Translated from the Japanese by David Boyd

Words of the Day

Late at night, Bella is pummeled by exhaustion and the words of the day. It all comes back, the meaninglessness and the acting, every little thing. But those little things were all that she had – tiny parts of her, now irretrievably lost. She remembers pretending to be surprised by things that didn’t interest her, even the tiniest bit. Stupid and trivial things. She remembers being made invisible, even more invisible than she ever imagined possible. Now she’s in bed, but sleep won’t come. Because she’s too busy hating herself for the way she acted? For putting herself down? Or is she just tired? Overthinking things?

On this nameless winter night, Bella slips her icy toes under the sheets and rubs her feet together. Even though there’s not a single thing left for her to choose now, she’s still searching for something, even if she doesn’t realize it. She realizes how cold that one part of the bed feels. Something in there is even colder than her toes, and that surprises her a little. Then they come rushing back again, the words of the day. She comforts herself. I bet I’m not the only one. Everyone feels this heaviness when they get home. Bella is certain of it, and that makes her feel somewhat lighter. But still . . .

People who learn from their mistakes know better. They just stop going out. Or, at the very least, they know better than to go to places like that. They go places where people only say and do meaningful things. And they’re right, completely right. That would have been the right thing to do tonight. Bella declares this from the cold of her bed to no one. I will never go back to a place like that. But there’s a problem. Bella doesn’t know of any places where people only say and do meaningful things. Even if she did, she would never be invited there, which is why Bella will keep getting pummeled night after night, by exhaustion and the words of the day.

 

Eating Hours

Em had forgotten the artist’s name again. Whenever she remembered having forgotten, she would look it up in the notebook where she had it written down. She would look it up, then forget again. Em loved that artist’s flatware. Antique dishes given a new coat of color, a dull shade that was pink and purple at the same time. As soon as Em saw them in a store where she didn’t normally shop, she knew she had to have them. She had someone take all nineteen (every piece in the store, that is, of various shapes and sizes) to the register.

The girl behind the counter was shocked. Not only because Em had such appalling taste, but because she was actually buying this junk, in bulk, even though just one of the dishes cost three times the girl’s hourly pay. Still, the girl wrapped every piece in decorative paper, making sure Em saw how careful she was. For a while, the girl thought all sorts of things about the lady standing in front of her. About her thin lips and her expensive-looking fur coat, the kind nobody wears anymore. But by the time she had started on the fourth dish, the girl was already thinking about something else.

Em’s husband couldn’t have cared less about the fancy flatware his wife brought home. He hardly even noticed the food she served on it, unceremoniously spearing the stuff with his fork, slicing it with his knife, carrying it toward his mouth – with never so much as a word to his wife. Em wanted him to die. But not really. She never seriously thought about death. Still, twice a day, during the meals that meant nothing but excruciating pain to Em, the word ‘death’ – a promise of swift and sweet release from the swirling displeasure – came calling like clockwork.

Is it better to keep it all inside? To let the silence say it all? Is such a thing even possible? Em twirls a piece of meat around her fork and puts it in her mouth. The unbearable sound of her husband chewing is throwing off her own rhythm. And so she chews back. As revenge, as a counterattack. Her husband taps the prong of his fork against the rim of the artist’s plate. It makes a terrible sound. Em looks up to see if the plate has been ruined. It occurs to her that she’s forgotten the artist’s name again, and it isn’t going to come back to her now. But her notebook is all the way in the bedroom. Can’t make it that far. Em feels the swell of tears behind her eyelids. She pretends to blow her nose and gathers her teardrops in a napkin. Quietly, she picks up another piece of meat with her fork. Sitting across from Em, her husband is desperate to remember what they call those little, translucent onions on his plate. Twenty or thirty seconds later, it strikes him like a bolt from the blue: ‘pearl onions’. A grin of satisfaction stretches across his face as he stabs another vegetable with his fork.

 

Essa and Ella Forever

Essa had just turned nine when she first realized that nobody would ever understand about the beaver. She tried to tell her best friend Ella.

‘Essa, I’ve been to your house before. There was no beaver there, liar.’ ‘No, not in my house . . .’

But even that response took everything Essa had. That was the first and last time Essa tried to tell somebody about the beaver. The more she thought about it, the more she had to wonder if it really was a beaver. She went to the library at school and opened the biggest illustrated encyclopedia to the mammal section. There – Rodentia. The one Essa had looked most like a beaver. But it made no difference whether it was really a beaver or not. All that mattered was that there was this creature inside of her, chewing through every log in sight, leaving her heart full of waste. Essa couldn’t remember a time when the beaver wasn’t there. It was a fleshy animal, covered in a coarse coat of brown fur. And it filled Essa with so much junk she couldn’t talk to people, much less sing. Dancing was out of the question. She couldn’t eat or study. No way she could hold somebody’s hand or be held by somebody. She couldn’t travel or discover new passions. She couldn’t make money or look someone in the eye and tell them how she felt. Around the time she turned nineteen Essa realized that her heart was now full of beavers – a whole family, perhaps. They spent all day eating up the underbark and leaving great piles of wood chips in their wake. Soon it took too much for Essa to open her bedroom curtains. Even being alone was a struggle. On the night she turned twenty-one she made up her mind to die, and she addressed the beaver, the one that had always been in her heart, for the first time: ‘Why me? Why did you come to me?’ The beaver looked up at her with its big black eyes: ‘Come with us, live among the logs if you like. It’s not much fun, but it helps pass the time, and you can work up a good sweat.’ So that’s what Essa did. She joined the beaver family, spending day after day gnawing on logs. Time passed, and she did work up a good sweat. Then, one day, a pale-faced girl came to Essa and asked: ‘Why me? Why did you come to me?’ Essa replied: ‘Come with us, live among the logs if you like. It’s not much fun, but it helps pass the time, and you can work up a good sweat . . .’ The girl stood there for a minute, apparently weighing her options. Finally, she reached for the M4A1 carbine strapped to her back and opened fire, annihilating the beavers in a matter of seconds. It was very clean, efficient. The place was filled with lifeless brown bodies and the smell of singed wood and flesh.

‘Liar,’ Ella said.
‘Am not,’ Essa said, shoving her.
Ella was beyond shocked. She had always thought of Essa as being so mild-mannered. But for some reason Essa’s strong reaction made Ella very happy, and the two girls spent the rest of the day talking about everybody at school – their perverted teacher, the boys who were dumb as bricks and the girls who needed to get over themselves. Essa and Ella laughed and laughed and laughed.

 

Photograph © NPS Photo / Kent Miller

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