"To deconstruct a tragedy," the Fox Spirit said.
"How?" The angel asked.
"Use the bluntest knives."
"Wouldn't that be hard? Like cutting stone with this." The angel held a snow feather in one hand.
The Fox Spirit shook its head. "To deconstruct a tragedy," it said, "you do not cut with the knife."
"I don't understand."
"The cuts are already there," the Fox Spirit replied, "and all that is left to do is to ease apart the tissue, tease apart the veins, break apart the bones. To deconstruct a tragedy, you take apart the soul."
It had always been there. Simple as the sky. It was the first thing she saw in the morning. The last thing she thought of as her mind drifted off to sleep at night. It had been there for so long, it was weaved into the very fabric of her being. Like blood in her veins.
Persistently random. It would hit her suddenly while she was making embroidery in the privacy of her room. Strike her while pouring tea for her husband.
Her fingers would tremble and he’d ask if she was all right. Without speaking she would tell him she was fine. Lowered lashes. Curved lips. And he would be satisfied and go on talking with the other men in the room.
Rising from her kneeling position, she’d move towards the corner. Out of the way. Head bowed. And she’d feel his constant eyes on her.
It had always been there. Like inks of poetry coiling on the scroll across the hall. Its edges yellowed and aged and beautiful. Fragile paper crumbling under the impassioned deathcry of the soul. She would slice through it with the untutored brush strokes of a child. Her coldness was her mask. Her shield. She was callous because.
It shouldn’t be there. But his constant eyes told her otherwise.
The color of mud, she fantasized with not a little malice as she stabbed her needle through the cloth with more force than necessary. The taste of blood on her fingertip. And pain.
“I waited for you,” he said to her when they found themselves alone in the hallway one morning. Where have the servants gone to? “I waited for you,” he said again. “Why did you not come?"
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, trying to brush past him. His hand enveloped her arm. “What are you doing?” She asked, alarmed. Frantic eyes.
There was no one else in the hallway. Where have the servants gone to?
The hand did not leave her arm.
“What are you doing?” She asked again. This time a little firmer. Anger colored her voice. But when she raised her eyes to meet his gaze...
“You made me wait for you,” he said. Gently. Gently. His hand touched the air beside her cheek.
A crack appeared in her mask. But before the floodgates opened, a servant appeared. And curtained eyes.
The servant walked past them -- they did not breathe. As still as an oak tree in a storm. Only when the stooped figure rounded a corner, she made her escape. He did not try to stop her, but his constant eyes haunted her that night.
“Are you feeling all right?” Her husband asked her the next morning, noticing something amiss.
Without speaking a word, she told him she was fine. Lowered lashes. Curved lips. She poured him tea and he nodded his satisfaction but now his constant eyes followed her out of the room.
He haunted her softly. In the strings of the shamisen. The soft, melodic sound of temple gongs. He returned to her in her husband’s broad-shouldered back. A certain angle of his jaw. Those dark eyes. Shining like the sun through green foliage. He haunted her so softly sometimes she was not even aware. But it was there constantly, like her husband’s watchful eyes.
She was frantic for news of the war. She would sit in the morning room as servants came in and out, serving breakfast. Sometimes the runner would come but her husband only gave her the barest of details. She would have to read through his different expressions to understand the rest.
A frown meant a burned village. A hundred horsemen and twenty archers lost to the river of blood. That bright glint in his eyes meant victory. A proud lord properly humbled. Carriages from the front bearing gifts.
And then the news spread like fire: The campaign was successful. The Emperor’s army was coming home.
There was great rejoicing. The people donned their glowing mask of sake and laughter. A banquet to celebrate the event. Heart burning with joy.
And then the ground she walked on suddenly caved in:
He had taken a wife. (Blood on her fingertips. Salt on her lips.) A youngling. Huge blue eyes that did not seem to blink. A rose. A lethal rose. Dressed in a blue robe of fire. His hand held her arm. Gently, gently like she was fragile china. (Fragile like the deathcry of soul.)
“Wherever did you find her?” Her husband asked jovially, gazing in marvel at the youthful, loathsome form.
He just grinned and looked down gently, gently at his little wife. “Your Majesty, may I present to you my wife....”
The world became dark. And screaming.
Her husband was looking at her with concern as she blossomed under the glow of sake. Giving him a defiant smirk, she allowed herself another bowl and drank.
“Are you all right?” Her husband asked her. Then, leaning closer to her, he warned, “I believe you’ve drank quite enough.”
“Yes, I quite think so,” she murmured. Her tone was apologetic but her eyes were fierce.
Her husband nodded, keeping his gaze on her. “Do you wish to retire for the evening?” He said, the warning still there.
“Yes, if you will excuse me,” she said.
He nodded again and looked at her no more.
With a graceful bow, she rose to her feet. Paused. Screeching shattered glass broken frozen die. A servant held her hand to steady her and helped her out of the room.
None but one noticed her absence.
He was waiting for her at the engawa. His constant eyes freezing her dead. Then gently, gently he came to her. His robe melting with the wind. When he stepped close enough to invade her personal space. Close enough to smell. Close enough to touch, and close enough to hurt....
The sound of her palm hitting his face was drowned by the noise of the night’s revelry.
They did not speak. There was nothing to say. The words died before they even reached their deadened tongues. There was only frozen pain. Simple and constant. Like the mechanical “po” sound of the shishi-doshi. And after he left, she stepped down the engawa to feel soil under her feet and rain on her face.
It breaks -- the soul. No one told her.
No one needed to know.
So she donned her glowing armor of sake and laughter. Night after terrible night. And underneath her mask of clay she continued to shatter while his eyes drifted. Gently. Gently. His hand touching the air beside his wife’s growing womb.
Her husband had left. Some war. How long had it been? Months? Years? The days flew with the leaves of autumn. She had forgotten. She fancied she had forgotten everything but the taste of blood and sake on her lips.
The young wife and her fine son. He already had his eyes. She could not bear to see them. She would have them hanged, buried, stabbed, murdered like animals in the dead of the night. How dare she speak to her? How dare she smile? Like they were friends and there was no poison in her words. Those lethal blue eyes of hers shining while she pierced and bled her with hidden knives.
“He says that His Majesty’s forces are about to overcome the enemy by the riverbend. It should not be long now. Another victory. Please forgive me, but I should be happy if they were only to return safe,” the woman spoke. Her voice was soft, unfettered like the wind.
Smile. Don’t let her see your eyes. She’d poke them out if she had the chance.
– she would do the same.
The servants came with tea. Ah, the punishment. One sip for every sin. How strange. How very strange and silent hatred was.
It was a month later when the Emperor came. Still a month more when he returned. The halls were sick with longing. Then one night in sinful dark: Shadowed clasped frozen stolen whispers...hands. And curtained eyes.
She took to wretching in the morning. In the wee hours when she thought her husband was asleep. At once, the court physicians were summoned and told her the good news. But instead of the expected joy, her mask crumpled to dust. The curtained eyes revealed themselves. And her husband immediately understood. (Or had he known all along? Hid his cruel twisted knife?)
He was brought to her bleeding gasping crying silent tears of shame. Eye huge and stark. His lips were blood. His shattered flesh.
What have you done with him? What have you done with him? What have you done with him? My heart my soul.
But the judgment was unforgiving: Seppuku. He was son of samurai and a noble man. His father assisted him, eyes cast down in shame. And it was said that the last word spoken by him was her name, his shame.
She shed no tears. Mutely screaming silent breaking bloodstain on her lips.
"You are a fool!" Her husband said to her in a quiet tone. His eyes are fire, but she saw this not. Head bowed. Lowered lashes. Mute and silent. What words to say? Words were empty. Empty words that lashed and struck and bled you dry. It meant her life, but she knew that. (What does it mean..."to live?")
In the dead of night. When the palace was sleeping its sleep of death and the night cloaked them in sinful dark. When all that one wanted was to know how it was "to fade" --
The coldness of the blade.
So it had always been there. He just did not know. It had always been there like the ceiling of his room. It was the last thing he saw when he slept at night and the first thing that greeted him when he opened his eyes to morning.
She was so beautiful. So beautiful his heart stopped beating the moment he saw her. But she was not his. She was never his. His hands were bound. Sealed buried frozen dirt and gold.
How many times can the heart break? In how many ways? She only had to smile and his heart would break yet again.
“Have you seen a woman more beautiful?” He had whispered conspiratorially to his favorite general. Wondering if the shattering sound could be heard in the ding. It meant his honor, his life, but for a single moment –
To drown in her perfume, the texture of her eyes. To touch, to breathe the air next to that mouth. To cure poison with poison. Again. (Again!) But she left him to bleed. Lowered her lashes. Curved her lips. Spoke not a word.
Who knew a broken heart could still break. There must be a thousand pieces now. Like tiny specks of dust. How strange. How odd and silent. Like his bound hands and the swift, swing of the blade.
The judgment was final: Bloodstain on her throat.
She, too, was daughter of samurai.