The Samurai and the Wren Part IV: The Art of War

Note:  There are five parts to the Samurai and the Wren.  This is chapter four of that story.

Many years ago, a wizard from another universe was teaching me in the art of war. He wrapped my hands around the hilt of his katana and said to me, “Before you start, remember: Accept your death in battle as a given. You will be freed from fear. You will be able to focus more clearly and correctly. Empty yourself. You will be free. You will be more alive than you have ever dreamed”. Then he smiled and in my ear whispered some lines from one of his favorite songs, “Seasons don’t fear the reaper. Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain. We can be like they are. Come on baby… don’t fear the reaper.” (BOC Don’t Fear the Reaper)  And with his arms around me and I, moving with him, learned my first fighting form.

The wizard of course, was Ken. He was looking at me and frowning. He had wrapped his obi around my waist and tucked in his katana. I was standing correctly. I was pulling the sword correctly. “Do it again”. I pulled. “Again”. I pulled. Huge frown and then, a huge smile.
“Short. You’re too short for the blade.” He strode over, pulled out the hilted sword from the belt and replaced it with his wakizashi. “Now, try this. Pull.” Considering look “Again”….”Again”…”Again”…”Perfect!”

He lifted me up and spun me around. “Misosazai, you are too short for the katana. By the time you almost have it drawn, your opponent will have beheaded you. But with this short sword, you will be formidable”. Now I was frowning. At 4’10” and 95 pounds, I was as formidable as a bunny rabbit. But if my lover said so, then it must be so. I trusted him and he was rarely wrong.

It was hot and I was sweaty and irritable. He decided it was best we go sit in the shade by the koi pond and cool off. His hair was pulled up from his neck in a high tail. He stretched out on the grass with his hands behind his head. I sat and leaned against the ancient oak, with the obi and swords pulled from around me. Sun and I do not get along well. I closed my eyes feeling sunburn creep across my face and down my arms. I didn’t want to learn this. I didn’t want a crash course in the levels of Japanese sword technique and history. I wanted a soak in a tepid bath scented with lavender and a tall glass of lemonade while I soaked. He shifted. I groaned. I could tell from his body language, it was lecture time.

“It’s like life. We all die. Accept it. Once you accept it, you can begin to live. Empty yourself of those fears about death.” Ken rolled over and looked at me. “Come here dear heart, lie down beside me”.

Petulantly I muttered, “Grass makes me itch”. He snorted. “Everything makes you itch. Come lie down with me and let’s watch the clouds travel across the sky”.

We had been living together for only a few months. We quickly learned the other needed times of silence and solitude, to back off when told to, that we enjoyed cooking together as much as we enjoyed making love together, both of us had an eclectic taste in music, a sometimes twisted sense of humor, that slapstick humor made us guffaw with glee, both of us an odd and changing mixture of pragmatic, mystical, and spiritual, we always had something to talk about and never tired of talking to the other, and that amazingly, we were born the same day and same year within five minutes of each other at opposite ends of the earth.

I crawled over and lay down beside him. Impishly he grinned. “Now, as you say, isn’t this comfy-cozy-friendly?” And it was. My small form beside his tall form, on our backs, hands under our heads, ankles crossed, my black hair braided and pulled up over my chest. We both sighed and watched the clouds. Peaceful sounds – the koi occasionally breaking the surface, a dog barking in the distance, a cardinal sounding his territory, a lawnmower droning across the way, an occasional car going past, a few yards down, children laughing as they played. We sighed again.

“Now dear heart, what think you of the clouds?” He knew I would answer when ready. We both continued to watch the clouds, be peaceful, and let thoughts drift inside our heads.

I said, “Kobito, clouds don’t live long. They travel across the sky in their allotted time and then when it is time, they end. Yet, they come and go and drift. No cloud stays at cloud-home – it sets out and completes its journey regardless. No stopping until the end. And then they fade and become part of the universe, forever.”

He turned to face me. “And that is the point Misosazai. I would have expected no less of an answer from you. After all, you sat and watched snow fall at Ryoan-ji. You rode a horse into the desert to watch meteor showers. You stood at the edge of the waves at Atlantic Beach and threw your arms out wide and laughed into the wind. You rescued this worthless man and captured his heart, mind, and soul. So I tell you this: In battle, just as in life, accept your death as a given. Empty yourself of the death and fill yourself with life. You have begun that journey. Now continue and never stop. Pursue life relentlessly.” He sat up, “Now go get the obi and my sword and let’s start again.” He stood up and held out his hand. “And afterwards, I will prepare you an amazing bath and rub your little red face with aloe gel.”

I took his hand and stood. A couple of weeks later, he came down the back steps of our home. He was competing that night and was dressed in the beautiful black hakama he was wearing when we first met. He was carrying a long narrow wooden case. “Come here honey chile”, he drawled, imitating me. He called me away from raking the kare-sansui. He sat carefully on the steps and placed the box on the floor between us, motioning for me to sit.

I sat across from him, as I had that first night. He smiled, brackets around his full lips. In his soft husky voice he said, “Dear heart, this is for you. Her name is 南風 Minamikaze – south wind.  He opened the box and I gasped. Nestled in black velvet, was a new wakizashi. He looked at me solemnly. “I will teach you to use her, care for her, respect her, love her. I pledge this sword to you and I pledge my heart to you.” He placed the sword in my hands.

I sat there, tears dripping on its surface. It reflected light and colors from our surroundings. He stood and walked down the steps and I followed. He placed my hands on the hilt and leaned down to kiss my forehead. “When you draw this more than six inches, it must taste blood.” I knew the skin between his thumb and forefinger had many tiny scars and some new cuts.

Carefully, I held the sword and then quickly, drew across that bit of skin on my own hand. Criminy! That hurt. A bit of blood welled up. He took my hand in his and placed his lips on the cut.  “They say the sword reflects the soul of its wielder. May this sword only reflect light and never any darkness”. I slowly moved the sword. It glinted in the sun. I held it up and saw blurred reflections of the stones behind me in the garden, the green from trees – my life reflected on its narrow edge.  At that moment, I have never loved more or felt more alive.

And thus, the Samurai and the Wren (Misosazai) began the great journey of their life together.

In teaching me the art of war and death, he was teaching me the art of life and love. Now years later, it still holds true. Empty yourself of death and never stop filling yourself with life, love, and light.


Post 102!!!! Yowzer Y’all. Answers to Questions

This is post 102 and I must say, I never thought I’d come this far. To those of you who have followed and liked and commented, I truly thank you. You all have made my day many times with your kindness and interest. And so I have decided to answer some questions that have come up so you all can read them.

1. Yes, the Samurai and the Wren series is all true. At this point, I have not decided if I will go past Part III.
2. How did I guess Dr. Ken was a forensic pathologist? Well, he went to University of Medical school and obtained his medical degree. When he said he went to Duke, I logically concluded it was for a specialty since he was already an MD. Now…..When he mentioned U of Tennessee, this clinched it. Now UT is a fine school – excellent medical school (which he didn’t need), good law school (which he didn’t want) but – an excellent anthropology department and……The Body Farm. That was the only reason he would have gone and because he was so good, he was accepted and obtained his PhD. When we met, although the Body Farm was fairly new, it had obtained and still has worldwide fame for its research done at the Body Farm.
3. I am proud to a Southern woman. A friend crossed stitched for me: American by Birth, Southern by the Grace of God.
4. I am really a nerd – love my sci fi, fantasy, manga, anime, Star Trek, Star Wars, comics.
5. Someone said it was interesting to meet a real Southern belle with Japan in her heart. I think that is accurate. And yes, in the good ol’ old southern family tradition, I was a debutante. But the deal was, the summer before I went off to university, was mine. No questions. I went to Woodstock, camped out in the desert, and sat on the hood of my car the night the first man stepped on the moon, gazing at the sky in wonder and amazement.   I love Japan, the art, the food, the culture and Dr. Ken.
7. No, I don’t think I’m going to take pictures of me cooking. I’ve said it before, you all are grownups (sort of) and probably know how to cook already from what I have read on your blogs. You don’t need help from me because you all are accomplished and knowledgeable.
6. The 11/16 Society is real.
8. In The Walk Series of haiku, the man is a good friend. A nuclear engineer from Japan who is here working for awhile. No romance in the works. He is delightful, handsome, extremely intelligent, and humorous. He and I have a special connection and enjoy each other’s company with much delight.
9. There are several poems about Ken and I scattered throughout the blog.
10. there is more info on the Who is KanzenSakura? page

and finally, kanzen sakura means, perfect cherry blossom. Watch The Last Samurai to find out more.

Good night Y’all. Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!!! and as my grandma Ninny always used to tell me: Sweet Dreams.

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

The Story Continues: Part II The Samurai and the Wren Tea and talk

I had his name from the list of participants, but he introduced himself to me and I introduced myself.  “Please excuse me while I change clothing.  I will be back shortly.  Please wait here, don’t leave.”  There was a bit of urgency in his voice as if he actually didn’t want me to leave.  I promised I would wait.

 He smiled and nodded at me and turned quickly to go to the locker area.  It was indeed agreeable watching him walking away – tall (I realized he was only a foot taller than me, he only felt larger than life), slender, a graceful and purposeful stride, the stride of a man comfortable with his body and its abilities.  He did not have that “roll” in his gait most practitioners of the martial arts have.  He would have walked the same way through a garden or across the floor to meet an opponent.  I found the back of him as pleasant as the front.  He was causing me many sighs and head shakings.

 I decided to take a quick run into the restroom to wash my face, check my hair and breath, tidy my appearance (didn’t need to refresh my perfume….he could smell and knew it was Mitsouko so no more was needed.).  I smoothed my hair and studied my face:  plain, small nose, deep set brown eyes, average mouth – but beautiful skin.  I smiled at myself.   Behind the wire frame glasses, my eyes, even when I smiled, were wistful.  Nevertheless, smiling did lighten my countenance and I noticed, my smile was a sideways smile – always with lips closed, sometimes quirked.  I had my father’s smile.  Because I had been on a date, I had dressed in a truly cute top.  Really.  It was a nice top – cap sleeves, mandarin collar, deep rose cotton eyelet material, denim skirt – the pencil type, not flared.   At that time, I was a cool 98 pounds and I had good legs and slender ankles.  My hair was black and wavy and so long, I could sit on it.  I usually wore it in a braid down the back to keep out of my way.  I would have to do.

 Back at the rendezvous point, I only had to wait a few moments.  He came through the crowd easily, courteously excusing himself, smiling at those who spoke to him about his sword play and sincerely thanking those who appeared to be complimenting him:  he was not preening himself.  Modest, sincere – you could tell it was real.   A duffle was draped sideways across his body instead of the usual slinging over a shoulder most Americans favored and pushed towards the back.  His left hand held the case with the scabbards of the two swords.  And he was a pleasurable sight seen coming towards me:  black polo shirt, pressed jeans that fit him…..oh my goodness, I turned away because my cheeks were red.  I took deep breaths and controlled my blushes.  When I turned around, he was beside me and smiling.  I had to smile back; he had that kind of smile.  “May I help you with anything?”  Solemnly, he handed me his swords with a bow.  I took them carefully and with an equally solemn bow.  “Now for tea and talk, Misosazai.  I am looking forward to this,” as we walked to his car.

He drove well.  The music from his cassette player was soft and to my surprise, Chopin.  “Bet you thought I’d be one of those crazy Asian drivers, yes?”  I gaped at him and then began laughing as I realized he was having a joke on me.  “No. I didn’t.  I felt if you drove the way you use a katana, I would not have been surprised if you just warp speeded to your house and the traffic parted in front of you.”  He laughed at that.  “I only started driving a few years ago.  I spent most of time in University, then medical school in England and mainly used the Tube or a bicycle.”

 A doctor.  “Where did you go to medical school?”  I sensed some embarrassment from him and then he said quietly, “University of London, Duke University Medical School, and University of Tennessee.”  I realized he wasn’t bragging.  “I grew up about three blocks away from the Duke east campus.” I told him. I pondered a moment and then guessed.  “UT?  Body Farm?  Forensic Pathologist? ”

 He pulled into his driveway and looked at me in amazement.  “Yes. “ and he became silent.  He looked at me oddly and I could see him puzzling this out.  He turned in the seat to fully face me.  Bafflement in every line of his body.  “I don’t understand but I am justified.  I knew you would be good conversation.”  Impish twinkles in his eyes, “And you smell good.”   He handed me out of the car as if I were something precious.  I’ve had doors opened for me before and I’ve been offered a hand as I was stepping out.   He made it a ceremony.  Door opened.  He stood to the side and bent at the waist and gave me his arm.  I placed my hand on his arm and then he took my other hand gently pulling me up and out.  Wow.  Wow wow wow.  His hand supported my elbow as we walked up the steps and through the door of his home.

 I saw the reason for the Chopin in his tape deck:  the main furnishing in his living room was a baby grand piano.  Incredibly clean, sparely furnished, a peaceful room with uncurtained French doors, a futon and a low black table.  On the table was a vase with a couple of stems of tuberoses.  The air was rich with their scent.

 “Please, this way to the back porch.  Or would you like to call your roommate first to let her know where you are?”  I thanked him for this consideration and did call Jo.  I told her I was having conversation with someone at his house.  Through the phone, I could hear the venom.  “Not that wretched Daniel?  Maybe…’s a thought, a human?”  “No to number one, yes to number two.  Don’t know yet to number three.”  She didn’t ask but I knew she was dying to know – will you be home anytime in the next couple of days?

 Through the dining room and kitchen to the back porch.  Like most kitchens in the Fan District, the kitchen was long, narrow and led to a back porch or patio area.  It was early evening but full dark.  The night was warm and smelled of newly mown grass, honeysuckle from a neighboring fence, and oddly, of water.  We established ourselves on the back steps.  “Excuse me please.  I will prepare tea and while it is brewing, I need to take a brief shower and change into other clothes.”  He smelled fine to me – whiff of sandalwood, light, clean sweat, and mint.  But if he felt he was dirty I was not going to argue.  If this was “needing” to shower, I could hardly wait.  I sat on the steps and listened to neighborhood sounds; dogs barking, cars passing by, a door opening and shutting, low laughter from several yards away, and again, an oddness:  the sound of tinkling of water.  I looked for wind chimes hanging on the porch and saw none.

  It was pleasant sitting there after the events of the day.  I sat, dreamed, and wondered about what was to come next.  Soft sounds from the kitchen and then footsteps through the house and up the stairs.    A light from the bedroom glimmered on the ground in front of me.  A brief time later, the light blinked out, steps down the stairs, more soft sounds from the kitchen.  The door opened behind me and I stood and turned.  I almost fell to my knees.  Wet, black hair brushed back and straight past his collar bones, soft grey cotton kimono tied about his waist.  And he was  natural that way; no sense of being in costume or trying to impress.  He was in what I would call “my comfies”.  The kimono was folded modestly against his throat….I didn’t get a glimpse of what I knew would be a great chest, but his arms were smooth and well muscled, some scars, and a few fresh nicks.  Swords are sharp.

 “Sit, please.”  I sat on the top step and he placed the tray between us on the floor of the porch.  Simple white teapot with small white tea cups, no handles, no saucers.  A small bowl with natural sugar crystals and spoons, a bamboo tea strainer, some small round buns on a yellow plate, paper napkins neatly folded.  He poured and handed me a cup.  I’d like to say our fingers brushed and we were thrown into a frenzy of desire, but no, that didn’t happen.  I took the cup and inhaled.  “That is very nice.” And sipped.  “What am I to call you?  By your surname?”   “Just call me Ken.  Shorter, easier.  Or, you can call me Dr.”  Low laugh.  “Just joking.  Please call me Ken.  However, I’m not related to or dating Barbie.  I’d rather be here with you.  This is nice.  I am babbling like a boy.  I’ll be quiet now.  No, I’ll babble.  How in the world did you determine that I am a forensic pathologist.  I could be a cardiologist or pediatrician?  Never before has anyone guessed.  Tell me please.”

 And for some reason, he truly was babbling.  This elegant (and I later learned his name means ‘elegant’), handsome, professional, intelligent man was babbling.  “Honestly?”  He nodded.  “I deduced.  Based on the schools and the progression, I figured it would lead you into what type of doctor you are.  I know several few forensic types, have worked with them, know about UT. In my wild young days, I was on a rotation to take autopsy photos as well.  I learned a lot about schools for forensics, people who teach, taught, practice.  I just threw it out there,” and continued sipping my tea.  Ken shook his head and just looked at me.  “You are very perceptive, very……sensing.  Wrong word but you know what I mean.”

 He sipped and began asking me questions.  I answered; longer answers, short answers, no answers.  He liked that my major in college had been Cultural Anthropology with concentration in indigenous people, minor in physical anthropology.  He fairly beamed when I told him my favorite piece of art of Hokusai’s Great Wave.  I told him how I had been on a school field trip to Smithsonian and ran away from the gaggles of kids and discovered the Freer Gallery and then……Great Wave.  “The east Asian art captured me but when I saw that, I was transformed.  I determined then to find out all I could about Japan.  I still know very little but what I know, I feel….very,” and I hesitated, “comfortable with. I have visited several times.  Ryoan-ji is my heart home.”  I began asking him questions.  I asked him questions.  He responded – brief, long, funny, sad.

 We talked for hours, until dawn and drank tea (“try the tea buns. I made them”).  We laughed, giggled, shared secrets and dreams.  A lifetime was talked about between us and we still only made a ripple on the surface.  When it became dawn, in the grey light, mysteries were solved.  A koi pond in part of the yard with a small waterfall over rocks – the smell and sound of water.  I looked around his yard and gasped.  A small garden of gravel and boulders took up more room.

 He stood and went into the kitchen and came out with a bowl of chopped lettuce leaves.  “Let us feed the nishikigoi.  Princess Greedy will ignore you because I am the love of her life.  Do not be insulted.”  He winked at me.  As we walked closer, I saw the water begin to roil.  By the time we were at the edge, fish were breaking the surface and one had lifted itself until its eyes and mouth was above the surface, Princess Greedy, I presumed.  He hunkered down with me beside him and began to hold lettuce above the water.  One by one they took the pieces from his fingers.  I took pieces and did the same.

 We looked at each other and smiled deeply.  Deep crinkle lines at his eyes and those small brackets beside his mouth.  What a beautiful mouth he had.  “Sometimes I tell them if they misbehave, I will make sashimi of them.  But they know better.”  I put my finger out and was most startled when one wrapped its round mouth around my finger.  I held my hand still and then in my other hand held a piece of lettuce.  It looked at the lettuce, let go, and made for the lettuce.  “I am having too much fun.  I just love these fish, Ken.  I really do.  I think they like me, except for Princess of course, but that is fine.”

 Then we turned.  I stood and looked at the placement of the rocks and the flow of lines in the gravel.  I clasped my hands to my chest and just looked and looked, noting every little detail.  Before I could breathe another breath, I felt tears sliding down my cheeks.  In my mind I said “home.”  In my heart, I said “peace.”  He looked down at me and turned my face up so he could see.  With a delicate finger, he touched the tears and then touched his finger to his lips.  “Oh Misosazai,” and became silent. We stood that way and then it was his turn to sigh deeply.

 “Come. I must take you home or your roommate I think, may come to find me.”  I followed behind him and wiped the tears off my cheeks.  He picked up the tray and went into the kitchen, me still behind.  It had been wonderful.  It was over.  It was something I could hug to myself when I became lonely.  I was grateful.  He changed back into jeans and have mercy on me, a white tee shirt.

I gave him directions to home.  He parked and I turned to him.  “Thank you for everything, Ken.  It is not every day one can have tea and talk with a real live samurai.”  He actually blushed.  We both hesitated.  Impulsively, I said, “Would you like to come into Crazy Land and have coffee?”

 He put both hands on the steering and turned to me, “I was afraid you were not going to ask.  Yes, please.  Coffee with you and Jo and the cats.  Please yes!”

 We went into the house straight through to the back.  Jo, in usual form was sitting on the back steps, huge mug of coffee in hand, puffing on a cigarette with the Sunday papers spread all around her, hair sticking straight up.  “Jo, this is Ken…..Dr.Ken…”.    In her east Tennessee twang, she welcomed him and sat back down.  He was my company and my responsibility to entertain.  He sat down beside her and this time, I brought the tray.  Mugs of strong coffee, sugar dish, cream pitcher, spoons, toast and ginger marmalade (it’s good, I made it).

 We sat and then Jo left for brunch with a group of her “lesbee friends”.  Ken and I spent the day together.  He teased the cats (your house doesn’t smell of cats.  I like that.”) while I showered and changed.

 I introduced him to southern fried chicken, homemade biscuits, and peach cobbler for Sunday Dinner.  I explained to him that “dinner” in the South was usually “lunch”.  He smeared one of my homemade biscuits with butter, took a bite and whimpered.  “I am in love Misosazi.  Truly.  I have never tasted real southern food and I am in love. The cobbler you say is your father’s recipe?  It is…amazing.”

 When he left later, Jo said, to me, “You are already halfway  in love with him, aren’t you?”

 I was silent, and then, “He must never know.  We are good friends now.  I don’t want to lose him.  I’m afraid if he knows, he’ll run away.”  She nodded.  She knew that.  “Well Munchkin, he’ll never hear it from me.  I like him too.  He’s good people.”  I thought of his fingers on my cheek, touching the tears and then touching them to his lips.  I felt shaken, stirred, overcome.  My heart opened wide and refused to close back again.

  The samurai held out his hand and the wren flew down and nestled in his palm.

And finally, the beginning of The Story of the Samurai and the Wren

Samurai Kiss     I have to say, the first time I saw him, I gasped.  I told my friend Jackie, “That is the most beautiful man I have ever seen.”  She looked over my shoulder at Daniel and said, “Yes he is one gorgeous piece of humaness….wish he’d dump you for me.”  I looked up at her in confusion and realized, we were not looking at the same man.  I turned.  “Oh. Him. this is our second date and I can say, it will be the last.  Total….and I meanTotal Jerk. In fact, this date is ending now.  One and a half dates – he’s history.”

Jackie laughed and said, “I love you!  Does Daniel know he has been dumped and are you going to point him in my direction to be comforted?”

“No, but when you see him act like the jerk he is, you will know he knows.  Get ready to be picked up.”

Daniel was beyond excellent with saber.  Seriously into epee’, saber, kendo….if it had any type sword, he was into it.  He was average height but blade thin and whip quick with wheat blonde hair he affectedly wore in a braid  – the kind that was anchored on top of his head and brushed above his shoulder blades.  He hoped it made him look like a Viking badass.

The man with whom I had become transfixed looked like he had stepped out of a time machine:  Tall for a Japanese, black hair pulled into a warrior’s knot, katana and wakizashi in his obi,  and dressed in a black silk umanori hakama. Later, when I was closer, I saw black on black embroidery of cherry blossoms.  I just sighed and shook my head.

I had been on one date with Daniel and when he asked me to accompany him to this competition, I was happy to say yes.  I had always been interested in such arts and was looking forward to watching the several hours this would take out of my day.  Daniel was the center of an adoring group – those impressed with his prowess, his good looks, – his whole being.  To this day I could never figure out why he had asked such a plain, short female to go out with him but in truth, I think it was because I made him look so danged good.  He was a Major Planet and I was but a satellite.  He gave a disdainful glance to the man sitting beside him in combatants row – he had never seen the Japanese man before and took him for a minor combatant  – one to be crushed and tossed aside while his friends and followers cheered.  Looking at the man, I had my doubts this would happen.  Daniel felt me looking and turned and snapped his fingers.  I pointed to myself, “Me?”  He motioned me over.  I stood there frowning….I’m not a dog. I’m not his lackey…..He snapped again and anticipating ugly, I decided to go.  To put an end to the ugly.

“Got to my car and get my bag. I forgot to bring it in.”

“You have 10 minutes, get it yourself. I want to get seated.”

Like a sidewinder, his hand shot out and grabbed the long braid of my hair and pulled me down close.  “get my bag.”  Another wrap around his fist and a stronger, more painful jerk.  “I need it.”  Well, what an empasse.  He’d continue to pull and if I wanted to continue experiencing pain, I’d try to pull away.   I didn’t want to make a scene.  I just wanted to be away.  I had already decided the date was over before this based on our first date but now, I was determined it be over.  Low voiced I said, “please let me go.  I’ll get your bag and bring it. Then I am getting a ride with Jackie or James and I am leaving.”  Another wind and jerk of my braid.  “You don’t end this, I do.”  I was finding the ugly side and rumor of Daniel to be uglier than I knew.

The man to his left turned and began to gently unwind my braid.  “No, I think I will be ending this.”  Soft voice, sure hands, calm demeanor.  I looked into his eyes – gentle as his voice but steady and kind – and steely.  He smiled slightly.  “Fly away tori hanashidesu (little bird).”  I stood and I could tell Daniel was enraged although he dared not speak.  I bobbed my head at the man in thanks and went back to the bleacher seating.  I told Jackie what had happened.  She rolled her eyes and said, “You realize of course, this means war?”  I sat with my arms folded on my knees.  “I hope the Samurai beats the crap out of the Viking.”  She shook her head.  “For such a little person, you make Big Trouble.”  I just shrugged.  Being two inches shy of five feet nothing, what could I say?  That I lived for trouble?  That I enjoyed antagonizing dangerous men?  To be honest, I tried to capitalize on being short by trying to have my shields up and to be invisible.  Oops.  Missed on that one this time.

We watched as men were paired off and the losers went to one bench and the winners to another.  It was of course, inevitable that the Viking and the Samurai ended up being last ones standing to spar.  A break and then the last match.  I stayed put.  I had caused enough trouble.  I was invisible.  I was tori hana-something or other.  I had flown – right.  In my dreams. Now I had become a target.  I told myself how stupid I was to put myself into such a situation.  I told myself that the gorgeous man had a gorgeous girlfriend/wife and was simply a rarity – a true gentleman and he didn’t like seeing women treated badly.  I kept looking at him and told myself…….in your dreams honey, in your dreams.  I was not living in one of those 1930’s romance movies, I was living in the big bad 80’s and fairy tales were no more.  At least I could look at him until I left the place….I didn’t hear anything Jackie was saying to me.  She nattered and I dreamed and looked.

The two men faced each other.  The crowd began that susurration that means:  Something Is About To Happen.  It appeared they had decided to use live blades, first blood wins.  Oh my.  Jackie looked at me – “Dumbass, dumb dumb dumbass,” she hissed.  Oh my my.  I wished myself away in another universe, hopefully being brain sucked by Darth Vader or something.

It was quick.  One would have almost missed it had not the crowd seen Daniel’s braid drop to the floor.  One pass of the katana, before Daniel barely had a chance to complete his blow.  it was over.  They stepped away from each other.  The Samurai hilted his sword with a soft snik and bowed slightly.  The Viking turned and stomped away.  I looked at Jackie, “If you want him, you’d better move.  The girls are gonna be on him now like white on rice to give him comfort.”  She took off running.  I was out of a ride but I didn’t care.  I’d call my roommate.  She had broken up with her girlfriend last week and was at home licking her wounds.  I was standing in line for the phone.  The gentle voice, “do you need a ride?  I seem to have……changed plans for you.”

I turned and looked up.  He was a lot taller than I.  I smiled.  “No, I changed that plan myself.  I can call my roommate.”  I saw then the black embroidery on black silk. That was when I sighed.  “Thanks anyway.”  I continued looking up at him.  “Oh and by the way, gorgeous hakama”  He blinked.  I hastened to explain.  “that’s all I know, trust me. And, what is….tori hana…..?”  “Little bird.  You look like a little wren, misosazai.”  he cocked his head.  “Misosazai, would you like to come and join me for tea and conversation?”

Okay, I knew variants of that line and it showed.  “On my honor, tea and talk.  After all, I saved your braid.” and then, “Mitsouko.”  I blinked.  He grinned.  “Your perfume, Mitsouko.”  “Yes, it is.”  and thus began The Story.  The story of the Samurai and the plain brown little wren.

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