“Obligatory Symbiosis” by Soramimi Hanarejima

Obligatory Symbiosis

I read her journal whenever I can.

On the train, in the grocery store checkout line, while on hold for tech support, instead of watching TV after dinner—anytime I can open this weathered notebook and take in her small, dense handwriting. Even if I only have a few seconds of unoccupied time, I want to spend them with these creamy pages that take me into the cognitive and emotional epicenter of her life. So I take every chance available to put myself in contact with this record of her inner life, of her mind turning events into stories with an edgy honesty she seldom brings into our conversations. 

When she said, “Keep this for me,” I had no idea I’d keep the notebook on me at all times and then keep many of its words as secrets—if not talismans—tucked among my privately held thoughts. 

“If you want to, you can read it,” she added. “I don’t think it’s that readable, but if you’re bored, it could help you pass the time.” 

Since then, it’s proven to be more than readable—absolutely riveting is what it is. The disparity between her sentiment and mine comes from the difference between having lived what she’s written about and having to imagine it by way of an emotionally charged account. For her, writing is cathartic; for me, reading is stirring—rousing even when I’m reading about a turn of events I was present during or party to. Because even when I know what happened, I don’t know how it happened to her, and her words make it happen that way in my mind, each journal entry making so vividly clear how something impacted her—how she reacted in the very core of her being. Through these episodes of vicarious experience, I find out who she is to herself—in that most primal of relationships—someone different from who she is to me. 

Now, when I’m over at her place for weekend brunch and while we’re out with friends hiking or playing card games, I see her as both the person I’ve long known and the person I’m getting to know. Wanting more of that private self who is becoming ever familiar to me, I watch her body language for vehement gestures and assertive postures; I listen for any mutterings of the idiosyncratic slang that peppers her written language; I breathe deeply to take in any pheromones that signal cutting confidence. But if there’s any revelation of her private self, it’s too subtle or fleeting, undetectable to me. 

So what can I do but read her journal? All the more voracious for the gruff, incisive side of her personality that she doesn’t show, I eagerly follow her words further into this otherwise inaccessible dimension of her. Stretches of my days are spent deeper in her thoughts than in my own—or rather, I’m more engrossed in thoughts about her thoughts as opposed to thoughts about my life. That’s how it should be. The pages I’m making my way through will come to an end, so

I should immerse myself fully in the narrative company of her private self while I can. 

As the unread journal pages dwindle down, I become uneasy. Confronted with the impending reality of days ahead without new journal entries, my thoughts grow concerned with what will happen next. Will she eventually give me another notebook once she’s finished journaling in it, or should I ask her for older ones? Does she even have any? Maybe she has long since given them to other people—years ago appointing her mother the custodian of her teenage diaries and her sister the record keeper of childhood thoughts in the form of pencil scrawl on blue-lined pages of little diary notebooks with cute cover designs. Maybe I’ll have to be satisfied with simply re-reading this journal. Whatever the case, I’d like to have an idea of what to expect. 

I’m keen to broach the topic of past and future journals when we meet for lunch at our customary café, but after the waitress takes our orders, I tarry in the comfort of her usual good-humored self, and soon she’s recounting with amusement how a recent repair rendered her viola uncharacteristically twangy—yet when she complained, the technician unflinchingly insisted that the instrument sounded better that way. 

“Guondlesnaf,” I blurt. “That flagrant impudence is worse than the so-called ‘professional recommendations’ from that scent scape consultant utterly lacking in self-awareness.” 

She blinks intently at me, as though trying to clarify what she’s seeing, then replies with an emphatic “Yup.” 

And that’s it. Somehow we’re satisfied by this agreement, this moment of connection by way of mutual understanding. 

In the days that follow, phrases of her personal patois infiltrate our conversations, punctuating fervent discussion with her private profanity—guondlesnaf, yes, but also nalerbak, muntilat, blec, flim and rutinacious. 

Not long after that, she’s making remarks about her recent life with that forthright tone I’ve known only in the form of her writing. Then the floodgates open, and she’s unleashing irate monologues that would be the equivalent of multi-paragraph journal entries. And before I know it, I’m contributing to those tirades—even creating the bulk of them. 

The urge to read her journal wanes and my movement toward its end dramatically slows. To the point that I think I’ll never get to the final pages. At least not while my desire for contact with her psyche is so satiated by conversations that plunge me headlong into the subjectivity of her life, to the point that we’re finishing each other’s sentences—if not each other’s thoughts—with precise language that carries forward the emotive force that one of us has ventured. This quantum leap in the intimacy of our rapport morphs me into the sort of confidant who serves as a conduit for catharsis. 

This role I’ve taken on plumbs new ecstatic depths while we’re wandering the corridors of the latest mirror maze downtown—the very moment she starts railing against the deliberate construction of voracious media rabbit holes designed to capture the imagination and spiral it into paranoia for the purpose of promoting political and commercial agendas. Instantly, I know exactly how to express her righteous indignation and go on a vehement tear that excoriates this information-age exploitation of human curiosity and creativity. All the while, she beams with the exuberant joy of being understood, her wide smile surrounding me, reflected countless times in every direction by silvery surfaces. 

Until her delight is supplanted by pensive gloom. 

“We need to stop doing this,” she says quietly—somberly. “We should talk about something else instead. Or meet less frequently.” 

Taken aback, I barely manage to ask, “Is it getting too upsetting?” 

“It’s actually really nice. No one else truly understands. But all this profoundly agitates you.” 

“Well, if it’s helping you to process—” 

“It is, but you don’t have to do this.” 

“I want to. I need to.” 


“You go through so much by yourself, but this we can do together.” 

“Oh. I didn’t know you felt that way about me.” 

What way? I want to ask. 

But that’s beside the point. Whatever “that way” is, it’s undoubtedly an integral part of me now, and naming it might only limit what it can offer us. 

She turns her attention to the reflection of us at the end of the kaleidoscopic passageway ahead. Our optical doppelgängers seem to become the focal point of her thoughts. 

“OK then,” she says, as though she’s figured out something about their/our juxtaposition.

“So long as you’re sure.” 

Her gaze meets mine through the mirror before us. And it doesn’t matter which of her eyes

I’m looking into, real or reflected as though everything here is equally, unequivocally hers.

Soramimi Hanarejima is the author of the neuropunk story collection Literary Devices For Coping. Soramimi’s recent work appears in Pulp Literature, Reed Magazine and Outlook Springs. Her website is CognitiveCollage.net.