The Songstress of Avalon
The cackling of the fire; an intermittent breathing.
I opened my eyes and immediately noticed the girl curled beside me, her head rested on my shoulder. It was a miracle that not a single strand of her hair, the colour of ravens, had ended up in my mouth. Careful not to disturb her, I shifted my head in the direction of the fire.
There, Tommaso sat, poking the flames with a large stick. Ever the perceptive man, he noticed me staring sleepily at him. The orange flames danced and twirled in his dark eyes, and he spoke without facing me:
“Ayato, we’re friends, aren’t we?”
My mind was still in a daze, and my answer must not have sounded as convincing as I would have liked. Tommaso’s eyes, uncharacteristically severe, met my somnolent gaze; he seemed to be contemplating something, and only responded right before I could drift back to sleep.
Tommaso’s lustrous timbre retrieved me from Hynpos’ clutches.
“I’m walking on a thin line here, I think,” he spoke cryptically. “No matter what happens, please try to think of me as kindly as you can. I’m just a man after all…”
A part of me wanted to jolt up to attention - never mind if Misane was thrown to the floor by the sudden movement - and force Tommaso to elaborate on what he meant. But that isn’t what I did. Instead, my eyes closed and my awareness slowly began to fade, but not before I internally asked myself why I was suddenly remembering all this now.
After all, I couldn’t talk to Tommaso anymore.
I opened my eyes.
Under normal circumstances, the soft touch of the linen duvet, apricot tinged, would have lulled me back into a fitful sleep. In this instance, however, my first instinct was to throw the covers off of me and shoot out of this seemingly unfamiliar bed.
Or was it unfamiliar? Wasn't I currently in the master bedroom of my townhouse on La Via dei Notturni? The one I moved into with my wife the day after our marriage ceremony? When was that again? Two or three years ago, at least, or maybe it's already been half a decade. Matrimonial life tended to move agonisingly fast, at least in my experience.
But yes, this was definitely the bedroom of our forever home.
I replaced the duvet on the bed lest my wife get angry at me, already fully aware that I would receive an earful for oversleeping. I didn't want to give her any more ammunition. Flattening the linen, and even plumping the pillows for good measure, I then wandered into the next room where the sweet aroma of a homemade breakfast was beckoning me.
Arisa smiled at me, standing complacently in the doorway, with her warm eyes, and then returned to her labours in the kitchen sink. She was absentmindedly washing dishes, her attention clearly on the show tune emanating from the countertop radio.
As always, the breakfast my wife prepared was the traditional Japanese fare - a grilled omelette, miso soup and freshly squeezed orange juice in lieu of tea.
As I sat down to dig in, she suddenly appeared beside me and planted a kiss on my cheek. The radio had been switched off, and the plates were resting diagonally on a drying rack that I could vaguely remember building - one of MYKEA's reliable products.
Arisa flitted into the chair next to mine.
"I've been waiting for you to wake up, darling," she batted her lashes at me.
I swallowed the omelette and tried again.
"So the day can finally begin," she answered back dreamily. "The early mornings haven't been the same since my favourite radio serial ended..."
She looked wistfully at the silent radio, and seemed to be ruminating on something; probably, I thought, the radio serial that she had just mentioned. I caught a flicker of a frown, but it didn't last and she was smiling brightly again a second later.
"Wait," I started, beginning the motion to leap out of my seat, "aren't I late to work?"
A look of horror flashed through Arisa's face, but like the frown, this contortion of her features did not last. "You have the day off, remember?"
"Ah, so I do," I leaned back into the chair and relaxed, only somewhat puzzled as to how I had forgotten about my rare day off from selling juice to the red pandas in business suits that were always to be seen walking up and down the fashionable streets of Ginza.
"If you had work today, I would have woken you up like I always do," she laughed.
"Well, never mind that," I picked up a nearby newspaper and opened it at a random section; it wasn't as though I was particularly interested in any of the paper's headlines, but since it seemed like the appropriate thing for a husband to do during breakfast, I had found myself instinctively reaching for it. "What should we do today?"
"Ooh!" Arisa had stood up and was peering over my shoulder. She pointed at one of the articles, one accompanied by a picture of an appetising seafood dish. "Look at that! There's a festival at Knott's Bay today."
"Should we go have a look?"
I had played this role for, as I've mentioned, the past two or three years, and I knew my lines to a tee. Her interest would be piqued by a television advertisement, or an article in the paper; or, a cloud vaguely shaped like a tiger might make her decide that she wanted to go to the zoo and see an actual flesh-and-blood tiger.
She'd make the suggestion and, to make her happy, I'd agree; additionally, as a consequence of seeing her face flush with happiness, I'd also be happy. This was our matrimonial life in a nutshell but, in this instance, the script had been slightly altered and in the most impish way.
"That sounds fun! Can we go?"
The owners of the two voices stood by the door leading into the hallway, but they didn’t remain there for long; soon enough, they were at Arisa’s legs, and she jumped up to her feet in surprise. At their height, they could only pull at the hem of her skirt.
“Hey mama, let’s go to the feeeeeestival,” the girl pleaded.
“Festival, festival, festival!” the other began to chant.
It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to realise that I was staring down at my own flesh and blood. Sora and Serina were, as their naming scheme might have suggested, twins. Although fraternal, the pair looked remarkably similar: both possessed the same soft features, the same dark hair that glowed sienna in the sunlight, and the piercing gaze which was the trademark of the Ayatsuji family.
On the cusp of elementary school, they were even both of a same height although, if my elder sister and I were any indicator, then Sora would eventually tower over Serina who was his senior by seven minutes.
With Arisa's skirt as leverage, Sora succeeded in climbing onto his mother's lap; there, he continued to press his case while Arisa pat his head, shooting me the occasional uncertain glance.
I picked Serina up, held her face close to mine so that our noses almost touched, and then said to no-one in particular:
"You're my daughter, aren't you?"
A wide smile spread across the young girl's face.
"Of course I am!"
I set her back down, and looked at my young family. A vague feeling of uneasiness welled up in me, but I brushed it off. A patriarch, because that's what I apparently was, couldn't afford to dither. In the past minute or so, Arisa had also gotten more comfortable with Sora's presence - no longer awkwardly patting his head, she was now playing with his hair.
"OK, then," I clapped my hands, and caught their attention. "Let's get a move on, shall we? The festival awaits."