Author's Note: This, like AyakoNoChou's "Change of Heart," is from a course assignment comparing Love, Loyalty, and Friendship of Genji's time with ours, so it involves an OC (the only one I've put in a fic for seven years or so…), but there's plenty of canon, so don't worry! In fact, every line of dialogue is from the novel. I guess I'd better credit that to Royall Tyler's translation, although the novel itself must be in the public domain by now… Anyway, enjoy!
Toni lay wide awake in bed. It had to be past midnight, and her husband still hadn't come home. The light in the living room stayed on, just in case, but something told her she wouldn't be seeing him again until he came home from work the next evening.
She turned over to face the other wall, thinking for the hundredth time that there was no way an ordinary office worker would have reason to stay at work the whole night. This wasn't Japan; workers here were not that devoted! At first she didn't want to believe the rumors her friends had told her. Just because Mary saw Jeff walking to his car with Tammy, or whatever her name was, it wasn't necessarily the case that he was seeing her… Sure, Tammy was attractive, but didn't five years of marriage mean anything? Now, in the dim, colorless room, emotion boiled up in her chest, and her throat tightened so much that the resulting tears felt as though they were wrung out of her. Rather than leave yet another voicemail, she resigned herself to a fitful descent into sleep.
While her waking mind fell backwards into blackness, a small part of her remained alert, and it knew without a doubt that this was going to be no ordinary dream tonight.
It was dawn. She opened her eyes, and was dimly aware that she was in the body of a young man. Foreign thoughts began to swirl around her, and she could do nothing but watch. She decided to make herself comfortable seated here in his mind, and observe his experience with keen interest, for she had no desire to leave.
The young man was well-rested even after the few hours of sleep he had managed to get the previous night. Oh, what a night! He looked around the partitioned room contentedly, making out the designs on the curtains one by one, and then turning his head toward the girl he had managed to see after days of courting. She looked younger in sleep, and her plump cheeks and white skin made her desirable even now. His pride in his conquest surged, however, when his eyes traced along the length of her hair. It trailed like a black river down beyond her feet, the new wrinkles of her robes contrasting with its perfect straightness.
He thought back to his first encounter with her. He had been on his way to see his friend, the so-called Shining Genji, when he caught an unexpected glimpse: the shine of a woman's hair in the lamplight, just visible between the blinds separating the hallway. He stopped immediately, and inspected what he could of her through the narrow sliver of space. He could see nothing of her face, but when he continued on his way, there was a new purpose in his steps…
She stirred. He looked back up to her face, and she immediately looked away. He tried not to smile, and muttered a reference to the morning dew. Her reply was calm and elegant, and her mouth barely moved when she spoke. He lingered there as long as etiquette could justify, but the sun was still low in the sky when he began tying his hakama. It was a shame, he thought while putting on his tate-eboshi, that she was too low in rank to marry. Such a lovely head of hair would surely be a welcome distraction from tedious court affairs for years to come. It was with this sorrow that he left her. He decided to send her a morning-after poem anyway, in the hopes that she would welcome him again another night…
Fully engaged in this young man's experience, Toni did not expect the abrupt dissolution of the scene which followed. The next time he opened his eyes, he was already awake and dressed. Toni concluded that he must have just blinked.
He was now in his friend's private room, enjoying a conversation with him and two other gentlemen. The air was oppressively heavy, and he could hear summer rains pouring outside. All the lamps were lit, but it was barely bright enough in the room to read. He was leaning in a relaxed pose, his arm resting on his knee.
His dear friend, with whom he could share all his secrets (and indeed he was doing so this very night), was reclined against a pillar, too drowsy to contribute anything of considerable length. His exquisite features lent themselves to a feminine beauty that he himself would have looked for in a princess, and he indulged in admiring the curve of his white cheek and his petite eyes.
The Chief Equerry had just told a story from his youth, to which his friend replied, "From what you say, you made a fine spectacle of yourself both times!" All four men shared a hearty laugh. Toni wished she could have heard the story from the beginning, but she felt her young man's mirth all the same, and she soon felt an idea for his own story rush up to his mouth.
"I will tell you a fool's tale," he volunteered, and proceeded to go into the back story of a woman he knew. She was a sweet, charming lady who did not protest how seldom he visited her, always in secret, and he had grown quite fond of her over time. His wife, however, was not pleased with this encroach on her position, and so sent her nasty messages. Since he had not been to see her in a while, the poor lady suffered terribly. What was more, she had no parents and had had a daughter with him. At this point in the story his heart ached as he told it, and his vision began to blur with tears. He was unable to adequately finish his sentence.
His friend was at full attention once more. "But what did her letter say?" he asked. Grateful that his friend had roused himself enough to become involved with his story, he found the strength to continue.
"Oh, you know, nothing very much, really…" and he recited the wistful poem she had sent. In the back of his mind floated another, much older poem: "Ah, how I miss her, and how I long to see her, the Yamato pink blooming in the rustic hedge!" He went on, allowing the poem to fade. He told of his subsequent visit, during which they exchanged more poetry—his reassuring her of his favor, and hers lamenting his indifference. "I saw no sign that she was seriously angry with me, because even when she cried, she shyly hid her tears from me as well as she could, and her keen reluctance to let me see she knew I had neglected her made me so sure all was well that I again stayed away for a long time, during which she vanished without a trace…" Toni watched as made-up images came to his mind, of another man stepping past her blinds in the dark, of her carriage leaving for the other man's estate early in the morning. He wished he could find his daughter, and support her himself…
He looked pointedly at the Chief Equerry. "This is a small illustration of just what you were talking about. She seemed so serene that I never knew she was hurt, and my lasting feeling for her went completely to waste. Even now, when I am beginning to forget her, she probably still thinks of me and has evenings when she burns with regret, although she has no one but herself to blame. She is a perfect example of the woman you cannot keep long and cannot actually depend upon." The open compassion for the woman's pain had faded, and a familiar boyish arrogance slid into place, again lightening the mood. He continued talking, insisting that choosing a woman was like choosing a poison. He finished up saying loudly, "Set your heart on Kichijōten herself, and you will find her so pious and stuffy, you will still be sorry!" All the men laughed again. Warmed by the comfortable atmosphere with no need for sake (though he would not have objected to it), he playfully invited the Aide of Ceremonial to share his own story…
The room darkened and then disappeared, as though the young man had simply gone to sleep. Toni could no longer feel his mind around her, but through the thick darkness she felt rather than saw events continuing to unfold. They flew by so quickly that they might have happened all at once, and where she expected them to end, the darkness became more fluid, more familiar. She was moving.
She was back in her own body. That was all she could perceive.
Was that a dream? She struggled to keep all the memories in the forefront of her mind. She could still see the details of that beautiful woman's face, and the exact length of her hair. It must have been such a pain to take care of hair like that, she thought. She brought the face he had been admiring up to her mind again. He thought that was beautiful? Toni rather thought she could have done with a diet and a day at the beach, but she remembered too the fondness he had felt, and admitted that the woman had been appealing in a doll-like kind of way.
With the memory of his absurd hat's texture came that of his feelings upon leaving. He couldn't marry her, not because he was already married, but because of her rank. She remembered how sensible such a limitation had felt, as had his intention to continue seeing her anyway.
His good friend, a son of the emperor but ineligible to take the throne, came to her mind. Toni might have thought him a lazy, rather flabby little man who needed to shave off his ridiculous goatee, and yet the young man she watched (was?) had thought him gorgeous, worthy of being his friend and rival. They shared all their stories of women, and yet had little to say about their respective wives.
It took Toni a minute to remember her husband Jeff, for his name had sounded foreign at first, but when his face flashed before her, she realized with an unpleasant jolt that she was lying in bed and couldn't move. She focused all her mental power on moving her head to the side, but it didn't work. She couldn't even open her eyes. The young man's life went to the background as she tried to move her toes. They twitched, and her whole body jumped with sudden energy. She relaxed again, and looked over at her alarm clock. The alarm was set to go off in twelve minutes. She got out of bed and went to the kitchen to make coffee.
Jeff was still out. She wondered whether he, like her young man, thought she was bringing this upon herself.
Author's Note: I will leave you to decide whether Toni is a reincarnation of To no Chujo (what with her obvious name and all.) If the idea doesn't appeal to you, then it was just a crazy dream. Either way, please review and thank you for reading! PS- I love Heian court hats!