The fusuma's membrane
of rice paper
trembled,
hummmmmed
under the fingertips
of an antenna-like touch
as the gardener,
on his futon,
intercepted pulsations,
drew meaning,
as if reluctantly,
from the vibrating wall.

Being deaf he could not 'hear'
the vicious cane-to-flesh contact,
nor the gasps it elicited—urgent intakes of air,
nor the subsequent whimpering—though subtle and self-contained
(for she who suffered
would suffer more
were her shamefaced penance known).
He could, however, 'feel' it.

Yet as
Tender of Orchids
the gardener was powerless;
far be it from him to petition his Lord—
save for compost or trellis or tools of his trade;
tribulations of a geisha were outside his concern.

Was a man
nonetheless a man,
and the gardener
a righteous one?
Was the geisha doomed fairly
or falsely despoiled?
Could a fault
be so egregious,
an offence
so reprehensible
as to warrant
'nightly' punishment,
meted out by rote?

Seventeen strokes; this was somehow significant.
Each beating—every beating—tallied seventeen lashes.
As if the Lord,
with precision,
assessed the cost of his displeasure—
not with her playing,
which had been flawless,
rather with...
something else.

"Perfection in all things, in all things perfection";
in the uchi  (the Master's household) perfection was law.

Thence the geisha plucked her koto  with utmost proficiency,
set its strings singing like a silver-tongued choir,
sending thrills up listeners' spinal columns,
bringing tears to doting eyes.
Exquisite had been her performance.
Exuberant were the praises—
her bows grown repetitive...
unto protracted...
at last betrayed,
compromised by a fleeting indiscretion
(albeit veiled)
apprehended by the Lord-and-Master's scowl.
Castigation would be administered...

... some time later.

"Gomen nasai," she had begged her patron's pardon,
kowtowing gravely the while beseeching to take her leave.

Request denied;
she had been purchased,
her contract re-procured.

"You are mine, Damaged Goods, bought and sold sight-unseen.
My mistake; your misfortune; restitution shall be paid."

He had led her,
unresisting,
from the kyakuma (full of guests),
down a manicured path of the fortified compound.

Stepping stones.
Twilight.
The clip-clop of geta
wooden soles drumming a nondescript terror.

"Restitution";
the word,
like a venom-laced snake bite,
injected foreboding.

Akirame—resignation,
disallow thoughts and feelings;
this,
if she could achieve it,
might afford her refuge.

Upon reaching,
now entering,
an outlying chamber—
secluded (drab externally, indecorous within),
she beheld graphic shunga  (erotic paintings, prints, and carvings),
smelled incense (or something muskier),
detected moist, sultry air (as if a swamp lay nearby),
whereupon dark expectations dimmed to gloom...
certain, of a sudden, he meant to do her harm:
to torture,
doubtlessly ravage,
then cast her out,
disgraced.

Basho-gara—adaptation,
adjusting to circumstance;
the geisha reflected upon calamity's course.
Had pride not been the route by which she met this downfall?

Alive, although captive,
misemployed, if not yet raped—
inexplicably, when considering her obscene posture:
bare buttocks hoisted and, by bamboo thwacks, branded,
wrists and rubbed-raw ankles cruelly cinched by leather thongs,
sex, surrounded by lesions, splayed like a pristine peach—
the geisha, grown despondent, prayed for deliverance.

Solitude.
Silence.
Forlorn desolation.
The gardener,
palm poised still on the flimsy partition,
grappled with his options:
ignore or intervene(?).
He could tell, from percussive footfall, that the girl lay abandoned,
imprisoned not by guards, bars, or locks;
instead by fear.
Chattel, she had become
(as were all the Master's servants)
enjoined to total obedience and uncontested loyalty.
Duty was ones life; ones life was owed to duty.
Shirk duty and life was forfeit...
or warped by trials intolerable.

Three sepals, three petals—the third being modified;
a column containing anthers—two, or most often one;
pollen waxy, coherent, or in some species granular;
ovary inferior—as in under each flower;
epiphyte / terrestrial—the orchid's main families; 
vanda / cattleya / cymbidium / paphiopedilum its four main types...
all so scholarly,
so articulate was the language of orchidaceae,
yet he who knew every phylum uttered not one name—
nor the name of his superior, nor the name of any peer—
as though deafness,
stricken since puberty,
had likewise struck him dumb.

"You were told the precise temperature
at which to maintain these specimens.
Had you wit enough to listen,
none would now bear blight."

So saying,
the Lord had literally boxed his minion's ears—
which had bled.
When the bleeding stopped,
the gardener's world was mum.


Thirty years had passed,
bound to the Master's service—
him whose penchant for brutality bade the wise curb their tongues.
Nods and bows had since sufficed—
speech too perilous when ruled "impertinent".
Thus the gardener,
ever taciturn,
was eventually viewed as dumb.

Yet one name he did pronounce,
over and over,
forced unpractised muscles to annunciate its sound:
exercise jaw,
animate cheekbones,
deepen crow's feet,
corrugate brows,
and compress un-kissed lips into reverential puckers:

"Ray-ee-koh. Re-i-ko."

Hoarse, barely audible...

"Reiko."

Straining, he intoned all three vowels,
instructed by the characters embroidered on Reiko's yukata
touched once,
in passing,
and read as the blind read Braille.

Impermanence...
... Wabi...
... disrupted by vengeance—
whose bitterness ransacked the gardener's stark calm.

Retribution;
his heart,
like a soldier's conscripted,
waged war without quarter,
made a martyr of qualm.

Were not some actions baseborn, iniquitous, abominable,
irrespective their perpetrator's rank, status, wealth?
Did title confer immunity from pronouncing conduct "wrong"?

The gardener,
on his feet now,
emboldened by indignation,
took hold of the partition as if to wrench it aside.

To what end, though?

He faltered.
There was no chance of rescue.
Bear her off?
He would gladly... but could not think to where.
The greenhouse was his universe—
and had been for three long decades—
beyond which even his dreams dared not venture.

Perhaps, at the very least,
he could treat her throbbing sores?
For the scourge, that night, had ended...
alas, unchallenged—
courage half a match for the gardener's slack bravado.

Cypripedium Calceolus—
an evocative variety:
alias Lady's Slipper...

... in the present case: Bound Feet.

Immobilized,
she lay helpless against her injuries' caustic smarting;
disrobed (except for foot-wraps)
Reiko lay mortified—which grieved her worse.
As a geisha, she was accustomed to austere, stringent discipline
(rewards garnered grudgingly, self-sacrifice the norm),
but respect for her profession had been an age-old tradition—
hence her shock and simmering outrage at being thus deprived.

Pride, pride, PRIDE;
insidious was its hold on Reiko's psyche,
for flexing it incurred her Lord-and-Master's wrath.
Yet regardless this effect, pride welled within.
Defiant.
Nay, inexorable.
Thus 'earning' her chastisement?
For how, elsewise, explain the torturous routine—
unchanged,
implacable,
vented night
after night
after ignominious night?

She would rise upon his signal,
quit the kyakuma,
follow humbly,
numbly gain the dreaded chamber,
strip,
be battened down,
submit...
awaiting dawn's release—
resentful and un-contrite.
Did he sense this?
Would he flail until her spirit, at length, lay broken
(or she conceded that her purgation was apt and well-deserved)?

Exhausted by the rigors of both mental and physical anguish,
Reiko now succumbed to a bout of wretched sobs.

Somnolence.
Midnight.

The chochin's corona
(its candle aflicker
from an ingress of air)
illumed what was best left unlit.

Or such was the gardener's
disconcerted sentiment,
finally having entered...
his feelings in a tumult;
revolted and rapt by turns;
beauty and its corruption
taking his conscience hostage;
lured and repulsed
by her bound and thrashed anatomy:

all four limbs outstretched,
tethered to pegs in the wooden floor,
body buckled like an inchworm
caught and pinned in place, 
inviting,
worse 'inciting'
some ill-conceived debauchery.


marred by welts black-and-blue;
for the carnage laid waste
to her backside's twin globes,
an untouched oasis between.

 

Hanami.
Flowers.
Contemplative viewing—
the gardener,
bemused,
let his eyes roam at will.

Violation;
her skin,
with its nacre-like lustre,
brought lilies to mind—

Complex emotions laid siege to the gardener
(whilst cowardice, gallantry, lust, pity vied),
constricting his airways, infusing his tear ducts, 
libido / compassion confounding resolve,
his motives held suspect by virtue of virtue-upended,
exploited,
marauded...
deflowered?

Approaching on bare feet,
his step undetected—
lambency lent by the chochin's soft glow—
the gardener drew so close his breath shrivelled flesh-folds
exposed yet unaltered,
their structures preserved,
virginity (by design?) left intact.

Waylaid by such unequivocal helplessness,
moved by a damsel's distress un-allayed,
enticed,
for the first time,
by unchecked dominion over some 'one',
some 'person',
some 'female',
appalled by the spectre of profane appropriation,
the gardener stood mesmerized,
torn between urges.

The geisha lay stock-still,
unaware,
un-absolved,
her sin,
if indeed she committed one,
inevident—
except by reprisals engraved on her rump,
a crosshatch of seventeen stripes,
fresh with torment,
their throb keeping pace with her pulse—
forthwith quick—
her backbone reacting to an unwelcome presence
(the Master's, she hazarded),
her senses transfixed:
alerted to the least noise,
the subtlest shadow,
the feeblest odour,
the taste of chagrin,
hence braced for renewed degradation.

Abstinence, work, 'years' of keeping his own company,
followed by more work, want, solitude
(until loneliness fit like his hand-me-down threadbare kimono)
served only to prolong the gardener's
indecision...
giving him more pause to mull over choices that put his position,
his very lifeblood,
at risk.
For the tasks he performed

be they mandated harshly

were much to his liking; he adored what he did,
nursing natives and cultivars,
species indigenous next to species imported from remote,
far-flung realms.
Exotic,
erotic were the orchids assembled,
delighting their caretaker,
fed by his flair for adjusting conditions conducive
to thriving in a climate sustained by unorthodox means;
moisture and nutrient,
sunshine and shade,
among the factors he was taxed to coordinate—
his 'fondling' each plant a tonic eccentricity.

What was he waiting for? Why was he staring?
Admiring his handiwork? Spoiling for more?
Or was it morning already; had he come to untie her?
Reiko, lids tightly shut, deigned not look.
For as much as she welcomed release from her bondage,
eyes on her body stung worse than his cane.
Why he leered, defiled visually
(if not yet corporeally)
she neither could fathom nor forbear.

Green,
was the gardener's thumb,
skilled were his fingers,
practiced and astute was his nurturing touch.
He could diagnose maladies,
ward off most insects,
extricate roots when diseased or impaired,
often cure plants of plagues
(or at least speed recovery)
by the time-honoured balm of laying-on-hands—
perhaps compensation for his disabled ears...
whose condition, even now, occasioned him to wince...
recalling his infirmity's trifling cause...
a mere two degrees centigrade...
three orchids damaged, none lost...
in exchange for a lifetime of deafness.

Hovering over another of his Master's hapless victims,
the gardener once more focused
on the geisha's pummelled haunches...
wondering if her infraction could be as trivial as had been his...
wondering if such abuse ever could be justified... 
wondering if her 'transgression' might somehow be erased?

Hairs,
at the nape of her neck,
on-end-rigid,
chills raising goose pimples,
nether parts tense
(alert for their postponed penetration),
Reiko prepared for the ultimate insult...
then flinched upon impact of a solitary droplet...
Had he drooled!
Scandalized by the notion,
she mentally cringed,
hoping against hope that she might have misperceived.

The gardener (inadvertently) having let fall a tear,
froze above the cleft by which it was absorbed,
heartsick at the prospect of being apprehended,
nabbed in an act opprobrious—if borderline benign.

For something in his aura—
Reiko sensed it—
had reformed.
As if remorse, of a sudden, laid claim
to the Master's temperament.
Unlikely. Impossible!
Still, she did feel less threatened.
Reappraising the wetness...
Could her Lord have shed a tear?
What was 'one' tear compared to the 'thousands' she had shed?
One tear could scarcely dissolve her enmity.
Nor cleanse a guilty conscience.
Nor atone for utter shame...
as inflicted, blow upon blow, executed mercilessly—
ritualistically—
each time he beat her,
as if the force, number, target purposed to degrade.
He would leave then,
sometimes hurriedly (sometimes extendedly).
Forsaken—
bound and raw like some trussed-up slab of meat—
she resigned herself to cope,
suffering unto morning,
when the Master would return and loosen her wretched thongs...
she, pretending to sleep, impatient for his departure...
at last breathing freely,
safe from his barbarity—
though confined within its range,
forbidden to quit her quarters—
except to relieve herself or bathe.
Yet, from break-of-day to sunset,
she revelled in her solitude,
forgetful of the nightmare...
destined to recur.

Hardening her heart—
grown intolerant of him who lingered—
Reiko chanced a glance,
then shook with horror.
Him!
Not her Lord.
Instead, the gardener.
A lowly servant!
How dare the brute intrude
on her loss-of-face travail!
Self-conscious,
Reiko blushed then blanched,
levelling,
at the culprit, 
a look of detestation.

Had the interloper budged,
uttered a sound, 
or incidentally blinked,
the captive would have shrieked,
alerting the entire compound.
As it happened,
his pose was passive:
hands clasped prayer-like,
head inclined,
his suspended countenance kindly,
if cloyingly deferential...
pitiful in its sympathy...
eyes awash with tears...
a track from the first still glistening on his
hollowed out cheek

other features withered
like leaves resigned to Autumn.
Neither spoke nor attempted to speak.
Mood,
alone,
prevailed,
a mood they quietly shared,
testing its solicitude.

Slowly,
ever-so cautiously,
the gardener spread his hands...
palms apart,
thumbs hinged,
like the spine of some weighty tome...
over which he loomed...
eyes meeting hers...
asking...
granted permission...
touch thereby reinforced by the strength of her consent...
the scope of his dexterity taking away:

embarrassment,
indignation,
(inhibition, too).
 

Sensitive.
Swollen.
Unsightly contusions—
their discoloration unwholesome,
severe.

Consolation;
this man,
his caress like a poultice,
drew pain from her body,
and from her troubled mind,
stigma.
 

The fault for her bane was their Lord's,
he conveyed,
through warm intimation that coddled,
consoled,
plied pressure so deftly her stricken skin sighed,
the sweet relief magical,
misery diminishing.

Why was one subject, she mused, one in charge?
Whence came authority; how hold it culpable?
What was the value of deference coerced?

Questions peculiar arose,
as he mended her,
soaked up her sorrows,
depleted her woes.
A beck-and-call geisha,
whose primary function was rendering pleasure
to ear, nose, tongue, eye,
infrequently asked what requited her talents—
if malice perverted them,
vice made them vile.
Could power
abused make worms turn?

A wave of disquietude
swept over Reiko;
nude and defenceless,
she balked,
nerve-ends frayed.
A stranger was handling her—
male, coarse, subordinate—
pawing in places
she ought not permit,
skirting her sex organ,
true enough,
chastely,
focusing efforts
on skin newly scathed...

mimicking him who had wrought her disfigurement,
circled her upside-down mons with his cane,
whacked with a vengeance perverse in avoiding
what must have protruded unduly,
agape,
unable to hide from his lechery...

and no more invulnerable now.

Fusoku-shugi—avowed "incompleteness"
wherein beauty increases allure when withheld;
the gardener,
respectful of boundaries intuited,
nonetheless savoured what off-limits dwelled,
throbbed, he discerned, when he brushed its periphery,
dampened, he noticed, in the nook between folds—
daintily shaped and enticingly ajar,
blushingly tinged and engorged.

Another wave washed
over Reiko's consciousness,
stirring dissention,
engendering pique;
the Master's comeuppance
might well be exacted
should trespass
be brooked
by his property
cum 'wench'
(her un-ruptured hymen notwithstanding)
so long as the fact
stayed covert.
 

Intrigued by this contrivance,
wooed by the gardener's uncanny communion
with her striped derriere
(revenge and relief intermingling),
the geisha succumbed to a tingly sensation
that crept from her skull to her coccyx.
Disarmed,
the absence of agony making her giddy,
the tingle turned ticklish,
duress all but drained,
her features
(still lit by the flickering chochin)
relaxed just enough to surrender a smile:
subtle,
her small mouth upturned at one corner,
a dimple indenting her right-side-up cheek,
her lips oh-so gradually parting.

It was then that he saw it;
the "flaw":
nothing radical,
nothing disfiguring,
or even untoward,
a tooth that had grown misaligned with its neighbours,
the shadow cast causing a gap to appear
in her widening grin's uniformity.

Why he took note of so trivial a detail
(one heretofore he had failed to remark)
the gardener knew not;
it was scarcely significant,
yet somehow the sight made him shudder.

Daybreak's approach found the gardener departed
and the geisha (still bound) sound asleep.

No, you must not! She felt slackness at her ankles.
She turned to entreat him...
recoiled from her Lord!
It was he who now fumbled at the pegs to untie her—
brusquely, as usual, unconcerned with her needs,
indifferent to her drawn-out discomfort.
His exit,
like his entrance,
was executed strutting.

The dolorous process of reclaiming her body,
reviving extremities,
working out kinks—
compounded by coming to grips with the onus
attached to misuse of legitimate gifts—
ever so grimly recommenced.

But the pangs she had learned to expect
were less brutal,
her muscles less crippled,
her wounds less inflamed.

Could the dream she was having...
just prior to waking...
when she cried "No, you must not!"...

To whom?
Was that real?
She certainly had not 'invented' the gardener,
him who bowed deeply whenever she passed,
whose gaunt face and ungainly figure seemed ghostly.
Not-of-this-world was his asocial cast,
silent, unobtrusive,
a recluse, by the look of him.
Deaf, it was rumoured.
And dumb?
Could he speak?
Had he spoken on entering her chamber 'unbidden'?
Outrageous, his barging in, much less...

She shrank,
curled up foetus-like,
rocked on her hindquarters...
painlessly; how so?
She stopped rocking.
Checked;
leaned forward, chin tucked, to examine the ridges
that spread from her buttocks and thighs underneath.
Ugly, they were still.
Unseemly.
Dishonourable.
Reaching, like tendrils, to encroach on her crotch—
which also she scrutinized, flaring its labia,
maidenhead safe and unharmed.
Odd that a gossamer flap, a mere membrane
should hold men enthralled,
be both prized and assailed,
an emblem of purity,
status dependent on who got to tear it asunder.
How male!

And now there were two men encircling her chastity,
one bent on brutishness,
one... undeclared—
the gardener's unworthiness trumping
whatever induced him to meddle
in their Master's affairs—
which truly imperilled them both.

Lost in a reverie,
deaf,
mute,
unseeing—
as if a third disability indisposed him who stared
(at a koi, superficially...
then at a pair of them...
idling...
scales glowing in the dank greenhouse pond)
—the gardener reminisced to himself about soft spots
engaged while effecting the geisha's reprieve—
in lieu of untying or even tampering with her bonds,
understanding that to do so would court disaster.
Far better to render what comfort he could,
given factors unlikely to alter.
Like earth, wind, rain, fire,
their Lord was a given,
to be brooked with grave caution
and never disobeyed.
Not flagrantly, much to the gardener's frustration,
no matter his motives be righteous.
Or were they?
Were his own desires any more noble for being diffident?
Did he really not relish her pegged-in-place plight?
Was he no less possessed by her un-plundered pubes,
his craving in orbit,
like a moth flame-beguiled?

How even conscience it—
she flushed tip to toe—
let a commoner,
a blunt labourer lay hands on willingly?
Whereas Lords were 'entitled' to manhandle servants,
their rule incontestable,
be it mean or humane,
servants were unfit for naught save subjection;
their lot was to toil
and persevere.
Remitting these strictures wreaked havoc,
bred chaos—
upshots on a rampage through Reiko's mind
as her self-described 'dream' faced reality...
as memories, sensations, emotions revived:
the gardener's attention to rouge lacerations,
transforming initial distress into swoons,
pain become pleasureful,
pangs become ticklish,
bashfulness yielding to feelings... confused.
Titillation and absence of ache were related.
Punishment and pampering, back-to-back, overlapped.
Fear of becoming inured to brutality,
mingled with inklings of ecstasy—
spurred by infringements she yearned to invite.

The beatings continued,
their fierceness unflagging,
succeeded by him who (in secret) assuaged,
expanded the scope of adroit ministrations
to include her pudenda
(sequestered, upraised)
restricting, at first, his exertions to margins,
kneading her groin from beyond its chaste groove,
tending to tissue from outside lush confines,
then later,
condoned by her moans,
from within,
conducting the mucous that oozed from her aperture
over and under and round, round, round skin
gone tumescent once teased by a finger so pliant
it often felt more like a tongue...
stuck out...
slick...
lapping up Reiko's rapture.

Ittaikan.
Union.
Perception of oneness—
believing that two halves conjoined make a whole.
Abstaining from coupling in conjugal fashion,
both geisha and gardener,
each night,
forestalled dawn,
consumed by their sub-rosa passions.

One pond fish orange, one pure white,
swam like spectres...
that met...
traded touches...
sank in unison...
disappeared...
their wakes forming circles concentric,
expanding,
grown faint as a palimpsest...

... hours passed...
... days...
... weeks...

The gardener and geisha persisted in 'treachery'
('therapy' based on who judged)
undeterred.
Their Lord, then his minion would come in succession—
the former to lambaste, the latter to soothe,
the sadist, the shaman,
the flogger, the healer,
subjecting their locus to foul, fond extremes;
trauma, euphoria tandem reactions
accosting the geisha through aberrant scenes
wherein bondage, with bliss-based degeneracy, merged—
'enhancing' her beauty, withal, like an orchid
(that flourishes foremost when fed on decay).
Until finally,
pursuant a most savage thrashing—
her Lord throughout ranting about "snaggletooth smiles",
groping himself all the while he chastised her,
then scurrying off to his seventeenth bride,
his latest,
least tractable,
most green-eyed helpmate,
who balked at her groom's ill-famed impotence,
wary
lest she,
like all sixteen before her,
be blamed for her Lord's dearth of progeny
(not one child sired),
determined to seek out the source of erections
that drooped, more than not, by the time he returned
from 'whomever' he called upon
prior to dispensing
his ill-aroused,
lacklustre
seed.

Footsteps.
Petite, she discerned, nervous strides.
Not the gardener's,
nor their Lord's—whose gait was lumbering.
Reiko stiffened as the fusuma chafed...
heard breathlessness—hint of some ill-omened enterprise...
felt her hair seized, yanked taut, head wrested back...
then a blade slit her windpipe ear to ear.

The gardener,
in due course,
was charged with said crime.
He confessed and,
with the geisha,
was
interred.


* * *

© r. muir
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