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  • Ariel Favis

Spring Water

Mother writes often, sending letters through a carrier crow with leather scroll holders which have become worn with reuse. My hair has grown long. The snow began to fall in February four years ago and hasn’t stopped since. 

It is freezing in Nara. Icicles hang from the windowsills and I can feel the chill on the back of my neck where my coat lets a breeze slip through. Nara is boastful in construction, with smooth-walled houses–sometimes wood, sometimes marble, if you’re wealthy–and gently curved roofs supported by posts. Walkways for lounging wind eternally throughout the city but remain unused, as there is no heat to bask in. Lanterns dangle like earrings beneath bushy trees and shop signs. Some have written incantations and anagrams for meaningless words to ward off curses. This morning, the town is quiet and the sky is carpeted by a deep azure.  It looks like the prelude to rain, if rain were possible. The snow persists.

“Reina,” Mei says. “You’re skipping work today?” I can’t believe Mei has forgotten.

Towards the far east corner of town is a cluster of stone stairs that are easier to stumble up than actually climb. The little shrine, all lambent with golden lanterns and accented with red fortune slips, is hard to miss. We keep it in somewhat clean shape–retying the heavy golden ropes when they unravel, nailing the creaky floor tread firm, and swiping windows clean with our mittens. When Mei and I first landed in Nara, we prayed for a way home every morning for six months straight. Now, it is just myself, on the eve of every June fifth, honoring my eldest brother whose face I can’t easily visualize anymore. 

Upon entering, I brush off the flurries that collected on my shoulders. I take two deep bows, two claps, and a breath before settling in a kneeling position, my palms touching. I am immediately unsure what I’m praying for–a wish? An oath? Why has Mei forgotten? How could she have? There is a memory in the pit of my stomach I cannot reach–that neither of us can, despite how desperately we try to. Maybe we’ll never make it out of here. Maybe I’m praying to make peace with that.

With the third flick of a matchbox, I reach for the last stick of jasmine incense buried in my leather bag and light it atop a milky celadon burner. I make sure to rise slowly and steadily. When I turn around, my brother is standing with open arms and the biggest smile I’ve seen in four years. And I’m smiling, too. I heave my body towards his, all transcendent and aglow, before his shape dissolves into tiny fragments of light like fireworks. A jumble of ink is left on the earth, lines akin to a maze. In a rush, I pull out my hair pin in one swift motion and dip it in the ink. I attempt to draw the picture on my forearm like a canvas – when I push my sleeve down, it burns. A heavy rain begins to fall.


Ashely Yu


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