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THE SHIMEGUCHIS By Kirk Shimano

Part 1: Mrs. Shimeguchi’s Complaint Please excuse my rudeness, but I don’t have anyone else to talk to and I think my husband might be a murderer. It is not my place to say so but his nice white shirts are often stained with blood. I have to soak them for several hours and then wash them in the machine for three times or more. Because of this the bills for electricity and water have both become very high, making my husband even more upset. My husband has always been a very determined man. He worked very hard in high school and attended a first rate university. I hear that he is well respected by his co-workers. He was the youngest man to ever be appointed section chief in all of the Kansai area. He never compromises. He will never eat a meal without a jar of pickled cabbage, the way his mother used to make it. I try my best to emulate her recipe but I believe he is often disappointed. I’m sorry. He will probably be most ashamed that I am revealing our private business in public. But when I realized that some of my finer cutlery was missing I thought it best to seek a second opinion. If Taro was still at home, I would ask him to help me look for my cutlery. Life is different without Taro around. He spent many hours studying for his own entrance exams. I would stay up late each night to make refreshments for him. He worked so hard, like his father does. It has been so cold lately! It is as if winter will never come to an end. It is worst in the middle of the night, which is why I am surprised that my husband would come home so late in the evening. Mrs. Koto says that her husband’s company section will often return home at eleven or earlier, skipping the second round of drinks so that they can beat the winds from the sea. My husband returns home much later than that. I suppose it is his section, but ever since the

Miyakawa family was transferred to Shikoku, I do not know any of my husband’s coworkers, so I have no one else to ask about this. There are many nights when my husband returns without the scent of sake on his breath. Perhaps he travels to the bar and only has very little to drink, but I am not completely sure. Of course, these are not good reasons to suspect that one’s husband is doing anything out of the ordinary. Under normal conditions, I would never even think of mentioning such stupid thoughts to anybody else. But last Tuesday I noticed something that I still wish that I had never seen. The foot warmer became broken. It’s almost as old as my son and undoubtedly deserves to be replaced. I thought that, perhaps, I could do something to fix it. I don’t know why such a silly notion entered my head – I know nothing of foot warmers or other appliances. But that’s what I thought, nonetheless, so I set out to find a screwdriver, for one always needs a screwdriver if one is going to fix something. Naturally, I was unable to find a screwdriver. All of the drawers I’m accustomed to searching contain nothing more than spare linens and old photo albums. I realized that my husband might have one, so I began to sift through his pressed shirts and pin-striped slacks. I was just about ready to forego my search when a small glint of metal caught my eye. Ah, there, it is, I thought, as I emptied the remainder of the drawer onto the floor. But it wasn’t a screwdriver at all. It was a finely polished handgun. It would be no exaggeration to say that I was terrified by this discovery. Though I can scarcely bare to admit it, who else but my husband could have placed that handgun in his dresser? Had it been fired? I hoped that it had not been, but I do not know how to tell. Our neighborhood is considered to be very safe. I do not think my husband would need to buy a gun for our protection. And if he had bought the gun to protect us, he would have told me, wouldn’t he? My husband would probably only feel the need to hide his gun if he had ill intentions, don’t you think?

I placed the gun back in the drawer, exactly as I had found it. What sort of man would hide a gun in his dresser, I ask myself. Who has my husband become? He has been surly, recently. It has been a long time since we have talked. As I lay out his meal for him every night, I ask him about his day, but receive only a grunt and a sullen glare in return. I merely thought he was nervous about the end of quarter reports, but maybe there has been a deeper trouble brewing deep within him. I decided to investigate. My husband has always delighted in soaking in the bathtub for especially lengthy periods of time. Generally, I go to bed long before he has emerged, but one day last week I drank many cups of tea so that I would not have the slightest urge to sleep. While my husband is in the bathtub, he always leaves his wallet upon the interior sink, next to the washing machine. I turned on the faucet to mask the rustiling of investigation. My husband was absorbing the bath water, silent without so much as a splash. “My wife,” he asked. “What are you doing awake so late at night?” “Nothing, my husband. I simply forgot to brush my teeth.” I thought of the school girls in the high school comic books, suddenly enmeshed in adventures that they never planned, but I stopped these thoughts before I began to enjoy myself. I was resigned to my somber task, plundering my husband’s wallet for a business card or receipt that explained his strange behavior, proving my worries to be empty and needless. But the contents of his wallet proved to be plain and boring, and I was left with nothing to do but turn off the faucet. I called out to him, “Please rest well, my husband.” But then I noticed what he had placed on the washing machine. Did I mention that my husband works at a communications firm, in the pocket phone division? He always receives the latest models and is encouraged to use them as often as he can. Perhaps there is some record of a call he did not want known, I mused. I picked up the phone and tried to read its screen, but there were so

many buttons! “Are you still there, my wife?” said my husband, except that he did not pronounce it like a question. “Yes,” I said. I turned on the washing machine even though there was nothing inside of it. “I just realized that I forgot to finish the day’s washing, and if I do not start it right this instant there will be nothing for you to wear the day after tomorrow.” My husband seemed contented, if not pleased, by this answer. I could tell this because he only grunted in response. I coughed as I pressed the buttons on the phone, attempting to mask its sounds as I coaxed it to reveal its secrets to me. The images on the screen were colorful and friendly, and I sure they would have been extremely helpful if I had known the name of the information I had wanted to find. I pressed buttons at random, expecting the phone to explode at any moment, to sound a buzzer and make my husband aware that I had broken my trust in him. The phone did not explode, but I did hear my husband beginning to splash. “What is all that noise?” he asked, perhaps a bit more nervous than an innocent man would be expected to be. I did not answer him, pushing the buttons on the pocket phone in an order I will never remember. A list of phone numbers was displayed, paired with names that I recognized. In the other room, my husband was standing up, the bath water splashing onto the tile. I read through the names on the screen, finding the button that made them change. His doctor, his department head, his cousin in Fukuoka. There is something I should find, I thought, but will I know it when I see it? My husband has stepped onto the tile and I could see his outline distorted through the mist on the transparent bathroom door. He had never abused me before, but had he changed so much? A phone number on the pocket phone was unlabeled and unfamiliar. I repeated the numbers in my head. I repeated them and repeated them as many times as I could as my husband opened the door and

stalked closer to me. I repeated the number again to myself, and was halfway through it again when he snatched the phone from my head and raised it in the air, as if to strike me down. It has been a long time since I last saw my husband naked. There is a birthmark above his navel that I did not remember. I looked at the way that the flesh clung limply to the lower side of his arm. I realized that his chest had become as hollow as the sockets of his eyes. If someone were to show me a photograph of just his finger, or his shoulder, or the back of his neck, I am sure I would not be able to recognize it. Even when put together, his frame was somehow unfamiliar to me. I wondered what had changed him so, but was afraid what he might tell me if I asked. My husband lowered his phone to his side, suddenly weary from my probing eyes. It looked as if he had not slept in months. Without saying a word, he reached for a towel and began to wrap it around his waist. “I am sorry,” I said. “I should have completed the laundry earlier. There is no excuse for making such bothersome noise so late at night.” “You may drain the bath water, now,” he said as he walked out of the room. I scratched the mystery phone number onto the back of a detergent box, but there was no need. These numbers were so deeply engraved in my mind that it would have been easier to forget my own name. As is his habit, my husband left early the next morning, and I awoke to an empty room. The sun shone through the papered window, casting a shadow grid onto the floor beside me. For a moment, the warmth of the sun made me hopeful that the winter had come to an end, but then the numbers came thundering back into my head and my only wish was that time would reverse its course. I think I shall call the number soon, but what do you think is best?

Part 2: Mr. Shimeguchi’s Confession

Of course I thought about telling my wife! What kind of bastard do you think I am? But did you not stop and think about how hard it would be for her if she knew the truth? No. Of course not. No one thinks about anyone else but themselves. Take the rail train, for example. A thousand salarymen sardined into eleven cars. They bury their noses in pornographic comic books and pretend not to notice when people push towards the door. No one bothers to say “excuse me.” No one acknowledges the human contact. That’s why the gropers can do whatever they want. I look at all the identical drones who ignore each other on their way to work and I know one thing for certain. No one would notice if one less person boards the train tomorrow. No one at all. It’s even worse because I work with those damn phones. You can’t turn your head without spotting some punk with grease in his hair and a phone in his hand. School girls at a bus stop send messages to friends who are two meters away. Two meters away! I used to think that the young knew something more about personal contact. I was wrong. But you were asking about my wife. I pity her, most of the time, and not only because she is married to me. She should have been born three decades earlier. She always waits for me to sit down before asking about my day. Her responses never change in any way that I can tell. We eat in silence. We never go out. Oh, that’s my fault, you think? Wait! Don’t go. Stop. Listen to me. Please. Do you want to know a secret? I bought myself a gun. Have I ever used it? Well, it would be quite stupid for someone to buy a gun if he didn’t plan to use it, now, wouldn’t it?

Part 3: Mrs. Shimeguchi’s Discovery Although I cannot pretend to have been completely surprised, I was rather disappointed to come to the realization that the number on my husband’s pocket phone belonged to a brother.

Did that expression offend you? I am sorry. I did not mean to offend you. I realize that such places are reluctant to identify themselves as “brothels,” specifically. This one is called the White Unicorn. I suspected that they were a business of illicit interactions as soon as the manager picked up the phone. He was very surprised to hear the voice of a woman. He asked if I was a private investigator of some sort. I know it sounds foolish, but for a moment I considered misleading him to believe that I was an investigator. But after that moment, I decided to ask in a very plain tone of voice if I could please have their address. I believe that the manager still had his suspicions, but he provided their address without any protestation. I took my camera with me to the less desirable area of town. Have you seen this camera? I purchased it only a few days ago. A great many things have been happening to me recently and I fear that I may lose track if I do not create a document of them. As you would probably guess, the mechanics of this new camera were difficult to understand at first. However, with a considerable amount of practice I was able to take several photographs of the inside of our house that were not nearly as unskilled as I would have expected. Would you like to perhaps take a look at them in a few minutes? But I did not take any photographs during my visit to the White Unicorn. It was not the type of area where one is supposed to take photographs. Even in the daylight, the buildings seemed somehow darker. Perhaps the streets were more narrow. A menu was posted before each of the stores, listing massages and companionship as if they were slabs of raw meat. I kept my head level with the horizon, pretending as if I had somewhere entirely different to go, but in truth, if I had seen anyone that I had known, they would surely have had more reason to be embarrassed than me, don’t you think? The manager of the White Unicorn was a man not unlike my husband. He used as many grunts as he used words and rarely looked into my eyes. “This is not a place for you,” he told me. He pointed out the window and said, “The fish

market is a block over. This happens all the time.” I must admit, even though I had gone through such pains to call the White Unicorn and then locate it, I was tempted to nod my head and apologize. I had never attempted to spy on anyone before, so it would be no exaggeration to say that I hadn’t the slightest idea of what to do. I feared that the manager would be quite flustered if I asked him of my husband’s indiscretions directly. As I looked about the room for an excuse to remain within the White Unicorn, my eyes fell upon a small altar with a black and white photograph of a young girl. “Who is this?” I asked. The manager followed my gaze and glanced at the photograph. “She is nothing at all,” he said, waving his hand. He began to stand up and asked if I would like to be shown to the fish market directly. “No, “ I told him, “I would like to know about the young woman.” The manager glanced at me sideways and released another grunt. I held my expression as blank as steel, the same expression I use when slicing through an especially odorous pickled cabbage. The manager was the type of man who enjoyed sharing a story, I could tell, so Ieaned towards him and asked once more, “I would like to know about the young woman in the photograph.” With another grunt, the manager leaned back into his chair. He looked at my steely face, then the photograph, then somewhere slightly to the left of my ear. “That girl in the photograph was named Hanako,” he said. “She died a few weeks ago. Her mother is a religious zealot. As soon as mama realized her baby had been one of our hostesses, she insisted we place this where everyone can see. She threatened to shut us down, otherwise. The bitch. It depresses the hell out of the clients, so I hide it when I can, but the bitch comes to check every now and again. Fortunately, mama’s bedtime is eight o’clock.” At this point my pickled cabbage face began to waver. “How did Hanako die?” I asked. The manager leaned forward, causing his chair to release a grunt of its own. “They say it was a disease,” he said, but then his voice lowered as if he had

suddenly lost the strength to do anything but whisper. “They say it was disease,” he said, “but I suspect it was something else.” I must admit that at that point my lip began to quaver and my teeth began to clatter. I am unsure if that is the natural reaction for this situation, but that was what my body began to do. It was as if a cold wind had suddenly removed all of the life from that small room in the White Unicorn. I reached into my purse and grasped a small photograph of my husband. “Have you ever seen this man?” I asked the manager. “Yes,” he said. “He would always ask for Hanako.” How could my husband hate this Hanako so much?

Part 4: Mr. Shimeguchi’s Cowardice Hanako’s grave is in a small cemetery on the edge of Otsu. Her mother visits it every day and burns too much incense. I think she is beginning to recognize me, but I don’t care anymore. When she sees me, she burns an extra stick of incense. But I’m not going to say anything more about Hanako. She is dead now and I am still alive. Do you need any further proof that the world is an awful place? I will not tarnish her memory by associating her with me. I also keep the gun loaded in my dresser. I can’t remember if I sleep anymore. When I lay down each night, I wrap myself in five blankets. Even when the night is buzzing with cicadas, I wrap myself again and again, pulling the blankets tighter around me so that my skin can no longer breathe. I know the time will soon come when I will only feel cold, so I wrap myself tighter. But that doesn’t work, so I tear off the blankets. I tear off each one, then I tear off my nightshirt, then I claw at my skin. I wrap and I wrap and I tear and I tear and although I make it to the morning, I can never remember if I slept. I do remember the gun in my dresser. And I am also leaking blood.

Hanako was there when I left for Chiba on a business trip. She wasn’t there when I got back. I think it was best that way. I didn’t have to see her die so I never had to think about her. It will be the same for my wife. Suicide on a rainy day. Blood dripping on his lover’s grave. Pathetic.

Part 5: Mrs. Shimeguchi’s Confession I’m sure that you have many kimonos that are much finer than these, but this particular one has always been a personal favorite of mine. I do not keep it in the best condition, I am ashamed to admit. Tonight I only wear it for the most somber of reasons, but I still could not suppress the silly satisfaction of wearing my favorite kimono, so I used the camera to take one small photograph. Perhaps you would like to see it later? For dinner tonight, my husband shall have chicken cutlet and a potato croquette. I have made such a meal many times before, but tonight is a bit more challenging, for I must be careful not to let the kimono dip into the oil. There is also a secret that, if you do not mind, I would like to confide. I have worn this kimono because I am hiding my husband’s gun in the sleeve. I know that this solution is only temporary, but I think it is best, don’t you agree? If I were to leave the gun in the dresser drawer, I would feel most guilty if my husband were to commit another act of violence. If I were to dispose of it in the trash bin, the neighbors would surely be unduly alarmed. Tomorrow I shall decide what is best to do, but I do not have the luxury of making any decisions before dinnertime. An undercooked piece of chicken may arouse my husband’s suspicion. I wear my pickled cabbage face I hear the front door opening. “I am home,” my husband says.

Part 6: Mr. Shimeguchi’s Response “Welcome back,” my wife answers.

Before I see her face, I consider telling her everything. For a moment, I no longer recognize my own front room. The slats of the window carve giant bars of shadow across the entry step. There’s a cupboard above the shoes. I don’t remember the last time I looked inside. The chopsticks are aligned perpendicular to the table. I assume my seat. “How was your day at work, my husband?” she asks. I look and think again about what I might say. The only words I can summon are, “My wife, why are you wearing that kimono?” “The laundry machine has been broken so I have been unable to wash my other clothes.” She carefully holds back the sleeve while pouring my tea. For a moment, it feels as if we are living three centuries in a world where only the simple problems exist. I am in a teahouse with a woman in a kimono. This stranger brings me a bowl of rice and sits across from me, waiting for me to speak. “Enjoy your food, my husband.” Something is on the television but I don’t notice. I stare at my wife and marvel that two people at a dinner table can be oceans and mountains apart.