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.

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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.”

“Why?”

“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?”

“Probably.”

“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.”

“Hmmm.”

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.”

“Really?”

“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.”

“Really.”

“Yup.”

“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.

Homecoming

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.