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Falling by Stella Mira

Woman's Choice

Higurashi Izumi is as gentle and quiet-spoken and slim-figured as she has always been, but Kagome can see the veins of weariness lining her skin. The fragrance of mikan blossoms wafts in her nose, clings to her cheeks, when she closes her arms around her mother. Izumi smells of summer and mother and home. Lids lowered, Kagome inhales the scent deep into her lungs, her mind traveling back in time—an array of orange peels and fresh juice on the table, sunny laughter and unripe bliss. Her lashes flutter as she draws back—the vision is sealed into the treasure box of happier times, but the smell lingers, seeps into her mouth, and she can almost taste what that little girl tasted.

“I’m sorry that you can’t stay longer, mom.”

Kagome has lost count of how many times she has apologized on their way from the train station to her small apartment. Her mother’s smile is warm, her voice warmer. An apology. A smile. It is a vortex of kindness and regrets, wind in late summer’s evening, warm but thick with salty scents.

“I’m happy for you, but you shouldn’t overwork yourself.” Izumi shakes her head, part-sigh, part-laughter, stops Kagome from fussing over her messy apartment the minute she passes the threshold. “Finish your work, Kagome. I’ll take care of that and make lunch. We can talk then.”

Papers and photos are strewn on the low table in the center of her living room, detailed profiles of all Board members and their immediate family.

“I’m really sorry, mom.” Kagome apologizes again, Izumi smiles again, that cycle goes round and round until she is dizzy with things she cannot say. I’m sorry I can’t go back to that place. Her mother tenses then, smile stiff on her lips, as if she can read Kagome’s thoughts, the shameful tale of her fall, but she is not staring at her daughter.

“Mom?” Voice fragile with questions, worry etched in blue, cycle broken. No apology. No smile. “Are you alright?”

Izumi smiles then—but it is not the same smile. “I guess I’m a bit tired from the trip.”

Relief comes in tidal waves, suffuses her body. Kagome lies to herself, chooses to believe her mother’s flimsy excuse. If Izumi has truly seen her fall then Kagome doesn’t want to know. Sometimes, words unsaid hurt less.

“Come sit down. You really don’t have to do all that for me.”

Izumi takes a seat beside her, exchanges places with her daughter. “I want to do something for you, even if it’s just cleaning your apartment. I’m sorry, Kagome. If only your father had been alive—”

She is the one to apologize this time, but Kagome cannot be the one to smile. Perhaps she is not as strong as her mother, perhaps she is too young to step into that role. It feels like medicine, bitter to swallow, but his toxins still corrupt her blood, fester inside every vein and artery—they cannot be nullified by merely that. The past can never overwrite the present, and a future shaped by the present is full of fire that never dies, of ill blood and obsession. To desire a dragon means to burn for as long as he lives—flesh melted off bones, skin shed over and over, until she too, becomes the serpent.

“You worry too much, mom. I’ll be fine. I’ve made it this far, haven’t I?”

It sounds like a lie, tastes like a lie, and perhaps, it is a lie. Kagome can’t be sure if this is fate preordained or whimsical coincidence, but there is one truth. He is as guilty of her fall as she is, if not even more so. Kimura Akiko’s picture reveals this secret, her drawn lips whispering schemes she is yet not cogent of—but soon to come, too soon. Kagome forgets herself, and her lips curl in mimicry of the girl’s smile, not quite the same. Kagome can’t decide who is the more pitiable between them. The woman who offers herself to the dragon or the girl who is offered to him?

“Look at this girl. We’re so alike…but so different. Her father is on the Board of the company I work for and it seems he’s willing to use even his own daughter if it will open the right doors. She will only see life through the bars of a gold cage.”

Her mother studies the girl closely, almost regretfully, but she doesn’t give the reaction Kagome expects. No surprise, no confusion, only the quiet side of resolution, gentle strokes of her eyes as she turns to Kagome, as if she can no longer stare at this girl made of ink and illusory freedom. 

“You wouldn’t like to be in her position? Even caged birds are better than birds with broken wings.”

Soft-spoken, brimming with tacenda, Izumi’s words slink into her mind, scrape the exposed nerves, and she knows. Kagome can see it in her mother’s gaze, in her dry lashes, eyes that can no longer spill tears. Falling is neither fate nor coincidence but a woman’s choice—and her mother has made that choice as well.

“Broken wings will heal in time, but gold bars will not melt so easily. I’d rather take my chances in the wilderness, even if it means losing one wing through the struggles.”

Another truth, though partial this time. Kagome can only speak for herself. Kimura Akiko might actually like her cage.

“Mom…” She waits for her mother’s smile, for the sign that it is alright to ask, even if she can’t reciprocate. It is not a matter of trust or shame, but Kagome would rather spare her mother of debts that don’t belong to her. “What is it that you want to tell me? You’ve been acting strange ever since you saw that girl’s picture.”

Izumi’s eyes flit back to that picture, but she speaks another name. “Kimura Natsuo.”

For the first time Kagome hears not her mother’s voice, but a woman’s voice, a voice that eerily resembles her own in all the wrong ways. Teeth clamp on the insides of her cheeks, abrade the wet flesh. She asks what she already suspects for punishment’s sake. Kagome is the one to welt old wounds, graze her mother’s white scars, until they become as hot and red as hers. It is only fair that she bears some of the burden.

“You know her father?”

Her mother’s smile is so gentle that it becomes painful to look at. A mirror of her future self.

“Yes.” It’s not one simple word, but punishment lifted, burden unloaded. You don’t have to ask—I’ll tell you.

Kagome feels so small then, more punished, more burdened—she finally understands. Her mother cannot cry…she can only smile. Kagome can do neither…she can only listen.

“You know I stopped working after I got married, but before that, I was an office lady. The company I worked for was owned by Kimura Natsuo. Your father worked for a company Kimura did business with, so that’s how we met. He was charming and kind, so very kind. He was kind enough to marry a woman like me. You see…there aren’t many choices for a pregnant mistress.”

~~~~~

Skye’s Weekly Challenge: Trust

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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