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Kintsugi by Jude Neiman


Shattered memories 

Golden seams to mend the scars 


I ran. I would have sooner spent a night alone in the forest than face you. I traipsed my  way through huddled pines, shadowed by the looming mountain. But when the moonlit  snow began to bite at my bare feet, I yielded and returned home. 

I had stormed through the shoji, wielding your bokken like lightning in my  hands. I emulated a great samurai fighting for the Shōgun. You always said grace is just as  important as strength, but I never possessed much aptitude for calligraphy — or footwork.  I dealt a fatal strike to my foe and whirled to defeat another with a swift upward cut. My  feet slipped on the worn tatami. The wooden blade passed through my phantom enemy,  and felled Mother’s vase. Shattering the vestige of her abiding presence. Its ornate facade  in ruins, a phoenix’s flight severed. 

When I skulked back through the screen door of our minka house, with its central  pillar now vacant, I was not greeted with the ire I had anticipated. Just you, knelt on the  floor, almost in prayer, collecting each piece as if the warmth of your touch might dissolve  it to nothing.   

‘Are you going to help?’ you asked, without turning to me.   

I joined you on the ground. My raw hands tremored as we gathered the shards in  a fragile silence.   

After we had amassed them all, you tied your silvering hair in a topknot and  issued an instruction, ‘We are going to fix this. Bring me your mother’s box.’   I glanced towards your bedroom and hesitated — dazed by the mention of her. ‘Now.’   

I obeyed, and retrieved the chest from her bedside, unopened for seven years,  and heavy in the hands of a child. Lumbering to you, I noticed a crucible by your side, and  iron tongs tucked into your faded blue obi. You ran your calloused palm over her chest’s  engraved surface, clearing the dust with a delicate reverence I had never received from  you. Flickering candlelight disclosed the subtle wrinkles which had begun to frame your  eyes. You opened the box and produced a solid gold brooch, intricately fashioned in the  shape of a fan. Its fabled substance was a marvel to me. 

’Can I hold it?’  I asked, transfixed. 

You studied the artefact and avoided my enquiry, then gestured to the back of the  house, ‘Fetch some firewood.’ 

I did not hesitate again. 

You joined me in the garden, setting a ring of moss clad stones in the soil before  stacking wood within it. I sat close to the blaze, haloed in its glow, my back exposed to the  brittle air as the smoke stoked my tears. We watched the fire burn into the night, its  embers cavorting with starlight, until the coals smouldered ghostly white. Using your  tongs you held the crucible, with her brooch inside, over the rudimentary furnace. Once  the iron turned amber and the gold was molten, you combined it with sap cut from the  trunk of an urushi tree then beckoned me indoors. You hung the vessel over the irori in  

place of our patinated kettle and arranged the cherished remnants on the floor between us.  

I had often nestled with Mother by that hearth while she did her best to teach me the art of  shodō. The dance of her brush animated ink with the attentive elegance she embodied in  all things. 

I caught your gaze, then bowed my head and spoke, ’I’m sorry.’   

You exhaled, tempering your furrowed brow.   

Your voice quivered as you said, ’The vase is not your mother. Your mother is  gone.’ 

You drew a small palette knife and brush, then proceeded to glaze a cracked edge  of the base fragment with the golden lacquer, before resting a piece that matched its  fractured borders upon it.   

‘Why must we use gold father? It will look broken.’ 

’We do not conceal our flaws, Satori. We must embrace them, illuminate them.’ I handed you one piece at a time as you meticulously reassembled from the  bottom up. 

Sunlight breached the horizon. With only one fragment remaining, you offered  me the brush, looked into my eyes with a muted tenderness and nodded. ’Now you, son.’   

You placed your hand on my back. The tool trembled in my grasp. I inhaled,  dipped it in the lacquer and coated the final seam, mending the last scar of my  transgression.   

You restored the transformed heirloom to its plinth and stood with me for a while in  

repose as I walked around it, examining the relic’s metamorphosed carapace. The  

reconstituted wings of the phoenix were ignited by the Sun’s rays, golden veins gilding its  ascension. The vase had been exalted — my recollection of its prior state dimmed as its  imperfections were anointed in the light of dawn. 

I understood. 

The joinery’s radiance thawed a channel to your heart which stayed open until the end. I  know you are gone. Reunited with Mother. Now this vase contains you too — ash and  memory. 

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