Hair of the Hare Heir
“It’s very beautiful, Mei”, Kitsune Sayo said wistfully, gazing at her cousin’s new kimono. She had been traveling nearby on school business, and custom demanded she pay a token visit to her relatives. She had not seen Mei in many years, and after this visit, she halfway wished she would not see her for many more. Mei had been fostered with a family in Kyuden Doji, a singular honor, but one that had made her quite concerned with her appearance. Now she was turning this way and that, admiring herself in the large and heavy mirror two of her servants struggled to hold steady for her.
The kimono was indeed a lovely one, with the Fox mon embroidered on the back, surrounded by an intricate pattern of red blossoms on a white background. The stitching was delicate and fine, and the bottom edge was trimmed with silver thread, as was the black obi. The effect was everything Mei could have wished, though she still seemed to find fault with her reflection, frowning as she brushed at invisible specks of dirt. Sayo looked down at her own drab kimono, a serviceable reddish brown. It was sturdy, and hid stains well, but that was all that could be said for it. The only stitching visible was her own, a hasty repair made near the hem that would need to be redone when she could find the time. IF she could find the time, she thought gloomily. At this rate, she wouldn’t be able to leave until after the evening meal, which would mean traveling after dark.
Lost in her own thoughts, she didn’t realize Mei was talking to her until she heard her name. “You should try it on, Sayo!” Mei was saying. “You’re only a little taller than me.” The weight of the fabric fell unexpectedly on her shoulders, the cool and slippery silk making a pleasant rustling sound. Sayo jumped up quickly, letting the kimono fall to the floor, and then hastily picked it up again and held it at arm’s length. Mei and the two women supporting the mirror stared at her in confusion, Mei now clad only in her hiyoku. Sayo blushed and dropped her eyes, but continued to hold out the kimono, almost frantic in her attempts to get her cousin to take it. “No, no, I couldn’t,” she said, the words tumbling over each other. “It is too fine for me, I would look ridiculous in such a grand thing, besides I am covered in dust from my travels.” She stopped, breathing hard.
Mei began to laugh. “I am not giving it to you, silly! Just try it on. Where is the harm in that?”
Even as she opened her mouth to protest once more, Sayo could feel the prickling sensation on the backs of her arms and neck. Too late, she thought, and in a gesture of defiance, she slipped her arms through the wide sleeves, settling it over her own kimono and glancing at the mirror as she did so. It was indeed lovely.
Mei shook her head in mock despair. “No, silly, don’t they teach you anything at that school? First you have to take the old kimono off, and then —” she hesitated as a chill breeze blew through the room. The two servants shrieked as the tray with the delicate porcelain tea set flew off the low table and smashed against the wooden wall. Dropping the mirror, they ran from the room.
Sayo sighed. “You had better go, Mei. It will only get worse.” Startled, Mei stared at her, her mouth becoming a perfect O. “Then it’s true,” she whispered, glancing around nervously as the breeze picked up speed. “You’re cursed!” Another gust ripped a kakemono off the wall, a seasonal painting depicting a maple tree with half its leaves already fallen. That was good. That meant her aunt probably had something else to hang there after this was all over. “Yes,” Sayo said, in a somewhat distracted tone. If she looked carefully she could see a grinning monkey face peeking out at her from behind the shoji screen. “Now you’d better leave.” As she felt the first tugs on the kimono, she began to hum.
Afterwards, as she began the long trek back to her dojo, she ran down the list of damages. One tea set, smashed; one kakemono, shredded; one silk kimono, tied in knots and dragged through the mud and muck from the stables — she was lucky the mirror hadn’t broken. She would send a gift, perhaps one of her herbal remedies for her aunt’s perpetually weak stomach. And another tea set — as long as she had someone else buy and deliver it, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Oh well, she reflected. At least I didn’t have to stay for dinner.