Japanese Title: ソエルとラーグ：モコナ＝モドキの冒険
(Soeru to Lāgu: Mokona Modoki no bōken)
Published By: 講談社 (2004)
Chapter One: Good Morning
When we opened our eyes, things were a little fuzzy.
A woman with black hair and a man with black hair were standing just beyond the shimmering. The man was wearing glasses. What? How did we know those were glasses?
“You two are Mokona Modoki.”
“The two of us made you. You are copies of something named Mokona.”
Mokona. What’s that?
“It’s just like you. Maybe a little bigger.”
A little bit bigger. Mokona.
The man wearing glasses said, “Let’s give both of you names.”
“Yes, let’s do that,” said the woman with long hair.
Names. What would our names be?
“The white one will be White Bean Bun. The black one will be Black Bean Bun. How does that sound?” the woman said.
“What are you thinking, Yūko?”
“Do you have a problem with my knack for naming, Clow?”
“Names have power. Let’s give these two powerful names.”
Power. What is power?
“White Bean Bun and Black Bean Bun have lots of power. They’re awesome names,” the woman said, a little displeased.
“That’s right. They’re awesomely delicious,” the man in glasses laughed.
“How about Soel and Larg?”
“They’re ancient magical symbols. Not much different from the names I came up with,” the woman said, still a little displeased.
“But they’re good names,” she smiled.
“Well then, let’s name them properly.”
“You are Mokona Soel Modoki. You are Mokona Larg Modoki.”
The white one is Soel. The black one is Larg.
“It’s nice to meet you!”
It’s nice to meet you too.
I have translated the first six chapters of this picture book here.
Japanese Title: おくのほそ道 (Oku no hosomichi)
Author: Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉)
Published By: 角川ソフィア文庫 (2001)
The moons and suns are passing guests through myriad eras, and even the years that come and go are travelers. Those who float their lives away aboard a boat and those who greet old age while gripping the mouth of a horse travel day in and day out, making the journey their home. Many men in bygone days died in travel as well. For any number of years I myself have been beckoned by the wind that scatters the clouds, and I think ceaselessly of wandering.
After rambling along the coast, I returned to my dilapidated hut outside of Edo in the fall of last year, and I had barely enough time to sweep out the spiders’ old cobwebs before the year drew to an end. As I gazed at the rising mists in the new spring sky, my heart was possessed with a longing to pass through the Shirakawa barrier gate. With the god of travel beckoning to me, I could not put my hands to anything I took up and instead mended the rips in my travel pants, replaced the strap on my rain hat, and treated my legs with moxa. A burning desire to see the moon over Matsushima took hold of my heart, so I relinquished my house to another man and moved into the villa of my student Sampū. I attached this poem to the pillar of my old hermitage:
kusa no to mo
sumikawaru yo zo
hina no ie
Even this door of grass
Will witness a new family
Celebrating a festival of dolls
Japanese Title: バンコック・サプライズ (Bankokku Sapuraizu)
Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Taken From: 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, 1995)
“Hello, is this 5721-1251?” a woman’s voice asked me.
“Yes, this is 5721-1251.”
“I’m sorry for calling out of the blue. The truth is, I was calling 5721-1252.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I’ve been calling all day since this morning. I tried more than thirty times, but they didn’t pick up. Um, they’re probably on a trip, or something.”
“And?” I asked.
“And so I thought, well, I might as well try calling what I guess you could call their next door neighbor, 5721-1251.”
She cleared her throat. “I just got in from Bangkok last night. This really awesome, amazing, incredible thing happened in Bangkok. It’s something you totally wouldn’t believe. It’s something just really, really incredible. I planned to stay there for one week, but I cut it short by three days and came back early. I wanted to talk about it, and so I kept calling 1252. I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t talk about it with someone, but it’s not something I can just talk about with anybody. And so I thought maybe the person at 1251 would listen to me…”
“But, you know, I was really hoping that a girl would answer the phone. It would be much easier to talk to a girl, you know?”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“How old are you?”
“I turned 37 last month.”
“Uh, 37? I get the feeling that someone a little younger might be better. Sorry about that.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m going to try calling 5721-1253. Bye.”
After all that fuss, I never did get to hear what happened in Bangkok.
Japanese Title: 腐肉 (Funiku)
Author: Kanai Mieko (金井 美恵子)
Taken From: 兎 (Usagi, 1979)
I’m certain that I went to her room. If I tried to do it again now, though, I’m not sure I could find it. I had known that this would be the case when I left the room. I knew that, if I left, I wouldn’t be able to come back a second time. I knew that, even if I tried to find the room, I wouldn’t even be able to locate the real estate agent who had taken me there. And yet, when I saw that bloody hunk of rotting meat, all I could think about was getting out of that room into fresh air as quickly as I could.
This is what she told me:
Men came to this room every evening, and sometimes they stayed until morning, and sometimes they left during the night; but, whenever they left, they would always leave something splendid and luxurious behind. Pretty lace underwear, or gemstones, or chocolate, or silk. Perfume, makeup, butter, coffee – I’ve had it all. Sometimes it was just something that a man had forgotten, like a gold watch or jeweled cufflinks or a cigarette lighter, but I still kept it as a memento. When I look at these forgotten things, I can remember each man clearly. What he liked, and how he loved me, and also how I loved him, I can remember everything. Of course, the men came with more than just presents; most of them brought me money, but I was really much happier when they left presents. When they left money, they would just slip it onto my bedside table and leave. I didn’t want what went on between us to be so straightforward. I would take it out after they left and use it to get by. Because money is something I needed to pay for food and other expenses, it’s not as if I hated it.
No, perhaps I liked money better. Sometimes, there was a man who would bring a freshly butchered pig (this man was a butcher, and he always smelled like the blood of the animals he had killed, probably because he would throw back a cup of it before coming here – and then my body would always hurt the day after this bloody butcher came, and I wouldn’t be able to do anything for that day’s customer), which was troublesome because I couldn’t possibly eat the whole thing by myself. It would have been strange to carve the carcass and give the meat to the men who were my customers to take home. Having them eat it would have been problematic as well (because then I would have had to cook for them); and, even if I did prepare it for them, I wouldn’t have known the appropriate time to begin cooking. Also, I think the connotations of “meat” are a little too close to what I do for a living. It would have been as if I were selling them slices of my own body.
The pig brought by the uncouth, hairy butcher was a soft pink lump. It would be more appropriate to call it an animal carcass rather than meat, as there are things in this world that are more properly termed meat, such as the body of a prostitute; but, in any case, no matter what you call it, the butcher would always bring the skinned carcass of a dead pig. I would wrap the carcass in plastic and newspaper and put it under my bed. I didn’t know what else to do with it.
In the evening, after the butcher who brought these carcasses went home, I wouldn’t be able to receive customers as I usually did, so I would send away the men who came to me right in the doorway and then go back inside to rest in bed. Still, not many men have come to visit lately, and it’s not just the men whom I’ve had to turn away because of the butcher. When I compare the present to when I was much, much younger, I suppose it’s only natural that nothing is how it used to be. Long ago, when I was young and fresh, the men who visited me in my room used to have to make reservations a month in advance…
At the time she was just fooling around with her work and her life, but she never thought “It’s sad to have to fool around with other people in order to keep living” as she does now. Lying on her bed, she passed her days reminiscing about the men who had shared her pillow. Of course, it’s not as if she had been born a prostitute (although, thinking about it now, it doesn’t matter if she was), but I wonder what caused her to become one. According to what she told me, no, before that I probably need to explain how I came to meet her. I mean, I never got around to asking her why she was leading such a bizarre life in this room with a hunk of rotting meat. It’s just that I was looking for a room, or what I was really looking for was a “home,” of course; but, since I was unable to acquire one for various reasons, I had to make do with a “room.” It was there that I intended to live my life, no, I intended to do nothing, nothing at all, just pass my days in obscurity. The truth is that I wanted to flee from writing, and that I would flee to the farthest extreme from writing, to a life where I would patiently wait for death to come calling in the form of a young girl a thousand times more beautiful than I. At the introduction of a real estate agent with bad breath so terrible that you wouldn’t want to get within a meter of him, I rented a room that came with sparse furnishings (the rent wasn’t so bad), and I started living there right away, that very day.
I first noticed that there was a strange stench after the real estate agent who had brought me to the room left and my nose, which had been assailed by his terrible bad breath, returned to normal. This is to say that his intensely bad breath, which was slimy like rotting meat, had temporarily distracted me from the strange smell in the room. In searching for the source of the stench, which was making me nauseous, I opened the large built-in European style wardrobe, and there I saw a large double bed, on top of which a woman was lying. I was so surprised that my mouth dropped open. The real estate agent with the terrible bad breath hadn’t mentioned anything along the lines of there being a bed and a woman in the wardrobe. Even if she were the room’s former occupant, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a horrible mistake for the woman in front of me to be here since I was supposed to begin living here today. I tried to explain this to her, but she paid not the slightest bit of attention and said that the person who had guided me to her room must have been one of the men she employed to bring in customers. “But I was brought here by an employee of an established real estate agency, and also, what with one thing and another, I’ve paid him almost a hundred thousand yen. There’s no doubt that I was deceived by a dirty scam of some sketchy real estate agency.”
“You shouldn’t have given then money to that man,” she said. “It would have been much nicer if you had paid me directly.” I was so annoyed that I couldn’t say anything, but she paid no heed to my annoyance and kept talking. As she continued to speak, even when she paused to take a breath, the putrid stench that had assaulted me since I had opened the wardrobe grew steadily worse, so I finally interrupted her to ask if perhaps she had noticed a strange odor. “If you smell something, it’s the odor of meat. It’s started to rot, you know.” —Meat? Why haven’t you thrown it out? After I asked her these questions, she began her story of murder and the men who had been her customers.
“Then this smell is coming from the pig meat the butcher gave you?”
“No,” she answered. “I ate the pig he gave me some time ago.”
“Then what’s the meat that’s rotting there?”
“It’s the meat of the butcher who killed the pig. Look.”
Having said this, she peeled back the cover hiding the legs of the bed, and I peered into the dim space underneath. “You know, that man said he hated me to get close to other men, that he wanted me to quit this business and start a family with him. Was I really supposed to do something so vulgar? I truly loved that man, so it was only natural that he would be killed.”
Even though I was certain that there was a lump of bloody, discolored meat that had begun to rot under the bed, I couldn’t tell if it was a body, but I was sure that it was the meat of the butcher. The difference between meat and a body, as she had put it in the simplest of terms, is that meat can be eaten while a body cannot. Of course, she said, all meat starts off as a body. What changes a body into meat are the hands that handle it.
I flew from the room without listening to the rest of her story.
Still, I am now searching for her room. In that small furnished room, where the foul stench of rotting meat has turned the air into a puss-like slime, I will propose marriage to her, and I myself will become a slab of rotting meat that will be absorbed into her. This fantasy gives me a terribly warm, gentle feeling. And also, I have noticed that my own flesh is rotting from the inside, little by little. On my breath I can smell an odor so disgusting that it makes even me sick.
Japanese Title: ゾンビ (Zombie)
Author: Murakami Haruki (村上春樹)
Taken From: TV ピープル (TV People, 1993)
A man and a woman were walking down a road next to a graveyard. It was midnight and even foggy. They didn’t particularly want to be walking in such a place in the middle of the night, but due to various circumstances they had to pass by that way. They held each others’ hands tightly and walked at a quick pace.
“It’s almost like a Michael Jackson music video,” the girl said.
“Yeah, the gravestones are moving,” the boy said.
Just then, they heard a groan, giiiiii, that sounded like something heavy moving somewhere. The two stopped walking and, without thinking, turned to look at each other.
The boy laughed. “It’s okay. There’s no reason to get so nervous. Some tree branches were scraping against each other. It was the wind or something.”
But the wind wasn’t blowing. The girl gulped and looked around the area. She felt really bad. She had a premonition that something terrible was about to happen.
It was a zombie.
But they couldn’t see anything. There wasn’t any indication that the dead had risen. The two started walking again. The girl sensed the boy’s face growing strangely rigid.
“Why do you have such a sloppy way of walking?” he asked abruptly.
“Me?” the girl asked, surprised. “Do I really walk in such a sloppy way?”
“It’s terrible,” the boy said.
The girl bit her lip. She probably was a little bowlegged. The bottoms of her shoes tended to wear down a little bit more on the outside, but it wasn’t bad enough for anyone to come right out and say so to her deliberately.
But she didn’t say anything. She loved the boy, and the boy even loved her. The two were planning on getting married next month. She didn’t want to get into a stupid fight. I’m probably a bit bowlegged, she thought. Isn’t that okay?
“This is the first time I’ve dated a bowlegged woman.”
“Really?” the girl said with a stiff smile on her face. Was he drunk? No, he can’t have had anything to drink today, she thought.
“And then there are the three moles inside your ear,” the boy said.
“Oh really?” the girl said. “Which ear?”
“The right one. Right inside your right ear, there are three moles. They’re really ugly.”
“Do you hate moles?”
“I hate ugly moles. What planet would you have to come from to like something like that?”
She bit her lip much, much harder.
“And then there’s your body odor,” the boy continued. “It’s been bothering me for awhile. If I had met you for the first time in summer, I wouldn’t have dated someone like you.”
The girl sighed and withdrew her hand from the boy’s.
“Hey, hold on a second. Do you have to say it to me like that? That’s really terrible. It’s that what you’ve been thinking all this time?”
“The collar of your blouse is dirty. The one you’re wearing today, right now. Why are you so filthy? Why can’t you do even one thing right?”
The girl was silent. She was so angry that her mouth wouldn’t work.
“You know, I have a whole ton of things I want to say to you. Your bowlegs, your stink, your dirty collar, the moles in your ear, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s right, why are you wearing earrings that look so bad on you? You look just like a prostitute. No, a prostitute would be much classier. If you’re going to wear something like that, why don’t you just put a ring through your nose? It would go perfectly with your double chin. Right, your double chin made me remember – your mother is a real pig. She’s a real oinking pig. That’s what you’re going to look like after twenty years. You’re so greedy, just like your mom. You’re a pig. You really eat shit up. Your dad is terrible too. He can barely write kanji, you know? He recently wrote a letter to my parents, right, and everyone laughed at it. They were saying how it was like he was almost illiterate. Did that asshole not even graduate from elementary school? Your house sucks. It’s a cultural slum. It would be better if someone threw oil on it and set it on fire. All the pig fat would sizzle while it burned, you bet.”
“Hey, if you don’t like me that much, why are you marrying me?”
The boy took no notice of her. “You’re a pig,” he said. “And then your thing. It’s really terrible down there. I just give up and do you, but your thing is like a cheap rubber band that’s already been stretched out too much. If I had your thing, I would die. If I were a girl, and something like that was stuck on me, I would die of shame. It wouldn’t even matter how I died. I would just die as quickly as I could. Living would be too embarrassing.”
The girl stood there in a daze. “How could you….”
Suddenly, the boy clutched his head. His face contorted painfully, and he sunk to the ground. He scratched at his temples with his fingernails. “It hurts!” he said. “My head feels like it’s tearing apart. I can’t stand it. It’s too much!”
“Are you okay?” the girl spoke up.
“I’m not okay. I can’t bear it. My skin feels like it’s burning up into pieces.”
The girl touched the boy’s face with her hand. It was feverish, as if it were burning. The girl tried to stroke it gently, but the skin slipped off in a film. As it peeled away, slimy red flesh appeared. She gasped and jumped back.
The boy stood up and cackled. He peeled off his skin rapidly with his own hands. His eyeballs plopped out of his head and dangled down. His nose became nothing more than two black holes. His lips disappeared, and his teeth stuck out. Those teeth grinned at her.
“The reason I was with you before was to eat your piggy meat. Do you think there would have been any other reason for me to date someone like you? But you were too stupid to get it. Are you an idiot? Are you an idiot? Are you an idiot? Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh…”
And then that lump of exposed flesh came chasing after her. She broke into a run. But she couldn’t escape from the shambling mass of meat behind her. At the edge of the graveyard a slimy hand clutched her collar. She screamed and screamed.
The boy held the girl’s body.
Her throat was dry. The boy looked at her, grinning.
“What’s the matter? Did you have a bad dream?”
The girl roused herself and looked around her. The two were sleeping on a bed in a hotel by a lake. She shook her head.
“Did I yell?”
“A whole lot,” he said, laughing. “Your scream was really loud. I bet everyone in the hotel heard it. It hope no one thinks there was a murder.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” the boy said. “You had a bad dream?”
“You can’t even imagine what a bad dream it was.”
“Would you tell me about it?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
“It would be better if you talked about it. If you tell someone, then all the bad vibrations will disappear.”
“That’s all right. I don’t want to talk about it now.”
The two were silent for a moment. She hugged the boy’s naked chest. She could hear frogs croaking in the distance. The boy’s heartbeat thudded solidly.
“Hey,” the girl said, remembering. “Can I ask you something?”
“Are there any moles in my ears?”
“Moles?” the boy asked. “Are you talking about the three ugly ones in your right ear?”
She shut her eyes. It wasn’t over….
Japanese Title: ふつう (Futsū)
Taken From: わたしのすきなひと (Watashi no suki na hito, 1995)
I wonder if the person who is reading this manga is married? Or maybe you’re unmarried?
Everyone in CLAMP still isn’t married, but really, like all girls of a certain age (and we’ll always be girls of a certain age), we yearn to be brides.
This manga was written when three friends of us CLAMP members got married one after the other. These three women are different ages, and the men who became their husbands have different jobs and come from different parts of the country, so each of the three women is a part of a different type of couple. When we saw these three all at once, though, they all said the same thing about marriage, and this made a really strong impression on us.
“What made me want to get married? It was because I thought, ‘Somehow we’ll be able to live normally.’”
There is nothing particularly out of the ordinary about the three newly married women who said this, but I found their words to be quite interesting. For me, being the single person that I am, marriage is an uncharted territory.
I’m not married (and I’ve never been married), so I don’t understand the worries of a wife, nor can I imagine the burdens of a husband. To me, as an unmarried person, marriage is something rather special. Since I thought that marriage was something that you couldn’t do if you didn’t have the appropriate passion or determination, I was really surprised when I heard the three newlyweds say, “Somehow we’ll be able to live normally.” But, at the same time, I realized something.
Without a doubt, marriage is a special thing. Becoming a married couple with someone who has been a separate person up until that point is a mysterious event that’s hard to imagine (well, maybe). However, what awaits the couple from the moment after this event is their everyday life, which hasn’t changed much at all. It’s the same as before they were married: morning still comes, they still wake up, they still eat breakfast, they still have to go to work.
I realized that it is precisely because of this that the three newlyweds chose a partner with whom they’d “be able to live normally.” This manga is an expression of this realization.
That being said, it still seems like the day when I experience this for myself is pretty far away…
Japanese Title: 虫愛ずる姫君 (Mushi mezuru himegimi)
Taken From: 堤中納言物語 (Tsutsumi Chūnagon Monogatari, Late Thirteenth Century?)
Published By: 角川文庫ソフィア (1963)
Next door to the princess who loved butterflies, there lived the daughter of the Grand Counselor of Regional Inspection. She was not of ordinary elegance, and, since her parents took great care in raising her, she had no equal.
This princess said, “People who love things like flowers and butterflies are foolish and strange. People are able to comprehend the inner nature of things, so it is tracing something to its origins and understanding its essence that is truly amusing.” She thus collected various types of insects with great passion. Saying, “I want to see the way they change,” she put them into several small boxes. Among them, she declared that “It is the profundity of the caterpillars that is elegant.” So, day and night, tucking her bangs behind her ears, she placed them in her palms and watched them carefully.
Because her ladies in waiting were afraid of insects, she summoned young boys of low social standing to catch them for her. She would ask the names of the insects and delight in naming her newest acquisitions.
Proclaiming that “It’s not good to fuss over one’s appearance,” she completely neglected to shave her eyebrows. Also, saying that “It’s annoying and dirty,” she did not blacken her teeth. Smiling with her blindingly white teeth, she would play with her insects lovingly.
Her ladies in waiting, thinking that her behavior was quite strange, would flee in fear and raise a great fuss. To these frightened young women, she would say, “You’re being rude and indecent,” all the while glaring at them from under her coarse black eyebrows, and they would become all the more perplexed.
Her parents would think “How extremely strange that she is so different.” And yet such thoughts were followed by embarrassed musings, such as, “Perhaps there may be some sense to her way of thinking. It’s strange. Whenever we think to say something to her, she becomes irritated. She’s a very intense child.”
They would say to her, “Well, that may be, but you’re getting a bad reputation. What people like is a pleasing appearance. If you keep amusing yourself with those creepy caterpillars, and people were to get wind of it, that would be terrible.”
In response, she would say, “That doesn’t bother me. It is in inquiring about everything in this world and seeing how it ends up that is important. What you’re saying is immature. After all, caterpillars become butterflies.”
She would take out some caterpillars that were entering metamorphosis and show them to her parents.
“What people call silk and wear on their bodies comes from silkworms that haven’t grown wings yet; and, when these silkworms become butterflies, it’s as if they had put on mourning clothes, since they become worthless.”
When she would say things like that, her parents had nothing to say in response and would give up. Of course, the princess was careful not to show herself to them, thinking that it is better for demons and women not to be seen. She would roll up the bamboo blinds in the dim interior of the main house just a little; and, screening herself off behind multiple blind frames, address her parents in this clever way.
Japanese Title: ３２歳のデイトリッパー (Sanjū-sai no Deitorippā)
Author: Murakami Haruki (村上春樹)
Taken From: カンガルー日和 (Kangarū no hiyori, 1983)
I’m 32, and she’s 18…. If you think of it like that, it’s kind of ridiculous.
I’m only 32, and she’s already 18…. Maybe that’s better.
We’re friends, nothing more, nothing less. I’ve got a wife, and she’s got six boyfriends. On weekdays, she goes on dates with her six boyfriends, and once a month, on a Sunday, she goes on a date with me. On the other Sundays, she sits at home and watches TV. When she watches TV, her face is cute like a walrus.
In 1963, when she was born, President Kennedy was assassinated. Also, I asked a girl out on a date for the first time. Was the song that was popular then maybe Cliff Richard’s “Summer Holiday”?
In any case, she was born that year.
In 1963, I would never have thought that I would be going on dates with a girl who was born in that year. It still seems a little strange to me now. I feel like I’m smoking a cigarette on the dark side of the moon.
The consensus among my friends is that dating a teenage girl is boring. Despite that, they go on dates with teenage girls all the time. Is it that they’ve managed to find a girl who isn’t boring? No, that’s not it. Simply put, it is the very boringness of these girls that they find so appealing. While buckets full of boring are being dumped over their heads, they try not to let a drop fall on the girl. It’s a complicated game they enjoy wholeheartedly.
At least, that’s what I think.
The truth is, nine out of ten teenage girls are boring. Of course, they haven’t noticed this. They’re young, beautiful, and full of curiosity. They think that something like “boring” has nothing to do with them.
This doesn’t mean that I blame them, and it doesn’t mean that I hate them. I like them. They make me remember the time when I was a boring teenage boy. How would you put it, it’s a pretty awesome thing.
“Hey, have you ever thought that you’d like to be 18 again?” she asked me.
“Not really,” I answered.
“You don’t want to be 18 again… Really?”
“I guess I’m fine the way I am now.”
Putting her elbows on the table, she rested her chin in her hand. Deep in thought, she twirled her spoon around in her coffee cup with a clacking sound. “I don’t believe you.”
“You’d better believe me.”
“But isn’t it cooler to be young?”
“Then why are you fine the way you are now?”
“Because being 18 once was enough.”
“It’s still not enough for me.”
“But that’s because you’re still 18.”
I flagged down a waitress and ordered my second bottle of beer. It was raining outside, and I could see Yokohama Harbor through the window.
“Hey, when you were 18, what did you think about?”
“Sleeping with girls.”
She giggled and took a small sip of coffee.
“So, were you successful?”
“There were times when I was successful and times when I wasn’t. Of course there were probably more times when I wasn’t.”
“About how many girls did you sleep with?”
“I never counted.”
“I didn’t want to.”
“If I were a guy, I would definitely end up counting. Don’t you think it would be kind of fun?”
I’ve had times when I’ve thought that it wouldn’t be so bad to be 18 again. But, when I try to think of the first thing I’d do when I turned 18 again, I can’t come up with anything.
I’d probably end up dating a charming 32-year-old woman. That wouldn’t be so bad.
“Have you ever thought that you’d like to be 18 again?” I would ask her.
“Let’s see,” she would grin at me while pretending to think about it. “Nope. Well, probably.”
“I don’t get it,” I would say to her. “You know that everyone says that it’s awesome to be young.”
“That’s right, it is pretty awesome.”
“Well then, why don’t you want to be 18 again?”
“You’ll understand when you’re older.”
But really, I’m 32 years old, and I’ve reached the point where fat sticks out around my belly if I’m lazy about jogging for a single week. I can’t go back to being 18. I guess that’s only natural.
When I get back from running in the morning, I drink a can of vegetable juice, plop down into a chair, and listen to the Beatles song “Daytripper.”
When I listen to that song, I feel like I’m sitting in the window seat on a train. Outside, stuff like telephone poles and train stations and railway bridges and cows and horses and chimneys and piled-up garbage quickly passes by. No matter where you’re going, the scenery doesn’t change much. And I used to think that scenery was pretty amazing, too.
“Would you like to change seats with me?” I ask.
“Thanks,” she says. “That’s really kind of you.”
It’s not that I’m kind, I smile bitterly. It’s just that you’re not yet used to how boring it is.
Tired of counting telephone poles,
I’m a 32-year-old
Japanese Title: 帰還
Author: Kanai Mieko (金井美恵子)
Taken From: 金井美恵子全短編, Volume I
Having returned from a long journey, she was approached by a young man, who said he had come to meet her. She was extremely surprised. She turned towards the young man and asked, “Are you sure you don’t have the wrong person?”
“No, that’s not the case. I’ve heard all about you. Because your husband is ill and can’t come to meet you, I came in his stead. Wow,” the young man said with a sigh, “it’s really gotten hot. Let me take your luggage.”
She was forced to repeat herself. “I’m afraid you have the wrong person. You seem to know my name, but I don’t have a husband. Besides, I didn’t tell anyone that I was coming home today. Please excuse me, but I’m in a hurry.”
As she said this, a smile spread across the young man’s face, as if to say that he knew she must be pretending to be serious in order to joke with him. He made a gesture urging her to pass her bags to him. “You husband is sick, and he wants to see you as soon as possible.
“You received a telegram from him at your destination. Don’t you remember? The telegram went, ‘COME HOME SOON. I LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER. YOUR HUSBAND.’ We received your reply last night. It said, ‘I WILL ARRIVE AT 2PM ON THE 7TH. YOUR LOVE.’ So I came to meet you. Since I asked your husband about you, I knew you immediately. Black hair, black eyes, skin that’s probably been tanned in the sun… I think the image of you that your husband gave me fits you perfectly! I knew you at first sight!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! The person you’re looking for is someone completely different. I didn’t receive a telegram from my husband, and I didn’t send one back. This is as it should be, since I’m single. I don’t have a husband!”
Finally, the young man seemed to begin to realize the extraordinary nature of the situation. An embarrassed expression crossed his face, and he stammered, “Your address is 446 N. Street, right?” Although she didn’t understand why, when she heard him say her address, she felt her anger rise. “Yes, that’s definitely it, but I don’t understand why in the world you’re teasing me with a cruel joke like this. To go so far as to look up my address, are you some kind of police dog?” she said quickly, without pausing for breath.
The man, surprised at her fierce look, said, “As for you, please stop teasing me. Your husband is waiting at your house at 446 N. Street. He told me not to tell you, but his illness is fatal. So, when you tell me that you’re unmarried, it’s too cruel, even for a joke.”
She was bewildered. It was almost as if she couldn’t even begin to understand what was going on. Apparently, there is a man with a fatal illness at her house on 446 N. Street who is calling himself her husband and saying that he will always love her! Since she had never been proposed to, much less married, how could there be a husband waiting for her at her house on N. Street? She wondered if perhaps she had gone crazy, or if perhaps she had lost her memory. She felt sick, as if she had suddenly found herself lost in the midst of a nightmare.
“In any case,” she proclaimed to the man in a domineering tone, “since 446 N. Street is my house, I intend to return there. When we get there, I imagine that everything will become clear. Because, heaven knows, I don’t have a husband. I don’t know if maybe something has happened to my head, but, if not, you’re crazy!”
While they drove toward her house in the young man’s car, she was dead silent. She had a lot of things she had to think about, but she didn’t know where it would be best to start thinking. What in the world had happened while she was away? No sooner had a young man – whom she had never seen before in her life – appeared, then he starting talking about her husband. And, on top of that, the husband had become bedridden with a fatal illness and wished to see her.
The feeling was grotesque. When she opened the door to her house (or, more properly speaking, when it was opened from inside by a young woman, who appeared to be a nurse, when the young man rang the doorbell), there was some sort of unpleasant smell, and she felt the bile rise in her throat. She and the young man entered the living room and sat down on the sofa. This was definitely her house, and everything was set up just the way it had been when she left. However, on top of a table, there was a silver frame that she had never seen before, and in it was a photograph. In the picture, a man and a woman were sitting in a chair on a terrace against a setting of the sea at sunset with a cloudy sky. The outline of the couple sparkled faintly in the light of the setting sun. The man was looking straight ahead, and the woman’s face was hidden by a large white hat. The couple had drawn their bodies close together. The man’s arm was wrapped around the woman’s shoulder, and one of the woman’s hands was placed on the man’s leg. The woman picked up the photograph and gazed at it. She seemed as if she would ask the young man who the people in the picture were, but she thought she already knew the answer. This is a picture from your honeymoon, she thought that the young man would answer, definitely. And then, just as the thought passed through her mind, the man said exactly that. “That’s a picture from your honeymoon.”
She scowled. “You’re saying that this woman is me? What on earth? I’ve never seen this woman, and I haven’t ever seen this man, not even once!”
The young man gazed at her intently with a surprised expression. “How can you say that? You’re probably exhausted. You must be feeling ill again. If you rest, perhaps you’ll calm down.”
When he said this, she made up her mind to not listen to anything more. “Stop it. I will not be ticked by these petty little details. I’m sure that the woman in the photo resembles me. Look at the dirty trick you used. Can’t you see how her face is hidden by this big hat? You’re quite mistaken if you think that will fool me. Show me this person who you’re calling my husband, so I can say it to him – I’ve never seen you before, and you need to get out of here right now!”
She said all of this in a voice trembling with anger. She burned with rage. Even if she didn’t understand the meaning of this idiotic state of affairs, for the time being, she needed to get these men out of her house. She stood up from the sofa, glared at the young man directly, and said, “Fine. Take me to where that person is! Surely, he can’t be using my bedroom.”
The young man, astonished by her furious look, led her to the room of her so-called husband. When she saw that it was indeed her bedroom, she became so extraordinarily angry that she almost felt dizzy. When she entered the room, a strange, rank stench clogged her throat.
The man laying in her bed raised his face insidiously, and, smiling weakly, said, “So you’ve come home. I knew that you would surely return. I knew you couldn’t betray our love. Let’s forgive each other for everything. I love you so much.”
The creepiness of the whole situation made her shiver. She gagged at the stench that seemed to emanate from the man’s disease-ravaged body, and said, “Who are you? Who the hell are you?”
“Your lover, forever.”
He answered in a faint, low voice, but the woman was strangely able to hear him clearly. As a faint smile floated over his lips, he slowly closed his eyes. Those were that man’s last words, for he had died as he smiled.