"Someone is coming ashore inside of me." That’s the way the mystic poet said it. The sea within me held my unborn daughter. Suspended now, in my liquid center, she’s been part of a nest of eggs who’d been with me, since my own birth, I’m told. An ocean of potential lives swimming inside me, all those little eggs, a million would-be children there with me through everything I'd ever experienced. Already there, that day in kindergarten when I’d climbed inside a wooden barrel with Tommy Tucker, and we rolled in it down a green slope, tumbling ankle to elbow, chin to knee, in the darkness, our bodies scrambled like two eggs. And when we’d crashed into the stiff wooden fence at the bottom of the hill, he’d given me my first kiss: an explosion of tenderness and danger and the smell of freshly cut grass and two warm bodies pressed together in the darkness: a single moment in time remembered by every cell in my body.
Each egg, holding its own coil of destiny, and sharing my life with me, weeping tiny tears for my father’s return, and getting straight A's so he'd come back. And they were there, tossed together in my inner ocean, like glittering bits of sea glass, as we rode the frigid shore break at Cowell’s beach. And they'd shivered with me in the warm October sunlight, the taste of ocean in my mouth, the eggs in my belly, the sun on my back, and the tantalizing kiss of salt from my boyfriend's lips.
And years later, another kiss, more urgent, more permanent, this time on an Indian rug in San Francisco. Millions of sperm making their swim towards my center. And just that one, breaking through, entering a single sacred chamber in that moment of conception, when the two become one.
And now, shaped like a tiny question mark, she floats upside down somewhere near my core, light as a love letter tossed about in a spring breeze. In a few more months, she will squint against the blinding light, crying in great long howls out of longing for the ten thousand sisters she left behind and who still float within.
We were living our lives in Japan then, in Hinode Mura, the Village of the Rising Sun. Our wooden house, the color of a wren, perched on a gentle rise, overlooking jade green rice fields. Camouflaged against the hillside, its wooden sides and blue-tile roof, nearly vanished between earth and sky. On that warm October day, I was scrubbing the hallway floor, washing generations of coal dust from our walls, floor, and ceiling beams, my hands and forearms stained pitch black, like a coal miner just up from the depths. But I was thinking about the circle of light spinning inside me, like a galaxy forming within.
I was carrying a girl, I knew that, even though this happened in 1970, in the days before such knowing. Soon, my two year old daughter, Kate, would have a new sister and I busied myself with our new nest. I wanted my daughters to live in a house the color of a redwood tree, the rich warmth of cinnamon that I'd already uncovered in half the house. My arms ached from the task, washing away the tarnish of the lives lived within these walls before us, for at least a hundred years, through war and famine, through birth and death and another woman’s daily chores. I wanted a wall color that bounced sunlight like a beach ball. A gold or red or yellow that couldn't be gobbled up by the grim pallor of coal, the way smoke eats daylight.
A pool of sunlight lulled Kate to sleep on the futon, which I still hadn’t put up in the closet, where bedding is supposed to live during the day. What matches the perfection of a sleeping child? Light glistened off a starburst of spittle that lingered on her perfectly pink lips. Soft golden curls surrounded her face. Just the sight of her caused my body to bloom; I was an orchard full and ripe and dripping with sweet juices.
But I was so sleepy that day. I don’t know. Maybe it was the same slant of sunlight that called me over to Kate, made me wash the black streaks from my arms and hands, crawl onto the futon beside her and drift off. As my eyes closed, I was back on Cowell’s Beach, belly pressed to the sand, the smell of French fries, and kelp, and Coppertone, my body quaking from the cold, and the sun's comfort reaching beyond my skin, all the way inside me, even to the cells that would one day become my daughters. The murky coal-colored water awaits my return. The sponge floats on its back. The towel gradually unwraps itself from the tight knot I'd wrung, and the room slowly absorbs the glow of the new lives being lived here.
I awoke slowly, thinking I’d name my new daughter after this village, something with the word sun in it, the color resonating off the newly scrubbed walls. Sunrise Village, Village of the Rising Sun. Kyoko, a little girl born in the place where the sun rises. I stretch, my limbs unwilling to shake off the delicious weight of sleep, like being covered with a blanket of warm sand.
I tossed the name Kyoko around in my head and rolled over to pull Kate closer. That’s when my eyes snapped open. She wasn’t there. I sat bolt upright.
“Kate! Kate! Where are you?” I was already running down the hall to the drop-style toilet, a narrow stall with no running water to flush it clean, like having an outhouse inside your home. Where had I heard that children, toddlers especially, sometimes fall in these God-awful things and drown? I knew where: a student who'd been coming to my home to learn English. All in one day, she'd told me about the emerald green poisonous snakes that loved to hide in the village's tall grasses, and of a small boy who'd drowned in knee-deep water in the rice fields, and how tropical centipedes with one hundred squirming red legs loved to crawl inside your shoes and that their bite could easily kill a child.
I shuddered as I reached the drop style toilet, but Kate was not there. At least a hundred times a day I’d hear that nagging in my head that I’d forget to lock it just once, and that I’d have to look down into that stench and darkness to see if my darling girl was there. But this time I had locked it.
“My stomach heaved into my throat as I raced across the tatami-matted rooms, down the long wooden halls, shoving open every rice-papered door. Kate wasn’t up on the top shelf of the deep linen closet where she loved to hide, sliding the door shut in front of her, and waiting in the dark for me to find her.
I ran to the back of the house. Through the window, I could see that she hadn’t pulled the wooden cover off of our well, so I didn’t have to look down there for her. I raced across the tatami to the sliding glass doors that led to the garden.
“Kate!” I screamed again. “Kate!”
And then my mind saw what my eyes could not. I knew where she was. Without slowing to put on my shoes, I raced down the driveway. Sharp stones cut into my feet as I ran. And there she was, just where my mind had shown her to me: toddling toward the edge of our steep driveway, my two year old seeking out another forbidden danger, headed into the open road.
I yanked her into my arms, just as a cement truck whizzed by at full speed, less than a foot away. Adrenaline ripped through my arms and legs, and there was a moment when my heart didn’t beat. The urgency of my embrace startled her and we both of wailed, a woeful croon, like dogs matching their voices to a passing siren.
I cried, off and on, for the rest of that day, as I drain bucket after bucket of pitch black water, lugging it from hallway to sink, now with Kate strapped to my back in an Ombu. Salty tears landed on Kate’s cheek as I rocked her to sleep that night. Her bottom lip quivered when she saw me cry, and she reached up and patted my chest, just above my heart, as if she were my mother.
My pillow was wet when Pat came home that night, the smell of beer on his breath mixing with the lemon cleaner that was still on my hands. And with the tatami mats below us, and the freshly washed red ceiling above, he’d pulled me into his arms to make love, but I wasn’t there. I was thinking about the little boy who'd drowned in the rice fields. Maybe I could keep Kate on my back all day or use a tie from a summer kimono, a make a slip knot around her wrist, tied to my own. I imagined her little arm tracing up and down and up and down as I scrubbed the walls.
“Yes,” I decided, “I could tie her to me, waist to waist or arm to arm, and never let her out of my sight. Then, I remembered the new life growing inside me and realized I’d soon need a second tie.
I stared headlong into that thought. “How would I ever be able to do it? A second child, and the cover on the well, and the door on the toilet, and the snakes in the grass and the scorpions in your shoes and the trucks on the road. A pang of fear coursed its way through my bloodstream, a chemical message sent out to every cell, to all of my waiting eggs, to all of my sons and daughters swimming inside. With a sudden pang of conscience, I turned my face in Kate’s direction. I could just make out her shape in the moonlight, the soft turn of her cheek, her lovely fingers held so close to her lips, as if she were telling me to be quiet, to let myself drift off to sleep.
And so I did. Tomorrow, the sun will rise again over the village, and I’ll continue preparing my nest. I’ll wash other people’s lives from our walls. I'll remember to lock the doors and fasten the latches, and cover the well, and try to stay awake. And tomorrow, and every day for the rest of my life, I'll worry whether the world is safe enough for my daughters to live outside my body.