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Lamentations

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When K had killed himself, he had used a small knife to cut into the artery of his neck, and the arterial spray of blood was so powerful that it had reached across the room. The walls were covered and the rice paper doors had to be replaced, but although the blood had soaked into the blankets and the fabric of the futon, the wooden floor was relatively spared. The wall, however, was a different matter, and the streaks of blood had coagulated into a thick paste, dripping down the surface like a rusty tar and pooling around the area where K had fallen. Strangely, it reminded Shizu of how a wet dog shakes his fur: even Sensei had woken with a spot of blood on his face, which had sprayed through the half-open slot of the rice paper door.

"Daughter, do not go in there," her mother said.

"But you need help," Shizu said.

"The young man and I will take care of it."

"Mother, please--"

Her mother raised her hand. Shizu stopped, then straightened, folding her hands into the sleeves of her kimono.

"Let us straighten the body, first," her mother said.

She sat in the kitchen and made tea. Around her, the house was unusually quiet. The sun had not quite finished rising, and slow streaks of yellow sunlight were just beginning to peek through the windows of the kitchen. The room that K had rented was adjacent to Sensei's room, in the farthest corner of the house - they had offered to let K have another room, somewhere more central where it was warmer and nearer to the others - but K had refused, monkish and silent, and at the time Shizu had wondered to herself what kind of man would willingly tolerate such uncomfortable conditions.

She sat, pouring her tea and listening for some sign of activity. She could hear none. She poured herself a cup and drank it slowly, hands taking the shape of the ceramic cup and shaking slightly with the effort.

"Ojousan?" Sensei stepped into the kitchen. "Have the police arrived yet?"

"No, not yet." She kept her eyes fixed on the tea kettle and the little vase of flowers on the table.

"Your mother is burning incense," Sensei said. "We lit candles around the body."

Her fingers closed around the cup, smooth and warm and a comfortable weight in her hands, which would have closed into fists otherwise. Shizu nodded but didn't move to pour Sensei another cup, an egregious break in etiquette, but she wasn't sure her hands would stop shaking or that she wouldn't start crying if she started to move. Sensei knelt beside her and poured his own cup; he took one sip and looked out into the window and at the yellow wash of sunlight outside.

"Has he been washed?" Shizu asked. Sensei hesitated.

"Not yet," Sensei said. "He was too big. We just cleaned up a little bit of the blood."

The tea shook in her hands. "I will help cleanse the body," Shizu said. Sensei was pale. He nodded.

"Let me come with you, then," Sensei said.

They had laid him on the futon. The futon was soaked in thick dark blood, but her mother had covered him to the shoulders with a dark blanket, which obscured the blood stains on the sheets. The gash on K's neck was also covered: her mother had laid thin strips of canvas to cover the slit there, and if his color had been better, it would have looked he like was just wounded and resting. Shizu knelt beside the body and placed a hand to his face: his skin was unnaturally cold, and the coarse wiry hairs felt more like string than human hair.

The hollows of his face were cold, and dully Shizu dragged the pads of her fingertips following the grain of stubble that had grown along the side of his jaw. In life K often went days without shaving, the wild mess of curly hair pulled back into a severe ponytail that fell along the tattered collar of his kimono.

His clothes were always so ragged. Shizu blinked, swallowing. His shoulders were broad and the fabric had grown careworn and thin, and she slumped over, eyes squeezing shut and breathing hard, because K was cold and dead and it was because of her that he had died alone.

 

*****

 

He was a large man. He towered over Sensei, who was already much taller than she was, and he was so tall he had to duck when he was walking through the doors to the room. He was lean and tall and broad-shouldered, and Shizu could see the muscles of his chest and abdomen through the careless opening of his kimono. She was intrigued by him. Each morning, he sat by himself in his room reading a small book, monkish and aloof, and Sensei would just smile awkwardly and apologize for him: "That's just K."

He was not a monk, but he lived like one, squatting in an empty room by the temple before Sensei had offered to room with him. He did odd jobs and heavy labor, his hands calloused and the messy tangle of hair pulled back at the nape of his neck, so it was strange to her that a man like him would be so...learned. She snuck into his room when he was away, admiring his books. He caught her one day, coming home from another odd job, to find Shizu arranging flowers by the table and neatly stacking his books by the vase.

"What are you doing?" K said.

"Your room is a mess. I'm only straightening it."

"Get out of my room," K said.

Shizu stuck her tongue out at him. "Women," K said, and Shizu giggled, backing out of his room.

She liked bothering K. At first she had been afraid of him - he was large and dark and hulking and even the townspeople avoided him - but it became a game to her. See how long it would take to irritate him before he would lose his composure.

"Do you like flowers?" Shizu asked. She knelt behind him as he read, studiously ignoring her.

"Sunflowers?" Shizu asked. She scooted closer to him. "Ne, what about the flowers printed on the cover of your book?"

"Go away," K said. Shizu grinned, then reached a hand to touch the back of his head.

"O-oi." K jerked back as if touched by a hot poker. "What are you doing?" K said.

"Your hair is so messy! You should let me brush it sometime."

"Oi! Stop--"

She pulled at the string, and his hair flew everywhere, a chaotic mess of wiry tangles. K's head resembled the head of an upturned mop, and his eyes were wide. Shocked.

Shizu laughed. If they were a couple, she would crawl into his lap and kiss his cheek as a sort of peace offering, smiling and cuddling against him. But they weren't a couple and Shizu just delighted in tormenting him, because Sensei said K had no interest in worldly things and certainly not anything as unimportant as the company of women, so she just grinned and leaned back, flush with triumph as K fought to regain some semblance of his former composure. He yanked the string from her hand and tied his hair back, glaring.

"Women," K said. He smiled with his eyes.

 

*****

 

It took four men to remove K's body.

The men struggled: K's body, already large and unwieldy, was stiff with rigor mortis, the ungainly limbs of thick arms and tree-trunk legs crashing into the narrow space of the rice-paper doors.

"Easy! Don't drop him," one of the inspectors called, and Shizu watched, heart in her throat as K's body landed with a graceless thud, rolling off the men's shoulders like so many wooden logs. His body clattered. The men yelped and struggled to lift him up again.

It took the better part of the afternoon to clean up the blood. Shizu worked, eyes fixed on a neutral spot on the wall, as she scrubbed: rust colored water dribbled down the sopping wet cloth and down the skin of her arms, making it look as though she had injured herself. Silently she wiped her wet hands against the fabric of her kimono, before scrubbing again.

She cleaned the walls. She dropped dirty rags into the bucket of rusty water, then bent over to roll the bloody beddings together, folding the futon and pushing the bloody sheets into a messy heap. She was picking up the sheets when the hot water bottle tumbled beside her feet. In the winter his room was cold, three outside walls barely keeping out the icy draft, and she paused a moment, eyes filling with a heavy warmth, when she remembered that she had tucked the hot water bottle into his bedsheets the night before.

 

*****

 

"Aren't you cold?" Shizu said.

He didn't look up from his readings. "No," K said. Shizu frowned.

"But it's so cold in here! I can see my breath when I talk. We have an old brazier I can lend you. Or maybe some extra blankets--"

"I don't need it," K said. Shizu tutted at him disapprovingly.

She tucked in the water bottle in-between the sheets of his futon when he was outside of his room. Folding the sheets up, she gave the covers a satisfying pat when she felt the warmth radiating off it. The next day, K was blushing and glaring and cradling the water bottle like it was something very fragile.

They made love for the first time after several weeks of pointless banter, his back against the mattress while she straddled him, crushed together beneath several layers of blankets, the water bottle and the heat of their bodies keeping them warm.

His lips were chapped. It was the first thing she noticed when she kissed him. His lips were chapped and he was nervous, pulling back slightly when her lips pressed against his.

 

*****

 

"We cannot," K started, and Shizu looked at him expectantly. "We cannot keep doing this. My life is my work. I must uphold my vows."

"Why?" Shizu said. She was leaning against his chest. "I love you."

"I love you, too," K said, and he sounded agonized. His hand was closed in a tight fist, and quietly Shizu let her own hand cover his, massaging the skin of his wrist with her thumb.

"I will not be able to provide for you," K said. "I would be an inadequate husband. Your family would never forgive you--"

"I don't care," Shizu said. She kissed him open-mouthed at the taut strap muscles of his neck and collarbone.

They made a plan: she would meet him at the train station after everyone was asleep. They would run away together. They would get married. They would finally be together and they would be happy.

She didn't meet him at the train station. She got engaged to Sensei instead.

Sensei would be the one to find the body, waking to see a pool of blood seeping through the edge of the rice paper door.