The year before, the Makiokas had had lunch at the Pavilion of the All-Merciful, and the year before that at one of the tea houses by the bridge. This year they chose the precincts of the Temple of the All-Conquering Law -- that temple to which, in April each year, the twelve-year olds of Kyoto are brought to pray for a happy adolescence.
"Remember the tongue-cut sparrow, Etsuko? This is where he lived." They had crossed the bridge back toward the city, and were starting through the bamboo groves near the Temple of the Heavenly Dragon.
A chilly wind had come up by the time they passed the Nomomiya, the Shrine in the Fields, where in ancient times court maidens retired for purification before leaving to become Shrine Virgins at Ise. At the Enrian Hermitage a shower of cherry petals was falling, to decorate their kimono sleeves. Again they walked through the Temple of Clean Coolness, and, taking a train, arrived back at the Bridge of the Passing Moon yet a third time. After a rest they hailed a cab and drove to the Heian Shrine.
Those weeping cherries just beyond the gallery to the left as one steps inside the gate and faces the main hall -- those cherries said to be famous even abroad -- how would they be this year? Was it perhaps already too late? Always they stepped through the gallery with a strange rising of the heart, but the five of them cried out as one when they saw that cloud of pink spread across the late-afternoon sky.
It was the climax of the pilgrimage, the moment treasured through a whole year. All was well, they had come again to the cherries in full bloom. There was a feeling of relief, and a hope that next year they might be as fortunate, and for Sachiko, at least, the thought that even if she herself stood here next year, Yukiko might be married and far away. The flowers would come again, but Yukiko would not. It was a saddening thought, and yet it contained almost a prayer that, for Yukiko's sake, she might indeed no longer be with them. Sachiko had stood under these same trees with these same emotions the year before and the year before that, and each time she had found it hard to understand why they should still be together. She could not bear to look at Yukiko.
The willows and oaks beyond the cherry grove were sending out new buds. The oleanders had been clipped into round balls. Sending the four ahead, Teinosuke photographed them at all the usual spots: White Tiger pond, with its iris-lined shore; the stepping stones called the Bridge of the Reclining Tiger, reflected from the water with the four figures. He had them line up under the truly glorious branches that trail down over the path from the pine-topped hillock to the west of the Pond of the Nesting Phoenix. All sorts of strangers took pictures of the Makioka procession. The polite would carefully ask permission, the rude would simply snap. There the family had had tea, here they had fed the red carp -- they remembered the smallest details of earlier pilgrimages.
Many Melancholy Returns
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