This extract from ‘Breasts and Eggs’ was translated during the Japanese-English workshop at the British Centre for Literary Translation’s Summer School in 2011, by David Boyd, Michael Emmerich, Gitte Marianne Hansen, Louise Heal, Chawupi Kalinga, Katherine Lundy, Samuel Malissa, Lydia Moed, Takami Nieda, Michael Staley and Alison Watts.
Makiko is my older sister and Midoriko is Makiko’s daughter, so Midoriko is my niece and I’m the unmarried aunt, but Midoriko’s father and Makiko split up a good ten years ago when Midoriko was too young to remember living with the man, and I’ve never heard of Makiko having them meet, which means she knows nothing about him—not that any of this really matters, but anyway, we all go by the same name now, and since Makiko wanted to, they’ve come from Osaka this summer to spend three days in my apartment in Tokyo.
Words are not enough for Midoriko and Makiko right now, and they’re not enough for me either, standing here watching them. There’s nothing I can say. The kitchen is dark, it smells of garbage, I can see the tension in Midoriko’s jaw, and I feel the stupidity of all this, the pointlessness. I flick the switch, and the fluorescent light exposes every corner of the kitchen. Makiko narrows her bloodshot eyes as if momentarily blinded. Midoriko, hands pressed against her thighs, eyes fixed on Makiko’s throat, opens her mouth: Mom! She pushes the word out: Mom. I turn in disbelief.
Mom, Midoriko repeats in a loud, clear voice, even though Makiko is right next to her. Makiko looks at her with a stunned expression. Midoriko’s face is taut and her body is trembling—one touch and she’d crumble. She breathes unsteadily through her nose. Mom, tell me, she says, barely managing to wring the words out, tell me something real. You have to tell me, Mom. Midoriko drops her gaze and stands there, rigid. Something is about to give. Makiko listens, pauses, then bursts into hysterical laughter. What—what the hell? I mean, what are you talking about, something real? She smiles too broadly, and laughs again theatrically. She turns to me. You hear that? Are you hearing this? Something real, does that make any sense to you? You’re gonna have to translate for me. Makiko paints over the shock, the unease, the indignation with her laughter, and I think that she’s all wrong. Midoriko stands silent amidst the laughter, head still lowered, shoulders heaving as if she’s about to cry, then suddenly lifts her face, draws in her breath, rips open the carton of eggs sitting on the counter waiting to be thrown away, grabs one with her right hand, raises it into the air. Oh no, she’s going to—and at that moment, tears spill from her eyes, really gush out, and she smashes the egg against her own head. It slaps with a strange, wet crunch, the yolk splattering. Midoriko repeatedly smashes the remains into her head to the rhythm of her words, Mom, Mom. The egg begins to froth in her hand, in her hair, the shell bits dig in, yolk drips from her ear.