A Day in the Month of Leaves by Karl A Russell

silence

Seventh bell peals.
The sound of the meditation bowl rings clear.
Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō
Cicadas sing from the gardens.
It is the morning after the night without sleep.

Paper screen slides silently open.
Father stands before me, as big as all the world.
“You are awake?”
I nod, rise from my bed, kneel upon the tatami.

Leather armour creaks.
Metal plates jangle.
He kneels to face me.

“You have a choice.”

I nod once more.

He holds out his hands to me.
I long to fall into his arms.
But his hands are not empty.
In one, a lotus flower.
In the other, a blade.
The choice is clear.
The decision is not.

Father is old, a slab of granite of a man, tempered by the years he has spent on his path.
Scars make his face a map of his wandering.
The lotus is the softest thing he has touched since his war began.

To choose the lotus means staying in the monastery.
Peace.
Comfort.
The gardens in spring.

To choose the blade means walking father’s path.
Pain.
Suffering.
Vengeance.

I think of my mother, as much as I can recall.
Cherry blossom lips.
Eyes of jade.
A slash of crimson blood on crisp snow.

I touch the blade.
The world holds a breath.
The monks chant.
I nod.

A servant enters, to see that it is done correctly.
The blade turns inwards.
Father’s stomach blooms across the tatami.
The servant raises my father’s sword.
A heron cries in the garden.
Father’s head rolls to rest against my knees.

The servant moves to clean the blade, but I stay him with a word.
The sword – the duty – is mine now.
I stand, take the sword, and walk from the room.
The dripping blade traces my father’s final path in blood.

The heron takes flight in the garden.

Follow Karl on Twitter: @Karl_A_Russell

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