looking through glass | Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

I knew it was coming. I’m not stupid—I can read the signs: the sharp slant of his body and his cold eyes, the silence misting the glass between us, what else does a woman need to know?

I tried to run. But everywhere I went he was there, his name slipping from lip to lip as people milling outside the theatre whispered in excited tones. All the paths I took led to him. So I chose no path at all, instead listening to wooden sandals clatter past as I lay in my room. Maybe if I stopped running to him like I always did he’d stay. I needed him to stay.

The night I didn’t go to the rakugo theatre, Kikuhiko came to me instead.

Kikuhiko’s face was elegant, like a porcelain moon. His lips were thin like a girl’s and his eyes shaded with dark craters. He held himself with glacial poise, sculpted of rigid ice that I would never be able to melt, no matter how hot I burned. He was a cold man. But I loved him because of that.

That face I loved so dearly stood half-lit by darkness as words fell from those ungenerous lips. I already knew their course. A woman knows these things.

“I didn’t want you to break up with me. I’d been praying you wouldn’t come.”

A beat. His eyes flickered.

“I can do anything I want?”

“Hit me, if you wish,” he said.

How could I? There wasn’t anything left in that frozen face that I could thaw.

As we spoke we traded words like farewells, his gaze avoiding mine. I could take a hint. Men were all the same. He was leaving and I needed him and still he was leaving. Outside the cherry blossoms fell like tears. He was still speaking. As long as he was still speaking–

“Kiku-san, please. Run away with me. Please?”

His hands were cool and dry. His slender white fingers tensed before reaching up to grasp my shoulder. I had only to see his unfocused eyes to know that he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking past me, into the future that I was blocking.

“If you always depend on others, you’ll be helpless when they leave you. That’s the kind of age that’s coming. An age when both men and women will live for themselves.”

But his words were empty, long-vacated by emotion. My words slammed against his like a useless battering ram. It was all useless. As we spoke a laugh strangled my thoughts. All this time and he was still looking through me. He’d never been looking at me.  I had known it would end this way. What had I expected?

His face was upturned, the moon highlighting his sharp cheekbones. Like a sculpture of ice.

You’re a damn fool, Miyokichi.

“I will have revenge,” I said, jerking upwards, my figure silhouetted by the wind, kimono sleeves flapping. “Perhaps I’ll die and haunt you…” I watched those thin lips tremble as I spoke. Like a girl’s lips. Quivering. Thawing. His eyes widened, his expression sinking like melted snow. Did he see me at last?

But it was too late. Far, far too late.

“What is it?” I said. I couldn’t watch him watch me, not now, not ever. I turned my gaze away from that face I loved so much. “Is that funny?” I could feel my face twisting, my lips contorting, the wind lashing hair against my skin.

His eyes, once so sharp and piercing, were moistening. Looking at me. Seeing me for what I was. All this time I had been trying to get him to look at me but now his gaze ignited anger in my gut. I clenched my teeth. “Stop it! It’s so annoying!”

Our eyes met. Inside me the anger lowered its head, thrumming dully through my body as I looked at the man I loved for the last time. “The next time I see you will be in hell.” The words slipped from my lips like falling petals, and I wondered what those eyes saw. If they were surprised by what they saw.

Smile, Miyokichi. This is what you’re good at.

Behind me, the cherry blossom trees cried.

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