09/25/2021

Fusako Ohki ~ Neighs and Cries

Translated by Toshiya Kamei

A thread­like pale light wrapped around your body, melt­ed, and dis­persed into the morn­ing air. Cocooned by the sun’s rays seep­ing into the sta­ble, you caressed my mane as you hummed a tune. Then you replen­ished the water buck­et, swept away wilt­ed hay smeared with dung and urine, and brushed my back and bel­ly with great care. I snug­gled my muz­zle against your chest to show my grat­i­tude. You cov­ered my ears with your hands and showed me you under­stood my gesture.

You had no name.

You talked to me while you car­ried water in the buck­et and combed your hair with your fin­gers. You chat­ted away about the change of sea­sons, the weath­er, and your­self. I didn’t know the human lan­guage. Still, your eyes, your smiles, and your hands caress­ing my hide told me your stories.

Your beau­ty daz­zled. You came into the world as a gem­like baby and blos­somed into a young woman. You had no name because your father refused to give you one. Nobody would know how to call you because you had no name. Hence, you wouldn’t go any­where. That was your father’s intention.

His ruse did the trick. You stayed put and didn’t go anywhere.

You couldn’t do any­thing with­out a name. When oth­er chil­dren ran out­side to play and joined their par­ents to work in the fields, nobody knew how to call you. The vil­lagers didn’t know what to do with you. Soon you became invis­i­ble to them. It was easy for them to pre­tend you didn’t exist rather than to stop and think about you. Their life advanced at a reg­u­lar pace while you remained invis­i­ble. Once you rode me into town to buy gro­ceries. Tied in front of the mar­ket, I watched a young man talk with you by the apples, but he failed to get your name. When he asked your name, you gazed down at your feet. The young man made an awk­ward apol­o­gy and clicked his tongue in frus­tra­tion. He quick­ly walked away from you. While you rubbed your father’s shoul­ders, you felt like ask­ing him why you had no name. But you lost the words to ask such a question.

Years ago you found me lying wound­ed in the for­est. Fatigue weighed me, leav­ing me no strength to get up. My throat parched with thirst. I lay side­ways and breathed hard through my nos­trils. You ran toward me, called me, and poured water into my mouth. A few hours lat­er, I stag­gered up, and you led me to the stable.

At first, your father wel­comed me with open arms. I was young and use­ful to him. I worked for your father. I worked hard, toiled in the fields, and car­ried back-break­ing loads. Every day you looked after me. I fell in love with you.

I noticed your gaze upon me had inten­si­fied. Your kind gaze siz­zled on my skin. My pro­trud­ing rib cage, hair, and pro­file reflect­ed in your moist, dark eyes. I raised my muz­zle out of the feed buck­et and gazed back at you.

We mat­ed. We searched each oth­er night and day. Your pale limbs and my chest­nut limbs tan­gled. Smells of sweat, feed, and dung mixed togeth­er. After sev­er­al nights, your father flung open the sta­ble door. When he caught you in a com­pro­mis­ing posi­tion with a beast, fury seized him. He grabbed an axe and swung it down on my back. Bubbles of blood spewed out of my mouth. I con­vulsed and fell to the ground. I would nev­er get up again.

You let out a pri­mal scream and held my wound. But your small hands failed to stop the seem­ing­ly end­less bleed­ing. Blood flood­ed the sta­ble floor. Even the sea of blood couldn’t con­tain your father’s fury. He wrapped a rope around my neck, dragged me out­side, and hung my life­less body from a tree in the yard. He whipped me until my skin broke. His rage. Your screams. My tongue hung far out of my mouth. My eyes rolled into white and remained still. After a while, your father cut my head off. You embraced my sev­ered head. Your face became smeared with my blood and a mix­ture of your tears, mucous, and saliva.

Out of the blue, my head float­ed up into the air. My sag­ging tongue went back to its orig­i­nal place and a light flick­ered up in my eyes again.

My head rose sky­ward. You rose with me as you hung onto me. Your father ran and tried to grab your ankle but in vain. However hard he tried, he had no means to call you back.

~

Fusako Ohki is a Japanese writer from Tokyo. She obtained her master’s degree in Japanese lit­er­a­ture from Hosei University. Her short sto­ry col­lec­tion is forth­com­ing in 2021.

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His trans­la­tions have appeared in such venues as ClarkesworldThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons.