From - Something to Stem the Diminishing
Mogi was real but forgotten.
A small fishing town outside Nagasaki City, it was really known only to residents and occasionally by others who enjoyed its special agricultural product, biwa. Rath first found the town by accident one autumn day. He and his friends were riding their bikes through Shiminomori Park. The path through the park took them up the mountain, past the bamboo forests and creeks, until finally they came to a clearing on the other side where there was a lookout point. Rath stood at the lookout post with his two friends: Mike, who had arrived from Wales a few weeks back, and Thomas, his roommate from England. They were all English teachers on one-year contracts in Japan and in their early to mid-twenties. From where the three of them stood, they could look down the side of the mountain all the way to the shore below. As the mountain reached the coast, they could see houses lightly scattered just outside some of the larger fields of biwa.
One of their students had suggested they take their bikes through the park. But it was Rath, with his enthusiasm for the outdoors, who had insisted. Now at the summit, looking down at the small town below, they had a decision to make.
“Well, we’ve reached the top,” Thomas said. “We can either fuck off back the way we came, or we can see what’s on the other side of this mountain.”
There was a steep road leading down the mountain to the village on the other side.
Mike shrugged. “It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do. But how are we going to get back to town? I mean, getting down the mountain is one thing. It might take us all of ten minutes, but getting back up this road will take us hours.”
They each looked to Rath. Thomas was the one with the most experience in Japan, but for some reason they both trusted Rath with this decision. Perhaps it was Rath’s physical presence, his wide shoulders and build, that made him seem as if he were a natural at this kind of thing.
Rath took a long look at the beach. For him, there wasn’t any choice.
Whatever happened, happened. “Fuck it,” he said. “You only live once, They each started riding down the mountain. The mountain air, cool and crisp, ran through their nostrils and cleared out their heads. At first, Rath stuck with Thomas and Mike. They braked every so often to stop their velocity. Rath was not opposed to this sensible course of action, but as gravity took hold, something clicked inside him. There was something about the momentum of his descent that seemed to liberate him for a moment.
Everything was inevitable. He let go of his brake and went flying down the mountain road. If a car had been coming in the opposite direction he might have died. He would have hit the car, or gone over a rail and flew off the edge of the mountain, tumbling to his death. He thought that this was the way his life should be from now on―that every moment should have this kind of urgency. And if he died, well, that would be the price he paid for living his life.
He thought that for one reason or another his momentum would never stop and that he would be catapulted into an inevitable death or the inevitable future that awaited him. But when his bike did eventually slow down, he instead found himself among the old Japanese houses that were near the coast. He found himself gliding past the houses and a few odd convenience stores until he reached a single restaurant near the shore: the Seaside Bear.
When Thomas and Mike finally caught up with Rath, Thomas looked at him as if he had lost his mind. “What the fuck, man? You could have been killed.”
Rath was smiling. “Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.”
Mike nodded his head in approval. “Doesn’t like to get pissed and pass out in ditches like the rest of us, but will risk his hide flying down a mountain. To each his own.”
They sat by the beach for a while, looking out into the ocean. Mike took a second to look for his digital camera in his backpack and lamented not finding it. Finally, Thomas found his own camera and began to take a few pictures. They took a second to walk up and down the beach, scoping it out.
One or two families were hanging out by the water having a picnic, but no one actually was in the water, it being too cold to swim.
“I wish the restaurant was open,” Thomas said. “We could relax and have a few beers.”
Rath was thinking something very different. He was wondering if the water was warm enough for him to dive in. He was thinking that if he came back soon enough, he might get a swim in before winter came.
They took a second to hang out by the sidewalk and admire the ocean view. Just off the shore, they could see fishing boats.
As he and his friends continued down the road, they eventually found the main town of Mogi.
The town was undeniably real, yet somehow Rath could question its existence. First, there were the rows and rows of fishing boats, sitting idly.
The small lighthouse at the end of the dock. The beautiful Japanese graves creeping up the side of the mountain. It was hard to believe this other place and Nagasaki City were part of the same Japan.
Thomas and Mike both thought the small fishing town was something amazing as well. And though both thought something like this might exist away from the city center of Nagasaki, they were nevertheless surprised that they were now there. It had been Rath’s idea to ride bikes through Shiminomori Park, but now that they were there in the fishing town, it occurred to them that they couldn’t stay long without having to go back, seeing as the path they had come down would now be uphill and none of them wanted to ride through the mountain paths in the dark.
Rath thought that they could get back in time if they started back right away. But both Mike and Thomas really didn’t feel like going through the hassle. It was Thomas’s idea that they simply leave their bikes there and go get a drink.
And so it was that six months into Rath’s stay in Nagasaki, he found the small fishing town of Mogi. He and his friends would buy some beer and fireworks. And though they were sure that someone would call the cops on them, there was a sense that they had to test the limits of what was possible that day. They drank their beer and set off copious amounts of bottle rockets and other firecrackers. Thomas talked endlessly about the girl he was going back to marry once his contract finished. Mike did impressions of the various characters he had grown up with in Cardiff.
As it turned dark, they went into the Japanese graveyard that crept up the side of the mountain near the city’s edge. There they sat, rude and garrulous, and talked of all the things they would do in Japan before their one-year teaching contract ran out. And when it was creeping past ten-thirty, it occurred to Rath that he would need to round them up and get them onto the last bus heading into town.
Truth be told, he didn’t really understand any of the symbols on the bus, the kanji telling him where he would be going, but then again they didn’t really have a choice either. This was the last bus and it had to get them somewhere closer to home than where they were now. So they all boarded, trusting in Rath. And though he was drunk like the rest of them, when they looked at him, they somehow expected that he would come through for them.
They saw him as someone dependable.
It wasn’t long before the bus was completely outside the town and they were on their way back to Nagasaki City. And as it departed, Rath couldn’t help but think that he had left behind something more important in Mogi than his bike.
***If you like what you’ve read, you can contact me on goodreads or facebook for a review copy of my new short story collection “Something to Stem the Diminishing.”
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