Paper Days

 

After spending a frustrating week trying to put the ending onto this story, I’m finally done!

Paper Days is a little over 4,000 words, so about a 7 to 10 minute read.  It follows up on Under the Cherry Blossoms, which I updated with some punctuation improvements.  I also changed the name of Taiga’s daughter to Kanna.

Reading Under the Cherry Blossoms isn’t necessary to read Paper Days, or at least, that’s how I intended it.


Paper Days

                A boy ran through Taiga’s cherry blossoms, holding a newspaper in his hand and dozens more on his back, ready to hurl at a person and their home: indiscriminate of care.  “I’ll take it here”, she said, waving, and he planted his foot where grandeur delusion saw his arc rise gently with the petals in the wind and fall into her lap.  Instead she lunged from her seat along the patio edge and covered half their distance in a second’s split -ten meters in all- and caught the paper along with his heart.

                Taiga walked up to the kid and asked for her other newspaper.  He stared at her: all blushes and awe, and so she bopped him on the head with her rolled up prints.  “I want the Japanese and the English one…” and he fumbled and said “oh”, or some like before handing it to her along with a note.

                “Miss Daisy said to give this to the first person who asked for both papers.”  The notice claimed a month’s worth of neglected pay for the news service.

                “Are you married?”

                “Hah?” and she spared no feelings for his cherried cheeks, “I’m twice your age and I have a four year old daughter.  Get a clue.”

                The boy sniffled and threatened to flood her conscience with her wordly insensitivity, so she treated him to a silver coin from her purse.  “Uh, I’m sure you’ll find yourself a nice girlfriend when you grow up… so, cheers!  Smile!” and by simply patting his shoulder with a happy notion, she sent him off under the mistaken impression they were betrothed, no matter how she denied it.

                Stupid kids and their stupid logics filtered phonetics to mince meaning down to the pretty favors they wished to hear.  Taiga could yell at him, because kids could not fool themselves of emotions, but either way she’d hear from his mother.

                Her own beloved Kanna opened the door -that front door in need of some slick-, walked it down the crevice in the floor: pushing that heavy boon till she tucked it into the wall, and then waited on Taiga for a response.  Somewhere in the shine of those ruby irises, a sparkling hope would tell all to Taiga: decipher that way of thought she used to know before the politics of life swept away childish comprehension; but until she saw it, she had to rely on a guesswork of words.

                “Mama!”

                “Yes?”

                “Look!”

                “Where?”

                “Here!”

                “Where?”

                “There!”

                “Okay, what?”

                Kanna led Taiga around by the lips, dancing around her desires till she walked with her head bowed.  “What did I even do?” Taiga wondered, and how would she lift her daughter’s spirits?

                She stared at the notice, and fetched her daughter out of their room.

                “Want to go to town with me?”

                Kanna forgot whatever grievance upset her so and followed her mother out of their family shrine, hanging off Taiga’s hand mouthing out “Yay!” without the sound.

                They had never gone out together: never ventured beyond the courtyard of cherry blossoms without losing one or the other for her sister.  Kanako could translate the gibber garble of child speak and make legible intents from it; could share a consummate relationship, with two smiles, facing one another.

                Alone with her, Taiga dreaded the little ball of chaos rolling every activity spied into her hopes and dreams.

                A good citizen swept beyond his home, and Kanna asked for a broom to help clean the stone tile road.  “We have brooms at home.”  Two boys kicked a ball, and she wanted straight away to be their third player or to mimic with her mother.  “We can play when we get back.”  She spied hues not cherry blossom pink or cherry blossom brown: the orange of a dyed banner, the burgundy paints on a persons’ home, bright reds and purple blooming by roadside gardens: colors that she wanted to add to her rainbow.  “You want a brush, paint, and rain?”

                Further down the road, homes packed closer together, sharing communal resources like fencing, low walls, and plumbing; but before the sudden urbanization, a few poor homes scattered near or within far sight of the road, relying on longer walks to town, on wells and buckets to fill their basins.

                One of these residents, Yui Kanade, hauled several gallons in each hand while allowing her twinned terrors, Taka and Taki, to assist her effort.  Just the sight of those brats invoked reverberations of their infantile cacophony, but they did not kick or scream or troll the sane.  They devoted themselves to the task of handling those giant buckets: buckets they could not possibly move, but they pushed with their hands, pedaled their little feet along, and focused their eyes toward a victory they believed in.

                The feeble strength of a barely able child merely contributed to the unstable kicks that bumped sips of water over the lip, but Taiga sensed something more in the action: a feeling treasured that she wished would grace visible spectrums for her sake.

                Miss Kanade smiled to her, and so Taiga waved back and tried not to stare, but a few slow steps and no turn of head hardly convinced her daughter, who joined audience.  Her neighbor did not seem to mind, and after disappearing into the door of her humble home, she emerged once again to say hello properly, though she tacked on an annoying address for Taiga’s higher status.

                Taiga did as she always did: with her hands hidden in each other’s sleeves, a slight tilt of head and the faintest attempt at smiling that never showed through her stoicism.  She said, “Hello”, and then waited for the other party to attempt picking up the line, though the small and cheery Yui had never feared Taiga’s quills.

                “How are you?”

                “Fine.  You?”

                “Good!  Just pulling up some water while the well’s deep…  With so much rain lately, I thought I’d enjoy a luxury bath…” and she snickered like she was telling a naughty secret.  Taiga did not comment on the guilty pleasures of the poor, but asked if her children always helped.

                “Not usually, but recently they like to help around the house, so I let them do what they can.”

                “Does it do something for them?”

                “Mm…  Nothing material, I suppose…  It’s just us three, so we have to work together.  I can’t selfishly take on all the work.”

                Yui spoke opposite from Taiga’s common knowledge, though Taiga had only traded the briefest conversations with persons of similar wealth; or overheard conversations that mother and her friends had shared.

                “Do you have a husband?”

                “He died before Taka and Taki were born.  What about you?”

                Taiga declined the question; answering all the same.

                Yui smiled to her, for her; hugging her in sympathies.

                “If you need help, advice, or a friend; I’m always here”, but Taiga could not imagine herself burdening Yui with her woes.  She had fair wealth and a wise sister to rely upon.  Yui couldn’t even keep her children home while scrubbing floors at The Crossroads.

                “I’ll keep your offer in mind”, and with a wave she continued along with Kanna in tow.

                The Town of Iwata offered every stimulus Kanna could hope for: bewitching mysteries showcased behind glass and framed by the floral aesthesia she adored.  Door after door promised bewilderment for her childish mind to explore, to wonder, and to play.

                To Taiga these were familiarities.  Kyoko sold Taiga the gray and blue kimonos she wore, and next door, old mage Bob would enchant them to provide icy comforts against the summer sun.  When she wanted cast iron pans or a new throwing knife, she loyally chose to walk through Hokuto’s shop entrance; for his father forged her sword, and he carved and polished the wooden sheath on her left side.

                From time to time, a new name would sprout and stick, and Taiga enjoyed the exhilaration of exploring a new mechanism like the camera, or Daisy’s printing press contraption; but every new discovery branched off a science she understood, and she rarely enjoyed the thrill of pure ignorance or the subsequent satisfaction of solving impossibility.

                Everything though was impossible to Kanna, and she continually charged toward the latest perplexing phenomenon to flirt with her desire; as if forgetting the parental hand that leashed her movements.  If her feet were a till, she’d have plowed a trail of rings around Mother’s path.

                “Kanna… would you calm down?”

                “~Yes~” she said; and for a time she calmed down, but Kanna began tugging once more and running against her mother’s grasp.  “Mama!  Look!  Look!” and Taiga glanced toward a window filled by carved wooden animals and jewelry too dazzling to be true, and placed amongst a collage of foreign-purchased exoticisms.  No theme connected these items except for flash and uselessness: the kind of stock dependent on material justification.

                “You don’t need that junk”, said Taiga.

                She pulled her daughter along, but Kanna did not find a new muse to ogle.  Taiga felt her wrist pulled further and further behind her, until Kanna planted both feet and stubbornly leaned back.

                “What are you doing?  Come on!” and a simple tug proved her superior power, but Kanna refused to give in.  She kept yelling “Mama!” and Mama just pulled her along.

                Taiga tried not to let the nuisance get the better of her temper, but her daughter inflicted an unbelievable stress upon her wrist.  She could split plated armor under her katana’s arc or haul a forest’s share of logwood in a day, but with every tug against her body Kanna proved more agile and leveraging than Taiga’s passive attention.

                If Taiga gripped tight, Kanna would settle down enough to let those fingers relax and then bolt forward.  Taiga yanked her back, but Kanna predicted the gesture and she’d stumble backwards; turning her mother’s corrective maneuver into overcompensation.  She kept leaning one way or another; throwing her weight such that the force had to be supported in Taiga’s forearm, in Taiga’s patience.

                “BE STILL!

                All her frustrations condensed in her eyes, into her habitual glare, and Kanna just had to look up at the moment of Taiga’s weakness.  Frustration spun her to directionless anger, but Kanna gave it a home; and Taiga hated herself for shadowing her daughter’s luster.

                Silence bore their footing through the last road.  Kanna controlled step and sound to mute her presence, but Taiga didn’t know how to tread fear except by stepping on the trigger plate.  She tried to keep her quills soft and wished upon her daughter’s ephemeral memory, but she felt no vitality in those fingers as she stepped into Daisy’s print shop.

                “Kanna, can you sit over there?” and she obeyed with eyes hiding within the wonders of the floor.

                Across the shop, Daisy strode out from behind her counter full of books; wearing scorn as surely as her knee-cropped dresses.  Her female compatriots oft scolded her fashion, and men fantasized about the mind behind those curly blondes, but always within closed rooms: where whispers would not provoke her talents for cursing and hurling books.

                Taiga tended to like such persons, but the challenges from glare to glare usually fired up a fight.  When Daisy saw no will to spat, she looked to the girl: the girl suddenly a part of Taiga’s world.

                “Well she looks miserable.”

                “Shut up.  What do I owe?”

                “Silver per paper”, and Taiga resolved the bill by flipping a nice round coin of solid gold into Daisy’s grasp.  Daisy bit it, verified the solidarity of its substance, and tossed it over her shoulder.

                “So, who’s the girl?”

                “You care?”

                “She’s cute!  Unlike you…” and the familial connection invoked a double-take.

                “Who would do that with you?”

                “A con man.”

                “Oh…  My condolences…” she said, and she bowed briefly: the first shred of apologetic decency Taiga had ever witnessed from the blonde badger.  Taiga theorized more dimensions to Daisy than was shown to her: aspects lying quiet beneath that violent individualism and waiting for the right lure to emerge.

                Weed and Woe met eyes; and that Daisy ran-skipped over to Kanna: drunk with cheer and full of words for the little girl despite being warned that the tyke didn’t speak English yet.

                She plopped down and started gibbering off to Kanna: talking about dragons, wizards, and talking muffins she knew from her bed-mast bookshelf as a child.  Daisy animated her head and hands to the whim of her voice.  She must have made some funny faces too, for she had Kanna giggling right away.  Daisy took control over the girl’s breathing and excited it til Kanna had to bounce on her bottom and kick away her excess energy.

                “Hey!  Hey!  Would you hold onto my picture books for me?” and by putting palms and outstretched fingers together into a prayer-like gesture, then pointing a finger to Kanna,  she seemed to understand some reward for herself and nodded.

                Taiga’s ego stood agape as Daisy got up and passed her by.  She tried to say something; anything to discredit Daisy, but the badger had her tail this day.

                “Only you and I read the words.”

                Daisy left.  Taiga stared at Kanna, who reflected the gaze and tempered down.

                And down…

                Taiga grabbed a book and a seat and faced away from Kanna: figuring if she couldn’t evoke happiness, then she could at least stay out of the way.

                Daisy returned with three books too big for children’s arms and too big for adult words.  Taiga peered over her shoulder and watched Daisy point through some of the pictures she had colored in with a brush as a child.  “You can ask your mother to buy you some colors!” she said, loudly, and Taiga followed the hint.

                “Kanna, would you like to buy a brush and paint!?”  Taiga hoped the attention would elicit the same manic joy she had witnessed earlier, but Kanna just nodded; smiled even.

                Daisy gave Taiga a shoulder satchel that had been nicked and patched over.  She put the books in and told Taiga to give the satchel to Kanna when she grew big enough to wear it.  “When Kanna wants new books, bring her by again.  I have lots of books I can give her.”

                “That’s generous, for you.”

                “Painting children my color: alluring them to books over swords… I’m hardly being selfless.”

                Daisy saw them off; saw off Kanna at least.  Taiga walked down the street with her daughter in hand, who smiled toward the Daisy and memory.  When their eyes met, Taiga smiled as best she could, but Kanna chose to admire the pebble stone road.  Kanna saw right through to her real face: her perpetual stoicism dyed with a bit of scorn.

                Why then couldn’t she see the struggling parent that desperately wanted to repair their history?

                Or perhaps she could, and Kana simply failed to interpret this grown-up sentiment.

                Daisy loved books and that love didn’t require language to communicate.  Taiga thought about her own loves; about what could put a genuine smile upon her own form.  A fight with an audacious thug would be convenient, but she wondered if violent heroism would really soften her daughter’s guard.

                There was little a mercenary could offer to a daughter in good faith.  Self-defense; but only after Kanna had grown enough to understand physical acuity.

                Taiga went to the crafts store and paid a little extra to have Kanna’s paint and brush sets sent to their home.  “Want to look around?” and though Kanna kept glancing at pottery and fountain pens, she shook her head.

                “Want to eat?”

                Taiga led Kanna into the deep town where restaurants shamelessly aired their salt and sauce to the tourist population.  Stores and stands stood border to border and lined the road to either side with more hot meals than the local populace could consume, but any person passing between Alendria and Chowa had to come through here, and those one-day residents numbered enough for Taiga to sweep Kanna off her feet.

                “Let’s look around”, she said, and she poked her head through curtains til an old man was audacious enough to beckon her inside.  “Come!  Come!  Sit!” he said; sit on the only two seats left in the house.  The tables were mobbed, and Taiga and Kanna filled out the end of the bar as the old guy took their order, rejected it, and told them what they really wanted.

                “Grilled kabobs; you’ll love it.”

                “Yeah… sounds… good…” she mumbled.  Kanna seemed to like his energy, and as long as she was smiling, Taiga would settle for whatever.  She didn’t feel like fighting the chaos.  She was tired of fighting and always losing.

                Chatter filled the background and blended unto silence.  Taiga felt the world surpass her as a homogony of vigor and decisiveness bustled around her.  Everyone seemed at purpose; full of intention.

                There were people at her back; some distance to her back at a table.  It was fine, except she hated to sit where eyes could watch her without being matched.  She didn’t like giving up the end seat, but she didn’t want some stranger by her daughter’s side.

                Taiga wanted to bristle.  Anger had been her savior through four years as she smashed doors, broke bones, and threw half-dead ingrates before magistrates.  She was supposed to let it go when she claimed Kanna.  These past four months should have bathed in blossom-blinded-bliss, but Kanna would run up to her and spout kiddy things that did not match the logic of the world.  Experience was supposed to refine her reactions into choices, but her parental mind never sharpened beyond a blunt instrument.  She could analyze along standard thought lines, but Kanna had no desires for power, money, and sex; just toys, dolls, and Mother, and “Mother” was a difficult thing for her to provide.

                One wrong glare, cross twitch on the cheek, or heavy step could send Kanna reeling into rejection and revive the days when Taiga refused their bond.  All the parental mistakes she should have been allotted had been used up by her four years of rage.  Her frustrations with her herself, her anger toward her unfair circumstance could not be broached by their tentative tether.

                But without anger her blood cooled, and her voids welled up in her eye.  She shadowed her budding tears with her hands and used her arms to bury her visage and truth:

                “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

                A little tug on her sleeve showed her eyes just as wet as her own.  “Idiot, why are you crying?” and she wiped her daughter’s face up with a cloth.  Did all children sponge emotions so easily?

                Six kabobs came along, and a Taiga stuck half a stick of mushrooms and peppers into her mouth and pulled it right off.  “Yeah, don’t do that”, she said with a mouthful, and she slid the rest of the stick onto the plate for Kanna to pluck with fingers and chopsticks.  She did the same with the chicken and okra skewers and used chopsticks herself from time to time, but mostly to put peppers into Kanna’s mouth.

                “These are really sweet.  See?  Yum!”

                When Kanna ate her vegetables, she was rewarded with the skewer full of slow roasted pork.  Taiga merely licked the blueberry sauce off of her finger and she could feel her fangs.  Kanako could only open her veins once every week; and red meat satisfied vampirism in ways that fish and kinder meats could not.

                Taiga could have claimed the spare, but she gave Kanna both the pork skewers and buried her laughter as her daughter attacked like a dog.  “You’re supposed to pull it off with your teeth; not gnaw on it sideways”, but it was fine.  Taiga got to clean up her daughter’s face and dirty kimono; and for once she felt like she was doing something right.

                She paid, she left, and she held her daughter’s hand.  Taiga and Kanna smiled to each other, and she thought her ordeal complete.

                But when she asked Kanna what she originally wanted, her girl clammed up.  Taiga knelt down, and she couldn’t make eye contact.

                “Hey, you can tell me.  I won’t yell this time.”

                Somewhere in that little head, Kanna kept a history of her laughter and tears, and it did not keep records in moments and times: it shaped her river of thought; and she erected dams: the same dams Taiga built into her own thought processes: the same masks and lies of calm that censored herself from the real world.

                Taiga wanted to say “Don’t be like me”, but to ask for feelings one-way was to offer blood for tears: stoicism for vibrancy.  Her habits would just end up reflected by her daughter if she continued to hide her cut-up heart.

                Taiga had seen so many smiles this day, and she let them bind her to new memories.  Yui offered guidance to someone much richer than herself, to someone less worthwhile than herself.  That Daisy could actually bloom; who would’ve guessed?  And little Kanna hustled toward the unknown; cried for the beleaguered.  She had already surpassed her mother, and this mother wanted to learn from her.

                Taiga lived in such a wonderful world, and she finally let that happiness dictate her expressions to silly contortions and an uncontrolled grin.

                She blushed darker than pig meat as she sold her pride in public space: pride in a reputation for violent psychology; but she didn’t care anymore.

                Taiga heaved Kanna up onto her shoulders and her daughter by the legs.  “I want to show you my world”, and she took off running to the shops she used to fawn over in her youth: stitch art and dolls, colorful pottery, and those frilly western dresses.  Store keepers and customers she passed by would cast lingering stares at her: as if questioning this rendition of Taiga.  She couldn’t hide her heat, but it was a happy heat, and it melted down the stigmas she imprinted onto Kanna, and the girl started pointing and yelling at everything weird and wacky.

                Taiga answered where she could, but often she joined Kanna as an equal in ignorance, and she found in herself an old intrepid spirit that used to ask questions and questions and questions until she earned a fed-up glare for not buying anything.

                She thought about how wealth enabled her to so easily supply her daughter’s interests, and she let Kanna pick out some gifts for Yui’s children.

                Taiga brought Kanna back to the store that had so allured her daughter.  She still saw trinkets collected over the droppings of someone’s travels, but she kept that wisdom to herself as she looked to the display and asked her daughter, “Hey, is there something interesting here?”

                Stutters, half-words, something that sounded like ‘egg’…

                “Kanna; I love you”, and like a spell her daughter’s blood fluttered up and up through cherried cheek and flourished eyes.  It was, she realized, the first time she said those words to her daughter; to anyone in years; and she made a silent promise to say something to the sister that had shouldered her burdens all these years.

                “I want the egg.  I want to raise the egg!”

                “Egg?”

                Sure enough, a speckled brown egg sat on a tan pillow with pastel shades of wood in the floor and shelves behind it.  Shoddy curating if she ever saw it; and the owner proved as hackneyed as she anticipated, but she accepted a gouging price for her daughter’s sake.  It was, at least, a huge egg that barely fit into Kanna’s outstretched arms; but she carried it anyway.

                As they headed for the Kanade residence, Kanna asked, “Mama, what kind of egg is this?” and Taiga wondered herself.  “Probably… a drakkid egg?”  And she certainly wished for a drakkid.  Those giant lizards cost more than the slate of gold she paid, though she warned her daughter that the egg may have already expired.

                “It might never hatch…” she said, but that didn’t really matter, “If it’s you… maybe she’ll learn to come out of her shell.”

                Kanna was warm after all: warmer than sunbeams and winter wool; and Taiga would learn to share her own heat.

                She lived under the sun, and she bloomed alongside all the rest.

End


Feedback is always welcome: like something?  Dislike something?  Say so!  Just be polite, or at least professional.

I’m particularly interested in temperament and tempo.  The emotional scale feels a little off, but maybe it’s just me nitpicking.

Also, in regards to this story line…

While I have several more short stories plotted out for Taiga, I’m hesitant to continue her set of stories.

I meant for her story to run alongside my Japanese studies; except I dropped out of Western Carolina University for reasons.  I don’t regret dropping out: I had nothing more to learn that would be useful to my desired future, with the exception of Japanese.  I didn’t get very far: one semester, one very full notebook and a folder of self-recorded pod casts; but I enjoyed the class quite a bit.  The equal emphasis on each syllable renders the speech very melodic to my ears, and I loved simulating basic conversations like a cashier to customer.  I can’t say I enjoyed the writing aspect (Kanji >_>), but I loved the speech.

That said, operating a bilingual town from the language I was supposed to learn, but didn’t, is making me uncomfortable.  I guess it’s not really that important, since the central mechanic to Taiga’s stories is just plain humanity, but it’s still uncomfortable.

I’m planning a novel that will feature the same split, but I’ll be working from the English side of things.  Much easier.

In the mean-time, I’m probably going to focus on more Vanessa/Seresa/Saylene short stories while I research late 1800s/early 1900s America, England, Japan, China, and just eastern Asia in general post-westernization.  Hopefully I’ll have all the information I need by the time NaNoWriMo rolls around, as I’d like to try NaNoWriMo and writing a novel.

Thanks for reading!

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Under the Cherry Blossoms

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?”

            “…by hand…”

            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.

End


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.