There was no answer. I put the phone back down. I turned to go back to the kitchen and it rang again. I picked it up, wordlessly this time. Again nothing. As soon as I hung up it rang again. After this happened a few more times I just unplugged the phone.
Quiet at last. I took the leftovers from the freezer and put them in the microwave. I didnʼt bother trying to figure out who might have been calling or why. Maybe it was a telemarketer, bitter because I had refused to buy something or maybe it was my husbandʼs lover. Or maybe someone else altogether. Iʼd never know so there was no point in thinking about it. Even if I found out I couldnʼt do anything about it.
I sat and ate the food on the plate in silence.
It was dark—unusually dark—when the alarm woke me the following morning. Climbing out of bed and opening the curtains I saw it was pouring down with rain. The wind was gusting and raindrops beat against the window.
I went downstairs in my pajamas. When the weather was bad like this the pigʼs room got even less light than normal. I hoped she was OK. I slid the door open quietly and peeked in. The pig was sleeping peacefully. Maybe because it was so dark and gloomy in the room the combination of her white hair and pink skin made the cold, barren room seem a little brighter.
I made everyoneʼs breakfast and then went to wake Ami and my husband. Neither of them were morning people and if I left them to their own devices they would sleep the whole day away. If I didnʼt stand there and watch them until they were out of bed they would just fall back asleep. Ami didnʼt have to leave as early as my husband but she needed the extra time to wash her hair so I woke her up the same time as my husband.
Ever since Ami was born mornings had been hectic. It didnʼt matter how early I got up or how well I managed all the cooking and cleaning. It was just the way things were and I had no choice but to accept it.
I saw my husband off at the entryway. Usually he left without a word but today he turned around to face me.
“Has anything unusual happened lately?” He asked.
“No, not especially,” I replied.
For some reason he looked at me suspiciously. Then he turned and went out. Fifteen minutes later Ami left in a rush and clatter. Then everything settled back into silence. Finally it was my house again.
I washed the breakfast dishes and scraped the leftovers into the food bowl and brought them to the pigʼs room. She was awake and as soon I slid the open door she was nuzzling me.
“Hang on, this isnʼt going to be enough. Let me get some more.” I added two handfuls of dog food to the bowl. I wouldʼve liked to stay there, stroking the pigʼs back for a little while but there was still the dayʼs cleaning to do. I gazed at the pig for only a brief moment before leaving.
I was wiping down the kitchen table with a solution of rubbing alcohol when the doorbell rang. I went to look at the monitor and saw that it was Mrs. Murata, my other next-door neighbor. She had a notice from the neighborhood association. I put down the cloth and went straight to the door without bothering with the intercom.
Mrs. Murata seemed a bit surprised when I opened the door and her eyes widened slightly. “Umm . . . I have some notices,” she said.
Normally she didnʼt bother hand delivering them. Sheʼd just stick them between the door and the doorknob. Maybe it was because of the rain, I thought.
“Thank you.” I took the notices and thought we were finished but then she spoke again.
“Um, actually, if I could . . .” She was twisting at the hem of her T-shirt as she spoke.
She looked as though she didnʼt know how to begin. “Mrs. Takeuchi, you wouldnʼt, umm, happen to have some kind of pet, would you?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“No, Iʼm sorry. Of course itʼs none of my business whether or not you have a pet. But . . . I mean, if you had some kind of dangerous animal—a wild beast, you know—if it were to get loose or something . . . It wouldnʼt be safe and . . .”
“Yes, I do have a pet.” “Whatʼs that?” She said, stepping back slightly.
“But itʼs nothing dangerous, no wild beast. I have a miniature pig. Did you know that pigs are actually very clean? Theyʼre very quiet too, and easy to look after.”
“A miniature pig . . .” Mrs. Murata repeated the words and breathed a sigh of relief. Then her expression hardened slightly. “Has Mrs. Tani said anything to you?”
Mrs. Tani? I had to think for a moment before I remembered that it was the Watcherʼs real name.
“No, not that I can recall.”
“She goes on and on about it. Says she hears a growling. Not like what youʼd get with a cat or a dog. A roaring that makes the ground tremble, coming from your house. She seems to think it must be a lion or a tiger or something like that. Sheʼs saying itʼs a danger to the neighborhood and we should get the town council involved, make them get rid of it. She came over to my house the other day just to tell me all this but she hasnʼt said a word to you?”
“It must be some kind of a mistake. Perhaps it was someoneʼs TV. I mean, can you hear anything? Pigs hardly make any noise at all.”
Mrs. Murataʼs head seemed to bounce from side to side as she shook it. “No, she must have made a mistake. Iʼll talk to her next time I see her. Tell her that there are no wild beasts here.”
“Please donʼt trouble yourself. Mrs. Tani doesn't like us very much.”
“Oh, but itʼs not just you, Mrs. Takeuchi. The person in the house behind her, a while back Mrs. Tani complained about their TV being too loud or something and ever since then sheʼs been tossing rubbish into their yard when theyʼre out.” She suddenly cut herself off. “Iʼm sorry. Here I am gossiping away when youʼre so busy. Thank you for your time.”
That was the first time sheʼd ever spoken more than a few words to me. Weʼd say hello and nod if we passed one another outside, maybe exchange a few words on the weather but that was it. Yet I couldnʼt help wondering why the Watcher would tell such lies. The pig never howled or roared.
The rain let up in the afternoon and the sun showed itself, gradually warming the wet earth. After the pig and I had finished lunch I went out into the garden to do some weeding. It was easier to get the weeds out when the ground was damp than when it was dry and hard.
Our garden was tiny, no bigger than a postage stamp, but as I crouched there yanking out one weed after another the task began to feel endless and I started to think that our tiny yard wasnʼt so tiny after all. I stood up and stretched my back. Glancing over to the north side of the house I saw the paper blinds covering the window in the pigʼs room. It was utterly silent. She couldnʼt have possibly heard the pig howling and roaring. The windows were double glazed and there were the blinds too. It would be even quieter than the other rooms. In any case, the only time the pig made any noise at all was when she was happy. She would squeak a little and she only did that when I was in the room with her.
I squatted down and set to pulling out the grass that had come up on our side of the fence. As I worked I remembered when we had first moved in, some ten years ago. I used to dig holes here to bury food scraps. I would dig out a hole and leave the dirt in a pile next to it. When I dumped scraps in the hole I would take a handful of dirt from the pile and cover them. When the hole filled up Iʼd just dig another.
This worked pretty well from spring to autumn, but in the winter the food didnʼt break down fast enough. The piles of scraps kept growing and the hole would fill up in no time. I suppose it was because our garden faced north. Anyway, I gave up and just started throwing the scraps out with the garbage after that.
I picked up the shovel and dug a hole where I used to bury the scraps. There was plenty of black soil but no trace of the scraps. Of course there arenʼt, I thought. Itʼs already been ten years.
As I looked down at the hole I remembered the hole my mother dug that night when I was a child. I wondered what she buried there. It had been the middle of the night. The moon shone bright in the sky. Perhaps it had only been a dream.
Still, it wasnʼt long after that night when she left us. I was sure of that. I remembered that, when my father told me she was gone, I thought of that hole. I had a feeling that if I dug it up again Iʼd find the reason why she left. At the same time, though, I was afraid that if I did dig it up Iʼd never see her again.
In the end I never went near the garden and three months later my mother came back, pretending nothing had happened. Over the next twenty years, until she died, she never left again.
I started to refill the hole but suddenly stopped. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, since Iʼd gone through all the trouble of digging it . . . I saw a white stone nearby and placed it in the hole. Then I refilled the hole completely. There was a mild sense of satisfaction in knowing that something that had been above the ground a few seconds ago was now buried beneath it.
I stood up, leaning against the shovel and let out a shout of surprise. No more than a half meter away the Watcher was standing there, staring at me from the other side of the fence. My voice cracking, I said hello. She seemed not to hear me, though, and just kept staring at me, looking from my face to the shovel in my hands and back to my face again.
“Youʼre trying to start something, arenʼt you?”
“Youʼre getting someone to kill me. So you donʼt have to get your own hands dirty. I wonʼt let you get away with it. Iʼve left letters, you know. If anything happens to me, theyʼll know itʼs you who did it. You wonʼt get away with it!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Donʼt play dumb with me! What did you bury just now?”
“You expect me to believe you dug a hole just for the fun of it? Huh?”
I dropped my gaze and backed away slowly before turning and heading for the front door at a quick walk. The Watcher kept up her shouting from the other side of the fence.
I slipped inside and bolted the door behind me. I hadnʼt wiped my shoes so now there was mud all over the floor. I took off my shoes, thinking Iʼd have to clean it up later and went inside to wash my hands. What the hell was wrong with that woman?
What would I do if she came onto our property? Iʼd have to do something. This wasnʼt idle fancy any more, it might actually happen. I checked in on the pig before going back to the living room. She was sleeping. What if the Watcher tried to do something to the pig? She was so adorable, so innocent—Iʼd have to protect her.
The pig was blissfully unaware that anything was wrong. She slept on in the soft sunlight filtering through the paper blinds.
At a little past three I was just getting ready to go shopping when the phone rang. I answered a little brusquely and the person on other end announced herself as Mrs. Okada.
“Mrs . . . Okada?”
“Now, donʼt tell me youʼve forgotten! From the high school? Weʼre on the PTA together.”
“Oh, Iʼm sorry – I know a few Okadas so . . .” But she rode right over my excuses.
“Listen, it was too bad you couldnʼt make the last party—a real pity. Two of the people were coming for their first time and they were both really excited. They couldnʼt believe it. They put the underwear on and it made such a huge difference, even though they wore the same clothes over it.”
“Is that so?”
“So, I spoke to the instructor and guess what? She said we could have another party. And this time I really want you to come too. I know youʼre busy but surely you can get away for one day? Weʼll pick a day that works for you. So, next month, when are you free? Weʼll be holding it at my house so all you have to do is show up.”
“Iʼm so sorry, my husbandʼs father is unwell and thereʼs no telling when I might get an urgent call from my mother-in-law. So I canʼt really say what day would be good. I really appreciate the invitation but Iʼm afraid that—”
Mrs. Okada cut me off, her voice suddenly growing hard.
“Now look, if that happens youʼll just have to cancel on us—weʼll understand. I mean, after all, nobody knows the future. If you start talking like that, why, youʼd never be able to take a single step outside your front door. Youʼll never do anything if you donʼt take that first step, you know. Now, when youʼve got an opportunity like this youʼve got to grab it with both hands—you canʼt hesitate. You canʼt dawdle. Once you take that first step, youʼll see, the whole world might just open up before you!”
She was getting louder and louder and I had to hold the phone away from my ear. She didnʼt seem to notice that I wasnʼt saying anything and just kept on talking, the words tumbling out. She was getting so carried away that, if I hadnʼt heard the start of the conversation, Iʼd never have guessed she was talking about underwear.
I waited for my opening and then broke in. “Iʼm sorry—Iʼve got to run. Bye.” I could still hear her jabbering away on the other end of the line but I hung up anyway.
Remembering that I had been about to go shopping I grabbed my wallet from my bag and made sure I had enough money. I had to remember to get some more dog food for the pig. I snapped my bag shut and went to the front door.
It had only rained twice after the start of June. The rest of the time it had been warm and sunny. I wasnʼt particularly fond of the rainy season but if we didnʼt get enough rain then the price of vegetables would go up and, in any case, it was a pain to have to keep going around the garden watering the plants all the time. To make things worse, each time I took so much as a step into the garden I could hear the Watcher muttering “murderer, murderer, murderer,” at me from behind her curtains. I knew I should just ignore it but it wasnʼt a very nice feeling.
The hole I had dug and refilled was grown over with grass and indistinguishable from the rest of the garden. I wondered what had become of the white stone at the bottom of the hole.
By noontime Iʼd finished weeding about half the garden. I decided to take a break and headed back inside. Before fixing my own lunch I prepared the pigʼs meal and carried it into her room. The pig looked up at me the moment I slid the door open. She stood up and rubbed her head against my back, as though to beg for the food.
“Here you go,” I said putting the dish on the floor. She ate very carefully, being sure not to spill any of the food from the bowl. “Such a clever pig,” I said, stroking her head.
“Itʼs been two months—more than two months already.” Finished eating, the pig started drinking from her bowl.
“I canʼt believe itʼs been so long already.” Sheʼd grown so much that she couldnʼt fit on a single tatami mat any more. Sitting her on my lap was out of the question.
She was starting to eat more, but it seemed to me that she was growing even faster—awfully fast, to be honest. I wondered how much she weighed. When she stood up her hooves seemed to sink into the blue sheet covering the tatami mats. Still, no matter how big she got, she was just as quiet, just as docile. She never made so much as a peep and never ran about.
Ami made no attempt to go look at the pig, adorable though she was. Sheʼd probably forgotten that we even had a pig. This didnʼt bother me, though. I was happy for the pig to be mine alone.
I threw something together for lunch and was getting ready to head back out into the garden when the doorbell rang. I glanced at the monitor and saw two men standing at my door. I didnʼt know who they were but they seemed vaguely familiar so I decided to see what they wanted.
They were the president and vice president of the local council. With obvious reluctance, they explained that were getting complaints from Mrs. Tani virtually every day. She wanted them to check and make sure that I didnʼt have any dangerous animals on my property.
“Well, I do have a miniature pig but thatʼs all. Nothing that could hurt anyone. If you like I can show you the pig but Iʼm not sure how I can prove that I donʼt have anything else. Are you going to go through all the rooms, check all my closets?” I spoke with deliberate harshness.
The two men glanced at one another.
“You see, Mrs. Tani, sheʼs been making all sorts of claims. She says that, at night, she can see a pair of eyes, glowing and glaring at her through a rip in the paper blinds facing her house. Oh, and that there is a howling and roaring, that it goes on all day long, non-stop. That youʼve been threatening her—anyway, that sort of thing. We just ignored her at first but she just kept calling and calling at all hours of the day and night, you see. So we decided we should at least come and see for ourselves. Thatʼs why weʼre here.”
“Well, shall we take a walk around the yard first? At the very least Iʼm certain there arenʼt any tears in the blinds.” I stepped outside and led them to the garden. They walked all the way around the house two, three times and stopped in front of the window to the pigʼs room several times. I heard them say that there werenʼt any holes, that they couldnʼt hear any noises and so on. Then they looked over and saw the mountains of rubbish in Mrs. Taniʼs yard.
I couldnʼt see anyone at the window. Normally sheʼd be peeking out through the curtains.
“Sheʼs made it all up . . .” the council president started to say when we suddenly heard a shout.
“Liar!” The voice seemed to come from behind the overturned washing machine. A pair of eyes suddenly appeared from behind the washing machine. It was the Watcher.
“I know! I watch you all day long! Youʼre jealous of me, arenʼt you? So jealous you canʼt stand it! Thatʼs why youʼve got some wild beast in there, so that one of these days you can murder me. And still, despite all this, despite all the harassment, the council still refuses to listen?”
“Now Mrs. Tani, thatʼs going too far. You mustnʼt say such things. Look, weʼve come all this way out here because of your complaints. Weʼve been shown around the yard and thereʼs nothing at all to support your story—not a single thing. On the contrary, I should think that it is the rubbish in your yard that is the real cause for complai—”
“Shut up! Shut up!” She screamed, cutting him off. “Have you looked inside? Itʼs there, I know it. Sheʼs tricking you! This . . . woman!”
“We are not the police, Mrs. Tani. We donʼt have the authority to go searching peopleʼs homes. Still, we took a look around outside and there was nothing. No roaring, no howling, no tears or holes in the blinds.”
“Of course not! She knew you were coming, she hid it somewhere!”
“We did not call to say that we were coming. We simply picked a time convenient for the two of us and showed up.”
She suddenly let out a loud shush and pressed her fingers to her lips. The color drained from her dry, papery lips when she pressed them. The two men and I looked at her.
“There,” she said in a whisper. “You hear that? It sounds like itʼs coming from under the ground, like a voice.”
The three of us, everyone except her, looked at one another. We strained our ears but we couldnʼt hear a thing. She started looking around in a panic. Perhaps she had seen the looks of confusion on our faces.
“You hear it, right? Right!”
The council president spoke up, somewhat timidly. “Mrs. Tani . . . You . . . I think you must have a ringing in your ears. We canʼt hear a thing. Itʼs been very rude of you to make up such stories about Mrs. Takeuchi.”
The Watcher suddenly sprang back, stiffening. She spun about and fled inside her house. The door slammed behind her with a tremendous bang. The two men nodded to one another.
“We see what a difficult situation youʼre in. As for the rubbish, let us know if she starts to throw it outside of her own property. We can meet with the town administrators to see what can be done.”
I promised I would and, bowing slightly, thanked them for coming by. The two old men shuffled off, muttering about something to one another as they left.
I bolted the door again as soon as I got inside. I went straight to the pigʼs room. Though Iʼd been cleared of suspicion my heart still pounded violently in my chest.
The pig was awake. Her eyes were open. We stared at one another for a little while and then I spoke.
“You . . . Have you been up to something?”
The pig didnʼt respond. She shifted her weight and let out a loud sniff. With one hand still clutching my chest, I sank down onto the floor and patted the pigʼs head.
“Itʼs OK. You donʼt have to say anything. You havenʼt done anything wrong. Not a single thing.”
Click here for Part IV