Fiction / June 2017 (Issue 36: Writing Japan)

An Andalusian Cat

by Goro Takano

Recently I fell into an inconspicuous but awkward habit: time after time I intentionally isolate myself from the world around me and lead my mind straight to my own bygone days to wonder what was the true meaning or value of each critical moment in them. I personally don't like this kind of nostalgia, but I can hardly get out of it, maybe because of my age (I'm fifty now). Sometimes, what is worse, my mind is unconsciously dragged into this trick before I notice it. "Isn't this a sign of cognitive impairment?"—I even feared so once or twice, but, so far, there seems to be no serious symptom in me. So, normally, I bury such concern into oblivion and, while being otherwise engaged, momentarily get infatuated with such nonsensical questions as "Why did I do that then?" or "How is that peculiar experience connected to what I am today?"

The other day the daydream-like moment caught me again all of a sudden and shut me from the eyes of others staring at me, although I was at work then (by the way, I've been making my living by teaching English at a Japanese university). It was during my class that the odd habit sneaked back into me—more accurately, it was when my eyes were somehow riveted to a certain English word in the textbook I was holding right before a classroomful of students. The following broken query (in my native language Japanese, mind you) slowly swept me away: "The existence—beyond the boundary of human knowledge—God shows it to us humans—people often say—only once or twice in a lifetime—such a religious instant—does it come to an atheist like me?—did it, already?" I'm afraid all my students were surely perplexed by their teacher's abrupt uncanny silence. The textbook word I was intently staring at then was "revelation."

The silence was quite short-lived then, of course. Yet, during this odd interval, I saw a series of different past memories crossing around the back of my head, all of which were, after all, lacking in dramatic components, not to mention religious ones. For instance, one of them went like this:

I'm now sitting at a corner table in a café adjacent to a city library. I'm waiting for someone, probably. A foreign couple is sitting right behind me. Husband and wife, probably. Behind the couple are a young Japanese woman and her child. There seems to be no other customers in the café. Totally let loose, an old black cat is weaving her way through numerous table legs, calmly and somewhat melancholically. A cup of fresh coffee is already placed in front of me, along with the café's famous specialty: a plate of Mont-blanc aux marrons. Nothing is unusual there.

I stopped by this café on my way back home from a movie theatre in town. What did I watch there? Luis Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou. It was my very first time to watch the surreal "masterpiece," but I could not enjoy it at all, honestly. I usually have some respect toward surrealism, but this short film was too much for me. Almost all of its scenes were totally against my preferences, and the most nauseating moment for me was its famous (or notorious) opening scene where a close-up of a woman's eyeball is meaninglessly cut with a knife. As soon as I left the theatre, I decided to stop by the café for a change of pace—I just wanted to forget the grotesqueness of the close-up as soon as possible.

Now the old black cat quietly stops near my toes. Her morbid but gracious eyes begin to stare up at my moving mouth. I'm in the middle of taking a big mouthful of the Mont-blanc. The owner of the café walks slowly to me and asks: "Would you like another glass of water?" Oh, please, thanks, I say. Looking down at his cat, the owner smiles wryly and says: "Believe me or not, her lifetime is now ending. Unfortunately, she is a terminal-cancer patient."

Meanwhile, the young Japanese woman is listening with a smile to her eight-or-nine-year-old boy's big-voice talk: "So, this is what our teacher said, Mom: one fine day, a pig and a dog go together to a food court, and the rich pig buys and eats a piece of a gorgeous pizza, while the poor dog just watches it without eating anything. The dog goes: 'Hey, Mr. Pig, next time I find a yummy-looking bone somewhere I will happily share it with you, so can I take a bite or two from your pizza?' The pig's full tummy is already hurting, but he answers: 'I'm sorry but I cannot, Mr. Dog—I paid for this, so this is all mine.' They go out of the food court together and meet a scary-looking hunter with a shotgun in his hand. The dog quickly runs away, but the pig is just stuffed with the gorgeous pizza, so he cannot run fast enough. The pig is shot immediately and killed. After sunset, the dog goes back to the place where the pig was shot and finds in a dustbin a huge bone with a mouth-watering chunk of meat still sticking to it. The dog sucks the bone through and through, feeling very, very happy."

While the boy's mother is about to ask him whether or not "that was the pig's own bone," the boy adds loudly: "Our teacher asked us what we can learn from this story—How would you answer him, Mom?"

I would answer this way, I say to myself, while genteelly forking up another morsel of the French-style cake. Money can buy anything, people often say. We should stop once and ask ourselves who made such a horrible private-ownership system possible and so common. Everything in this world should end up public property in the not too distant future, like all the books in the city library, shouldn't they? The kid's dog-and-pig parable is a biting satire on the society we inhabit now, though he seems to know nothing about what a satire means!

Now I find my next vacant chair already taken quietly by the old black cat. She is anxiously staring at my crème-stained lips. She must be a foreign species. As if she is trying to ask me for a nibble, the adorable creature breathes a faint but coquettish tone of voice. She might be my type if she were a person.

The foreign woman discussing with her partner behind my back is also my type, in fact. I strain my ears to catch their conversation more accurately, and know that they are disagreeing with each other regarding a refugee problem, which seems like their biggest issue. I turn around a little and squint at her drawing carefully on a piece of paper something like a layout of a new house. And she says that, in their house, there are still some vacancies in which, at the maximum, another family of four could manage to live. Her partner inclines his head and begins to rebut: "Living with a refugee family is really easier said than done. How can we distinguish a family decent enough to live with us from a not-so-decent one? Where must we go to find such decent refuges, first of all? How must we verify correctly their good manners? Plus, we even need to prove to them we are good enough to ensure their safety, and the entire formalities for this proof must be awfully complicated. Don't say you will happily skip this regular procedure and, say, randomly call out to one refugee-looking person after another on the street—then you will be an easy prey for some swindlers!"

I scorch his opinion in my head: this world is full of such narrow-minded views like yours—you should be ashamed of yourself, mister—it is a damn pity for her to keep living with this self-centered bastard—why doesn't she turn to me once and—"My cat must be disturbing you, sorry about that," the café owner says to me while patting the cat's head affectionately. Her feline eyes and the foreign woman's ones are somewhat overlapped in my mind. "This pussy and I have been side by side for a long time," the owner adds. "I wish I could take her place and shoulder all her cancer pain—every time I take her to a vet, she refuses every treatment for some unknown reason—she doesn't want to die so soon, I believe, but—" I know what you mean, I reply immediately. I really do—your feeling would be none other than mine if I were you.

Everything in this café story thereafter turns far opaquer. Didn't the old black cat attempt to touch my cake recklessly and eat it up, just like a poor dog longing desperately for a piece of pizza? Didn't the tip of the fork in my right hand aim straight at her face?—I paid for this, so this is all mine—the cat's eyes shone invitingly like a knife, just like those of a hunter with a shotgun in his hand, didn't they? Didn't my own snorting (like a pig's) surprise me?—Hell no—I simply doubt this particular part of the memory. Nothing like that ought to exist in my life history, and it is surely a fabrication. But—when the cat was pushed off the table with the fork squarely jabbed into the middle of her forehead, a beam from her eyes slashed the surface of my eyeballs, just like in a movie, didn't it?

No, it didn't—or did it? Didn't I push the cancer cat as gently as I could, with no fork in my hand, and keep her decently away from the cake? I can easily prove it—neither the café owner nor the other customers looked startled then, for instance. Why cannot I lose this terrible sensation of having held a fork tight and stabbed some creature with it? Why cannot I lose this weird sensation of having been a slave to some invisible tyrannical thing? Why cannot I lose this tragicomic hollowness, this strange feeling that some frivolous fellow has rewritten me without my advance permission and forced the rewritten me to shoulder a cardinal sin? Don't say even this is revelation, please—

Then I came back to myself and winced at the fact that I was still on duty in the classroom. I hastily cast a downward glance onto a page of the textbook left open in my hand. The wonder-stricken eyes of my students seemed to prick my skin, although I could not look back at them at all. What was the English essay I was reading with the students about?—That was the one about a worldwide refugee problem, coincidentally.

During the rest of the class, I continued to be vaguely fettered by the following fantastic questions, although I kept pretending not to before all my students: if I were an old book which had been left untouched for an incredibly long time in a dim nook of the city library and would eternally remain dusty as it stands, would I give a shout like "IS THERE ANYONE WHO WILL KINDLY READ ME? MY INSIDE CAN BE ALL YOURS!"?—if I were an animal bone which had been left discarded for an incredible long time in a dustbin while still keeping some edible meat adhered to its surface, would I speak in a whisper, for instance, "IS THERE ANYONE WHO WILL KINDLY SUCK ME? THIS MEAT CAN BE SIMPLY FOR YOUR HUNGER!"?

Right before the end of the class, I tried looking back at the sneer-like smiles of my students. And I shot my final look at the textbook's English word which had triggered the strange world of the old black cancer cat. Then I finally realised my stupid mistake: it was not spelled "revelation," but "revocation."

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