Searching back through the fog of memory, I see myself as a young boy, not yet ten. Guided by my brother’s outstretched hand, I’m drawn toward the din of our housing project’s summer festival. The sun’s rays bounce hot off the pavement from its apex in the noontime sky, but the insistent boom of the taiko drum cascades off the city walls undeterred, over the heads of the brimming throng of revelers, their cries drowned out by the ear-piercing deathsong of the cicadas.
Clutching the coins entrusted to our small palms, my brother and I approach the snaking row of wooden stalls set up by the festival food vendors. He buys yakitori and yakisoba for the dinner table. With the leftover change, I buy my favorite, candy apple. Having enjoyed the festivities, we leave for home, where mother will be awaiting our return.
Racing up the staircase, we reach the narrow landing leading to our apartment door. A chill air hangs still, trapped by the grey concrete walls.
My brother tries the doorknob, but finding it locked, stands on his toes to ring the bell. I press my ear to the cold metal door, but do not hear the usual sound of my mother’s swift footsteps, always quick to welcome us home.
Helpless, we retreat, and resign ourselves to waiting patiently on the steps, sure that our mother will not be long to return.
I remember the heat that day, hotter than ever before.
The half-eaten candy apple clutched between my fingertips liquifies in my saliva and the thick, choking humidity, in turn releasing streams of its sticky, sugary sweetness. Oozing down my wrist as a slug slides languorously across soft, pudgy flesh, the gel stops just short of my elbow, pulled into a fine gossamer thread as it trickles to the ground. Pooling at my feet, I watch spellbound as the syrupy orb glistens brilliantly in the waning sun.
Decades later, muggy summer days never fail to transport me back to this scene from my childhood. In the intervening years, I’ve grown into a man, one big enough to open the door and wash his own hands without waiting for the help of his mother. Yet scrub as I might, to this day I haven’t been able to loosen that sickly sweet, sticky sensation’s grip from memory.
(Translation: Daniel Gonzalez)