The Samurai and the Wren, Part III Dog Days

I was screening calls.  The phone rang and I listened to hear who was calling.  Jo was out on a date and I had the house to myself.  I had just fixed a tall glass of lemonade and was preparing to settle down in front of the tube for some mindless relaxation.  It was a hot night and I had the ceiling fan going full tilt. A halter top and loose shorts helped promote cool.  The rental house had no central air and with us being just plain old working girls, we made do with fans – until we could find a reasonable window unit for the living room or units for the other rooms.

I jumped up and ran towards the phone when I heard Ken’s voice.  “Are either of you home?  May I please come by?  Are you…”  I snapped up the phone.  “Hi. Come on by.”  He paused and then, “I’m  sorry to be calling so late, but I need to stop by.”  His voice sounded thin and tense.  “Sure sweetie, come on by.”

I ran to better comb my hair, put on something cuter and added a light spritz of cologne.  It wasn’t a date but I wanted to be pleasing to him.  When he knocked on the door, I let him in and was about to give him a hug when he pushed me off.  “I’m putrid.  I’m sorry but I just needed to be here.”  I understood then, that he had just done a hard autopsy.  He did smell putrid but more than that, his eyes were the eyes of a man who had looked into Hell and was still looking.  I hugged him anyway. He clung to me. I pushed him back and looked up at him.

“Look, why don’t you just go and shower.  I’ll fix you something, give you a foot rub.  You have a tee shirt and shorts over here from the last time you visited and had casual clothes with you. They’ve been laundered and are folded and waiting for you.”  I shoved him towards the bathroom and put a towel in his hand.  He looked at me and then bent his head to touch his forehead to the top of mine.  I got the clothes for him and closed him in by himself.  The cats were perched around and the dog, Norton, had gotten up from his nap in Jo’s room and came to join the group.  He liked Ken.  He didn’t like many men because he had been badly abused.  Norton was one of the animal rescues and fosters that always seemed to find their way to our house.  Sometimes Ken said he felt like one of our rescues.

Indeed, he had become adopted by the entire household: Norton, the permanent cats, the fosters, and even by the rescued pot belly pig, Randolph.  Randolph started as a foster. Loretta next door had adopted him from us and he was now a happy pig and next door to his old friends. I had introduced Ken to my friend Jeff. Amazingly the two had instantly bonded. Jeff, a cynical, wry gay man with a dry humor and interest in all things Japan; he was learning Japanese and Ken helped him. They a lived a couple of blocks from each other in the Fan and when Jeff was walking his rescued cocker, O’Reilly, he would often stop by Ken’s and Ken would join them on their walks. A solitary man, Ken found ease with us somehow. We were a harum scarum crew, capricious, spontaneous, and all of us wicked smart. As long as you were kind, you were welcome in our group. Jo and I had a thing about clean, especially when you have animals in and out. While our house lacked the serenity of Ken’s home, he had nothing on us when it came to clean. He liked that. He himself was clean as a prize cat in both his personal and housekeeping habits.

He was always curious about what I cooked and how. We traded recipes – Japanese for Southern. Jo, Jeff and I frequently went to see him spar or compete. He was beauty in motion. He was also dangerous and deadly. But controlled, always controlled. A modest man, he never bragged or showed off. And I was just head over heels in love with him and afraid he would sense it and become uncomfortable, that I would lose a valued friend.

I heard the shower start.  I went into the kitchen and fixed more lemonade.  I made some quick dip and fixed raw veggies.  I had steamed shrimp earlier and put in the fridge to cool – good for light meals and nibbling.  I knew he would need to talk first and clean out his system.  Then, he may want to eat. I’d be ready to feed him if he felt like it.

I had cut off the TV and had soft music playing, just barely to be heard. I had dimmed the lights and lit a couple of candles to create a soothing atmosphere. He came out of the bathroom smelling of lavender and lemon. He smiled ruefully. “If this keeps being a habit, I’ll need to keep more clothes and something that smells more like a guy around.” and then he became awkward. “I didn’t mean that to sound like I was moving in.” “It’s okay. You are our friend. You are valued by us and always welcome and it’s okay. Truly.”

He sat down and sighed. “If I am going to keep imposing on your hospitality, I need to at least buy a window unit for you all. To quote you, it’s hotter than the inside of cow in this room.” I got up and brought him back a beer. He put the bottle to his forehead for a moment and then opened it up. “And taking the hottest bath possible doesn’t help either. I’m just cranky. Forgive me?” He turned and faced me and smiled. In my mind I said, I would forgive you everything….out of my mouth came, “Nothing to forgive. You are entitled. Now, talk to me.”

He drank the beer down and then, “That little missing girl? She was found.” and he stopped. He swallowed and then brokenly, “Her older brother raped her and then killed her to keep her from talking. The little jerk took her body out in the woods and tried to burn it.” He stopped. “No more.” I brought him another beer and said, “Come on, put your feet up here.” I had turned sideways and invited him to lay his length down on the couch and put his feet into my lap. I began massaging his feet. A nice wringing rub on his left foot and then I began working my thumb and forefinger down the side of his foot and then his heel and I began massaging the base of his big toe as if it were his neck and then the ball of his foot. By then, his eyes had closed and soft moans came forth. I spent another 15 minutes before I moved to his other foot. By the time I was through, he was breathing evenly and the tension had smoothed from his face. I sat there and looked at him. I wanted to smooth his hair back, to touch his face, to bring his hands to my lips and kiss them. But I just sat there. His beautiful full mouth, his “Japanese” nose with its lovely swoop, high cheekbones, thick long lashes against his cheeks, straight black hair combed back and air drying, long muscular legs, slightly bowed and long slender feet. I could have sat and gazed at him as long as I was able.

He suddenly jerked awake. He blinked and then smiled his singularly sweet smile. “Please, may I have some food?” He had learned that whatever I gave him would be good and he would like it. I went and fixed him a plate with shrimp, cut veggies, and dip all nicely arranged on the plate. On the tray I also placed a small bowl of water scented with lemon, a glass of lemonade, and a small bowl of dip and one of homemade cocktail sauce with plenty of fresh horseradish added.  Giving it the once over, I then took and placed it on the table in front of him.  He smiled up at me, “You are amazing. Look at those shrimp!  And a fingerbowl.  Little Bird, you are a keeper!”  I smiled and tried not to look like I wish he’d keep me in his pocket and take me with him everywhere.  Jo and I did not have a dining table.  Instead we had an all purpose low coffee table.  We sat on the couch to eat off the table or, sometimes on cushions around the table.  He was perfectly comfortable sitting on a cushion and eating off it.  It was what he was used to.

I sat beside him while he ate and when he asked, told him how I had steamed the shrimp and what seasonings I had used.  He looked regretfully at the pile of shells.  “I am a pig.”   He had delicately dipped his fingers into the fingerbowl and cleansed them and then dried his hands on the paper towel I had provided.  I took the plate away and came back with another beer for him.  He began talking.  “It is just so ugly, so much of the time. Many times I wonder why.  Why do I keep doing this?  Putting scattered bones together like a puzzle, looking for marks of violence in the bones of children, opening a plastic bag of a dismembered person who has turned to noxious liquid….it just goes on and on, every day a new evil.. His voice caught.  Barely audible he said, “I can do nothing.  Nothing.”  The last word was a whisper.

I sat there, being silent and then spoke.  “Ken, you know why you do it.  I certainly know.  You didn’t have to rescue me at the competition. You could have sat there and just let it happen.  You didn’t know me.  But you knew I needed help.  You knew I was defenseless and you being you, could not sit passively by and see me harmed.  By the same token, you cannot stand by and passively watch people who have been harmed go without vindication.  You cannot let them go without a name, without justice, without a voice – without honor.  You are not that kind of person.  You are samurai.  You follow the tenets of bushido.  You have honor and you want these victims to have honor.”

He reached for my hand and held it tightly.  It was painful but I could not take my hand away.  He sat straighter and squared his shoulders.  “Thank you.”  I reached and touched his face.  “What can I do for you?  What do you need from me?”

“Misosazai, I need you to keep being my friend.  I feel steadier when you are beside me.”  “Then dear heart, I am here.”

He leaned back against the sofa and looked up into the face of a cat.  He smiled and those dimples I so loved showed.  “Hello Daisy.  You missed out on the shrimp. Don’t tell your auntie and I’ll sneak you one later.”  He winked at me.  “Please, may I stay tonight?  The couch is fine.  I won’t be any trouble.  Please?”

Huuuuuuge sigh.  “Of course you may.  But you will sleep in my bed and I’ll sleep out here.  I’ve turned on the window unit in my room and I only slept once on the sheets last night, but we can change them if you’d rather.”  He started to argue and then looked at my face.  “The sheets will be fine.  I thank you.  I just can’t face myself alone tonight, you know?  Right now, I feel safe and sane.”

“Then come. this way to my bedroom.”  I opened the door and turned on the light.  He looked around curiously  One wall floor to ceiling with bookcases jammed with books and a few bibelots.  A low chest with my jewelry box and a box of soil from my father’s grave.  A vase of old fashioned, spicy stock in mixed colors.  Over the chest hung a framed print of the Great Wave at Kanagawa.  The low wide bed was covered with sheets patterned with lavender, pale pink, and deep purple nasturtiums.  A small bedside table with alarm clock and stack of books in various stages of being read.  Celadon blinds covering the wide windows.  He turned to me and said, “I like it.  It looks so comfortable, cool, and peaceful.  Thank you.”  And he bent down and kissed my forehead.  I took my pillow and wished him goodnight.

It was hot in the living room, in spite of the ceiling fan.  I twisted and turned.  But I knew it wasn’t the temperature, it was the man in the next room.   I’ve always had trouble sleeping, ever since I was a child. I’d get up and wander around the house and when I grew older, I’d go out my bedroom window to shinny down the tree that was oh so conveniently placed.  I’d wander the neighborhood or sit in various places in our yard, regardless of weather or season.  I still do.  I got up and went and sat in the back yard and breathed in the humid air.  Night sounds of crickets, cicadas, an occassional car.  Randolph, the pot bellied pig ambled over to the fence and grunted.  I got up and bent over the short fence and reached down to give him a scratch.  “Somebody keeping you awake too?” I asked him.  He just rubbed against me and grunted again.  He went back to his doghouse and I assume went to sleep.  Lucky pig.  I surveyed the back of the houses in the neighborhood.

Everyone asleep but me.  I started feeling very sorry for myself.  A tear slid down my cheek.  Angrily I brushed it away.  “Stop that.  Ugly thing that you are, you are lucky he is your friend.  You are lucky he enjoys your company such as it is.  You can’t expect someone that gorgeous, intelligent, professional, and talented man to have even the slightest interest in you.  He probably knows many equally gorgeous women just as intelligent who claim his heart.  You’re the runt of the litter and you know it.”  I flayed myself with my thoughts.  Each cut going deeper.  Reality getting more grim with every slash.

I went back in the house and poured myself some lemonade and went back to sit on the couch.  Several of the cats had taken couch space and left me little room to sit, much less sleep.  I squirmed between them. I put my head back and tried to relax.  No use.  Now I had to pee because of the lemonade.  I was batting a thousand.  “wretched felines,” I mumbled as I came back to the couch.  Daisy crawled in my lap and began to purr.  Red slid beside me and Miss Boot slid in on the other side.  I shared rubs with them equally.  Their purring lulled me to sleep.  Kitty magic in its highest form.

I snapped awake.  Someone was in the room.  He jumped.  I jumped again.  I heard the jangle of a collar as Norton woke and stood up.  I should have known there was no danger because Norton would have torn an intruder apart.  “Sorry.  I am thirsty.  I will be quiet.” Ken whispered, embarrassed. I sat up and then covered myself up, too late for modesty but hey, you do what you can do.  “No problem.  I’m thirsty too.”  I reached to the low coffee table and pulled on my kimono.  A much faded and used one, white cotton with a print of cherry blossoms.  Ken turned his head until I had stood and tied it together.  I walked with him to the kitchen and got two glasses out of the cupboard.  “Aren’t you going to turn on the light?”

“No, I know my way around.  Name your poison.”

“May I please have some more of that lemonade?  That was so good.  Nice and tart and made with real lemons.  I haven’t had lemonade like that since I was a child.”

So I filled our glasses and he downed his straight off and then handed the glass to me.  “I would wash it for you but I don’t know my way around in the dark.”  I rinsed out the glasses, put into the drainer, and headed back towards the living room.  I sat down on the couch.  He stopped in front of me.  “I can’t sleep,” he said.   I looked up at him.  “Neither can I.  When I can’t sleep, I go outside and sit.  You know, listen to the world turning, the stars making their music….”

 So we went outside.  Norton followed us out.  If anything was going to happen exciting, he wanted to be in on it.  I sat in my lawn chair and Ken sat on the steps.  I could see him listening to the sounds of the night.

“What is that noise?  That sort of rhythmic sawing and clicking?”

“Dog Day cicadas.  They come out, mate like crazy bugs, then lay their eggs and burrow down into the ground for seven years.  They come out, do it again, and die.  Hang on a minute.”  I walked to the tree at the fence and stood waiting for movement.  When it moved to rub its wings and legs, I saw it.  Very carefully, I scooped it up and took it over for Ken to see.  “It’s big.”  “Yes, it is.  Very gentle creatures though they look scary as all get out.”  It sat on my palm and Ken very lightly touched its head with his finger.  It flew off back to the tree.

 “That’s amazing.  You walked in the dark to the tree, and then listened and watched and then plucked it off, not hurting it.”  He looked up at me as I was standing there.  My heart stopped and I don’t think I was breathing either.  I looked down.  He stood up and I just kept standing with my eyes down.  I knew if I looked up, I would be lost.  The cicadas thrummed louder and the heat pressed against me.  So still he stood. but I felt him looking down at me.  I put my hand out, barely touching his chest, lightly keeping him away.  He leaned into my hand, moving closer.  His hand reached under my chin to tip up my face.  He stood there looking at me in the dimness.  Then he took both my hands and placed around his neck.  “This is where they belong, Misosazai.”  And he put his arms around me and pulled me close.  It was just that simple.   We stood there, content to just be together, to feel each breath the other took, to smell each other’s skin, and to hear our hearts beating.  We went into the house.  Norton followed and went to his bed.  We went to ours.

The samurai settled in the night with the wren on his breast.  Both at peace at long last.

samurai and lady

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. el34ax7
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 21:31:36

    I had to come read this after your comment. I wish I had your discipline and mindfulness to write something longer than a scant poem with such skill! Now I have to find all the other parts! 🙂

    Reply

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