My wife would have complained about white sand ingratiating itself within the woven rice straw of the tatami. She would have asked why all my time was focussed on black lacquer trays, on worlds I could carry in my hands. Why so many hours to find the correct stone? How do you know when it is right or when it is finished? My wife would have questioned so many things.
On one tray I create a little pleasure garden to walk in. A bridge, a shimmering lake. I have bought the tools of this new trade: sand chest, stones, a diminutive flax broom. I add feathers, a sifter, two miniature spoons. I want all I touch to be smaller, finer.
On another tray I create ocean waves and a shoreline, add savage rocks. My wife would remember that place, but I do not know if there is anyone living who would recognise those little waves to drown in.
When my daughter comes, her words are pleasant but her tone mocks. Whatever next, she says. In her eyes, I am a foolish old man, playing with pebbles and sand. When I try to pick up a tray to show her, my hands shake and the tiny world becomes blurred. Oh father, she says, it is all so easily lost. She does not understand.
Once she has gone, I begin the final tray. It takes many hours and even then it is not right, it is not perfect. Jagged rocks, a mountain range of wordless beauty. Why can I not create one perfect place in this empty world?
I spill white sand. I throw pale pebbles at the screens. Shout and curse out loud. And still my wife declines to reproach me. Still my wife will not return.
'Mr Ono Makes Bonseki' was previously published in Things Left and Found By the Side of the Road: Bath Flash Fiction Volume 3 in 2018.
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