Rashomon and Jasmine had been told to wait in the backyard while their parents dressed. They sat in the middle of a vast lawn. Roshomon in a bronze vest and a full-sleeved white shirt, a crisp pant and short tie that made him look like an eraser wrapped in cardboard. His hair was combed into damp ridges that split at the side of his head and shimmered like a brief waterfall. His sister wore a white latticed dress, a white hairband and white butterfly hairclips that held her babylike hair behind her ears. Her dress sprawled along the green grass like a fine fishnet on a still pool. The world felt flat. The house felt climbable, like the sky and earth had folded everything in sight into a neat set of paper toys. There was a marble table with slender curved legs and a white stone chair halfway between the house and the children. The back of their white car shone from the garage and the white money plant pots that lined the driveway gleamed like large molars in the white midmorning sun. The house had white rails along its balconies, the white blinds across the windows clinked at the slightest breeze. It was a long house, like the case of a rare musical instrument or a luxurious cosmetic. There were no windowpanes or grills. The glass was layered like a neat transparent lasagne and made the house seem like a prism. There was nothing in sight but the trim lawn, the white house and the two children. They were waiting to be photographed with their family.
‘Can you do this?’ said Jasmine and touched the bottom of her nose with her tongue. Rashomon stuck his tongue out like a dolphin trying to catch a seagull. He felt he was close, but Jasmine laughed.
‘You couldn’t touch it if I made your nose as long as a crow’s beak.’
‘I gan iv you gan.’ Rashomon concentrated on the sky as though he were balancing a lemon on the tip of his tongue.
‘You need to really curve it, see, like this,’ she held her hips and stuck her tongue out. It tickled her nose and made her laugh once again.
‘Try a hundred years.’
Rashomon stood up and chased his nose with his tongue like a puppy trying to gnaw off its tail. Jasmine laughed with her palm on her cheeks. Her shrieks surprised her and she grew quiet as she watched her brother. She stood up with her palms on her waist.
‘Okay, okay, can you do this?’ Jasmine turned into a helicopter and spun across the lawn with mad speed till she crashed into the chair and toppled it over the marble table. She slowed herself but didn’t stop till she was near the money plants. She collapsed on the grass and sighed at the sky as Rashomon came spinning along, still trying to touch his nose with his tongue. He was a spectacle, like a dragonfly and a little frog caught in a spiderweb. His vision had become dense, like mercury, as though he were gazing at the sky from the bottom of a frozen lake. He spun around Jasmine and fell beside her, lying on his back with his limbs stretched out, his tongue nowhere near the tip of his nose.
‘You didn’t do it right,’ Jasmine said. ‘You have to spin on one leg.’
‘You need pointy toes like mine. Yours are round, they are no use.’
They lay there with the sun on their cheeks. Pale shadows of white pots that hung from the sunshade fell on their cheekbones like shattered birds. Jasmine stood up with her palms on her hips.
‘I bet you can’t do this,’ she hopped onto the sunshade, scaled a white pipe and landed on her bedroom roof where she sat like a sailor watching the wind. She forgot her dizziness and slapped the walls of her home like it were a bathtub. She crossed her knees and rested her chin on her palm and waited to see if Rashomon would follow. Her brother scratched his head, his tongue out like a platypus, then leaped off the sunshade, the white pipe and onto his sister’s roof. He sat next to her and grinned with his tongue tickling the slope under his nose. Jasmine sighed and looked away.
‘You shouldn’t use your feet to climb the pipe, didn’t you see me?’
‘I wafn’t shore id ud dake my vate,’ Rashomon said, his tongue nearing the tip of his nose as he struggled to speak.
Jasmine mused over this and agreed half-heartedly. She somersaulted into her bedroom and returned with a long white bedsheet braided till the bottom. She sprinted to the topmost roof and tied it to the tank before swinging from it across the front of her home. There were white roses in the front yard and white lilies in a pond with white tiles along its floor. Jasmine swung across the porch like a crazed pendulum, her bedsheet was just long enough to keep her off the ground. She swung up to the front of her bedroom on the left and her father’s study on the right. It was a two-storied house, the tank bulged from the roof like the bulb of a starched hat.
‘You can’t do this, can you?’ she dared as she cut through the air like a dove on a boomerang. Rashomon slipped into his room and then climbed out onto the roof with a bedsheet just like Jasmine’s. He tied it to the house and swung from the back of his sister’s room to the back of the study, missing the butt of the car by inches. They took turns to reach either end of the house, Rashomon’s palms and feet wound tightly around the bedsheet knot as his tongue tickled the tip of his nose. He wanted to exclaim that he had accomplished Jasmine’s task but couldn’t speak without bringing his tongue back into his mouth. He feared that he wouldn’t be able to do it again.
‘Don’t swing with your feet, dodo,’ screamed Jasmine. Rashomon seemed to be doing it all wrong again. He used his legs to push himself from side to side, while Jasmine had her feet suspended and clung to the bedsheet like it were a smooth beanstalk. They swung wildly now, like an inebriated windmill that had grown tired of the absent wind.
Suddenly Jasmine landed herself on the roof. She had heard her parents leave their bedroom and come down the stairs. She gathered her bedsheet and stuffed it into her room, slid down the pipe, jumped off the parapet, skipped across the sunshade and to the middle of the lawn. Rashomon was in a trance and didn’t notice that his sister had returned to the backyard. It was when he heard them by the backdoor, discussing whether they should take their picture by the porch or in the backyard, that he scaled the length of the bedsheet, bundled it into his room, slid down the pipe, leaped off the parapet and settled beside Jasmine. He smiled with his tongue curved perfectly to his nose.
‘You shouldn’t purse your lips when you touch it, see how I do it,’ she stuck her tongue out and with no effort licked the ball of her nose. She waited for her tongue to return to its place and grinned.
‘I bet you can’t do this,’ she said, and flapped her ears without touching them. Her eyes moved backwards and forwards at the same instant and for a moment she looked like a puppet. Rashomon sighed. He couldn’t even begin to imitate his sister. He watched his parents set up the camera near the table, turning the chair upright. They gestured to their children to join them. Their father was dressed in a suit that was clearly too tight for him. His biceps were nearly immovable because of the bursting fabric, it made his wrists curve out of his cuffs like a pair of scythes. Their mother wore a loose white gown and a pearl necklace. Her hair was braided and decorated with roses from their front yard.
‘Alright, get ready now,’ said their father, his voice always sounded like he had been chewing charcoal. Their mother smiled and held her children, her white fingernails like fine cylinders of chalk, her white scaly purse and its golden latch a tranquil reptile bathing in the slanted sun.
‘Jasmine, can you come to the right, I think you aren’t visible,’ their father said as the white camera and tripod stared back at them like a silent weapon. Their mother moved Rashomon to make room for Jasmine.
‘Okay, smiles,’ said the father as he shuffled over to join them and smoothened his hair for the thirtieth time in five minutes. The camera would flash in ten seconds.
‘Can you do this?’ whispered Jasmine, leaning into Rashomon’s ear. Jasmine leaped into the air, opened her arms and watched her dress unveil a pair of broad white wings. She chirped and guffawed and swallowed a cupful of atmosphere. The grass stood on edge in a gust of wind as she flapped her wings like an albatross. The house, the table, the chair and the car, the bushes, the pond, the pots and pipes crumpled into balls of paper. The sound of their crunch deafened them till everything spiralled into the sky and became one with the clouds. Soon there was nothing left but a vast grassland and an odd camera that flashed unstoppably at the family as Jasmine joined a flock of white birds flying back north after spring.