Mornings and eggshells crack, the eggshells scatter
to the wind. You carry them within you, in the wind,
and lift your feet toward construction sites and know
that construction men eye women from the corners
of their eyes. Silence sniffs at you like a cat
and still you walk toward work, toward skyscrapers,
imagine the shattering of old plateglass. You forget
the Ko-Rec-Type, the carbon copies, the Xerox machines.
The timeclock ticks, a medallion on the wall. You dream
of grinding coffee beans, relaxing in the hot sun of Egypt,
forget that pyramids are a wonder of the world.
Is it another vacation you need, apple trees to sit
under, the longings of a girl searching for arms,
hands to link to her tiny fingers?

--from "Toward a 44th Birthday," by Nellie Wong

"Your daughter is adorable," I said to Saionji after I escaped the line where Anthy was playing her role as the bereaved. The tiny, dark-haired child was scaling her father, who stood carefully still like a particularly upright and well-dressed mountain.

"Thank you," he said, wincing slightly as a small black shoe scraped past one of his ears.

"How are things?" I asked, smiling up at the girl, who had braced her feet on either of her father's shoulders and was peering around the high-ceilinged room from her advantageous perch.

He gestured a shrug, since he daren't move his shoulders. "Keiko-san has been in the hospital all this time. She won't see me, and she won't accept that she bore a daughter."

"I'm sorry, Saionji-san," I said, laying a hand on his arm.

He glanced at me, surprised, I think, that I would touch him voluntarily. Then he smiled. "It's all right. I received a hardship discharge -- they were very kind, really. My mother came to stay with us for a while, but she wouldn't teach me how to take care of her. I finally begged one of my cousins to come teach me. She was baffled, but did it."

"How are you making a living now?"

"Oh, I teach kendo at a couple of schools in our area," he said, reaching up to steady his daughter as she rotated on his shoulders. "I'm starting to do some government consulting work. My family's well-off. Most importantly, I'm around for her."

"Your family dedication does you credit," I said, a touch formally. I nodded as Anthy arrived, striking in her neat white skirt and jacket, the white pillbox hat cocked jauntily to the side. "What kind of discipline do you use for your daughter?"

Saionji's eyes narrowed a little. "I know what you're getting at. Juri-san spoke very sharply to me on the subject. And, um, continues to do so."

I smiled a little hesitantly, and decided to shift the subject. "So, I don't think I asked what your daughter's name is."

The girl shrieked, "'NEECHAN!" at that moment and began to hurriedly clamber down her father. Saionji couldn't answer without getting a patent leather mary-jane in the mouth.

Juri came into sight through the crowd, smiling. She was wearing a long black coat, a high-collared shirt, and black slacks. The small girl launched out of Saionji's arms into Juri's. "'NEECHAN!" she shrieked again.

"Shhh," Juri said. "Other people need to talk too, Hime-chan."

Saionji gave me a sheepish look. "Um. Himemiya."

I looked a little stunned, I think. "You... named her Himemiya?"

Even Anthy seemed startled. "Oh, my."

Juri directed the child's attention toward us. "This is the woman for whom you were named, Hime-chan."

The child became very grave as she contemplated Anthy. Anthy returned a similar look. Finally, the girl said, "May I call you 'onee-san'?"

Anthy appeared to consider a moment, then said, "Certainly."

The girl looked at me. "Who are you?"

Saionji hurriedly said, "This is Himemiya-san's friend --"

"Wife," Anthy interjected serenely.

Saionji winced. "Wife. Tenjou Utena-san."

Hime-chan examined me for a moment, then said, with great care and precision, "I am honored to meet both of you."

"She is a very formal girl," Anthy said after acknowledging the child's pronouncement.

"My family is very formal," Saionji said, sounding a little aggrieved.

I gave Hime-chan a little bow and a thank you. "So, Juri, you're an auntie now?" I teased.

Juri raised an eyebrow. "A big sister, thank you. Always a big sister."

"Ha," I said. "What are you doing these days, other than babysitting and leaning on Saionji to behave?"

"Working," Juri said with a shrug. "Alas, my girlfriend could not come with me today. She is allergic to funerals -- I mean, she is working very hard at the office."

"Are you still with the police?" I asked.

Juri shook her head. "I... well... Hisa didn't like me doing dangerous things. She watches too many horror movies. So I left and went into partnership in a detective agency."

"That's safer?" I said.

Juri shrugged. "Mostly."

"Have you seen my brother?" Nanami said by way of announcing her arrival. "He's got a pretty boy in a white uniform pushing around his wheelchair. I haven't seen his wife yet, though." Nanami was wearing a grey sundress with a smart black jacket over it, and matching heels. There was no ring on her hand, which surprised me, but she was wearing a very striking, antique-looking garnet sunburst necklace.

"She looks just like you," Saionji said, retrieving his daughter from Juri.

Juri gave Nanami a once-over. "More conservatively dressed."

Nanami shuddered theatrically. "Just like him."

I said, "Nanami, I'm sorry to tell you this, but your brother is a very sick man."

Nanami looked at me like I was stupid. "Of course he's sick. He's in a wheelchair."

"I didn't mean that."

Nanami sniffed. "You Americans. You are so rude."

I blinked. "Since when did I become an American?"

"Have you seen Kiryuu-san?" Miki said, by way of greeting. He wasn't looking at us, but was staring back the way he'd come. "Ohtori-san's mother-in-law is weeping on his shoulder and he's just talking to one of the other guests as if she weren't there."

"Oh, was that who that old hag was?" Nanami said.

"That's unkind," Juri said. "She's grieving."

"I didn't know that Japanese mothers-in-law," Nanami said scornfully, "usually did their grieving wearing black Parisian dresses, diamonds, and acres of veiling. She's acting more like a widow than a mother-in-law."

"I didn't think anyone wore veils any more," Miki said, finally looking at us. He was, I think, a little taller, and had lost some of the youthful curves in his face. He was growing out of "pretty" and into "handsome." His suit was grey, and his tie was dark blue. The tie tack appeared to have a company logo with beakers and flasks on it. "You all look good," he said.

Nanami kissed him on the cheek, as if rewarding a small child for good behavior. "Of course," she said.

"Where are you these days?" Saionji asked, hoisting his daughter back to his shoulders.

"England still," Miki said. "I'm working for a company that does chemistry research."

"Hear much from your sister?" Juri said.

He nodded. "She's at a conservatory in Germany. I can't remember which one -- she's changed schools at least three times."

"She must be good," Juri said. "I hear conservatories are notoriously picky."

Miki shrugged and said carefully, "They are. And I understand that artists are supposed to be... capricious. However, I'm growing afraid that she's making herself a reputation."

"How surprising," Nanami said, unsurprised.

We all turned at the sound of wheels approaching across the hardwood floor. Touga's red hair was cropped quite short yet stylishly, and was showing grey at the temples. His face was drawn and more angular than ever, and he was wearing a perfectly tailored dark gray pinstriped suit. Over his legs, he wore a laprobe, quilted from silk covered with a pattern of plum blossoms.

A slender, beautiful young man pushed the chair, and it took me a few moments to recognize Toshiro. His uniform was white and cut not unlike the Student Council uniforms. He stared through all of us without a sign of recognition.

"Well, isn't this just like old times?" Touga said, smiling wanly.

"No," said Juri.

Touga's smile turned tolerant. "Ah, Juri. Heard from Shiori lately?"

"No," said Juri again. "But I noticed her hiding in a dark corner over there, if you wanted to say something to her."

He turned his gaze abruptly from Juri to Miki. "And how is Robert doing?"

Miki shrugged. "I don't know. He dropped out as soon as he got back to Oxford."

"And you, Utena," Touga said smoothly, "what are you doing these days? Teaching athletics to small children?"

"I'm working on my Master's degree," I said. "In social work."

His gaze flicked to Saionji. "And how is your wife, Kyouichi?"

Saionji gave him a cold glare, but didn't respond.

"Ah, Nanami-chan," Touga said, his spirits restored by one victory, "and have you heard what has happened to your protégé?"

"My what?" Nanami said.

"Tsuwabuki-kun," Touga said, "the one you took such a... sisterly interest in."

"Of course I haven't heard," Nanami snapped. "Spit it out and go away. Your games tire me."

"He was incarcerated not long ago," Touga said, clearly enjoying himself. "It was a terribly tragic story..."

Juri broke in. "He stalked and killed his ex-girlfriend," she said bluntly.

Nanami's face froze for just a second, and she glanced at Juri, then looked back to Touga. Touga looked put out by Juri stepping on his... story.

Nanami finally said, "He was a very disturbed young man when last we met."

Touga gave a little shrug. "Even disturbed young men can be helped with strong guidance." He made a small gesture over his shoulder at Toshiro, who didn't react.

"Only if they want help," Juri said, giving Toshiro an odd look.

"Such a cynic, Juri," Touga said. "But then, you always were. How fitting you've ended up in a cynical profession."

Juri studied him a moment through narrowed eyes. "All professions are cynical. You'd know that if you ever had one."

Touga scowled and made a sharp gesture that started Toshiro into motion, pushing the wheelchair. Then Touga gestured again and they stopped. He looked directly at Anthy. "He missed you, you know."

Anthy didn't smile, just raised one eyebrow. "Do you really think I didn't know?"

Touga's lips pressed together tightly for a moment, then he said, "Was he really your brother?"

I could see Anthy considering how to answer. She studied his lean face, and so did I. He was perspiring lightly now, a little grey in the bright lighting of the familiar Ohtori reception hall. For a moment, he reminded me of Akio at the end of the final duel: knowing, yet refusing to know, the loss.

Anthy apparently took pity on him. "Yes. And both less and more. But," she added, with a quirk at the corner of her mouth, "it had been a very long time since he last called me 'onee-sama'."

She let the silence linger for a moment, then deliberately turned her back on Touga and Toshiro. The rest of us followed her example, cutting him out of the circle, and after a few more seconds, I heard the wheels on the floor.

Hime-chan looked down at Anthy from her great height and said, "I didn't like that man."

Anthy nodded solemnly. I found that I was nodding, and Juri was nodding, and Miki was nodding, and even Nanami was nodding. Saionji didn't nod, possibly because of Hime-chan's precarious positioning.

Hime-chan beamed at Anthy. "You can come to my house," she pronounced.

Anthy gave her a deep bow, which tickled the little girl so much she laughed and drummed her heels against Saionji's chest. He gave us a pained smile and said, "Hime-chan, we're supposed to be quiet. This is a sad time."

"Oh, okay," she said. Then she seized a handful of his hair and pointed across the hall with her other hand. "That man isn't sad."

Anthy and I turned to look where she was pointing, and saw Mikage -- it was unmistakably Mikage, not looking a day older -- standing by the photograph table and smiling as though the party were in his honor. He saw us looking in his direction and gave us a jaunty little wave.

"No," said Anthy. "I don't think he's sad at all."

"Himemiya-san," said a young man in a dark suit, bowing. When he straightened up, I recognized Yukio. He stared at her for a long moment, then said, "Am I supposed to condole with you on your loss?"

"I believe we can take it as read," she replied coolly. "What are you doing these days?"

"I am studying at Waseda University," he replied, turning to look at each of us in the little group. His eyes flicked last towards the distant wheelchair and the young man pushing it, flinching away like fingers from a hot surface. "I am working in Media, Culture, and Society."

"That sounds interesting," I said. "What do you--"

"Journalism, perhaps," he said, turning his gaze to Anthy again. "There are possibilities. It's very nice to see you all again," he added, focusing on the rest of us.

I think it was at this point that I noticed that Mikage was no longer standing by the photograph table. I never saw him again.

Juri said, "It is pleasing to see that you are doing so well, Fuijiwara-san."

He gave her the ghost of a smile. "The University is a different world."

"Is your sister here?" asked Nanami, looking around the room.

Yukio adjusted his gaze to the back wall. "No. She could not get away from work."

"What does she do?" asked Nanami.

"She is a first-year Takarazuka graduate," he said.

I said, "I thought she wanted to do ballet," and then Juri, who had not been standing next to me, somehow stepped hard on my foot.

Yukio said, "Yes, but apparently she was not good enough to get into a first-class company, and she did not want to settle for second class."

"I'm sure she'll do well," said Juri kindly. "She has wonderful presence. I can imagine her singing Elisabeth."

Yukio's mouth twisted wryly. "If she's lucky, she'll be singing Lord Death instead. She was slotted into the otokoyaku program." He looked at the expressions on our faces and smiled a little wider. "Apparently, it was because she's tall and has a resonant voice."

"I imagine that's quite a change for her," said Anthy.

Yukio nodded.

"Don't worry," said Anthy. "Change is the one thing you can depend on. Now."

"I see those women showed up," Nanami said, jerking her head, indicating a pair of women standing at a little distance from the main group gathered at the graveside.

I looked over. The women were hard to tell apart, wearing large dark glasses and black suits, their hair gathered back severely. "Who are they?" I said.

"Aiko and Yuuko," Nanami said in a low voice.

"Ah, yes," Saionji said, glancing their way. "I've seen them a few times. They visit Keiko at the hospital."

Horrified, I said without thinking, "That can't be good for her!"

Saionji didn't look at me. "It's not. But I'm not in charge of her. Her family is."

Juri looked at him sideways. "Did her petition go through?"

He shook his head. "She clearly wasn't in a mental state to make a decision about a divorce. But I don't... feel right about making decisions about her care, and her family agrees."

Anthy, who was wearing a severe white kimono, approached the grave marker. Piled around the raw hole in the earth were white roses, what seemed like thousands of them.

White roses, the roses of the prince.

Everything seemed so surreal. I could see the school and the ocean from the hillside where the single grave was placed. "Where are we?"

"This is Ohtori," said Touga from behind my right-hand shoulder. "He asked to be buried here, rather than being cremated. Don't you recognize the spot?"

I looked around. "No."

"You should," he said, leaning back in his chair. "You won many duels here."

There was no trace of a forest, only a smooth grassy hill. I turned my back on Touga as Anthy beckoned us closer to the grave. She started handing each person a rose.

Touga was the first person to drop his rose into the dark hole gaping in the green turf. Tearless, he flipped one hand in an impatient gesture and Toshiro wheeled him away from the graveside. One by one, others each dropped a rose in. Mrs. Ohtori waited for a dramatic moment, then stepped to the graveside, wept tears upon her rose, and cast it in. I expected her to faint, but at least she spared us that.

The crowd dispersed until, finally, only Anthy and I were left.

As the scent of incense surrounded us, the two of us gathered armfuls of the remaining roses and tossed them into the grave. Petals flew around us as the grave mounded up with the curiously thornless Ohtori roses, until the grave was full.

Anthy stood looking at it for a moment, then took my hand and we went down the hillside.

I followed Anthy reluctantly up the stairs -- I hadn't known there were stairs, previously we had always used the elevator -- to our old room in the tower.

I don't know what I expected. I was braced, but I couldn't tell whether I was braced to find it changed or to find it exactly the same.

It was the same. The beds weren't made up, and although it was clean it had an air of being deserted. It didn't even feel like a dorm room over the break -- it felt more like a room in a museum, when you know that the furniture will never be used again, arranged only to be looked at.

I walked over to the huge arched window and looked out at the campus. It no longer looked the way it had when we lived here: over to the left, there was construction on a new gym, and the roof of the music building was being repaired, blue tarps fluttering in the wind. I could hear Anthy opening and closing cupboards behind me and I wondered momentarily what she was looking for, then turned my attention back to the campus. Some students were having an impromptu dance contest on the lawn. I couldn't see the source of their music because players had gotten so small since I was in school, but as I watched them I could almost hear it, loud and lively and cheerful.

"Tea, Utena?"

I turned around to see Anthy holding our old teapot. I stared for a moment, then managed to squeak out, "Yes, please."

She moved to the banquette and poured the tea into two white china cups, each five-petaled like a rose. Beside the teapot was a plate of cookies.

I didn't ask, simply lifted my teacup and looked at Anthy.

She said, "Do you remember the last time we had tea like this?"

"Yes," I replied, and took a sip. "We said we would have tea and cookies..." I stopped, counting.

"Ten years from then," she said. She sipped from her cup and then smiled at me.

I didn't need her to tell me. We drank our tea in silence.

I looked down into my almost-empty cup. "I remember that you said the tea was poisoned."

"It was," said Anthy, looking into her own cup as if to tell my fortune, or perhaps the fortunes of the whole world.

I looked up at her, startled, and after a moment she raised her gaze to mine and smiled. "Not with cantarella, of course."

"What with?" I asked, clutching my cup and saucer as if for protection.

Anthy thought for a while, and then said, "Doxa."

"I don't know what that is," I confessed.

"It's French," she said. "Or perhaps Greek." One corner of her mouth dimpled in a private joke. "This tea isn't poisoned, though."

"I knew that," I said, and reached for her hand.

She squeezed my hand, then dropped it to point to the plate. "Try the cookies."

I bit into a cookie obediently. It tasted of hazelnuts and apricots and chocolate and probably other things I couldn't identify. "I've never had these kind of cookies before."

She smiled. "Neither have I."

"They're so good!"

"I'm glad." She took one herself and we stood together eating cookies and looking at the new construction through the enormous window.

Then she spoke again.

"Utena, I'm pregnant."

I did not drop my teacup and saucer, but I did juggle with them in a very undignified way and splash the last drops of tea on my pants. After I set them down on the banquette, I turned to her and took both her hands. She smiled at me. "Um, did this happen...."

She nodded. "Yes. When he died."

I squeezed her hands hard. "Anthy, I... we..."

She studied my face carefully. "Are you glad? You look..."

"Glad!" I threw my arms around her. "Anthy, I love you! I am the happiest person in the world right now. I think."

Anthy laughed and kissed the side of my neck.

"I need to finish my degree right away!" I said. "And we can move into the larger apartment next-door, the landlady said that it would be going empty, remember, and she asked us to look out for anyone who wanted it? And--"

Anthy put her hand over my mouth. "Everything will be fine, Utena. It will be fine."

I seized her shoulders. "Will it? Really?"

"Yes," she said. "Or as fine as anything can be in the mortal world."

I touched the corner of her mouth. I noticed for the first time that there was the finest hint of a line starting there, a delicate trace upon her skin. I said, "Anthy, you..."

She said, "I am dying, too, you know."

I said, "WHAT?" and gripped her shoulders, restraining myself from shaking her.

She looked into my eyes. "Don't panic, Utena. I'm not dying any faster than you are." She smiled thoughtfully at something over my left shoulder. "Age is interesting. I think I'll enjoy it."

I slid my hands around her then, touching her strong scapulae, her masses of dark hair, like the precious and temporary things that they were. She rested her chin on my shoulder.

"I think I will have a daughter this time," she said.

Then, because the picture-making mechanism was crushed, the disturbing visions flashed into black, and Paul dropped back into the immense design of things.

-- Willa Cather, "Paul's Case"

THE END... and the beginning, too.

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