“Kimono”, part of Chapter One.

 

Samurai Woman

Samurai Woman

Since I have finished this novel, I thought I would post part of Chapter One.

This book has taken ten years to be completed, but in those ten years I have learned of another culture, language and times.  The language part is iffy, as only the sushi workers at Whole Foods are tolerant of my attempts. 

In this time the world of tanka and haiku and so many other forms of Japanese literature has been opened to me.  The beauty of so much of this culture is shown in its poetry.  “Kimono” gave me an excuse to study it out of necessity.

Lady Nyo

THE KIMONO

 

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 eyes were 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.

“Ohayo”. Mari bowed back.

Mari was Japanese-American, married to an ex-military man and this, their first trip to Japan. The only thing Japanese 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 by two sides, and neither to claim her.

Behind the counter she saw what had caught her attention. A kimono, a black, formal tomesode. A kimono any 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 shop owner startled her, and Mari jumped. She blushed, not hearing him approach.

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

He 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 appeared to stop. The shop keeper opened the left panel and Mari saw black, knotted embroidery around a ocher tan, encircling the hips. The silver was only the outside decoration. The embroidery inside was heavy and patterned.

Mari could not restrain from stroking the embroidery. She wanted to close her eyes and read it like a piece of Braille. She had never seen a kimono quite like this. It couldn’t be that old, perhaps no more than 60 years. It seemed in excellent condition. Even the small, 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, one day it just appeared. I am a widower; my wife must have purchased it when I was away. I found it after she died, in a chest.”

Mari brought the kimono 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 strange codes. He was an expert in his field and the company 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 make their movements complicated, and Steven was all about making things simple. Mari put up little resistance to whatever her husband wanted. Perhaps because her own mother was a traditional Japanese wife, this was strong influence on her behavior. Her mother always submitted to what her husband wanted. They both did.

It was two days before she was able to try on the kimono. Carefully untying the string and opening the box, she took it out.

Holding it in front of her, the weight of the winter crepe felt heavy. Just a dull black kimono with five white stamped crests. 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 without reason, she felt her nipples harden. It must be the cold of the crepe, she thought.

Sitting on the floor, she hugged herself. She vaguely 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 girding her loins, the silver surihaku that led to her noticing it in the shop. The brightness of something to catch her eye and fire her imagination.

She didn’t know how long she sat on the floor, her thoughts spiraling inward like the design of a nautilus shell. She finally looked at the clock next to the bed and was amazed an hour had passed. She stood and dropped the kimono around her on the floor. It puddled into black mountains, a landscape of rivers and valleys.

Mari touched her left hip and found a series of flesh tattoos. 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 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 wore black kimonos, Steven. It’s the unmarried woman 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.

 

This must be a dream, Mari thought. 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 that had 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 man. 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 Mori Higato, in the service of the Shogun. I am of the clan Motomori. That is all you need to know.”

“You sstill 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 sssomething to warm myself.”

Lord Mori 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 Mori 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.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Responses to ““Kimono”, part of Chapter One.”

  1. Array Says:

    Wow! Is it a haunted kimono? I love the descriptions, Jane. Will you be posting the next episode soon?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ladynyo Says:

    Thanks, Kim for reading and sending a comment! I will be posting another chapter but I shortened this one because of a sex scene. I want to concentrate on the relationship of the daimyo Mori and Mari….it’s a strange one! Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kim881 Says:

    A sex scene! 🙂

    Like

  4. ladynyo Says:

    Yah…a little early in the novel, but considering the circumstances…..it works. Some of the haiku doesn’t though. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Frank Hubeny Says:

    Nice presentation of the characters and the kimono.

    Liked by 1 person

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