cold light, cold water

In the morning, she always washes and dresses in the same way when she leaves his bed. She kneels there with her hair loose round her face, still bedraggled and unbrushed from a night spent pressed against the pillow, and moves the wet cloth across her body in regular passes; from face to neck, from neck to breasts, then from upper arm down to lower arm, then change the hand to clean the other arm, then her lower chest . . .

. . . she is too thin, too thin, he can see every one of her ribs . . .

. . . then down past the waist to the hips and legs. A pause to soak the cloth again. Her private parts. Her feet.

She wrings out the cloth and folds it, laying it beside the small bucket of water, and dries herself in harsh strokes with the rough towel. Her hair is tangled by now, and she picks up a comb and punishes it into neatness, swiping the teeth of the comb through the knots without a murmur of pain. Her face is white in the morning light; her thin lips are set in a thin line as she cleans loose hairs from the comb.

She dresses herself precisely, not needing to use a mirror to set folds and pleats neatly in place. She shakes out the bulk of her sleeves till they hang properly. Her hands are fragile as butterflies against the plain black cloth.

She ties her sandals. Thin cords of straw mark the lines of her foot across the whiteness of her tabi.

She has such small feet.

He lies there in the tangled sheets that smell of sweat and sex. He will rush through a brief process of scrubbing and swearing later, yanking his hair into tidiness and still tying his sash as he runs for the breakfast hall, but for the moment, this still feels like a part of sleep; a blessed dream, a granted privilege, a communion that she permits him and that he luxuriates in.

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