:: Article

A Longer Trip Back Home

By Hiromi Suzuki.

Hey, have a cigarette?

She always asks me if I have a cigarette when she has emptied the last box. Of course I do not have it, she knows. My mother spends all her wages on cigarettes. My mother, a waitress at a café in the center of a suburban residential area at the edge of the world. In the afternoon, the café is filled with ladies. They are housewives coming from elegant houses at the edge of the world, killing time. Mother and the ladies play mah-jongg every Wednesday at the café, in the center of the town, where the smoke of cigarettes wafts stronger than the scent of coffee.

You must go straight home and study, Mother says, as a mother would.

I always stop by a used record store on my way home from high school. Music is the heart of my mind. Today, my favorite tune, “Running Away,” is playing in the store. The Raincoats’ version, not Sly & The Family Stone’s, which is actually called “Runnin’ Away.” I sing to the music.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

The vinyl collector is smiling wryly.

Delightful tune, but ironical lyrics, he says. I have a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. I wonder how many more years I have to work. I want to sell this store and get away to San Francisco, the heart of the world. Why? You can see the ocean from the top of the hill. That is all.

His 11-year-old son, strangely mature, enters the conversation while listening near the cash register.

How about your boyfriend? No lover? If you are not in love yet, it is too late. But dad is too young for an affair.

The boy’s eyes twinkle with curiosity. There is a big Himalayan cedar in the back of the record store, and sometimes an owl appears on a branch. When I am staying in the store, forgetting time, I hear the owl tu–whit tu–whoo. A small river flows at the root of the cedar, and there is a small old church on the marsh.

When I was a child, a wedding was held by the side of this river. I was a bridesmaid, and the cedar was decorated like a Christmas tree. The guests carried an enormous red sea bream into the kitchen in preparation for the ceremony. My mother and the vinyl collector’s wife poached the eggs to a beautiful golden colour and boiled four dozen white asparagus as a side dish. On a Swedish glass dish in bas‐relief with dandelions, the butter slowly melted beside the radishes.

Yes. It was spring.

Someone knocked on the door of the kitchen. Ladies in aprons looked around. They thought the knock was the prank of a spring storm. But it was the bridegroom. He rushed to the kitchen sink and turned the tap to gulp down some water. An old woman named Eliza shouted to him from her house across the way.

Too late! The bride has gone somewhere! She is a wayward girl!

Too far! It took a million hours on a bus from Shibuya station! he joked, spouting water from his inflated mouth and soaking his bow tie. He was a chipmunk that came to this marsh on a gondola of chicory leaves.

The bride was beautiful. She was clinging to the cedar, and as she reached out to the star ornaments shining on the branches of the tree, a warm wind teased the hem of her champagne dress. Guests grew excited, little by little. The sky was getting dark. I was crouching alone on the bank of the river at dusk. The chipmunk ran away from the banquet and gave me a leftover chicory leaf like a tiny boat. The boat left my hand. The boat drifted on the river, far away.

Where does this river come from? I questioned the bridegroom.

A mountain? I do not know. Ha! he answered.

Where does this river go to?

The river reflected the sunset. The chicory boat was floating freely on the water.

The sea? Ah, Tokyo Bay, the Pacific? Ha! Ha!

Tokyo Bay? Little did I know a small river in my small town flows into the infinite ocean. I had never seen the sea.

A girl in a swimsuit with a yellow floral pattern is swimming in a murky pool. Someone beckons her, seduces her. She becomes a little fish and approaches him trembling with fear. No. The girl dives in the ocean for the first time. Not the pool. A blowfish hides at the bottom of the sea. White round blowfish like clouds shine in the sunlight breaking through the faint waves. The blowfish has poison. She keeps swimming in pursuit of poison. A blowfish with white belly inflated does not move. Is he dead? As he opens his eyes slowly, he laughs, showing his teeth.

All of us have a place in history. Mine is in the clouds, he says *[1].

Dad! she cries with joy. Her father died a drunk at fifty years of age. Everyone says it was a slow-motion suicide. No. Certainly, he lives his life at the bottom of the sea, or as the shadow of a cloud floating on the surface of the ocean. There is a Japanese proverb: control poison with poison. Her father was fighting the evil in his mind with his own poison. She remembers his rounded back. Late at night, or on a Sunday afternoon, he headed to his desk with a bottle of Johnnie Walker and read the collection of poems. She cannot remember the titles of foreign books. The poems were written in English or French. The girl begins to swim toward the sun. Petals scattering from her swimsuit shine in the water. Like cherry blossoms dancing in a cloudy sky.

The memory of the wedding at the root of the Himalayan cedar raised for me the riddle of a small river in my small town. I decided to explore the headsprings and the destination of this flow. I bought a 1950s map of Tokyo at Jimbōchō. At the ward office, I found historical documents about Shibuya Ward. The map showed that the source of river was a marsh under the church. One more place. I found a pond on the site of an old mansion, the place I always see on my way to school. No one seemed to live there, and unmanaged trees grew thick behind the high wall. The map said Davies House. Once a British trading merchant lived here. Mr. Davies sold his mansion and returned home in the 1980s. During the Edo period, in the 1600s, it was a pleasure garden called Oyama-en. The garden was not a place for children to play. There were no merry-go-rounds, roller coasters or kiosks selling gelato. It was the place where poets gathered, in the gazebo at the pond. Intellectuals enjoyed tea and spent time meditating.

The gate of the abandoned mansion had been closed for about 40 years. One fine Sunday, I found out that the site of the mansion was open to Shibuya residents, but only for the day. The garden was already full of people strolling with flowers in their hands. The petals shine with droplets, because the night before was rainy. The faces of people are shining with curiosity. Not only the vines of feral trees but also the ferns are crawling at my feet. I have difficulty walking. In the deep green woods, a lacquered bridge is painted a particularly bright shade of red. I stand on the bridge. Under it, spring water bubbles in a dry pond.

A chipmunk of about 12 centimeters fills his cheeks with buds and jumps off the zelkova tree. The chipmunk is eating mock strawberries growing around the pond.

This is cute Fraisier de Duchesne. Mock Strawberry is also called poison strawberry, but it is not poisonous. Try it. Ha! the chipmunk says to me proudly and plays in the pond using the red fruit as a beach ball. The bright red strawberry slips through his fingers and is swallowed by invisible swirls on the water. It disappears into the drain of the pond. There is a river, a culvert, beyond the drain. It was buried in concrete beneath the Metropolitan Area when the Olympics were held in Tokyo in 1964.

Fraisier de Duchesne left itself to the water. Sunlight melted into the Kōhone-River. The water was warm. Kōhone Flowers–East Asian yellow water-lilies–surrounding the river were swaying gently in the wind. Leaves were floating on the surface. Fraisier de Duchesne came out of the darkness in the groundwater and bathed in the sunlight on a leaf. A little boy and his father held hands and passed by Fraisier de Duchesne. They were singing a song.

A small river in spring is flowing smoothly *[2]  

To violets and milk-vetch flowers on the shore

While flowering gently in beautiful colour

Bloom please, bloom, While whispering

Fraisier de Duchesne, pretty in red, has no poison and knows nothing about poison. It will leave itself to the stream of water and time as ever.    

I am standing on Inari-Bridge near the Shibuya Station. All rivers leading to this bridge are culverts. Buildings are towering on both sides of the bridge, a forest of department stores, restaurants, brothels. Shibuya River flows under the bridge. I can see the water with my eyes. The river passes through the downtown. Various people come and go. Various voices are confused with various languages. The clear stream has revived on the Shibuya River before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. I am moved by the truth that there is a sea called Tokyo Bay, if I will swim about 6.8 kilometers from here. The orange colour of the sun floating on the Shibuya River is the same as it on the nameless small river in my small town. The murmur of a stream whispers.

Shall we run away to the ocean?      

I have forever heard it. The music was played repeatedly on a late-night program on the radio. Maybe it is a melody signaling that a passenger ship is leaving port but is not suitable for departure. Colourful flags on the mast are fluttering in the blue sky. On the surface of the sea, reversed flags shimmer like stained glass. Their shadows are waving to the pulse of engines. I recall that this was my favorite song while looking at the port far away. On my way home, on the bus, I am listening to “Runnin’ Away” on my mobile phone. Sly & The Family Stone’s version, not The Raincoats’, which is anyway called “Running Away.”

San Francisco is too far. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!  

Murmuring aloud, I can see from the window that the huge rain cloud chases the bus. The cloud seems to be as high as Montmartre. The front window of the bus is sprayed with heavy rain and becomes completely white. Lightning and the sudden shower cut off my music. The bus has no choice but to stop at the station square. The smell of rain invades. I hear footsteps of seasonal changes. I know that I was pretending not to notice the change of seasons. A mother and child in the seat across the aisle are talking.

We left our umbrella in grandma’s home, but it will clear up soon.

They are looking at brand new shoes they just bought at the department store. Desert boots which are made of suede. I wonder if they are trying to transport themselves by supernatural force to a desert planet 900 light years from the earth. There is no sea on the other side of the moon. I am thinking of the sea.

Yes. Summer will come soon.

 

*Quotations:

[1] The Tokyo-Montana Express, 1980

A collection of short stories by Richard Brautigan

[2] Small River in Spring, 1912

A song for schoolchildren

Lyrics: Tatsuyuki Takano

Music: Teiichi Okano

(Translation: hiromi suzuki)

Takano had his residence near the Kōhone-River (Yoyogi 3-chōme Shibuya-Ward, Tokyo) when he wrote the lyrics of Small River in Spring. At that time, Kōhone-River was running as a stream that supplied water to the fields, and joined the Shibuya River.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hiromi Suzuki
is a poet, fiction writer and artist living in Tokyo, Japan. She is the author of Ms. cried – 77 poems by hiromi suzuki (Kisaragi Publishing, 2013), logbook (Hesterglock Press, 2018), INVISIBLE SCENERY (Low Frequency Press, 2018), Andante (AngelHousePress, 2019). Her works have been published internationally in poetry journals, literary journals and anthologies. Twitter: @HRMsuzuki

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, February 11th, 2020.