I am standing in a large mirror.
Separated from everyone.
Shigure holds her when the phantoms visit her dreams.
Sometimes it's her mother.
More often, it’s herself.
Akito as she was, stifled. Stifling. Wounded. Wounding. Damaged. Damaging.
She thrashes like a fish yanked from the surf, flailing in the bedsheets, gasping to fill her lungs, suffocating until he yanks her out. He pins her against his chest, whispering in her ear, reminding her to breathe, reminding her where they are, reminding her who she is.
Reminding her who she is now.
He doesn’t hold it against her, didn’t even lose his temper one night when her stray fist gave him a black eye. He doesn’t even tease.
Just pulls the hook from her mouth time and again.
I begin to take myself apart.
The estate is lonely. They sent most of the servants away, so it’s empty. Akito dreads the sound of her footfalls. They echo.
She finds Shigure’s books when he's out of the house handling family affairs.
She tastes, then savors, then devours them; she develops an insatiable appetite.
Rilke, Frost, Valery, Ito, Rimbaud, Poe, Iijima.
Akito finds worlds that she doesn’t know existed, words that she would have never arranged in sequence. She traces lines with her fingers, pressing them to her lips when her fingertips come away ink-kissed.
Shigure buys her more books, a new volume every time he leaves the house. She consumes those, too; they consume her in return.
He has his own recommendations. He seeks advice from Mayu and Hatori when Akito wants to deepen her palate.
When she finds Ishigaki Rin, Akito loses sleep.
“Come to bed,” Shigure murmurs against her hair.
“I can’t,” she tells him absently.
“It’s late,” he tells her.
And she doesn’t say “I need to keep reading like I need oxygen, I recognize myself between these bindings, I thought my spirit was unknowable,” but he understands all the same.
Shigure shrugs, pulling a book off the shelf and joining her. They read until their eyes burn and their necks sag. He closes his book and curls up in Akito’s lap.
With her hand in his hair, she reads until the pages curl beneath her fingers, worn with her love of the words they bear.
She reads until the sun rises.
And she keeps reading.
Who can say that I am not words?
She finds her favorites, returns to them like old friends.
What would it be like to have old friends? Or really, to have friends at all?
The house is silent, quieter still when Shigure is gone. It feels colder. She tries not to wait by the window like some sailor’s wife; at least now she has her paperback companions. She’s read them, re-read them, knows their meter and rhythm, sees their words imprinted on her eyelids when she closes her eyes.
This time when Shigure returns, it is not with a book for her to read.
"You’ve taken to the poets,” he says. “Why don't you join them?" And his smile is softer than she deserves when he presses a virgin notebook into her hands, pages untouched like fresh snow.
Maybe Shigure should have been God instead.
On the tables, one hundred plates,
before them, one hundred people
The sun has set on the days of their Zodiac banquets.
But Ayame and Hatori still grace their table, sometimes with wives in tow, and Akito wonders what it must be like to be Shigure, who everyone comes back to. Who no one leaves, despite her.
Their dinners are generally genial affairs, and she enjoys Ayame’s retellings of their escapades, enthralled as he recounts a side of Shigure she never got to know, but still sees sometimes lurking in a crooked smile.
There’s always something that sets her askance; usually small. So minuscule she only ever sees it because she is looking.
She can't stop looking.
Hatori turns further than he should have to when he addresses Ayame. He switches places with Mayu so he doesn't have to swivel to avoid the blind spot. The knife that has taken up permanent residence in Akito's gut twists. She wants to debone herself like a fish, then put herself back together again. Regenerate.
Again, but as someone better.
Again, but as someone who can’t be left.
Again, but as someone who could let them if they wanted to go anyway.
Shigure holds her hand under the table.
A line of a poem floats into my mind
Akito finds that she likes rules; she likes working around them, twining her words in the structure as vines to a trellis.
She delights in puzzling over villanelles; verses, tercets, quatrains.
Math was never her forte, but when the rhymes fit into place the way they should, Akito feels a rush akin to finally solving x.
Shigure finds her hunched over his writing desk, lit by nothing but a desklamp.
“You’ll ruin your eyes,” he says.
She’s started counting the syllables in everything he says, boxing him up and placing him neatly into haikus.
I’m a scarlet sea,
only, I don’t look like a sea.
The wind is brisk, and it aggravates her lungs as she sits on the engawa, one hand buried in her sweater and the other maintaining a cold grip on her pen.
Akito thinks of winters at the estate. Remembers cold sand in the zen garden. The sound of coughing in the dark room.
She hopes Yuki is staying warm. Healthy. Safe.
She wonders if he can ever forgive her. Her new curse is that she can't ask him to.
Her notebook doesn't care about curses or etiquette or contracts or expectations. There, she can beg, stark black against the crisp white pages, please could you find it in your heart to free me, please I'm so sorry I was cruel to you, please and the worst part was that I meant it but I don't anymore, I don't anymore.
She presses apologies in between her pages like so many camellias, preserving them, protecting them.
The notebook becomes a confessional, a storehouse for her sins.
God and rat and cat and dog roam free, run wild, do as they please in the white space between her couplets.
It’s not absolution. It could be a start.
It’s no good
but I put my heart into it.
It takes a while - three quarters of a notebook full of half-baked verse - before she dares to share her poetry.
Shigure doesn’t laugh at her when she reads out loud, even though her voice shakes and she feels like a child.
Like a child she never got to be. Like a real child, not a block of wood waiting to be carved into a real boy.
Shigure has seen her naked before, but never like this. Like she's not undressing, but molting, shedding her skin itself.
He doesn’t say anything, at first.
He takes his glasses off. He presses his hands together as in prayer. He inhales.
“Thank you,” he says at last.
“Did you like it?” she asks.
“Of course I did,” Shigure says. “I love it because you wrote it. And I love it because it's good."
Mothers need not be as beautiful as flowers.
Flowers blossom so magnificently
That we forget what season it is.
Akito loses her words. It’s as if the pit in her stomach has sapped them out of her.
“Shigure,” she says.
He looks up from his newspaper. “Yes?”
She muddles through an arsenal of locution, rooting around in her panic-fogged brain until she finds what she’s looking for.
In her defense, Shigure can’t find any words either.
He finally manages a choked sound. Then her name, whispered into her hair as he pulls her into a crushing hug.
“I don’t know what to do,” she says.
“But you know what not to do,” he tells her, like it’s the simplest thing in the world.
Maybe it is. Maybe it could be.
I’m still in love—
that’s how I feel,
that’s all, that’s all.
“I could talk to Mitsuru,” Shigure suggests one evening, bouncing Shiki on his knee. He says it casually, like he doesn’t want to spook her. Always even-keeled.
He could talk to Mitsuru. She’s been friendlier to him since he stopped tormenting her, and they’ve developed a cordial kinship as cousins-in-law that’s much less tumultuous than their writer-editor relationship.
Probably she wouldn’t reject him outright.
The thought sends a jolt all the way through to Akito's fingertips. She can’t tell if it’s excitement or anxiety.
It’s almost certainly both.
There’s a thrill to the thought, conjuring up an image of her book, published, in hands, passed back and forth, dog-eared and annotated by eager readers, loaned out by libraries and friends.
But she likes the way her weathered notebooks look on the shelf, nestled right up between In the Moonlight and Sigh of a Summer Affair.
It’s a safe place to keep her words, at least for now.
In the mirror staring at
Myself: A far-off island.