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from the March 2015 issue

Waymarkers

When the three days and nights for which it is said the dead return each year came around, the containers of light that it was the custom to hang as waymarkers were brought out from the morning room and, translucent like souls, swayingly gave off a similar amount of coolness. Those paleish objects, were they five or six at first, either way numbered in excess for the small house moved to after the death; but while the death was recent, so were the gifts, and rather than deliberate over which and which to hang, it must have been simpler to hang them all up, with a view also to airing them out. Two or three were equipped with dismountable hanging-stands such that they could be placed beside the raised tray holding flowers and incense. The rest were hung along the threshold between the main room and the veranda.

Were they very fine silk, or paper, or were there perhaps some of silk and some of paper, some that were egg-shaped and some nearly spherical, some with a pale light blue hue and some without, some whose wooden frames at either end were lacquered black and some whose frames were bare wood sporting small chrysanthemums, the decorative tassels that hung as weights shading to purple or shading to blue, possibly there were some that were all white or some a different color which had slipped from memory—the lacuna meaning not that someone had forgotten, only even in those summer evenings they had not been noted by anyone. Everyone was wholly heedless of the fact that there would come a summer when the custom was not repeated, when the flat cardboard boxes, slightly grubby in places and slightly battered in others, would no longer be taken down from the back of a high cupboard, and the lightweight cylindrical hollows with their naturally collapsible structures no longer unfold along with a faint smell of the previous summer, so it never occurred to anyone that they ought then to observe and make certain of them.

The flowers depicted, which must have differed from one to the next, are also hazy, and even if—based on them necessarily being autumn plants—a not dissimilar arrangement is envisaged, not only does it fail to locate itself relative to any wooden frame, but it admixes with the print on a summer coverlet, the brushstrokes of a hanging scroll, even the design on a fan only seen much later in a shop window, or a picture on a postcard which someone may or may not have received from someone else, and disappears into the point at the tip of a flowering stalk of a plant belonging to the grass family, the most fleeting of all such fleeting shadows.

Even which summer they stopped being brought out can only be surmised from the circumstances. When the time ten summers had come and gone after the death, both the things and the tired ones had tired. The spouse and the child of the one who had died were ever nearer to the exit and the entrance of maturity, respectively, and ever more put upon, and every sun up and sun down was hurried. Not all five, if five, were hung up each year, and if at some point a string broke and then was mended, little by little markerless summers crept in, and yet because they were hardly going to be thrown away there was an incautious sense that they were always within the house, and so the want of seeing and making sure was lulled and sleepy.

 

Those things which seemed always to be recalled in their mid-day paleness, rather than their crucial lighted state, might only have been lit for a short time, as a matter of form, from the inconvenience of them serving in fact as waymarkers for insects, or might have shone but briefly because of the infancy being spent in that house, during which sleep came soon after the late sundowns of the season. They were beacons through those days of summer, neither seen nor swaying, dim and uncertain even in their midst. Summer, which once the summers of excess waymarkers gave way to summers from which waymarkers had vanished ought to have manifested in that absence a more enduring remembrance of the death than in the time shortly after it, blurs and shadows even that itself into the haze of no longer being possible to see and ascertain completely.

From  a b sango. ©  2012 Natsuko Kuroda. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2015 by Asa Yoneda. All rights reserved.

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