Fiction / April 2018 (Issue 39)


by Yoko Tawada, translated from German by Susan Bernofsky

Ceres forgot to bring her twin sister into the world with her. The forgotten girl got lost somewhere between the other side and this one. Perhaps her mother had closed up the escape hatch as soon as the first bit came out. She must have thought a single daughter was enough. Two daughters are one too many. Mother and daughter, after all, are already two women. Three women would produce a love triangle. Wishing to avoid this, Ceres's mother arranged for the second girl to disappear. And so Ceres entered this world as half a set of twins.

Ceres, too, had a daughter. She became a mother without the least forethought. She was nomadic by nature, no roof ever sheltered her for long. Now she lived with a fellow who was studying at university and had a roomy apartment. Now she fell in love with a singer and followed her about everywhere. One day, she met a man in a bar. He told her about his wife, who slept twelve hours a day. At the time, Ceres was able to sleep only five or six hours a night. During the day, she felt like an inside-out glove. Surely it would be lovely to sleep for twelve hours straight. She would be able to process the impressions absorbed during an hour spent awake during an hour of sleep. When you spend less time asleep than awake, you lose your balance. What happens to the surplus daytime hours?

"Your wife leads a symmetrical life," Ceres said.

A few weeks later, she told the man, whom she now was seeing on a regular basis: "I'm going to try to sleep for twelve hours, too."

He felt a certain discomfort. A few days later, his discomfort had grown. Then he left.

For six months, Ceres attended dance school in the Eidelstedt district, where she was living. Every third morning, she gargled in the bathroom mirror and hurried off to class. There a young teacher awaited her. Every time Ceres moved, the teacher said "No." Ceres groaned, but her groans sounded hedonistic. She wanted to be negated by a woman. One day things went too far.

"Your legs look positively agricultural," the young teacher said to her in the dance school office. Ceres slapped the teacher's face; at once, the teacher burst into tears. Ceres wept as well.

Just a day later, she made the acquaintance of a choreographer. She brought him home with her, and he stayed for three days. He lived in another city and was on the road looking for dancers for his next project. He stayed with her to save the expense of a hotel room.

"I'm sorry, but I can't with women," he explained at 12:30 a.m.

"But I can. I can with women," Ceres replied happily. The next morning Ceres gargled loudly in the mirror. The choreographer gargled, too, but in a much deeper register.

"I wouldn't have believed it, but it really appears to be true that I find the intelligence of others erotic," Ceres explained at a marriage bureau and was offered a quiet, talented scholar. Ceres wanted only one thing from him: a daughter.

Ceres's daughter was also named Ceres. No name could have suited her better than this one. Ceres's daughter Ceres left the house. Night fell, and she didn't return home. She'd just wanted to stop by a friend's house and go for an ice cream with her. She'd skipped out of the house clutching a coin in her hand. Ceres telephoned her daughter's friend, but the friend said that Ceres hadn't been there. At midnight, Ceres called the police. But even the police didn't succeed in finding little Ceres.

Ceres went to the museum to look for her daughter. Several of the portraits of the royal family contained little girls. They had wrinkled foreheads and brooding eyes. In fact, they appeared to be neither gayer nor more innocent than the adults, they had merely been trimmed down to size. But the names of these girls were nowhere to be found. No wonder a lost girl cannot be found again. One ought to try leaving a little girl at the museum, Ceres thought. Maybe she will grow up in a picture. What will she look like as an adult? Will it be possible to find her again?

Ceres wandered from picture to picture, inspecting every bit of female nudity, and she became more and more furious. Why did all the painters lie? One painter called his picture "Hera," but you could see at once that the woman he'd painted was his wife. Why didn't he just go ahead and entitle the picture "My Spouse"? What a stupid pretense, using Greek names like that.

Cornois is rewriting her story. In the first version, the plot was completely different: the main character, Ceres, hired a man to abduct her daughter. Ceres's daughter was also named Ceres, and Ceres didn't want to have Ceres around any longer. After all, what woman could love another woman who has the same name as she does? It's dangerous to have a name, for a name must be shared with many other people.

When the daughter had been eliminated, the main character regretted what she'd done. She'd only wanted to destroy the name of her daughter, she didn't want the daughter herself to vanish. Ceres wept, struck herself in the face until she bled and spat out shreds of words. Forgetting that she herself had hired the man, she told the police the name of the abductor.

Hello, my name is Ceres. I'm disguising myself as Ceres the daughter to pay a visit to mother Ceres. How are things? It's been ages! I couldn't visit you before: I'd been abducted and locked up. Many years have passed since then. I'm so terribly sorry. I had myself abducted on purpose, to get away from home.

After a few drinks, most projects strike me as absurd. Always eating together with another person: a gastronomic project. Buying a house and installing a television, a stereo system and a bookshelf: a multimedia project. Someone who has no children can still produce one by the fall: a biological project. You might also acquire a female dog and a cat. What progeny, what planning. Then you'll also need a car to transport the heavy cans of food.

Even in a highly occupied individual such as Ceres, there was still an unused corner, unburdened and free of furniture, dusty and forgotten. While Ceres went on speaking without respite, arranging her life, I sat down in this corner. Hello there. I spoke to her, my voice was soft, but it landed in the one silent moment of her life. Ceres stopped short and listened.

Hello there, I'm a counterfeit daughter. It isn't good to cling unduly to one's flesh-and-blood daughter. You paid a lot for her, but still you can't keep her, for every daughter must abandon her blood mother in order to survive. In her place, you should receive guests from far-off lands. Concern yourself with another woman.

Ceres cooks me barley porridge, she cooks me rice pudding, she cooks me. Ceres doesn't want me to speak too much. If I do, it immediately makes her feel she's doing something illegitimate. But when we cook grain together in silence, when we knead the dough and bake bread, we have no secrets. Perhaps it is good not to say a word, to knead dough together for hours, then there is no more I, no more she, no more mother, no more dead, only the kneading of four hands.


Left: Photograph of Yoko Tawada © Nina Subin
Right: Photograph of Susan Bernofsky © Caroline White
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.