This was a fun exercise I did as part of a writing course last month. We had to write one A4 page about anything at all, based on Hokusai's famous The Great Wave off Kanagawa:
I felt a bit obvious writing about Japan, but the music/jewellery box in the story has stayed with me for more than thirty years.
On my grandmother’s dressing table was an ebony music box. She used it to store her rings – there were so many, all with their runs of diamonds, some of them with sapphires blinking out and one with a large ruby like a heart – and when it was open, which was not often, it played Sakura. I didn’t know the words (does it have words?) so we made some up: “Sakura, Sakura, do you like my kimono?” She had been to Japan twice and stood under the cherry trees while their blossoms rained down, and taken photos of Mount Fuji with its cap on, and watched a man pluck an eel right from the sea and eat it. Her house was full of souvenirs: her own kimono, in red and gold, koi fish and five-pronged flowers; a tall doll, hair spiked with pins, and soft hands stitched from pantyhose; a short doll, and another doll shorter still; a tea set with bamboo handles. And in the music box, tucked right into the back, a pair of clip-on earrings, kanji etched into open gold fans.
Sometimes she left the music box open long enough to get to the second verse, in the summer when her fingers had swollen and the rings wouldn’t come off. On those hot evenings we sat at the glass table in the kitchen and played Chinese Checkers, and my grandfather’s fingers were also swollen and he couldn’t pick up the marbles, so it was just me picking up the marbles and moving them around the board until we were all too tired to keep playing. It was so quiet there, in the hills, with the clock ticking and the sounds of my grandfather’s old body and the ghost echo of Sakura, even when the box was closed. Sometimes a possum would strike another possum, and they would brawl in the ceiling but my grandparents couldn’t hear them because they were thinking about the sake bar where they had touched their ankles together while the snow came down.
The earrings were heavy but I wore them out in the garden, tossing flakes into the fishponds from my place on the concrete bench. The fish rose to the surface in one brown mass. It moved like a breath, gathering together and coming apart, and the flakes disappeared into the water. I kneeled down and put my hand in, and the fish gathered in the cup of it. Dozens of them – hundreds, maybe – with their slick bodies like jewels. The earrings dragged so heavy on my ears and I imagined them dropping into the water, irretrievable. But they didn’t, and Sakura played and my grandmother heard it from the kitchen but imagined herself beneath a cherry tree.