I get up at six thirty in the morning now. Still, the sun comes up too soon and causes all the air to thicken. The street lights go out, one by one, as the blue shadows thin. The sky grows ominously white and then gold and pink and then the sun is there, hot and brazen, above the line of trees that shade the highway.
I can't seem to get up early enough to escape it. When I arrive back at the house, I smell like a swamp. The small of my back is covered by a sheet of sweat, as though water had been poured over the back of my shoulders. My face is hot to the touch and I have to plunge it under cold water, again and again, to get it to cool down.
Keith is normally out all day long, in the motor pool, a vast expanse of shimmering heat, rows and rows of tanks and Bradleys and little, low buildings far off in the distance, like a mirage. He came home one day doubled up with heat cramps and had to hobble around the house to try and walk them out. I almost took him to the hospital.
When Daiki returned, Gilly steeled herself for the ordeal. She was lifted again onto his smooth, ridged back, just behind the dragon’s front legs, where his elbow joint jutted up. She was breathing quickly, her stomach already in knots.
“Be calm,” urged Tenshio, when she clutched at him. “Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.”
Gilly did as he said, her eyes tightly screwed shut. When Daiki lifted his body from the ground, Gilly breathed deeply in through her nose and when his body swooped down, she let the air out of her mouth.
In and out, she thought to herself. Up and down. Like swinging all by herself: the lift, head back, hair falling loose, and then the fall, curled in, knees up tight. She was doing it, she realized, elated. She was managing. She opened her eyes.
The sky stretched out endlessly in front of her: a vast, dusky blue expanse that grew lighter the farther out it reached. At the farthest point, the horizon was a golden, dimly glowing line where there were no stars.
The wind whipped her hair into her face and pulled at the arms of her kimono, but she was held securely against Tenshio by his right arm. The warm body of the dragon below her rose and fell in a steady rhythm; its predictability reassured her. They were twisting through the sky like a ribbon.
“What is that?” she called, pointing toward the dim, glowing horizon.
“That is the Kagamihara; the Mirrored Plains.”
“The place where your world casts its reflection into this realm.”
She thought about this for a moment. “How come?”
“Why, child, why," he coached her. “It was created for that purpose.”
“That lesson is far beyond your years.”
“Did God create this world?”
“What other being can create a world?”
Behind Tenshio, a vast white and blue mountain was falling away into a blue hazed distance. The tip of the mountain was lost in white clouds that obscured the stars there. The mountains around them and ahead of them were darker, thickly wooded and not as high.
“How come we don’t know about you?” Gilly asked.
“Why," he repeated. "For mortal beings, there are limits set on knowledge. The whole truth dwells only in the Sacred Realm.”
“God lives there?”
“God inhabits His entire creation.”
“Is that the same God as in my world?”
“Yes, child. I see that you must be feeling better,” he said dryly, looking down at her.
“It’s like swinging,” Gilly said, confidently. “And I don’t look down… Oh!” A twist of wind took her sandal and fluttered it out of sight in the dark. She clutched at Tenshio and then peered cautiously around him. “It’s gone.”
“It took my sandal.” She shook her other foot and let the sandal be blown off that one as well. She felt a little rush of satisfaction.
“Gilly!” Tenshio turned in time to see the last of his mountain slip into shadow behind them. His sharp eyes could also make out the tiny, tumbling piece of woven straw as it fell through the leagues of sky, already a great distance away.
“Are you always this much trouble?” he asked, resigned.
“No,” whispered Gilly, wounded.