The cicadas emerge for the last time. (Donuts if you turn your head and squint.)
His finger sank through the ash, deeper and deeper, until he touched the bottom of the bowl.
His stomach twisted. He took his finger out of the bowl and wiped it clean on his handkerchief. He suddenly wanted to throw the bowl, incense and all, against the wall. He wanted to watch the ash fly all over Watanuki's painfully tidy apartment and the bowl shatter into a thousand pieces. It wouldn't be respectful. Watanuki would just start over again, burning incense every day and every night for the spirits of the dead.
He turned away as Watanuki came back into the room, pulling on a jacket. "You'd better bring something to do," he said.
Watanuki looked at him, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. "How long will we be there?"
Doumeki shrugged. "I usually bring a book."
"You don't have one now," said Watanuki.
"I've got a novel in my pocket," said Doumeki indifferently. Watanuki was much more interesting than a novel. He might read if Watanuki started getting mad at him.
Watanuki sniffed. He went by the table and rummaged through a covered basket, producing a mass of yarn and slender knitting needles. He wrapped them neatly in a cloth, folding the ends over and knotting them into a handle. Then he picked up another basket. It was so clearly suggestive of a little something in case they got peckish that Doumeki's mood lifted a little.
"What exactly are we waiting for." Watanuki's voice was not quite cross. He was sitting against the rock, knitting away with vicious speed. He was working on a sock; Doumeki kept thinking that it looked a bit big for Watanuki's foot and squashing the hope resolutely. Of course if by some wild and unlikely chance Watanuki ever did make him a pair of socks, he would have to put them in a drawer to gloat over, and then he'd die for not wearing them. All around he almost prefered the wistful hope.
"I have no idea," said Doumeki.
Watanuki's hands tightened viciously on the needles. Doumeki wondered how much being stabbed in the eye with a sock needle would hurt.
"I mean," said Doumeki, "Grandfather always took me here. I've never actually seen it myself." Doumeki didn't remember the first time his grandfather had taken him. He remembered being with his grandfather, waiting, and knowing it was not the first time. He'd never seen anything in particular, but he knew his grandfather had, and that was enough for him. It was good to sit with his grandfather, waiting quietly until it was time to go home.
"Huh," said Watanuki, but his shoulders untensed a little.
They were quiet again for a little while. The air around them began to cool. There was a sweet scent of dew and flowers in the air. Dusk was falling and Doumeki wondered how Watanuki was able to see his work, but the sound of the needles clicking together didn't slow.
As the last light of the sun faded, Doumeki began to hear a strange, soft sound. It was like a lute, or a cymbal. It was almost like a recorder. As he listened, it became more and more like the voices of girls singing. Watanuki lifted his head and put his work aside. As they listened, the music came closer and closer. Doumeki realized the sound was accompanied by a faint glowing light, coming nearer. A troop of girls, dressed in heavy layers of kimono, came into sight. Their sleeves and their hair brushed over the ground as they walked. Their voices were crystal sweet. They looked almost mortal, except for the thin, iridescent wings flowing from their backs.
They passed by without seeiming to notice or care for Watanuki or Doumeki's presence. Only one of the girls turned to look, as if they were rabbits or deer and not humans. She smiled at Watanuki and drifted over. Her robes were embroidered in ginkgo leaves and some blossom that Doumeki couldn't identify, all green and gold and rainbow colors. She cupped Watanuki's head between her pale hands and kissed him affectionately on the forehead. She patted his cheek gently and moved away to rejoin her sisters. Watanuki stood motionless, as if he was dreaming. His eyes were still closed and his face, slightly tilted, had a pure line to it, like a statue Doumeki had seen in a book.
Doumeki scarely dared to breathe as the procession passed them. When the last of the girls faded from sight he drew a deep breath, as if he was waking up. Watanuki bent and picked up a filmy, long piece of fabric. The spirit must have dropped it when she kissed him. It didn't seem real as Watanuki held it. It was more like a piece of cloud lying on his head.
Doumeki thought, So she paid to kiss you? just as Watanuki said, "So basically your grandfather dragged you at to look at prietty girls going to bathe every year. Why am I not surprised."
"I guess," said Doumeki, not bothering to point out that he'd never seen anything but his grandfather watching something invisible to Doumeki himself. "What were they?"
"Cicada spirits, I think," said Watanuki. He folded the scarf and tucked it into his pocket. "It's the first time I've seen one outside one of Yuuko-san's books."
"Huh," said Doumeki. "What are you going to do with that?" Watanuki raised an eyebrow at him. "The scarf," he clarified.
"Keep it, I guess," said Watanuki. "I'm sure someone will find a use for it sometime."
Doumeki wondered if he was aware that he sounded like Yuuko-san. He wondered if Watanuki knew that the cicadas were singing in their own funeral procession. He didn't say anything.
"Anyway," said Watanuki, more briskly, "I suppose that you probably want a little something, you bottomless pit of ingratitude."
"Only if it's hanazushi," said Doumeki promptly.
Later Yuuko-san wandered by the temple, dressed in iridescent greens and purples, like the shell of a cicada. Watanuki informed her that she had already had two bottles of sake and he was not going to be responsible for feeding her another, and stalked off to find beer.
"You took him to see it," said Yuuko.
"I thought he might like it," said Doumeki.
There was silence. Doumeki thought of all he could say or ask. Finally, feeling his way reluctantly foward, he said, "Cicadas. They live underground but when they come out they...."
"They're changed," agreed Yuuko-san. "Did you know there's a species in America that lives for seventeen years underground?"
Doumeki looked away from her dark eyes. "I wonder if they're frightened."
"I don't know," said Yuuko-san. "I don't know if they can be. Just one step after another, inevitable."
He closed his eyes. "I don't like hoping for things," he said.
"I'm sorry," said Yuuko-san.
it gives no sign
that it knows its death is near
the cicada's cry