Part 17 - Exactly What Was Needed

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

“Oh?” Edna said. It was an actual surprise to her. How had he worked out where they were when the people who lived here weren’t even sure of that?


“Yes, well, I--” Highmond cut himself off, then said, “Have you got the Japans on your world?”


“We have,” she said, “Though we just call it Japan.”


“Right, well that’s to my point, actually. The Japanese, at least on my world, don’t call it either - er, not in their own language. In fact, the land has gone by several names throughout history.”


“Okay?” Edna was no longer playing dumb to give Highmond the right of his own reveal. She honestly wasn’t sure where he was going.


“When you got the names of the pterosaur chaps yesterday, you might have noticed I turned a bit odd, yes?”


“To say the least...” she started absently, while the gears rolled into place. Then it hit her, like the ground had a few hours ago, “Oh! You don’t mean?”


“In fact I do. Those were all names of the Japans. Most of them are out of use now, but nevertheless...” He gave her a look like a child who knows they are right but has never been told so by adults.


Edna was too busy filling in the other puzzle pieces to notice or address his look. She spoke slowly, accelerating by the syllable, “And when you asked where we were, they all gave their own names! Highmond! Highmond! That’s amazing! That’s fantastic! You’ve done it!”


Edna jumped up and hugged him, forgetting her pain and her waiting grief. The joy of having solved - or seen solved - an apparently unsolvable problem too profound to be denied. It coursed through her, pulling back the curtains of her soul, beating the dust from the corners and the rugs, opening the windows so the world in all its beautiful fullness could race in. She had seen the light of the fire, but now she felt it. She had known its warmth, but now it touched her. Everything was real again.


This, Edna had to admit, was the brilliant part of adventures - the part she never got anywhere else. Apparently unsolvable problems abounded in the world, and brave, brilliant people ticked away at them slowly - a generational toil that may one day pay off without ever being noticed or celebrated. Here though, it was fast and always noticed, and she made a point to celebrate it.


Highmond was taken aback, shaken by this show of enthusiasm, but he soon allowed his excitement to take over - let its hair down. He began to jump about, shouting things like “I say!” and “Haha!” and “The Japans!” After laughing - openly, joyously - at him for a minute, Edna tried to join in his jumping, but that was a bridge too far, her pain informed her.


She sat back down, panting and patting her injuries. It wasn’t long before Highmond - old man that he was - plopped down across from her, sweat pouring from his brow. He tried and failed to catch his breath for a moment, laughing noiselessly at the elusive air.


Eventually, when they’d both had a moment to pull themselves back to themselves, Edna asked, without the breath to be anything but casual, “So how do you know all this about Japan?”


Some invisible structure in Highmond collapsed at the question. His chest sank and his face fell. Even his mustache seemed softer. He did not hesitate though. “My husband was Japanese,” he paused now, but only for a second, “and a historian.” He laughed there. It was a bitter, cold laugh - at once distant and too close. Tears welled and fell. He spoke through it all, “Yet again, it seems, he taught me exactly what I needed to know.”


Edna looked inside, at her own waiting grief. It seemed so small and selfish to her now. She began to cry as well - little, quiet tears. She didn’t know Highmond well enough to know how he would like her to act in this. She told herself if she tried she would only fail and make things worse. For a time then, they just sat there - in a silence that wasn’t silent at all.


She pulled the watch from her pocket and squeezed. She wished, not for the first time, that it would open - that she could see the face of the friend who had been through everything with her. She knew it wouldn’t though, it never had.


Instead, Edna rolled the watch round her fingers. It tick ticked in her hand, falling rhythmically between every few beats of her heart. Without thinking, she held it out to Highmond.


This surprised her. She had never offered the watch to anyone. Why would she? It was a watch. She loved it because she loved it. What good could it do anyone else? Still, it felt right. Like the watch - like time itself - wanted to go to the old man, to give him the only thing that would ever really help him.


After a small forever of Edna second-guessing herself, Highmond finally looked up, seeing the watch through bleary eyes. There was none of the confusion in his face that she’d expected, only a deep gratitude.


He grabbed the watch, but he didn’t take it from her. Instead they held it there together, and in that act - that moment that stretched on through ages and lifetimes - Edna knew she liked Highmond. How could she not like a man, who - even here, in deepest grief - had not taken the comfort she had offered all for himself? Somehow he had seen her own pain too, when he could barely see two feet in front of him, and he had chosen to live in it with her.


Slowly, the tick tick of this shared solace bridged the gaps between them, until both somehow felt they understood the other and were understood by them. They looked into each other’s eyes and smiled. It was a tiny smile, but it was - and that was enough.


And in that exact moment - where time itself seemed to wrap them in each other’s friendship and comfort - a wall of their hut exploded. The force caused a torrent of splinters and leaves and yanked them back to the world. The other walls lurched and threatened to collapse, but what was left of this one was apparently sufficient to hold them.


Through the hole stepped two gleaming, silver, European knights. Two more came through the door, like sensible home invaders. One of the two less sensible home invaders stepped forward and took off her helmet. Edna saw she was Japanese. Even so, when she spoke, her voice was a harsh british accent. “Right. You lot are comin’ with us.”


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