David padded across the tatami floor and slid open the shoji. The noise had come from the side of the house––a thin strip of bushes and ivy bordering concrete wall. He crept through a tangle of books and boxes, along the wooden outer corridor, to a second set of sliding doors. Peering through warped, dusty panes there was nothing except a vague play of light through the trees. Unhinging the ancient metal catch, he inched the sliding door along wooden tracks. Dropping softly onto pine needles, a shock of recognition––the woman crouched against the low wall, hands clenched tightly against rough edges. David fought back any reaction, keeping his eyes steady and unblinking––a move he had perfected as a young child, when big dogs approached.
The woman dropped her gaze, seeming to relax slightly. He took a step closer, “Are you alright? I can call––” A rise of panic at those last words, eyes conveying a tight-wound moment of decision.
David led out with his foot as she bolted, feeling the full force of impact on his right shin. Knee buckling, he reached out for balance and caught her shoulder through a tangle of hair. Hand sliding down, he latched onto forearm and took her with him onto the rock-scattered ground. For a long moment there was a perfect silence, no separation between them. Beyond the contrasting pitch of their breathing, there was only the odd sound of a siren in the distance. A transference of internal pulses, a realization that he had prevented her from leaving.
David’s apologetic blink met a firm-set frown as he pulled gingerly at what revealed itself as an awkward tangle. His fingers tracing the contour of her tightly curled fist––surrounding it without exacting any movement. Certain that he was going to have to pry each finger loose, one by one, his eyes met hers and stayed with her this time, not letting go. A sense of ice shifting, a crack and then a snap––a thaw––her hand uncurling and, in frightening reversal, tightening against his with such force that the pain equaled and then exceeded the aching pulses from a possibly gimp knee.
As David wrenched his hand free of the woman’s grasp her hand shook visibly, clenching and unclenching, then dropped with a series of twitches against her side. “Come on, let’s get you inside.” He helped her disengage, feeling past clammy skin to thin, skin-clinging cloth, brushing stubborn dirt and pine needles off a sticky coarse wetness. Slowly unhinging his leg, he took a couple exploratory kicks in the air––bruised, but still functioning. Rising to his feet, he helped her up through the outer corridor, sliding shoji doors open. The woman stopped short in the center of the room, fixing her eyes on him with the same unnerving intensity as before. He motioned in the direction of a futon half-hidden by scattered books, laundry, and crumpled sheets.
“My name’s David,” he tried. His usually measured voice came out strangely unsure of its footing.
“Eve––” Tugging self-consciously at still damp dress.
David dug around for a clean t-shirt on a hanger and handed her a pair of jeans from the floor. “Probably too large. Here’s a belt––and a towel. The shower room’s down the hallway, just past the kitchen.”
“Yes, I know––” Taking a doubtful look at the jeans, Eve edged to the door and out.
David cradled his injured knee for a minute, the dull ache receding, making sure that his joints were working properly. Nothing seemed out of place. Even when he was sure he was alone, he remained standing, going over the sequence of what had just occurred. At last the image that had been hovering around the edges of his consciousness took form––the reason Eve had been unable, unwilling to leave. A lingering chill drifted in through the shoji and he walked over and slid the sliding paper walls shut tight.