Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Vintage Contemporaries) (9 page)

BOOK: Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Vintage Contemporaries)
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“It’s true. We’re partly to blame as well,” said the red-faced man, who’d been the first to dance. He spoke with true remorse, and shifted uneasily in his seat.

“Yes. We’d be wrong to put all the blame on you,” echoed the Village Elder, looking at me with sorrowful eyes. “The reason why we do so enjoy singing the Song of Bear’s Wood is that, one day, someone might just sing the real words by accident. It’s so miraculously funny, because the singer puts us all in a state of nervous excitement. And deeper down, there’s a feeling of pride that our clan holds the key to this country’s fate. That makes the song even funnier. On top of that, we all got a bit carried away tonight. When you said you would do the dance, I had a bit of a foreboding. I’ll wager the others did too. But none of us could ever have imagined, not even in our wildest dreams, that you would go and sing the real and proper words, sound for sound, without a single mistake from beginning to end. We were all just enjoying the thrill, the sense of danger. And now it has ended in this.”

I was almost crying. “Is there no way of purging it?” I asked.

They all shook their heads as one.

“No. There’s no way,” the Village Elder replied. “Well, what’s done is done. Let us not think too much about what might happen to our country now.”

“Yes, let us not think about it,” echoed the others, doing their best to console me.

“There’s no point tormenting yourself, thinking what might happen.”

“Put it out of your mind.”

“Do not concern yourself.”

Could I help concerning myself
, I wondered.

The driver stood up. “Right, then,” he said. “Had we better be on our way? It’s half-past three.”

“Yes. You send the guest off, will you,” said the Village Elder.

“Goodbye then,” I said.

I got up with a heavy heart and bowed to them all.

The men and women all bowed back in silence. Luna, half hiding behind the middle-aged woman who looked remarkably like her, nodded to me from the earth-floored room.

I climbed back into the cable car. The young driver took me back down to the foot of the mountain, and from there to the little station at Deer’s Wood.

Just as he was leaving, the driver turned to me. “Would you kindly not say anything to anyone about this Bear’s Wood Main Line, or our Bear’s Wood clan, or the song just now?” he asked.

“Of course,” I replied. “I have no intention of telling anyone at all.”

Two days later, I finally returned home. And ever since then, I’ve been waiting, nervously waiting, wondering every day what terrible catastrophe will befall our nation. So far, to the best of my knowledge, nothing seems to have happened at all. Sometimes I think they were just making fun of me after all. But maybe, just maybe, something awful might just be about to happen. Or perhaps it already has happened, and I’m the only one not to know about it. Perhaps something really, really terrible is happening to our country at this very moment…

The Very Edge of Happiness

As I returned home from work one day, my wife looked up from her woman’s weekly magazine, opened her mouth until it was almost as big as her face, and started to scream at me.

“What a fool I was to marry you!”

“What?! What are you talking about?”

She smacked the open page of her magazine with the back of her hand. It was yet another ludicrous article – this time, ‘Measure your husband’s sex rating’.

“It says here your erection is the size of an eleven-year-old’s. Your staying power is no better than a chicken’s, and your technique is Grade C average. You do it as often as a fifty-year-old, yet you’re still in your thirties and I’m only in my twenties! What are you going to do about it?! You’ve been deceiving me until now, haven’t you! What a fool I’ve been!”

“Don’t be so bloody stupid! It’s just a lot of sex-obsessed nonsense!” I pulled the magazine from her hands and tossed it away. “Sex, is that all you’ve got left to think about? Shame on you! It was my payday today, and I’ve come straight home just to bring you the money. Well, I’m not going to buy you anything now. You can think what you like!”

She gasped, and a look of regret flitted across her face. Then, with a coquettish smile, she apologized most submissively.

“I’m sorry, dear. I had no right to say such things. Did I, dear?”

“No, you didn’t. You had no right to say such things,” I replied. “You’ve never wanted for food, nor ever had to cry because you’ve nothing to wear. We have everything that most other families have.

And all provided by me. You should be happy. That’s it! You’re so happy that you’re desperately trying to find a reason to be
unhappy
. So you try to find fault with your husband. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes, dear. I apologize,” she said, gazing at me with eyes full of expectation.

Faced with such unconditional submission, most husbands would lighten up, give a big smile and hand over the pay packet. But not me. I hate that sugar-sweet family sitcom behaviour. No, I’m not ready to sink into such phoney pre-fabricated happiness. If I suggested I was happy, I’d be falling into a TV drama stereotype of a husband, as other husbands do.

I was getting changed in the bedroom when my sixty-five-year-old mother came in from the kitchen.

“It was payday today, wasn’t it son,” she said, sidling up to me suggestively. “Go on, give us a bit of cash. Shigenobu keeps asking for a pedal car. Let me buy one for him!”

“No!” I shouted. Filial affection was not for me, either. “Go and get the dinner ready. Go on, you stupid cow! Before I kick you out!”

But still she stood there grumbling. So I kicked her out, and she shuffled off to the kitchen crying. Served her right.

I went back to the living room.

“Could you give Shigenobu his bath, dear?” said my wife.

Our son, nearly two, was sprawled across the floor watching a soap opera on TV.
How much does he understand
, I wondered. Ignoring his moans, I got him out of his clothes and carried him off to the bathroom. Shigenobu still spoke in a baby voice, and it was sometimes hard to know what he was on about. But I found that really loveable. So loveable, in fact, that I hated myself. I hated myself for finding my own child loveable. Partly out of embarrassment, I would even ill-treat him sometimes – telling myself, all the while, that boys are best treated rough.

As I opened the bathroom door, white plumes of steam wafted up from the bath tub. I lifted Shigenobu and plunged him in up to the waist. To check the temperature, you understand.

It was scalding hot. Shigenobu issued a loud scream and started
to cry. When I lifted him out of the water, his lower body was lobster-coloured.

“Shigenobu!”

“Whatever’s the matter?!”

My wife and my mother came rushing up and peered at me through the open doorway.

“It’s nothing,” I pretended, laughing casually. “Just testing the water, you know.”

“How could you do such a thing?!” said my wife, picking the boy up. “There, there. Poor little thing. Look how red he is!”

“Mummy! Mummy!”

My wife hugged him tightly as he continued to cry. “Couldn’t you have tested the water yourself?!” she said, glaring at me with tear-laden eyes.

“Shut up! It’s a wife’s job to test the water before her husband has his bath. Fool!” I slapped her full on the side of her face. “Do you want me to sit naked in cold water so I can catch my death of cold?!”

My wife started to cry. My mother started crying too, and desperately tried to calm me as I stood there shouting and raving like a madman.

Luckily, Shigenobu wasn’t burnt. An ointment was enough to ease the pain. I got angry again at my own sense of relief. I was angry all the way through dinner. And the cause of my anger was obvious. It was this “phoney little happiness” of ours.

After dinner, Shigenobu and my mother went to sleep in the next room. Our apartment consists of three rooms, plus kitchen and bathroom, on the 17th floor of Block 46 in a massive housing estate. The rooms are all small. One of them is our bedroom, one is used by my mother and the other is our living room. Each room is filled with the most fashionable furniture. In fact, with a massive colour TV and a coffee table in the middle, there’s hardly any room at all in our living room.

I sat at the coffee table and peeled a tangerine as I watched a foreign film on TV. My wife sat next to me, sewing some clothes for Shigenobu.

“You know,” said my wife as I made for my sixteenth tangerine. “We could do with a new television, couldn’t we dear.”

“What – again?!” I said, looking at her aghast. “We’ve only had this one six months!”

“It’s the latest flat-screen type. I’m sure you’ll like it. It shows foreign films dubbed or undubbed at the flick of a switch.”

“Wow!” I said, opening my eyes wide. “That’s good. I’ve never liked these dubbed films. Let’s go for it!”

“Well, would you go to the bank tomorrow and complete the debit forms? Twenty-four monthly payments, five thousand yen a month.”

I couldn’t stand the thought of so much money leaving my account every month. But then, if there were other things we wanted, we could always buy them in instalments too. Most of the furniture in our apartment was bought in instalments, and we’re still paying for nearly all of it. We rarely need large sums in one go. As in many other homes, most of my salary is used up on monthly payments. If my mother suddenly kicked the bucket, we could even pay the funeral costs in instalments these days.

Rampant inflation of land and house prices has made it increasingly hard for people to buy their own homes – not just first-time buyers, but even people with a bit of money. Though actually, that isn’t such a bad thing. You work like a dog in the hope of buying your own home, all the while wondering whether house prices are going up faster than you can save. But in fact, you’re merely holding on to cash that’s gradually losing value with inflation. Forget it! It makes much more sense to use your whole income on monthly instalments – even with the interest payments. Salaries are going up all the time. If you can just forget how cramped your home is, you can eat good food and live a rich life, surrounded by high-class goods as well as the latest furniture and electrical appliances. Personally, I don’t completely agree with this trend. I realize that it merely accelerates inflation. But I’ve no doubt that it’s far more sensible to spend money than to keep it – and therefore, not to own a home. So I have no option but to follow the trend.

I sipped some tea my wife had made for me. It was finest Uji tea, ordered direct from the store in Kyoto.

The grandfather clock struck ten. The clock was an expensive handcrafted piece. Paid for in monthly instalments, of course.

My wife started knitting.

I drank my tea as I watched TV.

It was a contented family scene.

My wife suddenly shuddered, lifted her head and looked at me. “Darling, I’m so happy,” she said in a self-demeaning voice. There was even a hint of a tear in her eye.

I couldn’t hold back the anger, the loathing, the sheer abhorrence of it. I kicked the coffee table and got up. “You bloody fool!” I shouted. “You stupid bloody fool!” I opened my mouth so wide it seemed likely to split, and bellowed with all the air in my lungs. “What do you mean, happy?! You’re not even slightly happy! Now I know why they call you cows! You think happiness just means being satisfied! You call yourself human?! You think you’re alive? Well, I wish you were dead! Dead, dead, dead!!”

I punched and kicked her wildly. She keeled over and tumbled onto the linoleum floor of the kitchen, where she crawled about in confusion.

“I’m sorry, dear! I’m really sorry!” she wailed.

“What do you mean, you’re sorry?! You don’t even know why I’m angry! How can you possibly be sorry?!”

I was boiling with rage. I grabbed hold of her hair and slapped her on the cheek perhaps ten, twenty times.

Startled, my mother and Shigenobu rushed out of the next room. They knelt on either side of my wife on the floor, apologizing to me as they wept.

As always, I went off to the bedroom in a fit of pique, leapt into bed and pulled the sheets over my head.

There was nothing unusual about this. I have an outburst like that about once a month, on average. For my family, who don’t understand why I’m so angry, it must seem like some kind of natural disaster. But by the next day, it’s all forgotten, and they try to smother me once more with their sickening phoney happiness.

That utterly repulsive,
extraordinarily ordinary
blinkered happiness, so false it saps my energy, so tepid it makes me want to vomit. A kind of happiness in which a minor dissatisfaction might surface every now and again, or a small disagreement might occasionally flare up, but we pretend to make up almost immediately.

Just after lunch the next day, I went to the bank near my office. I wanted to deposit my wages and complete the direct debit forms for the television. The bank was heaving with other office workers like myself, taking advantage of their lunch break, as well as salespeople from the nearby shopping centre. Expecting a long wait, I sat on a bench near the window and lit a cigarette.

While I was waiting for my number to be called, a gaunt young woman with narrow slanting eyes came and sat on the bench in front of me. She was accompanied by a boy of about the same age as Shigenobu, a mischievous-looking brat who just couldn’t keep still. Before long, he started knocking over ashtray stands and grabbing handfuls of leaflets, which he scattered all over the floor.

“Yoshikazu! Stop that!” shouted the boy’s mother. “What do you think you’re doing? Stop it, I said! You naughty boy! Keep still! Yoshikazu! Where are you going?”

Ignoring his mother’s incessant scolding, the boy continued to wander around, until he eventually knocked over the entire leaflet stand.

“YOSHIKAZU!”

The boy’s mother stood up, grabbed the brass pipe of an ashtray stand and, brandishing it high above her head, brought the solid metal base down onto his head.

There was a dull, sickening sound, like that of a wooden post being driven into the ground by a mallet. The child cowered on the floor, his eyeballs turning white. With the look of a woman possessed, the mother continued to beat the boy over the head with the ashtray stand. He was sprawled belly-down on the floor, but I could still see his face. White matter was coming out of his nose. His mouth was gaping open, and it too was full of white matter. His pummelled brains were oozing out through his nose and filling his mouth. The tips of his fingers twitched convulsively
at first, but then stretched out limply. The mother staggered out of the bank with the same empty look in her eyes, leaving the boy’s body on the floor behind her. And still the aftersound of the incident continued to echo in the vaulted ceiling of the bank.

Two or three of us stood up slowly. After checking the expressions of those around him, a middle-aged man in a business suit went up to a security guard and whispered to him. The guard nodded gravely, went over to the body and peered at the boy’s face. Then he went to a nearby telephone, picked up the receiver and calmly started dialling.

Eventually, the police arrived. They questioned two or three people, then turned to me.

“Did you see it all from the beginning?” they asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Could you be sure it was the child’s mother? The woman who killed him?”

“Yes, I think it was.”

“Why do you think she did it?”

I said nothing. How could I possibly know? But I could immediately picture the headline in the newspaper that evening:

“H
ALF
-C
RAZED
M
UM
B
EATS
C
HILD TO
D
EATH
IN
F
RONT OF
B
ANK
C
USTOMERS

But until she picked up the ashtray stand, there was nothing to suggest she was “half-crazed” at all. And although there were other people in the bank, she wasn’t really “in front of” us. It was absolutely certain that the people who read the article would never see the incident as I’d seen it just moments ago – vividly, with horrible reality.

Everyone in the bank had displayed a kind of indifference when the incident happened. I wondered if all the incidents we read about in our newspapers were actually reported in the same way – with a casual concern akin to indifference. To be sure, a kind of peace was maintained in the process. But I wondered if, perhaps, something really awful might be happening. Or perhaps this incident was just the start of something else.

Why did you just sit and watch so passively?
– I asked myself.

It’s not that I was indifferent
, I protested in reply. No, I was merely stunned by it all. I’m not like the others. I’m sure I’m not.

As the days went by, abnormal incidents started to happen all over the place. So much, at least, could be gleaned from the newspapers – which, as always, satisfied themselves with nonchalant concern and smug explanations.

BOOK: Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Vintage Contemporaries)
3.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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