Boundaries

Twenty-five short-short stories

By William Wetherall

Flash fiction published weekly in Mainichi Daily News, 7 March to 19 September 1992.

 1. Rebirth 再生
 2. Flowers 花
 3. The Prayer
 4. The Leper
 5. The Door
 6. Friends 友達
 7. Reunion
 8. Laughter
 9. Sleep 眠り
10. Food
11. Laundry
12. Foresight
13. The Lot
14. The Hole 穴
15. Sleeves
16. Morning
17. Armpits
18. The Detour
19. The Woods
20. Ice Cream
21. The Divide
22. Nativity
23. Odds
24. Chaos
25. The Janitor 掃除夫

Boundaries consists of a collection of twenty-five short-short stories or "flash fiction" running between 500 and 1000 words. The stories involve a variety of people in all manner of situations, mundane to extraordinary, plausible to far-fetched, partly documentary to purely imaginary.

Selecting any story from the above menu will jump to the story. Some of the stories were later translated by a friend, and most of the translated stories were partly revised in the process. The translations and revisions are also shown here.

During the late 1980s and into the 1990s, I had been contributing occasional articles, book reviews, and reports from popular magazines to various Mainichi Daily News editors, including Janet Koplos (Arts and Books Editor) and Adam Fulford (WaiWai and other pages), then Ray Mills, who became the editor of a mixed-bag "culture" page that ran every Saturday after Janet left. One day Ray offered me space for a weekly column. 700 words give-or-take a few words a whack. He left it up to come up with a proposal and title.

I had previously told Ray I had read Tom Burnam's The Dictionary of Misinformation and was toying with the idea of writing a book called "Japan: An Encylopedia of Misinformation" with the intent of debunking, in an entertaining way, most of what is taken to be true about Japan, and thereby provoke writers, editors, and publishers everywhere to revise their textbooks and guidebooks about Japan.

In the end, I proposed a column consisting of a series of short-short stories or "flash fiction". Every week's story would be totally different. I half expected the idea to be rejected, but Ray, after talking it around, came back with a green light.

The series was to run for at least a year, which meant about 50 stories. I had already written several stories, and would keep several in the hopper as we went along. However, half way through the year, in a general downsizing of the paper, the entire page on which my column was one of several features, was cut.

Only the stories that were published are included here. The several stories that were finished and ready to be published in Boundaries when the page ended, and some of the stories I had been started or concevied and later completed, are included in the Flash fiction collection.


Boundaries 1

Rebirth

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
7 March 1992, page 9

The entrance to the crematorium was on the north side of the building. Some sliding doors opened to a big room with a damp concrete floor. Inside the room, along the back wall, were three old furnaces. The chambers of the two furnaces on either side were open, and an altar had been placed in front of the middle furnace. A candle flickered in the air that had been disturbed when a man in a brown sweater and tan slacks, carrying a small paper bag in his hands, walked into the room with an attendant dressed in a black suit. A stream of fragrant smoke from a forest of green joss sticks also wavered in the turbulence.

The attendant took the box from the man, placed it on the metal slab in front of the chamber of the furnace to the left, pushed the slab into the chamber with a long pole, closed the furnace's double doors, rolled an altar in front of the doors, lit a new candle from the one that was burning on the altar in front of the middle furnace, handed a bundle of joss sticks to the man, and then went behind the furnace to regulate the gas fire that he had ignited before the man had arrived.

The man started the incense with the candle, which burned on the right side of the altar. Then he placed the sticks in the vessel on the left side, summoned the Buddhas that be with the small patinated bell that sat on a faded brocade cushion before the candle holder, and folded his hands in prayer for the felicitous reincarnation of the stillborn fetus that the flames were consuming in the furnace's firestone womb.

The man waited for half an hour while the flesh and bone of the fetus were reduced to ash and the slab cooled. He pictured the nearly featureless body that the day before he had seen floating on its back in the pink fluid that had half-filled the stainless steel tray. Trauma from the instruments that the doctor had used to remove the fetus had severed its right leg just below the thigh. The doctor had declined to confirm the fetus's sex, but the man's eyes had told him that it would have been a boy.

The attendant opened the doors and pulled the slab out into the room. A fetus the size of a plucked canary leaves little to see. The man, with the attendant's help, tried to distinguish what might have been his son's remains from the plastic bag the fetus had been in, and from the charred debris that had caked upon the slab from other cremations. He used bamboo sticks to transfer what he thought were relics to the small white ceramic urn that the attendant had prepared. When he finished, the urn was almost as empty as when he had started.

The attendant put the urn in a purple brocade pouch, closed the pouch with a tasseled white cord, and wrapped the pouched urn in a white silk cloth. Thus robed in the only clothes he would ever wear, this boy who would never suckle his mother's breast was placed on another altar, and again his spirit was consecrated with incense and prayer

The man carried the small white bundle outside as though it nested an egg about to hatch. His lungs filled with the lingering chill in the crisp morning air. While basking in the brilliant sun, he looked up at the tall smokestack that gave the, crematorium the appearance of a public bath enclosed by pines.

Poets of old, the man recalled, had extolled the clouds that they had seen in the smoke of ancient funeral pyres. But the sky he gazed into was deep and clear. And the smoke from the chimney was colorless as it rose through the azure air, and drifted into the slipstream of a white heron's soaring wings.

Rebirth

By William Wetherall

19 April 1999 rewrite of original story
based on 24 January 1999 Japanese translation by SM of
original story as published in Mainichi Daily News, 7 March 1992

Rebirth

The entrance to the crematorium was on the north side of the building. Some sliding doors opened to a big room with a damp concrete floor. Inside the room, along the back wall, were three old furnaces. The chambers of the two furnaces on either side were open, and an altar had been placed in front of the middle furnace. A candle flickered in the air that had been disturbed when a man in a brown sweater and tan slacks, carrying a small paper box in his hands, walked into the room with an attendant dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and black tie. A stream of fragrant smoke from a forest of green joss sticks also wavered in the turbulence.

The attendant took the box from the man, placed it on the metal slab in front of the chamber of the furnace to the left, pushed the slab into the chamber with a long pole, closed the furnace's double doors, rolled an altar in front of the doors, lit a new candle from the one that was burning on the altar in front of the middle furnace, handed a bundle of joss sticks to the man, and then went behind the furnace to regulate the gas fire that he had ignited before the man arrived.

The man started the incense with the candle, which burned on the right side of the altar. Then he placed the sticks in the vessel on the left side, summoned the Buddhas that be with the small patinated gong sitting on the faded brocade cushion in front of the candle holder, and folded his hands in prayer for the felicitous reincarnation of the stillborn fetus that was wailing in the flames of the furnace's firestone womb.

The man waited for half an hour while the flesh and bone of the fetus were reduced to ash and the slab cooled. He pictured the nearly featureless body that the day before he had seen floating on its back in the pink fluid that had half-filled the stainless steel tray. Trauma from the instruments the doctor had used to remove the fetus had severed its right leg just below the thigh. The doctor had declined to confirm the fetus's sex, but the man's eyes had told him that it would have been a boy.

The attendant opened the doors and pulled the slab out into the room. A fetus the size of a plucked canary leaves little to see. The man, with the attendant's help, tried to distinguish what might have been his son's remains from the plastic bag the fetus had been in, and from the charred debris that had caked upon the slab from other cremations. He used bamboo sticks to transfer what he thought were relics to the small white ceramic urn prepared by the attendant. When he finished, the urn was almost as empty as when he had started.

The attendant put the urn in a purple brocade pouch, closed the pouch with a tasseled white cord, and wrapped the pouched urn in a white silk cloth. Thus robed in the only clothes he would ever wear, this boy who would never suckle his mother's breast was placed on another altar, and again his spirit was consecrated with incense and prayer.

The man carried the small white bundle outside as though it nested an egg about to hatch. His lungs filled with the lingering chill in the crisp morning air. While basking in the brilliant sun, he looked up at the tall smokestack that gave the crematorium the appearance of a public bath enclosed by pines.

Poets of old, the man recalled, had extolled the clouds of smoke they had seen above ancient funeral pyres. But the sky he gazed into was deep and clear. And the smoke from the chimney was colorless as it rose through the azure air, and drifted into the slipstream of a white heron's soaring wings.

再生

火葬場の入口は建物の北にあった。入口の引き戸は湿ったコンクリート床の広間へと通じていた。広間の黒い壁沿いには古い火葬炉が3つ並んでいた。中央の炉前には祭壇が置かれ、両脇の炉の扉は開いていた。祭壇のろうそくの光がちらつき、茶のセーターにベージュのズボンの男が小さな紙袋を手に広間に入ってきた。黒いスーツ姿の係員と一緒だった。立ち並んだ線香から上る香煙が風にゆらいだ。

係員は男から箱を受け取り、左の炉前に引き出された金属の台車の上にそれを乗せると、長い竿で台を釜の中へ押し込んだ。2重の扉が閉められ、新たな祭壇が炉前に引かれた。係員は中央の祭壇で燃えているろうそくから火をとり、新しいろうそくを灯した。そして男に線香を渡すと、男が来る前に点火したガスを調節するために炉の後ろへと回った。

男は焼香を始めた。線香を祭壇の右のろうそくの火にかざし、左の香炉に立てる。燭台の前の色あせた綾織りのふとんの上に小さな緑青色のりんが置かれている。彼はそれを鳴らし、手を合わせると、耐火材でつくられた炉内で燃え尽きようとしている死産した児の来世の幸せを仏に祈った。

男は、肉と骨が灰に変わり金属台が冷えるその間、30分待った。彼は前日に見た目鼻立ちもまだ定かではない胎児の姿を思い浮かべていた。胎児は、ステンレスのトレイの半ばまで入れられたピンク色の液体の中に仰向けに浮かんでいた。その右足は、医者が胎児を取り出す際に使った器具による裂傷のため、太股の真下で切断されていた。医者は性別の確認を拒んだ。だが、男には男児であることが見てとれた。

係員が扉を開け、台を引き出した。羽をむしりとられたカナリアほどの大きさだった胎児の痕跡はほとんど残っていなかった。繰り返された火葬によって台は炭化し黒く焦げ付いている。男は係員の手を借り、台の上に残る彼の息子の遺骨を、胎児が入れられていたビニール袋の残骸物からよりわけようとした。彼は竹箸で遺骨と思えるものを係員の用意した小さな白い陶磁器の骨壷へと移した。移し終えた時、壷は彼が入れ始めた時と同様ほとんど空だった。

係員は骨壷を紫の綾織りの袋に入れ、房のついた白い紐で閉じると、白い絹の布でそれを包んだ。こうして、母親の乳を吸うこともなく逝った男児は、生涯一度の衣装に身を包み、別の祭壇の上に置かれた。そして、彼の魂は再び祈りと香煙とに包まれた。

男は、孵化寸前の卵の巣でも持つように、白い包みを抱えて外に出た。清々しい朝の大気に残る冷気が彼の胸を満たした。明るい日だまりの中で、彼はそびえ立つ煙突を見上げた。それは火葬場を松に囲まれた公衆浴場のように見せていた。

男は、古の歌人が火葬の薪の煙からたなびく雲を称えていたことを思い出した。だが、彼の見つめる空はどこまでも澄んでいた。煙突からたち昇る煙は紺碧の空へ突き抜けていくように無色だった。そしてそれは上昇する一羽の白鷺の翼の後流の中へとゆっくり移っていった。

(翻訳:XXX子)

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Boundaries 2

Flowers

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
14 March 1992, page 9

"There are so many of them," the tall man said to the short man who had come to the hotel to meet him. "And they are all so beautiful. And the colors. I have never seen such magnificent colors."

The tall man had spoken the words so precisely, and with such a reverent timbre, that the short man found himself once again feeling the newcomer's unabashed marvel for what he, an old-timer, had long ago come to regard as normal flora when not some kind of pest. The two men cut a trail through the thick stands of fragrant pinks, reds, violets, blues, yellows, greens, creams and whites, taking great care not to touch them, except when they had to prod them apart with a gentle push and smile. Finally they broke out into a clearing near the lounge.

"They're so very radiant," the tall man said, after turning around to study what he had just passed through with the help of his guest, who had taken the lead. Only then did the tall man discover that his coat had been pulled nearly off his right shoulder.

"A bevy of butterflies," he said while straightening his coat.

"Actually, they're flowers," the short man said, grateful for the chance to display his knowledge of indigenous imagery. "And we're the butterflies."

"Yes, I see what you mean," the tall man very slowly said in a suddenly plaintive voice. Then abruptly his eyes turned to the lounge in search for a place to sit. Though it was very crowded, there were two unoccupied chairs facing a smaller group of celebrating girls.

It was graduation season, and the hotel was hosting all kinds of parties, the tall man explained, as though to show his guest that he had already learned something about local life on his own, thank you. Most girls in the class which they had encountered on their way to the lounge had been wearing fancy kimono. But the girls sitting in front of them were in their finest dresses, none designed to keep them warm.

"They're so bowed."

"Not as much as they used to be."

"And short and stout like that figureless skater, what's her name, Midori Ito? Kristi Yamaguchi has American legs. Don't you think so?"

"Well, she's an American, so I guess her legs are too."

"Yes, I see what you mean," the tall man said after contemplating the short man's words. His eyes then shifted to a dozen kimonoed girls to their left. Several of the girls had lit cigarettes.

"Doesn't it upset you to see them smoking in traditional clothes?"

"Why should I be bothered by the degrading of a beauty that isn't even skin deep? Why, in any case, should machined designs on synthetic textiles be regarded as more traditional than the enjoyment of tobacco by women in public? Beneath all that double-breasted finery, most of those girls have got nothing on but hi-tech panties and bras. They can't wait to get back into their jeans. Would it shock you to know that some will go to a disco when they leave here? Kimono and all."

"Yes, I see what you mean," the tall man said, looking depressed. "By the way, may I invite you to dinner? The restaurant here is rather convenient for talking."

"That would be nice. But may I suggest that we go out? There are lots of good places right down the street."

"I'd like that, yes. Perhaps we shall see some more flowers."

The two men stood up, made their way to the entrance, and went outside. After walking for a while, they came to a restaurant with models of food in the window that whet the tall man's appetite. The place was almost full, but there were two seats at the middle of the counter. The tall man's eyes bulged at what he saw as he sat down.

"There are so many of them," he said. "And the colors. So vivid, like petals on snow. That red one," he pointed, "looks so delicious."

"That's bluefin tuna," the short one told him.

Flowers

By William Wetherall

31 March 1999 rewrite of original story
based on 31 March 1999 Japanese translation by SM of
original story as published in Mainichi Daily News, 14 March 1992

Flowers

"There are so many of them," the tall man said to the short man who had come to the hotel to meet him. "And they are all so beautiful. And the colors. I have never seen such magnificent colors."

The tall man had spoken the words so precisely, and with such reverent timbre, that the short man found himself once again feeling the newcomer's unabashed marvel for what he, an old timer, had long ago come to regard as normal flora and not some kind of exotic plant. The two men cut a trail trough the thick stands of fragrant pinks, reds, violets, blues, yellows, greens, creams and whites, taking great care not to touch them, except when they had to prod them apart with a gentle push and smile. Finally they broke out into a clearing near the lounge.

"They're so very radiant," the tall man said, after turning around to study what he had just passed through with the help of his guest, who had taken the lead. Only then did the tall man discover that his coat had been pulled nearly off his right shoulder.

"A bevy of butterflies," he said while straightening his coat. "Actually, they're flowers," the short man said, grateful for the chance to display his knowledge of indigenous imagery. "And we're the butterflies."

"Yes, I see what you mean," the tall man very slowly said in a suddenly plaintive voice. Then abruptly his eyes turned to the lounge in search for a place to sit. Though it was very crowded, there were two unoccupied chairs facing a small group of celebrating girls.

It was graduation season, and the hotel was hosting all kinds of parties, the tall man explained, as though to show his guest that he had already learned a few things about local life on his own, thank you. Most girls in the group that they had encountered on their way to the lounge had been wearing fancy kimono. But the girls sitting in front of them were in their finest dresses, none designed to keep them warm.

"They're so bowed."

"Not as much as they used to be."

"And short and stout like that figureless skater, what's her name, Midori Ito? Kristi Yamaguchi has American legs. Don't you think so?"

"Well, she's an American, so I guess her legs are too."

"Yes, I see what you mean," the tall man said after contemplating the short man's words. His eyes then shifted to a dozen kimonoed girls to their left. Several of the girls had lit cigarettes.

"Doesn't it upset you to see them smoking in traditional clothes?"

"Why should I be bothered by the degrading of a beauty that isn't even skin deep? Why, in any case, should machined designs on synthetic textiles be regarded as more traditional than the enjoyment of tobacco by women in public? Beneath all that double-breasted finery, most of those girls have got nothing on but hi-tech panties and bras. They can't wait to get back into their jeans. Would it shock you to know that some will go to a disco when they leave here? Kimono and all."

"Yes, I see what you mean," the tall man said, looking depressed. "By the way, may I invite you to dinner? The restaurant here is rather convenient for talking."

"That would be nice. But may I suggest that we go out? There are lots of good places right down the street."

"I'd like that, yes. Perhaps we shall see some more flowers."

The two men stood up, made their way to the entrance, and went outside. After walking for awhile, they came to a restaurant with models of food in the window that whet the tall man's appetite. The place was almost full, but there were two seats at the middle of the counter. The tall man's eyes bulged at what he saw as he sat down.

"There are so many of them," he said. "And the colors. So vivid, like petals on snow. That red one," he pointed, "looks so delicious."

"That's bluefin tuna," the short one told him.

「なんて多いんだ」"
背の高い男が、彼に会うためにホテルまでやってきた背の低い男に言った。

「みんな実に美しい。あの色はどうです。あんなすばらしい色合いは見たことがない」
背の高い男があまりにはっきりと、またあまりに大仰に語りかけるで、背の低い男は、古参の彼がずいぶん前に何かの帰化植物ではなく、普通の植物相だとみなすようになった現象に、彼もまた新参者と同様の率直な驚きを感じているのに気づいた。二人の男は、香るばかりのピンク、赤、紫、青、黄色、緑、クリーム色、白で埋め尽くされた木立ちの中を、それに触れないように細心の注意を払い横切った。時折、笑顔でそっと押し分けなければならない時は別だったが、ようやくラウンジの近い開いたところに出た。

「実に華やかだ」
背の高い男は、彼の客のリードに助けられ通り抜けたばかりのところを見ようとして振り返ると、そう言った。そして、ようやくコートが右肩からずり落ちそうになっていることに気づいた。

「蝶の群だ」
コートを直しながら彼は言った。

「というより、花でしょう」
この地固有の形象に関する知識を披露する機会に感謝しながら、背の低い男は言った。

「そして、我々が蝶なんです」

「ええ、確かにそうですね」
背の高い男は急に沈んだ口調になるとゆっくりと言った。そして、やおら座る場所を求めてラウンジに目を向けた。ラウンジはかなり混んでいたが、にぎやかに祝っている女性たちの小さなグループの前に席が2つ空いていた。

卒業シーズンなのでホテルではあらゆる種類のパーティが開かれている、と背の高い男が客に説明した。すでに自分でこの地の生活について多少調べたよ、を示したいようだった。ラウンジ着くまでに出会ったほとんどの卒業式帰りと思われる女性が華やかな着物を着ていた。だが、彼らの前に座る女性たちは、およそその身体を温めるようにはデザインされてはいない薄手のドレス姿だった。

「かなり曲ったね」

「以前ほどではありませんがね」

「あの背の低い、小太りの、フィギュアのないスケーター、何という名前でしたか、ミドリ・イトウですか?クリスティ・ヤマグチはアメリカ的な足をしていますよね。そうは思いませんか?」

「まあ、彼女はアメリカ人ですからね。彼女の足もアメリカ的でしょう」

「確かに、おっしゃることは分かります」
背の高い男はしばらくその言葉を吟味した後、そう言った。そして彼の目は左の着物姿の女性の一群へと移って行った。数人がタバコを吸っていた。

「伝統的な着物姿でタバコを吸っている女性を見ると驚きませんか?」

「いいえ、まったく。どうして皮一重でもない美貌を損なうものをわざわざ気にしなければならいんですか。いずれにしろ、機械的にデザインされた合繊繊維の生地が、人前でタバコを楽しむことより格別伝統的だとは思えませんしね。あの美しい衣装の前袷の下に、おそらくほとんどがハイテクのパンティとブラジャーしか身につけてはいないでしょう。彼女たちはジーパンに着替えるのさえ待ちきれずにいるはずです。あのうちの何人かはここからディスコに直行する言ったら驚きますか?着物姿でね」

「ええ、おっしゃることの意味は分かります」
背の高い男は沈んだ様子で言った。

「ところで夕食にお誘いしたいのですが、いかがですか?ここのレストランならゆっくり話もできて良いと思うのですが」

「いいですね。でも外に行くのはいかがでしょう。近くの通りにたくさん良い店がありますから」

「ええ、そうしましょう。もう少し花を鑑賞できるかもしれませんね」

二人の男は立ち上がり、入口へ向かうと外に出た。しばらく歩くと、ショーケースに背の高い男の食欲をそそるサンプルを置くレストランがあった。店はほぼ満員だったが、カウンターの中央に二つ席が空いていた。背の高い男は席に座るとそこで見たものに、目を丸くした。

「なんて多いんだ」
彼は言った。

「それにあの色、実に鮮やかだ。まるで雪の上の花びらのようだ。あの赤いのが実に美味しそうだ」 彼は指さしながら言った。

「あれは、まぐろです」
背の低い男が言った。

(翻訳:XXX子)

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Boundaries 3

The Prayer

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
28 March 1992, page 9

God is a busy man. In addition to keeping an eye on the world's children and fools, and defending himself against myriad detractors in letter-to-editor columns, he's obliged to listen to the bedtime prayers of a certain prince who is tired of being a bachelor.

"Dear God," the Grand Old Designer heard the young man say while hitting the imperial sack one night. God had been so busy monitoring other presomnic cries for help that he couldn't tell if he was picking up an incoming prayer, or getting interference from an interjection. The voice, though, was so full of despair and frustration, and the dull thwacks in the background had so clearly been made by a fist pounding a mattress, that God's intuition told him to take a chance.

"Yes, my son?" God said, after flipping the toggle switch from Listen to Listen/Talk. The third choice was Talk, which God used when he couldn't tolerate the flak that he got whenever he tried to tell heads of states what to do. "The idiots never listen," he muttered.

"Is that you, God?" the prince said.

"I'm afraid so, my son. Sounds like you've got a real problem there. Why don't we talk about it. You know, man-to-man like."

"Well, I think you know my mom. She used to be a big fan of yours. Then she met my dad, and she's had to favor his gods. Bu; now and then she still turns to you. There are times, she says, when Dad's gods are useless. And so she advised that I try my luck with you. I've been begging Dad's gods for a wife, but that's only brought me a lot of embarrassing attention in the gossip mags. My bureaucratic backers have a battalion of brokers beating the bushes for a beautifully bred bride, but every bird they've flushed out has taken one look at my cage and flown off. And they've chased away all the free wingers who've tried to reach me on their own. Like the girl who slipped by the palace guards to give me some sweets on St. V's Day. I saw her from my window when they took her away. Believe me, her slipper would have fit my foot."

"I remember her well. She ran her plan by me, and I told her to go for it. After the police let her go, she lamented how she had made it all the way to the door of your quarters, and had actually rung your bell and been received by a chamberlain, only to be turned over to the police. Makes you wonder whose side they're on."

"It sure does. Why can't I just go into town and date a few girls on my own? What could go wrong? You'd look out for me, wouldn't you?

"I'd try to, my son. But it's a big world, and life can be messy. What kind of girl do you want, anyway? Maybe I can fix you up."

"Someone who'd love me for who I am, not what I am. "And who are you?"

"Just an ordinary bloke who likes classical music and history, good food and wine, mountain climbing, some intelligent conversation, and a little romance. I'd go for two or three kids. And if she wants, I'll even wash my own pants, like I did at Oxford."

"You particular about size?"

"The chaps at the agency are looking for someone who's shorter than me but has tall brothers. But I wouldn't mind her being a hand or two bigger. She can even have pierced ears, for all I care.

"Would you marry a foreigner?"

"Some of my ancestors have."

"What about you? You once had a crush on an American actress."

"That reminds me. The girl I marry must be willing to let me keep all my Oxford mementos, including the Brooke Shields poster that was tacked on the wall at the head of my bed. And the covers I tore off my mother's Vogue magazines, the scrapbook of Calvin Klein jeans ads, and my Pretty Baby, Blue Lagoon, and Endless Love videos."

"That's a tall order, my son. But I'll give it my best shot."

"Amen."

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Boundaries 4

The Leper

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
4 April 1992, page 9

Early summer, 1945.

A boat from Pusan to Shimonoseki, filled with Korean men being taken to Japan, in ropes, to work in the mines.

Pak was on the boat with them. But he was making the crossing alone, just as he had the first time he went to Japan in 1935. Work hard in Japan and you'll have a bright future, he had dreamed, like many young Koreans at the time. All he had gotten in Japan, though, was a double dose of maltreatment, one as a Korean, the other as a leper.

While Pak's leprosy had broken out in Japan, he had probably been infected when a child in Korea. He returned to Korea, but he was unable to work, and the medical costs were too big a burden for his brother and sister-in-law. He had often thought of killing himself but didn't have the courage. Instead he decided to return to Japan, where the war was getting worse. If lucky, he might die in it.

The boat, though attacked, docked safely at Shimonoseki.

Pak looked up an older cousin in nearby Hikari, but he found him packing to return to Korea the next day. So Pak stayed with his cousin only one night, and the next morning he went to Hikari Station. He had no idea where to go, but the station attendant, noticing than he had leprosy, suggested that he go to Okayama. Pak was illiterate, so the attendant wrote directions on a small card, tied the card to Pak's right wrist, and told Pak what it said: "Guide this person to Aiseien in Okayama-ken, Oku-gun, Mushiake."

Pak got off the train at Okayama Station and looked for help, but everyone who read the card, including a policeman, silently walked away. Finally someone showed him where to get the bus, but one look at Pak and the conductor made him get off. So Pak, following his nose and asking the way, walked the 36 kilometers to Mushiake, where he found himself welcomed on the ferry to Nagashima.

Okayama City was bombed just days after Pak became a patient at Aiseien, one of Nagashima's two leprosariums. Then came Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war was over. Korea was no longer a Japanese colony. Yet like most Koreans who had settled in Japan on their own accord, but especially those who were living in sanitariums for serious diseases, Pak did not repatriate when he lost his status as a Japanese subject.

Pak was illiterate even in Korean, and so Korean patients who could read and write helped him correspond with his brother on the peninsula. In order to understand what was written on all the signs posted around the facilities, and in all the printed notices to the patients, Pak also learned to read and write Japanese.

Many of the Koreans already at Aiseien were Christians, and so the world of hope that opened up to Pak turned out to be Biblical. And life was soon revolving around his treatment, work, and religion.

In 1977, Pak took a trip to Korea, his first there in 32 years. His brother and sister-in-law had white hair. Some childhood friends still lived in the village. The fields and even the roads between them looked just like they had the day he left.

Pak returned to Aiseien, his home, his dream of once more seeing his kin and native land fulfilled. He continues to live an active life, in the belief that each day is better than the one before.


Note   This story is based on a true account of an anonymous Korean resident of Aiseien in Kida Kiyoshi's Naguwashi shima no shi -- Nagashima Aiseien ni Zainichi Chosenjin, Kankokujin o tazunete [Songs of an island with a beautiful name -- visiting with Japan-resident Koreans at Nagashima Aiseien], Kaiseisha, 1987, pages 45-51.

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Boundaries 5

The Door

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
11 April 1992, page 9

Tomio stopped in front of Kiyoko's door and cocked his ear. He heard her laugh, but she had no phone. Maybe she was watching the TV that gaijin had given her when she was living in Japantown, before she had moved to this slummy downtown hotel. She had waited on the guy's table, and he, had taken her up on her offer to tutor him in Japanese. Tomio shuddered to think what she had done to deserve a new TV.

Anyway, it was a beautiful New Year's morning, and was she going to be surprised to see him, standing there with a bouquet of roses and plans to ferry to Sausalito and dine on the bay. After they made love. And did he ever need his port in the storm. He hadn't docked with her in five weeks, with all his course papers due and then finals, and her busy year-end schedule at the restaurant. So Tomio knocked on the door and waited. A minute later he tried again, and said, Kiyoko? It's me, Tomio. Happy New Year!"

"It's not too happy, Tomio," she said a few seconds later. "I've got a bad flu. I'm starting to feel better, but I don't think we should breathe the same air for a couple of days. I'll call you tomorrow."

"I just want to see your face."

"It's a mess. Anyway, I don't want to get up. You'd just get exposed, and then we'd both be sick."

Tomio tried the knob but of course the door was locked. Again Kiyoko begged him to understand. Her voice had come from the right, which meant that she was in bed. He saw himself with her.

The door to the room on the other side of the hall opened behind Tomio, and a young man came out with an older woman, who was laughing. The woman looked at the roses, then at Tomio, and winked.

"Kiyoko's got the flu, does she?" the woman smiled.

"Yeah, but she's getting better," Tomio said to the woman, while thinking that the laughter he had heard before must have been hers.

"So it seems," the woman said, still smiling.

"The walls in this dump are pretty thin," the man grinned.

"I'd really appreciate you're looking in on her now and then," Tomio said. "You know, just in case she needs a doctor or something."

"She's been getting the flu about once a week," the man said, still grinning, and then started down the hall by himself.

"Don't pay any attention to him," the woman said, more seriously, then turned to go. "She'll be okay," she called back over her shoulder, but as she caught up with the man, she said something to him that Tomio couldn't catch, and they both started laughing.

"Take care of yourself, Kiyoko. Call me as soon as you can."

"Forgive me, Tomio. We'll have an extra big party!"

Tomio stared at the stains in the carpet as he walked to the end of the hall, barely lit by a couple of dirty tubes. He went into the communal bathroom for a drink of water, but the stench of someone's lost celebration drove him back out to the landing. The couple had just gone down on the elevator, so Tomio took the musty stairs. By the time be reached the lobby, he knew that it was Kiyoko he had heard laughing.

All the chairs were stuffed with regulars who just sat there and watched the world go by. An old lady fixed her gaze on him as he bought a newspaper at the front desk and leaned against the wall by the public phone. A few minutes later the gaijin came out of the elevator. Tomio helped the regulars stare him out the door. And in time, he left too.

"You forgot your flowers!" the old lady shouted.

"Happy New Year!" Tomio called back.

"That nice Chinese boy gave me these!" he heard her cry before the street din drummed out the raging in his brain. He deeply inhaled the fresh San Francisco air and started walking. Uncounted blocks later he paused in front of a bar and studied its door. He had never been in such a place before, but god was his throat dry.

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Boundaries 6

Friends

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
18 April 1992, page 9

A photo fell out of the letter. Kiyoko studied the puffy-eyed face and tiny fists of a newborn baby swaddled in pastel green. Its skin was brown. She shook her head and turned to the letter.

Kyochan:

As you can see, I'm a mother. I'm living with Houston now. He's still in school, and I plan to go back next semester. Tell Yoshiko I'm fine. I'll write her when I have more time. Please call my mom and find out how she and my dad are taking it. I phoned them before I went to the hospital. My dad wouldn't even speak to me, and my mom scolded me and burst into tears. I sent them a baby card but haven't heard a word from them. I'm afraid to call until I know how they feel. My mom knows you, and she'll probably be glad to have someone to talk to. I'm sure that all this comes as a shock to you and Yoshiko too. Forgive me for not telling even my two best 'friends that I was pregnant. But you both seemed so uncertain about Houston. Well, there are three of us now, and we're going to make it. I miss you all.

Love, Itoe

Kiyoko's face flushed, and her mouth tightened, as tears welled in her eyes. She had felt the same way when she and Yoshiko had seen Itoe off at Narita. Like other girls at the English school, they had dreamt of working or studying in a country like America. When it came time to mate, too, a foreign man would do just fine, especially if he were tall and handsome, and gentle and understanding, and rich, but not too old, or too close to his mother; otherwise, a girl would be better off with her own kind. Among the many dreamers, though, only Itoe had shown the pluck to go out into the world and see what she could make of life.

Kiyoko phoned Yoshiko.

"Itoe's got a baby."

"What? Whose is it, that black guy's?"

"Look's like it. Sure is cute, though."

"I thought she was going to wait. Did they get married?"

"All I know is they're living together."

"A boy or a girl?"

"Can't tell from the picture, and don't know its name. I think we hurt her feelings, though. You know, telling her how she ought to think twice about Houston. I mean, what do we know about the guy?"

"What do we know about anything, when you get right down to it! We're both pushing 30, but where are the decent jobs? And when was the last time you or I dated a guy we felt like raising kids with?"

"She never said she wanted kids. It's always been that stuff about finishing school and having a career. But when I saw her last summer, she was having doubts about the whole thing."

'Well, it's too late now. And we've got to stand by her."

"Yeah. And we ought to get something for the baby."

"Why not go shopping after work tomorrow? We can also get a card. I'll wrap and mail it. " Two weeks later, Itoe got a parcel from Japan. There was a card on the blue ribboned package inside.

Dear Itoe. We wish we were there to hold your little treasure. Your mother told us it's a boy, and his name is Kenneth Takeshi. With a little luck, by the time he's a man, the world will be a better place for us all. Give our regards to Houston. We're anxious to meet him. So are your parents, who are waiting for your call. Love, Yoshiko, Kiyoko.

The package produced a pair of toasty sleepers that would turn a chubby boy into a fat bumblebee. It even had a little stinger.

Friends

By William Wetherall

11 February 1999 rewrite of original story
based on 9 January 1999 Japanese translation by SM of
original story as published in Mainichi Daily News, 18 April 1992

Friends

A photo fell out of the letter. It was a newborn baby swaddled in pastel green. Kyoko studied its puffy-eyed face and tiny fists. The skin was brown. She released her breath and opened the letter.

Kyochan, as you can see, I'm a mother. I'm living with Houston now. He's still in school, and I plan to go back next semester. Tell Yoshiko I'm fine. I'll write her when I have more time.

And would you please call my mom and find out how she and my dad are taking it? I phoned them before I went to the hospital. My dad wouldn't even speak to me, and my mom scolded me and burst into tears. I sent them a baby card but haven't heard a word from them. I'm afraid to call until I know how they feel. My mom knows you, and she'll probably be happy to be able to talk with you about my situation.

I'm sure that all this comes as a shock to you and Yoshiko too. Forgive me for not telling even my two best friends that I was pregnant. But you both seemed so uncertain about Houston. Well, there are three of us now, and we're going to make it.

I miss you all.

Itoe

Kiyoko's face flushed, and her mouth pursed, as tears welled in her eyes. She had felt the same way when she and Yoshiko had seen Itoe off at Narita. Like other girls at the English school, they had dreamt of working or studying in a country like America. When it came time to mate, too, a foreign man would do just fine, especially if he were tall and handsome, and gentle and understanding, and rich, but not too old, or too close to his mother; otherwise, a girl would be better off with her own kind. Among the many dreamers, though, only Itoe had shown the pluck to go out into the world and see what she could make of life.

Kiyoko phoned Yoshiko.

"Itoe's got a baby."

"What?! Whose is it, that black guy's?"

"Look's like it. Sure is cute, though."

"I thought she was going to wait. Did they get married?"

"All I know is they're living together."

"A boy or a girl?"

"Can't tell from the picture, and I don't know its name. I think we hurt her feelings, though. You know, telling her how she ought to think twice about Houston. I mean, what do we know about the guy?"

"What do we know about anything, when you get right down to it. We're both pushing thirty, but where are the decent jobs? And when was the last time you or I dated a guy we felt like raising kids with?"

"She never said she wanted kids. It's always been that stuff about finishing school and having a career. But when I saw her last summer, she was having doubts about the whole thing."

"Well, it's too late now. And we've got to stand by her."

"Yeah. And we ought to get something for the baby."

"Why not go shopping after work tomorrow? We can also get a card. I'll wrap and mail it."

Two weeks later, Itoe got a parcel from Japan. There was a card on the blue ribboned package inside.

Dear Itoe,

We wish we were there to hold your little treasure. Your mother told us it's a boy, and his name is Kenneth Takeshi. With a little luck, by the time he's a man, the world will be a better place for us all. Give our regards to Houston. We're anxious to meet him. So are your parents, both of whom are anxious to get a call from you.

From Yoshiko and Kiyoko

The package contained a pair of toasty sleepers that would turn a chubby baby into a roly-poly tiger cub. They even had a little tail.

友達

一枚の写真が手紙の間から落ちた。薄いグリーンのおくるみに包まれた、生まれたばかりの赤ん坊だった。恭子は、そのはれぼったい目をした顔と、堅く握りしめられた小さな手を見つめた。肌は茶褐色だった。恭子はためいきをつくと手紙を開いた。

きょうちゃん、ごらんの通り、私はお母さんになりました。今ヒューストンと一緒に暮らしています。彼はまだ大学に通っていて、私も次の学期には学校に戻るつもりです。佳子に私は元気だと伝えてください。また落ちついたら、彼女にも手紙を書くつもりです。

それから、私の母に電話をしてもらえますか。父や母が今度のことをどう思っているのか知りたいんです。実は入院する前に電話をしたのですが、父は私と話そうともしないし、母は怒って泣き出してしまって、その後、赤ちゃんの誕生カードも送ったのに何も言ってきません。両親がどう受けとめているのかを確かめてからでないと怖くて電話できそうもありません。母はあなたのことを知っているでしょう、だからあなたと話しができれば母も喜ぶと思うんです。

きっと今回のことは、あなたも佳子もとても驚いているでしょうね。本当にごめんなさい。一番の親友に赤ちゃんができることを話さずにいて。ただ、二人ともヒューストンのことをあまり良く思っていないような気がしたの。でも、これで私たちも3人になったわけだから、がんばってやっていくつもりです。

みんなのことをいつも思っています。

いと恵より

口を堅く結び、緊張した面もちで手紙を読んでいた恭子の目に涙があふれた。恭子と佳子がいと恵を成田まで見送りに行ったあの頃、恭子もまたアメリカかどこかの国で働くことや留学することを夢見ていた。英語学校に通う多くの女子生徒がそうだった。結婚相手は外国人でもかまわない。もし、─背が高く、美形で、優しく、理解があり、経済力もある。そして年齢は上すぎず、また母親べったりでもない─ そんな相手なら。そうでなければ同じ日本人の方が楽だろう。そんな夢見がちな女生徒の中でいと恵だけが世界に出て、自分の人生を切り拓く道を選んだのだ。

恭子は佳子に電話した。

「いと恵に赤ちゃんが生まれたんですって」

「ホントに?誰の、あの黒人の彼?」

「そうみたい。でも、とってもかわいいの」

「もう少し先のことだと思ってた。結婚はしたの?」

「一緒に暮らしているとしか書いてなかったけど」

「男の子?女の子?」

「写真では良く分からない。名前も書いてなかったし。でも私たち彼女を傷つけたんじゃないかしら。ほら、ヒューストンのことをもっとよく考えた方がいいって彼女に言ったでしょう。私たち彼のこと何も知らないのに」

「実際のところ、私たちにいったい何が分かってるのかしらね。もう30に近づいているっていうのに、やりがいのある仕事なんてどこにもないし。それにお互い、最近一緒に子どもを育ててみたいなんて思える相手に会ったことある?」

「でも、子どもがほしいなんていと恵はひと言も言ってなかったのよ。学校を卒業することと、キャリアを積むことばかり話していたのに。去年の夏、最後に会った時には色んなことに疑問を感じてたみたいだったけど」

「まあ、今さらどうしようもないわよね。何とか彼女の力になるしか」

「そうよね。ねえ、赤ちゃんに何か送らない?」

「明日、仕事が終わったら買い物に行く?カードもあった方が良いわよね」

2週間後、いと恵のもとに日本から小包が届いた。青いリボンのついた包みにはカードが添えられていた。

いと恵へ

そちらに行って、あなたの大切な赤ちゃんを抱ければどんなにすてきでしょう。お母さまからケネス・健という名前の男の子だとうかがいました。きっと、彼が大人になるまでには、私たちみんなにとってもっと住みやすい世の中になっていることでしょう。ヒューストンにもどうぞよろしく。ぜひ彼にも会いたいと思っています。ご両親も同じ想いで、いと恵からの電話を待っていらっしゃいます。

佳子・恭子より

小包の中は、少し太った赤ん坊を丸ぽちゃの虎の子に変える、暖かそうな虎の柄のパジャマだった。おしりには、かわいい尻尾もついていた。

(翻訳:XXX子)

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Boundaries 7

Reunion

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
25 April 1992, page 9

Eisuke studied the woman who the social worker had said might be his sister, Masako. She had come to Japan with other Chinese to find their lost relatives. It was her turn to tell how she had become an adopted child in Manchuria after the way. Her face was taut as she gripped the top of the podium and watched for the cue.

"My name is Huang Yuling, " the woman began. "My earliest memories are very vivid. I was the youngest of a family of four. We lived in a colonial settlement near Chalantun, at the foot of the Greater Hsingan Range, west of Tsitsihar, in Heilungjiang province. Father, and several other older merchants, were drafted into the Imperial Army in the winter before the end of the war.

"I'll never forget the morning he left. He stood pole straight in his new uniform while our neighbors waved little Rising Sun flags and shouted Banzai! His eyes, and then his cheeks, glistened in the morning sun, as the snowcapped peaks of Hsingan sparkled behind him.

"Mother wore a deep-sleeved kimono, dark blue and white I recall, with a red brocade sash. Older Brother -- he must have been around 10, but I remember him only as Oniisan -- had pulled on Father's brown wool sweater, and he held my hand under one of its sleeves while he flipped the other one around like a propeller. But our festive mood suddenly changed when an officer ordered Father and some other new recruits to board a troop train. As the train chugged off, Mother took my other hand. She started to cry. It was the last time I ever saw Father.

"We stayed in the settlement until spring, and moved to Tsitsihar a few weeks before the Russians swept down from Siberia. I can remember some heavy shelling, and then waiting in long lines to board a train for Hsinching. But we got no further than Harbin, which was already flooded with refugees. Food was scarce, and Mother was unable to feed us.

"One day we were playing in a park that had become an evacuation center. After talking to a man who had taken special notice of us, Mother told Older Brother to stay with our packs while she took me to the man's house.

"She bought me a bean-jam dumpling from a vendor on the way, and she told me to enjoy it. It would be the last thing that she would be able to give me, she said. But I was too hungry to give any thought to her words. We walked in silence, several steps behind the man, who now and then looked back at us, and smiled at me.

"Suddenly Mother squatted down as she had when I was younger. She asked me to get on her back. When I said I could walk, she looked at me with misty eyes. Then she took my hand and we hurried on after the man, who had stopped to wait for us.

"When we reached the man's house, he introduced us to his wife, and she served us tea and sweets. Mother talked with them for a while. The man gave her a red envelope. She hugged me for a long time after telling me to stay with the man and woman until my brother, who had not been well, was better.

"Finally Mother let me go and walked out the door. At the gate she bowed to the man and woman, who had taken me outside with them, and she started walking down the street we had come by. Not once did she look back at me, even when I shouted Okaasan! and tried to run after her. The woman gently restrained me, but I'll never forget how I gazed at Mother's back, and wished that I had been on it, warming my cheek on the nape of her neck while her hands patted my bottom."

Eisuke fought back his tears while Masako wiped her eyes. He'd relived that morning in the park almost every day. "Stay here with the packs," Mother had told him. And he was sitting on top of them, basking in the sun, when an hour later she had come back, alone, pulled him to her breast, and sobbed until his hair was wet. Tomorrow Eisuke would take his sister home, and the first thing they'd do is visit Mother's grave.

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Boundaries 8

Laughter

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
9 May 1992, page 9

Kaneda Mitsunaga, stiffly sitting at his desk in the middle of the row by the windows on the left side of the room, was listening to the teacher call the first roll. He was also rehearsing what he would say if the teacher reneged on his promise, and wondering what kind of sport the class clown would make of him. The lanky boy sat right in front of him, looking outside, perhaps at the storm. The window frames were rattling in the wind, and already the panes were spotting with rain.

"Hashimoto Tomoko san."

"Present!"

Kaneda turned to look at the pony-tailed girl who had stood up from her desk, two rows over, in the back of the room and bowed. She had a few pimples on her cheeks, but Kaneda was struck by the brightness and clarity of her eyes, and he wondered what club she would join.

"To-mo chaaan!" swooned the class clown, who had already toyed with two other students. This time, too, some students giggled as the girl sat down and stared straight ahead, her cheeks so pink that Kaneda could no longer see her pimples. He turned back around in time to catch the class clown smirking at him. The windows were running with sheets of rain, and again Kaneda worried about what the teacher might call him.

"Hayashi Ken'ichi kun."

The giggling had stopped, and the rain amplified the silence.

"Hayashi kun!"

The teacher looked at a boy sitting in the first row on the right.

"It's Rim. Rim Hyoil."

The voice was weak, its owner's mouth taut.

"Rin what?"

The teacher frowned. The class clown was already snickering as he moved his head in a circle, a hawk about to swoop on a helpless rodent. A field mouse caught in the open, Kaneda thought, recalling what his father had said would happen to him if he used his real name.

"Ri-mu. Rim Hyoil. It's Korean."

"Here he come, boys and girls! It's time for excitement and adventure with . . . the Kimchi Kid and the Garlic Eaters!"

The clown's parody of the popular TV hero triggered another round of pandemonium. Kaneda, the chameleon, eager to blend in, laughed louder than anyone else.

"That's enough!"

Order returned, but the teacher's frown had deepened. Who was this Korean kid to tell him, an expert on Japanese literature, how to read Chinese characters?

"Let's call you Hayashi Ken'ichi."

Rim opened his mouth as though to protest, but then closed it.

"Hayashi kun was born in Japan, so he's just like we Japanese," the teacher said while monitoring the expressions on everyone's faces. Kaneda averted his eyes when the teacher held his stare on him. He glimpsed around to see, if anyone had noticed, but the other students were either looking at the teacher or stealing glances at Rim. Only Tomoko was facing his way, and for a moment he thought she had noticed him, but then he realized that she was studying the class clown.

"Kaneda Mitsunaga."

That was his name.

"P-p-present!"

Kaneda released the air from his lungs and waited. But the head on the. long neck in front of him continued to gaze out the window. His camouflage, , long worn and well adapted, had concealed from every bird of prey the fear, that quickened his pulse, and the anxiety that rippled his stomach. Then he heard the soft chuckle of a girl. And he knew without turning around where it was coming from.


Note   This is an adaptation of the beginning of The Passer, my first short story, which I submitted to the 1983 Asiaweek Short Story Competition.

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Boundaries 9

Sleep

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
16 May 1992, page 9

Hitomi's eyes were closed, but unlike Kunio beside her, she couldn't sleep. It was' after all, the first day of their marriage.

So far, she had no complaints. The ceremony and reception had gone well, and now they were alone, or as alone as a couple could be on a honeymoon special bound for Guam. All the seats came two abreast and had more leg room than those in the regular cattle cars. There were no private cabins, though, so even if Kunio had been' awake, they could not have done anything. Not that she was unable to wait, but the two hours they had spent at a love hotel a month ago had been, well, fun.

Hitomi was certain that it had been Kunio's first time, or his first two and a half times, if she counted the times he had actually done it and gave him credit for the effort he had made to go another round before the meter ran out. He had been such a comic relief from the first two men she had slept with. Both had been experienced: one a hard driving slam dunker who thought that the only point of the game was to score as many goals as he could before the final buzzer; the other a flashy dribbler who preferred moving the ball around the back court to shooting. Kunio, though, had been like a hungry cat arched over a bowl of unfamiliar lumps, curious but cautious, sniffing here, nipping there, then madly devouring its fill before strutting off to dean up.

Hitomi turned her head and looked at Kunio. His mouth was partly open, and his chest was rising and falling in the slow rhythms of sleep. Thank god he didn't snore, she thought, now looking through the portal at the sapphire sky. And otherwise, too, he would do. It hadn't been a real storybook romance, but neither had it been totally arranged. In a few seconds, the computer had put her in digital touch with more mateable men than she could have met at a hundred beaches, ski lodges, and other boy-meet-girl spots. It had asked all the basic questions, allowed some personal comments, and then matched people up; the rest, as on most other roads to matrimony, had been a matter of providence and choice.

Not all of the questions had been of the what-are-your-hobbies sort. Some had made Hitomi think of things that tightened her legs and made her skin tingle. She had answered all of them faithfully, except the two about whether she had ever slept with someone, and would she mind if her partner had. Like most women her age, she had been a no-no girl in response to these questions, the first no meaning it's none of your business, the second it's none of mine. Kunio had been a no-yes boy, the typical male type, which the cornput6r had been programmed to regard as most compatible with no-no girls. And as far as Hitomi had been able to tell, he had not lied, which made it that much easier for her to indulge his fantasy that, indeed, he had truly been the first.

Hitomi had been delighted to see the queries about preferred sleeping arrangements. She loved sleep, needed her own futon, and hated any noise that would disturb her dreams, especially snoring. Kunio had told the computer, and later assured her, that he didn't snore; but not wanting to take any chances, she had confirmed this with his mother.

While Hitomi looked forward to the conjugal part of marriage, she expected that sleeping together would soon consist mainly of saying good night and going to sleep, rather than making the kind of fuss that had kept them awake at the love hotel. She knew that the best fire took a lot of stoking to keep going. Love, first lit, will burst into flames and rage for weeks,, bum several months, and flicker a few years, then either go cold, or die down to simmering embers that flare up only when fed new leaves and blown by a fresh breeze.

Hitomi's eyes grew, heavy as she gazed down at the bed of clouds blazing in the sunset, and tossed and turned in their embrace. Then suddenly her head was snapped around by the harsh rasping spasms that had started to erupt from the open mouth beside her.

Sleep

By William Wetherall

2 April 1999 rewrite of original story
based on 2 April 1999 Japanese translation by SM of
original story as published in Mainichi Daily News, 16 May 1992

Sleep

Hitomi's eyes were closed, but unlike Kunio beside her, she couldn't sleep. It was, after all, the first day of their marriage.

So far, she had no complaints. The ceremony and reception had gone well, and now they were alone, or as alone as a couple could be on a honeymoon special bound for Guam. All the seats came two abreast and had more leg room than those in the regular cattle cars. There were no private cabins, though, so even if Kunio had been awake, they could not have done anything. Not that she was unable to wait, but the two hours they had spent at a love hotel a month ago had been, well, fun.

Hitomi was certain that it had been Kunio's first time, or his first two and a half times, if she counted the times he had actually done it and gave him credit for the effort he had made to go another round before the meter ran out. He had been such a comic relief from the first two men she had slept with. Both had been experienced: one a hard driving slam dunker who thought that the only point of the game was to score as many goals as he could before the final buzzer; the other a flashy dribbler who preferred moving the ball around the back court to shooting. Kunio, though, had been like a hungry cat arched over a bowl of unfamiliar meat. Curious but cautious. Sniffing here, nipping there. Then madly devouring its fill before strutting off to preen.

Hitomi turned her head and looked at Kunio. His mouth was partly open, and his chest was rising and falling in the slow rhythms of sleep. Thank god he didn't snore, she thought, now looking through the portal at the sapphire sky. And otherwise, too, he would do. It hadn't been a real storybook romance. But neither had it been totally arranged. In just a few seconds, the computer had put her in digital touch with more matable men than she could have met in a hundred years at beaches, ski lodges, and other boy-meet-girl spots. It had asked all the basic questions, allowed some personal comments, and then matched people up; the rest, as on most other roads to matrimony, had been a matter of providence and choice.

Not all of the questions had been of the what-are-your-hobbies sort. Some had made Hitomi think of things that stiffened her legs and made her skin tingle. She had answered all of them faithfully, except two. One whether she had ever slept with someone, the other whether she would mind if her partner had. Like most women her age, she had been a no-no girl in response to these questions, the first no meaning it's none of your business, the second it's none of mine. Kunio had been a no-yes boy, the typical male type, which the computer had been programmed to regard as most compatible with no-no girls. And as far as Hitomi had been able to tell, he had not lied, which made it that much easier for her to indulge his fantasy that, indeed, he had truly been the first.

Hitomi had been delighted to see the queries about preferred sleeping arrangements. She loved sleep, needed her own futon, and hated any noise that would disturb her dreams. Especially snoring. Kunio had told the computer, and later assured her, that he didn't snore. But not wanting to take any chances, she had confirmed this with his mother.

While Hitomi looked forward to the conjugal part of marriage, she expected that sleeping together would soon consist mainly of saying good night and going to sleep, rather than making the kind of fuss that had kept them awake at the love hotel. She knew that the best fire took a lot of stoking to keep going. Love, first lit, will burst into flames and rage for weeks, burn several months, and flicker a few years. Then die down to simmering embers that flare up only when fed new leaves and blown by a fresh breeze. Or go cold.

Hitomi's eyes grew heavy as she gazed down at the bed of clouds blazing in the sunset, and tossed and turned in their embrace. Then suddenly her head was snapped around by the harsh rasping spasms that had started to erupt from the open mouth beside her.

眠り

ひとみは目を閉じていた。だが、隣にいる邦男のように眠ることはできなかった。なんと言っても今日は結婚初日だった。

今のところ彼女には何の不満もない。結婚式も披露宴も順調だった。そして、今やっと二人になれた、というよりは、グアム行きの新婚特別機内で可能な限り二人きりになれた。シートはすべて二人掛けで、家畜用の貨車さながらのふつうの客席に比べれば足回りは広々としていた。だが機内に個室はなかったので、邦男が起きていたとしても、何もできるわけではなかった。彼女は待ちかねる訳ではないが、一ヶ月前ラブホテルで過ごした二時間は、そう、楽しかった。

あの時が、邦男の一度目の体験だという確信がひとみにはあった。メーターがあがってしまう前に、もう一ラウンドのため備えようとした努力も評価した上で、実際にことに及んだ回数を数えるなら、初めての二回半とも言えるが。邦男はひとみが前に寝たことのある二人の男に比べてなんとも楽しい相手だった。二人の男は共に女性経験があった。一人は、終了ベルがなるまでできるかぎり数多くゴールに点を入れるのがゲームのすべてだと考えているスラムダンク・プレーヤー。そしてもう一人は、シュートするよりもバックコートでボールを転がしている方が好みの派手なドリブル・プレーヤーだった。だが、邦男は見慣れぬ肉の皿の前で弓なりに背を丸める猫のようだった。好奇心いっぱいだが注意深い。あちこちの臭いをかぎ、軽くかみつく。そして、空腹を満たすまで猛烈にむさぼり食った後、毛を整えるために気取って退く。

ひとみは頭を回し邦男を見た。邦男は軽く口を開いていた。そして彼の胸はゆっくりとしたリズムで上下に動いていた。幸いに彼が鼾をかかない、と彼女は窓枠からサファイア色の空を見ながら胸をなでおろした。ほかにも彼は間に合う。彼らはお話に出てくるような純粋な恋愛結婚ではなかった。だが、完全にお見合というわけでもない。コンピューターは、浜辺やスキーロッジなどのような男と女が出会う場所で百年にも巡り合えられる男の数より多いふさわしい相手を、たった数秒でひとみにデジタル的に接触させてくれたのだ。コンピューターはすべての基本的な質問をした上で、個人的な情報を加味し、男女を組み合わせる。そして、その後のことは、その他の多くの夫婦にいたる道のりと同様、神意と好みの問題だった。

すべての質問が「あなた趣味は何か」といった類だったわけではない。中にはひとみの足を硬直させ、肌を火照らせるようなものもあった。ひとみは二つの質問を除くすべての質問に誠実に答えた。二つのうちの一つは、過去に誰かと寝た経験があるかというもの。そしてもう一つは、相手に経験がある場合、それを気にするかというものだった。この質問に対するひとみの解答について言えば、彼女の年頃のほとんどの女性と同様、彼女はNO-NO女だった。最初のNOは「あんたには関係の無いこと」、そして次のNOは「私には関係の無いこと」という意味だ。邦男はNO-YES男、典型的な男性のタイプだった。そしてそれは、NO-NO女ともっとも合うと考えられるようコンピュータにはプログラムされていた。ひとみの知る限り、邦男は嘘をついてはいなかった。だから、ひとみは、自分が本当に最初の男性だという彼の夢想を、容易に浸らせることができた。

眠る際の好みに関する質問があったのも嬉しかった。ひとみは眠るのが大好きだった。自分専用のふとんが必要だった。また夢を妨げるどんな騒音にもがまんならなかった。特にいびきは。邦男はコンピューターにいびきはかかないと告げていたし、その後、彼女にも断言していた─だ。しかし、万が一の場合を考えて、彼女は邦男の母親にそれを確かめてもいた。

ひとみは結婚してからの夫婦生活を楽しみにしていたが、その一方、一緒に寝ることは、すぐに、ラブホテルで一睡もせず大騒ぎしたようなことより、「おやすみ」と言うだけで眠ることになるだろうとも思っていた。彼女には、真の情熱をもやし続けるためにはよくかき立てる必要があることが分かっていた。愛は、まず火がつき、炎のような激情となって何週間か燃え上がり、数ヶ月燃え続け、さらに数年ちらちらと燃えていく。そして新しい葉がくべられ、新鮮な風に吹かれた時だけ燃え上がるとろとろとした残り火へと衰えていく。あるいは、冷たくなる。

ひとみが、見つめていた夕焼けに赤く染まる雲のベッドの中に、ほおり込まれ転がされているうちに、彼女のまぶたは重くなってきた。その時、突然彼女の頭が、隣の大きく開いた口から噴き出てきた耳障りなざらついた音に、くるりと立ちあがった。

(翻訳:XXX子)

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Boundaries 10

Food

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
23 May 1992, page 9

Hongo was the ambitious founder of Peace Columbarium, which was soon to become Tokyo's most controversial mortuary monument. "The big word means dovecote, " he began his spiel to everyone who inquired about leasing a niche for the ashes of their departed. Then he'd pitch them his standard line about why the little pigeonholes made an ideal berth of eternal repose for a restless soul to return to after its flight.

Privately, though, Hongo was haunted by the rate at which demand for his niches had begun to fall far short of supply. Every year, as he had planned, foreseeing an expanding market as the population aged and only the rich could buy a plot, in a graveyard, he had added a new floor to what had originally been a five-story building. And the media had perennially given his "ossuary with growth rings" so much attention that it had needed very little advertising. But Hongo's fortunes had changed, as more people avoided the costs and fuss of family ties in the next world by willing that their ashes be scattered in this one.

This year, then, would see the last addition, but Hongo was at a loss as to how to finish the new floor, since many of the niches on last year's floor remained unrented, and cancellations of earlier leases were creating more vacancies on lower floors. If Peace Columbarium was to stay solvent, he had to lure people away from the romantic notion of consigning their remains to the seven seas and four seasons by offering them a more palatable form of endless spiritual communion.

Solving difficult problems had been Hongo's forte. H is mind was constantly sailing. New horizons appeared off the bow of his brain at the break of each day, and he rarely took night watch without a new thought to hold him awake. But Hongo was still walking in a daze as construction reached the point at which he had to decide what to do.

Then one day, while sitting in a bank waiting for his name to be called, Hongo was thumbing through a weekly magazine, and there it was. A full color study. of the many ways that people dispose of their dead. And one of these ways was just what spiritually impoverished city people needed to regain a sense of family and community.

Hongo knew that the numerous burial practices traditionally found on the largest island alone belie the country's mythical homogeneity of culture. He'd even seen a TV documentary showing how some Okinawans expose or bury a body for a while, then clean the flesh off the bones before depositing them in a huge family vault. In time, the bones would be mixed with those of foregoing patrilineal ancestors and kin, and it was in this jumble of skeletons that the dead person's spirit would dwell on.

Hongo had also read before about how some Tibetans carry the bodies of their loved ones to a nearby hill; and there, under the raw sky, with cleavers and knives, dismember the body and mince its flesh and bones, then offer the pile of meat to local vultures. Thus do the spirits of the dead inhabit new hosts.

But what had gripped Hongo the most in the magazine, so strongly that the bank clerk had had to repeat his name three times, was its portrayal of Yanomamo funerals, not how this Amazonian people cremate their dead and grind the unburned bones and teeth they sift from the ashes, but why they solemnly drink these remains in a plantain soup.

Why hadn't he thought of this before, Hongo chided himself as he left the bank with the magazine. But if half the fun of life was discovering how I other people live and die, the practical half, he well knew, was to press newfound wisdom into the service of one's own survival. For. Hongo, though, the idea of funerary endocannibalistic anthropophagy was more than a mouthful; it had become an all-consuming hunger.

At the first public phone, Hongo called his architect and told him to turn the new floor into a restaurant with private booths. And that night he dreamt of exotic desserts like calcium-enriched banana shakes.

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Boundaries 11

Laundry

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
30 May 1992, page 9

Sumiko looked up and down the street before slipping through the gate of the corner house next door. Its owner was a writer who worked at home. Single, he had told her when she had asked about his family. He had moved in a month ago, and had made the usual rounds to introduce himself to his neighbors and give them a small gift. Rather than a box of tissue paper or a towel, though, he had presented each neighbor with a signed copy of his latest tome, a self-help guide to mental health. Sumiko had read it twice already and had found it most disturbing.

The family that had been living in the house had moved away after their oldest boy, who had failed to get into the University of Tokyo and had been cramming for another try, was arrested for stealing panties off neighborhood clotheslines. Sumiko beamed with double pride whenever she recalled the incident. She had lost more panties than anyone else, or so every woman in the neighborhood had heard her boast at least once. The veracity of her claim to victimhood be as it may, there was no doubting the heroic antics of her husband, who had stayed up all night and caught the boy in another neighbor's yard. "He must have hidden them somewhere," Sumiko had insisted when not a single pair of the dozens of panties discovered in the boy's room turned out to be hers.

Sumiko now wanted the writer's advice about a most urgent matter that was not entirely unrelated to panties. She knocked on the door, and he opened it. She apologized for disturbing him, but he invited her in, regretted that the first floor looked like a library after a major earthquake, then settled her in his study upstairs, and returned to the kitchen for some hot water and tea.

The room had belonged to the boy who had stolen all the panties. Now it was stuffed with bookshelves, filing cabinets, a desk, a personal computer and printer on a large table covered with documents, a reading chair and lamp, and a sofa on which Sumiko sat looking out the window at her own yard and all the yards on that side of the block all the way to the next corner. Yard after yard, choked with wash on the first dry day in nearly a week. Like many mothers and wives, though she was not yet a mother, Sumiko had hung hers out the night before. Nine pair of her panties hung neatly beside four pair of her husband's shorts. She could still remember the first time she had washed their underwear together.

"Nice view, isn't it," the writer said, startling Sumiko.

"Doesn't it distract you?" Sumiko said, composing herself.

"Not at all. Look at all the different ways they hang their wash. There's a lot you can tell about people from their laundry."

"What can you tell about me?"

"You have no children. You're orderly and neat."

"That's what I wanted to talk with you about. Your book dwelled on obsessions. I think I may have one. My husband's mother is visiting us next week. She came last year, too, and I really got upset when she threw her dirty underwear in with ours. When she saw me separating it, she had a fit and told my husband, and even he got angry at me. I lost a lot of sleep then, and I'm getting all worked up again. My husband says I'm being silly and selfish, if not jealous. But it gives me the creeps to think of his mother's panties mixed in with our things.

"Speaking of underwear, Mrs. Nemoto, would your personal name happen to begin with Su?"

"Yes. It's Sumiko. Why?"

"Well, the closet in this room has a ceiling panel that slides to the side to give access to the space under the roof. And the other day, when I flashed a light up there, I found these."

The writer got a plastic bag out of the closet and emptied it onto the coffee table in front of the sofa. He watched his neighbor's face become a kaleidoscope as she ed the NS initials on the bands of 17 pair of panties. Everything but the printing was hers.

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Boundaries 12

Foresight

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
6 June 1992, page 11

Mrs. Sato's vision had become so clouded by senile cataracts in both eyes that nothing 'Was clear, even when right in front of her face. Blurs moving toward her, sitting in her wheelchair by the sunlit window of her room, became her daughter-in-law with tea. Or her grandson with a friend. "Who's that?" she'd hear a boy say before turning her face toward the door. "That's grandma. She's blind." "You mean she can't see us?" "Only a little bit, but we have to get real close."

The blurs would run to the side of her chair, and she'd smell their potatochip breath before she could tell which one of them was her grandson. "You can see me, can't you, Grandma!" he'd say. "Of course I can," she'd ten him while shifting her eyes from the silent blur to the one that had shouted at her. Then the blurs would run off, and she'd call after them, "Don't forget Grandpa!" And the blur that had been her grandson would veer toward the corner of the room, stand on the stool in front of the altar that held Mr. Sato's mortuary tablet, offer a pair of incense sticks, and rejoin the blur that waited by the door.

Several years had passed since Mrs. Sato had started to lose her sight to what the eye doctor had told her was a progressive opacity in the crystalline lens. She had worn glasses since her teens, but as the cataracts worsened, she had needed more checkups and changes, until one day the doctor had said that he could do no more with new prescriptions. If she wanted to see better, even see at all, she'd need surgery. He'd have to extract her defective lenses. And unless she Wanted to put up with thick cataract spectacles ' for the rest of her years, then he'd have to transplant the lenses of a human donor, or implant prosthetic lenses.

For months, Mrs. Sato dreamed of knives and needles slashing and stabbing her eyes. She imagined her eyeballs so swollen with infected sutures that her bruised eyelids could not hide them. Finally, though, she decided to let the doctor give her some new lenses. Not, however, the living tissue of a dead stranger, but the plastic, synthetic kind.

Mrs. Sato's whole world went totally black within minutes after she was gurneyed into the operating room. For the next few days, she could not see even the faces of the people who came to wish her well. She saw tunnels of plight and color only while the doctor was changing the dressings. Then one morning he left them off, and in minutes she was seeing, though a bit out of focus, everything in the room.

Suddenly Mrs. Sato asked for a mirror. In time she would study every detail of her face, but now she examined her left eyelid. It had felt neither open nor closed, and had quivered as though trying to make up its mind. 'Now she saw why. It fluttered half-mast. "A little nerve damage," the doctor explained. "It should be okay in a month or so."

The nurse gently wiped Mrs. Sato's face and put a little color on her lips. "What's wrong with your eyelid, Grandma?" said her grandson, the first one through the door. She took his hand and squeezed it. "So that's what you look like! " She hadn't seen him this well since he was a baby. And she'd see him even clearer when her eyes had healed to the point that the doctor could prescribe new glasses with lenses no thicker than the pair she had gotten in high school.

Back home, sitting beside the window of her room, Mrs. Sato felt like a much younger woman. She could see the trees and flowers in the garden, and some neighbors talking on the street. Her son was trimming some bonsai. Some of them had been his father's. His hair was graying around the temples. He looked so much like his father.

Mrs. Sato heard the peal of a bell. It came from the altar, where her daughter-in-law had lit the candle and was offering some incense. When finished, Mrs. Sato knew, she'd wheel her before it and help her stand up. What a blessing it was to see again. Now if only she were able to walk to see Grandpa, she thought. But one step at a time.

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Boundaries 13

The Lot

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
13 June 1992, page 9

Suzu had ensconced herself on the brick stoop of her own home and was watching some men tear down the house immediately across the street. The house had been there as long as she could remember, which was not very long, though even if she were able to talk, she could not have said how many lives or winters had passed since she had come into the world, for nature had made no provisions for her to keep track of time, much less her place in it. What held her attention this morning was all the noise, the bangs and creaks of sledge hammers and crow bars, and the rising mountain or splintered wood and rubble, where once had stood the best house on the block for her to romp around in and find trouble.

Even as a wall crashed into the garden, where until the wrecking crew had' come Suzu had played hide and seek with butterflies, imprints in the back of her brain -- the bark of a dog, the scowl of a woman -- kept her on full alert, though the house had been vacant since fall, when its owners had moved, leaving its doors locked and storm shutters closed to all except Suzu. For Suzu had seen their dog -- the nasty snarl came back to her now -- squeeze in and out through a hinged flap in the kitchen door, and one day she had even braved the hole herself, though no sooner had her feet hit the floor inside that the woman had screamed her right back out. But the day the van pulled away, followed by the car with the owners and the dog, barking out the back window, the house had become all hers, and only hers, until one morning a gray and white tom, a new stray on the block, boldly pursued her through i the flap in the door.

Had Suzu's tongue been good for more than licking her paws and calico coat, she would have blushed to tell the world what had gone on between. them in that dark, empty house, day after day. No room, no closet, no counter, shelf, or stair had gone untouched by their play. Then one morning the tom didn't show. Suzu had waited for him all day, and the next, but he never, came, and in time she entirely forgot him.

It took two days to knock down the house and haul away the debris. Then a bulldozer scraped the lot clean, and covered it with some dark soil that a dump truck had dropped on the corner. For several beautiful spring days,. Suzu frolicked with the clods of dirt and nipped the tender blades of grass" that shot up into the air.

One morning, though, a pickup with sand and bamboo cuttings, and two' cars full of people, parked by the lot. One man barrowed the sand to the a middle of the lot and shaped it into a smooth conical mound with a flat top. Another man marked the corners of a small rectangular area with four bamboo cuttings, and ran a straw rope around the perimeter. The mound of sand sat inside one of the corners, and zigzagged paper strips interspersed with strands of flax dangled at intervals along the rope. Some rice, seaweed and sake were placed on a table draped with a white cloth.

A man in a white robe with green trimmings holding the branch of a sakaki tree, faced the rectangular area. Behind him, to the left, were two men in work clothes and one in a business suit, and to the right stood a young man and woman, a small boy, and an old lady. The robed man waved the branch while chanting something that Suzu, for all the stiffness of her ears, was unable to comprehend. Some scoops of sand were tossed on the ground. The air stirred as something perceptible only to things that lived or grew in the: earth moved them to give their consent to a new house.

When everyone had gone, and the lot was empty except for the pile of sand and the bamboo cuttings, and the straw rope with the pendants, Suzu ambled across the street to investigate. She watched the paper streamers quiver in the breeze and swung a paw at one, then another, but missed both. Suddenly overcome by an urge that had been sneaking up on her since breakfast, she dug a hole in the sand and squatted over it. After covering her poop,. she stretched out in the sun and began purring. Only then did she become aware of the squirming load in her belly.

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Boundaries 14

The Hole

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
20 June 1992, page 9

Japanese translation by SM
24 January 1999

The Hole

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but obsoleteness does not automatically lead to extinction. Take, for example, Japan's imperial house, the British royal family, and other such castes in the cobwebbed closets of the world's constitutional Monarchies.

Who really needs them?

Everyone asks such questions when they clean out their drawers. Human attics, museums, libraries, dictionaries, bureaucracies, sewers, dumps, cemeteries, and hearts are similarly full of things that have outlived their utility, yet linger around and demand attention.

These and other thoughts stirred the brain or a former engineer who kept an old slide rule in his desk for purely nostalgic reasons. Just seeing its worn leather case wakened memories of his engineering days, and brought tears to his eyes. Hardly a day went by that he didn't waste precious minutes playing with his slide rule. He'd open the drawer to get a paper clip, spot the slide rule, take it out of its leather case, wipe it off, and see if he could still get twice two to come out four. He'd recall how he used to sling it on his belt and lace it to his leg like a six shooter. Few other students had been able to get the drop on a problem faster than he. When finished reminiscing, he'd put the slide rule back, close the drawer, and try to remember what it was he had been doing.

He had two hearts about what he would do if one day he opened the drawer and found that a burglar had taken his slide rule for a priceless antique. One heart would beat with rage and want to report the loss to the police. But the other, while sad, would thank the thief for freeing his mind to invent a surrogate distraction.

Like an emperor system.

One way to assess Japan's need for an emperor, the man figured, was to imagine what would happen if one morning the world awoke to banner headlines blaring -- "Imperial Palace Swallowed by Earth."

Who wouldn't be shocked?

Even he would glue his face to the TV, the man admitted. But in the day that it would take most people to tire of the continuous live telecasts from the hole, thousands of video rental shop dealers would merrily prepare for the big rush. "That's how it goes," they'd grin. "We just have to put up with it. Doesn't happen every day, you know."

The photo mags would feature the hole between the usual gossip and porn. Special issues of the weeklies would rival the mountains of comic books at kiosks. And the monthlies would bulge with extravagant laments by royalist intellectuals desperately trying to adjust to life without an excuse for romanticizing history.

The government would amend the constitution. Japan would become a republic with a directly elected president to affix the new state seal, his or her fingerprint, to all domestic laws and international treaties. The decorative diplomatic duties once performed by the world's truly last emperor would be divvied among incumbent cabinet ministers.

Nothing important in life would change. The trains would still run on time, shit would still stink, and roses would still be sweet.

But Tokyo would have a new tourist attraction. People from all over the world would press their bug-eyed faces against the fence that the Imperial Hole Agency would erect around the pit. Adults and kids alike would toss :rocks over the fence and wait in vain for an echo.

Acting on a hunch, a forlorn man whose house had been robbed would pour his eyes over the mountains of garbage that tourists would throw in the hole. Hours later he'd shout -- "Hey, there's my slide rule!" -- and start over the fence. But the police would pull him down, cuff and gag him, and take him to a clinic for people who look for things that are missed but best not found.

必要は発明の母かもしれない。だが、だからと言って必要のなくなったものがすぐに消え去るわけではない。たとえば、日本の皇室、イギリスの王室、そして、その他世界の立憲君主国の古色蒼然としたその納戸に巣くう特権階級はどうか。

誰が彼らを本当に必要としているだろう?

誰しも机の引き出しを片づける時には、そんな疑問が頭をよぎることがある。人類の物置、博物館、図書館、辞書、官僚制、下水、ごみ捨て場、墓地、心、これらはみな同様に、その有用性をしのぎ生き長らえ、未だすたれることなく人の関心を惹こうとするもので満ちている。

こんなことを考え始めると、かつて技師だったある男の話を思い出す。彼は机の中に古い計算尺をしまっていた。思い出の品だった。計算尺の古びた皮のケースを見るだけで、彼の工学生として過ごした日々の記憶はよみがえり、その目には涙があふれた。そして毎日のように、計算尺をもてあそんでは貴重な一時を費やすのだった。彼はクリップをとろうと引き出しを開け、計算尺を見つける。ケースから取り出し、そっと拭っては、まだ2×2が4となるかを見る。そして、6連発銃のようにベルトから吊していた頃の様子を思い出す。彼よりもすばやく解答を出す生徒はまずいなかった。こうして一連の追想が終わると、彼は計算尺を元に戻し、引き出しを閉め、そして、さっきまでしていたことを思い出そうとする。

もしある日、引き出しを開けて、泥棒が計算尺を値のつけようもない骨董品だと思い持ち去ったことに気づいたら、彼はどうするか。彼には2つの気持ちがあった。一つは怒りにふるえ、警察に盗難届けを出したいという気持ち。そしてもう一つは、悲しみに暮れながらも、計算尺破棄の判決を下すことから彼の心を解放してくれたた泥棒に対する感謝の気持ちだ。

ちょうど天皇制のように。 日本に天皇が必要かどうかを判断する方法は、─その男が思うに─ ある朝、全世界が「皇居、地面に飲み込まれる!」という全段抜きの新聞の見出しに気づいたらどうなるかを想像してみることだった。

驚かない人間がいるだろうか。

発表した人間でさえ、テレビに釘付けになるだろう。だが、その日のうちに、ほとんどの人が延々と続く穴からの生中継にうんざりし、何千ものビデオレンタル店はいそいそと貸し出しの大殺到に備え始める。「世の中そんなもんさ」彼らはほくそ笑む。「私らだってやっていかなきゃならない。年中起こることじゃあない。そうだろう?」

写真誌はゴシップとポルノ記事の間に穴の特集を組み、週刊誌の特別号はキオスクで漫画雑誌の山と競う。歴史を神秘化する口実を失った皇室派の知識人たちは生活に順応するための絶望的な努力を続け、そのとめどない嘆きで月刊誌はふくれあがる。

政府は憲法を改正する。日本は共和国となり、新国家の印またはその指紋を国内法と国際条約に押捺するため、大統領が直接選挙で選ばれる。かつて真に世界最後の天皇によって果たされたきらびやかな外交職務は、現職大臣たちに振り分けられる。

生活の中で何一つ重要なものは変わりはしない。いつものように電車は定刻通り走り続け、糞便は悪臭を放ち、バラは甘く香るだろう。

だが、東京には新しい観光名所ができる。世界中から人々が押し寄せ、宮穴庁が穴の周囲に建てたフェンスに、その目を丸くした顔を押しつける。おとなも子どももフェンス越しに石を投げては、こだまを空しく待つ。

虫の知らせか、泥棒に入られた哀れな男がやってきて、穴の中の観光客の投げたごみの山に目をやる。数時間後、「おい、あれは俺の計算尺だ!」と男は叫ぶと、フェンスを乗り越えようとする。だが警察官は彼を引きずり降ろし、殴って猿ぐつわをかませる。そして、見つからない方が良いものを懐かしんでは探そうとする人間のための病院へと連れて行く。

(翻訳:XXX子)

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Boundaries 15

Sleeves

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
27 June 1992, page 9

The only life in the steamy eatery, as measured by the vulgarity of the laughter that turned even the cooks head every two or three minutes, roared from the corner that had been staked out by a couple of anthropologists, three political scientists, and a lone sociologist, ail of them trying to out-torture each other with a class of humor that went along with the food. Four were Americans, one was British, and two were Australians, which doesn't add up, but neither did they, and it wasn't on account of the alcohol, for one of them didn't even drink, except to touch a glass of beer to his lips as they toasted the end of history and the beginning of another philosophical war.

As the revelry crescendoed, the teetotaler asked the girl who was tending their table for a carbonated water. A hush fell over the party when the girl bared. an arm from the sleeve of her cobalt blue country-style kimono to pour some of the bubbly liquid into a glass. The men had become so still that she could hear the water gurgle out of the bottle, and her pink cheeks reddened when she noticed that all six of the men were staring at her arm. Even after she hid put down the bottle and let the sleeve drop over her arm, the nondrinker just sat there until he snapped out of his spell, picked up his glass of water, and sang, "Beauty's ensign yet is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks.

After several minutes of ribald revelry, the oldest of them all, who was the less normal of the two anthropologists, raised a hand in the air and announced that he had a joke.

"Joke time," said the political scientist sitting next to the teetotaler, who had already started laughing. The third political scientist and the sociologist clanged together their beer mug and sake cup, unless "clanked" better mimics the sound of glass on earthenware.

"An ethnic joke," the younger anthropologist said, looking like a Cheshire Buddha as he shifted his legs under his body and grinned.

"In a manner of speaking, yes," said the older anthropologist, who began to tell a story that must have been a favorite of his, judging from the polished bounce with which he rendered that night's version of it. "A cannibal went to the village butcher to get a pound of meat."

"A pound of meat," echoed the teetotaler.

"Now the meat of an anthropologist was 10 dollars a pound, while tourist meat was 20 dollars a pound, and a pound of politician cost 30 dollars." "How much was sociologist meat?" asked the sociologist, seemingly miffed that he had been overlooked.

"Yeah, and how about political scientists?" chimed in the senior political scientist, who was sitting next to the sociologist.

"You're just a bunch of tourists," the younger anthropologist laughed. Then turning to his colleague, and taking mock offense, he asked, "But why are we the cheapest?"

"Because we got there first, and came in such droves that th6y tired of',' us," the older anthropologist explained, "but that's not the punch line."

"The punch line," parroted the teetotaler, beaming ear to ear.

"It must have to do with the politician," concluded the sociologist, who was known for his ability to reason that if X or Y or Z, but if not X and not Y, then Z.

"That's right," the older anthropologist said, his smile weaker, and his voice a bit tense even though he had taken a deep breath and released it. "And now if you'll let me finish," he said. But then he made them wait while he slowly drained his mug of beer. Finally he worked his craggy face into a broad smile and told them the rest.

"'Why is the politician so expensive?' the cannibal asked. And the butcher said, 'Have you ever tried to clean a politician?'"

Everyone exploded except the teetotaler, who even a bomb could not have distracted from the arm that was refilling his glass.

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Boundaries 16

Morning

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
4 July 1992, page 13

Yuji felt something large and firm thump against his ribs. He remained absolutely still, but tensed with anticipation.

"There's a man there! I think he's dead!"

As Yuji turned his head towards the voice, he pulled the shroud of newsprint from his head. In front of his face was a soccer ball that partly obstructed his view of the boy who seemed to be its owner.

"Don't touch him!"

That must be the boy's mother, Yuji figured, probably afraid that her son would be infected with lice or some horrid disease. The boy had frozen like a statue and was staring at Yuji. He watched Yuji reach for the ball with one arm, push his body up with the other, and throw.

The ball flew level to the ground, and the boy stiffly caught it.

Yuji was delighted to discover that he could still throw hard and straight. Even the boy grinned in surprise, and he started complaining when his mother grabbed his arm and dragged him over to a nearby faucet, where she made him wash both the ball and his hands.

Yuji sat up on the plastic sheet he had spread on the grassless ground much earlier that morning when the stars still ruled the sky. He looked around but saw no sign of the park he had been dreaming of. Where were the benches, and the pond and the swans, and the rose beds, and the small woods with glades where one could sit alone and not even see a telephone pole? Surely this was not where he had gone to sleep, he thought. Yet it, too, had been peaceful. Until now.

Suddenly his stomach growled with a ferocity that startled a sparrow 1rom the slug it had been tugging along the ground beside him. Then came Yuji's turn to recoil, as he listened to the groan of a garbage truck munching his morning meal in its metal maw, which told him that he'd have to wait till noon when the cans would fill anew.

Resigned to another hungry start, he reached for the tattered shopping bag which bore the name of a department store that gave him a bit of distinction wherever he went. It held everything he owned, which meant everything he thought worth carrying around.

At the bottom of the bag was a relatively new blanket. Then came a vinyl bag with some old photos and letters, a cloth pouch with a bank book and seal, a booklet with the few labor stamps a foreman had given him the last time he worked, and an envelope with some documents from a welfare agency he had never gone back to. Next came the sweater he had worn out last winter (which would have to make do until he could find a better one), and a couple pair of socks (harder to get than shoes, which business men who miss their last train take off before they sleep on a bench). Nearest the top were a couple of magazines, a comic book, some towels for washing, and a few clean plastic bags for the scraps of food he would rescue from a garbage can.

But wait. What was this? He'd forgotten the chunk of stale bread he'd tucked into the top last night. As he broke off a piece in his mouth, his eyes caught a black bird swooping down to breakfast on a pool of vomit that could have been his. The mother and boy, finished with their ablutions, steered around the excited bird and left the tiny park to its truly native species.

The crow looked up from its feast, beat its wings to the dripping faucet, and took its morning communion from the basin below it. Then it looked Yuji's way and cowed. And as though an old friend had called his name, Yuji tossed the crow the rest of his bread, and smiled.

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Boundaries 17

Armpits

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
18 July 1992, page 9

Police Inspector Seino dropped the Filipina dancer murder case file on his desk and removed his glasses. He rubbed his eyes with his palms and fingers, then tried to focus them on his nails, but both eyes began throbbing again, the crow's-foot standing on the tail of the right one resumed its spastic kick. He couldn't remember when the tic had been so persistent. It had started when he was in high school.

"You must've gotten it from your mother," his father had told. him, unable to think of someone on his own side to blame. From the way his father had said it, Seino knew that lie had meant the mother Seino had hot discovered until he was 12, the mother he had never seen even in a photograph, the mother who had died a few years a in the Bataan peninsula village where Seino had been born at the end of the war, the mother his father had been unable to bring back to Okinawa in 1947.

During that tense supper three decades ago, on the evening before Seino had left Okinawa for the National Police College in Tokyo, his mother, as he had always regarded the woman who had raised him and taken so much pride in her grandchildren, had worried about his tic, but his father had said it would settle down when Seino did. Later that night, just father and son had gone for a walk. They had talked about Seino's tic, and he had wondered where he had got it. And the wistful tone of his father's reply had invited him to inquire more about the woman he could plainly tell his father had needed only his heart to picture.

"She had one?"

'In the same eye."

Seino waited, but his father said nothing more.

'Was she pretty?"

"You've got a lot of her in you."

"Some kids have said I don't look Japanese.

"What do you think?"

His father had never put it as a question before. He had always encouraged Seino to forget his Filipino side. "It doesn't matter," his mother had said after he had peeked at the copy of the family register she had put in an envelope for him to bring to school, and pressed her to explain the entry above his name and why he was listed before her. "You're Japanese, and nothing else," was all she was willing to say.

"That's right, you have two mothers," his father had reiterated that evening' at dinner. "But the original one couldn't come to Japan, so I found you a new one. You weren't even three years old." The Chinese blood in his mother's Okinawan veins might have given her cause to discuss such things more openly, But she was of a mind that preferred to ignore biology. And in time he had come to see why.

"I'm pure Japanese!" he had bleated that night he had gone for a walk with his father. The line had served him well in school, but his father had frowned that it was enough for him to feel just Japanese.

Seino recalled the remark made by the cocky bartender of the club where the dancer had been strangled, to the effect that Seino looked is though he could have been the girl's big brother. Seino had stared the man straight in the eye and told him that Japan's gene pool has always been an amalgam of every Asian and Pacific people east of the Urals and north of the Coral Sea, and was fast becoming more broadly mixed.

"I'm from Okinawa, " he told him. "And Okinawan armpits are only slightly darker than Imperial Family axillae."

"That explains it," the bartender had said, too impressed with the sense it all made to notice the impish look in the eyes Seino had shifted back to the body on the dressing room floor.

Putting on his glasses, Inspector Seino looked out the window at the manicured cedars on the mountain. The snow was melting fast now. It'd soon be summer. Maybe this year he'd go all the way home.

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Boundaries 18

The Detour

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
25 July 1992, page 13

The morning began as just another day in the sixth year of Emi's career as a clerk in a large insurance company. The alarm, the struggle to get out .of bed, the stumble to the toilet, the change of mind about the clothes she had set out the night before, the face-washing foam, the toothpaste, the contact lenses, the foundation, liner, and lipstick, and the lusterless eyes in the mirror, made her feel like a needle in the groove of a record. Even the shoulder bag she grabbed, the purse and train pass she found still in it, and the take-care-of-yourself fuss that her mother made at the door, were the stuff of a robot's diary.

On the way to the station, though, the street Emi usually look was cordoned off by police because of an accident. So she had to go a different way, and on a back street she had never been on, she spotted a young man she had never seen before coming out of the gate of his house. While following him to the station, she wondered what would happen if, tomorrow morning, dressed in something more exciting, and more carefully made up, she were to crash into him just as he came out his gate.

The accident had caused Emi to miss her regular train. While waiting for the next one, she worried about being late for work, and she looked for the man, who had vanished into the crowd. But then the train came, and she started observing the other commuters. Most of them were new to her but even as they buried their faces in a newspaper or book, they seemed friend4ier than the people on her regular train. Some were talking to each other. Several met her eyes, and a few even smiled.

In time the train became so crowded that Emi could hardly move. She was standing near the doors opposite the ones that opened onto the platform, and so at every station, she got shuffled a new hand of cards. At one station, she found herself front-to-front with a taller man who gripped a strap with one hand and closed his eyes after reading the ads above the door behind her. About halfway to the next station, his other hand began groping around her crotch. She immediately drove her knee into his groin. His face grimaced as he let go of the strap and twisted around toward the other door. When it opened, he got off.

Several minutes later, Emi's heart was still racing. That had felt so good. Tonight she'd put some thumbtacks in those garters she had bought but never worn. She'd wear them just above her knees, and the next creep, who got smart with her would get both barrels. And she'd feel doubly good.

Emi was not the least bit drowsy when she got off the train at the station near her office. The commute had been too full of wonder and excitement to sleep on her feet. Animated, loquacious, vigorous people all around her. The masher hadn't spoiled the ride; the slight pain in her knee was a cheap enough price to pay for the chance to bust some balls. The girls at lunch would be all ears. By then she'd have a small bruise to prove that she hadn't made it up or just read about it in a weekly magazine.

Emi's section supervisor, a woman in her fifties, eyed her from her desk I as she punched in three minutes late. Emi went out of her way to pass by the woman's desk, and paused in front of it long enough to say good mor6ing and curtly bow.

Emi was a study in efficiency all morning, and that afternoon she made pm impressive suggestion at a section meeting. Later in the day, her supervisor motioned her over and invited her out for a bite to eat. Emi got home very late that night, but she felt absolutely euphoric.

Emi, you're going to be late!" Emi heard her mother call up the stairs the next morning. But Emi was already up. She had been to the bathroom, and was putting on the dress she looked best in.

"I'll bet you forgot to set your alarm," her mother said while watching her slip on her heels.

"No, mother," Emi said, stepping across the threshold, then looking back from the gate. "I set it a few minutes ahead."

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Boundaries 19

The Woods

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
1 August 1992, page 9

It was one of those dark and gloom nights in the not-so-deep and definitely unsnowy woods behind the man's home, and he was glad for the chance to' get out of the house to guide a friend. to the station, a ten-minute walk, most of it beyond the trees. The last train left in 12 minutes, so he had no time to humor his stubby, overfed daughter, who wanted to go with him, but should have been in bed. Yet he had barely closed the gate when she burst out the door and, despite his orders to go back, raced up to him and his friend at the edge of the woods.

Not wanting a scene that was sure to draw half the neighborhood, the man proposed to let his daughter come with him through the woods. But as soon as they got to the other side, she'd have to turn right around and go straight, back. Alone. Did she understand?

And sure enough, when they reached the street on the other side of the woods, the man had to remind his daughter of her promise to go back. But the girl was old enough to know that some promises are simply not made to be kept. Finally, though, after several good-byes that ate up a good minute, she started home. Or so the man thought after waving her off and turning back to his friend. For a few seconds later he heard her crying, and running, and he turned around in time to catch the full weight of her body as she charged into his arms, her face boiling with tears and every part of her shaking

The man could see that his daughter was truly terrified, and would take a lot of coaxing to go back alone. Perhaps he ought to take her along, but no, she'd made a promise, and besides, she had to be shown that there was nothing to fear in the darkness of the trees. So he urged his friend to go on ahead, took his daughter's hand, and led her back to the mouth of the woods.

While hugging her close, he swore that the woods were safe, she'd be home in a minute if she ran, and he'd read her an extra long bedtime story if she showed daddy how brave his big girl was. Then he pecked her on the cheek, nudged her on the way, and started walking.

As the man caught up with his friend, he heard his daughter scream for him to wait, and when he looked back, he could see her standing at the mouth of the woods, and he knew she was weeping and quivering, alone with her frightful thoughts. But she would have to go home by herself, or wait there for him until he came back, he decided, while waving at her one last time. Then he turned the corner with his friend, and when they crossed the tracks, the could see the train coming, and the bell started ringing, and the gates closed behind them, and they sprinted the last hundred meters to the station and barely made it.

The man had forgotten all about his daughter, then he rounded the corner again, and saw the mouth of the woods, far down the street, and she was not there. She couldn't have gotten lost, he reasoned. She knew the road well. She walked it every day to school and back, and rode her bike through it to go shopping with her mother. Yet the man felt uneasy until he got home and found his daughter ready for bed.

"What in the world were you so afraid of?" he asked her.

"Chikan!" she told him, as though she thought he was stupid. "Mommy always says not to go there alone, especially at night."

Of course, he thought. Signs had been posted all over the woods long ago by the police, more recently by the PTA. "Beware of chikan!" says one. "Danger of chikan! Don't pass through these woods alone!" reads another. All the rumors, all those warnings, yet he could not recall a single case of anyone actually being molested there.

"Someday I'll show you how peaceful the woods can be," he said. Especially at night." Then they hugged and he turned out the light.

"Daddy, you promised to tell me an extra big story," she said.

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Boundaries 20

Ice Cream

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
15 August 1992, page 9

The man, squinting at the sun, rising over the sand and sea out the window he had left uncurtained when turning to sleep that morning, remembered that he was not homeland that he was not even himself. He was free of all that, and he'd stay free until someone recognized him. Then the word would spread, and in the time it would take to drive from Honolulu to Laie, the groupies would hit him like flies on a road apple.

He and his girl friend had enjoyed a quiet dinner of shish kebab and beer at a small grill and bar filled with locals. If anyone had known who he was, they had been good enough not to show it. He'd known such things to happen, and his friend attracted her own share of attention. But no one had stared too long. And no one, he had made very certain, had followed them but of the place, or to the beach in front of their cabin, where they had taken off their clothes and played in the starlit surf.

It had been that kind of night, and morning, and he wanted it to continue for the next two days, until he would have to return to the world in which he had to endure being one of the most popular' actors in Japan. He had arrived with his agent the previous day. Emerging from customs, he had been attacked by the usual contingent of pushy press, with their motorized cameras and blinding strobes thrust over the herd of squealing autograph hunters, and touchers, feelers, and fondlers; and many of them had followed him to the hotel and even up to his room.

Waiting inside, though, was a look-alike, who had quickly changed into the man's clothes and gone back out into the hall to draw the mob off toward the elevator. The man himself, dressed like a bellhop, had left a minute later, taken the stairs to the ground floor, and exited through a service entrance in the back. Waiting to pick him up was a local woman he had known for years and trusted more than his own agent, and she had driven straight to a cabin on the east side of the island.

And now the man, taking care not to disturb the woman beside him, dead asleep under the sheet, slipped out of bed, found his cutoffs and polo shirt, and his sunshades and wallet. After splashing some water on his face, and combing his hair, but giving up on his unruly eyebrows, he went out into the warm morning air and walked along the coast road to the hamlet where the grill and bar had been. Near it was one of those mom-and-pop grocery stores with oiled wooden floors that smelled at once of earth and fruit and fresh bread. And it was already open.

He bought the combined Sunday Star-Bulletin and Advertiser. "The truck just brought them," the Hawaiian woman who ran the place told him. He would take the entire heap of pulp back to Japan and put it in the den of his Tokyo condominium. "Look," he'd tell his few intimates, as he marveled at the classified ads, "you can even buy a used water bed."

He also had the woman heap three scoops of vanilla ice cream on a sugar cone, and then carefully dip it in fudge two times. "Is this your usual breakfast?" she laughed. "Don't tell anyone," he smiled. By the time he got back, his tongue had worked its way into the second scoop.

As the man climbed the stairs from the beach to the deck of the cabin, he spotted a couple of clam diggers working their way down the surf. They had glanced his way but went on with their work. In a few minutes, they'd be right in front of the deck. He had hoped to have a roman tic breakfast without an audience. But they were only locals, and it was their beach. Besides, the water was a good hundred meters away.

So the man reclined on a chaise lounge, and he began to read the sports section, while licking the third scoop of ice cream, which was rapidly melting in the cone. Soon the cone was gone. Then the man's head was turned by the scent of the woman he had left asleep, and he raised his face to receive her lips. And that was precisely the moment that was captured in the next issue of Japan's most scandalous weekly photo magazine, which hit the kiosks the morning the man returned to Tokyo.

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Boundaries 21

The Divide

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
22 August 1992, page 9

"How's the city girl?"

"Big Sister!"

"Your nemesis from the ghetto."

"Please don't start that again."

"Mom showed me your letter."

"What did Dad say?"

"Nothing, as usual."

"So what do you think?"

"You sound really nuts about the guy."

"Is that jealousy I hear?"

"It's anger, if you don't bring him home."

"You know I can't do that."

"You mean you won't do it."

"You know what I mean."

"You can't go on hiding."

"Who says I'm hiding?"

"Did you tell him where you're from?"

"He knows the address."

"But does he know what it means?"

"He's from the sticks up north, so what do you think?"

"Sooner or later, he's going to find out."

"And he probably won't care."

"So why not tell him now?"

"His parents might feel differently."

"You're marrying him, not them."

"Anyway, it's better to wait."

"When are you going to stop being so ashamed of us?"

"I'm not ashamed of anything."

"Then why not face facts?"

"The fact is, you're always trying to recruit me. Why can't you just let it go? Haven't you done enough already?"

"Someone's gotta continue the struggle."

"For what?"

"To end discrimination. To improve our communities."

"Some people are complaining that you're better off than they are."

"There're hundreds of communities that haven't been liberated yet. We've got to help them organize."

"The way I hear it, most of them just want to be left alone. They want to let the dust settle on history. They see no need to stir it up."

History's never going to end for us. Not in our lifetime, and maybe never. We owe it to our children to keep the movement going."

"I don't want to be something that isn't supposed to exist."

"It's only a label."

"But you're so stuck to it you can't peel if off. You're becoming a permanent minority.

"At least I'm free. I'm out of the closet. I don't have to worry about my own husband discovering who I am and holding it against me."

"Look, Kazue, I'm tired of all the self-pity, the proletarian slogans, the crown-of-thorns bit. I just want to get on with my life. We're ordinary people, like everyone else. So what if our ancestors were outcasts? Does that mean we have to keep reminding everyone?"

"I'm not Big Sister anymore?"

"I didn't say that."

"That's what you meant the last time you called me by name."

"I felt like disowning the whole lot of you then."

"If you've got so much pride in your family now, then bring your fiance down here and introduce him to Dad."

"If he's there now, I'd like to talk to him."

"Just a sec."

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Boundaries 22

Nativity

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
29 August 1992, page 9

Jacob, jogging one night in Yoyogi Park, heard someone groaning from the woods along the path. Lovers, he thought, slowing down and looking around. No one would see him take a look. On the other hand, it was none of his business. So Conscience battled Curiosity, and the winner fought Imagination to a draw. But just as he kicked off again, his head reeling with sights of Nature spread in couth and awe, Jacob heard a horrible scream, and he pictured his wife losing their baby in the middle of the night. He had tried everything he had learned in the childbirth classes', and more, but the baby's lungs had remained flat, and a postpartum ovarian infection had left his wife sterile.

Some men are born to be heroes, Jacob thought as he plunged into the bushes, steeling his nerves for combat with a rapist in the throes of orgasm. But just as he reached the couple, nearly tripping over the man, who was bent between the woman's legs, the woman stopped screaming, and Jacob heard an infant cry, and he saw sheer panic in the woman's eyes when she opened them and beheld the albino mountain gorilla looming in the darkness behind her man. Her mouth opened to scream again, but she clenched her teeth as she dropped her placenta in a gush of blood.

The man had sat up, and as he turned. to squint up at Jacob's face, Jacob could see in his trembling hands a slimy, cyanotic lump of flesh, and it was twitching in the shadows of the trees like the larva of a giant beetle that had just crawled out of the dank, blood-soaked duff. The man tried to stand, but he kneeled back down when he felt the baby's umbilical cord pull taut against the afterbirth.

Jacob kneeled beside the man, cleared some mucus from the baby's mouth, and fished around in his belly pouch for his Swiss Army Knife. He got the man to squeeze the cord tight, then he cut it and tied the loose end in a crude knot that would stop the bleeding.

"Why didn't you go to a hospital?" Jacob asked, while wiping the baby with the sweaty towel that had been slung around his neck. It was a girl,, and after drying her as best he could, he swaddled her in the cotton windbreaker that he had sleeved around his waist.

The man stared at the ground in front of his knees. The woman, who had hurriedly cleaned herself and dressed, as though she had just been caught making love, put her face in her hands and burst into tears.

"Do you mind if I take her?" Jacob asked.

The man met the woman's eyes, but very briefly, then looked away. She feebly nodded, though less at Jacob than to the bushes and trees.

"No questions, no answers," Jacob said as he stood. The man said nothing. The woman, her shoulders slumped, her voice still quavering, asked Jacob to take good care of her daughter. Then she folded at the waist and broke into a quiet sob that chased Jacob all the way home.

Jacob's wife spewed joy all night, but he worried about the legal entanglements. In the morning, while she took the baby to a doctor, he went to his embassy. A senior consul contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which. reported the matter to the police. Jacob led the police to the clearing in the bushes, where they found Jacob's knife near what remained of the afterbirth Jacob's fingerprints were found on the knife. Blood types ruled him out as a possible father. But no other evidence was found, and a month later, the police called off their search for witnesses who might have confirmed Jacob's story that the couple had fled into the night.

The ward office was instructed to register the girl as a Japanese national. They called her Suzuki Kayako, and she was the head of her own household. The blocks for the names of her parents were blank.

Jacob and his wife petitioned a family court for permission to adopt Kayako. Their attorney advised Jacob that the judge scheduled to hear the case liked Remy Martin Napoleon. Before the hearing convened, Jacob discreetly presented a package to the judge's clerk. The judge finished in five minutes and said, "You've got a wonderful daughter."

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Boundaries 23

Odds

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
5 September 1992, page 9

The envelope was addressed to her husband. She recognized the sender's name. Her whole body trembled. Tears gushed from her eyes. He had promised never to do it again. She had trusted him, given him another chance. He had sworn that he would stay away from the bookies ' He would think of her, of their three-year-old daughter, of the baby on the way. Now the girl had a brother, and just five months into the boy's life, the hope that Hatsue had harbored anew had been dashed.

Hatsue's father had paid off the rapidly growing debts with the usury money lenders who had sent their bullies around to collect. But he had left his son-in-law with a small bank loan to settle himself. Hatsue's mother-in-law had been particularly enraged and shamed by her son's gambling. "You're just like your father!" she had scolded him in front of everyone. His father, who had recently filed for bankruptcy, had just kneeled there and hung his head. His mother had been the one to beg Hatsue and ' her parents to give her son another chance. She had sworn that, before she died, she would pay back every yen of the money they had spent to relieve his debts. She had held her face just above the mat for several seconds before lifting it. After patting the tears on her face with a tissue, she had wiped the mat.

Though it seemed very clear that her husband was up to his old tricks, Hatsue was unable to bring herself to open his mail. So the next day she showed the envelope to her mother-in-law, who carefully examined it, declared it not to be an advertisement, and tore it open. Inside was a statement for over two million yen, a lot of it compound interest. The first of several small loans was dated only a month after Hatsue's husband had so solemnly vowed never again to bet on the horses.

It was a Sunday. Hatsue's husband had gone out with some friends. His attache case was in the bedroom. His mother had no qualms about forcing it open. Under a bunch of catalogs and forms, a calculator, a box of business cards, a pencil case, several pens, an English-Japanese dictionary, and a weekly magazine, were a couple of racing sheets, and some betting stubs with recent dates.

Hatsue's parents came over to see her. "Come home," her mother pleaded. "You can go back to work. I can help raise the children."

"I'm the one who arranged it," her father said. "I'm sorry. "Then he lowered his head and repeated these words until his voice broke.

"I fell in love with him," Hatsue told her father. "The final choice was mine." She slid across the tatami to embrace him, and they both cried. It was the first time they had ever held each other that way. After they had become more composed, he said, "Your mother's right. Come home."

All of these events played back in Hatsue's mind a few days later as she waited for the train that would take her home, her daughter's hand in hers, her son bundled on her back, three bags on the platform. She'd have to face the neighbors, who had bandaged her knees when she fell off her bike, told her how nice she looked in her school uniform, and what a pretty young woman she had become when she graduated and got a job. When word got around that she was to marry, they had kidded her about the ordeals of wifehood. And what will her school friends think?

While watching the train approach, Hatsue tightened her grip on her daughter's hand and tugged at the straps of her son's harness. The train seemed to be moving very fast. The tracks in front of it looked very sturdy. Then the engine was upon them, and the other cars were rushing by. When the train had finally braked to a stop, Hatsue and her children got on it, and they found a box of seats to themselves.

Hatsue lifted two of the bags to the rack and sat down on the edge of the seat by her daughter. She untied the baby harness and laid her son on the facing seat, on his back. By the time the train had gotten under way, she had peeled off the boy's dirty diaper, and his sister was struggling to put on a clean one when he squirted her in the face.

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Boundaries 24

Chaos

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
12 September 1992, page 9

Tanaka had no complaints. Business was good at his Showa Sekiyu station on the northeast corner of the intersection of Routes 6 and 16 on the outskirts of Kashiwa. His only competitor was the Shell station on the southwest corner, run by a man named Yamada. But both stations enjoyed a loyal local and steady transient patronage.

Then one day Showa and Shell merged. Traffic began to flow a bit smoother, since drivers were free to choose between two service stations that offered the same line of petrol. No longer tempted to maneuver across a lane of oncoming traffic to reach their favorite brand of gasoline, out-of-town cars simply pulled into the station on their side of the road. Many local drivers, too, began to use whichever station happened to be the most convenient to them when they needed to gas up. But both stations continued to do about the same volume of business.

In time, though, Tanaka became bored with the sameness of it all. Where once he had taken pride in being the intersection's sole vendor of a unique brand of gasoline with a fairly select following, he now had to share both the product and the clientele with a rival who, decked out in a uniform and cap identical to his, made him feel like a clone.

Tanaka, craving a little distinction, hired a model to stand on the corner in bright red overalls, and beckon drivers with the sweep of her hand, the tilt of her head, and the promise of "fresh full service" which she made through the bullhorn that she held to her toothpaste smile. All of which triggered what came to be called the Great Seven-day Gas-girl War.

By the end of the first day of battle, Tanaka had pumped twice as much gas as Yamada. But the next day, Yamada reclaimed his share of cars, and more, by trotting out a girl in a one-piece orange and silver ski suit that molded around her figure like a surgical glove.

Each day saw more escalation. Tanaka's model appeared as a high school girl in a skimpy navy blue pinafore, and Yamada's girl came out as a nurse in a pleated miniskirt and sleeveless blouse. When Tanaka came up with a go-go girl in black elastic hot pants and a shocking pink tank top, Yamada featured twins, in violet leotards, purple tights, and lavender leg warmers, whose aerobics 'routine left Tanaka no choice but to contrive an act that even the cunning Yamada would not be able to upstage without being arrested on a public obscenity charge.

By eight o'clock on the morning of the seventh day, three girls, in a collection of T-back swim wear that would have turned beach sand to glass, were parading on the corner of Tanaka's station, their high-heeled legs strutting on the pavement as though it were a fashion show apron. Every ten minutes, taking turns, two girls held up a semi-transparent plastic sheet behind which the third girl would change into a different outfit.

Yamada's response, after he had squinted through the haze to see what all the commotion was about, was quick and ruthless. He returned his girls to the modeling agency, and called in his evening pump jockeys to help the day shift handle the serious trade that really needed gas.

By mid morning, Tanaka's station had become totally clogged with rubbernecks who had come from all over the Kanto plain to ogle at his girls. Of the drivers who bothered to buy any gas, most had nearly full tanks that Tanaka's attendants topped off with at most a few liters.

Tanaka, for his part, was kept madly busy clearing several fender benders from the intersection, and mediating customer fights over places in line. Before the day was over, police had cited him on three counts, one for each girl, of violating an obscure law that forbids pedestrians from distracting drivers in a manner that might cause an accident, and from otherwise disrupting the flow of traffic or endangering lives.

That night, Tanaka invited Yamada to go drinking, and the two men pledged eternal peace. When Tanaka arrived at work the next morning, the intersection was calm, and business was good. His only complaints would vanish as soon as he found the aspirin and sodium bicarbonate.

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Boundaries 25

The Janitor

By William Wetherall

Mainichi Daily News
19 September 1992, page 11

Some people are not noticed until they are gone. Even then, a Bangladeshi janitor at a Tokyo English school was missed by only a few people who realized that the swarthy man was no longer working there.

The fastidious building manager immediately started finding more dust than he liked in the corners of the rooms, and crud in the grooves of the brass nosing on the treads of the stairs. Whatever reservations he continued to have about the custodial service assigning foreigners to clean the school, he had to admit that the Bangladeshi man had worked harder than any Japanese janitor in his memory. Harder even than the disciplined and tough old timers who had retired from other jobs, but needed to keep working to make ends meet. And harder by far than the night-college student who regarded himself above such work.

The seasoned cleaning lady with the kerchiefed Barbie Doll hair and Elton John glasses and the bright red lips also missed him. Several times a day she had flashes of awareness that her bag of marbles was only half full, but that didn't stop her from needing someone to lunch with. Now, though, she ate alone, without the Bangladeshi man, who one of two days a week, at least, had sat with her, and let her talk, and listened to her until she made sense. The other Japanese custodians barely acknowledged her as one of their own, and they had not complained when the custodial supervisor had posted her to the small wooden annex in the back of the main building, where she could work by herself. The Chinese brother and sister who had been janitoring at the school slightly longer than the Bangladeshi man smiled at her, when they met at the time clock or in the dressing room, but otherwise they had. little to say to her, or to anyone else for that matter, preferring each other's company, in Chinese, except that now and then they'd break into Japanese, as though to show that their enrollment in a Japanese language school was not merely a cover.

One of the school's English teachers, an American by law, also detected the Bangladeshi janitor's absence one morning while using the Xerox machine, which stands right in front of the time clock. Later the teacher learned from the Chinese man that the Bangladeshi man had lost his job when some students from the Immigration Bureau raised some questions about him at the school office.

The teacher wondered how it had felt to labor in the midst of hundreds of students for days at a time without so much as a Konnichiwa. Between classes, students in the halls had shoved their way around the Bangladeshi man as though he had been a dog turd on the sidewalk, and pigged down convenience-store snacks and smoked while watching him empty the trash cans and ash trays.

Like the other custodians who kept the school from suffocating in its affluence, the man had changed into a blue-gray work shirt and pants provided by the service company. At the end of his shift he would strip down to his undershirt in the men's room that the custodians shared with the teachers and staff, and he'd scrub as much of the grime and sweat off his body as he could before putting on his street clothes and squeezing into the subway to an evening job at a large office building.

The Bangladeshi man did more with less English than most of the students. He had been in Japan for several years and was planning to stay one more year. He had shared personal thoughts with the teacher about the Myanmar refugee problem that was upsetting life in the very area of Bangladesh where his family lived. He had called the teacher Sir, and thanked him for America's financial aid. The teacher made ten times as much per hour and liked to talk. The man, though, had been as anxious to get back to work as he had been glad to get the teacher's attention. They had not exchanged names. Asked one day while taking a break, after scraping some gum from the third-floor landing, whether he liked Japan, the man thought a moment, wearily smiled at the teacher, and said, "I live here."

The Janitor

By William Wetherall

5 April 1999 rewrite of original story
based on 5 April 1999 Japanese translation by SM of
original story as published in Mainichi Daily News, 19 September 1992

The Janitor

Some people are not noticed until they are gone. Even then, a Bangladeshi janitor at a Tokyo English school was missed by only a few people who realized that the swarthy man was no longer working there.

The fastidious building manager immediately started finding more dust than he liked in the corners of the rooms, and crud in the grooves of the brass nosing on the treads of the stairs. Whatever reservations he continued to have about the custodial service assigning foreigners to clean the school, he had to admit that the Bangladeshi man had worked harder than any Japanese janitor in his memory. Harder even than the disciplined and tough old timers, who had retired from other jobs but needed to keep working to make ends meet. And harder by far than the night-college student who regarded himself above such work.

The seasoned cleaning lady with the kerchiefed Barbie Doll hair and Elton John glasses and the bright red lips also missed him. Several times a day she had flashes of awareness that her bag of marbles was only half full. But that didn't stop her from needing someone to lunch with. Now, though, she ate alone. without the Bangladeshi man. One or two days a week, at least, he had sat with her, and let her talk. And he listened to her until she made sense.

The other Japanese custodians barely acknowledged her as one of their own. None of them had complained when the custodial supervisor posted her to the small wooden annex in the back of the main building. There she could work by herself.

The Chinese brother and sister who had been janitoring at the school slightly longer than the Bangladeshi man smiled at her, when they met at the time clock or in the dressing room. But they had little to say to her, or to anyone else for that matter, preferring each other's company, in Chinese, except that now and then they'd break into Japanese, as though to show that their enrollment in a Japanese language school was not merely a cover.

One of the school's English teachers, an American by law, also detected the Bangladeshi janitor's absence one morning while using the xerox machine, which stands right in front of the time clock. Later the teacher learned from the Chinese man that some students from the Immigration Bureau raised some questions about him at the school office. And the Bangladeshi man had lost his job.

The teacher wondered how it had felt to labor in the midst of hundreds of students, for days at a time, without so much as a Konnichi wa. Between classes, the teacher had seen students in the halls shove their way around the Bangladeshi man as though he had been a dog turd on the pavement, then pig down convenience-store snacks and smoke while watching him empty the trash cans and ash trays.

Like the other custodians who kept the school from suffocating in its affluence, the man had changed into a blue-gray work shirt and pants provided by the service company. At the end of his shift he would strip down to his undershirt in the men's room that the custodians shared with the teachers and staff, and he'd scrub as much of the grime and sweat off his body as he could before putting on his street clothes and squeezing into the subway to an evening job at a large office building.

The Bangladeshi man knew half as much grammar and vocabulary as the ordinary student, but could say twice as much. He had been in Japan for several years and was planning to stay one more. He had shared personal thoughts with the teacher about the Myanmar refugee problem that was upsetting life in the very area of Bangladesh where his family lived. He had called the teacher Sir, and thanked him for America's financial aid.

The teacher made ten times as much per hour. And he liked to talk. The Bangladeshi man, though, had been as anxious to get back to work as he had been glad to get the teacher's attention. They had not exchanged names.

One day, while the Bangladeshi man was taking a break after scraping some gum from the third-floor landing, the teacher asked him whether he liked Japan. The man thought a moment, wearily smiled at the teacher, and said, "I live here."

掃除夫

いなくならない限り、存在に気づかない人がいる。だが、東京の英語学校で働いていたバングラデシュの掃除夫の場合、その浅黒い男がもうそこで働いていないことに気づき、懐かしく思い起こしただけだった人間は、ほんのわずかばかりでした。

気むずかしいビルの管理人は、すぐに部屋の隅々に彼のお望み以上のほこりを見つけ、そして階段の段鼻の金属製の溝の中には汚れがこびりついているのを発見し始めた。学校の清掃を外国人労働者にまかせるあたり、彼がどんな条件を堅持していたにせよ、バングラデシュの男が、彼の記憶するどの日本人掃除夫よりも勤勉だったことは彼も認めざるをえなかった。退職後も家計のやりくりのために働きつづける元気いっぱいの熟練したパート老人たちよりもよく働いた。自分たちをそんな仕事よりも高い存在だと考えている夜間部の学生よりもはるかに勤勉だった。

学校には長年働く働掃除婦もいた。まるでバービー人形のような髪をスカーフでおおい、エルトンジョンのような眼鏡をかけ、いつも唇を真っ赤にぬっている彼女もまた彼を想っては懐かしんだ。日に数回、彼女は、自分が少し老衰してきたことに気づいた。だが、だからと言ってお昼の食事を共にする相手が要らなくなったわけではない。今、彼女は一人で食べていた。バングラデシュの男と一緒ではなく。バングラデシュの男は、少なくとも1週間に1度か2度は彼女と一緒に座っては、彼女に話しをさせてくれた。そして、彼女の話の意味がわかるまで聞いてくれた。

日本人のほかの清掃派遣員たちは彼女を仲間だとは考えていなかった。管理人が、本館裏にある木造の別館に彼女を配置替えした時にも、誰も何も文句を言わなかった。そこで、彼女はたった一人で働くことになるのだ。

バングラデシュの男よりも少しばかり長く清掃の仕事をしている中国人の兄妹は、タイムレコーダーの近くや更衣室で彼女に出会うと微笑んだ。だが、それ以外にはまず彼女に話かけることはなかった。その意味では、彼らは誰に対しても同じだった。中国語で話せる仲間と一緒にいる方がいいのだ。ただ、ときおり突然日本語で話し始めることがあって、それは、日本語学校への入学登録が単ににみせかけではないとアピールしているようにも見えた。

一人の学校の英語教師─法的には米国人だが─もまた、ある朝、タイムレコーダー前に置かれたコピー機で作業をしている時に、バングラデシュの清掃夫がいなくなったこと気づいた。中国人の男から聞いた話によると、出入国管理局に勤めていた学生たちが事務局に対し彼に関する疑問を問いただしたのだという。そして、バングラデシュの男は職を失った。

何百人もの生徒の中で、いく日も「こんにちは」さえと言ってくれなく働くのはどのような気持ちだったのだろうか、と教師は思った。授業の合間に廊下を突進する生徒たちは、バングラデシュの男をまるで歩道の犬の糞かなにかのように避けて通っていた。そして、彼が灰皿やごみ箱を空にしているのを眺めながら、コンビニのスナックをがつがつ食ったり、タバコを吸った。

あふれかえるごみから学校を救っている他の清掃派遣員と同様、彼も会社から支給されたブルーグレーの上下の仕事着を着ていた。仕事の終わりには、教師やスタッフも使う更衣室でそれを脱いで、汗やほこりをできるだけ取ろうとゴシゴシと身体をこすり、普段着に着替えると、オフィスビルでの夜間の仕事に向かうため地下鉄の中へと押し込まれて行った。

バングラデシュの男は、普通の学生に比べれば、英語の文法や単語を半分しか知らなかったが、倍ぐらいの表現力を持っていた。えるいるとの関わりは少なかった。彼は日本に数年暮らしていた。そしてもう1年滞在する予定だった。彼は教師にミャンマーからの難民問題について個人的な思いを語ったことがあった。それは、まさしく彼の家族が暮らすバングラデシュのその地域の生活をおびやかす出来事だった。彼は教師を「先生」と呼んで、アメリカからの経済援助に対して感謝の言葉を述べた。

教師は1時間当たり彼の10倍の給料をもらっている。そして話をしたがった。しかし、バングラデシュの男は、教師が関心を寄せてくれたことを喜んではいながら、仕事に戻りたがった。2人は互いの名前も教え合わなかった。

ある日、3階の踊り場の床についたガムをこすり落とし、ひと休みしていたバングラデシュの男に、日本が好きかと教師はたずねた。しばらく考えた後、疲れたような微笑みを浮かべて、男は言った。

「私はここで生きているんです」

(翻訳:XXX子)

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