crying. I look out the window and see Charlotte. If I were Charlotte, I could run very quickly. Eight legs. I have two. Eight is Mama, Kanta, me, and maybe more. I can be the fastest girl in the first grade. Even faster than big girls. Will that make Papa stop calling me stupid? Will Mama let me sit on her lap again?
Does a spider really have eight legs?
Papa doesn’t answer me. He closes the curtain. Charlotte is gone.
What is eight plus eight?
I squint my eyes to draw apples. A circle with a big smile and a straight nose. I hate apples. Mama tells me red shines. Ra-di-ant, she says. Papa’s apples don’t shine. She is wrong. She is gone.
My stomach starts crying again. It won’t stop. Papa will hear me. He’ll get mad. What should I do? I need a magic wand. Bibbidi-bobbidi- boo. Make him go away.
My wand strikes him and it rolls on the rug. The floor goes away. I float like a feather. Down, down, down. It’s magic. I don’t have my hands over my eyes. But the kitchen turns black. I don’t see Papa. I don’t see my notebook. I only hear a low humming. Mama’s lullaby.
Far above me, I see a faint light. Like that sun at the beach where Mama and I built our sand castle. A Cinderella castle, Mama said. Shells for windows. Seaweed moat. Popsicle stick stuck on the top. When we finished making it, we laid down beside it. We’re sleeping on the castle rooftop, Mama said. Then she showed me how to squint my eyes, not to look straight at the sun. Too ra-di-ant, she whispered and hugged me tightly.
Wilbur is radiant. Sun is radiant. I am radiant. Is that why you can’t look at me anymore, Mama? Where are you? Playing peekaboo? I am here. Find me.
Norie Suzuki was born and educated bi-lingually in Tokyo, Japan, where she currently writes, resides, and works as a simultaneous interpreter. She received an MFA in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. ‘Eye Game’ is the first story in a linked story collection she is currently working on. She hopes to have it published someday.