I wrote a little over 3000 words (about a 5-minute read) for this short story, in roughly three, two-hour sessions with a lot of very useless and wasted sessions in between. Hopefully, I figure out one day what makes me tick, because I’ve seen some very productive hours… just… rarely…
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story!
Under the Cherry Blossoms
Taiga hated cherry blossoms. They surrounded her family’s shrine, filled out the courtyard and stood sentry over every stoned and tiled path. The Ice Dragon’s blessing granted each tree the strength to bloom in winter, and flowers that shed their petals and selves daily. She brushed floral bits from her hair, her shoulder, picked off the remnants resting on her katana’s guard and emptied her sash. Taiga could not even see ground, and she learnt her footing by sinking her step into the soft earth and stumbling back onto the stones. Pink prevailed this setting and conquered every visitor’s time, often losing their purpose and their tithes amidst this trance.
Taiga tired of this aesthetic years ago: resisted the temptation to lie and let the flowers bury her. She loved pink, her pink memories of her pink childhood, but she reviled the pain of walking into the patio view, and seeing a four-year-old girl hanging her legs over the lisp. That girl always waited there, with the same ink black hair, the same skin that envied human bloods and irises just as red, just as affiliated with pain; already willing to surrender to cherry blossoms.
Taiga looked left, the girl looked down. She walked forward, terrified, and nearly unscathed until she passed the mite at her leg, and that mite called out, “Mama” and Taiga took off running down halls overrun by dust.
The family residence nested itself deep into the shrine where it backed into the foot of a sudden peak. Taiga ran where she could, weaving inefficient paths till her honed lungs finally experienced a little tire, and she settled for the comfort of her bedroom.
Taiga slid open the door and saw a second futon laid out beside hers, with a stack of folded blankets sized right for a tiny girl, and she took off running again till she nearly toppled her sister.
“Kanako, is this your doing!?” Taiga demanded, and of what else.
“Yes”, she said, speaking calmly and more strongly than this ronin could. They shared sisterly halves by their appearances, but Taiga had the vampire heritage, the hot head and a love for physical excruciation. Kanako stayed with her humanity, her calm, her books and spiritual strength. Taiga hated to admit it, but her sister chose the better path, and she regularly took refuge in Kanako to debunk the world’s puzzling moralities. Though now, Kanako had placed her into a terrible place.
“I can’t stay in the same room as Kanna.”
“Try”, and before Taiga could protest, Kanako directed her to the supply room, “Get a bucket of water and a rag. It’s been some time since the floors have reflected the sun. So much dust…”
Taiga obeyed, and when she had in hand a day’s work, Kanako dictated her schedule in full.
“I’ll take Kanna to town… cheer her up. You won’t run into her while you clean, so you can meditate in peace. When I return we can take a bath together, and talk.”
“But how do I meditate while-“
“Just think. About anything, really… It’s good for your mind and your emotions.”
Kanako started off and then turned again, “Think!”
And with a sigh, Taiga pushed her rag into her bucket of water, rung it damp and then thought.
Dust, dust, so much monotonous dust… Taiga ran down the hall pushing her cloth, and in just one sprint she found her device already speckled with gray matter. She finished her course: running back down the hall on a parallel path, back and forth till she could see the dim sun on these floorboards.
One hall down, some dozens more to go, and she had to change cloths and even sometimes the water.
Dust, dust, how could there be so much dust? It grew out of floor and walls. It just had to. It was a problem inherent to high quality polished wood, shrines, and shrines made with high quality polished wood.
Supposedly, dust contributed to her father’s end. He did not fair strongly like most vampires, and he resided within kindness, within pacifism. Taiga never knew him, but mother always recalled him to remind about the dangers of dust. The subtle wheezing that seemed troubling, yet innocuous, and then suddenly a bloody coughs and bloody hell took a life.
He smiled, when he died. Vampires had such poor fortunes when it came to children. A frisky couple between a vampire and another could yield no children, even after ten or twenty years. To simply leave her to continue the dwindling lineages and hopes of his people had been enough to die smiling.
Taiga had sex just once: her first, her last, and out came little Kanna.
Anger seized her. She sloppily rushed to exert her legs and angst, but guilt sent her back over those floorboards. Father would probably be so happy to have grandchildren already.
If he were here, if he or mother were here, Taiga would have left Kanna to become her parents’ child. And then Kanna would be doomed to have no parents of her own.
Kanna was probably doomed to have no mother anyway.
That thought stayed with her till every last floorboard saw the sun off to its distant recluse on the other side of the world. The sky lights themselves cluttered with flowers, but she’d brush them away some other time, when Kanako was busy.
Her sister returned, managed somehow to hide Kanna from Taiga and the two sisters met in the hall. “Oh, um…” Taiga mumbled, remembering her family contribution, and she handed a pouch of coins to her sister. Her escort job placed her close to a criminal with a nice bounty on his head, and so she brought back more money than usual.
“Who did you capture?”
“Killed, actually… That mage that assassinated that Alendrian prince.”
“And you received silver? No gold coins?”
“Apparently, freezing him, shattering him, and leaving no identifiable traces can affect bounty rewards. Who knew?”
Kanako shook her head and handed the money back to her sister. “My silk sells well. Purchase what luxuries you like. Buy Kanna a gift, perhaps.”
“And how would I give it to her?”
Kanako sighed, put her bangs and her cheek bone into her palm. Taiga put her money away as per instruction and met her sister in the changing room to the bath.
The Nakada family built their shrine beside Nasu Peak for its natural spring. Water flowed under the mountain and found its way through the ground till a pressure of water rose upon itself and spilled over rocks. The pools filled and fell into the next: four in all, with the high two reserved for rinsing and the lower two intended for all the dirt and maligned feelings Nakada accumulated over the day.
Taiga invoked a spell, warming the fount, and then she occupied a bathing pool across from her sister. They could share a space, but Kanako made her pool unbearably hot. “Isn’t that bad for your skin?” but the spirit required indulgence and nourishment as much as the flesh; or so Kanako said. Priestesses could excuse any practice by saying spirituality this or spirituality that. She imported expensive soaps claiming to invoke some divine favor upon the skin, but it just looked like colored, scented soap.
Taiga washed herself, simply, effectively, quickly. When she set down her bar of soap, she noticed petals stuck to its surface, and then in her palm. Petals fluttered over the stakes on the wind, flapping about surface to surface and then tumbling into her bath waters, peppering the night blue surface with that pink that shined despite an aging, waning moon.
Perhaps the contrast deceived her, but Taiga saw the petals separately from the environment, as though they burned onto her image quite after her vision made sight. They glowed, every one of them, perhaps with the Ice Dragon’s inner light, his wisdom, or more likely just his magic. Taiga would more readily believe the scientific answer, but faith took over her eyes again and again, cruelly returning every blossom to the shrine’s courtyard, guiding her down the aisle so she could see Kanna waiting for her, and each time she hid within her own suffered mentality.
“Let me run away”, she said again and again to herself, trying to afford a victim’s reprieve, but she had shoved her problems onto Kanako for four years now. Taiga wanted to combat this challenge when it still cried for her breast, when Kanako had to shush and rock that baby of hers and Kanako had to try and play mother to a niece. When her resolve found enough threads to patch a bandage, Kanna would change. Kanna crawled after her, and then walked after her, and now the little girl waited for her. In a year’s time, Kanna would have the legs to run, and then she’d see that her mother didn’t just avoid her: she ran from her, and Kanako would have to pick up all the tears and limbs lying under the flowers.
Taiga had been a victim. Now she murdered her sister and daughter a little each day; with a poison much like mercury. She hated it. She didn’t know how to distinguish her passions from Kanna, but Taiga loved her sister. Even if Taiga exiled herself, gave up Kanna, Kanako would have to compete with her ghost and her memory.
“Taiga… Taiga”, and on the third call Kanako shook her trance. “I’m heading up”, she said, referencing the rinsing pools. Taiga followed and assumed a pool for herself: desiring to linger; but Kanako hurled a bucket of rinse water onto her head.
“That’s too hot you witch!”
“You seemed lost.”
“I was thinking!” and while Kanako verbally lauded the miracle, she crushed any ideas for healing slowly.
“And will your thoughts materialize action? Or will they become your next reason to wait another year?”
Taiga sunk into her waters, hoping to hide. Kanako sunk into her waters, hoping to drown.
“Taiga… I’m tired of babysitting your feelings. I can forgive some months, maybe a year remaining distant, but four years now. I don’t care if you’re still hurting. Move on.”
Taiga couldn’t answer. She felt like a wolf, trapped in a corner by a bear too big and too advantaged to possibly retaliate against. She snarled, wanted to snarl, if only to feel like her fate remained in her own control, but she had burned away her days, and now her final minutes whittled down to the moment she had avoided since birthing Kanna.
“Kanako… How do I move on? Every time I search myself, I find my wounds bleeding still. It’s so hard to separate Kanna from him.” Kanako paused, and if she required more than an instant to resolve mental matters, then Taiga had proposed a difficult circumstance indeed; not difficult in solution, but difficult because her little sister was such a terrible, limiting instrument. “What would you do?” Taiga asked, wondering, what Kanako could do if she could just rely on herself.
“I would raise Kanna; love her, even if it means breaking and committing suicide some time after Kanna takes over the shrine.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Choice; execution. Nothing more; nothing less. Though I can’t imagine myself suffering in such a parenthood. Even if he was the father of my daughter, she would have to commit her own offenses against me to consider abandoning her. I’d kill him on the spot if I saw him again; but I won’t neglect her, not for what he did.
If you have to: lie. Claim no relation between your daughter and him. It could work, but your unwillingness to cope, your desire to evade pain bound you to this predicament.”
Taiga just had to run through a sword. A simple task, if the sword were real and not metaphorical.
“Will you help me?”
“I’ve been helping all day. I’m going to give Kanna a bath, and send her to your room. Wait for her, don’t send her away, and don’t run away. You don’t have to love her. Just let her close.”
Taiga conceded and left the bath, dressed into a robe, then returned to her room. She half expected to find Kanna waiting for Kanako, but her sister had the foresight to make Kanna play elsewhere.
Taiga dressed into tomorrow’s kimono, lit a lamp, and waited till she heard her sister’s words ushering these little footsteps down the hall. When the door opened, Taiga allowed herself a glance at the little girl staring back at her anxiously, but only a glance.
If she stared into those eyes, and saw him, she might tear down the walls and a dozen cherry blossom trees too.
Through her peripherals, her ears, she tracked Kanna to the other futon: heard her daughter sit down. Taiga gave her sister that look asking what to do. Should she give greeting? Welcome? She had only instincts, and they told her to bristle. Covering herself in quills kept sane human interactions away: filtered those conversations not palpable to her sword. Kanako oft made fun of her barbed personality. “Hedgehog Ronin”, that sister liked to call her when speaking to others. Taiga only knew how to break things: how to solve those problems she could punch in the face.
Much like a hedgehog, Taiga had a soft underbelly, and she hated to expose it.
“Anyway, I’ll leave you two alone”, and Taiga shot that look to Kanako again. “You don’t have to do anything. Doing nothing might be best, knowing you”, and she excused herself.
Taiga took the advice to heart and tried going to straight to sleep with her back turned. She raised her quills, readied her combative demeanors, and suddenly deflated as eight hours cleaning caught up to her.
She was tired, she was hungry, and probably, all according to plan.
“Clever witch”, she thought, and a few more curses for her sister until she heard munching.
Taiga sat up and looked to her daughter, who wrestled with the tough, dried out sinew of a cow between her hands and her teeth. “Jerky?” she asked, and Kanna nodded. “Can I have some?” and Kanna nodded, though she was too preoccupied to offer one by hand. Taiga reached out like she was grabbing a stick out of a fire, and jumped back once she secured some food for herself.
She sheered her jerky with a single pull of her jaw, mangled and devoured it, then popped the remaining piece into her mouth. Kanna seemed quite awed by this feat, and tried to mimic, but she couldn’t tear the meat even using both hands and all her teeth. She was awfully weak and uncoordinated for a four-year-old.
“Um… here”, and Taiga reached into the bowl, a little less cautious than before, and tore chunks into strips into pieces. This just let Kanna pop the whole thing into her mouth, and she popped her jaw open and closed like a dog, chewing and chewing and wondering why this delicious meat wouldn’t dissolve.
Taiga kept grabbing pieces until she was sitting in arms reach and munching away like the miniature in front of her. They made eye contact: her daughter staring and chewing and looking up to her. Taiga chewed, stared down and wondered where all that rage she feared had gone. She saw only herself: that small stupid self that liked to sit in mother’s lap while eating and listening to adult conversations flying over her head.
Maybe she could carry on as normal and let Kanna close just as her sister had said. Complications would arise, but this wasn’t the guillotine she feared.
Taiga felt the heat of the spring as her body’s metabolism caught up with her food. She used her room’s hook to open the sky light; to just let a little of that cool tundra air inside; and a plume of blossom petals spilled over her.
She grimaced, annoyed. Kanna smiled, elated.
“Do you like flowers?” Taiga asked, and Kanna nodded.
“I hate them. I used to love them, even after I learned magic and realized each blossom budded, bloomed, and shed itself according to a timer. I invited someone to share that love with me, and he took a lot of precious things from me, and our family. I hate him. I think of him when I see cherry blossoms, and so I hate the flowers.”
Probably, she spoke too frankly for her daughter to understand, but all her subtext, her emotional connotations, her feelings had been soaked up, and Kanna looked at her with eyes filled with pity, sorry, and desire. “Hey, maybe with your help, I can love flowers again too”, and Kanna brimmed from lip corner to lip corner.
“Now it’s too cold”, she grumbled and she closed the sky light. “I’m going to sleep, eat what you like” and Kanna kept nom-nom-nomming while she lay down to sleep. She watched her daughter master the dog’s method of eating. She watched her daughter struggle with the folded blankets. She watched her daughter give up and crawl over to her.
Taiga wanted to protest as Kanna crawled into her futon and snuggled into her bosom, but her lips had no airs on which to speak. She kept mouthing things, trying to ward off all the silly pink blushes and exasperations on her face, but in the end, Taiga surrendered to cherry blossoms, snuffed out the lamp, and pulled her blankets over them both.
It was an awkward night. Taiga received a sneeze right into her clothes. She learned to put her arm around her daughter’s back, and when to take it away so Kanna could crawl over to the bowl and return with jerky in her mouth. She remembered how hungry she used to be as a kid: how vampires couldn’t keep their appetites away from meat and how she so loved to gnaw and chew and satisfy predation.
Taiga remembered how one day she told a man how happily she looked forward to a life spent with him, and with their children. She genuinely wanted Kanna that day, and she would learn to see Kanna, without seeing him.
The hungry mite eventually, finally settled down enough to start snoring, and Taiga closed her eyes for the last time.
Cherry blossom petals fell across the blackness, returning her faith to the aisle of trees. She saw a day when she returned home; refreshed to see home. There, on the patio, waited a girl of her likeness, who smiled, who jumped up and ran into her with a hug.
And Taiga would grin: all bright and cocky and happy; surrounded by the pink flowers she loved once again.
Critique of any kind of is welcome. Like something? Dislike something? Say so! Just be nice :).
Edit: Simplified the Title. If I expanded Taiga’s character into a novel, I would probably title it after one of her nicknames like Hedgehog Ronin or Tsundere Ronin or some like. “Under the Cherry Blossoms” I feel simply, and succinctly represents this short story.
Edit (4/10/2014): Did a revision. Nothing major. Cut a few words, rephrased like two sentences. Should read a little smoother at some parts.
Edit (9/25/2015): Another wave of edits: mostly just correcting where I used colons versus semi-colons. I also changed the name of Taiga’s daughter to Kanna.