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.