“One Reason for the Season”….

December 12, 2018

Xmas Front House

ONE REASON FOR THE SEASON

 

I saw the Cooper’s hawk this morning. She landed on the chimney pot, probably looking for my miniature hen, Grayson. Eight years ago she was a starving fledgling who mantled over while I fed her cold chicken. She’s back this holiday, my spirits lifting. A good Christmas present.

 

In the middle of the commercialization of Christmas, Nature closes the gap. I have noticed squirrels with pecans leaping the trees, hawks hunting low over now-bare woods, unknown song birds sitting on fences, heard the migration of Sandhill cranes as they honk in formation. You hear their cacophony well before they appear. Their chiding cries float down to our upturned faces.

 

There is brightness to the holly, washed by our late autumn rains and the orange of the nandina berries has turned crimson. Smell of wood smoke in the air and the crispness of mornings means the earth is going to sleep. We humans should reclaim our past and join the slumber party of our brother bears.

 

Jingle Bells will fade and our tension with it. Looking towards deep winter when the Earth is again silent will restore our balance and calm nerves with a blanket of Peace.

 

Winter’s seasoning

Bitter winds, branch of holly

Haunts in the attic.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

“The Devil in Paris”, a short story.

December 10, 2018

via “The Devil in Paris”, a short story.

“The Devil in Paris”, a short story.

December 10, 2018

For my best friends, Nick Nicholson and Steve New.  Merry Christmas…

Madame Gormosy is a Devil. She can change her sex at will, from Louise Gormosy to Louis Gormosy. John Garret is also a Devil, (half of one but not so powerful.) They have known each other for centuries as devils generally do. The scene is Paris, in the 1770’s.

 

Gormosy 2GormosyMadame Gormosy

THE DEVIL IN PARIS

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Madame Louise Gormosy stood by the tall window, looking at the rain-slicked street. Paris was cold and dreary this spring. Wood had gone up in price, and a timely delivery was a matter of bribes. That should be the concern of her steward, but he had disappeared. Already her servants were breaking up small cabinets and chairs to burn in the main salon and kitchen. She could hear the smashing of wood somewhere in the large apartment.

 

Madame shivered for the room was chilly. Ah, she thought, if ever I see him again, I will make him pay with his life for my discomfort. I will tear his stomach open with my nails and eat his liver.

 

She had a visitor, a sullen-looking Englishman, now with his large frame stretched across her settee. John Garrett was a friend of many years. He was an easy-going devil and good company when in proper temper.   She cast her eyes towards him, a smile forming on her painted lips. Patting her high-dressed hair and smoothing the gray satin front of her gown, she wondered what had put him in such a mood. She remembered he was quite a wit when not bothered with serious thought. She hoped he would reform his manners, for she wanted nothing to spoil the afternoon. The rain could not be helped.

 

“John Garrett!”   Madame’s natural voice was low pitched but now showed her exasperation with a rise in key. “Are you going to continue your gloom and sour my day?”

 

 

Garrett, his eyes drawn slowly from the low burning flames, looked up at her. He stared for a long minute, a sneer forming on his handsome face.

 

“We are alone,” Garrett said quietly. “I know you better as “Louis”. Why behave this way amongst friends? “

 

Madame did not answer.   She walked to the double door, locked it and threw the key into his lap. For a moment she stood there, with her head cocked to the side, an elegant older woman, dressed in the latest fashion and only a sharp rise in the middle of her skirt gave warning of what was to happen.

 

In an instant, “Louise Gormosy” was “Louis Gormosy”. Gone were Madame’s satin overdress, the high coifed and perfumed hair. A bit of makeup remained, but it was the current fashion among Parisian men. Louis laughed at the expression on Garrett’s face. He now was a slight-figured man, above middle age, with powdered hair and white silk stockings that sagged around thin calves.

 

 

John Garrett shuddered slightly. He knew his friend was not just any man in Paris. He was a demon, an important one– the Archduke Demon of Lust, with sixty legions under his command.

 

Louis Gormosy had ridden out of Hell on a white camel and long tormented the earth. It could not be helped; it was his nature. It was his ‘calling’.

 

Ah, Louis thought, I miss my camel… along with my legions, but tant pis! Paris’ cobblestones were hard on her aging hooves.

 

 

His guest, John Garrett, was also a demon, but not of the same stature. Louis Gormosy was not sure of Garrett’s actual position in Hell, but knew him to have the patronage of the powerful Archduke Abigor, close to the throne. With friends like that, even the powerful Demon of Lust had to watch his hoof.

 

Louis Gormosy chuckled at his guest’s expression. “Oh come, John, surely you are getting used to my little trick? Non? Well then, I have another reason to invite you here, besides parlor tricks. This evening I am expecting some guests, and I have reason for you to meet them.”

 

John Garrett sat up, stretching his legs. “Are you planning a little entertainment this evening? You know, Louis, one never can tell with you.”

 

Louis Gormosy lay a finger aside his nose and winked. “You have come at a good time, John.   I expect a young woman, a girl actually. She is the daughter of a neighbor in the country. She is around eighteen and her mother is anxious to have her married.”

 

“I am almost afraid to ask, Louis. What part do you play? ”

 

John Garrett looked at his friend from half-closed lids, like a cat settling in for a long story.

 

Monsieur Gormosy walked to the window and looked out at the still pouring rain. He turned his head slightly and gave Garrett a nervous smile before peering down at the street, watching for a carriage to stop at his door.

 

“Madame Luciern is a silly woman, a bit more stupid than usual. She has a daughter on her hands she complains is a ‘bookworm’. Ah! Bon Dieu! So the young woman will educate herself with novels and newsprint. Tant pis!”

 

Louis Gormosy threw up his hands in disgust. The words “Good God” had a strange sound in his mouth, just shy of a gurgle.

 

“You still don’t tell me what your part is in this affair.”

 

Gormosy turned and looked at his friend. “Better you ask me what your part is.”

 

John Garrett sucked his breath in sharply, and let out with a soft “Oh no, Louis!”

 

Louis gestured with his hands outward, all Gallic charm, and continued his appeal.

 

“What is a little fun amongst devils, neh? You have certain…ah…attributes that I unfortunately, do not have.”

 

“The starch issue again, Louis?” Garrett’s words rattled Louis and he winced.

 

Quell dommage! I don’t know if this is a little trick of Heaven or Hell, John…but it persists. I begin the attack, a few thrusts with the sword, and even with one parry, I wilt.”

 

And, thought Louis sadly, it always came down to what devil had more ‘reach’. It always came down to a measurement. Here on earth the length of the cock, and in Hell, the amount of control.

 

“So, what is your plan and why should I care?”

 

 

Monsieur sucked on the side of his thumb, thinking how to present his case.

 

“I have not seen the young woman. Her mother keeps her well hidden in the house. If she is a bookworm as the mother says, perhaps any attempt here in Paris to marry her off will be impossible. Perhaps she is ugly!”

 

“Or perhaps she has no bosom,” said Garrett from his seat, eyes wandering back to the fire.

 

“Or perhaps she has a harelip!” said Gormosy. “What do I know? I have not seen the poor girl.”

 

With a grimace, Gormosy shook out his hand. He had bitten deeply into his flesh, and blood spurted from his thumb.

 

Garrett asked, “Does she have a good fortune?”

 

Non, unfortunately not. Madame Luciern is a widow and her estate is lessened with the behavior of her oldest son. That young man has no sense at cards…and worse luck! I would give him some pointers in faro, but I do not cheat at cards.”

 

What a lie, thought Louis, laughing silently. There was honor amongst devils but not at cards. What was the worse that could happen? A duel, you die, you come back fresh and new, with another chance to cheat life. And at cards.

 

“But!” continued Louis, raising a finger into the air for dramatic emphasis. “She has an honorable name! That is worth something, I think.”

 

“Hah,” said Garrett. “Perhaps of worth to mortals. But it is something.”

 

The blood continued to spurt from Gormosy’s thumb. “Merde”. He pulled a sooty handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped his thumb.

 

“So, what do you intend to do with Mademoiselle? Do you have a cuckold in mind?”

 

“Why would he be a cuckold, mon ami? I have all intention of marrying her to someone worthy and with a good fortune.”

 

“And if she is not marriageable due to this harelip or flat bosom? What do you intend then for Mademoiselle?” asked Garrett.

 

“I intend to make her a whore.”

 

There. It was out, thought Gormosy. Let him chew on that. There was profit to be made here, and he, Louis, would take the advantage.

 

“Why do you need me?” John Garrett’s eyes half closed again as he looked at his friend who was grinning broadly.

 

“If I can not obtain an acceptable offer, I will need your –ah, efforts, John.”

 

“Meaning? Come Louis, do not make me beat it out of you.”

 

“You will seduce her. You will make her more pliable for her gentleman callers…I, of course, will revert back to Madame, for this is all her mother knows of me, and you will play…”

 

“Hold on, Louis. Do you or don’t you intend to get her a husband?”

 

“How should I know?” Louis Gormosy shrugged his shoulders and presented his palms upward.

 

“I don’t know if she has a harelip or an unfortunate bosom. We both, my old friend, will find out this evening.”

Chapter Two

John Garrett stood at the window looking out at the rain when he heard the knock on the door. He watched Louis cross his hands over his breast and shake his head violently. Louis became Louise again. Voila! Her high coifed powdered hair, the satin dress, the tight corset and breasts returned. As many times as he witnessed this transformation, it always took him by surprise. Louis was one tricky devil. A snap of Louis’ fingers and the door unlocked.

 

 

Garrett watched Madame and Mlle. Luciern entered the room, Madame like a clipper ship in full rig. Madame was a short, plump woman, middle- aged, with powdered hair that showed the effects of the rain. Her dark plum, satin gown was ten years out of fashion. She wore little face powder and there were honest wrinkles and age-spots enough to signify that Madame was no longer young. Kissing Louise on both cheeks she shook herself, rather like a hen ruffling her feathers. Louise gestured for her to sit.

 

Garrett listened to Madame Luciern introduce her daughter to her hostess. Louise took the young woman’s hands in hers, studying her carefully and called for him to come be introduced.

 

 

Garrett bowed over Madame Luciern’s hand and watched her face color with delight. Mlle Luciern had no such reaction to his presence. Her face remained expressionless.

 

Taking a chair across from Mlle., he listened to Louise Gormosy ask the mother questions about their trip from the countryside. The two older women were soon lost in chatter and he had a chance to observe the silent young woman.

 

His first impression of Mlle was favorable. She was slender, with an underdeveloped bosom, a fine complexion and a pretty mouth.   She did look like a bookworm, he thought with a chuckle.   She had a serious demeanor, with pale gray eyes and dark brows that did not arch in the necessary fashion. Fine brown hair pulled into a simple unadorned bun exposed a slender neck.   He was curious. He had his fill of coquettes and fashionable young women in Paris. They were of a general order, all schooled in manners to attract a man’s attention and hold it captive for an afternoon. Their charms passed through him like water. How bored he had become with the women of Paris!

 

In Mlle. Luciern he saw something different. Something intriguing and virginal, but virginity had little value in Paris. He laughed to himself. Virtue was good for children but pointless in an attractive woman. Already the gloom of his mood was lifting in the presence of a rather mysterious young woman.

 

 

The two Madames were lost in conversation and twittering with laughter as old friends do. Both her mother and Louise seemingly forgot Mlle. Her face was politely blank, trained to assume a mask in company, but Garrett could see she was not empty of thought. Her fine eyes narrowed as she listened to her mother and Louise rattle on and a pained look cracked the mask.

 

“You have been in Paris before, Mlle.?” Garrett’s voice was low enough to not disturb the chatter of the two older women. Mlle. Luciern turned her gray eyes to his and answered his question quietly, but with little interest reflected in her voice.

 

Oui, Monsieur, I have visited Paris before, but not recently. I was a girl when I was last here.” Her voice was almost husky, and the pitch of it surprised him. Most young women were taught to have ‘musical’ voices in company, to laugh as affectedly as a tinkling bell. Mlle Luciern seemed unspoiled by such manners.

 

He did not have a chance to question her further, for the sound of Mlle’s voice made her mother remember her.

 

“M. Garrett”, said Madame with a bright smile. “Margot-Elisabeth was a little girl the last time we were here, only about twelve. She is now nineteen years of age, and a stay with Madame Gormosy will bring some color to her cheeks and some polish to her manners. Ah, Bon Dieu! The countryside is good for virtue but there is little opportunity were we live to make her a wife!”

 

Mlle Luciern’s face showed distress at her mother’s words. Garrett saw how Madame Gormosy’s eyes glittered.

 

“Ah, my dear Marie,” Gormosy said to the mother. “We will polish the apple and find her a mate. She has promise, but is too pale in the face. Perhaps a bit of rouge and the labors of my hairdresser?”

 

Madame Luciern laughed out loud at Gormosy’s words. “Bon chance, Louise! I can barely get Margot-Elisabeth to brush her hair!”

 

Poor Mlle. Luciern blushed at her mother’s words and Garrett suppressed a smile. Margot meant ‘pearl’ and this one would need quite a bit of polish to catch a husband in Paris.

 

Garrett tried to make small conversation with Mlle. but she was now as shy as unpolished. The two older women chatted away without stopping for breath and the conversation was all about Margot-Elisabeth, unconcerned with her growing discomfort.

 

Garrett heard the amount of funds pledged by Madame Luciern to Gormosy, and almost whistled aloud. A dressmaker would be sent for immediately.

 

“Ah, Louise,” said Madame Luciern with a look of gratitude. “You work your magic with Margot-Elisabeth. In your competent hands I am sure she will bloom.”

 

Garrett wondered how much ‘magic’ would be needed by Louise, and how her mother would react if she knew the source of Madame’s….ah….magic.

 

How droll it was. Mother Luciern to leave her precious daughter in the hands of a devil. All the rosaries in France would not amount to a hill of shit once Louise got her claws into the prey.

 

Garrett laughed to himself. Tant pis! The bargain was struck. The Devil would have his due.

Chapter Three

 

A week later, John Garrett was shown into Madame’s apartment by an old servant. He glanced at the dark and wizened man and smelled brimstone. Madame was known to choose her servants carefully. Life could be a subterranean maze in Paris. He knew other demons in the city and all were not friendly devils.

 

“Ah, John! Bonjour!” Madame was drinking tea with a young woman, one Garrett did not immediately recognize.

 

“You remember Mlle. Luciern? What changes we have wrought! Such an elegant young woman. What man in his right mind could resist her! Could you, John?”

 

Ah, thought Garrett. Madame is up to her old tricks. She insists in making me part of her plan for this young woman.

 

Madame’s eyes glittered as she turned to look at the young woman sitting across the tea table. Garrett bowed over the proffered hand of Louise, and then stood back to look at Mlle. Luciern.

 

Madame had indeed worked her magic. Mlle. was coifed and gowned like a young, elegant Parisian matron. He admired her hair, piled high on her head, with many curls and loops and one long curled tendril- like, a thick sausage over her shoulder. At least Madame’s hairdresser had forgone the powder and her natural color was preserved. Mlle’s complexion was good but now she had some bloom in her cheeks. He knew this was all art, for Louise was an expert with faces and makeup. He saw Mlle. had only two black satin patches on her face, one near the left eye, and one near the mouth, to draw attention to her painted lips. They did look alluring to him. They looked like they were stung by an amorous bee.

 

Garrett cocked his head to the side and let his gaze travel down her figure. Her morning dress was light blue silk. Ruffles framed her breast. Garrett let his eyes linger only a second, but Mlle. did present a lovely bosom to onlookers. He knew this was due to more of Madame’s magic – this time with pads in the corset. Round, delicate mounds above and the merest of rouged nipples appeared like little mouse noses peeking over the tops of the corset. Such was the fashion for seduction. He wondered how far Madame had corrupted her student.

 

“No, Madame Gormosy, no man could resist such a beautiful young woman.”

 

Garrett was surprised to see Margot blush so deeply. At least Madame’s instructions had not destroyed this vestige of virtue in the girl.

 

“Mlle. is an good student, John. She learns fast and takes an interest in her future. Her mother will be proud of her. We will get her matched up with the proper husband soon enough. But as I have told Mlle. Margot, there is plenty time for an engagement. Now is to be given to sharpening her feminine skills. That way she will attract the best prospect for her future happiness. Mais bon Dieu!   She is still so young and innocent. We must hone her wit and deportment. Nothing like the polish upon an apple to attract the proper bites.”

 

Garrett stared at Madame Gormosy. He could easily see through her designs, but of course, the young woman was too naïve to understand what was happening right under her nose. She was a pretty morsel, and it was hard to take his eyes from parts of her. The swell of her breast, how gently they rose with an almost imperceptible movement. He could feast his eyes on those two tender pieces of flesh all morning. How much more alluring they would be if she were panting, he thought. A sly smile appeared on his face.

 

Ah, Madame Gormosy was full of devilry this morning.

 

Louise Gormosy spoke with a tone of excitement. “Today we will work on the great science of “coquetry”. Non, M. Garrett, do not laugh, for women have their own science. Let the men work with fire and chemicals. We women have our own fire and it is called “Les Passions!”

 

Garrett winced and hoped Mlle. Margot would forgive the bad prose of her patroness. But Madame would press her case.

 

“Surely Mlle. Margot has higher aspirations than to be a housewife to her husband. It is a most contemptible and unfashionable position for any women of breeding, and has no social standing except for a parson’s wife or a lowly farmer’s. Ah Dieu! Mlle. is made by nature for much finer things!”

 

Garrett wondered if the word “God” did not burn the inside of Madame’s mouth, but since she was an old devil, he imagined she would have a mouth immune to heat. Still, he had heard this speech before, but he could not remember when. Perhaps it was another time in another century, while attending Madame under similar circumstances, that she had used these same words. They seemed familiar to him in any case. He heard her drone on.

 

“Now, Mlle. Margot, advice today is seen as ridiculous to be given, and even more ridiculous to be taken, but your dear maman would want you to listen to me very closely. Alors! She has given you into my hands for more than to fluff your beautiful hair and plump your fine bosom. It is her choicest desire to prepare you for entrance into the best of society and this is the path to catch the eyes of a husband. Have you read Madame d’Effine’s letters? Non? Pity. But I can supply you a copy of her book. Or better yet, I can give you the benefit of my long experience.”

 

Garrett could not stop a smile creeping across his face. Mlle Margot would have no idea just how long that experience really was. Yes, Mlle Luciern, it goes back a long way. Whether Madame could read his mind, which was standard fare amongst devils, or she caught a glimpse of his sly smile, she turned around suddenly and gave Garrett a jaundiced look. His face went neutral and he closed his eyes in compliance. He would not interrupt her behavior. Besides, it was an entertaining for a morning’s visit.

 

“Now, Mlle.Margot. Virtue is all very fine and good, but to get a husband, or any admirer, a woman must use what attributes she has and more. A fine voice, the ability to cut to the heart of a man’s desire just with the cast of your eyes, the flutter of your fan, ah! There is so much to learn, but we will persist. Now, M.Garrett, please attend to Mlle. and lead her around the room, s’il vous plait.

 

Garrett stood and offered his arm to Mlle. Margot. They walked around the large salon, Mlle. Margot only standing as high as his chest. He was a tall and well- built man, with broad shoulders, and Mlle. petite next to him. He observed her blush as she placed her hand on his and looked up into his face.

 

Entertaining as Madame was, he was beginning to have his doubts about her plans. He believed this young woman to be innocent. He rarely, now that he thought of it, came across a woman so – uncorrupted, and certainly not in Paris. The thought crossed his mind: Quelle dommage, as Madame liked to say. Perhaps he would have his own plan for Mlle. Luciern. What was a little competition between devils? They had shared tender morsels before in their long history.

 

Eh bien! Attendezmoi! John, give me the advantage of your eyes. Tell me what you think are the best points of Mlle.’s figure. Does that style of dress, the color suit her the best, mon ami? Speak out loud what her beau would say, and let us see how Mlle. reacts to such praise!”

 

Ah, it was clear what Madame’s plan was now! Madame was a terrible devil this morning, and she would have her fun at the expense of the painful blushes of Mlle. He decided to turn the game to his own advantage, and perhaps spare Mlle some pain.

 

At that very moment, the old devil servant of Madame Gormosy slipped into the room and approaching quickly, whispered into the ear of his mistress. Madame cocked her head towards his mouth, and though she did not take her eyes from John Garrett and Mlle. Luciern, Garrett saw they grew dark with concern. Muttering some curses low under her breath, she rose and went with her servant from the room, forgetting her two guests.

 

Garrett took the time of Madame’s absence to lead Mlle. Luciern to a chair and to sit down across from her. He observed Mlle. sink gratefully into her seat, and with a motion beneath her skirts, kick off one shoe.

 

“Ah, Mlle, does your foot hurt?”

 

“M.Garrett, I can not get used to these narrow shoes Madame makes me wear. I am not used to this fashion. And if you would know further, I am not used to these headaches. They are from my hair pulled from my head and pinned so tightly. And I can breathe only a little. Madame demands my corset be laced tight.” Mlle. blushed, but Garrett could hear in the distress in her voice.

 

“Ah! I sympathize. Perhaps you think what Madame does here is far off the mark?”

 

“I don’t understand what you mean, Monsieur.” Another sharp kick under her skirts and off came the other shoe.

 

“Mlle Luciern. Forgive my blunt words, but Madame is an “old fogey” as we say in England. She means well, but she is generations behind in her thinking.”

 

How many generations Mlle could never guess.

 

Tears formed in Mlle. Luciern’s eyes, and she shook her head. Garrett could only sympathize.

 

“Here, Mlle. Let me do something for your comfort. I will take all the blame, but tant pis! I am an old friend of Madame’s and used to her ways.”

 

He stood and moved behind Mlle’s chair. With practiced movements, he removed the pins from her hair and spread them from their high peaks and down her back. With gentle hands he massaged her temples and she groaned in relief.

 

“Ah! Bon Dieu, Monsieur. That feels so good. My poor head was about to explode. Madame means well, but she does not seem to suffer pain like the rest of us. I saw her put on a hat the other day and plunge a pin into her head. Mon Dieu! She said she did not hit her skin but her hair, but to me, ah goodness! To my eyes, it seemed to go through her head!”

 

Garrett smiled from behind Mlle’s chair. In fact, he had seen Madame do this before and other such things and had warned her if observed her game would be over. Madame had laughed, she had been doing such tricks for centuries. Besides, the winds of Paris were strong and her hat would blow off if she didn’t get a good layer of skin beneath her long pin.

 

“Madame has a thick skull, Mlle. Luciern”, Garrett said with a droll tone. “ She is used to all sorts of torture for fashion.”

 

Garrett looked down Mlle. Luciern’s bosom and watch the gentle curves rise and fall with her breathing. Too bad his plans for Mlle. did not include a seduction. He would like to savor those two young mounds in his mouth. But it would be a passing fancy and his plans for Mlle. Luciern’s future did not include this fleeting pleasure. He had a more lasting pleasure to savor.

 

And his good friend Louis would be the poorer for it.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

John Garrett was standing behind Mlle. kneading her temples when Madame Gormosy entered the room.

 

“Ah!– Oh no! What have you done to Mlle’s hair, John? All the work and effort of my hairdresser! Ah well, it can’t be helped now. Would you like me to leave?”

 

Madame’s voice cut into the silence and Mlle. Luciern jumped from her chair. She had almost fallen asleep, Garrett’s hands soothing her nerves. But she was young and obeyed orders, her face showing her distress.

 

“Oh Madame! Forgive me! My head was pounding and I thought I would be sick with the headache. Monsieur Garrett has saved me from my pain. Please, I beg you, I am very sorry about the hair.”

 

Madame cocked her head at Garrett and raised her eyebrows. He just smiled and closed his eyes like an owl.   He did this many times with Madame. It was his way of signaling he would not answer her questions. He could be as stubborn as Madame was persistent.

 

“Well, Mlle.,” she said with a sniff, “if you are recovered, perhaps we can salvage this morning with a lesson.” She would put aside her annoyance and continued with Mlle’s instruction, but gave Garrett a withering glance first.

 

“Perhaps we can start with “The Art of Seduction”. Do not laugh M. Garrett! Do not dare laugh. These are important lessons I impart to Mlle. Her future happiness rests upon honing what she has been given naturally. We must polish the apple some more until she can attract the fruitful nibbles.”

 

Garrett almost groaned aloud. Louis was stuck in this apple cart.

 

Madame sat down across from Mlle. who had hurriedly twisted her hair into a chignon.

 

“Attendez-moi! Seduction by a man is his act of attaining the affections of a woman, of becoming deeply enamoured, and applauding her for her generosity and attention.”

 

Garrett moved to the window where he could look out at the street below and listen to Madame. When he heard her definition of seduction, he almost guffawed. Ah, Madame, he thought. You meant to say that the great art of seduction is that of gaining a woman’s affections under pretence of being enamoured, when you really despise the woman for her vanity and weakness in playing your game. But of course, your pigeon will know no better.

 

Again, whether there was an unseen current between thoughts, or Garrett actually did laugh at Madame’s words, she whipped her head around to look at him, her mouth tight against her teeth.

 

“Ah, Mlle.”, Madame continued. “Seduction is a little game between a man and a woman which leads to great results. Do not be discouraged by what the moralists think or say. Seduction is the engine that drives amours. Amour leads to marriage and to happiness in the future.”

 

Mlle. Luciern nodded her head, seeming to attend carefully to what Madame was saying. She appeared to be a diligent student.

 

“Now, consider the fan. A woman can make a great conversation of love with just the flick of a fan. Regardezmoi.”

 

Garrett watched Madame picked up a white silk fan from a little table by her chair and opened it, holding it just beneath her eyes. Isolated by the fan’s whiteness, her eyes glittered like diamonds. Mlle. Luciern’s own eyes widened at the effect.

 

“When you put the fan’s handle to your lips, you are saying “Kiss me.” When you twirl the fan in the left hand, you signal: “We are being watched.” Fan held over the left ear means: “I wish to get rid of you. Allez!” Fanning yourself slowly, ever so slowly means, “I am married.” Fanning quickly, “I am engaged.” Hiding the eyes behind a fully opened fan, like so, means “I love you.” Now, Mlle., you show me what you have learned from my efforts.”

 

Mlle. Luciern took the fan from Madame’s hand and did as she was told. She hesitated on a number of turns, but Garrett thought that was to be expected.

 

Eh bien! Now, we will extend the lesson. With the flick of the fan like so—“ Madame started another lesson of the fan, when she noticed large tears collecting in the eyes of Mlle. Luciern. Suddenly Mlle. burst out crying and threw herself dramatically onto the floor, clutching the skirts of Madame Gormosy.

 

“What in Hell’s name—“. Madame forgot her manners and looked with surprise at the young woman now sobbing into the fabric of Madame’s dress.

 

“Oh, Madame Gormosy, I can no longer deceive you! I am already engaged, though my maman does not know of this. She suspects something but she would die a thousand deaths if she knew all!”

 

Madame Gormosy stood up suddenly and moved from the clutches of the young woman as she would at a grabbing beggar. She looked down at her, a cold sneer on her face.

 

“Ah. So, my time and efforts are to be wasted on you? Well, who is he, this great beau of yours? Is he a groom? Your maman’s steward? Who, girl, out with it. Do not defy me!”

 

Mlle. Luciern stayed on her knees, her face streaming with her tears, her hands clasped in supplication before her.

 

“Madame, my maman did not deceive you. It was I who deceived you. My dear maman thought it was over for I steeled my heart and hid my emotions behind my books. I was determined to give him up, my Etain, but it is too late. I am expecting a child!”

 

Madame’s breath sounded like a rasp in her throat and her face appeared blackened with rage.

 

“You little devil! You little whore! You come here, instill yourself into my tender affections and you have deceived me! Where is your honor? Where is your breeding? You are no better than a gutterslut! You mother will know what you are, why am I wasting words upon you? Out of my house, you whore, you little—“

 

Madame raised her hand and was about to descend with it across the face of the stricken-looking and pale Mlle. Luciern, but Garrett had crossed the room at the first words of Madame. He had seen her temper first hand and knew her for what she was. He grabbed Madame’s hand and held it firmly so she could not strike the young woman on the floor before her. Madame whirled around, her face distorted with her anger and she hissed like a snake. At that very moment, she did appear like a viper, with her cold, glittery eyes, and suddenly her tongue snaked out of her mouth, a forked tongue like a snake! He had seen many tricks of Madame before, but this was a new one. Later, when he had time to reflect, he realized that it was not a trick, but very much a part of the nature of Madame. After all, he thought, the serpent figured in the story of Lust, and Madame Gormosy was, after all, the Demon of Lust.

 

Whether it was because of her passion or because of her tight corset, Mlle. Luciern’s eyes rolled back into her head and she fainted away. It was a mercy for then Mlle. would not witness what happened next.

 

John Garrett kept a hard grip upon Madame’s arm, raised up in the air, and Madame continued to hiss at him. He knew devils could use greater or lesser magic against each other, and what to do Garrett was not clear. But he knew enough to put distance between them, and dropping her arm, stepped fast behind a sofa.

 

“You have lost, Louise, she is of no benefit to you now. Let the girl go with your blessing. Play the generous Madame and let her return to her mother and her fate.”

 

“You!” Madame’s voice came back to her. She no longer hissed like a snake. But Garrett observed there was no cessation in her rage.

 

“You would stay my arm? You, who is not even a proper Devil? The Archduke Abigor only knows what you are, yet you would counter my behavior to this little slut? Do you know what I can do to you? I could turn you to cinders right now along with your little friend here.”

 

“But you won’t dare, Louise, because of what Abigor will do to you. Do you want to try his humor? Do you want to find out what Abigor will do to you and all you know? Is this little woman before you, now senseless, worth the risk that you take? And, knowing Abigor’s affection for me, you know what fate you will have. There will be no fire of Hell hot enough to punish you. Abigor will cook up his own punishment. Don’t chance it, Louise. Think about your beloved camel.”

 

Garrett knew Louise Gormosy on a better day might have thought of her camel, but today she was in an inconsolable rage. She couldn’t stand that Fate had frustrated all her fun.

 

It just wasn’t fair.

 

But Madame Gormosy could not contain her anger, for it was consuming her before Garrett’s eyes. Her face began to darken, and she began to stamp her foot on the floor. Within seconds she was jumping up and down, and suddenly she was on fire! Before Garrett could move, she was nothing more than a cinder herself, and black ash floated down to the floor, to collect in a puddle of soot.

 

Tant pis, thought Garrett. She will be back. She always came back.

 

 

A fortnight later…..

 

 

Garrett heard gossip that Mlle. Luciern was sent home to her mother with a considerable fortune. He heard from impeccable sources this was to appease the mother but also to allow Mlle and her beloved to start life together.

 

The money went a long way to sooth Madame Luciern’s passions over the circumstances, but what could she do? Etain d’Aubringe did not have a fortune, but he did have an old name, and with the money won given by Madame Gormosy, Madame Luciern had her satisfaction. Her daughter was married, supplied with a fortune and Madame had the prospects of a grandson.

 

*************************

 

That spring, a strange sight was seen in the fashionable boulevards of Paris. A woman, heavily veiled, with a golden girdle surrounding her waist and a crescent moon headdress, was seen leaving Paris on a large camel. Behind walked her household, a collection of dark-skinned little men and women, who left sooty footsteps behind them on the cobblestones. Paris had never seen such a parade, and this one passed in utter silence.

 

Except for the camel. She complained loudly with groans and spat upon all she could reach. But those who saw her– the camel, not the veiled rider– would long remember the intelligence that gleamed from those eyes.

 

The End.

11_17_9

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008-2018

 

 

 

 

 

An Early Christmas Poem….

December 7, 2018

Xmas Front House

 

My beautiful picture

Looking across the street.

Withered Fields

 

Winter brings withered fields,

Hoar-frost covers stalks of grain,

And leaves a brittle hollow

Leached of color to a pale dun

A shade of nothingness,

Now snapped and dried twigs

Just to be called stubble,

Debris.

 

Pale, thin air conspires in this withering

To starve the landscape surrounding,

A drawing of air not enough for life,

Too shallow for lungs, just a whistling down

brittle tubes of grain,

The ghostly sound of pipes,

A frozen Pan of the Fields.

 

The north wind a

Banchee, sweeping

The land before it

And only those far under,

Are spared its crippling caress.

 

 

This withering  landscape

reflects within.

Age, infirmities,

bring the cold inside

Where no amount of warm fire, wool,

Feet propped against a blazing fire

Can stem the ravages of what

Is happening outside

As it swirls under doors and through

Shut and shuttered windows.

 

Hands grow thin and clawed

Bones reluctant of movement,

Skin dry , itching —

A monk’s hair shirt

A penitence unbidden

But ours for the sin of growing old.

 

There is little to do

But crawl to the fire,

Wrap ourselves in solitude

And hope these withered fields

Will obey the cycle of seasons

And fertility reclaimed with patience.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

“The Kimono” Chapter Two

December 3, 2018

via “The Kimono” Chapter Two

“The Kimono” Chapter Two

December 3, 2018

Kimono Cover

This must be a dream, thought Mari. I am kneeling on something cold, hard. I smell charcoal… Where am I? It’s so dark my eyes can’t pick anything out. My arms! Why are my arms tied behind my back?

She was kneeling on a cold wooden floor. Her eyes were barely able to pick out details of a room with little light. She was shivering, now naked except for the kimono over her shoulders. She heard a grunt and a low voice.

“So. What have we here? A young maiden lost on her journey through life?”

Mari lifted her head and saw a man, or what appeared to be a man, for the room was still dim except for a low burning brazier. He certainly had a voice like a man. He rose, moved around in front of her and stared down, a bemused look on his face.

He had long, black hair, tied in a topknot, and seemed tall for a Japanese. His forehead was high and Mari realized his hair was plucked from the front of his head. He was dressed unlike anything she had seen in modern Japanese styles for he wore what looked to be numerous robes and had a dagger in the sash at his waist.

“Catbird got your tongue?” He leaned down and raised her chin up in a hard-skinned hand. Mari shivered from fear and cold.

“Where am I? Why are my arms tied? Who are you?” Mari was stuttering, forcing her questions out, shocked as much with fear as cold.

“Ah, I see I have summoned a young woman who has no manners. Perhaps I will teach you some. Perhaps you can learn to address your betters with respect.” The man took the draped kimono off her shoulders and folded it carefully, placing it on a wooden chest by a wall.

Mari started shivering harder, her naked body exposed to the cold room.

“As to your rude question, I am Lord Tetsu Hakuto, in the service of the Shōgun. I am of the clan Minamoto. That is all you, girl, need to know.”

“You s-s-still haven’t answered my question. Where am I? Is this a dream? Please, I beg of you, I am freezing. For the love of God, give me a blanket or s-s-something to warm myself.”

Lord Tetsu looked down at her, his face a mask. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed loudly. “I see I have a challenge before me. Well, good, I am up for a challenge, even if it is in the insignificant package of a woman.”

Lord Tetsu lifted her by one secured arm and roughly dragged her to a low futon. He pushed her face down and threw a silk quilt over her. At first Mari lay still until, wiggling like a worm, her head cleared the quilt. She could not sit up but at least she could see.

The man was kneeling before a low table. He was writing something on a paper scroll with a brush he dipped in ink. Mari watched silently, knowing he was watching her from the corner of his eye.

“Please untie me, Lord Tetsu Hakuto. I am very uncomfortable and would like to sit up.”

“Why would your comfort be of my concern? You make silly demands of a superior.”

Mari struggled not to show tears. She was uncomfortable and afraid.

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto. I have to pee badly.”

Lord Tetsu grunted and put down his brush. “Well, that is natural. I also have to pass water first thing in the morning. Come, girl.”

Mari wasn’t sure she wanted help but she had little choice. He threw back the cover, pulled her to her feet, and walked her to a small alcove where a squat clay vessel was placed. He pushed her down and walked away. Mari was glad for the privacy. Of course, with her hands tied she had to carefully balance herself but at least her bladder didn’t hurt.

Mari padded to where he was, blushing because of her nakedness. She wasn’t sure this was a dream for she felt wide awake. She edged towards the low brazier for warmth.

“Lord Tetsu, it is unnecessary for you to keep my arms tied for I am not a threat to you. I am a modern woman who is not violent and I have no intentions of grabbing your sword and using it against you.”

Lord Tetsu looked up from his scroll and listened, his raised eyebrows expressing his surprise. “You could not grab my sword, as you put it, without losing your hands. I have no fear of you harming me. It is rather the other way around. However, since you are about to tip into the brazier, I will untie you.”

He drew his dagger and whipping her around, cut her ropes. Mari almost sobbed in relief. Her arms were numb. Then the pain hit her and she moaned as she tried to rub them, a pathetic, naked woman in great discomfort.

The sight of her must have moved Lord Tetsu for he drew her to him and rubbed her arms. Mari was grateful for she was shivering with cold. She felt exhausted and leaned her head against his chest with a sigh. Then she fainted.

When she recovered her senses, she was covered in the quilt on the futon. He was sitting next to her and smelled of sandalwood and male sweat, real enough.

“This isn’t a dream.” Her voice sounded soft and flat where she leaned against him, her face buried in the fabric of his robes.

“So, you have come back to me, little one?” His voice had a touch of humor. “No, this is no dream, but it is time for you to answer me.”

“Please, Lord Tetsu. Please first give me some water?”

“I will give you some broth for these things can take strength out of a woman. Wait.”

Rising, he drew the quilt over her body. He brought a bowl of hot broth simmering on the brazier. Her hands shook as she reached for the bowl.

“Better you are fed than scald yourself.”

Mari sat next to him, wrapped in the quilt, while Lord Tetsu fed her the broth with a china spoon. It was hot and spicy, tasting like seaweed, but it warmed her.

“Now,” said Lord Tetsu when she had eaten enough to stop shivering, “tell me where you found the kimono.”

“In a shop in Kyoto on Dezu Street. It was hanging near a window and the silver decoration caught my eye. I brought it home and when I slept in it last night, well…something happened, and either this is a dream or it isn’t.”

Lord Tetsu grunted and exclaimed, “Kyoto! It is a long journey from where it was last.” He was silent, thinking, then spoke. “What is your name girl, and are you maiden or wife?”

Mari almost laughed, surprised by his quaint wording. “I am very much a wife and my name is Mari. My husband is a systems operator for a worldwide communications company.”

“What? You speak in riddles! Plainly, girl, for you try my patience with your chatter.”

Mari ventured a question. “Lord Tetsu, what date is it today? Where am I in history?”

“What date? Today is today and as far as this history, you are in the castle of a daimyo who is under the protection of a most powerful Shōgun.”

“What is the name of this Shōgun, Lord Tetsu?”

He looked at her in surprise, his eyebrows arching. “None other than the great Lord Tokugawa.”

This still didn’t give her any idea where she was but the broth was good and she had stopped shivering.

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto, do you have a woman’s kimono for me to cover myself with? I am not used to walking around naked.”

“You will get used to it, girl”, he said smiling.

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto, I would remind you that my name is Mari, not ‘girl’. I am an educated, married woman and well respected in my field.” This last was not true for Mari had no field to speak of.

“Ho! You are prideful for a woman and forceful, too. Perhaps your husband does not beat you enough. That is a failing in many young husbands and you look to be young enough. Perhaps I can help him in this.” He raised his arm as if to cuff her.

Mari spoke fast. “Lord Tetsu, violence is the mark of a barbarian. Surely you are not such a man. You write and that shows you are civilized.”

A sly smile crossed the face of Lord Tetsu and he allowed it to broaden. He lowered his arm slowly. “You think quickly for a woman, Woman-called-Mari. Does your education extend to the brush?”

Mari looked at his table and rising from the futon with the quilt wrapped tightly around her, she went to it. She looked at the finely drawn calligraphy there and shook her head.

“Lord Tetsu, I write with a pen, not a brush, and I also write with a keyboard, something I am beginning to think you have no knowledge of. I do write some haiku but perhaps it would be better for me to recite one for you? You would not be able to read my script.”

“Why, are you so bad with the brush? Then your education is very low. Perhaps you dance or play an instrument?”

Mari smiled. “No, Lord Tetsu. I play violin but I suspect you are not familiar with this instrument. I do, however, write a lot of poetry. I write tanka, choka, sonnets and much free verse. I write haiku when I am able.”

“Ah! You are very boastful. Obviously, your husband is a weak man.”

Mari smiled. “Perhaps, Lord Tetsu, perhaps, or maybe he lives by different standards.”

Lord Tetsu stood at his table, his arms crossed over his chest, looking curiously at the woman before him wrapped in his quilt. “Then, if you dare, compose a poem and let’s see if your boasting has merit.”

Mari thought hard, trying to remember some she had recently written. There were a few, though they didn’t follow the classical forms.

Cold rain sweeps the streets.

Even ducks seek shelter.

Feathers drop in haste.

“Hah! Not very good, but a beginning. Give me another.”

Mari thought this next one would be more of the classical form but then she wasn’t really sure.

A glance at a wrist.

There! The pulse of a river–

tiny beat of life.

“Better! Perhaps your husband has taught you something.”

“My husband has taught me nothing, Lord Tetsu. He is not interested in poetry. I have learned this myself.”

“Not interested in poetry? You have married a barbarian then, for a man who does not write poems is indeed a savage. Give me some more, Woman-called-Mari.”

She thought of a few others she had written, though she could only partly remember their lines. She had little option except to admit failure but something in this rude man brought her mettle out. Pausing only a little between poems, she closed her eyes and recited what she could.

A woman in bed,

kimono revealing breast.

Snow on Mt. Fuji.

 

 

Snow falls on meadows.

Crows pick at last harvest seeds.

Spring now far away.

 

 

A swirl of blossoms

caught in the water’s current

begins the season.

 

 

Fall’s crispness compels

apples to tumble from trees.

Worms make the journey.

 

 

I chase one red leaf

across dry and brittle grass.

Juice of summer gone.

She kept her eyes closed thinking back to what she had just recited. Opening one eye, she saw him contemplating her with a quizzical look.

“For a mere woman, you have a fertile mind. If you had been born a man, you might have made a name for yourself.” Lord Tetsu gave a short nod of his head, a measure of respect. “Come, woman, learn how a man writes poems. You have shown yourself capable of learning at least something. Perhaps you are the rare woman who can rise above her nature.”

What a pompous ass, thought Mari. Obviously, this dream is about humiliation.

For the next hour, Lord Tetsu composed haiku and longer poems, mostly in honor of his Lord Shōgun. Mari listened to his low monotone and the sentiments that poured out like warm sake. She was lost in the tone of his recitation but was not blind to his beauty. His black hair fell down his back and the vigor of this man before her was evident. Even when he rose and went to make water, it seemed the most natural of things. She was not embarrassed nor discomforted. He was an inventive poet, even when she didn’t understand most of his references.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

“The Kimono” was published October, 2018 by CreateSpace, Amazon.com

Remembering #41.

December 2, 2018

Back then I don’t remember much about President Bush.  I was in the “Ehhh…” stage of politics.  But now, after he’s dead and gone, I realize he was a Statesman.  He was gracious, never pompous, or at least in the public eye.  He put our nation first, not his personal fortune.  He had morals and believed in leading our nation with moral leadership.

When I see what we have in Washington today, I see what we don’t have.  Mr. Heel Spur certainly isn’t a statesman.  Of course there has been scandals, back door dealings, etc. in previous president’s occupation in our highest office. (I’m thinking of Clinton and his lying about a certain intern)  But nothing like what we have been subjected to in the past two years.  I believe our nation is suffering a collective despair and depression.  Perhaps our expectations are unreal for this office, but I think not.  Scandal, collusion, lying, etc. follow on the heels of each other with this president’s behavior.  He came in promising to ‘Drain the Swamp’ only to be “The Swamp’.  He consistently hires Swamp Monsters for his cabinet and only those who have a shred of decency leave.  The only thing that is a constant is Trump is no statesman.  He is, amongst other unsavory things, an opportunist to the highest degree.  That he and his collective family represent our nation is of great regret to many.  As my generation matures we are beginning to see what we don’t have in the highest office of our nation.

No politician is perfect.  All suffer from the sins of humanity, but most keep them in check.  Or at least not swamp the nation’s eyes with such tawdriness.   President Bush, #41, might be now considered a dinosaur of the political arena, but I miss having respect for the Office.  Leadership is more than just economics and politics on the national /international stage.  It’s also a moral guidance for a time where it now seems anything and everything is acceptable. Even bold faced, two faced lying.

How far we have fallen.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 

“The Kimono”, Chapter One.

November 29, 2018

via “The Kimono”, Chapter One.

“The Kimono”, Chapter One.

November 29, 2018

Kimono Cover

“The Kimono” was published this October, 2018 and is available on Amazon.com

It hung in the window of a shop as Mari walked around old Kyoto. The shop looked out on a very small, shaded garden. With the sun overhead piercing the fan-shaped leaves of a gingko, the ground beneath looked like a yukata’s repeat pattern. Mari’s gaze was drawn to a slim beacon of light. It was enough to make her enter the small shop.

“Ohayo!” The shopkeeper came from behind his counter and bowed respectfully to Mari.

“Ohayo.” Mari bowed back.

Mari was Japanese-American, married to an ex-military man and this was their first trip to Japan. The only Japanese thing she knew was food. This culture was no more hers than being American. She felt she would forever be caught in the middle, a tug of war between two sides, and neither to claim her.

Behind the counter, Mari saw what had caught her attention: a kimono, a black, formal tomesode that a married woman would wear, not dyed with the usual flowers worn by young, unmarried women. Winding around the hem in mountains and valleys and up in a serpentine path high on the left front was a wide silver band. Looking closer, she saw the intricate handwork of what looked like stitched, silver cloth.

“That is surihaku, embossed silver sewn foil.”

The voice of the shopkeeper startled her. She blushed, not hearing him approach.

“How old is this kimono? May I look at it closer?”

The shopkeeper took it down from the pole and carefully draped it over his arm. Mari traced the river of silver from the hem to where it stopped. She noticed the kimono also had five white crests stamped on the front, shoulders and back. The shopkeeper opened the left panel of the kimono. Mari saw black knotted embroidery around the tan, the part that encircled the hips. The silver was only the outside decoration. The embroidery inside was heavy and patterned.

Mari could not restrain from touching the embroidery. She wanted to close her eyes and read it like Braille. She had never seen a kimono quite like this. It wasn’t new but it couldn’t be too old, perhaps no more than sixty years. It seemed in excellent condition. Even the white thread that was used when the kimono was washed was still fresh.

“Do you know anything about this tomesode? Where it came from, perhaps?”

The shopkeeper sighed. “No. I am a widower. My wife must have bought it. I found it after she died, in a chest.”

Mari decided to purchase the black kimono. The shopkeeper wrapped it in a box and she brought it home.

Four years ago, she had married Steven. They had never really settled down, for his company sent him for long stays in different countries. She went along because it was what was expected. It was never clear to her what he actually did, something to do with numbers and systems and computer codes. He was an expert in his field and the company was happy to uproot them both and send them afield.

Mari was not unhappy in the marriage, just restless. Steven had his work but she had nothing to do except knock about the streets and look at people, read and think. Mari’s mother thought her malaise was over the issue of children but Mari didn’t think this was such a big issue for her. Steven complained children would complicate their movements and Steven was all about keeping things simple. Mari put up little resistance to whatever her husband wanted. Perhaps her mother, who was a traditional Japanese wife, had influenced her attitude. Her mother always submitted to what her husband wanted. Mari did likewise.

It was two days before she tried on the kimono. After carefully untying the string and opening the box, she took it out and held it in front of her. The weight of the winter crêpe felt heavy. Mari laid the kimono on the bed, kneeled, and again traced the silver river, this time with her face pressed on the cloth, her eyes following the winding course of silver. It was as cool as water on her skin. Laying it open on the bed, she looked carefully at the black embroidery, wondering if there was a pattern in the high knots that coursed around the silk. She couldn’t tell because the pattern was like hieroglyphics, perhaps a secret language sewn into the silk, something indiscernible.

Mari stripped and pulled the kimono around her, binding it to her firmly. It was heavy on her body, clinging like a second skin. She sat on the floor feeling suddenly overwhelmed with a heaviness her legs could not support. She held out her arms, the dull silk rippling like water. It fell into the form of her breasts and she felt her nipples harden. It must be the cold of the crêpe, she thought.

Sitting on the floor, Mari hugged herself. She watched the river of silver course up her leg and disappear into the interior of the kimono. She wondered about the course of her own life. What would the years with Steven bring and could she endure this dullness inside? With a start, she realized that was exactly what she was feeling, a leaden dullness that leached out all color around her. Perhaps that was the attraction of the kimono now wrapped around her, the silver surihaku that led to her noticing it in the shop, the brightness of something to catch her eye and fire her imagination.

Mari didn’t know how long she’d been sitting on the floor. Her thoughts spiraled inward like the design of a nautilus shell. She looked at the clock next to the bed and was amazed an hour had passed. She stood and dropped the kimono on the floor. It puddled into a landscape of black hills, valleys and rivers.

Mari touched her left hip and discovered a series of indentations in her skin. In fact, all around her hips, stretching from one side to the other, there was a definite pattern pressed into her flesh. She thought of the weaves of a basket, the marks of a rope, the binding of her flesh to something stronger than her own mind.

When Steven came home, she showed him the kimono.

“Why a black one, Mari? You will look like an old crow in that.”

A less than flattering characterization but Stephen was sometimes rather critical of how she dressed. Mari did not go for floral designs and bright colors. She picked colors that were neutral, earth tones, colors that made her disappear.

“Married women in Japan always wear black kimonos, Steven. It’s the unmarried women who wear floral designs.”

“Well, get a red one and I’ll be interested in your choice of bathrobes.” Stephen was not taken by Japanese culture. His whole purpose in life was to do his job and move on.

That night when they went to bed, Mari was cold. The weather had changed and fall was becoming chilly. She got out of bed and padded to where she hung the kimono. Pulling it around her body, its heaviness and drape comforted her. She returned to bed and fell asleep.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

“The Kimono”, Chapter 28, Earthquake!

November 24, 2018

Sesshu painting.png

 

The painting above by Sesshu — a brilliant usage of ink and imagination. It takes years to even approach such a technique and I am firm in my belief that in order to even begin such is worth while of a life time of effort.  There is so much ‘good’ in this painting that it enthralls me.  There is a depth and simplicity in this painting that demands attention.

 

“The Kimono” was published in October, 2018, at Amazon.com

Plum Blossom Snow

 

The present snowstorm

of white plum blossoms

blinds me to sorrow.

They cascade over cheeks

like perfumed, satin tears

too warm with the promise

of life to chill flesh.

Lady Nyo, circa 2016

 

MARI DREAMED OF SNOW falling on her face but somewhere in her mind she knew it was spring, now too far from winter. She woke up, cold, as Lord Tetsu had turned in the night and taken all the quilts. She sat up, pulling her thin kimonos around her. The dawn’s light barely infused the bay. Only thin tendrils of light skimmed the sky above the distant mountains. Something was wrong. It wasn’t snow, but cherry blossoms. They covered the ground. There was a deep humming beneath the soil.

Mari placed her hands on the ground and felt the vibrations. She wondered why Lord Tetsu had not woken. Mari stood to get a better look at the bay but even standing was difficult. She felt drunk, unstable on her feet. Something was definitely wrong. The water in the bay looked as if something was punching from beneath with a million fists, causing it to
roil and churn.
  
Lord Tetsu woke with a start and sat up. For the first time, Mari saw fear on his face.

“Do not try to stand. Throw off your geta and run!” he shouted. He grabbed her hand and they ran half-crouching up the hill towards the others, Mari gathering her robes above her knees. The tremors of the earthquake knocked them to the ground several times and each time Lord Tetsu covered her with his body. They heard screams and shouts in the distance. Nothing seemed real. Cherry trees were uprooted and tossed in a jumble against each other. Lord Tetsu saw Lord Nyo scrambling towards him and shouted for him to get back to town and get their horses. They must ride to Gassan or get as high as possible. They were in the lowlands and after the earthquake a feared tsunami could strike.

A brazier had turned over and started a small fire on some quilts. Lord Tetsu stamped it out and then looked for survivors. Lady Nyo and her servants were trapped under some branches of a fallen cherry tree. Lord Tetsu and some of the men lifted the tree and pulled them out. Blood mixed with soil streamed down Lady Nyo’s face but other than a flesh wound, she would survive. Others were not so lucky. A few servants from the inn had been killed by fallen trees. Lord Tetsu’s men dragged their bodies out and laid them together on the ground. Someone covered them with the half-burnt quilts. Lady Nyo sat against a fallen tree. Mari scrambled to her and wiped the blood from her face with her kimono sleeve. Why didn’t Lord Nyo free his wife first before he obeyed Lord Tetsu’s orders to fetch their horses? Clearly, such were the rules of this century and culture. “I am fine, don’t worry about me, please,” whispered Lady Nyo. She was in shock, her face pale with trauma. “Is my Lord Nyo alive?” Mari nodded her head and told her that Lord Tetsu had ordered him to bring the horses from the town.

Lady Nyo looked doubtful. “Surely the town has suffered what we have here. The horses might have bolted and he will not find them. We can only hope he does. Lord Tetsu wants us all to ride to Gassan Mountain. He said the higher we are, the safer we will be.”

Suddenly, a man appeared over them. Startled, Mari looked up. It was Lord Yoki. “Do not fear, my ladies,” he said, bowing. “Lord Tetsu is right. The higher we get, the better our chances of surviving will be.”

Another tremor rumbled beneath them. It lasted only a few seconds but Mari screamed in fear. Lord Yoki laid his hand on her shoulder to steady her. Mari buried her face in his robes. Either he had very hairy legs or she felt feathers through his clothing. In any case, she was glad he was there. Lord Tetsu was off directing the men, gathering what they could that would be useful for their flight to Gassan Mountain. He was not around to comfort a hysterical woman. Mari continued to wipe the blood from Lady Nyo’s face, using the other sleeve of her kimono. Lady Nyo chanted something in a low voice. Mari thought she was praying.

Suddenly, Lord Tetsu bent over Mari, pulled her to her feet and led her away from the others. He put his arm around her waist and drew her to him. “You must leave. If you stay, you will die.”

“Yes,” said Mari. “I will die with you.”

Lord Tetsu grimaced and put his hand around her neck, close to her chin, and bent her head back. He increased the pressure on either side of her jaw. The last thing Mari saw was his eyes, two black pools to drown in.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2018

Kimono Cover


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