Juneau Sakamoto woke, her skin crawling. The darkened corners of her bedroom looked foreboding, but she knew what the shadows hid, so she wasn't afraid. The only other thing in the room with her was her cat Ferris, a patch of black on her beige bedcovers. Though he was plenty scary at times, this wasn't one of them. He stood on all fours now, stretching his limbs and raising his hackles. He, too, knew they weren't the only souls awake, but unlike Juneau, he seemed unperturbed. She was surprised he had nothing to say. The pure black Siamese mix usually had quite an extensive vocabulary, comprising a thesaurus of ways to demonstrate his raw wit. He kept quiet now.
What stirred Juneau wasn't so much a sound or the appearance of light. It was a movement in the air, as if the very particles in the world had moved in closer to her to accommodate some other being, standing outside in the night. Someone was watching her.
Her neighborhood, like her bedroom, housed no shady characters. Wedgwood was a nice area in North Seattle, whose warm cribs cradled self-made professionals: doctors, engineers, professors, and the occasional scientist. Their children policed the streets with labradoodles and golden retrievers. It was any wonder that Juneau's mother Kuni Sakamoto had managed to afford such a posh (by her friends' standards) house in a good (by her own standards) neighborhood. Despite appearances, the inhabitants of Wedgwood were, in fact, the humble sort--and would never suffer a stalker or peeping Tom. Juneau knew better than to assume it was either out there. But someone--or something--was out there.
She stifled a yawn. She had been losing more and more sleep in the past few weeks--and to silly things. Often, it was Ferris, waking her up at all hours of the night with his strangled mewling. A pillow thrown in his direction would usually silence him, but he was known to go on for hours on end. More often, it was a sneaky suspicion that someone was watching her in the dark, listening to her heartbeat. She would wake with a start and search for the source of that feeling. She would hear nothing more, nor sense anything to indicate that she wasn't totally and utterly alone. She would rub Ferris' black coat and throw herself onto her pillow. It wasn't long, though, before the honey rays of morning came pouring through the window and made her eyes sticky with sleep for the rest of the day.
Every night for two weeks, the same: the feeling, the waking, the casting about, then the confusion and fatigue the following day. Tonight was the same, and also different. For one, she knew without a doubt that Ferris didn't wake her.
There was no use for it. She was up. Juneau threw off her blanket and put on her house slippers. She didn't bother to turn on any lights, because she simply wasn't awake enough to see the merit in it. Ferris was up for a hunt and blazed out of the room and down the stairs. Juneau snickered. He was a nervous eater and liked company when he chowed down. But she didn't follow him. Instead, she stopped outside her studio.
A gibbous moon poured silver moonlight into the room, until it looked more grayscale photograph than real life. On every horizontal surface sat an arrangement of flowers. Ikebana: that was the name of the art of Japanese floral arrangement. Her goal had been to counterbalance her recent insomnia. She couldn't take many more sleepless nights before it caught up to her. Something about these arrangements made Juneau feel safer now. Maybe seeing them brought her fully back to the waking realm and put some common sense back into her. No one was watching her. No one had any reason to.
She stepped into the room, guided by silver light, and her eye fell on her latest creation. It was the very epitome of balance. The purple-gray orchids drew her eye first, which made sense: they were the accent. Leaves of aspidistra in wide, leathery green ribbons provided volume and incorporated the negative space around the piece into the whole. Stalks of bamboo shot out from the center, giving an impression of direction and movement.
Juneau was apparently a fast learner, having mastered the three primary elements of ikebana: line, volume, and accent. But she was no closer to Zen. She did enjoy the arranging though, especially since it seemed to make time crawl by, and she could sure use time before life knocked on her door and made her choose a direction in life. That was last thing she needed now. Fortunately, when she put her heart into her arranging, she swore she could feel time stop altogether.
It had been a week ago when Juneau told her mother she was reading up on ikebana. Kuni had been in the garden, knee-deep in bamboo roots and a swatch of mud across her forehead. "That's nice," she'd said, pulling a tendril of hair out of the corner of her mouth.
Juneau hadn't bothered to mention how exhausted she was these days, and how she hoped the Zen-like flower arranging would help her get some sleep. She also failed to mention that she often felt like someone was watching her. She didn't want to worry her mother unnecessarily.
Kuni was quick to point out that it was natural for her to take it up. "You may be American, but you're also Japanese," she told her daughter. "Plus, I made sure to pass my love of green, growing things to you from the start."
"Yes, yes, mom," said Juneau, only just managing not to roll her eyes. "Where would I be without you?" All the same, she made an effort to hide her sarcasm behind a good-natured chuckle.
As a gesture of encouragement, Kuni had transformed her old office into a flower studio for Juneau to work in. It was small, cramped, and moldy. In other words, perfect. It enjoyed the right amount of sunlight for at least three months out of the year and retained a modicum of warmth the rest of the time, when the dark and cold made the leaves outside shiver. This was only one of many reasons that Juneau felt lucky to have Kuni for a mom. Most of the parents that lived in this upper middle-class neighborhood would have packed her bags for her by now, and then called her a cab. Of course, if Juneau had her way and the money to do it, she would be living on her own.
Kuni Sakamoto, on the other hand, was old-fashioned, or perhaps just Japanese-fashioned. She wouldn't ask Juneau to leave for anything. She had supposedly been married once, though details of said marriage were largely cloaked in mystery. If Juneau's father was out there somewhere, she'd never know. Circumstances being what they were, Kuni seemed quite happy with their arrangement. However, she would be reminded of her great loneliness, were Juneau to suddenly say sayonara.
Juneau sat at her desk near the window and studied the night-dark garden outside that grew magically under her mother's green thumb. The hydrangeas were still crowned with periwinkle wisps and flowers that looked like five-winged butterfly ghosts nursing on nectar. The birdbath's waters, which attracted more squirrels than birds, winked winsomely. Tonight, Juneau saw a raccoon the size of a small bear drinking from it.
"So you're the culprit," she said, eying the grizzly creature. It seemed to sense her presence, too: it looked up. Juneau wondered if it could see her. She hoped he wouldn't trample Kuni's dahlia and rose beds after he'd had enough to drink. For some reason, seeing the big raccoon warded off the last of her dreams. She considered going downstairs for a snack. Before she had made up her mind, Ferris joined her in the moonlit room and took his perch on her lap.
"You felt it, too, don't you, Ferris?" she asked him. He meowed conspiratorially, but Juneau wasn't interested in his opinion if it conflicted with hers. Rather than duke it out, he jumped onto the windowsill and took to nibbling one of her arrangements. "Hey, quit it," she nagged, but he continued unhindered. She didn't blame him. If she were him, she'd just keep on gnawing, too. No: if she were him, she'd jump four feet vertically in the air, or spend hours licking her privates, or sleep sixteen hours a day, or do any of the hundreds of things cats took for granted. Smiling, she said, "Alright, you can nibble. Just don't knock any of it down, or else you're cleaning it up." Ferris had a rather loud opinion, but she wouldn't hear it. "Fine, then. Back to bed."
She ruffled the cat's fur, not really bothered. Ikebana may be pretty, but it was all ephemeral. In a week, all of these arrangements would be dead.
She left the studio and closed the door behind her, but not before Ferris went running toward the bedroom. When she found him, he was already tenderizing a spot on the bed, then soon curled into a ball. Juneau climbed in and drew the covers over her shoulders, shivering, despite the balmy summer night. With a yawn, she slid down the slope toward dreams, where she could have sworn she heard footsteps retreating through her mother's garden.