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beneath the blossoms

Late at night, around the time the dog, husband, and children were sleeping peacefully, Keiko touched up her makeup, getting ready to meet someone. She told no one about this, not because she needed to keep it a secret, but because there was no need to tell others. There was another world and she had been seeing people from that world, and it would be difficult for anyone to understand such an explanation.

Keiko looked at her reflection in the mirror. Because she had applied her evening makeup, her face emitted a bewitching phosphorescence that seemed to confirm her transportation to the other world. When she felt the presence of someone outside, she got up and slipped out of the house. She passed through the walls and doors at will.

When she went out into the garden, Mr. Satō was standing outside bathed in moonlight. "Sorry to keep you waiting," she said. Mr. Satō returned her commonplace greeting, and she realized that he was walking without drawing a shadow behind him. Pretty amazing, she thought. She also cast no shadow at that time. Along the way, she patted the head of a dog, but it gave no sign of awakening. This was a ritual—a sign that she had been transported to the other world.

Long ago, they had made a pledge to go cherry blossom viewing at night. Even in Keiko's garden, there was a cherry tree in full bloom. Because it was a Somei Yoshino variety of cherry tree, the blossoms floated in their eerie whiteness like clouds against the night sky. "This is the kind of cherry blossom that drives people mad," said Mr. Satō. Keiko quite agreed. Without doubt, if you spent a night under the blossoms and a full moon, the combined effect of the spirits of the moonlight and blossoms would drive you crazy.

"In the past, it was probably mountain cherries," said Keiko as she imagined the cherry that appeared around the rustic cottage in Sagano in the Nō play Saigyō's Cherry Blossoms. This thought was somehow transmitted to Mr. Satō, who said, "We could go there if you'd like." Smiling, he took her hand, and they easily traversed both time and space. The two of them appeared in the garden of the cottage. [End Page 75]

While Keiko was talking, she recalled again that Mr. Satō was Saigyō. Despite this, she thought that neither Saigyō nor Satō Norikiyo suited him. The Mr. Satō who sometimes visited Keiko's place or whom she saw in town was a person with a handsome face and a tall, lean figure. He wore stylish tweed jackets and was a gentleman of no discernible occupation. Even though he was clearly older than Keiko, it was hard to determine his age. He looked as if he had lived an awfully long time without looking aged—especially his beautiful hands, which seemed to defy both age and gender. They possessed an elegance that could only have been acquired by having lived and played hundreds of years with blossoms, moon, and snow.

Holding Keiko's hand, Mr. Satō said, "How do you like these cherry blossoms?"

"These are the mountain cherries Saigyō liked so much," said Keiko, covering Mr. Satō's hand with her other one. She was a little embarrassed that she had mentioned Saigyō's name. "He probably liked cherries such as these, which have blossoms and leaves mixed together, don't you think?"

Just like she said, the old cherry tree spread forth branches laden with countless delicate blossoms and leaves like a figure wearing a canopy, shimmering in a haze of strange gentleness and splendor superimposed on the figure of Mr. Satō. No, it was the venerable priest Saigyō. Mr. Satō muttered this passage from Saigyō's Cherry Blossoms:

anshitsu no hana wa
hana ippon
waga hitori
nagamuru mono mo
waga to hana to yori
hoka ni wa nashi to
omohishi ni

Blossoms at the hermitage,
only one tree
for me alone—
I had thought there would be
no one other than myself
who would gaze at the...

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