Friday, February 3, 2017

A Short Story: A Small Measure of Peace

According to Kakyo, the rain is black.
When it pours, she cannot sleep. When the clouds cry, she cannot step outside.

“Well, are you going or not?” her husband shakes his flabby jowls as he leans forward, stubby legs crossed on a cushion of silk, “You tell me—I must go see my sister—and now you warn—if it rains, I will not.”

Kakyo sticks her bottom lip out, but will say no more. I hover near the doorway, it is better if they do not see me.

“You superstitious clout of a woman!” he hollers, rocking back and forth in a feeble attempt to stand. He shouldn't be cross-legged, you see. Nor should he be sitting or kneeling, as the city doctor says. There is something wrong with the fat of his thighs. Something that causes the flesh to stink and rot and turn pink or purple throughout the day as he shuffles around. This is Kakyo's fault, you see, for she refuses to pray at his ancestors' little shrine.

“I will go alone if I have to.” he warns. It is a warning and a threat, for the woman they seek to visit is on auction.

“If it rains, I will not go.” she has repeated this three times. Sometimes I fear she cannot hear herself. Her right ear is swollen shut, you see. And if you stare correctly at her husband's left hand, you will surely see how and why.

“You've said this—you've said this! Oh--”

I stand from my crouch. I bow, I am penitent, “I am sorry!” I scream out, “I just wanted to ask—can I come?” for the woman they seek to see is not only on auction, she is my sister. And on a rainy day, she was stolen from us. A long, long, time ago. The rain was black when she was spirited away.

“Dear girl, has she--?” the fat man does a double take, slipping his beady eyes from Kakyo to me, “has she given you the opportunity to even ask?” and he turns on Kakyo. Demure little Kakyo who is too big to be a woman, much less a girl. When she stands, she dwarfs him with her superior height. So, when the two enter a room, she is forced to kneel and crouch and crawl until he exits. No one may be taller than dear Akimoto-san.

Kakyo bites her lower lip, her teeth steal away the bitter paint that reddens her lips and hides their paleness. Their bruising. A slow shake of her head, followed by the dip of her chin, is all that Akimoto-san requires.

“Come here.” he beckons, “Not you, dear. Ubokakyo.”

I cower, I crouch, “I should have asked sooner, I--” but I know the routine by now. The flat of his palm silences me and tells me—if you do not close your lips, you'll find something else there closing them for you—and I take the hint. Kakyo continues to kneel, but she's crawling now. Inching forward towards her short mushroom shaped monster of a husband with her hands clasped before her chest and her head dipped down. Chin to chest. Knuckles grow white and they touch her breasts.

When he takes her, it is sudden. My heart skips and I avert my eyes, knowing that if I left it would only become worse for poor Kakyo. With me there, as a witness to his abject cruelty, he needn't do more than what pleases him. But as his stubby fingers take hold of the colorful collar of her kimono, I stand abruptly.

“This is my first time asking!” I scream. I grow a bit of courage and charge forward. Even I dwarf him, “Please, Akimoto-san—don't hurt her!” Not again—I'd scream. Not again, never again—never put your hands on my sister!

He sighs, “I spoil you.” and Kakyo drops her face to the floor, breathing as if she's just run a race, “Both of you.” he spits before lumbering out.

Of course, this is a warning of things to come. I spoil you, means I shall take things from you until you beg for my forgiveness. Both of you, uttered directly after the first means he will punish us together. Means that, in exchange for us finally going to see our dear sister, he will see us through the nine circles of hell and back. But for now, tonight, peace. Enjoy the calm that comes before the snapping strike of flint urging sparks into their wooden graves.

And then—fire.

I walk Kakyo to my room. Seating her upon the futon, I open the screen to the window adjacent and listen to her curse beneath her breath.

“It is raining.” she says, “Shut it back.”

I turn to her, “Will you let me go?” I plead, “Will you let me see our sister?”

It rained the day she was taken. Sold, truly. Though I would not learn that until I was deemed old enough by our surrogate mother. It was a common practice during the early days of strict government and futile wars. If a family lost its sole provider, the husband, the eldest son; then money dwindled. Food disappeared. And soon, a girl would be sold.

“You are unmarried, Meimei. It would be unwise.”

“Then, it's true, Kakyo? It's true she lives in Yoshiwara?” a pleasure district. One of the most prominent and popular. Yoshiwara, the Floating World.

Kakyo nods, “Now close it.” she says, “I hate the rain.”

“I want to go.” I snap, “And I will not close it. Perhaps it's time you got over your silly superstitions!”

When Kakyo looks up, she is sneering. But I know that this is only her face. It is constantly stuck between a twisted scowl or a sneer. Somewhere along these long and brutal years, she has forgotten how to smile. Perhaps it hurts to pull up the sides of her lips. Perhaps her face would break as easily as porcelain if she tried.

I relent, “I understand you have a plan for me, Kakyo, but it has been four years! I want to see her!”

“And you would forfeit all of your prospects just to see her?” Kakyo spits, “My husband is a rich man--”
“And a tyrant!”
If Kakyo were a cat, her tail would be straight and twitching. She would show me her sharp incisors and narrow those curved yellow eyes as she prepared to rake me from nose to naval.

But she is not a cat. She is much worse.

She presses her lips into a firm line and stands. Shoves me aside, raking my neck with her sharp nails, and snaps the window shut.

“You may go.” she says, turning.

I grin, “Truly, Kakyo?”

But—she holds up a finger.

My grin capsizes. There is always a catch.

“For the next five days, starting tomorrow...” and she trails off. Smiles wickedly and points her finger at me. She mouths, you.

And I know immediately what she is swearing me to. She knows as well, and I know this because her face darkens when my mouth drops open. When I move to shake my head—to do everything in my power not to scream, no!--she is moving in on me. Closing the distance as she shoves me away, catches me as I trip backwards, and rams her nails so deeply into my shoulders that I cry out.

“The scars on my body—the bruises on my face—every one of them has been for you! Now, you tell me, in exchange for seeing our dear sister—you can't do this one thing for me? You can't give me a small measure—a tiny speck—of peace?”

“No—I can't. You chose this man—you must sleep in your own bed.”

“He doesn't want my bed—why do you think he frequents Yoshiwara, hm? He wants something younger...fresher—why--I'm sure he wouldn't even beat you!”

I shrug her hands away, “Nothing—nothing is worth that!”

“You haven't seen Reika in four years, Meimei. She has probably changed, you know—no, she definitely has. Every woman living within that district is a whore, sister. Though they may attach fancy titles to themselves and wear layers upon layers of priceless kimono; they still spread their legs for money. They are what they are, and you tell me that you won't do the same to see your sister? Why, you would be one and the same, you two.”

One and the same. I resist the urge to spit at her.

“Five days, Mei. That is all I ask. Five days of peace.” please hung on her lips. Her murky eyes began to squint as she brought her hands to her chest, “There is only so much one woman can take.”

“I know.” I know, I know.

Guilt riddled me from the moment she married him. It slunk along my spine now, crawling along to my skull only to rest in the pocket of my scalp.

Ubokakyo is weak. The thought came to me immediately. I look at her now and I see nothing of the older, stronger, sister Reika and I both knew. Would Reika even recognize Ubokakyo now? So bony and bent, crouched over like a woman nearing her death—not one supposedly in the prime of her life. A woman in her late twenties should not look so beaten and despondent. She should be full of happiness. She should have a child hanging on her arm and one on the way. She should be rosy cheeked and full. But Ubokakyo...

“He beats you because you are barren.” and I slap my hands to my mouth—how could I say such a thing?

If your womb weren't cursed, I remember him hissing as they both kneeled before the city doctor, then maybe we could have children, Ubokakyo. Please—just pray before my ancestors' shrine! Just once!

I will do it when the sun shines, she retorted back. Of course, this was her way of saying—no and never. Never will I subject myself to your family.

The truth is as black as the rain. And it creates a scar within Ubokakyo's floundering soul. He beats you because you are barren—what a horrid thing to say! But she takes it with narrowed eyes and a lifted chin. Always the proud one, my Kakyo.

“He beats you because you are bitter and prideful and refuse to listen to no one's advice but your own!”
I am crying. Tears leave my eyes as quickly as the truth leaves my mouth. And she can do nothing.

“Please, let me see my sister. Please, let me leave this place!”

“You hate it here.”

“I want to be with her!”

“Then I will give you to her master, Mei. Let me sell you and treat you just as you treat me. The world seems bent on beating me down, so why don't I give you a little taste of the bitterness I've been fed ever since Reika left, hm?” she turns. Oh, she turns and storms over to the latch before the sliding door to my room and screams as she rams her fist into the wood. Over and over, she goes at it. Trying to break my little lock before it finally screams and creaks. Splinters rain upon the tatami matting and she throws my door open wide. She rattles the panel. She's making so much noise that young maids come rushing up the hallway. But all they do is stare. All they do is exchange glances with one and other and attempt to slowly back away. Some stay. Some give me a pitying look.

But I do not need their pity. I have brought this upon myself.

Kakyo stops when the screen falls to the hallway outside. She looks at me, eyes fierce and flashing, “Goodnight.”
The rain is as black as her soul, I think as she charges away. Shoving her way through the four maids gawping at my broken door, I move to my futon. I sit.

Farther down the hallway, I hear her scream. I hear her screech and beat her chest, and work her magic on other locked doors. Paper is ripping. Matting is being thrown apart. My sister is a black tsunami of rage as she tears her husband's house apart.

And I wonder, how hard will he beat her tonight?

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