Red Tulips

In Japan, there is a stationary item called shitajiki, a hard plastic sheet you place between two sheets of paper in a notebook. It’s a tool designed for young children who use pencils to write in their notebooks so that what they write on one page won’t leave a mark on the next pages.

When I turned five, one day, my mother took me and my little brother to a small local stationary shop as usual to get us new notebooks and pencils, and she stopped in front of a shelf that we’d never paid attention to before.

“Oh, yes,” said my mother as if she’d remembered something. “This might come in handy.”

We quickly moved on to the check-out counter before I could ask her what it was. After the payment, the thing was put in a paper bag separate from other items.

I forgot where we went after our visit to the stationary shop, but we were going up on an escalator when my mother turned around and handed me the paper bag.

“You can open it,” she said. “It’s for you.”

As I removed the sticker to open, what came out of the bag was a transparent plastic sheet with an illustration of rows and rows of red tulips. Though I had no idea what purpose it carried, I liked the feel of it and the tulip illustration. It also made a perfect fan when I flapped it in front of my face.

“I think I like it, Mommy!”

Later I would learn that I was supposed to use it when I wrote in my notebook.