"I'm home," Shuichi called, pushing open the kitchen door with his elbow. He entered accompanied by a gust of wind and a swirl of gilded and blushing autumn leaves, which danced across the tiled floor to his mother's feet.
Seated at the kitchen table over a book, she started almost guiltily and wiped at her cheeks as if embarrassed. There were tears there. "Oh…welcome home, Shuichi. How was school?"
"It was fine," Shuichi replied neutrally, with a small shrug and a half-nod that alluded to the fact that school was never exactly difficult.
Shiori nodded. "Good," she said. "That's good." She rubbed again at her face with the back of her hand and glanced again at her paperback, which seemed to be a romance. "Sorry," she mumbled, "nodding over a silly book…" she lunged to her feet, letting the leaves rustle closed around the bookmark, and fled the room, evidently to hide fresh tears. Apparently he had interrupted her in the middle of a crying jag. He looked after her with some concern, but let her go. She wouldn't have left if she hadn't wanted to be alone.
Idly, Shuichi wondered what power the book had had to make his mother weep at it; for she did so seldom, and more rarely still at something so shallow as the vagaries of imaginary lovers. He picked it up and found it to be a translation of the American classic The Scarlet Letter. Shiori had left a scrap of red ribbon as her bookmark, and Shuichi flipped open to this marker, and ran his eye down the page until it caught, and held, and dragged itself onward almost against his will between the puckered circles left by recently fallen tears, along the printed lines of black and white.
'Heretofore, the mother, while loving her child with the intensity of a sole affection, had hoped for little other return than the waywardness of an April breeze; which spends its time in airy sport, and has its gusts of inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best of moods, and chills oftener than it caresses you, when you take it to your bosom; in requital of such misdemeanors, it will sometimes, of its own vague purpose, kiss your cheek with a kind of doubtful tenderness, and play gently with your hair, and then begone about its other idle business, leaving a dreamy pleasure at your heart.'
Shuichi turned a few more pages, paused, read another line, and then pulled out one of the wooden chairs and sat down, turning back to the beginning.
Shiori had gone up to her bedroom when retreating. There she had tidied what was already tidy – if never as spotless as her son's – rearranged the photographs beside the bed, and then, finding herself deeply exhausted by her crying and the illness she suspected in her breast, laid herself down on the bed and slept.
She awoke some time later, and discovered by the clock that it was high time she begin dinner. Pushing her hair into something a little more like order – even if there was no one but Shuichi to see – she went downstairs, already considering what she would make. If she was cooking for two, there was the chicken, but it might be Shuichi had gone out again while she was sleeping…opening the door to the kitchen, she was met by a burst of scent.
Scents, rather, blended into one…for see, there, on the table, was the chicken she had been meaning to prepare, golden brown, and with it cut vegetables and fresh rice. At the countertop, beside the oven, stood Shuichi, just lifting a cake to bear to the table, bright hair gathered up out of the way at the nape of his neck. A lock straggled loose down his cheek.
He turned, smiled at her. It was a smile that was happy to see her, but didn't pretend to be happy itself. "'It was certainly a doubtful charm,'" he quoted, voice as soft and precise as it usually was, but a little amused at itself now, and a little sorry, as if apologizing for a failing it could not mend. "'Imparting a hard, metallic luster to the child's character. She wanted – what some people want throughout life – a grief that should deeply touch her, and thus…" he hesitated briefly over the next word, though his eyes did not flicker away from her, "humanize her and make her capable of sympathy.'" He put down the cake.
"Hello, mother. I made dinner."
I'm starting to post a lot of pieces I did a while ago; this had its genesis, if you couldn't guess, reading ahead in The Scarlet Letter this autumn. It's set some months before we ever meet Kurama, maybe as many as fourteen. Do be so kind as to leave a review!