In Winter
by zara hemla


They cut the rope from the saddle and let him fall. In the dust of the yard, he looks up at her, a child in a soldier's dress, reeking of whiskey. Eyes half closed, hair dusty and matted, the last strength in him lets him close his eyes again.

Her brother looks at her, saying, He is your guest. The soldiers wheel their horses and clatters down the road. Where is my husband, she wants to cry, but her throat clenches and everything seems to blur.

Later, when she is sewing up the American's arm, he looks up at her again. Tired brown eyes: now she hates him, wishes him a thousand miles away, but she watches those eyes for a flinch, tries her very best to be gentle with the needle.



He lolls in the smallest room, screaming for sake. Bellowing for it, a child who only wants comfort: crying, weeping and pounding his fist into the floor, sobbing and whispering words in his devil's language. One part of her laughs gleefully at his pain and the other half is silent, waiting. At night, the boys whimper fitfully and she can feel the walls vibrate.

It must stop. She will speak to Katsumoto in the morning. This is shameful: he is a drunken devil. She tried to silence him once by stitting near him as a mother would, and he rolled over and seized her kimono, pulling her face to his.

She does not know much English, but what he said was not hard to understand: Kill me, he said, and his eyes blazed.



It is green here as the winter blows toward them: green, green, green. The trees drop their leaves only seldom. The boys play with swords in the yard. And Taka is on her knees in the house, scrubbing mud from the wooden floors.

With each swipe, she curses him. Curses all the new customs -- the scraping bootheels, the round black hats, the stifling suits, the telegraph poles. The guns that her brother had told her about. Shiny new guns with shells that tear through armor and burn bone. Guns on wheels that move with the soldier.

Katsumoto had told her that the damned round-eye had done Hirotaro to death with a broken banner-pole. Had shoved it in under his chin. Taka imagines the shove, the skin breaking-- the choke as it drives through into brain. It plays, over and over, in her dreams.



He is always watching her, searching her face as if for understanding. Taka knows that he has no Japanese -- her brother assured her, but she tested it by cursing him while he innocently ate his rice. She said it to Nobutada with a smile, and Algren tentatively smiled back as if he were being complimented. Late at night it makes her smile to think of him, bound to stupidity by simple words.

That is the only thing he is bound by. Later, in the rain, she sees him fight and fight and fight again, sees him laid in the mud like a dog. It feels like a strange kinship: in this single-minded courage, she is the same. Every day that Hirotaro is gone, she feels trapped in the same cold mud. Somehow, watching him rise from the ground again, she finds courage too.


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