Masatsugu Ono’s Lion Cross Point, translated by Angus Turvill, is forthcoming from Two Lines Press. The novel follows ten-year-old Takeru, who arrives at his family’s home village amid a scorching summer, carrying memories of unspeakable acts against his mother and brother. Takeru befriends Mitsuko, his new caretaker, and Saki, his spunky neighbor, and he begins to see a strange figure called Bunji, who has the same name as a delicate young boy who mysteriously vanished long ago on the village’s breathtaking coastline at Lion Cross Point.
Takeru had been dreaming of his sleeping brother again, and again it was Bunji’s voice that brought him up from the depths of the dream, so when he opened his eyes he wouldn’t have been surprised to see Bunji’s face. But it was actually Saki who’d woken him, coming through the back door of Mitsuko’s house.
“Oh…Saki,” Takeru said, rubbing his eyes. “What’s up?”
“You promised to play today,” said Saki.
“Oh, I’m sorry!”
“What?” Takeru asked.
“Your cheek looks funny. Like it’s been pressed against a tatami mat.”
“I was fast asleep,” said Takeru, not really feeling like he had been.
“And ya got drool down your chin.”
“Do I?” he said, quickly wiping his mouth and chin with his hand.
He remembered that Mitsuko had gone out, leaving a five-hundred-yen coin on the table so that he and Saki could buy some drinks or ice cream. His mother had often left money for him like that when she was busy, back in Akeroma. But that hadn’t been for treats—it had been for meals.
Gripping the coin tight in one hand, Takeru took his FC Barcelona cap from the back of the chair and hurried out after Saki. Bunji shouted from behind, as though pushing him forward.
Get ice cream. Enough for two—for you and your big brother!
Takeru stopped and looked around. That’s nasty, he muttered. Did Bunji hear? Even if he had, he wouldn’t have understood what Takeru meant. But he must have sensed Takeru’s discomfort, because he put one of his big hands over his mouth, and the other went to the top of his head. I want to vanish, the gesture seemed to say. But he didn’t have to vanish. Takeru pulled down the brim of his cap. That always made things he didn’t want to see disappear.
Takeru and Saki went out to the road along the seawall, and soon reached the main highway that ran north-south through Takanoura. There was a good breeze where the roads met, and Takeru thought of old Tsuru holding his glass eye up to the sun. “This spot has the best light in the village,” he had mumbled, his jaw jerking. In the mornings old people could often be seen chatting at the bus stop. They’d be there in the late afternoons too, or they’d go to the seawall before the warmth of the day faded. Whenever he walked past, Takeru was nervous that he might see Tsuru again, but today the sun was still hot and there was nobody around. Now and then a car passed, disturbing the hot, heavy, clinging air. No. What stirred was time, which had been drowsing and had forgotten to move on.
They turned south along the highway and went to the Shudo gas station, which had a vending machine—the closest one to Mitsuko’s house. No vehicles were filling up or being washed. There were four or five small cars for sale along the retaining wall on the north side of the station, with prices displayed on their windshields. In the shade against the southern wall were three men as always. Well, they always seemed to be hanging around and chatting when Takeru came by. Not entirely unlike used cars that could find no buyers, they were essential to the way the gas station looked—another part of the scenery his mother hated, detested.
The young man in oil company overalls was Oil Toshi, the heir to the family gas station. He had drooping eyes and buckteeth. Long, dyed-blond hair protruded from his cap. Next to him was a man in a large straw hat, a white running shirt, Bermuda shorts, and New Balance sneakers on his bare feet. Takeru knew him well. He was the man in the Hawks baseball cap who’d come to the airport to meet him and Mitsuko. He’d been in elementary school with Yoshio, Mitsuko’s husband. He often dropped by Mitsuko’s house, and had recently brought over a watermelon. Takeru noticed again the long white eyebrows that hung like willow down to his twinkling, mischievous eyes. Looking now at his large nose and eyes, Takeru realized what the man reminded him of. No question: a proboscis monkey. Takeru didn’t know the man’s real name, and like everybody else in the village, called him Hii-chan. In front of the other two was a middle-aged man in a navy T-shirt, tracksuit pants, and white rubber boots. He was tall and well-built, with gleaming eyes. He looked rather like an eagle. Takeru had asked Mitsuko who he was, but he couldn’t remember what she’d said.
“Hey! Takeru and Saki!” said Hii-chan. “What’re you two up to?”
The man in white boots glanced at Takeru.
“Where’d the boy come from?” he asked Hii-chan.
“I told ya ’fore. He’s stayin’ with Mitsuko. Wakako Tobitaka’s son.”
“Her name’s not Tobitaka. It’s Tamura,” said Takeru. He could feel sweat rolling down his face.
“Sorry, Takeru!” said Hii-chan. “Your ma was a Tobitaka ’fore she married—that’s how I ’member her.”
“Wakako’s son?” muttered the man in the white boots, his eyes curious.
For some reason Takeru felt a kind of hostility toward him. He kept his gaze on the ground, scared of catching the man’s eye. At his feet was a dark patch on the concrete. It seemed to stick like glue to the soles of his shoes, not letting him move. It wasn’t oil, though. It was his shadow.
“He’s here for the summer,” said Oil Toshi, coming to Takeru’s rescue. “Third grade, ain’t ya?”
“He’s a fourth grader. Isn’t that right, Takeru?” Saki said.
“Isn’t that right,” said Toshi, imitating her. “You sound like a girl from Tokyo!”
Saki smiled, embarrassed.
“Anyway, Saki,” Toshi continued, “it’s good that you’re friends with Takeru. There ain’t that many kids your age at school, are there? They put the grades together for classes, right? Won’t be long ’til they close the school completely.”
“We ain’t the same age,” Saki corrected him. “I told you ’fore—Takeru’s a fourth grader. I’m in second grade.”
“Oh, sorry,” said Toshi. “You’re so tall, nobody’d think ya were in second grade.”
“Wakako’s son . . .” said the man in white boots again.
The man’s boots weren’t, in fact, white. They were streaked with brown dirt. Takeru was still looking down, his gaze now fixed on the man’s boots, white but not white. He didn’t miss the momentary wince in the man’s eyes, though. He didn’t see it, but he knew it was there.
“Wakako back too?” the man asked Hii-chan. Then he turned to Takeru, and asked him as well. “You come back with your ma?”
Takeru stared at his shadow on the concrete. He was like the hand of a stopped clock. That’s what he felt.
“She comin’ later? Is Wakako . . . is your ma comin’ for ya later?”
Takeru was silent. He could feel Saki’s worried gaze on his cheek, tickling like an insect, like an ant crawling on his skin. He remembered a couple of ants crossing his brother’s cheek. Maybe there were some tasty crumbs around his mouth. Just as Takeru hated being asked about his brother, he hated people talking about his mother too. He hated it even more when they were people he didn’t know well. He pulled the brim of his cap down over his eyes so that he couldn’t hear.
He wouldn’t even have heard Bunji whispering in his ear: It’s okay. It’s okay. Don’t worry!
“He don’t look much like Wakako,” said the man in dirty white boots to Hii-chan.
“Suppose he look more like his dad,” said Hii-chan.
The coin in Takeru’s hand seemed to have melted away in the sweat and heat of his clenched fist. He heard the man go on.
“I was in elementary school with your ma. Two years above her.”
The man wasn’t smiling (though Takeru had his eyes on the ground and his cap pulled down so didn’t really know that he wasn’t smiling), but his voice was friendly, so it felt as though he was smiling. The man was about to ask another question, but seeing the expression on Hii-chan’s face he changed his mind. Instead he said:
“Tell your ma Ken Shiomi says ’ello. Say my name and she’ll know right away.”
Takeru forced himself to nod—it was like swallowing medicine. He wanted to cry. He couldn’t feel the coin in his palm. It had melted away . . . Had he lost it somehow? That’s why I want to cry, he told himself, fighting back the tears. He pulled his cap down lower still so nobody would see his face. His vision blurred as sweat dripped relentlessly into his eyes. Saki’s gaze was itching on his face.
Though he could see nothing, because he could see nothing, he saw ants crawling up from somewhere, crawling around his brother’s cheek, arms, shoulders, calves. He didn’t know why he saw it. He knew, but he didn’t know.
Copyright © 2013 by Masatsugu Ono. Translation copyright © 2018 by Angus Turvill. Excerpt by agreement with Two Lines Press.