Paul Corrigan (studio_poutine) wrote in talesoflillian,
Paul Corrigan

Les filles du lys de la montagne, chapter two

Author: Paul Corrigan
Title: Les filles du lys de la montagne, chapter two
Pairing: Sei/Shimako, Shimako/Noriko, Sei/Yumi (in flashback only, alas)
Rating: R (Sex isn't graphic, but is obvious)

In which Shimako and Noriko have some WAFFy moments, and Toko
is sentenced to a week in Quebec City.

Thanks to Terra and gutterbunny for their comments (Terra especially
for forcing some self-restraint on me).

Further comments most welcome.

To those in the US, happy Thanksgiving.

Suis le funk baby pour un été à Montréal
Suis le funk baby pour un été à Montréal

It is very rarely that I have slept in the city, so it was very easy
for the city to awaken me at last, in the form of loud music from a car
driving by. Sei's bedroom had a window that looked out onto the street,
and when I awoke it was rapidly getting dark. I had not bothered to
pull the covers of the bed over myself, and the first thing I noticed
upon wakening was how cold Sei's room was.

I felt I was alone.

Les filles du lys de la montagne, chapter two
A _Maria-sama ga miteru_ (_Marimite_) fanfic by Paul Corrigan
_Marimite_ concept devised by Oyuki Konno

For as long as she had been my petite soeur, Noriko Nijo had been in
the habit of coming to Shoguji temple to help me and my father, as
often as she got the chance to do so during the summer, and on the
weekends during the autumn while it was still warm enough and enough
pilgrims were coming through for it to be worthwhile for her to come.
Her great aunt never objected; she knew where Noriko was, and Noriko
was not in any clubs, so there were far worse places Noriko could have
spent her spare time. My father never objected either. He liked Noriko
very much, and during the crush of pilgrims and sightseers Shoguji saw
in the summer, particularly at Obon, my father was glad of the help.
She was an enthusiastic worker, and by the second summer, she was able
to tell any pilgrim as much about Shoguji as I could. I soon noticed,
as well, that many of the pilgrims appreciated her beauty, her
perfectly crafted features making her appear, when in kimono, like
nothing so much as a Japanese doll, and I sometimes wondered if Father
enjoyed her beauty as well.

By the weekend in the October of my senior year, a few days before I
was to go to Canada, Noriko and I were left with little to do but sweep
away the falling leaves from the temple paths. It was still warm enough
that when we were done, we could sit together at the top of the steps
leading up the hill to the sanctuary and contemplate the turning leaves
together, a kaleidoscope of yellows, reds, and greens. It was a pity, I
suppose, that we saw so few people at that time of year. The colours
were much the same as at Lillian, but at Shoguji it was as if the trees
were making this beautiful show just for us. On days like this Father
would sometimes join us, but more often than not he was inside, dealing
with temple business or studying the sutras, so that day, as so often,
Noriko and I were alone, sometimes talking of everything and nothing
and sometimes just sitting in silence, her head on my shoulder, or my
arm around her waist, or her hand in mine.

When I was a child I dreamt of becoming a nun, living a life of silent
contemplation of God together with other girls. Now that I was older, I
had to wonder if it was anything like this. God created everything in
nature, giving Adam and Eve all they needed in Eden. I thought that God
and nature must surely be the same.

If one is watching for someone, it is quite easy from the top of the
steps to see any pilgrims coming along the paths. That day, however,
Noriko and I were expecting nobody, and it was only the clear sound of
footsteps up the long wooden staircase to the main sanctuary that
brought me to myself. I rose at once, and as I had been taught saluted
our visitor with:

--Greetings, pilgrim.

--I wanted to spend quality time alone with my oneesama! Why do we have
to go on our big date to Rosa Gigantea's temple?

These were Toko Matusdaira's first words upon seeing Shoguji.

--I've never seen it, said Yumi Fukuzawa. I thought it would be nice.
Why? What's wrong, Toko? You don't find temples romantic?

--No, I don't, oneesama.

--Oh dearie me, it's like I can't do anything right. I don't think
my Toko loves me any more...

Yumi only protested that Toko didn't love her in such a melodramatic
fashion when she wanted to get a rise out of her petite soeur.
She usually succeeded.


--Rosa Chinensis! Toko! What a pleasant surprise! I said.

--Good day, Rosa Gigantea, Yumi replied, bowing to us when she and Toko
got to the top of the steps.

--Sorry if we're intruding, said Toko automatically, in a tone of voice
betraying no enthusiasm about being there, and bowed a bit too quickly.
Noriko rose from where she was sitting, and gave Toko an unpleasant

--Are you indeed? said Noriko.

--Oh, no, I said, you're not intruding at all. Did you want to see the
temple, or just some tea? I know you've come a long way...

--Oh dear, said Yumi melodramatically, teasing Toko as she so often
did, what'll I do now? I don't think Toko likes me anymore...

--Oh no, we couldn't possibly...started Yumi.

--I am a little thirsty, finished Toko without hesitation.

--I'll go get the tea, said Noriko.

So Noriko went inside, and Yumi, Toko and I sat for a few moments in
silence at the top of the steps. Between her duties as Rosa Chinensis
and her studying (with mixed results) for college exams, Yumi had
little spare time any more, so as she sat beside me she took the
opportunity to relax and appreciate the view. Toko sat on Yumi's other
side, clearly bored, looking hither and thither for something to occupy
her attention until Noriko arrived with the tea.

--I meant to ask you, Toko, I asked her, mostly to make conversation.
Rosa Chinensis tells me you went to Canada on vacation last year. I'm
going there soon to look at universities. Why don't you tell me about

--Canada? said Toko, looking over at me, raising an eyebrow. You're
going there? Heavens, why? I hate Canada. What could I tell you? I've
tried to block it out.

--Was it that bad? said Yumi. Why? I was jealous. I've never been to
Canada. Actually, before I went to Italy I'd never been out of Japan.
You're very lucky...

--You're very easily impressed, oneesama, said Toko. I thought I was
going to be going skiing in the Rocky Mountains like all my friends
have, but oh no. I don't know what I did or said to deserve it, but my
lunatic father decided to sentence the entire family to a week in
Quebec City. Never again. It's a huge tourist trap--I'd have had more
to do at Tokyo Disneyland. The food was awful, not to mention the
waiters were all stupid French Canadian peasants who didn't speak a
word of Japanese. Ugly too. I swear, there wasn't one good-looking boy
in the whole city. And then my father insists on dragging us to every
church in the place. Like Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the first church in
Canada or something like that...oh good Lord, the tackiest church I'd
ever seen. The nuns'd be ashamed to have the chapel at Lillian
decorated like that. The last straw was when he wanted to go to some
place in the middle of nowhere, Sainte-Anne-de-whatsitsname...My mother
and I wound up leaving him to it and spending the rest of the week at
the mall with Nanami. Nanami's my cousin. She's at Laval, the
university there. Her dad made her go there. He's as crazy as my
father. Nanami hates Quebec City too.

--Um, said Yumi.

--But wasn't it nice to see your cousin? I offered.

Toko seemed to think about that for a moment before answering:

--I guess...I hadn't seen Nanami for a while, so it was nice to have
some quality time with her. We get on pretty well. She speaks French
too, so I could let her do the talking. That, and there was this place
near our hotel that had the best toast in the world...

--I'm not going there to eat, I said, trying not to laugh. Toko's
childishness was amusing, sometimes.

--Well, no, Rosa Gigantea, I didn't think so...I wouldn't go all the
way there just for toast. Seriously, Nanami even told me, don't go to
university there...

--I'm not going to Quebec City at all, I said. I won't have time, and
even if I did, my French isn't good enough. I am going to Montreal. Did
you see anything in Montreal?

Toko shrugged.

--Only the airport and what I could see on the freeway as we sped by in
Father's rental car. I saw a huge sports stadium that looked like a
spaceship from a bad sci-fi movie. That's all I remember. Why?

--The tea is ready, said Noriko from behind us.

We each took a cup of tea, and Noriko sat beside me with her own.

--Noriko, said Toko, a propos of nothing, do you really spend all your
free time here?

--I happen to like it here, Toko, said Noriko. I wouldn't expect you to

--You really ought to be some club or other...

--Yes, so you keep telling me, Noriko replied, clearly tired of the
topic. I never liked being in school clubs. I'm not a joiner. Isn't the
Yamiyurikai enough for you?

--What am I going to do with you, Noriko? You'll never find a petite
soeur at this rate.

--I'll find a soeur at my convenience, not yours, Toko Matsudaira.

--You know, Noriko, said Yumi, Toko has a point. Haven't you even
thought about it? You don't want to be rushing around like a nutcase at
the end of junior year looking for one, like Rosa Foetida or me.

--Please, I said. She has plenty of time. My grande soeur didn't pick
me until her senior year. These things can't be forced.

--Well, no, of course not, but if she was in a club of some kind, she'd
be more likely to get to know a freshman she liked. Or start your own
if you don't like any of the other clubs...

--Like what? A club for fans of Buddha-statues? said Toko. Don't make
me laugh, oneesama!

--It's not as if I never meet first-years, Rosa Chinensis, said Noriko.

--I'm sorry, said Yumi. I just want to be able to graduate with no
worries. You'll be Rosa Gigantea next year.

--If you're worried about the new Rosa Gigantea en bouton, I thought
that's why we had student elections. Rosa Chinensis, shouldn't you be
lecturing Toko and not me? I don't see her with a petite soeur yet

--I've at least got a short list, you know, said Toko. I'm waiting to
see who wants the job badly enough. I'm not the sort to pick just

--Rosa Chinensis, I said at last, I didn't make Noriko my soeur because
I thought the Yamiyurikai needed a Rosa Gigantea en bouton. Please
leave her be. Noriko needn't have a petite soeur until she's ready for
one. I didn't and neither did Sei.

At the mention of Sei's name Toko appeared to remember something.

--Oneesama, where did you say Sei Sato went to university again?

--McGill University, said Yumi. In Montreal, in Canada.

--So that's why you're going, is it? Toko asked me. To see her?

--Partly, yes, I said, glad of the chance to change the subject. I
haven't seen her in quite a while. It's a shame Rosa Chinensis can't go

--What can I say? said Yumi, shrugging and laughing. I tried every
trick in the book! Didn't help I'd just failed another mock exam...

--You know, Shimako, said Noriko (I had never made her call me
oneesama), it would be very nice if you could go to university with
her, wouldn't it?

--Well, yes it would. I like her very much, I began, turning to look at
Noriko. That and it's a good university. She seems very happy there.

--You could see her everyday then, if you liked, couldn't you?

Noriko was pretending to be cheerful as she said that, but I could see
now how forced her smile was.

--I suppose, yes...if we both wanted to, I mean...

--Well! said Toko from behind me.

I turned back to look at Toko as she rose and walked over, a triumphant
smirk on her face, and bent over Noriko.

--I thought so. You really thought I didn't understand?

--I don't know what you're talking about, replied Noriko, her smile
fading, not looking up.

--I'd be worried too, said Toko with a leer. It's not as if you're the
only person who ever wanted to worship at Rosa Gigantea's temple!

It is fortunate that we have never, at least as long as I have been
there, had anybody fall down the steps of Shoguji. The steps are high
enough that anybody falling down their full length would surely be
seriously injured. It was only by catching Noriko's arm at the last
moment that I was able to prevent her from pushing Toko over or
knocking her legs out from under her and sending her tumbling down the
steps. As it was it was Noriko's tea cup that tumbled down the steps,
making the only sound during the next few moments of silence.

--What did you say? I finally managed to ask.

--Toko, said Yumi sternly, I can't believe you said that! Take that
back at once!

--It's true isn't it? Toko replied, no longer smiling, clearly
unrepentant. Suguru told me all about Sei Sato. Even if he hadn't heard
he could tell. She's just like him. You know that as well as I do,

Noriko drew in a deep breath, visibly trying to restrain herself as
best she could, before asking Toko:

--If you are as mature as you think you are, why do you have no shame?

Toko was silent a moment, not seeming to know how to respond, before
drawing herself up to her full height, turning up her nose and

--I know when I'm not wanted. Good day!

With that Toko stormed down the steps, not bothering to look back at
us. It was only then that I finally dared let go of Noriko's arm.

--I should go too, said Yumi, rising herself and bowing apologetically,
an embarrassed smile on her lips.

--There's no hurry, said Noriko. The next bus isn't for another hour.
She won't get far on foot.

--Please don't go, Rosa Chinensis. Noriko, I can't believe you would
try to do such a thing to Toko. She could have wound up in the
hospital. Go apologize!

--Why should I be the one to apologize?

That is what Noriko said, but they both must have realized I wanted
some time alone with Yumi, because Noriko after a moment's hesitation
capitulated and started down the steps after Toko, and Yumi sat back
down and fixed her eyes on Toko as she slowly disappeared down the
path, as if not daring to look at me.

--I'm really sorry about Toko, began Yumi at last. She had no right

--Rosa Chinensis, I said firmly, I know you mean well. In her heart I
know Toko means well. But please leave Noriko to me, and ask Toko to do
the same.

--I'm just afraid she'll be lonely.

--You don't know her like I do. She's a solitary person by nature.
She's a lot like Sei that way.

--Maybe it's just as well I can't go with you after all.

--What? Why? Don't be silly! Don't you think she'd have been glad to
see you too?

I admit I was upset, but not so much with Yumi as with Toko, and I
certainly didn't blame Yumi for what Toko had said. What surprised me
more was Yumi's answer:

--Shimako...that's exactly why. You must have been terribly jealous...

--Why? Because she teased you the way she did all the time? She did it
because you were easy to tease. I never thought anything of that.
Nobody did.

--Sachiko did.

--Sachiko--excuse me--affection like that didn't come naturally to her.
Of course Sei thinks the world of you, I knew that. Why shouldn't she?
I think the world of you...

--You were supposed to be Sei's petite soeur, not me!

--Yumi, I didn't own her! She never belonged to anybody but herself.
And she never claimed to own me. We were very different from you and
Sachiko. Actually, I think she did it to tease Sachiko too. Am I wrong?

--Shimako, you don't understand... I miss Sei too. A lot. Sometimes I
miss her more than I do Sachiko. Isn't that awful?

I could hear the catch in Yumi's throat. She was right. I was sure by
now there was something I didn't understand. I replied as gently as I

--Yumi, what's the matter? Tell me.

--I never told you about the day Sei graduated, did I?

--What about it?

Yumi took a deep breath and shut her eyes, as if to gather her strength
before she went on:

--She was in her classroom--I must have surprised her, because she
jumped a little when I came in. I asked her if there was anything I
could do for her before she left. She wasn't really leaving, not then
anyway, but I didn't know that. She said, "All right then, if you want
to give me something, how about a kiss?" And she took me by the
shoulders and said, "There's a good girl" or something like that, and
moved her lips towards mine as if she was going to kiss me, very very
slowly. So I stood there, not moving for a moment, and I couldn't help
but think how really lovely she was. Then I realized what she was about
to do, or what I thought she was about to do, and I panicked and ran to
the other end of the room, which is probably what she expected me to do
in the first place, because she said then, like it was another joke,
"Oh dearie me, I'm just not going to me able to graduate without that
kiss!" That's what she said, but--I could tell that she wasn't really
joking. She really wanted that kiss. It was in her eyes...

The truth was I knew what she meant. I had noticed it long before Yumi

--The thing is...I had always wanted her to kiss me. But not as a joke,
really to kiss me. And was those eyes, full of love and
desire, and for _me_--oh God, I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was
true, I'd never seen her look at me like that--Sachiko never did, not
like that--nobody'd _ever_ looked at me like that--and before I knew
what I was doing I ran back I went over and kissed her on the side of
the mouth--right here.

Yumi turned towards me just then, pointing to the left side of her
mouth. She laughed a little sadly before going on:

--You should have seen her face then. I'd never seen her eyes so wide.
I guess it never even occurred to her I'd want to do that. Then what I
realized what I'd done I was afraid again, and started to run off, but
then she caught me and held me in her arms, and told me she loved me.
And this time I could tell she really meant it...


--Shimako, that was my first kiss!

Of course. I suppose I had known who it would be.

--I used to think of it a lot, Yumi went on. I still do, sometimes. I
used to think of how I wanted to kiss her over and over and over
again...and let her kiss me and hold me again. If I was going to let
anybody at all do that, I wanted it to be her. But then I'd think, if I
told Shimako that she'd never speak to me again. Shimako ought to have
been the one to get her first kiss from Sei and have Sei hold her in
her arms, not me...

--Yumi, I finally managed to say, why did you tell me that just now?

--I just thought...she must have been afraid too. Maybe because of
Shiori, I don't know. I don't think she'd ever have kissed me herself.
She must have been afraid to open her heart to anybody, unless she was
absolutely sure that someone loved her too...

I said nothing. There was nothing that needed to be said.

--Will you ask her if she still has the frog I gave her? Yumi said.

--If you like.

--I gave it to her so I could tell her to come back, but I think I only
bought it at all for her because I knew this time she really was going
away and not coming back. Like Sachiko did. Now you're going too.
I was always afraid you would...

I had often been together that year, as Rosa Gigantea, with the beautiful,
popular and admired Rosa Chinensis, one of the best, even the teachers
said, that Lillian had seen in a generation. But it had been a long time
since I had been alone together with the child I had known and come to
love when I came to Lillian. It was clearly Yumi before me now, trying
not to cry or beg me not to abandon her, as Sachiko had done.


--I'm sorry. I guess I'm the one who's afraid she'll be lonely.

I reached over to Yumi and gently stroked her hair, trying to sooth
her. My hands went too easily through the unbound, short hair; I wished
it had been the ponytails she had when I first met her.

--It's all right, Yumi! I said. I'll come back. I'm not dying!

It was that night that Noriko let go for the first time, crying out as
if in her last agony.

That was the memory that woke me up completely. Once such thoughts
enter my head, there is only two ways that I know of, when I am alone,
to put them out of my mind. Only one is completely dependable. However,
if I did that, I would become drowsy again, and I was sure it was high
time I rose. It was already getting dark outside.

I could feel the rosary under my blouse around my neck, reminding me of
the other. I silently said a decade of the Rosary.

When I was done I got up and dug into my backpack for my toothbrush and
some clean clothes. Black pants and a light grey sweater, which I'd
gotten in Italy. Not heavy enough for the weather--it was colder than I
was used to for autumn--but it was probably the most fashionable outfit
I had, and surely it would be passable for anywhere we might go.

The upstairs hall led to a couple of steps to a landing, and the
landing to the stairs, all carpeted in a pattern dominated by brown. As
I came down I was able to hear Sei and Madeleine downstairs talking
animatedly in French. Even had I understood it, though, I don't think I
could have made out their conversation until I was all the way down.

To my right as I reached the bottom of the stairs was the living room,
with a sofa and two armchairs with wooden arms. On the arm of one was
sitting a copy of The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, presumably
the Atwood she had mentioned before. Behind the other was a cabinet
with various bric-à-brac on the shelves, including dishes embossed with
the numbers 25 painted in silver, presumably an anniversary present,
possibly Madeleine's but just as likely her mother's. A fireplace was
obviously the original focus of the room, but the real focal point of
the room today was now the television, to my right by the front window.
It was tuned to some French-language channel or other, which was just
now broadcasting a news article about (according to the caption) a man
called Boisclair. It was already past five o'clock.

Neither Sei nor Madeleine were watching the television; for that
matter, as I turned to look into the small kitchen containing the table
at which they were sitting drinking coffee and eating cookies, they did
not even notice me at first, so caught up as they were in their
conversation. Sei seemed to be hunting for a word.

--...ah, que c'est que ça encore? Jardin d'enfance? Kindergarten?

--La maternelle, said Madeleine.

--Ouais, c'est ça--le premier jour de la maternelle--on attend
l'autobus en dehors de l’école, pis une fille m’a approché pis à m'a
dit, sans même dire bonjour, "Êtes-vous une Américaine?"

--Américaine? T'as l'air ben Asiatique...T'es-tu ben Américaine?

It was not always Noriko who visited me--I'd visited Noriko at her
aunt's house a few times, though not as often, and would sit and listen
for hours on end, just listening, not having the heart to interrupt,
preferring to hear them talk of their own little world. It was like
listening to a song.

--Non!--enteka, j'ai rien dit, pis à dit, "Ah, c'est ça! Vous êtes
une..." ah...j'veux dire un half...que c'est que ça? Mi-Blanche, mi-


--Un Métis? Comme Louis Riel?

--Ouais, c'est ça...

Listening to Sei and Madeleine talk was much the same, like listening
to a song of a far away place in a language I did not know. A Canadian
folk song perhaps.

--Enteka, à m'a dit, "Vous êtes une métisse! Est-ce que c'est votre
père qui est blanc, ou votre mere?" Pis j'étais pas mal insultée, moé,
une Japonaise, d'être traitée d'une métisse. Y me fallait l'insulter,
elle itou! Mais j'savais pas insulter quelqu'un, pas vraiment,
j'n'avais que cinq ans. Enfin je voyais qu'avait un front large, elle,
pis j'la dis, "Crisse-moé la paix, la fille au front large!"

The tune suited Sei somehow, on the surface quick and light-hearted,
but underneath it all a hint of melancholy.

Loneliness, perhaps.

--Mais j'l'ai dit en japonais, ben sûr, donc en fait j'ai dit...

With that Sei drew in a very deep breath, or at least pretended to, and
shouted in a juvenile voice:


I couldn't help but laugh along with Madeleine as Sei came to the
climax of her story. Perhaps it was Sei's childish tone. Perhaps it was
the sudden Japanese word, disrupting the flow of French so jarringly.
Then again, perhaps it was simply because Madeleine was laughing too.
On hearing me laugh Sei turned around and saw me.

--Oh, hi, Shimako. I know it's after four, I'm sorry. Lot of the clubs
don't even open 'til nine, so I figured I'd leave you a little longer.
I was just about to get feeling better?

--Yes, thank it all right if I use the shower? I wanted to

--Hello, Shimako, said Madeleine in English. Did you sleep well? Do you
want some coffee to wake you up?

--No, no...thank you...I want...the shower. La douche?

Madeleine opened her mouth as if about to answer, but Sei spoke first,
in Japanese:

--Go back out into the hall and turn right. It's in the washroom.

--Thank you...

--Thanks for reminding me, actually. I could use one myself, if I'm
going to take you out...

--I'll be right out.

--No worries, we've got all evening. Take your time. Unless you want me
to join you in there...

I was no longer so irritable that I had the urge to snap at Sei for
saying something like that, because (I was sure by now) of course she
didn't mean it. To be frank, I still wasn't alert enough to respond at
all. So I just stood there, I imagine looking rather stupid. All I
could really think of was the rosary.

--Kidding, kidding...go on.

I left Sei and Madeleine to their conversation and went into the
washroom. A combination shower and bath, with a rack holding several
types of shampoos--many rarely used, apparently--and in the same room a
medicine cabinet, a toilet and a sink on which sat a water glass and a
couple of toothbrushes. Everything but the cabinet was in a faded shade
of pink. It too probably had not been renovated in thirty years or
more. It must have been Madeleine's mother who had decorated it.

I ran the shower, and after the water had assumed a comfortable
temperature I took my clothes off and stepped in. I didn't start
washing immediately, though, but stood, letting the water flow over my
body, and over the rosary.

How can I describe it? Should I?

Noriko adored me, kissing me lightly, deliberately and reverently all
over, as if adoring a Buddha. It was a long time before I was able to
let go when we were together like that, on the nights she would stay
after the last bus left and she would sleep in my room. Perhaps it was
fear Father would catch us, though he never did, nor even objected to
Noriko's staying at the temple no matter how often she did so. Noriko's
aunt never objected either. I wondered if it was because she had been a
student at Lillian. Noriko's aunt must have known, if not seen, what
some of the girls did together. Perhaps she knew why Noriko spent so
much time at Shoguji. Perhaps Father did too.

Our relationship as soeurs had always been an unusual one. I had never
tried to dominate her, and in our relationship Noriko had always taken
the lead. I had not offered my rosary to Noriko; she had asked me for
it, affecting to want to borrow it. One could be forgiven for thinking
I was the petite soeur, not she. So it made sense that one summer
night, when she was still in her first year and she had missed the bus
home, that she was the one to take me.

Or perhaps give herself to me. Because she never asked me to touch her
in return, even though it was natural that I found her beautiful at
times like those in a way unlike any other time. She adored me as she
would a god or Buddha, asking for nothing in return for her offering
but my favour, and not expecting even that. For her it was enough when
I would look into her eyes and stroke her hair, or embrace her as we
drifted off to sleep. I do not think it displeased her to be touched,
by any means; certainly she always seemed happy to let me. But much of
that must have been because she knew it pleased me to touch her. She
never seemed to become calm the way I did when she touched me, no
matter how much I encouraged her with caresses and tender words, much
less be able to let herself go.

That day was different.

That day, after Yumi told me about her and Sei, I had finally taken her
into the sanctuary to pray. We had not been there long when Noriko came
in with Toko. Noriko looked impassive. Toko had been crying.

--So how do you pray to Buddha again? she said to Noriko.

--I thought you were a Catholic, said Noriko, raising an eyebrow.

--I'm not a very good one, Toko replied.

That night, when it was over and we were embracing, I asked Noriko:

--What happened?

--By the time I caught up with Toko I realized what I had tried to do,
and tried to apologize. She turned on her heel and shouted, "Fine!
Enjoy your oneesama while you can! If you think you'll have her to
yourself forever you've got another thing coming!" She said it as if it
had never occurred to me, even though the fact was I had known that all

She turned over to look at me and went on:

--And then, just now...I couldn't help but think of you and Sei Sato.
Together. It should have been a horrible thought, but it was so
beautiful. Isn't that strange?

I said nothing. There was nothing I could possibly say.

--There's something I should return to you, Noriko said.


Noriko reached over to her side of the futon where her clothes lay and
turned back to show me the rosary that Sei had given me, that I had
given to Noriko.

--Noriko, I said, my voice trembling, you don't understand. I never did
this with Sei. She never laid a finger on me. She never said she wanted
to even as a joke.

--I told you I was only borrowing it. I always meant to return it to
you. If you don't want it, shouldn't you return it to Sei? She was the
one who gave it to you.


--Tell Rosa Chinensis she can graduate without worrying about me. So
can you. I always knew we would have to part. Why shouldn't you go to
Canada? You can be a Christian anywhere.

--Noriko...I don't even know if I'll be going there to stay yet. I'm
not even going to graduate until Easter.

--That's all right. There's no need to make a fuss. There's no need to
tell a soul. I'll stay by your side until then. I'll even be Rosa
Gigantea if I must. I still love you, Shimako. I always will. That's
why I'm doing this. If I don't give you up now, I'll never be able to.

--Noriko, please! I said, pleading. Just because Toko said something

--I said she was shameless. I didn't call her a liar. If she has no
shame, why should she lie? Please, Shimako, don't be greedy.

She was smiling, a look of peace in her eyes. I had never seen her look
so beautiful.

--I suppose I am greedy. If I weren't I would never have let you do
this. I've played a very shabby trick on you, haven't I? And I've been
passing myself off as your grande soeur, taking advantage of you the
whole time...

--You gave more than you took. Much more. You helped me become a woman.

--Because we did this?

--Because I came to love you. Look at it this way. To be enlightened, I
have to give up desire. If I never knew desire, how could I be
enlightened? Hold still.

I did, and Noriko put the rosary around my own neck, and when she was
done looked into my eyes and stroked my hair.

--It looks more beautiful on you than it ever did on me, she said.

And with that she kissed me full on the mouth for what I knew would be
the last time, before rising from my futon and putting on her sleeping
kimono so she could go sleep under the kotatsu in the living room.

I had never actually worn the rosary around my neck before I gave it to
Noriko, and now in the shower it felt out of place where it was,
hanging down between my breasts. Before, I had always worn it tied
around my wrist as Sei had done. I had tried to tie it there before I
got on the plane, but for some reason I had been unable to get it to
stay tied to my wrist. I had put it around my neck, under my blouse,
and considered the act done.

Now, when I took the rosary off and wrapped it around my wrist, using
the crucifix to get it to hold in place, I was able to get it to hold
fast to my wrist with no trouble at all.


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