After the Storm

Posted on: July 8, 2013

The first frost came early that year, hardening the alluvial mountain earth – with it, soon after, the first winter storm. That meant the main road that cut through the mountains and out of the town was closed early, though it was at some point every winter. So Arata waited.

Time’s forward progression no longer felt like a certainty as the harsh frost froze everything it touched. Arata waited without any assurance that waiting would bring her any closer to realizing her plans. She sat patiently in the quiet of her living room watching the smoke snake out of her neighbor’s detached kitchen. Now and again, a huddled mass could be seen rushing from the kitchen to its attendant house with an armful of steaming food. She thought how curious it was that a detached kitchen, an antiquated and inconvenient architectural design, should still exist. The days and weeks and months passed and Arata continued to sit and wait. There was nothing else left for her to do.

Then spring came.

The winter weather had finally broken and the heavy curtain of cold lifted. The transformation was sudden. In a matter of days, the accumulated snow gave way to a dramatic explosion of green.

Arata gathered her worn suitcase, one her father had given to her before she went off to university, which she had prepared months before that first winter storm. Bits of dried faux leather flaked at its corners, revealing a layer of thin foam intended to mimic the suppleness of real animal hide. Memories of her father soon occupied her mind and she thought of how she had always despised her name. She was older now, but still carried a harmless resentment towards her parents for having given her a boy’s name.

At her doorway, decrepit suitcase in hand, she turned to look at the house where she had raised her family. She had always been, first and foremost, a mother and the house was her domain. From where she stood, the living room to her right and the hallway leading to the two bedrooms to her left, she could see the small kitchen, gently illuminated by the early dawn sunlight, just beyond the foyer where she had spent so many hours of her life. The pots and pans were suspended over the narrow gas range from a rack now caked in hardened grease. The pantry adjacent to the range was stocked with a healthy quantity of dried and canned staples. Arata wondered if she had left any milk in her refrigerator and contemplated checking, but then decided that it didn’t matter.

Arata pictured her children’s bedroom and the bedroom she had shared with her husband, the closets storing decades’ worth of clothing. In the foyer itself, a family portrait sat atop a candlestand table, welcoming visitors as they entered the home. Arata checked her watch and closed the door behind her, leaving it unlocked as she left.

The virgin spring air was cool, a remnant of the long winter. Arata made her way slowly to the bus station on the other side of town, both to enjoy the fresh air and because the slight hitch in her gait forced her. It was early yet, so the shops were still shuttered. She smiled politely at the handful of proprietors getting ready for the day’s business.

“Good morning Mrs. Sato. Going on a trip?” Mr. Yoshida asked.

What was this?

Arata shared the bus into the city with just one other passenger, a young woman dressed in traditional Japanese garb. She regarded the young woman’s beauty and wondered why she was dressed so formally before turning to her own translucent reflection in the clouded glass. Vanity had once been her greatest weakness. Even now, having been humbled by the passage of time, she took quiet pride in her girlish appearance which so often fooled those who attempted to guess her age. Only her hands, with its deep folds and dark blemishes, gave any indication of a life long-lived.

Arata took the sleeve of her thin cotton sweater into her fist and wiped away the condensation on the bus window, leaving a trail of water droplets in her wake. For a brief moment, she could see the world outside with a level of clarity possible only in contrast, but the early morning air quickly shrouded the glass pane with a new layer of fog.

Her right arm was propped against her seat, her left rested atop her suitcase just lightly enough to ensure it was there. The bus was at an incline as it climbed the unpaved mountain roads, still soft and moist from newly melted snow, the trees a continuous blur of green. She wasn’t running away. No, that would imply a shirking of authority or obligation – but there was none of that left, her children and her husband having passed. Doubt was all that was left. This was something different. She wondered if her motivation was even relevant anymore.

There was a past and a future, maybe. But there was no present.

As the bus entered the city proper, the mountain clouds that had clung stubbornly to the bus and the dreamlike miasma that had encapsulated the vehicle, dissipated. The unruly ride of the rural roads gave way to a dull hum of paved highways. Arata wasn’t sure if she had fallen asleep during the bus ride, but when she opened her eyes the world had changed. She turned her body towards the bus’s panoramic windows with a childlike enthusiasm as she saw the urban landscape come into view. Her heart beat headily.

As Arata stepped off the bus, the urban din immediately flooded her head, but the discordance played like a wonderful orchestra to her. The grey of the city was a curious novelty – even the green of the trees were darkened by the shadow of the imposing skyscrapers. Perhaps here she could disappear. Perhaps here, her solitude would be a blessing. This was the present now.

Written By: James Mo
Photo By: Becky Lee

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