Looking at it this way, I decided I'd had enough of these three and their shallow words. Thinking to check in on Mikeko, I made my way round to the koto teacher's garden gate. It was already the tenth of the month, and the New Year's adornments were gone, but a fine spring sun shone down from a deep and cloudless sky, casting the world in a clear light. The surface of the small garden glowed fresh and vibrant, moreso than it had in the early light of the new year. There was a single cushion on the veranda, but no sign of human presence. The shōji were shut tight. Perhaps the teacher was off at the baths. It was fine if she was. Mikeko's condition was what concerned me. I hoped she was feeling better. The place was deserted with no sign of life, so I jumped onto the veranda, dirty feet notwithstanding, and sprawled myself out on the cushion. It was heavenly. I relaxed and dozed a bit, forgetting Mikeko for the moment, until voices suddenly sounded from behind the shōji.
"Thank you so much. Was it ready then?" The teacher was home after all.
"Yes, sorry to keep you waiting. When I arrived, the master told me he was just finishing." "Let's have a look. Ah, it's beautifully done. Mikeko's rest will be one of peace. The gold won't peel, will it?" "I asked about that, and he assured me it's top quality. No human, he said, has ever had a finer tablet. ...One more thing. He said the character for 'Blessed' would look better stylized, so he altered the strokes a bit." "I see. Yes. Let's set it on the altar and offer up incense."
Something was amiss with Mikeko. Thinking this all too strange, I rose to my feet on the cushion. Ding went the altar bell, and the teacher recited a prayer.
You too. Send her off with a prayer.
The bell dinged again, and this time the maidservant recited a prayer. My heart suddenly raced. I stood transfixed on the cushion, like a cat carved of wood. Even my gaze was frozen.