The Earth of Ashes
by Yukimi Ogawa
I am everywhere. And I am everything.
I remember opening a door. The door. I took a seat without being asked or permitted to, but I knew she wanted me to do so. The sun was setting. Crows were singing. The lady with huge earrings froze me with her jet-black eyes, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable.
“If you want to claim that boy,” the lady suggested, “you claim him completely.”
She smiled. The first thing I wanted to ask was “how.” Instead I said, “what boy?”
“You can have him.” She ignored me.
The sun had almost set, and the room was dark, but I could see her glittering black eyes, casting shadows that almost hurt my hazel ones. I knew they were not safe. I knew they were burning from desire. But after all, I knew mine, too, were shining out of expectations.
“You say yes or no, before the sun goes down completely below the horizon.”
I looked out the window. Only a few inches above the earth, with vermilion and orange and lavender, and countless shades of countless colors trailing behind it. After that, the dark sky, the color of her eyes, already yielded a few stars. I considered almost nothing at all before I said:
So I am the earth now.
I see the sun set and rise at the same time; I know every single shape the moon takes; I can rouse all the volcanoes at once and feel at the same time the still life of deep seas.
And always, I feel him.
I nourish cultivation, dreaming of the day he tastes it. I polish water running out of a mountain, imagining how it goes down his throat. Where he sets foot, I am there to accept his weight. When he breathes, it’s the air I sweetened for him.
I left my former body to the lady with huge earrings. I don’t know what she made out of it. I don’t want to know. Before I met her, to him I was nothing. Only once, when everyone laughed at my strange eyes and skin and hair, the color of which were so different from theirs… he didn’t laugh and said he liked colors. He soon forgot everything about it, but it was just so enough for me to go on.
And now he cannot live without me.
I love to see his profile when he sees me and murmurs, How beautiful. I love the way he disturbs ivy covering the whole trunk of a tree and touches the rough skin of the bark with his smooth, young hands. I love that when he observes flowers he only admires the color and feels the texture of the petal, but never picks the thing off me to kill it. Landscapes are changed. Skies and mountains are painted to his whim. Icicles are formed on purpose. Everything he sees is here for him.
I see him turning into a man from a boy. And I see him meet a woman.
I hear him asking for her hand, in a beautiful field beside a river, a place I prepared for this occasion. Such a typical woman, with a straight, black hair, and brown eyes so dull with no light in them. Her existence doesn’t even evoke a ripple on a pond, doesn’t even move a grain of sand. Nothing now disturbs me much. I can do anything the woman cannot. He cannot live without me.
Then one day I see him start a family with his woman, and build a house on me to live with her and their children, all of them with eyes like hers. I concentrate extra energy on this ground of his house. He decides to plant flowers in the garden, and so digs into me. Then he throws seeds onto me. I gasp, sensing delight I’ve never felt, and so the flowers flourish in this garden, like no one can make them do out of the dry soil on this plain, full of volcano ashes from ancient times.
I sometimes surprise his children with fragments of crystal, making them emerge from beneath the surface soil, stealing them from the ash layer deep within me, the one that had long nurtured and embraced the quartz. Most of them are clear and transparent, but sometimes, I even tire myself pushing purple ones. Gifts from the earth, I hear him tell the children. I quiver. The gifts always twinkle beautifully in his hands, even long after the children get tired and abandon them.
I see him turning into an old man.
The woman, who had been his wife, whose hair had long turned gray, is now dead. His children are all gone, out of his reach. He sits in his garden alone everyday, and watches the sun rise and set.
Finally he is back to me.
Now his sight is so poor, and all he can make out is the colors. People suggest he wear glasses. He does as they say, when they are looking. But when he’s alone, alone with me, he takes them off and sets them down on the porch. He looks at the colorful, outline-less world. His garden becomes crazily colorful and the neighbors rumor about it, but I don’t let him hear them, blowing strong gusts of wind around his ears.
Even when he looks up at the stars thinking of the woman, his hands are entwined with my intangible fingers. His tears moisten my skin. He cannot live without me.
Then one day I see him draw his last breath.
The moment came rather suddenly, but peacefully. He had thought there was nothing wrong with him, but he was wrong. I knew. I could tell from his breaths, urine and feces, that something was wrong somewhere deep within him, somewhere even my influences couldn’t reach. The moment came, and he left his body in his sleep, alone, sitting at the porch overlooking the garden. I ran my breeze through his hair. He nodded once, as if to admit defeat, and he left him.
I waited for his burial. Finally. He would be part of me.
His coffin was laid in the best room of his house, with his black-and-white photograph overlooking it. I saw people come and go, to pay the last homage visit to this place. Even the most absent-minded of the crowd, his family, relatives and close friends, were very careful not to disturb the flowers in the garden, the one he created with my help. His grandchildren were crying loudly, not liking the way the grown-ups behaved, not liking the scent of the incense that they were made to pinch and throw onto a small fire, just like seeds onto the earth.
The horn of the black car beeped, to let everyone know it was starting for the crematory. In this strange vehicle, decorated to look like an alter of his own, he was now marching into my arms. As people saw him off, I followed. I burned from anticipation, though the air was still a little chilly and wet, tinged with the air of rainy season, holding back summer behind it.
But it was when I felt the fire swell in the furnace that I recognized my mistake.
I’ve been wrong. All along, I was wrong. I felt regret fill my mountains and plains and seas and islands, for the first time since the sunset at the lady’s window. She knew, I guess.
How stupid. I should have known, I should have watched more closely his woman’s funeral. People don’t bury people here. They burn people, and take the leftover bones out of the furnace, to place them in the tiniest stone chamber inside the tomb.
His bones would soon be placed in a small pot, and the pot then would be locked in his family’s tombstone, where his woman’s bones had waited for him. The bones will never even touch the soil ever again. They will lie in the colorless darkness forever, generations after generations.
The fire started to embrace him. Not to offer him to be a part of me, but to set him free from the earth. I watched the smoke ascend, to the place I could not follow. I felt myself fade, out of despair, into the air now without him, until nothing was left of me—even no bones, no ashes. Like I had never existed at all.
I cannot go on without him.
A girl stares into the lady’s hazel eyes. “If you want to claim the boy,” the lady with huge earrings suggests, “you claim him completely.”
Soon this girl will be everywhere.
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