ten, chi, jin
summary: Hikaru's mother discovers herself.
notes: for round double-oh-seven of blind go.
She sat down at the kitchen table and folded her hands in her lap. She'd been used to the noise and commotion of a teen aged boy in the house. Hikaru was just one person, but it took three days to get a full load of clothes to wash. Masao was often working late . Cooking for one was difficult. She didn't mind leftovers.
She didn't like eating alone.
Furtively, she checked the clock. She wouldn't have to start dinner for hours, still, and Masao wouldn't be home until nearly midnight. She wondered if he was working, or cheating on her.
The weekly special was king crab legs. She waited in line, leaning down on her cart, watching the street from the small uncovered corner of a window beneath one of the specials ads.
"What you need is a hobby. Your life has barely begun! You're more than just some child's mother, after all. More than some man's wife." Tanaka-san straightened her shoulders, the tight line of her mouth widening as she pressed her lips together, deepening the surrounding wrinkles.
"A hobby," she repeated dully, positioning her cart next to Tanaka-san's. It was wise to let an expert blaze your trail.
She piled the tea cups and the saucers, and lifted them with one hand, and grabbed the plate with the tea pot in the other. Her mother was already busy washing the dishes at the sink. She stood next to her, like she had since she was a little girl, and dutifully took up her role.
"Father can't stop talking about Hikaru and his matches, huh?" she smiled proudly.
"Oh, you have no idea," her mother shook her head, affectionate disgust sending her eyes rolling.
She laughed, feeling shielded.
"But, dear. You look tired."
Her shoulders slumped slightly, betraying her.
The key in the lock jarred her, though she had been waiting. She bent her head down, focusing on the swirling marks on the page. It was past two in the morning, Saturday night, which, she supposed, was why he came home. She heard him taking his shoes off, but he said nothing, not expecting anyone to hear him. He stopped at the stairs.
"You're awake," he accused.
She looked up from her book, smiling automatically. "I was reading."
There was consuming silence. "I'm going straight to bed."
She nodded, and returned her attention to the page she wasn't reading.
She left her gloves in the garage, but she wasn't going to go back and get them now. She dug her hands into the cold mud, turning it over by sifting it through her fingers. A restrained sense of delight tingled down her spine. It would take forever to get the dirt out from under her fingernails, but it didn't bother her, so that was all that mattered.
Beside her, flowers in dozens of colors waited patiently to be planted. She bought too many trays, but she didn't spend much, normally.
She wanted to surround their house with lush beauty.
She wiped her hand over the mirror, and looked into her eyes. The crow's feet at the corners were deepening. That cream she bought did nothing but smell nice. She had grey hairs, too. She'd plucked the first few she'd found, but...
The women in Masao's office weren't as old as she was. Was he sleeping with someone from the office? Whoever she was, she was almost certainly beautiful, and younger, definitely.
She looked down at her wet, towel-wrapped body. She was sagging everywhere.
Disgusted with herself, she picked up her toothbrush. She didn't have time to look at herself.
They used to have dreams together. She'd forgotten about most of them, but one was kept like a precious treasure, tucked away in the safe recesses of her heart. Whether she was at the stove or in the garden, or even shopping, she would occasionally get a taste of that dream. If we had followed through, I'd be doing this in that context, for that. Wishfully prophetic moments.
She watched him from across the breakfast table, the newspaper between them like a fence. Maybe his dreams still included her, but she had no proof he had any unfulfilled dreams left.
Her eyes gleamed with joy and guilty regret. There had once been a time when not a day would go by without the two of them spending at least fifteen minutes together. She thought back to when Akari-chan and Hikaru would play in the park, and they would sit on the bench and gossip and chat. Now, they only met in stores.
He was a lovely boy, Fujisaki-san said, gruff and shy, but so sweet.
She congratulated her. It was Hikaru who fell in love with go and dumped Akari, effectually, so there was no reason for Fujisaki-san to apologize.
"What about Akari now?"
She moved the phone to her other ear. "She's getting married! I've told you three times now, Hikaru. Did you already know?"
"I haven't talked to Akari in a while," he said. His tone was unusual.
She smiled. "Then give her a call."
He didn't speak for a moment. "Yeah, I will. Mom..."
She could hear voices in the background, so she knew... "I won't keep you. Just thought you'd like to know."
"Yeah... thanks. Hey, come over for dinner soon. I learned how to cook cup ramen!"
She managed not to laugh over the phone.
She took a short nap in the afternoon. When she woke up, her hair was a mess, so she pulled it down and combed it out with her fingers. She still felt tired but she went and made dinner, expecting to be eating alone. Masao came home, though. She claimed she ate earlier, and gave him her dinner. He looked at her hair oddly.
It reminded her of when they were younger.
When he was in the bath, she looked at his cell phone. It wasn't snooping, because they were married, theoretically. And then, she found the name.
She had already been down this aisle. She had a list, but it was in her purse. Her cart was empty. She looked at products as she passed by, but she couldn't have said if she was in the soup or cosmetics aisle.
She was tired of buying cosmetics.
Tanaka-san was in the cereal aisle, with pictures of her grandchildren. Her youngest grandson was in Australia, studying the coral reef and learning to surf. She looked at Mitsuko, her eyes narrowed.
"Have you given up on life yet?"
But had Life given up on her? She forced herself to smile.
She spent the afternoon at her parents' house. Her father was showing off Hikaru's latest game to an old friend of his. Her mother had bought a new tea set, so she was making room for it in her special cabinet.
Her mother had over a dozen tea sets by now.
She picked up a teacup in the shape of a swan, and dipped it into the water to wash it. "I think I need a new hobby," she said casually.
Her mother looked at her knowingly. "There are times, dear... when change can be very good for your soul."
It didn't take as much courage as she thought to open the door, but once she did, she had to walk inside, and that was harder. She'd been interested in the Cultural Center for a long time, but she'd never had enough reason to take the plunge and go inside.
Miura Raiko was a terrible reason, so she chose to believe that it was for herself.
She tried to be unobtrusive as she looked around, but the young woman working reception came over to her anyway. She was polite, and receptive.
In the end, Mitsuko signed up for a class.
She regretted it almost immediately. What was she doing, at her age? Everyone else in the class... they would be much younger, wouldn't they? Or... at least more refined. She was being a fool, once again.
It didn't pay to become interested in things or people who did not reciprocate.
She got the number for the Cultural Center, but she floundered.
Hikaru dropped by unexpectedly, and she made dinner for him. He asked about her garden, and about his father. She was able to tell him about the garden. He didn't press about his father.
She didn't cancel the class.
Eggs, tea, grilled fish, rice, miso soup, rolled omelet, seasoned nori, wasabi-flavored pickles, and natto. She positioned each bowl neatly on the tatami placemat, with the chopsticks just so at the top. She had done this just once before, on their first anniversary, but they still had all the proper place settings.
She nearly took it all away. It looked so old-fashioned, and desperate. She didn't want to be either of those things.
He came down, and gave her a funny look, but he kissed her cheek.
"I'm taking a class," she blurted out.
He looked guilty. "Good... I'm glad."
She sat in seiza for the first time in years. She thought of Hikaru at his games. Maybe she needed a fan to hold, like he had the last time she saw him.
They weren't to touch any flowers. They had to discuss history and philosophy first. She was glad, but there was an arrangement before her with only three branches! Sophisticated!
There were twenty people in the class, mostly women slightly younger than she, though a few were thankfully older.
A gentleman, traditionally dressed, smiled at her from a table away. Hesitant, she smiled back.
She went to the library for the first time since Hikaru was in middle school. She used to cajole and nag him until he started to shut her out. She'd thought, then, that she was doing what she had to for his future. She backed off, of course. And he found his own future.
She got three different books, one of which was just art photographs of flower arrangements. She wanted to look it over carefully, but even just flipping through it, she felt inspired. Like she still had an undiscovered future.
She felt silly, but happy, finally.
They were to sit two at a table. Each table had neat piles of flowers and four vases, two squat and two tall. She started to look the flowers over, thinking.
It turned out that the gentleman who smiled was across from her. He was still traditionally garbed, and his hair was more white than black, but it wasn't completely white.
After some instruction, they were to begin, but her hands stayed in her lap as she considered. The gentleman leaned in, smiling conspiratorially. "The first choice is most critical, isn't it?
"By the way, I'm Hanai. And you are?"
She hummed to herself as she finished the dishes, and turned on music while she was vacuuming. She went out into her garden, and pruned and watered her plants. She wanted to plant more, now that was having ideas. There wasn't much space left, but she would check the garden center tomorrow.
Hikaru called while she was in the garden, but when she called back, he didn't answer. She didn't worry, though. She'd call back later.
She made enough dinner for just herself and soaked in the bath while reading philosophy.
Class was in two days, and she couldn't wait.
She carefully turned the stem of the lily until it was just right. She sat back and looked at her three branches. Biting her lip, she tried again to realign the leaf stalk, trying to maximize the curve so it was as close to perpendicular to the lily as she could make it.
"It's about balance," Hanai-san whispered, leaning over. He smiled gently, and winked at her. "Don't force it."
"Balance," she nodded and smiled gratefully. The arrangements reflected the heart, sensei had said.
She pulled her hand back, and let it be imperfect. Hanai-san beamed.
She blushed, feeling proud.
She sat down on the edge of the porch next to her father, and set his glass of iced tea down. It was a sunny afternoon, but it had rained on and off all morning. The air felt fresh and clean, and it was good for the flowers.
She imagined the smell of osaundersiae, and imagined a stalk in a squat vase, maybe burgundy, surrounded by leafy greens.
"Your mother's been worried about you. It's nice to see you smiling again. I'd nearly forgotten how beautiful you are!"
"Oh, dad," she laughed. She squeezed the edge of the porch, pleased.
Hanai-san's hands were beautiful, his fingers long and tapered, his fingertips almost flattened. As he elegantly turned the rose stem, she watched the way the edge of his sleeve slipped up his arm.
She should wear a kimono to class next time. Many of the women did. She owned two, but maybe she should go to the fabric store, and make a new one. It should be part of her preparation. This was about so much more than flowers.
Hanai-san turned to her and smiled. "What do you think?" he asked her quietly, his eyes twinkling in anticipation.
She didn't remember the name of the song, but she kept humming, occasionally breaking up the melody as she moved through the parts she didn't know. This fabric was gorgeously elegant for a kimono. It was expensive, but she just trimmed back on her ideas for her garden.
She wanted to be the type of lady who was beautiful in a mature kimono.
She looked up, startled. Masao was standing in the door, looking at her strangely. "What about dinner?"
"Oh... I haven't started it yet." She looked at the clock. It wasn't as if she'd expected him.
She was just a bit nervous. The class was examining examples the sensei had chosen as best representatives of the day's lessons, and hers was there. Hanai-san's was chosen, too, but it was at the other end of the table. The two in the middle were beautiful.
The youngest woman in class came to her side and looked down demurely. "I really love the colors you chose. Very modern!"
Awkwardly, she flushed, and bowed. When she was upright, she saw Hanai-san beaming at her proudly.
She shifted, pleased. It was hard to believe, but she was doing well with this.
She turned the cup slowly, keeping her hands wrapped around it, watching the liquid lazily slosh inside. Hanai-san had invited her out after class, and it felt a bit like she was doing something wrong. It wasn't wrong.
Hanai-san told her all about his wife, and their children. And his loneliness. He was a bit older, and he had nursed his wife through cancer.
She told him about Hikaru, and his go.
And then she told him about Masao. And Miura Raiko.
He reached out and touched her hand gently. She looked at his fingers.
Maybe it would become wrong.
She checked her profile as she tied her obi. It had been so long since she'd worn a full kimono. She felt equal parts ridiculous and happy. Looking at herself in the mirror, she felt like being close to fifty was nothing to be upset about, actually.
She was standing up straighter wearing this, too. Her shoulders were held back, she had to keep her chin up...
She looked at this woman in the mirror, and she was happy that it was her. She could hear her mother's voice, and she smiled.
What would Hanai-san think, she couldn't help wondering?
Habits were like moss on the side of a tree, growing slowly until they became a part of the whole. Hanai-san would politely ask her out each week, she would politely agree. Hanai-san rarely mentioned her husband, but he picked up Weekly Go and discussed philosophy, art, and beauty.
She bashfully grew accustomed to his charm.
It was the last class, and she felt like she was attending a funeral. Of course, Hanai-san asked her out after class. Of course, she agreed politely.
Over tea, he reached out and picked up her hand. "Come and visit my house next week."
She started at her mother's voice. Laughing to cover her embarrassment, she retorted, "Wool can be very useful!"
Her mother sat down next to her, and reached out to touch Mitsuko's hair. "I like this new style. It suits your complexion."
She blushed, surprised. "Thank you, mother."
"You..." her mother narrowed her eyes, looking her over like her face was a secret map. "You have the look of a woman in love."
Immediately, she dropped her chin, and twisted her hands together. "Love... oh.
"I don't know if it's love." But she was smiling as she said it.
"A bad wife is the ruin of her husband. The reverse is true as well, I think." Hanai-san sighed. They turned down another path in Rikugien.
"I've trespassed on your good nature. I hope you haven't been troubled. That was never my intention." She felt restrained, and she wanted to rebel.
"I have been troubled, but I can assure you, all my troubles are selfish." He brushed her hair back, his fingers caressing her neck. "Come to my house tomorrow. Let's have a tea ceremony."
It was... a proposal.
The next day, Masao came home early. He'd lost his job.
Afternoon sun made the bedroom look like a different room. She sat on the edge of the bed, griping it tightly. Masao wasn't looking at her. She was going to wrinkle her kimono.
"We used to have dreams. Even before Hikaru was born... we had plans for our retirement! Remember?"
"I'm not the one who forgot." She sounded mechanical.
"There are second chances. Aren't there?"
She wasn't sure. Hanai-san... expected her. "There are different kinds of second chances."
"...What's going on between us?" He sounded forlorn, like he truly didn't know.
She looked him in the eye. "Masao. You idiot."
She put her keys and enough money into the small purse, and put the string around her wrist.
"Where are you going? Let's talk. Please. I know I... I don't have a right... just don't go!"
She looked over her shoulder at him, one hand on the doorknob. "I already told you. I have an appointment."
"You can't go out dressed like that!" he cried out, desperate.
"Why not?" she asked calmly.
"You... you look so beautiful!" He stepped forward, and reached out for her kimono, but his fingers fell short.
Her hand trembled, but she turned the knob.
The train was loud, and bumpy. She held onto the bar, lips pressed together, knuckles white. Dizzy, she focused all her effort on staying erect.
She hadn't expected to be making a choice, though it had been a choice all along. Masao was obsessive, oblivious, and often rude. Hanai-san was gentle, refined, and elegant. Promises of better days were never bankable. Masao could swear that he had changed, but it might be a lie. Hanai-san wasn't able to give her a fairy tale ending either.
She closed her eyes, and inhaled, exhaled.
It all came down to what she wanted.
Hanai-san folded his hands into his sleeves. Between them, the tea was cold.
"Are you sure that you have made up your mind?" His voice sounded restrained, strangled.
She bowed her head down a bit lower, squeezing her hands together tighter. "I'm sure. I'm just not sure it's the right choice."
Silenced wafted like the tea's aroma that had stilled. After a bit, he sighed, weary. "It is improper of me, but I am disappointed."
"I apologize," she said breathlessly, meaning it. She felt like a fool, making the same mistake twice.
"Please, don't," he laughed. "Just, please...
She kept going over lists in her mind as the scenery streamed past. The road was noisy and Masao was driving fast. She wasn't sure they had enough place settings for tea. Extra would be better. Were there curtains for every room? She could make more.
Remembering the guesthouse on the coast that she and Masao went to for their honeymoon, she tried to think of anything they lacked. Not that she could do anything in the car.
She put her hand on his on the stick, caressing lightly with her thumb. His smile deepened.
This was the right choice.
The gardenias overflowed in her arms, pressing against her kimono. She stepped up to the back porch. Her son and his friend were sitting over the goban arguing, again.
"Boys," she chided gently.
Hikaru stopped mid-sentence and smiled at her cheekily. His friend looked honestly abashed. He was so polite. She nodded to them, and went inside.
She had ideas of what to do with these blooms... Her husband was checking in another guest. She bowed to them, and went to her workroom. Carefully, she selected a vase, and set it in the middle of her table. She was ready.