Brown Brackish Water
She tossed the sheet and blanket back across the bed, swung her legs off the mattress, put her feet on the floor. Rain seemed to hammer at the roof, wind chimes sounding their dings and tings and thumps and knocks, the hum and whistle of gusts under the eaves. Sitting round shouldered on the edge of the mattress, hunched up, hands on knees, she closed her eyes against the dizziness, felt the sharp sudden pain from her thumb joint. She clasped her hands and massaged the round ball of her thumb.
Blowing a gale. And what's that for wind speed? Admiral fellow, did the chart for wind speed and sea state. A real frog strangler. Gully washer. "What time is it?" she said. The luminescent numbers of the clock on her nightstand were a blur. "Put your eyes on, old woman." Slippers. Robe.
Mori wearing her ragged old bamboo hat walking the woods in the rain. Soaked to the skin. Was she fifty? Just a child. Fairly old though for the 15th century. And blind. Off on her own. Returning to Shiomachi. Waiting for the tide. "How did she manage?"
Elizabeth sat listening to the rain and the chimes. Standing, she tottered on bare feet across the room to her desk. Lit a sandlewood pillar candle, short and squat. Lowered herself into her chair. Sighed. A block of cedar weighted the Mori manuscript. Her feet cold. Poor circulation to the extremities these days. So where are my ...
"I should read the end again. The style is off putting." A bad translation? Too literal Grace had said. The Japanese had a good deal more fluidity. "My Japanese is not quite up to snuff. Get a sense of what she means, though. Ah, well. "It is what it is." Mekura no Geisha no Monogatari. Tales of a Blind Geisha. Travel diary, more like. She shuffled paper, found her place, and read:
We met after the accident. The other singers and I were in the little temple on the hillside. We heard a loud crack, a thump and distinct groan. Ikkyu san had been raking the path down the hillside below the temple. The poor man was felled by a falling limb, and was badly bruised. Perhaps a bone in his back was cracked. We bathed him. One of the ladies applied her moxa treatment to his shoulder. He was all skin and bones. A small man, we carried him to his room on a shutter, the Abbot chattering like a frightened bird as he shuffled alongside.
When the other ladies left to return to Kyoto, I stayed on. He was not helpless, but more nearly hapless. He talked in his sleep. Mumbled. Was embarrassed by his nakedness in the bath. Better when he started writing again. The way he would squat down and peer closely at his stone as he mixed his ink. His brushes were rather worn. But how deftly he wielded them. Strong bold characters. His strength returned, his confidence. That square, stern face with a grin waiting behind a glare ...
We would travel to Kyoto soon, he said. If the soldiers would allow it. We would be companions apparently. A given in Ikkyu's mind. In two days, he said, the rain will stop. When the fog moves through the valley from the lake, we will follow the fog down the river. And so we did.
They had walked the road this morning, Bess and Grace, following the little creek through the swale of drifted sand to sit in a hollow in the lee of driftwood and flotsam, the detritus washed ashore by the ineluctable tides. Fog hung off-shore, not effected by the wind streaming around the distant headland. Gulls and terns looped the eddies, squawking.
"You read Micki's story then?" Elizabeth had asked. She wore a sunbleached, wide brimmed straw hat that tied loosely beneath her chin.
"I did. Fairly well written. Short, and the ending comes a bit abruptly, but good enough, all in all. Was it autobiography? Was she a photographer, too?"
Ebb tide. Elizabeth watched the efforts of the waves as they swirled up the beach. "Her mother was. Or pretended to be. She wasn't. I think it was merely subterfuge. She had a dance instructor who gave her the vapors. Him, I think."
The vapors, thought Grace, really? "But the nudity was her theme, wasn't it? Weston did many nudes."
"Yes. Ostensibly the nudity." Elizabeth raised her index finger and wagged it at Grace. "But there is abuse lurking behind it all, Grace. Mustn't miss that bit. And sex. Sex and violence. Always that."
Grace nodded her understanding. "And is sexuality inherent in the nudity or not?"
"That is the question. She was, or pretended to be, rather uninhibited."
"If a pretense, nudity is difficult to bring off. There is always a stiffness."
Elizabeth patted Grace's knee. "No pretense with you, child. You walk about here naked as a jaybird like it's your natural state. Quite lovely. Not the least bit awkward."
"All for show I'm afraid."
"And the story?"
"An attempt to reconcile the conflict? Or should we say 'conflicts'?"
They sat and watched pipers and killdeers play the loops of tide, feeding.
"Bernard says that when planing a piece of wood, the plane will jump and chatter when pushing against the grain. People are like that, he thinks. Probably most people."
Elizabeth smiled. "Bernar-d said that? Not just another pretty face then?"
"Sailor's face. Ruddy and weathered."
"And he weathered his storm, did he?"
Grace squinted against the sunlight looking out to sea. "They are still afloat, yes. A bit battered. There's a Coast Guard station near Eureka. Making for there."
Further up the beach, near the point, a group of children filed noisily onto the beach.
"I do hope he's all right," Elizabeth said, patting the young woman's arm.
The clutter of the studio made her uneasy. She wished to straighten and dust. The books and folders were all in disarray. Photographs. An old pizza box. He had forbidden her to touch anything. This wasn’t her place, he said. It was his. Leave things be.
He had pushed books and papers aside to open the slender volume of black and white photographs. Simple it was; yet elegant. Just as the photographs were. Dancers. All nudes, or mostly so. Not erotica. Curves and shadows.
“They don’t say anything,” she said.
“O cute. There’s no context here. Just pictures.”
“Photographs. Context all inclusive.”
“What? Like paintings?”
“Abstracts, smear of paint and an onion skin. That sort of thing?”
“They don’t say anything either. The nudes like the morgue on TV. They make me shiver.”
“Look at this one.”
They looked. The silence grew slowly palpable. She fidgeted at the buttons of her blouse. Her frazzled auburn hair framed a pale face, green eyes. An image of some too thin young girl surreptitiously picking at her wedged leotard made him smile. He shifted his weight away from her. His hands found the pockets of his coat.
“Is it erotic? Do you think? Men see things different,” she said.
She over bit her bottom lip and tilted her head towards him. Her hand touched his arm.
“She’s a little thin. Do I look like that? What do you think? Is she sexy?”
“Umm. If you want it to be.”
“That’s no answer.”
“Well, it’s not about sex. Not in the conventional sense.”
“Everything’s about sex. Or money. So nudes sell. Western makes money. That it?”
“It’s not about money.”
“I give up. So then what is it about?”
“Who’s on first.”
“Nope. He’s on second.”
“Who’s on second?”
“Nope. Who’s on first.”
“Well, who is?”
He was laughing then and shaking his head. She turned to face him, and slapped him open handed on the shoulder.
“Aren’t we the superior one.”
“Come on," he said, "let’s get started. You've got kinks in your number to work out."
She frowned and slumped.
He slapped her on the buttocks. "Move it Tumblelina."
She cursed. Closed her eyes and moved to the center of the room.
It was raining again, streams of water slithering through the window grime.
Elizabeth dozed at her desk with her head cradled on her folded arms. She had elbowed her glasses to the floor. On the bookshelf across the end wall, the flame of the scented candled flickered. The hard rain had passed and drizzle now eddied about the house with the wind lessening, becoming flukey, undecided. As her lower back tightened, the sharp sciatic pain would soon waken her. She slept on fitfully, dreaming of a flooded, mud covered town with listless souls wandering through abandoned buildings kneedeep in brown, brackish water.