“The Kimono”, Chapter One, continued….

 

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 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 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.”

“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

Kimono Cover“The Kimono” was published by Amazon October 2018.

 

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