Standing Woman - Chapter1 (all)
by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Translated by David Lewis
I stayed up all night and finally finished a forty-page short story.
It was a trivial entertainment piece, capable of neither harm nor good.
"These days you can't write stories that might do harm or good; it can't be helped." That's what I told myself while I fastened the manuscript with a paper clip and put it into an envelope.
As to whether I have it in me to write stories that might do harm or good, I do my best not to think about that.
If I were to go around thinking about it, I might want to try.
The morning sunlight hurt my eyes as I slipped on my wooden clogs and left the house with the envelope.
Since there was still time before the first mail truck, I turned toward the park. In the morning no children come to this park, a mere sixty-six square meters in the middle of a cramped residential district.
It's quiet here. So I always include the park in my morning walk.
Nowadays even the scanty green provided by the ten or so trees is priceless in this small town.
I should have brought some bread, I thought. My favorite dogpillar stands next to the park bench. It's an affable dogpillar, large for a mongrel, with buff-colored fur.
There's another dogpillar next to the small tobacco shop on the way to the park. It's a white mongrel, part Spitz. It's not long since it was planted, and it still yaps whenever an even slightly suspicious looking person passes by. Since I wear wooden geta, I was always getting barked at up until no more than a week ago. It got so that for a while I changed the shop where I'd always go to buy cigarettes. But now this dogpillar doesn't bark when he sees my face. This morning when I passed he whined through his nose, poised as if ready even now to pull out his four legs planted in the earth. Just once I give him some bread, and he acts like this. Completely unprincipled.
The liquid-fertilizer truck had just left when I reached the park; the ground was damp and there was a faint smell of chlorine. The elderly gentleman I often saw there was sitting on the bench next to the dogpillar, feeding the buff post what seemed to be meat dumplings.
Dogpillars usually have excellent appetites. Maybe the liquid fertilizer, absorbed by the roots sunk deep in the ground and passed on up through the dogpillar, feeding the buff post what seemed to be meat dumplings.
Dogpillars usually have excellent appetites. Maybe the liquid fertilizer, absorbed by the roots sunk deep in the ground and passed on up through the legs, leaves something to be desired.
They'll eat just about anything you give them.
"You brought him something? I slipped up today. I forgot to bring my bread." I said to the elderly man.
He turned gentle eyes on me and smiled softly.
"Ah, you like this fellow, too?"
"Yes," I replied, sitting down beside him. "He looks like the dog I used to have."
The dogpillar looked up at me with large, black eyes and wagged its tail.
"Actually, I kept a dog like this fellow myself," the man said, scratching the ruff of the dogpillar's neck. "He was made into a dogpillar when he was three. Haven't you seen him? Between the haberdashery and the film shop on the coast road. Isn't there a dogpillar there that looks like this fellow?"
"Yes, yes," I nodded, adding. "Then that one was yours?"
"Yes, he was our pet. His name was Hachi. Now he's completely vegetized. A beautiful dogtree."
"Ah yes. That turned out to be a splendid shrub." I nodded repeatedly. "Now that you mention it, he does look a lot like this fellow. Maybe they came from the same stock."
"And the dog you kept?" the elderly man asked. "Where is he planted?"
"Our dog was named Buff," I answered, shaking my head. He was planted beside the entrance to the park-cemetery on the edge of town when he was four. Poor thing, he died right after he was planted.
The fertilizer trucks don't get out that way very often, and it was so far I couldn't take him food every day. Maybe they planted him badly. He died before becoming a tree."
"Then he was removed?"
"No. Fortunately, it didn't much matter there if he smelled or not, so he was left there and dried out. Now he's a bonepillar. He makes fine material for the neighborhood elementary school science classes, I hear."
The elderly man stroked the dogpillar's head. "This fellow here, I wonder what he was called before he became a dogpillar."
"No calling a dogpillar by its original name," I said. "Isn't that a strange law?"
The man gave me a quick glance, then replied casually. "Didn't they just extend the laws concerning people to dogs? That's why they lose their names when they become dogpillars."
He nodded while scratching the dogpillar's jaw. "Not only the old names, but you can't give them new names, either. That's because there are no proper nouns for plants."
Why, of course, I thought.
He Looked at my envelope with MANUSCRIPT ENCLOSED written on it.
"Excuse me," he said. "Are you a writer?"
I was a little embarrassed.
"Well. yes. Just trivial little things."
"So that's it." After looking at me closely, the man returned to stroking the dogpillar's head. "I also used to write things."
He managed to suppress a smile.
"How many years is it now since I stopped writing? It feels like a long time."
I stared at the man's profile. Now that he said so, it was a face I seemed to have seen somewhere before. I started to ask his name, hesitated, and fell silent.
The elderly man said abruptly, "It's become a hard world to write in."
I lowered my eyes, ashamed of myself, who still continued to write in such a world. "It certainly has..."
The man apologized in a bit of a flurry discerning my sudden depression.
"That was rude. I'm not criticizing you. I'm the one who should feel ashamed."
"No," I told him, after looking quickly around us, "I can't give up writing because I haven't the courage. Giving up writing! Why, after all, that would be a gesture against society."
The elderly man continued stroking the dogpillar. After a long while he spoke.
"It's painful, suddenly giving up writing. Now that it's come to this, I would have been better off if I'd gone on boldly writing social criticism and had been arrested. There are even times when I think that.
But I was just a dilettante, never knowing poverty, craving peaceful dreams. I wanted to live a comfortable life. As a person strong in self- respect, I couldn't endure being exposed to the eyes of the world, ridiculed. So I quit writing, A sorry tale."
He smiled and shook his head. "No no, let's not talk about it. You never know where someone might be listening."
"You're right." I changed the subject. "Do you live near here?"
"Do you know the beauty parlor on the main street? You turn in there. My name is Hiyama." He nodded at me. "Come on over sometime. There's no one home but my wife." "Thank you very much." I gave him my own name. I didn't remember any writer named Hiyama. No doubt he wrote under a pen name. I had no intention of visiting his house. This is a world where even two or three writers getting together is considered illegal assembly.
"It's time for the mail truck to come."
Talking pains to look at my watch, I stood up.
"I'm afraid I'd better go," I said.
He turned a sadly smiling face toward me and bowed slightly. After stroking the dogpillar's head a little, I left the park.
I came out on the main street, there were a lot of cars on the road but few pedestrians. A cattree about thirty to forty centimeters high was planted next to the sidewalk.
Sometimes I come across a catpillar that has just been planted and still hasn't become a cattree.
New catpillars look at my face and meow or cry, but the ones where all four limbs planted in the ground have vegetized, with their greenish faces stiffly set and their eyes shut tight, only move their ears now and then.
Then there are catpillars that grow branches from their bodies and put out handfuls of leaves.
The mental condition of there seems to be completely vegetized － they don't even move their ears. Even if you can still make out a cat's face, it may be better to call these cattrees.
Maybe. I thought, it's better to make dogs into dogpillars. When their food runs out, they get vicious and even turn on people. But why did they have to turn cats into catpillars? Too many strays? To improve the food situation even a little? Or perhaps for the greening of the city ...
Next to the big hospital on the corner where the roads cross are two mantrees, and ranged alongside these trees is a manpillar. This manpillar wears a postman's uniform, and you can't tell how far its legs have vegetized because of its trousers. It is male, thirty-five or thirty-six years old, tall, with a bit of a stoop.
I approached him and held out my envelope as always.
"Registered mail, special delivery, please."
The manpillar, nodding silently, accepted the envelope and took stamps and a registered mail slip from his pocket.
I looked around quickly after paying the postage. There was no one else there. I decided to try speaking to him. I had been giving him mail every three days, but I still hadn't had an opportunity chance for a leisurely talk.
"What did you do?" I asked in a low voice.
The manpillar looked at me in surprise. Then, after running his eyes around the area, he answered with a sour look, "Won't do to go saying unnecessary things to me. Even me, I'm not supposed to answer."
"I know that," I said, looking him in the eye.
When I wouldn't leave, he sighed. "I just said the pay's too law, and it got back to my boss. Because a postman's pay really is low." With a dark look, he jerked his jaw at the two mantrees next to him. "These guys were the same. Just for letting slip some complaints about low pay. Do you know them?" he asked me.
I pointed at one of the mantrees. "I remember this one, because I gave him a lot of mail. I don't know the other one. He was already a mantree when we moved here."
"That one was my friend," he said.
"This one was a very nice man, very refined. Wasn't he a chief clerk or section head?"
He nodded. "That's right. Chief clerk."
"Don't you get hungry or cold?"
"You don't feel it that much," he replied, still expressionless.
Anyone who's made into a manpillar soon becomes expressionless. "Even I think I've gotten pretty plantlike. Not only in how I feel things, but in the way I think, too. At first, I was angry, sad... but now it doesn't matter. I used to get really hungry, but they say the vegetizing goes faster when you don't eat."
He started at me with lightless eyes. He was probably hoping he could become a mantree soon.
"They say they give people with radical ideas a lobotomy before making them into manpillars, but I didn't get that done, either. Even so, no more than a month after I was planted I didn't get angry anymore. It got so I couldn't care less about human society."
He glanced at my wristwatch. "Well, you better go now. It's almost time for the mail truck to come."
"Yes." But still I couldn't leave. I hesitated uneasily.
"I'm just guessing," he said, giving me a sidelong glance. "But someone you know didn't get done into a manpillar recently, did they?"