For a while in middle school Yomiko bought stationary. The walls of her room were already covered in bookshelves and every one was full to bursting, but her desk was relatively clean, no more than five or six books there, the ones she was in the middle of. She put them in a pile and next to them she put a wooden box her mother had given her and inside that she put the begnning of her collection, a sheaf of blue air-mail paper with red marks across the top.
Every day on the way home from school she stops by the bookstore. Her parents are rich and her allowance is very generous, but she tries to limit herself out of a sense of propriety, only buying one book a day, or three if they're children's books or manga. (Manga just aren't the same, there's a beauty to making pictures out of words that you can't get any other way, but they're almost as good, and Yomiko can love for a story well told what she cannot love for words put together well.) Sometimes she will get something else as well. It had been a pen or a bookmark or on Saturdays a cup of coffee (it won't stunt your growth, her father told her, that's just a legend, coffee and books go together almost as well as tea and books, so go ahead), but as soon as she began her collection, it became a pad of paper, every time. The second one was handmade, delicate cream parchment with real sakura petals embedded in the corners, so expensive her heart gave a flutter, wondered if she wouldn't be better off buying another book. But she loved the smell of it, loved the gentle touch of the paper, loved the way it rose to meet her fingers like an eager pet.
She had tried to teach herself paper manipulation with index cards, but they were clumsy things to her as a child, thick and impersonal. She could do it, but it took effort. The stationary, however, was easy. It was not strong, and she could not use it harshly for she could not bear to damage it, but it was beautiful. The third paper was soft grey, undecorated, but its deeper grey writing lines rubbed against her soul like a first kiss. She got a hundred sheets, and as soon as she was home and closed the door, she reached out to play them, spreading them like abstract wings across her bed, laughing as she spun around and they followed her hands in a gentle spiral. Working with her stationary was like dancing.
In her mind she compared it to the girlish romances she read in secret, books where women like her (but nobody had been like her, all her life), shy and sharp-edged and too clever for the muscular oafs who swept helpless schoolgirls off their feet behind the covers of her giggling classmate's books, found someone who fit them like a glove. An older woman sometimes, a teacher at their school if they were schoolgirls still. Sometimes a girl, if they were already grown and cynical and thought they were doomed to a life without love, someone bright enough to light them up again. Or sometimes, someone just like them, uncertain and lonely and hiding in their books to keep the world's light from hurting them, to keep their light from hurting the world. The fourth purchase was a boxed set, edged with a design like origami paper, or like the kimono of a courtesan. She rubbed it across her fingers and imagined that she was lifting embroidered silk from the skin of a beautiful woman, and whispered Sensei.
Yomiko has never had a friend at school. Her romances have been with Alice, Anne Shirley, Jane Eyre. (She cried more and harder for Helen than for her own grandmother, whom she remebered only vaugely as a mass of toddering disapproval that gave her sports gear every birthday.) The smell of paper will be forever associated in her mind with love. She bought a stationary set that was pink, edged with little hearts, on sale for half price. It was only vaugely that she realized it was the day after White Day as she bought it; she had gotten no choclate. When she opened it, halfway home, the faint perfume of old dried roses hung in the air and followed her home. She slept that night with a single sheet beside her on the pillow, touching it with only the edges of her fingers, feeling it flutter involuntarily beneath them. Sweetheart, she thought. You love me more than they ever will. The paper slid beneath her still fingers with a gentle grace.
Yomiko thinks that she should do something with her papers; that as they are they are beautiful, but sterile, lying in their box and letting their scents mingle. She takes out a delicate fountain pen, heavy in her hand, and takes the White Day paper out to write a letter. But it occurs to her she has no one to write it to. She caresses the paper gently, and lifts her hand, watching it rise after. Dear thing, she thinks. She has never kept a diary. She thinks for a long time and begins her letter, writing with careful grace, respectful to her tools. Dear sensei, she writes. I havn't met you yet, and I don't know when I will, or even if we will. I hope it happens soon. She stares down at these words and is reminded of the girls at school, how they giggle (and it hurts her ears) and write soppy notes to the boys they adore (and how she has never wanted a boy). But this is a different kind of note. It is what this paper was meant for; something so beautiful deserves better than a passing infatuation to be memorialized upon it, and a love built of pure hope will last forever. I will fall in love with you when I read your books, and I will dream of meeting you. We will understand each other, and it will be the more precious for its rarity. Her words come faster now, flowing out of her like menstrual blood and leaving her just as drained.
She talks of love and writing and writing to one's love. She describes a first kiss, a first night together. Her lover, she decides, will have long hair, but dress like a man, the intoxicating blend of strength and beauty Yomiko only wishes she had. She will have a sweet smile and her pencil will be tucked behind her ear, always. The image gives her shivers, and she looks down and realizes she has almost run out of paper. One sheet, she thinks, is enough for what she is painfully aware is self-indulgence. She finishes the letter with a plea: I know I may be younger than you, but I would not have loved you if you did not know that just because I am young does not mean I cannot understand these things. Please, let me try to make you happy, because I cannot be happy if you are not. She signs the letter Love, and stares down at it for a long time.
She has assumed she will fall in love with a writer. But for now, she has no one to write too. The letter lies on her desk, still and alone, its moments of glory already passed. She wrote it, and it will never be read. The black ink seems to mock her with the futility of her dreams.
Yomiko folds the letter up nontheless and puts it an envelope, and presses it between the pages of The Green Fairy Book. She looks through her collection, almost twenty pads of paper she will never use, and sighs and goes back to buying boomarks with her leftover cash.
It is almost a month before her resolve breaks and she buys another pad of paper. This one, she tells herself, is for herself. It's unscented, nearly anonymous, pure white and notable only for how thick and smooth it feels. It's almost as heavy as the index cards she still resolutely takes to the backyard every other afternoon to practice sending them at impromptu targets, holding them together long enough to lift small heavy objects. She sets it on top of the barely-used White Day paper, which it is large enough to hide completely. She approves of the cleanliness.
Yomiko long ago found her place and never left it - the quiet girl in the back of the class, making good grades but never admitting it, always polite and well-dressed. If she ever used her powers it would be in secret, for the sake of protecting the people she loved. She is not cut out for recognition; she wants nothing more than to be allowed to live quietly with her books and her dreams and maybe, she thinks somtimes in the dead of night, her writer.
Yomiko dreams of a beautiful woman in an old-fashioned kimono and a curtain of black hair who undoes all her clothes and covers her skin in inked characters. You are my paper, the woman says, with a soft red smile like a inkspill across her white makeup. Yomiko trembles under the touch of the brush but she looks down to see a story written over her skin: it is her life story, but the ending is on her back, where it cannot be seen. Her glasses, she realizes vaugely, have gone. The woman has put them on, and raised her hands to them, looking amused. Then she undoes her kimono, revealing skin the color of the White Day stationary. Go on, she says. Your turn. Yomiko wakes up then with a gasp. Driven by a nameless impulse, she opens up the stationary box, to find that the papers within have rearranged themselves: the sakura-scented paper has floated up to meet her, and as she had when she bought it, she can feel its eagerness, its desire to please her.
She slams the lid back on, and rushes into the bathroom. Her parents will not hear; they have gone somewhere for the weekend and left her alone. It is barely three in the morning, but today is Sunday, and she can afford to miss some sleep and make it up later. Her pajamas are castoffs of her father's, with buttons down the front, and she curses them breifly as she struggles free of them and shoves herself into the shower, turning the water on as high as it will go and ignoring the blast of cold. She needs the cold right now, and she shivers violently as it soaks through her hair, pounds against her skin. Yomiko was in such a hurry she has left her glasses by her bedside, but right now she does not want to see. She lets her hair hang sodden into her eyes. Her nipple is hard beneath her inquisitive fingers, and she does not know why. It is almost an hour later, and the water would have gone cold even if Yomiko had bothered to turn on the hot tap, by the time she emerges.
She has the dream again later that week, although it does not go very far before her alarm buzzes and she wakes up, half-remembered visions of bowing her head to see the characters written on her thigh buzzing in her head. At school she spends study hall hunched over in the bathroom, her skirt hitched up, trying to recreate them. The results are nonsensical, and she gives up in frustration. It's pointless and stupid, to write on skin like this. It will be gone tomorrow morning. She should be writing on her stationary. Her beautiful, lovely, paper, made to bend to her pen. Yomiko knows how to take such a gift, repay it by using it well. She loves her paper, and she will use it well. But she cannot remeber the words.
That afternoon she goes home and takes out a sheet of her plain white paper, her paper, the paper that is like her. It takes her a long moment before she decides what to write. Last night, she finally begins, a woman in an old-fashioned kimono came to me and wrote poetry all over my skin. She describes the dream carefully, trapping it, making it real, and when the ink is dry she folds up the paper and puts it between the pages of Zod Wallop.
There is something significant about this, but she cannot quite decide what it is. But she has written it down, and there will be time to decide later. The afternoon sun makes her window glow softly, and the glow suffuses into her heart in a sudden burst of metaphor. She has time. She will find out the meaning of the world, and she will have her writer someday, and she will rise into the first kiss like her paper rose to meet her fingers. Yomiko knows how to play and be played with equal proclivity, although she has never found a player. But for now, she has an instrument, and that will do. She reaches out to touch the plain white paper. It lifts out of the box, meeting her halfway.
She has not danced with her papers in a while. She takes them all out and lays them on her bed and begins to wave her hands like an orchestra conductor, and they rise up in neat ranks. She imagines herself briefly in a red dress and crown instead of her too-neat pleated skirt, and the stationary as her court rising to meet her, an image from a book, of course. But the idea is replaced by herself in sorcerer's robes, and she waves one hand like a wand, and the lightweight paper swoops, casually and unhurriedly, to follow it. An improvement, perhaps, on the dance of pen and paper, to dance with it thus, leaving no mark, keeping it between themselves. Her papers drift lazily through the warm afternoon air, and Yomiko begins to laugh.