Photo of large goldfish in water that resembles a galaxy of stars.

‘Across the Milky Way’ by Toshiya Kamei

         Miki stopped folding origami stars, walked to the window, and gazed into the cloudy night sky over Monterey Park. There were no stars to wish upon, let alone a sliver of moon. If the stars were visible, she’d ask for a first kiss. She wanted her first kiss to matter, and she had her eyes on a Mexican-American boy named Jesús who went by Jesse.

         Miki returned to the table and grabbed her lavender pen. It was her lucky color. With a tiny flutter in her stomach, she scribbled her wish on an origami strip in Japanese. She wanted to keep her wish a secret until it came true. Since most of her classmates didn’t speak Japanese, writing in her ancestral language gave her extra peace of mind.

         She glanced at the calendar, already showing tomorrow’s date: July 7.

         “It’s Tanabata tomorrow,” she said, turning to her sister, Sayaka. “I hope it’ll be a fine day tomorrow.”

         “Are you worried about Orihime and Hikoboshi?” Sayaka asked.

         They were lovers, separated across the Milky Way. They were allowed to meet only once a year, provided the sky was clear.

         “Yes. Clouds will ruin their date.” The damp air clung to Miki’s skin and clothes, and she smelled wet and moldy.

         “I’ll make you a teru-teru bozu to keep the rain away.” Sayaka grabbed two pieces of tissue paper, clumped up one of them, and wrapped the other around it. She twisted the bundle to make a doll’s head. She picked up a sharpie and drew in a pair of eyes. “There,” Sayaka added. “Now he’s able to see.”

         Miki took the doll from her sister’s hand and hung him outside the window.

         “Sunny Monk Boy, Sunny Monk Boy,” Miki sang a childhood rhyme. “Let us have nice weather tomorrow!”

         There was no wind, but the doll swung like a ghost. He smiled, or so she imagined.

         “I see you’re in a festive mood,” Sayaka said. “But promise me one thing.”

         “I know what you’re going to say: stay away from a girl in a red yukata.” Miki laughed, waving away her sister’s concern.

         “I’m serious, Miki,” Sayaka said with a frown. “It’s not a joke. The girl is a ghost with no name. If you let your guard down, she’ll try to steal your name.”


         At dawn, the sky cleared. Miki slipped into her turquoise floral-print yukata and tied her hair into a ponytail. Sayaka left Miki at the bus stop before she left for Pierce College. At seven o’clock as usual, the school bus pulled up, and she climbed on. The bus sped along the lantern-draped streets.

         A few stops later, several kids got on the bus.

         “May I?” Miki heard someone ask. When she looked up, she saw a pale-looking boy with a shaved head. He resembled her teru-teru bozu, so she mentally dubbed him Sunny. He wore an impudent smile as he looked at her, almost ogling her. He made her uncomfortable.

         Sunny struck her as the polar opposite of Jesse. For one thing, Sunny was tall and lean while Jesse was on the chubby side. Moreover, Sunny lacked Jesse’s sweetness.

         “Sure,” she answered and returned her gaze to the landscape speeding by outside the window.

         “I’m Jimmy,” the boy said, extending his hand. The motion was laced with male bravado, and so was his haughty smirk.

         “Miki,” she mumbled. After a noticeable hesitation, she shook his hand and forced an icy smile.

         “How are you?” Jimmy leaned toward her, crowding her, his handshake lingering a moment too long. The intense scent of his cologne stung her nose.

         “Look,” she glared at him. “I’m really not in the mood.” Miki faced forward, but she could feel his leer on the side of her neck.

         “Easy there,” he said. “I won’t bite.” And then he grabbed her arm, forcing her to turn.

         “Hey! Can’t you take a hint?” She yanked and freed herself from his grip, but Jimmy only laughed and reached for her again.

         “Cut it out, dude,” Jen said, voice raised from across the aisle. “What’s your problem?” Miki had met Jen at the Asian Pacific Islander Club, and some weekends, the club met and hung out at Jen’s house. Mrs. Wang, Jen’s mother, always served them mint tian-cha after they finished playing pickup basketball in Jen’s driveway.

         Jimmy cursed under his breath, but he remained quiet for the rest of the ride.

         Someone touched Miki’s elbow after she got off the bus. She turned and saw Jesse. He smiled at her, and, for a brief moment, their eyes locked.

         “Good morning, Jesse,” she purred. She linked her arm through his and allowed him to lead her to their homeroom.

         By ten o’clock, game and food stalls had filled the school yard. No one paid attention in class anymore as they glanced outside the windows. When the recess bell rang, everyone spilled out of the classrooms and onto the makeshift fair. A loud clamor and the aroma of food wafted through the early-afternoon air.

         “You want to scoop goldfish?” Jesse asked, leaning close. His breath brushed her ear, and a tingling sensation spread through her chest. He pointed his chin toward kids crouching over a tank filled with colorful fish.

         Their friends circled around them and cheered every time someone dipped their paper scoop in the water.

         “Not now, maybe later,” Miki said. “Let’s get something to eat.”

         “You have a sweet tooth, don’t you?” he said with a smile. “Is the pink one okay?” He pointed to the cotton candy stand. The sweet smell of burnt sugar drew her in like a fly trap.

         Jesse reached inside a portable cooler and pulled out an ice-cold soda.

         “Do you want a soda, too?” he asked.

         “I can’t finish an entire can. Leave some for me.”

         Miki nibbled her cotton candy as they navigated through the multitudes.

         “Go easy or you’ll have a sugar high,” he teased.

         She smiled and gave him a friendly shove. He rubbed his arm in mock pain.

         Miki licked her lips after each nibble, remembering the cotton candy her grandmother bought her in Osaka a few summers ago. That marked her first trip outside America.

         “Want some?” she asked, thrusting her cotton candy at him.

         “No thanks. I’m fine.” Jesse shook his head, popped open his soda, and slurped it down. Miki tossed the rest of her candy into a trash can.

         They strolled hand in hand and reached the origami-decorated Tanabata trees standing at one corner. Strips of paper hung from the branches like colorful fruits. Miki reached into her pocket and took out the origami strip with her wish written on it.

         “What are you going to wish for?” Jesse asked. Miki liked his voice, so close to her ear. It made her feel like the whole world was empty except for the two of them.

         “Don’t be silly,” she said. “I can’t tell you or it won’t come true.”

         “Got it,” he said, but then he tried to take a peek at her wish.

         “Too bad,” she said with a smile. “It’s written in Japanese.”

         “You can always teach me.” His grin came slow and easy.

         “Sure. If you stick around, you may learn something.” She felt herself blush red after she said it.

         She hung her origami strip on a branch and closed her eyes in prayer. She wished he would take her into his arms and kiss her.

         When Miki opened her eyes, however, Jesse was gone. She craned her neck and looked around at the crowd, but he was nowhere in sight. Instead, Jimmy stood there with a sneer on his face.

         “Hey, beautiful.” Jimmy took a menacing step toward her and grabbed her wrist.

         “Stop, you’re hurting me!” Miki cried, taken aback by the sharp pain. The more she struggled, the tighter his grip became. When she shut her eyes, Jesse’s smile returned, giving her a moment’s courage. She stamped hard on Jimmy’s toes, distracting him long enough for her to wrench free. She pushed him away and ran toward the crowd, bumping into a girl in a red yukata. They both lost their footing and fell, the girl landing on top of Miki.

         “Oh, excuse me,” Miki apologized.

         “Watch where you’re going,” the girl groaned as she got up, dusting the dirt off her yukata. She walked through the festival goers and disappeared into the crowd. As Miki hurried after her, she caught up with the girl who had come to her aid on the bus. Her name eluded Miki for some reason.

         “Hi. Thanks for your help this morning.” Miki forced a smile.

         The girl didn’t respond. She looked lost.

         “What’s the matter?” Miki looked into her face. The girl’s eyes were devoid of any light.

         “Do you know my name?” the girl finally mumbled. “Tell me my name. I don’t remember.” Despair clung to every syllable.

         Miki’s heart began to race. After a moment’s hesitation, she decided to ignore the girl’s question. “Hey, have you seen a girl in a red yukata?”

         The girl turned and pointed to the school building.

         “Thanks. I’ll catch you later.”

         Miki fought to calm her pounding heart as she stepped inside, pursuing the yukata girl. Curiosity tempered some of her fear as she crept down the hall, but her sister’s warning about stolen names came back to Miki. Wasn’t it just a story? Losing your name? It couldn’t be real. It couldn’t. She took another step.

         Fluorescent lights buzzed and flickered overhead. Everything else was silent and still. A shadow scurried away and disappeared around the corner. She hurried after it.

         When she turned the corner, Jimmy and the girl stood in front of a classroom. They whispered a few words to each other, but Miki couldn’t make them out. He opened the door and stood aside to let her in before he followed her.

         Miki opened the door and looked inside, but there was no one. Yet Jimmy’s cologne still lingered in the air. She shivered.

         For the next few hours, Miki wandered around the empty building. She looked everywhere, but there was no sign of the girl.

         When Miki stepped outside, the fresh night air brushed through her hair and tickled her cheek. Her yukata reeked of dried sweat, dust, and cotton candy. She looked up and saw the Milky Way shimmering above her head.

         “Great,” she said. “It looks like Orihime and Hikoboshi were able to meet today after all.” A tired sigh escaped her. She called a cab and went home.

         “Miki!” Sayaka gasped when Miki walked inside the house. To Miki’s relief, her name was perfectly familiar. Her name wasn’t stolen.

         Sayaka ran to Miki and wrapped her arms around her. “You’ve been missing for a week.”

         “What are you talking about?” It was Miki’s turn to gasp.

         “Look,” Sayaka said, pointing to the calendar on the wall. Tears glistened on her cheeks, and she wiped them away. Miki’s heart beat faster.

         “July 14.” Miki blinked a few times, but the date stayed the same. “I was only gone for a few hours.”

         “Did you follow the girl in a red yukata? I told you not to do that!”

         “I’m sorry, Sayaka. I’m sorry.” For several long moments, Miki clung to her sister as the sobs worked their way through Sayaka’s body.

         “I thought you were dead.

         Something fundamental cracked inside Miki’s chest.

         “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” What else could she say?

         Sayaka stepped away from Miki and shook her head. “I’m happy you’re home.”

         “So am I,” Miki said. She joined her sister on the couch and laced their fingers together. The clasp was tight. It was an anchor.

         “You must’ve stepped into her realm.”

         “This is crazy.” Miki placed her hand on her forehead, fighting against a sudden dizziness. “It’s just too much to take in.”

         “Listen to me next time. You could have really been hurt.” Sayaka hugged Miki.

         “I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful. I promise.”

         “You must be tired. You should get some sleep.”

         Miki nodded.

         “I’m gonna call our parents,” Sayaka said. “They’ve been worried to death.”

         Miki pulled out her phone on the way upstairs and called her friend—he still owed her goldfish scooping. The ringing signal purred into her ear, but as she walked into her bedroom, she froze on the threshold. She didn’t remember his name.

Photo of large goldfish in water that resembles a galaxy of stars.

About the author

Toshiya Kamei writes fiction inspired by fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. Their short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and elsewhere.

Photo by Amir on Unsplash.

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