God and Geta
by Fushigi Kismet
She pulled off one and then the other wooden geta, balancing them on the railing of the bridge and watching dispassionately as they tumbled and fell into the dark mud-clogged water below.
She couldn't see when they hit the surface or whether they sank or the river carried them away. It was past midnight and too cloudy for stars, the moon was a sliver of silver in the sky.
"What do you think you're doing throwing rubbish in my waters?" a clear voice called out angrily to the left of her. She turned, wide-eyed, to see a small figure holding out two geta to her. They were wet and dripping. She recognized the strap she had broken and mended twice. They were, without a doubt, the shoes she had just sent plunging to their unfortunate fates.
"Well," he said calmly, "speak up."
She reached out a hand to the shoes but her fingers curled and drew back and her eyes swept from the sodden pieces of cheap wood to the one holding them. He was dressed in simple but fine clothing and in direct contrast to her shoes seemed perfectly dry. She could not make out his features save for his eyes which were large and dark and angry. He seemed quite young, six or seven, perhaps. But his words were firm with authority and she could only wonder why the lord would allow one of his young sons to go out unattended at such a late hour.
"My lord," she said carefully, bowing to him as best she could in the too-tight kimono, "I should not have left them long. I meant to join them shortly."
"Worse and worse," he said, bending and placing the shoes on the bridge. He straightened and looked directly at her. "You think I need bodies littering my river as well as shoes?"
"No, my lord." "Then you needn't present me with such unwanted gifts in the future. Take your shoes and go home. It's going to rain in a few minutes and you'll catch a chill. I'll not have your death on my mind whatever way it comes about."
"Should such a thing trouble my lord?"
"Of course. I have fond memories of your youth. You were quite charming, playing in the river."
"Why, you're just a child," she murmured, forgetting her place, "you can't remember such a thing."
"You caught a frog on the riverbank once," he said, smiling with a show of sharp white teeth, "and you let it go. I gifted you with a carp once that played about your feet until you caught it in your shift. You fell in three times while playing with the neighborhood children. You stripped and swam in my waters on hot days until some boys caught you at it and then you took to swimming at night. You sang a song your mother taught you and tickled the waters with a reed. I am old enough."
She had grown quite still as he spoke and now she said, "My lord, forgive me. I have mistaken you. I was unaware-"
"That gods still speak with mortals? I am a young god; that much you have ascertained aright. This is my river that you would seek to end your life in. I bid you live for your own sake and that of the child within you."
She shut her eyes. "My lord is wise and sees many things."
"But as I am young I do not see the need for your death. Why do you wish to die?"
"It is a mortal concern, it should not trouble you."
"Speak for the sake of the child."
"My mother took ill and we had no money." Her gaze dropped. "I've been working these past two years to pay for her medicine."
He did not need to ask her in what business she had been toiling.
"One of my regular customers is a very wealthy man. He sees me often even though he is already married. I hate him. He thinks anything can be bought with money, including my silence. He says that he will buy me too and send me far away." She placed two hands over her belly. "I would rather die with my shame."
"And your mother?"
"The doctor was cheating me. She passed away this past Spring from fever." Her eyes were hard like marbles. "I have nothing and no one."
"You have the child."
"And what does the child have? A whore for a mother and a future as dim as my own."
"You did not think such things when you were young. Neither will she. Go far away and start anew. You are young, far younger than I."
"Fifteen last winter."
"Your life has been short. Let it be long. Let your child one day swim in my waters. If you stay by my river I will watch over you."
"I have never been granted a god's protection."
He smiled. "You have been praying to the wrong gods. My power is not great, but it is enough to watch over you and yours, if you wish it. But you must give me power over you. Tell me your name."
"O-Sen," she said softly.
"Live well, Sen," he said, eyes flashing green like the depths of the sea outside the fishing village she had been born in and had not seen in years. She wondered if she followed the bend of the river his waters would empty into her sea.
He began to glow, gently, subtly, like moonlight and quicksilver and she made out his features at last before he changed. A child's form, a beautiful face, and then he had become a creature from legend, white and green, shiny with scales. Only the eyes remained.
He stretched his body, shimmering like the wide band of stars in the sky, like a water surface troubled by a school of fish darting through its depths, and launched himself into the sky. She watched the graceful sinuous twists of his body, watched him come back down and pass her, flowing into the depths of the river below her feet. And the river stretched out silver and serpentine in the night, the predicted rain suddenly rippling against its surface.
"I'll pray to you," she whispered. "Me and mine. For you are a life-giving river."
The rain was warm and droplets clung to her hair and clothes as she turned from the sight of the water and carefully bent over.
Picking up her geta she came to the end of the bridge and, stepping lightly, chose a road that mirrored the river's course, singing a song she had learned as a child under her breath.