Being a transcription of some of the last writings of Lillian Alexandra Anderson Satou, penned in her own hand in the month of June in the Year of Our Lord 2074, and dedicated to the memory of old friends and the glory of God. The original documents may be found in the care of the archivist of the Church of St. Stephen, in which graveyard her mortal remains are interred.
Lilly: Testament4 (T +50)
It is rather unbecoming of a lady in her eighties to be rushing around. But over lunch, and after a short but meaningful stop at the Russian museum, I felt the need to return to my writing, and told dear Hana so.
She gave me the silence she has perfected over the years, which says, “Do what you have to do, but I know what you’re doing!” and then said instead, “You’re up to 2030, Lilly?” There’s no hiding anything from my closest friend, most of the time.
The year you turn forty-one is the year that you know youth is gone forever. If you once had illusions of having had a life at twenty-one, you are now well and truly almost two such lifetimes in debt. It was not a bad year when I celebrated that birthday, but it collapsed rather dramatically later, into a shambles that I would rather forget—but cannot.
To tell the truth, I am not up to 2030 yet. I have a tiny bit more of 2029 to mention. And then, I promise you, dear reader, I shall write about the year I left Japan forever.
It was on the morning of Sunday, 18th March, in the Year of our Lord 2029, that the doors of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Edinburgh released blinding light into its relatively small nave. There were few guests at this most private of weddings, for which special permission had had to be sought. The Satou girls are all Catholic, and so are their children, by right—and nominally, that included the big man on whom the light shone as he awaited his bride. The light was behind us as Akiko, Hana’s goddaughter, led us into the church to some rich and brooding tune which I knew to be one composed by Vaughan Williams. On that day, I still had no understanding of what it was to be illuminated in daylight, but I associated what Akira conveyed in whispers to me with warmth, and air, and perhaps my own never-never wedding from a dream so long ago.
I could feel Hana twitch, her old nervousness returning. I gently placed my hand on her arm, only to realize that I too was trembling a little. On her other side, Akira continued her whispered commentary: “Uncle Akio is here! Oh, and Rika with him. Appallingly beautiful, pale, cold, skinny. Like a vampire. She’s only here because she’s the official Katayama rep.”
Yes, and Hideaki’s counterpart in that Family. We both resented her, but left it unsaid. Our dear uncle had been sad for so long, but now he was happy with his new wife, and that—oh, so selfish of us!—seemed unnatural. The bitterness passed, however, and we took our cues to lead our dear friend up the aisle to her appointment with the one who had loved her for so long, and at such cost.
I had no desire to enter into Family business, and so, apart from the fact that Father owned shares in my first two restaurants and occasionally arm-twisted the Hokkaido brethren, I was untouched by goings-on back in Japan. This happy state lasted even through the first half of 2030. I was older, true, but I did not particularly feel so. My best friend brought a baby girl into the world on St David’s Day, and they named her Kitsune, which I thought was unusual, but sweet.
When Emi Ibarazaki died, Hanako and Hideaki told me that they were staying in Japan to look after Hisao’s children. I felt only a very faint twinge of melancholy. I suppose my main concern was for those children, who were suddenly orphans. Akira flew out to join them, and I was left alone with my thoughts.
Hisao’s wife had always been… ‘spunky’, I suppose, filled with a certain passion for life and a desire to impart that passion to others. I had never known her well, and on bad days, I felt (wrongly and uncharitably, of course) she had taken what had been mine by right. Perhaps that was why I so readily acquiesced (not that I had any real right to demur) when Shizune put forward Hideaki’s suggestion with regard to the children. But I really am getting ahead of my story now.
I had started planning in May, reminded of mortality and promises, to visit Hisao’s grave as I had promised years ago. Charting my course through the calendar, it came to me that I had indeed been with him during Tanabata in 2024, but not in a way any of us could have expected or desired. I opened his music-box, stilling its voice with a finger as I withdrew the thin strip of parchment I kept in it. Simple lines, punched into the paper:
star-crossed, we broke faith
the winter world between us
see me in summer
trace the north sea’s wistful road
read my autumn scroll
I had always wondered about how much effort Hisao had expended, composing in English. Haiku is an art that is difficult even in our native language. The attempt spoke well of its author, and each time I read those pinprick lines, I felt greatly touched, even if only by words from beyond the grave. I was also sure that ‘see’ had been meant both metaphorically and as a reminder of an old joke. The Hisao who had written this was surely a more complex man than the callow youth of decades past.
Then the terrible news came. I could hardly understand what Akira was trying to say. It was morning in Scotland, and afternoon in Japan. But when I finally got the message, it was night all over again, cold and bleak. Did anyone ever wonder what I first felt in Hisao’s face? I had felt a familiar strength, a familiar sense of curiosity and indecision that had not quite become weakness—I had found a memory of the first masculine face I had really become fond of: my uncle Akio’s irregular, slightly unkempt features. And he had been taken from us, untimely ripped, as our Scottish play would have it.
I am not ashamed, old as I am now, to say that I wept then. It was all too much. You can love, and love again, but when the time comes, it will pour out of you like milk from an urn, spilt and useless as its odour rises around you. I wanted to be in Japan, in Sendai; to sit in the warm bay window of an old apartment, and have the fading scent of Aunt Michi and the whisky fragrance of Uncle Akio teach me the meaning of melancholy that was not total loss.
The burial would be a quiet one. I would not be there. I told myself I could not bear it. By now, dear reader, you will have realized that in some ways, the Lilly Satou you thought I was is not as brave, nor as heroic, as the stories might have said. And yet, on the tenth day of July, I bade farewell to Mother and Father, to Warlock my loyal Friesian steed and to the manse at Inverness, and caught a flight towards the rising sun.
“Happy belated birthday, Hanako!” I whispered. Even to myself, I sounded weak, lacking in vitality. No doubt it had been a long flight, into an unfamiliar (and yet terribly familiar) airport—but that was no excuse. I gave her the brooch of sea-polished Norwegian amber set in antique silver that I had been meaning to give her for a while, and she carefully accepted it.
“It’s beautiful, Lilly! Where did you get it?”
“St Mary’s, at Christmas. I thought I’d give it to you then, but you’d been a naughty girl.”
She stiffened slightly, then giggled. At Christmas, Hanako had been experiencing unusual difficulties with her pregnancy, and they had not been able to travel. Hideaki wrapped a large arm around my shoulders and said, “Ach, but she’s a right dainty wean, noo?” in a terrible fake-Scottish accent, which set us all off again.
After we had calmed down a bit, he coughed and continued. “So, cousin Lilly, about a month? That is great news. We’re glad to have you back in Japan for so long. Unfortunately, Hana has a little trip overseas in early August, so we can’t both be with you throughout. What are your plans?”
My plans, dear reader, were all mixed up in my head. No doubt, Hideaki would later edit and summarise things to make it seem as if I had a clear itinerary and was merely wrapping things up. But I had a long journey to make, and it looked quite a mess.
We drove from Sendai Airport to the Academy, where we checked in with Hideaki’s sister. She still had that electrifying presence, that tension which raised my hackles instinctively. But we were on friendlier terms, that year. Old animosities had been laid to rest along with Hisao, and then later, Uncle Jigoro—not that either Akira or I had been part of that old family tangle.
When we finally reached the grave up on Mount Aoba, I spent long moments absorbing the atmosphere of that secluded site. Uncle Akio had clearly taken pains to find a place that would be difficult to reach and hidden from most. When Shizune held my hands and told me about the smaller marker, I felt my world somersault as one mystery suddenly resolved. I felt very sorry for Aunt Michi, and how their lives had been blighted by this terrible event.
Then I sensed another living presence. I heard Hideaki move forward and greet someone. “Rika, thank you for coming. Cousin Lilly, here is Uncle’s second wife. She insisted on meeting you today.”
To say that I was unprepared was a bit of an understatement. I must admit I felt a little upset, even angry, especially after thinking of Aunt Michiko. I had wanted this to be a private goodbye, a family thing… then the more charitable side of me realized: Rika too had lost someone very important to her. I felt absolutely rotten to have felt such dislike for her in the past.
I heard her moving to greet me, the traditional behaviour of a junior to a senior. She was almost soundless as she bowed, and only Hideaki’s gentle signal at my elbow alerted me as to what she was doing. I returned her bow as best as I could.
“Cousin Lilly? This inadequate person is greatly honoured that you have allowed this meeting. Your uncle always spoke highly of you. He regretted not being able to spend more time with you, over the last few years. He left something for you, and this person humbly insisted on giving it to you by hand.”
Oh, that was a sharp knife indeed. I had once had a terrible childhood crush on Uncle Akio. Akira and I had once (well, at least once) had harsh words about that. After I’d left for Scotland, Akira had returned at least once a year to visit him, but I never had. I had briefly met him at Hisao’s funeral and at the wedding in Edinburgh, but not conversed much. I regretted that, as with so many other things.
“Thank you, Katayama-san.” I remember feeling awkward. How did one address the second wife of one’s uncle, who happened to be your junior from high school days? She had called me ‘Cousin’. I did not feel I could call her ‘Cousin Rika’ in return.
I heard the sound of paper being slightly crumpled or uncrumpled. “May this person read his note to you, Satou-san? There is also Braille if you would prefer to read it yourself.”
“Please do me that honour, Rika.” I had decided to dispense with formal address completely, but her earnest courtesy was beginning to infect me.
She cleared her throat softly and began. “The note reads thus: [For my beloved niece, Lilly: hand-forged titanium links, ruthenium-alloy clasp, beads in lapis lazuli and gold. ‘Light shines in darkness, even though the darkness cannot comprehend it.’
A small, knobbly package wrapped carefully in soft, strong tissue of some sort. I knew what it was before I opened it: a rosary, from a man who had never had much time for such things. In itself, I suspected it was valuable. From his hands, it was beyond price. I remember little else from that day, apart from our silent descent. In my heart, I was finally accepting that some goodbyes were forever.
Dear reader, I am quite sure that by now, you must be thinking that this old lady had been quite the glutton for self-flagellation in her younger days. Let me assure you that my last journeying through Japan was not really that; rather, it was time to clear the slate and begin anew. If you are younger than I was then, you might also think that at forty-one, it was far too late. My answer to that is that it is never too late for oneself, even if it might be too late for others.
And so it was that days later, I sat in a quiet, strange and yet painfully familiar room. It was early evening, and I was alone. Hideaki, my ever-faithful accomplice, had guided me up into the hills, although I had been quite certain of finding my way alone. He had merely laughed and said, “Hana would never forgive me, dear cousin, if I’d abandoned you. Damn, there’d be Akira and even my sister to deal with. Don’t worry, I’ll come and retrieve you when it’s time.”
“I’m not worrying!” I had said to him. His reply was to chuckle, remain silent throughout our trip, and then remind me only when we had reached our destination that he would be on call. He let me into the old house, and described enough of it for me to get my bearings and avoid tripping over things. Then I heard his footsteps trudge off through the summer fields.
Around me, I felt the ghosts. Young Lilly. Young Hanako. The boy, whom they had both loved and lost. The boy, bemused, concerned, aroused, solicitous, dismayed, happy. The furniture was new, and the flooring was different. I sat, and waited. My memories no longer overwhelmed me. But I needed to speak to someone.
She let herself into the house, her house, in an efficient, quiet way. I heard her ‘tsk’ as she noticed what must have been dirt or some other trace of intrusion. Then she stopped. A lesser woman might have expressed shock. This was Aunt Michi, my father’s youngest sister, soft and gentle, but made of stern Satou stock.
“Lilly? Oh, my God. It really is you, my niece.” She moved towards me, around the leather sofa that had replaced the old one. I tried to stand, and tottered slightly. She caught me. She was much smaller than I remembered, a petite woman. I felt large and ugly next to her.
“May I?” I asked, reaching tentatively towards her. She understood at once, and brought my hand to her face. I felt her let go, then grasp me around the waist and hug me so tightly that I gasped.
Her face had fine lines in it that had not been there before. She was keeping herself trim; I could feel a bony hip through her jeans, and firm muscle under her loose blouse. “I’ve m-missed you,” I whispered. I had lost too many people already.
That night, she told me the rest of her story. She also told me she had been acting as Father’s independent agent in Hokkaido, and congratulated me on my business acumen. My family, it seemed, had an annoying habit of keeping secrets. I had not known of this at all, although in retrospect I would have been surprised if my aunt had not had anything to do with the family business.
But what stayed with me most were her words before I left the next day. “We all make mistakes. All we can do is try not to make them again, and move on. I never stopped missing your uncle, but it was best to move on. We were both at fault, maybe one of us more so than the other. You need to know, though, that when he decided he might want to marry Rika Katayama, I was happy for him and told him so; when he died, Rika and I grieved together. Forgiveness is a mercy to both those who give and those who receive.”
She walked me out. Hideaki was already waiting in the car, having excused himself to give us ‘more time to finish the woman talk’. Sometimes, that man made himself sound like his father, but it was all obviously a joke.
I waved in her direction, and she raised her voice in reply, “Goodbye, Lillian Alexandra! May you find a peace that passes all understanding!”
I never saw Aunt Michiko again.
It was early August before I confirmed my appointment with Shizune. I would be meeting her at the right time, in the right place. But that lay a few days in my future.
Like a ghost, I had spent my time wandering around Japan and going to places I felt sure I would never have the opportunity to visit again. On rare occasions, Akira was with me; sometimes, Hanako and Hideaki—but they were busy with Kit, and it would have been wrong of me to impose. Much of the time, I improvised the way I always have. New technology had of course made things much easier since the days of high school.
So it was that armed with nothing much more than my GPS cane and a few wise precautions, I came at last to a little church in Saitama. It was quiet there, on a weekday morning. The man who met me there was a stranger, even though I had known him for decades.
“How are you?” he said, sounding like a perfectly normal congregant who had walked into church to attend the celebration of daily Mass.
“I’m fine,” I replied quietly. “How have you been? And the children, I hear?”
“They’re good. It’s a surprise that you’re here talking to me. I said to myself, what the hell is that blind bitch doing in Japan again. And then I banged my head against the wall for reverting to old stupid me from the bad old days. Then I apologised to you, even though of course you weren’t there to hear it.”
I laughed softly, behind my hand. He had not changed much, in some ways. But you could tell he wasn’t crazy anymore—if he ever had been. On the other hand, I had come to talk to him about something else from the distant past.
“You were a good friend of his, weren’t you? I was surprised to hear you’d kept in touch.”
“Oh yes. We were quite close. It was a surprise to me too. That’s a nice rosary, by the way. Good Japanese craftsmanship. But really, what are you doing in Japan?” Before I could reply, he added, “Sorry, my professional life makes me ask everyone that question. Haha. And yes, I’m blind too, but I see very well. You should get Hakamichi implants.”
I fought a surge of impatience. “I’m leaving Japan for good, after this. I just wanted to say goodbye, clear things up a bit. It probably sounds rather silly and desperate to you, but… did he ever mention me?” Yes, dear reader, I did really want to know.
I could feel him tense up a bit. Then I felt his hand, surprisingly large and dry and firm, come down gently on my own clasped hands. “Ah heck,” he began, speaking almost as if only to himself, “It can’t hurt now. He’s gone, she’s gone, and we’re like family anyway, right? No noise about Mafia feminists? Templars at Edinburgh? What? Painting banners on the classroom floor? Heh, never mind. Let’s do this.”
I moved my hands a little, just enough to indicate that perhaps he should continue—and he did. “He couldn’t forget you, remembered your birthday and all. Don’t get me wrong, he loved Emi completely, as his wife and at the end. But some things you don’t lose. Trust me on that. Have you been to his grave?”
The abrupt shift of topics was something I realized I had to get used to again. But I wondered about that. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh? You haven’t, then. Go. It’s been very nice seeing you again, Lilly Satou. Ha, it’s been nice seeing anything at all. We’re not so different, you know. My wife said to say hello, but you’ve probably already met her.”
“Have a nice day,” he added as an afterthought. He had already risen from the pew. He paused for a while, presumably facing the altar or tabernacle, and began to walk away.
Still rather rude, I noted. I felt a sense of resignation without closure. Then he stopped, and I heard his footsteps returning. “He never forgot, you know. And that meant I never forgot. Come outside for a while.”
I got up and followed him, making my gestures of respect along the way. The blind, leading the blind. When we were outside, he told me to turn until I was facing the sun. Then he reached up and I felt his lips brush drily across my cheek, for a fraction of a second, almost like a lapse in my imagination.
“That’s from him. He would’ve wanted that. Goodbye, Lilly Satou.”
And then I was alone again.
I decided to fly down to Okinawa for a couple of days, but there was little left for me to find, and I took the short hop back up to Narita because that was where I had agreed to meet Hideaki. I told him nothing about what I had been doing, because I was not sure enough of myself to do that.
He greeted me warmly as usual, but sounded rather tired. He had been looking after Kit while Hana was away on her trip. I collected my flowers from the airport shop and he helped me with my bag.
He waited for me to get belted into the passenger seat of his monstrous vehicle before he asked me, “So, Cousin Lilly, what has really brought you home this last time?”
I had given quite a bit of thought to my little sojourn, but even so, his blunt question had come as a surprise. “Ah, well, promises. One of the main things is that I’ve yet to fulfill my promise to return to Hisao’s grave and pay proper final respects.”
“Oh? You’ve not yet seen… ah, sorry, experienced our uncle’s beautiful craftsmanship?”
I laugh briefly and awkwardly. “No, not yet.” I had, of course, a marvelous example of that around my neck. But I am sure Hideaki meant the mysterious plaque that had been mentioned in Hisao’s will.
“Hmmm.” He drove on, sounding curiously non-committal. At a traffic light, I heard him open and close the glove compartment, as if looking for something. Then he broke the silence. “My sister will join you a little late, but she’ll be there.”
We had arrived at the cemetery. Hideaki guided me to the grave, and then told me he would be waiting outside. I suppose that by now all of you who read this will have known what was on that plaque. I could not have known.
I remember kneeling in the warm, fragrant grass of August. It was the last day of the Sendai Tanabata Festival. I took water and a soft cloth, dabbed at the exposed surfaces gently. Someone had already visited, because the stones felt very clean. I placed my name-flowers in the little receptacle provided. I traced his name, their names engraved together in his stone. On her side I could feel the raised representation of a running-track—in the modern style, a very small inscription read, “Distance is nothing.”
I paused for a while. I spoke to him. I apologised for anything I had to apologise for, and forgave him for anything I should have forgiven. I waited for an answer, out of habit, but I could not hear anything in reply. Then again, he had already told me what to do—perhaps he was waiting for me to do it.
On his side, I felt metal, a rare find in such a place. It was thin but very hard, the surface buffed with a matt finish. An engraving of clouds and stars, I had heard, and now I was feeling them for myself.
The years have passed, all gone now, and the grief has also gone, for the most part. But can you sit with me, dear reader, and imagine the scent of grass, the warmth of the sun, and the blind woman seeking beauty in a metal plate?
In that part of the world is a story of lovers separated by a river of stars. It is said that only on Tanabata can they come close enough to meet again. There were stars on that plaque indeed, punched deep into the metal by my very dear uncle, at the behest of my long-lost friend. They were scattered through the lines that represented the clouds and the banks of the river. But they were not randomly scattered, as I suddenly realized.
Braille. I was trembling in the still summer heat. Stars in the clouds? Light in the darkness. My uncle had also left a clue. I ran my fingers over the steel again. In those stars was a simple statement of fact, a reminder without a promise.
I shall stop here for now. I need some fresh air, and high above me, I am sure the stars are coming out.
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