Ascendance of a Bookworm – 015
Tory’s Hair Ornaments
A few days after I was baby-sat at the gate, my mother finally finished the brand new outfit she’d been working so hard on for Tory . It’s essentially a one-piece dress, made from unbleached cloth, with a straight, clean silhouette . The hems of the neckline and sleeves are embroidered with a simple design, and the whole thing is tied together with a wide sash of cool blue cloth, accentuating the outfit .
Cute things are cute, but… it looks a little unsatisfactory to me . In Japan, when kids visit shrines on Shichi-Go-San1, the kimono and dresses that they wear are all very showy and colorful so that they’ll look good for their photos . Or, at least, that’s the image the photography studios keep feeding us in their ads .
“What do you think, Maine? Isn’t it cute?”
If you wanted to, you could make it a little bit more fluttery, or maybe add some more decorations . Either of those things would make it so much cuter…
I may be saying that to myself deep in my heart, but my mother looks so proud of her handiwork and Tory looks so pleased with her new dress that I guess it’s already more than good enough . This isn’t an outfit that you’re going to have a picture taken of for your own self-satisfaction, this is something that’s going to be worn to a temple . It’s entirely possible that wearing something flashy would be frowned upon . I don’t think I should really comment on Tory’s clothing right now, since I don’t actually know any of the things that are apparently common sense in this world .
I have found one thing I can comment on, though: her hair . Regular care may have made it glossy and smooth, but she always wears it in exactly the same way, in a single thick three-part braid behind her . If we were to change up her hairstyle for her baptism ceremony, I wonder what people would think of some tasteful hair ornaments .
However, whatever I do, I can’t actually get started until I learn what the customs are here . Maine was a very young child, after all, and she didn’t really have any memories of baptism ceremonies at all .
“Tory,” I say, “it’s really cute! …But, what about your hair? You’ve got to decide what sort of hairstyle you want for your baptism ceremony . ”
“I was going to just go like this, though…?”
…Tory, that’s not good at all . This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, put a little more thought into your fashion choices .
Unintentionally, my head drops down in exasperation . I pull myself together and find a new angle to continue my questioning . If Tory’s hairstyle isn’t going to change, maybe we can add some sort of decoration to it .
“Ummm… so, what about ornaments? Are you going to use any?”
“Oh, hmm… it’s summertime, so maybe I’ll pick some flowers somewhere?”
“Whoa, don’t do that! Your dress is too cute for that!”
She’s just casually talking like she’s going to pick whatever flowers she manages to find lying around! Haven’t you heard of coordinating an outfit?! …Ahh, of course not .
Here, it seems like it’s weird for a child to wear their hair up . It’s okay for it to be braided, though, or to have ornaments in it . If Tory doesn’t have any, it should be okay for me to make them for her . I’d be able to make some sort of lacework, I think . I’ve got plenty of time until summer, so I don’t think I’ll have any problems .
“I’ll do something! Leave it to me, Tory . I’ll definitely make you even cuter . ”
Immediately after I made that declaration, I suddenly realize that we don’t have any needles for lacework . My mother has large needles that she uses for knitting, but they’re too large for me to make lace with .
Wh… what should I do?!
My father’s the only one in the family who seems like he’d be able to make things like tools . Tory may have made my hair sticks, but the one who shaved it smooth so it was easy to use, then stained it with oil was actually my father .
I surreptitiously sneak a glance at my father, trying to gauge his mood . It’s already been a few days since I’d gone to the gate and Otto had agreed to help me learn to write, but my father has been in a pretty foul mood ever since . He doesn’t really look like he’s in the mood to be pestered, but I don’t think he’ll get less angry at me if I just leave him alone .
Honestly, my father is being pretty childish, so it’s up to me to be the adult here . If I read between the lines, it’s almost like he wants me to say something . If I fawn on him a little bit and pester him to do something for me, I think I might be able to not only get him to make me some needles, but also cheer him up, killing two birds with one stone .
“Daddy, daddy!” I say .
“Daddy, you’re really good at making stuff, right? You’re the one who made Tory’s doll, right?”
“Y… yeah, that’s right . ” He clears his throat . “Ahh, what is it, do you want a doll of your own?”
He’s keeping an expression on his face like he’s still angry with me, but there’s a little glimmer of anticipation in his eyes as he glances over at me .
“Nuh-uh,” I say . “I want some knitting needles . ”
“Needles? Can’t you use the ones your mother has? I think she’ll lend them to you, right?”
As he answered me, a supremely dejected expression falls over his face . Waves of misery pour off of him, like he’s had enough just wants to smooth things over already .
He waves his hand, shooing me, as if he’s telling me to just go away in a manner that’s not very becoming of a parent . At the very least, I’m going to make him hear me out .
“I need needles that are way smaller than the ones Mommy has . I want needles that can knit thread, not yarn . …Daddy, these need to be really skinny, and I think making them would be difficult . Can you do it?”
I look up at him with glistening, upturned eyes, hands clasped in front of my chest, in the cutest begging pose I can possibly make . I don’t know if the Japanese standards of 2-D cuteness apply in this world, but there’s no doting parent in any world that doesn’t find their own daughter adorable… so I think this is probably cute enough . Whether it’s due to my cuteness or not, my father scratches at his stubbly chin, contemplating .
“Hmm… is wood okay?”
“Yeah! Can you do it?”
“I’ll try . ”
His fatherly pride stimulated a little bit, he immediately stands up and heads towards the storage room . After rummaging around for a while, he comes back out with a few different knives and some wood, then sits down and starts to whittle . In his experienced hands, the work goes very quickly . The knife whispers as it shaves away at the wood, and in the blink of an eye all of the bark has been stripped off, leaving only the dense, hard core . He looks closely at the knitting needles, then, skillfully and carefully, starts whittling the wood down into the same shape .
“If those needles are sized for wool,” he asks, “does this look about right for thread?”
“Umm, can you make them a little bit skinnier?”
With the proper size now determined, he changes to another knife, and starts to carve the hook ends of the knitting needles . I can’t say he’s as good as a real craftsman, but this is something that I can’t do myself at all, so I praise him anyway .
“Amazing, Daddy! They’re already looking great . Do you think that when you’re done, you can polish them really smooth and oil them so that they don’t catch any thread? I’d really really appreciate it . ”
“Sure, leave it to me . ”
Being praised by his daughter has brought back a lot of his fatherly confidence, it seems . He carefully polishes each needle, in fine spirits .
Heh, just as planned .
While a dark smile flickers over my face, Tory beams angelically, the very picture of pure innocence .
“Maine,” she says, “looks like Dad’s finally in a good mood again . That’s a relief . ”
“Yeah, yeah, it really is!”
Don’t say anything about how I was the reason my dad was in a bad mood . Definitely don’t say anything about how I thought fawning over my father was troublesome, so I left him alone without bothering to read the mood . I’m just a little girl, after all, so please treat me as if I don’t know anything about bad moods .
My father’s still been working hard on polishing the needles . It looks like they’re almost ready to be used, so I start looking for thread . The ample stockpile of thread that my mother had prepared to use for Tory’s dress has almost all dwindled away . There should be some sort of thread available that isn’t the unbleached white thread that my mother used to make the cloth for the dress . However, the colorful threads that were used to make the sash and the trimmings aren’t in long enough pieces to really make cloth out of .
“Mommy, can I have some threads dyed this color?”
“What do you want to do?”
My mother clearly never thought that I’d ask for thread, so her eyes momentarily grow wide with surprise before she puts on a dubious frown .
“I thought I’d make some ‘lacework’,” I reply .
“I want to make something to put in Tory’s hair . ”
My mother back in Japan didn’t just turn advertisements into paper baskets . She kept bouncing around, getting swept up in one kind of handicraft after another . It wasn’t any of her business, but she wanted to get me into hobbies that weren’t just reading books, so she dragged me behind her as she went through this crafting boom . In other words, my list of miscellaneous crafting skills is rather large .
Really, among all the handicrafts on my list, lacework is one of the ones that can make a useful finished product . I’m actually quite confident that I’ll be able to make hair ornaments, assuming I have the tools and materials . My life as Urano may be over, but I have no idea what sorts of knowledge I have that might be useful in the future .
However, my mother in this world has no knowledge of my former identity, so she seems to disapprove of my request for some thread . There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s thinking that I’m going to do something useless again, so anything she hands over to me will wind up being wasted .
“If you’re making hair ornaments, those aren’t really going to be useful except at the baptismal ceremony, you know? It’s a waste to use up our thread on such an inconsequential decoration . Flowers are more than enough for a hair ornament . Tory’s already cute, you don’t need to make her any cuter . ”
“If you can make something cuter, you must! Cuteness is justice!” I cry, clenching my fist tightly .
My mother, for whatever reason, lets out a sigh, then turns away as if the conversation is already over . I quickly reach out and grab her skirt .
“Hey, Mommy,” I beg, “I’d be okay with just these leftovers here . Daddy worked hard to make these needles for me, and I really want to use them . Let me just try, please?”
I look over at my father, trying to hint that those needles might wind up being worthless . If he got my meaning, or if he realized that his work might be in vain, or maybe even if he was afraid that I’d lose all of my new-found respect for him, he speaks up in my defense .
“It’s rare for Maine to take this much interest in sewing, so what do you think about just letting her have the remnants?”
My mother ponders for a bit . “…Hm, I guess you’re right,” she says, a reluctant expression on her face .
She picks out a few threads and hands them over to me . They’re short enough that it might actually be difficult to use them .
“Woohoo! Thanks, Mommy! I love you, Daddy!”
I throw up my hands in celebration . My father looks at me with exaggerated pleasure, grinning with his mouth almost hanging open . He suddenly puts way more strength into polishing the knitting needles, a huge smile on his face . If I may be perfectly honest, it’s kind of creepy .
His mood does seem to be a lot better, though . He’s acting a little weird, so… it’ll be better if I just leave him alone, right?
My father gives me the needles, which have been stuffed full of his overbearing affection . I immediately get to work weaving lace . I’m going to make a lot of tiny lace flowers .
Tightly, tightly, tightly, tightly…
Much like my failed attempts to make pseudo-papyrus, making lace involves a lot of tight, tiny weaving and a lot of patience . Even if I acknowledge it, though, because the flower that I’ve been working on is so small, it took me about fifteen minutes to finish a single one . I let the yellow flower roll off my hand and onto the table, then start working on the next one . Tory looks at the little lace flower admiringly, then peers at it closely, tilting her head to once side with a doubtful expression on her face .
“Isn’t it kinda too small?”
“I’m going to put a lot of them together as decoration . ”
If I made a big one, it would be really bad if I started losing interest before I was finished, right?
I keep the real reason to myself . I really let my big mouth get away from me when I started talking about hair ornaments, so I really need to make sure I finish something, which is why I decided to use a design that I can give up on halfway and still wind up with a usable result, like a collection of tiny flowers . Truthfully, back when I was Urano, I’d always decide I didn’t like working on huge designs and wind up giving up halfway through . I need to limit how much that might hurt me .
“I thought about making lace or ribbon, but I don’t think I could connect these threads since they’re not very long . Plus, it would be weird if the color changed partway through, right? So I’m going to make a bunch of tiny flowers . ”
“Wow, Maine, you really thought this through . ”
“Of course! It’s cause I’m doing it for you . ”
I thought through many things before starting this . The final product is going to be made out of whatever I get done in the end, so I can finish it even when I get tired of working on it . Plus, this isn’t going to waste any thread, since I can always finish up my current flower and start a new one of a different color when I start to run out .
Tightly, tightly, tightly, tightly…
Once I’ve finished making a few more tiny flowers, I feel like someone’s watching me . I glance up and see that my work has piqued my mother’s curiosity, and she’s carefully watching what I’m doing with my hands . My mother is good enough at sewing that she’s thought of as a “beautiful” woman by this place’s standards, and it looks like she’s pretty interested in my handiwork . She picks up one of my completed flowers and rolls it around in the palm of her hand .
“…This doesn’t seem to be too difficult,” she says .
“You already knit a lot with wool, Mommy, so if you learn a few patterns I think you’d be way better at making these than I am, right? Want to try?”
I hand over my needles . My mother starts to knit, her motions fluid even as she studies the flowers . She occasionally picks one up and rolls it around in her fingers, confirming the way they’re woven . In the blink of an eye, she’s already finished one .
Whoa . As expected of the sewing skills of a beautiful woman . Just by looking at how something’s stitched, she figured out how to make it herself . She’s so different from me . I had to be taught how to do this step by step, grumbling the entire time .
“Amazing, Mommy . ”
“Well, I’m amazed you knew how to make something like this, Maine,” she says . “I’ve knitted scarves and sweaters, but I never thought to knit decorations like this . ”
Everyone in this world has their hands so full with just surviving that nobody has the spare time to think about decoration . And, if nobody’s making it, then maybe lacework itself is something that nobody’s seen before . I was raised in a world where sewing decorations onto clothing was only natural, so I knew about it, but it looks like even tiny decorations like these aren’t really known of here .
“So, Maine, now that we’ve made a lot of these flowers, how are you going to decorate Tory’s hair?”
It seems like my mother can’t tell how all the little flowers rolling around on the table are going to be assembled into a finished product . I need to explain things to her in the simplest possible way I can think of .
“Ummm… so we take these scraps of fabric and make them into a circle, and then sew the flowers on one by one . It’ll look like a bouquet of flowers after that, right? Then, we wrap that around a ‘hairpin’, and… wait, ‘hairpin’?!”
In the middle of my explanation, all of the blood suddenly drains from my face . My mother jumps, startled, as I suddenly raise my voice .
“Maine, what are you yelling about all of a sudden?”
“…Oh no, what do I do… I don’t have a ‘hairpin’, huh…”
This is really bad! There’s no hairpins in this world, or at the very least I haven’t seen any in this house . I haven’t seen any elastic hairbands either . This is a world where everyone ties their hair back with string . How the hell am I going to finish this off?!
“D… D-d-d… Daddyyyy!”
I immediately abandon my plan to leave my father alone . I rush over to him, taking up my begging posture again . Describing a hairpin by words alone is going to be difficult, so I take out my slate and draw a picture as I explain it to him .
“I need one side of it to be pointy, like my hair sticks, and then the other side needs to be flat, like this, with a little hole drilled into it . It’s kinda like my hair sticks, but shorter . Can you do it?!”
“Sure, this is actually simpler than those knitting needles . ”
“Really?! Daddy, you’re amazing! Now more than ever, you’re the best!!”
I hug him tightly in a gratuitous display of overflowing gratitude . “Heh heh heh, leave it to me,” he says, quietly . It seems like he still feels the need to compete with Otto .
My father cheerfully whittles a somewhat short hairpin for me . I sew together the lace mini-bouquet, then thread it through the hole in the hairpin, kind of like I’m sewing on a button .
“Alright, done! Tory, put on your new dress and come over here!”
Tory puts on her summer dress, then comes over to sit in the chair closest to the fire . I scoot my own chair over behind her, then kick off my shoes and climb up to stand on top of it . I undo her braid, comb it out, then loosely weave together hair from both sides of her head . Tory’s hair is naturally wavy and fluffy, like it’s permed, so I bring it back and weave it so it’s half-up . 2 This hairstyle on her gives off an amazingly showy atmosphere .
I tie up the center of the braid tightly with a simple cord, then stick the hairpin through the knot so that it won’t fall off . Against Tory’s blue-green hair, the little flowers of blue, yellow, and white seem to shine .
“Yep, cute!” I say .
“Wow, really!” says my mother . “You look very cute, Tory . ”
“Maine, you’re pretty skilled with your hands,” says my father . “You might not be strong, but we can probably find you a job that needs nimble fingers like yours . ”
Tory smiles shyly as the family admires her, turning this way and that to show off . She reaches up to feel the hairpin, but after a little while she puffs her cheeks out in frustration .
“Maine,” she says, “you put everything in the back, so I can’t see it at all, you know?”
“I guess so, but… I can’t really help you there . ”
“But, I don’t really know what I look like right now . ”
We don’t have any mirrors in this house, so there’s no real way for me to show her what she looks like . I think about what I should do for a little while as Tory’s face grows unhappier and unhappier . I try to show her on my own head, pulling the mini-bouquet out of her hair and sticking it into mine, next to my own hair sticks .
“It looks kind of like this! What do you think?”
As soon as she sees the hairpin in my hair, Tory cheers loudly . “Whoa, cute! Amazing! Hey, Mom . Does my hair look like that?”
“Well, Maine’s hair is straighter and all done up, and the colors of the threads we used match your hair much better . It definitely suits you more, Tory . ”
“Ahh, really… I see! Hee hee hee…”
Her cheeks flush red and she smiles so wide that it looks like she might crack her face in two . She pulls her hairpin from my hair .
“Thanks, everyone! I’m super happy . ”
With spring just around the corner, we have made Tory a perfectly coordinated outfit . If I’m not mistaken, she’s easily going to be the most eye-catching girl at this summer’s baptismal ceremony .
After that, my mother got really into doing her own lacework, and the needles my father made for me suddenly disappeared into my mother’s sewing kit .
…Well, that’s okay, I guess .
Translator’s notes for this chapter:
1 . A Japanese festival for seven, five, and three-year olds, which is generally considered a kind of coming-of-age ceremony . The name literally translates to “seven-five-three” .
2 . Like this, probably . (I had to look it up to make sure I got the description right, so I figured I should link the reference . )