“The Kimono”, Chapter 30.

Kimono Cover

“Kimono” is finally finished, except for some final edits.  They never end. This novel was started in 2007 and it has a long life.  Nick Nicholson researched and picked a cover, one of two. We will make a final decision soon.  I’m posting a chapter just for fun.  It is not the final edit. Sorry for the formatting issues.

Lady Nyo

Summer had just begun to turn. The plums, maples, and cherries were turning into brilliant reds, golds and purples.  Most days Mari sat in a park under some gingkoes. It was mid-morning and though there wasn’t a chill  in the air, she could tell the season was changing. The wind would pick up and blow early fallen leaves around her feet. She had recovered from her long stay in hospital and her face was not so thin. Even her bobbed hair was growing out and now swept her shoulders.

She dressed in cotton kimonos in the summer wearing the blue and white yukatas. With autumn approaching, she was changing into a lined kimono, more appropriate for the weather  that could take by surprise. She was always cold, as if something in her body was turned off. Her hands and feet were especially cold, as if her circulation was impaired.

She looked healthier, less haunted. Her friend Miyo said so. Steven was not so sure. He was growing impatient with her, claiming she was not trying harder to rejoin life. He wanted her involved with random things: taking courses at some local college, perhaps flower arranging which seemed to be the rage among Japanese women. Something besides sitting on park benches staring off in the wilderness. Mari could feel the tension that existed between them. They had little to say to each other. Mari thought she had become an emotional burden to him. He was still puzzled about her miscarriage. It seemed to him that she was pregnant one day, and then, not. Mari couldn’t remember much herself. It all seemed to be as a dream.

Her marriage certainly was strained. It was so before but now? She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have much emotion concerning her husband, but Miyo thought this was because of the ‘unknown’ trauma she had suffered. Mari couldn’t remember much but she knew what people around her were calling trauma was more. The two strangling marks on her throat had disappeared. What was left was a wavering emptiness teetering between untouchable memory and a desire not to remember.
Mari was trying to read “The Narrow Road to the Interior”, a collection of Basho’s travel haibun. Sometimes she could concentrate on the passages, and sometimes they made no sense at all. At times  words swirled together  and she would shake her head to clear. This morning, tears fell on the pages, obscuring her sight.
Mari was sitting on the usual bench with her book, now in her lap. She had given up trying to read, her thoughts a jumble. A tall man approached, bowed and without a word, sat down. This was not unusual in a crowded city where people by necessity and custom shared public spaces. Mari was about to pick up her book and attempt to read, when the man pushed a small, pale fan in her direction. It was a plain, paper fan with covered wooden ribs. It looked old.
“Please, this fan is for you.”
Mari looked at him and something in his face made her uneasy. He had a sharpened face, with a long nose. He was rather handsome in a way, elderly but looking at his feet, Mari saw his toe nails seemed to have grown over the front of his sandals.
Her breath caught in her throat.
“Nah, don’t be afraid. Should an old Tengu of your acquaintance rattle you so? I bear a message from one who knew you rather well.”
The man placed the fan in Mari’s hand and nodded his head.
Mari opened the fan and in Kanji was penned the words:

“The firefly misses your laughter.”
Mari’s heart raced. Something so strange. What did it mean? The word “firefly” had some meaning but what?
Suddenly, she knew. Like a door opening, memories came flooding back. She shook her head, trying to get control of herself. She felt dizzy as if someone or something had spun her around violently. Flashes of color, voices, and scents started to swirl together and she gasped. She felt like she had been punched in the stomach. Taking a deep breath she addressed the man.

“You are Lord Yoki.”
“You’re a fast study, girl. At least all that time travel crap didn’t leach that out of your head.”
Mari turned to him. “This fan is from Lord Mori.”

“Yes, right again.”

Suddenly, she remembered the earthquake, feeling the swaying ground under her feet, the fires and the uprooted cherry trees. She remembered the groaning of the earth and people who were half buried under the trunks and flowering branches. She saw, again, the horror of a man pierced with a cherry branch, the blood of his chest mingled with the blossoms. She remembered a woman who was bleeding, and she saw again this woman cradling her arm, the blood coursing down her face.

“Did Lord Mori survive?”

“He did. Though many that day didn’t. He sent you back to now because he didn’t know what was ahead. He sent you back and continued on to Gassan.”

Mari was stunned. All these images, the cries of the servants and the groans of the men under these fallen trees came back with force. She threw up her hands over her ears and her body trembled. The memories were too much to bear. She thought she was losing her mind. She felt she would vomit.

Lord Yoki moved closer to her, in an attempt comfort.

“Mari, what is it you want? Are you happy here?”

Mari looked up at him, tears flooding her eyes, trying to gulp air, trying not to spew her guts.

“I don’t know what I want, Lord Yoki. But I don’t want what I have now. I don’t have a life here. I am always waiting for something to happen, but I don’t know what it is supposed to be.”

“Ah. Have you thought of the possibility of going back?”

“Don’t hold out that feather to me! I have just remembered what was before. How can I compare then with now?”

Mari’s words were fierce, her desperation obvious. These memories, coming back in such a rush, had unsettled her in the extreme but there was more. A glimmer of hope in the midst of all these events, so small she couldn’t see it.

Lord Yoki grimaced and nodded his head.

“Speaking of feathers, there is a way.”

Mari was confused. Then she got angry.

“What do you mean? Don’t joke with me. I don’t see any magic kimono hanging around.”

“Oh, you have grown fierce! Perhaps a tad bitter? Never mind, this old tengu has seen and heard much worse.”

He smiled and folding his hands over his stomach, blinked his eyes and looked like he was going to sleep.
Mari looked off into the distance, her thoughts fighting, tumbling in her mind. She didn’t know what to hope for. Was this actually happening, or had she fallen into a dream? How had he found her, and why?

“Forgive me, my lord. My wits are scrambled and my heart full of rancor.”

“It’s to be expected, Mari. You have gone through Hell.”
Lord Yoki chuckled. He had gone through his own particular Hell a number of times. He had suffered all that was possible yet he didn’t die. Perhaps this was the one consolation of being mythological. Or perhaps it was a curse.

He looked up in the sky at clouds and for something else. He finally found it. Three cranes flew low, their black legs streaming like ribbons against their white bodies. It must be a sign, he thought. In any case, it would do.

“Mari”, he said softly. “There is a way, but you have to be sure you want to do this. It might be a one-way ticket to Hell, there is no telling what fate has in store for you.”

Mari looked at him, eyes brimming with tears.

“My lord, Hell is preferable to the emptiness I feel. It would be welcome.”
She looked at the twisting hands in her lap.

Lord Yoki could feel her despair.

“Well, you have to be sure. My magic has been faulty of late.” He reached high in a sleeve of his kimono and with a grimace and a yelp of pain, brought out a feather. It was a long flight feather he handed to Mari. She saw the blood on the end, where the follicle had been attached to his upper arm.

“As you say, not a kimono, but magic has other ways up its sleeve.” Yoki grimaced as he rubbed his arm.

“That will ground me for a while, or if not ground me, I’ll be flying in circles.” His laughter was bitter.

“Take this home, Mari, and be very sure you want this. If you decide to use this feather, the first night on the next full moon, wear a decent kimono, or a couple of them for warmth, and tuck it in your bosom. The rest will be left up to the kami who controls these things. Buddha only knows who that is.”

Mari started at the feather and suddenly she realized Lord Yoki had disappeared. She looked around, but he was gone.

So typical of that damn bird. Doesn’t stay around for the important stuff, like where will I land and will I survive the process?

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

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