Sunday, December 16, 2018


Four months ago I posted Chapter 11 of The Blind Geisha, the short novel that I was serializing on this web log. The last four chapters, the conclusion, obviously have not appeared. Conclusions are both difficult and important. Though I had the final chapters outlined with a few notes, I could not find the substance to add to this framework.

So I waited. That has always been an effective tactic for me. And, the words, or rather the ideas, began to arrive; and I had my conclusion. What follows is Chapter 12. The remaining three chapters will follow in subsequent weeks.



The Blind Geisha
III - 12

Stews

"What do you make of this?" Grace asked and pushed a thin sheaf of papers across the slatted, weathered table top to Elizabeth. She tapped her index finger on a poem that was rendered in both the original Japanese and its English translation. "Is this the archetypal Ikkyu? Was he reporting fact or spinning fantasy?"
Elizabeth smiled. "That is the question, now isn't it." She took up the pages, lowered her glasses from her forehead, and read.
"And the difference between eroticism and just sex?" Grace asked.
A shrug. "Perhaps it's simply explicitness. Pornography is initially erotic, but wears out its welcome rather quickly."
They had placed a small, rectangular cedar slat table in the middle of the back yard, and sat there now with their papers stacked and weighted with flat gray stones against a sea breeze that found the chinks in the surrounding hedges, the shrubs, the bushes and trees. The sun, now at summer height, flooded the backyard with warmth and light.
Elizabeth placed a hand on the sheaf of papers and, leading with her fingers, read slowly aloud:

Ten days in this temple and my mind is reeling.
Between my legs the red thread stretches and stretches.
If you come some other day and ask for me,
Better look in a fish stall, a sake shop, or a brothel.

"Your translation, isn't it?"
'"Yes, but leaning heavily on the work of Sonja Arntzen."
Elizabeth tapped her fingers on the weathered table top. "Bit bold, for an old man. Don't you think?"
"He wasn't shy," Grace said. "That's certain."
"He was in his seventies when he took up with Mori. She was forty something. Their vibrant sex life does seem a bit much."
Grace nodded. "Was he stretching a point, taking a bit of poetic license? Do you think?"
"Just how big was that fish?" Elizabeth leaned against the back of the chair, hands flat now on the wide wooden arms. "One can't know, of course, from this remove."
"Have you read Maya Angelou?" Grace asked. She slipped her sunglasses up onto her forehead. "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is what most people have read."
"Some," Elizabeth said. She came to the university when I was there."
Nodding, Grace said, "A quote from her goes: 'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.' She was talking about painful experiences, emotional trauma. But I think it works both ways. Enjoyable emotions will be long remembered, too."
"And celebrated, yes? In poems. Perhaps enhanced. Is that what are friend Ikkyu did? Is his reputation based on bits of fantasy?"
Grace eased herself to the front of the chair, stood. "Quite possible," she said. "Most likely."
Chipmunks darted around the cedar tree chirping stridently. Up they went, out a limb then both jumped nimbly to the fir tree, into the maple and away through the laurel hedge.
Laughing, Grace said, "Sex again."
"Mating, those two."
"Birds do it, bees do it ... ," and both women joined for the chorus of 'Let's Fall In Love'.
Laughing together, they gathered up their papers.
"It does raise a point," Grace said. "Take stews for example."
"Stews?"
"Yes ma'am. Stews."
"Stews," Elizabeth said.
"Wikipedia lists over 150 different 'stews' complete with a picture, description, and country of origin. Everything from your common Mulligan stew, to that delectable cowboy dish called sonofabitch stew. Whatever was on hand was thrown into the pot and then spiced up with bits of offal from a calf ... "
"Offal?"
"Entrails."
"Oh my.'
"My personal favorite, from some Chinese gourmand, is Buddha Jumps Over The Wall."
"Nothing from Japan?"
"There is. Something called Nikujaga. But I don't think this is anything Ikkyu and Mori would have eaten. Meat, potatoes, and onions in soy sauce. A little too 20th century. Post war even."
Elizabeth pushed herself up with a grunt. "And this somehow relates to ..."
"Sex," Grace said.
"Sex?" Elizabeth said, raising eyebrows.
"Ubiquitous and infinitely varied."
Arms entwined, the pair laughed again together and walked slowly to the kitchen door.
"I'll put the kettle on," Elizabeth said. She moved to the stove, shifted the pot to a back burner, then put a finger to her nose and turned to Grace. "Come to think," she said, "there's not much about food, now is there. Nothing in the poetry. Little in her travel journal."
"Rice and vegetables, millet maybe. Not particularly prose worthy."
Turning on the burner, Elizabeth centered the pot. "Always wondered how people could get pudgy being so poor."

The three salesmen scooped handfuls of steaming rice from the pot and wadded them into balls, juggling them from palm to palm. A flat table-sized stone marked this stopping place along the trail through the lowering wooded hills. Just beyond, a fork in the path took travelers down to Kyoto, smoldering in the distant flats, or left along the ridge crest towards the distant sea.

"Help yourself," the chubby cheeked one said to Mori. "Dig in." She sat off by herself mending the hem of her kimono. "You not going with us anymore then?" The skinny fellow asked. He was from the north, his accent clipped and coarse. "Bandits in these hills," the third salesman said. "All those samurai out of work with their lords and masters dead." The trio laughed and winked at one another. "They doing terrible tricks on women, the bandits," added chubby cheeks. And the men laughed louder and elbowed one another. "Safer to go with us."

Mori looked up from her work. Smiled. Needle and thread went back in her bundle. She stood and fixed her straw hat on her head. "As the priests say," she said, "All worldly pursuits have but one unavoidable and inevitable end, and that is suffering. Bandits are to be expected." She gave a nod and turned away from the men. She would follow the narrow track through the trees, seeing the deeper shadows to either side, the pale grays deepening to black, smelling the sweet, flowery scent of the cryptomerias, the gentle rustle of a breeze through the trees.

Behind her, the silence of the men burst into laughter.

The sun now low, just above the horizon, gulls turning, looping on the sea breeze. Elizabeth stood in the middle of the yard listening to the heave of swell meeting shore. She wrapped her sweater tighter around her and folded her arms across her chest. Wood smoke, rather ... what was the word? Acerbic? A bit biting in the nostrils. What could that fellow be burning up on his hillside? Clearing a place for his fancy new house. A blight, no doubt. Grace was dismayed to see all the trees cleared. She had made their rice with spicy broccoli and a bit a red sweet pepper. Tomorrow she would be gone. Her man was in Eureka, the worse for wear apparently, and she was going down to lick his wounds.
Elizabeth frowned.
"Well, that phrase sounds wrong, now doesn't it," she said. After a defeat, one might lick one's ... sounds a bit salacious the way I ... Doesn't know how long she'll be gone. Not too long. "Men," she said. Little boys with their toys.
A pall of smoke swirled off the hillside then eddied across the highway caught in the southerly sea breeze.



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