Even though he was a god, Daisuke always removed his shoes before he went inside. It was the polite thing to do.
He knocked on the sliding screen door.
“Come in,” a woman’s voice called.
Daisuke slid open the door and stepped into the front chamber. He stared in surprise at the woman sitting on the tatami mat floor. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been able to see Yoshiko so clearly. She wore a yellow kimono decorated with white flowers. Her bright eyes and sunrise smile shared her face with an abundance of wrinkles.
“Please sit down,” she said.
He knelt in front of the low, wooden table in the center of the room. He couldn’t take his gaze from Yoshiko. She looked almost solid. His own skin was translucent.
Yoshiko poured two cups of tea and handed one to Daisuke. “The cherry blossoms will be here soon,” she said. “I don’t think the flowers would be as beautiful if they lasted all year. A week or two and they are gone.”
He couldn’t detect any sadness in her voice, but he knew the significance of her flesh becoming solid had not escaped her.
“The tea is very good,” he said. “Perhaps the best I have ever tasted.”
She laughed. “Can you remember all of the tea you have drunk?”
“No. But I would remember if I had tasted tea better than this.” Daisuke had lived so long that he couldn’t remember what he was a god of. He liked to think that in his youth he had been a brave warrior god, but his memories were jumbled and confused.
“A child saw me yesterday,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time before that.”
“Me neither.” It had been hundreds of years since anyone had worshipped Daisuke and he had faded away so that only other gods could see him. Hikers occasionally wandered through the remains of his shrine, but none of them noticed him.
He didn’t know what else to say. He couldn’t imagine life without Yoshiko. She was the only one he had spoken to in more than a hundred years.
She came and sat beside him and the smell of the rising sun filled his nostrils. She took his hand in hers. Her hand was smooth, like buffed leather.
“Cherry blossom love. Cherry blossom love. Cherry blossom love,” she whispered.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
She smiled. “It’s a surprise.”
“I’m too old for surprises.”
The sound of her laughter warmed his heart. “I must respectfully disagree,” she said.
They sat together in silence as the light faded outside. Days passed and he felt himself drifting into sleep.
When he awoke, Yoshiko was gone. Words covered all of the objects in the room. His teacup had the word cup written on it in bright red characters. Yoshiko’s teacup was decorated with the word sun and the character for monkey was inscribed on the table.
He opened the sliding door and stepped outside. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom. One of the petals fell and drifted down in a slow spiral. He caught it in his hand. It bore the word love.
How had she known it was possible to influence where the words appeared? Maybe he had once known and had just forgotten. He remembered the time he had slain a demon god that threatened to destroy a village. He had thought the villagers would be grateful, but they had complained about the swear words their children found scattered around the village.
He took a final look at Yoshiko’s shrine and then set off down the path through the forest. It was quiet except for the sound of the water in a nearby stream. A fish with happiness on its tail swam alongside him and a bird flew overhead carrying sadness on its wings.
Daisuke’s shrine had been wrecked long ago in an earthquake. Or maybe it had been a fire. The dozen remaining broken buildings were overgrown with moss and surrounded by forest. A building that had once held an altar now contained his futon. The roof had long gone, but he enjoyed sleeping under the stars. The night sky was his own personal garden filled with stellar flowers.
His collection of polished stones lay on the stairs leading to the room where he slept. He had always enjoyed collecting stones. Maybe he was a god of stones. He wasn’t interested in Zen rock gardens though. They were too complex in their simplicity.
He spent much of his time wandering through the woods, looking for new stones. One afternoon when he returned to the shrine, he found a man had set up a tripod in front of the old fountain and was taking photos. A child wearing a pink jacket and skirt wandered through the ruins. She had ponytails and looked about six years old. When she got closer to him, her eyes blinked in surprise. She stared straight at him.
“Hello,” she said.
Daisuke glanced down at his hand. It looked solid. He gazed at the trees around him. It was almost spring again. He had lost track of time. The cherry blossoms were coming.
“Hello,” he replied.
The girl looked at the stones on the steps. “I like collecting stones. My father said this old shrine has lots of nice ones. May I take one?”
He nodded. “Please, help yourself.”
She picked up a red stone he had brought back from Hokkaido and held it up to the sun. “It’s really pretty.”
“You should ask your father to bring you back here sometime. I am always finding interesting new stones.”
She nodded. “Thank you.” She turned and skipped over to her father.
He went inside his room and waited until they had left. The light faded and he lay down. He had kept the love cherry blossom next to his futon. It had long ago withered and died.
Before he went to sleep he whispered, “Yoshiko stone. Yoshiko stone. Yoshiko stone.”