Japanese tradition says when you finish folding one thousand paper cranes your wish comes true.
I’m only half-Japanese. I plan on folding two thousand cranes to be double sure my wish will come true: that Colten will fall madly in love with me. It’s not because we’ve been thrown against each other since he moved here in second grade. Sure, alphabetically Colten Adams always sat next to me, Piper Allen, in class, but that’s not the reason. It’s because he’s stormy-eyed and swollen-lipped. Sharp-cheeked and soft-spoken. He’s the most beautiful boy in all of Portland. No! In the entire world.
I want him to notice me before he falls for someone else, and I’m tired of waiting around for him.
When Bachan bought me dozens of packets of beautiful, colored rice paper at the Cherry Blossom Festival. She told me she’d folded a thousand cranes back in Miyako, met Ojichan, and the rest is history.
It’s time I folded myself a little history.
* * *
336 cranes are tucked into a shoebox under my bed when I find out through the gossip chain that Colten asked Harlow Rivers to homecoming.
“She’s not even that pretty,” I complain, folding over my math quiz diagonally.
As my friends poke lettuce and cucumbers around on their plates or sip at diet drinks, I crease the bottom strip and wet it with my tongue, tearing away the rectangle shape to give me a nice square to work with.
Veronica Wiseman — best friend and enemy since pre-school —nudges my shoulder. “Harlow’s really nice, Pipe. She let me copy her history notes this week.”
“I love Harlow,” says Molly. Molly Larkin loves everyone, bless her. She comes from a family of thirteen, and they all get along. It’s how cults get started, I’m sure of it. “I don’t even care. She’s super nice and super smart.”
I ignore them both to fold and crease, fold and crease. If I finish these cranes faster, maybe Colten will forget about Harlow by winter break. Maybe he’ll notice me.
“337,” I say, setting the newest addition in the middle of the table. I pick up the long strip of my quiz to turn into smaller cranes. The goal is to finish ten a day so that I’ll have two thousand before Christmas. Colten will be mine to kiss beneath the mistletoe.
“Only sixteen hundred and change to go.” Veronica returns her attention to her salad, spearing her fork through a cherry tomato. It bursts and a stream of seeds and juice splash across the crane.
Addison butts in, “Looks better red anyway.”
“Now I don’t have any to add to my collection.” With a hard flick, I send the stained crane to the floor. Another student kicks it across the tile as the bell rings.
Veronica, Addison, and Molly share a serious, concerned look, and for once I forgive them for being so mean. That is, until they turn to me in unison and say, “The Collection,” before bursting into laughter.
“Go to hell!” I sing-song.
“Love you,” says Molly. “Nice,” says Veronica. “Such a lady,” says Addison.
“Hate you,” I reply and stomp off to Social Studies.
Incidentally, I spend more time folding cranes than taking notes. Three Starburst wrappers, a silvery gum wrapper, and one correction-decorated English paper all become more cranes to add to my “Collection”. Damn them, I’m starting to sound like Gollum and his precious or something.
* * *
657 cranes are safe inside the shoebox as our Ramapo Falcons get their asses handed to us by the Martin Van Buren “cheap and dirty” Thunder. Half the junior class, and most of the senior class are all jammed into Harlow’s sprawling house after the game. Jake Edwards DJs, and to be honest, he’s pretty good.
In no time at all, I find myself staring up at the bottom of my empty cup and wondering where all the rum went. Jaxson Rivera, my pity date, sticks his cup into my hands for a refill. As if I’m now his waitress too.
It takes a long time to walk from the speakers to the kitchen and out back to the patio where all the booze bottles glitter under the strings of lights. The night air is crisp and cool and there’s a hint of fall on the breeze. Voices carry over from the gazebo — the Rivers have a freaking gazebo in their backyard! — and I can’t help overhearing the conversation.
“I thought you liked me.” The words are slurred but harsh. It’s odd that such things could ever come out of Colten’s mouth.
My palm rests on the neck of the cola bottle. I don’t want to open it because the carbonation hiss will give me away. Make me out to be a peeper.
Harlow’s voice is soft and pleading. “Of course I like you. There’s a lot of people in my house. I don’t want it to be weird.”
Oh god. Oh god! I don’t want to hear this. My heart’s beating out a warning. A threat to announce my presence here. I pour a generous amount of Jim Beam into my red plastic cup, splashing the liquor onto the glass table in my nervous haste. One of the bottles of Sprite is open, so I pour that in too. Jaxson gets nothing but Sprite. He’s so plastered, I doubt he’ll notice.
I grab up the cups as the voices get louder. Watch in horror as Colten punches Harlow in the mouth with a crack I feel in my guts. A dark smear appears from her lip. I blink and blink, trying to erase the image.
Like a coward, I slip back inside, doubting at once what I’ve seen. Liquid like fire and sugary sweet slides down my throat. I finish Jaxson’s too, and pretend I can’t find him.
Harlow doesn’t return to the party.
Colten does. He tells everyone that’ll listen how Harlow couldn’t hold her liquor. Jokes with Vernon Mitchell, our not-such-a-star quarterback, that he “put her to bed and then put her to bed”.
No. No. No. Not my Colten Adams. Not the beautiful boy that I sat beside on the bus when everyone else teased him and said he had cooties. Not the boy that gave me a Valentine’s card for ten years in a row. Not the boy who took the blame when I broke Old Man Winston’s windshield. Or let me ride his new ten-speed bike around the block before he’d even had a turn.
I push past sweaty seniors and find myself outside again. Start walking home and then running home. When I get there, I sneak upstairs, past Bachan’s closed bedroom door. My pillow feels soft and safe beneath my tear-stained cheek.
In the morning, I find I’ve shredded a number of paper cranes into tiny pieces that litter my bedspread and the floor.
* * *
1,033 cranes are pressed neatly in rows inside my shoebox the day Harlow shows up to school with a gash over her eyebrow that needed stitches and a black eye.
“Ran into my gym locker like an idiot,” she says to Veronica. “Tripped and fell into a science table,” she says to Molly. She tells me, “Drank too much at a party last night. Do not remember what happened at all.”
There were no parties last night. I would know, and we all would have been there.
* * *
1,567 cranes crowd themselves into the shoebox the day Harlow doesn’t show up to school at all. I stop folding cranes. She’s absent the next day and the day after that. Worry and regret twist inside until I have to fold a crane just so my fingers have something to do.
Molly’s got tears in her eyes at lunch when she explains, “Her mom said she hurt herself in gymnastics. Broke her humerus and cracked a couple ribs.”
“I called her last night to see if I could bring her my class notes,” says Veronica. “She told me she fell off Colten’s motorcycle.”
“Her little brother said she got kicked by her horse,” Addison adds. “Something’s not right.”
I suck in a breath. Fear at not saying anything to begin with, at disliking her for no reason, swells up my throat. When the words finally make it out, they’re dry and quiet. “I saw Colten punch her the night of homecoming.”
“That bastard!” Molly’s never cursed before, and she’s certainly never said anything bad about another person. I cringe in my seat, shame flooding my cheeks red.
Addison grits her teeth. She confided to me in fifth grade that her dad used to hit her mom. The memory pounces on me and forces me down into my chair. “We have to do something.”
“I don’t know.” Veronica’s fingers are bone white against the green apple in her hand. Her fingernails pierce the skin, clear juice bubbles up and drips off the bottom.
* * *
1,567 cranes await me when I bike home from school, no closer to a solution than I was at lunchtime.
“Bachan, I’m home!”
“Dinner at seven, Piper. You help set table.”
Bachan spends most of her time in the kitchen, inventing new ways to test my waistline. I try to avoid the aroma of sticky jasmine rice balls and tempura batter, as I take the stairs two at a time up to my room.
I shout down the stairs, “Let me finish my homework first.”
There’s a dust-free strip of wooden floor where I’ve slid the shoebox of cranes back and forth from under my bed. The cranes rustle inside as I pull the box toward me. Guilt, like tiny forks stabbing my insides, shoots through me. I remove the lid and stare down at the richly colored paper. Months of folds and sharp edges and lame wishes sit on the floor before me. I’m disgusted and close to tears.
I remove one of the cranes, delicate and light in my hand, but I can’t bring myself to destroy it. Instead, I unfold it. Smooth out the creases.
Rice paper in hand, I fly downstairs and into the kitchen. Bachan hands me a cup of hibiscus tea, dark red and steaming. Between sips of tea and tears I tell her everything.
“Not make crane for this,” she says, stroking my hair. Her hands are rough from working a thousand days at the laundry. “Time for goblin.”
Those same hands I’ve watched roll elegant sushi rolls and calligraphy verse poems with precise strokes, pick up the rice paper. Now, I watch her fold and bend, crease and shape the origami. It becomes a blocky goblin under her touch.
As I learn how to create this difficult and unfamiliar figure, Bachan explains the rules of fire and destruction.
* * *
I am half-Japanese, but it only takes five hundred paper goblins to carry out a vengeful wish. And you don’t have to fold them all yourself.
498 goblins wait in the shoebox under my bed, lined up like toy soldiers. In the morning, I finish the last two. Slit my fingers with a paring knife. The stinging pain is fleeting as I smear each goblin with a red slash of my blood.
Colten Adams, they were breathed into life for the sole purpose of burning you.
For more poetry by WB Yeats, please read his collections online or at your local library. Poem © Copyright, William Butler Yeats 1899. All rights reserved.Used by permission of the Creative Commons License.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Audrey. Return next Monday for Julie’s answer to this prompt.