A story of tragic love
They had known each other as children. They played in each other’s gardens and Cherry Blossom orchards, collecting and throwing the variegated pinks and cherry-colored petals at each other, as American children threw fallen Autumn leaves and dived into piles of them raked by their fathers in their backyards. Her hair was long and silken, opal black with shining and shimmering; reflecting and echoing the sun’s long-reaching rays. His jet black hair was her equal but his eyes were piercing like a smoldering ember in a night-dying fire on the hearth.
They enjoyed secret games and silly jokes like any other children. And then, one day, when they were teenagers, he made her a collage, all from the rainbow petals of pinks and reds and whites in the form of a cherry blossom itself. He selected the rarest of the Cherry Blossom trees in her backyard to search out his mosaics, since there was only one to be had and her father had procured it. It was rare because running down just one of the delicate flower’s veins, almost invisible was a hidden stream of deep blue. If you blinked, you might miss it. He had often heard her father speak of this rare hybrid and how proud he was to have been given it as a wedding gift from one of the monks at their temple.
He signed his name in Kanji, “Prince of the Garden” and he gave it to her, the “Cherry Blossom Princess.” In the meantime, their parents watched them surreptitiously, from behind tall thin windows, grow and mature, secretly hoping their beautiful children might one day become husband and wife, but betrothals were no longer the fashion in their ancient culture. Instead, their parents planned an elaborate eighteenth birthday party at her home.
There were many guests scattered amidst the intricate Japanese sculptures and statues and other priceless artworks, sampling the evening’s fare. His parents, secretly aware of the underlying purpose of the celebration, brought the unsuspecting suitor and, even as he entered the modernized Japanese humble but elegant home, his eyes met hers and stayed locked for that necessary only one instant, yet securing the already existing bond between them. They were across the crowded room, but no one could ignore the mystical enchanting gaze they exchanged. Then, something someone nearby said caught her attention, eliciting a lilting chime-like laugh, coquettish yet seductive, and she traipsed around the room, the fabulously long golden dragon embroidered on her blood-red kimono swirling and twirling with her in a big circle.
And so the official courting began.
Of course, they were never left alone. The art of being chaperoned was not yet obsolete. Of course, they were well suited, each family wealthy in its own right, each child schooled in the ancient Japanese customs of the art of wooing. Of course, the courtship was carefully and skillfully planned out in time and cultural obligations, and in the end, the happy couple were united under a canopy of Cherry Blossom trees at the nearby Buddhist temple.
The wedding gift, a trip to America, to attend a long-planned wedding celebration to be hosted by their American relatives in New York. It was held at the Waldorf=Astoria, one of the most historic and prestigious hotels in America known for its art-deco style; also known for the now unused and mostly unknown railway station underground serviced by an elevator big enough to house FDR’s private car when he wished to use it. It’s said that priceless objets d’arte have been discovered in these hidden bowels, some as identifiable as FDR’s own dinner plates with his presidential seal and initials.
When the happy couple arrived, they were greeted by a reception worthy of the Emperor Hirohito himself and his Empress. Their honeymoon suite, the best the hotel could offer, and for which special provisions had been made, had Cherry Blossoms carpeting their room and their matrimonial bed.
While their celebration filled with joy and many wishes for good luck proceeded as planned, in the Grand Ballroom (a collection of not just one, but four stories), another meeting, of sorts, was being experienced in Peacock Alley downstairs. This was not exactly a celebration but also an ancient cultural event, its purpose: a Vendetta.
A group of men entered, dressed in recognizable Famiglia attire. They frequented the Waldorf numerous times and while not unnoticed, usually without incident. The families were famous for visiting this locale. In the old days, gangsters such as Frank Costello, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and the notorious Charles “Lucky” Luciano even lived in the Waldorf=Astoria for a time. This evening, the serenity of previous gatherings was missing and took on a different tone.
The families had been negotiating for years, power shifting from one to the other whenever the head of a major family died or was removed from command. There had been the death of Don Luigi, head of the second largest family last month and the not-unexpected power play between the new don and the ruling family had the police of the city on guard, watching and waiting for what was surely to come: the war.
The meal started quietly enough, first with some libations in the Bull and Bear’s Wine Library, then moved subtly back to the Peacock Alley Restaurant, which once connected the original two hotels, the Waldorf and the Astoria. O Sole’ Mio could be heard in the background, played on Cole Porter’s Steinway & Sons grand piano in the lobby. Ordering was standard and the chefs were well prepared for the customary menu. Course after course skirted the grandiose table specially prepared for the most important members of the clan.
Without warning, shots rang out.
They were too close.
Having just come down from the Grand Ballroom, to snatch a slip of fresh air outside, she immediately beckoned to her love to get down behind a big upholstered chair and he did. She hid beside a long circling staircase.
Shots continued to ring out and hardly seemed real. They pierced the chair behind which her husband hid killing him instantly. The stark whiteness of his tuxedo shirt was splattered with blood. There were shadings of pink, but only from the way his blood leaked out of his shattered body; most of his wounds were cherry red. She draped herself over his body, covering him with her long silken shawl of shimmering violet and red flowers, embracing him with the flowing arms of her matrimonial kimono and sobbed hysterically.
She remembered nothing else until she woke up again in Japan.
Back in Japan, the Princess sat in her room, unable to fully comprehend the cruel twist fate had thrown at them. Winter was now upon them and the gardens and spirit house she erected for her Prince sat covered in snow from top to bottom, the opening for the spirit to go and come barely visible.
One morning, she awoke to the singing notes of the harbinger of spring sitting on the front lawn. Still, there was nothing to raise her spirits, except the melting of the snow on her true love’s spirit house, the opening now visible through and through. She had tied the customary red ribbon around the monument and it fluttered ever so gently in the morning breezes.
The tree he had cherished, as did her father, was showing signs of coming into bloom. Baby white buds appeared sporadically on its arms reaching up to the heavens. It was the first time since his death that she allowed herself to smile ever so slightly, remembering his collage which still hung in her bedroom. But happy memories elicited tears as did the not so happy ones and a tiny tear ran down her porcelain skin. She slip of a milk white hand brushed against her check to soak it up and caress it, like a newborn diamond is caressed by the coal that surrounds it.
She had, of late, at least gone down to the family dining room and although she didn’t feel totally committed to this nuance, she dressed and made her way slowly downstairs. Her parents looked up, half expecting to see a white sea punctured by two reddened windows on the world. But, this morning, there was something different about her. She greeted her parents in the customary morning Japanese and took her seat at the end of the table, crossing her legs in front of her.
Morning meals were simple and there was always green tea, a favorite of hers. She sipped at it slowly, savoring it, as she now savored those few short days of her married life. It ran down her throat like viscous honey, heavy and sweet, just as her honeymoon had almost been. She ate little and responded with uninterested sounds and nods to her parents’ poor attempts at light conversation. They wondered how long she could go on like this, eating little, barely communicating, all foreshadowing a terribly long mourning period. But they also prayed, prayed for a sign from their creator, a sign to reawaken the beauty that although was still there, remained truly captured in his cherry blossom collage.
As both gardens came into full bloom, she watched the trees from the windowsill of her room. Whites and pinks and reds everywhere. Soon the ground would be carpeted in their beauty, the tree trunks their only separation.
The rare tree with the blue river hidden within it had budded as well. But mysteriously, this Spring there were no little blue streams anywhere to be seen on any blossom. And so, she finally ventured outside, curious now, as to what had happened to her father’s prized tree.
When she walked over to the tree, she found her father already there. He was gently massaging one of the closest blooms between his fingers. He turned to look at her and his face told her he was sad. She looked up at him lovingly, assuring him that it wasn’t important anymore, that all that had been important in the world had died like the blue river running through the petals of his tree.
Neither of them noticed the tree by her window, a tree whose blossoms had always been more like snow drops, almost void of color. The wind blew to catch their attention and both turned to the older tree. One single petal swirled and circled and finally settled gently in her waiting hand.
In the middle of the single solitary petal ran down a startling discovery. She could almost swear she heard his voice whispering through the blossoms telling her how much he loved her, how he would never leave her. And there, not one, but two sliver-thin blue lines ran separate paths, joining in the middle to form one single, solitary tributary to the edge of the palest white petal. There wasn’t any other blossom on the tree to confirm what she had seen.
In years to come, the tree would bring forth only one such blossom and it always fell at her feet. She looked up into the heavens, knowing she would never be truly alone ever again.