Second Daughter, 1

Being the final draft, before publication. Feel free to comment with helpful criticism, and keep an eye out for something to buy just in time for Christmas.

***
Kaori looks up from her writing desk at the winter garden. A single black bough frames the top of the window, with a dusting of light gray slurry raked into whorls and furrows away from the paths. There are no plants growing now, her father does not believe in fostering winter growths. But Kaori can still see the etchings of future designs in that snow, a whorl where he would plant a statement, furrows around it indicating the accent pieces like clever turn-of-phrase in one of their poems. She sighs, and looks back at the blank paper before her, brush dripping ink back into the bowl.
She knows she cannot force the poems to come, but lack of inspiration is no excuse for lack of practice. Besides, her father’s words ring through her concentration, “Art is gardening, if you do not give the words the chance, they will never grow.” She wets the brush again, making sure the ink is even, and sets it to the paper. The words come as bold brush strokes, soft edged but steely-cored. A verbal riposte to the cold of winter and good common sense.

Frozen pond hides carp
sludging through frigid water.
Spring sap through the trees.

Waiting for spring festivals,
Ferns gather strength from each other.

Pouring sand over it, Kaori looks up as her brother crosses the courtyard. She waves at him, and he waves back. Kaori brushes the sand away and quickly folds the poem into a crane, then goes over to her curio cabinet and grabs a small twig with two buds coming off of it. She is tying the twig to the crane when the knock comes. Kaori opens the door, composing her face, she pulls the fan from her sash, the one painted with two colorful fighting fish and flutters it about to hide the slight smile.
“Inaba Weili. So good of you to come visit me.” Her brother smiles at her formality. It fades as quickly as her fan flutters.
“Inaba Kaori. I wish I was here on pleasant matters.”
Kaori’s fan slows and her eyes narrow. “I wrote you a letter.” She presents the letter with a flourish, the crane now delicately balanced on the fan. The thought of how many nights she spent practicing comes without hesitation. The time it took to get the point where the motion is reflex stings with promise of other arts she could have practiced instead.
As Weili takes the crane: “And so we must fly. Mother wishes us to go with her into town.”
Kaori’s hands drop with her playacting. Her shoulders slump and she tucks the fan into the sash along her waist, turning towards the standing mirror. “Did she say why?” She looks at both of them through it.
Weili takes the opportunity to tuck a stray hair back behind his ear, clearing his sharp, but still soft, features and removing a barely visible irritating black line from his vision. “She says she has business.”
The two of them take the time for minor adjustments to their clothing. Kaori pulls her elaborate sash up slightly from where it slid, and secures it even more tightly. Her brother runs his hands along the edges of the deep-V of his own outerwear, pulling them more slightly closed, briefly obscuring their house symbol. His much simpler cream-colored sash and muted olive clothing contrast with Kaori’s bright white snow-flower patterns and elaborate five-piece outfit. She pulls her hair upwards and looks at him, urging him to action. Weili goes and rings the bell for a servant to come and assist her.
“Just business?”
“I’m guessing that means business with the weaver, but she was surprisingly vague about it.”
“You know how she is, especially after her time at the provincial court.”
“Yes, dear sister, I’m well aware of our mother’s quirks. This was different though, she wasn’t concealing but she was still… vague?”
“You, brother, will never be a poet if you can’t express these simple thoughts with the appropriate words.” She smiles at him as she says this.
“But that, Kaori,” he unfolds the crane, taking care not to rip the delicate wings, “is why I rely on you. I’ll let her know you’re getting ready.” Weili turns, reading as the servant comes in. He folds the letter in quarters and tucks it, and the twig, into his sash.
***
Within the hour, Kaori, Weili and their mother walk down the country road towards the village. They keep to the drier areas in the middle of the road, where much of the snow has melted in the sunlight and run off down the sides. Occasionally the three of them must step to the side of the road along a dry patch as peasants driving heavy loads pass them by along the cobbles. They bow profusely and thank them graciously for allowing them to pass, while Kaori’s mother and Weili nod their heads. Kaori keeps her face behind a parasol, fan, or simply staring at the ground. The lighter carts that can, risk going towards the side of the road so as to let this portion of the Inaba family pass them.
As they walk they pass by a large urn that has spilled over the cobbled road. On one side of the road a father berates his son for his clumsiness in dropping the urn, gesturing angrily to the other side of the road and a large, wooden gateway. The archway is painted in fading red, indicating a temple, but the grounds are surrounded by cypress trees and difficult to see from the road. Kaori tilts her head.
A single white line
in a network of black cracks.
Fallen offerings.
She releases the poem from her mind, an offering to the temple in place of the spilled rice; she hopes the spirits will accept. Soon the trio approach the nearby town. Not many merchants filter through the gates today. Several nearby areas are still inaccessible due to the snow and rain, so the traffic through the town is peaceful. Kaori prefers it this way, as it allows her and her family to really engage with the shop owners and the people who live here. In the spring and summer, the town becomes a mad house so dense it is almost impossible to push through the crowds in the street, let alone have a leisurely conversation. In the autumn, women send the men to deal with the town as everyone prepares themselves for the coming winter snows. The simple wooden buildings feature a raised walkway from which shop owners can call out at those walking down the street. Several are doing that now, but most are simply talking among themselves, discussing the latest gossip.

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