Hello everyone and welcome to my stop on the “Summer Bird Blue” tour.
Today I have an extract for you, and hopefully it will whet your appetite for the book.
For once it isn’t Poi’s barking that wakes me in the middle of the night—it’s music.
I sit up in bed, squinting at the door and wondering what would possess my aunt to have a house party after the nuclear bomb that went off in her living room. When I open the door, the hallway is completely dark. Aunty Ani’s door is shut tight. I pad carefully through the house, my feet sticking slightly to the floorboards, and I realize the music isn’t coming from here—it’s coming from Mr. Watanabe’s.
Rolling my eyes, I slip on my shoes and walk over to his house, ready to pound on the door and tell him to turn his music off.
But when I reach the top step, I pause. I hear the strums of a guitar, like the ocean swirling against the sand. It sounds the way mango tastes—soft and sweet, and just enough warmth to make you feel calm. It’s such a mellow sound, and before I know it, I’m sitting with my back against Mr. Watanabe’s screen door with my eyes closed, my feet tapping to the beat of the music.
I almost forgot what this felt like—to be lost in the music. To hear a melody that doesn’t break my heart over and over again.
Maybe it’s the absence of lyrics, or maybe it’s because the song has no connection to Lea, but either way it feels good. I’ve been so afraid that music was never going to be the same again that hear-ing something so beautiful and pure—it makes my entire body relax.
My heart, too.
I don’t know how long I’m sitting there—a minute, an hour—but eventually the door opens, and Mr. Watanabe stares down at me like he knew I was there all along.
I jump up, straightening my pajama shirt. I open my mouth to tell him his music is too loud, that I can’t sleep, that he needs to shut it off, but I can’t. Because I don’t want the music to stop.
He looks at me, opens the door even wider, and moves toward his living room.
I hesitate. Is this an invitation?
When Poi shows up yapping through the screen like she’s eaten batteries for lunch, I pull the thin door open and step inside.
Mr. Watanabe’s house smells like grass and old wood. I don’t know how anyone’s home could smell so much like a terrarium when there isn’t a plant in sight. Maybe it’s all the time he spends in his yard. Maybe the smell sticks to him, the way songs used to stick to Lea and me. Like they just couldn’t leave us.
Poi sniffs at my feet, barking and barking like she wants the world to know she’s found me.
“Is she going to stop?” I ask.
Mr. Watanabe is sitting in a deep red chair, an old record player near his right and a small table with a wooden box at his left. He doesn’t say anything—he tilts his head back and closes his eyes, listening to the scratch of the vinyl beside him.
I sit on the floor and hold out my hand to Poi. She comes closer, running her whiskers along my fingers, and then jumps away again, yapping frantically, like she can’t control herself.
Mr. Watanabe whistles once, and Poi skirts across the room and hops into his lap, content.
I roll my eyes. That dog has more things wrong with it than I do.
When the next song starts, I don’t move from the floor. I listen to the mango guitar and breathe in the earthy room, and suddenly I’m lying flat on the wooden floor watching the ceiling fan spin around and around and around.
And for the first time in weeks, I don’t feel like the floor has been pulled out from under me. I feel steady.
We listen to the entire record. When it ends, Mr. Watanabe looks at me and says, “You go home.”
When I’m standing outside the front door, I turn back to him. “Can I come back tomorrow?”
Maybe it’s a lot to ask of a stranger, but I don’t care. I found something familiar in a world where nothing is the way I remem-ber it.
The music that exists in Mr. Watanabe’s house isn’t haunted by Lea. I feel safe here, and I want to hold on to this feeling for as long as I can. For as long as Mr. Watanabe will let me.
I need music not to hurt anymore, and I’ll visit Mr. Watanabe and his annoying dog every single day if that’s what it takes.
His face is dry and covered in sunspots, and sometimes he looks like he’s made of leather and not human skin. But after a very long silence, he blinks at me like someone at the other end of a job interview.
“Tomorrow” is all he says.