THE BOY FROM LA PAZZA
Twenty-year-old twin brothers Kyo and Asa pedaled their bikes along a path bordered by cherry trees in full bloom. The morning was cool and the sky a perfect blue. When they came to a break in the trees, the heavenly perfection was sullied by a ragged cloud of black crosses now approaching their island of Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands. The brothers stopped and watched them grow into aircraft. Asa, who was cultivating a mustache and wore a white naval uniform, glanced at his brother, noting the frown and narrowed eyes.
“You think they will attack us, don’t you, Kyo?”
“I don’t know what to think.”
“Do not worry. They are bombers of the Imperial Air Service. They go out at midnight, drop their incendiaries on China by the light of the moon, then return in time for tea.”
Kyo shook his head. “This war is foolish and unnecessary.”
“Listen to yourself. You sound like that old woman in the market.”
“I am a man who only wants to help other men, not kill them”
“You want to be a sawbone. But I tell you this, my brother, medicine is not what you think it is. You will have your hands covered with blood. You will save men to live as cripples who are a burden on society. Is that better than a heroic death to expand our empire? Is that better than oil and rubber and the riches of conquest?”
“You make greed and death sound like virtues.”
“Our grandfather was a daimyo. What do you think he did?”
“I have no interest in following his path.”
“Nor I. I never liked him. But look! Look there!” He pointed to a plane that was trailing smoke. “That one is burning.”
“Do you think it will crash?”
Kyo didn’t answer. He twisted the front wheel of his bike and began cycling back the way they’d come. His brother took a silver case of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and opened it.
“Follow it, Kyo!” he yelled. “When it crashes, you can save the crew and girls will sing your praises!” He laughed as Kyo pedaled toward the plane that was now tumbling from the sky.
Their parents had always considered Kyo the good twin and his brother the bad one. But the world would soon turn upside down, for while his brother would kill no one, Kyo would play a central role in killing millions.
A falcon hurled itself down the limestone cliff, pulling up at the last moment like a dive bomber, exploding a puff of feathers and sending shorebirds squawking. Now added to the squawking was the distant droning of aircraft. Cyrus studied the sky, but gray clouds hid whatever enemy was up there.
“Jessie!” he called to the girl who’d gone past him. “You hear that?”
She turned and came back up the trail with books wrapped in a scarf under one arm. “What?”
“Four engine Mitsubishis.”
She looked out to sea where one of the channel islands was barely visible in the haze. “I hear the birds. And the surf.”
“I’ll bet they flew off a carrier..”
“Come on, Cyrus. It’s that radio in your head.”
Cyrus frowned, then pointed to the cliff above. “The sound is from up there.”
Jessie glanced up the rocky jumble that was thick with storm-tortured cypress. “Yeah, maybe. You want me to check it out?”
“You can’t go up there.”
“Why not? Cuz I’m a girl?”
“Well . . . you are wearing a dress.”
“And I told Lola you’re such a smart boy.”
“Yeah, for a gringo. They’re pretty stupid.”
“Come on, race you. Loser is a puta with rotten teeth.” Jessie dropped her books and attacked the slope, using low tree branches as handholds. Dirt and gravel slid down under her bare feet.
“Hey!” Cyrus yelled, “what’s a puta?”
She glanced back. “A whore!”
Cyrus dropped his own books and went after her. They scrambled up together, but thanks to a well-timed block with his elbow, Cyrus got there first.
“Cheater,” Jessie cried.
Jessie popped his shoulder with a fist. Cyrus barely felt it as the droning was much louder now. “Stay here,” he said.
“I’m not staying anywhere.”
“Just for a minute. I’m serious. It might be dangerous.”
She began to object, but he had already plunged into a stand of pokeweeds, elbowing aside the wine colored stems until a mass of black berries brushed his lips. He spat and wiped his mouth with his knuckles, as pokeberries were poisonous.
“What’s wrong?” Jesse’s voice, right behind him.
Cyrus glanced back at her. “I told you to stay put.”
“Like I’m taking orders from a Heimlich.”
Cyrus bit his lip, tasted pokeweed juice, then spat again. He now hated his name even more, if that were possible. One day he’d change it. He’d take a bus to the recruiting station in San Diego and tell them his name was Wayne, Junior, first name John. And what would John Wayne Jr. think of that splotch of lemon-yellow flickering in the weeds? He wouldn’t run from it. No way.
Cyrus took a hesitant step forward, then another.
“What is it?” Jessie asked.
“I dunno. But it’s got a handle.”
Now he heard Flight of the Valkyries, a record his uncle played at night when he thought everyone was asleep. The enemy’s anthem. Thinking of his Bavarian relative sitting in the dark with his tumbler of American whiskey, Cyrus reached out, gripped the handle, turned it down and yanked. Rusted hinges squalled and clanked, and an explosion peppered his face.
© 2021 Lou Dischler