#30days30stories: A Story About Paper

Haruka sat cross legged at the table and contemplated the bowl of rice before her.

The nori had cracked when she’d tried to roll it and she idly crumbled it into a pile of tiny green shards on the table.

Across the table, a red satin cushion lay where her mother used to sit. Haruka looked at it for a few moments, then carefully brushed the mess into her hand. Moving from the dining room, she walked into the kitchen and threw it in the bin.

It was April in Tonami. Outside it was grey and muggy, with nothing but rice fields for miles around.

Haruka had left Japan years ago, carving out a life for herself in the UK and leaving behind this tiny city with nothing but its teeming park of tulips to mark it out.

She had returned only to cremate her mother and clear out the home she’d lived in for 89 years. It was a task Haruka knew would be difficult, not least because of its physical enormity, but because it meant facing head on the guilt of their estrangement.

Kiyomi had led a repressed life. She was a distant mother who’d had a baby too late and married a strict man who showed even less emotion to his daughter than he did his wife, which wasn’t saying much.

Following his death, Kiyomi had lived almost in solitude and Haruka had seen her only a handful of times in the intervening three decades.

Haruka wandered from room to room, trying to conjure a glimmer of sentimentality for her childhood home. But all she could recall was the tense atmosphere – her mother reading and making origami swans, her father studying the newspaper with his lips pursed in a thin, hard line, while she played silently with her dolls at Kiyomi’s feet.

She picked up a cardboard box and started to empty her mother’s drawers. The clothes were stacked neatly in piles with folds so crisp it was like they’d come straight from the shop and never been worn.

A wave of weariness came over Haruka as she looked at the stack of boxes she had to fill. She sank to the floor and curled up on her mother’s futon.

A scene started to creep in at the edges of her mind – a distant memory from when she was five or six, running alongside a brook and away from her mother and the nearby temple where they had spent the morning.

Her white summer dress billowed behind her as she raced down the dusty road, her mother’s pleas for her to come back being carried away by the wind.

She was running faster than she ever thought possible and felt her toes lift from the ground, her brown leather sandals falling from her feet. She looked down to see her mother, usually so expressionless, staring at her open mouthed, her bag on the floor with the contents spilled around her and shouting wordlessly.

Haruka gazed up at the sky which turned from cyan to charcoal as a bank of ominous clouds rumbled towards her. A gust of wind whipped her sharply to the left and then to the right, tossing her around like a discarded shred of paper. She reached out wildly for an invisible anchor but all her hands caught were shimmering raindrops in the shape of origami swans, falling from the sky’s darkened edges.

They started to rain down faster and faster, growing in size until they merged into a torrent of water pouring from the heavens. Haruka looked down to see the trickling brook she had run beside just moments before burst its ineffectual banks and with a thunderous roar, sweep her mother up in its powerful current. Haruka yelled and felt the world lurch dizzyingly as she began to fall to earth.

She woke with a start and put a hand to her racing heart. She slowly stood up and looked around the room. A black lacquer box on the dressing table caught her eye, its appearance tugging at an image of herself as a child lifting the lid and peering inside.

Haruka walked over and eased it open. Nestled inside were ten origami swans, their creases perfectly etched in silver paper.

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