Chapter 3:

Who’s Birthday is It

The Flowers Are Ugly

As the months past, Yuki cried less and less.

Her mother’s kind face, as false as it had always seemed to her, had mutated into something new.

It was the mask of a demon.

Whenever Yumiko called, Yuki would always follow. The desire to resist had never occurred to her, and now, years later, she assumed it never would.

Following her mother to her pagoda, it was as if all was normal. As the same cherry blossoms fell and the same temperature rested on her developing skin, not the slightest shift had occurred in this world. In the distance, Samara Tsubaki stood at the same titanic height, granting her home the life upon which it prospered. The very sea never grew nor calmed in the strength and frequency of its waves.

But something inside Yuki felt very, very different. More so than her mother’s transformation- it was something exclusively her own.

At her table, there was no excess room. Despite the fact that she sat over twelve feet away from her mother at the opposite head of the enormous piece of furniture, with not one other guest to accompany them, the space in between was used to its absolute maximum. With only a line of sight between the two left clear, it was filled to the cusp with all the food either of them could ever want. The meats of animals not present on the island, and noodles crafted by an unseen cook all awaited them. Yuki did not want to eat, but did so anyway.

“Yuki.” Her mother addressed her exactly three minutes into the meeting. “The hasu have not been growing lately. Have you been watering them?”

“No.” She answered honestly, very aware that her mother would have already known.

“Why is that? You know they are the only responsibility I have given you.”

“I’m sorry, mother. I will be more diligent from now on.”

Yumiko surveyed all the food gathered for this communion, making sure her daughter noticed as she seemed to point out all the things she’d so graciously provided for her.

“Do you mean to tell me that you neglected your duties solely out of ignorance? One might think that… uncharacteristic of a girl like you.”

“…I don’t like the hasu, mother.” Yuki divulged.

“Again, you are unhappy.” She responded with exercised disappointment.

“No. I am… quite happy. I just-“

“Then why don’t you smile anymore?

“I don’t cry anymore either.”

“Not out loud.”

“When did… I ever smile to begin with, mother? I don’t remember doing so as a child.”

“You smiled.” She assured. “Inside my womb.”

The two ate in bubbling silence.

“I have a gift for you.”

Yuki’s attention was drawn back up to the woman.

“Yes?” She replied, attempting to show all the gratitude she could.

“There is something I have not told you.” Yumiko rested her flat chin on her palm. “I know very well why you are unhappy.”

This was not a statement that could have been true, as Yuki did not know herself why she was unhappy. But for whatever reason, she believed her anyway, for a moment.

“You are lonely.”

This belief did dissipate as she spoke again, but only slowly, and with great uncertainty.

“You have now reached the age of slumber. The restlessness of your infant mind has finally been put to sleep. And with it, you only desire companionship.” Yumiko raised a single finger. “I will grant you that companionship.”

The tall, wide Maitake lumbered into the room. Without a face, Yuki could not discern his feelings- but his movements were more bare and lifeless that the rest of his kind.

“You may name him, if you like. Otherwise, he is your “groom.” Cherish this day.”

Yuki didn’t want this.

“You will love the mushrooms. They were made to love you.”

Yuki bolted from her seat, tumbling out into the hallway to escape her mother’s pagoda.

Pope Evaristus