At the age of ten, my father knew exactly what he would be. Like his mother and his grandmother, he woke one night to an over-warm room, the walls glowing in cascading white-blue-black from the liquid flames pooled around his hands. Like his mother and his grandmother – all keimon born from keimon – he had known it was coming, and did what any ten-year-old should have done in the quiet confidence of midnight: he raised his hands and let the light chase the shadows for hours.
By the time he woke up, he had figured out how to shape the fire, so rather than tell his mother the precious good news, he walked a delightfully clumsy starburst of an animal across her path. He said it was a fox. She said it was a little monster with three legs and a second head where its tail should have been. They both grinned at each other.
She trained him herself. She taught him every trick from her hand, every trick from her mother’s hand. The way to spin the fire as you pulled on it until it roped. The way to tamp it down until it turned black, and let it flash back into white light. The chalks and dusts that would turn blue-white to green or red or purple or yellow. The way to thin the fire to rippling glass, caging in roiling flame so that he could set the hard edges of a fox that sparked and raged. A fox with claws and smoke-ghost whiskers, and flicking, curious ears.
He played street corners until the owner of a taproom across town wandered by and offered him pay twice a week. His mother’s patron paid him when he was a little older. And then he found his own.
Quietly, happily, he became what he had known he would be, and all his doubts were wrapped up in a single question: how long will it take?
I was ten and eight months the first time I borrowed his doubt. I counted down days, waiting for my midnight glow, for fire in my hands. It will come it will come it will come, whispered in the dark.
I was twelve when I started crafting my own doubt. There was supposed to be something invisible under my skin. Looking for it, I saw nothing and proved nothing. I tried to squeeze it out, and interrogated the dark for what I might become without it.
Thirteen when I bit down on hard truths, cracking out answers with my teeth. I stopped looking for the flicker between my fingers. I finally discovered how to ignore the soft smiles of my father’s friends, his mother’s friends that they gifted me, sideways. I left my island-happy family behind.
Seventeen now. I can dance a rig jig. I can catch a wind striving to match a matchless ocean in a bound piece of canvas. I can tie twenty knots my father, my grandmother, my great-grandmother don’t know, into rope I twisted with my own hands.
And I’m not quite sure what to do, watching blue-white-black sway over the bulkheads below deck.