Book: 24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai [Illustrated]
I recall mentioning in a letter to my friend Carl Yoke something concerning the appearance of the mountains behind my home and my having realized but recently that seeing them in a different aspect every season, every day—every time I look at them, actually—had a lot to do with the following story; and that my coming across the book of Hokusai’s prints which gets mentioned in the text of this tale was only the proximate cause of its composition. Without my mountains there would have been no meditations, no story, no Hugo (this one accepted by Shawna McCarthy, brought back to New Mexico and delivered by Parris—thanks, Shawna; thanks, Parris). I can’t cite all of the lesser, contributory kami here. Everything goes back to the mountains. And without Fuji's fire to complement the frost of my first story, I'd have had to look for a different title for this book. Thanks, Thermodynamics.
Kit lives, though he is buried not far from here; and I am dead, though I watch the days-end light pinking cloudstreaks above the mountain in the distance, a tree in the foreground for suitable contrast. The old barrel-man is dust; his cask, too, I daresay. Kit said that he loved me and I said I loved him. We were both telling the truth. But love can mean many things. It can be an instrument of aggression or a function of disease.
My name is Mari. I do not know whether my life will fit the forms I move to meet on this pilgrimage. Nor death. Not that tidiness becomes me. So begin anywhere. Either arcing of the circle, like that vanished barrel’s hoop, should lead to the same place. I have come to kill. I bear the hidden death, to cast against the secret life. Both are intolerable. I have weighed them. If I were an outsider I do not know which I would choose. But I am here, me, Mari, following the magic footsteps. Each moment is entire, though each requires its past. I do not understand causes, only sequences. And I am long weary of reality-reversal games. Things will have to grow clearer with each successive layer of my journey, and like the delicate play of light upon my magic mountain they must change. I must die a little and live a little each moment.
I begin here because we lived near here. I visited the place earlier. It is, of course, changed. I recall his hand upon my arm, his sometime smiling face, his stacks of books, the cold, flat eye of his computer terminal, his hands again, positioned in meditation, his smile different then. Distant and near. His hands, upon me. The power of his programs, to crack codes, to build them. His hands. Deadly. Who would have thought he would surrender those rapid-striking weapons, delicate instruments, twisters of bodies? Or myself? Paths . . . Hands . . .
I have come back. It is all. I do not know whether it is enough.
The old barrel-maker within the hoop of his labor . . . Half-full, half-empty, half-active, half-passive . . . Shall I make a yin-yang of that famous print? Shall I let it stand for Kit and myself? Shall I view it as the great Zero? Or as infinity? Or is all of this too obvious? One of those observations best left unstated? I am not always subtle. Let it stand. Fuji stands within it. And is it not Fuji one must climb to give an accounting of one’s life before God or the gods?
I have no intention of climbing Fuji and accounting for myself, to God or to anything else. Only the insecure and the uncertain require justification. I do what I must. If the deities have any questions they can come down from Fuji and ask me. Otherwise, this is the closest commerce between us. That which transcends should only be admired from afar.
Indeed. I of all people should know this. I, who have tasted transcendence. I know, too, that death is the only god who comes when you call.
Traditionally, the henro–the pilgrim—would dress all in white. I do not. White does not become me, and my pilgrimage is a private thing, a secret thing, for so long as I can keep it so. I wear a red blouse today and a light khaki jacket and slacks, tough leather hiking shoes; I have bound my hair; a pack on my back holds my belongings. I do carry a stick, however, partly for the purpose of support, which I require upon occasion; partly, too, as a weapon should the need arise. I am adept at its use in both these functions. A staff is also said to symbolize one’s faith in a pilgrimage. Faith is beyond me. I will settle for hope.
In the pocket of my jacket is a small book containing reproductions of twenty-four of Hokusai’s forty-six prints of Mt. Fuji. It was a gift, long ago. Tradition also stands against a pilgrim’s traveling alone, for practical purposes of safety as well as for companionship. The spirit of Hokusai, then, is my companion, for surely it resides in the places I would visit if it resides anywhere. There is no other companion I would desire at the moment, and what is a Japanese drama without a ghost?
Having viewed this scene and thought my thoughts and felt my feelings, I have begun. I have lived a little, I have died a little. My way will not be entirely on foot. But much of it will be. There are certain things I must avoid in this journey of greetings and farewells. Simplicity is my cloak of darkness, and perhaps the walking will be good for me.
I must watch my health.
I study the print: A soft blueness to the dawn sky, Fuji to the left, seen through the teahouse window by two women; other bowed, drowsing figures like puppets on a shelf. . . .
It is not this way here, now. They are gone, like the barrel-maker—the people, the teahouse, that dawn. Only the mountain and the print remain of the moment. But that is enough.
I sit in the dining room of the hostel where I spent the night, my breakfast eaten, a pot of tea before me. There are other diners present, but none near me. I chose this table because of the window’s view, which approximates that of the print. Hokusai, my silent companion, may be smiling. The weather was sufficiently clement for me to have camped again last night, but I am deadly serious in my pilgrimage to vanished scenes in this life-death journey I have undertaken. It is partly a matter of seeking and partly a matter of waiting. It is quite possible that it may be cut short at any time. I hope not, but the patterns of life have seldom corresponded to my hopes—or, for that matter, to logic, desire, emptiness, or any patterns of my own against which I have measured them.
All of this is not the proper attitude and occupation for a fresh day. I will drink my tea and regard the mountain. The sky chsanges even as I watch. . . .
Changes . . . I must be careful on departing this place. There are precincts to be avoided, precautions to be taken. I have worked out all of my movements—from putting down the cup, rising, turning, recovering my gear, walking—until I am back in the country again. I must still make patterns, for the world is a number—line, everywhere dense. I am taking a small chance in being here.
I am not so tired as I had thought I would be from all yesterday’s walking, and I take this as a good sign. I have tried to keep in decent shape, despite everything. A scroll hangs on the wall to my right depicting a tiger, and I want this, too, for a good omen. I was born in the Year of the Tiger, and the strength and silent movements of the big striped cat are what I most need. I drink to you, Shere Khan, cat who walks by himself. We must be hard at the right time, soft at the proper moment. Timing . . .
We’d an almost telepathic bond to begin with, Kit and I. It drew us to each other, grew stronger in our years together. Empathy, proximity, meditation . . . Love? Then love can be a weapon. Spin its coin and it comes up yang.
Burn bright, Shere Khan, in the jungle of the heart. This time we are the hunter. Timing is all—and suki, the opening . . .
I watch the changes of the sky until a uniform brightness is achieved, holds steady. I finish my tea. I rise and fetch my gear, don my backpack, take up my staff. I head for the short hall which leads to a side door.
It is one of the place’s employees, a small man with a startled expression.
He nods at my pack.
“You are leaving us?”
“You have not checked out.”
“I have left payment for my room in an envelope on the dresser. It says ‘cashier’ on it. I learned the proper amount last night.”
“You must check out at the desk.”
“I did not check in at the desk. I am not checking out at the desk. If you wish, I will accompany you back to the room, to show you where I left the payment.”
“I am sorry, but it must be done with the cashier.”
“I am sorry also, but I have left payment and I will not go to the desk.”
“It is irregular. I will have to call the manager.”
“No,” I say. “I do not want that. I will go to the lobby and handle the checking out as I did the checking in.”
I retrace my steps. I turn left toward the lobby.
“Your money,” he says. “If you left it in the room you must get it and bring it.”
I shake my head.
“I left the key, also.”
I enter the lobby. I go to the chair in the corner, the one farthest from the work area. I seat myself.
The small man has followed me.
“Would you tell them at the desk that I wish to check out?” I ask him.
“Your room number. . . ?”
He bows slightly and crosses to the counter. He speaks with a woman, who glances at me several times. I cannot hear their words. Finally, he takes a key from her and departs. The woman smiles at me.
“He will bring the key and the money from your room,” she says. “Have you enjoyed your stay?”
“Yes,” I answer. “If it is being taken care of, I will leave now.”
I begin to rise.
“Please wait,” she says, “until the paperwork is done and I have given you your receipt.”
“I do not want the receipt.”
“I am required to give it to you.”
I sit back down. I hold my staff between my knees. I clasp it with both hands. If I try to leave now she will probably call the manager. I do not wish to attract even more attention to myself. I wait. I control my breathing. I empty my mind.
After a time the man returns. He hands her the key and the envelope. She shuffles papers. She inserts a form into a machine. There is a brief stutter of keys. She withdraws the form and regards it. She counts the money in my envelope.
“You have the exact amount, Mrs. Smith. Here is your receipt.”
She peels the top sheet from the bill.
There comes a peculiar feeling in the air, as if a lightning stroke had fallen here but a second ago. I rise quickly to my feet.
“Tell me,” I say, “is this place a private business or part of a chain?”
I am moving forward by then, for I know the answer before she says it. The feeling is intensified, localized.
“We are a chain,” she replies, looking about uneasily.
“With central bookkeeping?”
Behind the special place where the senses come together to describe reality I see the form of a batlike epigon taking shape beside her. She already feels its presence but does not understand. My way is mo chih ch’u, as the Chinese say—immediate action, without thought or hesitation—as I reach the desk, place my staff upon it at the proper angle, lean forward as if to take my receipt and nudge the staff so that it slides and falls, passing over the countertop, its small metal tip coming to rest against the housing of the computer terminal. Immediately, the overhead lights go out. The epigon collapses and dissipates.
“Power failure,” I observe, raising my staff and turning away. “Good day.”
I hear her calling for a boy to check the circuit box.
I make my way out of the lobby and visit a rest room, where I take a pill, just in case. Then I return to the short hall, traverse it, and depart the building. I had assumed it would happen sooner or later, so I was not unprepared. The microminiature circuitry within my staff was sufficient to the occasion, and while I would rather it had occurred later, perhaps it was good for me that it happened when it did. I feel more alive, more alert from this demonstration of danger. This feeling, this knowledge, will be of use to me.
And it did not reach me. It accomplished nothing. The basic situation is unchanged. I am happy to have benefited at so small a price.
Still, I wish to be away and into the countryside, where I am strong and the other is weak.
I walk into the fresh day, a piece of my life upon the breakfast moment’s mountain.
I find a place of twisted pines along the Tokaido, and I halt to view Fuji through them. The travelers who pass in the first hour or so of my vigil do not look like Hokusai’s, but no matter. The horse, the sedan chair, the blue garments, the big hats—faded into the past, traveling forever on the print now. Merchant or nobleman, thief or servant—I choose to look upon them as pilgrims of one sort or another, if only into, through, and out of life. My morbidity, I hasten to add, is excusable, in that I have required additional medication. I am stable now, however, and do not know whether medication or meditation is responsible for my heightened perception of the subtleties of the light. Fuji seems almost to move within my gazing.
Pilgrims . . . I am minded of the wanderings of Matsuo Basho, who said that all of us are travelers every minute of our lives. I recall also his reflections upon the lagoons of Matsushima and Kisagata—the former possessed of a cheerful beauty, the latter the beauty of a weeping countenance. I think upon the complexion and expressions of Fuji and I am baffled. Sorrow? Penance? Joy? Exaltation? They merge and shift. I lack the genius of Basho to capture them all in a single character. And even he . . . I do not know. Like speaks to like, but speech must cross a gulf. Fascination always includes some lack of understanding. It is enough for this moment, to view.
Pilgrims . . . I think, too, of Chaucer as I regard the print. His travelers had a good time. They told each other dirty stories and romances and tales with morals attached. They ate and they drank and they kidded each other. Canterbury was their Fuji. They had a party along the way. The book ends before they arrive. Fitting.
I am not a humorless bitch. It may be that Fuji is really laughing at me. If so, I would like very much to join in. I really do not enjoy moods such as this, and a bit of meditation interruptus would be welcome if only the proper object would present itself. Life’s soberer mysteries cannot be working at top-speed all the time. If they can take a break, I want one, too. Tomorrow, perhaps . . .
Damn! My presence must at least be suspected, or the epigon would not have come. Still, I have been very careful. A suspicion is not a certainty, and I am sure that my action was sufficiently prompt to preclude confirmation. My present location is beyond reach as well as knowledge. I have retreated into Hokusai’s art.
I could have lived out the rest of my days upon Oregon’s quiet coast. The place was not without its satisfactions. But I believe it was Rilke who said that life is a game we must begin playing before we have learned the rules. Do we ever? Are there really rules?
Perhaps I read too many poets.
But something that seems a rule to me requires I make this effort. Justice, duty, vengeance, defense—must I weigh each of these and assign it a percentage of that which moves me? I am here because I am here, because I am following rules—whatever they may be. My understanding is limited to sequences.
His is not. He could always make the intuitive leap. Kit was a scholar, a scientist, a poet. Such riches. I am smaller in all ways.
Kokuzo, guardian of those born in the Year of the Tiger, break this mood. I do not want it. It is not me. Let it be an irritation of old lesions, even a renewal of the demyelination. But do not let it be me. And end it soon. I am sick in my heart and my reasons are good ones. Give me the strength to detach myself from them, Catcher in the Bamboo, lord of those who wear the stripes. Take away the bleakness, gather me together, inform me with strength. Balance me.
I watch the play of light. From somewhere I hear the singing of children. After a time a gentle rain begins to fall. I don my poncho and continue to watch. I am very weary, but I want to see Fuji emerge from the fog which has risen. I sip water and a bit of brandy. Only the barest outline remains. Fuji is become a ghost mountain within a Taoist painting. I wait until the sky begins to darken. I know that the mountain will not come to me again this day, and I must find a dry place to sleep. These must be my lessons from Hodogaya: Tend to the present. Do not try to polish ideals. Have sense enough to get in out of the rain.
I stumble off through a small wood. A shed, a barn, a garage. . . . Anything that stands between me and the sky will do.
After a time I find such a place. No god addresses my dreaming.
I compare the print with the reality. Not bad this time. The horse and the man are absent from the shore, but there is a small boat out on the water. Not the same sort of boat, to be sure, and I cannot tell whether it bears firewood, but it will suffice. I would be surprised to find perfect congruence. The boat is moving away from me. The pink of the dawn sky is reflected upon the water’s farther reaches and from the snowstreaks on Fuji’s dark shoulder. The boatman in the print is poling his way outward. Charon? No, I am more cheerful today than I was at Hodogaya. Too small a vessel for the Narrenschiff, too slow for the Flying Dutchman. “La navicella.” Yes. “La navicella del mio ingegno”—“the little bark of my wit” on which Dante hoisted sail for that second realm, Purgatory. Fuji then . . . Perhaps so. The hells beneath, the heavens above, Fuji between—way station, stopover, terminal. A decent metaphor for a pilgrim who could use a purge. Appropriate. For it contains the fire and the earth as well as the air, as I gaze across the water. Transition, change. I am passing.
The serenity is broken and my reverie ended as a light airplane, yellow in color, swoops out over the water from someplace to my left. Moments later the insectlike buzzing of its single engine reaches me. It loses altitude quickly, skimming low over the water, then turns and traces its way back, this time swinging in above the shoreline. As it nears the point where it will pass closest to me, I detect a flash of reflected light within the cockpit. A lens? If it is, it is too late to cover myself against its questing eye. My hand dips into my breast pocket and withdraws a small gray cylinder of my own. I flick off its endcaps with my thumbnail as I raise it to peer through the eyepiece. A moment to locate the target, another to focus . . .
The pilot is a man, and as the plane banks away I catch only his unfamiliar profile. Was that a gold earring upon his left earlobe?
The plane is away, in the direction from which it had come. Nor does it return.
I am shaken. Someone had flown by for the sole purpose of taking a look at me. How had he found me? And what did he want? If he represents what I fear most, then this is a completely different angle of attack than any I had anticipated.
I clench my hand into a fist and I curse softly. Unprepared. Is that to be the story of my entire life? Always ready for the wrong thing at the right time? Always neglecting the thing that matters most?
She is under my protection, is one of the reasons I am here. If I succeed in this enterprise, I will have fulfilled at least a part of my obligation to her. Even if she never knows, even if she never understands . . .
I push all thoughts of my daughter from my mind. If he even suspected . . .
The present. Return to the present. Do not spill energy into the past. I stand at the fourth station of my pilgrimage and someone takes my measure. At the third station an epigon tried to take form. I took extreme care in my return to Japan. I am here on false papers, traveling under an assumed name. The years have altered my appearance somewhat and I have assisted them to the extent of darkening my hair and my complexion, defying my customary preferences in clothing, altering my speech patterns, my gait, my eating habits—all of these things easier for me than most others because of the practice I’ve had in the past. The past . . . Again, damn it! Could it have worked against me even in this matter? Damn the past! An epigon and a possible human observer this close together. Yes, I am normally paranoid and have been for many years, for good reason. I cannot allow my knowledge of the fact to influence my judgment now, however. I must think clearly.
I see three possibilities. The first is that the flyby means nothing, that it would have occurred had anyone else been standing here—or no one. A joyride, or a search for something else.
It may be so, but my survival instinct will not permit me to accept it. I must assume that this is not the case. Therefore, someone is looking for me. This is either connected with the manifestation of the epigon or it is not. If it is not, a large bag of live bait has just been opened at my feet and I have no idea how to begin sorting through the intertwined twistings. There are so many possibilities from my former profession, though I had considered all of these long closed off. Perhaps I should not have. Seeking there for causes seems an impossible undertaking.
The third possibility is the most frightening: that there is a connection between the epigon and the flight. If things have reached the point where both epigons and human agents can be employed, then I may well be doomed to failure. But even more than this, it will mean that the game has taken on another, awesome dimension, an aspect which I had never considered. It will mean that everyone on Earth is in far greater peril than I had assumed, that I am the only one aware of it and that my personal duel has been elevated to a struggle of global proportions. I cannot take the risk of assigning it to my paranoia now. I must assume the worst.
My eyes overflow. I know how to die. I once knew how to lose with grace and detachment. I can no longer afford this luxury. If I bore any hidden notion of yielding, I banish it now. My weapon is a frail one but I must wield it. If the gods come down from Fuji and tell me, “Daughter, it is our will that you desist,” I must still continue in this to the end, though I suffer in the hells of the Yu Li Ch’ao Chuan forever. Never before have I realized the force of fate.
I sink slowly to my knees. For it is a god that I must vanquish.
My tears are no longer for myself.
Tokyo. Ginza and confusion. Traffic and pollution. Noise, color and faces, faces, faces. I once loved scenes such as this, but I have been away from cities for too long. And to return to a city such as this is overpowering, almost paralyzing.
Neither is it the old Edo of the print, and I take yet another chance in coming here, though caution rides my every move.
It is difficult to locate a bridge approachable from an angle proper to simulate the view of Fuji beneath it, in the print. The water is of the wrong color and I wrinkle my nose at the smell; this bridge is not that bridge; there are no peaceful fisher-folk here; and gone the greenery.
Hokusai exhales sharply and stares as I do at Fuji-san beneath the metal span. His bridge was a graceful rainbow of wood, product of gone days.
Yet there is something to the thrust and dream of any bridge. Hart Crane could find poetry in those of this sort. “Harp and altar, of the fury fused . . .”
And Nietzsche’s bridge that is humanity, stretching on toward the superhuman . . .
No. I do not like that one. Better had I never become involved with that which transcends. Let it be my pons asinorum.
With but a slight movement of my head I adjust the perspective. Now it seems as if Fuji supports the bridge and without his presence it will be broken like Bifrost, preventing the demons of the past from attacking our present Asgard—or perhaps the demons of the future from storming our ancient Asgard.
I move my head again. Fuji drops. The bridge remains intact. Shadow and substance.
The backfire of a truck causes me to tremble. I am only just arrived and I feel I have been here too long. Fuji seems too distant and I too exposed. I must retreat.
Is there a lesson in this or only a farewell?
A lesson, for the soul of the conflict hangs before my eyes: I will not be dragged across Nietzsche’s bridge.
Come, Hokusai, ukiyo-e Ghost of Christmas Past, show me another scene.
Misted, mystic Fuji over water. Air that comes clean to my nostrils. There is even a fisherman almost where he should be, his pose less dramatic than the original, his garments more modern, above the infinite Fourier series of waves advancing upon the shore.
On my way to this point I visited a small chapel surrounded by a stone wall. It was dedicated to Kwannon, goddess of compassion and mercy, comforter in times of danger and sorrow. I entered. I loved her when I was a girl, until I learned that she was really a man. Then I felt cheated, almost betrayed. She was Kwan Yin in China, and just as merciful, but she came there from India, where she had been a bodhisattva named Avalokitesvara, a man—“the Lord Who Looks Down with Compassion.” In Tibet he is Chen-re-zi—“He of the Compassionate Eyes”—who gets incarnated regularly as the Dalai Lama. I did not trust all of this fancy footwork on his/her part, and Kwannon lost something of her enchantment for me with this smattering of history and anthropology. Yet I entered. We revisit the mental landscape of childhood in times of trouble. I stayed for a time and the child within me danced for a moment, then fell still.
I watch the fisherman above those waves, smaller versions of Hokusai’s big one, which has always symbolized death for me. The little death’s rolling about him, the man hauls in a silver-sided catch. I recall a tale from the Arabian Nights, another of American Indian origin. I might also see Christian symbolism, or a Jungian archetype. But I remember that Ernest Hemingway told Bernard Berenson that the secret of his greatest book was that there was no symbolism. The sea was the sea, the old man an old man, the boy a boy, the marlin a marlin, and the sharks the same as other sharks. People empower these things themselves, groping beneath the surface, always looking for more. With me it is at least understandable. I spent my earliest years in Japan, my later childhood in the United States. There is a part of me which likes to see things through allusions and touched with mystery. And the American part never trusts anything and is always looking for the real story behind the front one.
As a whole, I would say that it is better not to trust, though lines of interpretation must be drawn at some point before the permutations of causes in which I indulge overflow my mind. I am so, nor will I abandon this quality of character which has served me well in the past. This does not invalidate Hemingway’s viewpoint any more than his does mine, for no one holds a monopoly on wisdom. In my present situation, however, I believe that mine has a higher survival potential, for I am not dealing only with things, but of something closer to the time-honored Powers and Principalities. I wish that it were not so and that an epigon were only an artifact akin to the ball lightning Tesla studied. But there is something behind it, surely as that yellow airplane had its pilot.
The fisherman sees me and waves. It is a peculiar feeling, this sudden commerce with a point of philosophical departure. I wave back with a feeling of pleasure.
I am surprised at the readiness with which I accept this emotion. I feel it has to do with the general state of my health. All of this fresh air and hiking seems to have strengthened me. My senses are sharper, my appetite better. I have lost some weight and gained some muscle. I have not required medication for several days.
I wonder. . . ?
Is this entirely a good thing? True, I must keep up my strength. I must be ready for many things. But too much strength . . . Could that be self-defeating in terms of my overall plan? A balance, perhaps I should seek a balance—
I laugh, for the first time since I do not remember when. It is ridiculous to dwell on life and death, sickness and health this way, like a character of Thomas Mann’s, when I am barely a quarter of the way into my journey. I will need all of my strength—and possibly more—along the way. Sooner or later the bill will be presented. If the timing is off, I must make my own suki. In the meantime, I resolve to enjoy what I have.
When I strike, it will be with my final exhalation. I know that. It is a phenomenon familiar to martial artists of many persuasions. I recall the story Eugen Herrigel told, of studying with the kyudo master, of drawing the bow and waiting, waiting till something signaled the release of the string. For two years he did this before his sensei gave him an arrow. I forget for how long it was after that that he repeated the act with the arrow. Then it all began to come together, the timeless moment of lightness would occur and the arrow would have to fly, would have to fly for the target. It was a long while before he realized that this moment would always occur at the end of an exhalation.
In art, so in life. It seems that many important things, from death to orgasm, occur at the moment of emptiness, at the point of the breath’s hesitation. Perhaps all of them are but reflections of death. This is a profound realization for one such as myself, for my strength must ultimately be drawn from my weakness. It is the control, the ability to find that special moment that troubles me most. But like walking, talking, or bearing a child, I trust that something within me knows where it lies. It is too late now to attempt to build it a bridge to my consciousness. I have made my small plans. I have placed them upon a shelf in the back of my mind. I should leave them and turn to other matters.
In the meantime I drink this moment with a deep draught of salty air, telling myself that the ocean is the ocean, the fisherman is a fisherman, and Fuji is only a mountain. Slowly then, I exhale it . . .
Fire in your guts, winter tracks above like strands of ancient hair. The print is somewhat more baleful than the reality this evening. That awful red tinge does not glow above me against a horde of wild clouds. Still, I am not unmoved. It is difficult, before the ancient powers of the Ring of Fire, not to stand with some trepidation, sliding back through geological eons to times of creation and destruction when new lands were formed. The great outpourings, the bomblike flash and dazzle, the dance of the lightnings like a crown . . .
I meditate on fire and change.
Last night I slept in the precincts of a small Shingon temple, among shrubs trimmed in the shapes of dragons, pagodas, ships, and umbrellas. There were a number of pilgrims of the more conventional sort present at the temple, and the priest performed a fire service—a goma–for us. The fires of Fuji remind me, as it reminded me of Fuji.
The priest, a young man, sat at the altar which held the fire basin. He intoned the prayer and built the fire and I watched, completely fascinated by the ritual, as he began to feed the fire with the hundred and eight sticks of wood. These, I have been told, represent the hundred and eight illusions of the soul. While I am not familiar with the full list, I felt it possible that I could come up with a couple of new ones. No matter. He chanted, ringing bells, striking gongs and drums. I glanced at the other henros. I saw total absorption upon all of their faces. All but one.
Another figure had joined us, entering with total silence, and he stood in the shadows off to my right. He was dressed all in black, and the wing of a wide, upturned collar masked the lower portion of his face. He was staring at me. When our eyes met, he looked away, focusing his gaze upon the fire. After several moments I did the same.
The priest added incense, leaves, oils. The fire sizzled and spit, the flames leaped, the shadows danced. I began to tremble. There was something familiar about the man. I could not place him, but I wanted a closer look.
I edged slowly to my right during the next ten minutes, as if angling for better views of the ceremony. Suddenly then, I turned and regarded the man again.
I caught him studying me once more, and again he looked away quickly. But the dance of the flames caught him full in the face with light this time, and the jerking of his head withdrew it from the shelter of his collar.
I was certain, in that instant’s viewing, that he was the man who had piloted the small yellow plane past me last week at Tamagawa. Though he wore no gold earring there was a shadow-filled indentation in the lobe of his left ear.
But it went beyond that. Having seen him full-face I was certain that I had seen him somewhere before, years ago. I have an unusually good memory for faces, but for some reason I could not place his within its prior context. He frightened me, though, and I felt there was good reason for it.
The ceremony continued until the final stick of wood was placed in the fire and the priest completed his liturgy as it burned and died down. He turned then, silhouetted by the light, and said that it was time for any who were ailing to rub the healing smoke upon themselves if they wished.
Two of the pilgrims moved forward. Slowly, another joined them. I glanced to my right once more. The man was gone, as silently as he had come. I cast my gaze all about the temple. He was nowhere in sight. I felt a touch upon my left shoulder.
Turning, I beheld the priest, who had just struck me lightly with the three-pronged brass ritual instrument which he had used in the ceremony.
“Come,” he said, “and take the smoke. You need healing of the left arm and shoulder, the left hip and foot.”
“How do you know this?” I asked him.
“It was given to me to see this tonight. Come.”
He indicated a place to the left of the altar and I moved to it, startled at his insight, for the places he had named had been growing progressively more numb though-out the day. I had refrained from taking my medicine, hoping that the attack would remit of its own accord.
He massaged me, rubbing the smoke from the dying fire into the places he had named, then instructing me to continue it on my own. I did so, and some on my head at the end, as is traditional.
I searched the grounds later, but my strange observer was nowhere to be found. I located a hiding place between the feet of a dragon and cast my bedroll there. My sleep was not disturbed.
I awoke before dawn to discover that full sensation had returned to all of my previously numbed areas. I was pleased that the attack had remitted without medication.
The rest of the day, as I journeyed here, to the foot of Fuji, I felt surprisingly well. Even now I am filled with unusual strength and energy, and it frightens me. What if the smoke of the fire ceremony has somehow effected a cure? I am afraid of what it could do to my plans, my resolve. I am not sure that I would know how to deal with it.
Thus, Fuji, Lord of the Hidden Fire, I have come, fit and afraid. I will camp near here tonight. In the morning I will move on. Your presence overwhelms me at this range. I will withdraw for a different, more distant perspective. If I were ever to climb you, would I cast one hundred and eight sticks into your holy furnace, I wonder? I think not. There are some illusions I do not wish to destroy.
I came out in a boat to look back upon the beach, the slopes, and Fuji. I am still in glowing remission. I have resigned myself to it, for now. In the meantime, the day is bright, the sea breeze cool. The boat is rocked by the small deaths, as the fisherman and his sons whom I have paid to bring me out steer it at my request to provide me with the view most approximating that of the print. So much of the domestic architecture in this land recommends to my eye the prows of ships. A convergence of cultural evolution where the message is the medium? The sea is life? Drawing sustenance from beneath the waves we are always at sea? Or, the sea is death, it may rise to blight our lands and claim our lives at any moment? Therefore, we bear this memento mori even in the roofs above our heads and the walls which sustain them? Or, this is the sign of our power, over life and death?
Or none of the above. It may seem that I harbor a strong death-wish. This is incorrect. My desires are just the opposite. It may indeed be that I am using Hokusai’s prints as a kind of Rorschach for self-discovery, but it is death-fascination rather than death-wish that informs my mind. I believe that this is understandable in one suffering a terminal condition with a very short term to it.
Enough of that for now. It was meant only as a drawing of my blade to examine its edge for keenness. I find that my weapon is still in order and I resheathe it.
Blue-gray Fuji, salted with snow, long angle of repose to my left . . . I never seem to look upon the same mountain twice. You change as much as I myself, yet you remain what you are. Which means that there is hope for me.
I lower my eyes to where we share this quality with the sea, vast living data-net. Like yet unlike, you have fought that sea as I—
Birds. Let me listen and watch them for a time, the air-riders who dip and feed.
I watch the men work with the nets. It is relaxing to behold their nimble movements. After a time, I doze.
Sleeping, I dream, and dreaming I behold the god Kokuzo. It can be no other, for when he draws his blade which flashes like the sun and points it at me, he speaks his name. He repeats it over and over as I tremble before him, but something is wrong. I know that he is telling me something other than his identity. I reach for but cannot grasp the meaning. Then he moves the point of his blade, indicating something beyond me. I turn my head. I behold the man in black—the pilot, the watcher at the goma. He is studying me, just as he was that night. What does he seek in my face?
I am awakened by a violent rocking of the boat as we strike a rougher sea. I catch hold of the gunwale beside which I sit. A quick survey of my surroundings shows me that we are in no danger, and I turn my eyes to Fuji. Is he laughing at me? Or is it the chuckle of Hokusai, who squats on his hams beside me tracing naughty pictures in the moisture of the boat’s bottom with a long, withered finger?
If a mystery cannot be solved, it must be saved. Later, then. I will return to the message when my mind has moved into a new position.
Soon, another load of fish is being hauled aboard to add to the pungency of this voyage. Wriggle howsoever they will they do not escape the net. I think of Kendra and wonder how she is holding up. I hope that her anger with me has abated. I trust that she has not escaped her imprisonment. I left her in the care of acquaintances at a primitive, isolated commune in the Southwest. I do not like the place, nor am I overfond of its residents. Yet they owe me several large favors—intentionally bestowed against these times—and they will keep her there until certain things come to pass. I see her delicate features, fawn eyes, and silken hair. A bright, graceful girl, used to some luxuries, fond of long soaks and frequent showers, crisp garments. She is probably mud-spattered or dusty at the moment, from slopping hogs, weeding, planting vegetables or harvesting them, or any of a number of basic chores. Perhaps it will be good for her character. She ought to get something from the experience other than preservation from a possibly terrible fate.
Time passes. I take my lunch.
Later, I muse upon Fuji, Kokuzo, and my fears. Are dreams but the tranced mind’s theater of fears and desires, or do they sometimes truly reflect unconsidered aspects of reality, perhaps to give warning? To reflect . . . It is said that the perfect mind reflects. The shintai in its ark in its shrine is the thing truly sacred to the god—a small mirror– not the images. The sea reflects the sky, in fullness of cloud or blue emptiness. Hamlet-like, one can work many interpretations of the odd, but only one should have a clear outline. I hold the dream in my mind once more, absent all querying. Something is moving . . .
No. I almost had it. But I reached too soon. My mirror is shattered.
Staring shoreward, the matter of synchronicity occurs. There is a new grouping of people. I withdraw my small spy-scope and take its measure, already knowing what I will regard.
Again, he wears black. He is speaking with two men upon the beach. One of the men gestures out across the water, toward us. The distance is too great to make out features clearly, but I know that it is the same man. But now it is not fear that I know. A slow anger begins to burn within my hara. I would return to shore and confront him. He is only one man. I will deal with him now. I cannot afford any more of the unknown than that for which I have already provided. He must be met properly, dismissed or accounted for.
I call to the captain to take me ashore immediately.
He grumbles. The fishing is good, the day still young. I offer him more money. Reluctantly, he agrees. He calls orders to his sons to put the boat about and head in.
I stand in the bow. Let him have a good look. I send my anger on ahead. The sword is as sacred an object as the mirror.
As Fuji grows before me the man glances in our direction, hands something to the others, then turns and ambles away. No! There is no way to hasten our progress, and at this rate he will be gone before I reach land. I curse. I want immediate satisfaction, not extension of mystery.
And the men with whom he was speaking . . . Their hands go to their pockets, they laugh, then walk off in another direction. Drifters. Did he pay them for whatever information they gave him? So it would seem. And are they heading now for some tavern to drink up the price of my peace of mind? I call out after them but the wind whips my words away. They, too, will be gone by the time I arrive.
And this is true. When I finally stand upon the beach, the only familiar face is that of my mountain, gleaming like a carbuncle in sun’s slanting rays.
I dig my nails into my palms but my arms do not become wings.
I am fond of this print: the torii of a Shinto shrine are visible above the sea at low tide, and people dig clams amid the sunken ruins. Fuji of course is visible through the torii. Were it a Christian church beneath the waves puns involving the Clam of God would be running through my mind. Geography saves, however.
And reality differs entirely. I cannot locate the place.
I am in the area and Fuji properly situated, but the torii must be long gone and I have no way of knowing whether there is a sunken temple out there.
I am seated on a hillside looking across the water and I am suddenly not just tired but exhausted. I have come far and fast these past several days, and it seems that my exertions have all caught up with me. I will sit here and watch the sea and the sky. At least my shadow, the man in black, has been nowhere visible since the beach at Tagonoura. A young cat chases a moth at the foot of my hill, leaping into the air, white-gloved paws flashing. The moth gains altitude, escapes in a gust of wind. The cat sits for several moments, big eyes staring after it.
I make my way to a declivity I had spotted earlier, where I might be free of the wind. There I lay my pack and cast my bedroll, my poncho beneath it. After removing my shoes I get inside quickly. I seem to have taken a bit of a chill and my limbs are very heavy. I would have been willing to pay to sleep indoors tonight but I am too tired to seek shelter.
I lie here and watch the lights come on in the darkening sky. As usual in cases of extreme fatigue, sleep does not come to me easily. Is this legitimate tiredness or a symptom of something else? I do not wish to take medication merely as a precaution, though, so I try thinking of nothing for a time. This does not work. I am overcome with the desire for a cup of hot tea. In its absence I swallow a jigger of brandy, which warms my insides for a time.
Still, sleep eludes me and I decide to tell myself a story as I did when I was very young and wanted to make the world turn into dream.
So . . . Upon a time during the troubles following the death of the Retired Emperor Sutoku a number of itinerant monks of various persuasions came this way, having met upon the road, traveling to seek respite from the wars, earthquakes, and whirlwinds which so disturbed the land. They hoped to found a religious community and pursue the meditative life in quiet and tranquillity. They came upon what appeared to be a deserted Shinto shrine near the seaside, and there they camped for the night, wondering what plague or misfortune might have carried off its attendants. The place was in good repair and no evidence of violence was to be seen. They discussed then the possibility of making this their retreat, of themselves becoming the shrine’s attendants. They grew enthusiastic with the idea and spent much of the night talking over these plans. In the morning, however, an ancient priest appeared from within the shrine, as if to commence a day’s duties. The monks asked him the story of the place, and he informed them that once there had been others to assist him in his duties but that they had long ago been taken by the sea during a storm, while about their peculiar devotions one night upon the shore. And no, it was not really a Shinto shrine, though in outward appearance it seemed such. It was actually the temple of a far older religion of which he could well be the last devotee. They were welcome, however, to join him here and learn of it if they so wished. The monks discussed it quickly among themselves and decided that since it was a pleasant-seeming place, it might be well to stay and hear whatever teaching the old man possessed. So they became residents at the strange shrine. The place troubled several of them considerably at first, for at night they seemed to hear the calling of musical voices in the waves and upon the sea wind. And on occasion it seemed as if they could hear the old priest’s voice responding to these calls. One night one of them followed the sounds and saw the old man standing upon the beach, his arms upraised. The monk hid himself and later fell asleep in a crevice in the rocks. When he awoke, a full moon stood high in the heavens and the old man was gone. The monk went down to the place where he had stood and there saw many marks in the sand, all of them the prints of webbed feet. Shaken, the monk returned and recited his experience to his fellows. They spent weeks thereafter trying to catch a glimpse of the old man’s feet, which were always wrapped and bound. They did not succeed, but after a time it seemed to matter less and less. His teachings influenced them slowly but steadily. They began to assist him in his rituals to the Old Ones, and they learned the name of this promontory and its shrine. It was the last above-sea remnant of a large sunken island, which he assured them rose on certain wondrous occasions to reveal a lost city inhabited by the servants of his masters. The name of the place was R’lyeh and they would be happy to go there one day. By then it seemed a good idea, for they had noticed a certain thickening and extension of the skin between their fingers and toes, the digits themselves becoming sturdier and more elongated. By then, too, they were participating in all of the rites, which grew progressively abominable. At length, after a particularly gory ritual, the old priest’s promise was fulfilled in reverse. Instead of the island rising, the promontory sank to join it, bearing the shrine and all of the monks along with it. So their abominations are primarily aquatic now. But once every century or so the whole island does indeed rise up for a night, and troops of them make their way ashore seeking victims. And of course, tonight is the night. . . .
A delicious feeling of drowsiness has finally come over me with this telling, based upon some of my favorite bedtime stories. My eyes are closed. I float on a cotton-filled raft . . . I—
A sound! Above me! Toward the sea. Something moving my way. Slowly, then quickly.
Adrenaline sends a circuit of fire through my limbs. I extend my hand carefully, quietly, and take hold of my staff.
Waiting. Why now, when I am weakened? Must danger always approach at the worst moment?
There is a thump as it strikes the ground beside me, and I let out the breath I have been holding.
It is the cat, little more than a kitten, which I had observed earlier. Purring, it approaches. I reach out and stroke it. It rubs against me. After a time I take it into the bag. It curls up at my side, still purring, warm. It is good to have something that trusts you and wants to be near you. I call the cat R’lyeh. Just for one night.
I took the bus back this way. I was too tired to hike. I have taken my medicine as I probably should have been doing all along. Still, it could be several days before it brings me some relief, and this frightens me. I cannot really afford such a condition. I am not certain what I will do, save that I must go on.
The print is deceptive, for a part of its force lies in the effects of a heavy wind. Its skies are gray, Fuji is dim in the background, the people on the road and the two trees beside it all suffer from the wind’s buffeting. The trees bend, the people clutch at their garments, there is a hat high in the air and some poor scribe or author has had his manuscript snatched skyward to flee from him across the land (reminding me of an old cartoon—Editor to Author: “A funny thing happened to your manuscript during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade”). The scene which confronts me is less active at a meteorological level. The sky is indeed overcast but there is no wind, Fuji is darker, more clearly delineated than in the print, there are no struggling pedestrians in sight. There are many more trees near at hand. I stand near a small grove, in fact. There are some structures in the distance which are not present in the picture.
I lean heavily upon my staff. Live a little, die a little. I have reached my tenth station and I still do not know whether Fuji is giving me strength or taking it from me. Both, perhaps.
I head off into the wood, my face touched by a few raindrops as I go. There are no signs posted and no one seems to be about. I work my way back from the road, coming at last to a small clear area containing a few rocks and boulders. It will do as a campsite. I want nothing more than to spend the day resting.
I soon have a small fire going, my tiny teapot poised on rocks above it. A distant roll of thunder adds variety to my discomfort, but so far the rain has held off. The ground is damp, however. I spread my poncho and sit upon it while I wait. I hone a knife and put it away. I eat some biscuits and study a map. I suppose I should feel some satisfaction, in that things are proceeding somewhat as I intended. I wish that I could, but I do not.
An unspecified insect which has been making buzzing noises somewhere behind me ceases its buzzing. I hear a twig snap a moment later. My hand snakes out to fall upon my staff.
“Don’t,” says a voice at my back.
I turn my head. He is standing eight or ten feet from me, the man in black, earring in place, his right hand in his jacket pocket. And it looks as if there is more than his hand in there, pointed at me.
I remove my hand from my staff and he advances. With the side of his foot he sends the staff partway across the clearing, out of my reach. Then he removes his hand from his pocket, leaving behind whatever it held. He circles slowly to the other side of the fire, staring at me the while.
He seats himself upon a boulder, lets his hands rest upon his knees.
“Mari?” he asks then.
I do not respond to my name, but stare back. The light of Kokuzo’s dream-sword flashes in my mind, pointing at him, and I hear the god speaking his name only not quite.
“Kotuzov!” I say then.
The man in black smiles, showing that the teeth I had broken once long ago are now neatly capped.
“I was not so certain of you at first either,” he says.
Plastic surgery has removed at least a decade from his face, along with a lot of weathering and several scars. He is different about the eyes and cheeks, also. And his nose is smaller. It is a considerable improvement over the last time we met.
“Your water is boiling,” he says then. “Are you going to offer me a cup of tea?”
“Of course,” I reply, reaching for my pack, where I keep an extra cup.
I locate the cup, I rinse them both lightly with hot water, I prepare the tea.
“No, don’t pass it to me,” he says, and he reaches forward and takes the cup from where I had filled it.
I suppress a desire to smile.
“Would you have a lump of sugar?” he asks.
He sighs and reaches into his other pocket, from which he withdraws a small flask.
“Vodka? In tea?”
“Don’t be silly. My tastes have changed. It’s Wild Turkey liqueur, a wonderful sweetener. Would you care for some?”
“Let me smell it.”
There is a certain sweetness to the aroma.
“All right,” I say, and he laces our tea with it.
We taste the tea. Not bad.
“How long has it been?” he asks.
“Fourteen years—almost fifteen,” I tell him. “Back in the eighties.”
He rubs his jaw. “I’d heard you’d retired.”
“You heard right. It was about a year after our last encounter.”
“Turkey—yes. You married a man from your Code Section.”
“You were widowed three or four years later. Daughter born after your husband’s death. Returned to the States. Settled in the country. That’s all I know.”
“That’s all there is.”
He takes another drink of tea.
“Why did you come back here?”
“Personal reasons. Partly sentimental.”
“Under a false identity?”
“Yes. It involves my husband’s family. I don’t want them to know I’m here.”
“Interesting. You mean that they would watch arrivals as closely as we have?”
“I didn’t know you watched arrivals here.”
“Right now we do.”
“You’ve lost me. I don’t know what’s going on.”
There is another roll of thunder. A few more drops spatter about us.
“I would like to believe that you are really retired,” he says. “I’m getting near that point myself, you know.”
“I have no reason to be back in business. I inherited a decent amount, enough to take care of me and my daughter.”
“If I had such an inducement I would not be in the field,” he says. “I would rather sit home and read, play chess, eat and drink regularly. But you must admit it is quite a coincidence your being here when the future success of several nations is being decided.”
I shake my head.
“I’ve been out of touch with a lot of things.”
“The Osaka Oil Conference. It begins two weeks from Wednesday. You were planning perhaps to visit Osaka at about that time?”
“I will not be going to Osaka.”
“A courier then. Someone from there will meet you, a simple tourist, at some point in your travels, to convey—”
“My God! Do you think everything’s a conspiracy, Boris? I am just taking care of some personal problems and visiting some places that mean something to me. The conference doesn’t.”
“All right.” He finishes his tea and puts the cup aside. “You know that we know you are here. A word to the Japanese authorities that you are traveling under false papers and they will kick you out. That would be simplest. No real harm done and one agent nullified. Only it would be a shame to spoil your trip if you are indeed only a tourist. . . .”
A rotten thought passes through my mind as I see where this is leading, and I know that my thought is far rottener than his. It is something I learned from a strange old woman I once worked with who did not look like an old woman.
I finish my tea and raise my eyes. He is smiling.
“I will make us some more tea,” I say.
I see that the top button of my shirt comes undone while I am bent partly away from him. Then I lean forward with his cup and take a deep breath.
“You would consider not reporting me to the authorities?”
“I might,” he says. “I think your story is probably true. And even if it is not, you would not take the risk of transporting anything now that I know about you.”
“I really want to finish this trip,” I say, blinking a few extra times. “I would do anything not to be sent back now.”
He takes hold of my hand.
“I am glad you said that, Maryushka,” he replies. “I am lonely, and you are still a fine-looking woman.”
“You think so?”
“I always thought so, even that day you bashed in my teeth.”
“Sorry about that. It was strictly business, you know.”
His hand moves to my shoulder.
“Of course. They looked better when they were fixed than they had before, anyway.”
He moves over and sits beside me.
“I have dreamed of doing this many times,” he tells me, as he unfastens the rest of the buttons on my shirt and unbuckles my belt.
He rubs my belly softly. It is not an unpleasant feeling. It has been a long time.
Soon we are fully undressed. He takes his time, and when he is ready I welcome him between my legs. All right, Boris. I give the ride, you take the fall. I could almost feel a little guilty about it. You are gentler than I’d thought you would be. I commence the proper breathing pattern, deep and slow. I focus my attention on my hara and his, only inches away. I feel our energies, dreamlike and warm, moving. Soon, I direct their flow. He feels it only as pleasure, perhaps more draining than usual. When he has done, though . . .
“You said you had some problem?” he inquires in that masculine coital magnanimity generally forgotten a few minutes afterward. “If it is something I could help you with, I have a few days off, here and there. I like you, Maryushka.”
“It’s something I have to do myself. Thanks anyway.”
I continue the process.
Later, as I dress myself, he lies there looking up at me.
“I must be getting old, Maryushka,” he reflects. “You have tired me. I feel I could sleep for a week.”
“That sounds about right,” I say. “A week and you should be feeling fine again.”
“I do not understand . . .”
“You’ve been working too hard, I’m sure. That conference . . .”
“You are probably right. You are not really involved . . . ?”
“I am really not involved.”
I clean the pot and my cups. I restore them to my pack.
“Would you be so kind as to move, Boris dear? I’ll be needing the poncho very soon, I think.”
He rises slowly and passes it to me. He begins dressing. His breathing is heavy.
“Where are you going from here?”
“Mishima-goe,” I say, “for another view of my mountain.”
He shakes his head. He finishes dressing and seats himself on the ground, his back against a treetrunk. He finds his flask and takes a swallow. He extends it then.
“Would you care for some?”
“Thank you, no. I must be on my way.”
I retrieve my staff. When I look at him again, he smiles faintly, ruefully.
“You take a lot out of a man, Maryushka.”
“I had to,” I say.
I move off. I will hike twenty miles today, I am certain. The rain begins to descend before I am out of the grove; leaves rustle like the wings of bats.
Sunlight. Clean air. The print shows a big cryptameria tree, Fuji looming behind it, crowned with smoke. There is no smoke today, but I have located a big cryptameria and positioned myself so that it cuts Fuji’s shoulder to the left of the cone. There are a few clouds, not so popcorny as Hokusai’s smoke (he shrugs at this), and they will have to do.
My stolen ki still sustains me, though the medication is working now beneath it. Like a transplanted organ, my body will soon reject the borrowed energy. By then, though, the drugs should be covering for me.
In the meantime, the scene and the print are close to each other. It is a lovely spring day. Birds are singing, butterflies stitch the air in zigzag patterns; I can almost hear the growth of plants beneath the soil. The world smells fresh and new. I am no longer being followed. Hello to life again.
I regard the huge old tree and listen for its echoes down the ages: Yggdrasil, the Golden Bough, the Yule tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Bo beneath which Lord Gautama found his soul and lost it. . . .
I move forward to run my hand along its rough bark.
From that position I am suddenly given a new view of the valley below. The fields look like raked sand, the hills like rocks, Fuji a boulder. It is a garden, perfectly laid out. . . .
Later I notice that the sun has moved. I have been standing here for hours. My small illumination beneath a great tree. Older than my humanity, I do not know what I can do for it in return.
Stooping suddenly, I pick up one of its cones. A tiny thing, for such a giant. It is barely the size of my little fingernail. Delicately incised, as if sculpted by fairies.
I put it in my pocket. I will plant it somewhere along my way.
I retreat then, for I hear the sound of approaching bells and I am not yet ready for humanity to break my mood. But there was a small inn down the road which does not look to be part of a chain. I will bathe and eat there and sleep in a bed tonight.
I will still be strong tomorrow.
This is one of my favorite prints in the series: Fuji as seen from across the lake and reflected within it. There are green hills at either hand, a small village upon the far shore, a single small boat in sight upon the water. The most fascinating feature of the print is that the reflection of Fuji is not the same as the original; its position is wrong, its slope is wrong, it is snow-capped and the surface view of Fuji itself is not.
I sit in the small boat I have rented, looking back. The sky is slightly hazy, which is good. No glare to spoil the reflection. The town is no longer as quaint as in the print, and it has grown. But I am not concerned with details of this sort. Fuji is reflected more perfectly in my viewing, but the doubling is still a fascinating phenomenon for me.
Interesting, too . . . In the print the village is not reflected, nor is there an image of the boat in the water. The only reflection is Fuji’s. There is no sign of humanity.
I see the reflected buildings near the water’s edge. And my mind is stirred by other images than those Hokusai would have known. Of course drowned R’lyeh occurs to me, but the place and the day are too idyllic. It fades from mind almost immediately, to be replaced by sunken Ys, whose bells still toll the hours beneath the sea. And Selma Lagerloffs Nils Holgersson, the tale of the shipwrecked sailor who finds himself in a sunken city at the bottom of the sea—a place drowned to punish its greedy, arrogant inhabitants, who still go about their business of cheating each other, though they are all of them dead. They wear rich, old-fashioned clothes and conduct their business as they once did above in this strange land beneath the waves. The sailor is drawn to them, but he knows that he must not be discovered or he will be turned into one of them, never to return to the earth, to see the sun. I suppose I think of this old children’s story because I understand now how the sailor must have felt. My discovery, too, could result in a transformation I do not desire.
And of course, as I lean forward and view my own features mirrored in the water, there is the world of Lewis Carroll beneath its looking-glass surface. To be an Ama diving girl and descend . . . To spin downward, and for a few minutes to know the inhabitants of a land of paradox and great charm . . .
Mirror, mirror, why does the real world so seldom cooperate with our aesthetic enthusiasms?
Halfway finished. I reach the midpoint of my pilgrimage to confront myself in a lake. It is a good time and place to look upon my own countenance, to reflect upon all of the things which have brought me here, to consider what the rest of the journey may hold. Though images may sometimes lie. The woman who looks back at me seems composed, strong, and better-looking than I had thought she would. I like you, Kawaguchi, lake with a human personality. I flatter you with literary compliments and you return the favor.
Meeting Boris lifted a burden of fear from my mind. No human agents of my nemesis have risen to trouble my passage. So the odds have not yet tipped so enormously against me as they might.
Fuji and image. Mountain and soul. Would an evil thing cast no reflection down here—some dark mountain where terrible deeds were performed throughout history? I am reminded that Kit no longer casts a shadow, has no reflection.
Is he truly evil, though? By my lights he is. Especially if he is doing the things I think he is doing.
He said that he loved me, and I did love him, once. What will he say to me when we meet again, as meet we must?
It will not matter. Say what he will, I am going to try to kill him. He believes that he is invincible, indestructible. I do not, though I do believe that I am the only person on earth capable of destroying him. It took a long time for me to figure the means, an even longer time before the decision to try it was made for me. I must do it for Kendra as well as for myself. The rest of the world’s population comes third.
I let my fingers trail in the water. Softly, I begin to sing an old song, a love song. I am loath to leave this place. Will the second half of my journey be a mirror-image of the first? Or will I move beyond the looking-glass, to pass into that strange realm where he makes his home?
I planted the cryptameria’s seed in a lonesome valley yesterday afternoon. Such a tree will look elegant there one day, outliving nations and armies, madmen and sages.
I wonder where R’lyeh is? She ran off in the morning after breakfast, perhaps to pursue a butterfly. Not that I could have brought her with me.
I hope that Kendra is well. I have written her a long letter explaining many things. I left it in the care of an attorney friend, who will be sending it to her one day in the not too distant future.
The prints of Hokusai . . . They could outlast the cryptameria. I will not be remembered for any works.
Drifting between the worlds I formulate our encounter for the thousandth time. He will have to be able to duplicate an old trick to get what he wants. I will have to perform an even older one to see that he doesn’t get it. We are both out of practice.
It has been long since I read The Anatomy of Melancholy. It is not the sort of thing I’ve sought to divert me in recent years. But I recall a line or two as I see fish dart by: “Polycrates Samius, that flung his ring into the sea, because he would participate in the discontent of others, and had it miraculously restored to him again shortly after, by a fish taken as he angled, was not free from melancholy dispositions. No man can cure himself . . .” Kit threw away his life and gained it. I kept mine and lost it. Are rings ever really returned to the proper people? And what about a woman curing herself? The cure I seek is a very special one.
Hokusai, you have shown me many things. Can you show me an answer?
Slowly, the old man raises his arm and points to his mountain. Then he lowers it and points to the mountain’s image.
I shake my head. It is an answer that is no answer. He shakes his head back at me and points again.
The clouds are massing high above Fuji, but that is no answer. I study them for a long while but can trace no interesting images within.
Then I drop my eyes. Below me, inverted, they take a different form. It is as if they depict the clash of two armed hosts. I watch in fascination as they flow together, the forces from my right gradually rolling over and submerging those to my left. Yet in so doing, those from my right are diminished.
Conflict? That is the message? And both sides lose things they do not wish to lose? Tell me something I do not already know, old man.
He continues to stare. I follow his gaze again, upward. Now I see a dragon, diving into Fuji’s cone.
I look below once again. No armies remain, only carnage; and here the dragon’s tail becomes a dying warrior’s arm holding a sword.
I close my eyes and reach for it. A sword of smoke for a man of fire.
Snow, on the roofs of houses, on evergreens, on Fuji—just beginning to melt in places, it seems. A windowful of women—geishas, I would say—looking out at it, one of them pointing at three dark birds high in the pale sky. My closest view of Fuji to that in the print is unfortunately snowless, geishaless, and sunny.
Details . . .
Both are interesting, and superimposition is one of the major forces of aesthetics. I cannot help but think of the hot-spring geisha Komako in Snow Country–Yasunari Kawabata’s novel of loneliness and wasted, fading beauty—which I have always felt to be the great anti-love story of Japan. This print brings the entire tale to mind for me. The denial of love. Kit was no Shimamura, for he did want me, but only on his own highly specialized terms, terms that must remain unacceptable to me. Selfishness or selflessness? It is not important . . .
And the birds at which the geisha points. . . ? “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird?” To the point. We could never agree on values.
The Two Corbies? And throw in Ted Hughes’s pugnacious Crow? Perhaps so, but I won’t draw straws. An illusion for every allusion, and where’s yesterday’s snow?
I lean upon my staff and study my mountain. I wish to make it to as many of my stations as possible before ordering the confrontation. Is that not fair? Twenty-four ways of looking at Mt. Fuji. It struck me that it would be good to take one thing in life and regard it from many viewpoints, as a focus for my being, and perhaps as a penance for alternatives missed.
Kit, I am coming, as you once asked of me, but by my own route and for my own reasons. I wish that I did not have to, but you have deprived me of a real choice in this matter. Therefore, my action is not truly my own, but yours. I am become then your own hand turned against you, representative of a kind of cosmic aikido.
I make my way through town after dark, choosing only dark streets where the businesses are shut down. That way I am safe. When I must enter town I always find a protected spot for the day and do my traveling on these streets at night.
I find a small restaurant on the corner of such a one and I take my dinner there. It is a noisy place but the food is good. I also take my medicine, and a little sake.
Afterward, I indulge in the luxury of walking rather than take a taxi. I’ve a long way to go, but the night is clear and star-filled and the air is pleasant.
I walk for the better part of ten minutes, listening to the sounds of traffic, music from some distant radio or tape deck, a cry from another street, the wind passing high above me and rubbing its rough fur upon the sides of buildings.
Then I feel a sudden ionization in the air.
Nothing ahead. I turn, spinning my staff into a guard position.
An epigon with a six-legged canine body and a head like a giant fiery flower emerges from a doorway and sidles along the building’s front in my direction.
I follow its progress with my staff, feinting as soon as it is near enough. I strike, unfortunately with the wrong tip, as it comes on. My hair begins to rise as I spin out of its way, cutting, retreating, turning, then striking again. This time the metal tip passes into that floral head.
I had turned on the batteries before I commenced my attack. The charge creates an imbalance. The epigon retreats, head ballooning. I follow and strike again, this time mid-body. It swells even larger, then collapses in a shower of sparks. But I am already turning away and striking again, for I had become aware of the approach of another even as I was dealing with the first.
This one advances in kangaroolike bounds. I brush it by with my staff, but its long bulbous tail strikes me as it passes. I recoil involuntarily from the shock I receive, my reflexes spinning the staff before me as I retreat. It turns quickly and rears then. This one is a quadruped, and its raised forelimbs are fountains of fire. Its faceful of eyes blazes and hurts to look upon.
It drops back onto its haunches then springs again.
I roll beneath it and attack as it descends. But I miss, and it turns to attack again even as I continue thrusting. It springs and I turn aside, striking upward. It seems that I connect, but I cannot be certain.
It lands quite near me, raising its forelimbs. But this time it does not spring. It simply falls forward, hind feet making a rapid shuffling movement the while, the legs seeming to adjust their lengths to accommodate a more perfect flow.
As it comes on, I catch it square in the midsection with the proper end of my staff. It keeps coming, or falling, even as it flares and begins to disintegrate. Its touch stiffens me for a moment, and I feel the flow of its charge down my shoulder and across my breast. I watch it come apart in a final photoflash instant and be gone.
I turn quickly again but there is no third emerging from the doorway. None overhead either. There is a car coming up the street, slowing, however. No matter. The terminal’s potential must be exhausted for the moment, though I am puzzled by the consideration of how long it must have been building to produce the two I just dispatched. It is best that I be away quickly now.
As I resume my progress, though, a voice calls to me from the car, which has now drawn up beside me:
“Madam, a moment please.”
It is a police car, and the young man who has addressed me wears a uniform and a very strange expression.
“Yes, officer?” I reply.
“I saw you just a few moments ago,” he says. “What were you doing?”
“It is such a fine evening,” I say then, “and the street was deserted. I thought I would do a kata with my bo.”
“I thought at first that something was attacking you, that I saw something . . .”
“I am alone,” I say, “as you can see.”
He opens the door and climbs out. He flicks on a flashlight and shines its beam across the sidewalk, into the doorway.
“Were you setting off fireworks?”
“There were some sparkles and flashes.”
“You must be mistaken.”
He sniffs the air. He inspects the sidewalk very closely, then the gutter.
“Strange,” he says. “Have you far to go?”
“Not too far.”
“Have a good evening.”
He gets back into the car. Moments later it is headed up the street.
I continue quickly on my way. I wish to be out of the vicinity before another charge can be built. I also wish to be out of the vicinity simply because being here makes me uneasy.
I am puzzled at the ease with which I was located. What did I do wrong?
“My prints,” Hokusai seems to say, after I have reached my destination and drunk too much brandy. “Think, daughter, or they will trap you.”
I try, but Fuji is crushing my head, squeezing off thoughts. Epigons dance on his slopes. I pass into a fitful slumber.
In tomorrow’s light perhaps I shall see . . .
Again, the print is not the reality for me. It shows peasants amid a rustic village, terraced hillsides, a lone tree jutting from the slope of the hill to the right, a snowcapped Fuji partly eclipsed by the base of the rise.
I could not locate anything approximating it, though I do have a partly blocked view of Fuji—blocked in a similar manner, by a slope—from this bench I occupy in a small park. It will do.
Partly blocked, like my thinking. There is something I should be seeing but it is hidden from me. I felt it the moment the epigons appeared, like the devils sent to claim Faust’s soul. But I never made a pact with the Devil . . . just Kit, and it was called marriage. I had no way of knowing how similar it would be.
Now . . . What puzzles me most is how my location was determined despite my precautions. My head-on encounter must be on my terms, not anyone else’s. The reason for this transcends the personal, though I will not deny the involvement of the latter.
In Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo advised that the Way of the Samurai is the Way of Death, that one must live as though one’s body were already dead in order to gain full freedom. For me, this attitude is not so difficult to maintain. The freedom part is more complicated, however; when one no longer understands the full nature of the enemy, one’s actions are at least partly conditioned by uncertainty.
My occulted Fuji is still there in his entirety, I know, despite my lack of full visual data. By the same token I ought to be able to extend the lines I have seen thus far with respect to the power which now devils me. Let us return to death. There seems to be something there, though it also seems that there is only so much you can say about it and I already have.
Death . . . Come gentle . . . We used to play a parlor game, filling in bizarre causes on imaginary death certificates: “Eaten by the Loch Ness monster.” “Stepped on by Godzilla.” “Poisoned by a ninja.” “Translated.”
Kit had stared at me, brow knitting, when I’d offered that last one.
“What do you mean ‘translated’?” he asked.
“Okay, you can get me on a technicality,” I said, “but I still think the effect would be the same. ‘Enoch was translated that he should not see death’—Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews, 11:5.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It means to convey directly to heaven without messing around with the customary termination here on earth. Some Moslems believe that the Mahdi was translated.”
“An interesting concept,” he said. “I’ll have to think about it.”
Obviously, he did.
I’ve always thought that Kurosawa could have done a hell of a job with Don Quixote. Say there is this old gentleman living in modern times, a scholar, a man who is fascinated by the early days of the samurai and the Code of Bushido. Say that he identifies so strongly with these ideals that one day he loses his senses and comes to believe that he is an old-time samurai. He dons some ill-fitting armor he had collected, takes up his katana, goes forth to change the world. Ultimately, he is destroyed by it, but he holds to the Code. That quality of dedication sets him apart and ennobles him, for all of his ludicrousness. I have never felt that Don Quixote was merely a parody of chivalry, especially not after I’d learned that Cervantes had served under Don John of Austria at the battle of Lepanto. For it might be argued that Don John was the last European to be guided by the medieval code of chivalry. Brought up on medieval romances, he had conducted his life along these lines. What did it matter if the medieval knights themselves had not? He believed and he acted on his belief. In anyone else it might simply have been amusing, save that time and circumstance granted him the opportunity to act on several large occasions, and he won. Cervantes could not but have been impressed by his old commander, and who knows how this might have influenced his later literary endeavor? Ortega y Gasset referred to Quixote as a Gothic Christ. Dostoevsky felt the same way about him, and in his attempt to portray a Christ—figure in Prince Myshkin he, too, felt that madness was a necessary precondition for this state in modern times.
All of which is preamble to stating my belief that Kit was at least partly mad. But he was no Gothic Christ. An Electronic Buddha would be much closer.
“Does the data-net have the Buddha-nature?” he asked me one day.
“Sure,” I said. “Doesn’t everything?” Then I saw the look in his eyes and added, “How the hell should I know?”
He grunted then and reclined his resonance couch, lowered the induction helmet, and continued his computer-augmented analysis of a Lucifer cipher with a 128-bit key. Theoretically, it would take thousands of years to crack it by brute force, but the answer was needed within two weeks. His nervous system coupled with the data-net, he was able to deliver.
I did not notice his breathing patterns for some time. It was not until later that I came to realize that after he had finished his work, he would meditate for increasingly long periods of time while still joined with the system.
When I realized this, I chided him for being too lazy to turn the thing off.
“The flow,” he said. “You do not fixate at one point. You go with the flow.”
“You could throw the switch before you go with the flow and cut down on our electric bill.”
He shook his head, still smiling.
“But it is that particular flow that I am going with. I am getting farther and farther into it. You should try it sometime. There have been moments when I felt I could translate myself into it.”
“Linguistically or theologically?”
“Both,” he replied.
And one night he did indeed go with the flow. I found him in the morning—sleeping, I thought—in his resonance couch, the helmet still in place. This time, at least, he had shut down our terminal. I let him rest. I had no idea how late he might have been working. By evening, though, I was beginning to grow concerned and I tried to rouse him. I could not. He was in a coma.
Later, in the hospital, he showed a flat EEG. His breathing had grown extremely shallow, his blood pressure was very low, his pulse feeble. He continued to decline during the next two days. The doctors gave him every test they could think of but could determine no cause for his condition. In that he had once signed a document requesting that no heroic measures be taken to prolong his existence should something irreversible take him, he was not hooked up to respirators and pumps and IVs after his heart had stopped beating for the fourth time. The autopsy was unsatisfactory. The death certificate merely showed: “Heart stoppage. Possible cerebrovascular accident.” The latter was pure speculation. They had found no sign of it. His organs were not distributed to the needy as he had once requested, for fear of some strange new virus which might be transmitted.
Kit, like Marley, was dead to begin with.
Blue sky, a few low clouds, Fuji across the bay’s bright water, a few boats and an islet between us. Again, dismissing time’s changes, I find considerable congruence with reality. Again, I sit within a small boat. Here, however, I’ve no desire to dive beneath the waves in search of sunken splendor or to sample the bacteria—count with my person.
My passage to this place was direct and without incident. Preoccupied I came. Preoccupied I remain. My vitality remains high. My health is no worse. My concerns also remain the same, which means that my major question is still unanswered.
At least I feel safe out here on the water. “Safe,” though, is a relative term. “Safer” then, than I felt ashore and passing among possible places of ambush. I have not really felt safe since that day after my return from the hospital. . . .
I was tired when I got back home, following several sleepless nights. I went directly to bed. I did not even bother to note the hour, so I have no idea how long I slept.
I was awakened in the dark by what seemed to be the ringing of the telephone. Sleepily, I reached for the instrument, then realized that it was not actually ringing. Had I been dreaming? I sat up in bed. I rubbed my eyes. I stretched. Slowly, the recent past filled my mind and I knew that I would not sleep again for a time. A cup of tea, I decided, might serve me well now. I rose, to go to the kitchen and heat some water.
As I passed through the work area, I saw that one of the CRTs for our terminal was lit. I could not recall its having been on but I moved to turn it off.
I saw then that its switch was not turned on. Puzzled, I looked again at the screen and for the first time realized that there was a display present:
ALL IS WELL.
I AM TRANSLATED.
USE THE COUCH AND THE HELMET.
I felt my fingers digging into my cheeks and my chest was tight from breath retained. Who had done this? How? Was it perhaps some final delirious message left by Kit himself before he went under?
I reached out and flipped the ON-OFF switch back and forth several times, leaving it finally in the OFF position.
The display faded but the light remained on. Shortly, a new display was flashed upon the screen:
YOU READ ME. GOOD.
IT IS ALL RIGHT. I LIVE.
I HAVE ENTERED THE DATA-NET.
SIT ON THE COUCH AND USE THE HELMET.
I WILL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING.
I ran from the room. In the bathroom I threw up, several times. Then I sat upon the toilet, shaking. Who would play such a horrible joke upon me? I drank several glasses of water and waited for my trembling to subside.
When it had, I went directly to the kitchen, made the tea, and drank some. My thoughts settled slowly into the channels of analysis. I considered possibilities. The one that seemed more likely than most was that Kit had left a message for me and that my use of the induction interface gear would trigger its delivery. I wanted that message, whatever it might be, but I did not know whether I possessed sufficient emotional fortitude to receive it at the moment.
I must have sat there for the better part of an hour. I looked out the window once and saw that the sky was growing light. I put down my cup. I returned to the work area.
The screen was still lit. The message, though, had changed:
DO NOT BE AFRAID.
SIT ON THE COUCH AND USE THE HELMET.
THEN YOU WILL UNDERSTAND.
I crossed to the couch. I sat on it and reclined it. I lowered the helmet. At first there was nothing but field noise.
Then I felt his presence, a thing difficult to describe in a world customarily filled only with data flows. I waited. I tried to be receptive to whatever he had somehow left imprinted for me.
“I am not a recording, Mari,” he seemed to say to me then. “I am really here.”
I resisted the impulse to flee. I had worked hard for this composure and I meant to maintain it.
“I made it over,” he seemed to say. “I have entered the net. I am spread out through many places. It is pure kundalini. I am nothing but flow. It is wonderful. I will be forever here. It is nirvana.”
“It really is you,” I said.
“Yes. I have translated myself. I want to show you what it means.”
“I am gathered here now. Open the legs of your mind and let me in fully.”
I relaxed and he flowed into me. Then I was borne away and I understood.
Fuji across lava fields and wisps of fog, drifting clouds; birds on the wing and birds on the ground. This one at least is close. I lean on my staff and stare at his peaceful reaches across the chaos. The lesson is like that of a piece of music: I am strengthened in some fashion I cannot describe.
And I had seen blossoming cherry trees on the way over here, and fields purple with clover, cultivated fields yellow with rape-blossoms, grown for its oil, a few winter camellias still holding forth their reds and pinks, the green shoots of rice beds, here and there a tulip tree dashed with white, blue mountains in the distance, foggy river valleys. I had passed villages where colored sheet metal now covers the roofs’ thatching—blue and yellow, green, black, red—and yards filled with the slate-blue rocks so fine for landscape gardening; an occasional cow, munching, lowing softly; scarlike rows of plastic-covered mulberry bushes where the silkworms are bred. My heart jogged at the sights—the tiles, the little bridges, the color. . . . It was like entering a tale by Lafcadio Hearn, to have come back.
My mind was drawn back along the path I had followed, to the points of its intersection with my electronic bane. Hokusai’s warning that night I drank too much—that his prints may trap me—could well be correct. Kit had anticipated my passage a number of times. How could he have?
Then it struck me. My little book of Hokusai’s prints—a small cloth-bound volume by the Charles ES. Turtle Company—had been a present from Kit.
It is possible that he was expecting me in Japan at about this time, because of Osaka. Once his epigons had spotted me a couple of times, probably in a massive scanning of terminals, could he have correlated my movements with the sequence of the prints in Hokusai’s Views of Mt. Fuji, for which he knew my great fondness, and simply extrapolated and waited? I’ve a strong feeling that the answer is in the affirmative.
Entering the data-net with Kit was an overwhelming experience. That my consciousness spread and flowed I do not deny. That I was many places simultaneously, that I rode currents I did not at first understand, that knowledge and transcendence and a kind of glory were all about me and within me was also a fact of peculiar perception. The speed with which I was borne seemed instantaneous, and this was a taste of eternity. The access to multitudes of terminals and enormous memory banks seemed a measure of omniscience. The possibility of the manipulation of whatever I would change within this realm and its consequences at that place where I still felt my distant body seemed a version of omnipotence. And the feeling . . . I tasted the sweetness, Kit with me and within me. It was self surrendered and recovered in a new incarnation, it was freedom from mundane desire, liberation . . .
“Stay with me here forever,” Kit seemed to say.
“No,” I seemed to answer, dreamlike, finding myself changing even further. “I cannot surrender myself so willingly.”
“Not for this? For unity and the flow of connecting energy?”
“And this wonderful lack of responsibility?”
“Responsibility? For what? This is pure existence. There is no past.”
“Then conscience vanishes.”
“What do you need it for? There is no future either.”
“Then all actions lose their meaning.”
“True. Action is an illusion. Consequence is an illusion.”
“And paradox triumphs over reason.”
“There is no paradox. All is reconciled.”
“Then meaning dies.”
“Being is the only meaning.”
“Are you certain?”
“I do. But it is not enough. Send me back before I am changed into something I do not wish to be.”
“What more could you desire than this?”
“My imagination will die, also. I can feel it.”
“And what is imagination?”
“A thing born of feeling and reason.”
“Does this not feel right?”
“Yes, it feels right. But I do not want that feeling unaccompanied. When I touch feeling with reason, I see that it is sometimes but an excuse for failing to close with complexity.”
“You can deal with any complexity here. Behold the data! Does reason not show you that this condition is far superior to that you knew but moments ago?”
“Nor can I trust reason unaccompanied. Reason without feeling has led humanity to enact monstrosities. Do not attempt to disassemble my imagination this way.”
“You retain your reason and your feelings!”
“But they are coming unplugged—with this storm of bliss, this shower of data. I need them conjoined, else my imagination is lost.”
“Let it be lost, then. It has served its purpose. Be done with it now. What can you imagine that you do not already have here?”
“I cannot yet know, and that is its power. If there be a will with a spark of divinity to it, I know it only through my imagination. I can give you anything else but that I will not surrender.”
“And that is all? A wisp of possibility?”
“No. But it alone is too much to deny.”
“And my love for you?”
“You no longer love in the human way. Let me go back.”
“Of course. You will think about it. You will return.”
I pushed the helmet from my head and rose quickly. I returned to the bathroom, then to my bed. I slept as if drugged, for a long while.
Would I have felt differently about possibilities, the future, imagination, had I not been pregnant—a thing I had suspected but not yet mentioned to him, and which he had missed learning with his attention focused upon our argument? I like to think that my answers would have been the same, but I will never know. My condition was confirmed by a local doctor the following day. I made the visit I had been putting off because my life required a certainty of something then—a certainty of anything. The screen in the work area remained blank for three days.
I read and I meditated. Then of an evening the light came on again:
ARE YOU READY?
I activated the keyboard. I typed one word:
I disconnected the induction couch and its helmet then. I unplugged the unit itself, also.
The telephone rang.
“Hello?” I said.
“Why not?” he asked me.
I screamed and hung up. He had penetrated the phone circuits, appropriated a voice.
It rang again. I answered again.
“You will never know rest until you come to me,” he said.
“I will if you will leave me alone,” I told him.
“I cannot. You are special to me. I want you with me. I love you.”
I hung up. It rang again. I tore the phone from the wall.
I had known that I would have to leave soon. I was overwhelmed and depressed by all the reminders of our life together. I packed quickly and I departed. I took a room at a hotel. As soon as I was settled into it, the telephone rang and it was Kit again. My registration had gone into a computer and . . .
I had them disconnect my phone at the switchboard. I put out a Do Not Disturb sign. In the morning I saw a telegram protruding from beneath the door. From Kit. He wanted to talk to me.
I determined to go far away. To leave the country, to return to the States.
It was easy for him to follow me. We leave electronic tracks almost everywhere. By cable, satellite, optic fiber he could be wherever he chose. Like an unwanted suitor now he pestered me with calls, interrupted television shows to flash messages upon the screen, broke in on my own calls, to friends, lawyers, realtors, stores. Several times, horribly, he even sent me flowers. My electric bodhisattva, my hound of heaven, would give me no rest. It is a terrible thing to be married to a persistent data-net.
So I settled in the country. I would have nothing in my home whereby he could reach me. I studied ways of avoiding the system, of slipping past his many senses.
On those few occasions when I was careless he reached for me again immediately. Only he had learned a new trick, and I became convinced that he had developed it for the purpose of taking me into his world by force. He could build up a charge at a terminal, mold it into something like ball lightning and animallike, and send that shortlived artifact a little distance to do his will. I learned its weakness, though, in a friend’s home when one came for me, shocked me, and attempted to propel me into the vicinity of the terminal, presumably for purposes of translation. I struck at the epigon—as Kit later referred to it in a telegram of explanation and apology—with the nearest object to hand—a lighted table lamp, which entered its field and blew a circuit immediately. The epigon was destroyed, which is how I discovered that a slight electrical disruption created an instability within the things.
I stayed in the country and raised my daughter. I read and I practiced my martial arts and I walked in the woods and climbed mountains and sailed and camped: rural occupations all, and very satisfying to me after a life of intrigue, conflict, plot and counterplot, violence, and then that small, temporary island of security with Kit. I was happy with my choice.
Fuji across the lava beds . . . Springtime . . . Now I am returned. This was not my choice.
And so I come to Lake Suwa, Fuji resting small in the evening distance. It is no Kamaguchi of powerful reflections for me. But it is serene, which joins my mood in a kind of peace. I have taken the life of the spring into me now and it has spread through my being. Who would disrupt this world, laying unwanted forms upon it? Seal your lips.
Was it not in a quiet province where Botchan found his maturity? I’ve a theory concerning books like that one of Natsume Soseki’s. Someone once told me that this is the one book you can be sure that every educated Japanese has read. So I read it. In the States I was told that Huckleberry Finn was the one book you could be sure that every educated Yankee had read. So I read it. In Canada it was Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. In France it was Le Grand Meaulnes. Other countries have their books of this sort. They are all of them pastorals, having in common a closeness to the countryside and the forces of nature in days just before heavy urbanization and mechanization. These things are on the horizon and advancing, but they only serve to add the spice of poignancy to the taste of simpler values. They are youthful books, of national heart and character, and they deal with the passing of innocence. I have given many of them to Kendra.
I lied to Boris. Of course I know all about the Osaka Conference. I was even approached by one of my former employers to do something along the lines Boris had guessed at. I declined. My plans are my own. There would have been a conflict.
Hokusai, ghost and mentor, you understand chance and purpose better than Kit. You know that human order must color our transactions with the universe, and that this is not only necessary but good, and that the light still comes through.
Upon this rise above the water’s side I withdraw my hidden blade and hone it once again. The sun falls away from my piece of the world, but the darkness, too, is here my friend.
And so the image of death. The Big Wave, curling above, toppling upon, about to engulf the fragile vessels. The one print of Hokusai’s that everyone knows.
I am no surfer. I do not seek the perfect wave. I will simply remain here upon the shore and watch the water. It is enough of a reminder. My pilgrimage winds down, though the end is not yet in sight.
Well . . . I see Fuji. Call Fuji the end. As with the barrel’s hoop of the first print, the circle closes about him.
On my way to this place I halted in a small glade I came upon and bathed myself in a stream which ran through it. There I used the local wood to construct a low altar. Cleansing my hands each step of the way I set before it incense made from camphorwood and from white sandalwood; I also placed there a bunch of fresh violets, a cup of vegetables, and a cup of fresh water from the stream. Then I lit a lamp I had purchased and filled with rape-seed oil. Upon the altar I set my image of the god Kokuzo which I had brought with me from home, facing to the west where I stood. I washed again, then extended my right hand, middle finger bent to touch my thumb as I spoke the mantra for invoking Kokuzo. I drank some of the water. I lustrated myself with sprinklings of it and continued repetition of the mantra. Thereafter, I made the gesture of Kokuzo three times, hand to the crown of my head, to my right shoulder, left shoulder, heart and throat. I removed the white cloth in which Kokuzo’s picture had been wrapped. When I had sealed the area with the proper repetitions, I meditated in the same position as Kokuzo in the picture and invoked him. After a time the mantra ran by itself, over and over.
Finally, there was a vision, and I spoke, telling all that had happened, all that I intended to do, and asking for strength and guidance. Suddenly, I saw his sword descending, descending like slow lightning, to sever a limb from a tree, which began to bleed. And then it was raining, both within the vision and upon me, and I knew that that was all to be had on the matter.
I wound things up, cleaned up, donned my poncho, and headed on my way.
The rain was heavy, my boots grew muddy, and the temperature dropped. I trudged on for a long while and the cold crept into my bones. My toes and fingers became numb.
I kept constant lookout for a shelter, but did not spot anyplace where I could take refuge from the storm. Later, it changed from a downpour to a drizzle to a weak, mistlike fall when I saw what could be a temple or shrine in the distance. I headed for it, hoping for some hot tea, a fire, and a chance to change my socks and clean my boots.
A priest stopped me at the gate. I told him my situation and he looked uncomfortable.
“It is our custom to give shelter to anyone,” he said. “But there is a problem.”
“I will be happy to make a cash donation,” I said, “if too many others have passed this way and reduced your stores. I really just wanted to get warm.”
“Oh no, it is not a matter of supplies,” he told me, “and for that matter very few have been by here recently. The problem is of a different sort and it embarrasses me to state it. It makes us sound old-fashioned and superstitious, when actually this is a very modern temple. But recently we have been—ah—haunted.”
“Yes. Bestial apparitions have been coming and going from the library and record room beside the head priest’s quarters. They stalk the shrine, pass through our rooms, pace the grounds, then return to the library or else fade away.”
He studied my face, as if seeking derision, belief, disbelief—anything. I merely nodded.
“It is most awkward,” he added. “A few simple exorcisms have been attempted but to no avail.”
“For how long has this been going on?” I asked.
“For about three days,” he replied.
“Has anyone been harmed by them?”
“No. They are very intimidating, but no one has been injured. They are distracting, too, when one is trying to sleep—that is, to meditate—for they produce a tingling feeling and sometimes cause the hair to rise up.”
“Interesting,” I said. “Are there many of them?”
“It varies. Usually just one. Sometimes two. Occasionally three.”
“Does your library by any chance contain a computer terminal?”
“Yes, it does,” he answered. “As I said, we are very modern. We keep our records with it, and we can obtain printouts of sacred texts we do not have on hand—and other things.”
“If you will shut the terminal down for a day, they will probably go away,” I told him, “and I do not believe they will return.”
“I would have to check with my superior before doing a thing like that. You know something of these matters?”
“Yes, and in the meantime I would still like to warm myself, if I may.”
“Very well. Come this way.”
I followed him, cleaning my boots and removing them before entering. He led me around to the rear and into an attractive room which looked upon the temple’s garden.
“I will go and see that a meal is prepared for you, and a brazier of charcoal that you may warm yourself,” he said as he excused himself.
Left by myself I admired the golden carp drifting in a pond only a few feet away, its surface occasionally punctuated by raindrops, and a little stone bridge which crossed the pond, a stone pagoda, paths wandering among stones and shrubs. I wanted to cross that bridge—how unlike that metal span, thrusting, cold and dark!—and lose myself there for an age or two. Instead, I sat down and gratefully gulped the tea which arrived moments later, and I warmed my feet and dried my socks in the heat of the brazier which came a little while after that.
Later, I was halfway through a meal and enjoying a conversation with the young priest, who had been asked to keep me company until the head priest could come by and personally welcome me, when I saw my first epigon of the day.
It resembled a very small, triple-trunked elephant walking upright along one of the twisting garden paths, sweeping the air to either side of the trail with those snakelike appendages. It had not yet spotted me.
I called it to the attention of the priest, who was not faced in that direction.
“Oh my!” he said, fingering his prayer beads.
While he was looking that way, I shifted my staff into a readily available position beside me.
As it drifted nearer, I hurried to finish my rice and vegetables. I was afraid my bowl might be upset in the skirmish soon to come.
The priest glanced back when he heard the movement of the staff along the flagstones.
“You will not need that,” he said. “As I explained, these demons are not aggressive.”
I shook my head as I swallowed another mouthful.
“This one will attack,” I said, “when it becomes aware of my presence. You see, I am the one it is seeking.”
“Oh my!” he repeated.
I stood then as its trunks swayed in my direction and it approached the bridge.
“This one is more solid than usual,” I commented. “Three days, eh?”
I moved about the tray and took a step forward. Suddenly, it was over the bridge and rushing toward me. I met it with a straight thrust, which it avoided. I spun the staff twice and struck again as it was turning. My blow landed and I was hit by two of the trunks simultaneously—once on the breast, once on the cheek. The epigon went out like a burned hydrogen balloon and I stood there rubbing my face, looking about me the while.
Another slithered into our room from within the temple. I lunged suddenly and caught it on the first stroke.
“I think perhaps I should be leaving now,” I stated. “Thank you for your hospitality. Convey my regrets to the head priest that I did not get to meet him. I am warm and fed and I have learned what I wanted to know about your demons. Do not even bother about the terminal. They will probably cease to visit you shortly, and they should not return.”
“You are certain?”
“I know them.”
“I did not know the terminals were haunted. The salesman did not tell us.”
“Yours should be all right now.”
He saw me to the gate.
“Thank you for the exorcism,” he said.
“Thanks for the meal. Good-bye.”
I traveled for several hours before I found a place to camp in a shallow cave, using my poncho as a rain-screen.
And today I came here to watch for the wave of death. Not yet, though. No truly big ones in this sea. Mine is still out there, somewhere.
Fuji past pine trees, through shadow, clouds rising beside him . . . It is getting on into the evening of things. The weather was good today, my health stable.
I met two monks upon the road yesterday and I traveled with them for a time. I was certain that I had seen them somewhere else along the way, so I greeted them and asked if this were possible. They said that they were on a pilgrimage of their own, to a distant shrine, and they admitted that I looked familiar, also. We took our lunch together at the side of the road. Our conversation was restricted to generalities, though they did ask me whether I had heard of the haunted shrine in Kanagawa. How quickly such news travels. I said that I had and we reflected upon its strangeness.
After a time I became annoyed. Every turning of the way that I took seemed a part of their route, also. While I’d welcomed a little company, I’d no desire for long-term companions, and it seemed their choices of ways approximated mine too closely. Finally, when we came to a split in the road I asked them which fork they were taking. They hesitated, then said that they were going right. I took the left-hand path. A little later they caught up with me. They had changed their minds, they said.
When we reached the next town, I offered a man in a car a good sum of money to drive me to the next village. He accepted, and we drove away and left them standing there.
I got out before we reached the next town, paid him, and watched him drive off. Then I struck out upon a footpath I had seen, going in the general direction I desired. At one point I left the trail and cut through the woods until I struck another path.
I camped far off the trail when I finally bedded down, and the following morning I took pains to erase all sign of my presence there. The monks did not reappear. They may have been quite harmless, or their designs quite different, but I must be true to my carefully cultivated paranoia.
Which leads me to note that man in the distance—a Westerner, I’d judge, by his garments . . . He has been hanging around taking pictures for some time. I will lose him shortly, of course, if he is following me—or even if he isn’t.
It is terrible to have to be this way for too long a period of time. Next I will be suspecting schoolchildren.
I watch Fuji as the shadows lengthen. I will continue to watch until the first star appears. Then I will slip away.
And so I see the sky darken. The photographer finally stows his gear and departs.
I remain alert, but when I see the first star, I join the shadows and fade like the day.
Through fog and above it. It rained a bit earlier. And there is Fuji, storm clouds above his brow. In many ways I am surprised to have made it this far. This view, though, makes everything worthwhile.
I sit upon a mossy rock and record in my mind the changing complexion of Fuji as a quick rain veils his countenance, ceases, begins again.
The winds are strong here. The fogbank raises ghostly limbs and lowers them. There is a kind of numb silence beneath the wind’s monotone mantra.
I make myself comfortable, eating, drinking, viewing, as I go over my final plans once again. Things wind down. Soon the circle will be closed.
I had thought of throwing away my medicine here as an act of bravado, as a sign of full commitment. I see this now as a foolishly romantic gesture. I am going to need all of my strength, all of the help I can get, if I am to have a chance at succeeding. Instead of discarding the medicine here I take some.
The winds feel good upon me. They come on like waves, but they are bracing.
A few travelers pass below. I draw back, out of their line of sight. Harmless, they go by like ghosts, their words carried off by the wind, not even reaching this far. I feel a small desire to sing but I restrain myself.
I sit for a long while, lost in a reverie of the elements. It has been good, this journey into the past, living at the edge once again . . .
Below me. Another vaguely familiar figure comes into view, lugging equipment. I cannot distinguish features from here, nor need I. As he halts and begins to set up his gear, I know that it is the photographer of Shichirigahama, out to capture another view of Fuji more permanent than any I desire.
I watch him for a time and he does not even glance my way. Soon I will be gone again, without his knowledge. I will allow this one as a coincidence. Provisionally, of course. If I see him again, I may have to kill him. I will be too near my goal to permit even the possibility of interference to exist.
I had better depart now, for I would rather travel before than behind him.
Fuji-from-on-high, this was a good resting place. We will see you again soon.
Come, Hokusai, let us be gone.
Gone the old sawyers, splitting boards from a beam, shaping them. Only Fuji, of snow and clouds, remains. The men in the print work in the old way, like the Owari barrel-maker. Yet, apart from those of the fishermen who merely draw their needs from nature, these are the only two prints in my book depicting people actively shaping something in their world. Their labors are too traditional for me to see the image of the Virgin and the Dynamo within them. They could have been performing the same work a thousand years before Hokusai.
Yet it is a scene of humanity shaping the world, and so it leads me down trails of years to this time, this day of sophisticated tools and large-scale changes. I see within it the image of what was later wrought, of the metal skin and pulsing flows the world would come to wear. And Kit is there, too, godlike, riding electronic waves.
Troubling. Yet bespeaking an ancient resilience, as if this, too, is but an eyeblink glimpse of humanity’s movement in time, and whether I win or lose, the raw stuff remains and will triumph ultimately over any obstacle. I would really like to believe this, but I must leave certainty to politicians and preachers. My way is laid out and invested with my vision of what must be done.
I have not seen the photographer again, though I caught sight of the monks yesterday, camped on the side of a distant hill. I inspected them with my telescope and they were the same ones with whom I had traveled briefly. They had not noticed me and I passed them by way of a covering detour. Our trails have not crossed since.
Fuji, I have taken twenty-one of your aspects within me now. Live a little, die a little. Tell the gods, if you think of it, that a world is about to die.
I hike on, camping early in a field close to a monastery. I do not wish to enter there after my last experience in a modern holy place. I bed down in a concealed spot nearby, amid rocks and pine tree shoots. Sleep comes easily, lasts till some odd hour.
I am awake suddenly and trembling, in darkness and stillness. I cannot recall a sound from without or a troubling dream from within. Yet I am afraid, even to move. I breathe carefully and wait.
Drifting, like a lotus on a pond, it has come up beside me, towers above me, wears stars like a crown, glows with its own milky, supernal light. It is a delicate-featured image of a bodhisattva, not unlike Kwannon, in garments woven of moonbeams.
Its voice is soft and caressing.
“Yes?” I answer.
“You have returned to travel in Japan. You are coming to me, are you not?”
The illusion is broken. It is Kit. He has carefully sculpted this epigon-form and wears it himself to visit me. There must be a terminal in the monastery. Will he try to force me?
“I was on my way to see you, yes,” I manage.
“You may join me now, if you would.”
He extends a wonderfully formed hand, as in benediction.
“I’ve a few small matters I must clear up before we are reunited.”
“What could be more important? I have seen the medical reports. I know the condition of your body. It would be tragic if you were to die upon the road, this close to your exaltation. Come now.”
“You have waited this long, and time means little to you.”
“It is you that I am concerned with.”
“I assure you I shall take every precaution. In the meantime, there is something which has been troubling me.”
“Last year there was a revolution in Saudi Arabia. It seemed to promise well for the Saudis but it also threatened Japan’s oil supply. Suddenly the new government began to look very bad on paper, and a new counterrevolutionary group looked stronger and better-tempered than it actually was. Major powers intervened successfully on the side of the counterrevolutionaries. Now they are in power and they seem even worse than the first government which had been overthrown. It seems possible, though incomprehensible to most, that computer readouts all over the world were somehow made to be misleading. And now the Osaka Conference is to be held to work out new oil agreements with the latest regime. It looks as if Japan will get a very good deal out of it. You once told me that you are above such mundane matters, but I wonder? You are Japanese, you loved your country. Could you have intervened in this?”
“What if I did? It is such a small matter in the light of eternal values. If there is a touch of sentiment for such things remaining within me, it is not dishonorable that I favor my country and my people.”
“And if you did it in this, might you not be moved to intervene again one day, in some other matter where habit or sentiment tell you you should?”
“What of it?” he replies. “I but extend my finger and stir the dust of illusion a bit. If anything, it frees me even further.”
“I see,” I answer.
“I doubt that you do, but you will when you have joined me. Why not do it now?”
“Soon,” I say. “Let me settle my affairs.”
“I will give you a few more days,” he says, “and then you must be with me forever.”
I bow my head.
“I will see you again soon,” I tell him.
“Good night, my love.”
He drifts away then, his feet not touching the ground, and he passes through the wall of the monastery.
I reach for my medicine and my brandy. A double dose of each . . .
And so I come to the place of crossing. The print shows a ferryman bearing a number of people across the river into the city and evening. Fuji lies dark and brooding in the farthest distance. Here I do think of Charon, but the thought is not so unwelcome as it once might have been. I take the bridge myself, though.
As Kit has promised me a little grace, I walk freely the bright streets, to smell the smells and hear the noises and watch the people going their ways. I wonder what Hokusai would have done in contemporary times? He is silent on the matter.
I drink a little, I smile occasionally, I even eat a good meal. I am tired of reliving my life. I seek no consolations of philosophy or literature. Let me merely walk in the city tonight, running my shadow over faces and storefronts, bars and theaters, temples and offices. Anything which approaches is welcome tonight. I eat sushi,I gamble, I dance. There is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow for me now. When a man places his hand upon my shoulder and smiles, I move it to my breast and laugh. He is good for an hour’s exercise and laughter in a small room he finds us. I make him cry out several times before I leave him, though he pleads with me to stay. Too much to do and see, love. A greeting and a farewell.
Walking. . . . Through parks, alleys, gardens, plazas. Crossing. . . . Small bridges and larger ones, streets and walkways. Bark, dog. Shout, child. Weep, woman. I come and go among you. I feel you with a dispassionate passion. I take all of you inside me that I may hold the world here, for a night.
I walk in a light rain and in its cool aftermath. My garments are damp, then dry again. I visit a temple. I pay a taximan to drive me about the town. I eat a late meal. I visit another bar. I come upon a deserted playground, where I swing and watch the stars.
And I stand before a fountain splaying its waters into the lightening sky, until the stars are gone and only their lost sparkling falls about me.
Then breakfast and a long sleep, another breakfast and a longer one . . .
And you, my father, there on the sad height? I must leave you soon, Hokusai.
Walking again, within a cloudy evening. How long has it been since I spoke with Kit? Too long, I am sure. An epigon could come bounding my way at any moment.
I have narrowed my search to three temples—none of them the one in the print, to be sure, only that uppermost portion of it viewed from that impossible angle, Fuji back past its peak, smoke, clouds, fog between—but I’ve a feeling one of these three will do in the blue of evening.
I have passed all of them many times, like a circling bird. I am loath to do more than this, for I feel the right choice will soon be made for me. I became aware sometime back that I was being followed, really followed this time, on my rounds. It seems that my worst fear was not ungrounded; Kit is employing human agents as well as epigons. How he sought them and how he bound them to his service I do not care to guess. Who else would be following me at this point, to see that I keep my promise, to force me to it if necessary?
I slow my pace. But whoever is behind me does the same. Not yet. Very well.
Fog rolls in. The echoes of my footfalls are muffled. Also those at my back. Unfortunate.
I head for the other temple. I slow again when I come into its vicinity, all of my senses extended, alert.
Nothing. No one. It is all right. Time is no problem. I move on.
After a long while I approach the precincts of the third temple. This must be it, but I require some move from my pursuer to give me the sign. Then, of course, I must deal with that person before I make my own move. I hope that it will not be too difficult, for everything will turn upon that small conflict.
I slow yet again and nothing appears but the moisture of the fog upon my face and the knuckles of my hand wrapped about my staff. I halt. I seek in my pocket after a box of cigarettes I had purchased several days ago in my festive mood. I had doubted they would shorten my life.
As I raise one to my lips, I hear the words, “You desire a light, madam?”
I nod my head as I turn.
It is one of the two monks who extends a lighter to me and flicks forth its flame. I notice for the first time the heavy ridge of callous along the edge of his hand. He had kept it carefully out of sight before, as we sojourned together. The other monk appears to his rear, to his left.
I inhale and send smoke to join the fog.
“You have come a long way,” the man states.
“And your pilgrimage has come to an end.”
He smiles and nods. He turns his head toward the temple.
“This is our temple,” he says, “where we worship the new bodhisattva. He awaits you within.”
“He can continue to wait, till I finish my cigarette,” I say.
With a casual glance, I study the man. He is probably a very good karateka.I am very good with the bo. If it were only him, I would bet on myself. But two of them, and the other probably just as good as this one? Kokuzo, where is your sword? I am suddenly afraid.
I turn away, I drop the cigarette, I spin into my attack. He is ready, of course. No matter. I land the first blow.
By then, however, the other man is circling and I must wheel and move defensively, turning, turning. If this goes on for too long, they will be able to wear me down.
I hear a grunt as I connect with a shoulder. Something, anyway . . .
Slowly, I am forced to give way, to retreat toward the temple wall. If I am driven too near it, it will interfere with my strokes. I try again to hold my ground, to land a decisive blow. . . .
Suddenly, the man to my right collapses, a dark figure on his back. No time to speculate. I turn my attention to the first monk, and moments later I land another blow, then another.
My rescuer is not doing so well, however. The second monk has shaken him off and begins striking at him with bone-crushing blows. My ally knows something of unarmed combat, though, for he gets into a defensive stance and blocks many of these, even landing a few of his own. Still, he is clearly overmatched.
Finally I sweep a leg and deliver another shoulder blow. I try three strikes at my man while he is down, but he rolls away from all of them and comes up again. I hear a sharp cry from my right, but I cannot look away from my adversary.
He comes in again and this time I catch him with a sudden reversal and crush his temple with a follow-up. I spin then, barely in time, for my ally lies on the ground and the second monk is upon me.
Either I am lucky or he has been injured. I catch the man quickly and follow up with a rapid series of strikes which take him down, out, and out for good.
I rush to the side of the third man and kneel beside him, panting. I had seen his gold earring as I moved about the second monk.
“Boris.” I take his hand. “Why are you here?”
“I told you—I could take a few days—to help you,” he says, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. “Found you. Was taking pictures . . . And see . . . You needed me.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Grateful, but sorry. You’re a better man than I thought.”
He squeezes my hand. “I told you I liked you—Maryushka. Too bad . . . we didn’t have—more time . . .”
I lean and kiss him, getting blood on my mouth. His hand relaxes within my own. I’ve never been a good judge of people, except after the fact.
And so I rise. I leave him there on the wet pavement. There is nothing I can do for him. I go into the temple.
It is dark near the entrance, but there are many votive lights to the rear. I do not see anyone about. I did not think that I would. It was just to have been the two monks, ushering me to the terminal. I head toward the lights. It must be somewhere back there.
I hear rain on the rooftop as I search. There are little rooms, off to either side, behind the lights.
It is there, in the second one. And even as I cross the threshold, I feel that familiar ionization which tells me that Kit is doing something here.
I rest my staff against the wall and go nearer. I place my hand upon the humming terminal.
“Kit,” I say, “I have come.”
No epigon grows before me, but I feel his presence and he seems to speak to me as he did on that night so long ago when I lay back upon the couch and donned the helmet:
“I knew that you would be here tonight.”
“So did I,” I reply.
“All of your business is finished?”
“Most of it.”
“And you are ready now to be joined with me?”
Again I feel that movement, almost sexual in nature, as he flows into me. In a moment he would bear me away into his kingdom.
Tatemae is what you show to others. Honne is your real intention. As Musashi cautioned in the Book of Waters, I try not to reveal my honne even at this moment. I simply reach out with my free hand and topple my staff so that its metal tip, batteries engaged, falls against the terminal.
“Mari! What have you done?” he asks, within me now, as the humming ceases.
“I have cut off your line of retreat, Kit.”
The blade is already in my hand.
“It is the only way for us. I give you this jigai, my husband.”
I feel him reaching for control of my arm as I exhale. But it is too late. It is already moving. I feel the blade enter my throat, well-placed.
“Fool!” he cries. “You do not know what you have done! I cannot return!”
As I slump against the terminal I seem to hear a roaring sound, growing, at my back. It is the Big Wave, finally come for me. My only regret is that I did not make it to the final station, unless, of course, that is what Hokusai is trying to show me, there beside the tiny window, beyond the fog and the rain and the night.