The woman showed up exactly one month to the day after the pigʼs arrival. I had just finished cleaning the house and was thinking about feeding the pig before I started waxing the floors when the doorbell rang.
The woman on the intercom video screen looked like she was some kind of salesperson. I decided to pretend I wasnʼt home. Then, however, she leaned forward and brought her lips—caked thick with lipstick—up to the microphone.
“Iʼm Hanamura, I work with your husband.” I didnʼt recognize the name but now I had no choice but to answer.
“A colleague? What can I do for you?”
She twisted the sides of her mouth up in a ghastly grin and her smile seemed to run from one ear to the other. I suddenly recalled the urban legend of the “gashed-mouth woman” that had been so popular when I was young.
“I have some information that Iʼd like to share with you.”
“Iʼm sorry, but are you really my husbandʼs colleague?”
She recited the name of the company, my husbandʼs position and job description in a rush. I went to the entrance hall and unlocked the door.
Even on the black-and-white video screen it was obvious that she was heavily made up but face to face the garish colors were overwhelming. Ignoring the lack of an invitation, the woman slipped through the open door and into the entrance hall. She looked me over slowly from head to toe and then, opening a black handbag, extracted her business card and held it out to me. I read her name, the name of my husbandʼs company, and her position. She was the chief manager.
“May I come in?” She asked, craning her neck, trying to peer around me and into the house. Thinking it best not to refuse, I invited her inside.
She pulled out a cigarette as she sat on the sofa and asked for an ashtray, muttering something about what a pain it was finding places to smoke these days. She crossed her legs and her miniskirt rode up, leaving her thighs almost completely exposed. She was probably younger than me but obviously well past her twenties. I marveled at her courage, wearing a skirt like that at her age.
I brought tea and an ashtray and placed them on the coffee table. She was still staring fixedly at me.
“I donʼt like beating around the bush, so Iʼll get straight to the point. Did you know that your husband is cheating on you?”
I shook my head, unable to tear my eyes from her thickly painted, bright pink lips. “No.”
“I see . . . Well, I did debate whether or not I should tell you but in the end there are some things that I, as your husbandʼs colleague, simply cannot overlook. So I took the liberty of coming over. I was afraid you might dismiss it as a prank call if I tried to tell you on the phone so I hope you will forgive me for coming over unannounced.
"Now letʼs see . . . Since this is all new to you I better just start at the beginning. His lover is one of his staff, sheʼs been with the company for nine years. Pretty much everyone knows that something is going on between her and the section chief—that is to say, your husband. Setting aside the chief for the moment, the womanʼs behavior has become completely shameless. Nobody knows what to do with her any more. In short, public and private have gotten all mixed up. Sheʼs always running to the chief, saying “Oh, Iʼm too busy” or “This job is too hard,” and so on and then before you know it the workʼs been assigned to someone else! Even though itʼs supposed to be her job. In meetings she dumps on everyone elseʼs ideas and tries to get the chief on her side. Anyway, that sort of thing. Everyone comes running to me as the chief manager, begging me to do something about it but I canʼt very well march up to him and tell him to stop giving his lover preferential treatment, can I?
"So I thought I might ask you to have a word with him . . . I realize itʼs all very sudden and it must be quite a shock to you. Iʼm sorry. But if you like I can give you her name and her phone number. It might help.”
I glanced over the womanʼs head at the clock mounted on the wall. Ten oʼclock. I hadnʼt fed the pig yet. She was probably awake by now—hungry and waiting for me.
“Hello?” she said, perplexed.
“Iʼm sorry but I have a lot to do right now.”
She furrowed her brow. “Um . . . You did hear what I just said, right?”
“Yes, I heard. Iʼm very sorry but Iʼm sure youʼll understand that itʼs not my place to comment on my husbandʼs work matters.”
“You mean youʼre going to let it go? Heʼs cheating on you, making a fool of you! Doesnʼt that bother you?” She had begun to shout so I turned away.
“Iʼm sorry, I really have no time . . .”
Her face twisting into a sour expression, she grabbed her bag and jumped to her feet. She marched past me to the entrance hall. As she stepped outside I heard her mutter under her breath: “Freak!” I locked the door the moment she was gone.
I hurried to the kitchen and scraped the nightʼs leftovers into the pigʼs bowl. Fried chicken, macaroni salad, and lettuce. The pig must have heard me approach because she was waiting for me, standing with her front legs hanging over the top of the box.
“Iʼm so sorry, you must be starving!” The pig let out a snort and, her eyes seeming to crinkle up in delight, attacked the food. She might need a bigger box soon, I thought. Her front legs reached the top of the box now.
It was the biggest box I had. I supposed I could look for something at the supermarket. As I considered the problem I realized that I didnʼt need to keep her in a box at all. She was a good pig and never tried to get out of the room. I could just spread the blue vinyl sheet out to cover the tatami mats. Then the pig could move around the room as she liked.
The pig polished off her meal and looked up at me. I reached out and stroked her head and back. Her hair was thicker than when she had first arrived but it was still soft. When I pet the pig her pink skin twitched and quivered beneath my fingers, tiny waves running across her skin. I heard a soft rumble from deep in her throat.
“Such a good girl. Now wait just one minute and youʼll have a lot more room.”
I put the pig back in her box and slid it off the blue sheet. I unfolded the sheet and spread it out so that it covered the entire floor. I had to move the box here and there to get it out of the way as I covered the floor, making sure the sheet didnʼt twist or wrinkle. It was bigger than the room so I just folded the edges underneath to make it fit.
When I was finished I took the pig from the box and set her on the sheet. At first, the pig just stood there, sniffing at the sheet. However, she soon began moving about, sniffing her way around the room.
“What do you think? You can move around as much as you like. You mustnʼt leave the room, though. OK?” I said, stroking the pigʼs head.
“We had a visitor,” I told the pig. “Iʼd never seen her before. She was saying one thing but was thinking something completely different. She shouldʼve gone to work today but took the day off just to see me. What a freak.” I repeated the name she had called me.
She really was strange. Coming all this way to tell me something Iʼve known for ages . . . Iʼve known that my husband was having an affair for a long time now. I didnʼt know her name but that didnʼt matter. I hadnʼt made any special effort to catch him at it, but the woman had made a point of leaving me clues. I couldnʼt have missed it even if I tried. She left lipstick stains on the backs of his shirts, left earrings in his jacket pocket—that sort of thing. When I saw the earring I suddenly found myself laughing, remembering a song that had been popular ages ago.
The only reason my husband married me was because I looked like a girl he once loved, someone who had died long ago. That was it. Maybe his lover looked like her too. Or maybe he didnʼt care about that any more and was just having the affair because he was tired of me. Anyway, I didnʼt intend to go and complain to him about every little thing.
The pig was lying on the towel Iʼd put in the corner of the room. Sheʼd finally settled down, it seemed.
I washed the pigʼs dish and, except in the pigʼs room, I opened all the windows and got ready to wax the floors. The wax was the kind that you dissolved in water so, while it was easy to apply, it also wore off soon and had to be reapplied often. It was hot and sunny outside so I figured that it would dry quickly.
We didnʼt have much furniture or clutter. Too much furniture makes dusting a pain. If I could spend the whole day cleaning that wouldnʼt be a problem but I had a lot of other things to do as well. There was the parent-teacher association at Amiʼs school and I also needed time to go to the bank, finish my shopping, and so on.
I had already vacuumed that morning so I made do with a quick once-over with a dry mop. When I had mopped out all the rooms I went upstairs to the back bedroom and started waxing. I used a special waxing mop and was careful not to let the wax puddle. The wind blew in from time to time, making the curtains flutter and flap. Early summer was always windy.
I waxed each step as I came down from the second floor. When I finished the stairs I did the living room, the kitchen, and then the hallway. Leaving the space in front of the pigʼs room for last, I waxed the bathroom and the entrance hall and backed my way into the pigʼs room. Then I was done.
When I opened the door the pig was still lying in the same position on the towel, sleeping. Perhaps she sensed me come in, though, because her nose twitched and she opened her eyes. At first I thought her tiny black eyes didnʼt have any whites to them but, looking more closely, I saw that I was wrong.
“Iʼm sorry, did I wake you? Let me stay here until the wax dries, OK?”
The pig stood up and walked over to me, trying to climb up onto my lap but her hooves couldnʼt get purchase. She was just about to slide down to the floor when I picked her up with both hands and settled her on my lap.
“Youʼve really grown. Youʼre so heavy now.”
The room faced north but today the sun shone brightly through the white paper blinds. The latticework on the blinds cast shadows across the pink skin of the pig. I traced the shadows with the tip of my finger.
Tracing shadows across the tatami mats had been one of my favorite games when playing alone as a child. No matter how carefully I traced the pattern, by the time I finished the shadows would have shifted so I would have to start all over again. The game didnʼt end until the sun went down.
This made me remember the time I went to stay with my grandmother. When my mother ran away. I used to spend the whole day tracing the shadows on the mats.
I donʼt do anything like that these days. Itʼs not that I dislike it, only I didnʼt have the time for it like I did when I was a child. Yet Iʼm still completely empty. As empty as when I was a child. Always, always empty.
I kept stroking the pig. She closed her eyes, content, and seemed to have fallen back asleep. I yawned. I wouldnʼt have minded a nap either but the windows were all open and I had shopping to do as well.
I cradled the pig gently in my arms and placed her atop the towel. The wax should have dried by now. I closed the windows and rinsed the wax mop. Now all I had to do was go shopping and stop by the bank.
My husband came home unusually early that night. Though he hardly ever ate dinner at home I always made his portion anyway so it wasnʼt a problem. He was usually in a bad mood, but tonight it seemed fouler than usual.
I sat diagonally across from my husband, reading the paper and drinking a cup of tea as he ate.
I looked up at his sudden words. “Yes?”
“Did someone come by today?”
“No, nobody.” As soon as I said this I remembered the odd woman who had visited. But I couldnʼt remember her name and I knew there would be a big fuss if I told him what she said.
He didnʼt pursue it. I thought our conversation was at an end and was about to go back to the paper when I heard a loud thud from upstairs. Ami jumping down from her bed, I supposed. Or maybe she dropped something. Ami never spoke to me these days. Naturally, she never went to look at the pig either.
“What the hell are you—”
My husband had started to speak again. Normally he hardly spoke two words to me—his sudden volubility took me aback.
“No, forget it,” he said. I wondered if he wanted to tell me something. If he had something to say he should just say it. I wasnʼt about to pry it out of him. Heʼd have to open his mouth and say it for himself.
After heʼd finished I cleared the dishes and washed them. At last the dayʼs cleaning was done.
Heʼd eaten everything. I supposed that meant he hadnʼt gone on a date tonight. It didnʼt matter. It just meant that the pig would be eating dog food for breakfast. Thatʼs all.
I got up the next morning to find a notice from Amiʼs school on the table listing the time and date of the next committee meeting. She must have left it there last night after I went to bed.
I wondered why she refused to talk to me. The only time she talked to me was if there was something that absolutely had to be conveyed. Even then sheʼd say the bare minimum, muttering with a sour look on her face—as if to tell me that, if she had her way, she wouldnʼt be talking to me at all.
Sheʼd never acted like that before elementary school. I used to play with her all the time—hugging her and spoiling her. Maybe not as much as I did with the pig now but still . . .Why did it come to this?
Sure, she was my daughter and I carried her around in my belly for nine months but we were so different. Sometimes I wondered, only half-jokingly, if I hadnʼt actually given birth to my husbandʼs clone. She was a girl but even so they looked the same and acted the same. Two peas in a pod. I sighed and shook my head. There was no point in dwelling on it.
I copied the time and date down onto the calendar in the living room. I meant to go to the local ward office that day but that would have to wait for a different day.
I hadnʼt even known that there was such a thing as the PTA until Ami started high school. Until then I had never gotten involved. When Ami first started at the school I sat in on an information session and was shocked to see how few people had shown up. Virtually everyone who had come was given some kind of position and before I knew it I had been enlisted as well. Because I attended the information session they seemed to think that I was always free in the afternoon.
I never spoke in the meetings. I just sat and listened. If someone picked me for a certain task I did whatever they asked. Iʼd sort notices, fold and staple them. I didnʼt mind working with my hands—it was much better than having to use my head.
The committee meetings were a chance for the parents to gossip. Usually there was at least one person who knew everything that was going on with the teachers and students. Everyone else would sit around nodding and listening.
None of this interested me in the slightest but I sat there, nodding along with the rest. I couldnʼt very well stand up and announce that I didnʼt care if the youngest child of a teacher Iʼd never met stopped coming to school or refused to leave his room. It would ruin the atmosphere. Ruining the atmosphere was nothing short of a criminal act in this kind of gathering.
When the tasks were assigned we broke up into smaller working groups. The individual groups continued the gossip in even greater detail.
“You know that Tomonaga girl in D-class?” A woman said to me. Her name tag read “Kawai.” It was the first time sheʼd spoken to me. I was in the group folding the announcement flyers for first year students.
“No.” Mrs. Okada, who was sitting next to me, shook her head as well.
“You donʼt know her? Sheʼs the one who wears a ton of makeup? With the fake eyelashes so big they look like theyʼre going to fall off? They say she moved in with her grandmother. It seems her parents just vanished. I hear they got mixed up with loan sharks and, when they couldnʼt pay them back, they were abducted and murdered. I suppose they shouldʼve known better but even so . . . Pretty scary, huh? It sounds like there are a lot of people like that here . . . Lower-class backgrounds. We didnʼt want to send our daughter here, it was just bad luck. She got sick with the flu and had a fever on the day of the entrance exam for her first-choice school. So she had to go to her backup. It mightʼve been better for her to just take a year off to study and try again but then sheʼd be a year behind everyone else. We didnʼt want to put her through that.”
She looked over at me. “What was your first choice?” I told her the name of the school.
“Oh, well thatʼs no different from here then. This school should be just about right for a girl like that.”
“Yes, Iʼm sure youʼre right.”
Mrs. Kawai finished folding the pile of notices and dropped them in the box at the front of the classroom. Someone else started talking to her and she let out a laugh.
“Donʼt let her get to you,” Mrs. Okada whispered to me. Her child had been to the same elementary and middle schools as Ami so, while we werenʼt close, she was one of the few people there that I knew. Sheʼd established a reputation for refusing to have anything to do with the PTA so it came as a bit of a shock when she agreed to serve as an officer at the high school.
“Thanks. It doesnʼt bother me.” I wasnʼt putting on a brave front. It didnʼt bother me at all. Ami was stupid, there was no denying it. My husband always said that it was my fault, that she got it from me. He might be right.
I finished folding my pile of notices and started to get up but Mrs. Okada caught my arm. “Say, do you play any sports?”
“No, not really.”
“Really? But youʼre so slim . . . Iʼm jealous! But donʼt you find that, even if you donʼt gain weight, you lose your figure if you donʼt exercise? Iʼll tell you what, Iʼll let you in on a secret. Thereʼs this really good underwear. All you have to do is put it on. And itʼs adjustable too—you can change the sizes to anything you want. That way you can keep wearing it even if you lose weight. Body-shaping underwear has been around for a while but in the past youʼd have to go out and buy a whole new set each time you changed a size. It was really expensive! But not this one. They really think of their customers, donʼt you think? So, next week, Iʼm having a party at my house where people can try it on. What do you think? Can you come?”
“When is it?” I asked, not looking up.
I looked her straight in the eyes before speaking. “Iʼm sorry, my mother-in-law is coming over Wednesday morning. Thank you for the invitation, though.” Of course it was all a lie but it just slipped out.
“Oh, is that so? Thatʼs really too bad. But donʼt worry—Iʼll be doing it again. Iʼll let you know when I have the next one.”
So thatʼs why she joined the PTA. I wondered how many people she would get to by the time her term was up.
We finished all the work by noon but it took a while before anyone made a move to leave. It was another hour or so before I managed to get out of there.
I was worried about the pig and hurried back home. Iʼd left her some water but over the past two or three days sheʼd practically doubled in size and I thought sheʼd be needing a lot more food.
As soon as I got inside I went straight to the kitchen and grabbed the food bowl. She ran over to me the moment I slid the door open, snuffling at my legs. I filled the bowl to overflowing with dog food.
“Iʼm so sorry! You must be starving.” The pig attacked the food the moment I placed the bowl on the floor.
“Iʼll be right back with some water.” The water bowl was almost empty. By the time I got back to the room the dog food was gone.
“Do you want some more?” The pig looked up at me as if in reply. I took the bag of dog food from the closet and refilled the bowl.
I looked down at her as she ate every last scrap. I was delighted to see her healthy appetite. I could almost see her growing bigger before my eyes and that made me happy too. I remember feeling the same way when Ami was little. It always made me happy to see her eating, to see her grow. Ami went through a big growth spurt when she started middle school but by then it didnʼt inspire quite so much joy.
I stroked the pigʼs back. Sheʼd grown so much already and she was getting chubby too. I wondered how big pigs got. She was supposed to be a miniature pig, but now I wasnʼt so sure. Maybe sheʼd just keep growing and growing. This worried me a little but, at the same time, I wanted her to get bigger and bigger. So big that she wouldnʼt be able to fit inside the room. Of course if she really did Iʼd be the one who suffered for it.
Now full, the pig dropped off to sleep and I went into the kitchen. I still had my own lunch to prepare. I was standing in the kitchen, about to get my own lunch—leftover breakfast and a salad—when the phone rang.
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