Modern Times by knifethrower
This story is dedicated to Oroyukae.
Kagome yawned and scratched the back of her calf with the sole of her fuzzy slipper. Houjo was an early riser. Like everything else in life, he approached his career with great enthusiasm, and never could wait to start his workday. Sometimes he reminded her of InuYasha, waking up the camp with insults about lazy humans sleeping the day away, and demands that she hurry up and prepare his ramen.
She set about whipping up her specialty, an egg white omelet. At forty, Houjo was still as well-built and handsome as when they were in school together, but nowadays he had to watch his cholesterol.
She prepared a cup of tea and set it on the table for her husband, who was due in the kitchen in three… two… one… Houjo skidded into the room in his stocking feet and planted a kiss on her cheek. Like clockwork, she set the omelet in front of him just as he plunked himself down at his place at the Western-style kitchen table.
She grabbed a can of chocolate meal replacement out of the refrigerator and sat down close beside her husband. She tried to make him happy in little ways like that. Since the greater part of herself was not hers to give, she tried to make up for it by giving him whatever small pieces she could. Houjo set down his chopsticks and gripped her thigh in his hand. The move could have been taken as the affectionate gesture of a lover, but Kagome knew he was checking to see if she had lost weight. It was part of their morning routine, and as always she found it annoying and a little degrading.
Kagome had trouble keeping her weight up. It wasn’t like the old days, when she skarfed down food like a longshoreman. If Houjo detected she was slipping, out would come the folk remedies. He would notify her mother, and worse, his mother. This morning he must be satisfied with her muscle mass, however, and he gave her thigh a gentle pat. Then he was up and running, grabbing his lab coat and out through the mud-room door.
Kagome washed his plate and set it in the dish rack. Houjo had put a lot of effort into creating the perfect environment for her, right down to the placement of the kitchen window, which framed a view straight out of a feudal era village. Except that the sheds and pens that sheltered her charges were much tidier and better maintained than they would have been back then. They had to be, to keep the animals out of his precious herb garden.
Next on her schedule: dress for the day, and her morning phone call from Houjo’s mother.
In Japan, it is almost expected for the relationship between a wife and her husband’s mother to be contentious. And there was no denying that Houjo’s mother was a cantankerous old bat. Another reason her old school pals found for feeling sorry for her.
So many reasons to feel sorry for poor Kagome. Raised in a single-parent family. All of her childhood illnesses. Then her punk boyfriend died, followed by her battle with depression and subsequent suicide attempt. It hadn’t been a cry for help, either. By rights she should have died. Her body recovered quickly. Her spirit was not so resilient. Houjo only left her side to attend classes, and then his place was taken by his mother.
Houjo’s mother knew to only call Kagome on her cell phone. Most of the girl’s time was spent outside, either tending to her animal menagerie, caring for Houjo’s herb garden, or off on a mission to save some injured animal. Kagome was known for rescuing and rehabbing injured wild animals. She was making a reputation for herself for working with raptors, birds of prey that frequently came into conflict with the incursion of development on their wild habitats.
Knowing how much she loved to bathe, Houjo had designed the master bedroom suite around a large and luxurious bathroom. The spa-style tub was housed separately from the toilet and sinks, with windows that looked out on a screened garden. There was no time in her schedule for lounging in the tub, however. She showered quickly and dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt. Her mother-in-law was due to call in three… two… one…