Koan

Having tackled the greater problems of asymmetric hands and lonely trees, Hiroshi was ready to advance to level ten, leaving behind the acolytes to join the full-fledged monks.

“This exam will test your resolve. You must not cease your meditation under any circumstance. Do you understand?”

Hiroshi nodded. “I understand,” he said, and felt the sting of the keisaku on his back.

“Let us start again. Do you understand?”

Though ignoring a master was flagrant disrespect, Hiroshi kept still. His back was perpendicular to the floor, his shoulders relaxed. In every breath, he felt the stillness of winter and the great purpose of fall. Other seasons would follow.

He heard movement around him. Footsteps of others. An audience.

“Yes, step right over there. Come forward. Now, you two are the most promising candidates for advancement, but we can only accept one right now.”

Hiroshi was almost startled by the clatter of the wooden sword in front of him, but made no reaction.

“Let the battle begin!”

He maintained his focus, even as he watched the bouncing martial footsteps come closer. His head was still, his eyes locked. As the distance between himself and his rival shortened, he did not adjust his focus. A pointed wind passed through him.

“Um, Master?” The voice belonged to Takashi, another acolyte, two years younger. “I can’t attack if he doesn’t defend himself.”

“If you do not attack, you cannot win.”

The boy moved in circles, asking questions, but Hiroshi could not negotiate. Takashi stopped in front of him, and with a bow, apologized.

Hiroshi did not react to the blow that followed, though the pain was great.

“Congratulations! You’ve won!”

As the audience cheered for Takashi, Hiroshi stayed still. The feast that followed smelled amazing.

He told himself he didn’t notice.

And the concussion felt like spring.

#cryptic, #games, #koan, #meditation, #monks, #no-right-answer, #passivity, #patience, #violence

March

Her wedding was in a month, though it still felt far away to Katie. Rupert’s family had taken over sending the invitations, booking the hotel and the church, catering, parking, various zoning laws, whatever needed to be done. All she had to do was buy a dress. Wedding dresses all seemed similar enough that she didn’t consider the details important, though she supposed she needed to be fitted. She really knew nothing about it, but she had friends who were excited. They wanted to take her shopping, and couldn’t believe she wasn’t more into it.

“Sometimes I wonder which one of us is getting married,” Sarah said through her crooked, pitying smile.

Katie waited patiently as her friends discussed with the tailor what she needed. They spoke of trains and trusses and she didn’t know what else. Words she’d heard in other contexts lost their meanings here. Now that she’d been measured so invasively, she didn’t know what else they needed from her. Tacit approval, no doubt, or just a body to hang things on. She felt like a doll at a sleepover, the only toy in an austere but affluent home.

“Is she going to wear her hair long, or short?”

“Crazy thought: what if she did pigtails?”

“She’s the bride, not the flower girl.”

They chose for her something modern, not at all innocent, a little bit punk. “Put your shoulders back. Try to look sexy.” As they goaded, she followed their instructions, doing whatever slight yoga they wanted. “Yes, you’re perfect, stay just like that.”

The mirror confirmed that she was beautiful, as did Rupert in his breathless, “I do.” She held her position, letting him kiss her.

“Now give up your career,” Sarah instructed, in their room in Cancun. “I can’t wait to have kids!”

#apathy, #docile, #marriage, #overwhelmed, #passivity, #wedding

Empire

Even as often as she went out to the woods, Amiril had never seen a creature like this one. Whatever it was seemed born out of the earth, a tree come to life. She stood still, and so did the forest.

The dryad shifted its weight, though it didn’t seem to notice her. Instinct made her back away, and she stayed hidden in the underbrush. She crawled across the dirt, staining her dress. When the creature was out of sight, she returned to her feet and sped through the woods, calling, “Mom, I think I saw something, come quick!”

Her mother grabbed the axe and followed. The tree man was where he had been. He turned to them and bowed magnanimously. Amiril watched her mother’s grip tighten and relax along the hilt of the axe. The creature moved slowly, so slowly that he could never be a threat, and they waited for any excuse to attack in self-defense. The creature straightened its back and stood tall, which wasn’t enough.

Back home, they made the dryad comfortable. They let it sit in a basin of water, and shone sunlamps on it. Amiril read it poetry. Usually, they lit a fire in the evenings, but that seemed insulting to their guest. They sipped soup quietly.

A few days later, more tree people were standing outside their door, and while they seemed to have come in peace, one of them seemed interested in the axe.

“Oh, that’s not for anything,” Amiril’s mother said. The trees conferred.

“Did we upset them?” Amiril asked.

“Not yet, my darling, but we will.”

The trees dispersed from the house and ventured to the village, where they were honored guests in various homes. One of them had taken the axe; as a gift, of course.

#allegory, #fairy-tales, #microfiction, #misogyny, #passivity, #politeness, #trees