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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 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.

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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."

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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.)

qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 4 – The Trouble with Tickets

"Home, home on the range," Stevie sings, "where the people are young, and the day winds are strong, and the cows are a sailin' the moon..!" This little squirt is still relishing the effects of his stint with the emergency brake.

"That was a very brave thing you did, Steve," Anthy told him earlier.

Even better, he'd been happy to relinquish his own seat for Shinji's sake – the hot air blowing right overhead was bugging him. Steve is now sitting one seat behind; in a sense, he's volunteered to watch over the newcomer.

The kids who were rubbing Shinji's bare feet dry have left to finish off their arts n' crafts projects. Shinji is starting to feel alright, if still a little woozy. He wonders if he isn't about to wake up and see that ceiling again in the hospital. It almost feels like it.

He remembers there's something he's got to say to her, but it seems like he's left it behind in the snow, when he was running.

So he says instead, "Is there water around?"

"We've had hot chocolate," Utena goes, staring intently at him. "Um, earlier- are you feeling alright?"

"I'm fine, thanks," Shinji says. You'd see Utena's blue eyes and you would wonder about the feelings she has within. Like she's trying to hold onto you with her gaze. "At least I'm warm." He wiggles his toes, gleeing.

Suddenly, after having crawled up Shinji's seat and seeing those big pudgy toes for the taking – Chu-Chu can't resist. He jumps and clings onto five of those little piggies, making Shinji squirm and jolting the frightened marmoset back onto the safety of Anthy's shoulder.

"What is that?!" Shinji exclaims.

"That is Chu-Chu," Anthy goes, stroking his ears alright. "My dearest darling. I'm sorry that he gave you quite a scare, I'm sure he didn't mean it-"

"Oh, it's okay.."

"See, Chu-Chu? That's Shinji. You be nice to him tonight, okay?"

The petite meng blushes. "Chu!" He rushes over to the boy – no sudden movements now, and clambers over to his toes once more, where he pulls a nail filer and begins polishing Shinji's toenails to a smoothness. "Chuu.."

(Stevie glares with envy at the scene; now he really wants a nice neat pet of his own. He could train it to take care of his comfort needs: nit-picking, nail-polishing – while he worries more about the big stuff.)

Out the window you can see the scenery of passing evergreen trees, densely scattered amongst the mountains. There aren't any street lights giving illumination, it is just the vague light of the sky providing backdrop against the silhouettes. Well, it definitely isn't Kansas anymore.

"I bet it must have been agonizing to have to run all that way, just to get on," Utena says.

Shinji perks his head up. Standing by the railway station, to see his father depart away, leaving him behind. It's a biting freeze.Overwhelming-don't leave me.

"But even worse.. is the agonizing you've felt," Utena says, "because you stepped away from getting on. And it's so painful to realise you can't take back that choice, once you've made it. Or if you do, you have to go through so much hell.. just to make it up."

Chu-Chu is placing the finishing touches on the last little piggy, before putting his little nail filer away.

"..Why are you telling me this?" Shinji goes, even though he already knows why.

That pain he's always felt for most of his life – that same pain, it is there in her eyes.

/

"Our lovely Clara kneeled, utterly exhausted from her injuries," Nanami narrates to her ever-growing audience, reaching the climactic moment in her little story. "Her wounds seemed to have stolen all the hope from her spirit, and the Mouse King was standing triumphantly over her, pointing his sword at her neck. He was about to slice her throat.

"But all Clara could see was her Touga-" The Nutcracker didn't seem to have a name, so what a hell, Touga's a good name for a prince to fall in love with. "Poor Touga! His wooden arms were reaching out for Clara behind the straw cage. She could hear his hapless cries, and suddenly she found tears pouring out of her eyes.

"In that instant, they saw each other. Even if Clara didn't make it, it was just enough to know there was a prince – who loved and cherished her dearly. And she smiled the most purest, innocent smile ever in her life."

Nanami's listeners aren't saying anything. They're on the edge of their knees, their ears straining to hear every last word. Some boy is already bawling his eyes out; that's the power of Nanami's storytelling! Anyways.

"'Do you have any last requests?' asked the wicked Mouse King.

"Clara looked at the overgrown mouse. Her heart was churning from swelling love, and her eyes showing a new vigour in them. She finally said, 'It came true already.'

"And she grabbed the Mouse King's sword with her bare hands, and pulled the edge away from her throat. The Mouse King was shocked! This isn't happening! he thought. But Clara took the sword away from the mouse's paws, and then.. she nicked him, right in the bosom!

"'Nooo!' the mouse yelled, before he fell over and died.

"It wasn't quite over yet. Touga was still trapped in that straw cage, and so, Clara went over, and tore all the straw to pieces, thus freeing the Nutcracker prince.

"But Clara had lost half her blood already, and so, she tumbled over into Touga's arms, feeling just dead tired. Like after your math teacher had dished out three pop quizzes in a row, tired. And she was about to fall asleep, forever.

"'Clara- please, stay with me!' sobbed Touga.

"'..Touga,' Clara whispered. 'I'm sorry I didn't tell you I loved you earlier.' Clara wasn't struggling to stay awake anymore – her life was now fulfilled. The last thing she saw was Touga transforming back into a handsome human being, before she closed her eyes to the world and joined her fallen friends in heaven.

"All Touga could do was gaze at his beloved's face. She was gone, but she left him with fond memories of their brief travels together, of her. The last thing he did for her, was carrying her out of the dreary castle, into a beautiful morning, with the sun rising up into the clear sky.

"And when at last he claimed his rightful place as King of Candyland, he had a life-size candy statue of Clara in his chambers, with red licorice lips that he could kiss, so he could remember her in his dreams. Prince Touga indeed made a very good king – he was very, very kind and generous to his royal subjects, and he fostered a golden age filled with hope and love during his rule.

"Once Touga was no longer King – it was 70 years later, and he was old now, lying in his bed – he wished to himself he could meet Clara, once more at least. The Fates were happy to allow Touga to enter heaven, where he saw his beloved Clara awaiting him by the toadstools. The End."

Nanami brushes the sweat from her forehead; storytelling can be hard work sometimes. Her knees are aching after holding the actual storybook in-between for so long. "Phew."

The kids are silent for a moment, still absorbed, still teary-eyed under her bittersweet ending's spell. They aren't sure what to think. Then one of them begins to clap, and more and more until all of them are practically giving her a standing ovation.

"Hey," one kid chirps, "that's not how I remember it!"

"Yeah, me neither," another kid goes.

Nanami begins to blush. "Erm.." How is she going to pull herself outta this one? Too late – the girl who'd told the story snags the book away from Nanami's knees, and turns it over to the last page. "Clara and the Nutcracker didn't die," the girl goes. "And the prince isn't named Touga!"

"Hey, you gotta admit, my version's better!" Nanami says, before the girl boots her off the storytelling seat.

/

The Conductor comes in through the cabin door, amused by the children singing "Silent Knight, Holy Fight" by the choiring section. Upon carrying Shinji onto the train, it seems the Conductor has forgotten one thing-

"Hey!" Stevie goes, getting all jumpy in front of the Conductor. "Shinji would like a hot coffee too!"

"Is that so?" The Conductor pauses for a sec. "By all means, I shall be happy to be taking some to him, but first things first, I've a matter of the highest priority."

There is Shinji by the girls – he should be warmed up by now.

"Dearest Shinji," the Conductor says. "I believe I have neglected to punch your ticket."

The boy reaches for his pants pocket, and there's only dust bunnies in there.

"May I?" the Conductor says. "Try your other pocket."

Shinji tries his other pocket - his fingers stick out of a hole, touching his bare thigh. And then he begins to really sweat.

"But there's a- a hole in my pocket," Shinji goes. The S-DAT player had been clunky in his pants pockets, so he took it out and heard a hole rip. "I can't find it."

The Conductor frowns. "You mean.. you have.. lost your ticket?"

The entire car seems to hush into silence, as if someone had just said a bad word out loud. Shinji's heart is racing on, pounding and pounding beneath his chest as his nerves seem to thump in his neck.

"Young meng.. I believe you will just have to come along with me."

No.. no! Just when Utena's having a moment of understanding with Shinji, the Conductor has to come and take it away. "Wait!" Utena goes, her hand digging in her pocket for her stamped ticket. "Here, Shinji, you can take mine." She is almost thrusting the ticket into Shinji's hands, desperately.

The Conductor is just sighing at this point. He swipes at Utena's arm, and nearly crunches her ticket in his hand, before giving it back to her. "These tickets.. they are not trans-fer-able."

"But-" Stevie goes. "But.. the hot chocolate! Montezuma, he's the king of the Aztecs – didn't he declare that everyone should get to enjoy their cup of hot chocolate first, at least before leaving somewhere?"

"How do you know?" some girl retorts. "That's not true!"

"It is true, it's National Geographic, November 1955!"

The Conductor makes Shinji stand up anyway, and takes the boy in tow, hand-in-hand, over to the door leading to the back. It happens in a flash, the door shutting behind them.

No..!

"You know what's gonna happen now, don't ya?" Stevie goes. "He's gonna throw him off the train Right off the rear platform. Hey, it's standard procedure, that way Shinji won't get sucked under the wheels!- hey, where're you going now?! You're gonna get us all in trouble."

Utena is rushing towards the same door now. She hauls the door open, and runs down the swirling passageway (after seeing that the Conductor didn't open this escape hatch) to the other end, where she enters the last, empty car.

"Wait.." she pants between breaths. "Wait..!" Her legs are feeling heavy as her steps hit the floor hard in running.

(And there's nobody around.)

And she skirts to a stop by the very last door at the other end. She hauls the door open, and the wintery storm hits her hard when she steps outside, onto the platform. Only to see the train tracks recede into the dark distance.

the phoenix rises up out of ashes

Utena seethes, reeling on the stainless steel floor coated with snow. She smashes her fists into the icy air ahead (oh, you bad now) hitting nobody except her pain – it is just futile.

only for it to dissolve into nothingness again

Finally, as the cold winds threaten to wear away into Utena, she turns away and heads back inside.