Megumi Oishi

The machine downstairs is broken. The clunks and sighs are coming from down there, up the steps, rolling out around our feet like silvery hot metal. I can tell you’re scared — I am too. I say it’s a person, I heard a cough from down there. It’s impossible to ignore. 

The temperature is rising, not just because of the sweaters, or remembering the things he never said, or the bricks of the walls closing in and pushing our knees close. The stairs are dark at night, but there’s sunshine here. The noises are scaring you, not just annoying like you insist. You don’t have to be responsible. You don’t have to take the lead. Neither of us are, anyway. 

Because if one day someone takes out the patch of leather in my mouth and replaces it with candy, what am I supposed to do? Spit it out? Insist that I like the taste of leather, that I was actually happy when it hit me and I cried like a baby, that I can’t live without it because my mouth feels empty when it’s not there? That’s how I’d want to explain it to you. That’s why my mouth is so dry. 

The machine is whirring, like it’s alive now. The air is buzzing like radio chatter and the branches outdoors tap on the window, intruding – and now you’re frightened of the windows, too. Rushes of cold air and the janitor’s dusted shoes tango in the upstairs hallway — the clink of his keys is actually our rings clasping together, love. Don’t be scared. But even if the trees’ eyes were on us, even if the door opens, I still don’t think I’d let you go. 

And he isn’t here, but he is. You know, and I know. You know more than you want to know, I know. But he isn’t here. Because if he was, you’d be asleep and I’d be counting the years off on my fingers, and I’d have one more ring that you noticed isn’t here with us tonight. One less clink clink that scares you. 

It’s roaring in the background still, a reminder that something isn’t quite right. The parts don’t fit together correctly, the numbers don’t add up, the dates are misaligned, the stars aren’t crossed, the hair that you leave on my sleeve should be short and not long, the purple should show hurt and not love, the air shouldn’t be heavy like this, the staircase should be empty right now. But it isn’t — we’re here, and we’re trying — to forget the trees, to forget the door, to forget the broken machine downstairs. 

Megumi Oishi is a Japanese-American writer born in Portland, Oregon. She is currently a first-year student-athlete at Northwestern University, intending to study English Literature in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Other than writing, she loves reading, spending time with her family and cat, Karasu, and competing on Northwestern’s varsity women’s fencing team.