Fiction: ‘Guerrilla Geisha Girls of La La Land’

Proloque

The Funeral: Masako’s Eulogy for a Marriage

There is a time for everything and, my husband, it is time for you to die. You couldn’t see it. Was it your ego, swelled with success? Or was it your obsession with Shizuka, your brother’s mistress? I saw your desire, burning only brighter as the thought of having what your brother could no longer have. She danced for you once, playing the fox, fooling you into pausing, hesitating with indecision and desire. And for her, shining with love, that was enough. She gave her lover the gift of a few more hours, a few more days. She had slowed him down.

Shizuka cannot comfort him if he was dead. She would not be yours. Could not be yours. Even in your lust you realized having her in your bed was too risky. Others wanted her, but she loved your brother and became a nun–thus needing no man and immortalizing one.

Even so, I heard you murmur her name in your sleep and offer tender words of endearment, word that never drifted my way. Not in all our years of marriage. Not even after I gave you sons.

Your brother left Shizuka in the Yoshino hills and escaped to Hiraizumi, gaining protection from an Oshu Fujiwara, but when Hidehira died, the Oshu Fujiwara would not protect him. Your brother killed his wife, his daughter and then himself. That was ten years ago and his legend grows. People sing songs of his courage and his undeserved fate. He will remain young and loved.

How did you die? From your own impatience? Defeated by a horse that only thought of its own needs? I hear whispers. Some say Shizuka haunted you. Other say that your brother’s voice was heard whispering to you in the wind. Still others claim that Benkei came back in the form of a wasp to perform his final duty to his great, great lord, Yoshitsune.

I’ve also heard that you’d been seeing your brother’s face and figure, heard his wife’s weeping or lately you’d seen your brother standing over his dead child. You’d catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye and turn–eyes round with ear and then seeing nothing. You’d attempt to regain your composure. Sometimes I saw that, but I though you might fear me.

They are waiting for me. I must dress and play the widow. My grief cloaks my excitement as I watch and listen. Your generals and lieutenants carefully eye each other. They nod and speak their greed. They are, of course, clever men, but with your death their avarice seduces their fears into a foolish calm. Now the tentacles of betrayals begin to spread. Your men talk in front of their servants, their concubines and the maids they use for sexual relief. For what can these lowly men and women do?

You, my husband, couldn’t see the truth. You and your brother were twin pines. Not lovers, not husband and wife, but two brothers from different mothers and yet your lives were connected. One could not achieve without the other. One could not live without the other. You severed your right hand. You were rippled and your life slowly drained away. You let the emperor play you against your brother. Your brother journeyed from Kyoto to Kamakura to speak with you. You sulked, half afraid of this man and knowing that refusing to see him would mean war. You won the war of spears and swords, but lost the battle of hearts and souls. You gained the North, by rewarding betrayal with defeat. How surprised the Oshu must have been–offering your brother’s death as tribute and dying as a result. In their last hours, I am sure they asked him for forgiveness and cursed you, like to many others.

The monks are chanting. The incense rises. And I pray, not for you, but for my own success. You thought it was your stern intelligence that made me marry you over my father’s objections. How foolish men are sometimes. I, too, loved your brother for his joy, his generosity and his flair for making each hour and each day so much more vibrant. But he deferred to you and so did I.

Neither your brother nor you are here to protect your sons from the scheming generals. They swear their allegiances in the morning and at night they whisper words of hope and hate and ambition. Cockroaches scurrying in the dark corners. Your concubines weep, worried about who will protect them. Dust collects on autumn fans. The voices are comely comfort.

As your widow, I am understandably grief-stricken. I listen to the poetry of creaking floors and whispered promises. My father hovers about, gloating at his good luck. He forgets how he raged when I married you. He beams with the thought of becoming the power behind your sons, an honor I supposed you thought you would enjoy. Your sons do not have your brother’s heart or your cold determination. You taught them only how to quiver in your stern presence.  You berated their every original thought and asked for strict obedience. You raised our sons as dogs. How did you expect these cowering men to keep your empire together?

Of course, your men have not forgotten that you had a wife, a widow who might need protection. What they do not know is that once, I, too, was entranced by Shizuka. She once taught me how to make a man remember you, how to embed your fragrance into his robes and once mixed with his sweat, remember your nights together. From her and her women, I learned the secret mix of Yoshitsune’s scent, the incense he burned and how she scented his clothes. Since his death, I have attended to your robes, even when I knew you would visit another woman. I did not complain. I helped you remember your brother and even Shizuka.  On that day that you died, the heat of the horse and your own body, helped to raise Yoshitsune’s fragrance around you until it smothered your very life.

Men, superior men, should not distain their women and their servants. “Women and insignificant men are hard to raise” so people say, but we can be a swordless army. Knowledge is power. Now that you are gone, it is my time to rule. Perhaps they will sing no songs for me, but I, Masako Hojo, will be remembered.

Hōjō Masako by Kikuchi Yōsai (菊池 容斎)
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