Chapter 4 – Private Time

She spent most of her time alone putting the cottage in order.

Although a daughter of a samurai family, they'd never been wealthy, and she'd had to learn early how to keep a house and run a kitchen. Fortunately, the safehouse had been supplied with most of what they needed to live, at least for a time. There were small sacks of rice and of red beans, a jar of tea, kitchen wares, cleaning rags. Candles. A broom. Even a small jug of sake.

And a futon.

As she swept the floor, her hair tied up in a cloth to keep it out of her way, she thought about her young brother, her sad father. About her lost beloved. She bit her lip, and felt the rising dust catch in the tears trembling in the hollow of her lower lids.

Nothing was as she'd planned, as she'd expected. She could now hardly even recall that day she'd left her father's house.

* * *

"It is her fault, all her fault!" "She never deserved him—" I heard her father arranged the match only to erase a debt."

She hadn't really left her room for days, kneeling before her personal shrine for hours at a time, only creeping out her door in the dead of night to the interior courtyard to refresh the greens for the altar. News of her loss had spread quickly, and her father's house soon filled with female relatives and neighbors, claiming to be there to help out. She noticed that they did little but drink tea and gossip.

"I think Kiyosato only left to try for a better position—just to please her!" "Don't be ridiculous—because her family is so poor, he had to increase his income." "Do you think so?" "Either that, or he wanted to get away from such a girl. Spending all that time outdoors, playing with her brother in the woods, wearing boys' clothes— For goodness sake, she's almost 19! What kind of a wife would she make as she is?"

Gales of giggles, shushed to snickers. They no longer even pretended discretion, but would gather in the room right next to hers, and they made no attempt to muffle their voices.

In her malaise, none of this mattered to her. Even when Enishi crept in to her when no one was looking, in spite of orders to leave her alone in her grief—and besides, he was too old to spend so much time in the company of women, sister or no—she couldn't bring herself to respond to him.

"Sister, come out with me!" She didn't even glance at him. Kneeling behind her, he fell against her back and gripped her shoulders with his small hands. "Please, sister—! Why are you being like this?" She could feel his hot tears on the nape of her neck, his sweaty palms crumpling the sleeves of her kimono.

But this all seemed to be happening at a great distance, and, after a time, she found herself alone again.

Poor Enishi—

One day, she came to herself in a great quiet. The house seemed empty. Rising stiffly to her feet, she put an ear to a square of rice paper and listened intently. Not a sound. Cautiously, she slid open the door, and looked up and down the hall, then stepped out onto the polished planks. In profound silence, she glided like a ghost through the rooms of her own house, only to realize that—Finally!—the visitors had gone. Her father must be away on some business, and Enishi, no doubt, was out in his beloved forest, hunting, or perhaps just wandering.

In the freedom of solitude and silence, her mind seemed to awaken. The fog of shame and confusion and grief lifted, and she felt herself straighten and breathe deeply. She could think clearly again.

Could experience, fully, what had happened to her. What it meant in her life. What should happen next. Her honor should be avenged, her wrong, righted. A family pulls together, decides how to respond to affronts, to intentionally inflicted damages. An emissary is sent, and reparation is negotiated, demanded. A deal is struck, scores are settled.

Her family, however, was so reduced in circumstance as to be virtually impotent. No suitable males within, and so little status that their troubles raised not the slightest scandal outside their own walls.

* * *

This task is mine.

She returned to her room, packed a small bag, and changed into her best kimono. Sliding open her door, her eye fell on the gift her father had given her at her coming-of-age ceremony: her mother's lacquered and inlaid tanto. Tucking the small knife into the fold of her obi, she stepped out her door and began her journey.

And now, she was trapped in this house, this tiny, ignominious cottage purposed only for cowards. Whose house? Certainly not hers. Not even her "husband's". Again, she felt mired in indecision and powerlessness, trapped in the machinations of others and the workings of fate.


Glossary:

futon – a bedding set consisting of a mattress, called a shikibuton, stuffed usually with cotton or wool, and a comforter, called a wabuton.
kimono – literally, "thing to wear", the kimono of the late Edo period (and still) is a T-shaped, straight-line robe worn so that the hem falls just to the ankle. Tomoe's kimono is not quite a furisode, with its floor-length sleeves and spectacular embroidery and dyeing, but it is a formal style, as shown by its free-style painted decoration that spans the hem (informal styles have woven or dyed repeat all-over patterns).
obi – the sash for both men and women, but differing greatly. Tomoe's obi is that typical for a young, unmarried woman: made of heavily embroidered, brocade silk, and requiring a multitude of under-belts and stiffeners to create and support its complicated folds and elaborate, decorative knot. Even up to the mid-20
th century, many Japanese housewives dressed every day in the traditional, labor-intensive kimono-obi outfit, even if they did not plan to leave the house; it was not necessarily reserved for special occasions or fancy dress.
tanto – a short blade (between 6 and 12 inches long), designed primarily for stabbing rather than slashing. Tomoe carries her mother's kaiken, which would have been given to her mother as part of her wedding gifts, a sort of good luck token.