At the hotel, Clarice found a piece of something that looked like a miniscule rock or a piece of gray coral. She took it to a natural food store because she wasn’t sure how else she could find out what it was. It wasn’t food, but people who worked in a store like this might know.
“It’s a fulgurite,” she later told me. We were on the bus again, it was night, and I felt like we could have been anywhere.
“How do you know?”
“The food store. And then I looked it up online. It’s formed when lightning hits sand.”
Everything in this city is so ugly that I can’t focus on my life.
“There are things here that are beautiful.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Our friendship, for one thing.”
“But we’re cousins.”
“Okay, then our family.”
Clarice dragged me along to an old brownstone that is owned by the historical society. She thought I might like it, that I might be inspired by it, but I wasn’t.
In one room, a glass pitcher had been placed in a clear glass box and set on top of a pedestal along with four small cups. “Is this hand blown?” I asked.
“Everything in this room is hand blown.”
What were all of these hand blown things here for? What were we supposed to think about when we looked at them? Next we walked into a bedroom. There was a bed with a green and red bedspread on top of it, and a wooden headboard against pink and white wallpaper from another time. Above the bed was a painting. “Snow scene of a courtesan holding an umbrella being ferried across the Sumida River by a porter,” Clarice read out loud. In the painting, the porter wore something that covered his head and face, like a dust mop made out of soft straw. The brown river water surrounded the boat, moving toward it in little waves.
“Do you like this place because a rich family once lived here?” I asked her. I knew I was being ridiculous, but I couldn’t stop myself from saying it.
“No, I just like it.”
“What does it matter to you?”
Out on the balcony of the house, Clarice’s open coat billowed out around her in the wind. She had gone out there to take a break from me, and I watched her looking out at the city, an ugly city that seemed to have no end.