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Home / The Garden / The-crane-wifePhoto: Umezawa in Sagami Province, Katsushika Hokusai

The Garden

The Crane Wife

by Saehee Cho


She is barely discernible from the color of snow except for the lick of red

pressed against her skull. It looks as if someone has blessed her. Her body is

shuddering, making soft breaks in an otherwise expansive stillness. Her beak is

half buried, weakly trying to toss off the cold. There is nothing in this place, a

hollowed field of unbearably placid white. Even his own presence is barely

marked, pressing only lightly against the snow. There is only her labored

breathe, the unmeasured rise and collapse of a feathered chest, a sudden

impulsive twitch in the blade of a bent wing.

 

He picks her up, massages the wing back into place. She is warm where she is

broken.

 

Her weight is full and satisfying in his arms as she bumps up against his

chest with the heavy steps of walking through snow. Carrying her home, he

looks courageous, like a hunter or a father bringing home a fattened prize to

expectant children but he is neither of these things. His face is smooth for his

years, uncreased from lack of emotive cause. Both happiness and sorrow have

overlooked him, passing over him like distracted ghosts.

 

There is only one room in his house and too much porch. He has no

place for guests and so he tucks her into his bed mat, folding down the

substantial winter blanket over her strained neck.

 

In the morning there is no crane in his bed, only a bright tear in the rice

paper panel of the door. He traces the edges of the tear with the pad of his

finger, trying to feel for her shape. He lays on the bed mat where he pretends he

can make out a leftover icy remnant but knows there is none.

 

When he rises from his nap the sun is already going pink. He stretches

his arms far behind his head, walking his fingers along the floor to extend himself

further. He feels something wispy gathering in his hands and emerges into

wakefulness abruptly. He finds black hair threading his fingers and follows it to

the head of a woman. She is sleeping, her hair spreading like ink towards him.

Her arms are tucked awkwardly under her ribs, her dress making imprecise

geometric shapes around her. She looks impossibly pale. She looks like

something that might evaporate between blinks. He is sure that he loves her.

She presents him with a wedding gift. It is a ream of cloth draped

between her stiff arms. The cloth radiates. The cloth radiates heat. It radiates

silver when she shifts to the right. It radiates red when she shifts it to the left.

The cloth is breathing. She tells him to take it to the market and sell it, to eat

salted roe and pickled mackerel, to throw away his barley rice, to wear silk to

bed, to seed his land with persimmon trees and deep growing root vegetables.

 

He does all these things and sits with his wife on an overflowing porch

watching the bushy tops of vegetables cast shadows over melting snow. The

rice pot grumbles with fullness, the rising steam making the lid dance against the

stone rim. They climb persimmon trees feeling the velvet of newly budding fruit,

emerging from the orchards with sap streaked along their cheeks. In the

evenings they sit under the trees and he brushes her hair to the side, writing love

notes along the back of her neck with a muddied fingertip.

When the persimmons have all burst, juiced between their fingers, he asks

her to weave him another cloth. More radiant, he says. She brings a hand to his

chin and pauses there before agreeing, holding just a little more firmly to say that

he must not watch her while she is weaving.

 

He hears wind in the room while she is weaving. The winter has come

again and he is pacing rigorously around the porch to invigorate the blood. He is

warm enough but his body itches to see his wife at the loom, pressing the

threads resolutely together, her slight frame growing overwhelmed by silk.

He licks a finger and presses it to the rice paper. A corner panel. She will

not notice. The material grows dark. He licks his finger again. Again presses it

to the paper. The material pulsates with the shadow of light inside. Again and

the material grows translucent and tears. He looks in.

 

He sees her neck first. It looks lengthened, more curved in the back and

he imagines moving a soft palm up towards the nape where her hair is parting

and falling and undulating with her motions. One arm is threading the cloth. The

other arm is a balding wing, large patches of feathers missing and blood pooling

where they have recently been plucked. The cloth flutters and breaths. She is

looking directly at him. Her face is all eyes.

 

In the morning there is no wife in his bed, only a bright tear in the rice

paper panel of the door. He traces the edges of the tear with the pad of his

finger, trying to feel for her shape.

Saehee Cho is a writer and cook. Her poetry and fiction have been published in Tierra Adentro, Entropy, Eleven Eleven, Sidebrow, and Black Clock. She is a regular contributor to Enter>Text, an on-going performance series interested in the expansive an immersive experience of literature.


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