Archive for April, 2016
Sorry for the delay, I’ve decided, in this draft, to change some pretty major things, and this is the divergence point, which naturally required a rewrite. Updates might slow down a bit to once every 2 weeks as I slog through them.
“Pilgrims pack their things,
their faith is commendable.
You stay in taverns.
The ivy that grows outside,
Grows strong because of your care.
She folds Hensei’s letter into a simple, locked triangle. He will recognize it as a mountain fold, and attaches to it a small, shiny pebble with some string. She writes more letters to the others that were present in town that day, after Kimiyasu reminds her. The tenor places her as a demure young girl taking uncertain steps, yet the humor is in the possibility that she knows more. She hopes they will be well received. Finally she writes a letter to Tsubasa Changfu, the last in the list of names from her Father through Kimiyasu.
“A single swan sings,
Praised by the one watching.
Empty sake cups.
Best to speak of what is known,
To those who would listen most.
She folds the letter into a swan, and to it attaches a stick of temple incense. The subtle message shouldn’t scare him off, but perhaps, Kaori hopes, force him to consider whether or not his undue interest in her presents a problem of etiquette. Although… she wouldn’t say he wasn’t handsome…
“Sister?” Kimiyasu enters. “I waited a few minutes after knocking, but you didn’t respond. Are you all right?”
Kaori turns around. “I’m sorry sister, I was writing letters, I didn’t hear you.”
“Shall I go then? I don’t want to interrupt.” Kimiyasu takes stock of the letters, folded and ready to go. She looks at the one that Kaori was tying. “Purity and loneliness? Is that for Tsubasa Changfu?”
“Is it too obvious?”
“From what Father said of the way he behaved towards you? Not at all. I think you’ve done…” Kimiyasu stops herself from saying surprisingly, “Well.”
“I would hope for excellent. I was unsure if Father had noticed or not, but since he did not respond as I expected, I presumed he hadn’t.”
Kimiyasu smiles at her sister. “We all hope for excellent, and since the only thing I have to go by doesn’t include the verses within, I’m certain you’ve managed to reach it, if not beyond. I hope you weren’t too hard on him though? Certainly the beginning of a correspondence is also the hardest. You want to make sure he is not chastised into sending you letters through our Father.”
Kaori shakes her head. “At least, I don’t believe so. I would certainly hope he doesn’t scare easy, but I have a feeling there’s more steel underneath the silk than Father and I perhaps give him credit for. There’s something about him.”
“Mother said his clothing was off color?”
Kaori pulls back just a touch and squints at her sister. “I didn’t think mother had noticed.” She tilts her head. “Which is silly really, when has Mother not noticed someone’s clothing? It wasn’t upsettingly off, just a couple of shades too light to be appropriate for the season, or his station.”
“As though perhaps he is a little forgetful and left it to bleach in the sun last summer?”
“As though he does not have a wife to choose the correct colors and fashion something for him on a regular basis.”
“How is that different from what I said?”
“That’s what you like about him though, isn’t it?”
“The off-color clothing?”
“The fact that he’s not certain about how to belong.”
Kaori turns back to her writing desk. Sometimes her sister’s wit can be a little too sharp, too quick. If words were swords, Kaori was certain Kimiyasu would give her Father a fair challenge.
“That was sharp, sister. You’ve cut to the heart of it.” Kaori has not turned back to her.
“I’m not sorry, Kaori. It is good that you are finding an attraction in your memories of him especially if… but be careful not to… well, you do have a tendancy to over-dramatize things, little sister.”
“I do not.” Kaori responds, her bottom lip jutting out as she fires the comment back over her shoulder.
“I did not say it was a fault. Just something to be aware of. If Tsubasa is to be a candidate for marriage, then it is good that you are discovering feelings for him. But potential and action are as yet very separate, and you must be prepared for either eventuality. At any rate, you are young and an artist, you are not expected to know yourself, you are expected to explore the arts and through them learn of yourself. But everyone likes knowing they aren’t alone, either in their manner of appreicating off-color clothing, or in their feelings.” There is a pause, filled with the evening notes of songbirds. “Shall I take these to be delivered through post?”
“If you would be so kind, Kimiyasu. I should get ready for dinner. Thank you, sister.”
“For reminding me of these letters, for these illuminating conversations of ours. For being my sister.”
“Your welcome, Kaori. And thank you for much of the same.” Kimiyasu leaves, carrying the seven letters with her.
After she leaves Kaori has time to stop and listen to the songbirds. She wonders about Tsubasa, about what her sister has said. She cannot deny that her heart beats ever-so-slightly faster when she sees him, or that she is excited to know his response; to correspond with him. However… Kimiyasu is right, and for a brief moment, the crushing weight of being a concubine bears down on her and forces her to sit back in her chair. What would she do? How would she help her sister? Would she still have time for art? Kaori shakes her head and grinds more of the inkstone with a little less water. She changes her brush for something thicker and begins putting it to the paper, outlining mountains and rivers in weighty, bold lines. She knows it should be lighter, even just a touch, but the goal is to bring her peace, to bring her the stability and solidarity of this mountain valley. Soon she is adding the colors, the greens of grass and pink of flowers. Along the sky she writes a simple poem:
“Soft, loamy, clay riverbed,
Only finite streams can join.”
Kaori stares at the paper, still wet and heavy. In the morning, when it is dry, Kaori takes the picture and rolls it up. Tying it shut with another piece of paper, she places it gently into the embers in the fireplace, and with her fan, relights it. She can hear her Father’s voice from the first time her showed her this:
“This is how I am strong, Kaori: I learned to burn away my weakness.”
Kaori and Kimiyasu bounce along in the cart in the rising light of the day. Trying to keep her sister’s mind engaged in things other than the recent news, Kimiyasu asks her for details about Hensei’s guests, their father and the poetry, she asks her for her verse from the poem; whether or not Kaori remembers it, which she does.
“I can’t help notice but an outpouring of description about this Tsubusu.”
“Tsubasa.” Kaori corrects her sister without thinking; her fan moving quickly. “And its nothing… or I should say, in a field of barren grass, its easy to focus on the singular flower.”
“You don’t say…” Kimiyasu’s arched eyebrows on the other hand… Kaori looks forward down the road. “He’s just someone I met.”
“Someone our father introduced you to.”
“I don’t see why that should matter. At any rate, Tsubasa is a foreigner, from some unknown land, I doubt we’ll see him again.”
Kimiyasu watches her sister closely. “Mother tells me Uncle came from a distant province.” Kaori does not move her head, but her eyes flick to the corner towards her sister.
The two of them arrive at the red-painted wooden gate along the road to town. The songbirds, having wintered here in the valley, are quiet in the overcast light of the early afternoon. Kaori and Kimiyasu get off the cart and proceed through the gateway and into the temple grounds. The diffuse sunlight dampens the vibrant colors of their clothes, as the cracked, dry air seeps through their layers.
The path towards the temple is lined with chestnut trees, bare at this time of year, their seeds long since taken by the birds. White stone paving lines the small avenue towards the main building, visible only barely from the gateway as a small, single-story construction made of wood and rice paper. Kaori and Kimiyasu walk slowly. The gravity of the place demands silence, even if the monks do not necessarily require it.
“Look Kaori,” Kimiyasu whispers. Kimiyasu points towards a line of prayer papers strung over the path between too trees. On top of the prayer’s white papers and black ink, a small songbird sits. Even though the songbird is dusty yellow-brown, the sky behind it is a pale, almost-white gray, the thread is a simple twine darkened to almost black from the wetness of the air. Kaori smiles. “’Even the darkest winter day holds many colors for those who wish to see them.’”
Kimiyasu nods. “Its a good omen Kaori, you should pray for guidance. Maybe this songbird will sing your sorrows to the Heaven and bring you wisdom.”
Kaori also whispers back, “A clear answer would be nice, but Father always taught us to depend on our judgment. That if we remained pure of heart and noble of character and virtue we would always know the answer, no matter how confusing the road may be.”
A monk, dressed in the orange robes of his order, appears from between the chestnut trees that line the path. The girls stop. He bows to them and they bow back.
“Forgive me if I startled you, young ladies. I was tending to the landscape on the other side of the trees, and everything is so quiet that I could not help but hear you. Your Father sounds like a wise man, and yet here you find yourselves.”
Kaori and Kimiyasu look at each other. As if to punctuate the strange, almost magical air quickly settling around them, the songbird chirps out a few notes. When the eyes of Heaven lie upon one, the only acceptable answers are to laugh or to cry, so the two girls laugh. Their fans come out simultaneously, in the same motions, as they take the opportunity to giggle soundlessly behind them. When they have composed themselves they turn back to the monk who addressed them.
“Would you deign, honored monk, to lead us to the well, where we might purify ourselves before meditating in the shrine?” Kimiyasu asks the monk.
“Of course, right this way.” He turns, his motions fluid, trained in the disciplines of temple life.
The monk leads them to a well just outside what can now be seen as a main building for the shrine. The two sisters wash their hands, drawing back their sleeves, washing first one hand and then the other, letting the water drip down to purify the ladle between hand-washings and before replacing it into the well. The monk watches, his attentions both present and distant, contemplative even during such simple acts. When they are done and they turn back to him, he speaks again. His lack of whispers helps to ease through the seriousness of place affecting the two girls.
“Where would you like to meditate?”
Kimiyasu quirks her head to one side delicately. “Do you have an opinion, honored brother?”
“I think wisdom is found in peace.”
“If peace is found within, then yes. Otherwise you must find the peace that will tame the wild soul.”
“And where does a soul go when it must be tamed?”
“’Soul and mind must flow like water, there they find peace.’ A troubled soul finds peace among the trees. A troubled family finds peace within the past.”
Kaori inserts herself into the conversation with a small nod. “And a soul troubled by family?”
The monk smiles. “A soul troubled by family finds peace in the lands of its ancestors. You are the Inaba children, are you not?”
Kimiyasu straightens. “We are…” her statement still implies a question.
“I was born to the Akimura family. Though I may be a monk, I have lived in this valley all my life. What seems like a lifetime ago, I played often with your brother in these very hills. There is a place, not far from here, that is still part of the temple. I would be happy to show it to you?”
Kaori nods. “You have been much help, but we would not wish to keep you from your duties.”
“The greatest of our duties is in service to our fellows, I would be honored.”
Kimiyasu bows. “If you insist, honorable brother, we would be happy to see your wisdom.” Kaori nods, and the monk leads the two of them around the side of the main building.
Kaori spends much time sitting in the garden, despite the slush and snow. When it gets too cold or too wet she stares at the cherry tree from her window, wet black boughs against a gray sky. Her writing desk is bare, even though she grinds the ink-stone every time she sits down and then doesn’t use it. It is Kimiyasu who comes to her first, after three days without one of Kaori’s spontaneous poems that the family is grown accustomed to. She next to her on the cold stone bench, wrapping an old quilt around the both of them. It was made for winter, from scraps of wool and silk, its chambers thick to bursting with cotton, the colors all harmoniously arranged so that it spirals gently from a cool green to warm purple. The wind blows the clean scent of icy air and frozen ground around them. For a time, Kimiyasu simply stays inside the blanket close to her sister. Finally, as she can feel the bone-chill of the stone seeping through even the thick quilt, she speaks without looking at her sister.
“Sluggish black water,
even fountains flow in circles
outside of winter.”
Kimiyasu waits for a response verse from her sister. With no response other than Kaori’s glance in her direction, Kimiyasu continues: “We’re worried about you, sister.”
Kimiyasu’s fan comes out, the blanket slipping down her shoulder, and points at her sister’s obvious untruth. “I’m not so sure. You spend most of your day out here in the cold, staring at the frozen pond. Mother worries that you’ll get sick if you keep this up for much longer.”
“She gave me a lot to think about, I’m thinking about it.”
“Father didn’t want to give you a choice.” Kaori looks at Kimiyasu, inadvertently pulling the quilt more around herself. “He said that this sort of decision should be theirs to make in your best interest. Having lived through it, Mother argued vehemently that you should be given a choice. Father did not believe you were strong enough.”
“Maybe he was right. I don’t know what to do anymore. Both of my choices are right answers, in a way. But they cannot both be.”
Kaori looks at her sister before repeating her father’s words. “’The path of virtue is clear to the virtuous.’”
Kimiyasu shakes her head. “That doesn’t say anything about choice. Or what to do when two virtuous options present themselves.”
Kaori’s brow furrows. “No, but that’s what Father always said to me when I had to make choices…”
“Perhaps, then, what you need is a different opinion. Father will not always have the answers. You must learn to interpret the verses for yourself, in the context of your own life, dearest sister. Come let us go to the temple, the changing scenery always helps when I must puzzle out a vexing situation.”
Kaori smiles slightly at Kimiyasu. “I fear I would do much the same thing at the temple as I am doing here, sitting and staring, lost in my own mind. Or worse, distracted by the colors there at this time of year.”
“But there you will have the wisdom of the place and the austerity of the monks to guide you.”
Kaori has no response for her sister’s seemingly infallible logic.
“That settles it then,” Kimiyasu claps her hands and Mikan comes after a short while. “Mikan, have one of the others prepare my cart. Kaori and I are going to visit the temple.”
“Of course. Oh, Kaori.” She looks at the older woman. “Your mother wishes to tell you the fabric has arrived from town.” Kaori nods, and Mikan continues towards the front of the house.
“Sister, I should get to work on the clothing I’m to make, I know—”
“That I mean well?” Kimiyasu sighs. “I think you would try and get distracted, or worse yet, make so many mistakes you’ll ruin the fabric. You need time to still your mind before you begin the project Kaori. Isn’t that what Father always told us? That we should begin our works clear of mind and spirit, that we might give full attention and full… what was it he used to say?”
“The better to give our projects full attention to the spirit of their purpose.” Kaori supplies the missing answer for her sister.
“Yes that, now go, grab your coat, and come with me to the temple. I will not discuss the matter further.” Kimiyasu looks rigidly into the pond. Kaori opens her mouth a few times, and realizing her sister is serious, gets up to go and choose a coat, and possibly do up her hair. For the first time in three days, Kaori’s mind turns to the simplicity of dressing appropriately to go outside and sheds itself of the choice her mother gave her.
Kimiyasu stares at the recently raked furrows in the snows of the garden, subtly reflecting the overcast gray sky, until Mikan comes to tell her the cart is ready.
“Do you think our Father asks too much of Kaori?”
“I would not presume to know Huiren’s actions.”
Kimiyasu looks over at Mikan, one eyebrow delicately raised. “And yet… you refer to him by first name and very obviously have an opinion on the matter, or you would not have been watching from the overhang.”
Mikan nods. “Well of course I do, child. I helped raise the boy. That does not mean that even our families cannot be mysterious, full of hidden depths, or that we do not worry about the well-being of our charges. Just that, as the chick that is stuck in its shell, sometimes we must let things be.”
Kimiyasu nods. “I am too young to ignore my sister’s hardships. But I hope I can help her find her own answers.”
Mikan shuffles towards the doorway that will lead her towards the warmer kitchen, she finishes the conversation over her shoulder. “Then I have raised you to be a good sister.”