By Adam Miller
Shimmering, her black hairs absorbed fragments of dim light from inside the closed room. The single-roomed abode was locked securely when her lover fled away a few mornings before. All the light inside the room entered through a single window as it pierced through a green honeycombed drapery, leaving nearly everything shaded in a mild emerald hue. Under the light, near the center of the room sat a small table with chairs scattered around it. The table sat crookedly leaning on a broken leg. The inside walls were wooden and bare. As the outside breeze blew in the window, striking the drapes, blades of light broke through in abstract angles, revealing each wooden panel’s unique intricacies, as if the walls had secrets and stories trapped inside them, in the swirls of browns and black. Cold air from outside filled the room.
The woman sat on the floor with both feet pressed down and her legs folded awkwardly into her chest. As she rocked, she breathed heavily, trying to absorb the air.
For days she faced the center of the room with sagging eyes—waiting. The young Japanese widow waited in her dark quarters hoping his ghost would soon vanish before her consciousness would lose itself inside the shadowed walls of her hexed dwelling. Her vision was already beginning to obscure as her eyes leaped from one wall to another, from one jagged shadow to the next. The crooked table had begun to take on an anthropomorphic form. She would gaze at it, watching it swell, then she would blink, cleansing her eyes, and it would metamorphose into her table again. The edges of her room started to expand outward, while various shadows tilted, then leaned inward, as if she were standing in a jungle at night and peering into the distance through trees and leaves and verdant mists.
Since Kohada’s death, his presence surrounded his wife in a bodiless form. She sensed him watching her mildest movements, from a sharp twitch of a toe to a fidgety change in total posture, watching her fears hover over her like floating dust mites. Had she been born with a more innate spiritual awareness, she might have been able to locate his low blue flicker in the far corner of the room, just under the ceiling, hovering. Instead, she couldn’t see a thing except for the room’s hazy green. She could only hear him crawling and whispering and lingering. She knew that he chose her to be aware of his presence, to hear him stir around her. She knew he needed her to understand. Every few moments he would condense down into the floorboards, glide to her, gather inside her ears, and whisper a single word like betrayed or broken or shattered.
For five nights she sat alone, guarded within a flaccid green cube of hanging satin sheets that rocked to her unsteady breath, with her pale fingers wrenched around her scroll’s top and bottom. Chanting and hearing. Every hour, she chanted aloud in a trembling din, Namu Amida Butsu, dreaming her murdered husband would soon find solace in the enlightened land of the Amida Buddha.
The holy scriptures told: after death, an individual’s soul would find peace living in the Buddha’s Xanadu if he offered all his faith and awareness as a gift of fidelity while manifested on earth. She knew her husband worshipped the Buddha faithfully, for they gave alms together at morning and night, every day since they were first married.
She had known Kohada since they were children. They both lived in the same village all their lives. His parents owned a kiosk that neighbored her family’s booth at the outdoor market in the center of town—twenty or thirty of them were packed together off the side of the town’s main road. His family sold vegetables and fruits; hers, pottery, and crafted utensils. She remembered how they played together in the dirt and rocks along the side of the path as their parents sold to, and traded with, other townspeople. She remembered how they drew pictures of each other’s faces with twigs in the dirt.
Sometimes he would laugh at her pictures and try to mimic them. She laughed at his mockery. Once Kohada reached the age of fifteen, they were married on that road. She was just twelve.
Now she couldn’t stop visions from arising: flashes of them standing together, facing each other, making vows, touching hands and lips. She could remember Kohada’s face and how it changed after their marriage after he found his focus. It became so serious and motionless. He never smiled or laughed or cried, but instead glared emptily. Rarely would he speak or use any bodily gestures.
Even after his father died his face was blank. When his mother chose to leave the village to live with her sister, he bid her farewell by reaching his arm out and touching her shoulder. He said nothing. He watched her walk into the distant woods with a basket of clothes in her arms. Then he turned and walked home, saying nothing to his wife. She remembered crying for him, but he didn’t seem to notice her tears. She remembered standing near him, trying to embrace him, but he just turned away. He uttered, This is not a reality. When she said she loved him, he replied, Yes, I know, in a steady, plain tone.
She remembered him kneeling with his back straight, his hands resting on his legs, just above his knees, and looking into the void of the room. He would sit for hours and stare into nothingness, without blinking or moving. Sometimes, she kneeled next to him to try to see what his reality looked like. Sometimes she just cried and walked by herself outside along the wooded paths. She eventually realized he would always be a distant man.
During these long nights, since her lover left her, her mind painted lucid pictures of her lover slicing into the middle of Kohada’s neck, tugging him to the edge of the lonesome village and draining his blood into the water-filled hollow.
She envisioned it: a time when late night and early morning fuse into one. She could picture how her lover dragged Kohada’s body along the back of the village, behind all the living quarters, where nobody could see him. He must have pulled him through trees and grass, in and out of the woods, along the dark green shrubs. She could picture Kohada glaring into an open and black sky just as his lungs failed; she wondered what he saw next. She could picture his head hanging loosely from his neck as it bounced off lumps of earth. She could see her lover as he walked backward, lugging Kohada through slow winds. On the way back, she imagined he kicked dirt over his path, covering the trail of blood.
Days ago, as she lay naked behind her satin sheets, the widow welcomed back her bloody lover. Their eyes met. He approached her gently and they grappled on the padded floor, lusting, until early dawn. When they separated, he lay face up as she curled onto her side facing away, both flushed in their cheeks, chest, and lips.
She ossified into motionless repose. Like a granite statue with a half-smile as he lay thinking about the earlier sin he had committed, thinking what he had done to be with this woman, without even the slightest pondering of consequences.
His brain contracted, like a clenched fist shaken at another. He started to sweat out everything. He felt every vein pound what was before corked by blind love and lust. Was it worth it? Would she love him forever? Was her love for him real? Or would she eventually tire of his arms around her waist, his hands spread out flat across her back, his fingers caressing her skin that molded so silkily into her spine? Could he continue to love her after realizing how dark she could be? Or was Kohada deserving of death? He could remember when he first saw Kohada with her. They were in town, carrying baskets of food and clothes back to their home. Kohada wore an expressionless face. Her face looked like a child’s with tender lips and polished skin. He had wanted to take hold of her and to love her unlike Kohada could, but in a genuine, passionate way. He thought about when he drew the blade back, and then swung, slicing in, how Kohada’s mouth pruned up, wrinkling and shaking. Kohada’s expression had come alive. His eyes widened and his body convulsed as the blade ripped across his throat. The last sound was his breath whistling as it glided out of the open wound. He could remember his own body trembling as he watched Kohada’s life dissolve.
He was losing his equilibrium as his thoughts jumbled together. His shortness of breath became harsh and intolerable. His nerves were moving beneath his skin. Before he would be taken away—and he knew he would be taken—he knew that he must do something holy to repent his recent evil actions.
He looked at her sleeping, so silent and gentle. His heart calmed. Looking down at her, he knew Kohada hadn’t loved her the way she needed him to. He knew she still loved Kohada, but in a false way, only because she felt obligated. When she first talked about the killing she hesitated and wept. But he is my husband. I should try harder to make him love me—he is too young to die.
He remembered how he loved her for months, since they first spent time together, on her floor while Kohada was away seeking detachment. How he could not stop thinking about her face, her lips, her breath, her skin. He told her he would kill for her.
Now, looking down at her, he knew he had to leave. He knew every time he rested his fingers under her chin and looked into her eyes, Kohada’s face would reflect off her damp lenses. He knew every time he looked through her empty room, he would see Kohada kneeling and staring back at him.
He’d see his lips prune up and quiver. Kohada’s fingers would wrap around the muscles of his arm, then weaken and release. He couldn’t tolerate the memories of killing. Mostly, he couldn’t stand reliving Kohada’s face coming alive under his blade.
That morning, he left her before she awoke. The door to her home was cracked open with an overcast morning flooding her refuge. As he walked towards the woods in a direction he had never before traveled, he thought about how cool the knife’s blade must have felt when pressed against Kohada’s neck. He thought about how it must have felt against his throat just before it broke the skin.
As he walked on, stepping on yellow grass, kicking dust and rocks into the air, he looked down at the earth below his feet and wondered how many human bodies had been laid down within it.