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from the March 2015 issue

Glass

A pane of glass shatters. I open my bedroom window and look up and down the street. A man is running away. Under the kitchen table I find a rock the size of a baby’s fist. I push the larger fragments of glass into a pile by the wall with the toe of my slipper, then get a broom and sweep up the smaller shards. I don’t want to run the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the night, so I leave it at that and go back to bed.

Did you see who it was?

My wife asks, lying with her back to me.

I don’t know. Looked like some young guy.

You’re not going to go after him?

What?

He can’t have gotten too far.

The clock on the bedstand reads five-fifteen. I put on some workout clothes and head out. The air slides into my lungs with a chill. I hug myself to keep warm, my hands in my armpits, and head in the direction where the man had disappeared. All the houses on the block are dark. There’s no one around, though now and again I can hear cars a few streets away. As I approach a corner my nerves heighten. I hold my breath and listen, then jump out, but it’s just another deserted back street. In front of the food mart there’s a vending machine with a rotating red light on top. The electric hum from the streetlights seeps into my head. I start jogging to try to get away from the noise but it’s all around. I slow to a halt. There’s sticky sweat crawling down my body. All the houses in this area look alike, and though I’ve been living here several years, it’s still easy to get the streets mixed up. It feels like it’s my first time ever being here. I walk on a way, checking left and right down the side streets, wondering how much farther I’ll have to go. A profound uneasiness grips me. I turn around. Though it feels like I’ve walked a good distance, there’s the vending machine with its rotating light, flashing right in front of me.  I look at my wrist to check the time, but I’ve forgotten my watch at home. It can’t be more than an hour since I left. The sky in the east is already starting to lighten. When I try to recall what time the sun rises this time of year, I realize that I can’t remember the last time I was awake at dawn. I suddenly lose all faith in my own sense of time.  I think, Maybe I’d better get back home.

I turn around and see a young woman running toward me. She stops short. Her pale face is barely visible under her hoodie, but she can’t be any older than junior high school age. It seems to me it’s dangerous for a girl to be out running alone at this hour, but then it occurs to me that she’s probably worried that I’m dangerous. As I stand there silently, she walks by me quickly with her eyes down and, I think, her guard up. Just as I’m about to say hello she bolts around a corner and disappears. The momentary sight of her running away makes me think of the man. I had assumed the person I caught a glimpse of from my window was a young man, but now I’m not sure if it had been male or female, young or old. I’m seized with the feeling that both my memory and my judgment are unraveling, and I run home like I’m trying to escape. When I get back into bed, my wife is still facing away from me, motionless.

I didn’t find anyone.  

She doesn’t respond, but I’m too tired to make anything more of it, and I close my eyes to get what little sleep I can.

When I wake up my wife is gone. There’s cold coffee and toast on the kitchen table. It’s past eight o’clock. I hurriedly wash my face, and as I’m about to shave I notice something white in the stubble on my neck. Worried that it might be a shard of glass, I gingerly probe at it—it turns out to be gray hair. When had I started getting gray hair? I’m way too young for that, I think, and laugh at myself, but it feels more like despair. I look over to where the wall meets the floor. The broken glass is still there. There are also fragments glittering under the window, but I don't have time to clean them up. I pour my coffee into the sink and take a bite of toast before rushing out the door.

 

“Hey, S. Do you have a needle?”

“What is it, a loose button? Here, I’ll sew it on for you.”

“No, it’s not that. I think I got a splinter.”

When I arrive at work and grab a pen to jot down a note I feel a sudden pain in the tip of my right index finger. There’s something lodged in the flesh of my fingertip. When I press on it there’s a sharp stabbing sensation.

S gives me a needle from a sewing kit she has in her desk and I take it over to the window. I lick the tip of the needle and carefully insert it under my skin. Though I can’t see anything, there’s definitely something hard and sharp stuck in there. I widen the opening and try to dig it out. Every time I seem to have hold of it with the tip of the needle it slips to the side and bites deeper into my flesh. I push upward on my fingertip with my thumbnail and plunge the needle in. I bite back a yelp of pain. When I pull it out the needle is wet with yellowish fluid. There perched on the tip is a miniscule fragment of glass, sparkling. As I lean in to have a better look it seems to disappear. I wipe off the needle with my handkerchief and hand it back to S. She laughs and says, “That was dramatic.” I return to my desk and try to get on with my work, but my finger will not stop hurting. When I look up I see S wrap the needle in a tissue and throw it in the wastebasket at her feet. It feels like something is looming over me. No matter how much I try to focus on my work, the pain in my finger scatters my attention.

I leave work early that afternoon, saying I have a headache. On my way home I stop by the glass shop. I schedule repairs for my window and draw a little map marking the location of my house. As I hand the map over to the shopkeeper and start to leave, I notice a pane of glass leaning up against the wall. When I ask how much it is, the shopkeeper says he’ll give it to me free because it has a defect. I thank him and take it to my car, but before I put it inside I hold it up and look at my surroundings through the glass. It’s true, there is something defective about it. It’s square, green-rimmed, about five millimeters thick and some fifty centimeters to a side, but it’s the slightest bit warped. I can’t tell exactly where the defect is, but it’s clear that the glass won’t fit into any window. I put it in the passenger seat and drive off. On a sudden impulse I pass my house and head north to the coast, picking up speed as I go.

She looks like she’s college age. Her skin is unnaturally white. She holds out the camera to me and asks if I’ll take a picture, then laughs and runs to pose next to another girl. They stand near the edge of the cliff, their backs to the horizon. The wind that comes up from the sea almost blows off their sun hats. Their carefree laughter rings out as they clamp the hats down on their heads. Feeling more relaxed than I had before, I look through the viewfinder. But the tiny image of the girls smiling in that square frame gets to me somehow, and I can’t snap the photo. The stabbing pain in my finger is back. A chill spreads from my fingertip to my shoulder, then my whole arm goes numb. The girls’ smiles disappear.

“Are you all right? I’ve got some headache medicine if that’ll help.”

I feel her breath warm in my ear as I’m hunched over. I wave her off and hand back the camera. Her fingers are moist, like caterpillars. I can’t bring myself to look up at her. I sense her moving away and stay crouched down for a few more moments. When I get to my feet I see her standing close to her friend, the two of them looking at me uncertainly. She asks once more if I’m all right, and I wave her off again. She suddenly looks frightened. They hurry to their blue car and drive away, sending up a cloud of dust.

The wind coming up off the sea whips at my clothes. But I can’t feel it on my face, or my neck, or my hands or feet—it’s like my skin is tightly wrapped in plastic. I get the pane of glass from my car and bring it to the cliff’s edge. It looks like it’s sixty or seventy meters down to the water. From where I’m standing I can’t see where the rocks meet the water, the cliffside having been eaten away by the waves. Spurs of reef thrust up from the deep blue, the waves breaking white around them. On one of the reef rocks is a single red shoe. I hold up the glass and look through it. The movement of the water turns sluggish and the sea becomes more and more solid. My fingertip burns. I let the glass go. It tips forward, becoming smaller as it falls. All is still for a moment. The waves crash silently.

I head south down the highway back into town.

I get out of my car and go for a walk through the streets. It feels like whenever I pass someone they turn around to steal a glance at me from behind. I grow anxious and quicken my pace. What time is it, anyway? I left my watch someplace but can’t remember where. Judging from the number of people still out and about it’s probably not that late yet. But I can’t be sure. I follow along with the flow of the other pedestrians, until I realize I’m by myself, wandering on dark streets. There is only one building with a light on, in a second-floor window. Through the drawn curtain I can see the silhouette of a girl. It’s the girl from this morning, I think. She looks like she’s at a desk studying. Something about the profile of her narrow jaw makes my chest ache. My fingertips brush against a stone, terribly cold. The slender shadow stands up and turns to face me. It spreads its arms wide and at that moment I hear the echo of glass shattering. The fragments of the girl come tumbling down.

“It’s him!”

I hear a rough voice and footfalls coming toward me from the other end of the street. I duck into an alley and run as hard as I can. My breath is ragged and my legs are about to give out when I see my house. I burst through the door and fall on all fours by the kitchen table, panting there until I catch my breath. The glass on the floor has been cleaned up and the new window has been installed. The view through the new window is somehow more vivid, as if the next day has already dawned while the rest of the world is still sleeping. I toss my sweat-drenched button-down shirt on the sofa and crawl into bed. My wife is facing away from me. She shudders. Her voice is dripping with irritation.

You're soaking wet.

I mutter a wordless reply.

My eyes close and a heavy sleep washes over me. 

Far away, the sound of shattering glass rings out.

© Medoruma Shun. Translation © 2015 by Sam Malissa. All rights reserved.

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