Rush

Perspiration oozed from underneath my arms, saturating the thin cotton shirt. It’s November, I thought, I shouldn’t be this warm. Hot? I guess sweat means I’m hot. I need a drink. No. that’s not what I want. My fingernails pricked at the fabric covering my arm, scratching anxiously at my inner elbow.

I gotta do something about this itch. Propping myself up against the stop sign, I scanned the other side of the street. Bars, nudie bars, adult bookstores and more bars. Yeah. I need a drink. Fingers foraged my pockets, but came up empty. Shit. I wonder if the owner of Hot Books will let me use the back room at the bookstore again. The last time I made sixty-three bucks letting a few creepers fondle me for five minutes each.

Shivering and sweating, I headed that way. The owner was in an amiable mood, especially when I let him watch as the greasy haired teenager pawed at my tits. The poor kid had to run to the bathroom afterwards to relieve himself. A few more customers and it was closing time. I guess the owner had liked what he had seen. He offered me fifty buck for a hand job after he flipped the closed sign. Wiping my fingers on my jeans, I left the bookstore and headed next door for that drink.

Psst. What? I turned, peering into the small recess between the buildings. Whadaya want? Wanna score? I got some pretty china. China white for a lovely lady like you. China white? You mean…I shook my head, but it lacked conviction and he pounced.

Here. The first dope is free. Look. I’ve even got clean needles. The wet stains under my arms grew and my hands trembled as they reached for his gift. I started to roll up my sleeve right there, but he grabbed my collar, yanking back into the dank corner. Girl, you gotta be discreet like, okay? The needle was already in my vein. Yeah. This was way better than a drink.

I relaxed and smiled as the pain in my head lifted and fluttered away on butterfly wings. I watched the colorful insect meander above the sidewalk, not perching just giving everything a light touch, a sprinkling of pixie dust. It looked so serene I figured it would lead me somewhere beautiful. Someone behind me was calling my name, or some other girl’s name. I wasn’t sure. The butterfly was guiding me home.

***

She got any ID on her?

Nope. I guess we’ll have to check the missing person’s database. Maybe a family member will recognize her and take care of the body.

Shame. It’s disturbing to see one so young lying in the road. Hey, can you turn her head a bit. I can’t get a good picture with her mouth shoved up against the gutter.

LKT © 2015

Hara-kiri

The crowd hushed when I entered. I drew up, as if on a string, straightening my back to show them my spine was not as weak as the circumstances that lead me here might have them believing. The soft line of my jaw jutted out, a dare against their skepticism as the purity of my spotless white robes swirled around my ankles, defying them to speak their skepticism.

To the right, my mother wept silent tears, her defeated shoulders begging my father for comfort. The refusal was evident in the hard set of his countenance, irises narrowed to pinpricks, waiting to see if I would fail at this too.

Before me lay a white mat. I almost laughed at how pristine it looked.

I parted the robe wide, wider than was necessary, as I kneeled, feeling audacious and unconcerned at the mob in front of me. Some, the men and few women ogled with appreciation and perhaps a bit of regret they would never have this opportunity again. The rest looked away, flushing with the awkwardness of their own impure thoughts or anger at my boldness.

The tantō that had been my grandmother’s lay in front of the mat. I picked it up with my right hand, testing its weight and balance. It would do.

From the folds of my robe, I produced a small scroll and set it down where the tantō had been. I kept my eyes on the blade, ignoring the hard cadence in my chest beating out a longing to seek my mother’s face, but I knew it would undo me.

I must be quick.

The blade pierced my left side. The sake I had consumed prior only grazed the pain, but I could not stop now. I had requested no kaishakunin be present—none would have volunteered to be my second anyway—so I must complete the ritual alone.

Forging my grip from the rock of ice in my soul, I forced the tantō through skin and muscle across my abdomen until viscera spilled, polluting the chaste white around me. I slumped, agony bleeding from my midsection, pouring out my misery for all to see. As if from a great distance, I heard my mother scream and my father’s hand silence her.

It would take some time, yet I did not wish for a quick end. I wanted them all to see what their ignorance and stupid societal rules had wrought. With more strength of will than of body, I twisted to the floor, my broken stomach open for all to see. I lay, eyes open, waiting.

***

Later, someone opened the scroll and posted it on the town’s main gate.

Death comes to us all
Disease, sword or accident
Mine came by my hand
Know that when your end is near
The shove at your back is mine

LKT © 2015

The Caress of the East Wind

Just after sunset, when the colors were becoming indistinguishable from the hills, the women were home, scrubbing mud pies off noses and cursing the freedom of men. Having been up since before dawn, slinging axes at rock, the men were at the tavern, loosening their backs with ale.

Having neither husband nor taste for alcohol, Emerie passed the bar, her worn heels scuffing the wood planks—the gut thrusting forward momentum of caterpillar locomotion. Her awkward gait and low slung chin had the villagers thinking her eyes and ears didn’t work. Emerie didn’t mind. She enjoyed knowing the secrets they spilled when they thought no one could see or hear. She knew where the blood was spilt.

Emerie shuffled down the path behind the church. The candle in the bedroom of the parsonage window illuminated the forbidding height of the minister standing over a woman—not his wife—bent over with her wrists tied to the bedposts. This neither surprised nor shocked Emerie. It was Wednesday evening. His wife was offering God’s love, biscuits and coffee to the few who showed up to the midweek prayer service.

The end of the path opened into a meadow. Surrounded on all sides by trees, the meadow was flat and except for the grass, free of vegetation. At each of the cardinal points, four tall rocks stood sentry. They had been here so long, no one knew who put them there. Most of the townspeople were superstitious and steered clear of the granite, but mothers allowed their children to play here during the day. Night brought paramours and the forlorn. And Emerie.

She caressed the eastern rock as one would touch a lover. A breeze entered the clearing, lifting a few tendrils of hair that had escaped the bun atop her crown. Emerie almost smiled. She moved behind the rock and waited.

The mayor’s daughter came first. Halting at the path’s end, Sarah rubbed her eyes and looked around. Seeing only an empty meadow, she walked to the southern rock, resumed her tears and began to pray. Sound carried across the grass, but Emerie didn’t need to hear the words to understand Sarah’s heart. She had given it and her body to a boy who had died in the mine last week.

The wind preceded the old woman to the south, masking her footsteps. Sarah nearly screamed, but Emerie offered a delicate smile, the skin around her eyes crinkling like a beloved grandmother.

“I am sorry to have frightened you, my dear. I have come to offer assistance. Have no fear.”

Sarah nodded, relaxing under the waning crescent’s light and Emerie’s sing-song voice. Placing a hand on the young girl’s shoulder, Emerie explained. At the end, a desperate Sarah nodded once more and lay down on her back, acquiescing.

The air hushed while Emerie chanted and reached between Sarah’s ribs, removing her heart. It was broken, of course, irreparable. They always were.

Emerie inserted a piure into the girl’s chest, closing it with a song of lament. Sarah thanked the elder woman and left, no longer hurting.

Just past the eastern rock, Emerie opened a wound in the earth. Inside the crevice were other hearts. Some still beating—barely—for lost love or shattered dreams. Others were frozen in solid chunks. She placed Sarah’s on top and went back to wait for the next damaged soul to arrive.

LKT © 2015