Sometimes Father would mumble deliriously.
"General Nogi, forgive me. I've known no honor. But rest assured, I'll follow you soon."
Out of the blue he would mutter so, unsettling our mother, who would call for the family to gather at his bedside. When his mind cleared, he seemed to relish the respite from his solitude that our company offered. Whenever he didn't find Mother in the room, he would call out her name.
Even when he didn't ask for her by name, he sought her with his eyes. Many times I rose to go get her. She'd ask what he needed, stop whatever else she was doing, and come to the sickroom. Sometimes Father said nothing, but simply fixed his eyes on her. Then again, at times he would surprise her with unexpectedly tender words.
"Omitsu, to think of all you've done for me."
Mother could not help but be touched. Afterward, it seemed, she would reflect back on how Father was before, a healthy man so different from what he was now.
"He speaks so dolefully now, but that man in his day was a terror."
She would tell, for instance, of the time he took a broom and beat her over the back. This story, though my brother and I had heard it many times, was different now. Her words rang like a keepsake from our father's past.
Death's dim specter danced before Father's eyes, yet he kept his final wishes to himself.
"I wonder if we shouldn't question him while we can," my brother confided to me.
"I don't know," I answered.
I worried about the effect on him of pressing the matter from our side. Unsure what to do, the two of us consulted our uncle. Our uncle pondered the question.
"If he does have things to say, then now's the time. On the other hand, it wouldn't be right to rush him."