3-4 She wept uncontrollably. "I didn't die."
Maybe she would be better off dead, but for the time being she was still alive.
"I'm not a runaway."
There must be some way to get back. She missed her home and her parents more than anything.
"That was the first time I ever saw Mom and Dad fight."
Youko rested her forehead against the table. The tears came like rain.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid . . . . "
She didn't know what it was she had seen, but it wasn't necessarily the truth.
She sat up, wiped away the tears, bound the sword in the cloth. Somehow it was like the sword itself was showing her these visions. She couldn't tell whether they were real or not. Her intuition, though, told her the visions were true.
Stiffly she got to her feet. She opened the back door and wandered out into the night. The heavens were suffused with stars. She didn't recognize any constellations. The fact was, she had never had any interest in astronomy, so it was probably because she didn't know any of the constellations up there.
She sat at the edge of the well. The cool stones and the cool breeze was a small comfort. She held her knees to her chest. Behind her a saw-edged voice stabbed at her ears.
"No, no, no. You can't go home, missy."
She turned slowly. Sitting on sturdy stones that formed the rim of the well was the blue head of the monkey. The monkey rested there on the hewn surface, bodiless, as if severed at the neck, and laughed at her.
"My, my, my, but haven't you given up yet? You can't go home, little girl. You so want to, don't you? Go see your dear mum. But you can plead and plead and it will never happen."
Youko fumbled about for the sword, then realized she'd left it in the house.
"It's what I keep telling you. You're perfectly capable of whacking off your own little head. And if you did, ah, you could rest so easy. All that love and all that longing, it will all go away."
"I'm not giving up. Someday I'll go home, even if it's the last thing I do."
The monkey cackled gaily. "So who am I to persuade you otherwise? But I might as well take the opportunity to fill you in on what's coming next."
Youko stood up. "I don't want to hear it."
"Really? You don't want to know? About that woman . . . . "
"Takki-san?" Youko turned.
The monkey bared its teeth at her. "You had better not trust her."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"She's not the good person you think she is, little girl. Good thing she didn't poison you during dinner and be done with it."
"Oh, give me a break."
"Maybe she's scheming to kill you and rob you of everything you've got. Or maybe she'll let you live and sell you into slavery. Either way that's the kind of thing she's up to. And you want to thank her for it! Oh my, but you're so naive!"
"Quit jerking me around."
"Don't I tell you these things out of love? Don't you understand? You've got no allies here, little girl. No one would shed a tear if you dropped dead. You're such a bother to everybody, don't you know?"
Youko stared hard at the monkey. The monkey answered her with a screech of laughter. "If I told you once, I told you a thousand times. If it's so painful, it can be all over in a moment." The monkey howled again, then turned on her with a fierce expression. "Since you won't say a bad word about her, let's just kill her, then."
"What . . . ?"
"Kill her and take the money and run. Since you don't seem to know when to give up, you'd better do it for you own sake!"
"Shut up about it already!"
Chattering madly with laughter, the monkey disappeared, like chalk being erased off a blackboard. As before, only its grating laughter remained behind, fading away into the distance.
Youko continued to stare at the place the monkey no longer was. What did this thing have against her, to do nothing but give her such grief?
I don't believe it.
Not a single word the little monster had said.
The next morning Youko was shaken awake. She opened her eyes. The large-framed woman was looking at her with a bothered expression. "You awake? Dead to the world, you were. Well, get yourself up and have some breakfast."
Youko hurriedly got up. From the look on Takki's face, it was obvious she'd been sacked out for a long time.
"No need to apologize. How you doing? Ready to set off? We can always do it tomorrow."
"I'm okay," Youko said, bouncing to her feet. Takki laughed and pointed at her bed.
"There's a dress there. You know how to put one on?"
"Probably . . . I think."
"You run into trouble, give me a holler."
With that, Takki disappeared into the adjacent room. Youko sat down on the bed and picked up the kimono Takki had laid out for her.
It had an ankle-length skirt that was tied with a cord around the waist, a short, vest-like blouse along with a tunic the same length. It wasn't a comfortable fit when she first put it on. The collar pinched her neck as she walked into the next room, where Takki had set the table.
"Ah, looks just right on you." Takki put down a big bowl of soup and laughed. "It's a bit plain, true. Something from when I was younger would have been better."
"Not at all," Youko said. "Thank you very much."
"Even so, it's a bit too showy for me. I was thinking of giving it away to the neighbors one of these days. Well, let's eat. Don't hold back, now. We've got a long walk ahead of us."
Youko bowed. She sat down at the table. When she picked up the chopsticks, for a moment she remembered what the monkey had said the night before. But it didn't feel true in the slightest.
She is a good person.
If the villagers knew that Takki had taken her in, they'd no doubt have harsh words for her. Takki had done good by her, and suspecting her now would only invite bad karma.