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She Crumbled and Turned to Ashes.
At first, nothing was unusual.
I was on the phone with my sister. She sat at her desk by the window in her rented room in Akakawa. The sun shone through the curtain, casting brown highlights on her long dark hair. She asked me question after question, but I just mumbled one-word answers, impatient for the conversation to be over. But then, before my eyes, she crumbled and turned to ashes.
I woke up in a black sedan; the dream would have slipped from my mind, had it not been for the white porcelain urn in my lap. Resembling a short cylindrical vase, it was decorated with a painting of a flying cuckoo and chrysanthemums. Inside were the ashes of my sister, Keiko Ishida, who had been only thirty-three when she died.
I loosened my tie and asked Honda, “How much longer?”
He turned the steering wheel. “Almost there.”
“Mind putting on some music?”
“Of course not,” he answered, flicking a button.
The radio played Billie Holiday’s “Summertime.”
For a Friday afternoon, the journey was smooth. The sun was high, no traffic jam in sight. Even the music was relaxing, the kind meant to make you drum your fingers to the beat.
My hands tightened involuntarily around the urn, and I stared at it. Honda glanced at me for a second before turning his eyes back to the road.
“Keiko used to love jazz,” he said.
I nodded, unable to speak. The small stack of cassettes that made up her collection—what would happen to them now?
“The funny thing was, she couldn’t name a single jazz musician,” he continued.
I cleared my throat. “You don’t need to be knowledgeable to appreciate jazz.”
“Well said, Ishida.”
Actually, it was my sister who had first spoken those words to me.
Even now, I could picture her sitting at her desk, her hand twisting the phone cord. A self-satisfied smile on her face as she murmured, “You don’t need to be knowledgeable to appreciate jazz.”
Strange that this image was etched in my mind, though I’d never seen her rented room—I had no idea what it looked like.
“We’re here,” Honda said as the car pulled up to the entrance of the Katsuragi Hotel.
“Thank you for your help arranging the memorial service,” I said.
“Don’t mention it. Keiko’s done a lot for me in the past.”
I nodded and got out, still clutching the urn. I was already heading through the entrance when I heard him call after me.
I turned. Honda had already wound down the passenger window.
“What are you going to do with . . . ?” He scratched the back of his neck, looking at the urn.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“If you want the ashes scattered at sea, we can ask the crematorium staff. They’ll handle it for a small fee.”
“That won’t do,” I said. “My sister was afraid of water. She couldn’t swim.”