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    Izumi SUZUKI

        A STORY CALLED

    SMOKE
                GETS IN 
    YOUR EYES

        Translated by Aiko MASUBUCHI    








Verso’s TERMINAL BOREDOM is the first English-language publication of Izumi SUZUKI’s fictions, a legend of Japanese science fiction and a countercultural icon. Order a copy of this collection direct from the publisher here, and see below for an excerpt from the collection ...





I was just killing time. After I had cleaned my room, cooked, and finished the dishes, I had nothing left to do. So I was hanging around at this arcade, you know? I was there by myself.

I became aware of someone approaching me from behind. It wasn’t like a shadow fell over my game, but I’m sensitive to these things. It seemed like the person was standing and watching me. I looked over my shoulder, wanting to know who it was.

I saw an older woman, probably a little over sixty. She was filthy, her hair in disarray. She was wearing a jacket that looked like a potato sack. Did she work here?

‘Are you winning?’ The old woman smiled and immediately her face turned into a topographical map of a mountain range. What? What does she want?

‘I’ll give you these.’ The old lady brought out a handful of tokens from her pocket.

‘Oh! That’s so kind of you.’ As usual, I went along with it. I’m very good at going along with people. When I was a kid, Gran would call me a sycophant.

‘But, are you sure?’ I asked drawlingly.

She didn’t say anything and smiled slightly. A very deep dimple appeared next to her lips. It was disturbingly erotic. I got goosebumps. I couldn’t tell if it was a pleasant or unpleasant feeling. What was going on here? This old woman’s dimple was far more affecting than a young girl’s. Was I actually a pervert? I knew this nineteen-year-old guy who said he was only interested in women younger than six or older than sixty—a sentiment I couldn’t understand. Was this how he felt? Anyway, I thought I’d seen her before.

‘We’ve met before, right?’ I asked carelessly.

‘Sure.’

The old lady was no longer smiling. Was she from my neighbourhood? The people who lived on my floor were mainly all single guys, and she probably wasn’t a friend of the old landlady. No matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t recall knowing any babies or old women. My mum was still in her forties, my gran is already dead and none of my other relatives is that age either.

I continued playing the game for a couple more minutes, trying to get these ideas out of my head and hoping she’d disappear. But the old lady didn’t make to leave, and I had to stop playing because I have a hard time ignoring people. I get too self-conscious.

Her face looked serious. If I wasn’t mistaken, her eyes had a determined look.

Uh, perhaps she’s taken a liking to me. That’s not good. ‘Um, what ... ?’ I began asking timidly.

‘You forget so easily,’ she said in a low, soft voice. And suddenly I remembered—Reiko! I dated her for a bit, when I was twenty and she was thirty-one. Whatever became of her? There was a while back then when I was really worried.

But this old woman couldn’t be Reiko. She looked a lot like her, though, so maybe she was her mother. I guess my expression changed because the old woman nodded.

‘Want to go get a slice of cheesecake?’ She was acting awfully familiar. I wondered if it was a trap. Would I be taken captive by this woman and interrogated about Reiko? The guilty feelings from back then started to revive in me. I couldn’t help it.

‘Maybe next time. I have work.’ I surprised even myself by how smoothly the lie came out.

‘You’re sure?’ That way she raised her eyebrows looked just like Reiko. It was rare to find a mother and child who looked so alike. Was Reiko a virgin birth? I remember hearing about that in middle school biology. Apparently, if an ovum is stimulated for some reason and begins to divide its cells, a child can be made with no need for a man. In these instances, the child is always female and will be the spitting image of the mother. I mean, could that be true? Pretty dubious. That teacher was probably spouting whatever came into his head.

‘Um, I’m leaving, so ... ,’ I put the tokens back into her hand. She was staring at me rather intensely. Something wasn’t right. I swiftly left the scene.





I went into a small glass-walled room. This is where I wait in case a machine breaks or somebody has a complaint. That’s my job these days.

I took out a cigarette and lit it. No red light was on, calling for me.

Maybe he didn’t know who I was. Jane hadn’t changed much in three years. But I’ve aged so much. About thirty years’ worth. My body is aging for real. An unbelievable amount. Sometimes when I decide to put on some foundation, to my dismay it gathers around my wrinkles; no matter how well I try to apply it, the foundation just ends up outlining them. The thicker I try to lather it on, the more vivid the lines become and reveal a pattern.

Even I can’t believe just how bad it is.

This isn’t the kind of place that would hire me. They probably hired me because I’m in my thirties according to my birth certificate. On my resumé, I only wrote in the silver ID number we all have below our clavicles, neglecting to mention the fact that my psychologist had given me that treatment. I’ve already cashed my first weekly paycheque, but I’m sure they’ll wise up soon enough. Could be any day now. What’ll I do if I get fired?

There is no day or night here. Boys and girls wearing fluttery clothes come in hordes and all play alone.

Time might begin to pass at a frightening pace again. It’s why I incessantly keep checking the clock on the wall. But maybe you could say it would be good for time to pass that quickly again, because I’d age further. Aging is the only way I can imagine dying. Any other way is too scary. I’m terribly afraid of death.

The background music had played all the way through, so I inserted a different tape. What is this? A familiar old song. ‘Love’s TPO’ by Chikada Haruo and Haruophone—I listened to it a long time ago with Jane. I’m sure it was more about affairs or games or free love than romance. It’s about a guy with no remorse, who can bring tears to his eyes when he wants to fool a girl.

Nothing needed my attention.

By evening, I had smoked two full packs of cigarettes, doing nothing but listening to music. My eyes hurt. Either from smoking too much or aging too much. Wiping away the tears with the back of my hand, I took the subway out of that level.

I walked for a little while, till I was well off the beaten path. Dingy shops and stalls lined the street. I went into one of them. The old man running the place looked over at me coldly. I took a seat on an unsteady wooden chair and ordered.

Next to me were two young guys sitting side by side. Both were very different from the kind of men who came to the arcade. Those boys have their hair partially dyed or glitter tape wrapped around themselves. They’re more like dolls than living creatures. The guys here smelled of sweat. They had lines on their foreheads.

‘They have lax security,’ one of them was saying. He’d had a bit to drink. ‘We do four or five of them and then get the hell out of there. Won’t take more than five minutes.’

‘You’re so small-time. Going after vending machines.’

‘It’s a pretty promising score.’

‘People are gonna notice us, dressed like this.’

‘That’s no problem. Just cut your hair into a weird shape and then fix a ribbon to the hem of your trousers.’

‘I’ve been wearing the same trousers for three weeks now. They’re pretty grimy.’

A dirty night was falling.

I paid and left. A cheap apartment complex halfway up the winding hill is my current abode. When I took my shoes off at the entrance, I found a hole in the sole. That’d be why my feet kept getting dirty.

Chaotic doesn’t even begin to describe my room. The last time I cleaned was four months ago, after all. Magazines I picked out of the rubbish bin in the terminal were scattered around. The only light comes from the double-ringed fluorescent bulb that hangs unadorned from the ceiling. There’s no lighting on the walls. I leave the place lit up when I go out because it’s lonely to come home by myself at night. Besides if I walk into this room with the lights off, I’ll definitely trip over something.

When I took my clothes off, I saw the side wrinkles on my stomach drooping downwards. There were lots of them. I tried pinching. Gross. It looked like the edge of a pile of futons. I hadn’t thought my body was this sickening.

Because I had aged so rapidly, I wasn’t used to it. It made me question if this was really me, really my body. I still hadn’t quite accepted it.





It was six months after my third divorce. I was working as a part-timer at a jazz cafe and bar. Every other day, I worked from noon to eleven at night. I had just started the job.

‘What’s that guy of yours doing?’ The manager of the bar poured herself a glass of Cinzano. Who was she talking about? ‘Well, aren’t you something ... Getting married so many times. Can’t you do anything else?’ one of the customers chimed in. The counter seats at this place always drew a rowdy crowd. The quiet ones tended to sit in the booths.

‘I know, right? Me, I’m just not the family type. It took me ten years to realize that. I’m already thirty-one.’

‘Have you ever thought that the problem might be the people you choose?’ a different customer asked.

‘I can’t seem to say no when someone pursues me. It’s my fault for always being drawn to unstable people.’ I started washing the dishes.

‘You’re not going to dance anymore?’ This one knew my history. I’d been a chorus girl before my first marriage.

‘It’s been too long.’

A slight pain ran through me. I’d loved dancing ever since I’d been a kid. When I was in middle school, I could often be found making up my own moves and dancing by myself in the gymnasium after school. You couldn’t call it modern dance or jazz ballet. I didn’t care what it was, I just moved around to the music that I heard in the moment. I didn’t have any ballet shoes but I would dance till my toenails cracked and bled.

‘Listen, that kind of dancing isn’t about talent. That’s not so important. It’s all about whether you’re beautiful or not.’

That long-time dream of mine had crumbled away years ago. I just didn’t want to accept that then.

‘You’re still beautiful,’ the bar manager said. She seemed to have a soft spot for me for no discernible reason. I’m sure she found it strange herself, but anyway I got a lot of dresses and accessories out of her.

‘You been doing those drugs? You really shouldn’t, you know.’

‘I’m still doing them.’ My voice was low and clear. My medication had been labelled a narcotic and controlled substance a couple of years ago. I’d taken to paying my pharmacist friend to sell it to me under the table.

‘I hear the side effects are horrific. If you do too much, your body starts to fall apart and you age much faster than the average person.’

But those drugs were good. My anxiety would disappear. When I was so bored I could die, it made time feel shorter. It could even go the other way around.

Those drugs may have caused my last divorce—no, I started taking them because things weren’t going well already. Which was it? Not that it mattered either way.

The door opened and a boy walked in. His hair was long and he had a girlish face. He was so skinny that his horrendous pink shirt with yellow polka dots hung like a dress on him. Wow, he’s just my type, I thought. I can’t help having bad taste. Girls have weird taste these days. And the only people who have the hots for manly men tend to be mainstream homosexuals.

‘Been a while,’ the manager said.

He ordered a beer in high spirits.

‘This must be Reiko!’ he exclaimed as he sat down on thestool in front of me. ‘That’s right. The one who used to dance.’ The manager didn’t seem to like this one much.

‘I know. I used to admire her,’ he purred.

When I popped a cigarette into my mouth, he lit it for me.

That was ten years ago, I thought, there’s no way he’d have seen me dance. He would have been in primary school then.

‘I was mature for my age,’ he said, reading my bemusement.

When I moved my fingers in an odd way, he gave me his handkerchief. This guy is hyper-attentive, I thought. My palms were sweaty from the drugs. Back then, I was washing my hands more than twenty times a day.

The conversation continued, with no new orders.

I felt slightly nauseous so I went to the bathroom. My stomach was shot. I didn’t know if it was because of my recent insomnia or the drugs. Shaking, I threw up a little. When I raised my face, it looked greenish. I was so horribly near-sighted that my features looked blurry. I knew that my skin was in bad shape, though. I pulled out my compact and powdered my nose.

I was still feeling rather queasy when I got back behind the counter. When I squeezed my wrist, he said, ‘Let’s see,’ and felt my pulse.

Wha—that can’t be right.’ He tried again. It wasn’t a mistake. ‘That’s gotta be one-forty.’

I nodded.

‘Isn’t a normal pulse sixty to eighty per minute?’

To change the subject, I said, ‘Oh, I dig this sound. It’s pretty good.’ The manager held back her laughter and pointed at the record cover. What was ‘pretty good’ was John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Something must be wrong with my head.

I did something like that again later that night. ‘I hear this one a lot. What’s it called again?’

‘Um, it’s probably a very famous song,’ he said, continuing to smile. The guy’s brightness felt slightly fake. Too much need to please.

‘Yup. It’s famous alright. Dolphy’s Last Date.’ The manager paused. ‘You don’t look well,’ she said, sticking out her chin.

‘My head doesn’t feel good,’ I said in a monotone.

‘I’ll take you home then. I know I sound innocent but maybe my ulterior motive is to take you somewhere dark,’ he said.

He showed a lot of gum when he laughed.





In my dreams, he appeared as a woman named Jane. When I awoke, I found him staring at me intensely. His eyes were unnecessarily big—it was horrifying. When I rolled over in bed, he put on a forced smile. He picked up a hairbrush.

‘I’ll brush your hair for you. I’m really good at doing things like this. I can do any kind of housework, too. I’m way handier than most women. It’s like ... I can survive by myself. I’m the kind of guy who never need get married.’ He kept yapping on about things he couldn’t care less about. Jane sometimes fell into a hole all by himself. Whenever he caught me silently looking at him, he would immediately start to clamber out and get all excited. It was hard to figure out what he was actually thinking.

‘You’re beautiful,’ I said as he teased my hair.

‘No way! I really hate my face. It’s too smiley.’

‘But you’re ugly on the inside.’

Jane’s head was tilted away from me as he tried to brush my hair on one side, so I couldn’t make out his expression. ‘Maybe it’s because I’m two-faced? Been this way since I was a child. I don’t trust others, you know. I tell myself there’s no way that anybody will ever like me. As a result, even though I’m craving some love, I can never accept it. You know? It’s like someone starving to death but not eating the food in front of them because they can’t stop wondering if there’s poison in it.’ When he put the brush back down, his face became expressionless.

‘You’re afraid of other people?’

‘Yeah, it’s never turned out well. I have no close friends. Friends are to be used. I’m very good at pandering to others, though.’ A feeble smile remained glued to his face.

‘I want to do something about that.’

‘You shouldn’t think like that. It’s best to leave people like me alone. We prefer it that way.’ The smile had completely disappeared. ‘I didn’t want to get into this kind of relationship with you. I wouldn’t have let things get so far it if I’d known you were serious. Now it’s ... different than with the other girls. That’s a problem.’

‘What are your relationships usually like?’

‘Totally throwaway. I anticipate the break-up and hint towards it to prepare for a smooth exit.’

‘What happens to you afterwards?’

‘Nothing, really.’

I sighed and put my hand in my bag, reaching for my pill box.

‘Again?’ His eyebrows knitted together.

‘Yeah, I ... can’t.’ I stood up, poured myself some water and

gulped down a bunch in several rounds. ‘Why so much? I feel ... responsible.’ ‘It’s not like you’ll do anything about it.’ ‘Yeah, that’s why.’

‘You’re emotionally stingy.’

‘I wonder why that might be.’ He said it like he was talking about someone else.

The sun was starting to set. The two of us sat staring at each other in the dimming room, without turning on the lights.

‘What happens when you take them? Is it like marijuana?’

‘I had this one crazy experience smoking pot. It felt like I was being reborn alongside the birth of the universe. Even when I was aware of talking to someone, five minutes felt like a hundred years. It’s rare to get an experience like that. Usually, I just get hungry and sleepy. This stuff, however, always works.’

‘Does it make you feel happy?’

‘More like euphoric. It lets me feel love towards the world and everyone in it. You want some?’

‘I can’t take pills. They get stuck in my throat.’ Jane declined with a wave of his hand.

‘What are you like when you’re alone?’ I slumped against the wall and took a drag from a cigarette.

‘Why do you care?’

‘Do you ever feel regret?’

Ignoring me, Jane began to choose a video cassette. ‘Want to watch a Jean Harlow movie? Or maybe Theda Bara?’

He was smiling already.

‘You’re cruel.’

‘You’re right. Oh, what’s this? It’s called My Love Has Disappeared. I think the original English title is Diary of a Mad Housewife.’

‘Since being with you, I can see just how pure I am. These days I’m Juliet of the Spirits all the way.’

‘Oh, that’s here too.’

‘But it’s the things I don’t like about you that make me feel sorry for you. It makes me think about how hard it must be to live like you do. See, I begin by liking what I don’t like about others. I’m a person of love.’ I smiled faintly, like a masochist.

‘Love is everything. Youth seems so wonderful! Life is beautiful,’ Jane said in his superficial way. Then, he proceeded to do an exaggerated ‘shaking with emotion and crying’ act. I laughed lifelessly. When I asked him to ‘pull a stupid face,’ he did it immediately. He let his eyes roll back and his mouth gaped lazily. He put on a funny voice.

‘That was an idiot under a fig tree. Next up is an idiot wandering around a local high street.’

As always, I began to laugh. I felt a twinge of loneliness but I laughed anyway.

‘If you don’t want to watch a film, let’s see if we can get some pirate radio on the go.’ He fiddled with the tuner.

. . . is a request we received, but we don’t have the record. So I’ll sing it and play some random chords. Well then—Theeey asked me how I knewww . . .

‘What’s this supposed to be?’

‘“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” I think. I used to be a disc jockey,’ he said.

. . . My true love was truuue . . .

‘These days even the news is in DJ-speak. It’s so irritating.’

‘It’s a frivolous culture.’

‘But this is a good song. Do you know it? Apparently, Eva Braun used to sing it when she smoked because Hitler hated cigarettes.’

‘Large-scale con-artists like him often have a spartan side to them. I also have an extremely stoic side to me. Don’t laugh,’ he said.

‘Do you have some ambition you’re not telling me about?’

‘I do like to stand out. I’m thinking of going into entertainment. Something like that.’

‘You can’t be an actor,’ I said frankly. ‘A real actor needs to be able to feel things. Are you ever moved or inspired?’

‘Of course not. When I’m being thankful, I think, “This is a moment when I should be thankful,” and then I press start on my heart mechanism. Besides, I don’t ever feel surprised.’

Suddenly, I felt the space that we occupied (a vague concept in itself) start to shrink and recede. Life as a fresh and complex entity was drying out and threatening to disappear fast. The caretaker of the soul hung his head low in shame.

‘Oh dear, god has disappeared somewhere,’ I screamed. Is this a bad trip from all the grim talk?

‘God’s down on the deep range,’ Jane whispered quietly, almost like he was singing. Yes. God has left the monastery and may have met his end at the bottom of the sea.

‘Is there a god for you?’ ‘There is.’

‘Where?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Will he forgive you?’

‘Nah.’

After a while, time began to flow more slowly. I took a breath.

A wonderful moment—the joy of knowing that my own creation and the creation of the universe are intimately connected. The certainty that the present was predetermined. Yes, that’s it. We will return millions of times over. Life might merely be a momentary bolt of lightning in the dark, after which the self melts into the infinite darkness. But it means that we will continue forever without interruption. I was filled with a baseless delight.

Time flowed even slower. It was taking on a sense of eternity.

Now! Now only happens now. But now exists everywhere. The past and future have vanished and countless nows continue infinitely. That is why I can keep going forever. I am completely free and can go to any now I choose. I can exist anywhere. Firmly, in any time.

‘Are you hungry?’ Jane purred.





I smoke two cigarettes once eleven o’clock rolls around. Thinking to myself that I really shouldn’t do these things ... I go to the bathroom anyway and swallow my pills. I take more each time.

My body is slightly feverish, always. I have no strength whatsoever. I feel so heavy that I can’t do anything. Somewhere always hurts.

‘Maybe I’ll go see him tonight.’ I’m talking to myself.

‘Quit it with that guy,’ the manager tells me sternly. ‘There’s nothing in it for you. Best case scenario is you getting knocked up with an unwanted baby. What is he to you anyway?’

The manager and Jane have become very hostile to each other.

‘My paramour?’ I pick up my bag. ‘Yeah, I think I’ll go see him.’

Time feels strange these days. I’m no longer able to change the speed of time according to my desires. Time has become patchy. It feels like it’s passing by at a terrifying speed. Sometimes I have these momentary lapses of consciousness. It’s like an episode of microsleep.

Before I know it, I’m outside Jane’s apartment.

‘You look tired,’ he says, his eyes searching. ‘What have you been up to since last week?’

Last week? It seems like only two or three hours ago that we last met. Oh, that’s right. It was last week. But why does it feel so firmly attached to now?

‘You’ve been acting strange, recently.’ Jane anxiously wraps his arms around my neck.

‘Maybe you’re right.’ I have no confidence. I feel like a puppet on a string. I’m being moved by someone else, with no will of my own.

‘Are you taking the drugs?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

‘They give me relief. I’m probably headed towards destruction.’

Whose life is this? It’s completely empty.

‘Poor thing. Why do you hurt yourself so much? Is it on purpose?’

‘Maybe so.’ Not that it matters. Am I trying to make him a witness to my collapse? ‘What kind of relationship are we in?’ I whisper at him, moving my face closer.

‘A stoic and static one.’

Is he struggling? Why does he struggle instead of me? Maybe I’m not actually struggling? Am I taking more drugs because he won’t identify with me?

‘I want to do something for you but I can’t.’ He nuzzles his fuzzy cheek against mine.

‘You’re probably the type who would feel regret if you killed someone. Even though you’re cold.’ I say something like that with my face and voice inexpressive. We never raise our voices.

‘But I’m not cruel.’

‘Yeah, that’s right. The difference between cold and cruel is that to be cruel, you need to have feelings but to be cold, you don’t, right?’

‘Can you stop saying that?’ Jane shakes his head. Is it so scary to watch another person self-destruct?

‘I don’t think I would feel any remorse about killing someone,’ I continue. ‘I don’t know how I got this way. It’s like I’ve crumbled into pieces. I’m starving for time. God has gone away somewhere. If someone invented a matter regeneration machine, it would be my god.’

He shakes his head.

I keep going. ‘I have no remorse about having no remorse. So what can I do? I can only watch myself go to ruin.’

‘Let’s stop with this repressive relationship. It’s not good. It’s not good for you.’ Jane’s eyes look the same way they did when he watched me sleep. When was that? I can’t remember.

‘I’m driven only by my desires. Let me do what I like. God, I’m tired. I’m going to lie down.’

I get into bed and smoke.

I might have been in a daze. Quickly, it becomes light outside. Had morning come?

‘I’m going mad.’ I say to myself. When did time begin to flow so quickly? Next to me, Jane is asleep. I rack my brains and remember what we had done. We watched a film from the 1920s, we acted things out and laughed together. I remember the conversations and the facial expressions too. But I have no sense that it actually happened. Out of the blue, the thought comes to me: my skin is sagging.

While I spaced out, it became evening. Jane was gone. Around noon, I had eaten what he had made and listened to music, went for a walk then felt sick and came back. My memory is intact. Though it all feels like something that had happened to somebody else. No sensory recollections. It almost feels like an implanted memory. Also ... he had left to meet someone for work.

It soon became late.

I started to get confused. It seemed I had begun to operate on a timeline entirely different from everybody else’s. Jane comes home. He can’t stand being around people for long so he comes back grumpy. Morning comes. I have to go to the bar. But there’s no way that I can stand to work right now. I’ll go back to my place. At night, I black out on the street. When I come to, I’m in my bed. Then night. Morning.

Time is related to memory. Maybe my ability to remember is getting weak. Is that why time keeps skipping? That means there’s something wrong with my brain and ... it’s already Sunday. Oh, it’s Sunday again.

There’s something inside my empty brain, and that something expands at high speed. It’s keeping memory from fastening on to anything. Every day feels like it’s happening inside a dream.

Eventually, the concept of time started to disappear.

But that didn’t mean that I was able to gain that feeling of eternity. I wasn’t feeling that joy of the now being pressed down and eternally spread out.

The flow of time sped up. Or rather, for the most part, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing. As a result, memory became more opaque and time was getting lost.

I knew vaguely that this might be a side effect of the drugs.

Jane came, and then people in white clothes came. I was taken somewhere far away. I was given an injection and questioned, and I responded in a trance. A green mark was put on my neck. A mark that I was mentally ill.

The artificial voice of the analysis computer was carefully crafted not to cause alarm. Questions were repeated over and over and over again. Injections and drugs, too. I was tied to the bed.

One morning, I came back.

The lump in my head was gone.

Time had returned.

It took two years and seven months. It felt like three days and it felt like thirty years. I looked in the mirror. And that’s how I found out.





After getting back from the arcade, I didn’t feel like going anywhere. I watched the 3-D television with the sound off.

My favourite thing is to be by myself. I can’t take drugs, I don’t smoke and I can barely drink, but I still know how to pass the time.

These days, I only work one day a week, if that. Right now, I do illustrations for a living, but I’ve had around twenty different jobs. Physical labour is better. I don’t have to think about things. When I begin thinking, I start to dislike myself.

But, boy, today was terrible!

I really didn’t want to remember Reiko. It was hard to see someone live that way. I didn’t want to accept it ... and in the end I couldn’t accept it.

I stood up and turned off the TV. I’d one commission due the next week. I’ll start it after I take a shower, I told myself.

There was a sound like someone flicking the door with their forefinger.

‘Who is it?’ I almost jumped. I don’t even know why I’m so on edge. A memory associated with an old pain started to well up in me.

‘Open up.’

I recognized the voice.

That old woman from the arcade was standing there.

‘Uh, what’s the matter? It’s very late.’ I scratched my head as casually as possible.

‘I can’t come by without a reason?’

Perhaps she followed me home? No way. The old lady pushed into my room. Her movements gave me a real shock. I’d seen them before, that dancer’s grace. Was it really ... ?

A horrifying thought began to spread in me like a blot of ink, with a speed and intensity too powerful to resist.

‘Oh, you’ve moved the bed.’ Reiko!

I didn’t want to come to this realization. Even though I’d known, really, since I saw her at the arcade.

‘Doing well?’

Reiko was trying to smile.

He paused. ‘Yeah.’

I nodded. We often used to greet each other like this. When I was being introverted, I think she used to say, ‘Cheer up,’ or something like that.

‘Oh, I’m so glad to hear it. You must have been surprised to see me.’ Reiko twisted the sides of her lips oddly. Was she smiling beneath all those wrinkles?

‘Yes. Very, or somewhat, anyway.’

I dislike situations like these. It was like a scene from a movie. ‘It’s thanks to you that I’m still alive.’

Was she being sarcastic?

‘Not many good things came of it, though.’

I remained silent.

‘You managed to protect yourself by acting worried but you didn’t lift a finger for my sake, not really.’

She wasn’t being accusatory. I knew that.

‘You were scared that you were developing emotions. You couldn’t help it. I get it, it scares everyone.’

Her appearance was truly pitiful. I couldn’t believe the change. ‘What have you been up to since then?’

I could feel my voice shaking. The back of my tongue was moistening. I knew what this meant. With my eyes open, tears began to fall.

‘Stop it.’ Reiko’s voice was horribly kind. Like she was concerned for me. ‘It’s nothing to cry over.’

Reiko was trying to cheer me up, like she always would.

But this was too horrible. In only three years. When we first met, Reiko still had something of a wrecked beauty. Now, not even those ruins remained.

‘I’m begging you . . .’ Reiko said. She pulled a tissue out of a dirty, strangely shaped bag, and tried to wipe away my tears. Is this woman stupid? ‘Come on, smile.’

Who smiles at a moment like this? But, after all, I’m the type who does whatever’s asked. I placed a finger below each eye and forced my face to look like it was smiling.

‘Play something for us,’ Reiko said with her wrinkly face. ‘What do you want?’
I couldn’t get myself to look at her face properly. What am I

even supposed to say? Do I say the same thing I used to? That I can’t do anything for her?

‘My eyes are bad these days. They won’t stop watering. I just won’t quit smoking, though, and the smoke gets in my eyes.’

So we played that old song. As the sound faded, Reiko looked at me.

‘It can’t be helped, eh?’ Only her mouth was smiling. Her hair moved, and I saw on her neck a big discoloured scar. It looked like a powerful chemical had burnt it. In the hospital, they mark people. Had she tried to erase it herself? I couldn’t say anything anymore.

Reiko narrowed her eyes and asked, ‘I wonder if they’ve invented that matter regeneration machine yet.’






Izumi SUZUKI was born in 1949. After dropping out of high school she worked in a factory before finding success and infamy as a model and actress. Her acting credits include both pink films and classics of 1970s Japanese cinema. When the father of her children, the jazz musician Kaoru Abe, died of an overdose, SUZUKI’s creative output went into hyperdrive and she began producing the irreverent and punky short fiction, novels and essays that ensured her reputation would outstrip and outlast that of the men she had been associated with in her early career. She took her own life in 1986, leaving behind a decade’s worth of groundbreaking and influential writing. 

Aiko MASUBUCHI is a translator, curator and producer based in Tokyo and New York. She drums and writes poems.











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Hotel is a magazine for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. The magazine is bi-annual, the online archive is updated periodically.



     

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