Jay’s First Interview with Faith

(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)


The LuLu’s theme played over the end credits. Jay squinted at the screen, but the names of artists and animators squirmed and resisted interpretation like so many worms. He counted his fingers: ten. “Faith, I think I’m having a stroke.”

“No, JayJay!” Faith bent backwards over the couch to stretch to her full length, eating four vines of licorice at once: brown chocolate, red cherry, orange orange, and a white mystery-flavor. “Being bug-eyed is making you paranoid. Just enjoy it!”

Jay licked his dry teeth. He reached for the remote and, struggling with the hieroglyphics, pressed the menu-button. “Oh, here’s the problem. The DVD was on Japanese by default. We didn’t even have subtitles on.”

“Ha!” Faith laughed until she ran out of breath. “That’s what happens on bug-sticks! But I think I got the gist anyway.” She collected herself back on the couch and finished her licorice. “So, there’s a slice-of-life going on inside the Wheel, but we don’t get to see it? What do you think it’s like for people in the Wheel?”

“I wonder if they’d even know they’re in the Wheel. Even if they did know, how could they understand it?” Jay shook his head. He wasn’t in the right mindset to discuss anime canon. Jay swapped the DVD’s language to English, but he didn’t start the next episode yet. “So, what’s up between you and Beatrice? Are you dating?”

“Well, yeah, but it’s complicated.” Faith looked away.

Jay liked how the two fit together. Faith was a bit of a boi-ish pixie, complementing Beatrice’s dowdier librarian style. “She carries that Bible everywhere,” said Jay. “Her family seems pretty religious. Does that make dating hard?”

“You didn’t hear it from me, but BeatBax breaks out the Bible for unwanted male attention. The guy I bought that bug-stick from? I only know the jerk because he won’t leave her alone!” She stretched again, her head near Jay’s lap. Jay scooched to give her room. “She plays the pastor’s-daughter routine until boys get bored. In truth, she’s totally fine dating a girl, and hiding it from her parents. We’ve even talked about smoking bug-sticks before.”

“So what’s complicated?”

“Dainty likes the pastor’s-daughter routine,” she sighed, “and I like Dainty. I wish dating was easy. I just wanna hold all my friends in a big ol’ cuddle-ball.” Jay held Faith’s hand. Faith squeezed back and smiled. “Bug-sticks can help you open up, sometimes.”

“You know a lot about crickets. Are you sure you haven’t smoked before?”

“What are you talking about?” Faith couldn’t tell lies while looking at Jay upside-down. Her poker-face broke and she giggled. “You caught me. I’ve smoked a bug-stick before, but just once, I swear! I wanted to share the experience with you.”

“It’s really something.” Jay searched for words to describe being bug-eyed, but found none sufficient. He made sound-effects and exploding motions with his hands. “Where’d you smoke your first?”

Faith kicked the air. “You remember my uncle, right? He visited from Wyoming for our graduation.”

“Yeah, I remember.” Jay met Uncle Featherway drinking his third beer that night. “He asked if I believed in aliens. He had quite a bit to say on the matter.”

“Well, he is the black sheep of the Featherways. And you’re an easy guy to talk to, JayJay!”

“The inside of his fedora was lined with tinfoil.”

“Some people like tinfoil,” Faith insisted. “Anyway, after graduation, my uncle took me with him back to Sheridan, Wyoming, and that’s where I smoked my first bug-stick.”

“Your uncle gave you a bug-stick?”

“No, no. It’s a weird story, actually.”

“Huh. Hold on, then.” Jay left the couch and returned with a notepad and pen from his father’s office. On his way he let Django back into the house, because the cat was whining and clawing at the back door. “I want to practice performing interviews. You’ll be my first.”

“Interviews? For what?”

Jay shrugged. “I meet cool people when I travel. Maybe I’ll write a book of interviews so Dan can read them.”

“Would anyone want to read a book which is just interviews?”

“I hope so. If they’re interesting interviews, maybe. I’ll try to include some action here and there, especially at the beginning to get people hooked.” Jay clicked his pen open. “Tell me about your crazy uncle.”

“Uncle Bob lives in Sheridan, Wyoming.” Jay wrote that down. “My mom sent me with him so he could show me the local college. I don’t know why—I already told her, I want to go to art-school somewhere in LA.”

Jay wrote that, too. It was hard to write this fast. “Could you go a bit slower?”

“That’s what I said to him! My uncle’s got a lead foot. I don’t mind him driving so fast when we’re on nice open roads, but Sheridan Cliff-Side College is halfway up the Bighorn mountains, so there were all these hairpin-turns. And he took ’em like this, too!” She leaned over the couch’s armrest like her uncle poking his head out the window of his truck. She turned an imaginary steering-wheel with one hand, the other hand holding a fedora to her head against the wind.

“Wouldn’t want to lose the tinfoil,” Jay muttered.

“Be nice! I’m glad he took me to SC-SC. The mountains are so pretty, and the valleys hold Bighorn National Forest like a nice big bowl of trees. Anyway, my uncle had a brochure listing events at the college that day, and one was a lecture from some visiting monks. There was a group photo: I loved how all the monks wore robes of one solid color, but each one of them had a different color. I didn’t know there were so many colors!” She picked up a handful of licorice vines and spread them to show Jay the wide variety.

Jay picked out a purple one. “Where were the monks visiting from?”

“You’ll never believe this: the Islands of Sheridan!”

“Islands? In Wyoming?”

“Not Wyoming’s Sheridan. The Islands of Sheridan are where crickets originally came from! They had a world-map in the brochure, but the islands were hard to spot, tucked in the corner with New Zealand. More space was used for a photo of these little flightless birds. The caption said the monks consider the birds sacred, and I totally get it, because they’re mad cute.” Faith stood from the couch and walked slowly, leaning side to side, palms pressed together, pretending to be a monk. She spun, flaring her imaginary robes. “I told my uncle I wanted to go to their lecture, and he was glad to. He said he wanted to share his theory with the monks.”

“The whole tinfoil-hat thing?”

“Yeah! He shared the theory with me, too. Eeeeven though I told him he’d shared it with me before, several times.”

“He shared a little with me, too, and I honestly don’t need to hear any more. Feel free to skip it.”

“There were enough monks to fill the first few rows of this great big lecture-hall. Not many other people were there. I think about half the monks were women, but it was a little hard to tell, because they were all completely bald!” Faith held her short white hair to her scalp. “They had every skin-color I’ve ever seen, and some I’d never seen before. White, black, yellow, orange, brown, red, pink, sorta pale bluish? All there!”

“Wild.” Jay realized Faith was having lots of fun describing what she’d seen. He wondered if she was making this up because she was completely bug-eyed. Maybe she was embarrassed about smoking bug-sticks and was concocting a strange excuse.

“The main monk was in a wheelchair, cross-legged. They wore hooded navy robes and a silver mask, so age? Skin color? Gender-identity? I have no idea!”

“What was the mask like, then?”

“It was a bird! It had a beak and two looong feathers poking off the top.” She put two fingers in a V on her forehead. “But the craziest part was, even though this was the main monk, they never said a word! Another monk in sky-blue robes, easily the oldest guy there, took the podium. He walked with this crazy cane which looked like a giant bug-stick, ten black spots around a gnarly tip. I loved the way he started his speech: ‘Oran doran, doran dora!‘ ” Faith posed with one foot up on the couch-back, gesturing with brown licorice like it was a tall cane. “He told us the main monk, Virgil Blue, would give us their famous silent lecture, and then all the monks would leave forever and never come back.”

Jay squinted. The mask and the cane sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. And wasn’t Virgil Blue a character in LuLu’s? “A silent lecture sounds pretty boring.”

“It totally was.” Faith flopped back on the couch. “The only fun part was the very start, when three monks picked up Virgil Blue from their wheelchair and put them on top of the podium. After that, it was hard to tell if the Virgil was even breathing under all those robes. But my uncle was really into it! He was just lost in the bird-mask.”

“Now that I believe.”

“When I got bored enough, I left the lecture-hall and hung out by the cliff-side for a while. Imagine my surprise when that monk in sky-blue joined me out by the fence! He pointed his cricket-cane at the peaks of the Bighorns, talking about how these mountains were a ‘nice try,’ but they could be taller. He told me his name was Virgil Jango Skyy.”

“Jango?” Jay pointed his pen at his cat, Django. “Faith, are you pulling my leg?”

“No, I swear! I actually told him, hey, my friend has a cat named Django, and he said, ‘there are no coincidences!’ That’s why the monks, from the Islands of Sheridan, decided to visit SC-SC in the first place. ‘It’s a message from the Mountain!’ he said.”

“Sheridan is a common city-name, though. Like Springfield.”

“I told him that, too! Jango said, ‘Wyoming’s Sheridan has the highest elevation, and on the islands, altitude is considered holy. The main island is so tall, you can’t ever see its peak!’ ” Faith pointed skyward, high as she could. “I, um…” She crumpled back onto the couch and wrung her hands. Jay wrote that down. “I asked him if that was where the cute little birds lived, and I showed him the picture in the brochure. Jango didn’t like that at all! He went like this.” She sucked her index-finger scornfully. “Apparently the birds are so sacred, you’re not allowed to take pictures. ‘The islands were built by a bird,’ he said, ‘so we have to respect them.’ “

“Whoever made the brochure messed up big time,” said Jay.

“Uh-huh. I told him ‘sorry, Jangster,’ and suddenly his eyes lit up! Er, one eye—the other eye had a serious cataract, like the moon. He told me he thought he recognized me from the last time we’d met, but he wasn’t sure it was me until I called him Jangster.”

“You’d met the monk? Virgil Jango Skyy?”

“It confused me, too. I certainly didn’t remember meeting him before. But he said he owed me a cricket! He said, ‘on the Islands of Sheridan, crickets are revered as a link to the Biggest Bird.’ He took the first puff to show me how, and when it was my turn, he guided my breath just like this.” She moved her hands like she was helping Jay parallel park.

“Faith, I can’t believe any of this. This native South Pacific islander, did he just, like, conveniently speak perfect English?”

“Yeah! Jango told me he was actually born in Kansas. When he was about thirty, Virgil Blue visited to invite him to the islands. Blue taught Skyy to smoke crickets in person! I was surprised, because I figured Virgil Blue was like ten thousand years old. Jango explained the title is passed from generation to generation, all the way back to the Biggest Bird, and today’s Virgil Blue was ‘two centuries young.’ Only Virgil Blue is holy enough to prepare centipede.”

“Centipede?”

“Like crickets on steroids. Sheridanians use them to join the congregation.”

Jay clicked his pen closed and tucked it behind his ear. “Faith, in the anime we just watched together, Professor Akayama becomes a giant bird and builds some islands where there’s a new kind of bug called a centipede. You’ve gotta be making this up.”

“I’m not, I promise! Centipedes are totally real! Maybe the anime is based on Sheridan. Virgil Jango Skyy gave me a parting gift, too: a red card-stock pamphlet about the islands. Ask me to show you sometime, it’s really a read.”

“Sure, Faith. Sure.” Jay sighed and closed his notepad. “Thanks for the interview.”

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