Mrs. Okada seemed much thinner when I saw her at the next PTA meeting. Even from a distance I could see that she looked unwell. As we gathered in the meeting room some people made a point of not meeting her gaze while others seemed to stare avidly at her. Mrs. Kawai was the first person to speak to her.
“Mrs. Okada! Youʼve lost weight, havenʼt you?” Mrs. Okada grinned back at her. “You can tell?”
“Yes. I mean, itʼs not that you were fat before, of course. Only you seem to have dropped a size or two . . . Could it be? Have you fallen in love?”
Mrs. Okada let out her high-pitched laugh. “Donʼt be ridiculous. To say such things to a faithful wife. But, do you really want to know? Thereʼs a reason why I lost weight—do you want to know?”
As Mrs. Kawai nodded several people in the room looked at her, sympathetic expressions on their faces. Still, nobody said anything. Mrs. Okada told her sheʼd talk to her after the meeting and walked straight over to where I sat, taking the chair next to me.
“Good morning,” I replied, a bit surprised that she hadnʼt simply ignored me.
When the head of the PTA started reading out the dayʼs agenda, Mrs. Okada reached into her bag. Her eyes fixed on the front of the room, she pulled out a pile of documents full of numbers and graphs on them and held them out to me.
They were charts of sales figures and compensation payments. One sale a month would bring a ten-percent commission, three sales brought fifteen percent and ten sales brought twenty-five percent. The more sales, the bigger the percentage, the more money you got.
Since one set of underwear went for around half a million yen, just one sale would bring in 50,000 yen. Three would bring in nearly 250,000 yen and ten would be 1.25 million yen. I glanced at her from the corner of my eye and wondered why she was showing the papers to me. What did she think I would do with them?
When the agenda items had all been covered everyone got up and began to congregate around the copy machine to start working on the notices. I started to stand up but Mrs. Okada stopped me.
“Mrs. Takeuchi,” she said quietly. “I know youʼre not interested in the underwear. To tell you the truth, Iʼm not doing it because I like it either. Itʼs a business. Itʼs a business where you donʼt need any capital to get it up and running. All you need is ability. Normally only members get to see this but I think youʼve got potential.”
“Now, think for a minute. Why do you get out of bed each day? Why do you keep on living? Youʼve got to have a goal in life or thereʼs no point. Everyoneʼs good at something. What makes people different is whether or not they realize it. Then, if you do realize it, itʼs a matter of whether or not you use that ability. Whatʼs the point of being alive if you live each day like youʼre dead? The whole reason weʼre alive is to discover things—new things about ourselves, new worlds. If you donʼt want every day to be exactly the same, if you want tomorrow to be different from today, you have to reach out and grab it!”
I pushed the papers back to Mrs. Okada. “Iʼm sorry, Iʼm really not interested.”
“Forget about the underwear—the underwear doesnʼt matter. Iʼm talking about money. Are you telling me youʼre not interested in money?”
I nodded. Her eyes widened. “Are you—Are you already doing something else?”
I nodded vaguely. She hurriedly gathered up the papers and, folding them, shoved them into her bag. She stood up and walked over to Mrs. Kawai, who had been eyeing our exchange. I went to the photocopier so I could start folding the notices.
I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking Iʼd heard something. It sounded like someone was talking. I glanced over at the clock. It was two in the morning. I went out into the hallway. The door to my husbandʼs room was still open, the bed empty. He hadnʼt come home yet. I thought that maybe Ami had left her radio on but when I pressed my ear to her door the only sound was that of Ami snoring.
There was the voice again.
I strained my ears and tiptoed in the direction of the sound. It seemed to be coming from downstairs. I followed the sound across the living room, into the entrance hall and finally came to a stop outside the pigʼs room.
I slid the door open a fingerʼs width and peeked inside. All the lights were off but the moon, filtering through the blinds, was enough for me to make out shapes in the darkness. There was nobody in the room except for the pig. The voice seemed to be coming from the pig.
I slid the door open and walked inside. The pig had been looking at the blinds but now turned to face me, mouth open slightly. The voice was coming from inside her mouth.
“Are—Are you talking?”
She just sat there, looking at me with her pitch-black eyes. I could still hear the voice. I took one step toward the pig and at that instant she closed her mouth. The voice vanished. I walked over to the pig and laid my hands on her head.
“What was that sound?”
The pig didnʼt reply.
“What are you, really?
The pig stared up at me. I stroked her head as I looked into her eyes. I stood there for a little while before bidding her good night and heading back to bed.
Ami came home in a bad mood again today. I wondered why she was always so sulky. I thought that high school was supposed to be fun. I donʼt know. I donʼt remember much of my own high school days. I suppose, after recent events, I recall best the things that happened to me a long time ago, when I was a child. Like when my mother dug the hole. I could remember things like that as though theyʼd happened yesterday. How huge the moon was, how bright it was, the smell of the dirt. Even the strange, hazy, indescribable emotions I was feeling—I could reproduce them exactly and with the same intensity.
Ami usually rushed straight up to her room after dinner, but tonight she didnʼt move. She just sat at the table. She spoke to me as I stood with my back to her, washing dishes. This was unusual indeed.
“You—the only person you ever think of is yourself.” I stopped and turned around to face her. She was staring at me, her eyes hard.
“You couldnʼt care less what happens to me or Dad. Youʼre only concerned about yourself.”
“Thatʼs not true.”
I donʼt think sheʼd attacked me like this since she started elementary school. It was so sudden, I had no idea what was going on.
“I bet that if Dad and I died you wouldnʼt care at all. You wouldnʼt be the slightest bit sad.”
“Liar. If you had enough money youʼd leave us.” With that she stormed up the stairs to her room. I turned back to the dishes. When I had finished I dried my hands and looked over at the stairs.
What in the world had gotten into her? I had no idea. I couldnʼt recall having done anything that would bring on such an attack. I tried to be careful, to avoid doing anything to her that I wouldnʼt want someone else to do to me. Thatʼs why I didnʼt leave, thatʼs why I didnʼt dig a hole in the garden in the middle of the night. What did she want?
Ami stayed in her room. I prepared the pigʼs meal.
Iʼd been worried about the lack of rain, but when we hit July the weather turned in earnest. Now the rain hardly ever seemed to let up.
During the rains the weeds in the garden grew and it was now nearly time to rotate in the summer flowers. The spring flowers were starting to go to seed and the garden would soon look a mess. A little past the middle of July the rain stopped and the sun finally came out again. I went out into the garden for the first time in ages.
Iʼd been weeding most of the morning when I suddenly realized how quiet it was. I couldnʼt see the Watcher peering out at me and there was nobody cursing at me, calling out “murderer, murderer.”
I stood up and brushed the dirt from my hands, looking next door. The trash was still scattered across the yard, the same as always, but it didnʼt seem to have increased at all. The window where the Watcher usually stood, clasping the lace curtain as she peeked out at me, appeared to be firmly shut. Maybe sheʼd gone out. I suppose stranger things have happened.
At a little past noon I had almost finished one section of the weeding so I decided to push on a little more. At half past twelve I finally stood up and went back inside. The pig was waiting for me inside the door. The floor squeaked under her hooves as she followed me about, her eyes glued on the bowl in my hand. She had grown to the size of nearly two tatami mats now. She might even have been bigger than the pigs youʼd find on a pig farm.
I knew she must have been hungry but even so, she ate quietly and calmly. She didnʼt gobble it down in a rush. I stood there, stroking her back.
“Our neighbor is very quiet today,” I said. The pig bobbed her head as though in response to my words. “Looks like sheʼs not home. Very unusual, isnʼt it?” The pig turned her head slightly and looked up at me. From this angle it looked just like she were smiling.
“You know he says he wants a divorce, right?” She said thickly. I was silent.
“He says youʼre creepy. Says he has no idea what youʼre thinking. What are you thinking? You can tell me.” I left the phone on the floor as I wiped the kitchen table. She seemed to be drunk and maybe that was why she was speaking so loudly. I could hear everything even though I didnʼt have the phone to my ear.
It was Hanamura, my husbandʼs colleague and the chief manager who had visited before. The conversation had started politely enough but that didnʼt last. I donʼt know if it was the alcohol that was getting to her or if she was just getting worked up, but in any case what she said and how she was saying it had grown cruder and cruder. I stopped trying to talk to her.
“You got nothing to say, huh? You think silence is golden? Youʼre wrong, you know. Maybe in the old days but not now. These days you gotta say it or it might as well not exist. The ones who talk loudest win. Words are power, did you know that? Nah, you donʼt know anything. You did look pretty stupid.”
“Not me, though. I talk—I say it every day. I tell him, dump your wife and marry me. I say it a hundred times a day. Words are power and I scatter ’em everywhere.”
“Youʼre so stupid, really. Did you know that? I had you completely fooled. You let me in your house and everything. You look really old, you know? And your clothes . . . ugh. So cheap! I feel bad for him. If I was his wife Iʼd take reeeally good care of him.”
When I finished the table I rinsed the cloth. The sound of the running water drowned out the sound of her voice. Looking up at the clock I saw that it was almost eleven. I washed my hands and picked up the telephone.
“Iʼm hanging up now.”
“Why? Letʼs talk just a little more. Cʼmon, lets have a real talk.”
“I have to go. My husband will be back soon.”
“Ha! Youʼre soooo jealous!” She cried out, laughing.
“Iʼm not jealous. Why should I be? After all, Iʼm loved.”
I hung up the phone. I thought she might call back but she didnʼt. I heard Amiʼs door slam shut with a loud bang. I wondered if she had been listening in. About ten minutes later my husband got home. He looked tired. He looked like any other tired, middle-aged man. What in the world did that woman see in him?
“I ate,” he said, putting his briefcase on the floor and loosening his tie.
I took the plate on the kitchen table and put it in the refrigerator. The pig would eat it for me tomorrow.
I was vacuuming and the noise drowned out everything else, so by the time I noticed there was already a small crowd gathered outside the Watcherʼs house. They were all looking at one another, avidly discussing something. Soon someone—I didnʼt recognize him—came out and addressed the crowd. At that point someone else broke away from the group—it was the president of the local council—and started walking toward my house. The doorbell rang.
“Mrs. Takeuchi, Iʼm sorry to bother you but would you mind coming outside for a moment?”
I slipped my sandals on. When I stepped outside everyone in front of the Watcherʼs house turned to look at me.
“What is it?”
A man Iʼd never seen before stepped out of the crowd and headed over to me.
“Well,” the council president said, glancing over at the approaching man as he spoke. “It seems that nobodyʼs been able to get in touch with Mrs. Tani for over a week now. One of her relatives has come by to check on her. The door was unlocked but nobody was home. According to her relative the inside of the house was something of a mess. Of course we donʼt know if this is related to her disappearance or if it simply hadnʼt been cleaned. Given the state of the yard and all . . .”
“And what can I . . .?”
“Her relative, you see, with you being the next-door neighbor and all, wondered if perhaps you hadnʼt noticed anything, anything peculiar?”
I tilted my head to one side, thinking. “I havenʼt heard anything strange. Of course weʼve never been on particularly good terms. Iʼm afraid I canʼt be of any help.”
The man who was apparently the relative looked at me and then looked toward my house. Did he suspect me? The council president started to ask me something but the man cut him off.
“No, thatʼs enough. I see what I have to do. Iʼll go to the police and submit a missing persons report. Her bag and wallet were thrown on the floor so she obviously didnʼt just run away. Somethingʼs not right here. Sorry to have troubled you.”
The man bowed to me and went back inside the house next door. The crowd began to disperse as people went back to their homes. When I went back inside I bolted the door, fastened the chain and went straight to the pig. She was awake and lumbered to her feet when I entered, nuzzling at my shoulder as I crouched down in front of her.
“They say that the Watcher next door has disappeared.” The pig listened motionlessly. “Now I can do my weeding in peace. Well, of course thereʼs nothing to say that she wonʼt come back but . . .”
The pig let out a squeal and I scratched behind her ears.
Two weeks or so later there was still no sign that the Watcher had returned. I was finally able to go out and work in the garden without having to worry about anything. The police came by once and I told them how she used to always spy on me from her windows. The policeman jotted something down in his notebook, but that was it. They never came back.
On the day the policeman came I had a PTA meeting, the first in a long while. When I walked into the room it seemed that the mood was somehow different from usual. I was wondering what had happened when Mrs. Kawai noticed me and walked over.
“Have you heard anything? About Mrs. Okada?” “Has something happened to her?”
Mrs. Kawai dropped her voice. “Did you know that she was mixed up with some shady business deals?”
“You mean the underwear?”
“So you did know,” she said. “She tried to recruit you too? She invited me as well but it seemed a bit dodgy so I turned her down. But, you know, she didnʼt seem quite right—she acted funny. Anyway, I donʼt know if that has anything to do with it but it seems sheʼs gone missing. She went out one day, saying that she was going to meet someone about setting up an underwear party and never came back.”
For some reason my heart started to pound loudly in my chest. When I didnʼt say anything, Mrs. Kawai continued.
“Her family has gone to the police and filed a report but apparently they havenʼt found her. Itʼs already been five days. Maybe, you know, the business involved some dangerous types.”
I was making dinner when I heard the front door open. I went to the entryway, thinking it was early for Ami to be back, and saw my husband standing there.
“Youʼre early! Are you feeling all right?”
He really did look unwell. He ignored my question and went into the living room, dropping his bag with a thud next to the sofa.
“Did you do it?”
He stared hard at me.
“Yoko Hanamura has gone missing.”
“And . . . who is that?”
“Donʼt play dumb! You know who she is. She came here, to this house.”
“Oh . . . your lover.” It just slipped out, and his eyes bored into me.
“So you knew all along. You knew and you didnʼt say a thing.”
“Was that wrong?”
He heaved a deep sigh. “She missed work yesterday. No phone call, no notice. She didnʼt show up today either so I asked one of the managers and another colleague to go by her apartment. They got the super to let them in but there was nobody there. I called her parents in Hokkaido but she wasnʼt there and they hadnʼt heard anything from her either. Everyone at work is saying that she just ran off but I donʼt think so. Sheʼs not that kind of woman.”
He stared at me. “You know something about this, donʼt you?”
I shook my head. “No.”
His expression hardened. “How come you always look at me like that? Your expression never changes. You donʼt have any emotions. Never cry, never get angry—itʼs creepy. How come you canʼt see that?” He grabbed his bag and stood up.
“Where are you . . .”
Without a word, he walked to the entrance hall and put on his shoes. Without a backward glance he stepped out the door.
I stood there thinking for a moment and then went back to making dinner. I supposed he would spend the night at a business hotel somewhere. In that case I neednʼt make his portion. Still, I needed to make dinner for Ami and myself, and the pig would eat whatever was left over.
Yet, as it happened, Ami didnʼt come home either. At eleven oʼclock I tried calling her cell phone several times but there was no answer, I couldnʼt get through. I tried my husbandʼs number as well just in case, but there was no answer there either. I called the police to tell them my daughter hadnʼt come home but as soon as I mentioned that she was a high school student the officerʼs attitude changed abruptly.
“She probably went out and decided to spend the night at a friendʼs house. You know, the parents of kids like that—the ones who are out drinking every night—they arenʼt going to ask all sorts of questions if a kid comes to spend the night. They arenʼt going to try to call the kidʼs parents. Why donʼt you just wait till tomorrow and see if she turns up?”
I hung up. There was nothing to do but wait.
I wasnʼt so worried about my husband but Ami was a different story. I didnʼt know who her friends were or where she might spend the night. For now I could only wait.
I ate a solitary dinner, took a bath, and went to bed. I had trouble falling asleep but before I knew it I must have drifted off. A sound woke me and I looked over to the alarm clock. It was two in the morning. The sound was coming from the hallway. I remember thinking that this had happened before.
I headed straight to the pigʼs room and opened the door. The pig was awake. Her pitch- black eyes regarded me.
Her mouth was half open. The sound was coming from her mouth.
It sounded like a radio with bad reception. Sometimes growing louder, sometimes quieter, but, as I listened, I could gradually make out voices. It was the sound of several voices, all talking at once.
I walked over to the pig and put my ear to her mouth. She opened her mouth wider and the voices suddenly grew louder. I knew those voices. The first voice I recognized was the Watcherʼs, cursing at me. Then I recognized Mrs. Okadaʼs voice, talking about underwear. And the woman who had come over, mocking me. Then, so quiet as to nearly be drowned out by the others, I heard Amiʼs voice and my husbandʼs.
Then I heard yet another voice, a different one. It came from the very depths, from beneath all the other voices. It was calling my name, I was sure of it. “Asako, Asako,” it seemed to almost whisper. My motherʼs voice. I concentrated on that one voice, straining my ears. The light of the moon through the latticework of the blinds cast a pattern of shadows across the pigʼs body. I thought how nice it would be to trace them with my finger.
“Asako,” the voice called. “How do you like this dream?”
Mother was dead. She was gone from this world. It couldnʼt possibly be her voice. At least, it couldnʼt be her living voice.
The rushing sound of static, like a sandstorm, mingled with the voices. It was a radio after all. Or maybe a recording. Mother was trying to say something. She was being drowned out by Mrs. Okada.
“Whatʼs the point of being alive if you live each day like youʼre dead? Tell me, why do you keep on living?”
Be quiet. This has nothing to do with you. Whereʼs Mother? I want to hear her voice. Instead the Watcherʼs voice suddenly doubled in volume, shouting.
“Murderer murderer murderer! Youʼre jealous of me, arenʼt you? You murderer!”
Shut up! You can drown in your own garbage for all I care.
“Itʼs creepy. Thatʼs why—” The woman and my husband said together.
I donʼt care about you two. Do whatever you like, fall in love if thatʼs what you want. I donʼt care.
“How come youʼre only interested in yourself? What about me? Donʼt I matter?”
Youʼre wrong. You do matter. Didnʼt I raise you? Didnʼt I do everything I could for you? Didnʼt I stay right here by your side? I never ran away. Why isnʼt that good enough for you?
The rushing of the sandstorm. A cacophony of voices. I couldnʼt make out anything.
The pig opened her mouth even wider. I stuck my head inside. Deep in the darkness, way back in the pigʼs throat, I saw a face. My mother! Ami was standing next to her and my husband too. Okada and the others were there as well.
My motherʼs face seemed to glow palely amidst them. Mother!
“Asako,” her lips moved. “Asako, are you enjoying this dream?”
This dream. Was I enjoying it? Which was the dream? Which was real? I wasnʼt enjoying either of them. Not in the slightest.
“No, not really,” I replied.
In that instant everything vanished. I was bathed in the light of the moon. There was a deep hole in the ground. The smell of acrid grasses mingled with the odor of damp earth. All the windows beyond the tall cinder block wall were dark. I peered into the hole. I couldnʼt see the bottom.
“Letʼs go.” My motherʼs voice said kindly. I kicked at the ground.
The moon was large and round in the sky. I lay curled up at the bottom of the hole. Dirt rained down on me.
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