I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 211

For a moment, Maeme scrubbed the white linen under kosode shirt she was working on. There were moments, like now, she saw the wearer of that shirt and entertained a fantasy of holding him, as well as the garment, underwater.

As the image of Seiji's struggling face filled her imagination, and her hands gathered around the cloth like it was a neck she was holding, she recoiled violently, realizing what she was doing, and dropped the cloth. "I am not like him," she whispered, looking at her hands. The garment started to drift away from the little pool that the rocks created, and was in danger of floating out into the current. She quickly grabbed it, splashing a little as she did.

"Did you hear that, Otousan?" Shinjiro said.

"Don't see anything," the voice that was Daitaro's answered. "Must have been a fish."

"I guess," the younger man said.

Maeme clutched the cloth to her chest, getting her robe wet with it. "Merciful Kwannon," she said, stilling her beating heart. "I promise I will not drown my husband, even when he drives me to daydream like this. I don't want to be like him. You know that."

Taking a deep breath, she dunked the cloth in the water one more time and lifted it up. Deciding she had gotten the shirt as clean as it was going to get, she picked up the wet linen and started to wring it out, but carefully, trying not to splash any louder than she had to.

This time, though, she needn't have bothered. Right after she started squeezing the water out of the cloth, she heard the older man shout, drowning out any sound she might have made.

"That's the way, son! You've got a bite. Let's get him in!"

"I see, I see," Shinjiro said, his voice rising.

There was a splash, louder than any she had made, and a sound that was sort of flapping, sort of crashing.

"Don't let him roll away, Otousan!" the younger man said. He sounded very excited.

"I have him. I have him." There was the sound of movement, like something slapping. "He's in the box," the older man announced. "A good omen that, you getting the first fish."

The flapping sounds died down, and for a moment, all was quiet.

Shinjiro broke the silence first. "A good omen, eh? Me catching a fish? Like me catching a wife?"

"You could put it that way," the older man said. "And a good one. You know how we all feel about her."

Maeme stood up and stretched the wet kosode on a bush near the first sheet.

"You and Okaasan and even Genjo have made that clear," Shinjiro said. His voice was somewhere between pleased and mildly annoyed.

"It's an important thing, having everybody happy with a choice of a spouse," Daitaro said. "We all have to live together, and it's much better to live together in harmony."

"Harmony," Maeme said very quietly. It tasted like a lie in her mouth.

Shinjiro sighed. "I can't believe today is finally here."

Maeme headed back to the water to start washing another shirt.

"Get your line back out there, son," Daitaro said as she began wetting the cloth.

"I'm working on it," the younger man replied. "You need to catch your own fish."

"I'm working on it, boy." The older man's voice grew softer, and more concerned. "I'm glad it's going to be over soon, son."

"You don't think I am," Shinjiro said. Maeme began drubbing a spot on the shirt that didn't want to come out.

"I'm sure, but I bet it's for different reasons. Your okaasan's going to need a good rest after today. She's all smiles, but I can tell this has been tiring."

"I tried to get her not to get so wrapped up in things," Shinjiro said, a bit defensively. There was a small splash. Maeme assumed he threw his line back into the water. A bird on one of the trees overlooking the river took off, flying low to investigate it.

"I know, son, I know, but this is what she wanted to do." It sounded like Daitaro sighed. "Want a drink?"

She wrung out the shirt, and carefully laid it in the grass not far from the other garments. "Men and their sake," she murmured.

"No, I promised Okaasan to come home mostly sober." The younger man sounded almost disappointed. Maeme headed to her basket, grabbed another kosode, and took it to wash.

"Good boy," Daitaro said, approvingly. "There'll be enough to drink at the wedding. And you don't want to disappoint that pretty girl of yours."

As she wetted the shirt, Shinjiro's voice grew soft, and she had to strain to hear what they were saying.

"Otousan, am I doing the right thing?"

"Damn," the older man said. "I think my line got snagged." She could hear his grunts as he worked to free it. Something got knocked over, and something splashed. After some cursing, there was a sound like a bow string releasing, and a humph from the man.

"Ah well," he said after a moment. "Stupid line. I guess I didn't want to bring home a fish after all. Didn't bring any extras."

"You can use mine," Shinjiro said. "My mind's not on fish."

"I bet," Maeme whispered. "Man getting married's thinking of other things. I remember . . . "

She attacked her laundry, working extra hard on the shirt she was washing, as if that could chase away the memories. Her memories of that night were not pleasant. "Stupid drunk man. I should have run away the next morning," she said. "Being in a tea house would have been better, I think."

"So what are you worried about, son?" the older man asked. His voice was both soothing and concerned.

"She's so sweet and young." Shinjiro sighed. Something about the tone of his voice made Maeme stop her work. "Am I doing the right thing? Am I too old? And after what happened . . . "

Daitaro sighed. She heard a sound like a clap on the back, although it might have been a last slap of the fish's tale against the box they put it in. "I wish you and your okaasan would stop blaming yourselves for what happened." Daitaro's voice was gentle, but firm. "She was a lovely girl, and we all loved her, and we will remember the brightness she gave us, and never forget her memorials. I do not regret you bringing her under our roof, but it was her karma only to be with us for a little while. Let's thank her for that, for what she gave us while she was here. She loved you enough that she would have wanted you to move on, and you know it."

There was a heavy sigh from the men, as Maeme dunked the cloth back under the water. She remembered Shinjiro's first wife. She was a pretty girl, pale and hard working, and during the little they had interacted, the girl had spoken kind words to her. But the girl's pregnancy did not sit on her well. Maeme had watched her get sicker as her time neared. For a moment, the two men grew quiet, remembering.

"But what if it was something about me that made her get sick like that?" Shinjiro's voice grew softer even.

"Didn't Kaede explain that to you? Sometimes women get the swelling sickness when they're carrying. It can kill them. It happened to Yasuo's mother, too, you know."

Maeme looked at the kosode in her hand. It was another one of her husband's. For a moment she remembered all the effort she put into that shirt - weaving it, sewing it, and how he spilled wine over it and treated it like a rag. "Would Seiji ever ask if he was to blame for something that happened to me?" she asked. Her voice was almost too soft for her to hear.

"I know, I know," Shinjiro said. "That was a sad day, too."

"Let me ask you this, son. You talk about worrying if you're doing right by your pretty girl. Ask yourself this. Is Erime happy about the marriage?" Daitaro asked. "She sure acts like she's happy to me."

"I...Yes," the younger man said. "I'm not sure why, but she is."

"Your mother is happy. She was happy when Genjo married Mariko, but I think, maybe she and Erime are even a better match." There was the sound of something rattling. "They get along like mother and daughter. My sons know how to choose their women."

"You noticed that, too, did you, old man?" Shinjiro said. There was a bit of mirth in his voice. "I suspect we're in for it when they decide to put us in our place."

"Oh, and there will be days when they'll do just that. But we'll love'em anyway." The older man laughed, but then his voice got quiet. "And what about you, son, do you want this? As much as we want you to be married, with a family of your own, you know we've always wanted your happiness most."

Maeme held her breath, waiting to hear what the young man would say.

It took him a moment. "I do. I don't know how it happened, maybe last year at the rice planting. Suddenly her laughter caught my attention. And she would listen to me. And she laughed at my stupid jokes, like she really liked them. It was . . . well . . . it was like early dawn, when things get gray after being dark all night."

"That sounds about right," Daitaro said. "That's around the time I noticed you were acting . . . well distracted."

Shinjiro laughed. "I don't know if I would have done anything more but find excuses to visit Takeshi if he hadn't stopped me one day and asked why I was mooning over his daughter."

"By that time, it had gotten pretty obvious," the older man said. "We even had a talk about you before he did it."

"Did you?" Shinjiro sounded surprised.

"He wanted to know if there was something going on between you two," the older man said. "I don't think he realized how smitten you were. He thought it might be you were having a fling with her."

"I...I wouldn't have done that." Shinjiro sounded offended.

"I know it, and you know it, son, but there would have been plenty of other men who might have been otherwise. If you ever have a daughter, you'll understand why he asked."

Maeme dropped the shirt she was holding back in the water.

"Well, that's not me," Shinjiro said. There was some rattling. "I want her. I think she wants me. But . . . I only want to do right by her. Let's go home."

"Well, you'll have her tonight. Don't be surprised if she's too nervous or tired." The old man's voice grew distant. "Your okaasan fell asleep almost right after they let us get away."

Shinjiro snorted. "The way I'm feeling, I might be the one to do that."

"Let's go home. A nap might be in order if you're already feeling that way."

"Maybe you're right, Otou. It'll at least pass the time away."

There was a splash, and she heard them walk away. Soon they were too far to hear any more.

Maeme fished her husband's shirt out of the water. Suddenly, with a shriek at the hand fate had given her, she ripped it apart at the seams.

"Damn you, Seiji," she said, letting part of the garment drift off in the current. "Curse you for being a cold-hearted monster."

Maeme tossed the rest of the shirt in. "And may the good gods watch over those two. They owe me that much."

She gathered up the cleaned laundry, and put it on top of the unwashed. Not sure of what she wanted to do next, she knelt down next to her laundry basket.

The song she was singing earlier came back to her lips.

"I look over the sea,
and my tears fall like rain,
I envy the seabird
who fly away over the waters.

"I look at the mountains,
and my tears fall again,
I envy the eagle
who flies over the mountain.

"How long I ask,
walking through the rain,
to the shrine in the mountains,
but the kami are silent.

"I look at my place,
and my tears fall like rain,
my wings are clipped
and I will stay in this cage
until I die."

Her eyes glimmered, but no tears fell. She had learned well how not to let them drop. Instead, she merely sat there and watched the river.