Blocking a powerful high kick with her forearm, Jia Crawford’s knocked backward. Finding her footing, she sees her opponent is already advancing on her and another kick’s coming her way. Afraid a block will force her off the mat, she steadies herself and gets ready to use her favorite technique. It’s a risk, her timing has to be exact or this match will be over. As the kick flies her way, she catches the leg and uses her newfound grip to lift her opponent into the air and spin her to the ground. As her opponent hits with a crash, the referee calls ippon and the match is over.
Jia offers her opponent a hand but the girl waves it off, getting up on her own. Her shoulders slump and she won’t look Jia in the eye. She offers a brief bow as Jia’s named the tournament champion. Having spent the better part of the last decade as one of the top Judo competitors in Northern California, this isn’t an unfamiliar sensation. Anything less than victory would be a letdown.
Scanning the crowd, she searches for two familiar faces. Her parents brought her today to save her from having to bum a ride. Her car broke down a few months ago and having just gotten out of college, she doesn’t have the money to repair it. Since she’s living with her parents and working for them, that usually isn’t a big deal. Today’s tournament was a notable exception since it’s over an hour from home.
There are benefits to her parents providing a ride. It’s nice to have a cheering section. They haven’t been to any of her tournaments in years since she’s been clear across the country. She kept competing through college, not as often as she did in high school but she’s always remained active. Now that she’s home she’s eager to get back into the local scene. Putting it off for months, she finally talked herself into signing up.
Being able to nap on the ride home after a long day doesn’t suck either.
Running up the bleachers to her parents, her dad wraps her in a bear hug. “I am so proud of you. You’ve improved so much since the last time we got to see you fight. These other girls didn’t stand a chance.”
That’s high praise and Jia wouldn’t go that far. She feels rusty. Two of her matches went down to the wire and she’s fortunate to be walking out of this gym with a victory. Winning feels good either way and the only way to shake off rust is to get back to competing. Her mother even has a small grin on her face, a rarity when she’s fighting. “Nicely done Jia. Not perfect but still very nicely done.”
A compliment with reservations is the best one can hope for from her mother. She’s just glad it isn’t a truly backhanded compliment and that the message is mostly positive. On more than a few occasions her mother has found nothing but negative things to say, even within minutes of her walking off a mat as a champion.
Jia lets them know she’ll be right back before darting down the shaky bleachers. She needs to collect her medal. Once she has it they can pile into the van for their long ride back to Napa. She knows her parents are eager to get home. They left the family winery closed today and even though it’s a slow day most weeks, she knows how much that hurts them. They’ll definitely be opening first thing tomorrow.
Fighting her way through the crowds, Jia makes her way onto the hastily erected wooden stage. A quick ceremony filled with bowing later and she has a shiny new medal to stick in her trophy case. She’s earned a lot of medals over the years but a new one always feels good. It means she’s still at the top of her game.
As they pile into her parents’ purple minivan, Jia considers stretching out across the back seat. Her muscles ache and laying down would feel incredible, but she knows her parents well enough to know they won’t have it. Instead, she scoots all the way into the seat against the wall and settles. This will have to do.
Her dad cracks a joke about listening to polka music, but the stares both Jia and her mother send him show they’re not amused. There won’t be any more talk of polka on this trip.
They ride in silence for a good portion of the way back. It’s late and her parents are probably tired. Jia doesn’t feel any more awake than they do. Keeping her eyes open is a struggle. About half way home, her dad starts trying to make conversation, if for no other reason than to stay awake. Jia’s suggestion of a coffee stop is shot down immediately. The road’s doing a lot of winding at this point and falling asleep would likely send them flying over a ledge. “My daughter the champion. I’ve never gotten over watching you kick the crap out of anyone standing in your way.”
Jia lights up at this. She got into fighting as an angry teenager who needed an outlet. Being able to, “kick the crap,” out of others was a big help in channeling that without getting into fights at school. Her dad was always supportive and that hasn’t changed.
She wishes she could say the same about her mother. There are days where she seems to get into Jia’s fights, practically ducking and weaving in her seat. Other times she’s actively discouraged her from continuing with Judo. When she first told her parents she wanted to try martial arts her mother practically begged her to pick anything else. She wasn’t happy about Jia’s choice but to be fair, she didn’t forbid her from going into it and she certainly could have.
Her mother seems to be napping in her seat so her dad’s left to carry the conversation. “Your mother was quite the fighter in her day too. You must get it from her. I wish I could take some of the credit but I don’t think I could fight my way out of a paper bag.”
This is quite the revelation, though her dad delivers it as if he’s reading the paper. Her mother has never said anything about fighting or martial arts of any kind. In all the years Jia has been involved in Judo she’s never thought to bring it up? Why is her dad mentioning this now? Is he just tired and saying something he shouldn’t be?
At the mention of her history Jia’s mother tenses up, though she doesn’t say anything. Apparently her sleep wasn’t a deep one. Maybe she hopes her husband will drop the subject or that Jia hasn’t noticed what he said. Neither is the case. “She must have gotten it from your grandfather. He was incredible. I saw him fight once when I was young, before I ever met your mother. Incredible stuff. You could barely see him move. If you have their blood, I’m pretty sure mine won’t get in the way.”
At this her mother seemingly can’t stay silent any more. “Who’s opening tomorrow?” She’s happy to move on to a different subject.
Jia’s dad is quick to chime in. “I don’t know if I can get up that early. Maybe our champion daughter should take care of it for us. You know, as a thank you for driving her today.”
At this point Jia’s wide awake. “Can do dad. I’ll be glad to help. Now what were you saying about mom and grandpa being fighters?”
It’s no use. Jia tries to move the conversation back to her dad’s earlier revelations but he’s off on another rant. He can go for hours when given the chance. This leaves Jia alone with her thoughts. She tries to work through the reasons her mother and grandfather have never spoken about any of this. If this runs in the family you’d think she’d have been pushed into it. Instead she’s been fighting for almost a decade without a word.
She didn’t know her grandpa when he was young but picturing him as a great fighter’s funny. He’s the kindest, most gentle man she’s ever known. Her first memories of him are of tending a garden and meditating. She wants to ask more questions but her mother’s reaction tells her she won’t get anything else. She could try speaking with her grandfather but she doesn’t know how that will go. She just has to hope he’s having a good day.
It isn’t long before they come to a halt in front of their house. It’s a small three bedroom place behind the winery. The field surrounding the house is filled with flowers and row after row of grape vines. Even in the dark it’s hard not to get a smile on her face when the slightly sweet smell of the grapes hits her. There’s a reason she came back here after graduation. Climbing out of the car brings the ache in her muscles back. Her dad warns her she’d better get to bed. “It’s already after midnight and you need to have things open by nine in the morning.”
A groan forces it’s way out of her. Her sacrifice didn’t get her any extra information. She mumbles that it’s fine before drifting into the house, heading to her bedroom and finally collapsing into her welcoming bed.
The next afternoon Jia struggles to keep her eyes open while pouring glasses of wine for eagerly waiting drunks. It’s the slow season and most of the customers are regulars. They’re easy; they know what they like and don’t ask questions. There’s still a few tourists and every time she has to explain the difference between a pinot and a cabernet her head pounds and she wants to scream. The only thing getting her through the morning is an occasional drink with a couple of the regulars. Their cabernet in particular is having a great year and she doesn’t mind taking a sip. It’d be rude not to.
Every few minutes she catches herself glancing at the clock, desperate for three o’clock when her shift ends. If she hurries she can make it to see her grandfather today but visiting hours at the nursing home only go through five. The first few hours this morning were so slow she drank more than the customers. With how slow they are she can get all her stocking and cleaning done. That way when her shift ends she can get out right away.
At five minutes to three her heart breaks. She’s washing the last of the glasses and getting ready to run out the door when a glance outside reveals a bus pulling up. Out pour at least twenty elderly customers, all eager to get a little more drunk than they already are. Most of the big tour buses know to call in advance when bringing a big group. Her dad just took over behind the counter and was about to relieve her but now the tour group is pushing past each other to cram in the door and they’re lining up behind the counter two and three deep. She can’t abandon him to this.
“Sorry kiddo,” he says. “Let’s get this group taken care of and we’ll get you out of here.” She nods and immediately goes into greatest server ever mode. Greetings, fresh glasses, crackers to clear their palates, she lines up everything they could possibly need.
One of the more sober of the group explains this isn’t actually a tour but rather a group of friends who rented a bus and set out on their own. The majority know nothing about wine and the next hour is agonizing, having to explain each variety to them and finding most of their best bottles sent back. There seem to be a few in the group who enjoy wine and know a little about it but the majority of their friends don’t. If the group’s vocal reaction is to be believed, the best thing they’re served are the complementary crackers.
By the time the last of them file out it’s after four. One man buys a case of their fruit wines, so at least that’s something. Good for on the bus he explains. The rest of the group buy only a few bottles. As much as Jia hated her last hour, she knows she’s happier where she is than she’d be on that bus.
Her dad gives the all clear and tells her to have a great day. She considers whether she can still make it to see her grandfather and decides it’s impossible. It’s at least a forty five minute bike ride and at best she’d end up with a few minutes to visit. Getting information out of him won’t be that easy. It’s just not worth it. When she’s about to head to the house she has one last desperate idea. “Hey dad, can I borrow the van for a little while? I won’t be late.”
“Sorry kiddo, your mom has it. Ran to do some errands. She won’t be back until after dinner.”
Accepting that fate has dealt her a tough hand and she isn’t going to make it today, Jia sighs and starts looking for the bottle of aspirin she stashes in the winery. “At this point my plans aren’t going to work out then. I guess I can help clean up around here if you want.”
He seems thrilled to have the help. They have enough glasses from this last group to load the dishwasher before Jia gets to work fixing up their shelves which the guests left in a state of disarray.
With her other plan out for now, Jia decides to try and make today less of a bust. She may not get anything out of her mom but her dad can be a little loose lipped. He certainly was last night. With her mom off on some errand, maybe he’ll crack.
“You mentioned last night that mom used to do martial arts. Why haven’t you guys ever mentioned that before? I’ve been competing for eight years.”
Her dad tenses immediately, trying not to look at her. “I don’t know. You know how your mother is. She likes to keep certain things to herself.”
“You said grandpa was involved too. Do you know what types of martial arts they were into?”
He seems awfully interested in the novelty wine glasses he’s straightening. He’s been working on one shelf since before their conversation began. “You know, I don’t. It was a long time ago and it wasn’t really my thing. Maybe you should ask your mother about it. She’d know more than I do.”
This almost elicits a snort. She knows better than that and so does her dad. “We both know very well how that would go. Getting information out of her is like pulling a crocodile’s tooth.”
He shrugs. “You know how your mother is.” He’s much more tight lipped than the night before. Is his guard back up after a good night’s sleep? Or did mom actually get to him and tell him not to talk about this?
She realizes she’s hit a brick wall here. Dad isn’t going to slip again. He’s not outright denying the conversation but he’s going to keep directing her back to her mom and her mom will shut the subject down as soon as she brings it up. She’s left with only one possible source of information.
The next day is her day off and Jia’s determined to see her grandfather. She gets up first thing in the morning and feels relieved that for once she doesn’t have a hangover. The power of going to bed early and getting some real sleep. She’ll still have to bike to the nursing home today but she’s pretty used to biking at this point. She’s biked almost everywhere since getting home from school.
Her car was a real piece of junk and while it managed the cross country ride home, it broke down less than a week after her return. She didn’t have the money to replace a transmission or buy a new car but her old bike was just sitting there. It’s usually nice this time of year so it hasn’t been an issue.
In a few months she probably will want a new car and that will be an issue. She doesn’t have any money. She’s been working at the winery but isn’t getting paid. Her parents give her room, board, and a little spending money now and then but no steady wages.
Temperatures are already starting to drop and while afternoons are still nice, mornings are chilly the last few weeks. By January the bike isn’t going to cut it.
She knows she should start looking for a job in her field but she isn’t sure how much is out there for someone with a liberal arts degree. Already she regrets not studying a more practical field. Her parents didn’t want to be the stereotypical Asian family pushing her away from the arts. If they had been she might have a real chance at a job.
There are worse things than relaxing, drinking and spending time with family but in a few months when the temperatures get really cold and she finds herself biking home from the bar she might not enjoy it as much. That’s if her parents give her enough money to afford the bar.
For now the days are beautiful, filled with sun. By mid afternoon when she’ll be heading home it might even be a bit too warm. She’s lucky the ride to the nursing home is mostly uphill. She can handle that in the cooler morning and on the way back she can just cruise downward, enjoying the breeze.
Visiting hours don’t start until noon so she decides to swing by one of her favorite restaurants in the valley and get lunch for her and her grandfather. She has thirty dollars her parents gave her recently and one of the many celebrity chefs operating in Napa has a fantastic fried chicken lunch she can afford two of.
Picking up two portions, the aroma of fried chicken sends her to heaven. Just thinking about the crispy skin and the flaky biscuits makes her mouth water. Balancing two of these on a bike’s handlebars while trying to power her way up what is literally a mountain isn’t easy but it’ll be worth it when she bites into those biscuits. Jia relishes the burn. Her bundle slows her down, but not long after visiting time starts she arrives with lunch. Now she has to hope Grandpa Takeshi is doing well enough today to enjoy it.
After locking her bike to a tree, Jia makes her way inside. The scent of the chicken causes heads to turn in her direction the entire way to her grandpa’s room. The halls are filled with elderly people struggling along. Most appear happy but moans are coming from a room at the end of the hall. Arriving at the correct room, she pounds on her grandpa’s closed door to make sure he hears her. He shouts to come in and she enters to find him sitting in his ragged recliner staring at the TV. Grandpa Takeshi is 97 years old and on a good day he seems mostly like the same man who taught her to garden twenty years ago. Good days come less and less recently. Far too often he can’t figure out where he is, or even who he is. Any day he recognizes her is a decent start.
Takeshi’s lived in California his entire life and has rarely left outside of his brief stint in the army during World War II. With his family locked up in camps during one of the darkest hours in this country’s history, Takeshi volunteered to serve. He was eager to prove his loyalty to his home but he also wanted to feel free again.
It’s impossible to imagine him as some great martial artist. Then again, it’s equally difficult to imagine him as a military man. He was already old by the time Jia was born but he’s always been a gentle man. She grew up in his kitchen where his food always tasted incredibly fresh, mostly because he sourced most of his ingredients from his own garden.
His sense of peace and equilibrium was striking even to someone as young as Jia. Nothing got under his skin. One time when she was a baby and learning to walk, he caught her rummaging through his silverware, happily playing with a pair of steak knives. Maybe those should have been out of reach but the man barely blinked. He took them away and went about their day as if nothing happened.
Today he looks at her with confusion that never fails to sting. “Is it time for my pills already?” There’s no sign of recognition. Definitely not a good day.
That doesn’t necessarily mean this is a lost cause. There are days when he doesn’t know what he had for breakfast and doesn’t recognize anyone but he’ll still remember details of a little restaurant he ate at in Italy in 1946. She came here to talk about the past anyway. She desperately wants to understand more about her family’s history and her place within it.
Setting her bag down on his table, Jia starts unboxing their food. “I brought you some chicken for lunch. Thought you might enjoy that. I know you’ve always liked fried chicken.”
Despite her grandpa’s mental state having taken a turn for the worse the last few years, physically he’s still in fantastic shape. He takes a couple of pills but they’re more vitamins than anything. He’s allowed to eat more or less whatever he wants, which is why fried chicken can be on the menu today. Jia can only hope at his age she’ll be in such good shape.
Smelling the food across the room, Takeshi’s seemingly pulled from his chair and quickly reaches the small two seat table in the corner. “Smells delicious,” he says while sitting and tucking a napkin into his shirt. He doesn’t say anything about who she is and Jia is pretty sure he doesn’t much care at the moment.
Dishing them both up a nice plate, she sits down to dig into their meal and start digging for information. She knows she needs to be careful to not cause distress. Best to start with easy questions and build to the big stuff. If he’s not receptive or doesn’t remember she’ll let it go. He plows through the food like he hasn’t eaten in weeks, pausing only to say these are the best biscuits he’s ever had. Without prompting he starts talking about his morning. He’s been watching a marathon of the game show network for the last few hours. He’s able to recite the last four shows he watched and what the contestants won. Maybe this isn’t hopeless.
“Grandpa Takeshi,” she says before stopping to wipe the grease from her mouth, “someone told me that you used to be a great martial artist. Is that true?”
Looking up from his chicken he starts to nod vigorously. “I was the best. I could fight anyone, anywhere. I practically did too.”
“When was this?”
“When I was young. The war, after the war.” He shrugs, not seeming to give much thought to his answer. Jia was afraid he wouldn’t remember anything but these memories seem to come easily. He tends to do better when thinking about his youth and he seems to understand her questions so she pushes forward.
“What kind of martial arts did you do back then?”
This gets a big open mouthed laugh out of him with his mouth still full of baked beans. ”You don’t know it. No one knows it anymore. Or at least not many.”
He’s talking and seems lucid but if anything Jia has more questions than when they started. Maybe she’s not asking the right questions? “What did you do during the war grandpa?”
His face gets serious. “We did it all. Saw it all. I don’t want to think about that. It’s over. We won.”
He trails off and this line of questioning is clearly agitating him. Jia decides to stop for now and just get him back to enjoying his game shows. His smile returns as he makes his way to his chair and gets back to watching people win fabulous cash and prizes.
She sits with him for a couple hours. They’re mostly silent but every once in awhile one of them will comment on one of the contestants. She’s really not sure what to ask. She doesn’t want to upset him again. Her reward today may need to be getting to see him. She always used to make a point of stopping by his house at least once or twice a month when she was home.
Since she returned from college the visits have been less common. It’s hard to see him like this when there are so few good days now. She wishes she had a way to know when they’d be. It’d be amazing to look at him and see recognition in his smile.
Sensing her grandpa is reaching the end of his rope and will probably want to take a nap soon, Jia considers one final attempt at getting answers. That is why she came but she doesn’t want to leave on a low note. The only thing she can think to ask safely is, “Grandpa, how are things with your daughter Lia?”
It’s like watching him refuel before her eyes. His head straightens and his smile stretches wide. “Wonderful girl. Smart. Tough. Why do you ask? Do you know her?”
“Yes grandpa, she’s my mom. Does she know the same martial arts you do?”
His smile wavers a bit but doesn’t leave his face. It’s definitely sadder now though. “I taught her everything I could. She had the potential to be even better than me. Maybe she even was better than me, I don’t know. She never wanted it though. Didn’t want to follow in my footsteps or take over. My father taught me and I wanted to pass down my knowledge to her. I guess I did pass it down. She probably won’t pass it to her kids but at least it doesn’t die with me. My father would be proud I tried.”
There’s no more. Takeshi trails off and is soon absorbed in his show. His head starts to sag again and after a few minutes more Jia can hear snoring coming from his chair. He’s out cold and probably will be for the next few hours. That lunch could put anyone to sleep. She could use a nap herself but knows she has a long ride ahead. She sits with him for a few minutes before hearing a light knock at the door. She turns to see a nurse smiling at her. “I’m just going to leave his medicine here on the table. He’s better than most at taking it. I’m sure he’ll do so once he wakes up.”
Jia smiles and nods but at first doesn’t say anything. As the nurse turns to leave, she realizes the woman may be able to help her. “How’s he doing? He doesn’t seem to know me at all today. How many good days are there at this point?”
With a pained look the nurse says, “Today actually is a pretty good day. He knows who he is and kind of has an idea where he’s at. He doesn’t remember everything or much recent, but that’s about as good as he does at this point. Once in awhile he’ll have a really lucid day but no more than one or two a month. There are some days where he doesn’t have a clue where he is. Even a day or two where we’ve had to restrain him to stop him from leaving. That’s not as easy as you’d think with a man his age either. He’s really strong. He dislocated one of the attendants’ shoulders last week. No major damage but it had to be popped back into place.”
Glancing at her snoring grandfather, Jia almost laughs. He looks strong for his age but doing that kind of damage to someone young who does this all day? At his age? Thanking the nurse, it’s time for her to hit the road. Thankfully the trip home should be easier than her trip here, but she’s stuffed from lunch and it’s gotten warm outside. As she waves goodbye to the orderly at the front desk she’s glad she didn’t smuggle in the wine she almost brought. This is already going to be a volatile trip. Add booze to the equation and her last memory of that glorious lunch would be seeing it again on the side of the road.
Mostly Jia can let the mountain do the work for her. Drifting slowly downward, she knows she’ll eventually get home as long as one of these drunks on the road doesn’t side swipe her. That’s one of the downsides of biking in Napa Valley. There’s always a lot of drunk people driving around here. Practically the whole point of the region is to drink all the time so the cops tend to be lenient. As long as you’re not swerving back and forth across the road they give you a wide berth. Sometimes people don’t start swerving until it’s too late though. She’s never been hit but more than a few people have come close. It’s enough to make a girl nervous when hurtling down the side of a mountain.
As she pedals onto her street, Jia can’t wait to reach home and get that wine. Nothing washes chicken down like a nice pinot. A few more minutes and she can open a bottle. Pushing herself down this final road, a blue convertible rips past, though not close enough to worry her. She’s surprised to realize it’s her little brother Shin sitting in the driver’s seat. She thought he said he was leaving town for awhile the last time she saw him. Where’d he get a car like that? Last she knew he was unemployed and living in LA. How can he afford something that nice? Maybe mom and dad will know.
Reaching the winery, she hops off her bike and throws it in the shed outside the back door. The winery’s closed for the day but that’s not an issue. She has a key. Making her way inside, she doesn’t bother to flip on the lights before heading for the fridge to see what’s left from the day. They make a point of drinking the leftover bottles before opening new ones. Wine’s never as good the next day, better the customers get a fresh bottle.
Disappointment washes over her when she realizes there’s no pinot open. The only red is a barbera and she can’t stand it. The more she thinks about it, the more she realizes she isn’t in a red mood. It got really warm on the ride back and she wants something to cool down. That immediately sends her in the direction of their sweeter whites where she finds a half bottle of moscato. She also grabs a half bottle of rosé sitting there. They don’t make rosé but it was hot this year so they made a deal with a winery down the street to carry theirs.
Locking the winery behind her, she makes her way to the house. Entering through the side door, Jia announces her arrival and hears, “in here,” from the kitchen. Her dad’s standing at a counter pounding out pork chops for dinner while chatting with her mom who has already started a bottle of her own. Happy to see the party’s started, she grabs a glass and pours some moscato while throwing the rosé in the fridge.
“I saw Shin as I was pulling up. Is he back home? I thought he was heading back to LA a few weeks ago.”
Her dad shrugs. “Kind of. He’s staying with friends over in Sonoma. Just stopped in to say hi, let us know he’s alive, that sort of thing.” Shin has a tendency to go missing and not get in touch with them for days or even weeks at a time. He’s a couple years younger than Jia and at one point they didn’t hear from him for nearly two years. Her dad was a mess the whole time, though her mom mostly just shrugged and said she was sure he was fine. She’d been the same way when she was younger, needing to get out and explore. He eventually showed back up and acted like he’d never been gone.
Dad says dinner will be ready in thirty minutes so Jia heads upstairs to her room. On her way she notices someone has been in the attic. The stairway leading to it which tucks into the ceiling is still pulled down and she can see light shining from the hole. She considers going to her room but something tells her she needs to go up there. The stairs are creaky and she tries to keep quiet, sipping her drink the entire way.
Someone was digging through the loads of junk stored here. The boxes which are usually stacked neatly against a wall are in disarray. She finds a bunch of the boxes are labeled, “Serenity.” She pulls the lid off the first one she can lay her hands on and sees a bunch of newspaper clippings and notebooks. Just as she’s starting to look she hears her mother call from the kitchen, “Do you want wine with dinner?”
For some reason Jia freaks and throws the box’s lid. She knows she shouldn’t, she has things up here after all, but she can’t help it. She’s snooping and knows she shouldn’t be. She calls down that yes, she would like wine, before retrieving the lid, closing the box, and immediately going down the stairs. She makes sure to leave the light on and not put the stairs up. Whoever was up there, she doesn’t want them to know she was as well.
Over dinner Jia’s completely unable to concentrate. Her dad’s pork chops are good, slightly sweet with a salty after taste. She can’t stop thinking about the attic and how much she wants to go back up and explore whatever was in those boxes. It could be nothing, maybe just one of her parents rearranging their terribly overstuffed attic. It doesn’t feel like nothing though. The old articles and the Serenity boxes in particular being pulled out seems significant.
After finishing her meal Jia makes an excuse about turning in early to get some reading done. She refills her glass and grabs the half bottle of rosé she stuffed in the fridge. On the way to her room, she notices the attic’s still open. She wants to go back up but decides now isn’t the time. Once her parents fall asleep she can make her move.
Trying to concentrate on her novel proves pointless, no reading’s getting done. Mostly she sips wine and plays on her phone. After a half hour she lays down and starts to doze off. It’s been a long day and the soft mattress under her feels amazing. She’s roused about an hour later when she hears a light knock at her door. It’s mom telling her that she and Jia’s dad are headed to bed. A quick good night later and Jia’s back in bed.
She gives them a twenty minute head start on falling asleep before deciding to do recon. She goes to the bathroom and on the way sees the attic’s closed. She thinks about heading up now but there’s always a risk she’ll make noise when pulling the stairs down and her parents probably aren’t asleep yet.
Heading back to her room she’s mostly just staring at the clock at this point. The minutes tick by slowly. Finally she decides enough time has passed and she can safely make her way to the attic. A part of her thinks this whole thing is stupid. If her parents really didn’t want her to find something they wouldn’t leave it sitting in the middle of the attic with the stairs down. Then again, maybe they just forgot to put the stairs up and didn’t expect she’d have a reason to go up there.
Creeping down the hall, Jia’s as careful as she can be when pulling the stairs down. She doesn’t hear much noise when they hit the ground and she breathes a sigh of relief. Tiptoeing up each step, she realizes she’s never been up here so late at night. There’s a small window on the far side of the room, but no real light is coming in at this point. It’s a cloudy night and even the moon isn’t around to help.
She has no idea where the light switch is up here. The light was on earlier but she didn’t pay attention to it since she decided to leave it on. Usually the window provides enough light for her to grab something. Luckily she brought her phone and the flashlight on it helps her navigate around. After a minute or two of searching she finds a switch on the beam right next to the stairs. Of course it was that simple.
Before going further, Jia decides she needs an excuse for why she’s up here if she gets caught. Her parents’ bedroom is on the first floor so it’s unlikely they’ll hear her but you never know and if she gets caught she wants to be ready.
She searches until she finds a box of her old awards from high school and sets them in the middle of the floor. Opening the box, the nostalgia of these trophies and medals comes rushing back at her. These all represent important moments in her life when she succeeded. She spends too long looking through them before catching herself and realizing this is definitely not why she’s up here late at night. If she really needs to catch up with this stuff she can come back another time.
Finally Jia makes her way to the Serenity boxes. Lifting the lid off the first one, she starts digging out a variety of folders and old scrapbooks. Grabbing the first folder she sees, she finds it’s mostly full of old newspaper clippings from between 1943 and the mid to late 50s. It doesn’t take long for Jia to make the connection between what these articles are about and the label on the boxes. They’re all about the masked vigilante Serenity. Every kid who’s taken history class knows at least the basics of the five allies who helped save the world during World War II. She hasn’t thought about them in years but one of them was definitely a guy named Serenity.
Glancing through the other folders, she finds article after article about his exploits during the war, mostly filled with rumors and innuendo. She’s glad these are well maintained in scrapbooks because unfolding and holding the individual articles would be terrifying. At this age they’d be liable to fall apart in her hands. They talk about missions during the war he may have gone on, people he may have killed, things he may have accomplished.
What’s really interesting are the articles from after the war. There’s a gap of about two or three years and then articles start popping up about Serenity reappearing in the San Francisco area. Jia doesn’t remember learning that in school.
Vigilantes have been on a lot of people’s minds lately. A couple of months ago a reporter asked Richard Hughes, one of the candidates running for president, what his thoughts on vigilantism were. They brought up those who saved the day during World War II. He immediately launched into a long diatribe about how those men and women were the absolute best ever and how we all needed to learn from them. Most shocking of all, he promised to make vigilantism legal again if he’s elected president.
Again might not be the right word. If these articles are to be believed it was never legal. At first Serenity was tolerated around San Francisco since he was a popular war hero and he was taking down bad people. Drug busts, prostitution stings, bank robberies, a few bombings. There’s even a story about a Nazi sleeper group he personally tracked down and stopped, capturing a high ranking Nazi official who got away at the end of the war.
The tone of the articles is positive, though there are a lot of quotes from the police chief at the time that basically amount to thanks for the help, but go away and let us do our job. One article specifically mentions how San Francisco was actually quite easy going about this. Many cities across the country had started arresting, or even shooting vigilantes on sight if they were caught interfering with the police. Other cities were more or less tolerating people who were trying to do good and whose only crime was going after those committing more serious crimes. It seems like a power struggle and not one going the vigilantes’ way.
Most of the folders contain articles but Jia comes across a few filled with pictures. There’s Serenity, just as she’s seen him in the famous group photo from the end of the war, only a lot closer up and maybe a few years older. He’s clearly a relatively young man and while he’s wearing a brown and blue costume with a mask, his features that are visible look Asian. Things are starting to make sense. Her grandpa and later her mom must have been inspired by having an Asian hero running around and trained to be fighters as a result. After their talk the other night, her mom probably got nostalgic and came up here to look at the scrapbooks she kept in her youth.
Digging further into the articles she finds some from the late 50s where the San Francisco police finally cracked down and advised Serenity if he continued, they would arrest him. There are a few later articles but most of them don’t actually claim to see him. They’re about cases and situations that fit his style which the newspaper speculated may have been him operating in secret.
Opening another book, Jia finds the articles contained here are a lot more recent. Mostly from the late 70s. They talk about a teenage girl dressed a lot like Serenity showing up in San Francisco and involving herself in police investigations.
Since the crackdown in the late 50s there hadn’t been much vigilantism in the city, certainly no one who made a big name for themselves. The same police chief was still in place all those years later and advised that they still had a no tolerance policy against vigilantes. Reading through the articles, it seems this girl wasn’t active for long. Just a couple years. There are a couple articles from the late 80s and early 90s in here as well but nothing mentioning Serenity, which turns Jia’s blood cold. As she reads the articles, they fit the sort of case she’d expect to see Serenity involved in but no one made the connection to either the original Serenity or the female copycat. No one except whoever collected these scrapbooks.
Having skimmed through the first box, Jia opens another. Inside she finds items she assumes are souvenirs. What appear to be the pins to a few grenades lay on top of a few drawings. Beneath that what looks like part of a costume is wadded up. If it were brown and blue she’d probably run screaming from the attic but it’s purple and looks nothing like the one she was afraid of finding. Maybe someone related to Serenity?
The more she thinks about it the more she rationalizes finding this in her attic. It’s weird but clearly either her mother or grandfather were very into Serenity. Maybe they collected stuff related to him over the years. The same way others collect autographs, or things from a musician’s concerts, or in weird cases a celebrity’s hair. It doesn’t make a lot of sense but she tells herself that has to be it. She moves onto another box.
Opening this third box her eyes practically bug out of her head. She finds herself staring into a box filled with a variety of outfits, all brown with blue highlights. Pulling them out, she realizes they’re definitely costumes and they look like Serenity’s, or at least some of Serenity’s as there are pictures of him in various outfits. Jia tells herself these must be something her mom or grandpa bought on the collector’s market at some point. There’s a lot of them though and that really doesn’t make sense. There’s one that’s a lot smaller than the others and a few face masks sit in the bottom of the box. She starts coming to terms with the more obvious reason for what she’s seeing.
Lost in thought and already considering running away and pretending she never saw this, Jia almost jumps through the roof when she hears a throat clear behind her. Spinning as fast as she can, she sees her mother standing by the stairs, staring at her with a mostly expressionless look. “So, you found my stuff. I guess now’s as good a time as any to have a little chat about it.”
Serenity #2 Coming June 22nd
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