winter waves

Winter Waves (二/二)



Royal Mutt & Panda Bear – Chapter 8: Winter Waves (二/二)

Note: Text in brackets spoken in Japanese [日本語] 。



Morning fog surrounded them as they lay in bed on the surface of a lake. The sun was still hiding behind the clouds. Royal Mutt nuzzled his nose into her back. She smelled like a spring flower in the dead of December.


Awake, Mari was a beautiful dog with dark smooth fur. Asleep, she was an image of serenity.


Royal was admiring her sleeping form when an unseen force grabbed his legs and yanked him under the surface of the lake.




The freezing water cut into him. He opened his eyes and found himself deep underwater. Disoriented, he blew a few bubbles and followed them up.


In the distance, just above the water, he saw Mari’s reposed image refracted in the light. As he paddled closer, the vision spread out across the surface. When he finally reached the top, it was hard ice.


He pounded the image with his paws, the reverberation traveled infinitely in every direction.


“Mari, wake up!”


He could feel himself slip into…




In the Australian outback, Royal and Mari looked up into the night. The Milky Way was a river of stars across the dark sky. Mari propped her head against his arm.


Royal looked into that starlit expanse and a feeling swept over him: If there was a God…It was this moment. It was the two of them in a foreign land, deeply in love, looking at the universe revealing itself. A shooting star streaked across the sky.


That night they made love.


“Shhh, we can’t wake up the neighbors.”


Mari laughed. Royal thought she was so beautiful.


“[You can’t finish before me.]“ [1], she moaned into Royal’s ear.






Darkness enveloped Royal.


He couldn’t see his paws, his nose…nothing. He barked. Silence. “I think I drowned.”


With his left paw, he felt for his head. A vague pressure as if from an unsure solid shape, pushed against his invisible paw.


He fluttered his legs below and reached out into the abyss. He felt nothing. He resigned himself to the dark.


“If I’m dead, where’s God?”




In a small room in Kyoto, they were curled in bed with their backs to each other.


“[Do you even care about me?]" [2] Mari asked.


“[Of course, that’s obvious.]" [3] Royal replied.


“[I don’t feel it.]" [4]


Royal turned and arched over to hug her. She pushed his paws away.


“[Go back to California.]" [5] 


Royal felt a sharp pain in his chest. He breathed slowly.


“[Weren’t you going to see me off in Tokyo?]" [6]


“[Just go.]" [7]


Royal eased off the bed. Mari laid there, her back resolutely facing him. Royal shuffled his clothes together in the awkward silence. As he turned to grab his bags, he bumped over a desk lamp. The bulb shattered on the ground. Mari spun around. Royal stared at the broken pieces.


“I’m tired of this,” he growled.


Royal bolted out, letting the door slam behind him.




He didn’t see God anywhere, just the unending abyss. A sensation ran down his spine and he could feel the past rush up from under the floorboards of his mind.


The memories projected themselves onto the vast void. He wasn’t sure if it was in front of his eyes or just in his head.



He chases cars with his high school friends on the streets of his hometown.


He feels the cool paw of his first love squeeze slightly as they walk side-by-side.


He and Elle sit in her car overlooking Southern California.


When they first met in Tokyo, Mari explains to him in, accented English, about her name:  “Mari mean ‘long distance’[8] in the Chinese character. Mari, a different way of writing, mean ‘truth’[9]. My mother say to me there too many girls name ‘truth’.” She touches his paw and smiles.



Why were these fragments appearing now?


“In the end, maybe bits and pieces of memory are the only things important,” Royal thought to himself.


A light sparked in front of him.






“Hi Mari.”




“How’ve you been?” Royal asked.


“[Haven’t been sleeping well, but other than that I’m ok. You?]" [10]


Having been together so long, switching between English and Japanese had become second nature. Royal observed Mari. He loved how she had that confident elegance about her, even now in her pajamas.


“I’m good.“


“[Aren’t we talking to each other a bit too formally?]" [11]


Royal smiled. He got her sense of humor.


“[My apologies. Mari-san, when do you think it’d be a good time to visit?  I have vacation coming up.]" [12]


“I’ve been meaning to talk to you…I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about us.”


Royal’s feet clenched the carpet.


“I know, last trip…I’m sorry about that. I’ll make it up to you next time, I promise,” Royal said.


“It’s not just that…I’ve been seriously thinking about my life path.  I heard about this program in Taiwan,” her voice trailed.“ [I’m sorry Royal for being so selfish,]" [13] Mari said as her eyes got watery.


“Oh no,” Royal thought. He braced himself.




Before him floated Mari’s glowing figure as if Mari’s shadow had detached itself from her and instead of being an outline filled with darkness, it was filled with light. Mari’s Light Shadow hovered in front of him.


She drew close then stopped as if there was an invisible barrier between them.


There was a vibration in the dark ether.




Royal stared at the Light Shadow. With a glowing finger, it drew a circle of flame in the space between them.


Through the circle’s empty center it lunged its head and with its jaws of light, pulled Royal through.





Royal had his head in his paws. Mari was crying.


“I see,” Royal said.


“Don’t hate me,” Mari said.


“It’s not about you,” Royal replied flatly and looked away.


“[You hate me]," [14] she said plaintively.


“I’ll call you in a couple days, I have to think some things through,” Royal responded.


Royal hanged up before she could reply. Royal sat in his chair. He listened to it squeak as he leaned back and forth.


He stood up suddenly and flung his leg out kicking the chair as hard as he could. It smashed into the nearby wall then crashed onto the ground.




“Shit,” Royal thought.


Not wanting to face the angry Boe Badger, with quick steps Royal sped out the room.



Mari shot up. An intense pounding inside her head had woken her. She was on a bed in the middle of an ice lake that stretched out as far as she could see. A pure, clear wasteland. A faint vibration jolted her.


She peered over the edge of the bed.


Royal had stopped pounding and floated as if sleeping just under the surface of the ice.




She dug and clawed at the ice. It remained unscratched. She closed her eyes.


“[Fire, I need fire.]" [15]


She opened her eyes. On the bedside table was a lighter and a journal. She quickly leapt over, ripped out the pages, and lit them above Royal’s floating figure


The crackling of fire and ice filled the air.


Royal began to sink.


“[Wait! Just a bit more.]" [16]


She broke a hole in the center of the fire. The flames dissipated and she plunged her head deep into the water and snatched Royal up by the scruff of his neck.


Her thin frame struggled hard to hold him on the slippery ice.




Royal slung his arms onto the surface. Mari switched from her mouth to her paws and did her best to hold him in place.


“I’m sorry.”


As Royal said this, the outer edges of his head began to fade.


His fur were washing out into an icy transparency that trickled down to his body. It was as if he was being erased him from existence.


“Royal…you’re disappearing.”


He could feel himself dying. Royal stared into Mari’s amber eyes. He was never sure what was going on behind them.


As Royal faded, Mari’s arms began to fade as well.


Mari’s tears fell and froze on their paws.


“It’s ok,” Royal said softly, his eyes now faint dots in the icy water, “I’m just an idea.”


Datte, Royal ga inakute samishii yo." [17] Mari said between sobs.


Boku mo 。" [18] Royal replied.


Her paws clasped around Royal’s.


They nuzzled their noses, now nearly invisible.


She let go.


Royal Mutt sank back into the water.




After an hour of running, the cool, fresh smell of the forest greeted him.


He had to keep moving. He knew that if he stopped, the conversation with Mari would replay indefinitely in his head, deepening the black hole inside of him until it sucked him down forever.


It had been years since he visited this forest with Father Mutt. He remembered his dad, a proud dog with graying fur, lecturing him as they hiked:


"We’re a cross of various royal canines that commanded great respect in olden times. Thus your first name. Our last name, Mutt, is a badge of honor, not mediocrity. Pure bred, bah! That was a system created by the humans to keep us free-minded dogs down. The animal and human world run on parallel tracks, yet they always assume that they’re above us, when actually they’re just next to us. Remember this, even when humans, other animals, or any system tries to oppress you…you’re a royal Mutt, and you can conquer the world.”


Royal came upon the lake with the moon in full view, its reflection smiling up at him. The freezing water lapped at his legs, shocking him awake. On that day with Father Mutt, they had visited here.


“I’ve always wanted to swim across,” Father said as he stared at the lake with a sad smile. “But I needed time to train and I was so busy with responsibilities, I told myself I’d do it after I retire and now…,“ he rubbed his legs, ”…these these old varicose stumps won’t carry me across.” He looked to his son, “What about you?”


That day, even with Father beside him, Royal eyed the lake with trepidation. Its calm surface was a mask for unseen monsters in its depths.


“No, I can’t.”


Now, here in the wild by himself, this memory emboldened him. With its reflected moon, the lake drew him now like a siren. He dove into the water and began to swim across.






Back in the darkness he felt himself sink to the bottom, Mari now a distant dot of light above.


He felt the pressure increase and the water push into his ears and nose. Just when he thought his heart would implode there was a shift. The world flipped and he was now rising in the direction he was previously sinking. An invisible wind coursed through the darkness and filled his lungs with air.


The pressure lessened and he turned to see another surface with glaring lights.





He woke to the sound of the IV. Bright lights above blinded him. He felt incredibly cold and heavy.


“Hey Royal.”


Royal Mutt shifted his head to the left and saw Panda Bear’s rotund figure lounging in the couch next to him.


“What happened?” Royal said shakily.


Panda straightened up and leaned towards Royal.


“A hiker found you half frozen on the shore of a lake and called animal rescue. We all thought you were a goner. What the hell were you doing?”


Royal dodged the question. “My parents know?”


“They’re on their way.”


“My mom’s going to go crazy.”


“That’s how mothers show their love.”


Royal was wrapped under a mountain of blankets. Each time the IV dripped, he felt it hit his brain.


“You want to tell me what happened?” Panda inquired, his face full of concern. He placed his large paw on the side of the bed.


“Not now, woozy.”


Panda raised his arms and settled back into the couch. There was a commotion outside the door.


“I look for my son! Where is he?” a shrill voice rang from outside.


“Jesus, it’s my mom.”


“I’ll get her.”




Royal was back at the apartment. Hot tea steamed from a cup at the table. He sat, cocooned in blankets, staring at the social website. Mari was available. He was invisible. Mari recently posted an album from Taiwan. Royal’s mouse hovered over the thumbnail.




Royal closed the laptop.


He flipped open his favorite novel, the one named after a Beatles song, and read a page again and again, letting the words wash over him.


He put the book away and threw on a thick sweater. Grabbing his blankets, he ambled into the hallway. He carefully crawled underneath the “do not cross” sign and opened the door out onto the roof. The air blasted him. Below the city was shaking itself awake.


Wrapped in blankets, he sat waiting for the sunrise.


After a short while, the sun eased out of hiding and a beam of sunlight hit the rooftop and kissed his face. He smiled. This was the first time he had done this in years.  




完 [19]




Story & Ending Photo: James Y. Shih

Japanese (日本語) translations and romaji: John Jeng

Photography: Adrian Sangalang

Story Consultant: Nick Louie


Special thanks to Cin-yee Shih and the family for their support.



All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Really. Believe me.

[1] お先に済んでダメだわ./Osaki ni sunde dame dawa.

[2]私の事好き?/Watashi no koto suki?

[3]当たり前でしょう/Atari mae deshou.

[4]私を構ってないじゃん。/Watashi o kamatte nai jan.

[5] カリフォルニアに帰ってよ. /California ni kaetteyo.

[6] 東京で見送れるんじゃなかったか?/Tokyo de miokurerun ja nakkata ka?

[7] もう行ってよ。/Mou itte yo.

[8] 万里/long distance.

[9] 真理/truth.

[10]最近ちょっと寝不足だけど、大丈夫。ローヤルは?/Saikin chotto nebusoku dakedo, daijoubu. Royal wa?

[11] ね、そんなしゃべり方固くない?/Ne, sonna shaberikata katakunai?

[12] あ、すみません。万里さん、いつがご都合よろしいですか?有休はもうすぐだから。/Ah, sumimasen. Mari-san, itsu ga gotsugo yoroshii desuka? Yuukyuu wa mou sugu dakara. 

[13] ごめんね、ローヤル、我がままを言って。/Gomen ne, Royal, wagamama o itte

[14]事を嫌いよねWatashi no koto o kirai yone.

[15]火だ、火をつけないと. / Hida, hi o tsukenaito.

[16] 待って!もう少しだから。/Matte! Mou sukoshi dakara.

[17] だって、ローヤルがいなくて寂しいよ。/I’ll miss you Royal.

[18]僕も。 /Me too.

[19] Japanese: Kan/Mandarin: wan2/The End

Royal Mutt & Panda Bear - Chapter 7: Winter Waves (一/二) REVISED and w/ PHOTOS


The jagged edges of the key pressed into his right paw. The key had snapped earlier when Royal tried to muscle the car to start. The afternoon sun did little to warm his cold bones as he sat on the low brick wall facing the gas station. The hills of Northern California flowed behind him. His car, dusty and travel worn, lingered idly next to a pump.

The days were shorter and the sun was inching its way towards the horizon.

He looked at his shadow. Déjà vu fell upon him: Four months ago, in a suburb of Tokyo, he saw the same shadow cast onto the ground in front of a convenience store. Just above this shadow, the window reflected a sad, sleepless dog with shaggy hair.

With this memory came a torrent of regret. Royal grit his teeth.

“You ok?”

Panda Bear ambled towards Royal, his arms full of snacks.


Royal popped up and tossed the broken key into his car. Panda eased his large figure into Royal’s spot on the brick wall.  Panda offered him a bag of biscuits, Royal declined.

“What or who are you thinking about this time?” Panda asked as he opened a bag of fruit snacks.


Panda threw a handful of fruit snacks into his mouth.

Royal said, “We had an argument during my last trip.”

As he formed the words, Royal felt the blue water roll over him.

“It was bad.”

Royal gazed at his shadow, its outlines grew ever fainter with the winter sun.

“I just grabbed what I needed and left our place in Kyoto for Narita. My flight wasn’t till late afternoon so I spent the early morning hours roaming Tokyo in a daze.”

Panda popped open a bag of bamboo snacks.

“Sorry. Well, now you should be wiser after you’re experience with Elle,” Panda said.

“With Elle, I made it seem I was being selfless trying not to hurt her. Thinking about it…truth is, it was fear. Fear of my life outside of her. I already had one foot out the door and I couldn’t make that next step.”

Cool wind brushed Royal’s fur. The sound of cars became the lapping of the ocean.

“With Mari…when we were living in Kyoto, I remember passing this old bridge. Underneath, the water was rushing past to some far off lake and the sky was a clear blue. I knew she was waiting for me back at the apartment. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with affection. I said to myself, ‘This is it, this is the feeling.’”

Royal rubbed his tired legs.

“Then that night, the feeling disappeared. We were angry at each other again, I had to go back to California…and she said I was cold…”

“Like with Elle,” Panda added.


A young couple exchanged kisses in a car next to Royal’s. The girl laughed and looked around embarrassingly as they drove away.

“I hated this cycle so much, we…I had to make a choice…Did you know I got her a Costco card?”

“Even though she ain’t even here?”

“Yeah. I did a myriad of small little things she’ll never know, I wanted to keep both feet inside the door for once…”

A truck edged along the horizon and exited towards the gas station.

“Sometimes, I’ll feel so empty knowing we’re together, but not together.  I feel as if I might get sucked into my own black hole.”

The truck pulled up to the station.

“Quadruple Ais here,” Panda said.

“Let’s go home,” Royal said.


With the night sky above, Royal Mutt helped Panda Bear unpack from the car. They stood in front of a door built into the side of the mountain. Along the mountainside a curved line of lights cast an orange glow on them.

Panda Bear handed Royal the bamboo plant.

“This is for you buddy.”

Royal gently took it into his paws. He smelled the leaves.

“I don’t know if I have the credentials to help you out; it seems that you already have a pretty good idea of your flaws and your strengths,” Panda Bear said.

Royal raised his head attentively.

Panda continued, “My writing professor Mr. G, a man of a bear, told me once, ‘Things will happen when you’re ready.’”

Panda put on his backpack.

“Maybe you weren’t meant to be with Elle and that’s led to this test with you and Mari and I hope it works out, I really do.”

“Thanks, Panda.”

Panda turned towards his house. Royal felt the weight of the bamboo plant in his paws.

“One more thing.” Panda circled back to Royal.

“Don’t be so arrogant or naïve to think that it’s all your fault. Maybe there are some issues that Mari has that you don’t know about.”

A breeze parted the dark curtains inside Royal’s mind.

Royal chuckled.

“I know I can be pretty tunnel vision sometimes.”

“I can tell by the way you drive.”

“Go to sleep, Bear.”

“Goodnight, Mutt.”

Royal took the scenic route through his hometown: past the old house he lived as a pup, the street where he had his first fight, the school where he had his first crush.

He carried his bags up the stairs into the apartment complex. As he made his way down the hall with the flickering light, Boe Badger, his cantankerous neighbor eyed Royal suspiciously through the window. Royal waved, Badger shut the curtains.

Royal entered his bare apartment; it was empty save for a shabby bed slumped in one corner next to a plastic table. He carefully set down the bamboo plant and unloaded his bags onto the floor. He turned on his laptop.

He could feel his heart bracing itself for her voice. He felt the wall encircle his interior. He searched to find a door.


“Hi Mari.”

[1] American Auto Association for Animals


Special Thanks to Adrian Sangalang for the two beautiful photos pictured above!