An excerpt – not a final edit.
To the villagers of this small machi, located close to the Akaishi Alps, she was known simply as Ren. Ren was short for Renon. Renon Nasase was 25 years old, and she was dying. The hard-packed straw layers, beneath the tatami mat this young mother shared with her husband, had turned moist from the sweat and body fluids that leaked from them both. An ugly purple color ringed the gray lesions developing on her hip, thigh, and shoulder. Unable to control herself, coughing fits often caused a new deposit of wetness between her legs. Too weak to stand, walk, or even crawl, the inside of her thighs had become a blistering red rash. The closer Ren came to death, the less she could do to bring any relief from the pain and discomfort.
Painful spasms wrenched her body every few hours. Long dark brown hair, several dirty strands at a time, covered her once bright and alert eyes. She listened hard for the sounds of life, of listless breathing, that she wanted to hear. Nothing but the wind playing amongst the leaves of the keyaki trees reached her ears. It took a few minutes for her cloudy eyes to focus on the two-toned green flower buds outside her window. She wished now the trees had come to full bloom. They were so lovely when it was their time. She would have liked to see them blossom one more time. She felt, deep inside, that for her, that time would never come again. Her hand, once deft and strong from years of working in the rice patties, moved slowly across her husband’s body. Maybe it was yesterday; maybe it was today. She could not remember when she had last felt him move as he lay next to her. Her mind was no more than a deep black hole that kept her in a dreamless slumber. Sullen in color, her once supple skin stretched tight around fingers gaunt from dehydration. Her hand reached up to his face. She felt for his mouth and nose. That nose. That thin and slightly crooked nose. Before they were married, she had teased and teased, laughing at him to no end, over his misshapen nose.
Nobody had laughed at the time it happened. Years ago, he had slapped a young, head-strong ox on its’s hindquarters, causing the beast to lift and kickback. Had the muddy hoof landed flat against the side of his head, it very well could have killed him. Instead, Hayoto had been just fast enough. He twisted his body, leaving only a glancing blow that had left his face a bloody mess. The strike almost removed his nose. Hayoto had to learn to breathe through his mouth during the healing process. The honking and shrill whistling sounds he made created much amusement among the villagers and family alike. Ren loved him for that bent nose. Watching him fight against the dreadful pain while laughing with the good-hearted ridicule, to toil in the fields each day, was a sign for her that he would never give up. A man that would never stop loving or abandon her. A man that would do whatever he needed for his family. And so, while his face healed with only the smallest of scars, his nose healed to its permanently bent shape. And Ren’s love for him blossomed and grew greater with each passing day.
Now, she would give anything, if she were able, to hear those silly sounds again. A simple rush of air. A beating in his chest, anything that would proclaim her husband alive. She could feel no breath. No life. Instead, her fingers found only a thin copse of crusted hair that had adhered itself to his warm, but now clammy, lifeless lips. A tearless sigh, more of a moan, escaped the dryness of her throat
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