we are going to play a game, says mama, kneeling down to that she and sarada are eye level.
mama looks sad, and sarada doesn’t know why. she looks around the room they are standing in. it is her room, but it is not her room at the same time. she feels good, too, doesn’t feel hot and feverish the way she did a little while ago. she had to lie in bed, mama laying a cool washcloth across her head.
where are we, mama?
we are inside your head, sa-chan. we are going to play a game.
sarada likes games, and she is excited; mama always comes up with the best games.
what kind of game?
a tidying-up game.
because we need to organize your mind, so we need to put a few things away.
sarada doesn’t like that. when she puts things away she can never find them again.
she says so to mama.
i will help you find them again, says mama. promise.
pinky-promise, says mama, solemnly linking their little fingers.
but how do i put things away? asks sarada, looking around the weird not-room of hers.
i’ll tell you. do you trust me?
of course, mama.
mama looks really sad, and her eyes watery, like she is about to cry.
i want you to think of papa for me.
sarada perks up. papa? is papa gonna play with us too?
he will when he comes back, says mama. but until he does, we need to tidy up your memories of him.
so that we can keep them safe, so they are nice and clear when he comes back home. is that ok?
thank you, sa-chan. just think of papa, now…
sarada does. she thinks of smoke and wood and the soft furry blanket he would wrap around her to carry her home, dried flowers from the bouquets he would bring home to mama, the callouses on his hand, the tickle of his hair against her cheek when he kisses her, and mama’s giggles.
good, sa-chan. now make these memories very small, like marbles.
sarada scrunches her eyes closed, concentrating on folding up the memories, making them as small as possible.
when she opens her eyes again, her hands are full of black pearls, their weight comforting in her cupped hands.
very good sa-chan. now mama is holding a pretty pink box, with painted white cherry blossoms scattered across the lid.
put them in here.
sarada obeys, carefully spilling the pearls onto the black velvet lining. mama closes the box, locks it with a key. she stands and puts the box on sarada’s bedside table.
be very careful with this box, sa-chan, says mama. don’t open it unless you absolutely have to.
or until papa comes home?
or until papa comes home. agrees mama. suddenly the key is on a necklace, a gold chain long enough that mama can loop it over sarada’s neck without undoing the clasp. keep this for when you want to take them out again.
sarada fiddles with the key, also pink and white with blossoms. aren’t you afraid i will open it anyways, before papa comes home?
mama shakes her head.
i’m not, sa-chan.
mama…are you crying?
no, sa-chan. come on, it’s time to wake up.
“mama, where is my papa?”
author’s note: I keep wondering if there is more to Sarada’s inability to remember Sasuke beyond just the fact that she was just very young when he left. Honestly, that is probably all it is. But still speculating…