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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