Butterfly’s Revenge ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Cio-Cio San was only fifteen, a geisha girl, a singer of sorts and an entertainer, naïve and unaware of the ways of the world. She understood desire and longing but not lust, treachery, or disloyalty. She entered into marriage with Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton with her whole heart, believing it would last forever. She even abandoned the faith of her Nipponese ancestors and converted to Christianity to show him she was going to be a proper American wife.
He was an American naval officer, come to Nagasaki on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. He was so tall, so darkly handsome, his mere presence so commanding; she had never seen anyone like him before. She trembled at his gaze, at his touch. Her heart turned over in her chest so that she felt faint. She didn’t know it was possible to love so much.
On their wedding night she gave to him her most precious gift and the next day he went away. His duties took him back to America. He would return to Nagasaki as soon as he could, to claim Cio-Cio San and take her back to America with him to live. They were going to be so happy. She would count the hours until his return.
Every day she went up the hill from her home so she could watch the harbor. Ships were coming and going all the time but the ship bearing Pinkerton never appeared. At the end of each day she went back down the hill disconsolate, but with the hope that the next day would be the day of his return.
Cio-Cio San gave birth to a son, conceived on the night of the wedding. She would call the boy Sorrow for as long as he was without his father. When Pinkerton came back and the three of them were united as a family, the boy would be called Joy.
Suzuki, Cio-Cio San’s faithful servant and companion, urged her to send a letter to Pinkerton in America to let him know he had fathered a son, but Cio-Cio San refused. She said that sending a letter to impart such news was not her way and, besides, she wanted to surprise him on the day of his return. He would be that much happier.
The days accumulated into weeks and months and still Pinkerton did not return to Nagasaki to claim Cio-Cio San and his son. Cio-Cio San waited with patience and courage; each day her heart withered a little bit more when his ship didn’t appear in the harbor. If it hadn’t been for her son, she would have died.
During the time of her waiting, a man of her own race proposed marriage to her. He was considered a very good match because he was good looking and owned more land than anybody else. It shouldn’t matter that he had had several previous wives because he had divorced all of them. Cio-Cio San turned him down and left no room to ever change her mind. She already had a husband and didn’t want another.
Finally, three years after she had last seen him, she received word from the American consul in Nagasaki that Pinkerton had returned. Her joy knew no limits! She gathered flowers to adorn the house. With Suzuki’s help she made herself ready, putting on the dress she had worn on the day she and Pinkerton were wed. She wanted him to know she forgave him for staying away so long and was welcoming him back as if he had only been gone a short time.
When Pinkerton walked into Cio-Cio San’s house and she laid eyes on him for the first time in three years, her heart leapt into her throat and she was unable to speak. She reached out her arms to him but then she stopped because standing right behind him was a stylish American lady in a beautiful white dress. All in a moment the truth came home to Cio-Cio San and she hid her face by throwing herself to the floor. When Pinkerton looked at Cio-Cio San, he felt pity but nothing more. The lady in the white dress cried. The American consul, who had brought Pinkerton and the lady to Cio-Cio San’s house, looked distressed.
Cio-Cio San understood then that her marriage to Pinkerton was a sham, an insubstantial thing that he threw off as soon as it suited him to do so. He was a man of straw. Only Cio-Cio San had believed in the validity and truth of the marriage. Not even Suzuki in her loyalty had believed it.
Pinkerton had heard through the American consul that he had fathered a child with Cio-Cio San. He had returned to Nagasaki with his American wife, his real wife, to claim the child and take him back to America with him, and nothing more. He was not thinking of Cio-Cio San at all. She was only a temporary diversion to him until he moved on to other things.
Cio-Cio San was so taken by surprise at this turn of events that she wasn’t able to think. She asked Pinkerton and the consul to return the next day at noon, at which time she would receive them properly with a clear head and a stout heart. Pinkerton reluctantly agreed to leave and return the next day.
As soon as the visitors were gone, Cio-Cio San instructed Suzuki to take her son to the home of some relations high in the hills above Nagasaki and to wait there with him until she sent word for them to return. Suzuki made the necessary preparations for travel and left with the boy in early evening as the moon was rising.
Since her conversion to Christianity, Cio-Cio San had been reading the Bible and had learned many things. A passage in the Bible that spoke to her heart was the one that said: “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” She took comfort in these words. She would not burden her own heart with bitterness and retribution. If any vengeance was meted out, she would leave it to Him who knew best.
When Pinkerton returned the next day with his American wife and the consul, Cio-Cio San greeted them graciously, without rancor. She served them tea and asked them questions about America and about their sea voyage. After an hour or so of small talk, Pinkerton grew red in the face. He asked Cio-Cio San where his son was. She answered simply that he was not at home. When Pinkerton pressed her for details, she answered only that her son was not at home and the time of his coming back had not yet been determined.
Pinkerton was not one to have his desires thwarted. He demanded that Cio-Cio San produce his son. His ship sailed for America in a short time and he didn’t have any time to play these silly little games. If Cio-Cio San didn’t bring forth the boy at once, she would face very grave consequences. She smiled as if she didn’t understand and offered him more tea.
He left in a rage, with his American wife and the consul trying to calm him down. He had no choice but to return to America, he said, but he would return to Nagasaki as soon as he could with a whole team of lawyers trained in Japanese law, if necessary. He would get his son if it was the last thing he ever did. It would avail Cio-Cio San nothing to try and stop him. All she said was that she hoped his journey was a pleasant one. She would tell her son on his return that his father had visited and inquired after his health.
On the voyage back to America, Pinkerton became stricken with a rare Asian illness that rendered him impotent and incapable of ever producing more children. He recovered but found the lingering effects of the illness debilitating. His doctors told him that an ocean voyage—or any kind of legal entanglement abroad—would most certainly kill him.
Cio-Cio San ’s son grew into a fine, decent man. He kept his mother with him always, even into old age. He was, she came to believe, the reason for her being. He eventually married a Nagasaki woman and together they had four children of their own to keep Cio-Cio San company.
Cio-Cio San heard many years later that Pinkerton had died in Philadelphia. She wrote his American wife, whose kind face she remembered, a letter of condolence. She received a letter in reply telling her that Pinkerton had never stopped thinking about his little Japanese Butterfly and the son he left behind. He spoke of them on his deathbed and wished that he could have brought them back to America with him to give them the kind of life they deserved.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp