Hello there. This week, one of the stories that came together when writing something else. I thought I’d edit it up and pop it in the Café.
Please note that the name ‘Goro Nyudo Masamune’ came with several diacritical marks (macrons*) that refused to render in the site’s font. As a lover of unusual font furniture (it’s Café, after all) I’d love to have that name correct, but there you go. I’d also like to have my pay-as-you-go mobile topped up, but I need to have money in it to talk to the support staff to fix the problem with getting it topped up… so you can’t have everything. Thanks Vodaphone.
On the plus side, I’ve adjusted the e-mail subscription functionality on the right-hand side of the site. This should now just send a summary of the first couple of lines of a post — more of an indicator that something new is up here, than an effort to send out the whole post in a horribly wide e-mail. A simple flag for something new was what I’d intended in the first place.
Anyhoo, prepare, now, for some polite applause.
* You know, ‘macron’ – like graves, circumflexes, that sort of thing. Rather than ‘macaroon’ – a small coconut cake – which would be most appropriate for a café.
atsumi is weathering white rubber boots and is talking to Masahiro the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. A ladder has let the Minister down into this muddy trench, and let him down gently, because this project languishes. They both have white hardhats. Yellow ribbons dance on a chrome shovel in the Minister’s hands, with which he will single-handedly begin what has already been six months of site work.
Masahiro quickly hands the shovel – at finger length – to his immaculate assistant in her immaculate charcoal suit. She gropes for his hand-wipes.
Rising up around them is a maze of foundations for what will be the new Miyagi Prefectural Government Matsushima Building in Sendai, once all these rusted metal ties and concrete teeth are capped with a hundred floors of concrete, steel and aluminium; glass overlooking the delicate pines of the bay.
Rather stiffly, Katsumi explains how the work is slow but steady; the workers very much enjoy the presence of the Minister; and how all such enterprises for the glory of Japan are to the glory of all.
This is accepted with a sharp nod. Of course.
The Minster most likely thinks of Katsumi’s wife’s – Kiriko’s – squid bento, which is only minutes away, while Katsumi thinks of what is beneath his feet. Somewhere.
Five yards away, long ladders drop down into a particularly muddy shaft – the circular remains of a country well and – stone upon stone – this is the singular reason for Katsumi’s passion for this project. And regrettably, the long surveys and delays.
Any who might approach this private excavation are shooed away, leaving Katsumi free to descend at the sun’s first touch on the blue-green hills, like liquid gold in water; ascending again each evening, with his scored trowel, when these self-same hills appear in the full-blooded, dusty ochre of a shrine offering.
Under the pretext of securing against subsidence over an underground spring – there are plans and plans of it – and his degree in geology from Tokyo, it’s Katsumi’s bamboo scaffolding that drops through the years and excavated silt: the leafless knuckles of the poles like lashed bone; the soft slime of the passageway covering everything; the lantern chain of cables and bulbs descending into ever decreasing circles, casting up the organic, sphincterish feel of it.
Three stories and the stones are still in descent.
Occasionally a litter of ancient bamboo, or stone, or organic matter – like plugs, blocking its throat – at other times false hollows that bring a rush of indigestion, but no sign of what may be a package wrapped by priests – bamboo, leather and oil.
Some days he imagines the sword will just be there as if floating on top – shining in the electric arcs and foul smelling mud – his breath huffing in the chill as he takes it, pinched between fingers; light scintillating along its mirrored edge. That’s for the child in him.
Other days he sees it as it must assuredly be: a rusted chunk of folded, folded metal, and a faint gleam of gold thread from the hilt – a hunk of corrosion reduced through time and decay to its pitted, meteoric origins once more.
Scrolls show a great star falling over the hills, and a curvilinear mirror blade formed from its core in the forge beneath: this is the Sword of the Heavenly Star.
“Goro Nyudo Masamune made me,” so those scrolls say.
It is Meibutsu – a noted sword.
Family, friends – his son – are not supportive of this quest, what little he’s shared. Their mood borders on disrespect, though they say nothing. Kiriko, especially. With the long hours, his wife thinks he is having an affair: ‘well, you know what he’s like around women’ (though he only found that out through a chain of neighbours).
If anything these relationships weather like the descent: in cold, tight-lipped humidity that gives little away but disapproval, as another platform arrives and is broached and more problems are packed back with poles; where the mud bulges and the stones begin to slide. Water seeps, the well seeks solace.
This morning, the tiny tink of trowel on metal revealed a small cast of a Shishi lion-dog resting in the mud, over bamboo browned and flaking like over-cooked chicken bone. Water lapped around its teeth as if it were laughing. It was iron and remarkably well preserved – gape-jawed, beard curled – and rendered in remarkable detail.
A frisson of excitement: perhaps the chill and litter have kept out the air and dulled the passage of time. Perhaps. And this number of platforms is a holy number (as all the numbers he has concocted before).
There is no way to appease such a guardian, so best to remove it. As the notably pert assistant to the minister rubs a finger, delicately, on the back of her neck, Katsumi waits impatiently for an end to the official functions. Then he can descend with a carton of pen and ink, and daub the circle of magic papers he has down there. The papers are plastered with the well’s own mucus to the curving walls – each blank, each awaiting his message.
The Minister takes the trench elevator, while Katsumi take his eye off the well – for a moment – to look up his assistant’s skirt as she climbs the entirely undignified ladder, boots bowed on every rung.
A flash of white.
That afternoon they find graves dug up and urns and ashes already gone – no one knew of those ancient burials. Katsumi is missing and there is a circle of collapsed ground.
Fierce winds lash Sendai for several weeks.