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TITLE: One Thousand Cranes
AUTHOR: Leto Armitage, 2022
PUBLISHER: Libertalia Press
TAGS: Libertalia Press, Resilience Writers, Yuri, Girls’ Love, Sapphic Fiction, LGBTQ+, F+F, Short Stories, Tattoos, Japanese Myth, Gamers, Popular Culture, Friends to Lovers, Romance
“There’s so much to love about this book: the characters, the pining, the subtle pop culture references. Another amazing story by Armitage. Very much looking forward to the next.”
Sakura’s back is a canvas of pain and hope, her spine adorned with delicate paper cranes lovingly crafted by her childhood friend, Helen. Each crane is more than a mark of beauty – it’s a sacrifice.
Helen, the tattoo artist behind Sakura’s beautiful wishes, remains unaware of her friend’s feelings and the significance of the stories she’s etching into her skin. Will the final crane be the one that breaks both their hearts?
One Thousand Cranes tells a poignant story of love, pain, and the lengths one might go to in the hope of a single, fervent wish.
Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at this sweet tale of pining, slow-burning love before publication, and in its slick, finished form it is even more of a delicious treat to linger over. The characters live, breathe and even bleed, and Armitage’s masterful prose switches from sassy and knowing to tender and delicate with a touch as assured as that of the tattoo artist at the centre of his tale. Like her, too, he will hurt you, but only to leave you with a beautiful afterimage indelibly etched in your mind. ★★★★★ 5/5
There’s so much to love about this book: the characters, the pining, the subtle pop culture references. Another amazing story by Armitage. Very much looking forward to the next. ★★★★★ 5/5
One Thousand Cranes is a short story of abiding friendship and quiet love that patiently endures the unrequited years in hope. Armitage skillfully captures the stillness of expectancy and the slow blossom of trust and fulfillment. ★★★★★ 5/5
Armitage proves himself truly versatile with his latest sweet short. Readers who enjoy sweet romance with lots of pining won’t be disappointed by this nuanced, deep, and somewhat saucy romance. ★★★★★ 5/5
One Thousand Cranes is a sweet ache of a story, like the pain of a first love. Lovers come and go without a trace, but the real thing leaves a mark, flesh deep, that’s painful and beautiful in equal measure. Sakura’s spine is a delicate chain of crane tattoos, each one part of a wish; each one inked lovingly by fingers almost as familiar as her own. What is her wish? And will it ever come true? ★★★★★ 5/5
I loved how Armitage pulled the scenes together and connected them into the climax, ultimately bringing the characters together. I saw it coming, but just couldn’t see how they were going to work past their baggage and get there, and I loved how the author made that happen. ★★★★★ 5/5
I liked it. Easy to read. Story gives nothing away. Interesting storyline. For me, great ending. ★★★★★ 5/5
I paused, the needle hovering over Sakura’s back.
“Not you. This asshole I work with. I screwed up the other day and he can’t let it go.”
“Oh.” I returned to the task. Somehow I thought she’d meant the pricking of the needle. Most customers are focused on the tattoo when they come in, but Sakura’s mind never went where anyone else’s did. I pushed again, inserting the indigo ink under my best friend’s skin. “I wish you’d let me use modern tattooing equipment.” The needle stabbed over the spine, a dark blue line, black for most purposes, taking shape. I firmly gripped the bamboo handle. How she didn’t scream bewildered me. It wasn’t a gentle process and the skin over the spine was sensitive. “It wouldn’t hurt so much.”
“It’s supposed to hurt,” came the quiet reply.
I keep my hair short in a bob, so it never falls in my eyes. In contrast, I always seem to be moving Sakura’s long hair out of the way. She’s first-generation American-Japanese with hair as dark as mine, but she had bleached it until it could take an electric pink dye. At 5’3”, and a feather over 100 lbs, she’s a tiny thing. I have always towered over her with my 5’8”, but on the repurposed massage table she’s just like anyone else who comes into the tattoo parlor.
The shape of the newest paper crane slowly formed. Each crane was distinct, with a continuous line of drawn string connecting it to the others that began at the base of Sakura’s neck. There were nearly two dozen of the birds, but her hair usually covered them. In a way, they were a map of my tattooing career. I’d never imagined where things would go when I bought my first kit off Craig’s List. I barely got out of the creep’s house without being molested. I sterilized the hell out of everything in the box, figured out how to fix it, and began giving my friends tattoos without a license. It was pretty damn dumb of me, but it became a career. There might still be some awful tattoos floating around out there from my early days. I hope they have been covered up.
Over the years I’ve lost track of everyone from our school days but Sakura. It always seemed like no matter how little attention I paid her, she was still in my periphery. I’d not hear from her for a few weeks, but then she’d be inviting me over for dinner and we’d spend the night scarfing junk food and playing video games just like we did back in high school. Not that Sakura let me use the tattoo gun on her back when we were fourteen.
That was the same year that Mikey Rhodes took my virginity. Now, that was a sanctimonious prick. It wasn’t long after that Sakura showed up with a wooden box of irezumi equipment that her grandfather in Japan had sent her. She insisted in that way she has that I could never refuse. The first ones weren’t good. I begged her to let me do them somewhere less visible, but she insisted they had to start there. At the base of her neck.
My mind went back. “You remember your mom seeing these for the first time?”
Sakura laughed gently. “Yeah, the swim party when my hair was in a braid. She thought I was joining the yakuza.”
“You only had what, eight or nine then?”
“Eight. I got the ninth two months later.”
That was Sakura. She could be cute, but she was always so serious. Except when she was on my table, in pain. Here she always seemed serene. Each bird was a milestone, but I still didn’t understand how. The times she picked to get them seemed random to me.
“I met Kris at that pool party.” I looked at my old work, the wings spread out horizontally and flat so they were symmetrical and parallel to her spine. “God, I can’t even remember his name.”
“Mulbranch,” Sakura supplied. “You were stupidly happy.” Her voice was faint, like on the edge of sleep.
“I was an idiot. He was a tweaker, and I believed him when he said he’d stop.”
“Love is foolish but beautiful.” Sakura’s hair fell around her.
You’re the beautiful one, I thought. If she didn’t give off that remote vibe, boys would be all over her. Me, I’m the plain one. Hell, even being a petite Japanese girl, Sakura has more curves than I have. Helen, my namesake, supposedly was the most beautiful woman in the world. I try to make beautiful things, but my life and I are just a mess. I returned to an old subject. “If love is so beautiful why don’t you get out there? Doesn’t your mom want you pumping out some kids?”
“She has my brother for that.”
“So, what’s up with those things?” Dave’s voice came over the divide between our booths. He’s my colleague and too professional to look when a girl has her shirt off. But he’s not too professional to avoid eavesdropping.
“They’re a wish,” Sakura said, raising her voice just a little.
“So, like, for luck? Every time you want something?”
“No. A wish. When there are a thousand cranes, the gods will grant me one wish.”
“A… Holy shit, dudette! A thousand?!”
“Maybe my wish will come true on its own before then. If it does, I won’t have to continue.”
“I’ve read up on this since we began,” I said. “Usually they’re origami, right? You fold a thousand paper cranes, hang them up and let them disintegrate? Tattoos are, just sayin’, a bit extreme.”
“My grandmother puts out saki at the temple for good weather,” Sakura said in that same monotone she always has when under the needle, talking as if she’s far away. “The saki evaporates, but weather comes and goes. The gods demand you offer something appropriate, so this has to be permanent for a permanent thing.”
It was weird. Sakura was an atheist. Her Japanese was rough. I’d never known her to care about her heritage until the day she asked me for this. I lifted the needle and took a deep breath. The ink had to be pushed in, over and over, and it required very precise, repeated movements. This was insane.
People practised this technique for years, but Sakura would just show up out of the blue. It could be ages since I’d done the last one, so I had no muscle memory for it. But, I still did it.
“You could at least let me do this on your thighs where it won’t hurt as much.”
“No, it’s where it needs to be.”
“Well, I appreciate the company. It’s been slow tonight.”
“How’s Diej?” Sakura asked.
“Good. He’ll be by later near closing,” I said.
“How’s your dad?” I could hear the smirk in her voice. Bitch.
“Because Diej is half black or because he’s half Latino?”
“Well, if his name was Derrick and he was a registered republican, dad might have let it slide.”
I kept the line going, forming the sharp edge of the paper crane’s wing.
“Dreads were a bridge too far?” Sakura asked.
“Maybe, but it was being a Bernie Sanders supporter that nuked the fucking bridge,” I said.
Sakura made a sound like she understood. “These are beautiful if I may say so myself. I hope you get compliments for them.”
“No one sees them.”
I paused. “No one?”
“Well, you, but just you. That’s what my wish is for, the one who will see them every day.”
“What if you don’t finish them all before you’re old and wrinkled?”
“Then you’d better learn to tattoo over wrinkles.”
“Yes ma’am.” My hand was cramping, but I was almost done. I pushed on and shoved ink under the skin, stabbing her over and over again, but Sakura didn’t seem to notice. The slender neck and triangle head of the crane formed. It was quiet in the shop, but finally, I was done. No shading, just a few simple lines, yet each one took a long time.
“Done,” I said, covering the tattoo in protective plastic film. Skipping the lecture—she knew it well—I watched as she quickly pulled a light blouse on. “Girl, you really should have someone in your life to see you naked and enjoy that.”
“What do I need a boyfriend for Helen?” Sakura smiled and passed me some folded money. She always insisted on paying. “You’re the only one who gets to hurt me.”
© 2022 Leto Armitage