Child, you will never know how difficult it was to push you away as you clung to me that final night.
We stood perfectly square with one another, toe to toe. Your eyes wide and round with shock and dawning horror as you realized what happened to the fish in that little pond by which I made my home. And then you stumbled forward, as though you were about to fall. Your hands outstretched, fingers splayed and seeking.
But you didn't fall. Those hands grabbed the end of my sleeves, crumpling the fabric in small fists.
"No! There's got to be something we can do. Let's leave here!"
"Don't be a fool!" I cringed inwardly at my harsh words. Watched you flinch back, hurt. I let my head lower slightly. Let my white hair hide my one green eye so I didn't have to watch you. So I didn't have to see how my resigned words make you flinch, as though I had slapped you.
"There's nothing that can be done, and I was always content with that." I hated myself for what I said next, but you had to go before you fell under the same doom as me. You had to leave and live the many years that lay ahead of you. I hated myself because I had to make you hate me. But worst of all, is that my next words were almost true.
"But with you here, it has been nothing but painful."
One pained gasp. My heart spasmed in my chest. I didn't have to see your face to know the expression that would be there.
Without looking, I reached out and gently pressed my fingers against your left shoulder and pushed. You backed away with no resistance. And I uttered two, final words.
I don't remember what else we said, but I remember that you left. And, though you didn't see it, I watched as you walked away. The light of the paper-lantern faded into the forest. I watched and my heart almost broke again, just like the night I realized the fate that must have taken my husband and child, my neighbors and friends. I almost cried, with this one green eye of mine as you walked out of sight.
Because of the quiet way you stared at me with those dark round eyes. Because of the disgusted expression you made when you learned about mushrooms and tried my cigarette. Because of the way you made me laugh the way I hadn't in years. Because of the eager hope in your eyes as you asked to help me. Because of the speed with which you drank in everything I told you. Because of the way your hair sticks up in the front and back.
Because you are so like the child that was once mine.
I returned to my house. I sat at the desk, looking through my papers. The notes and stories and research I had collected over the years. I quietly put them away. Let the next person who came here be warned.
After that, I laid down my head on my desk and thought of nothing. The silver light of dawn was what finally drew me out of my apathy.
It was time.
I went down and watched the lake. I looked at the sky and watched the breeze through the forest. I saw the light trip across the water like quicksilver. I waited there, knowing that my time was over. Feeling the darkness envelope me as I walked towards the pond where the Ginko waited. I couldn't feel anything. I walked, not seeing, not hearing, simply feeling in a vague way, strangely aware of what was around me.
And you, foolish child, you followed me.
I was afraid for you, you know. I could feel that great thing stirring in the long darkness of the Tokoyomi. And so, one last time I helped you. I grabbed your hand and pulled you along. And as you stared at me I felt your eyes on me as we went.
It felt like all the days of summer at my back.
And as the Ginko awoke and I began to dissolve, I knew you would return to the world where you belonged. Where you would see the sun again, with your one green eye.