Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2022    poetry    all issues


Joyce McCown

Kristina Cecka

Jeremy Glazer

Richard M. Lange
Night Walk

Eleanor Talbot
The Calamitous Consequence of a Small Thing That Gets Big

Christopher Mohar

Nicholas Darmody
All Those Not Seen

Darcy Casey
A Hard No

Weston Miller
Dystopian Lit

Chelsea Dodds

Michael Sadoff
The Day I Saw Janis

Jeannie Morgenstern

Kristina Cecka


Five years had passed since Hide last walked the backstreets to his aunt’s house, but they were still familiar: giggling schoolchildren in their round yellow hats, high schoolers in uniforms passing him on their bikes, narrow sidewalks with vending machines on every other corner. The Lawson he’d gone to every day after work was even still open. Hide smiled at it as he turned the corner, wondering if old Yamamoto still ran it, and stopped hard on the curb as he came face-to-face with a dilapidated wooden two-story house with a stone walkway and window boxes. His aunt’s house hadn’t changed either in five years.

The lights were out, the windows shuttered. Down the street, children shrieked and played, but otherwise the neighborhood was as quiet and still as he remembered. Hide’s legs, still sore after so many hours on the plane, trembled. He clenched his fist around the handle of his suitcase until he could shove down the lump in his chest. Five years. He should be stronger than this.

An old man waited outside of his aunt’s house. Hide almost passed him before he recognized the quizzical smile hiding in his grizzled stubble.

“You know me now, huh?” Yukihira’s rough, barking laugh was as familiar as his smile. “You go to America for a few years and you forget all the old men who raised you, is that it?”

“Of course not.” Hide bowed, grateful to hide his face. “You’re looking well, Yukihira.”

“At least they didn’t ruin your manners over there.” A rough hand scraped his hair. Hide batted it away like he had a thousand times before, and he was twelve years old all over again, practicing noh with Yukihira six days a week. He blinked and returned to himself. “Five years, kid. You could’ve sent a postcard or something.”

“Have you been waiting for me all this time?”

“It wasn’t so long. I’m an old man now, I have nothing better to do with my time than bird watch. You’re late, you know.”

Hide didn’t admit he got lost in Shinjuku, that underground labyrinth. Yukihira would only laugh at him. They’d always made fun of the gape-mouthed tourists wandering in there for hours.

“It’s a long train ride from Narita,” he said. “You didn’t have to come greet me.”

Yukihira sobered. “I wasn’t sure you’d actually come.”

“I—” Hide swallowed. “Of course I came. She raised me.”

“Your aunt was a hard old woman.” Yukihira kissed his teeth, wrinkles deepening at the corner of his mouth. “She had to be, to keep us pigheaded actors in our place. That woman. I’ll miss her.” He shook his head. “Still, it’s good you came. How was your flight?”

“Long.” Even direct flights were long, but Hide’s two layovers had been several hours each. “I’ll need to rest. The wake is this weekend?”

“Yes, it’s all been arranged.” Arranged? Hide had expected to be buried in last minute preparation. Yukihira put his hands on his hips, shuffling his feet. “Did you get a hotel?”

“Hotel?” Hide blinked. “But—”

He looked at the house behind Yukihira.

Yukihira kissed his teeth again. “I didn’t know how to tell you over the phone,” he admitted. “It didn’t seem right. Your aunt, she left it all to Takehiro.”

Black dots rushed to fill Hide’s vision and he swayed. He leaned hard on his suitcase and prayed he wouldn’t faint. The name was a knife in the darkness, unexpected and damaging. After so many years, he thought his resistance to it would be stronger. How disappointing to find he was as weak as ever.

“What?” he asked through numb lips.

“The house, the bank account, all of her things . . .” Yukihira sighed. “She was lonely after you left. Takehiro visited her often, and they became close. He drove her around, helped with her groceries. She relied on him.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “He was with her when she passed.”

Had she been lonely? It had been his aunt and Hide for so long—had she felt the empty silence of the house as keenly as Hide felt it in his bland New York apartment? She had never tried to call him, not once. No letters, no postcards. But she’d had Takehiro. Bitterness gurgled in him, dark and viscous.

Hide shook his head. “What about the wake? The cremation?”

“Takehiro arranged it. She wanted him to.”

On the airplane, Hide had prepared himself for the wake; the things he would say, the arrangements that needed to be made. Having it tugged out of his hands unnerved him. Off-balance and unsure, all he could do was stare at Yukihira. Yukihira put his hands on his hips and sighed with his whole chest.

“Come on. You can stay with me while you’re in town.”

Hide bowed his head. Numbness spread from his face to his whole body.

“Thank you,” he said. “I won’t be a burden.”

“It’s the least I can do,” Yukihira said. “Your aunt would have wanted you to be here.”

Aunt Kaede’s mad eyes. The whip of her arm as she threw a glass at his head, the crack as it shattered against the wall. The last time he saw her—five years ago in three weeks—was the final, terrible night before he left Japan for good. Had she ever said anything to Yukihira? They were close, for coworkers, but his aunt had never shared much of her personal life with anyone, not even Hide. She was as self-contained and secretive as an oyster. Hidden and masked from anyone who tried to know her.

Hide looked back up at the house. His aunt’s roses wilted in their window boxes. The narrow mailbox overflowed with advertisements and envelopes. A bicycle leaned against the front wall; the back tire was flat and the basket rusted.

“Will he sell it?”

“I doubt he’s thought about it,” Yukihira said, looking up with Hide at the house. “She loved this old place, you know. She spent hours on those flowers. Had me and the boys over to fix her windows, and exchange out the tatami mats. She could’ve done it herself, that woman, but she loved having someone to boss around.” Yukihira smiled. “I told Takehiro I would buy it from him.”

“Really? What would your wife think?”

“I’ll tell her it’s somewhere to go when she gets upset with me.”

Yukihira’s wife had never so much as yelled at him, from what Hide remembered. But five years was a long time.

“Aunt Kaede would have liked you to have it.”

Yukihira’s smile slid away. “It surprised everyone when she gave it to Takehiro. It should’ve gone to you. You grew up there.” Yukihira raised his eyebrows, the old look he had used to ask some silent question of a teenage Hide. He wasn’t any better at puzzling out the question now. “You don’t want to buy it? You could find a nice wife, settle down back home.”

Hide clenched his fist around his suitcase handle. “No,” he said. “That’s not for me.”

Yukihira’s wife Saeko was as friendly as Hide remembered. She made him eat three helpings of her homemade udon, criticizing how skinny he’d become. (“Don’t you eat plenty of hamburgers in America? Why are you just skin and bones?”) Yukihira only laughed as she fussed over him. After dinner, they quizzed him on what famous foreign places he’d visited (“You never went to that big green lady? What’s her name?”) and drank lukewarm tea as their plump tabby cat wandered from warm lap to warm lap. Hide pleaded a headache to go to bed early, but when he laid down on the fluffy futon it was impossible to sleep.

It was dark and quiet downstairs when he finally gave up and got back up. He collected a glass of water and wandered to the open door at the end of the first-floor hallway.

Yukihira’s study overflowed with paper, discarded tea mugs, and books. Smoke hung heavy in the air—Saeko didn’t let him smoke anywhere else in the house. A heavy book with a cracked spine stood propped up on the wide, secondhand desk. Hide bent to examine the page it was open to.

Who is to tell of our unhappiness, dipping brine at Nada?” he read.

“Do you remember it?”

Hide jumped. Yukihira leaned against the doorframe, wearing pajamas, a steaming cup of tea cupped in his hands. He smiled as Hide straightened, eyes crinkling at the corners.

Matsukaze,” Hide said. “I remember. Is this the new performance this month?”

“If we can figure out who’s going to play Matsukaze,” Yukihira said. “She’s a tough role to fill. You know that.”

Half-remembered dreams: the heavy weight of the robes, the cool, wooden mask. Easier days.

“It’s a good play,” he said.

“The classic ghost story.” Yukihira wiggled his fingers, nearly spilling his tea. “It’s been a little tricky to stage. Are you staying after the wake? Maybe you could give the younger actors some tips.”

Hide’s throat closed up. He looked back down at the page of Matsukaze. Two ghosts wasting away in their village, lamenting the loss of their lover to the uncaring wind. A sad play. Grief is at the heart of noh, as Yukihira used to say.

“I was going to catch the next flight back,” he squeezed out at last. “My job—“

Yukihira tapped his index finger against the tea cup. It was a heavy clay one, handleless, with intricate loops and patterns in a deep teal.

“They’ll keep for another week, won’t they? Doing that flight back-to-back is brutal. You’re young, but you should take care of your body more or you’ll start falling apart like me.”

Yukihira couldn’t be older than sixty. Hide braced a hip against the desk and smiled.

“Dramatic,” Hide said.

Yukihira smiled back at him, eyes crinkling. “Isn’t that part of my job?”

“Aren’t directors supposed to keep a cool head?”

Yukihira made a deep, disbelieving sound in the back of his throat.

“Directors are the most dramatic ones of all.” He sighed. “If you won’t stay, you’ll just have to visit more. Takehiro’s wedding is next month, you know.”

Hide’s knees buckled. He put his palm flat on the desk so he wouldn’t fall over and nearly knocked down a teetering tower of books. Too many surprises too quickly—his heart was going to give out at this rate. He swallowed around the hard knot in his throat.

“Takehiro’s getting married?”

Yukihira tilted his head, eyes narrowing. “You didn’t know? He sent out the invitations in March. I have it somewhere . . .”

He put down his tea and rifled through his papers, muttering under his breath. Hide watched the warm curl of steam from the tea and tried to breathe evenly. Yukihira emerged triumphant with a slim card that had been buried under one of the many half-full mugs.

Hide took it from him with the tips of his fingers. It was elegant, with heavy card stock and gilded lettering, announcing a date in late October. The picture on the front was perfect: him in a dark suit, her in a pastel dress, heads tipped together and laughing. They looked like a set already, the kind you bought for the top of a wedding cake.

Hide couldn’t say anything. His voice would betray him. Clenching his fist only wrinkled the card. Reluctantly, he smoothed it back out. He needed to breathe.

“I see.” Inhale, exhale. “I don’t think I can make it.” Inhale, exhale. “I’ll be busy this fall.”

Yukihira’s brow crinkled. “You two were such good friends,” he said. “It’s a shame you drifted apart.”

Hide couldn’t laugh because he was sure it would only lead to crying. He closed Matsukaze instead, desperate for something to do with his hands, and stepped lightly around Yukihira’s desk, passing him in the doorway.

“I’d better get some rest,” he said. “It’ll be a long day tomorrow.”

“Sleep well,” Yukihira called after him.

But Hide didn’t sleep. Not for a long, long time.

The wake was subdued and sparse. Hide sat in the back with Yukihira in his uncomfortable black-on-black suit purchased just before he left America—everything was either too large or punishingly tight. He barely recognized most of the people there, and no one stopped to greet him.

“There’s Takehiro,” Yukihira said. “That’s his fiancée next to him. Shall we say hello?”

Hide’s stomach shriveled, a dying, crumpled animal. He kept his eyes trained on his folded hands.

“Later,” he said. “Let’s pay our respects.”

Yukihira didn’t argue. They presented their offering to the priest, handing over the crimson envelope with bowed heads, and went up to pay their respects at the casket. An elderly woman ahead of them bowed her head and stepped away as they approached—her eyes drifted over Hide without recognition and her crinkled, dark face was just as unfamiliar to him. He had a bizarre urge to shake her. What had she known about his aunt? What secrets could she tell him?

Yukihira stepped forward first, bowing his head and muttering under his breath. Hide couldn’t look at his aunt’s frozen, stiff face. His heart thundered in his ears. Yukihira patted his shoulder.

“Take all the time you need,” he said.

Hide looked down at his clenched fingers. He had bitten his thumbnail bloody this week. The cuff of his suit was too short, exposing his bony wrist, pale against the dark sleeve.

He couldn’t just stand up here forever. In the back of his mind, his aunt, her voice familiar and beloved, scolded him for taking up too much time, making this difficult for everyone else. Hide breathed deep and looked.

Someone had smoothed back his aunt’s hair and dressed her in the traditional kyoukatabira. Her features were flat and empty. All of her energy and charisma and verve—gone. Hide’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, thick and useless. He had to swallow a few times before he could force the words out.


There was more to say. So much more.

He turned away. Sat back down at Yukihira’s elbow. The world buzzed around him, incomprehensible and alien. The sutras blurred in his ears. His aunt’s new name was long and complicated—someone had made a good donation to the priests. The smell of incense burned his nose. By the time the whole ordeal was over, his legs were numb and his brain barely clung to the real world, everything hazy and withdrawn. He stood up, walked, and breathed, but all of it was so distant and foreign it didn’t feel like it was happening to him at all.

“Come on, kid.” Yukihira steered him out of the temple, a gentle hand on his elbow. “You look like death—we’ll talk to Takehiro later. Do you want to come with me for dinner?”


“A bunch of us old timers wanted to get together and toast Kaede’s memory. Join us, okay? They want to see you.”

“Oh.” He shivered in the cold air, his aunt’s still face flashing behind his eyelids as he blinked. “Sure.”

“You don’t understand!”

Hide laughed with the others at Yamamoto, already deep in his cups and wailing loud enough to get a sharp look from the bartender. The izakaya was smoky and dense with bodies, musky with sweat, fish, and grilled meat. Their table was already cluttered with sake cups and beer pints, platters of their shared food slowly being emptied out after the initial devouring. Faint jazz filled the space between the chatter around them.

“She’s not just a character!” Yamamoto insisted. “She’s an icon. We can’t let just any pup try her on!”

“Touya needs a lead role.” Yukihira was the only sober one among them, watching the drunkenness with crossed arms and indulgent annoyance as he finished the last of the yakitori. “We need to cast someone. He’s as good as anyone else. We’ve already argued about this.”

“But now I can get Hideyuki on my side.” Yamamoto nudged Hide’s shoulder. He reeked of beer and incense. “Come on, kid. We can’t give Matsukaze away so easily!”

“It’s just a role, Yamamoto,” one of the other old men, Tanaka, chimed in with a laugh.

He winked at Hide as he reached across the table for one of the croquettes.

“You can’t say that! You know the old saying—Yuya, Matsukaze, and—”

“—a bowl of rice,” they all finished together.

“Yes! Such a beloved play, a character with such depth, and we’re giving her away to a complete greenhorn? He’s not even as good at the dances as our Hideyuki here!”

Hide rubbed the back of his neck, grimacing at the tacky sweat gathering at his hairline.

“I haven’t done them in a long time,” he said.

Yamamoto made a rude sound in the back of his throat, waving his hand. “That doesn’t matter. Once you’ve played Matsukaze, you don’t forget!”



The shout took all the attention off of him. Hide slumped, relieved and annoyed at himself for being relieved. What did he have to fear, speaking up among all these old men who’d watched him grow up?

He turned to see what they’d gotten so excited about. He froze. Across the bar, Takehiro had one hand over his brow, blocking out the hazy electric lights and squinting to find—

Hide swallowed as their eyes met. Takehiro’s expression shuttered, his mouth tightening.

“Takehiro!” Yamamoto stood, nearly fell over, caught himself, and waved his arms. “Over here!”

The other old men laughed at Yamamoto’s enthusiasm and urged him to sit back down. Takehiro waved back and started across the bar, edging past the cluttered tables and dense crowd.

“It seemed polite to invite him,” Yukihira admitted to Hide in an undertone. “Since we couldn’t speak to him at the wake. You two should talk.”

Hide’s skin tightened, too small for his body. Prickles of goosebumps rose on his arms, the back of his neck. He bent his head, trying to focus on his drink and ignore his hyperawareness of Takehiro as he moved closer and closer. Hide shouldn’t have had the third beer; his stomach was made of bile, thickening the back of his throat with its vile taste.

“Sorry I’m late,” Takehiro said as he slid into the booth. The only open space was across from Hide and he had to duck his head so he wouldn’t meet Takehiro’s eyes. “I caught the wrong train.”

“Aren’t you a city boy?” Yukihira asked. “Shouldn’t you know the train schedules by heart?”

Hide risked a peek as they teased him. Takehiro wasn’t looking at him and Hide, weak as he was, took a moment to guiltily drink in the longer hair and new wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, the immediate realness of his body existing in the same space as Hide’s for the first time in five years. His breath came too quickly. A flush built up the back of his neck.

“—Hide here just got in yesterday. Our world traveler!”

Takehiro turned and caught Hide staring. He forced himself not to look away. Takehiro’s direct, dark gaze was just as he remembered it; too bold, too consuming.

“It’s good to see you again,” Takehiro said, and sounded like he actually meant it. “It’s been a while.”

Hide’s tongue—thick, unwieldy, a foreign animal.

“Yes,” he said, unwittingly in English. He cleared his throat and started again in Japanese, “You look well.”

“Having a beautiful fiancee agrees with him!” Yamamoto cackled.

Hide didn’t tense out of long practice. Even Takehiro didn’t react aside from a slight narrowing of his eyes.

“It does,” he said, and his smile could have lit up the entire bar.

Hide didn’t smoke his unlit cigarette, but he wanted to. Across the street people went in and out of the 7-11: the tired salarymen, parents with small children, giggling teenagers in their school uniforms, elderly grandparents. He almost wanted to go in himself, let the bright lights and anonymity wash over him.

“You’re going to freeze out here.”

Hide reeled back, catching a shoulder on the rough stone of the wall. Warm fingers plucked the cigarette from his mouth, and Hide’s face buzzed from the butterfly touch.

“You don’t smoke.” Takehiro examined the cigarette. “Do you?”

“Not anymore.” Hide disliked the revealing roughness of his voice. “You didn’t need to come out and get me. I’m going back in a second.”

“I see.” Takehiro tucked the cigarette behind his ear. “How’s America?”

“Big. Loud.”

Takehiro’s laugh didn’t sound like Hide remembered. “Your worst nightmare.”

“It’s not so bad,” he said. “It’s home now.”

Takehiro’s expression spasmed. He folded his arms and braced a shoulder against the wall next to Hide. His tall broadness provided a buffer against the chilly wind, but Hide wished he’d leave.

“I’m sorry I didn’t say hello at the wake.”

“It’s all right. We left quickly.”

Takehiro exhaled, letting out a curl of steam into the night air. “Your aunt’s will . . .”

“You should have the house,” Hide interrupted. Was Takehiro worried Hide would challenge it? “I would have just sold it if she left it to me.”

Takehiro twisted his large, beautiful hands. “You’re going to stay in America?”

“There’s nothing keeping me here.” Hide looked back at the 7-11. A little girl and her father came out, the girl swinging happily from her father’s hand. She tilted her head to look up at him with a bright smile, chattering and carefree. “Now that she’s gone.”


Hide didn’t look back at him. “Isn’t that what you said?”

A sharp breath. “America made you bold.”

“It made me honest.”

Silence spread between them, palpable as fog. Hide listened to Takehiro’s breathing, taking in the familiar smell of musk-and-smoke. Once, the silence and intimacy would have been normal, cherished. After five years without it, Hide’s skin was hypersensitive to the space between them. Across the street, a pack of raucous high school boys spilled out of the doors of the 7-11, shouting and laughing. Hide breathed sharply through his nose.

“You were just gone,” Takehiro said at last, his voice strained and soft. “After our fight, I went to talk to you, to—to try to work things out, but Kaede said you left. She’d been crying, I could tell. I didn’t think anything could make her cry.”

Hide closed his eyes, but it didn’t stop the wave of memory from rising over him, inexorable as the tide. Every moment of his last night in Japan was as permanent and brilliant as any woodblock print: the cruel shape of his aunt’s mouth, the accusing stab of her finger, the heartbreak of her deep eyes.

“It was easier for her if I left.”

“Hide. You didn’t even write her.”

“She didn’t want to hear from me.”

Takehiro touched his elbow, brief and gentle. Hide gritted his teeth against the rush of goosebumps marching up his arm, the way he ached to step closer. He’d been weak to this man so many times in the past. Stomach churning, he wondered if these past five years had done nothing to harden him. Or perhaps he would never learn.



“I saw your wedding announcement. October, right?” Hide turned at last to look at Takehiro’s expression; wide-eyed, gasping. He couldn’t have wounded him more if he’d actually used a knife. Hide twisted the knife deeper. “Congratulations.”

Takehiro shuddered and took his fingers from Hide’s elbow. He stepped back a pace. The space between them ached.

“You knew this was what would happen.”

“You told me.”

“We weren’t ever going to have a future.”

How many times had they had this conversation? If Hide blinked, he could wind back time and see Takehiro from five years ago, his hair shorter and face rounder, his mouth making the same shapes, spilling the same truths. It didn’t ease the ache, but Hide’s grief was old now, a treasured friend. Exhaustion had extinguished the pain.

“You always thought so,” he said.

Takehiro’s eyes cut back to him. His face softened, eyes deepening. Carefully, he took a step forward and reached to cup Hide’s cheek with a tender hand. The touch was so familiar and Hide was so tired. He might have turned into it, embraced him, but he saw the way Takehiro’s eyes darted watchfully over Hide’s shoulder toward the 7-11. Five years. Did anything ever change?

“Hide,” Takehiro’s voice trembled. He was still looking at the 7-11. The tips of his fingers were icy and dry against Hide’s cheekbone. “You know I still—”

No. Hide couldn’t do this. He pulled his cheek away.

“Did you ever tell her?”

Takehiro’s breath stuttered. His hand hung in the air between them, still reaching.


“Aunt Kaede. Did you ever tell her?”

“Of course not.” Comprehension dawned. Takehiro went wan, eyes huge. “You told—That’s why you left?”

Behind him, two men stumbled out of the izakaya entrance, laughing together. They didn’t notice anything but their own drunken stupor, but Takehiro still jumped away, dropping his hand. Hide didn’t move.

During his first year in America, he’d dreamed about this reunion every night. He’d practiced his speeches—everything from the cutting to the tender. He’d imagined Takehiro on his knees, begging forgiveness, begging Hide to come back to him, making promises to never part again, to always be together. Hide knew they were just fantasies, in the end. But he felt that now, the way he hadn’t ever been able to half a world away.

“I told her,” he said. “I wanted—well. I thought—“ He shook his head. He’d been bitter, heartbroken, out of his mind. Looking back at that self, Hide couldn’t begin to reconcile what he’d thought. It was like remembering the actions of a complete stranger. “She didn’t believe me, at first. She yelled. Cried.” Her dark, accusing eyes, the angry slash of her mouth. “In the end, she couldn’t look at me. I didn’t want to trouble her, so I left.”

“You shouldn’t have told her.” Takehiro dragged a hand down his face, scrubbing his chin. “I can’t believe it.”

“You never said anything?”

“Me? Of course not. What good would it have done, breaking her heart like that?”

Hide opened his mouth, closed it again. He almost laughed. What good had it done, in the end? Maybe Takehiro was right. Hide took one last, long look at him; the dark sweep of his hair, those serious eyebrows, the fullness of his lower lip. All tiny bits and pieces he’d treasured, once. His heart ballooned, pressing against his ribs until he could barely breathe.

“Please leave,” he said.


“Please,” he repeated and hated how his voice caught. “Just leave me be.”

Takehiro’s hand twitched like he might try to reach for him again, touch him again. But he didn’t. He only shook his head and turned back to go inside.

Takehiro left early with awkward excuses, not meeting Hide’s eye. The rest of the old men drifted away as the night went on, drunk and cheerful, but Hide stayed well past midnight, nursing his sake.

When it was just the two of them left, Yukihira sighed.

“Did you have a good talk with Takehiro?”

Hide flinched and sipped his sake to try and cover it. Dryness built behind his eyes. He wanted to go back to Yukihira’s guest futon and sleep for days, for years. Until they wrapped him up in the kyoukatabira like his aunt.

“We talked,” he confirmed.

Yukihira hummed and didn’t push, to Hide’s relief.

“Yamamoto’s right, you know.”

Hide blinked, taken aback. “About?”

“You were excellent with us. You’d be a good Matsukaze.” Yukihira grimaced. “Touya needs the experience, but he’s painful to watch.”

Hide’s heart ratcheted to his throat. “I’m not coming back.”

“Sure. But if you did—”


Yukihira ignored the warning in his voice, propping his arm on the table, chin in his palm. “She needs a gentle touch, Matsukaze. A lady like that, desperate in her grief. Not everyone can get her.”

“I don’t act anymore.”

“Kaede would weep to hear it. She was proud of your talent.” Yukihira smiled. “She told everyone you would be the next Shinsaku Hosho.”

Hide’s eyes prickled. He breathed in sharply through his nose, trying to swallow back the hot feeling in the back of his throat.

“She washed her hands of me, Yukihira.”

“Kaede would never. Just because you went to America—”

“She said I was dead to her. She warned me not to come back.” Hide could still hear the echo of every word. Five years and he hadn’t forgotten a single one. “I stopped being her adopted son and became a stranger to her.”

Yukihira snorted. “She loved you.”

“Yeah. But it wasn’t enough.”

Yukihira considered him, brows crinkling. Hide sipped the sake again. Someone had turned up the radio and a mournful sax solo filled the smoky bar.

“Not enough? How could it not be enough?”

Hide shook his head. “I can’t stay here, Yukihira,” he said. “With these ghosts everywhere? I can’t.”

Yukihira’s mouth pursed. His soft, dark eyes fixed on Hide’s face but he didn’t push. Yukihira never pushed, not like Aunt Kaede had. Hide’s throat thickened and he swallowed hard.

“I just want you to be happy, Hideyuki,” Yukihira said. “Are you? In America?”

Hide swallowed the last of his sake. It burned on the way down. The porcelain cup was cool against his fingertips.

“I am,” Hide lied.

Hide let himself into the quiet, dark theatre through one of the maintenance entrances in the back with Yukihira’s keys, following the zigzagging hallways from memory. How often had he run through these halls as a child, delighted to follow his aunt around? The actors had laughed at her for bringing him, but they’d given him treats and ruffled his hair. When had he stopped coming? Middle school, maybe. It had only been after he graduated he’d renewed his interest in acting.

Everything was still so familiar.

They kept costumes near the main stage, overflowing with heavy silk in every color. The masks lined the wall, their delicate, painted faces ranging from grotesque to mournful. In the half-light, without a face to hold them, they seemed empty, somehow. Waiting and expectant.

The mask Hide wanted was near the end of the bottom row; a young woman’s mournful howl. He took it carefully down, turning it this way and that in his hands. The cypress was cool under his fingers, heavy and smooth. How many people had worn it? Hundreds, thousands? It didn’t matter. Once they wore the mask, they became something different. Everyone had worn it and no one had.

He held the mask up to his eye level. It stared back at him, empty and hungry. The painted red mouth so real it breathed.

Hide turned it over. Put it on.

There was only the faint weight of the mask, the odd smell of it. His vision narrowed through the eyeholes, stripping away the peripherals. In the full-body mirror, he checked the fit. His own dark eyes were a shock. Hairs stood up on the back of his neck, his arms. His heart thrummed.

“Matsukaze,” he whispered. He searched his memory. “I found, even there, an abyss of wildest love.

The words didn’t sound right, not yet. He picked up her wig, heavy and dark. He didn’t bother with the normal precautions to keep it secure, only placing it lightly on his head. His clothes didn’t look right either. Frowning, he hunted down the matching kimono and shoes. It was sloppy work putting them on himself, but the final picture in the mirror finally eased him.

There she was. Her moon-pale face and grieving mouth, the golden kimono, the long, dark hair.

“Matsukaze,” he whispered again. It echoed in the empty room.

The stage hall was dark. He fumbled for the lights, blinking rapidly against the brightness as they illuminated the plain wooden stage and painted pine tree.

He breathed in, out. So familiar. His body remembered this. His heart picked up in his chest.

The slow, ritualized walk down the bridge to the stage released his lingering tension. The last week sloughed off him with each step—the call about his aunt, the frantic airplane ride back, the wake, Takehiro’s beckoning eyes. He let them float away, casting them off. He left Hide behind and took up Matsukaze instead.

When he finally reached the main stage, he paused, looking out into the sea of empty seats.

“Ah,” he whispered, voice thin and cracked, “the sting of regret!

He took out the ceremonial fan and reached deep back into the history of his own body, the body that still remembered practicing for this role, remembered how to move like a woman lost to heartache. He turned, elbows tipping and fan floating, and turned again, a whisper of breath releasing as his body struggled to keep each pose.

Something eased in him. He turned faster, moved more smoothly. His mind, untethered by the familiar movement of his body, returned to his aunt. Her shouting anger—her pride when he graduated—the point of her finger as she ordered him to leave—the warmth of her arms when he’d lost his parents.

He missed a step and slipped down to his knees.

Hide gritted his teeth and forced himself back up, trying to move like he knew he needed to move, but it was no use. His mind returned to Takehiro’s dark eyes, the careful press of his palm on Hide’s cheek. He breathed out harshly and shoved the memories away. He could do this. He needed to do this. He turned again, faster, faster, faster—

Leaving everything behind but the dance and Matsukaze.

He held the dance’s final pose, panting from effort. His knees trembled, arms shaky and loose. How did it end? The words rose up in him.

Last night you heard the autumn rain; this morning all that is left,” he said, “is the wind in the pines.” He fell to his knees, hands pressed in supplication, head bowed. “The wind in the pines.

Kristina Cecka received her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. After several years living overseas, she returned to her hometown in Minneapolis, MN, where she now lives with her two cats and a ridiculous amount of books. Her publication in Sixfold will be her first time being published.

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