Posted for Connie, who also loves kimono.
(A kimono I made from cloth from a quilting store. Lined with light green cotton.)
Summer Reading! And why not? We should slow down in the heat of summer and entertain ourselves. I have always felt that writers are just storytellers who know how to type, and most importantly….we entertain ourselves with our words.
I started “The Kimono” in 2008, and dropped it for years. Just recently I finished the novel, all 28 chapters and now I am going through the entire book, chapter by chapter, trying to fill in the worm holes. Up to Chapter 5. Yahoo.
Mari is a 21st century Japanese/American, whose husband Steven is working for a large company in Kyoto. She buys a kimono in a strange shop, one that she can’t find again….and this kimono whips her back to the 16th century where she lands at the feet of a dangerous daimyo. But he’s not controlling the kimono. Something else is.
Early that morning Mari was dressed by the two women, Nyo and Idu. She was told she was to attend both Lords.
Mari had an attack of nerves. What in Hell was she supposed to do? Either she was entertainment for these two dangerous men, or she would be breakfast. After last evening’s appearance, her knees knocking and mouth dry, she thought her days in front of Lord Tokugawa would be past. Apparently not.
Lady Nyo walked with Mari behind the men, as was proper. Those two ahead cast large shadows in the sunlight, their kimonos, robes and swords making them move like tanks. Slowly, but as dangerous.
Mari could almost forget those men as she looked about her in amazement.
Everywhere she looked she saw evidence of a highly developed esthetic. Gingko trees and small maples, other plantings she could not identify, were carefully placed. Small ponds, gravel walks and stones set in groups. Some, like huge boulders were set alone. Each stone was natural to its site.
Mari had read a small book on Japanese gardening, but this was from a modern perspective. She knew enough from inference to recognize each garden was an expression of the character of its owner, whether poet, warrior, philosopher, or priest. What Lord Mori was, Mari was not certain, but she thought perhaps he had all the above aspects. Nothing she had read gave a clue as to what a garden from the hand of a samurai-magician would look like. She glanced at the stones, wondered if at night they would get up and walk around. There was an old tale of an early emperor, well into his cups, who struck a large boulder in the middle of the road with his sword. It ran away.
She knew enough that a gardener, from whatever walk of life, tried to create not merely a place of beauty, but to convey a mood in the soul. She had read the earliest landscape gardeners were Buddhist monks who expressed abstract ideas like faith, piety and contentment with the design of their gardens. Ultimately, a dual purpose to their work: an expression of the mood of nature and that of man.
Mari was thinking of the landscape, listening with one ear to the chatter of the Lady Nyo. She wondered why she understood Japanese? Was this part of the magic of the flying kimono? Or was it from something else? She listened to Lady Nyo whisper, her mouth hardly moving, about colors, and spring; less than small talk.
Suddenly, Lord Tokugawa stopped walking and turned around, his hands cradling his two swords.
“Lady Mari! Give us a poem on Lord Mori’s gardens. Surely a poet would have a verse upon approaching that pond over there!”
Lord Tokugawa threw out his hand towards a small pond, and Mari looked to where he pointed. It was just a small pond, but artfully tucked between willows with a maple on a very small island in the middle of the water.
Mari looked at Lord Mori. His face was blank, with just a small curve of his lips, barely a smile. He did lift his eyebrows to her in a questioning manner.
Mari bowed to Lord Tokugawa and also to Lord Mori. “If it would please you, Sir, I will need a little more walking in the fresh air this morning to collect my thoughts. I would not want to disappoint you with my poor attempts. I already see that Lord Mori’s gardens are very beautiful.”
Lord Tokugawa looked hard at her with his one eye, and laughed. Turning abruptly, he and Lord Mori continued to walk and talk in low voices. Mari and Lady Nyo followed, the Japanese woman finally silent. Mari could almost heart Lady Nyo’s heartbeat. She was so scared by the presence of the men. Perhaps she knew firsthand the violence of men in this century.
Mari wondered what she could compose that would please both men. Lord Tokugawa had pointed out the pond. Surely something would come to mind, even if only an attempt at a verse.
She looked at its outline, the gentle surface like glass, the graceful willows trailing its fronds at the water’s edge. What caught her eye was the red miniature maple standing in the middle, with only a few crimson leaves remaining on its branches. There was something poignant in its isolation, or perhaps its solitude. Mari’s thoughts began to float outward to that tree in the water.
Lord Tokugawa stopped and turned. “Lady Mari, we are waiting for your verse.”
Mari bowed to Lord Tokugawa and took a deep breath.
“Surrounded by gentle nature
A man rests in contentment
But keeps his sword nearby.
A heart does not convey
The warning of a mouth.”
Lord Tokugawa remained quiet for a moment, seemingly to contemplate her words. Suddenly, he threw back his head and roared with laughter.
“Ah, Lord Mori, this one is worthy of breeding. She has wit and sense, uncommon in a woman. Perhaps she will produce many poets in the future. She is not too ugly in this morning light.”
Mari blushed and heard the soft gasp of Lady Nyo next to her. Lord Mori narrowed his eyes and contemplated the two women.
“You are correct, Lord Tokugawa. Perhaps she is not too ugly in this light.”
Mari could not resist raising her eyes to his face. Her glance was not lost on Lord Tokugawa.
“She does have spirit. However, she is a woman and needs the command of the whip. She has a boldness that might disrupt your peace if allowed to grow.”
Turning his back on the two women, the men continued to walk ahead.
“Lady Mari “, whispered Lady Nyo, her voice almost breathless with excitement. “Lord Tokugawa gives you great compliments. He is pleased with your verse as is our Lord Mori. You are found pleasing to both of them. You must compose more verse, and fast, for he might ask you again.”
Mari listened to her chatter with half an ear. “Perhaps she is not too ugly in this light.” If this was a compliment, she could do without.
After the morning’s walk among the gardens, she had returned to the women’s quarters. She was summoned to Lord Mori that evening where she found him working at his table. She was ushered into his room by two guards and stood there waiting for him to acknowledge her. Lord Mori was writing something with his brush, wetting the ink stone and stroking his brush across the ink. He spoke without looking up at her, his brush making strokes across the paper.
“So, Mari-who-is-married. How did you find Lord Tokugawa this morning? He was very liberal in his compliments. For both your verse and wit. I have not seen him before to so acknowledge a mere woman in his presence. You should feel greatly honored, Lady Mari.”
“Let me ask you, Lord Mori, if it so pleases you. Am I seen by you and Lord Tokugawa as a brood mare to produce little poets? This is very strange thinking to me, as I have not had children.
Lord Mori looked up, his brush suspended in the air, a look of surprise on his face.
“You have not been bred? What is wrong with your husband? Does he not think to breed you? Even an old man can produce children. What is the matter with you?
Mari thought his questioning rude and was about to say so. She checked her tongue.
“Lord Mori”, she began as one would with a child. “In my world a woman has many options, and one of these is the decision to have children or not. My husband is very involved with his work and thinks children will be an interference in his career.
Lord Mori’s expression of surprise was now replaced with one of confusion. “What is the issue here? A woman’s place in the world is to produce heirs. It is not such an onerous task. The wife is naijo. Do you understand this? It means ‘the inner help’. You are slave to your husband, and he is slave to his authorities, whoever is above him. This is the order of life. You turn the children over to the servants and you have your freedom to attend your Master’s desires. What is wrong with your world, Mari, that you can’t see this for yourself?”
Mari considered his words. There was such distance between them so there was no easy answer. Steven’s stubbornness about this very issue was one of true conflict. She thought of all those mornings and afternoons when she walked the streets, watching the couples, families with strollers and children racing around parks chasing each other. She felt the emptiness of her arms when she saw mothers holding their children. She could even feel the emptiness of her own womb.