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Snow, Soot and Cider

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Soot-coloured slate, the colour of winter seas, winked up at the sky as Tatsumi’s efforts to clear snow from his garden pathway were finally rewarded. The irregular flags set in pea gravel had been specially designed and arranged according to a pattern called ‘banks of clouds on the horizon’, and it was a trick to find them. He tried to recall the asymmetrical sweep and curve of large and small stones, looking like mountain lakes as seen from outer space, but the pattern was not easily recalled.

Thirty centimetres of snow had fallen overnight, rounding off an average accumulation of more than Japan had received in decades, and the buildings in Tokyo were not designed like those in the Kanagawa Prefecture, with sharp, steep roofs that snow slid off. Tatsumi had already risked his limbs clambering over his roof in order to sweep it clear and ensure it did not sprout leaks come the inevitable thaw.

As he poked the handle of his broom in the snow, trying to locate the next slate, he sighed. Winter was supposed to fall slowly. Everything was supposed to fall slowly, gracefully, with dignity. It made life more pleasant. It made shovelling and sweeping more pleasant.

This snow was sticky and heavy. It had come down in clumps of flakes as thick as mochi. It clung to the hem of his trousers in wet balls that turned to ice. Indeed, he could think of nothing good about this snowfall. Not until he heard a bright, familiar voice calling out in salutation. When he looked up, the sight took his breath away.

Watari’s cheeks were apple-fresh and pink, colour heightened by the chill of the air and the briskness of his long strides. His golden hair was hard-wired by the moisture to erupt in a frenzy of curls, untamed and spilling out of his ribbon, but his eyes were best of all, warm like melting honey in a cup of steaming apple cider.

In winter, Tatsumi was aware of how colour moved to extremes of dark and light, and monochromatic scales of grey, from the almost-white of a perpetually overcast sky, to the dull green-grey of wet pines, to the almost-black of Tokyo Bay in the distance. His own hair was like a raven’s wing, his skin like milk only slightly flavoured with red tea.

The shock of colour which his colleague and sometimes-lover carried (along with the paper bag stencilled with a logo that Tatsumi recognized as belonging to a shop which sold, among other specialty drinks, hot spiced apple cider) had a visceral effect on Tatsumi. It sent rushes of fever along his veins from the motherlode of heat in his belly. It made his scalp and all the surface of his skin tingle, as though electrified. It made his toes curl reflexively, as energy shot through the soles of his feet.

All of Watari’s colours startled Tatsumi, from his curious sense of resourcefulness which led to inventions like the trip-switch portable holographic laboratory, to his ever-cheerful willingness to take the lead when it came to sex. Speaking of which, it had been a few weeks. Both of them would get so wrapped up in their work and various pursuits that the passage of time would slip away. The recollection of how long it had been was as shocking to Tatsumi as the fall of Watari's hair over his shoulders. From the look in Watari's eyes as he hurried up, it was clear that he had come to the same realization that morning. The corners of Tatsumi's lips curled upward slightly in anticipation. He had another sort of work-out to look forward to.

Right now — most startling of all — it was Watari’s uncanny ability to wade through the heavy blanket of snow in Tatsumi’s garden in the exact pattern of ‘banks of clouds on the horizon.’ Every time his foot fell, a new patch of sooty darkness winked up at the sky. That made Tatsumi’s job easy. The easier it was, the quicker it would be finished, the sooner he would be able to focus on more exciting pursuits.

Tatsumi had no idea how Watari did things like this, but as always, the end result was always the same. Tatsumi fell again, and not slowly at all, not softly, not gracefully, not with dignity and definitely not like feathers or snowflakes or even the spent petals from cherry blossoms, but in one fell and heavy “Floomph” like a winter’s accumulation from an overburdened roof.

— fin —