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


Riko regularly has nightmares about her beloved father dying. 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, Riko sees what she thinks is the ghost of a very elderly person. Makoto claims that he has many elderly relatives in the house, but all of them (including Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa) have begun to disappear because they are just "after-images."

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 Riko that his family has always done this and the dead people are "after-images" 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.

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

Ten years pass and the after-images of Makoto's older relations all disappear. Whenever there is a new death in the family, Riko takes part in the ritual to create an after-image; but even though she tries hard to please Makoto's parents, they never accept her. Riko eventually discovers that Makoto is having an affair with a work colleague. He plans to marry his new girlfriend, but Riko refuses to give him a divorce. Makoto says that she won't need to: she was hit by a car and killed the day before their wedding. Makoto's family, with the exception of his parents, took pity on him and agreed to create an after-image of her.

Riko decides everything that's happened is her fault as much as Makoto's, and that she paid more attention to her father than to her husband. She says goodbye to Tomoka and returns home to her beloved father, wondering which of them will be the first to leave.