His body aches for the water—a pleasing ache, born of machinations well-laid and almost come to fruition. The smell of the hot springs wafts down the corridor, at the end of which stands his relief—a kashikiri-buro—a private bath. The merger with Okamoto Electronics, which his father-in-law—Company President Kotegawa (soon to be ex-company president if tomorrow’s coup goes to plan)—naively entrusted him with; the endless working nights of coffee, sake, hostess bars, coffee; the ever-present fuzz of chain-smoked cigarettes—all hang from him like chains, chains of 24-karat gold!
* * *
Her ladies-in-waiting scoop up the warm water and pour it over her head, wash her whiskers and scrub her scales. Her pond half freezes over in winter, and the baths are a heavenly respite. She sings with pleasure, her voice as warm and silky as the bathwater, its cadences as smooth as the water-worn rocks that line the nearby mountain streams, as mysterious as the dark centre of her pool.
* * *
The voice draws him to one of the bath rooms—his, he realises. A woman in his private bath? A gift perhaps from Mr. Okamoto. He’s tired, of course, but the voice—as wild and beautiful as that of the Queen of Flowers, who enamoured Taira Shunko at Koganei in the stories his grandmother used to tell him, now a lifetime ago it seems—revives him. He rubs his hands together. Okamoto-shachō, you sly dog. He is Scaramanga, about to make love before the kill.
* * *
She hears a sound—a gasp—and commands one of her ladies to investigate. The lady returns with a ningen, a human, wrapped in a bathrobe.
She forces the man to his knees, and her ladies form a shoal around her, shielding her from his gaze.
“Who are you?” she asks.
He stutters through his reply, but eventually says his name is Katsumi. “P-please forgive me,” he says.
“Do you know who I am?” He bows his head. “I am Nishikigoi, Queen of the Tranquillity Pond.”
“My apologies, kami-sama,” he says. “I didn’t mean to look. Your voice—the Queen of Flowers—I thought—I mean, if I knew I would never—”
“The Queen of Flowers!” That hussy! “Do you think her worthy of admiration and not I?” She parts the shoal and stands naked in front of him.
“No—no—I . . .”
“Sakura is always getting poems dedicated to her, and paintings, and songs; people come from miles around to see her.”
“Please, I won’t tell anyone what I saw. I’ll erase it from my memory.”
“Erase it from your memory? Am I so repulsive to you?”
“Then prove it to me, ningen. Write me a poem—better than anything those sycophants composed for Sakura.”
* * *
A poem, he thinks. I can’t write poetry. Certainly not for this fishy beast! Her glassy eyes stare at him cold and unblinking. Her whiskers twitch and her skewbald scales flash with an irritated glimmer. “Kami-sama,” he begins, a tremor in his voice. “. . .”
“Well? Where’s my poem?”
“That, er”—he seizes the moment—”that was my poem.”
“But you didn’t speak.”
“M-men have written poems about the moon, the sun, the cherry blossoms”—her gills flare—”but!” he adds quickly, “your beauty—no words can describe it. Your matchless tail, your . . . elegant whiskers, your glorious . . . gills, leave me . . . without words?”
The creature seems to soften.
“My beauty leaves you speechless?”
He gulps. “Oh, yes.”
Her whiskers swoon; her scales shimmer.
He breathes a quick sigh of relief.
* * *
Her ladies pulse around her in fits that mirror her fluttering heart.
“Sweet Katsumi,” she says. “What a wonderful poem. For this you’ll be rewarded.”
His eyes light up.
“Come, be my consort in the Tranquillity Pond, where we shall feast upon algae and flies forevermore. The pond may be murky but our love shall prove light enough.”
And as his whiskers begin to grow, his face contorts into what she suspects mortals call a smile. His expression, she thinks, is too a kind of poetry: sincere and full of joy.
“To His Koi Mistress” © 2017 by Dafydd McKimm. All rights reserved.
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