It is a day in March, the last day in March. In the courtyard of Yuuko's shop, the sakura tree has been blooming for months. Blushing petals slowly fall from the branches though none of the sakura flowers die. In the eaves of the shop, a butterfly is trapped in its crystalline cocoon, wings forever pressed tight against its body. Maru and Moro lie crumpled on the floor; they breathe as one. Behind the shoji doors, Watanuki lies in bed, black Mokona anxiously watching over him. Watanuki wakes, and Yuuko spies a flash of green leaf amidst the endless pink. He slips away, and it is gone.
He wakes and asks her if he is awake or in a dream. She does not know. He sleeps, and Haruka speaks of butterfly dreams. Yuuko could tell him that the butterfly pupa does not dream. Yuuko tells him that even the butterfly pupa dreams of becoming real. She is right.
Cicadas sing, min min miiin; crickets chirp, looking for lost loves; frogs hiccup, accompanying deep-voiced basses only they can hear; and the humid air presses down, down, down. He steps out of the convenience store, lost in a haze as his glasses fog over. In his bag are the ingredients for tomorrow's lunch: lacewings and eye of crow, an abandoned plastic toy and a tarnished key, baby's last breath and darkest heart's blood.
Watanuki shapes umeboshi onigiri, the rice sticky enough to form a ball, but not enough to cling to his palms. He embeds the salty-sweet-sour umeboshi in the middle, the puckered red skin a scar in the white rice. He bandages it with a strip of nori, the papery seaweed softening a little as it absorbs moisture from the rice. There. He lines it up with the other onigiri, all of them satisfyingly identical. He does not need to taste them; his cooking always turns out as perfectly as he imagines.
The maple leaves are stenciled rust-red against the cloudless blue sky. He sits with the window open and knits a scarf. A section for Doumeki, a section for Himawari-chan, Yuuko-san in the edges and knots, all the shop customers in each uneven, irregular stitch. His unnamed parents are the needles in his hands. The scarf is a moebius strip: no beginning and no end, one side only, around and around and around. He laces the yarn through his fingers, balloon string turning to locks of hair turning to wire as he feeds the needles.
Watanuki sits with Mugetsu wrapped around his neck, Mugetsu's cold nose resting in the hollow of his collarbone, Mugetsu's plume of a tail swishing across his jaw. One of Yuuko-san's kimono covers his lap, lavender and mauve and a swirl of indigo, the silk so fine it catches on his skin. He holds a plum-blossom decorated furisode—he sniffs. Yuuko-san is too old for furisode. But then, who knows how old she is or if she even ages?—and carefully repairs the loosening seam. But as he watches, the plum blossoms wither and fall, the beautiful spring colors lightening to funeral white. Mugetsu nips him on the ear, and the kimono is the same cheerful fabric it always was.
The blood moon hangs over twisted black branches that are also hands, also claws, also grasping desires. Snow piles against the shoji doors; he can feel the cold seeping through, but the paper panels stay dry. The filtered red light and the flickering lantern inside dance with the shadows, and he sees sharp teeth one moment and a thousand eyes the next. He is not afraid; the candle flame gutters, then leaps high, transforming monsters to geta and tabi and overturned sake cups, to a broken necklace spilling pale beads carved of bone, to bowls hewn from the souls of trees and lacquered with their tears.
Watanuki runs up and down the halls of the shop, pushing his mop in front of him. His apron catches on the drawer handle of one of Yuuko's many tansu, forcing him to stop. He inadvertently pulls open the drawer while unhooking himself, the smell of cedar so strong that his eyes water.
"More beer!" he hears Yuuko-san shout. Something pounds against the table, and he hopes that Yuuko-san hasn't scratched the finish of yet another piece of furniture.
The wooden floor stretching out in front of him turns to round white pebbles. Watanuki cautiously steps forward, pebbles squelching under his slipper. They're eyeballs, not pebbles. The other eyeballs turn to stare at him, blue and gold gazes accusatory. His right eye throbs. He bows and apologizes to the eyes, but the pain in his right eye only worsens.
"Watanuki!" Yuuko-san yells. "BEER!"
He starts. The floor is wood again.
In the fragile bubble surrounding Yuuko's shop, Watanuki places his trust in her. He humbly and politely asks that she let him know what her wish is, for he will do all he can to make it come true. She does not answer, enfolds him in her arms. The sleeves of her kimono dance in the wind, and her obi perches as delicately as a butterfly on her back. She more than anyone knows what wishes cost, and even this embrace will be paid for.
Watanuki sleeps and wakes, wakes and sleeps, sleeps and wakes. He cries for everyone he meets in his realities, and his tears burn Yuuko's fingers as she wipes them away. His wet lashes flutter and he wakes once more, one last time, and he asks her again if he is awake or if he is in a dream.
Yuuko smiles down at him as the dusk turns to night turns to the dawn of a truly new day, as the month finally changes, as the first leaf unfurls on the sakura tree.
Yes, she tells him.
The chrysalis tucked in the eaves of the shop slowly cracks open. A butterfly climbs out, spreading out its birth-wet wings. Yuuko runs to the courtyard, watches the first sakura flower die as the butterfly takes flight. Her pulse quickens and her breath shakes; for the first time, she feels the weight of her body, the silk kimono and obi heavy against her. She knows now that she can dream, for she no longer is one.
Yuuko-san?, Watanuki asks. He steps out, clad in his school uniform, a stack of bento boxes in his arms, and joins her beneath the sakura tree. Yuuko steals a tamago-yaki sushi from one of his bento and stuffs it in her mouth. Watanuki sputters.
Yuuko coughs, then swallows. As she reaches over for another, Watanuki slaps her wrist. He sees the twist in her mouth, picks up a piece and takes a bite. His eyes widen.
The perfectly folded eggs are a smidgen too sweet.
Yuuko touches him on the cheek. Thank you.
She doesn't need to tell him what she wishes for. He's already granted it, and more.