Ginny Tapley Takemori translating Miyuki Miyabe

(Creek & River Co., Ltd., 2014)

Cut to one anxious mother: her daughter, in her second year of high school, has not come home for two full days. She has rung around everyone she can think of, but nobody has seen her.
       It isn’t the first time. Not long ago she stayed away for four or five days, and when she did eventually come home she had her school uniform stuffed into a paper bag, and was wearing brand-new clothes her mother had never seen before. She was wearing makeup, too. Instead of telling her off the mother had burst into tears, pleading with her not to be so silly, but the daughter had just coldly brushed her off.
​       This time she’d run away after the mother searched her room and found a whole load of clothes, accessories, and cosmetics that were far more expensive than she could afford with her pocket money. Shuddering to think just how her daughter had got hold of such items, the mother opened the desk drawer and found an address book. Flipping through it, she saw the names and numbers of friends and various shops, and some men’s names, too. But on one page, ten or so numbers had been listed without any name next to them. Suspicious, the mother tried calling the first number on the list. The call was answered right away, but the person who answered it didn’t identify himself. He sounded middle-aged and spoke quite properly, but all he said was, “Thank you for calling. Can you talk now? How old are you?” When she said she’d found this number in her daughter’s address book, she was met with silence, followed by a subdued laugh and, more kindly, “This is a telephone club, Mom.” Then he hung up.
​       That afternoon when her daughter came home from school, she’d rounded on her in tears: “What on earth do you think you’re doing? A schoolgirl playing around with a telephone club, whatever next? I thought that was only in TV dramas. Why are you doing it?” The daughter had lost her temper and yelled back that she was entitled to her own privacy. “And I go to school every day, don’t I? No complaints about that, I suppose.” It was true, she did go to school, dressed properly in her uniform. But the mother had also had obscene glimpses of her daughter’s private life, with miniskirts so short you could see her underwear, and that’s why she’d felt the need to search her room in the first place. After that argument, the daughter had continued to go to school as if nothing were amiss, while the mother started finding out as much as she could about telephone clubs and the girls who frequented them, learning unbelievable things she’d never wanted to know about. And she didn’t know what to do.
​       Her daughter grew more and more openly hostile toward her, and even began flaunting details about what she was up to. “You get more middle-aged men interested in you if you dress plainly and have a clean, fresh face,” she told her. “And you get money for going out on dates with them. Or you can get them to buy clothes for you. If you’re all dressed up from the start, you don’t get the good ones, only the more risky ones. And of course you only meet up with guys from the telephone club once—you don’t want any trouble later.” “Don’t tell me you’re prostituting yourself too,” the mother said fearfully. The daughter burst out laughing. “If a guy’s good-looking, I’ll go to a hotel with him. What’s wrong with that? It doesn’t hurt anyone. Everyone has some fun!” Seeing her mother in tears just made the daughter all the more angry. “There’s no point you coming at me all self-righteously in tears. It’s all because you’re such a crap mother in the first place.”
​       That was probably true, the mother thought. What were mothers supposed to do? Where did I go wrong? At her wits’ end, she called her husband, who had been sent by his company to work in another city, leaving his family behind. It was the first time she had ever called him about anything to do with their daughter’s education. Raising their only daughter had been entirely her responsibility. But he’d been extremely busy and seemed totally exhausted when she called, so she didn’t feel able to give him all the details, much less that their daughter was prostituting herself. As it was, all she told him was that their daughter hadn’t come home for several days and she was worried that she might be going through a rebellious phase. He had reacted furiously, accusing her of being lax on discipline, and she realized that the one person she should have been able to talk to was no help at all.
​       Ever since, she had borne all her worries alone. Always groping in the dark, treating her daughter gently only to be rebuffed, getting angry with her only to be yelled back at, pleading with her only to be treated with contempt. And now the daughter had run away again, and hadn’t been home for two nights. Where could she be this time? Maybe she’d be home again after a few days.
​       That evening, the telephone rang. It was someone the mother didn’t know, a voice she’d never heard before. It was strange, rather like a machine. Like a cash-dispenser.
​       “Hi Mom, is she home?” it asked.
​       “You mean my daughter?”
​       “Yes, your daughter,” the voice said, and gave a screechy laugh. “But she isn’t home, is she? Of course she isn’t. She’s with me.”
​       “What? I suppose she’s causing you a lot of bother,” the mother said reflexively.
​       “Bother? Yes, she is. But she did me a big favor, so I’m giving her special treatment.”
​       The mother started to reply that was very kind of him, but he interrupted her. “Mom, won’t you come and get her?”
​       “Get her?”
​       “Yes. She says she’ll come home tonight.”
​       The mother’s eyes filled with tears. Her daughter was coming home—and wanted her to come and get her.
​       “Where shall I come?”
​       “There’s a children’s park near your house, isn’t there? The one with a slide that looks like an elephant.”
​       There was. She knew exactly where he meant. That elephant slide had been there ever since the family had moved to this house. Kids would clamber onto the elephant’s body, and slide down its long trunk. She often used to take her daughter there when she was little. She had loved it.
​       “I know the one you mean. I should go there?”
​       “Yes,” the voice said. “Tonight, at two o’clock. It’s a bit late, sorry.”
​       As she thanked him over and over, he hung up. The mother dried her tears and blew her nose. She had been so alone worrying anxiously about her daughter that all she could think about now was that her daughter was coming home. There was no room in her heart to wonder who the caller was, or how ominous the situation sounded.
​       And so at 2 AM she went to the park, which was shrouded in darkness. The moonless sky was heavy with clouds, with just a few blurry stars showing through. The faint chirring of insects in the grass and bushes gave a feel of autumn to the night. Immediately she noticed someone sitting on the slide. A silhouette darker than the night was on the elephant’s head. She ran over to it, and upon reaching the slide recognized her daughter dressed in her school uniform. She was sitting hugging her knees. “Honey, it’s Mom. I came to get you,” she called. “Come on down, I’m not angry with you.” But her daughter didn’t come down. Anxiously she reached up a hand and tugged on her daughter’s skirt. The daughter leaned over, and then tumbled headfirst off the elephant’s round body.
​       The mother screamed and rushed to her daughter’s side, putting her arms around her and sitting her up. But the body in her arms was cold, and strangely stiff. Both eyes were wide open, the mouth half-open in a voiceless scream, the cruel mark left by a rope around her neck telling her what her daughter could not.

Ginny Tapley Takemori

Ginny Tapley Takemori is a translator from Japanese, and has translated fiction by more than a dozen early modern and contemporary Japanese writers, ranging from such early literary giants as Izumi Kyoka and Okamoto Kido to contemporary bestsellers Miyuki Miyabe and Ryu Murakami. Her translation of Tomiko Inui's The Secret of the Blue Glass was longlisted for the Carnegie Prize. Her short fiction translations have appeared in Granta, Words Without Borders, and a number of anthologies, and she has also translated nonfiction books about Japanese art, theater, and history.

Miyuki Miyabe

Miyuki Miyabe (宮部みゆき Miyabe Miyuki) is a popular contemporary Japanese author active in a number of genres including science fiction, mystery fiction, historical fiction, social commentary, and juvenile fiction. Miyabe started writing novels at the age of 23. She has been a prolific writer, publishing dozens of novels and winning many major literary prizes, including the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize in 1993 for Kasha and the Naoki Prize in 1998 for Riyū [The Reason] (理由). A Japanese film adaptation of Riyū, directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, was released in 2004.