"A letter for you, sir," the porter said.

Senin was surprised. Who would have known that he was staying here? He nodded and took the letter as he walked into his room.

He ran his hands over the letter before opening it. The paper was smooth and bone white, of a quality he hadn't seen since he had been in the capital months before. He opened it, and saw only one sentence, written carefully in fine, small letters.

Because you would not wait for me I sigh and dine with nobody.

There was no signature, but Senin knew immediately who had written it. He smiled to himself, thinking of Tien and feeling flattered that a change of a day or two in his schedule had made her feel such pique.

As he was thinking of how to reply, he noticed that the sentence was written on two lines, with a break between "me" and "I". It could be that she just ran out of room at that point, he thought, but it could also be that she intended the sentence to be a couplet. Could this be the first love poem that Senin had ever received? He paused, thinking that he would have to craft a more thoughtful reply on the off chance that it was true.

He spent most of the morning composing a reply. Every time he skipped work like this, a part of him felt the silver draining from his pocket. He tried to ignore that dreadful feeling. He decided to use the alliterative style that he had learned in his hometown, but threw in a rhyme anyway:

Of the rigor of my role
You're already aware.
Whether or not I wished to woo,
I could not tarry there.

He folded it up and sealed it, and immediately felt apprehensive. The rough, brown paper he had used looked tawdry next to Tien's gleaming note. He had never studied poetry seriously, but he felt certain that his meter was clumsy and his meaning fuzzy. He wondered whether Tien would smile when she read it, and he sent it.


"We put the dough on the outside here," Senin explained. "Make sure you cover up the hole all the way."

The little boy looked up at Senin with eyes wide open. "You fix it with dough?"

"The dough is only temporary," Senin said. "Let's make sure it's nice and snug, and I'll show you what we do next."

There was a knock on the door. "Are you Senin?" a teenager asked.

"I am," Senin said, hoping that this would be a new customer.

"Letter for you," the teenager said, handing it over and walking away.

Senin put the smooth white paper into his pocket, a little embarrassed that his personal life was spilling over into his work hours. He realized that Tien knew his travel schedule, so she would be able to send him letters throughout the season's journey.

He wanted to say something to the boy watching him to make sure they didn't have to discuss the letter. "If the dough is covering up the hole, then it's time to get the solder."

"The solder?" the boy asked.

"That's right. Here it is, by the fire," he said, glad that it had already melted.

He poured the solder onto the kettle's hole, showing the boy how the dough acted as a dam to keep the solder in place as it cooled.

"You see?" he said. "The dough gave the melted solder the right shape. Now it cooled, and it's connected to the wall of the kettle."

"But the solder is different than the rest of the kettle."

"It is, but they fit together," he said. "One ends where the other begins," he said. "They correspond."

"What about the dough?"

"It's not good to eat," he said. Noticing that the boy was hungry, he decided to give his parents a discount for the repair.

As soon as he was outside of the house, he fingered the letter.  The words were as small and fine as before:

Watching the last snow
melt, I think of one who has
Forgotten his heart

He tried to understand what she could mean. Forgotten his heart? How could she not know that he thought about her always?

He had never tried one of these syllable poems. At his lodging later that evening, he lit a candle, took out his rough brown paper, and made an attempt:

The goose flies away
The fair pond does not believe
It was forgotten

He woke before the sun the next morning, and spent all of the previous day's earnings sending it express.


The wind was so strong it made Senin squint. He was grateful for the wind, though, because it took the edge off of the heat of the early summer. What's more, the rippling effect it made on the tall grasses surrounding him made him feel like he was swimming through an ocean instead of walking through a field.

Far ahead of him, at the edge of the grass ocean, the estate house loomed. Senin thought of the first time he had walked this way, years before. At that time, he had felt intimidated by the great house. Its highest points had looked sharp and imposing like the towers of a fortress. Its breadth had made it look as large as a barracks, and its dark colors had given him a deep feeling of foreboding.

But now, as he looked at the house, he saw that it had welcoming features too. The roof had a pleasing downward slope, and the wood of the doors looked warmly relaxing now instead of just dark. He had only spent two short winters there, but approaching now felt like coming home.

Every other time he had visited, he had knocked at the servant's door on the side of the house. Now, as he knocked on the main door, he wondered whether the family would consider him too bold.

The door opened quickly. It was Tien. She looked calm, but Senin thought he could see that she was pushing down the corners of her mouth to look more dignified.

"The wind is harsh and the sun is hot," she said. "A weary traveler should sit and rest a while." She gestured toward the couch.

Senin wasn't sure how to reply. "Thank you," he said simply as he sat.

There was a pause for a moment. Finally Tien spoke again. "I read some wonderful poems during the spring," she said. "Would you like to see?"

"Of course," Senin said, smiling.

Tien brought a large volume from the bookshelf. "It's the dream of Bawah. He wrote a poetic fantasy about traveling to other worlds."

"Other worlds?" Senin asked. Having just finished walking hundreds of miles through this world and feeling the fresh ache in his feet, staying put where he was sounded like a better option than trudging to any other worlds.

Tien nodded, smiling. "For example, he said that in his dream he traveled to a whole world that was made of bread. A hard crust to stand on, baguettes as tree trunks, and the birds were little croissants." She giggled as she opened to the right page.

They read together. Senin only looked forward to the moments when she turned the page because the movement made her arm push gently against his. After reading about bread, it felt only natural to imitate what they had read. They ate some heavy oat bread from her family's cellar.

Next, Tien showed him more poetry from Bawah's dream, about a time when he fell into a painting and found himself flat and made of oil. They imitated this also, stepping into Tien's family's painting gallery in another room and admiring the artwork.

Without a word, they reached into their respective pockets and pulled out new letters, Tien's written on her sheet-white pristine stationery and Senin's on his grubby, rough, old brown paper. Senin read Tien's newest poem:

In any time or any place
I want just one thing: your embrace.

And Tien read Senin's:

Is there a better time than this
for a playful touch or a lovely kiss?

They read no more that day.