Folding

It was in the internment camp that Gideon’s mother would fold paper, sending her bone-white fingers to travel along the flat yellow construction paper (no thick, quality washi in those days) transforming it into the most recognizable of shapes: the tsuru. The crane that would alight on a house to bring it good luck.

Gideon thought of her, sitting in the coffee shop. There was a domestic magazine open in front of him, an American woman in red lipstick and white sweater, the modern domestic goddess. Gideon had torn a page out of the spread and worked it into a square.

The other patrons paid him no more mind than a dragonfly skipping over the surface of a pond. That’s how he knew the young man who pushed open the door was there for him. The young man glanced at Gideon and then away, then back at Gideon. Gideon had no doubt he was there from the university. He pretended to busy himself with his paper, sipping his hot caffé Americano.

The young man did not bother with niceties. He walked straight over to sit on the lounge opposite Gideon’s, a bright, intent look on his face.

“Dr. Morimoto?” He held a hand out. “Kevin Fielding. You know why I’m here.”

Gideon ignored his hand. The woman’s face mutated into a series of planes under his fingers, distorting her irrevocably. Gideon had but one picture of his mother during the war years, her long hair butchered into a bob, ruffled housedress disguising the natural curve of her body. His mother, folding herself smaller and smaller so as not to be tossed away like waste paper.

Kevin frowned slightly and withdrew his hand. “Doctor, I hope you know how obstinate you’re being. You’re not the only one on this project you know.”

Gideon flicked out a finger, expertly smoothing creases. The slick magazine paper was impregnated with clay, making the task of folding more difficult. This paper held its first folds crisply, but too many folds and it would weaken and round out faster than regular paper.

Kevin was watching his hands. “Sir? You realize we’re running up against a deadline. They will cut funding to the department if the experiment doesn’t carry through. That’s very selfish, I think.”

A square studded with diamonds lay on the table between them now. Gideon was a frequent guest on experimental origami forums. This form was a variation on Mills’ 75th configuration. It could be unfolded many ways, accordion-style, and folded back without losing integrity. The first time he’d done it, it had taken an hour to finish the form. Now he could finish it in minutes. Now it was merely a stepping-stone to greater things.

Gideon took the origami and, with a flick of his wrist, turned it inside out.

“The admin is very upset. You may have originated the manifold wormhole theory, but it no longer belongs to you as a concept.” Kevin wet his lips and leaned closer. “I struck a deal with them. You can tell me the roughs of it, I won’t ask more than that. But—” Kevin looked around. “We need to give them something.”

Well, well, well. From ‘I’ to ‘we’. Gideon was moving up in the world.

Gideon looked up from his busy fingers. “Origami was not always called origami.”

Kevin’s brow furrowed. Perhaps they had told him of Gideon’s supposed eccentricities. “Sir?”

“It was once referred to as Orikata. Kata is a form, a style, like fighting. A discipline. A way of altering the mind in favor of the art.”

Kevin’s eyes were blank behind his glasses.

“Paper has limits. I can fold this—” Gideon brandished the magazine page, “—only so many times. Its thickness might be considered strength in any other area. In orikata, flexibility is the strength.”

Kevin grasped at that straw. “Yes, and we need flexibility—”

“The paper must fold, and your mind must fold with it,” Gideon continued, tucking tabs into their pockets. He produced a shape not unlike a klein bottle. “That is key. If one cannot think multidimensionally, one will fail.”

Kevin ground his teeth. He wore round, wire-rimmed glasses, much like the officer that had overseen the quadrant of the internment camp Gideon had lived in. Gideon’s father had joined the army long before Pearl Harbor, he was in the South Pacific while his wife and child folded paper behind barbed wire. Gideon’s parents had both been Nisei, barely speaking enough Japanese to satisfy their parents. Gideon’s father, Clark Gable haircut distorting his hairline, flamed out over the pacific. Gideon’s mother had taken his head in her hands that day, smoothing his hair.

“Your family name is Morimoto,” she had whispered in a voice shriveled by grief, “‘one who lives near the forest.’ Our people made paper once. Paper is the stepping stone to many things. Remember that.”

Kevin shook his head. “You realize you are holding progress back. This could be a great leap forward in the field of physics.”

Gideon inverted a mountain fold. “Did you know I was in an internment camp as a child? Manzanar. Thousands of Americans rounded up because of a circumstance of birth.”

Kevin frowned. “…I don’t see how that’s our fault.”

Gideon held up a finger. “I have thought along the folds of the manifold wormhole project, and I have come to the conclusion that it would risk too many lives. A misfold in the paper.”

The clear crystal of Kevin’s glasses caught the light of the reading lamp just above Gideon’s couch. “As a researcher, we cannot concern ourselves with petty risks like that. The potential loss from not moving forward with this experiment is greater, in my eyes.”

Gideon clicked his tongue sadly. “Then you’ve listened to nothing I’ve said.”

He placed his folded paper form on the table. It was now completely unrecognizable from its origins. The model’s lips scattered across the page like radar dots. The paper formed a space that seemed convex and concave at once.

“Do you know the meaning of my name?” Gideon asked, “it is Gideon. Meaning one who hews or clears. I was meant to be the cutting-off point for my family. The ender of things. I feel that I must live up to that name, one way or the other.”

Kevin wet his lips again. Cold avarice shone in his eyes. “Does this mean you’ve agreed to come back?”

Gideon gestured to the table. Kevin followed the gesture, not understanding. Gideon indicated the origami form sitting in the middle of the beat-up wood ringed with round burn scars.

Frowning, Kevin reached out to touch it.

His hand did not stop at the surface of the table.

Kevin’s eyes went wide as he fell within, making not so much as a gasp as he fell into a space that did not not seem big enough to hold anything.

No one in the busy cafe looked twice.

Gideon finished his Americano. Then he took the paper form and worked it, tenderly soothing it out of its severe folds until it came to rest on the table as a tsuru, a tidy little crane recognizable to any schoolchild across the world. Gideon left it there.

His family home was on Santa Maria avenue, a simple double-story that cooled well in the sticky California climate. Gideon called “tadaima” at the entrance and left his shoes there.

Gideon’s father was sat before the television on his zabuton, his tall frame folded by time and osteoporosis. Gideon brushed a kiss to his white, sparse temple.

“How goes it, pop?”

Gideon’s father pointed a shaking hand at the screen. “Can you believe this? They want to develop the land beside the gasworks. Haven’t I always said that’s a floodplain? They never listen to residents. We’ve lived here longer than those idiots, haven’t we?”

Gideon looked at his father, a long, loving stare. “Always. And never.”

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