The old woman in the mirror


Before the cherry blossoms fall.


Sometimes I talk to the old woman in the mirror. She tells me her stories and asks me questions. I know each tale she tells, but I listen anyway.


So, she says, did I tell you about the time I almost belonged? We lived in a house; it’s where the children did much of their growing up. Friends lived nearby, and I had a job teaching. I liked the house because it was small and easy to clean. When friends came, it grew big with laughter. Nearby was my park. In the early mornings I followed the river, looking for the egrets. In spring the cherry trees drew near to the river, bending down to admire their blossoms in the water. Back then I believed I would die from beauty.


From a place I almost belonged.

Yes, I answer, I remember you told me that.


Oh, she says, in the park was an old man I called Good Morning Grandpa. In Japanese, he was Ohayo Ojiisan, which is the very same thing. I looked forward to seeing him on my walks, though I never told anyone. Every morning he rode his bike to the park, picked up trash left by careless walkers, and then sat down to smoke a cigarette and greet the people who passed by. He said “Good morning” to me both coming and going. I regret never sitting down and talking to him.


I watch as she talks, watch her smile fade and the tears well up.


I think I told you this, she says, but that day we left on our trip, we had only planned to be gone a few weeks. How could I have known it would be the last time I would live in that house? That I would never see Good Morning Grandpa again?


I nod, watching as she wipes her tears.


Zempukuji River

She shakes her head and says, how was I to know the world would tilt and I would slide off? I had only four days to return and gather a few things for that first winter. Hardly time to say goodbye.


I know, I say, I remember that first winter and how cold the world felt.


I use to cry for her, almost every day, that old woman in the mirror. But after four winters, I’ve grown stronger. I still mind the cold but at night when I close my eyes, I dream that her tears are cherry blossoms falling one by one into Zempukuji River.


51 thoughts on “The old woman in the mirror

  1. This is so beautiful. I found myself wanting to run toward you, keep you from sliding off. We surely do not know when our worlds will tilt. Hopefully when they do we can have dreams as yours, where our tears will turn to cherry blossoms.

    • In The Divine Comedy, Dante says:
      Midway upon the journey of our life
      I found myself within a forest dark,
      For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

      Sometimes life feels like that. You end up in an unfamiliar place and have to try to find your way back.

  2. You write beautifully about something that ended so sadly. I, too, had an experience like yours with Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. To this day, standing on the second floor of the mall or another building where you can feel the floor shake makes my knees weak. I’m glad you are beginning to heal from your experience.

  3. What a generous story to share with your readers. We slowly come to realize that we never do know when will be the last time we get to see Good Morning Grandpa, or feel the weight of our grandchildren in our laps, or hear the sound of the tinkling of the tags on our favorite furry friends’ collar. One day we wake up, and the world has tilted. Beautifully written.

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