The Yamanote Line
It was a sky blue pink morning, soft, before the sun felt cruel. I couldn’t sleep so I
lay watching the dawn, then rose. I packed cake and wine in a wicker basket, and I
wore a plain white dress I’d made especially for today. Spots of blood from my
pricked fingers marred the seams, but the stitches were tiny.
Walking through the meadows I liked the feel of the wet grasses pulled between my
toes. I had to stop myself from skipping, had to slow my breath, tried to remember
each moment, just in case it all turned out alright.
When I got to the kissing-gate the sun had dried the grass. I sat down to wait, not
knowing which way to face. I didn’t know if I wanted to watch you approach, or to
be surprised. I knew I could never be really surprised because I was waiting so
intensely. I lay down, pretending to myself that I was stretching, loving the earth, but
all the while I was listening for the pulse of you as you came towards us, me and the
When the sun was high, I moved to the shade. A big old Willow draped itself over
the creek and I sat with my back against it, dipping my toes in the singing water.
After a while I leaned forward and let my fingers slip into the water too. Tiny fishes
nibbled around them like polite old ladies eating cookies without dropping crumbs.
From there I knew I would never hear you coming and I worried that you would not
see me and you would think that I hadn’t waited. I went back to the gate and stood in
the middle, imagining. The sun burned, but I lifted my hair and the breeze that
whispered taunts did cool me kindly. Through the long afternoon, the sky filled with
clouds that changed all the time as if they couldn’t decide which shade of grey to
wear. In the ended they chose black and let loose their misery upon me until my dress
clung to my legs and my arms lost their rosiness. Into the basket I had folded a cloth
that we might have lain upon. I wrapped it all around me and wondered if the yellow
flowers printed on their green ground would make me invisible. I never thought you
would come in the rain.
After the rain the dirt had layers of wet and dry and I drew your face and knelt to kiss
your lips, tasting the earth and feeling the grit. By early evening it was cold and still.
I stood in the middle of the gateway, wishing. Something magical happened. First,
one flake of snow tumbled down awkwardly, like the dying swan. I reached out to
catch it and as it fell another flake fell faster than Icarus so that both flakes landed in
my outstretched palm together and melted there, and ran like mercury, into one pure
drop. Then I knew that you weren’t coming, but I waited till the stars came out. I
tried to read the messages written in the patterns of the night, reading by moonlight. I
almost understood. It was saying something about mysteries, about chances that
come once, and about kisses blown on the wind that do not find a home. I slept a
little, knowing you might come in the night, wondering if I might mistake your soft
kiss on my cheek for the flicker of a moth, wondering if I might brush you away in
the arms of a dream.
The sun rose. I cried a little, and then I went home. It was like an afterwards. There
had been a before and now I was forever in the afterwards.
I caught the Yamanote Line train. Waiting at Harajuku station I realised my feet were
bare but for the socks I used to cover my shame. From the trash I took a pair of
discarded plastic shoes. It was okay.
On the train I had to stand. A man stood beside me wearing a hat like one you wear.
I felt a little pain. When the train stopped, a seated man stood and left. I did not want
his seat: I didn’t want to feel relief. The man standing beside me waited for me to
take the seat: I could feel him, feel his awareness of me, feel him making an offering
to me as if I was beautiful. I stared at the empty, empty place. A man sitting next to
the empty place moved across and filled it, silently gesturing to me to sit in the space
still warm, and I thought I would die there in the gaze of a stranger and the frame of
politeness. The man who wore your hat seemed to understand and his kindness felt so
Thank-you I said to him, and as I sat, I heard the toll of a bell deep beneath the sea,
drifting out a mournful tune in the careless tide. Somewhere a Tsunami was on its
way. Somewhere an earthquake was ripping open the earth. Somewhere the earth
shuddered and aftershocks rippled out and died away. At Shinjuku Station the
stranger who wore your hat left me. I took a book from the seat opposite. The pages
were blank and I laid my hand across the naked paper to cover the limits of my life.