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The Hard Way
releases on August 31st
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Release Date - August 16, 2016
By 1850, Japan had been closed to the outside world for centuries. It was a secret, hidden world. And deep within Edo (now Tokyo) was Yoshiwara − “The Floating World.” The center of pleasure. And within Yoshiwara was the Hidden House. The place that only the very wealthiest could afford. The place where the geisha were…special.
And in the Hidden House lived Midori No Me. Half Japanese, half foreign Barbarian, born captivity. She was trained to dedicate her life to serving the wealthiest men in Japan. Defiled at 13 when her virginity was sold to the highest bidder. Possessed by the greatest actor in the Kabuki theater. Stolen by the most powerful Yakuza in Edo.
The geisha who escaped from the Floating World.
The Geisha with the Green Eyes.
The birds on my roof
Fly away. Would that I
Carpi had collected me and taken me to the bathhouse earlier that afternoon. She had supervised critically as the maids poured hot water over me, soaped me from head to foot, and rinsed time and again until she was satisfied. Eventually, she had discarded her own kimono and gestured at me to climb into the bath with her, even grudgingly allowing me to help her climb down the rather slippery steps.
Both of us stood chin deep in the hot water. Within seconds, my skin had turned lobster red from the unrelenting heat. Carpi sighed luxuriantly, stretched, and turned to stare at me.
“Anything you need to know?”
I shook my head. In my stupidity, I had no idea what questions even to ask. What was there to know, I wondered? Auntie had already explained to me what was to happen. When my danna arrived, he would be taken to the bathhouse and would be bathed carefully by the maids. Once he was ready, he would proceed to the Hidden House itself and would be plied with sake by Auntie prior to the feast. Carpi, Kiku, and Masaki would enter the room with me. Naruko, still being a maiko, would follow later on her own.
We would all bow to my danna and would sit at his command. Food would be brought in when he requested it. Masaki would probably be chosen to play the samisen. Kiku and Carpi would flirt politely with my danna. We would all eat and drink, at his signal.
At this stage, nothing would be expected of me except to sit and giggle at any witticism he might make. I could look at him with reverent adoration, of course, and if he wanted me to dance or play the samisen or sing, I could do so, but not unless he asked.
Either when Auntie thought the time was right or my danna became impatient for his money’s worth and made it clear that he wished us to be alone, Auntie would stand and she and the other girls would make their farewells. The maids would clear away the dishes and charcoal burners and bring in the bedding to change the room from a banqueting hall to a bedroom.
Then my mizuage would begin.
Although at least in principle we would be alone, I was well aware that Auntie would be outside the room, somewhere very close. She would certainly be able to hear everything. Knowing Auntie, I would guess that she would make sure that she could also see everything as well. I could only pray that she was alone and had not invited some favored patron to watch my deflowering. I would never know if she had, of course, but the thought made me feel sick.
Satisfied that we were clean, Carpi scrambled out of the bath, leaving me to follow. The maids dried us carefully, and then Carpi hustled me off to her room to attend to my makeup.
I was used to the thick, white makeup required of a maiko, but today’s was even more concealing than usual. I suppressed a hysterical giggle as I wondered if my danna would even recognize me underneath the coating.
Carpi sat me down on the matting and pursed her lips as she looked at the assortment of jars and bottles set out on the tatami.
“Sit still,” she commanded. I nodded, without thinking, and got a brisk slap from her left foot as a reward for daring to move.
I hated Carpi touching me anywhere, but especially on my face. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it was Kiku, or Auntie, who was dabbing at my skin. It didn’t work, I still felt slightly sick. But I kept still, as instructed.
Carpi nodded at the bottle of camellia oil and the maid picked it up quickly, patting the oil on my face and neck and then rubbing it in gently. None of the incredibly expensive courtesan’s nightingale dung face cream for me! It was said – by those who could afford it – that the potions made from nightingale dung lightened and brightened the skin like nothing else could. I was grateful I wasn’t rich enough for it be used on me. The thought of rubbing unguent made from bird droppings into my skin did nothing for my queasy stomach. Satisfied that my skin was ready, Carpi grunted and the maid stepped back but hovered nearby, ready for Carpi’s commands.
Carpi leaned forward, a tiny bottle clasped between her finger and thumb. With the other fingers, she pried my eyelids wide apart. The bottle was tipped slowly toward my eye, and a single drop of thick liquid dripped out. It felt icy cold and stung. The action was repeated with my other eye. Within a minute, everything at any distance became blurred. I blinked.
“It’s a distillation made from a flower,” Carpi said briskly. “Don’t worry, it will wear off by morning. In the meantime, it makes your pupils look huge. I think it makes your eyes look even more green, if that’s possible.”
She sat back on her haunches and nodded in evident satisfaction.
The pink undercoating came next. Carpi put that on herself, and I closed my eyes as I felt her touch, trying not to squirm. A white topcoat followed, brushed on quickly before it could set. For one insane moment, I thought about telling Carpi that I would do it myself, but my tongue refused to speak the words and I simply sat mute, suffering her touch.
I heard her grunt with satisfaction and I opened my lips and drew a deep breath.
Rouge followed, highlighting my cheeks. In spite of the fact that my eyes were tightly shut, Carpi snapped at me to keep them closed as she puffed white powder on my eyebrows and eyelids. My own eyebrows were hidden completely by the powder and I could feel Carpi’s breath on my face as she leaned forward to draw my new brows in place. Red paint first, then black over the top, with just the tiniest hint of red allowed to show through.
“Open,” Carpi said, and I hurriedly opened my eyes, trying not to blink in the sudden light. With the tiniest of brushes, she outlined my eyes with red, which was – like my brows – then covered in black.
“Pout.” In a second or two, my lips were bright red. Carpi sat back to consider her work and nodded. “You’ll do. You can still tell you’re a Barbarian, but then again I suppose that’s what your danna is paying for. Put your head back.”
I did as I was told and Carpi took up the large brush again to stroke the white paste over my throat and bosom, down as far as my undergarment. I turned automatically, praying that I was getting it right.
Finally, she gestured for me to turn around and painted me from my shoulders to my hairline at the nape of my neck, leaving only a strip of my own flesh showing down my spine. Japanese men find the nape of the neck to be especially erotic, often more so than a woman’s breasts, so this piece of painting had to be correct.
Finally satisfied, Carpi nodded at the maid to bring me a mirror. I stared into its depths wonderingly. Was this really me? Was this painted, anonymous doll that looked back at me from the mirror truly my own face? Fascinated, I reached up to touch my cheeks and got a sharp hiss from Carpi for my trouble.
“Don’t you dare! Do you really think I’ve gone to all that trouble for you to mess it up?”
I mumbled my apologies.
“Come on. Let’s get you dressed.”
I stood, naked and still pink from the heat of the bath, as Carpi shouted at the maids to get me properly dressed.
First, the tabi socks. I felt clumsy, and it took an age for the maid to get my big toe properly inserted in the divided sock. I remember laughing the first time I saw a Western sock and thinking it strange that there was no separate place for the big toe. Did foreign Barbarians not have a separate big toe, I wondered. But on that day I would have given a great deal for a pair of Western socks; they would have been so very much easier. Carpi tutted at my clumsiness, and I was suddenly all thumbs.
The maid helped me into the red-patterned undershirt and skirt and tied them around with a waist tie to keep them in place. A wide under sash followed. Then my lovely, silken kimono.
This was the first time I had seen it, and it was quite beautiful. Auntie had gone for simplicity – green silk with a subtle pattern of intricate embroidery in a slightly lighter shade. Whether the color choice was to enhance my eyes or was a play on my name, I had no idea. All I knew was that the kimono was by far the most beautiful thing I had ever owned. At that moment, I didn’t even care that I would spend the rest of my working life paying for it, and all the kimonos that were to follow. It was mine!
The maid slipped it around me, patting the right side under the left, and closing it off with another waist tie. An under sash followed, and then a wide obi that went around my waist twice with a knot tied at the back and the ends of the obi sash brought around to the front where they were tied off so tightly I had to fight to draw a deep breath.
And that was it. I was dressed. I was ready.
I looked at Carpi, desperate for her approval.
She rose and stretched lazily, walking around me. She pushed and tugged at the obi and tweaked my kimono at the neck. I stood stock still, trying not to show my distaste. Finally, to my relief, she shrugged.
“Your breasts are still far too big, even in the kimono.” I looked down at myself. She was right, they were. “And we can’t do anything at all about you being so tall. No, don’t slump. It just makes your breasts look even bigger. Your nose is too big, as well. And as for your eyes! Never mind. Your danna knows what he’s getting.”
From anybody else, the words would have been heartbreakingly rude, but from Carpi, they were simply matter of fact. No one, of course, would ever have dared make the same sort of comment to her. As if she had read my mind, she added, “We are all the same, here in the Hidden House. All of us are wrong.”
From Carpi, it was almost a comfort.
The feast was spread out on the tatami mats. The feast must have cost my danna a huge amount, not to mention the fee for me, of course. The matting was full and overflowing with dishes, grilled squid, seaweed, fruit, noodles of every description, beef, and – dominating everything – a huge platter of fugu fish, sliced so thinly that when it was picked up, you could see right through it. Teruki-san gestured at me munificently and I picked up a slice of the fish, bowing my head in gratitude for his generosity, although really I could never see a great deal in the stuff. It could, of course, kill you if it had not been prepared very well, but the only thing it did to me was to make my lips slightly numb.
I ate as slowly as I could, as if by doing so I could put off the moment when the food would be finished and Teruki-san decided the time had come to get his money’s worth.
The screens had been pushed back to make a large, twelve-mat room so that there was plenty of space for all of us. Auntie had taken her place at the side of my danna and was leaning toward him, chuckling richly at some witticism he had made.
I was flanked on each side by Carpi and Kiku, both dressed in their best kimonos and obi. As Teruki-san glanced at Kiku, she shook out her fan and retreated behind it, tittering politely. Even though Kiku’s eyes were almost hidden in folds of fat, they really were remarkably beautiful, perfectly almond-shaped and gleaming with a light that seemed to come from some source that only Kiku was aware of. Teruki-san beamed at her and shook his finger roguishly. I wondered how much sake he had drunk before he had come to us; already he was making inroads on his second flask, and even as I thought about it he glanced at his cup and held it out. Masaki reached out and plucked the flask from the charcoal burner to refill it for him. A maid immediately placed another flask into another warming vessel to be sure it would be ready when he needed it. With great dignity, Teruki-san gestured at Masaki to fill a cup for me.
Taking his gesture as a signal, Auntie curled her fingers at me urgently, flicking me forward with her fingers. My legs were trembling so hard I knew that standing would be beyond my power, and so I shuffled forward on my knees, my head tucked down. Teruki-san seemed to like this, as he applauded and nodded.
As I approached, Masaki turned to Teruki-san and bowed, presenting the cup she had filled for me to him. With what I guessed was drunken dignity, he grasped the cup and took three deliberate, rather noisy sips. Auntie smiled widely. She leaned forward and took the cup from him, presenting it to me. In my turn, I took three careful sips, which emptied the cup.
Unsure what to do next, I simply remained crouching, clutching the cup in my fingers. It seemed to me that silence fell, and that everybody was staring at me.
I will not speak of what followed again.
It is done, and what is done can never be undone, no more than time can be turned back. I will never be a maiko again. Never an innocent. But at least I will never have to suffer another mizuage.
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