"They stay inside the woman and eat her flesh-naturally," his girlfriend said.
"Gobble it up," my friend said.
I remembered now how that summer she'd written a long poem about the blind willow and explained it all to us. That was the only homework assignment she did that summer. She made up a story based on a dream she'd had one night, and as she lay in bed for a week she wrote this long poem. My friend said he wanted to read it, but she was still revising it, so she turned him down; instead, she drew those pictures and summarized the plot.
A young man climbed up the hill to rescue the woman the blind- willow pollen had put to sleep.
"That's got to be me," my friend said.
She shook her head. "No, it isn't you."
"You sure?" he asked.
"I'm sure," she said, a fairly serious look on her face. "I don't know why I know that. But I do. You're not angry, are you?"
"You bet I am," my friend frowned, half joking.
Pushing his way through the thick blind willows, the young man slowly made his way up the hill. He was the first one ever to climb the hill once the blind willows took over. Hat pulled down over his eyes, brushing away with one hand the swarms of flies buzzing around him, the young man kept climbing. To see the sleeping woman. To wake her from her long, deep sleep.
"But by the time he reached the top of the hill the woman's body had basically been eaten up already by the flies, right?" my friend said.
"In a sense," his girlfriend replied.
"In a sense being eaten by flies makes it a sad story, doesn't it?" my friend said.
"Yes, I guess so," she said after giving it some thought. "What do you think?" she asked me.
"Sounds like a sad story to me," I replied.
It was twelve twenty when my cousin came back. He was carrying a small bag of medicine and had a sort of unfocused look on his face. After he appeared at the entrance to the cafeteria it took some time for him to spot me and come on over. He walked awkwardly, as if he couldn't keep his balance. He sat down across from me and, like he'd been too busy to remember to breathe, took a huge breath.
"How'd it go?" I asked.
"Mmm," he said. I waited for him to say more, but he didn't.
"Are you hungry?" I asked.
He nodded silently.
"You want to eat here? Or do you want to take the bus into town and eat there?"
He looked uncertainly around the room. "Here's fine," he said. I bought lunch tickets and ordered the set lunches for both of us. Until the food was brought over to us my cousin gazed silently out the window at the same scenery I'd been looking at-the sea, the row of zelkovas, the sprinkler.
At the table beside us a nicely decked-out middle-aged couple were eating sandwiches and talking about a friend of theirs who had lung cancer. How he'd quit smoking five years ago but it was too late, how he'd vomit blood when he woke up in the morning. The wife asked the questions, the husband gave the answers. In a certain sense, the husband explained, you can see a person's whole life in the cancer they get.
Our lunches consisted of Salisbury steaks and fried whitefish, salad and rolls. We sat there, across from each other, silently eating. The whole time we were eating the couple next to us droned on and on about how cancer starts, why the cancer rate's gone up, why there isn't any medicine to combat it.
"Everywhere you go it's the same," my cousin said in a flat tone, gazing at his hands. "The same old questions, the same tests."
Translated by Philip Gabriel. Copyright (c) 2006 by Haruki Murakami
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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