qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 9 – Reminiscences III

In that cold and chill evening, the river ice was damp and hazy as the sky grew faint, and Utena was skating in her new pearl shoes, with the graceful glide in the skates as they skirted the surface. She wondered about what it must have looked like for Spike, that field of his dreams. Oh, she could only imagine with the sunset – the sunset she was living in seemed all too dreary and hazy under the winter clouds. If it were summer otherwise, the sun would be vivid in the blue sky.

She recalled one summer in this field where she went on a hot air balloon, and it felt like the basket was lifted by a giant, invisible hand, and when her papa carried her up, she saw the panorama of everything below – the people who were tiny, the flowing river, and the other distant places all over.

Is that what it was like, that sort of magic Utena felt in Spike's words?

Then a thought hit her; oh no..! Why didn't Utena think of it earlier – she'd forgot to ask Spike what town he was moving to! She wanted to slap herself for that. Now she might never get to see him again..

"Utena, I will remember you always."

Her skates skirted the edge of the river, and came to a stop.

It was Faye, sitting down by the riverside, idly observing the people skating on the bank, her breath spilling out visibly – she looked quite plain compared with when she was skating with Spike, but still her unpolished face showed a hint of that beauty. She glanced at Utena. "Hmm? Is there anything?"

Utena gulped; for a moment she forgot what to say as her throat choked up. Then, "Do you know where Spike's going?"

Faye perked her head. "Who..? Wait a minute.. are you Utena?"

"How do you know?"

"He mentioned you a few couple times. A girl, with flowery pink hair, and beautiful eyes. That's you, I suppose. You're really cute."

Utena blushed at her remark.

"Did he tell you he was leaving for.. what'cha call it, painting?"

"Which city is he going to?"

"I think he said it was Victoria."

"Where's Victoria?"

"It's by the west side of Canada," Faye said.

That ripped at Utena, and made her wither inside. Spike was her first love, and Utena knew somehow that love wasn't just anything that could be found around the next corner, and now he would be gone forever from her life, and it was just too utterly, heartwrenchingly unbearable. So Utena began to cry, for herself,for her pain. It was dark now, and the winds were picking up, the drifting snowflakes catching on her cheeks.

And then she felt a tender hand on her cheek.

"You love him, don't you?" Faye asked.

Utena didn't say anything; she just gave the slightest of nods. So Faye gave her wristwatch a peer. "It's 6:25," she went. "Spike will be boarding the train to the airport at around 7:00. Are your parents around?"

Utena didn't seem to understand – then it dawned on her what Faye was wanting to do. Her tears abated, replaced by a spark of anticipation in her eyes.

"They're at home. They're expecting me back by nighttime," she said.

"Well, okay." Faye brushed aside her snow-sprinkled hair. "I was hoping I could talk with them about it beforehand.. I just don't want to keep your parents waiting for you."

Utena paused. Suddenly there was a great anxiety blossoming – Faye was right, Utena didn't want to make her parents worry. She felt pinned to a great crossroads. It was her once-in-a-lifetime chance, her only chance – just to see Spike one more time. And if she missed it..

"We'll barely make it in time as it is," Faye said. "Weather report says there'll be a huge snowstorm tonight. The traffic's going to be slow."

If Utena missed her chance, she'd never be able to forgive herself. It would torture her forever.

"I want to see Spike," Utena said at last.

Faye nodded. "Alright. Come with me, I'll drive you."

Thus, Utena dawdled after Faye's hurried steps to the parking lot nearby, every footstep feeling woozy to her – where Faye found her grey car covered with a layer of snow. "Damnit.." She unlocked the doors for Utena to get inside, got into the driver's seat, and started the car's engine – so the heaters could warm the inside.

"I gotta wipe the windows, it'll only be a second," Faye said. "Just hang tight for me, okay?"

"Sure." Utena found the seatbelt a little tight for comfort, and the inside smelling like beef noodles and cigarettes, but nothing compared with Faye swiping away the snow with a brush – nothing compared with the anxiety of going to the train station, with this stranger, with telling Spike goodbye once they've arrived. Faye almost seemed like another, a haphazard, more way cooler mother to her; the thought of it was sorta tingly.

Once Faye had the windows cleaned (you could just see how the snow was falling in spades) – she got back into the car, and drove it out onto the streets.

The orange lamplights came and went, lighting the seats in bursts with shifting shadows. Snow and fog polluted the outside like layers and layers of curtains overlaid one another. Each second passed - the windshield wipers swishing left and right - and the air felt more and more like an invisible cage, shrinking around Utena, choking her beating heart. Utena's parents would take her to the train to see family friends on the other side of the city – she'd been to the station before, but in this weather she could hardly recognize any landmarks that gauged for her how far away that station was.

The car clock read 6:37 PM.

"How do you know Spike?" Utena asked, breaking the silence.

"Besides being skating partners? Hardly. We've met with the same coach, but otherwise, I work as a seamstress usually. I make dresses. Cool, eh? Did you get to see me dance in the events?"

"I was very jealous of you," Utena admitted. "You were so pretty on TV, and you got to skate all those moves with him."

"I'll take that as a complement. Also, did you see my butterfly wings? They were my idea. I made both our outfits. It was great."

Suddenly, the car skidded to a stop. There were a line of cars congested on the road ahead. You could hear the announcement echoing, "Due to heavy snow and car collisions, all transport is currently being delayed. We are terribly sorry for the inconvenience and we ask you to bear with us while waiting." It didn't seem like they'd be moving anytime soon, this way.

"Damn," Faye said. "You better hang on Utena, because I'm about to make a detour." And before Utena wondered what a detour meant, Faye swerved her car all the way to the right, going off the road and suddenly careening down a hill, the car rumbling as it half-skids, and its tail end swerving sideways, until the car wound up at the bottom of the hill, where it happened to be the edge of a neighbourhood.

It felt like a much more intense sled ride. ("This is Captain Faye speaking, I hoped you enjoyed the brief turbulence.")

Then Faye drove the car onto proper road, a cul-de-sac, and drove her way out onto the main streets again.

It was 6:56 PM when the station came into view. Faye didn't want to lose more time looking for space in the station parking lot, so she left her car by the curb instead and hope no one would notice.

After getting out, Utena could hear the departure bell ringing from the station. Faye led Utena by the hand and they both ran as fast as their legs could carry them, into the station entrance. They passed by the passengers ordering their tickets by the booths, running through the hallway and up a flight of stairs to the platform where the Eastbound train was.

The wind was very strong there, and the train's passengers couldn't wait any longer to get on board. By then, Utena and Faye were out of breath, having to stop themselves for a rest. Utena looked up from her knees, and she managed to catch glimpse of Spike amongst the passengers, before he mingled inside.

The departure bell rang one more time.

Utena summed up the last of her energy, and hurried after that train car which held Spike. "Wait..!" she panted, brushing by someone. "Wait.. wait!"

And briefly, when she managed to advance ahead of the train – she saw his face, staring out the window wistfully at the place beyond places.

Then all too briefly, his eyes connected with hers – Utena wanted to stretch Time itself to make it last.

Then, Utena slipped. A patch of ice on the platform, and she'd slipped – falling onto her tummy. It hurt. Moreso because it felt like she'd been torn away from that moment.

When she looked up, her breath huffing out, she saw the train fade away into the darkness, amidst the electrical poles standing bare, and the tracks that led to a place so inaccessible, out of her life's reach.

Goodbye.. Spike.

A bittersweet smile hung on Utena's lips.

/

"Utena, I'm sorry I didn't bring you to him any sooner," Faye said, as she was driving Utena home. "I should have driven faster, what with this freak snowstorm and everything. I'm sorry.."

"Don't be sorry," Utena said. "I managed to say goodbye to him. Spike saw me through the window, because after all, you helped me get to the station. Thank you."

"Really?" Faye was awestruck. "I thought you'd wanted a better goodbye, one where you'd get to talk with him."

"Just seeing him one more time was enough. I'm happy, Faye."

"Always glad to know that. Ahh.. being part of someone's happy ending pleases me."

Utena had told her she lived just near that field they'd left earlier ago. Faye drove her car down into the neighbourhood streets, where Utena uttered which direction to go. All the Christmas lights were up on display through people's windows – shining like bright, colourful beacons in the night.

It was 7:40 PM, and the feeling of coming home made Utena realise just how hungry she felt – her tummy was grumbly. She hoped that there would still be some dinner leftovers, and that she wouldn't get into too much trouble, just from wanting to see Spike before he left. She hoped she would be able to explain to her parents what had happened.

Faye's car was coming across Utena's modest home, the lights shining upon the facade. The Christmas tree in her window made Utena feel warm; it had quelled her envy of not having one like the others, and it had the lights and decorations too – a shining star atop the tree such that Santa Claus could see from up there.

Upon parking her car near the driveway, Faye asked, "Do you want me to come in with you?"

"Please do," Utena said, and they both went over to the front door, where Utena rung the doorbell. "My mama and papa really enjoyed watching you – I'm sure they'll be delighted you're here!"

Nobody seemed to come though. Utena tried ringing again, and once more, and once more.

"Huh," Faye said, her face looking uncomfortable.

"There's a secret key under the doormat," Utena said, and used the secret doormat key to enter inside.

It was very strangely, eerily dark inside her house – the only light being from the lit Christmas tree.

"Hello?" Faye said, protectively grabbing Utena's hand.

"Mommy? Daddy?" Utena shouted.

It was also very quiet too, and yet you could just smell the steamy scent of pork dumplings – Utena's tummy made her wander to the kitchen, where she turned on the lights and saw that on the dinner table, there were dumplings in the bowls – halfway eaten, and lukewarm when Utena tried taking one for herself.

"Utena?" Faye said, coming into the kitchen. "Utena.." The woman went over to her, taking her by the shoulder.

A paralysing shiver began to overtake Utena, as the realisation came into her that.. her Mom and Dad had went out to look for her in the field.. when she didn't come back home, and when they couldn't find her..

Utena began to stagger, as a weakness took over her limbs, stumbling into Faye's embrace and smelling the jasmine upclose from Faye's neck.

The phone rang. Usually either her Mom or Dad would pick it up, and talk about boring, dull things with people – but this phone call was different. The phone was high up on the counter; it was hard for Utena to reach for it, so Faye picked up the receiver.

"It's.. for you Utena," Faye mumbled, handing the phone to her. The phone felt heavy in Utena's hands, and she was half-expecting it to be her mama, her papa. "Hello?"

"Is this Utena Tenjou?" It was a strange, unfamiliar voice, having the kind of tone strangers have.

She'd wanted to pray to Santa Claus to restore her parents' lives, after they had died in a crash, chasing after her missing person. She didn't care anymore about getting presents, now or ever again. She only had one wish, to make Mama and Papa come back to life.

In the darkness, she prayed and addressed Santa in hope. She prayed until she felt weak from prolonged hunger and thirst, and she prayed until sleep yearned over her eyes.

She wished so badly that they would come back, come back and hold her and tell her it's alright – so badly it made her heart contort. She prayed forever in the night, her voice growing weaker and weaker. Until the Darkness and Coldness ultimately enveloped her.

Eventually, she never prayed at all.

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SCENE 8 – Reminiscences II

The sled was tumbling down the hill with jets of snow bursting aside. Utena's mother held her close on her lap, as Utena gleed – feeling the rush in her gut, and then the sled slowing down as it reached the bottom.

It was very bright outside, with the sky almost a pure white and the snow everywhere on the field where everyone was playing, running about, throwing snowballs and making snowmen of the wildest variety; like a Winter Wonderland.

Her dad was working overtime today, so it was just Utena and her mother, the two of them. They got out of their sled, and hauled it out of the way so the next family could slide. "Weeeee!"

After the sled was put away in the car, Utena had her tongue stuck out, tasting the snowflakes which were falling. It tasted wet and sorta tingly. Then she gathered up some snow between her gloves, and threw the snow high into the air; and for a moment, the snow seemed to merge with the pale sky before descending like a mist.

Utena stuck out her tongue, and she caught a bunch of snowflakes on her tongue – and her face. Oof. She brushed the whiteness off from her cheeks and hair, before feeling the numbness in her mouth, like after drinking too much cold pop at once. Some of the snow got into her coat also. That was fun.

Another boy decided to try the same thing, throwing a bunch of snow in the air, and sticking his tongue out. Utena giggled as he fell backwards on his tushie, as if he was shy about catching snow over his face.

There was a river, where the stream flowed in Downtown's direction. Now it was covered by ice, and people skated all over on it, with lines trailing where they've danced and pranced before. Some of those lines could even be from those figure skaters on TV, and that very thought made Utena excited. She was sitting down with her mom on the sidelines, watching the people skate, their skates etching memories upon the ice.

Utena had never tried skating before, so she decided to try stepping onto the ice, even if she was only wearing her boots.

"Be careful, Utena!" her mother said.

It felt quite awkward to move along the slippery ice – Utena found herself taking steps more than gliding with ease like everyone else was. She had to steady herself by catching hold of the nearest guy around, and wandering over to the next.

There was a young couple, twirling in circles, whose faces almost seemed to melt into each others, like they were in their own insular snowglobe where you get to turn the handle and watch the figures move.

And there was a girl, going across slowly as she was just getting the hang of skating. Her knees were wobbling and eventually she fell over, and her mom and dad went over to pick her up as she was sobbing.

"It's okay," her mom said, holding her. "It's alright.."

Utena found herself trying to hold back tears from her own eyes. For some reason she wanted to cry along too. Things like that would happen; after all, skating is a sport that takes time to master the finesse needed for movement. The girl's parents took her away.

"The river is mine!" Utena heard behind her. "The river is mine!"

Someone squared her in the shoulder, making Utena trip flat onto her side. She saw that it was a guy, weaving his way forth with unimaginable speed, laughing madly. He knocked other people out of his way as he made rounds. "The river, it is mine! Mwahahaha!"

/

The pair of skates the gym offered looked old and worn. They were tan leather socks that happened to have blades attached underneath, like an afterthought. Utena saw that the other skaters seemed to have much more fancier skates than hers – sleek black skates, red skates with protruded blading..

Her mama had paid to allow Utena to borrow these skates; while Utena would skate in the arena, she would be sitting amongst the front row seats, looking out for when Utena would emerge from the gates.

"Those skates have no ankle support," someone remarked, as Utena was lacing her skates on the bench. "You should get a pair of your own." It made Utena blush, a little ashamed that she'd have to undergo an inferior experience, and anxious about how people might notice her ugly duckling slippers.

She tried not to think about it too much – she finished lacing her skates up, and wondered how she would make it over to the ice rink, having to stand on those thinly blades. She held onto the bench, tried standing up, and felt her feet buckle before she sat back down.

"If you want to walk, you have your feet shaped like an outward V," someone said – a woman who was standing with her skates out like a V. "Is this your first time?"

Utena nodded.

"Where's your Mom and Dad?" the woman asked.

"My mom's on the bleachers.." Utena said. "She doesn't really know how to skate. And my Dad's still at work."

"Gee." The woman knelt, putting a foot on the bench, and untied her skates. "I'll tell you what, here's a piece of advice. Don't look at your feet too much, and always keep your sense of balance with you. I'm sure you'll get the gist of things once you try skating."

When Utena waddled over to the rink's entrance, she could hear the music playing over the speakers, the pop music from the radio – not unlike the music she'd heard that the figure skaters were dancing to. She anxiously approached the gate.

The rink seemed to stretch all the way forth, an expanse of icy whiteness, with the people skating by in their own time. Utena peeked around the gate to find the comforting sight of Mom – where was Mom? There she was, waving behind the window, an encouraging smile on her face. Utena waved back; she felt very elated, the inner anxiety having dissipated away, and thus she made her first stride on the ice.

The glide upon her left skate slowly took Utena forward, and she continued with her right skate, and then her left again. Then her right.

Surely enough, she was going forward at walking pace, traversing the middle of the rink where she was careful about getting hit by one of the fast-moving skaters. It seemed like good progress, and Utena began grinning to herself. Easy does it there.

She glanced at the ceiling, where the announcing banner cube-thing hung and the overhead lights shone from a heavenly distance; these lights seemed like UFOs that might eventually come down and abduct everyone in the rink.

Then Utena ran into the wall and fell on her bum, ouch!

While she was laying down, she wondered if the champion figure skaters would also stare at the lights and bump into walls – maybe not. She waited, as the skaters passed her by, until one of them stopped to help Utena up.

"Upsy-daisy," the man went. "I used to bump into things like you before, until I watched where my skates are going."

"It's my first time," Utena explained.

"Oh? What's your name little lady?"

"Utena."

"You can call me.. Spike." He shook her hand. "A pleasure meeting you."

Spike helped Utena steady herself on her skates. It was like riding a bike – where it seemed at first you would wobble and fall off on two thinly wheels, until you got the hang of keeping a certain momentum, and the momentum would keep you steady while you put your focus elsewhere.

To stretch the bicycle metaphor further, you would lean in the direction you want to turn, and you would pivot your skates accordingly, thrusting your skates for additional momentum if necessary.

And to stop, you brushed your skates sideways, as if to sweep the ice with the blade.

"You get it?" Spike said.

Practising the movements delighted Utena so much, warming her heart, and she was just as delighted to show off to Mom what she'd learned, skating the perimeter of the rink, almost making a perfect figure-eight in her trails.

But it was growing late, and Mom was waving at Utena that they should head home. Utena didn't want to leave – she was only getting started, yearning to learn the fantastical moves that happened on TV.

"Your mother's right, Utena, I shouldn't be keeping you," Spike said. "Those moves take lots and lots of time and dedication to do, and you can fall and hurt yourself just as much as they impress. But with plenty of luck and determination.. I think you'll make it."

"Will I see you again?" Utena said, as Spike was leading her to the gates.

"You might."

/

That evening when the figure-skating programme was on, Utena watched and watched – she had her dinner bowl by her lap, filled with clovered herb noodles and meatballs. She wasn't concentrating on eating though (however tasty the dinner was); all the figure skaters for the night were spilling out onto the rink. The skaters were grouped into couples this time, each man having a woman's hand.

It turned out it was a couples skating event.

Utena ferociously ate through her dinner bowl, as she skimmed through each of the couples in their stylized dress (and occasional makeup), like they were wearing slimmer versions of the sorts of costumes she'd see on Saturday mornings.

She saw each of the couples dance, skirting the middle of the rink, twirling each other round and round, the woman holding the man up in the air as if he were as light as feathers. Utena so wanted to be able to do those things – the bravado of it must be like a prince making a rescue of his dearest princess.

And then she saw him. There he was, Spike, from the gym – he was a professional figure skater! Who knew? How Utena cherished her memories she had learning from him, especially now after the fact; and now he looked especially marvellous tonight in his gentlemanly, rugged shirt. A pale woman was beside him, a femme fatale dressed to seduce and allure in her exquisite outfit.

Utena began to feel weird, a strange sort of feeling (or more like a sensation) roused in her as she saw the woman deliver a kiss on Spike's cheek. And they waved to the audience, with the roars of cheering and clapping that echoed throughout the stadium.

When their skate music began playing, Utena saw them jazz, a swish and a swoosh. But with plenty of luck and determination.. I think you'll make it. Spike's words echoed in her thoughts as she witnessed his majestic manuevers with the woman, along with that strange feeling.. a lull that ran through her heart and in her gut.

Then there was the unfurling of the woman's outfit – revealing radiant butterfly wings on her back, that shined pink with reflected light, and the audience murmured and wooed as Spike held the woman above him, and threw her into the air.

It seemed like an eternity as the woman lingered over the ice, flipping over, as Spike skated over to catch her when she landed – and that was the end of their performance.

"Wonderful!" Utena's dad said, clapping to the thunderous applause of the TV. "Utena, now I know why you like skating so much! This is absolutely marvellous!"

"Isn't it?" Utena said – the feeling in her gut was still churning and churning, and she began to realise what it was.

"That was Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine," the announcer said, "Noel's Theme!"

She was jealous. Jealous of the woman who was with Spike, jealous that it wasn't her instead at his side. Why didn't Spike mention that he would be performing? Utena could have asked him a thousand times over to be with him when it came to it, and maybe Spike could had changed his mind and allowed her to dance with him..

/

Utena desperately pleaded for her parents to visit the gym again; the next time, Spike was nowhere to be found – she looked and looked for his face in the rink and the seats, but he didn't seem to be anywhere. She was tempted to try sneaking into the Men's dressing room, but she was too old to pretend she still needed her Dad to help dress.

She thought about the woman Faye, who had performed alongside him – and Faye also wasn't there.

All Utena could do was just practise her skating strokes for an hour or so, wondering if either of them were to show up sometime. It wouldn't feel the same otherwise if she were to ask anyone else nearby.

/

Since Utena seemed to like practising so much, her parents eventually took her out shopping for a pair of skates, looking from venue to venue for the best deal around. In one of the larger places, there was a huge gathering of girls around a sign: HOSHI TOSHI ICE SKATES MARK III, ENTER A TICKET TO WIN ONE FREE!

"Hoshi Toshi skates!" some girl said. "Cross-cut picks, edge enhancement technology, it's one of the best!"

"Mama! Papa! I want a ticket!" Utena piped, notioning at the sign, before tugging at her dad's arm. "Please please please, can we enter in one..?" She made the most cutest face she could muster, and her dad said, "Promise you'll eat your veggies if we win?"

"I'll eat 'em, but please let me get a ticket, pleease?!"

"Okies."

So her dad with all his strength lifted Utena up, up onto his back, and started wiggling his way into the crowd, shouting, "My darling girl wants in! Make way, make way for my princess!"

The girls were all coming in, some of them trying to find their way out of the crowd. Utena's dad soon managed to get to where he could see the poor salesman who was trying his best to stay out of everyone's way (and get breathing space).

"Hey," Dad said to the salesman, "does it count if I enter one in too, and also for my wife?"

The salesman nodded.

"Thanks!"

Utena's dad shuffled over to the table, where he grabbed three tickets and wrote down their names. He had to fight off the myriads of hands reaching for the ticket slot, but he made it, ta-da! And he weaved his way outta there.

"Who's the winner now, eh?" her dad said. "We are!"

"Yes!" Utena said, high-fiving her dad.

"We still gotta buy you a pair today," Mom went. "Don't you want to skate? We might even get two skates instead of one."

/

When they were done shopping, Utena didn't get any skates. That one pair which she'd wanted was on a heavy discount, and it also happened to be the last one of its kind available. But another family with a little girl managed to get it first however, and the bickering which ensured between Utena's parents and them lasted for quite a while.

Until Utena remembered, it was that girl who fell over on the ice,and her mom and dad held her as she was sobbing. "It's okay," her mom had said, holding her. "It's alright.."

It was a family just like hers, and Utena realized – this was finally a moment when she could offer the girl a bit of happiness. So she persuaded her own parents to give it to the girl, leaving herself empty-handed; Utena's parents still wanted to take the opportunity of that discount, so they thought the skates would be on stock later.

It turned out those skates – the pearl ones – happened to be desired by many others; it was one of the store's most popular sales, and even after coming back the next day, and the day after, Utena's family didn't get it.

Even so, Utena saw that girl in the field, gliding along the river, enjoying those new pearl skates, and that made Utena happy inside – like she had done a very good thing; a noble and exquisite thing.

/

Zzzzz.. Zzz..

"Utena.." she heard – it was her mother. "Psst!"

"Mmnmmph.." Utena didn't want to wake up and open her eyes; she was feeling contently rested, but her eyes were still in that droopy state.

"Utena.." her mama went.

She slowly opened her eyes.

On her other pillow were those pearl skates, resting soundly beside her. Utena really opened her eyes wide with joy, hardly believing that they were there, even when her little fingers felt the contours of the skates - the alabaster laces, the tip, and the chrome blade. The skates almost seemed like a delicate thing, that might shatter into pieces if she handled them too rough.

Her mama and papa were smiling, their eyes resting with Utena's. "They just await your little feet," Mom said.

"I.. I.." Utena went, her heart feeling like a balloon about to burst, overflowing with happiness.

"Your mama, she woke me up early in the morning," Dad said. "She had the thought of going to the store, just when the mall was opening, and we got one of those babies, right in time just before you know it. Merry Christmas."

Utena just hugged her parents so, crying into their shoulders, in a moment of love so tender, yet all too fragile and ephemeral.

"Thank you so much," she finally said. "Merry Christmas too."

/

1st CANTOR: Appropinquat agnis pastor et ovibus pascendis.
2nd CANTOR: Genua nunc flectantur omnia.
1st CANTOR: Jussit olim Jesus Petrum pascere gregem Domini.
2nd CANTOR: Ecce Petrus Pontifex Maximus.
1st CANTOR: Gaudeat igitur populus Christi, et gratias agat Domino.
2nd CANTOR: Nam docebimur a Spiritu sancto.

CHOIR: Ahleluia, ahleluia—

The ceremony at the church was brief, and its intensity would have became unendurable for Utena had it been a tad longer. A smell of sweet evergreen pervaded from the smoking lantern the grand priest held, and it made Utena's breath keep choking up in her throat.

Before the high altar, the Virgin Mary in tears was clutching three spikes in her hand, and beside her was a statue of Christ descended from the cross. The church attendees were standing in line to kiss Christ's wounds; some of them were sitting between the pews.

It was a very special Saturday, the day before Christmas day, this occasion meant to celebrate Christ's noble suffering for the purest of things, God's everlasting love, and the dignity that there was in it. Utena was being paid extra to serve a role as an assistant – ringing the silver bell during the ceremony and just being present for those people.

Then she spotted Spike. He wasn't in line to kiss Christ, he was heading over to the confessional booth, and knelt while waiting for someone to come by and listen.

Utena's heart leapt. She was so happy to see him again that she blushed; she wondered if nobody would mind her absence as a spiritual paperweight, and looked around before creeping over to the confessional.

In an instant, without anyone noticing, Utena popped inside the confessional, shutting the little door below and drawing open the violet curtain. On the other side of the grille, just a few inches away, that face which had lingered at the back of her mind, looking down in a bout of reflection.

"Forgive me Padre," Spike said, "for I have sinned—"

"I forgive you," Utena said.

Spike looked over at her - surprized that it was her, that girl he'd met in the gym, and then amused upon recognizing who she was. "Madre Utena— what an unexpected pleasure!"

"Hehe." Utena was blushing all the more. In the candlelight, Spike's eyes were beautiful and tender, moreso than she'd remembered. "I saw you skate on TV," she managed to say.

"How did you like my performance?" he asked, studying her. "Was it any good?"

"I loved it."

"Thank you. And did they grant you the priviledge of absolving sins?" he said.

"I dunno.. I can try."

"I haven't told you yet what I've sinned for," Spike said. "It may be a little much for you, but do you want to listen still?"

Utena nodded, and so Spike cleared his throat.

"Okay. Utena.. I am a phony."

"A phony?"

"Yeah. A phony, a fake. I've been pretending all along, and people didn't know it. I pretended to be a figure skater. I danced with Faye in the rink, making those moves, finding the ultimate joy in the doing – and because of that, I can never skate anymore.

"Little does anyone else know, I broke my hip while on a hiking trip, and the doctors told me it'll take about a year to fully recover. It really hurts, I can tell you that. But the skating event was coming far too soon for my needs, and I.. I wanted to show everyone, myself, my family, my coach and audience – just one more time, a beautiful dance in the ice palace. I never told anyone that my hip was still disjointed – I brushed it over as some nuisance that ought to have just gone away. When it came to it, I practised, as much as I needed, and as much as I could without putting too much strain on my hip.

"It seemed alright at first, but the pain grew too much – to the point where I had to take pain-killer pills, and take breaks from practising. You've seen Faye also, no? My skate partner. One day, she found out about my hip, and told me I should take it easy, because there would always be more skating events.

"Yet something in my heart hated the fact that I could be stopped by just a measly broken hip. A fireplace was burning inside me, and that broken hip, was just fuel added to the fire. I couldn't give up, not then, not ever. Meeting you, Utena, man, it reminds me of myself when I first started as a novice, and that just reinforced for me the need to go out there, that night, to show you what it could be like, to be able to climb to dizzying heights and make skating not just any sport, but an art. And to show myself that anything was still possible – to those people who frowned upon wonder, to those people who frowned that I couldn't do it. I was keeping all that inside myself, until the very end.

"That night, that night you saw on television – it was like in a good dream. A perfect moment, with Faye. And that moment's long gone now, and my hip has the better of me." Spike shrugged.

"You aren't phony.." Utena piped.

"I call myself phony because skaters are meant to go on, and I'm not. The only thing you'll see from me is tripping if I keep skating."

"I don't care if you can't skate anymore," Utena said, her eyes growing misty. "I think you're.. wonderful. And I forgive you – you tried and my mama says that trying is what's important."

"I.." Spike paused. "Yes.. it's the trying that does matter. I'm glad."

It seemed almost like eternity as they gazed at those shining specks in their eyes, a wistful longing between them that they hadn't met earlier – a sort of understanding all too rare in the motions of life.

Suddenly on the other side of the confessional, an old man comes by and knelt by the grille. "Forgive me Padre, for I have sinned—"

"You are forgiven!" Utena went, before shutting the panel flat in his face – damn those interruptions, just when it was perfect! Spike barely stifled a giggle.

"Utena," he said, "I'll be leaving the city tonight. I'm thinking of taking a shot at painting, now that my career's busted."

She blinked. "Why?"

"Cause – it's painting. I sometimes visit the art galleries, and.. it's beautiful. The colours, the strokes, just the feeling of painting. I used to get good marks back in art class, but that's not the point; I figured that if I didn't make it in skating somehow, I'd be painting.

"Where I'm going, my childhood home, there used to be this forest, the trees so close and dark together that you could easily lose your way, and on the other end – you'd find this grassy field, where the wind easily blows over. A field where you could sit down and watch the golden sunset.. fade away beneath the horizons, and that would shimmer on the pond's surface. I'd love to paint that. And I'd love to paint you too, your pink hair, and your innocent eyes. Utena, I will remember you always."

And Utena couldn't help crying – she was only so young, and yet it was.. so unbearable inside. She loved him, more than what her little heart could show.

That day in the church, Utena saw the tears in the inanimate Christ, who gazed back at her, and she kissed him before she went home.

qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 7 – Over the Rainbow

Holding the girl's hand, Utena finds herself whisked off on a sprint –a rapid run over the roof of the train cars, a run which surprizingly feels as if you're running indoors instead of trudging through ankle-deep snow. Utena's footsteps are light as a feather, and as the girl vaults over the gaps between cars,so does Utena with unprecedented grace.

The nightly mist brushes aside, revealing the starry sky, with a faint halo that streaks over the yet-to-be-seen North Pole.

Utena is dazzled by the sight, but it isn't any time to be sightseeing – up ahead is a deep gorge between the mountains, where on the other side of the bridge is a tunnel into the depths, a tunnel that seems like a small speck to the eye, but grows rapidly larger as the train rushes closer.

The train toots its whistle, like a bird's dying screech that claws against the eardrums – Utena struggles to maintain her balance, as she especially feels the yank of the girl on her hand. The burst of steam from the engine sprays back, and the girl stops (making Utena almost bump into her), and opens up her parasol just in time to deflect the scalding mist.

Utena loses her footing though, and stumbles over, about to fall down into the depths. Her nightcap blows off her head.

It's alright if I die..

But she doesn't fall.

She finds herself dangling by her legs - her hair flowing and tangling with the air, every detail of the glistening snowflakes so clear and vivid as they dance wildly while they fall, like leaves from a dying tree, doesn't it take your breath away?- and the girl is trying to pull her back up to safety.

She feels the girl's yanks, and she is inched up more and more, until she is lying face up on the train.

The tunnel is almost there..

Utena reaches for the girl, an arm outstretched – and the girl hauls Utena up, before tugging her along in a roller-coaster race towards the front.

They're just moments away from reaching what looks like the tender, where all the coal rocks used for fuelling the train are piled up.

And just when the top of the tunnel is about to cream both of them - in a last ditch exertion, Utena just dives into the coal without thinking if she'll just be hitting solid ground anyway - losing her grip on the girl, and she feels the rocks hit her all over, and then they give way before her own body, enveloping her.

(rooooommm!- as the tunnel envelops the train)

Utena flails her limbs out of claustrophobic reflex, maybe hoping to find the girl's hand again, but in vain, in utter blindness as the coal rocks slip over her shape. It's like drowning, except much quicker.

qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 6 - Climb

Utena understands better why it was that Shinji made her feel that way - even if she doesn't know whether it's his brown eyes, or if it's his face reminding her of someone long past, or just his general demeanour. Somehow, she just knows that he might be able to help her with those feelings buried within her.

But that boy is gone now, taken away by the conductor. If she'd done something different, he'd still be here - if only, if only. And because of that, she curses to herself silently, sulking on her seat, gazing out the windows and seeing the mountains gradually approaching the train's vicinity.

She overhears some of the kids nearby – they're eagerly preparing what to ask Santa Claus, with the excitement of actually going to the North Pole.

"I want a new puppy!"

"I want straight-A's for the rest of my life!"

"I want my Solid Snake Spy Kit!" Stevie goes. "And I want to meet Solid Snake in person – I'll have Santa's reindeer take me to Konami, and use my new spy kit to sneak in the back! That'll be so cool!" He doodles on some loose-leaf paper with crayon, drawing Solid Snake hiding inside a Christmas present that Santa's hauling.

"What's that Chu-Chu?" Anthy goes. "Candy canes and gingerbread cats?"

"Chu!"

"Utena, you should join in," Anthy says. "It's better to keep your mind on happier things."

A beat. "I can't," Utena says, looking around at the happiness that has left her. She leans in towards Anthy's ear. "I don't know what might happen with me if the train arrives. I dread that moment. It won't be good.

"A while ago.. my heart was ripped into shreds, leaving a hole. I never told you this before Anthy, but every time Christmas comes by, it aches, like I want to go into a coma and die, until it's over. Santa can give out every gift in the world, but I know he can't mend a broken heart—" She gulps, holding back the tears. "..or give back lives," she whispers.

"..lives?" Anthy goes.

Utena nods. "I have to find that boy again. I think he can help me.. I just don't know where he is, if he's lying somewhere behind, or if the conductor took him someplace— I didn't see where they went."

"If he means so much to you," Anthy goes, laying a hand on Utena's— "I'll do anything I can to help."

Stevie butts his head into the conversation. "Did someone say help? Hey, weren't you chasing after Shinji so badly?"

Mhm.

"I think I must've mixed my sources up," Stevie goes. "Conductors don't throw passengers off trains— I was thinking of Indiana Jones then. So let's see, when the conductor took Shinji for not having a ticket, they were going to the back of the train, right? Did you see them?"

Utena remembers losing them along the passageway.

"That leaves us two possibilities," Stevie goes, "and you didn't see the side door ajar or anything?"

"I'm sure of it," Utena says.

"So that means.. he led Shinji to the back car, and then you didn't see them? They just disappeared?"

"Yeah.."

Anthy scratches her head over Stevie's brainstorming.

"Well," Stevie goes, "they can't have thrown themselves off the back, it wouldn't make much sense. I think I remember.. they have this service ladder on the right – if you lean around to the side a little bit.. you can climb up to the top."

Stevie suddenly finds himself hugged in a tightly embrace. He blushes, thanking himself for the perk of being a genius.

"I hope I won't slip and fall off the train," Utena goes. "Thank you, Steve."

"Aww.. shucks." Stevie grins.

"Utena," Anthy says, clinging onto Utena's shoulder. "It'll be freezing out – I don't want you to catch cold."

There is Nanami, about to try dialling Touga's number on the emergency phone. She tugs her comfy silk robe by her knees, not wanting any dweeb to trip on the fabric, when Utena and Anthy approach her.

"What do you want?" Nanami goes. "Can't you see I'm calling for my onii-sama?"

"Utena needs your silk robe," Anthy says. "She's about to head outside."

"Whaa?! You must be mad!" Nanami goes. "Why would you, there's nothing out there and the train's still moving. No way, jose."

"Nanami.." Utena steps forward, willing to cat-fight that blonde for the thing, but Anthy holds her back as Stevie comes forth.

"Hey, remember me?" Stevie goes. "You raised me up to the phone?"

Nanami gives the geek a death glare. "You want me to give you a wedgie this time?"

"No, but I think you wanted to call somebody?" He gives his most suavest, charming grin. "I can help you, if you'll agree to give Miss Mademoiselle your jacket. Pleease?" Chu-Chu jumps onto Stevie's shoulder and makes that silly grin too.

Darn, why do these geeks have to be so.. fricking cute? Nanami swipes off her robe, taking her bunny Bunn-kins by the ears out of its pockets; Bunn-kins is hers, ya got it? "Make sure you give it back to me in pristine condition, or you'll owe me your Christmas presents! Mm'kay?"

Utena, still keeping her own nightrobe, has to wiggler her arms in the sleeves – the silken robe kinda cuddles her figure tightly if awkwardly - since it stretches up to XXL size, after being originally custom-fit for Nanami's figure. That's just in case Nanami ever puts on weight.

"Now you help me!" Nanami demands Stevie, as she picks him up to her height.

Utena dawdles to the back of the car, heads down the passageway, and finds the end of the train once more, where the breezes seem to suck away at her. The silken robe makes her feel like she's wrapped around cozily by blankets.

She leans towards the right side— whoosh! The mountain cliff narrowly misses her, but Utena is sent tumbling back. There definitely is a ladder up there, from the brief glimpse she got.

Damn, why didn't she think of this sooner? If these cliffs weren't around, she could just clamber on top.

But she can't turn back now.

Utena, after taking a very deep breath, hurdles herself onto the side ladder – getting a grip of it, and blindly climbs the rungs up as fast as she can – just as another cliff brushes by. (Phew.)

Now she's made it atop the train, where the roof is covered with layers of snow. You can see the faint outlines of footprints making their way across to the front; the outlines growing fainter and less distinct as the oncoming wind brushes the snow over. That has to be the Conductor taking Shinji across.

Utena slowly trudges over, ever onward, holding onto her nightcap, pushed back by the winds. It's so hazy out, like you're wandering down the night streets and everything looks different, somehow. Her steps just feel heavy – having the implicit fear that she'll slip and tumble off the train.

All this snow reminds her of looking up at the stars, and imagining that she'll travel at warp speed into the great beyond.

("Vrooom!" Utena remembers pretending to be an astronaut, lifting off. "3, 2, 1, blast-off!")

Soon she realises it's exhausting to make it over, winds and snow and slippery surfaces in the way. She wonders if it wouldn't be so bad to just take it easy, maybe stop for a while..

Wait, what's that? There's something ahead, a dim light. It could be the Conductor – in which case, Utena feels she could still give him a good thrashing. Step by step she trudges on, and soon she realises it looks like someone, sitting down by that light.

"La, la, la.." Utena hears someone sing a song – it's a girl's voice.

Upon a closer look, it'ssomeone who is sitting on a plastic chair, her hair tumbling over her shoulders as the wind goes - her parasol open to shield from the wintery elements,while she cradles a large, ornately decorated, glowing egg in her hands.

Utena tries rubbing her eyes. Is she seeing things?

"La, la, la," the girl sings, seemingly unaware of Utena's presence.

"Hello?" Utena goes.

The girl opens her eyes and turns to Utena. "Hello there."

"I'm looking for.. a boy?" Utena says, gulping.

"Aren't we all?" The girl notions for Utena to come closer, so that she could hold onto the egg. "Hold this for me, would you kindly?"

Utena stares in bemusement at the girl's request, before realising the girl is practically thrusting the egg into her, and so,Utena takes it. And upon touching the egg, she immediately feels Warmth; a kind of strange, unique warmth – which spreads from her fingertips to her hands, to her arms and finally seeping over to her heart.

The girl smiles. "What is his name?"

Utena is caught up with the egg's gentle warmth. "..Shinji," she says.

"It's a wonderful name," the girl goes.

"Did you see where he went? The conductor, he was taking Shinji somewhere and—" Utena looks down and sees that there aren't any footprints anymore. She wonders now where the conductor must've taken Shinji, which car it is ahead.

"No," the girl says.

"Oh.."

"I know of the footprints you seek," the girl goes, "and they will lead you to the very front of the Boreal Express. First, I will need it back."

"What – the egg?" Utena feels reluctant to let go of its soothing warmth.

"Mhm."

Utena takes a moment to relish the sensations, then hands the egg back. The train engine wails ahead in the distance she cannot see.

"What's inside that egg?" Utena asks.

(love)

The girl pockets the egg.

"A stream of wonderful melody," the girl goes. "A mere snippet of the many melodies which populate this world. It is not the kind of melody you hear with your ears, but that you feel with an open heart, receiving it in experience as you would with music. And this one melody, is Love. It needs some nurturing, or it'll die.

"That melody, which you like.. it is always in your heart," the girl goes, standing up, laying a hand on her own breast. "It is a part of your spirit which wishes to say 'I am here, I am me' to the world."

The girl folds her plastic chair up. "And if you want to be warm again, you only need to call it into being. As long as you breathe, it will never die. Even if you might forget it, or lose grasp of it, it will never die. If Autumn turns into Winter, Spring will always follow, and the trees grow their leaves again. For nothing truly dies."

Utena blinks. Strangely, the girl's words do make sense to her, however vague she may sound. "Who are you?" she asks.

The girl only nods gracefully. "A tunnel is approaching this train. Soon it will envelop everything, and it will be too late. So we must not dawdle in getting there." She has her hand out, which Utena instinctively takes.

"Ollin.." the girl says, "hold onto me, as tightly as you can."

qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 5 – Reminiscences I

"Utena.."

She was holding the silver bell, kneeling by the church altar, in her altar girl attire. She tried half-heartedly to keep her eyes open, having just gotten out of bed, but still feeling half-asleep – she let her eyelids droop.

"Utena! Psst! Pssst!"

That was the priest talking. Utena yawned, and opened her eyes to meet the priest's withering look. She got his message, and shook the silver bell once more.

The priest carried on - lifting the chalice by the figure of the Virgin Mary, and Utena rang her bell again.

And when the Sunday service was over, Utena was removing her tunic beside the priest.

"How can I make you understand!" the priest went. "I just can't go on without the bell. You're always half-asleep, Utena. What is it you do at night anyway? Dance and prance around instead of sleep?"

"Padre, at my house, I hardly get to dance and prance enough," Utena said, sheepishly blushing. "My parents get worried that I'll make too much of a ruckus and the floor will fall in."

"Sigh.. alright Utena, you better run along." The priest took the bell Utena held during the service, and gave her some well-earned money. "I've got sermons to deliver.."

(We celebrated every moment
Of our meetings as epiphanies,
Just we two in all the world.
Bolder, lighter than a bird's wing,
You hurtled like vertigo
Down the stairs, leading
Through moist lilac to your realm
Beyond the mirror.)

There wasn't a Christmas tree up at her home yet. Her dad had promised to fetch one by the time Christmas day rolled around. Utena had seen other people's trees, up on display in their windows, the colourful lights that almost seemed to glitter – and that was where Santa usually left his presents when he'd drop by.

Her home never had a Christmas tree up before. Utena's parents would say to her that they're working very hard to have one as soon as possible, saving money up in the piggy bank. But at least, Santa didn't mind delivering presents in the stockings with her name on them.

Utena Tenjou was alive with joy, with so much happiness and love brimming in her eyes – that was what her mother would tell her each and every day, that it would warm her mama's heart to see her girl, one of the most prettiest girls in the whole wide world. One day, she would grow up to be beautiful, like a princess.

But first, Utena better eat those green veggies and eggs for dinner.

"Blehh," Utena exclaimed, when she held that length of spinach in her chopsticks. "I really don't like it, it's mushy, it's gross, it's green! I heard animals die when they eat spinach."

"We're human," Dad said. "Spinach helps us grow. Here, you should try it with the wasabi sauce."

"Noo-! It only makes my nose feel tingly!"

"Utena," Mom said, "I'll try cooking it differently the next time – but promise that you'll eat them afterward, alright?"

"Mmm, I promise!"

(When night fell, grace was given me,
The sanctuary gates were opened,
Shining in the darkness,
Nakedness bowed slowly;

Waking up, I said:
'God bless you,' knowing it
To be darling: you slept,
The lilac leaned towards you from the table
To touch your eyelids with its universal blue,
Those eyelids brushed with blue
Were peaceful, and your hand was warm.)

Her home felt gloomy and cold during the winter season, when the fireplace wasn't set up, and when Utena got home after her last day of classes, she quickly tore off her clunky winter clothing – coat, scarf and boots – and quickly went over to her parents' room where there was this big bed, with sheets that made it look like a fluffy cloud brought down from the sky. That bed, and Utena would jump up and down on it to relieve her excitement. School was over, at last! (Or she would jump up and down on it anyway, just because it was fun to bounce around for a while.)

And once she's softened their bed up, grrr!- she would crawl underneath all those sheets, and huddle up, so she could spare herself some warmth. It felt wonderful, almost as good as cuddling with Mom and Dad when she'd have those bad dreams (nightmares), and she'd wander into their room, so they could hold her and remind her that she's safe – those bad monsters won't get her here.

Wonderful..

How long she'd stay under, she wouldn't know exactly – but that her parents, when they came back home, they would certainly be shocked to see what a mess she'd made of their bed. An adorable mess at that, so it wasn't too bad.

Hehe. Utena was giggling now. It was funny in math class what had happened with Sei. Everyone in class was concentrating on the stage that was the blackboard. The teacher was asking Sei to do a two-figure multiplication problem – 255 x 15.

"Well then!? What is 5 times 5, Sei?"

And Sei was staring at the problem in utter terror, red in the face, just forgetting what to do. She was thinking for a moment, and then.. "Thirty?"

This made the teacher grab her by the ear and rubs her forehead against the numbers on the blackboard. The eraser fell on the floor, and everyone was roaring in laughter.

"Silence!" The teacher thumps her hand against the board. "Class, since Sei doesn't seem to know, let's give her a refresher. The five times table. One times five is.."

"Five!"

"Two times five is.."

"Ten!"

The class was repeating along with the teacher, and eventually finishing with the fateful question:

"What's five times five, Sei?"

"Fifty!" Sei said, some gusto in her answer. She got a slap in the cheek for that, along with more laughter and hubbub.

"Silence!"

Utena felt bad for the girl- she wasn't too good with the multiplication tables herself, so she looked beneath her desk to sneak a peek at the table: 5 x 5 is 25. Then she pulled out her storybook, and secretly pointed to Sei a page from her book – it had a picture of a Christmas tree on it.

"Sei! It's twenty-five!" Utena whispered. "Twenty-five!"

Sei smiled and gave a wink.

"For the last time, Sei.." the teacher went, having reached the end of her patience. "Five times five equals..?"

Sei turned to the teacher, proud and with smiling eyes, and blissfully answered, "Christmas!"

"You dunce!"

Utena thought Sei was secretly stolen from Canada; she had blonde hair and looked different from the other people.

(And in the crystal I saw pulsing rivers,
Smoke-wreathed hills, and glimmering seas;
Holding in your palm that crystal sphere,
You slumbered on the throne,
And – God be praised! - you belonged to me.

Awakening, you transformed
The humdrum vocabulary of humans
Till speech was full and running over
With resounding strength, and the word 'You'
Revealed its true meaning: it meant Beauty.

Everything in the world was different,
Even the simplest things – the jug, the basin -
When stratified and solid water
Stood between us, like a guard.)

On the television set, there was the figure skater who captivated Utena on first sight - who went forth upon the sleek ice, not a care for anything else besides the feeling of gliding upon the wind, twirling and curving like it was the very air, bounded by a youthful spirit, that guided his movements.

Intense amazement suddenly ran through Utena, astounding her, delighting her. How she wanted to join the skater side by side, being able to glide through the same currents as him.

If she were the little princess, she would want to have him as a prince, to marry him, and there would be white flowers and lilies that dance in the air, descending from a luscious tree as tall as the sky.

If there were such a thing as heaven, she would gladly dance with him up above the clouds, in the purest blue sky, and she'd close her eyes and fall into his chest.

Utena wondered if this was.. Love.

But his performance ended – as suddenly as the channel was changed – and Utena found herself bursting into tears.

"Change the channel back!" she half-screamed. "Change it back! I want to see him glide!"

"Ooof! Sorries.."

It was too late. When it was that channel again, the skater was gone, only to be replaced by commercial break – featuring that cartoon mascot advertising for sushi.

"Noooo! Noo-hohoo.. come back!" Utena was kicking and screaming on the floor. She just felt like something she'd loved had been taken away from her, never to return, and the floor just had to take a beating because of it.

(no)

"Utena! What's the matter?" Mom would say, clambering over to petite Utena, picking her up into the air. "Did you like the figure skater?"

There were a few moments of sobbing, and finally, Utena screamed, loud to her heart's delight, loud so everyone can hear - "Yes!"

Once the figure skating programme was back on, Utena immediately calmed down, and again felt like she wanted to just burst her heart open. It was a different skater this time, and he skated differently (in many ways that Utena couldn't put to words), but she fell in love again, all the same. It was a kind of torturous, yet pleasurable longing under her skin, making her fluttery, having goosebumps, and her heart leaping.

She hoped she wouldn't get cooties from those skaters, not that it actually mattered at that point.

(We were led to who knows where.
Before us opened up, in mirage,
Towns constructed out of wonder,
Mint leaves spread themselves beneath our feet,
Birds came on the journey with us,
Fish leapt in greeting from the river,
And the sky unfurled above..

While behind us all the time went fate,
A madman brandishing a razor.)