Maple Leaf Souls

by Nickolas Urpí

This is part two. Read the suite from the beginning


Aimi’s crankiness after returning from the market had increased every day for several years without fail. Minoh Falls was infested with tourists, the clicking of the cameras completely overpowering the dreamlike sizzling that accompanied the maple leaves into the fryer. She pretended the clicking cameras were crickets that were too loud for autumn. The tourists didn’t understand the time and preparation it required to collect the precious yellow leaves from the maple trees, salt them in water for a year, dry them, and then fry them up in sweet sesame tempura batter. She scowled at their ignorance.

The “crickets” weren’t there when she and her sons (son?), Hibiki and—

Aimi paused to rest on a rock, her parka tighter around her waist than in previous years. What was her other son’s name? Dear Husband would have known, but she forgot his name too. He had died long ago and would have been there, unlike Hibiki, who abandoned her.

“I work here now,” he had said, his voice as distant as his face. “I told you to come. I found you a place not too far from where we are. It’s lovely here.”

Iceland sounded too cold to be lovely.

“What will I do there? Fry maple leaves? Leave Osaka? No, I can’t. My friends are here. Your father is here.”

“Dad’s gone,” he said.

“He’s still here,” she spat.

She had not spoken to Hibiki since. She could not count the number of leaves she’d fried since then. He was different as a child. He never left her side, always helping, picking leaves, helping her with every step. She saw him grow up before her beneath the waters of Minoh Falls, sprinkling sesame seeds into the batter. She hadn’t tasted one since he left. She could not convince herself that they would be as sweet.

He had a point, she thought to herself. She was letting every thought, every memory slip away with each battered leaf and sold them at the markets. She had become cantankerous, worried, and so very tired. Passing by the entrance to the house, a face looked back at her from the mirror. It had age spots, and wrinkles drawn in like a child drawing lines in the sand with a stick. She didn’t recognize what stared back at her. She didn’t recognize the frown that permanently clung to her cheeks.

She sat down and waited for the soup on the stove to be ready. She wondered if she should read some haiku, a novel, a newspaper even? The ability to determine the time or her age was gradually slipping away. The sun was always white and yellow now and looked to be setting and rising at the same time.

“You are losing your grip,” Yoko would say, sitting one booth over from her.

“I’m as sharp as ever!” Aimi retorted, stretching out her arthritic hands before preparing another batch of leaves.

Yoko only laughed. “Are you going to tell me about your daughters again? And how you are only going to pass off your secret recipe for the leaves to them?”

“Everyone knows the recipe for the leaves,” Aimi replied. “And I will tell my sons some day!”

“You never tell anyone. You never will. You bury it in your chest, if you even remember it.”

“Of course, I remember it,” Aimi replied. “You mind your own business! Here come those damned tourists. Stop bothering me, I don’t have times to swat at both you and them!”

Yoko laughed, shaking her head. Aimi hated to feel the condescension of others and so she did her best to pretend Yoko did not exist.

Sons… is there another?

She tried to think of her other son, but she could not remember anyone except Hibiki. She already lost the name of his children, wife, and where he lived. She only remembered it sounded cold. Or did he sound cold?

Even that was a mystery.

Aimi wondered what there was to do, and realized, with the sun almost up that she had to go and make the maple leaves in the market. She noticed the temperature dropping as she descended that long staircase that led up to the house. It was almost as frigid as night. Mornings were so strange in autumn, with the light purple against the clouds.

She wondered if she was being too harsh telling Hibiki “no” so suddenly. Her dear husband was a good man who always said things always end up the way we don’t expect and not to fight it too hard. He certainly did not expect to die of cancer.

“My poor husband,” Aimi thought to herself. She thought it terrible to be alone. Yoko was more pest than friend and Hibiki, despite abandoning her, was still her son.

“Perhaps, it will not be so bad in the cold,” she said to herself.

It was dark when she reached the market. No one was stirring. She looked up at the line of trees, realizing that night had come and that she, absentmindedly, had confused evening for morning. Panicking, she whirled about, looking for the way back home, but it was all a blur.

She fell to the ground, losing her footing on a loose stone. She began to pant as she crashed into the hard ground, unable to stand. Her packages of maple leaves were all around her. She had even fallen on one and crushed it.

Aimi’s eyes filled with tears. “I don’t know where I am, what I’m doing here. I shouldn’t be here. Something is wrong. I don’t remember what I was thinking.”

She lifted a bag of maple of leaves, all her pain falling away in that moment.

“So pretty,” she smiled to herself. She opened the bag, removed one and crunched down. “How sweet!”

There was no yesterday or tomorrow. That crisp maple leaf was so delicious, alone in that moment. There was nothing else but sweetness.

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