‘This all happened when I was a child,’ my wife began, ‘so it must have been over thirty years ago. Gosh, sounds like ancient history, doesn’t it? Anyway, in the house where I grew up, we had the exact same problem as you – a family of weasels had settled within the attic.’ My wife paused to gulp down some oolong tea. ‘Each night there would be this awful racket, this banging and thumping, as if someone was having a fight in another room. We all thought that it might be rats, but one day, we found this horrible stain trailing from the ceiling down the wall. A hanging scroll had become horrendously dirtied, and oh dear, the smell was quite something. Then, I had this terrible itching, all over my body. It was then that we realised that the cause might be weasels.’
‘Good grief, that’s exactly the same as what happened with us! Right, Yoko?’
‘Why, yes,’ Yoko replied, sipping at her sake, cheek resting lazily on an outstretched finger. I felt it was probably high time she should give the drinking a rest, but Saiki was so involved in my wife’s story, his curious, child-like eyes focusing on my wife so intently he didn’t seem to notice.
‘So, what happened next?’
‘Well,’ my wife continued, a smile curling her lip. ‘I was young so only was allowed to watch, but my father and grandfather headed up into the attic, trap in hand.’
‘Like we did, isn’t it, Yoko?’
‘Soon enough, we caught an adult weasel.’ My wife grabbed a pickled turnip from the plate in front of her and popped it into her mouth. A single piece of salmon roe plopped onto the table. ‘My grandmother was practically beaming, saying how fortunate it was that we caught one of the adults. This was my first time seeing a weasel, and it was surprisingly sweet looking, with its little ears, flat nose, and fuzzy, golden fur. It was squirming around the cage on its little legs, to and fro, to and fro. It didn’t look much like an adult to me, it was so adorable. It eventually laid its eyes on me. Its beady little black eyes were fixed on me, as it paced around the cage.’
‘It’s like you’re retelling our own experience!’ Saiki interjected, the drink having seemingly gone to his head. Yoko’s eyes were now half-closed in lethargy. The hot pot on the middle of the table still radiated waves of warmth. I stood up and opened the window a crack. The fresh chill from outside came in immediately. I leant in close to the gap and caught the whiff of plum blossoms on the breeze. My wife’s voice continued on, seemingly strangely high-pitched.
‘I wanted them to let it go. I thought I could even keep it as a pet. But of course I couldn’t say something so childish. After all, my rashes were so bad it was all I could do to not start scratching my whole body. Not only that, I could already begin to smell the stench of the weasel in the short time I had been up in the attic. I asked my parents what they were going to do, and they said I should go off and play somewhere because they were going to drown it. My mother said they were going to hurl it into the river that ran by the front of the house. I felt a pang of sympathy for the animal, but I also thought that it probably would be okay. I imagined it swimming across the river, paws pounding the water as it made its escape. So, visualising all this, I concluded it would probably be fine. I announced that I would stay in the house.’
Saiki was nodding his head furiously. I imagined my parents-in-law as my wife continued her story. Drowning. Their kind, genteel faces floated in front of me, looking as if they would never even hurt a fly. Thirty years ago would mean…they were even younger than I was now.
‘Eventually my grandparents came clattering back with a large bucket. Large is an understatement, it was so huge I probably could have fit in it quite snugly at the time. It was painted a cheerful light blue. They carried it in together with seeming difficulty. My father asked what it was for. They didn’t reply as they settled it down with a sloshing sound. Looking in, I noticed that it was half filled with water. My grandfather headed back out without a word, and my grandmother suggested I go outside and play. But I told them that I would stay. My grandmother accepted this with almost zero defiance, and followed after my grandfather. They eventually came back, with smaller buckets this time, and filled up the larger bucket. My parents just stood there, wordlessly. My grandfather said something to my father that I didn’t quite catch, and my father shook his head. My grandparents made numerous round trips until eventually the blue bucket was full.’ My wife took another gulp of oolong tea. ‘The weasel was running around its cage the whole while.’
Saiki was sitting in silence, expressionless. Yoko, whose eyes had fallen shut, suddenly jolted awake, then stood up and closed the window I’d opened with a snap. She then sat back down, head again resting upon index finger, eyes falling shut.
‘My grandfather brought the cage up to the bucket. Reeking urine trickled out from between its bars onto the floor. Then, in the next moment, he plunged the cage into the bucket. For some reason, the metal cage was trying its best to float, but my grandfather unrelentingly pushed the cage down into the water. Just as he did so, there was a terrible, terrible noise.’
‘What noise?’ someone murmured. My wife glanced at the three of us, before turning away again. She began talking again, almost as if to the cooking pot sat in the middle of the table; Saiki sat staring dumbfounded with his mouth agape.
‘It was like… heeee, or peeee, or keeee, I can’t really describe it, but it was this piercing screech. I had never heard a sound like it, and have never heard one since. It was the sound of the weasel screaming.’ The cage had lost all buoyancy in that moment, and sank into the water. The weasel’s face contorted as it drowned. The last thing my wife had seen was its little mouth wide open, and eyes scrunched tight. A stream of bubbles trailed out from the cage, and the scream rang in everyone’s ears until the bubbles eventually came to a stop. ‘I can still hear it sometimes,’ my wife went on. ‘My mother was crying. My grandfather’s palms were pushed together, as he murmured a prayer. My father stood their staunchly, all energy drained from his shoulders. When finally the bubbles had eventually stopped, my father started fuming, asking my grandparents why they would do this right on their front porch.’
The colour finally returned to Saiki’s face, and his hand scrabbled blindly for the bottle of oolong tea by my side. I handed it to him. Saiki stood up, his torso still half folded over, grabbed two glasses and poured some tea for himself and Yoko before quickly taking a gulp. My wife continued to stare at the pot. It was a commercial, mass-produced thing, a heavy item with a roughly-made glaze of white plum blossoms over its beige surface.
‘Eventually my grandmother told us that that was the mummy weasel. Her shrieking was a final warning to tell the daddy weasel and her children that it was dangerous, that if they stayed they’d be drowned and killed, or so my grandmother told me. But it wasn’t just the weasel’s family; other extended family weasels and nearby weasels heard the death rattle warning that the house was dangerous. Apparently we would be okay, no more weasels would ever come again. My grandmother said we were lucky to have caught the mummy weasel. If it had been the children, they would’ve been crying, begging to be saved. If it had been the daddy, he probably would have started to rampage, trying to break free of the cage, before expending all his energy before the end. This was the most ideal situation. After explaining this, my grandmother resumed her prayer. And lo and behold, we no longer had any weasels enter our house again.’
‘What did you do with the weasel’s body?’ Yoko conjectured, eyes still closed and head still perched upon finger.
‘Hmm…’ My wife paused for a moment, in thought. ‘I guess we let the river take it.’ She fell silent. The silence spread between the drunk trio and me. Saiki’s gaze was fixed downward, a crease furrowing his brow. Yoko readjusted herself, finally lifting her head up to gaze at my wife. A white film of grease had begun to form on the rim of the once warm pot.
Translated by Arthur Reiji Morris
Original title いたちなく (itachinaku)
*Extract from the complete work, found in the collection 穴 (ana)