Notes and Disclaimers: Maria-sama ga Miteru, Lillian Academy and the characters used in this story are the creation of Konno Oyuki, and the property of Konno Oyuki, Shueisha and Geneon Entertainment.
This, the fourth of the “Forest of Thorns” series is, like the very first one of the vignettes, based on characters from Ibara no Mori, The Forest of Thorns, the third of the Marimite novels.
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Still Life With White Sheet – (Forest of Thorns – IV)
May 1, 1958
The first sign that something was wrong, was the lighting. It wasn’t the soft glow of the lamp by my bedside, nor was it the bright morning sun shining through the unshaded windows at my grandmother’s house. My eyelids flickered, but remained shut, rejecting the harsh glare that made the blood vessels beneath the skin visible. The hum of electricity was loud, interrupting my thoughts, punctuated by intermittent beeps of insistent machinery.
I was in the hospital.
I could smell the harsh antiseptic, feel the breathing and movements of the other patients in the ward, hear cleared throats, requests for water and sharp orders barked from doctor to nurse.
I had failed.
My eyes filled with tears that I had no energy to wipe away. My scream quickly became agony from a raw throat. I choked, convulsively swallowing in an attempt to soothe the feeling of having been scoured by sand. I lifted a hand, only to be made aware of the cold IV seeping into my arm.
I was alive.
My hands lay on the white sheets, no other hands held tenderly in their grasp, no fingers entwined with my own. When I had closed my eyes, they had been warm. Now, they were cold.
I was alone.
My eyes opened. I stared at the ceiling while tears of frustration, loneliness and yes, relief, rolled down my face to the pillow below.
May 2, 1958
They didn’t mean to be brutal, I am sure, but the doctor could not pretend that he understood my emotions – it was clear that he found it all distasteful and shameful. His eyes would not meet mine when he told me that I had survived, but Saori had not.
When he left my side after a few platitudes, I lay there and prayed to Maria-sama, who had watched over us all the time we were together. Now, it was up to Maria-sama to watch over me, alone. I prayed that Saori would sit by her side and watch me as well. And I prayed that my life should be short, so that I could join them as soon as possible.
May 10, 1958
They do not want to release me, but my parents have insisted. I heard them arguing about it. The doctor does not feel that it is safe – I think he wants to put me in a home for the mentally unstable. I want to feel angry, but I can’t. He’s right – I am a danger to myself and to those I love. After all, my love is what killed Saori.
May 13, 1958
The flowers on the sill are always pink. The girl in the bed next to mine loves pink; so to make her happy, her mother brings fresh pink flowers every day.
Saori did not like pink flowers – she felt that they were ingenuous, that they demanded too much of the viewer. I thought she was silly and told her so, and bought her pink flowers for her birthday. She made a face, but I saw her smile at them when she thought I wasn’t looking.
I told the doctor and my parents today that if they let me leave the hospital, I would probably try to kill myself again. I wasn’t feeling particularly melodramatic, but they reacted badly. My father yelled and my mother cried. But can’t they see that life without Saori has no meaning? I feel empty, as if my insides are hollow. I take deep breaths just to make sure that I still have lungs and pinch myself to see if I can feel anything. But nothing helps. Saori and I were supposed to die together, to be together forever, and here I am, waiting until the rest of my life passes, so I too can “slough this mortal coil” and join my angel in heaven.
May 20, 1958
I stare at the picture just above the doctor’s head as he speaks, but he is not perceptive enough to see that I am avoiding looking directly at him. I smile and nod, and he thinks that I am “getting better” – he tells my parents that we are “making progress.” And I am making progress – I have come up with no less than two dozen ways to commit suicide in this hospital. Some are admittedly silly, but they are the best ways, because so many factors would depend on luck and timing.
The doctor told me that my classmates have been asking to see me and he has withdrawn the order to keep guests away. Tomorrow I must begin explaining my actions, so tonight I will lie in my hospital bed and come up with stories that will appeal to the prurient delight of Lillian Academy.
May 21, 1958
I know that the nurses read my diary when I sleep, but I don’t care. They keep my secrets as well as I do myself – I can tell, because they are gentle with me; smiling sadly, or shyly, or supportively, at me when they come in. I can tell that they keep my secrets, because the doctor says nothing of my desire to die, to be in the arms of my beloved Saori forever.
Her face is crystal clear in my mind – I can see her looking up at me from the bench where we would meet, or when she waved as we passed in the halls, or the ironic look that she wore when she handed me the day duty logs and our fingers would brush lightly against each other’s.
Three classmates visited today. I was ready to fill their ears with fantastic tales about my absence, but the tears in their eyes made mine get hot and all I could do in the end was hold their hands and thank them for their concern. They cried, but I did not – I still can’t, and won’t, because I will be joining Saori soon and I don’t want to see her again with eyes and cheeks red and puffy with tears.
May 22, 1958
Today…how do I even begin to tell you about today? No one came today to visit until the very end of visiting hours. The sun is just now setting, turning the sky all the requisite fiery colors needed for a dramatic scene.
My visitor today was someone I hardly knew, an upperclassman named Ichinomiya Misaki. She has beautiful long black hair that moves so much like silk that it takes an effort to hold one’s hand in one’s lap and not reach out and touch it.
I believe that Ichinomiya-san and I met once, at a school festival, but I did not remember her then – only now as I lay here wondering what her words meant does her name come to mean anything to me at all.
She came to my bedside, her pale face composed with a complete lack of pity. If anything, she looked mildly annoyed. She introduced herself and sat down, abruptly taking my hand and laying it upon her wrist. I could plainly feel the scar there and drew my hand away in revulsion.
“What did you hope to accomplish by this?” she asked.
I hadn’t ever considered that and no one had ever asked that question. I thought a while before I answered, but when I spoke, it was with nothing less than the absolute truth. “We knew we couldn’t be happy together in life, so we decided to be happy together in death.”
Ichinomiya-san stared at me for a long moment, then stood. She looked me in the eyes and smiled, the smallest of smiles that barely touched the corner of her lips. It wasn’t an ironic smile – it was a terrible smile, and I was suddenly frightened.
“If I told you,” she asked calmly, “that that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard, what would you say?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but stopped and bowed my head. “I’d say that you were right.” My voice quavered a little, as the implications struck home.
“You don’t know me, but I know you. Do you understand what that means?” Her coolness was terrifying. “I *know* you.” She turned on her heel and walked away.
Almost without thinking, I reached out for her. “Don’t leave!” I called, following it with a hasty, “Please.”
She turned again, brushing her hair back from her face. “I’ll come tomorrow,” she said, and this time, when she smiled, I could feel my eyes fill with tears.
Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.
May 25, 1958
This morning when the nurse came to serve me breakfast, I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of her starched uniform rub against her skin, and the tray sliding across the table. When she asked me if I was feeling well, I opened my eyes and nodded. “I was just listening.”
“What are you listening to?” she asked, politely.
“To life,” I answered.
June 8, 1958
Tonight I stood in front of Maria-sama and prayed more fervently than I have ever prayed before. I prayed for forgiveness, I prayed for the soul of Saori and I prayed in thanks for the existence of a person who pulled me back from the brink of death.
A week ago, I sat in the garden of the hospital, Ichinomiya-san by my side. She looked as she always did, a little cold, aloof, removed. But her words were nothing like that – they were impassioned and fervent. I could barely make out her meaning, so full of heat was her tone.
When she ceased talking, she pinned me with a look. “Do you understand what I am saying to you?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Seiko,” she said, turning a little towards me. “Do you have a soeur?”
I could feel my heart beat a little faster at this. “No.”
“Be my soeur.”
“Why?” I could not for the life of me understand why she would want to take me as her little sister, when she so clearly saw my frailty and knew my shame.
“We can help keep each other alive. And years from now, when all the other people in our lives are gone, we will still have each other.”
“I can’t love you.” I said, a little ungraciously and more than a little crudely.
“I don’t want your love,” she looked at me with total seriousness. “I want you to understand what I am saying to you – that you need to live, to be able to appreciate what God has given you. Even your love is a gift from God. If you die, you are rejecting that gift.”
And so, tonight, when the moon cleared the trees, I bowed my head in front of Maria-sama and waited while Ichinomiya-sa…, no, onee-sama, put her rosary around my neck.
Maybe one day I will understand. Maybe one day I will write a book to explain it to others. Right now, I sit in front of my notebook, one hand clutching the rosary, the other my pen. Maybe, one day, it will all mean something very important, but for right now, it’s enough to know the feeling of the beads on my neck and feel the cool metal against my chest.
For now, this is enough.