In a large room of an artist’s studio, somewhere lost within one of the many suburbs of Kyoto, a boy watched an older woman, red paint up to her elbows, in the act of crimsoning a succubus.
The studio looked out on the courtyard which the building itself was built around. The sun, at that moment overhead, blazed down upon the mossy wet vines that clung to the brick work, sending their red reflections glowing into all the sombre nooks of the work room.
The succubus, rudely cut from lecher’s wood, rested at ease upon her tail, her curled-ram horns pressed against the wall, her legs obscenely sprawled open. The sculptress sat before her creation on a low stool, hard at work. The silent boy sat nearby, gazing fondly at both.
On the table in front of the open window stood a row of Oni, rough mountain demons, modeled from river-bed clay. Beside that project were piles of washi parchment covered with drawings in the woman’s own hand, done in blues and reds. By the door a figure of Inari, the trickster fox god of rice, sake and prosperity, sat upon its haunches, a sacred minashigo key hanging from its mouth.
The woman was dressed in simple browns, she had a round, dark face and straight black hair. From the globs of scarlet-red paint spread out at her feet she carefully, with only her fingertips as tools, crimsoned the succubus into life. The effect was less of a statue being given a second skin with an ox-tail brush; rather, it was as if life was slowly seeping through the cold dark hues of the wood through the miraculous use of the succubus’ own menstrual blood. From her thighs on down she appeared to have spurted and spouted sticky rivulets that coated her goat-legs; while, from her navel upwards, the artist’s red-soaked fingerprints could be seen upon the naked wood, fondling each intrinsically carved breast, the thick neck, the bulbous lips.
Once in a while the woman would say the boy’s name, “Shijo;” but it had less to do with starting a conversation and more in a childish, sing-song voice, as if his name were precious to her and she simply enjoyed saying it for the sake of hearing the syllables roll off her tongue. Whenever she did say it, though, the boy would look up from whatever he was doing and smile to himself. He was use to her moods, had seen all of them in the last two years. She was having a mood right at that moment. He could tell. The studio was utterly silent, a perfect hush enhanced by the heat of a noonday sun beating down. Presently the woman rose, crossed to the window, her arms sticky with paint and looked out into the heat.
From where she stood she could see the sparse flowers edging the neglected pathway, the building opposite her with its broken windows, the scandalmongering vines climbing up the tiled roof that cut the violet-blue of a July sky into fragments.
In the center of the courtyard was an ancient, dry fountain; some tall red sayuri lilies grew there, the pure cherry of their hearts bright as the paint the woman had been applying to the succubus reclining wantonly behind her.
The boy stood and walked to stand behind the woman, to see what had caught her attention. The sculptress rested her elbows on the sill, it was so hot that she felt it burning through the paint that was quickly drying on her hands. She had the air of one routinely use to being by herself, the unquestioned calm that arose from a life of long silences. Her face was reserved, even sombre; her lips, well shaped but pale, were resolutely set; there was a fine curve of strength to her chin. She had wide, black brows, smooth dark skin, nebulous mahogany eyes. Her throat was full, she had the sort of muscles sculptors called beautiful.
After a time of gazing at the sun-burned garden she turned back into the room. Standing in the center of the studio, with her teeth worrying her red middle finger, she looked questioningly at the half-crimson succubus. The boy smiled, waiting patiently to see what she finally would say. Some times it would take her hours to form a single comment, but they were observations he always found endlessly interesting. Instead, with a sigh, she took a curiously wrought key from her belt, swung it about in her fingers and left the room.
The building was built without connecting corridors or passages. Each room opened onto another, the upper ones were reached by short wooden staircase built against one of the outer walls. There were many apartments on the second floor, each one boasting imperial designs from at least fifty to sixty years ago. As with all the windows on the first floor, the ones on the second were set facing the old courtyard.
Many queer and exquisite objects could be seen in those long deserted rooms; carved chests full of Korean silver; paintings from China full of erotic terror; furniture made by long-forgotten hands. In one chamber hung several gold-silk tapestries depicting the Eight Devils of Kimon, all done in shades of ruddy brown. As she walked lightly from one room to the next her footsteps caused little clouds of dust to billow up, marking her slow passage.
Passing these things without a glance the woman unlocked a door on whose rusty hinges it took all her strength simply to turn. It was a store-room, one lit only by one low window looking down upon the street. Like everything else in the building, it too was full of dust as well as a sallow, moldy odor. About the floor lay many bound-chests, untouched and before one of these the woman knelt, fiddling with the lock.
The smell of rust filled her nose as the lid swung open. The chest contained a number of cut gemstones. She selected two of more or less equal size, each a crystal pink in hue. Then, after locking the old door behind her, she silently made her way back from where she had come, returning to her studio. When she saw the hollow eye-sockets of the succubus, she placed what looked like living liquid fire into the wooden skull. Watching her statue’s eyes sparkle she finally relaxed, standing for a long while contemplating her handiwork. Finally she washed her hands and arms, putting away her orphic paints.
By then the sun had changed position as it crept across the room, casting hot brindled shadows, cast from the dappled vines hanging from the window eaves over the river-clay Oni, dazzling the colors in Inari’s psychedelic robe.
For the second time that day the woman left the room, venturing into the hall, opening the door that exited upon the street. She shaded her eyes, gazed across the July dazzle, the shadow of her slack, slim figure was cast into the square of hot sunlight issuing from across the hallway and through the open door.
It had been almost two years since the Siege of Kyoto. The section where her studio stood had been devastated. Now, newer suburbs were being built, but that left her neighborhood’s ruins neglected. It was hard for her to imagine a city as vast as Kyoto containing ghost towns, but wasn’t that what this was? She looked at the barren market-place, surrounded by abandoned buildings. Everything was falling into decay. Beyond those shells she could spy the squat roof of the local Shinto shrine jutting upwards across the scarlet sky. Brown grass grew between broken cobbles. There was not a soul in sight.
Under the rusted iron bell that hung against the door beam to her building hung a basket. Her mysterious patron had been by it seemed. She fished out of it bread, a flask of plum sake, some old vegetables wrapped in a linen cloth. The sculptress took these with her and closed the door upon the outer world.
Carrying her loot back in her arms, she crossed the hallway and came out into the opposite end of the courtyard. The tall red sayuri lilies seemed to be nodding their heads to her, as if the two of them were in on a secret no one else knew. Entering by a door next to the fountain the woman found herself in her workshop once more.
Setting her load down on a corner of her work table, the woman proceeded to prepare her meal. Above the wide tiled hearth hung a metal chain and attached to that was an iron pot. She lit a fire under the pot, filled it with water, then put the vegetables in. Then she took down a heavily bound book from off a shelf. Bending over it, huddled on a stool, she began to read.
It was a book filled with drawings — strange, horrible, erotic artwork — as well as curious stories that had been written in a black-blue scrawl. As the woman read she uncrossed her legs and her face grew hot. She flushed while resting her cheek on one hand, turning pages with the other. The heavy volume felt cumbrous on her knees. Not once did she look up but with parted lips pored over the midnight-blue drawings.
Outside the vines curled against the sun-kissed brick, the empty sky looked down upon the dry fountain, it burned the dead grass, the tall red sayuri lilies. The sun sank on the other side of the building, still the woman read on. The flames leaped on the hearth, the vegetables seethed in the pot unheeded.
All alone the woman leaned back on one elbow looking at the drawings. She reached down with her free hand and raised the hem of her kimono, revealing the cotton thong of a man’s fundoshi that she was in the habit of wearing. She ran one long fingertip along the front of her cunt and moaned. She looked up at the window and then back at the book, an anthology called “Kinoe no Komatsu / Languishing for Love”. She let her knees fall open wider and pulled the crotch of her fundoshi to one side as she turned the page. The glorious mound of her pubic hair was already wet and sticky. She plunged two-fingers inside her girl-lips and began to grind, leaving a wet cum-smear on the stool’s seat.
The woman groaned. There it was, the famous print known as “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” a prime example of the “aesthetic of the grotesque” in the erotic age of Hokusai. The body of a woman, head thrown back in either carnal abandonment, or drowned and swaying this way and that in the inky green water, allowing Tako no Kami, the octopus god, access to her cunt. It was a curious new form of 8-tentacle “kun’niringusu,” as the Kyoto poets once called the ancient art of clit licking. Her fingers plunged in-and-out of her soaked pussy.
“I’m going to cum–”
The woman’s eyes were screwed tight, her mind lost in the approaching orgasm. She was finger fucking herself so red-hot and hard that her tiny breasts under her kimono were shaking. She knew exactly how that fisherman’s wife felt; she’d fuck a devil-god if the opportunity presented itself. That need to be filled up with something otherworldly, that need to cum all over something impossibly hard.
“O! O! O!”
She was making soundless noises now, feeling the wave over take her. She slipped a third finger into her cunt as she brought herself to the brink. Closer — harder — closer — faster — clo–
With that, without warning, a heavy clang from her old rusted doorbell broke the spell. The woman dropped the book, sprang to her feet, gazing in horror and bewilderment, one hand still buried between her legs as the long awaited orgasm … faded away.
Again the bell sounded.
She picked up the book, put it back on the shelf, licked her fingers, feeling ambivalent.
For a third time the iron clang, insistent, impatient, breaking her quiet once and for all.
The woman frowned while readjusting her clothes, pushing back her hair from her sweaty forehead, fingered her clit through the fabric of her fundoshi, then went, with cautious steps, across the courtyard once more, back through the dark hall and up to the door. For a second she hesitated — was it really worth it? — then drew back the bolt and threw open the door to world outside.
A woman stood waiting for her.
She was younger than the sculptress, but not greatly, gorgeously attired, a lady no doubt from the emperor’s inner court. A concubine? No, a warrior, even though her carefully pleated and folded dress was stunning. Her coiffure was just as stylized, with not a hair out of place.
“You cannot want me,” the sculptress finally said, surveying the stranger for a couple of moments. “And there is no one else here. Sayonara.”
“If you are Mistress Fuyu Tsukiko,” the splendidly-dressed stranger answered, “then I certainly do want you.”
“Want me?” The sculptress opened the door a little wider. “I am Fuyu Tsukiko, but I do not know you.”
“Perhaps,” the other answered. “But I have questions that only you can answer. I am Lady Leiko of Nagasaki.”
“Leiko of Nagasaki!” repeated Fuyu softly. Then, as if she had come to a conclusion, she stood aside, motioning for the lady to enter. When she had passed into the hallway she carefully bolted the door, then turned to her with a grave expression.
“Will you follow me, my lady?” she said, walking before Leiko to her studio.
The sun had left the room by that time, but the air was still bathed in a reddish warmth. There was a sense of great heat that lay trapped in the ancient bricks and grass.
Fuyu Tsukiko offered a seat to her guest, who accepted in silence.
“You must wait until the supper is prepared,” she said. With that she placed herself on the stool by the pot, stirring its contents with an iron spoon, openly studying the woman.
The material of Leiko’s semitransparent kimono did nothing much to hide her curves, although most were hidden by layers of silk. Her beauty mesmerized Fuyu until she forgot for a moment what she was suppose to do.
Leiko, for her part, returned Mistress Fuyu Tsukiko’s steady gaze.
“You have heard of me?” she said suddenly.
“Yes,” was the instant answer.
“Then you know what I am here for?”
“Perhaps,” said Mistress Fuyu, frowning.
Leiko turned and stared at the half-crimson succubus with great interest, even, Fuyu mused, a little fear.
“My mother is the Lady Miyuki of Nagasaki,” Leiko finally answered in a manner one might have called arrogant. “The Emperor made me a warrior, an Onna bugeisha, when I was fifteen. Now I am tired of Nagasaki life, of castle life, of my mother. So I have taken to the road.”
Mistress Fuyu lifted the iron pot from the fire to the hearth.
“The road to where?” the sculptress asked.
Leiko made a large gesture with her hands.
“To wherever the road leads.”
“As an Onna bugeisha?” asked Mistress Fuyu.
Leiko tossed her fine head.
“As a former Onna bugeisha. Now I have other ambitions.”
Mistress Fuyu smiled, moving about, setting the food ready. She placed the little clay Oni on the window-sill; flung, without any ado, her drawings, paints and brushes onto the floor.
A queer silence fell on the room. The host did not seem to encourage comment. The atmosphere was not conducive to talk. Fuyu opened a cabinet in the wall, took out an elegant cloth that she laid smoothly on the rough table. Then she set on it earthenware dishes, honey in a clay jar, flushed pears cut thin, rice cakes in a plaited basket, steamed cabbage, radishes fragrantly pickled, the bottle of plum sake.
“Does anyone else live here with you?” Leiko asked at one point.
“I live by myself. I have no desire for company. I take pleasure in my work alone. Sometimes people come to buy my art, usually one of my sculptures for their shrines, but of late very few.”
“You are a good artisan, then?” asked Miyuki. “Who taught you?”
“Old Mistress Yoi, born in Higashimurayama village, taught in Edo. When she died she left me this building.”
Again the room sank into silence. Shadows crept about.
Leiko ate everything put in front of her. Fuyu, on the other hand, seated next to the window, rested her chin on her palm, stared out at the bright and fading orange sky, then at the broken windows, then at the sayuri lilies waving about the dry fountain. She ate very little. After a while the lady asked, almost shamelessly, for some of the sake. The sculptress rose and brought a sake cup to her.
“Why have you come here?” Fuyu inquired, placing the bottle before Leiko.
Leiko laughed easily.
“I am married,” she said, as an explanation, lifting her cup to her lips. At that Mistress Fuyu frowned.
“There are a lot of married people in this world.”
Leiko surveyed the mysterious swirling liqueur through half-closed eyes.
“It is about my husband, O my host; that is why I am here.”
Fuyu Tsukiko leaned back in her chair.
“Yes, I have known your husband.”
“Really? Please, tell me about him,” Leiko of Nagasaki requested. “I have come here for that story.”
Fuyu smiled slightly.
“But why would I know anything more about him than his own wife?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps. But never mind, go on, what do you know? Tell me.”
Fuyu’s smile deepened.
“He was the only son of the Lady of Kobayashi, he hid himself at the cloister of the Red Brotherhood in Kyoto to avoid having to marry you.”
“I see you know that,” said Leiko. “What else?”
“Since you wish for me to tell you about your own life, listen to what I have to say, my lady.”
Fuyu spoke with an uninterested tone, staring the entire time out of the window.
“He desired, I think, to become one of the Order of the Red Brotherhood. But when he was fifteen his elder brother died, thus he became your mother-in-law’s only heir. Many families wished to align themselves with her, but in the end they agreed for him to marry you.”
“Without my wish or consent,” Leiko added, refilling her sake cup.
Fuyu simply shrugged.
“The feelings seem to be mutual. Your husband, who wished most passionately, I am told, to become a priest, fell ill with grief. In his despair he confided his misery to a local miko, a temple maiden, who lived in his neighborhood.”
Leiko’s eyes flickered, hardened behind their long lashes.
“Your husband was to be heir to a great fortune,” said Fuyu, “but it was through this miko that he became introduced to the Brothers. In his fear of marriage he promised them all his inheritance if they would save him from his mother’s iron will. So the priests, tempted by greed, spread the rumor that he had died. There was even a fake funeral and he was kept secret in the city’s cloister, dressed as an initiate. All this was put into writing, documented by the priests, so that there would be no doubt when the boy returned from the dead, as it were, looking for his inheritance once his mother had died.”
“Yes. I was glad to hear that he had died, at least at the time,” said Leiko. “For by that time I loved another and there is no honor in behavior like that, husband or no.”
“He lived for a year among the priests,” Fuyu Tsukiko went on. “But his life became bitter. He wanted to escape, I believe, yet he could not make himself known to his mother for then it would become known that not only had he lied about this death but that he had promised the priests everything.”
“Is there more?”
“You know there is.”
“So, as life became more and more horrible for your husband he found a way to send a letter to his widow.”
“Yes. I have it here.” Leiko touched her breast. “He told me all about his dishonesty, begged forgiveness,” she laughed. “He asked me to come rescue him.”
Fuyu crossed her long hands upon the table. There was still red paint under her nails.
“But you … but you did not rescue him, though. You did not even answer his letter.”
“No, I did not rescue him. His mother had taken another husband, she now had a new son to inherit everything.” Leiko lowered her eyes moodily, “I was occupied, in love with a … dairy fairy. Plus, he had lied, my little foolish husband: to Buddha, to me, to the world. ‘It will be poetic justice,’ I thought. ‘For him to suffer as I once suffered’.”
“He waited for months for your answer,” stated Mistress Fuyu flatly. “Finally he fled from the cloister to here, to this very building. Again he wrote to his wife and again she did not answer. That was two years ago.”
“Did the priests make no attempts to search for him?” asked Leiko.
“By that time they knew that the boy was heir to nothing. They were afraid that the tale might reach the ears of the shogun and there might be … repercussions. But did it matter? Around that time the usurper, Tokugawa, lay Kyoto under siege and everyone suddenly had other things to worry about.”
“Indeed. Had it not been that I was required to help mount a defense of the city I might gotten here sooner,” explained Leiko. “But I was occupied with fighting.”
“The cloister was destroyed, the brothers murdered or fled into exile,” continued Fuyu. “The boy lived here, learning many crafts from Old Mistress Yoi. She had no apprentices but the two of us.”
Leiko leaned back in her chair.
“That much I have learned. That the old woman, dying, left her place to you. What did she leave to my husband?”
Fuyu gave her a long, unblinking stare and then turned back to the window.
“It is not strange that you are here, now? You, Leiko of Nagasaki, after all this time, inquiring about your husband.”
“A woman must know how she is loaded down with other people’s responsibilities. As it turns out only you and I know that he had an existence of any sort after he faked his death. He might be a fool but he is still my husband.”
Dusk — hot, blood-red — had fallen on the chamber. The half-crimsoned succubus gleamed dully, the wet lips of her cunt spread vulgarly before the two women. Lady Leiko of Nagasaki felt a little chill pass through her, despite the heat, a little sullen chill, but she waited to see what the older woman had to say.
The sculptress rested her smooth pale face on her palm, her mahogany eyes were hardly discernible in the twilight, but the shadow of her lips moved when she spoke.
“Shijo died two years ago,” she said. “His grave is in the garden, next to the fountain, where those red sayuri lilies grow.”