The first time Sako met herself, she was twelve and twenty eight years old.
But that hasn’t happened yet.
The backyard was aglow with early evening sunlight. Though small there was nothing but untidy grass ringing a small stone walkway and a wooden shed in the otherwise empty plot. Green Converse sneakers slapped on the stepping stones as Sako moved from one to the other, making certain to never, ever, let the soles of her shoes touch the grass.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness inside the windowless shed, and in that time she tugged her zip-up hoodie a little bit tighter. The Shed, or the Ritual Ground, or sometimes in her mind just The Black Room, was a tomb of memories that Sako wished she could bury once and for all. But that was the problem with having an eidetic memory. No matter how hard she tried to forget something, there it was, lurking at the corners of her subconscious like a very noisy burglar waiting to break in.
Except, she thought, in this case the burglar doesn’t actually steal anything. No, the memory burglar, a brutish male she imagined with a hooked and crooked nose and hands too large for his compact and stocky frame, would bring things in to the House of the Mind. It would drag in the memories she released and place them exactly where they had resided once before. He wasn’t even really a burglar than, Sako mused. He was more a curator. Or maybe a caretaker. The thought depressed her.
But this running thread kept her distracted, and it wasn’t until she was in the backyard again with the handsaw her father had requested that she noticed everything smelled of cinnamon and lavender.
The whole world had seemingly changed, but only in the imperceptible way that the lizard-portion of the brain can pick up and deceminate without silly things like Reasoning and Thought getting in the way. Sako stood frozen, on the small stone walkway between the shed and kitchen door. What was causing that itching at the base of her skull, the instinctual danger-sense built in to humans for millennia ringing madly through her nerves. Was it that the lawn was freshly mown, or that a new row of rose bushes framed the kitchen porch? After a few minutes of furious thinking, she finally announced what had happened.
“The sun’s moved.”
Content with this explanation, she stepped inside, and began to hyperventilate. Everything in the kitchen was right, and everything in it was also dramatically wrong. The only word that came to mind at that instant was Déjà vu, but that wasn’t right. She hadn’t seen this exact moment in time before, no, she had been in it – she had lived it. This was how her house looked as a child, with sunset orange walls and an old Frigidaire whirring in the corner and her Father was still winning the no microwave argument.
Sako walked towards the steps in a daze, absently setting the handsaw on the kitchen table as she passed it. There were noises coming from a back room on the first floor. Those she ignored, chalking them up to her sister, or maybe her father, both of whom were home. She was focused on the house. On the subtle and not-so-subtle changes that had taken place.
She was more focused on the child she found sitting on the floor of her bedroom, doodling on a napkin at a tiny table pulled in front of her.
“Who are you?”
The little girl looked up, strands of chocolate brown bangs covering her eyes. She stared at the intruder, gingerly setting her pen down on the table above the napkin, and squinted up at Sako.
“Are you one of Papa-san’s friends?”
“Who are you?” Sako asked again, her brows knitting together in irritation.
The little girls face pursed, seeming to twist and tighten in on itself, constricting into a perfect crinkled wad of annoyance. She wasn’t an unattractive girl by any means but with her features contorted like that she appeared hideous. Her overbite was much more pronounced, and pockmarks not yet hidden by concealer showedmore vividly through the bloom of red anger spreading over her face.
“I’m going to yell for Dad,” the girl snarled. “And he’s going to come in here, and he’s going to stab you with his tonto, and then he’s going to let me stab you with his tonto, and then he’s going to make you disappear so you should leave my house right now!”
It hit her all at once. Sako felt her knees buckle and pain screeched through the left. She had suffered a grade 2 medial collateral ligament injury – a painful tweak but one that should heal in time – doing the most unlikely of activities almost a year ago. Unfortunately this aching pain wouldn’t be officially diagnosed as an eventually more severe meniscal tear for nearly another five months.
“You’re me. I mean, I’m you. You’re Sako, aren’t you?”
“Dad!” the girl raised her voice. It wasn’t quite a shout, but if anyone had been skulking about they certainly would have heard.
Anxiously Sako jerked on the chain dangling at her side. Her wallet flopped out of her back pocket and she snatched it out of the air with nail-bitten fingers. A pair of wadded receipts drifted down to the floor, followed by an expired gym membership, and four of her business cards. Finally, hopefully, with trembling fingers, Sako extended her driver’s license out in front of her.
“There, look! It’s me. I mean, I’m you. Sako Green.”
Young Sako took the driver’s license from her and narrowed her eyes as she began to examine it. In the silence that followed, Grown Sako started to gently rock on her heels. In situations of high stress she found that her ADHD became worse; tension and anxiety made her fidget, it made her lose focus. It was one myriad reasons she took that hiatus from college. Her eyes darted around the room, at the posters for the terrible things she enjoyed in her idyllic youth.
She had so much to teach herself. A wistful smile spread her lips. She’d never get picked on in junior high, that’s for sure. And woe be the idiots that try and manipulate her now, try to take her heart and crush it in their hands like ripe kiwis. No, her heart would be crushed like tomatoes, like fat and juicy heirloom tomatoes, red skin nearly splitting down the seams from the overfull ripene
Grown Sako let out a startled shriek as she reeled backwards. The familiar tinge of pain was in her knee again, something the knee brace she had stopped wearing months ago had temporarily corrected. There was also the pain of betrayal, the heartache of not only being turned on, but being turned on by yourself. That was a pain she was certain that no one before her had ever felt.
There was the sounds of stirring from the den far below her. The air was pregnant with the implied meaning, that her father was waiting to see if he had actually heard his eldest daughter call out to him. Sako knew what he was like, she’d heard the stories from his military days. She was a dead woman if he caught her up here with herself. With her knee and her heart bringing her mind back around to the realities in front of her, Sako did the only thing that made sense.
She snatched both the driver’s license and the drawing on the low table and bolted from the room. Fear, and adrenaline, and pain, propelled her to the top of the stairs where she collided face first into her fathers chest.
Her father, with his greying mustach and thinning hair and bifocals – and certainly not a younger iteration of the man that would become her current father – grunted slightly at the mid-hallway collision. The house had at some point reverted as well, and even though she was standing on hardwood instead of carpet, it went unnoticed in her surprise.
“Oh, daddy, you’re here, thank all the Gods!” she cried out, wrapping her arms tight around him. Relief washed over her in an awesome wave.
“Heh, uh, hey pumpkin… Everything okay? I heard you shouting.”
“Yeah. Yeah! Everything’s great. I mean, have you… have you been seeing anything weird?”
Her father’s expression faltered briefly before he attempted a reassuring smile. “No, I haven’t. Have you?”
She hated him in that instant. He detangled himself from her grip, and gestured down to the paper in her hand. “What do you have there?”
“This? Oh… something I drew in my room.”
“Something you drew in – Sako. Have you been goofing off in your room this entire time? Where’s my hand saw? I asked you to get it twenty minutes ago.”