by Randy Gonzales
Kazuhico wore the blue jumpsuit of a laborer. He shook away the last snow from a cluster of pine needles. Kazuhico and Kazuko were removing the bamboo poles that supported their trees through winter. Kazuko held the poles in place as Kazuhico unwrapped the ropes that bound them to the branches. It took both of them to lay down the thick supports.
The land had been in Kazuhico’s family for over four hundred years. He married Kazuko to live on the land with him.
They lived in a home of sliding paper doors. When all of the doors were slid open the bare-bellied Buddha at the center of the home could see into smaller rooms that enclosed it. Kazuhico and Kazuko rolled out their futons in different rooms on different sides of the shrine. They left their thumping hearts with others.
But, Kazuhico thought it might be love that woke Kazuko early to prepare miso soup before he boarded the train. Kazuko stopped thinking about love when they agreed not to have children.
Kazuhico, a banker, wore clean white shirts with cuffs that stayed crisp into the evening. He didn’t go to singing rooms or hostess bars after work. If he wasn’t in the English school above the sweet shop, he was on the local back to his village.
Kazuhico and Kazuko planted rice seedlings in a field to the north of the village. In the field next to their home, they grew turnips and potatoes. Rows rolled across the property like a scroll, into a field of large black stones that memorialized Kazuhico’s ancestors. Kazuhico raked the debris of the persimmon tree from the memorial garden. He washed the stones he had stories for, let fade those with dull etchings that were past living memory. His mother, Okaasan, planted incense around the base of her husband’s stone.
Kazuhico inherited the lessons of the land from his father. If he forgot them, Okaasan would lead him down the right path. She was shaped by this land, legs bowed, back hunched. With only a slight squat, she could plant a seedling or pull up a white radish.
Kazuko was still learning how to lower herself into the fields. Her small hips qualified her as a flight attendant, but made her unsteady as she bent between rows. Kazuko didn’t complain, but on the way to the fields she folded her hands before each small shrine, and before the morning work was done she walked towards the mountains to drink from streams of melted snow.
With the bamboo poles put away, Kazuhico dug up the last row of potatoes. He rose out of the root cellar to see Kazuko knocking persimmon from the tree. She struck just above the stem. The fruit loosened and dropped through leafless branches into her small hand. Kazuhico examined her collection, each slightly over-ripe, but not bruised. The thought of love walked through him. He wrapped each persimmon individually. Kazuko carefully arranged them.