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Today's Story by R.S. Pyne

She was the model of discretion, perfectly demure and proper but, I was with her when she danced naked in the moonlight, petals falling on her bare shoulders.

Cherry blossom front

We met for the first time during the annual Hanami celebrations in Ueno Park and I had never seen anyone look more beautiful. The blossom was almost pure white, tinged with the palest pink, other trees decked out in deeper shades.

Windblown petals caught in her hair like a metaphor for life itself,luminous and beautiful yet fleeting and ephemeral. This shining woman would grow old but in fifty years’ time the blossom would be just as glorious.

Tokyo would move on but the centuries old custom of viewing flowers at the end of March would stay the same. Countless generations would follow the Cherry Blossom Front and plan their parties accordingly. Every one of the numerous television channels aired regular broadcasts tracking the front’s steady progress from south to north. In a fortnight, all the flowers would be gone – leaving a deep carpet of fallen petals like a false snow over carefully manicured lawns.

People from my English class greeted me as I ambled along, on my way to meet a complete stranger. Blind dates have never been my thing, but I was lonely. Far away from home with three months to go, a friend set me up on a date with his cousin. He caught me on a weak moment and would not take no for an answer. In the depths of a sake haze I agreed to meet Harumi Yamada, and then had to go through with it to save face. Both his and mine, I had learned that was important. So I went and she was already there like a goddess of springtime. Even though she wore casual western dress, she carried her Japanese identity like a badge of honor.

She stood by the bronze statue of Saigō Takamori. The last true Samurai strode out purposefully, wearing traditional dress with his faithful hunting dog by his side. He was a large,rather plump man who looked as if he would prefer to eat dango instead of look at flowers.

Harumi had a skewer of rice flour dumplings colored green, white and pink to imitate the blossom and I watched her bite one. Pink cherry bud lips curved in a smile as she greeted a friend or co-worker, manners as flawless as the sakura itself. She wiped her perfect mouth on a white silk square and exchanged pleasantries with an old man trying his best to keep up with his hyperactive grandson.

It was growing dark and soon paper lanterns would be hung on trees for nocturnal viewing. Moonlight silvered the flowers and hundreds of people picnicked beneath the branches. There was a festival atmosphere, every face smiling and forgetting their troubles just for a moment. Laughing children played timeless games of chase and be chased – the same all around the world. I greeted her in my less than perfect Japanese, stumbling over words I should have known well. Nerves got the better of me and my babbling tailed into incoherence. Even basic phrases learned in the first few language classes refused to come to mind.

“I would like that very much,” she said kindly, switching to English before it got embarrassing.

We walked every day under the drifting petals and spent our nights there too.

The worst thing we ever did when people could see us was throw dumplings at each other, but there are only so many times that you can share sake under a tree or feed each other delicacies from a bento box.

Our relationship was restrained by the sense that people were watching in judgment, the unspoken disdain in old ladies’ faces that any well bred Japanese girl should act that way in public. There are rules of society that will always remain incomprehensible to an outsider, the minutiae of every day life that you have to be born in the culture to fully understand. Tokyo, for all its space-age technology, was no different from any other city. She was the model of discretion, always perfectly demure and proper but I was with her when she danced naked in the moonlight, petals falling on her bare shoulders.

Like myriads of tiny dancers, the steady petal fall covered the ground and carried with them a fleeting sadness that it could not be this way forever.

When the last blossom hung precarious on the boughs, prey to the first uncaring breeze that took it down, it was time to admit that what we had shared had long departed. Harumi never said so, but I saw it in her eyes. In the end, we called it a day and moved on with our lives.

Sakura season, like life itself, is heartbreakingly brief but we parted with no hard feelings and it feels right to still remain friends.

Our love affair began and ended with the cherry blossom front, perfectly mirroring the samurai principle of life ending when it’s beautiful and strong, instead of slowly aging, all power or fire gone.

Perhaps it was better that way.


R. S. Pyne lives in rural Wales and has published 30+ stories in US, UK, Irish, New Zealand and Canadian magazines. Seven are available on the Anthology Builder website.


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