Tell me a story, you say, curled up in a pile of blankets at the foot of Shinsuke’s bedroll; and so Shinsuke lights one more candle. By the warmth of the flickering flame, the moonlight spills pale on the cool ground.
Which one do you want to hear? Shinsuke asks, sitting back on his heels as he faces you, fan in hand.
The one about the day you found me.
The day he found you, you were trembling.
You were in a basement, and the electricity had gone out and there was a terrible storm rattling at your windows, the kind that made you believe in gods because there was no way thunder like that could be anything but wrath, anything but your mistakes writ large.
From the house next door, Shinsuke had heard you crying out. He had swept through the door like a hurricane unto himself, rain-soaked and eyes wide and hands clean, the better to hold yours with.
You can still remember Shinsuke’s arms around you, the circle’s smudges streaking your fingertips, your cheek. Every time you hear him retell it, it becomes a little easier to forget, to pretend that it was someone else, that it’s just a story.
When you’re in the mood for some levity, you run ahead, throw yourself headfirst into cartwheels and land flat on your back in the grass, catching your breath. Shinsuke’s never far behind you.
How about the one about the time I stole your jacket?
Your skills for thievery, Shinsuke likes to remind you, have always been legendary, even in your village. The time you stole his jacket had certainly been a premeditated crime. You’d waited at his back doorstep all day till he was busy helping his grandfather out front in the rakugo theatre, and then you’d snuck into their house, climbed the stairs unnoticed, and it was only your giggle that gave you both away.
You like the way Shinsuke says premeditated crime with such gravity, even as a smile’s twitching on the corners of his lips.
Shinsuke is your favourite story teller in the valley, and this is why you save this story just for him.
Tell me the one about my brother.
He will sigh, gather you close to his chest and rest his chin on top of your head as he speaks. You had wondered at this strange affection, the first time; now, you realise it is because he cannot bear to see your face (his face) when he tells this one. But he never shies away from it. He will always tell it, when you ask. Shinsuke is brave like that.
He tells you that you were closer than two peas in a pod, two pups in a litter. That your brother was like this very moonlight to your candle flame, both of you a kind of brightness that flares stronger in the dark. That the shirt you wear on your back was his, even if you do not remember. It still smells of him. Like summer and caramel pudding.
He tells you that as long as you ask for this story, your brother will never truly be gone, and so you ask, again, and again, and again.