Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The Dream of the Fisherman's Daughter: A story of birthdays
Laying in death his body smelled like wood of the fire and smoke. It smelled of fish and of rice and of the kitchen. Kneeling by his side and seeing him gone into the kumano so young and unfulfilled, she felt a great burden sinking on her. It was not only Jiro who had lost but the master chef as well.
For Jiro, as he lived, his plans and works and hopes had all been in the future. He was an apprentice to the great and famous chef who had even cooked for the former mother of the Emperor, Kinremonin. Now the chef had brought great status to the Daimyo Atzumishi’s household, as much as any samurai. Without his apprentice how would he make the dish on time for the great lord’s birthday?
Antuko was the daughter of a common fisherman, who brought no status to Jiro and was ignored by all. Today was her birthday as well as the great Lord’s but no one took notice, not even Jiro. She had proven to be a good wife, dutiful and patient, mainatining their little hut next to the kitchen, uncomplaining even when there were no scraps to eat. Jiro was all her world, though she still dreamed of the sea and the moonlight on the ghostly waves of Agame no Seki, at whose bottom it was said the spirits of the Taira still lived on in bitter regret. Jiro’s skilled and well kitchened hands had learned to bring out the heat of her as spices bring out the soul of a dish and he had made of her a passionate woman.
Except on this day, the birthday celebration of the great lord, Jiro was dead. He had prepared fugu, the great delicacy of the poisonous blowfish. He was sure the master chef had trained him well, but he would not serve what he would not eat and tasted of the dish and discovered too late the one pale green poison gland hiding in the belly meat, so tiny, he had missed. As the numbness crept up from his feet to his heart and finally his throat he gasped out his last words to Antuko, not of his love, but of his longing to learn the great ancestral dish of the chef, a dish of octopus.
It was not a simple matter of telling the cook her husband had died. With his dying breath, and her growing emptiness, she felt Jiro had given her a great purpose.
What to do? A woman would be driven from the chef's kitchen. Her very presence on the doorstep would be seen as a kind of defilement. What to do?
It was not that the thought had not occurred to her what to do. It entered her the same instant Jiro’s last breath left him. She wasn’t sure she had the courage to do it.
She removed his trousers and paused. The paralysis of the fugu fish had left an odd relic, in that his penis was fully erect. The sight of it flooded her with tender affection and she wept for them both. Frenzy filled her loins. Screaming, she tore away her clothes until she was nude, ran her hands over his body and seemed to awake to herself staddling his torso and dangling her breasts in his staring face, barely stopping herself from doing something unnatural. She dismounted him burning with shame and gathered her wits.
She dressed in his pants, drew the cloth belt tight. Put on his kitchen robe, and turned the collar up.
Jiro had always worn a white head band, wide over his forehead when cooking, a sign of his serious apprenticeship. She pinned back her thick hair, and tied the white band around her head and low over her eyes. She went to the kitchen of the great house.
The chef was hard at work. The air was filled with steam and cooking spices. "Where have you been?" he snapped. "Dinner will be soon and we haven’t started. There are even guests arriving, and time is everything. Even the octopus is waiting.”
She nodded, keeping her back to him.
"Are you well?" he said. "You look smaller."
"Hai!" she growled in a low, serious voice.
"Chop these radishes, then fluff the rice for one hour, by then I'll be back."
She went to work on the rice and the vegetables. In the midst of her grief and her labor by the end of an hour she was worn out. But there was great solace in the simple physical labor that took her mind off the body laying in the little hut near the kitchen. Then the chef returned.
"Over here," he said. She followed the old man keeping her head down. He brought her to a wooden tub with a lid fastened down tight over it. "He is inside. He is dying in the fresh water. Your duty will be to tenderize him, to prepare him for the knife. You must massage him for a half an hour theway I taught you. No less. By then the flesh will be tender and he will have stopped breathing. Massage is the secret. It is a good death."
He left the kitchen and she unfastened the tub lid. Inside was a great octopus on the bottom of the water, looking up her with it's great human eye, barely moving. The sight reminded her of Jiro in his last moment and she felt a wave of pity.
She placed the animal on the table and at first gently and then firmly kneaded it.
She had never massaged anyone except her husband. His strong back and warm firm hands had awakened her maiden passion. She especially loved his hands.
The kitchen was filled with steam from the pot which would receive the octopus when it was ready, The warm air soothed and relaxed her tired body like a public bath until her troubles melted away. Her eyes began to close. After a while her fingers kneading the smooth clammy skin of the beast relaxed and stopped. She nodded. Her head drooped. Her hands fell away.
“How are you Antuko-chan? Do you miss me?"
She sat in cool, flowing darkness with her eyes closed,. She heard the lapping sounds of waves overhead. The darkness thinned and there were bands of filtered green sunlight. Small fish moved like flocks of birds through the waving forest of kelp.
Jiro's hands moved gently over her body and his voice, thick and chittery whispered in her ear "Will you miss me, Antuko-chan? Do you promise?"
A strangely cool hand caressed her below, opening her obedient thighs. A pointed, impossibly nimble finger gently insinuated itself inside her hisho. She felt an answering bolt of pleasure and giggled which made a happy stream of tiny bubbles float upward toward the sun. Passing fishes nodded and laughed. Small Heike crabs danced and waved their claws. She felt another pair of strong hands that seemed to stick and cling, move her buttock cheeks apart and hold them open while another nimble finger, tiny and pointed slipped itself cleverly into her anus and slipped out teasingly and then in again a little deeper. In. Out. In. Out again and then in much deeper each time all the while the two hands held her butt cheeks open and the other nimble finger all the while gently, so lightly feathered at her bud of pleasure at the blissful entrance of her hisho.
Where did he get so many hands?
A nimble cool finger gently wrapped around her left nipple and squeezed. Another finger wrapped around her right nipple and lightly flicked it, enclosed it and sucked it, then releasing it rubbed the very tip, wrapped and gave it a tight little pinch and tugged with playful sucking lips.
These hands. I cannot count them all . . .
She shifted her hips forward and lay back a little, spreading her legs apart completely and letting Jiro have all of her.
Her greedy hisho. Her anus. A nipple is squeezed, at the same moment another is tugged and sucked yet another hand cradles her head gently caressing the nape of her neck and behind her ears.
Promise me Antuko-chan, you will miss me at night. . .
It is my birthday, Jiro Chan. Is this my gift you're giving?
Suddenly a finger inserted itself deeper in her bowels at the same instant the finger caressing her love bud gave it the gentlest and firmest of sucking, nibbling squeezes, a choral symphony of sensation that made her groan and then shriek, her lips parting, her pink tongue poking out like an eel.
. . . happy birthday my love . . . remember me. . .
She opened her eyes at the sound of the kitchen door. The chef was entering. She looked down. The octopus' arms had reached upward into each opening of her clothing, up her blouse, invading her pantaloons like an army of snails. Its gills were pumping desperately like a swordsmith's bellows. She looked into its haunting and human eye just as it went dull. The arms fell away and the bellows fell limp. She quickly pushed its arms away from her clothes.
"It's time, Jiro-san, have you got it ready?"
Her heart was racing and there was a strange longing still lingering in her womb. The chef gathered up the dead animal and took it away to some other part of the kitchen.
When he returned, he was silent and washed his hands meticulously for several minutes. Finally, in a hoarse voice he growled "Come here, Jiro-chan. Today is my birthday too."
She didn’t dare to let the chef see her face. She kneeled down, her hisho still tingling echoes like falling stars, on her knees with her back to him, trying to think of a way to leave.
Then his hands were gently on her, lifting the blouse, pulling apart the drawstrings of Jiro’s pantaloon's.
"Jiro-chan." he whispered hoarsely. "My beautiful Jiro-chan.'
His hands lifted her hips up a little from behind, and firmly yanked down tops of her pants past her buttocks. "Your hands are tired," he said. "You don’t seem eager to be helping me this time at all."
She listened to the sounds behind her of his clothes, coming undone. There was a blur of white cloth and his pantaloons were folded neatly beside her left foot. His hands lifted her buttocks again and held them up.
"Jiro-chan. Jiro-chan. Hold still now."
His breath was on her neck. She kept her face down. There was a softness like a big plum pressuring her anus, then a hardness and a sharp tearing pain. She clenched her teeth and silently swallowed.
He rocked at her for a moment holding her down by her hips, breathing hard. “It’s very natural,” he gasped. “It’s a very natural feeling.” He made a sudden grunt of relief, a soft whisper of warmth suspended in her bowels, and then a feeling of hollowness as he withdrew from her. She tried to lower her hips and something warm trickled between the cheeks of her buttocks.
"Jiro-chan,” he sighed. "You're better than a wife to me."
She kept her face down as the trousers were picked up, and he began to dress out of sight standing behind her. The cloth rustled. She heard him slap his belly twice in satisfaction. He bent down, reached around and playfully slapped her belly too. His hand reached in and brushed the rough hair above her hisho but did not reach further. "You look all worn out, so quickly tonight?” he said. “Usually you beg for seconds. Well, it’s a busy day. I’ll save you some sake and then the next time will be for you, eh?”
She stayed where she was. Heard him hesitate in the door. "Are you well, Jiro-san?"
“Hai!” she growled, and waited for the sound of his leaving. She limped, bent over, back to their tiny house and washed herself.
Without dressing she tried to kneel by Jiro's body but the pain in her buttocks was an open wound. She lay on her side.
She remembered him as he was, with broad shoulders, eyes black as elderberries and gentle as almond blossoms. She would meet him at the marketplace on his errands for the kitchen, where the spices were stacked in pyramids, and the dried fish laid out in neat rows on beds of salt. She tried to remember him that way and could not.
“Who are you?" she said. "I don't know you." She looked at the vacant body, whose arms and legs had begun to tighten slightly wrestling with death.
Tomorrow she would tell the cook. She would be dismissed for her deception, if not beheaded. She had no idea what she would do with her life now after the embers of the funeral pyre had cooled and the prayers had been offered and the sutras chanted. But she would think of something.