Rotting Meat

Japanese Title: 腐肉 (Funiku)
Author: Kanai Mieko (金井 美恵子)
Taken From: 兎 (Usagi, 1979)

I’m absolutely 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 locate the room, I wouldn’t even be able to track down 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 and into fresh air as quickly as I could.

This is what she told me:

Men used to come 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 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 businesslike. I would take out the money after they left and use it to get by. I needed money to pay for food and other expenses, so it’s not as if I hated it.

No, perhaps I liked money better. There was a man who would sometimes 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 other men to take home. Having them eat it would have been a bother 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 right time to start cooking. Besides, 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 serving them slices of my own body.

Each pig that this uncouth, hairy butcher dragged in was a soft pink lump. It would be more fitting 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 these carcasses in plastic and newspaper and put them under my bed. I didn’t know what else to do with them.

In the evening, after the butcher who brought the 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, but she didn’t think it was pathetic to have to fool around with other people in order to stay alive, the way 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 was born a prostitute (although, now that I think about it, 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 her 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 someplace to call home, of course; but, since I was unable to find a home 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 was going to flee to the farthest extreme from writing, to a life where I could patiently wait for death to come calling in the form of a young girl a thousand times more beautiful than I. Under the auspices of a real estate agent with bad breath so terrible that you wouldn’t want to get within a meter of him, I signed a lease for a room that came with basic furnishings (the rent wasn’t so bad), and I was to start living there right away, that very day.

I first noticed the strange stench after the real estate agent who had brought me to the room left and my nose was no longer assailed by his terrible bad breath. This is to say that his hideously bad breath, which was slimy like rotting meat, had temporarily distracted me from the strange smell in the room. As I searched 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 halitosis 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 there that day. I tried to explain this to her, but she paid me 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 an employee of an established real estate agency brought me here, and also, what with one thing and another, I’ve paid him almost a hundred thousand yen. I must have been deceived by some sketchy agency’s dirty scam.”

“You shouldn’t have given 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 me no heed and kept talking. As she continued to speak without pausing 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, I asked, and she began her story of the men who had been her customers – and murder.

“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 pigs. 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 be so 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 I would kill him.”

Even though I could see that there was a lump of bloody and discolored rotting meat under the bed, I couldn’t tell if it was a body, but I was convinced that it was indeed 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 now search for her room. In that small furnished room, where the foul stench of rotting meat has turned the air into slimy puss, I will propose marriage to her, and I myself will become a slab of rotting meat that she will absorb into herself. This fantasy gives me a terribly warm and gentle feeling. What’s more, 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.

Bangkok Surprise

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: バンコック・サプライズ (Bankokku sapuraizu)
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 a week, but I cut it short by three days and came back early. I wanted to talk about it, 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…”

“I see.”

“But, you know, I was really hoping a girl would answer the phone. It would be a lot 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.

The Monkey in the Night

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru)
Taken From: 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, 1995)

I was sitting at my desk at 2:00 in the morning and writing. I pushed my window open and a spider monkey came in.

“Oh, hey, who are you?” I asked.

“Oh, hey, who are you,” the spider monkey said.

“Don’t copy me,” I said.

“Don’t copy me,” the monkey said.

Don’t copy me,” I copied him.

Don’t copy me,” he copied me in italics.

Man, this is really annoying, I thought. If I get caught up with this copycat-crazed night monkey, who knows when this will end. I’ll just have to trip him up somewhere. I had a job that I had to finish by morning, and I couldn’t very well keep doing this all night.

“Heppoku rakurashi manga totemuya, kurini kamasu tokimi wakoru, pacopaco,” I said quickly.

“Heppoku rakurashi manga totemuya, kurini kamasu tokimi wakoru, pacopaco,” the spider monkey said.

Since I had said something completely random, I couldn’t actually tell if the monkey had copied me correctly or not. Well, that was pointless.

“Leave me alone,” I said.

Leave me alone,” the monkey said.

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in italics that time.”

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in ītalics that time.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the i.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the eye.”

I sighed. No matter what I said, the spider monkey wouldn’t understand. I decided to not say anything and just keep doing my work. Still, when I pressed a key on my word processor, the monkey silently pressed the copy key. Click. Still, when I pressed a key on my word processor, the monkey silently pressed the copy key. Click. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.


Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: ゾンビ (Zonbi)
Taken From: TV ピープル (Terebi piipuru, 1993)

A boy and a girl were walking down a road next to a graveyard at midnight. It was even foggy. They didn’t particularly want to be walking in such a place in the middle of the night, but they had to pass by that way due to various circumstances. They held each other’s hands tightly and walked as quickly as they could.

“It’s almost like that 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 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. She had a bad feeling about this, a premonition that something terrible was about to happen.

It was a zombie.

But they couldn’t see any such thing. There wasn’t any indication that the dead had risen, so the two started walking again. The girl sensed the boy’s face growing strangely rigid.

“Why do you walk like such a slut?” he asked abruptly.

“Me?” the girl asked, surprised. “Do I really walk like a slut?”

“It’s terrible,” the boy said.


“You’re bowlegged.”

The girl bit her lip. She probably was a little bowlegged. The bottoms of her shoes tended to wear down a little more on the outside, but it wasn’t bad enough for anyone to come right out and make a point of mentioning it to her.

But she didn’t say anything. She loved the boy, and the boy loved her. They were planning on getting married next month, and she didn’t want to get into a stupid fight. I’m probably a little bowlegged, she thought. What’s the problem with that?

“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 tonight, 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?”

The girl bit her lip.

“And then there’s your body odor,” the boy continued. “It’s been bothering me for a while. If I had met you for the first time in summer, there’s no way we would have started dating.”

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. Is that what you’ve been thinking all this time?”

“The collar of your blouse is dirty. The one you’re wearing tonight, right now. Why are you so filthy? 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 could say to you. Your gross legs, your stench, your dirty collar, the moles in your ear, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Oh that’s right, why are you wearing earrings that look so bad on you? You look just like a prostitute. No, even a prostitute would have more class than you. 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. And that’s 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 a fatso, just like your mom. What a porker! You really eat shit up. Your dad is terrible too. He can barely write kanji, did you know that? He recently wrote a letter to my parents, right, and everyone laughed at it. They were saying it was like he was almost illiterate. Did that asshole even graduate from elementary school? Your house sucks. It’s a cultural slum. It would do us all a favor if someone would douse it with gasoline and set it on fire. All the pig fat would sizzle while it burned, you bet.”

“Hey, if you hate 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 it’s like a cheap rubber band that’s already been stretched out too much. If I had something like that, 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. I would be too embarrassed to live.”

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 is 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 take it! My skin is burning up into pieces!”

The girl touched the boy’s face with her hand. It was feverish, as if it actually were burning. The girl gently tried to stroke it, 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, tearing off his skin with his own hands. His eyeballs plopped out of his head and dangled down. His nose shrank away to nothing more than two black holes. His lips disappeared, and his teeth stuck out, grinning at her.

“The reason I stuck with you so long was to eat your fatty piggy meat. Why else would I date someone like you? But you were just 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 the 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 sat up and looked around her. She had been sleeping with the boy 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 I murdered you.”

“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 just float away.”

“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…

The Princess Who Loved Insects

Japanese Title: 虫愛ずる姫君 (Mushi mezuru himegimi)
Taken From: 堤中納言物語 (Tsutsumi Chūnagon monogatari)

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. Since we are able to comprehend the inner nature of things, what is truly amusing is tracing something to its origins and understanding its essence.” 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 which she declared that “It is the profundity of the caterpillars that is elegant.” 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, “It’s not good to fuss over one’s appearance,” she completely neglected to shave her eyebrows. Moreover, saying that “It’s annoying and dirty,” she did not blacken her teeth. Smiling with her blindingly white teeth, she would lovingly play with her insects.

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, you may be right, 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 after 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 have become worthless.”

When she would make such statements, 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.

32-Year-Old Day Tripper

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: 32歳のデイトリッパー (Sanjūnisai no deitorippā)
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”…?

Ah, whatever.

In any case, that’s when she was born.

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, 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 girls who aren’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 “boring” has nothing to do with them.

Good grief.

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 pretty awesome.

“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?”

“Of course.”


“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.”

“Besides that.”

“Just that.”

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 interesting?”

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, 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 my belly gets flabby if I’m lazy about jogging for just 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 “Day Tripper.”

“Daaaaaay-ay tripper…”

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
Day tripper.


Author: Kanai Mieko (金井 美恵子)
Japanese Title: 帰還 (Kikan)
Taken From: 金井美恵子全短編 (Kanai Mieko zentanpen, 1992)

Having returned from a long journey, she was approached by a young man who said he had come to pick her up. 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. Since 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 would be 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 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 where you were staying. 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. I asked your husband about you, so I knew you immediately. Black hair, black eyes, skin that’s probably been tanned in the sun… You’re husband’s description fits you perfectly! I knew you at first sight!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re looking for a completely different person. I didn’t receive a telegram from my husband, and I didn’t send one back – which makes sense, seeing as how 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 herself getting angry. “Yes, that’s definitely it, but I don’t understand why in the world you’re teasing me with a mean prank 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, “You’re the one who should 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. You telling me that you’re not married is too cruel, even for a joke.”

She was bewildered and couldn’t even begin to understand what was going on. Apparently, there was 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 indeed my house, that’s where I intend to go. 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 I bumped my head or something; but, if not, you’re crazy!”

While they drove to 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 could have happened while she was away? No sooner had a young man – whom she had never seen before in her life – appeared, than he starting talking about her husband. And, on top of that, this supposed husband had become bedridden with a fatal illness and wished to see her. This 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, after the young man rang the doorbell), there was an 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 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 the setting of the sea at sunset under 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 wanted to ask the young man who the people in the picture were, but she figured she already knew how he would respond. This is a picture from your honeymoon, the young man would answer, definitely. 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 shocked expression. “How can you say that? You’re probably exhausted. You must be feeling ill again. Perhaps you’ll calm down after you’ve rested.”

She made up her mind to not listen to another word. “Stop it. I will not be taken in by these petty little details. I’m sure that the woman in the photo resembles me, but 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!”

Her voice was trembling with anger, and she burned with rage. Even if she didn’t understand the meaning of this idiotic state of affairs, the first order of business was to get these men out of her house. She roe from the sofa, glared at the young man directly, and said, “Fine. Take me to where this person is! Surely he can’t be using my bedroom.”

The young man, astonished by her furious eyes, 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, her nose was assailed by a strange, rank stench.

The man lying in her bed raised his face insidiously, and, smiling weakly, said, “So you’ve come home. I knew that you would return to me. 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 miasma that emanated from the man’s disease-ravaged body, and said, “Who are you? Who the hell are you?”

“Your love, forever.”

He answered in a faint, low voice, but the woman was 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.

Julio Iglesias

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: フリオ・イグレシアス (Furio Igureshiasu)
Taken From: 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, 1995)

After he stole our mosquito repellent incense, we no longer had any means to protect ourselves from the attacks of the sea turtle. We tried to send away for more incense from a mail-order company; but, just as we thought, the telephone lines had been cut, and our mail had stopped coming to us a few weeks ago. When you think about it, there’s no way that wily turtle would have allowed such a thing – up until now, we had been able to stave him off solely on account of the incense. Now, however, he must surely be napping contentedly tonight at the bottom of the blue-green sea in preparation for tonight’s assault.

“This is it for us, isn’t it,” she said. “When night comes, we’ll both be eaten.”

“We can’t lose hope,” I said. “We just need to come up with a plan.”

“But the sea turtle stole every last stick of our incense.”

“We’ve got to try to think about this logically. If the turtle hates mosquito repellent incense that much, then there’s got to be something else he hates just as much.”

“Like what?”

“Julio Iglesias,” I said.

“Why Julio Iglesias?” she asked.

“I don’t know, it just suddenly popped into my head. Like a hunch, or something.”

Following my intuition, I set the turntables of the stereo system to Julio Iglesias’s “Begin the Beguine” and waited for nightfall. When darkness came, the sea turtle would attack, and the final showdown would begin. Would we be eaten, or will the turtle go hungry?

When I heard wet, squishy footfalls close to the door a little after midnight, I lost no time in dropping the needle onto the record. As Julio Iglesias started to croon “Begin the Beguine” in his sugar-water voice, the footsteps came to a dead halt, and we heard the turtle moaning painfully. We had triumphed.

That night, Julio Iglesias sang “Begin the Beguine” one hundred and twenty-six times. I myself rather dislike Julio Iglesias, but fortunately not as much as the sea turtle.

Pandora’s Box

Author: Kurahashi Yumiko (倉橋 由美子)
Japanese Title: パンドーラーの壺 (Pandōrā no tsubo)
Taken From: 大人のための残酷童話 (Otona no tame no zankoku dōwa, 1984)

Zeus was feeling spiteful because Prometheus had stolen fire from the heavens and given it to mankind, so he made up his mind to take out his anger on man and on Prometheus’s younger brother Epimetheus, as Prometheus himself was somewhat hard to deal with. Zeus therefore sent orders to the skilled blacksmith Hephaestus to create Pandora out of kneaded mud. Pandora was equal to her name, for the gods gave her all manner of gifts. Starting with a beauty rivaling that of a goddess, they provided her with absolutely everything that a woman could desire. Only Athena, who had grown weary of Zeus’s childish games, put off giving Pandora the gift of intelligence. Besides, she wouldn’t admit that such a gift is necessary for a woman.

Well then, Epimetheus was a character who was certainly equal to his name, which means “afterthought.” When he saw the alluring Pandora, he made her his wife at once, oafishly ignoring his older brother’s advice that one should not accept gifts from the gods.

Pandora had an abundance of curiosity to make up for her lack of wisdom, and she ended up removing the lid of a box that everyone told her should absolutely not be opened because she wanted find out what was inside. When Prometheus noticed Pandora lifting the lid from the box, he let out a horrible shriek and made a desperate attempt to clamp it back down, but the damage had already been done.

Some people say that all kinds of misfortune flew from the box and spread throughout the world, leaving only a thin glimmer of hope. According to another explanation, only unsympathetic “hope” was left behind after all the joys of the world flew from the box for destinations unknown. The truth, however, is that something a bit more troublesome occurred.

What had left the box and spread throughout the world was misfortune for women. This misfortune was called “envy,” and the hearts of the women of the world were consumed by a bitter jealousy when they realized that Pandora was the most beautiful woman to ever live. From then on, women rated one another’s beauty against their own and gradually came to hate each other. Prometheus was troubled by this situation, so he took self-knowledge from what was left in the box and scattered it among women. This elixir was too potent, however; and women, now aware of their own ugliness, started committing suicide one after another. It seemed that women would continue killing themselves until not one remained, and it would not do for Pandora to be left as the last living woman. Prometheus looked into the box once more and saw that “hope” still remained inside. Pleased with the clarity of his foresight, which he had put aside until that point, Prometheus sprinkled this “hope” over the women on the earth. As a result, the suicides stopped. Although women still hated each other, they stopped hating their own ugliness.

Over time, women were able to exist by not thinking entirely of themselves.
Meanwhile, Epimetheus, completely unconcerned with the painstaking care of the human race that tortured his brother Prometheus, enjoyed his marriage to the childlike and innocent Pandora as if nothing had ever happened, and the two of them lived happily ever after.

The gods gave women jealousy and conceit.

The Demons of the Adachi Moor

Author: Kurahashi Yumiko (倉橋 由美子)
Japanese Title: 安達ケ原の鬼 (Adachigahara no oni)
Taken From: 大人のための残酷童話 (Otona no tame no zankoku dōwa, 1984)

Once upon a time, a monk who had set forth from the capital for spiritual training passed through the desolate Shirakawa barrier gateway to the far north of Japan. He found himself in a place called the Adachi Moor as the short autumn day was beginning to grow dark. The monk was weary after a day of ceaseless walking. He thought to beg lodging for the night if he could find even a poor farmer’s cottage, but he could see no thread of smoke rising into the sky above the field of abundant autumn grasses. Just as the monk, chilled in the midst of a gathering wind, felt himself beginning to despair, he suddenly saw the will-o’-the-wisp flicker of a mysterious light in the distance.

Could it be that the legend of the Kurozuka demon lair of the Adachi Moor in the northern reaches of Japan is no mere story . . . ?

Although the monk thought that the house was more than likely the lair of a demon, just like in the old songs, he was drawn by the light and hurried towards it. Before long the rotting shack stood before him.

Peeping through a hole in a shōji screen, the monk saw a solitary old woman squatting in the shadows thrown by a floor lamp. She was mumbling an evil-sounding spell deep in her throat as she wound thread. As the monk watched the lazy rotations of the spinning wheel, he felt a string of drowsiness wrap around the length of his body. The old woman turned in his direction, and the monk came to himself with a start. He found his voice and begged her to give him lodging for the night. The old woman was reluctant, protesting that she could provide him with neither a good meal nor bedding in her isolated house in the middle of a moor. When the monk persisted, claiming that he merely sought shelter from the rain and the dew, the old woman readily complied, as if she had been waiting for this earnest request. Happy to have stumbled upon such an obviously kind-hearted old granny, the monk accepted her offer of accommodation with an untroubled mind.

The old woman threw firewood into the back of a sunken fireplace and boiled some millet porridge for the monk. When dinner was finished, the monk recounted a few tales of his journey. The old woman nodded as she listened to his stories, turning her spinning wheel all the while.

Before long, the fire at the back of the sunken fireplace had grown thin and weak, and the piercing night wind blew into the shabby house. Seeing the monk rearrange his robes with trembling hands, the old woman stood up.

“If I had known that I would be receiving a guest, I would have put away more firewood. Could you kindly do me the favor of looking after the place while I step out to the nearby mountain to gather some?”

“What are you talking about?” protested the monk. “There’s no reason for you to go through such trouble so late at night. Please let me go instead.”

The old woman laughed. “What would a traveler know about where to find firewood out here? Besides, since I couldn’t provide you with a decent meal, please at least consider a roaring fire as a substitute for a proper dinner.” With these words, the old woman cheerfully prepared to set out.

The monk suddenly became uneasy. “Hasn’t it been said since ancient times that a demon dwells on the Adachi Moor?” he asked, bringing up a certain old song.

“I wonder,” the old woman replied. “But not even a demon would go outside on a night like this! Anyway, I have a favor to ask of you. Even if I take some time getting back, please don’t go into the back room. Please, could you do this one thing for me?”

After the old woman had departed into the wind, leaving behind her request, the monk began to wonder about the mysteriously gleeful mood in which she had set out. Why did she make such an odd request about the back room before she left? The fear that perhaps this was the lair of a demon after all reared its head. Maybe he was imagining things, but the monk began to hear various wailing voices intermingled with the sound of the wind. He shivered and covered his ears without thinking. It was as if the voices of a host of lost souls, crying mournfully in complaint, had been set free. Even worse, it sounded as if these voices were somehow emanating from the room that he was told he must not open. The monk, in an ecstasy of terror, found himself pulled uncannily closer to the forbidden room. He placed his hand on the door.

He swung the door open, and a nauseating stench poured out. Inside the room, things resembling human corpses were piled up almost to the ceiling. There were things stained red with blood, things tinged green with decay, things flowing with yellow pus. The corpses within this dead mountain of myriad colors seemed to be disintegrating as they moved their hands and feet while emitting terrible moans. One pushed itself out from the middle of the pile and rose to its feet. It bared the teeth of its rotting face and laughed.

“It’s a demon!” The monk dashed out of the old woman’s shack and ran for his life. The field of rich autumn grasses overflowed with an otherworldly luminescence. All around the monk the shining grass undulated like the back of a running beast. The multitude of carcasses rose and lurched out of the house. While emitting sounds that were neither laughter nor wails but could have been both, they all came together and pursued the monk as one body. The monk fled before them while chanting sutras in a voice filled with desperation. Suddenly he saw the shape of the old woman on top of a hill in the distance. She seemed to be shouting something in his direction while laughing maniacally. As the monk returned her screams, he felt an immense power take hold of him from behind. His legs were captured by a hideous tidal wave, which dragged him down into a bloody sea.

Nothing remained of the monk save a stain of black blood on the earth of the Adachi Moor.

Old women aren’t the only demons in the world.