Vaporization

I was spending the better part of each day in a state of vaporization. In part this was to reduce physical strain on my lower back, which often pained me. The main reason, though, was because my mind was much more at ease while I was a vapor than when I wasn’t. To be in that state was to be free of anxiety over external events; I was able to simply float about indoors, comfortably and without a worry in the world. That’s how it felt. Escaping the spell of various physical forces, loosening up every last molecule one by one, I would disperse my “body” to fill the apartment. No longer did I require a nightly sleep to relieve mental and physical fatigue. I felt a sense of tranquility, as if I were in a constant, dilute doze. For I was, so to speak, inside an illusionary cradle rocked by mysterious dynamics, as if my body had been lifted up by my own hands and suspended in the air.

It required a certain focus and concentration in order to vaporize. I always began by lying supine on the bed and closing my eyes. Before long, the countless dustlike particles that flitted around in my head would gradually settle down toward the bottom of my brain. Then, when the moment seemed just right, I relaxed my limbs and, lightly, swiftly twisted my torso from the waist up, a movement that was difficult to execute precisely. It’s not enough to randomly twist—if you don’t combine it with a subtle upward stretch along the body axis and a simultaneous rotation in a perpendicular direction, then all will not go smoothly. But when it does, for a split second I feel myself gently floating up into the air, then the next moment all the particles that constitute my body slowly begin to diffuse throughout the room, setting me free to move about as I please.

When I solidify—that is, when I return my body to its original state—it is sufficient to slightly twist my lower back in the same way. In reverse the trick is to feel as if I am leaning slightly forward and adopt such a position as to make the whole “body” sink. Though I must say it is very difficult to specify exactly where the lower back is when I am vaporized. In spatial terms, the entire room is my lower back, but somehow it was possible for my cerebrum, also dispersed in this way but still able to function as it did in solid form, to gauge the current state of my lower back. I just lack the words to convey this to those who have no experience of vaporization.

The one thing I had to be careful about with vaporizing was to ensure that the windows in my apartment were tightly shut beforehand. If by some chance the inside air had come into sustained contact with the outdoor air for long, my “body” might have gradually leaked out of the room and floated away. And if that had happened, I immediately would have found myself on a path toward a certain, slow death as I became diffused throughout the boundless void of the universe. That was the only thing I had to worry about.

It was therefore also necessary to make sure that my lover took care not to leave the front door and the living room door open at the same time when she let herself in and out of the apartment with the spare key. She used to come to my apartment every weekend to cook and clean for me, lazybones that I am. In fact I didn’t need meals and such while I was a vapor, but even so she never seemed pleased about my spending too long in a vaporized state. It’s not that she ever expressly said as much, but that’s what her attitude indirectly conveyed. You’re being a gas again, she used to say in a joking tone, but I knew she only spoke like that when she wanted to make me aware of some complaint she had, without causing a fuss.

Nor did she appear to be very fond of conversing with me when I was vaporized. I did not project my voice, or anything resembling a voice, from a fixed position, it was more like it came from every corner of the room to be picked up by her as minute variations in the pressure of the air around her. Conversely, when she spoke, my hearing organs, which were dispersed around the room, received her words from every surrounding angle and assimilated them in the auditory area of my brain, which was similarly dispersed. In her opinion this style of communication was rather unpleasant. She said it made her feel somehow uneasy. But it’s not as though I can’t understand that feeling, either.

On top of that, according to her, when my vaporized self filled the room, it felt slightly colder than usual, and she sensed that the air had a higher viscosity. It would be a little uncomfortable for anyone with poor circulation to spend a long period in the room, was her (probably) quite properly expressed judgment. When all was said and done, however, she never pressured me to stop vaporizing, and even though she demonstrated her concern for me in various ways, she forgave my self-indulgent behavior.

On the day I discovered that my attempts to revert from a vaporized state to my ordinary body did not work, I didn’t feel a particular sense of crisis or anything like that. Whenever I didn’t succeed in solidifying the first time, I was usually able to return to my original form by taking a few deep breaths (another thing that is difficult to explain in words), before again twisting my lower back. That day, however, my “body” remained suspended in the air despite these attempts. I’d had a slight cold the previous few days, and it occurred to me that my weakened condition might be the reason. But on the next day and the day after that, I still could not solidify. Well, that’s OK, I thought. I was optimistic that I’d return to normal eventually, and even if I didn’t, it wasn’t as though that posed any particular problem. When I casually informed my girlfriend that I would remain in this form for some time, her look of concern gave me a satisfying tingle of sadistic pleasure.

The first few weeks I spent all night and all day as vapor were exceedingly pleasant. I wafted about the apartment as I pleased, even occasionally enjoying such acrobatic pursuits as entwining myself around the curtain hem or slipping through the narrow gaps between the bookshelves and the wall. Then, when I finished playing around, I would thinly scatter myself about the whole apartment and pass my time, for the most part, in peace. It was curiously agreeable to feel every part of my “body” become steeped in a chill darkness as evening advanced. And the fresh sensation that came over me when dawn broke and the humidity I had absorbed over the night gradually evaporated, wasn’t too bad either.

My lover settled into a pattern of visiting my apartment every two days. “I’d be at a loss if something happened,” she told me, but I rebuffed her lightly, even glibly, saying that there was no cause for concern and that the greatest threat to me at present was some carelessness on her part when she opened the door.

She was not the only one, though, who was concerned about me. I don’t know where she could have heard about it from, but an aunt of mine who lives in the same city and had visited several times before came to see me. I could no longer turn the lock and admit visitors into my apartment without anyone’s assistance. Fortunately, on the day of my aunt’s visit, my girlfriend happened to have been in my apartment since the afternoon.

The news that I had been living a life of ease in vapor form for several weeks already apparently caused great distress to my aunt, who had always been highly strung and had a tendency to worry. As soon as she entered the room she began calling out to me, but as she had no idea in which direction she should face to address me, her eyes roved about uncertainly and she looked utterly perplexed. Two or three times she opened her mouth to speak, each time shifting her gaze, evidently searching for the slightest trace of my existence. “Can I be of any help at all?” My aunt eventually inquired in a concerned voice, after turning to look at the center of the ceiling where the fluorescent light was attached (somehow she’d ascertained that was where I was). “I don’t know if I’m someone you could talk to, but if there’s anything worrying you at all, I’m willing to listen, so why not try telling me about it?”

My aunt cast a swift look at my lover, then smiled uneasily. My lover smiled vaguely back at her. A brief silence followed. The two women were both staring up at the fluorescent light on the ceiling, each with a stiff smile pasted on her face. They gave the impression that if I offered no reply they would stay frozen like that for eternity. “There’s nothing in particular the matter,” I replied in an icy tone. “You needn’t worry on my account.” Hearing my voice echo from she knew not where seemed to reassure my aunt, for at least she now had confirmation of my presence in the apartment—although, at the same time, she looked even more bewildered than before.

“Last week I saw a television program,” she continued after another brief silence, both eyes still roaming about restlessly. “Could it be a lack of vitamins, or amino acids perhaps? I mean, you do live alone, so you probably don’t get enough vegetables.” “I really don’t think that is the problem,” I answered. “I see,” my aunt merely replied. She seemed at a loss for anything more to say, except to make repeated appeals of “All the same . . ., all the same . . .,” to my lover, seeking her agreement. My lover simply responded with noncommittal nods. Now that she had divested herself of everything that was on her mind, my aunt launched into a long speech about a present she had brought, the gist of which was that it came from a shop that is very highly spoken of in her neighborhood, apparently, for the delicate sweetness of its cakes. Placing a cake on the table, she then left. I was of course in no way able to do anything like eat cake in my vaporized state. I dare say this fact escaped my aunt though.

One day, my lover let slip that it bothered her we never went out together anymore. “Don’t you think we need to enjoy doing ordinary things together sometimes?” she asked, “like shopping for new clothes, or choosing everyday household items such as soup plates and bathmats?” As I had no particular reason to disagree with her, I suggested that she bring in a thermos from the kitchen. I thought that if I could fit nicely inside it, then she could hang it from her shoulder and we could happily go shopping together or to the movies (and as a bonus we would only have to pay for one on the train and at the cinema). I don’t know how satisfied she was by this, but we did go out a number of times in this fashion. Whenever we wanted to engage in conversation we had a system whereby I would knock on the lid of the thermos in response to her inquiries.

Needless to say I could not view the scenery during our excursions. All I could see was darkness. But the raucous sounds from the streets that reached my ears through the walls of the thermos in a frightfully mysterious (almost sublime, you might say) way had an oddly soothing effect on my spirits. The faint dampness inside the flask was perfect for relaxing my “body,” and its cool, hard metal surface was reassuring. I have never felt so securely protected from danger as I did then. With my lover’s cooperation I even went so far as to spend time inside the thermos while in my apartment. She often asked if being inside a thermos was really so comfortable. I always answered with a vague affirmative like “yeah, I suppose so.” But the fact that she kept asking this question can only have meant she was growing increasingly concerned for my welfare after seeing me start to behave in what must have seemed an eccentric manner. It wasn’t as if I didn’t feel some guilt; at the same time, however, her words and conduct did irritate me.

 

On the evening exactly one month to the day since I began spending all my time as a vapor, a strange change began to manifest itself in my “body.” That morning I had started feeling faintly dizzy, and during the afternoon my physical deterioration had become more pronounced. Then, as sunset drew near, a terrible fatigue came over me. I felt stricken, as if my “body” were a newly washed blanket still heavy with water and was slipping down to the floor. Though my “body” in its vaporized state was not actually sinking onto the floor, it felt as if a heavy perpendicular force was being exerted on every part of it.

I was unusually quiet and my lover became worried. She asked if there were something physically wrong with me. “Well, in the first place, the whole concept of the physical ‘body’ is . . .” I began to say, partly in jest and partly with an air of ridiculing her fears. But then it occurred to me that such a frivolous dismissal wasn’t appropriate to my mental and physical state at that moment. I became tongue-tied, and after some time, revealed honestly to her that in fact my “body” felt extremely tired.

She sank into thought for a moment, then asked, “Your ‘body’ holds water, doesn’t it?” “Of course it does,” I replied. “Then I think it must be the weather.” She continued, in an unusually emphatic tone, “I just saw the weather forecast. They say we’ll be having the first cold snap of winter tonight and tomorrow.”

Have I caught a cold then? I asked myself. No, that’s not it, my “body” informed me. I am literally about to crystallize. In other words, my instincts told me that overnight I would fall and settle upon the floor of the room as “snow.” I didn’t know what the upshot of this would be for me. Would it be death, or a temporary hibernation, or would it be the same as if nothing at all had occurred, at least as far as my consciousness was concerned? In any case, it seemed better to avoid whatever it was.

My lover thought the same. “I’m certain of it,” she said. “You’ve been a vapor too long. It’s had an adverse effect on your internal metabolism.” Her unusually precise way of talking disconcerted me. The minute she had seen me weaken she had begun to take on what you might well call the authoritative manner of one of life’s leaders.

Her proposal was that I move to her apartment for a while, where it would be possible to warm the room with the thermostat-controlled heating. She said that I would be safe there, even when alone in my vaporized state. “Come on then, let’s get a move on.” With that, she stepped smartly toward the kitchen, opened the lid of the thermos, and held it out. Once I had managed with great difficulty to drag my heavy “body” inside it, she swiftly closed the lid.

With me hanging from her neck, we set off. At the nearest station we boarded a train bound for the suburb where she lived. Yet even in a warm train, the chill air inside the thermos set my “body” shivering, and the internal compression was almost beyond endurance. Now in addition to the sense of fatigue, I began to get a headache and feel nauseous as well. I had never once experienced this sort of thing before, in all the times I had been in the thermos. Occasionally she caressed the flask and whispered, don’t worry. Thinking I ought to make my “body” as comfortable as possible, I tried stretching my limbs and twisting my neck. Each time the thermos would clatter and sway on the seat where she had set it down in the carriage. Sometimes it even leaped into the air slightly.

Then it happened. Suddenly I noticed that someone’s hand had begun opening the lid of the flask. Instantly the stuffy air from the train rushed inside the thermos. And all at once my “body” flowed out into the carriage, forced out by the internal pressure of the flask. By the time my lover had noticed what was happening, it was too late. By then my “body” was already swaying to and fro among the rings suspended from the train ceiling, and was about to start dispersing further at any moment. I could see a small boy who looked to be of kindergarten age sitting on the seat next to my lover and staring with an expression of mock innocence at the advertisements suspended from the train ceiling as they swung furiously back and forth. A woman seated next to the boy, probably his mother, had turned to face my lover and appeared to be apologizing for something, but my lover paid no attention.

The next moment, my lover stood straight up, opened her mouth wide, and sucked my “body” in with all her might. Before I knew it, I was caught up in a gust of moist, warm air, rapidly making my way down along the long thin knobbly passageway of her respiratory tract.

And now I live inside my sweetheart’s lungs. It’s clammy and damp, and there’s a constant buffeting of air from her inhalations and exhalations—you certainly couldn’t say it is a comfortable place to be. Picture a factory that is continually filled with noise and vibration. Every time she sneezes I have to struggle to cling onto every single one of her slippery, slimy alveoli. And the raw bloody smell that rises up to permeate the area every four weeks when she has her period is another great bane of my existence. But, for the time being at least, I have no active intention of leaving here.

Occasionally she talks to me while massaging both sides of her chest. It’s best if you stay there for a while, she says. She doesn’t seem to have any particular objection to a future with me living inside her lungs—far from it, in fact, because ever since we found ourselves like this she has been in an inexplicably good mood.

“Kita” © Jin Keita. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Alison Watts. All rights reserved.