Chapter 4, section 1 of 2, 'And Again'
“Oww, that really burns,” cried Yoshiko, Mizuko’s five year-old half-sister. The arrival of warm June weather had brought an onslaught of household vermin: In this case, head lice.
“We have to get rid of these lice quickly, or they will spread to everyone in the house,” Mizuko explained, as she scrubbed the vile smelling soap through Yoshiko’s thick hair for the third time.
“How come Masamichi-kun and At-chan don’t have to have their heads scrubbed,” Yoshiko whined, referring to her eight year-old brother and two year-old sister.
“I guess that you were the only one sweet enough to attract guests,” laughed Mizuko. “Now close your eyes,” she ordered as she poured the remainder of the water over the girl’s head.
“That’s cold,” Yoshiko shivered.
“Ganbatte,” Mizuko intoned, “Sometimes we must endure hardship in order to continue forward and prosper.”
She blotted the younger girl’s hair with a cotton towel. “Go sit outside in the sun and your hair will dry in no time.”
“Thank you, oneesan,” Yoshiko said as she left the room.
As if on cue, Masamichi limped in. “My geta broke when I jumped off the porch,” he explained. “And now my toe is bleeding.”
Mizuko helped him hobble over to a stool and lifted his foot. “Let’s get this cleaned up and take a look,” she said. She pulled a clean rag from a nearby basket and gently dabbed at the bloody wound.
“Not too bad,” she said gently. “I think you’ll live. Let’s clean and wrap it so it doesn’t fester.”
After the first aid was completed and Masamichi had limped out of the room, Mizuko sat down on a stool to catch her breath. She had been up since before dawn, cleaning, mending, making breakfast for her father, and tending to her half-siblings. She had removed the batting from Yoshiko’s infected futon and burned it, then hung the cover outside to dry in the sun after washing it thoroughly in disinfectant soap and hot water. She hoped it wouldn’t shrink too much.
Since the forced move to the guesthouse from the family mansion in 1902, Mizuko had become more like a household servant than a member of the family. Now in 1910, eight years after the family fortune was lost, she had grown to young adulthood amid hard times.
At fifteen years old she stood 5’ 5”, a full head taller than her stepmother Sawano.
Sawano had become Mizuko’s stepmother in June of 1902, only five months after the death of Mizuko’s mother Tona.
It still rankled Mizuko that her father had opted to re-marry so quickly after becoming a widower, especially to such a difficult woman. Even though Mizuko tried her best to please her, it felt that whatever she did was never good enough or correct in her stepmother’s eyes.
Far worse than Sawano’s disapproval, however, was the fact that her beloved Kyoko obaachan was no longer a part of her life. Two years after Tona had died, her mother-in-law Kyoko obaasan had fallen ill and after a short time, died. At seventy-four, Kyoko obaachan had clearly been older, but seemed perfectly healthy until her sudden illness. Six years after her passing, Mizuko still mourned her. Kyoko obaasan had been her protector and mentor, and had cherished Mizuko in a way her own mother had never done. Then just two years after their grandmother’s passing, Mizuko’s favorite sister Ayano had married and moved with her husband to Hiroshima proper. Now with Sawano-san’s kids to care for, and school to…. School!
Mizuko glanced up at the clock ticking in the hallway. It was already 7:30 a.m.! She had only a half hour to make lunch, change her clothes, and catch the canal boat for the one-hour trip to the high school.
Sawano chose that moment to enter the kitchen with her youngest, Atsuko supported on her hip.
“Why is it such a mess in here?” she said eying the used buckets and damp rags on the table.
“Is Tomoye up?” she demanded.
Without waiting for answers, Sawano added, “Where is my tea?”
She stumbled entering the room, but Mizuko reacted quickly, catching her stepmother by the arm and leading her to a chair by the table.
“I can pour you a cup before I leave for school,” Mizuko offered.
Sawano grimaced while she rearranged Atsuko on her lap. “Why your father insists on your going to school at your age is beyond me. What does he think you'll do with all that useless education?”
“He has told me to consider going to medical school,” Mizuko replied, pouring the tea.
“Medical school? A woman doctor? What a stupid idea! When have you ever heard of a woman doctor?” protested her stepmother. “What man would even marry a woman doctor? You should spend your time finding ways to make yourself more elegant and attractive like your older sister Sanae. Men appreciate the feminine graces. You look and act like a giant farm boy.”
“Yes, keibo, stepmother,” Mizuko agreed, all the while thinking, How many times must she say this?
Before her stepmother could continue her harangue, Mizuko quietly interrupted. “I’m sorry, but I have to leave now, or I will miss my boat”.
Sawano glared at Mizuko over her teacup for a moment then brought the hot drink to her lips. Suddenly she was overcome by the racking cough that had plagued her since early spring. Luckily she managed to avoid spilling the hot tea on little Atsuko as she shakily placed the cup on the table. Mizuko came over to pat and rub her step-mother’s back until the coughing subsided.
“Go! Go!” Sawano gasped when she could finally speak again. Mizuko bowed and left the room.
end of Chapter 4, segment 1 of 2