|Writing the Book of Days
Author: C Terrance PM
Herein lie a series of short stories, personal essays, random poetry, and the occasional character sketch, all following the prompts in "A Writer's Book of Days". Expect a wide range of styles, voices, truths, and tenses as I journey into the worlds-whether real or imagined-that the prompts evoke. Feel free to join me, if so inclined!Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Drama - Chapters: 40 - Words: 29,695 - Reviews: 7 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 02-12-13 - Published: 10-03-12 - id: 3062734
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Prompt: Write about acceptable losses
The house was grander than anything she had seen in all her fourteen years. Its roof was smooth tile, yellow as the sunshine, though in the light of the torches at the entrance in gleamed only dully, reflecting the dim light of the stars. Behind the translucent shoji screens, she could see the silhouettes of young women and men, and she could hear the sounds of shamisen and flute.
The street down which they walked was choked with mud, and her straw sandals had nearly fallen apart on her feet, letting the chill muck seep between her toes. She slipped every other step. Poor father's arm had barely enough strength to keep her from falling to her knees, soiling the one decent kimono her family possessed. They had been walking since dawn; mother and the boys had to take the horse and cart to market loaded with their harvest, a few bushels of cucumbers and potatoes, as well as some wilted cabbage heads.
This year's harvest had been bad. Throughout the summer, their tiny hamlet in Hokkaido had been unseasonably cold, and the rice had sprouted, but only tough little stalks yielding very little grain.
Reiko felt her eyes brimming with tears. Her parents had promised her that they would never do this. But fate was cruel and inexorable; what could she, a poor, uneducated farm girl, do to combat it?
The servant at the front door frowned at the state of their filthy shoes, and motioned them around back. There, the kitchen girl poured bucket after bucket of freezing water over their feet to dislodge some of the dirt. The same girl also helped Reiko arrange her hair and straighten her kimono, come a bit askew during the long journey.
Reiko looked for some sign of friendship or warmth from the girl, but found none. Likely she was just one of many undistinguished peasants who had come to offer her services to the brothel. This time, Reiko blinked her tears back. She had been strong for her parents and her brothers for years, enduring the harsh labor of the rice paddies without complaint. This would just be one more duty to perform.
Once they were slightly more presentable, she and her father were taken up to the Madame's room and told to wait. Her father's knees creaked alarmingly as he knelt on the smooth tatami. Reiko scolded herself for not having made his ginger root tea that morning, but the cost of ginger was so dear. She had stretched the last knuckle out for months. Had she reminded Yuutaro of the recipe, so he could make it if they could afford ginger again?
She had. She had remembered everything. And if she hadn't, maybe it would be possible for her to write and remind him. Yuutaro had always done better than she had at school; he would surely be able to understand the necessary ingredients.
The shoji screens slid open, and a servant knelt on the floor as her mistress passed into the room. Reiko and her father both bent their eyes to the floor, but Reiko saw the beautifully embroidered hem of the Madame's housecoat from the corner of her eye. It was a brilliant red, embroidered with symbols of happiness and good fortune in shimmering gold thread. She had never seen a garment so rich; even the landlord's daughter would not have dreamt of wearing something so fine.
"Rise," at her command, they both lifted their eyes, though Reiko did not dare look the woman in the face. The Madame solved that problem by taking Reiko's chin between her bony, tobacco-stained fingers and yanking her head up. She looked with flinty, narrowed eyes at the girl, gaze sweeping from thin, fine hair to her prematurely wrinkled brow, cracked lips and receding chin. Reiko fought not to cry again as she saw the Madame's frown.
"These country girls," the woman muttered, as if to herself, "old before their time. Takes more paint than they're worth to make them palatable."
Her father cleared his throat. "She is a poor offering milady, but she is a hard worker. If she does not please you as, as a…" he could not say "whore", "…she can work in your kitchens or the gardens."
The Madame struck a match and lit her cigarette, waving it so the smoke curled in snake-like ribbons above her elaborate hairstyle. "I merely say this because in your daughter's case I refuse to pay the full 50 yen. I have already taken on four new girls from the country and she is by far the least attractive. 25 is the best I can do."
Though 25 yen was still a fortune to a family such as they, Reiko felt indignant. 50 yen was the going rate for whores, looks notwithstanding! Men would not visit a place such as this for the pretty faces or learned words of the girls there. They came for a more simple purpose.
Her father was silent for a moment, his gnarled hands twisting nervously round each other. His head bowed and for a moment he looked as though he would never rise again.
It was rude, and probably forbidden, but she had to speak.
"My father is right. I can serve in many ways besides in the brothel."
The Madame's eyes widened, but she did not interrupt. Reiko took courage and went on.
"I promise you milady, that you will never have a harder worker in your house. My days have often begun long before dawn and ended by firelight, weaving straw for sandals and mats until my hands have bled. I will wake in the mornings to light your fires, cook breakfast, weed the gardens, and do laundry before…going about business at night." She swallowed. Thinking of what lay ahead was terrifying, but the thought of her brothers lying stiff and cold from starvation was worse.
"You will not regret your investment," Reiko finished, bowing so her head touched the tatami. Her father also prostrated himself, suppressing a moan of pain as his back stretched to the ground.
The Madame said not a word. The cigarette smoke continued to thicken in the room until Reiko grew dizzy from it. Finally, she heard the sounds of the woman briskly stubbing it out in a lacquered ashtray.
"Oh, sit up both of you," she snapped. Despite her harsh tone, Reiko's shy glance saw a hint of a smile on her face. From a hidden pouch in her coat, she produced a red leather money bag and counted out a small stack of coins on the tray before her. She weighed the coins briefly in her hand and held them out to Reiko's father.
"I suppose I owe you 50 yen, yes?"