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Nancy Esther James
. . . the rainy season in Japan, my first visit in years. Midsummer drizzle abates as Chieko and I share tea. I ask if her neighbor still owns five cats.
“Only four now. Would you like to visit?” She tells me the old woman is home after surgery.
We walk through afternoon mist to a wooden house. One cat, a chunky tortoiseshell, sits in a window. A pure black crouches at her feet, stares with yellow eyes.
An old man opens the door. Never removing our shoes, we linger in the genkan, a step down from the hall. The woman, eyes dark-circled, limbs like bent sticks, kneels on the bare floor. With one gnarled hand she anchors a calico cat. The other hand hides her own ragged teeth. The black cat races through the hallway, vanishes.
From an inner room the husband carries out a shallow box, throne of a huge tom. The gray buddha purrs, permits me to scratch his chin. The calico stays beneath her mistress’ trembling strokes. The dark shadow darts through once more.
As we walk home to Chieko’s, I do not glance back. She tells me the woman has a son who lives with his family far away. When he comes for the funeral, etiquette will forbid the name of the disease that wastes her.
Gray images fade
Eyes thin, sallow contemplate
Tsuyu—one last rain.