The girl slumbers as the samurai whispers into her dreams. One of her fingers brushes the crest on his helmet that arcs up like a golden moon. She clutches her toy and does not sleep well.
Earlier that afternoon, the girl pranced up the museum steps, action figure in one hand, invisible lightning bolts in the other; for she was, of course, a samurai who knew magic. A large banner draped above the entrance depicted an imposing warrior charging forward, cherry blossoms floating over his head. "For the shogunate!" her father said, grinning. "For the choco-nut!" the girl shouted. They laughed together.
The first display held a collection of katanas. "What does that say?" the girl asked, pointing at a plaque. Her father squinted. "Carbon steel. . . polished and glazed. . . cut through armor and. . ."
"No," the girl declared. "That's wrong. Swords don't hit armor, they hit other swords." She frowned as she swung her arm to demonstrate.
"Let's look at other things," her father said.
The girl asked no more questions, and spoke only with the tightening grip of her hand. But as they wandered deeper through the dim and hushed corridors of the exhibit, she heard glimmers of whispered conversations, saw glimpses of meaning. And the samurai, of course, understood everything.
A red battle mask, carved with empty eyes and a mouth turned down in an immortal scowl. A stained banner depicting two birds, one ripped in two. A wakizashi, used first to stab through a fallen foe's neck, then to saw through it completely.
And then the dioramas: the boy-Emperor Antoku held aloft by his grandmother, the eternal moment before she jumped with him into the sea. A samurai stumbling backwards, two arrow shafts protruding from his chest. A kneeling man clothed all in white holding a knife with its tip pointing towards his own abdomen; his second behind him, ready to deliver the decapitating stroke.
The girl ignored her father's increasingly insistent pull. She studied each object, each display, before looking away.
As soon as they exited, her father picked her up. She dropped her head on his shoulder in a way he thought she had forgotten. Her samurai dangled loosely from her hand.
He murmured a comfort: "You're still my samurai with lightning powers." They both knew it was false. The girl said nothing and fell asleep in the car.
And now the samurai whispers, and what he says, no one knows. Does he speak of blood and mortality, transience and the void? Are those half-formed concepts infecting her even now, a patient contagion that will manifest itself over time as thoughtful outbursts, contemplative sulks, honest silences?
Or perhaps he is planting a different kind of seed. The samurai knows that no day is without shadow, no year without storm. And someday, when the woman who was once a girl reaches a moment of darkness, perhaps the samurai wishes her to remember this: she once believed that she could call to the clouds, and the heavens would answer.
This feels less like a story than a meditation.
I've always told stories to my daughter that some might argue are a bit too mature for her. No, not in the sex-and-violence sense; but in the thematic sense, most often with the idea that the world can be unkind, uncaring, and simply unfair. Why? Because I think it's true, and because I think it's a realization that many people eventually come to without having the proper emotional support. Better to have my daughter learn now when she's still young enough to come to her father with her sadness and concerns.
All that being said, it's not like I keep my daughter in a Box of Tragedy. People who know us know that we're both pretty... I'll be kind and say 'whimsical'. We both like making people laugh, and I think we both have genuine hope for the future.
I think this story is my attempt to bring these two seemingly contradictory viewpoints together.