A Ghost Story
All illustrations courtesy of the Naruyama Gallery.
I am sure if I had accepted a certain marriage proposal, my life might have continued in an ordinary way, but I refused that humiliation. Later when I would have accepted it, the suitor had passed away. It was of natural causes.
My father disowned me, and for a while I lived in a women’s dormitory. When my resources were exhausted, I spent several years doing the things that I needed to do. It was at this time that I began to see black ghosts.
My mother received a report of my circumstances from my aunt, and she begged my father to send me to the city, where he owned several apartment buildings. Seven years had passed, and his temper had subsided. He agreed on the condition that my mother join me in the city and supervise his properties.
When I was growing up, my mother had enjoyed an active social life, but that had changed since she began to have eczema. It covered her shoulders, arms, legs, stomach, and face. She bathed in a potassium-permanganate solution, but it only reduced the itching and dyed our bathtub indigo.
She had become a shut-in and then an intellectual. In the city, she watched silent movies at night. She saw poetry in her old ghost movies, and watched them over and over again. I don’t like ghost movies, even from the silent era. She watched them late at night, in her room, on her laptop computer and in the morning, she talked to me about the actors.
“Ichikawa Danjũrõ IX was opposed to appearing on-screen, but he was convinced that to do so was a gift to posterity. He is said to have channeled Tokinoriki very well. A few years ago I read Tokinoriki again. I was forced to read excerpts in school, but I could not get past the intricacies of court protocol, and the opacity of Taira’s diction. I don’t know what has happened, but the text has opened up for me and now it is like I am speaking to a friend.”
“That is fascinating,” I said. A gust of wind blew through the tree outside, and petals landed on the dining table. Ghosts are not all bad.
I earned significant sums of money irregularly doing translation for foreign speakers. I had an office south of the old palace. Every year after 25, a woman diminishes in value. After 31, time is up. It was different in my case because I was in communication with the black ghosts.
Edward was introduced to me by email through Murata’s press agent. I was surprised and even confused by his note. I read and then reread it. Yes, I thought. He is flirting.
He took a place in my thoughts, and I formed an impression that he was desperate and insane, like most lonely people. It is ordinary to keep the translator in the loop when laying out the brochure, in case of misunderstandings. In fact, some clients ask me to handle this and other organizational matters, but I suspected Edward was different. When he sent his picture to the graphics department, I thought, He is handsome. But anyone can appear that way.
During our first telephone conversation we spoke about the logistics of his visit. Due to the time change, I spoke to him from my bed. My mother was watching a movie with a piano soundtrack turned up very loud, and I heard something new in Edward’s voice. It was a precise intelligence. I explained to him that, depending on the duration of his stay, it would be customary for me to provide some guidance to the city.
Edward called frequently after that. Due to the time change, I always received his calls at night. The third or fourth time we spoke I had been drinking, and we began to speak personally. He told me about his history of drinking, and his recovery. I told him that I lived with my mother in an apartment, and I didn’t speak to my father.
He said, “Why do I always fall in love with unusual women?”
“What do you mean?”
Murata had placed Edward in the outlying areas for one week and in the city for four days. Although Murata had recommended a country-based English-language translator, he and Edward did not get along. Also, Edward said, the other translator’s English was good, but he was unable to understand subtleties, such as humor and tone. We agreed it would make more sense for me to come to the country. He said that he would speak to the press agent at Murata and arrange for us to stay at different hotels, but I told him that would not be necessary.
It’s hard to lie to my mother, because she is an expert liar. I told her that I was going to the country for work, to translate for a Murata guest speaker for the cotton panel. I said, “She is supposed to be quite an influential business lady.”
My mother said, “If you want to go and meet a man, I am happy for you. By all means, do what is necessary to change your situation.”
Since the incident, I did not drink, due to a court order. Occasionally, however, I drank with my mother in small amounts, or alone at a place around the corner. I confessed this to Edward. I said, “Earlier tonight I had wine with my mother. Generally I don’t enjoy drinking wine, but sometimes we share a bottle. My mother likes white wines.”
“One bottle between two people is not a lot of wine.”
“I take more than my share, and besides, I am not supposed to drink at all.”
“Why aren’t you supposed to?”
“The courts have said I can never drink. I wore a monitoring anklet for one year. However, there are other opinions on the matter. I would like to talk about it, but I am not permitted to do so. It’s the culture.”
He said, “I like the way you talk after you’ve had a glass or two of wine. You should have one before we meet. We are all human.”
“But I can’t.”
“Because you do not drink. I think it is healthier if we both do not drink when we are together.”
“That’s true. I do think it’s healthier in the long run, for me, if you don’t drink, but the first night we meet, I want you to be happy and relaxed. I think that would be good for us.”
I took the train to the country. The train was full and I had to stand. A boy in his school blazer was eating chips and drinking a large can of beer. He had frizzy hair and pockmarked skin. The bar in the dining car was crowded with men in black suits. I ordered a mixed drink, but my adrenaline overrode the alcohol, and I had to order two more to feel any effect. Then I had a fourth, but I didn’t drink it all. I have always had a temper. At 23 I was in a relationship with a man. It seemed like a good relationship, but I always had a funny feeling. Sometimes he would text message on his side, with his back directed to block his screen. He often went for appointments and came back vague about what had passed. When I was suspicious, he was accusing. It went on like this for two years. I always had a strange feeling, like he could give me something that I wanted, but I did not know what it was. He had scratches on his back one night and when I asked him why, he said we should see his psychologist. She was an old lady and he had her completely fooled. He lied to her about his symptoms to receive certain medications. When I told her my fears, she said they stemmed from my bad relationship with my father. Then I came home early one day from work and found him in bed with a girl I had known a long time. She was a girl who didn’t have any thoughts of her own. She was always a little bit poorer and a little bit uglier, but she would show off to me.
I said, “At least I know the truth.”
He said, “And what is the truth?”
Isn’t it funny that this simple conversation would lead to manslaughter? Once two old men who guarded my father’s building fought over a game of chess. They had worked together for seven years and were best friends, but their words turned to blows and—with no premeditation or intent—one killed the other. Something similar happened between me and my friend. Since that night, she has been a vegetable.
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