Alex took a long swig of beer, then put the bottle of Beck’s on his coffee table and stood over the small trunk that seemed to take up way too much space on his living room floor. He kicked at it in frustration. What the hell was he supposed to do with the damn thing?
His father had delivered it two days before. Dumped it off is more like it, Alex thought, remembering how his father had almost thrown the leather trunk onto the sidewalk outside Alex’s apartment.
“Here,” his father said, unable to look his son in the eye. He pressed a small key into Alex’s hand, making sure he avoided any more physical contact than was absolutely necessary. “Your grandfather wanted you to have this. It’s just some papers, as far as I could tell. Nothing of any real value.”
Alex glared at his father. “Naturally you would make sure of that first, wouldn’t you?”
Silently his father turned and walked back to his red Mercedes AMG convertible, driving away without a backward glance. Typical. So damn typical, Alex had fumed silently. Couldn’t look him in the eye. Avoided any kind of physical contact. Obviously it was painful for him to even be in the same fuckin’ zip code as his son. His gay son. Asshole probably thinks being gay is catching, Alex had snarled inside. Then he hoisted the small trunk onto one shoulder and carried it into the living room.
There it had stayed for two days while Alex tried to avoid it—much as he had tried to avoid dealing with his grandfather’s death several months earlier.
When Alex was young, he had adored his father’s father. Every chance he’d gotten he had run through the backyard to the house where his widowed grandfather had lived alone and followed the old man around like a happy puppy. It was his grandfather who had taught him Japanese, who had sung songs from the old country, and who had told him stories that set Alex’s imagination on fire. In his childish innocence, he thought his grandfather had captured the magical fish, killed the fire-breathing dragon, and been the mighty samurai warrior who restored honor to his shogun. He had basked in the love and acceptance his grandfather lavished on him so unstintingly, and he could not understand why his father’s face always turned so stony when Alex tried to retell his grandfather’s stories.
One day when Alex was five, he had tiptoed into his grandfather’s house, intending to surprise him. When he peeked in the living room, he saw his grandfather dressed in a colorful robe, sitting cross-legged in front of his low table. He was singing softly and gently rocking back and forth. Alex was enthralled with the odd song. It was one he had never heard his grandfather sing before: odd intervals that repeated many times with a haunting rhythm. Then his grandfather stopped singing and bent over something on the table.
Alex quietly crept closer and peered over his grandfather’s shoulder. There was a small round TV screen lying flat on the table, showing people walking around a city. Suddenly his grandfather became aware of Alex. He straightened up and said, “I thought you and your parents were at the beach today.”
Alex sat on the floor and nestled against his grandfather. “Dad said it’s too cloudy so he went to work. Why do you have a TV on your table?” He peered more closely at it. “Doesn’t it have sound?”
Grandfather took a deep breath. “It’s not really a TV.” He passed one hand over the screen, and the picture disappeared. Alex saw it was really just a silver plate. He looked up at his grandfather in puzzlement.
“I’m not sure if I can explain things so you will understand.” His grandfather thought for a minute, then continued. “You know that many times during the day you make decisions. Today your Dad decided not to go to the beach, so you decided to come see me. Right?”
“Well, in another universe, your Dad made the opposite decision, and so right now, in that other universe, you are playing in the sand and having a good time.”
“There are two Alexes?”
“There are really many, many Alexes.” His grandfather gave him a hug. “But I’m very glad you are the Alex here with me. When you get older, you’ll understand this more. But for now, all you need to remember is that the universe is filled with many, many wonderful things. All we need to do is to discover them.”
Alex pointed to the small silver plate. “What were you discovering there?”
His grandfather got up and walked into his bedroom, returning with a photograph of a painting of an elderly Japanese man. “This is Ozuno from Mount Katsragi. He was a very wise man and a very powerful shaman, a Yuta. People claimed he could walk on the water and that every evening he would fly through the air on a colorful cloud and talk to the spirits.”
“Is that true?” Alex peered closely at the picture of the man.
His grandfather shrugged. “He lived a long time ago, so I don’t know. But I know his teachings have been carefully handed down from one generation to the next. Some shamans can do wonderful things that other people say are magic. But mainly shamans help other people. That’s the important thing to remember.”
“Were you helping the people in there?” Alex asked, pointing to the plate.
“No. They live in another universe. Like ours, but different. I was just looking for a friend.”
“Are you a shaman?”
His grandfather smiled. “You can always tell a true shaman by his deeds, not from his words.”
“I don’t understand. Can I be a shaman?”
His grandfather looked at him for a long moment. “Only the gods know that. But you can grow up to be a good, kind man and help other people. Now, how about something to eat?”