An on-going list of writing resources
Help with Writing Structure:
An on-going list of writing resources
Help with Writing Structure:
It had nightshade leaves, that tree. Black, that is. A strange tree. It, unlike everyone—everything else, never seemed to die. It was always there. It grew some sort of berry, I think; they were toxic to people. In a way, my old tree was, itself, like an ikon of death—itself eternal, but killing all it touched. And at the embark of spring, every year, fresh sprouts would come up at its base; even they could not sap the life of death, as it were.
I recall I could never climb that tree; I believe it was a bane to me. No ambition to surmount the obstacle. The killer tree—reminding me of things. My brother—yes, I had one once—used to climb that horrible tree, slender tree with vacuum leaves and twiggish branches. I would always shout to him ‘Brother! Brother! Why do you want to play on the scary tree?!’ And he would come to me, and reassure me; say things like, ‘Haven’t mum and dad told you about that tree? It’s not scary,’ or ‘Brother, if you would climb the tree, you’d see it can’t possibly hurt you.’ Brother was a silly lad, a frightful lad. Perhaps I had a certain neurosis—I don’t know. Youth comes with its own quirks and joys, and young I was, then.
I was well on my way to believing him, though—and then one particular day came around. ‘Twas on New Year’s Day, I think—a boon, because I was born on the 2nd of January. Brother and I were playing in the snow of the lawn when he deigned to climb that fatal tree. With the sleet had come ice, and so afflicted was the tree; yet, brother wished to climb it regardless. He did—he, as I best recall, stood triumphant upon the tree, as though he had peaked Everest itself, and then reached down to pluck up a wad of slush from its contorted branches to hurl at me—but ne’er did he accomplish that as such, that his feet gave way on the branch, and they tumbled forth, his head sweeping backward. There was no particular crunch; too much wet slush on the ground for anything like that. But brother didn’t move. I stood there in the blowing wind
-clouds harsh, dark, and high o’er us-
and the fresh-falling snow for god-knows-how-long, waiting for brother’s game to end; for him to get up and continue playing with me.
As I approached him, I noted his form; his head was cocked in a way no man’s head should ever be, the most grisly pose imaginable, though there was but little blood. His eyes stared out, stark wide, and dull, like a pair of scuffed marbles; one meagre bead of blood ran from his poor crippled nose. I could not quite conceive death at that bleary age, but something about his body in that state brought a meek tear to my eye.
Still now I sit, and I see there that accursed tree. I lumber forward, feeling the knot in my stomach, and the knot in my hand. It has been a good many long years since then, and I, being my tattered family’s sole heir, now own this household, this property; I own that bloody tree. That black, knotty old tree. That killer tree.
Without realising, I’ve stepped into the shadow of the tree. The reaper looms, now, over my head.
-Catharsis is a sweeping thing, says Thanatos-
Agreeing with that sentiment, I climb the tree for the first time, as high as I possibly can, bones weary with age. My eyes whet, but I cannot call it sadness, nor can I call these tears. This is a sort of equilibrium—this is a sort of shame. I am making things right. The knot I hold wraps around the branch of the tree on which I sit—my hands move with the implicitness of necessity.
The tree, I see, is the real victim of all of this. It cannot kill, but its existence facilitates so much death. Now I, too, will die by the hands—no, the limbs, the standing arms—of this damn tree. The knot wraps around, and limply, I drop into the abyss.
-There it stays dark, brother; dark like the leaves-
As far as the eye could see, everything was green. The trees, the hills, and even the sky appeared to contain a green tint. Thunder rumbled in the far distance; but this was rural Ohio. People around here don’t even bat an eye at these summer storms. Birds sang their merry melodies, and the neighbor’s dog barked excitedly through its fence when it saw me leave my house. Summer appeared just as fast as the snow fell last winter. One day it wasn’t there, and the next day it was.
I walked down the cobblestone pathway in which connected our house to the guest house. My husband Rodney transformed a section of the guest house into his workshop. He was a very focused man; often staying there deep into the night until his latest project was complete. After his Ma and Pa passed, we renovated their old farmhouse and made it our own.
We began by replacing the decrepit pieces of furniture with Rodney’s homemade tables, chairs, stools, and bed frames. We tore down the yellowing flowered wallpaper of the kitchen and painted the walls a welcoming burnt orange.
The first time I met Rodney was at an art festival downtown. It had been a long, sweltering summer day and the overall turnout of the festival had been dramatically less than that of the previous years. I normally sold about 15 of my paintings, and that day I had only sold six. Just when I was packing up for the day, I felt a hand lightly touch my shoulder. Alarmed, I jumped and turned around. I saw a tall, lean man standing before me with sandy blond hair and huge green eyes. He introduced himself as Rodney Reddick, owner of the Reddick Lumber Shop just on the west side of town. His crooked smile was warm and friendly, and he offered to help me load my pick-up truck.
As he loaded my old truck with my dozens of original paintings, he paused and admired each one as he lifted it. “I love how you captured the woman’s feelings in this one,” he’d note. Or he’d say, “My, oh, my. Those trees must’ve taken hours and hours to perfect.” I was simply in awe that this random man had enough kindness in his heart to care about my passion.
I thanked him and had turned to climb up into the driver’s seat when he gently but firmly grabbed the inside of my elbow and stopped me. “I’m sorry, ma’am. But a man just can’t go home without knowing the name of a kind belle like yourself.”
I smiled shyly and looked into his mesmerizing green eyes. “My name is Cherilynn. Cherilynn Alcott.”
He took my right hand and kissed the top of it softly. He looked into my eyes and I swear he had touched my soul. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Miss Cherilynn Alcott.” And with that I climbed into my truck and drove off.
I entered the guest house and headed to the left where his workshop is located. I walked through the doorway and saw Rodney sawing a large piece of wood into even sections. He noticed me standing there and stood up straight, grunted exhaustedly, and wiped the sweat from his brow. He explained to me that these would be shelves for a bookcase he was making. I nodded, intently watching his worn and tough hands work diligently. I asked him what he wanted for lunch and he decided on grilled cheese sandwiches and fresh berries.
I returned back to the kitchen and began preparing lunch. I hummed a tune my mother used to sing and swayed back and forth while I waited for the grilled cheese sandwiches to finish cooking.
I had dated here and there, but nothing substantial or very serious. My Ma would pressure me all the time to find someone to settle down with and start a family with. My Ma believed in the perfect wife: the one who cooks, cleans, and raises the kids. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never convince her that I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom. I wanted a college education and a REAL job.
Ma was upset the day I left for college. I wasn’t allowed to move back home during the summers. Luckily, Pa gave me money to keep myself alive until I found a job. I was going to a small university to earn a teaching degree. Nothing made me happier than teaching children how to express themselves in the form of art.
Those four years were the best years of my life. Every day after class I’d return to my room and paint. I loved to paint people. I placed them in an outdoor setting that reflected the mood of the person. For instance, a sad woman was walking down a road soaking wet with a broken umbrella. An angry man was shown yelling during a lightning storm. Or, a young couple was found frolicking in a sunflower patch. My professors were always pleased with my work, and I often sold pieces for considerable amounts of money.
My thoughts were interrupted when I heard a scream from the guest house. I dropped the plate I was holding and ran from the kitchen. I heard my favorite piece of china smash hard onto the cold tile floor, smashing into hundreds of fragments.
It was as if the sky was getting angry. The green hued sky now had prevalent black clouds in which seemed to make the atmosphere hard to breathe in. The neighbor’s dog howled to the hidden sun, and the birds ceased from singing their merry melodies. The windmill at the end of our sprawling property began to spin faster, and the cool air pierced through my clothes. My hair blew in every direction, and I found myself struggling to run down the cobblestone path to our guest house.
“Rodney! Rodney, honey, I’m coming!” No matter how loud I yelled, I felt as if I could barely hear myself. I finally reached the front door of the guest house, and it took every ounce of strength my 130 pound frame could manage to pull the door open. The wind was screaming, and the thunder was cracking lightning bolts like whips in the sky. I made it inside just in time. I turned around in the doorway and saw golfball-sized hail falling from the sky by the truckload. Suddenly all the glass windows in the front of the guest house blew out and shot glass at me like bullets; each one cutting my skin with the intensity of a million knives. I was fortunately able to hide my face, but my arms and neck grew hot and wet. I put a hand to my neck, and when I drew it back it was crimson red. I could feel fire running through the veins in my arms, and the loud banging of the hail upon the roof was deafening.
There was an explosion. Not literally, but it sounded like it. And it felt like it. A gust of wind hit the front of the guest house and sent the front door flying at me. It came off the hinges and hit me at about 70 miles per hour. It pinned me against the opposite wall, and I felt my breath taken from me. My lungs couldn’t fully inflate and deflate, and my head was pounding. I knew it would be a concussion; I had one before. In the midst of it all, the roof was caving above me, and ice-cold rain dumped over me, sending an extreme chill through my body. I wasn’t strong enough to lift the debris off of myself. I was frustrated and disoriented. All I could think of to do was cry. I had never been so scared and helpless in my entire thirty-one years of life.
Then it hit me. The whole reason why I’d come to the guest house in the first place.
I looked to my right, the direction of his workshop. The ceiling had completely fallen in that area of the house, and the power suddenly went out. I had no idea how long I’d been pinned against the wall in absolute shock, but I figured it was several minutes. Each second felt like eternity.
I focused my eyes on a mass of debris, hoping, praying that he was going to be OK. At first glance, all that I recognized was a vintage ceramic lamp with a floral shade, the rafters, chunks of drywall, and various articles of furniture. The wind died down, and the rain was beginning to decrease. I was adamant about scrutinizing the mound, but I was still restricted by the rubble. Breathing was even challenging because I could feel my ribs breaking more and more with each inhale. I could not take the prohibiting force any longer. I wiggled my hands over so they were able to push forward. I then put one foot on the wall behind me. With one brute shove, I was able to make enough space to scramble out.
I climbed over a chunk of our fallen roof, cutting my hands and knees on the exposed nails. I was careful not to bend too much, knowing my ribs were barely connected together anymore. I reached normal flooring, and I felt so accomplished that I could’ve kissed the tile. I then turned and lurked ever so carefully towards the mound, cautioning each and every step.
I approached the pile, and slowly started moving aside fragments of various materials. The lamp was cracked, the shade ripped, Rodney’s stools were split in half, tables were missing legs, and there was glass everywhere.
Then a shimmer caught my eye. A gold band. Rodney’s wedding ring.
I reached for the hand. It was worn and tough, yet very cold and clammy. At that moment, I knew. I knew that there’d be no more laughter, no more woodworking, and no more birds singing their merry melodies. My nights would be silent, and his saws would never be touched again.
There was no more Rodney.
Tomorrow is a Mystery in the Attic
How do you characterize yourself? I mean, really think about it: are you born who you are, or do you get to choose later in life? Where do you even find a model to go by, anyway?
Personally, I don’t worry about all that stuff anymore. I mean, I guess I sort of think of myself as a book –I’ve got my underlying theme, my overall mood, I live in a very lively setting every day, and my friends are truly endearing and amazing characters, just like in a fable. My life just falls into whatever sort of fable I want it to be (i.e., Monday Morning Chapters are usually pretty gloomy, but Friday Afternoon Parables are typically ecstatic). And to boot, my life’s ballad will end the same way every other ballad does: exactly as the author intended. I mean, that kind of gets back to the whole discussion about “are you really in control of your own life?” and “is the glass half empty or half full?” My answer: You have complete control over your glass, mister, and on top of that your glass is whatever you please, and I don’t really care what you choose; just don’t tell me my answer is wrong when I make my choice.
I do enjoy suspending my own “control” over my identity every now and then, and instead characterizing myself based on my ancestors’ wild reputations. It’s sort of like stage acting, for me: in my mind’s eye, I can don any mask I wish, any identity I want. And the best part is, the blood of these bandits and royals and gangsters actually runs through my veins, so who knows that I’m not really getting in touch with my true character anyway? It gives you something to think about.
The ironic thing is that I don’t have the patience for historical research, so I don’t really have any evidence for all these family legends to present to you. On the other hand, my family is a nest of pack rats–been that way for generations–so I don’t have to go far to get inspiration for the stories. It’s just a trip to the attic.
I like crawling around up there; the thrill of danger is palpable. See, our attic is above the garage ceiling, about forty feet in the air above a concrete foundation, and the only way to get there is with a freestanding ladder up to the trap door. After you’ve survived the perilous climb up these cliffs, you must wriggle through the door and hold yourself against the rafters on the other side for balance. If you step on the drywall, you’re sure to fall through to your death in the concrete gorge below; only the rafters are strong enough to stand on. So you can only hop from one tiny two-inch beam to the next all the way across this cave of a room. Trapeze artists have safer jobs.
But it’s all worth it in the end; braced over beams, straddling the gorge below, are crates upon boxes upon trunks of yellowed family photos, wedding gowns, papers, records, hats, thank you cards, ration cards, love letters, stamp collections, baby clothes, tea pots, broaches, lamps, gloves and all kinds of treasure. There’s the faded photo of Bonnie and Clyde; Bonnie was my great-aunt, supposedly. Here are the World War Two ration cards my grandpa bought food for his farm with: they still have the dates stamped on them. Here’s my ancestor’s favorite church hat with a big purple bow in the back. Over there are my mother’s journals and senior photos (at seventeen she looked like an angel in high heels). There’s even a tiny corner for me, a place to shove all my baby clothes and my art projects (complete with a five-year-old’s flair for obnoxious spaghetti-o stains and finger-painting). Mom keeps my baby photos closer to her in her bedroom closet; they’ve yet to migrate to the cave.
How do I characterize myself? Well, today I can put on my great-great-cousin’s World War One army helmet and go storm the trenches between the trunks of the attic. I tell you, it never gets old, pretending to be a soldier with mortar flying and grenades exploding. I always feel a little guilty just trying to imagine life in the trenches and how horrible it really was, and yet nowadays in my school everyone is complaining about a couple of bullies. One time one of those bullies targeted me, since I was wearing Cousin Jimmy’s helmet that day to Show-and-Tell and he said I looked goofy. All I could think about was what Cousin Jimmy would do…Of course, I got a little too inspired and punched the bully in the belly, which won me a one-way ticket to the detention hall. That was far from fun. But I guess I was sort of living up to the family name that day. You see, nine out of ten of my ancestors spent time behind bars for standing up for themselves. Take Uncle Charles Stewart Parnell, for instance (I have his family crest in the attic): he got himself arrested for advocating Irish rights under British rule. He was a member of the House of Commons, too, but apparently that didn’t stop the Brits from jailing him.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that my family seems to be a family of helmets. I mean that if I had to choose an object to best represent my family, I would choose the helmet. First off, our attic is full of them. There’s an old rusty miner’s helmet that I adore. I love slipping it on and pretending that the light on my forehead is fired up, and that I’m not really in the attic but a deep dark cave digging for gold. My dad’s old helmets are there, too: his tarnished army Kevlar and his bulky welding mask.
Helmets are sturdy and true; they were built to last and built to protect. That sounds like my family. We’re a pretty tough people, just like helmets. Besides, my grandma always used to say “You can’t hurt a boy in our family hittin’ ‘em on the head, that’s for sure.”
Helmets are for rough and dangerous work, too, and my family has always been made of hard working folk. But it’s been my observation that folk who know best how to work also know best how to party. Hence the overflowing ‘70s photo albums of my parents–crazy hair, concert tickets, motorcycles and all. (Well, I should clarify: these are pictures of my dad and his brother on the weekends, before he met my mom. After that the pictures turn into Sunday schools and opera houses.)
You might be wondering why I’m telling you all of this. What do you care about my family tree and how much fun I have in the attic? Well, I had to tell you all of this to answer our very first question: how do you characterize yourself? Me, personally, I have thought about that for a really long time, but I’ve never thought about it more than when I’m in the attic with the characters from my family’s past. Do I really want to use them as a guide? Will my future be more predictable if I model my life after the past?
What got me thinking about it was the day I realized that someday my life’s story will be up here. I just couldn’t picture it; my little ol’ life, my little ol’ accomplishments, neatly packed away up here next to all these dignified antiques? How could I ever deserve such an honor? I just can’t see my old basketball jersey up here next to the patchwork quilt that crossed the prairie in a covered wagon. I can’t imagine my pale wooden drumsticks up here in a trunk with my great-grandmother’s piano book, or my TI-89 wrapped up with my uncle’s slide-rule. This is my family’s legacy up here, from the aviator’s goggles to the royal family crest to the gangster photo of Bonnie and Clyde. This is all that I am: this is all in my blood. I may not be right about some of my stories, but I’ve based my entire perspective of my family on my characterizations of the legendary artifacts in this attic.
A hundred years from now, when another little boy ventures up here to play, what legacy will I have? How do I want to characterize myself?
Well, the way I figure it, none of my ancestors did anything for their legacies: they did what they thought was right when they thought it was right to do it. And just look at how amazing they were! The least I can do is follow suit.
How about you?
The Old Ones
“…and, not content with the rule of the tyrannical Titans, Zeus and his siblings rose up against Kronos to overthrow them in a great war that was supposed to have taken place before the concept of man. That’s where I’ll stop for now, children.”
The moans of nearly twenty disappointed youth groaned through the sitting room; Matsu-san just held his hands up innocently. “Hey, hey; I’ll continue the tale tomorrow, younglings! Don’t act too disappointed!” As Matsu glanced up, he saw Jin’s figure, standing like a wraith, in the back of his ward. His eyes widened uneasily as the children casually exited the chambers to resume their play and training in the compound yards.
“So now,” said Jin, “you’re teaching Greek mythology to the children, Matsu-san? I figured it would still be the ‘old gods’ stories you taught before.”
“No,” Matsu replied, “I’ve reeducated myself. It’s better that they know the Humanities than just the stories and myths of our native land. So, I teach the histories of the Greek and Romans, from what our greatest translators of literature have provided. As I’m sure you know, we Nihonjin are not the most traveled of people.”
“Hmph. It’s no concern to me what you tell the pupils, as long as it’s correct.”
“It’s the best we’ve got.”
“Best doesn’t mean right. Just look at our own country, and even you could see what I mean.”
“Surely you don’t—“
Jin just continued to stare coldly into Matsu’s eyes, providing him with the answer he required.
“I see. If you want to talk like that, then I suggest we sit down and have a chat.”
Awhile later, Jin was sitting in the rear of Matsu’s domicile, awaiting a cup of tea. “So, Matsu,” Jin inquired, “what’ve you been up to in the past two years?”
“Oh, still just staying here, teaching children. I’ve taken up woodblock carving as a hobby. It’s been a long time since I was placed in the levee.”
“Well, it’s nice to hear that you’ve been teaching, though I may not agree with all your methods. There hasn’t been any real conflict, as I’m sure you know. Not that any respectable person would have me, anyway; I’m Ronin.”
Matsu flinched coming from the corner of the room with a boiling pot. “Don’t say it like that! If you felt the same way as most people, you’d have committed hara-kiri long ago.”
“You’re right, Matsu-san. I don’t like that I can’t wield my blade in this province anymore.”
“They banned them several months ago, after a few rogue swordsmen murdered an innkeeper and his two daughters over an unpaid debt. Civilians were injured in the process. Real bloody mess, I heard. They sent a few men from the Imperial Levee to kill the brigands.”
“Unfortunate that tempers could not be mended.”
“Unfortunate that your name is the trait of honour!”
The two men laughed carelessly, like a pair of old ‘marms. Jin resorted to deep breathing to finally stop chuckling. Matsu just smiled and took a deep drink of his tea.
“Ho—so, finally to the topic of invitation. What do you mean of our country?”
“I’m sure you do know what I mean.”
“Perhaps—but enlighten me, Jin-san.”
“The Shogunate overthrew the old Meiji Empire. The Meiji overcame the old tribes, the Yamato. Nothing in our history has been toward the positive. We have never truly had a navy. We have never truly explored the world, but we know its girth. We isolate ourselves on the mother islands. This is the life of Nihonjin. We have accomplished nothing! Our culture? We are but a mere sham! What we know, we have stolen from our contemporaries, other than the Code of Bushido.”
“But what makes us incorrect?”
“We do not innovate; we steal! We do not earn; we take! We do not bear olive; we bear blade! All those who oppose the power are to die! How could we be correct?”
“And that is why you remain skeptical of the Greek lore?”
“I’m not skeptical of it; I just don’t know that it’s appropriate to teach. As I said, just because something is best does not mean it is correct.”
“People should naturally be pessimistic because if they are always optimistic they aren’t necessarily choosing the correct path for themselves? Is that what you’re getting at?”
“You make it sound insensitive, wrong, even. Bushido, however, prepares a man like me for this situation. Because I am a warrior, but I must face my culture with an earnest, I will always see both the best and worst of humanity. I will face the death and destruction of war and violence, and I will see the beauty and serenity of fine art and nature. I may see them both at once, and I may see neither, at any given time. I live as all men should.”
“Samurai are not the best of men. Samurai are knights in the truest sense. There’s nothing wholly good about knighthood.”
“And what, dear Matsu, is so ignoble of a feudal servant?”
“You are bound entirely to a will, a physical purpose. Knights have no true sense of the world; they see only that which they wish and that which they must.”
“Ah, but I am Ronin! I see no such bounds as those contracted to a higher lord.”
“Ronin are the most shamed beings in our society. You are paradoxically bound to see only the worst our society has to offer, because you cannot possibly ever experience the highs of culture again. You should, in your own sense, have killed yourself, because you cannot see the good of man’s life.”
“There are natural goods.”
“There are natural men, and there is also artificial nature—and it is likely to see the latter before the former. Nothing in our world is sacred anymore. Our own culture has defiled the kami by infusing the will of Shinto with the philosophies of Kongzi. It is an atrocity of the highest order. Then again, I teach our children of the Lords of the Grecians. I am also responsible for this decline.”
“When I am alone, one with the absolute solitude and serenity of bodiless nature, I see the good that man can achieve. Whether or not man actually achieves, the sense and possibility is there. Blame lies in the corruption of man, but those ideals that man can reach will always exist.”
“So, you pine for an unachievable goal? Drunkards and fools chase similar interests, but seldom succeed and retain their worth or sanity.”
“You compare me to a street fiend?”
“In the philosophical sense. Recall, if you will, that I am also a learned man.”
“We learned of different schools.”
“That, friend, is obvious! For if you were taught in the same manner as me, you would see the futility with which you base your argument!”
“I know what I speak of. The only error is the interpretation which the individual man determines. I can see why Christianity is such a heated subject on the western continent.”
“Hmm—you talk with the swagger of a sociological genius. However, think for a moment about your theory again. Your theory is that man must both experience pleasure and hardship to live life properly, and ideally, they will experience them either simultaneously or at regular intervals. Not all men, though, are destined to see the faults of man, and not all men are destined to experience leisure or pleasure. The common rice man doesn’t have any time for playing; he lives a crushing, serf’s life of the eternal harvest, which he will continue with for the rest of his years. The life of a court eunuch is much different. A court eunuch is destined, sometimes from birth, to live a lavish life, during which he may potentially never even leave his lord’s castle. A eunuch never sees the gore of conflict! A rice man never sees the peace of a manicured courtyard! The rice man is put in the levee to die, to lose his one piece of happiness, his property. The eunuch dies in his sleep at a ripe age, probably because he drowned himself in liquor. How do these men live like you, Samurai?”
“The rice man grows to take pleasure in his land, his craft. He earns an income, no matter how meagre, with which to purchase and survive. In perfection of his life, the achievement of a ‘Nirvana’ to him, he has gained that balance and happiness. The eunuch must make decisions for the lord. He does not always have pleasant choices to make, and if he makes mistakes, he will see them in the land and the demeanor of his lord. The eunuch sees troubles, troubles which haunt him, even if it would require the damned corpses of a hundred men to crush the soul of anyone else. It certainly affected me when I fought in the Wars.”
“By living their lives, they will naturally experience these things, this harsh feeling and this effervescent feeling. Why, then, is that not true of everyone?”
“The rice man is but a simple agrarian, and the eunuch is a lesser statesman. Not all can take such pride in their lives, and not all have such difficulties or eases upon them.”
“But as you do, any can see the beauty of nature.”
“No—only the man with a divine patience can truly see the divinity of nature as one such as I can.”
“So the commoner cannot enjoy what he thinks is beautiful in nature?”
“The commoner has little concept of beauty. The commoner could not even write in verse as can I. They may perceive some joy in nature, but that joy is not those truths which learned men wish. Shortly, no; only those who have learned what real positive emotion is through education can derive any positive sense from nature. Lesser men do know more hurt than coddle. There is little than can be done about that, and that’s why the land is in this state that it’s in.”
“Then your ideals can never be achieved?”
“No; I don’t think they could be, at least not within my lifetime. I will be with the kami. If I follow Bushido, I will always know that I’ve attempted the fell life, and will never be a partner to that discomfort of optioning.”
“You, the champion of the moot point.” Matsu stopped to chuckle a bit at that thought. “May I now describe my side of this situation?”
“Well, the way I see it, Jin-san, people should only live the life that suits them. What they learn, what they see, how they act and what they accomplish are but ends to their infinite means. Anyone can be successful, and anyone and all should be fulfilled and happy without the sense of duality you describe. In my case, I teach, and do little else. I teach the children both the lore of our native land and the Humanities of the civilised world because I myself have knowledge of these things. I do not teach the children of violence, bloodshed, depravity, war, greed or any other accursed sin, or if I do, it has a significant context, but I expect that these things can be acquired or avoided as part of the human experience.”
“You state the depravity of understanding under the pretenses of acquisition and youth, in the case of the children—is that what I’m to understand?”
“No—the children will learn of these things when it is appropriate.”
“I learned of my place at a very young age. I was not softened as a child—if anything, I was made to know more of the harsh things our world has to offer younger, so that I would not be shocked by them when I grew older. I feel that I have grown as an appropriate person in that sense, but it contradicts what you say.”
“You are an appropriate person, as are many, when the time and place are sensible, and your mood suits you. Your very aura, though, frightens me much of the time. You are one that belongs on the battlefield, not in a classroom. You learned through experience, but later determined that the acquisition of knowledge came in many forms, and now act within that sense. As a boy, I lived as many in our lands do—poor. My family, as you well know, was one of many farming families in this province, in these valleys. I rose to my current status by deciding that gaining the knowledge necessary to advance my status from a serf to a serviceman was more important. I still own the family farm now that my father has passed, and my mother lives with my sisters, but I do not work on it. I have other men that tend the land, and they have what they are content with in life, which is to say rather little. But someone always has to receive what seems unfair to others, simply because it appears an improvement to them.”
“Not everyone has the added opportunity that you were granted. That is not to say much of myself, being born of my class; still, it gives you no right to presume things that are not always truths.”
“Is the commonality of human will not true of all men? Or, as some would say, does man not have a will to exercise?”
“I do not think that man has free will. You are always guided. I am a spiritual man; I believe the ancestor spirits guide my actions, though I do not always perform as they expect or command. If man had free will, he could always make the proper determinations to succeed in life. As it stands, most men are content to sweat like pigs underneath unforgiving feudal lords, never showing any sign of rebellion and never even complaining about their labours or positions in life. I live as I was born—a man bound to Bushido.”
“So man never deviates from his birth? I am sure I just told you that I was born a crop-tender, and I educate children nowadays.”
“Have you really risen from your position in life? Have you ever petitioned the constable or the lord? Have you ever violently rebelled against your masters? Have you ever dared to defy what we consider to be the sacred law of Conscientiousness and Decency?”
“You are throwing declarative arguments at me as if I do not find them incredulous to be asked! Of course I haven’t done those things; that would mean the death of me!”
“Then you have never truly understood what it means to live, if you have not participated in those base human actions. I mean in these words: Circumstance, Questioning, Iconoclasty. You’ve never acted in an iconoclastic way; I live the life of an iconoclast simply by being Ronin. You have never questioned the rule of your lordship; I have killed lords, personally, for their crimes. You have never wondered about your place in this world and never ventured from the mother islands; I have sailed on the seas, to China and the Spice Lands. I constantly consider that key philosophical question ‘Why are we here?’ There is no one answer for me, and I hope that there is no one answer for you, either, Matsu-san.”
Matsu paused to think. “Do you know of Epicurus, Jin-san?”
“An ancient Grecian. I know nothing more of him, though.”
“Epicurus was a strange man, but I think you would understand his philosophies and way of living. Epicurus told men that they should live life like Libertines, in the securest sense. Nothing, essentially, is worth having unless it advances human enjoyment and frees the senses. Towards the end of his life, Epicurus lived much like a beggar, sleeping in the streets and eating little but the weariest stipend of victuals. Do you see?”
“I see that this man sounds like a fool. He claims man should have the greatest luxuries at the lowest personal cost, and lives like a wandering peasant.”
“Ah—but you, like many, have missed the point. Epicurus’ did not say that man should live in utter luxury; merely that man should only live to advance his own happiness. Epicurus, earlier in life, did live with little inhibition. There is little morality to speak of in Epicureanism, but it is all in the drive to free man of boundaries, and make it so that man has no desires, only goals to be met. Therefore, Epicurus, despite the hospitality and concerns of many good friends and students, lived a harsh, but personally fulfilling life on the street until his old age. He, like you, saw many hardships in his lifetime, but lived in a way that was always positive to him. Therefore, in the sense you described, he lived the perfect life.”
“That is not what I meant—“
“Oh, but you argue? I have given you a good example; what do you wish to counter it with?”
“I…“ Jin was floored; it seemed that Matsu had actually given a good example of his now apparently flawed idea. “I will concede to you this time.”
Jin rose from Matsu’s hard sitting room floor, delicately setting his porcelain cup on its platter. “Well, I have to be off. Authorities from the next province will probably be looking for me, and I have bounty work a few villages away to complete. As you probably know, I do not advertise that I am Ronin—and because of it, few know that fact. I work honestly, and still follow Bushido. Every day, though, it grows more and more difficult to perform those tasks which I was born to perform, and I have frequently fallen upon the jagged idea of suicide. But I believe it is against that will that we preserve, against our nature as creatures in this world, to commit such a heinous murder upon our own flesh. Therefore, in honour of being a human, I refrain, from time to time, from being Nihonjin—from being Samurai. Do you understand my concession, Matsu-san?”
Matsu smiled and nodded, hefting his welling frame from the floor. “Yes, Jin-san—I really do, and I can only hope that you continue to think that way, well into the future. Arigato, Jin-san.”
It was strange being cold despite the fire, flickering like a dying candle. The iceman sat as his desk, looking out through the frost-coated glass window. He was writing a letter, pressing his quill firmly, as if he was engraving his sins into his flesh. The man I worked for was heartless.
If ever a colleague or a distant family member wrote to him about his or her morrow, he would simply ignore their feelings. Rarely he writes his family or colleagues back, but whenever he did, he would criticize his or her feelings. Never in his letters would one find any reference of his personal life. He was a locked chest with nay key to open. Surprisingly, he can be awfully forthright, but only when his son made trouble. When he usually talks, it is so quiet; it could pass as a whisper. He is as dark as the shadows playing on his weary face; his eyes deep and bruised with fatigue.
His woman–sorry, Milady–is colder than winter wind. Strong as granite, and is stubborn as pulling teeth. She is prim, prissy, and prude like any other woman I meet. Shockingly, she hardly has a voice of opinion. My Master is weak, but he is strong and violent.
She lies in her bed now, propped up on three feather pillows; her back was straighter than the surface of the dining table. She was knitting a quilt of red and auburn colors. Her hobby seemed to be the only thing occupying her from her day-to-day worries.
What worries? I do a majority of their house chores, I run the errands, and I raise her children!
I watched as her needle stroke hard through the fabric. I can only think that she is imagining the needle a knife and the cloth the skin of her husband.
The wind howled as if someone blew into an empty jug. The trees creaked and cracked succumbing to the force of the wind. The house squealed, fighting with all of its power to stay whole. Nay matter where we would live, east, west, south, north, I would always feel cold around them.
The room itself felt eerie haunted by the gloomy, sinful eyes in every ancestral portrait that hung on the walls. What was it about white with these people? All they ever wore was white, all of the rooms guests come in are white, the mansion is white, and their skin is ghostly white. Even the glass china on the mantle is white, with hardly any colorful patterns decorated on them. Art they trying to resemble some angelic appearance? Art they using this pure color to cover the sins I must bear to witness? They make me wear black! Black is a dark color, wherefore must I wear Lucifer’s color if I have done less wrong than they?
The youngest son of my Master whined like an annoying babe as I cleansed his wounded hand with red wine. The boy only said nay to his father, and for that his hand was lashed. The boy should have obeyed his father. It does not matter how cruel and icy his parents art; they would not hurt him if he just simply followed the good word of the Lord to honor thy mother and father. All the boy wants is attention; I can see the yearning for love in his eager eyes. He never gets it however; in fact his parents never so much has muttered the words ‘I love you’.
I let the blood and alcohol stained cloth soak in a bowl of crystal clear cold water. With a new cloth, I soaked it in another bowl of warm water, and then gently patted the tear-stained face of the boy. I then folded the cloth into a rectangle and rested it on the nape of his neck. I brushed his damp hair back and quirked my lips. The enervate of his body could not give him the willingness the make expression towards me.
“Off to bed now boy,” said the father sternly. Without hesitation, the boy gloomily went off. Just as the boy left, I began to collect the supplies I used.
“Leave Samantha,” ordered Milady.
What do you think I was doing, is what I wanted to say? Instead, I kept my mouth shut; I made a quick curtsy and departed with haste. Once in the kitchen, after climbing down the squeaking stairs, I began to scrub at the bloodstained cloth in the laundry tub I had set aside while attending to my young Master. I scrubbed slowly and gently.
How can that woman keep her back so straight? She must be wearing her corset to bed. I slouch my back when I get the chance because my back aches everyday with fatigue, but when I see my Master I have to keep my back straight or I get a licking. I must be presentable. That must be why Milady keeps her back so straight.
I abruptly stopped scrubbing. Apparently, I had been scrubbing so hard my fingers had turned red and swollen. I sighed irksome. I rolled my eyes knowing no matter how hard I would scrub these stains would never disappear.
I scoffed and muttered, “Out darn spot. Out I say.” I remember that quote from Macbeth. Blood and red wine stains never go away. Wherefore keep trying? Wherefore not leave it as it is? Wherefore must this spot be as stubborn as my Master and Milady?
CRACK! There was a cry out for God upstairs. More screaming. CRACK! I knew whose blood-curdling screams they belonged to. It may not be until morning then I would be called to mend her wounds and sweep up what is left of the shattered glass.
I clutched my besom. Pain. All I can feel is pain. A deep, knife cutting pain, that gets deeper and sharper as the crying continues. Regret. Regret so heavy, it weighs me towards the floor. It makes me weak in the knees. It makes my blood warm and stomach turn.
…I am no saint…Saints save lives. Saints never back down from doing His work. They would never allow such evil tortures to occur. I am no saint…but I can try. Knowing that I might fail, like failing to get the stains out, I can still try. The eldest sons of the Master…I allowed them to be cruel because I never taught them right from wrong. I raised those boys to be cold! Not this boy. I cannot let my young Master to be like them. As much it is my desire to leave this place, I cannot take the boy and I cannot leave him. I will teach…like the prophets, I will teach this boy the grace of God and make him a better man…he will be a better man.
I laughed joyously. I felt illuminated. Touched by light for the first time emerging from the dark. I felt absolutely weightless standing on my feet. “Praise God, I have resurrected! Amen.”