Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente Page A

Book: Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente Read Free Book Online
Authors: Catherynne Valente
course she would. Kyoto was a great red basin, and she fell toward its center, toward Yumiko in her blue plaid skirt, toward her mouth and her dreamy, abrupt way of speaking. Toward that other place that Yumiko knew, the place on the other side of night, the place whose trains were wholly without end.
    “In the meantime,” Yumiko said cheerfully, “want to see a whole lot of wasted money?”
    And so they went into the city, through the high garden walls and narrow streets, toward the phoenix-heart of Kyoto.
    Yumiko was right, the Golden Pavilion was ugly. It squatted on the water like a fat yellow raccoon about to paw for fish. The pond was utterly still, reflecting the thing back at itself without a ripple. Sei could not quite convince herself the building was gold, though she knew it was: her grandmother had given over her jewelry to the leafing of the pavilion after it burned all those years ago. It just seemed yellow now, just paint. She wanted to touch it, even so, to feel her grandmother’s necklaces again, bouncing against an old, soft breast.
    It had burned in the fifties, the whole thing. A monk had been obsessed with it, had loved it, and had set it on fire one cold night. He had wanted to burn with it, but the smoke was not enough, and he outlived the object of his adoration. When they learned about him in school, Sei thought that she understood him, the need to be rid of a thing, and also to scream with it and in it and breathe it until you choke. Koi moved hugely through the little lake surrounding the temple, improbably moveable stones.
    Once, she had made the mistake of asking her mother where she was born.
    Usagi had put a butterfly comb into her daughter’s hair and said: “I was born in a train station, my little orchid-stem. Your grandmother was too big to travel, but she longed to see the cherry blossoms at Tsukayama Park, where she was a girl, before the war, before she married and danced south to Kyoto with ribbons in her hair.”
    “How can you be born in a train station? There aren’t any doctors,” sensible little Sei had said.
    “Did you know, in stations that are very deep underground, there are things called weepholes, little holes in the walls to let wetness out? Water trickles out of them and it looks as if the station is crying, crying for all those souls that pass through it and do not stay. In the station where I was born, the weepholes had been made into little kabuki faces with great eyes that really wept, all that water, rolling down their cheeks.
    “‘Push harder,’ said the weepholes to your grandmother.
    “‘Lie below us, and we will watch over you,’ they cried, and their mouths were very tragic, the way mask mouths so often are.
    “‘Your child is a girl,’ they said when it was over, and though some of them were disappointed, most of them seemed pleased and wept tears of joy.
    “‘She is like a small rabbit, kicking her big red feet,’ they said, and so I was called Usagi, and lived to become your Usagi-Mother. On Grandparents Day, I return to the station to wipe away the tears of my midwives.”
    “I wish I had been born in a train station,” Sei had sighed.
    “Perhaps when you have a baby, you will long to see cherry blossoms,” Usagi had answered, and tickled her under the chin.
    Sei’s mother had been better than a book. She had been stranger, both more closed and more open. Even when she was a child she suspected her mother was mad—a little mad, in a charming way, that made her say funny things in funny ways, not horribly mad, like the women on television who tore their hair. But whenever her mother read from the book at the bottom of the lake, the stories were impossible and sad, and Sei knew they were not true. But she could not help remembering them, and taking them into herself like food and water, and when she learned of the wicked monk who burned up the Golden Pavilion in the holocaust of his own desire, it sounded rich and odd,

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