Kitsune Nights

Chapter 1: Mother's Captive

Though it was but noon, it seemed a day had already passed since April had awakened. Or perhaps it was yesterday she was thinking of. Time became so muddled when days flowed seamlessly into each other. Such was the fate of one forever ensnared by a paranoid mother. Having neither father nor siblings, it was and always had been just Mother and April. As such, April had been nurtured with all the love of a doting mother. While Mother insisted that she would always be satisfied merely by the presence of her daughter. So when Mother had fallen ill, the only consolation she would permit was to be always cared for by her daughter. She would see neither doctor nor apothecary, but relied wholly on her sweet child to be her source of health and occupation. And while Mother’s illness seemed of little consequence at first, it refused to yield. Days of bedrest turned into months, but still Mother would allow none but her daughter to witness her weakened state. Prone as she was to fright, Mother pleaded with April to never abandon her, for such a course would surely result in disaster. And April, caged by her loved one’s distress, swore never to leave lest mother die alone. So it was that April, who had once held promise as an enviable marriage partner, found herself isolated from her former relationships. Eventually, the house had fallen desolate; a porter was hired to replenish household necessities, but aside from him none were permitted to intrude on the house’s solidarity. As such, the only assurance April had that time moved forth was the ticking from the grandfather clock.

April slid the cloth from mother’s face and dipped it in cool water. She replaced it after having wrung out the excess moisture.

“You are a good girl,” mother smiled appreciatively.

April brushed the damp hair from mother’s forehead and smiled languidly. When the illness had first started, she had found herself glancing frequently out the window. But over the years, she realised it was better to focus inside the house. Though even that was not always wise – wearied and worn as the house was becoming.

“I am thankful to be able to repay you for all you have done,” April remarked.

“Did you hear the jays this morning?” Mother asked, in a ragged breath. “What an awful racket. Somebody ought to do something about them; they were never an issue here before. Somebody needs to–“ her voice was cut off by an increase in fluid.

“Cough,” April instructed her mother to help rid her throat of the phlegm constantly blocking her breathing. It would kill her one day, most likely.

Mother coughed and coughed until free to speak again. Though, what she said blurred into a dream. April automatically knew when to nod, when to shake her head, and when to offer an encouragement. Immeasurable time passed in that matter – as it always did. But it would not last forever.

At last, there was a knock at the door.

“Be right there!” April shouted excitedly. It was just the porter; there was no reason to be thrilled. Nevertheless, she trotted over to the kitchen door, a smile on her face. She pulled it open and greeted the young man waiting just outside.

“Afternoon, April,” he greeted with shy smile, his green eyes peeking out from the frame of his dirty blonde hair. “How is your mother today? Any better?”

“Still on the mend,” April replied. Mother was upset by any other reply. She hurried the conversation on saying, “And how are you doing, Benson?”

He scratched behind his ear and looked at her feet, “I’m doing well; I’ve been pretty busy lately. The islanders and coastal peoples have been coming to the mainland and seeking refuge. The raiders I was telling you about appear to have landed and begun their rampage on the seaside towns.”

April bit her lip. “Do they think they will come here?”

“Who knows? But there’s been a lot of work with all the hustle and bustle. Too many people are moving through here.” As he spoke, Benson moved his eyes up; however, when they met April’s orbs, he hastily turned his gaze to the flour sack beside him. April’s eyes were steady, as always, but Benson’s danced around. There was a pause as he attempted to gather his nerve again. “I gues s I’ll bring this in for you.”

Anna sighed inwardly; it only took Benson a few minutes to unload. She doubted he knew how much she relied on his conversation. That he had resumed his work so quickly was unfortunate.

“Can I help you with any of that?” she offered.

“I told you before, it is my task,” he smiled. “I couldn’t ask a lady to carry all this.”

He slid his shoes off as he stepped into the house; he knew his way around the pantry and he busied himself stocking the shelves.

“Do you unpack all your customer’s orders? I’m sure that’s tedious,” April inquired.

Benson coughed. “Uhhh... yeah,” he lied.

As if his violent exhalation was contagious, April’s mother’s coughing resumed. Her dutiful daughter stepped towards the doorway, peeking in on the bedridden woman. Eventually the coughing ended and the house resumed its typical lull – the only sound being the clock.

Benson placed a box of jars on the counter and began unloading them into the pantry. Each jar tapped as it was placed on the shelf: another measure of time – though this ticking seeming too hasty in comparison to the interminable clock.

“Hey, April?” Benson finally broke the silence. “I was just wondering...” he trailed off.

“Hmm?”

“Oh,” he stopped himself. “It’s nothing.”

“I see,” April smiled politely, hiding her sigh.

Benson didn’t stop there. Rather, he spun, quite forcefully and grabbed April’s hands. “April,” he whispered fiercely, “do you ever wish you could be away from here?”

Yes, April thought.

“Do you ever miss your old life?”

Yes, of course!

“What if there was a way for you to leave? Would you?”

April’s eyes dropped. She pulled her hands gently from his grasp. “I can’t, you know I can’t.”

“This isn’t right,” he persisted. “You can still take care of her just as well. You don’t need to be trapped in this house. It’s not fair to you.”

“It’s just until she gets better.”

“You don’t know when that will be! She’s been ill for years. I’ve brought you everything the apothecary has and still nothing–“

“She couldn’t handle it if I were to–“

“But, what about you, April? What if this persists another ten, twenty, thirty–“

It can’t! April’s mind screamed. But she said, “It won’t,” in a calm voice. “She’ll get better.”

“April, I lov–“

She pressed a hand over his lips, sealing them. “Please, don’t. Not right now. Please, I beg you.”

Benson’s eyes found his feet again. His shoulders dropped. “But when?” he wanted to ask.

Benson sighed and returned to the jars. Tap, tap, tapping away their time.

April watched him, wholly paralyzed from her words. He was an earnest young man, not quite handsome – but near enough – with good prospects, and he’d shown her such kindness despite her unyielding. He had come to her and offered to bring them these necessities. What would they have done all these years without him?

Why had she stopped him!? Isn’t that what she always thought about? Escape.

It wouldn’t even be escape – just some time away. He wasn’t the sort of man to keep her from her ill mother. But she’d have a home and not this mausoleum to spend her nights in.

Tomorrow, she though. Ask me again tomorrow. And the day after. Don’t leave me.

“That’s everything,” Benson stated without looking at her. “I’ll be going now.”

April’s hand clenched, stopping herself from reaching out. “Someday,” she promised, “it will be better.”

Benson nodded and stepped out the door, heading straight down the path.

April watched him leave, lingering in the doorway until he was far in the distance.

“April, dear?” Mother called from her room, “Would you bring me a glass of water?”

April shut the door. “Yes, mother, I would be glad to.”

 

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