Excerpt from One-Track Mind by Ortensia Visconti
(L’Idea Fissa © 2012 by Ortensia Visconti)
Inquiries regarding rights may be addressed to literary agent Marc Parent: firstname.lastname@example.org
English translation © 2012 by Anne Milano Appel
Ma, the pause between two notes.
The blanks between the lines of a haiku, the silence between one drop and another running down Eve’s leg.
Ma, empty space saturated with feeling.
Eve is sleeping. Floating on the large limb of a dead camphor laurel, her kimono loosened at the waist reveals her adolescent breasts and falls open along a thigh that dangles in the air, dripping over the motionless ocean.
The interval of each instant.
The Tsukiji fish market is drenched with a fine rain. Fog that dries out with the gray of dawn under the tubes of neon that flood the tuna auctions with dazzling light. The bodies are lined up as though after a massacre. Frozen white, stumpy slabs of meat, entrails gutted; labeled, marked, sold; gills punctured and fins cut off. They lie in rows on the ground, in a trail leading to the way out of the large grim room. Outside they continue along, but unfrozen, gray shiny salted, mouths open in a grim smile, fins straight out as though still swimming in the sea. The men don’t notice anything. They drive the loaded forklifts, darting between the polystyrene aisles without paying any attention to the obstacles. There is no more sea, in the sea. Meanwhile on the wooden counters blood drips through the cracks, trickles down, fills the vats to the brim. The present stretches out like an old elastic band and blood gurgles and bubbles. Tentacles emerge, the blossoms of already stiffened suction cups reach out, grip the edges. They are tako, anago, ika, octopus, sea eel and squid. The shells chatter like jaws, marking the rhythm of the waves in the polystyrene containers. They are scallops, limpets, oysters, clams.
Scales, still slimy, rub against shards of ice, gills breathe in air, dull eyes become shiny again. They are hamachi, hirame, kanpachi, saba, tai, suzuki, amber fish, halibut, Japanese yellowtail, mackerel, snapper and sea bass.
Swollen with poison, the fugu, puffer fish, glide up to the dock and roll into port; for a few moments, before diving under, they float like excrement.
Past and future converge in the present. Now. The moment has come. The ground is stone and sand, lava and ash, caked among the roots of semi-tropical vegetation. Below it there’s a monster, as big as the island, thrashing about. There is only one point in Japan that is inactive: it is the handle of the fan, the juncture of four tectonic plates. The rest is earthquakes, typhoons, tsunami, cyclones, eruptions, tremors, fires, floods, nuclear action.
Now the monster is heaving its scaly back. It’s those concentric circles, the drops running down Eve’s leg and sliding into the sea, the silence between them that’s driving him crazy. Ase, chi, zamen? Sweat, blood, semen? His long, squamose head approaches, his nostrils dilate, his forked tongue quivers. He rouses the sleeping girl’s body, and she lets him caress her as she gracefully raises a hand: the slender fingers clasp the two ribbons of tongue like creeping tendrils. The monster’s eyeballs bulge, his claws shoot out from his long reptilian body and sink into Eve’s childlike knees; he spreads them apart. Nichanicha, the slimy secretion of his scales sticks to Eve’s skin, he slides over her. The kimono rips, and bits of silk drift onto the flat surface of the sea.
Eve screams. “Please, I beg you, no!”
The sea begins to churn. Pocha- pocha, lapping, swish-swashing. Tentacles surface. Eight huge arms with two hundred and forty suction cups attached to three hearts and a brain that lusts. Muku- Muku, excited grunts. Opaque eyes, up close, inky globes. The limb of the camphor tree snaps, the dragon’s neck is gripped in a knot and Eve plunges into the sea. The suckers aspirate her, drawing her blood through the skin, while a tentacle explores her mouth. Tsupa- Tsupa, slurping and sucking. Eve can’t cry out. Those viscous arms spread open her thighs, bind her arms, pin her head back; her throat is swollen, she’s unable to breathe. At that moment the octopus’ mouth finds her sex and begins to suck. He drains her fluids, and goes on sucking. Tears blind her as a tentacle slides into her anus and makes its way inside her.
The dragon has cracked the handle of the fan and shrugged Japan off its back, leaving it floating in the ocean like a walnut. He’s flushed and furious and his fire melts the octopus’ suckers, while a claw rips through its head splitting it into two purple slabs.
Eve screams: “No more ... Enough!!!” The sea spills over, submerges, engulfs. Muka- muka. Its surge sweeps away the Tsukiji market, now empty of fish. It washes away Tokyo the way a gust of wind scatters the petals of a flowering cherry tree.
Tokyo burns, lit by a reddish light, covered by a cloud of chemical vapors. Men were killed and alarms continue to wail ...
“Were you sleeping, Ichiro san?”
“Who is this?”
“The doorkeeper. I’m sorry to wake you.”
“Has something happened?”
“Yes, something serious.”
What the hell! Ichiro slides over the futon to reach the alarm clock and hits the off button.
“Something serious, you said?”
“Well, you see, I was sweeping the entryway behind the cherry tree, which started blooming just this morning. By chance I overheard a conversation between two individuals. Bad guys, I assure you. They were talking about breaking into 17F ... by Friday.”
“Everything alright, Ichiro-san?”
Ichiro’s face is drowsy, but even awake he seems to be concentrating intensely. It’s his expression. As if he were taking an exam or piloting an airliner, only all he’s doing is getting up from the futon. He runs his hands through his short cropped hair, trying to assimilate the information he’s been given. There is still a dream halfheartedly lodged in his consciousness. The bits of dream mingle with the doorkeeper’s words, leading to confusion. Watch out. He pushes a button and the shutters all rise at the same time. The view of Tokyo, dazzling and dense with concrete, calls up another sensation from the dream. Vague and alarming. He puts on his slippers and slides open the rice paper partition. The apartment is cluttered with objects. It wouldn’t be such a mess, except it’s too small to hold a television, stereo, computer, cello, chairs and a large, lacquered, inlaid wooden chest that looks like a coffin ... Then there’s the Buddhist altar. Ichiro opens the cabinet doors and bows a greeting to his mother’s photograph. He nods, satisfied: he’ll see to the offerings afterwards. He leaves the slippers in front of the bathroom and slides into his flipflops. When he sees his reflection in the mirror, he relaxes the frown on his forehead. Bad guys, I assure you. It’s something he’s in the habit of doing before brushing his teeth. They were talking about breaking into 17F. With the toothbrush whirring he returns to the living room, leaving the flipflops and putting his slippers back on. He goes over to the wooden chest, placed vertically between the TV and the Playstation 3. He’s frowning again as he runs a hand over the lacquer, between the inlays and precious seals. He shakes his head. By Friday! He heads back to the bathroom, takes off his slippers, slides into the flipflops and spits the toothpaste in the sink.
The train is overflowing with salaryman, commuters. Rigid as though in group hypnosis, all wearing neckties, their expression that of future karoshi, men dead from overwork. By a stroke of luck, an elderly man who seemed to have fallen asleep a couple of stations ago, suddenly rises and gets off. Ichiro, incredulous, takes his seat. This provides a few inches of space around him. He leafs through the manga that he always keeps in the inside pocket of his jacket, but something stops him. He stares straight ahead, concentrating like a child sitting on the toilet. Ma, he thinks, is where art begins. Ma is the length of silence between two sounds. Music values the interval of each instant, at the expense of the overall structure. It is on ma that he must compose if he wants to make the next Sony campaign succeed. A loud brand like that should use the elegance of silence to sell even more. Higengo komyunikeshon, non-verbal communication.
Suddenly a cloud of pink tulle brushes against his ear. The edge of the Gothic Lolita’s tutu is level with his face. Ichiro peeks down: she’s wearing pale-blue shoes with laces and a rounded toe. Her stockings stop just below plump knees that curve slightly inward. Her panties are visible, at least to him: a series of small overlapping flounces reminiscent of cherry blossoms. Ichiro stretches his neck to see over the cloud of tulle and make out her face. The blonde curls resting on her chemise are held by a blue ribbon tied tightly around her head in a bow. Below her bangs, the girl’s face is covered with rice powder, impassive, like a porcelain geisha. Her gaze is fixed, with the lifeless expression of a shojo.
When Ichiro returns to a natural position, his eyes below her dress again, his heart pops in his chest like an air-rifle. Something is shaking the cherry blossoms, a frenetic movement among the Gothic Lolita’s ruffles. Ichiro slides down in the seat, lowering himself a few inches more. Slender, almost feminine fingers grab the elastic of the girl’s panties and move them aside, revealing her smooth, hairless mound. Ichiro is so confused that his vision fogs up; impulsively he moves his hands, as if he were manipulating the Playstation. But the controls don’t respond and his suit fabric stretches, tugging between his legs. Quickly, he places the comic book he had in his pocket over his crotch but he can’t stop himself from looking. He wonders if the girl waxes or if she’s really that young. The fingers slide into her sex like the tentacles of an octopus. Tsuru-Tsuru, moving in and out of her wet vagina. Ichiro straightens up in his seat: the Gothic Lolita’s face retains a doll-like innocence. Ichiro’s eyes travel from the jerking wrist up along the culprit’s arm. He stops at the man’s pelvis. He too has an erection, and he doesn’t cover it with a manga but drives it into the young girl’s buttocks.
At that point the Gothic Lolita opens a school-bag. A few inches from Ichiro’s face, she pulls out a metal tool. The man’s fingers are still groping inside her, while the shojo, with a skillful gesture, places the tool on the molesting organ and squeezes her hand. When Ichiro hears the clack it’s too late to do anything. What? The man’s scream is shrill, almost womanish. The staples fired from that particular model of pneumatic stapler are almost half an inch long.
Ichiro leaps to his feet. Panic grips his throat, he can’t breathe. He can feel the pain, the staple passing through the light fabric of his pants and piercing his hardened sex. He gets off the train and touches his genitals, protecting them in the time it takes to get away. It’s not his stop. But he had no intention of going to the office. Not today. And even less so now. By Friday! He forces himself to breathe deeply. He has only a short time left to make his preparations. Tokyu Hands is the place to start.
The big department store is almost empty at that hour of the morning. Ichiro follows the signs to the third floor. They have anything you want in there. The shelves go on and on, offering everything the human imagination has managed to come up with, from the tool age on. The music pounds out the same deafening notes over and over again, in contrast to the childlike voice of a young woman who sings: “Girls are so pretty when they’re in love, everyone says so. Can it be true? How I wish! Even the shyest one, even the most ungainly one, when she’s in love her eyes shine like stars. Mamemimumeno, mamemimumeno!” Ichiro’s hearing is very sensitive and the music bothers him. He tries to tune out, tightening his jaw, making his ears buzz. But his phone starts vibrating. He counts four rings and answers. His colleague’s voice is so frantic that he has to hold the phone away from his ear.
“Where are you?! Did you forgot the meeting with the boss? It’s not like you, Ichiro. An empty desk, at 11 in the morning ...”
“I had an idea, for Sony. I’ll write up the details and send it to you.”
“Send it to me?! You have to get to the office, Ichiro…”
“Can I help you, sir?”
Ichiro hangs up the phone and turns to the clerk: “I need some ... knives, please.”
He follows the young man through the department, his eyes glued to the roll of fat that hangs over his waistband along with the top of his undershorts. American food every day, Ichiro thinks. He used to have a roll like that. But it wasn’t the Big Macs. Since his mother died, Ichiro has lost all the fat that once concealed his body. When did she die? He can’t seem to make time tangible. It’s a sequence of images. Sometimes it seems long, sometimes short.
The young man is pointing to a wall of steel blades. Twelve horizontal rows by nine vertical ones. One hundred and eight knives, arranged in five different sizes. Ichiro runs a finger over the blade of the one the clerk hands him and shudders. It would slice through the two-hundred-foot-plus tentacle of a cephalopod like a piece of sushi.
“... Unless you’re interested in ceramic knives.”
“No, steel is fine. I’ll take five, the biggest ones.”
The young man nods and takes down the knives leaving gaps on the wall. The pause between two notes. The empty space saturated with feeling.
“Anything else, sir?”
“Yes, security systems.”
The clerk sniggers, snorting and making a barking sound like a seal: “A Bakemono attack? Monsters?”
Ichiro scratches his head. He doesn’t know why but it seems the guy has guessed the truth. He pictures the burglars surprised by the doorkeeper, like colossal lizards and squid fed by nerve gas and atomic nuclei. Sea monsters determined to break into his apartment and steal the only thing of value there besides the cello. He says: “It’s a pre-announced crime.”
“Ohhhhhhh.” The clerk tugs his pants up over the fat roll and underwear: “Come with me!” Suddenly he darts through the shelves. Ichiro has to quicken his pace, in order to keep up with him. And to hear what he’s saying: “You want a system that resists false alarms, even if the cat is home. Practical to install, effective, not too expensive, easy to maintain and, above all, easy to use.
Ichiro nods in agreement. In actuality he has no idea what he wants.
“You want a practical system, wireless. A setup that will signal an approach from well outside the area. To give you the time you need to prepare yourself.” The clerk indicates the shopping cart with the knives and winks conspiratorially. “You have to use your wits, if you want to win the battle. You have to be creative in using these devices ...”
Finally he’s come to a stop. They are in the security systems department. Outdoor surveillance cameras, hallway monitors, sensors, antitheft smoke bombs and fog dischargers, directional microphones, fiber optics, access control ...
“... you have to focus on the deterrent effect of the systems, create simulated presences and obstacles, automated functions aimed at scaring away the intruder!”
“Is there something that connects to the police via satellite?”
The clerk snorts like a seal again. He sounds like he’s choking but he keeps talking: “The police, sure. But when will they get there? And what will they do then?”
When Ichiro goes down to the first floor his cart is full of stuff. He moves his lips almost imperceptibly, toting up the bill. But he stops in front of the wig counter. They come in all colors and different lengths. He reaches out and casually picks up a red one, with long, waist-length curls. A few feet before the checkout counter he grabs a pair of fluorescent pink fishnet stockings and eye shadow of the same color. Finally he chooses some false eyelashes, iris purple.
1. Ma indicates something “in between”: a period of time between two events, a space between things, the connection between two people, or even the relationship between two different points in time for the same individual.
2. The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, commonly known as the Tsukiji Market, is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. See photo at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tsukiji_Fresh_Tuna_Auction.jpg
3. Polystyrene is a clear plastic or stiff foam, a polymer of styrene, used chiefly as an insulator in refrigerators.
4. Muku- Muku refers to swelling or the sound of male arousal.
5. Tsupa- Tsupa is the sound two wet mouths make.
6. Baku is a “dream eater”, similar to a tapir. Nightmares are caused by evil spirits; when someone wakes up suddenly he must call out: “Baku, eat my dream.”
7. A manga is a Japanese graphic novel, typically intended for adults.
8. The style known as Gothic lolita, sometimes shortened to GothLoli (ゴスロリ, gosu rori), is a combination of the Gothic and Lolita fashion.
9. A shojo is a fragile child or young woman.
10. Tokyu Hands is a Japanese chain that got its start as a do-it-yourself superstore, which explains its logo (a pair of hands) and the emphasis on materials for projects: multiple floors of just about any hobby or craft item you might want.
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