“Shippo’s Little Asymmetric Dragon”
By RD Rivero
December 14, 2005
The full and ultimate truth of the events surrounding Shippo’s death was not known except to a select few. It might be possible that even those so close to the fox-demon for so many years did not know the history leading up to what transpired that last, dreadful night. Of those who knew, of those who suspected, they took the secret to their graves. Such as it is, what was preserved for posterity, besides the authenticated works of the artist himself, are those one-sided, sugarcoated anecdotes sprinkled about the encyclopedia-like narratives of the period.
Of those chronicles, the most ‘reliable’ are by Houshi Miroku (the so-called “Confessions of a Right Hand&rdquo
and by Kagome Higurashi (the infamous, crazed “Narakunomicon&rdquo
. Yet, there exists another
document that though small and obscure compared to the previously cited references sheds its own, particular light upon the mystery of Shippo’s death. And it completes the enigma – but in a manner so explicit, so unapologetic, that I fear it requires a great deal of set up and mental preparation before it ought to be revealed.
For that reason I digress here and there to highlight certain, peculiar events in his life – events commonly held to be known facts – that appear to be disconnected and inconsequential mostly because they were downplayed to be irrelevant by the artist’s companions.
In the Narakunomicon, amidst hyperemotional ‘Kikyo’ outbursts, there are the details of a very curious incident that happened about the time Shippo would have been thirteen. The group (Inuyasha, Kagome, Miroku, Sango and Shippo) throughout its quest enjoyed playing games to relax and work-off pent-up stress. One of the games was hide-and-seek. It is not known who was ‘it’ or how long the game was played but, according to Kagome, as time passed it became increasingly harder and more difficult to find Shippo. At last, when the kitsune could not be located, Inuyasha sniffed his scent and followed his trail until the traces of him ended at the rear of a shop. She elaborates: it was a place of business for an artisan – a female artisan – a place described to be an innocent and well-kept establishment.
Yet, the fox could not be found anywhere.
Kagome continues, however, stating that over a period of a week it became a habit of Shippo’s to vanish from the afternoon to the evening. When the group noticed she and Inuyasha seemed to be worried more than the others were. Again they followed the trail – always it led them to that shop, that hut, whose front doors were tightly sealed. She listened, but aside from the rustling of clothes now and then there was nothing to be heard. He listened, too, no doubt sensing more, much more, but it was not his manner to talk about his feelings even his impressions. Which, of course, scared her because she knew just by the look painted across his face that there was something he was not saying, something wrong.
What – the reader asks – was amiss inside the artisan’s establishment?
So far, so good – what I state exists in the record and cannot be disputed in good faith. Queer, is it not, how little was made of the incident? And is it not understandable that internal-logic that excused its dismissal? Shippo was a burgeoning artist; naturally, he could have taken on an apprenticeship. The fact the proprietor was female should not be taken out of the equation. But why was the exact nature of the establishment not be disclosed or known even to the villagers?
According to my source, there was a clear and definite point that marked a transition in Shippo’s secret, private life. A moment when he turned from a normal person – so to speak – to a man with an obsession. It was not a gradual, evolutionary process brought about by a series of shocks and arousals. It was instead a singular event of primal importance that warped the teenager’s delicate and developing psyche. And it was locked away, all of it, within the darkness and shadow of that hut.
One day it was imperative to leave the village. And after his frantic shouting about the town, calling for Shippo to appear – and getting no reply in return – Inuyasha’s temper finally got the better of him. He stormed into the shop. Of course, the group attempted to stop him but he was too upset and the rest were just as annoyed that the fox would be purposefully ignoring them so they might not have tried hard enough to stop him.
Everyone expected Shippo to be inside – and he was though they did not see it – but what no one expected to discover was what else was hid within the establishment. It must have been a shock for both Miroku and Kagome stop their narratives at that moment too horrified to continue. But my source, although not present, was told exactly what lay beneath the cloak of respectability that a well-hidden Shippo risked everything to spy in on.
The owner was the practitioner of a very different and peculiar art – for Shippo – that of the tattoo. Yes, the group poured into the hut and discovered the female artist at work knelt before the male client who was standing, naked and erect, presenting his penis to the instrument, to the needle. The two had been caught in the act, while she was inking an elaborate pattern into his foreskin.
The man, whose whole body was covered with tattoos was a breathing canvas, a living testament of the skill of the woman’s hands.
The intrusion was an embarrassment. Kagome’s Narakunomicon concludes that Shippo was not to be seen. Miroku’s “Right Hand” states that as they stood there dumbfounded a stray crash was heard and a breath of fresh air swept the scene – the kind of sudden, welcomed draft a window produces when suddenly opened in a damp and stale environment. Clearly, the group did not stay long in that shop – in that village.
I, the writer – and you, the reader – pause at this interlude to digest the information. The images. Perhaps I went to far too soon and this new, unheard-of side to Shippo proves to be a great, unbearable trauma. Perhaps it is not. I cannot promise to be gentle. But now, just for now, if just to rationalize it, let me interject interpretations entirely and uniquely my own.
Armed with this aforementioned fact – that obscene revelation the group stumbled into – and with a little thought, is it not obvious what were the true, secret events that a well-hidden, teenage fox-demon was privy? The woman covered the man head to toe with tattoos and that could not have happened overnight – the operation must have transpired over many days, weeks. According to the authority of my new source, patterns must have been agreed-upon, scaled and etched into the flesh. Colors must have been prepared afresh anew each and every session. Inks must have been applied carefully, systematically, one hue at a time.
All the while there was Shippo – pubescent Shippo a larger in size human in proportion – astride the darkness sitting. Sitting and watching. Watching as the man stripped, as the woman grasped, prodded, the flesh the artwork coming alive through her fingers.
We know the fox was fascinated by the arts and we want to believe it was innocent. But if it was innocent, why were his friends in the dark? If it was innocent, why was he in the shadows observing like a voyeur? Because it was something about the process of the woman tattooing the man that planted the kernel of a weird and bizarre fetish, a drive whose deep and all-consuming ambition could not be revealed or suggested or hinted at in anyway to anyone. Because it was – clearly and undeniably – a schizophrenia of soaring highs and wallowing lows, a contradiction of sexual pleasures and carnal pains.
If it had not been so then it must have been so now – eventually Kagome and Sango weaned him off and expelled him out of their ‘girls-only’ circle. Whereas he had been treated and fawned-over like their surrogate little brother, he was banished as it could not be denied any longer that he was becoming a new and different creature. A man who could not be permitted to engage in their womanly-affairs no matter how they felt about him either way. Yet he was not completely a man and – after that incident – was not comfortable being around the men. He could not identify with Inuyasha and Miroku because he knew his fetish marked him someway, somehow, to be totally and radically different.
My latest source states that, within the dynamics of the group, Shippo sensed a kind of silent, ‘understood’ ostracism. That he did not either fault them or curse them for it. It fed into the fantasy. Already he attained an edge to survive alone in the world – now he needed an edge to survive intact through the torment necessary to fulfill the vision. The man he watched was stoic; he, too, wanted to be tough. One way or another he would have to be tough to keep from crying out in pain – and how better then to keep face if not aided by a ‘well of anger’?
At this juncture Houshi Miroku’s “Right Hand” becomes more significant than the Narakunomicon of the mad, crazed miko Higurashi. It makes sense, does it not, that even esoterically deviants identify with each other? Yes, I say deviant, for it must be evident that the monk realized exactly what it was that attracted the young fox into the tattoo parlor. Inuyasha would have never engaged in such overt sexual obsessions – those two shared very little in common – but in Shippo he convinced himself he found a ‘soul mate’ whose cotius lust could have matched the intensity of his own carnal desires.
I must drawback; I must refrain from reading too deeply into Miroku’s motives.
Nevertheless, it is from Miroku that scholars gather the evidence to prove that, for a long time, Shippo was withdrawn and lonesome and awkward. He gave the teenager space; he approached him only after a lot of time passed since the incident with the hut. But even after he established that ‘male bond’, he was taken aback by how reserved and quiet the youngster was.
At the same time was it not clear to the fox-demon that of all the members of the group only the monk would have understood? He could have opened up to him, but he kept back from him, why? Why did he not confess the inmost blackness of his depraved heart? Unless there was something fundamentally wrong about the nature of his feelings? And if Miroku was deemed to be incapable of understand it, what can be said about Shippo’s state of mind?
What fascinated Shippo? My clandestine source thought about it, agonized about it over and over. The nakedness of the man? The woman, touching and massaging the ripped, masculine body? The thought of a woman’s hands tattooing a man’s genitals – might he, could he imagine himself to be in that position? Indeed, my unheard-of informer emphatically proclaims that the demonic artist craved to be touched like that, feeling that amalgam of secret, masculine pleasures and scorching, permanent pains needled into his flesh by the skill of the tattooist. Suddenly, almost overnight, within that studio his love for art and his embryonic, sexual desire merged into an orgy of pain and pleasure.
All of this was happening during a time of great, psychological strain. It must have been a difficult, lonely time. It was his adolescence and his body was changing, growing into the mold and form of a man. (Already by his late, teenage-years he was as tall and built as Sesshoumaru.) A man tormented by what he felt to be the weakness that allowed the group to find him that damned, dreadful day and to be more or less superficially aware of his voyeurism. Had he just been caught masturbating, it would not have been as deep or as probing a revelation.
All of the sources agree: as Shippo grew into adulthood more and more he settled into a dark and stormy character. He was somber and gloomy and – curiously enough – strangely nostalgic. His eventual withdrawal from group activity took root on or about that time yet even at that stage, though he kept to himself, he was not isolated. He shared his art, of course, drawing and sketching wherever. Whenever he reached a temple or entered a mansion, he was there (along with Miroku) notebook in hand to study the images that could be found along scrolls, across screens and other, scattered murals here and there. Old statues and artifacts said to be of ancient, Chinese origin were highly prized and avidly sought-after by the precocious and increasingly temperamental artist.
He was extremely fond of dragons although the reason why he kept tightly hidden out of view. Maybe it was something about their shapes. Maybe it was something about their complexities. Whatever it was, in Shippo’s hands it cannot be denied that dragons attained such a style and elegance that a thousand years later it remains to be equaled.
The fox’s designs were always immense and panoramic. The replicas – because in the beginning of his career he produced only replicas often from memory
– were richly textured and intricately detailed. More than a few patrons considered them to be superior with respect for the originals. And the monk was not left behind – he made many comments and left more compliments throughout the countryside about the nature and quality of the kitsune’s art. (In modern-terms Miroku was Shippo’s ‘agent.&rsquo
Shippo produced many varied works of art, all of which were sold during his life to support himself and the group. By his death he was a well-known and very-esteemed artist. His illustrious works could be found everywhere in ancient Japan. The original manuscripts of the Narakunomicon and the “Confessions of a Right Hand”, too, contained a few crayon-colored and pastel-colored samples – personal gifts from the artist to his friends – that have been verified as authentic.
Now, just what does any of this have to do with Shippo’s death? Surely nothing within the body of his work known to be authentic arouses notions of lurid and grotesque machinations. Indeed, it would be superfluous to discuss all of these matters if it were not for several, interesting passages found in the middle of Miroku’s “Confessions of a Right Hand.”
In this day and age, anyone who examines Shippo’s portfolio as closely and minutely as Miroku’s naked eye allowed will notice. Alone, one sample, one fragment, it is meaningless. Only when the works are taken together – as a whole – is it fathomed, that which peaked the monk’s curiosity. For it became clear that through the course of years the fox-demon – while he drew many, many dragons – stamped upon his art like a macabre, otherworldly signature one, singular image of a dragon. It was drawn at least once per work but over and over, added randomly. And that was not all, closer inspection yielded the strangest observation yet, he noticed the icon did in fact differ in one and only one respect.
The figure – what ever it represented – was shrinking.
Shippo’s work – what exists of it today – is ripe with epic and mythological images. But that dragon, I come again and again to that dragon, he must have considered it to be his ultimate creation as it is true that it became a signature. The final form of it – lost forever – must have been perfect considering how many times it must have been drawn just to get its proportions exact.
Another entry talks about a sheet of paper sliced thin and long. Throughout its course, at certain, well-defined intervals – across and askew the width – were drawn sequential yet disconnected portions of a dragon. That dragon. From what he could see, it did not appear to be a complete sketch of the creature for the details of its tail and its head were missing. He knew – understood – what it was but its design and purpose was a puzzle.
He stared at it, looping it about his hands, his fingers, for hours while he sipped sake and chatted with females. Its mystery attained a permanence in his mind until, at last, the symmetry of it spurned a sudden, quantum leap of understanding. It was so obvious, simple.
Holding one end of the strip with his thumb against his palm, he wrapped the sheet as far as possible about his middle and index fingers. He adjusted the dexterous tube’s radius until one fragment of the dragon aligned with the next. He searched for a stick and found a tube with the right shape – he wrapped the sheet about its length and watched with a mixture of awe and horror as the dragon came together out of nothing into its familiar and terrifying shape as it seemed to be snaking across the cylindrical surface as he turned the stick like a screw. The eerie, three-dimensional effect baffled him as to how the artist could have drawn it so perfectly alive.
There was yet another sheet. At first Miroku thought it was scrap because it appeared to be crumpled. At last he realized it was not so – it was folded not crumpled – but it was too late for he understood that fact after he unwrapped its form from its original shape to its natural flatness. Like the strip, the page was drawn with the aid of a cryptic pattern that proved to be too complex to decipher. The central portion needed a rounded, knob-like form. The edge portion needed a solid, cylindrical shape. And not only did it need two models to disentangle the fragments but it was, in fact, two drawings. The inner resembled the mouth-tongue with flickering flames coursing above it, with teeth at one end and lips along the edges marking the border between the images. The outer appeared to be the skull of the dragon spread over a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree panoramic montage – it was as if a three-dimensional sculpture had been exactly translated into a two-dimensional surface.
Throughout his career, Shippo experimented. With paints, he was fascinated with the thought of adding metals to pigments to make the colors shiny and brittle. With canvases, he was wont to practice with materials of any-shaped forms and surfaces. And, according to Miroku – who often sat in while the artist worked – even with brushes he tried just about everything. One of his technical innovations, the monk notes, was a new kind of brush, an instrument capable of recording the most miniscule and demanding of strokes. Of its fine, metallic point he jokes – though the young man is said not to have been amused – that with a little more work it could have been fashioned into an instrument infinitely superior to any tattooing needle.
I find it curious and I wonder why Miroku dropped those anecdotes throughout his “Right Hand.” Could it have been guilt that drove him to divulge those bits of information? What did he know and when did he know it? Perhaps, again, I reach too far with the monk’s testimony. It is entirely possible that until the very end he knew nothing. Alas, if all there exists is that book (and that insane, emotionally depraved Narakunomicon) the reader is left to wonder – what was the Houshi suggesting? And what was the demon aiming at with that dragon?
No one at the time – no one for centuries – could have foreseen the final, fatal culmination of these physical and psychological ingredients.
The self-imposed angst and subsequent awkwardness that trumpeted Shippo’s entry into manhood was an all-too-brief affair. As Miroku and Kagome attest, the battles between the group and Naraku were becoming increasingly desperate and uncertain, requiring progressively more and more cooperation within the gang – there was not enough time for the fox-demon to wallow in self-loathing. I will not tire the reader with the details of those epic-events, I refer the curious to the egotistical ramblings of the “Right Hand” and the emotional depravity of the Narakunomicon, what is important is that Shippo emerged out of that period seemingly to be a normal, adjusted adult.
Everything in his life appeared to be adequate a conduit into which his latent sexuality and desires could be expressed with out negative social stigmas. In short, it was believed by that close-knit circle of friends that his art settled his mind. And by those two, oft-reliable accounts we are, indeed, tempted to agree that Shippo was happy.
That last, staggering phase of that bright and creative period (Shippo’s so-called ‘heroic’ period) was punctuated by a series of apparently disconnected events. Unrelated yet odd events if seen only through the viewpoint of the group. But not to my new and obscure source.
The first of the occurrences involved Kilala. Sango reported that – through several, nightly vigils – she saw Shippo mounting Kilala, the two soaring into the air heading toward destinations unknown. Shippo would not say where he went. Kilala was not able to speak, of course; she could not be coaxed to reveal where they were going thus it could not be determined what they were doing.
Once Shippo realized his excursions were being watched, the nocturnal excursion was replaced with what Kagome characterizes as a long-range, two-way correspondence with Kilala as the go-between. At sundown the fox tied a note about the cat’s collar. By sunup the silent courier returned with a new, sealed reply.
Time passed and Shippo formed secondary, out-of-character habits. The written communication ceased and the nightly trips resumed but now the disappearances lasted days. Weeks. (I infer from all of the sources that – wherever Shippo went – Kilala did not tag along. I am uncertain, however, at just how Kilala was signaled for the return trip.)
At the same time Miroku comments on the fox’s refusal to bathe communally with anyone in the group or in the villages along the path. On his manner of clothing that changed such that less and less of his skin could be seen. Further, Inuyasha states to Kagome that there were scents about the kitsune that had not been there before – but they were not described to be unpleasant only that they were akin to ink and to incense.
Is it not trivial to see how these facts suggested to all of the historians to suspect – correctly – that Shippo was visiting a romantic, female, interest? However, keeping only the two, main sources, beyond their speculation we cannot glean any further clues – let alone answers – useful to shed light upon the miasma that surrounds the events of Shippo’s death. And how can we ask for more since it is evident that neither Miroku nor Kagome were privy to the other end of the fox’s nighttime excursions? And even if they knew there was something very much amiss with his mysterious activities they would not have divulged it sparing his memory the embarrassment as they, being his friends and defacto family, would have rightfully done. Such as it is, their speculation did not rise to any conclusion and no intervention was performed. Subsequently, their journals are silent on these matters.
True, his sudden modesty and his unexpected need for inks from Kagome’s time – inks, she adds, that promptly vanished and could not be found among his effects – were what marked that final, serious change with respect to his overall demeanor. Yet he was a temperamental artist, known to be moody and eccentric and his friends excused his behavior. It was a new and different ‘turn of events’ but it was not ‘wrong.’ But was this, their posture, genuine or manufactured after-the-fact? I reiterate, if they had known the truth I suspect they would not have discussed it. Kagome would have shed away from the subject, opting to be more suggestive of romantic motives than reveal the gritty details. Miroku would have been fascinated but his confessions, as massive as the tomes are, only cover his shortcomings.
Again I am tempted to divulge everything I know about my newly discovered source. Again I judge it to be inappropriate. It would not make sense to have such things fall upon the reader’s lap so bluntly.
Let me say the following. I alluded that he had been visiting a female-admirer; I did not state the fact that it was he who sought her out. For him to express his fetish, he needed a woman capable of understanding and sympathizing with it. A woman with a love of art.
Clearly, it could not have been Kagome and Sango, they were older, they were interested with others of their age and though they ostracized him during his teenage years they were too much like sisters to him to let the unwinding of his obsession pass comfortably.
But in this new, unknown female he met his perfect match in age and tenacity – even their orphaned upbringing. Determined and assertive, she did things a boy did, unafraid – and if properly seduced she could take on the challenge. In all of the world, she was the only one to whom he could turn.
One evening Shippo rode off on Kilala – a habit that became more and more routing that no body question it. Unlike every other time that season, he returned with Kilala that next evening. All of the sources agree Shippo was upset – not angry but ashamed -- his clothes, once immaculately kept, were now disheveled as if hastily put on in the dark. He skipped supper and retired into his own, private home – that he bought with the money brought in by his paintings and where he conducted business.
Miroku reports that as he walked by Shippo’s door he heard the fox-demon sob. With a knock – and with an answer – he entered. Inside, in the shadow the monk stood while in the corner the kitsune sat, desperately – tightly – holding onto his clothes. Their talk was long in time but short in substance. (It should be said that although he was part of the group, as he grew older he became more independent and less active with the gang’s pursuit of Naraku and the shards. He was drawn into his art and the obsession it fed but he was not totally estranged of his friends and especially Miroku.)
What the monk ascertained through the fox’s pent-up words was that he committed an act of stupid-selfishness. An act that could not be understood by him or by anyone and that it would not be possible to live with it. He changed, he said, in a manner that could not be reversed.
Shippo asked Miroku for a favor, for old time’s sake; drowned within the poetry of his sorrow, Shippo asked Miroku that, if he were to be found dead, his body was to be wrapped without inspection. He was adamant, like a madman, he did not want mortal eyes to inspect his corpse. The Houshi gave his holy vow – despite the momentary shock of hearing the words coming out of the fox – and he left, promising to return that morning when he thought he was sure his friend would be feeling better.
Shippo promised, bitterly, that he would be there, waiting – and he was there, waiting –
In the realm of the “Confessions of a Right Hand” and in the cosmic-horror of the Narakunomicon, it is that next, dreadful morning that Souten enters – and completes –the story. At sunup she arrived at the village and very calmly, through tears, approached the group and asked for Shippo. Kagome describes her – through a much-belabored simile involving Kikyo – as being and saying she was sorry. Miroku states dryly that, as she entered the artist’s abode, her mysterious and haunting lamentation was too late.
Miroku concludes by stating the facts: Shippo died that night after their talk from a wound he describes to be ‘self-inflicted.’ Kagome finishes by saying that stains of blood could be seen at the base of the door even before anyone entered.
Souten – unaware of Shippo’s last wishes – saw the body and stayed with it a while, preparing it before she allowed the group to enter.
The monk cloaked the body in a sack and cremated the remains that noonday in a private, emotional ceremony. But it should be said that not all of Shippo was offered to the gods that sad, dreary day.
I have spoken of innocent-looking shops and of fetishes mixing art and pain. I have spoken of deviant perversions and abnormal sexuality. Of obsessions with dragons – small, symmetric, winding, three-dimensional dragons. Of late-night visitations and long-distance correspondences. And, above all, a new and obscure source –
Souten – queer, is it not, how she emerged into the village like a bolt out of the blue? Or did you not think it was strange how she was determined to find Shippo? Or did you not imagine it was weird the way she was so upset, so sad? These things have been known to art historians for years and cited as proof that Shippo was seeing a woman and that Souten was that woman. And that it was a sudden, asymmetric schism that destroyed their relationship and spurned the tormented-artist into suicide. These things have been known to the public – but until now no proof could be produced.
It is Souten whose memoirs I possess, whose words I translate and thus unveil the forbidden enigma of Shippo’s psyche.
He sought her because while he knew of her talents she did not know of his passions. And, therefore, through a combination of nocturnal rendezvous and letters he opened and bared his soul to fathom her limits and seduce her mind. The messages Kilala transported – that she treasured and saved – we see the process unfold: Shippo makes a suggestion and Souten replies in-kind and they add fuel to the fire. Knowing her fondness for dragons, he sends her samples. Teasing his interest for her, she says she could never be that good and wonders if he would not be better off seeking another artist with which to collaborate. But Souten in the only one Shippo trusts and he lets her know that time and time again.
So it was indirectly that their relationship blossomed. But it was in person that he confessed the secret that since his teenage-years remained firmly locked tight within his head. He showed her the needle-brush and exclaimed suddenly, unexpectedly, that his fascination with the art began when he saw a woman tattoo a man’s body. Souten tells of the curious, physical change in Shippo’s manner that ensued as he revealed that deep, dark aspect of his heart: he whispered through a boyish-tone, he fidgeted, he stuttered, he blushed frequently and apologized profusely at the obscenities which he then lovingly and painstakingly related. She sensed a quickening of his breath and all but felt the beating of his heart as he described, clearly and vividly, the man’s body – arms and legs, smooth and chiseled – the woman’s hands – firm and icy, pressing and groping the skin even of the private, intimate parts – and the flesh, transforming itself from something weak and mortal into something that would be forever, a living, breathing work of art.
Clearly, it excited her and she urged him for more and more information.
Naturally, he complied – and asked if she would help him cover his body –
Her testament records her reply – an aroused, tentative kiss, an embrace that brought him to tears and she to shivers. Subsequent paragraphs tell of him removing his kimono and letting her ‘practice’. She wondered what sort of images could be drawn onto his skin – to conform into the shape of his body’s contours – he suggested ideas and she traced it with her fingers.
Over the course of weeks, months, he trained her. He delivered inks and needle-like brushes. She learned to draw with the tools and with the clean-shaven hides of butchered animals. All the while she practiced he sketched the strokes she traced upon his flesh – as if, she states, he had been reliving the moment over and over again – and produced from memory working drafts for the tattoos’ designs.
It is in Souten’s heightened and excited script that you and I all but see Shippo as he was – as he lived – standing before her wearing only a loincloth, blushing and fidgeting, as he says he wants her to tattoo his entire body. As he explains he wants to be created anew by a woman for the sake of art.
Of course, is it not obvious that it aroused no only her creativity – that he intended – but also her sexuality – that he may not have been aware of until too late.
She grasped the flesh of his arms, of his hands, tenderizing it, massaging it. She tugged at the waistband of his loincloth – he loosed it and she stole icy glances at his genitals, distantly and professionally, as she role-played in the fantasy in which she engaged and enables. He knelt, spreading his thighs, easing off all of his garments. He must have been overwhelmed to be consummating the situation he fantasized about since his teenage-years yet he remained rigid and stoic.
Nevertheless, she knew he was nervous and embarrassed just by the weird, child-like manner of his speech. By his insistence that she should not be nervous. The tattoos would not be finalized until she determined if it conformed to his shape and contour, he said, adding she was free to probe and explore. They would have to be comfortable with each other for the work to be flawless.
Every fold of his penile skin, even the underside of his foreskin, was to be tattooed, he confessed so calmly, so matter-of-factly there was not a quiver to his syllables that were now firm and masculine.
And it took her breath away – she confesses as if on trial – the bluntness of the words and the request –
Souten continues, explaining how a certain, subconscious gesture impelled her to molest Shippo. At first tentatively, almost lovingly, she explored its texture and weight. She hastened slowly, growing bold when he assured her it would not hurt and urged her to be rough. She watched and felt as his penis ‘squirmed’ as if alive and lengthened and hardened through her fingers.
After the ‘introduction’ as she termed it, work began on the great, artistic undertaking. They perfected the drafts of the designs, turning the images into works of art of their own right. The patterns were vivid and life-like and required a month to apply. From his neck to his knees, every square inch of naked flesh was etched in the black, metallic ink – except for his genitals, those drafts were not yet prepared. Shippo wanted the image there to represent the ultimate expression of creative skill and Souten – secretly terrified of maiming his flesh – wanted the time to hone the talent before anything intimate would be approached.
I stop here, right here, for a moment of introspection. And if you, the reader, if you have come this far into the narrative it is doubtless that you have discovered in this fetishism something about Shippo you may not have wanted to know. It is tempting to deny these facts about an artist as esteemed as he. But these things cannot be denied. And – at the same time – we must be careful not to be too harsh against the fox-demon. To what doctor could he have turned? In what therapy could he have relied? He lived at a time so remote, so distant from ours that we cannot judge him fairly. Indeed, as I realize the scope of his warped and twisted mind I cannot help but pity him.
Still, it is human nature to deny what we do not want to believe. But as we look back upon the scant and muddled history, do not the facts that Souten provide us with make sense? If all of his body were thusly outlined, if he were being painted upon all over everywhere, how could he bathe with the others without exposing the truth? Without resurrecting the specter of that wretched incident within that innocent-looking tattoo parlor? He had been weak before and had been caught – now he would be strong and would be perfect.
As soon as the outlines were permanently engraved into Shippo’s skin, Souten engaged the process of filling in the blanks with the colors.
She groped his muscles taught; she forced his body into what would have been uncomfortable and humiliating poses. He remained calm and silent and did not complain. He watched as art emerged out of a carnal mix of naked male skin and delicate female fingers – it was as if his body were a vagina and her needle were a penis, ejaculating her colors, fertilizing his flesh.
Souten knows Shippo was satisfied with her part; she wonders about his role, however. In the letters, she thinks about the man he saw all of those years ago and theorizes that he had to have been stoic throughout. She states that in not-so-many words the fox learned from the man how not to wince and how not to emote. Yet, she continues, though he could hide the pain there was part of his body whose honesty he could not suppress.
She does not acknowledge it affectionately during the tattooing sessions – but in the accounts she gushes about its every detail, drawing and sketching it along the margins of the pages. She adores its proportions and imperfections; she cannot get enough of its contradiction of hardness and softness. And she relishes at just how close she can get to it any time for any excuse.
At last she marvels at how the breath-taking drawing Shippo prepared for it completely conforms to every fold of flesh along its length, from its base to its eye-like slit.
Souten’s memoirs give the impression that through the tattooing they attained a truly spiritual closeness. It cannot be argued that theirs was a physical and emotional bond. But was it real or imagined? Can solid intimacy be the offspring of outlandish fantasy?
No – strike it – let me refrain from magnifying impressions. I aim for the truth, let speculation rest where it lies; and to understand the truth I must dredge through the events that surround it. The secret of Shippo’s demise rests entirely upon one, singular even known only to Souten for a thousand years. Before I can reveal it, the reader must be prepared. The event, a personal and intimate corruption born out of the machinations of the fetish itself, the permanent consequence of the event, the reader must be allowed the time and space to sink into the kitsune’s mind. Then and only then can the impact of the failure of the fantasy on Shippo’s fragile, hypersensitive psychology – and Souten’s own, disturbing reaction to it – be understood.
Souten confesses that as much as she adored him the happiest day of her life came when she first held Shippo’s penis not as a woman but as an artist. It was during that time when the design was to be etched onto his genitals. And what a design it was – it must have taken months if not years just to perfect the technique of it.
It began at a soft, sunken point between his testicles, arching around his scrotum. It ambled across the shaft of his penis, coiling about his length. It ended at the course, sensitive skin of his glans. There, at the helmet-like head and the hood-like skin that cloaked it, a flourish of lines (and colors) was envisioned such that the flexible and mobile flesh lent the image a living appearance lunging onto the viewer, growing and unwinding as his arousal brought him into erection.
Transferring that design from paper to skin proved to be among the most difficult – and the most terrifying – tasks of her life. She was literally haunted by it; her every move, her every thought, was shackled by the fear of failure. She was creating an illusion and like all illusions it required an exact setup. Any little line or detail out of place would be enough to destroy the effect.
Yet, she says she kept a smile as she watched his expression as he struggled to maintain his stoicism through the tears forming in the corner of his eyes. She adds it was remarkable that he did not lose his erection despite the pain that must have been coursing through his body. Especially that day she applied the outline onto the underside of his foreskin.
He stretched his foreskin tight over his warm and swollen head while she applied the needle onto the smooth, silky flesh. The instrument tapped a low, wet sound like that of a drip. Earlier she explored the way his penis worked and now she gathered that if he tugged his foreskin backward – to expose his head as it was natural for it to do when became erect – it would have been an easier and safer way to work. But he did not want to do it that way and she did not press the matter – in fact, she says she enjoyed watching the way he was presenting himself. It was exotically awkward and intimate.
If only she had been firmer about her intuition, if only he had been more flexible with respect to his fetishism, I wonder if history would have recorded these events differently.
And then came the day Shippo’s penis was set to come to life – when color was to be applied onto it. He arrived at Souten’s castle – a little more early than usual – he bathed and entered the makeshift tattoo parlor. She waited amidst the lamplight; she watched as the fox disrobed and admired his body, his nakedness. He was on the verge of a new and different transformation wherein he would become something other than man, more, even, than demon. Something immortal. All that remained undone hung loosely between his legs, dangled perilously within her hands as he knelt and straddled before her – there, cradled by her fingers, were his genitals, hairless and crisscrossed by a web-work of black, shiny lines looking limp and out of place.
With her touch – she notes – the pressure of her eyes looking, probing and with the anticipation of what was about to come, the fox-demon grew fully erect.
At once the needle pricked the skin – and he groaned but it was not a wail of pain.
She recalls – with more than a little hint of trepidation – her tattooing of his foreskin. It was not possible to hold back the tears and by that time he did not try to hide it. She asks if she should stop, if he hurt too much. He shakes his head, he replies that the pleasure he was feeling was worth all of the pain. She smiles and he sees it –
At that moment – she imagines – he was taken back to that time when he snuck through the shadows and darkness of that hut to watch the man and woman. He returned to that kernel. And although he was a full-grown adult, with the fantasy becoming reality – being held by a woman mixing art and pain – she questions if could it have been too much for his fragile, delicate mind and body?
But what neither Shippo nor Souten realized was how that the fantasy-reality was flawed. Recall, he did not ‘hire’ a tattoo artist – as the man and woman were strangers – he, more or less, ‘created’ one. In the process he fell in love with her. Shippo loved Souten. It must be, she says she knew he knew they loved each other – and it must be, too, that throughout the sessions he buried it within his subconscious where it remained, lingering and simmering, waiting to be resurrected. And, again at that moment, it returned when into that unfolding, role-playing game intruded its feelings of a closeness whose intimacy was deep and inscrutable.
He gasped, unable – unwilling? – to control the thrusting of his hips. His breath raced and his erection throbbed as she tugged and needled giving him her undivided love through torture, as he filled with the pleasure felt by a man nearing that moment of vulnerability. His unfolding biological function could not be stopped with his sex now so utterly over-stimulated.
If only that one, simple change had been effected – if only Shippo had listened and complied with Souten’s concerns – again, I ask, could the tragedy have been averted? We are left to wonder if at that point he realized the danger she saw in the way he wanted his foreskin tattooed – alas – if there were any such thoughts within his mind, at that instant they were overwhelmed and consumed by his inevitable penile urges.
Shippo shouted but Souten does not recall what he said – it could be that even the fox-demon did not know what he said. He ejaculated through her fingers, a burst of warm, wet semen splattered against her hands – she was startled and let slip the needle all the while his spasms squirted his essence onto her face, dribbled it down his jerking, pulsating length. When it finished, he fell into her arms – they remained sealed in a tight and silent embrace neither of them suspecting the damage the incident caused.
Souten recalls Shippo’s exhaustion to be very sweet and tender. They kissed, she says, but trails off into silence and we are left to believe by the sudden, unexpected discretion that more, much more might have happened that night. Curious that she would describe all of that then and would refrain any of it now.
Nevertheless, as they recovered themselves, everything seemed to be alright. He apologizes; she forgives. And then the lamplight was returned to focus its light upon the living canvas that became Shippo’s body.
It cannot be described – only felt – that shock that stunned Shippo when at last he saw the effect of Souten’s slip. It was not that ink had been misapplied or smeared – the image itself was as it had always been, as it was intended to be – but the tattoo had been designed to be constrained by the shape and contour of his penis and now its topography had been changed. As he rolled his glans’s cover back it became clear: the instrument sliced free his foreskin’s frenelum for his penis’s head and that portion of the figure’s mouth that been etched along where those two parts once met attained a permanent, malignant flaw.
What was supposed to be the solid, undeniable visual climax of the art was grotesquely and ridiculously out of proportion with the rest of the tattoo.
And here, here, exposed before us, we have the last, secret ingredients of the artist’s demise: for a fleeting, split-second of pleasure he was flawed forever. It was his own selfish impulse – that damned, detestable fetishism – that destroyed the dream to be perfect. Worse, it must have occurred to him at that moment, at that instant, that it destroyed her, too.
He cries into his hands; she rests his head onto her shoulder and whispers soft, broken words into his ear. But her love, so pure and unconditional, it could have only intensified the shame. He must have realized then that his body was her canvass – that it was not his crowning glory, not his artistic transformation, all along it was hers – and that his weakness again exposed ruined her legacy.
Hastily, he left. Worried, she followed him. But she did not have a Kilala and despite her speed she reached the village too late.
After the funeral, Souten reports feeling alone and isolated. She misses Shippo and all throughout these pages – those dark, autumnal times – she recreates him, over and over again, drawing his image along the margins. Months later she reports giving birth. Here the documents become less blatant and more subtle and we are forced to read deeply between the lines in order to gather that her daughter – whose names were Yanone at birth and Musashi at adulthood – was Shippo’s offspring.
She comments that her daughter never knew of her father directly but that she always knew of his art. Throughout those early, formative years, Souten shows her daughter what she says was his greatest creation.
Again, we must not judge, we must understand. Shippo could not bear the permanent marker of his perversion and because he could not erase the tattoo anymore than he could repair what had been done to maim it he removed it. And with it obliterated, is it not possible to see how in his mind regained for his lover a certain, iota of perfection for the rest of the tattoos were flawless. It was a small, insignificant thing – after all, how many valued statues of ancient art existed with parts broken off?
But she loved it for its personal and intimate imperfections.
And so, safe and sealed within a glass jar full of a clear, viscous ink, was preserved for the world the flesh that had been severed at the base, soft and limp, obscene were it not indeed by its flaw a work of art, Shippo’s little asymmetric dragon.