Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru, Schinchosa Ltd, Tokyo 1994
Translated by Jay Rubin
Vintage, London 2003
“Why did you buy this stuff?” she asked, her voice weary.
Holding the wok, I looked at her. Then I looked at the box of tissues and the package of toilet paper. I had no idea what she was trying to say.
“What do you mean? They’re just tissues and toilet paper. We need those things. We haven’t run out, but they won’t rot if they sit around a little while.”
“No, of course not. But why did you have to buy blue tissues and flower-pattern toilet paper?”
“I don’t get it,” controlling myself. “They were on sale. Blue tissues are not going to turn your nose blue. What’s the big deal?”
“It is a big deal. I hate blue tissues and flower-pattern toilet paper. Didn’t you know that?”
“No, I didn’t,” I said. “Why do you hate them?”
“How should I know why I hate them? I just do. You hate telephone covers, and thersmos bottles with flower decorations, and bell-bottom jeans with rivets, and me having my nails manicured. Not even you can say why. It’s just a matter of taste.”
In fact, I could I have explained my reasons for all those things, but of course I did not. “All right,” I said. “It’s just a matter of taste. But can you tell me that in the six years we’ve been married you’ve never bought blue tissues or flower-pattern toilet paper?”
“Never. Not once.”
“I wonder, Mr Okada, if you would be so kind as to tell me of any external distinguishing characteristics of your own.”
I tried to think of any “external distinguishing characteristics” I might have. Did I have any?
“I’m thirty, I’m five foot nine, ten stone, short hair, no glasses.” It occured to me as listed these that they hardly constituted external distinguishing characteristics. There could be fifty such men in the Pacific Hotel tearoom. I had been there before, and it was a big place. She needed something more distinctive. But I couldn’t think of anything. Which is not to say that I didn’t have any distinguishing characteristics. I owned a signed copy of Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain. I had a slow resting pulse rate: forty-seven normally, and no higher than seventy with a high fever. I was out of work. I knew the names of all brothers Karamazov. But none of these characteristics were external.
“Once a guy starts using a wig, he has to keep using one. It’s like a fate. That’s why the wig makers make such a huge profits. I hate to say it, but they’re like drug dealers. Once they get their hooks into a guy, he’s customer for life. Have you ever heard of a bald guy suddenly growing a head of hair? I never have. A wig’s got to cost half a million yen at least, maybe a million for a tough one. And you need a new one every two years! Wow! Even a car lasts longer than that – four or five years. And then you can trade it in!”
“Do you know the story of the monkeys of the shitty island?” I asked Noboru Wataya.
He shook his head, with no sign of interest. “Never heard of it.”
“Somewhere, far, far away, there’s a shitty island. An island without a name. An island not worth giving a name. A shitty island with a shitty shape. On this shitty island grow palm trees that also have shitty shapes. And the palm trees produce coconuts that give off a shitty smell. Shitty monkeys live in the trees, and they love to eat these shitty-smelling coconuts, after which they shit the world’s foulest shit. The shit falls on the ground and builds up shitty mounds, making the shitty palm trees that grow on thme even shittier. It’s an endless cycle.”
I drank the rest of my cofee.
“As I sat here looking at you,” I continued, “I suddenly remembered the story of this shitty island. What I’m trying to say is this. A certain kind of shittiness, a certain kind of stagnation, a certaind kind of darkness, goes on propagating itself by its own power in its own self-contained cycle. And once it passes a certain point, no one can stop it – even if the person himself wants to stop it.”
“You should have no sense of guilt about having had relations with me,” said Creta Kano. “You see, Mr Okada, I am prostitute. I used to be a prostitute of the flesh, but now I am a prostitute of the mind. Things pass through me.”