"Always modern Japan was involved in wars, or rather I must say Japan kept on invading Asian countries, anachronistically imitating Western imperialism. Although modern Japanese intellectuals resisted this tendency, their proposals were all defeated. Not a few committed suicide. If not, they converted - converted not into another belief, but rather into aestheticism."
- Kijima Hajime, On Postwar Japanese Poetry*
Stepping out of the caravan, her hand naturally went to her hair and various affectations, to ascertain that they were set properly. This was done with care, as to give the immediate impression that her various accoutremont and accessories meant nothing to her. To betray their importance was to render them useless.
Satisfied that all was well, she made the various motions to signal her wishes. She preferred to speak to the servants as little as possible. At this time, in this era, it was both impractical and ridiculous to keep a caravan when the other Huntington girls were living in squalor and fearing for their lives. But The Madame was determined that this business would not be her business.
Her shoes, made of forbidden leather, were the shiniest thing on the street. All of the homes had been fastened down months ago, fortresses quickly constructed from debris and detritus, in a vain attempt to preserve those inside. The few newspapers that still operated (out of habit, really) had given to printing sensational stories of the casualties of cabin fever. At one time some of these had been journals of worth, but they had gone the way of everything else.
The only other sound was the calls of the scavenging birds. The song birds were all dead, now.
This was not a pleasure trip. The Madame had come to reclaim something of hers. She rapped three times, in quick succession, and then let her gloved hand drop. In past times, this would have been more than satisfactory, this curt knocking, to open any door for her. She waited, refusing to knock again. Refusing to acknowledge that she might need to.
"What is it?" Called a voice from the other side of the door, not at all politely.
"The Madame has come calling. Inform the master."
"The Master," the voice called mockingly, "is dead."
"How unfortunate," The Madame said, as a reflex, "Is the lady of the house in?"
"She's busy at the moment, if..."
"I will not be back, child." The Madame intoned, with restrained impatience. She recognized the voice as belonging to professor Montesquieu's oldest child, Margarite.
"Suit yourself." Margarite said, and through the door could be heard the sound of heavy furniture being dragged over wood flooring. The Madame tried her utmost not to wince. Countless locks were fiddled with, and the door opened ever so slightly, to let out the smell of rotting things. Margarite was dressed in a soiled sundress, and behind her could be seen the toll the isolation had taken on the house. It was filthy, dark, and in the middle of the vestibule someone had cut a Davenport exactly in half. As she stepped in, The Madame made a face.
"Wipe your feet." Margarite said, without a trace of irony.
"Where is your mistress?"
"My mother is in the bathroom. She should be out shortly. You may wait for her here." Margarite turned, and walked out of the room. Minutes passed, and The Madame heard The Lady Montesquieu call out for God, for Jeremy (her late husband), and finally for Margarite.
This home had seen much better days, as had its inhabitants. There had been an extensive, labyrinthine wine cellar, a carefully chosen staff, parties that lasted for days. The children had been the Montesquieu's most prized possessions, but now the boys were busy expiring on distant shores, and Margarite, whose coming out had marked the zenith of the previous year's season, was no longer in top form. The wars had come, and swept it all away. Then the vile madness of the plague, the disasters and the famines. The world was folding in on itself, in a most beautiful way.
From her vantage point The Madame was able to take it all in as if it was a laboriously staged play for her amusement and edification. When one saw these things in such a light, the suffering of others became less horrifying. During one of her excursions, watching a family being murdered by thieves, The Madame had very nearly clapped. It was all too amusing.
Margarite, returned in quite a state. She was running her hand through her ill-kempt hair and choking back loud sobs. In her other hand was a bloody knitting needle. The Madame made a decision, one that she had been forced to make several times in her life, not to let her emotions show in any way.
She walked past Margarite, past the long scars on the walls and over an toppled floor lamp. As she strode past the bathroom she leaned in to look. Julia Montesquieu, a consummate hostess and friend, lay in a pool of her own blood on the imported tile. She looked to be at least five months pregnant. The Madame closed the door, grazing Julia's ankle as she did.
The painting hung askew above the four poster bed. It had been completed when The Madame was only a young girl. Unceremoniously she lifted it from its post, blew the cobwebs away from it, and left the house, with all of its unpleasantness.
* The Poetry of Postwar Japan, edited by Kijima Hajime: University of Iowa Press, 1975