A Rope, a Gun and Gas
What shall I do with this absurdity —
O heart, O troubled heart — this caricature,
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog’s tail? — from “The Tower” by W. B. Yeats
Three women squatting quietly on a path between rice paddies have not recognized yet how bloodily colored today’s sunset looks. Judging by appearance, they may be blood sisters. They seem to have finally reached here after a sleepless month of searching something indispensable.
While the rest of the world is almost submerged in something like a blank space on Yosa Buson’s picture scroll, they three are looking intently on a slender egret standing alone in the midst of a rice field, where thousands of fresh green ears are trembling in the summer breeze.
This town that has prided itself on its postcard views is in the face of the agonizing budget cut. Its historical buildings are decaying under stress from rain, pollution and ill-mannered tourists, while an army of black dragonflies hover again in its suburbia over these sparkling paddy fields.
“Dad, let’s go back home,” Ms. A speaks to the bird. Emerging in her memory is her old father shouting to the break of dawn: “Children cannot be trusted — They are booby-traps — No, they must be protected from me!” Following are her inevitable morning apologies to their neighbors.
A jump rope is held tightly in Ms. A’s hand. She wants to use it to tie the bird’s leg up to a tree so that “I don’t have to monitor him every minute of the day.” A somber-colored keloid stands out on her cheek. In a muddy irrigation stream behind the women, a bullfrog tra-la-la-la-laires.
The egret begins to look around restlessly, when Ms. B asks: “Dad, why did you leave me a message like this when you disappeared alone from your bed?” The letter in her hand says: “You are just unconstitutional.” A mountaintop looms up through the blankness in the distance.
Emerging in Ms. B’s memory is the day when her old father shoplifted a map of Nepal in a local bookstore and yelled indiscriminately at a police box: “High time to visit an ancient mass grave for elephants in the Himalayas!” In her another hand, a loaded gun is aimed at the snowy bird.
Due to her severe myopia, the egret seems to Ms. C like anthropomorphic taxidermy. “Dad, stop walking around naked!” Her voice echoes when a radio-controlled compact helicopter starts hovering with the dragonflies to spray agricultural chemicals over the bird’s pneumatic bliss.
Ringing deep in Ms. C’s ears is her old father’s regular soliloquy he used to call “Gerontion’s Sermon”: “Fast, sleeplessness, and celibacy are my shepherds, I shall not want.” “Auto-da-fe,” she mutters. The only visible building beyond the green plains is an inactive nursery school.
Ms. A still remembers her old father saying like an informer: “All my daughters are dead, leaving me here.” All his fingers were completely covered with something like boxing gloves not to let him injure himself and others. His all-time favorite was Disney’s The Little House.
Ms. B still remembers her old father saying like fake royalty: “Here in this air-conditioned captivity, I have no diseases, no parasites, and no predators!” Now the bird is noodling like abandoned livestock in a ghost town. “I’m neither your zookeeper nor your Sherpa,” she says.
Ms. C still remembers her father looking normal due to her decision to detach every life-support system from his body. “Water is coming! You’ll be soon engulfed, you nightingales!” — Recollecting his scream, she suspects that all warfare on earth are based solely on deception.
The egret dreams of flying again over the top of Annapurna. Winding up the snowy mountain is a stone-paved sharp crude footpath. Travelers down below are either stranded in the midst of a swarm of mules rushing down with barefooted children, or taking a rest behind ancient stupas.
A touch of her old father’s gnarled fingers still remains on Ms. B’s thighs. How can she forget him banging the door of an out-of-business beauty salon, yelling: “Male grooming, please! Hair removal cream! Electric nose-hair trimmer! Face-firming mask! Facial and nail care! Now!”
The egret wants to see no more debris. No more polyphiloprogenitive creatures like the ones squatting on the path. They want to keep pulling the reins of me, because, otherwise, I may be a disturbance for their pulling the reins of the whole outer space. Distant thunder starts to mutter.
Suddenly, Ms. C misses a foreign boy she fell in love with in her nursery-school days. Sweeney was his name, and one day he took her hand and said: “Let’s break out of here!” While other kids were scouring their mud-made balls to boast of their art, the two sneaked out of the garden.
Sweeney said he had been born in a foreign town called “Love Canal, NY.” Ms. C had no idea where it was. When she asked him why he had moved to Japan, he only answered: “Three Miles Island.” He touched her thighs and crotch and said: “You really have two holes down here?”
The egret stamps the mud off its legs and lends its ears to the murmur of the irrigation stream. The water down there will go through the town, pass under a number of lift bridges and tunnels, run along some towpaths, meet occasional lock keepers, and reach that wharf in the end.
How agonizing it was for Ms. A to hear her father exclaim without preface in his wife’s funeral: “Folks, I’m T. S. Eliot, and the name of the deceased is Tiresias. She is burning, and so am I. Datta, dayadhvam, damyata. HURRY UP ITS TIME!”— “Dad, remember you’re Japanese?”
Under construction in the town is the most advanced animal regeneration (and artificial-organ/womb production) factory named Tetragrammaton. Ghetto hunting and mass grave excavation are in vogue among the young. Anti-nuke protests hold less appeal for them.
Quietly, Ms. A takes out a worn-out fragment of Inland Waterways Map of Great Britain, which used to belong to her old father. Still unforgettable for her is his dream of hiring a narrow boat named Socrates (Why such a name?) and navigating it alone throughout every canal in England.
Ms. A once asked him what would be waiting for him in the final destination of his life on the boat. He replied: “The place where I can host all military facilities in the world, woman. All nuclear arsenals. All radioactive wastes. All you never ever want to live with. That’s my zoo!”
Left on the billboard of the inactive nursery school named The Little House are the advice from the town council: buy a dosimeter buy at least two cans of extra gasoline fill up your vehicle daily secure as many drivable persons as you can have a friend working in the plant in question
secure several remote shelters you can evacuate to anytime do some dry runs of several possible routes for refuge be ready for the worst gather all your necessary belongings in advance grasp accurately the distance between your home and the plant check the wind day after day after day
In Ms. C’s vague memory, Sweeney says, while deserting the nursery school with her: “The rumor is the capital will be relocated soon. The new one will be created by detonating a killer bomb nearby. Rumor says a giant Buddha statue will be built to quiet the dead. Let’s go see it!”
The egret moves as if to bury the tainted topsoil below the one excavated from further down. Meandering in its cosmorama-like eyes is a canal in the miasmal mist of a plagued town. A gondola crawls to a faraway isle where only birds reside, the one covered with their droppings.
Ms. B whispers to the bird: “Remember the day you roamed alone in high summer to Koshien stadium? I found you there when you were watching on the bleachers the final of the National High School Baseball Tournament. Forgot that game-ending, come-from-behind grand slam?”
“The winner wasn’t your alma mater, but you said it was,” she adds. “And you said you were on the top of a sacred mountain in Nepal. You said you were looking for a boy named Tadzio. A character from your favorite novel, I guessed and tried to smile. No more wrath in me by then.”
Suppose you died in a spaceship in the cosmos, how would the other crew treat your corpse? They would recycle it as medicine or organs or supplements. Your excrement would be their future nutrients. Death would live with them that way — TMI, huh? Slower? Can I get on top?
“Dad, time to get back!” Ms. A says nervously. She still wonders why he had frequented the only sex parlor in this town, though his entry had been always rejected. “The parlor is in the Bard’s town, this canal’s terminal,” he once said, “and women there are like my grandmother.”
Ms. A feels horrified whenever she remembers her father’s nightly shriek: “No more vaginas, no more penis, they and I use our anuses only, no more duo, mono mono, they are my dearest playground, my hills to climb, gravel to dig, bridges to cross, gates to open, and wood blocks!”
Every zoo visitor is a paradox. “I want animals to be able to run and hide in a naturalistic setting,” they say at one moment and then, the next, yell: “Shit, where is the white elephant? It’s hidden somewhere! I cannot get a photograph!” No human being is born of genuine victims.
While the grand-slam ball was still in midair, Ms. B heard, for the first time, her father’s final wish in life: “I wanted to be a poet, but I couldn’t. Now I want to take down my life as a poem. My only wisdom literature.” She looks again at her gun and pictures a vigil for mass shooting.
“You said your alma mater won, but you also asked me which inning the game would go into next,” she says to the egret. “The game is over, I said. But you could not hear me well, because your cochlear implant was not in order.” The game may be still extended, she thinks and sighs.
“What is common between care-giving and writing? Both are memorial services held for you while you’re still alive” — When her father said so in his nursing home, he was right in front of Ms. C, but seemed quite distant from her, due to her born myopia. She then thought of Sweeney.
While having her hand taken by Sweeney, Ms. C missed her own mud-made baseball she left in the garden. “Buddha is waiting,” he said frantically. They kept running through a path between rice paddies. Ms. C wonders where they finally reached. Probably still on the run, she ponders.
Then she turns to Ms. A. So does Ms. B. Silently, they keep looking at the keloid on her cheek. What if it is also on my cheek, they wonder. Isn’t it, women? We all are gooks! We’ll be body-counted! The helicopter’s crop spraying keeps falling over the bird. The silky white gas.
The egret’s anus opens slightly, and its droppings splash on the surface of the paddy field, which will become a nursery garden next year. Go backward. Go inward. Nobody can get back to the past alone. Wondering whose voice it is, the three sisters look at one another. The thunder nears.
The only option may be a double suicide, each woman thinks. Ms. A hears: Every bird watcher can be the next bird. Ms. B hears: Aren’t we now locked in a basement? Ms. C hears: Having no water is worse than being drowned. The bird twitches suddenly, and flies away to the mountain.
Then water finally comes. The town is gradually swallowed. Various historical buildings, factories, plants, and ships are swept out from beyond the mist to the paddy fields. So is the sex parlor. The only motionless are the three old sisters and the closed nursery school down there.
The grand-slam ball still afloat in the vault of heavens
obfuscated by a huge cloud of black dragonflies
The difference between anxiety and hope lies solely in
whether you can take a deep breath or not
And — in a Japanese local town, in a green-colored lounge of a nursing home named The Little House, three old women are sitting close to one another and chatting respectively to a quiet TV set. They were watching Animal Planet, which has been already turned off. They just don’t care.
They would not be able to answer at all even if you asked them what they used to do for a living — Midwifes, as a matter of fact. All of them. And if you were familiar with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you might start to gaze at their identical-looking backs like the Big Nurse.
One of the women smiles and mumbles quietly in Japanese with a provincial accent:
My alma mater, for good.
The other two smile back and whisper with the same accent:
Shut up, woman, that’s a little TMI.