stories

Standing Woman - Chapter2 (all)

Cut to the quick, I stared at his face for a moment, then nodded slowly.
"Actually, my wife."
"Hmm, your wife, is it?" For a few moments he regarded me with deep interest. "I wondered whether it wasn't something like that. Otherwise nobody ever bothers to talk to me."
Nodding. "Then what did she do, your wife?" "She complained that prices were high at a housewives' get-together. If that had been all, fine, but she criticized the government, too. I'm starting to make it big as a writer, and I think that the excitement of being an author's wife made her say it."
"I know you were a writer."
I shook my head.
"One of the women there informed on her. Anyway, it seems my wife has a pretty good idea who it was that did it."
"This is just my own guesswork," he said, "but wasn't your wife a good-looker?"
"Yes, well..."
"Just as I thought. They were jealous of her. Women do things like that in cold blood." He sighed.
"She was planted three days ago, on the left side of the road looking from the station toward the assembly hall, next to that hardware store."
"Ah, that place." He closed his eyes a little, as if recollecting the layout of the buildings and the stores in that area. "It's a fairly peaceful street. That's good, isn't it?"
He opened his eyes and looked at me searchingly. "You aren't going to see her, are you? It's better not to see her too often.
Both for her and for you.
That way you can both forget faster."
"I know that."
I hung my head.
"Your wife?" he asked, his voice turning slightly sympathetic. "Are they making her do anything?"
"No. So far nothing. She's just standing, but even so..."
"Hey." The manpillar serving as a postbox jerked his chin to attract my attention. "It's come. The mail truck. You'd better go."
"You're right."
Taking a few wavering steps, as if pushed by his voice, I stopped and looked back. "Isn't there anything I can do for you?"
He brought a hard smile to his cheeks and shook his head.
The red mail truck stopped beside him.
I slumped my shoulders, and went on past the hospital.
Thinking I'd check in on my favorite bookstore, I entered a street of crowded shops. My new book was supposed to be out any day now, but that kind of thing no longer made me the slightest bit happy.
A little before the bookstore in the same row is a small, cheap candystore, and on the edge of the road in front of it is a manpillar on the verge of becoming a mantree. A young male, it is already a year since it was planted. The face has become a brownish color tinged with green, and the eyes are tightly shut. It Its tall back slightly bent, its posture slouching a little forward. The legs, torso, and arms, visible through clothes reduced to rags by exposure to wind and rain, are already vegetized and here and there sprout branches. Young leaves bud from the ends of the arms, raised above the shoulders like beating wings.
The body, which has become a tree, and even the face no longer move at all. The heart has sunk into the tranquil world of plants.
I imagined the day when my wife would reach this state, and again my heart winced with pain, trying to forget. It was the anguish of trying to forget.
If I turn the corner at this candy store and go straight, I thought, I can go to where my wife is standing. I can meet my wife. I can see my wife. But it won't do to go, I told myself. There's no telling who might see you; if the women who informed on her questioned you'd really be in trouble. So I told myself. Coming to a halt in front of the candy store, I peered down the road. Pedestrian traffic was the same as always, if anything, lighter than usual. It's all right. Anyone would overlook it if you just stand and talk a bit. You'll just have a word or two. Defying my own voice screaming, "Don't go!" I went briskly down the street.
Her face pale, my wife was standing by the road in front of the hardware store. Her legs were unchanged, and it only seemed as if her feet from the ankles down were buried in the earth. Expressionlessly, as if striving to see nothing, feel nothing, she stared steadily ahead. Compared with two days before, her cheeks seemed a bit hollow. Two passing men, looking like factory workers, pointed at her, made some vulgar joke, and passed on, guffawing uproariously. I went up to her and called her name.
"Michiko."
My wife looked at me, and blood rushed to her cheeks. She brushed one hand through her tangled hair.
"You've come again? Really, you mustn't."
"I can't help coming."
The hardware-store mistress, tending shop, saw me. With an air of feigned indifference, she averted her eyes and retired to the back of the store. Full of gratitude for her consideration, I drew a few steps closer to Michiko and faced her.
"You've gotten pretty used to it?"
With all her might she formed a bright smile on her stiffened face. "Mmm. I'm used to it."
"Last night it rained a little."
Still gazing at me with large, dark eyes, she nodded lightly. "Please don't worry. I hardly feel anything."
"When I think about you, I can't sleep." I hung my head. "You're always standing out here. When I think of that, I can't possibly sleep. Last night I even thought I should bring you an umbrella."
"Please don't do anything like that!" My wife frowned just a little. "It would be terrible if you did something like that."
A large truck drove past behind me. White dust thinly veiled my wife's hair and shoulders, but it didn't seem to bother her.
"Standing isn't really all that bad." She spoke with deliberate lightness, working to keep me from worrying.
I perceived a subtle change in my wife's expressions and speech from two days before. It seemed that her words had lost a shade of delicacy, and the range of her emotions had become somewhat impoverished. Watching from the sidelines like this seeing her gradually grow more expressionless, it's all the more desolating for having known her as she was before --- those keen responses, the bright vivacity, the rich, full expressions. I was so sad I felt my heart would freeze.
"These people," I asked her, running my eyes over the hardware store, "are they good to you?"
"Of course, people are watching, so they do their best to ignore me. But they're kind at heart. Just once they told me to ask if there's anything I want done. But they still haven't done anything for me."
"Don't you get hungry?"
She shook her head.
"It's better not to eat."
So. Unable to endure being a manpillar, she must be hoping to become a mantree as quickly as possible.
"So please don't bring me food." She stared at me. "Please forget about me. I think, certainly, even without making any particular effort, I'm going to forget about you. I'm happy that you come to see me, but then the sadness drags on that much longer. For both of us."
"Of course you're right, but...." Despising this self that could do nothing for his own wife, I hung my head again. "But I won't forget you." I nodded. The tears came. "I won't forget. Ever."
When I raised my head and looked at her again, she was gazing steadily at me with eyes that had lost a little of their luster, her whole face beaming in a faint smile like a carved image of Buddha. It was the first time I had ever seen her smile like that.
I felt I was having a nightmare. Could it be this thing had already ceased to be my wife?
The suit she had been wearing when she was arrested had become terribly dirty and wrinkled. But of course I wouldn't be allowed to bring a change of clothes. My eyes rested on a dark stain on her skirt.
"Is that blood? What happened?"
"Oh, this," she spoke falteringly, looking down at her skirt in confusion. "Last night two drunks played a prank on me."
"The bastards!" I felt a furious rags at their inhumanity. Of course, if you put it to them, they would doubtless say that since my wife was no longer human, it didn't matter what they did.
"They can't do that kind of thing! It's against the law!" "That's right. But I can hardly appeal." And of course I couldn't go to the police and appeal, either. If I did, I'd be looked on as even more of a problem person.
"The bastards! What did they...." I bit my lip. My heart hurt enough to break. "Did it bleed a lot?"
"Mmm, a little."
"Does it hurt?"
"It doesn't hurt anymore."
Michiko, she who had been so proud, now allowed just a trace of sadness in her face. I was shocked by the change in her. A group of young men and women, penetratingly comparing me and my wife, passed behind me.
"You'll be seen," my wife said anxiously. "I beg of you, don't have throw yourself away."
"Don't worry." I smiled thinly for her in self-contempt. "I don't have the courage."
"You should go now."
"When you're a mantree," I said in parting, "I'll petition. I'll get them to transplant you to our garden."
"Can you do that?"
"I should be able to." I nodded liberally. "Yes, I should be be able to."
"I'd be happy if you could," my wife said without any kind of expression on her face.
"Well, see you later."
"It'd be better if you didn't come again," she said in a murmur, Looking down.
"I know. That's my intention," I said weakly. "I don't mean to ever come again. But I'll probably come anyway."
For a few minutes we were silent.
Then my wife spoke abruptly.
"Good bye."
"Umm."
I began walking.
When I looked back as I rounded the corner, Michiko was following me with her eyes, still smiling like a graven Buddha.
Embracing a heart that seemed ready to split apart, I walked. I noticed suddenly that I had come out in front of the station. Unconsciously, I had returned to my usual walking course.
Opposite the station is a small coffee shop I always go to called punch.
I went in and sat down in a corner booth. I ordered coffee, drinking it black. Until then I had always had it with sugar. The bitterness of sugarless, creamless coffee pierced my body, and I savored it masochistically. From now on I'll always drink it black. That was what I resolved.
There students in the next booth were talking about a liberal commentator who had just been arrested and made into a manpillar.
"I hear he was planted smack in the middle of the Ginza."
"He loved the country. He always lived in the country. That's why they set him up in a place like that."
"Seems they gave him a lobotomy."
"And the students who tried to break into the Diet, protesting his arrest --- they've all been arrested and will be made into manpillars, too."
"Weren't there almost thirty of them? Where'll they plant them all?"
"They say they'll be planted in front of their own university, Down both sides of a street called Students Road."
"They'll have to change the name now. Violence Grove, or something."
The three snickered.
"Hey, Let's not talk about it. We don't want someone to hear."
The three shut up.
When I left the coffee shop and headed home, I realized that I had begun to feel as if I was already a manpillar myself. Murmuring the words of a popular song, a parody of "Karesusuki" with just the lyrics changed, I walked on.