For Kate Barss
The moment I answer the phone, she says, “I got it back.”
Her voice seems to come from the overcast sky as I gaze at it through the living room window—its pale lavender clouds slowly disintegrating into downy snowflakes above the sedate cityscape.
She can only be referring to one thing, and that sends jealousy coursing through me, pushing out all other feelings, displacing every thought unrelated to the power. But the hegemony of envy affords me one piece of consolation: better one of us with the power than both without it, which is the way it’s been for years.
“When?” is all I can ask in response.
“Several days ago.”
“But I just saw you yesterday.”
“I wanted to make sure it would last before I told you.”
I want to ask her what she’s used it for/on, but I’m afraid her answer will set off another surge of jealousy.
“So,” she says at length, after I fail to say anything else. “Is there something you want me to change for you?”
Then envy is supplanted by nostalgia.
I want to play our game again. To regain the bond we delighted in.
That kinship rooted in a morning recess, when she saw me kneeling in the sandbox with the magnifying glass. Her in third grade, me in fourth, both too old for sandbox play. But I had gotten the magnifying glass to show me some interesting things in there, especially in the spaces between the grains.
“Hey, I like to do that too,” she said from behind me.
I turned my body to face her as she sat down on the sand.
I took her words to mean that she liked getting a close-up look at things, but then she said, “Here, I’ll show you,” and held out her hand for the magnifying glass.
I gave it to her, curious what she would show me. By its black plastic handle, she raised the magnifying glass to her right eye and looked at me through it.
“See,” she said smugly, handing it back to me.
But I didn’t know what I was supposed to be seeing or looking at.
“Take a look,” she urged, pointing at the magnifying glass.
Through the lens, I saw the wooden planks of the sandbox walls warped to the cusp of buckling, giant cracks running through the grain. Wondering how it would transform the appearance of my clothing or skin, I raised my right arm in front of me and and brought the magnifying lens toward it. As it arced through the air, the lens happened to catch Bemir, and in it, he was slouching more than ever as he walked over to the basketball court some yards away, his poor posture enlarged to become his most distinct characteristic. Then, pointed at my right arm, the lens showed a prominent bulge where the bones, broken in kindergarten, had not healed in quite the right alignment. Lowering the magnifying glass to my side, I saw my arm normally again, the aftermath of the fractures only discernible if I held out both arms to compare them.
The weathered planks, Bemir’s posture, my arm. There was something wrong with all of them. She must have made the lens magnify flaws. My eyes flitted to meet hers. She smiled, probably delighting in my realization. I wanted to point the magnifying glass at her. That seemed only fair, but I was sure she’d swat it away.
In the days that followed, she got me to understand this ability—power, she called it. Not because she explained it to me, but because seeing someone else use it, seeing it from a distance made its nature clearer. We could change not what things are, but what they do.
Make a mirror show not one’s self but the younger self of a parent. Make binoculars show not distant objects but distant possibilities. A thermostat no longer keeping a room warm but keeping my mother’s heart warm. The slow cooker simmering not soup but my father’s anger, steadily evaporating it away, just the right temperature to not boil over. A fog obscuring not just the features of the landscape but facets of people’s character too, concealing a cocky tone of voice or grumpy mood. Sunglasses that dimmed the emotional intensity of the world, the brilliance of smiles and flaring of tempers diminished by tinted glass.
This power worked for her exactly as it did for me. We could change objects in one way at a time, then change them back if we wanted to, or just leave them to change back on their own after a few hours. The power’s consistency between us seemed to hint at something fundamental about it. Or about the world, how the universe could—and couldn’t—be altered. Which we didn’t investigate.
Instead, we noticed that though we had the same ability, we didn’t use it in the same ways. So, of course, we invented a game. We would get two of the same object and each change one of them then compare the results. One iron for smoothing over misunderstandings, the other for ironing out details. One pair of headphones playing the encouraging words of loved ones, another the mental chatter of anyone nearby. A plastic protractor measuring angles of attack; a wooden one measuring degrees of uncertainty. A yellow sponge (with a green scrub pad) that would absorb pain, which she demonstrated by pinching my upper arm—hard—then holding the sponge to the reddened area, immediately taking away the sting; a white sponge that could wipe clean a tarnished reputation.
“No, that’s cheating,” she said. “You should have to clean it up with the hard work of good behavior.”
“But what if it’s not your fault? Like if rumors that aren’t true ruined your reputation.”
We didn’t have a way of keeping score—I didn’t want to—but no doubt she took note of each change I made that seemed more interesting than hers.
Now, I’ll be the one taking note, of her transmutations and the ones I’d like her to make.
“Well, if you can’t think of anything right now,” she says when it seems like I have no requests. “Then you can let me know later.”
I want to tell her that yes, I’ll take a rain check; that I’m out of practice; that I’ve stopped thinking about how I’d change things, instead accepting them for what they are, to avoid becoming frustrated by possibilities that can only go unfulfilled. But before I can say anything, a thought flickers through my mind, and I hear myself putting it into words.
“Can you change this call so I can hear what my heart wants?”
“Okay, let me see what I can do,” she says.
The call goes crackly for a few seconds then quiets.
Before I can say anything, I hear my own voice saying distantly, “To feel special,” the words sounding just as the ones in my mind do.
To feel their weight, I close my eyes and after a moment ask, “How?”
“By being needed in a way no one else can be.”
When I open my eyes, the flurries outside the window seem to welcome me back into the world, offering a sense of belonging. Which I accept with ease. When fate grants you kindness, receive it graciously, my mother often said.
Then, I am settled here in this winter afternoon, far from the sandbox and season this all started in.
Once the phone works normally again, I’ll call her back. Then we can play a new version of our game.
Soramimi Hanarejima writes fiction that explores the nature of thought and is the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, “captures moonlight in Ziploc bags.” Soramimi’s recent work can be found in Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Every Day Fiction, Tahoma Literary Review and Typehouse.