Little Boxes PDF Print E-mail

The cockroach sensed something edible in the box, something sweetish though not familiar. It scuttled through one of the openings along the side, into the dark interior. Its front legs stuck even as its momentum pushed the rest of its body through the hole. It pulled one foreleg free of the sticky, sweet-smelling surface and stretched forward. This time the leg stuck fast. All six of its legs were quickly mired in the thick goo and it struggled momentarily to free itself, flicking its body first one way then the other while the little claws on its feet were held firmly in place. Soon as a result of these frantic twistings its legs became even more deeply fixed though the underside of its body remained suspended above the surface. It could lurch forwards slightly or backwards slightly or swing its primitive head from side to side but other than that it was immobile. Since even these slight movements became a strain, the cockroach soon ceased moving altogether. Sweetness wafted around it and directly ahead, through the holes along the other side cf the box, it sensed bright light and sometimes movement. These movements approached quite near from time to time and sent useless spasms of struggle through the cockroach.

The movements that startled the insect came from the bare feet of Okada Mitsuko. She was trying to eliminate the mold that was attacking the new tatami mats on all fronts. The rainy season had arrived hot and sticky and thin white strands of mold could appear in colonies in a matter of hours. Some of it had even spread to the fresh plaster of the walls. She used a vacuum and a damp mop against the mold and, as a result spread spores over a wider area.

The little house had been a present from Mitsuko's parents to the man who had recently given her his name. It had been built on a muddy corner of the family farm next to a small grove of bamboo. Mitsuko spent all of her mornings since the honeymoon keeping the house tidy and fighting the mold. Though she had had a good job before the wedding her husband had said that he wanted his wife at home and that had been that. She might have struggled against his decree a bit but, in truth, she had become tired of office work anyway and thought keeping house would be a nice change, a kind of never-ending holiday.

While she still had to get up at 5:30 to make breakfast, pack a bento box and see her husband off she had lately been returning to the futons for a couple of extra hours of dozing and dreaming before resuming her duties. When she dreamed during these mornings she wasn't really sleeping. More like drifting. She drifted into dreams that she had started when only a girl. Dreams about her husband and their future together and surprisingly the man in her dreams often wasn't the man she had married. This didn't alarm her though. She just thought of it as a silly girlish habit. The fact that she didn't love her husband didn't worry her either though she felt a vague sense of disappointment sometimes when her drifting stopped and her duties began. Her husband didn't really love her either. After they had met for the first time over coffee with mutual friends marriage had seemed the next logical step. They were the wrong people perhaps but the time had been right.

The cockroach sensed movement and light then darkness then light and movement again many, many times without eating. Its mouth couldn't reach the sweet smelling stuff that held it and it sensed more and more the need for food but only light and movement and darkness came its way for a very long time.

After cleaning house in the mornings Mitsuko usually had lunch with her parents at the big house. She liked being close to her parents as it gave her someone to talk to. When she wasn't with them she was usually alone. Her childhood friends had all moved to Tokyo and her friends from her job all lived there too. She chatted to them on the phone but it wasn't the same thing as going out for dinner in Shinjuku or Roppongi. But she was too busy keeping her husband's house to do that anymore. Gradually she put her friends in little boxes and stored them away until she might come across one by accident while drifting one morning.

Afternoons she went shopping. She no longer went to the little shops her parents frequented. Instead she went to the big supermarket out by the highway called YACS Young and Clean Shop. YACS had everything she needed and it had American pop music playing and wide aisles and big displays of fruit and vegetables where she could take her time choosing for herself what was needed. YACS was cool and refreshing inside too. The rains had been replaced by the full heat of summer and Mitsuko often lingered over display cases full of freshly sliced sashimi in styrofoam packs to feel the waves of chill air flutter over her body. She let it stroke her even though she knew the humidity would be even more terrible once she stepped outside again.

In addition to the usual sensations the cockroach experienced a scratching feeling on its hard and glossy back. Something scrambled over its head then stepped down into the gooey, sticky mass. This too was a cockroach and it jerked when it felt the stuff clinging; jerked and flipped over, its back sticking fast. Several of its legs remained free and waved frantically in front of the head of the original cockroach. The original cockroach bit into one of the legs, chewing it up. Then it bit another and then bit into the ribbed underbelly. It continued to bite, stretching forward until it could stretch no more and bite no more. Then it could only watch the new movements of the cockroach in front of it and watch the movements beyond that and watch the dark become light then dark again.

After shopping Mitsuko always watched TV for several hours then started to prepare dinner. She wouldn't finish the preparations until her husband called from the station to say that he was back. That might be quite late, 10 or 11 o'clock even, since he was busy at work. She would watch TV for most of the evening by herself, taking a break to fill and heat the bath and to spread out the futons.

Eventually the half-eaten cockroach stopped moving and turned into a gray mound of mold. A sensation of weakness returned to the original cockroach and it felt the need for food again.

When her husband came home he always had his bath then they both sat down to dinner, sometimes a beer. They didn't talk much but it wasn't uncomfortable. He then watched the news and sumo digest if a tournament was in progress while Mitsuko cleaned up the kitchen. After that she had a quick bath and then they went to bed, making love sometimes, but usually not. They slept near one another without touching until the alarm rang again.

One morning, when the alarm rang, there was no movement or light for the cockroach anymore. Not even darkness and Mitsuko got up to make her husband his breakfast.

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