The years pass on, like they always do. Sakura petals give away to insects in the summer, and during the autumn and winter there are falling leaves and snowflakes. Like the gears in clockwork, they grind on tirelessly, always the same at their core. Variations come and go, but in the end, it’s the same spring and summer and autumn that it’s always been. This year, there was more rain than usual, and people are worrying about things like flooded homes and ruined crops. People are always worrying about those, when there is too much rain.
I’ve never worried about those things. I don’t need to. What does a doll need of food and drink? Shelter is important, especially for such a handsomely-made child-doll like myself, but the other two … those are human concerns, so I don’t think about them much. I never have, really.
Come to think of it, most of my handlers were never too concerned with such a thing. I’m well-crafted, and my “mother” was and still is famous, though it’s been many years since I’ve seen her face, and will be many more until I see it again. Dolls have vastly different lifespans than humans, and if properly cared for, we can seem to be eternal … but you know, everything has an end. No matter how charmed or wonderful, it always ends. Like the seasons, which always plod so comfortably along. Even if they come back someday, they still come to their curtain close.
The rich and the privileged highborn are no exceptions to that rule. Eventually, Death comes for everyone and every thing – and dolls have no special place in Her heart. Someday, She’ll come for me, too, and then … then, wherever it is a puppet goes when he or she dies, that’s where I’ll be. And maybe I’ll see all of them again – the people who have manipulated me over the years. It sounds bad, maybe, but that’s only if you’re human; for a doll, the handler is everything. Every one of them has left a mark on the original personality my “mother” crafted for me, and over the years I’ve become something completely different from what I used to be. It’s silly to be resentful of someone who has given so much to you, especially if you were crafted for that sole purpose.
I would like to see them again, the people who filled the starring roles of all those vanished lives. Because I remember all of them, while I sit here and wait for the next one to come; I remember their voices and their names and their particular styles of puppetry. Like the seasons, they are all similar in their hearts, but they carry a thousand different little details and quirks that make them different to me. And all of them are carried here with me, in the “soul” of a wooden doll.
Some people might be disturbed by that idea. I think it’s kind of poetic, like the stories I usually perform with my handler. This way, even when Death comes, there’s a piece that She can’t take away with Her when She leaves. That piece is mine, the heart of understanding that it takes to become a true master at anything, and in that small piece, every single handler I’ve ever known lives on.
Including … including …
The first time we met, I wasn’t too crazy about you. I mean, I’m a very precious child-doll built in the second year of the Meiji era; my handlers have to be graceful and sure of themselves. But you were just a little brat, barely beginning to learn the subtle art of puppetry, and at the age where you’re horribly awkward with just yourself, let alone a doll you have to manipulate. There was a lot of potential in you, I’ll grant that much, stemming both from your bloodlines and an innate ability sparked deep inside of you. And you looked like a doll yourself, wide-eyed and white-faced as your grandfather took me off a shelf and gave me to you. When I first opened my eyes at the touch of your fingers, you looked straight at me, and …
You knew. Somehow, through some trick of nature or fate, you knew. And you smiled.
Our years together were really the best, weren’t they? I’ve never been a detective before. It was a lot of fun, even when it got dangerous or scary. Because we were an unbeatable team, with your observation skills and me bridging the gap between you and your fellow humans. For someone with such a rich personality in your heart, you were very shy with others. That was fine, though, because I was there, and I could be your voice whenever yours seized up. There were times when it seemed we couldn’t get involved with anyone without some kind of murder happening, but … I wouldn’t give up any of it. No matter how cliché that sounds, I’ll never give those memories up.
Like a glass lily in my heart, I’ll keep it preserved until I see you again …
I wish you married and had children, like your mother wanted. I wish you hadn’t simply decided to adopt some orphan to give your name and legacy. Because I regret knowing your line died out with you, when your family has been my handler for so long … and because of that, there’s no hope that someday I’ll look up, and see a child with your face and eyes and smile looking back at me. That kind of loss is something even a doll can regret, you know. All that potential I had seen in you, in that first moment, came to the sort of fruition that made me unspeakably proud of you. If I could have cried, I would have.
Years come and go as they always have, and there’s always a new handler waiting to meet me before. I’ve cared about them all, and I’ll care about all the ones I’ll know in the future, but you’re the one I miss the most. Not just because of the way our names dovetailed – though that was, I have to admit, an interesting stroke of fate – but because we fit together, better than any other handler I’ve ever known. To you, I wasn’t just a precious performance doll, to be handled with extreme care and fussed over if a single knot was kinked into my hair. I was your confidant, your contact with the rest of the world, your support … your friend.
Your friend. That’s something precious which anything and anyone could understand. Like the seasons, like people, it’s untouchable in its sacred unchanging way. A hundred thousand poems have been composed because of this feeling, and its deeper cousin, love, and there’s no way those hundred thousands of poets could ever hope to capture even a quarter of that feeling onto paper, even if they were to write all their lives on the subject.
I was your friend … and you were mine. And even though I hate playing favorites, and having the choice of “which is better: this? or this?” placed in front of me … I still miss you the most. This wooden doll’s soul was always inspired by you, you know, and whenever you were there, I tried so hard to move on my own, to be the independently living creature you always saw me as. No matter how old you got, your eyes stayed the same, always fixed on me with shining belief. You knew that I had a soul, somewhere in my crafted heart, and even when your family and everyone else scoffed at that, you continued to believe.
And your last thought … your last thought was of me. I remember being on my stand, and I watched you even with my physical eyes closed. A strange cold had seeped into your bones with the passing winter, and left you bedridden, fading and tired, alone except for me. Your heir went on to become famous in his own right, you know, but I can’t forgive the bastard for never coming back to you. He simply took the precious things you offered and never looked back. Not even when you were alone and dying and slowly losing your fear, or when you were washed and dressed that last time for your funeral, or when your body was burned and the ashes of your mortal form allowed to drift away into the ocean … not once did he ever show up.
But that didn’t bother you, did it? I was there. That was what really mattered to you.
You smiled at me, and your eye were the same as the little boy’s I had seen so long ago. You reached a hand to me, and even though you fell short of touching my body, I reached out my hand and let my fingers touch yours. It made your smile widen.
“I will see you again, someday,” you promised me. And then you were gone, a candleflame snuffed out in the passage of winter winds, which carry the crystal snowflakes past my window today. The lawyers came soon afterward, and none of them recognized my value (the stupid greedy bastards, I’m glad they didn’t realize how much money I could have brought them), and now … now I’m here. I’m sitting with other abandoned child’s toys – I wonder if these are the same ones you used to play with? – and I’m waiting for my next handler to find me.
There’s a window, and I’m glad. It lets me see the seasons change, and know that time is passing. Sakura petals giving away to insects, and then to falling leaves and snowflakes. I’ll wait here forever if I have to, and maybe someday my body will simply go to pieces, left too long without proper maintenance, without my ever finding another handler. The thought doesn’t bother me like it once used to … I’m getting old, you know. And I miss you very much.
It was a blue morning when you died. I had a dream once, repeating endlessly in my mind, where you were standing as you were in the prime of your life, young and strong, crafted as exquisitely as any other doll I’ve ever known in my lifetime. Behind you, to the faraway east, the sun was rising again, and before you stood a gurgling fountain, European style, a stream of water pouring from a marble woman’s tipped jar. The sunlight caught in the falling water, creating a hundred fractured rainbows, and the world was beautiful, but your eyes were closed and you saw nothing. But I watched it all, the blue morning and the red sun and the rainbows in the fountain by your feet.
Will we meet again on a morning like that? On some unknown day, while the wind blows past my window, bearing the markers of the season, will my body finally turn to dust as the sun rises into a blue sky? I used to think I’d like to keep on going, until I wore out; I used to say to you, remember, that I wanted to keep on going, and see the futures that my handlers never would. Because then, when I finally died, and I saw everyone again, I could tell them of the wonderful things that had happened in their absence.
But now … my feelings changed at some point. I can no longer remember when it happened, but one day, I felt the sunlight on my face and realized what my life had become, and how differently I felt about how I would end. It would almost be a relief to wait for the end quietly like this, and know that on the other side of the blue morning where the new sun is rising, where the sky is silent and I can sink into the final end … that finale that had bothered me so long before I met you …
It appeals to me now … because I know you’ll be waiting for me on the other side. Without fail.