doorway of blossoms
by Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi
The pieces featured here are dedicated to Corinne A.K. and Michael A.K.
doorway of blossoms
Margaret Morri was a rugrat when she carried to Gila River a single clingstone, pried from a yellow Tulare peach, stone she held like an amulet in her sleep, stone to be activated in the center of her fist, in her dreams Margaret watched the stone grow flesh, flesh that orbited her skull, flesh that crawled through the skull’s electricity and caught fire, bubbled over with sugar, hissed sweetness from its nearby flowers, a whiskered peel becoming flush in the desert sun, Margaret waking one morning to discover the stone lodged in the barrack floorboards beside her, fractured hull giving way to radicle and plumule, shoot splitting from axil, sapling spreading into new fluttering leaves, and upon a subsequent morning, a yellow Tulare peach pumping like a heart in Margaret’s palm, hot to the touch, ambrosial, and over the next three years in camp, the Morri family barrack gradually inhabited by the marriage of stone and dream, Margaret’s parents, Masahiro and Mariko Morri, having to step over or kick away clumps of flocculent roots, having to stoop to the nearly-snapping branches descending from the barrack’s roof beams, and though relatives warned of tiger beetles and red harvester ants, though Margaret’s brothers complained of the yellow peach tree’s debris littering their hair, the tree sap staining their shirts, the Morris never allowed so much as a penknife to be raised in the direction of the spreading branches, and every night continued to be drawn into campaigns of flicking earwigs out of the doorway of blossoms.
In the records of the reverend Kashi Uchihama, it is written that Margaret Morri and Yoshikane Araki were married on September 20, 1943 in Canal Camp at the Gila River Methodist Chapel. Although they had not discussed the matter with her explicitly, Uchihama's notes suggest suspicion she was conducting the Araki-Morri ceremony in secret. The ceremony was held at dusk on a Monday evening, and not a single Araki or Morri family member was in attendance. Teenage friends of the couple, Mary Moriguchi and Pete Yamamoto, served as witnesses.
Before taking their vows, the couple asked if they could read a few words they had prepared for each other. As Moriguchi and Yamamoto drew nearer, Kane explained that their statements would actually only be for Margaret and himself. They would whisper their first set of vows, their shadow-vows, lips pressed into the pink coral of each other’s ears and then take their traditional vows aloud.
The couple seized every opportunity for secrecy, it read in Uchihama's notes.
The couple did not know Kashi Uchihama had been born with ears sensitive and discerning as any who lived. The couple knew little of Uchihama at the time. She had been chosen to perform the service because she was young, because the couple had rightly-assumed her services would be cheap, and also she and Margaret had participated in the same bowling league in Santa Maria. But the Uchihama siblings, six sisters and three brothers, claimed Kashi could hear the flight of a wax moth diving toward the candle on her writing desk, so that she would extinguish the candle a second before the moth arrived for immolation, still some of its dust striking the ghost-heat of the flame and flaring into a small plume of mothgold.
Uchihama was therefore able to hear and later transcribe much of what Margaret and Kane shared with each other. What Kane whispered had been unwritten and brief.
"I want us to live happily," he whispered. "I want to take care of you. We will have three children. When I die, they will take care of you."
Margaret’s statement had been neatly written upon ruled paper and then folded to resemble a pointed frog. Her fingers shook nervously as she disassembled the crisp, white frog and read into Kane’s ear.
Her words were, "My love for you is actually all about death. Or it may be division. Because we say this part of us outlives the rest. It is my way of saying this thing will kill us. It is my way of saying somewhere in the field ahead, I see myself already dead. And in the greater distance still, where there are no such things as possessions, whatever molecules fall upon the distance, I will love you with whatever I call myself then. With all my strange and unknowable hands.”
At the end of their ceremony, Kane and Margaret paid Uchihama from a shared coin purse and never again returned to her church.
Not even for a Christmas service, it read in Uchihama's notes. Not even after the birth of their first daughter.
Kane Araki was killed in an accident at a dehydration plant just months after leaving Canal Camp. After his death, Margaret Morri relocated from Chicago to Detroit, and eventually back to California. It was there she remarried and had two more daughters.
It was decades later, after the death of Margaret's second husband, as Kashi Uchihama was walking home from his service, that she wondered if she had somehow cursed that first couple when she intercepted the private message between them.
Should I have excused myself? she wrote. Should I have covered my ears? Should I have forced a competing thought through my mind? Should I have made myself forget? What did I change when I pressed their secrets upon my paper?
Yoshikane Araki passed away in October 1944, stretched upon a military cot, at the age of sixty-four, and in the presence of his wife, Margaret, his three exquisite daughters, their husbands, and with the sounds of his grandchildren laughing and chasing one another just outside the wooden frame of the Araki family barracks.
Kane’s final perplexing words to his family were, “I don’t want you to worry. You take it off when you need to take it off.”
Then Kane smiled and used the last of his strength to push himself onto his side. And when he was facing the Western wall, he went free.
At the instant of his death, his youngest, prettiest daughter, Hanna Kawafuchi, pulled the wedding ring from her finger and gripped it against her palm. Only weeks prior, Hanna had come to Kane to discuss the possibilities of her divorce. Hanna was married to Edward Kawafuchi, a serious but loving man, and though she recognized in him all the qualities she wanted in a father for her children, relocation to Gila River had given Hanna the opportunity to reconcile with her High School lover, Ken Fukuhara.
Kane had always been very kind and generous with Edward. He’d taken him to a tailor to buy his first suit. He’d helped the Kawafuchi family to secure loans and farmland. He’d paid for and nailed together the planks that would become the Kawafuchi Farms fruit and vegetable stand.
Hanna felt certain her father would admonish her for reconnecting with Ken. The Fukuharas were known for being a loud and intemperate bunch. Back in Santa Maria, Ken’s father and brothers were either banned or avoiding debts throughout most of Tiger Town, the small strip of Japanese-owned bars and restaurants. In High School, Hanna had often found Ken with his shirts torn away at the collar, his teeth stained red following a brawl, defending the reputation of his family.
“What I admire of Edward,” Kane had said to Hanna, “is I know he sacrifices his time and strength to make you happy. You wanted to own your home instead of leasing one. You wanted a car and a radio. I watched him kneel in the dirt and work those extra hours on another family’s farm to give those things to you. I watched him thin handfuls of carrots until he fell asleep into them. And when Edward sees you happy he has amnesia for those hours in the fields. He can just live in that moment. That is his gift. Lots of men can do the work, but very few can forget what they need to forget. They become resentful of their families. Edward’s great joy in life is to make you and his children happy. You’ve made sacrifices for Edward too, obviously. Does seeing him happy give you any satisfaction?”
“I want Edward to be happy,” Hanna had said. “But making him happy isn’t my joy or my mission. When I see my children with their father, I feel happy. But after that, my happiness, his happiness, they never are aligned.”
“Will Ken make sacrifices for your happiness?” Kane asked.
“I think he will,” Hanna said.
“How does he prove to you that he will?”
“He promises me he will never be with another woman. He says he will just live to wait for me. And if I leave Edward, if I want him then, only at that time will he be allowed to love someone. Only then does he want his own children.”
“Then there are a lot of lives at stake besides yours, Edward’s and Ken’s,” Kane said. “There is the happiness of the children you have. Then there are the children you may have if you remarry.”
“Those children don’t exist,” Hanna said.
“It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them,” Kane said.
“If I divorced Edward, would you feel ashamed of me?” she asked.
“For the early years of my life I was a gambler and a thief. All the shame that touches our family is for me. There is nothing left for you.”
“What do I need to do?”
“I won’t give you an answer for that,” Kane said. “The decision doesn’t belong to me. Don’t trust a person who says they will give that to you.”
“Mom says I shouldn’t even think of straying from Edward.”
“She says it out of love for your children. She doesn’t want to upset them.”
“I feel afraid. I’m afraid of both choices.”
“Of course,” Kane said. “You can’t ask for simple answers. Back and forth you are pushing around very complicated problems. You should struggle to find your way. Don’t expect the right one to bring you any peace.”
“He is going to hate me,” Hanna said. “Edward is going to despise me so much. He may even try to kill me.”
“You don’t have to feel afraid,” Kane said.
Kane cleared his throat. Then he said, “Of course you know, your mother was involved with another man when I met her.”
“Yes,” Hanna said.
“You understand I almost wasn’t your father. If I had met your mother a month later – if she had never agreed to take a walk with me – do you understand?”
“She made the right decision.”
“She chose me because she could hear you calling to her. It was very faint, but she told me when I was near, she could hear your voice. She could hear the voice of our daughters. Your mother loves me, and I’m so undeserving of it. She would’ve been happier with the man she loved before me. I wasn’t good to her. I left her alone too often. I drank too much. But she dreamt of your voice. It was saying to choose me. When you dream, what can you hear?”
“I don’t remember any of my dreams,” Hanna said.
“There are ghost families near us. Ghost families that could never exist because your mother and I stayed together. We are all haunted because of it.”
“I want children with Ken,” Hanna said. “I believe it’s the thing I want most.”
“We loved you the best we could so you would know how to be loved,” Kane said. “I can tell Edward loves you so much. If you say you know you will be loved again, I can trust you.”
“How can I do this? This terrible thing.”
“You’ll do it soon,” Kane said. “You’ll do it after I’m gone. Edward will know he can’t hurt you after that. And he won’t try. And in a few months, you’ll make plans to leave camp with your children. You’ll go to Chicago or to Detroit. Your mother’s sister is there. And Ken will follow you. Edward won’t be able to leave his family in Gila River. His sister is as sick as me. Edward will stay in Gila until the war ends. He’ll move back to California to run his family’s farm. And by that time, you and Ken will be settled somewhere else.”
Kane looked down at himself and said, “I’ve worn this shirt three days in a row now. Do I look nice in it? Your mother seems to like me better when I wear it. But when I ask her why all she tells me is that I sometimes miss a button.”
Hanna checked his shirt and patted him on the chest.
“You look good, Dad,” she said.
And then Kane said, “It really must be the fall. In my dreams I can see what is nearly ready in California. I’m starting to see figs, kabocha and persimmons.”
Kiik A.K. earned an MA from UC Davis, where his poetics thesis was titled THE JOY OF HUMAN SACRIFICE, and an MFA from UC San Diego, where his collection of counter-internment narratives was titled EVERYDAY COLONIALISM. He is currently at work on a novel called THE BOOK OF KANE AND MARGARET. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, The Southeast Review, Okey-Panky, Covered w/ Fur, and Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.