Chapter four of Ma no Kakera. Also titled "Gentle Goodbye"


Akiko, who lost her mother at an early age, is terrified of her father dying too. When she marries the wealthy Makoto Tokura against his family's wishes, she is sad to leave her father, and continues to have nightmares about his death.

Makoto's entire family lives together, including his great-grandparents. One day, Akiko sees what she thinks is the ghost of a very elderly person. She runs screaming to Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa, but they don't answer her. Makoto tells her that what she saw was his great-great-grandmother, who is 125 years old. Makoto claims that he has many elderly relatives in the house, but they have begun to disappear because they are just "afterimages." Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa are also afterimages which is why they couldn't be at Makoto and Akiko's wedding.

The following day, Makoto's grandfather dies. After the mourners leave, Makoto's father leads the family in a ritual to concentrate on the thought of the dead person reappearing. Everyone does so, and shortly afterwards, Grandpa returns even though he was cremated. Makoto later tells Akiko that his family has always done this and the dead people are "afterimages" formed from the memories of the living. They linger for only twenty years or so before vanishing forever, but this is usually enough time for the family's grief to be soothed.

Akiko asks if Makoto will be able to help her make an afterimage of her father when he dies. Makoto says that the afterimages come from the memories of many people, so he would need the support of the whole family. Makoto's parents refuse, and Akiko runs sobbing from the room. Makoto's sister Yuka (the only member of the family who cares for Akiko) tries to comfort her, but Akiko's hand passes through Yuka's face. Makoto admits that Yuka is an afterimage, and died from a childhood illness ten years ago; even so, her image has already begun to fade. Yuka remains unaware that she is no longer alive, although she fades more and more every day.

Time passes, and Akiko has now been married for ten years. The afterimages of Great-Great-Grandma, Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa all disappear. Whenever there is a new death in the family, Akiko takes part in the ritual to create an afterimage. However, even though she tries hard to please Makoto's parents, they never accept her. Akiko eventually discovers that Makoto is having an affair with a work colleague. He plans to marry his new girlfriend, but Akiko refuses to give him a divorce. Makoto says that she won't need to: Akiko herself is an afterimage, created by the Tokura family when she was killed by a car the day before her wedding. Makoto's parents refused to take part in the ritual; but the rest of the family took pity on him and agreed to create the afterimage.

Akiko feels strangely calm about knowing that she has only another ten years or so left on earth. She feels that she wasn't a very good wife, and paid more attention to her father than to her husband. She says goodbye to Yuka and returns home to her beloved father, wondering which of them will be the first to leave.

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