The Fallen Geisha
An old Japanese folk-tale, discovered in a book of oriental myths and legends, and translated from the original Ancient Sumo script by David Kilpatrick.
THERE WAS once a beautiful Geisha called Minolta (here real name was Chiyoko but she adopted the stage name of Minolta once her fame spread abroad). She had many rivals, and was courted by many suitors. However, her morals were not entirely up to scratch, as unlike her friend Nikon she preferred to go without Nikkors and loved to show off her sparkling Rokkors, flashing them at would-be lovers and saying ‘match these rocks if you can’. She was said to the be only girl in Japan with her own diamond mine. Everything went well for Minolta until she fell desperately in love with a handsome German from Wetzlar. She had always enjoyed looking after other people’s children, and indeed this German had a family of his own. But he was not good at remembering all their names, and called them One, Two, Three and even added letters as well, since he could only count so far. But Minolta had a string of similar relationships behind her. She didn’t really behave the way a geisha should. Sometimes she could not even remember where she had been the night before… first Herr Plaubel… Herr Zeiss (but they only went half-way)… there was that threesome.. with Franke and… what was the name? Sixty-six. Auto, cords… typical German businessmen wanting a night out! Still, they gave her two lovely matching Rokkors. But at least she had never done the sixty-nine since that first fling with Plaubel. She had some standards!
Secretly, she wanted a child of her own, and to escape from the confusion her taste for European lovers had created in her life.
So, having morals as she did, one night while her favourite German sugar-daddy was asleep and had left his new horse tied up in the stable, she stole his mount and rode away to a quiet place where, nine months later, she finally gave birth to a child she could call her own. Ernst, her lover, found out when she was showing friends in the market-place her new son. He was enraged that she had stolen his mount, and even more so that she had used it to ride off to an independent future as a single mother; such things were unknown then! Denying that he was the father of the child, he gave Minolta two choices: keep the baby and the horse, and you will never see me again; give me back the horse, slay the child, and I will be the father of your children for thrice seven years, and my house shall be your house, and you will have such Rokkors as the world has never seen.
Minolta, having morals which were not entirely up to scratch, immediately agreed to the second option. Taking Leitz’s duelling sword and mistaking it for a proper sharp Samurai sword, she made a very bad job of beheading the child. Overcome with grief that her stroke had not been the clean decapitation expected, since German duelling swords have a sharp point but are not much cop for slicing through necks, she tore the baby’s head from its body, and slaying a wild boar, sewed its head to the neck. Ernst was impressed by her swift reflexes!
Minolta’s guardian spirit gave the baby new life, so that the boy grew fast, and became a skilled horseman with a new mount of his own. From his father he inherited a fast action of the arm and silent approach in the chase, and from his mother a love of fine gems, always wearing Rokkors to match her own. To make up for having a boar’s head, the guardian spirit gifted the young SR (they had given up calling the children by number) a silver mirror, and a glass scrying-crystal with five faces. With these he could see himself as he truly was, with a body like his father Ernst, and a handsome head above it; and he could see the world more clearly than any before him, from the pollen of the spring cherry blossom to the heron above the still water.
For thrice seven years Minolta and her German lover lived happily, and she bore sons for herself and daughters for him. But around them the world was changing, the blossom had fallen from the cherry tree; summer had passed; the ginko-leaves lay gold on the ground and the small deer sheltered below the fire-red maple. The demon Kwa-non, who in the shadows had sought to make children of his own forged from brass and sand, was interrupted in his subterranean work by an American tourist called Polly.
Miss Carbonate was a thoroughly modern lass, recently arrived in Japan, and determined to change the way everything was done. She showed the demon Kwa-non that forges and fires, hammers and anvils, steel and brass were all things of the past. She offered him her body, and from that union such a brood of children issued that the world would soon be over-run. Minolta, gazing in a still pool and seeing that she had aged much in 21 years with Ernst, prayed to her guardian spirit to give her a new body as light as Polly Carbonate’s slim frame. She wished for new eyes, to see the world at all distances clearly by night and day, and a new heart to think more clearly.
Because she would have to leave Ernst, and all her children, sorrow brought a tear to her eye, and it fell in the still pool. Such an offering as this her guardian spirit had never had before, and all her wishes were granted. Because she loved her shining Rokkors so much, the spirit gave her the power to make these from nothing more than oil and air and magic, so that she would no longer need to mine and cut so many diamonds. And he gave her the power to bear children on her own, at will. These powers he gifted her for thrice seven years only; for this is the number of one generation.
Spring returned, and for the first seven years, each year was only Spring and Summer. Minolta bore fine sons she called X, the penultimate letter of the foreign alphabet she had learned with Ernst. The next seven years, Summer alone filled every year. She bore sons and daughters, and with her new heart, gave them names. Her strongest son she called Alpha, the first letter of an old but revered alphabet she now had learned. He had the power to be in three places at once, and to have many names; at home he was Alpha; when he was in the West, he was known as Dynax; when he was in the East, he was called Maxxum. He had a beautiful sister called Riva, who inherited her mother’s morals – she could never make up her mind how to dress, who to be that day, where to go, what accessories to buy. One season she would eat until her figure bulged, the next she would starve herself to a mere slip. Riva never grew up, but kept demanding more and better Rokkors.
Yet something had gone awry. The Rokkors were not Rokkors any more. Minolta’s friend Nikon had lost her Nikkors as well (if you remember, Minolta never ever wore Nikkors – she considered this vulgar and inconvenient, and in any case they did not suit her preference for mounting; Minolta had always screwed clockwise, but Nikon was quite perverted). Instead, the gems were made from air and oil and magic, with just a few diamonds in the setting, and had no name of their own.
Though Summer was reigning every day of the year, Minolta fell victim to a subtle rape, visited by the spirit of the Deity Called The Yellow Box, and gave birth to a dwarfish and rebellious infant, flat as a tatami-mat, which never grew up. Alas, no sooner had this happened than she was captured and held to a great ransome by a honey-demon which lived in a forgotten well. The demon gave her a choice; the next seven years she must endure Winter all year, or she must give up her heart and her eyes and all her new beauty, which her guardian spirit had stolen from the well. She could not bear the thought of returning to her old form, and so she paid the ransom: for seven years, she would live in a world where Spring and Summer never came, the cherry never blossomed, and the ginko-leaves were never made of gold.
With the frozen world around her, she strove to bear one more strong son, whose body would be once more made of metal, but forged by new magic and not the old fire and force of brass and steel. Her eyes, which could still see far, showed her distant places where Spring and Summer still came, to the south and to the west. She saw that she must send her children far away from home to be fostered, and that no longer could they grow strong in the sight of Mount Fuji. But as she gazed afar and dreamed, a gang of drunken bandits chanced upon her. These, who had once been samurai, had forsaken their vows and had amongst them fallen geishas; they planned to start an outlaw clan, with standards far removed from all they had once known, a brood of children small in stature but with shape-shifting powers. Foolishly, Minolta fell in with them, and set out on a hopeless journey in the cold winter gales.
In the wastes she gave birth to a brood of children, all utterly different (such was the gang she had fallen in with, and the state of her morals) yet sharing one name of Vectis. There came quadruplets all of which were a different colour… the shame! There was a strong lad, but lumpen in shape; and slim sisters, with bodies of steel. Never since the changing fashions of her daughter Riva (now ageing, but still determined to dress the part) had such confusion reigned in Minolta’s household. Only the continued presence by her side of her last strong sons, the titan 9 and the light-footed 7 who had grown up in the distant lands of summer, consoled her as the seven years of winter drew ever on.
But time passes, and the honey-demon of the well had not condemned Minolta to an eternity of dark nights and frozen days. One morning, Spring arrived again, and rising weakly as her crew of bandits snored on, Minolta saw outside the sakura was flowering. Standing beneath the shining blossom of the cherry-tree was another fallen geisha, even older than she, though still beautiful. When Minolta saw Konica, waiting in the warm Spring sun like the spirit of the cherry-blossom herself, she realised that she had never truly been in love before this. She had sought lovers, and even for a while a mate, far abroad; she had given them many children, and they had given her many in return. When Konica beckoned her, she ran fast, leaving behind the sleeping ruffians who had been her companions of a long dark winter. They embraced, and both realised they had lost each other, as young Geishas learning their art together, in a past age of the world.
Excitedly, each told the other of the lives they had led, and all they had seen and learned. They gathered in their children, from wherever they could still be found, and introduced them. Konica giggled to reveal that she, like Minolta, had stolen Ernst’s favourite mount – but many years later, when it was free to wander, and she had caught it grazing in her fields. Konica had a great household, and took Minolta in as her sister, and gave her children rooms. Not surprisingly, some of them being of the same age and opposite sexes discovered that being closely related was not a complete barrier to interesting relationships. Several gave birth (very quietly) to children of their own, some left home, and sadly one or two had to be beheaded for their shameless behaviour. Since Minolta now had a proper sharp samurai blade, this was done so cleanly no-one ever noticed. Of all Konica’s children, the most lamented was Hexar – he was executed not for his promiscuity (coupling indiscriminately with neighour Cosina’s daughters and even going with 60-year-old tourists from Germany) but his extravagance, costing the household a fortune to keep in style.
Konica and Minolta, who had wondered what the future held for them, were visited by a travelling pedlar of magical mirrors, Sony. Sony’s mirrors – which could catch and hold the image of anything reflected in them – were wanted by every Geisha, old and young, in Japan. This had made Sony very rich, despite his habit of dressing like a mountebank or juggler, disguising himself and attending all the markets and fairs, singing and dancing and inventing new ways of playing the shamisen which offended properly trained musicians. Behind this vulgar show, Sony was in fact older and wiser than anyone knew. In some parts of the world, he travelled as a monk; in some as a warrior; in some as a actor; in some as an ambassador. But his favourite disguise was as the market-square juggler selling magic mirrors.
Once inside Konica and Minolta’s house, Sony took off his make-up and his tattered motley, and told them both that all their children could have their own magic mirrors. As long as they never held anyone else’s magic mirrors, theirs would be the best mirrors ever seen. The children were delighted; especially the light, fast and adventurous 7, whose name also was Alpha at home, Dynax in the West, and Maxxum in the East. Once 7 had learned to use his mirror, he became famous, for he also had the gift of never trembling in the face of danger. So steady was his aim, and sure his fire, that his shot never missed the bull. He could hold his mirror so still that no image it caught was ever clearer.
Sony, who was not particularly aligned one way or the other, fell rather in love with several of Minolta’s sons and daughters. He also rather fancied Minolta, and with Konica’s help, disguised himself as a handsome young suitor. Minolta – surprisingly fecund for her age – promptly dropped another sprog which showed every signs of Sony’s fatherhood. It even came, from the very start, with one his magic mirrors in hand (a difficult birth had the baby not been very compact).
Summer had come again for Minolta. Living with Konica, with Sony the father of a jolly and happy new baby, all seemed well. Minolta took up painting, and writing, and doing secretarial work in her spare time. Konica already did this, and they worked together. The past years just seemed to fade. The memory of Ernst, those shining Rokkors; it was all a long time ago.
The new baby – 5 – was barely into school when Sony came knocking at the door, this time no longer dressed in motley and make-up, but wearing a pinstripe suit.
“The baby”, he said, “is mine. Either I take him home, or you can find your magic mirrors somewhere else. There’s some money in it. And I’ll give you a fair price for the old diamond mine, and take the other kids off your hands. They are wrecking the place anyway and teenagers are high maintenance. You don’t want to know what happens to them. It will be quick and painless. The new kid’s safe. You’ll be able to see him grow, and have visiting rights. You can even make some clothes, give him presents. Read bedtime stories. That sort of stuff. You two can get on with what you want to do. Leave all this behind.”
Minolta, having morals which were not entirely up to scratch, jumped in the air with an unseemly whoop of “Yes! At last!” while Konica swiftly spat on the palm of her right hand and shook on the deal before Minolta had hit the ground again. Shoving the baby into Sony’s arms, both dashed quickly out of the door to catch up with a local dentist and offer him an idea they had for a filing system, with pictures of teeth taken using a camera attached to the patient’s epiglottis, and were never seen again.
“Come on, son” said Sony, dropping the baby as it was obviously old enough to walk on its own. “First, new clothes. I’ll show you how to do the make-up. Teach you a bit of singing and dancing. Oh, and you’ll love the new mirror – we can throw that old blurry one away. Got a place for you in this business. Teach you where the busiest market places are. How to juggle. You’ll be up to speed in no time. You’ll feel at home, your big brother came over to stay months ago. Hey, don’t look sad! I’m your dad! You should see some of the daughters that randy old bugger Zeiss managed to spring on Cosina. You’ll be mounting them before you know it! Boys grow up fast with papa Sony around!”
As they walked hand in hand towards the sun setting over the slopes of Fuji, four thin white clouds striped themselves across the centre of its golden disc. For just a moment, the sun turned from gold to a vivid blue, before sinking behind the mountain.
© May 2006 David Kilpatrick
This story originally appeared on www.iconpublications.com just after the handover of Konica Minolta’s digital SLR assets to Sony, which took place on April 1st 2006. The last revision timestamp on the Icon website was May 22nd, 2006.