Thursday, January 13, 2011
I found this on discard shelf a few weeks ago and thought it looked good. Since I was previously engaged in other books I simply added it to a stack of "To Be Read Later" hopefuls. Last night after finishing a rather long biography I was looking for something to browse before bedtime and came across it again. I am hooked now. Comparisons may be odious but they tend to be necessary. This first novel has been likened to Kafka, Borges, G.K. Chesteron's The Man Who Was Thursday, Barton Fink, Brazil, and even Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. I would say with so much to choose from it must be a distinct new voice. Except below.
The expert detective's pursuit will go unnoticed, but not because he is unremarkable. Rather, like the suspect's shadow, he will appear as though he is meant to be there.
Lest details be mistaken for clues, note that Mr. Charles Unwin, lifetime resident of this city, rode his bicycle to work every day, even when it was raining. He had contrived a method to keep his umbrella open while pedaling, by hooking the umbrella's handle around the bicycle's handlebar. This method made the bicycle less maneuverable and reduced the scope of Unwin's vision, but if his daily schedule was to accommodate an unofficial trip to Central Terminal for unofficial reasons, then certain risks were to be expected.
Though inconspicuous by nature, as a bicyclist and an umbrellist Unwin was severely evident. Crowds of pedestrians parted before the ringing of his little bell, mothers hugged their children near, and the children gaped at the magnificence of his passing. At intersections he avoided eye contact with the drivers of motor vehicles, so as not to give the impression he might yield to them. Today he was behind schedule. He had scorched his oatmeal, and tied the wrong tie, and nearly forgotten his wristwatch, all because of a dream that had come to him in the moments before waking, a dream that still troubled and distracted him. Now his socks were getting wet, so he pedaled even faster.
He dismounted on the sidewalk outside the west entrance of Central Terminal and chained his bicycle to a lamppost. The revolving doors spun ceaselessly, shunting travelers out into the rain, their black umbrellas blooming in rapid succession. He collapsed his own umbrella and slipped inside, checking the time as he emerged into the concourse.
His wristwatch, a gift from the Agency in recognition of twenty years of faithful service, never needed winding and was set to match — to the very second — the time reported by the four-faced clock above the information booth at the heart of Central Terminal. It was twenty-three minutes after seven in the morning. That gave him three minutes exactly before the woman in the plaid coat, her hair pinned tightly under a gray cap, would appear at the south entrance of the terminal.
He went to stand in line at the breakfast cart, and the man at the front of the line ordered a coffee, two sugars, no cream.
"Slow today, isn't it?" Unwin said, but the man in front of him did not respond, suspecting, perhaps, a ruse to trick him out of his spot.
In any case it was better that Unwin avoid conversation. If someone were to ask why he had started coming to Central Terminal every morning when his office was just seven blocks from his apartment, he would say he came for the coffee. But that would be a lie, and he hoped he never had to tell it.
The tired-looking boy entrusted with the steaming machines of the breakfast cart — Neville, according to his name tag — stirred sugar into the cup one spoonful at a time. The man waiting for his coffee, two sugars, no cream, glanced at his watch, and Unwin knew without looking that the woman in the plaid coat would be here, or rather there, at the south end of the concourse, in less than a minute. He did not even want the coffee. But what if someone were to ask why he came to Central Terminal every morning at the same time, and he said he came for the coffee, but he had no coffee in his hand? Worse than a lie is a lie that no one believes.
When it was Unwin's turn to place his order, Neville asked him if he wanted cream or sugar.
"Just coffee. And hurry, please."
Neville poured the coffee with great care and with greater care fitted the lid onto the cup, then wrapped it in a paper napkin. Unwin took it and left before the boy could produce his change.
Droves of morning commuters sleepwalked to a murmur of station announcements and newspaper rustle. Unwin checked his ever-wound, ever-winding watch, and hot coffee seeped under the lid and over his fingers. Other torments ensued. His briefcase knocked against his knees, his umbrella began to slip from under his arm, the soles of his shoes squeaked on the marble floor. But nothing could divert him. He had never been late for her. Here now was the lofty arch of Gate Fourteen, the time twenty-six minutes after seven. And the woman in the plaid coat, her hair pinned tightly under a gray cap, tumbled through the revolving doors and into the heavy green light of a Central Terminal morning.
She shook water from her umbrella and gazed up at the vaulted ceiling, as though at a sky that threatened more rain. She sneezed, twice, into a gloved hand, and Unwin noted this variation on her arrival with the fervency of an archivist presented with newly disclosed documents. Her passage across the terminal was unswerving. Thirty-nine steps (it was never fewer than thirty-eight, never more than forty) delivered her to her usual spot, several paces from the gate. Her cheeks were flushed, her grip on her umbrella very tight. Unwin drew a worn train schedule from his coat pocket. He feigned an interest in the schedule while together (alone) they waited.
How many mornings before the first that he saw her had she stood there? And whose face did she hope to find among the disembarking host? She was beautiful, in the quiet way that lonely, unnoticed people are beautiful to those who notice them. Had someone broken a promise to her? Willfully, or due to unexpected misfortune? As an Agency clerk, it was not for Unwin to question too deeply, nor to conduct anything resembling an investigation. Eight days ago he had gone to Central Terminal, had even purchased a ticket because he thought he might like to leave town for a while. But when he saw the woman in the plaid coat, he stayed. The sight of her had made him wonder, and now he found he could not stop wondering. These were unofficial trips, and she was his unofficial reason; that was all.
A subterranean breeze blew up from the tracks, ruffling the hem of her coat. The seven twenty-seven train, one minute late as usual, arrived at the terminal. A pause, a hiss: the gleaming doors slid open. A hundred and more black raincoats poured all at once from the train and up through the gate. The stream parted as it met her. She stood on her toes, looking left and right.
The last of the raincoats rushed past. Not one of them had stopped for her.
Unwin returned the schedule to his pocket, put his umbrella under his arm, picked up his briefcase, his coffee. The woman's solitude had gone undisturbed: should he have felt guilty for being relieved? So long as no one stopped for her, her visits to Central Terminal would continue, and so would his. Now, as she began her walk back to the revolving doors, he followed, matching his pace to hers so he would pass only a few steps behind her on his way to his bicycle.
He could see the wisps of brown hair that had escaped from under her cap. He could count the freckles on the back of her neck, but the numbers meant nothing; all was mystery. As he had the previous morning, and the seven mornings before that, Unwin willed with all the power in his lanky soul that time, like the train at the end of its track, would stop.
This morning it did. The woman in the plaid coat dropped her umbrella. She turned and looked at him. Her eyes — he had never seen them so close — were the clouded silver of old mirrors. The numbered panels on the arrival and departure boards froze. The station announcements ceased. The four second hands on the four faces of the clock trembled between numbers. The insides of Unwin's ever-wound wristwatch seized.
He looked down. Her umbrella lay on the floor between them. But his hands were full, and the floor was so far away.
Someone behind him said, "Mr. Charles Unwin?"
The timetables came back to life, the clocks remembered themselves, the station resumed its murmuring. A plump man in a herringbone suit was staring at him with green-yellow eyes. He danced the big fingers of his right hand over the brim of a hat held in his left. "Mr. Charles Unwin," he said again, not a question this time.
The woman in the plaid coat snatched up her umbrella and walked away. The man in the herringbone suit was still waiting.
"The coffee," Unwin began to explain.
The man ignored him. "This way, Mr. Unwin," he said, and gestured with his hat toward the north end of the terminal. Unwin glanced back, but the woman was already lost to the revolving doors.
What could he do but follow? This man knew his name — he might also know his secrets, know he was making unofficial trips for unofficial reasons. He escorted Unwin down a long corridor where men in iron chairs read newspapers while nimble boys shined their shoes.
"Where are we going?"
"Someplace we can talk in private."
"I'll be late for work."
The man in the herringbone suit flipped open his wallet to reveal an Agency badge identifying him as Samuel Pith, Detective. "You're on the job," Pith said, "starting this moment. That makes you a half hour early, Mr. Unwin."
They came to a second corridor, dimmer than the first, blocked by a row of signs warning of wet floors. Beyond, a man in gray coveralls slid a grimy-looking mop over the marble in slow, indeliberate arcs. The floor was covered with red and orange oak leaves, tracked in, probably, by a passenger who had arrived on one of the earlier trains from the country.
Detective Pith cleared his throat, and the custodian shuffled over to them, pushed one of the signs out of the way, and allowed the two to pass.
The floor was perfectly dry. Unwin glanced into the custodian's bucket. It was empty.
"Listen carefully, now," said Detective Pith. He emphasized the words by tapping his hat brim against Unwin's chest. "You're an odd little fellow. You've got peculiar habits. Every morning this week, same time, there's Charles Unwin, back at Central Terminal. Not for a train, though. His apartment is just seven blocks from the office."
"I come for the — "
"Damn it, Unwin, don't tell me. We like our operatives to keep a few mysteries of their own. Page ninety-six of the Manual."
"I'm no operative, sir. I'm a clerk, fourteenth floor. And I'm sorry you've had to waste your time. We're both behind schedule now."
"I told you," Pith growled, "you're already on the job. Forget the fourteenth floor. Report to Room 2919. You've been promoted." From his coat pocket Pith drew a slim hardcover volume, green with gold lettering: The Manual of Detection. "Standard issue," he said. "It's saved my life more than once."
Unwin's hands were still full, so Pith slipped the book into his briefcase.
"This is a mistake," Unwin said.
"For better or worse, somebody has noticed you. And there's no way now to get yourself unnoticed." He stared at Unwin a long moment. His substantial black eyebrows gathered downward, and his lips went stiff and frowning. But when he spoke, his voice was quieter, even kind. "I'm supposed to keep this simple, but listen. Your first case should be an easy one. Hell, mine was. But you're in this thing a little deeper, Unwin. Maybe because you've been with the Agency so long. Or maybe you've got some friends, or some enemies. It's none of my business, really. The point is — "
"Please," said Unwin, checking his watch. It was seven thirty-four.
Detective Pith waved one hand, as though to clear smoke from the air. "I've already said more than I should have. The point is, Unwin, you're going to need a new hat."
The green trilby was Unwin's only hat. He could not imagine wearing anything else on his head.
Pith donned his own fedora and tipped it forward. "If you ever see me again, you don't know me. Got it?" He snapped a finger at the custodian and said, "See you later, Artie." Then the herringbone suit disappeared around the corner.
The custodian had resumed his work, mopping the dry floor with his dry mop, moving piles of oak leaves from one end of the corridor to the other. In the reports Unwin received each week from Detective Sivart, he had often read of those who, without being in the employ of the Agency, were nonetheless aware of one or more aspects of a case — who were, as the detective might write, "in on it." Could the custodian be one of those?
His name tag was stitched with red, curving letters.
"Mr. Arthur, sir?" Arthur continued working, and Unwin had to hop backward to escape the wide sweep of his mop. The custodian's eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open. And he was making a peculiar sound, low and whispery. Unwin leaned closer, trying to understand the words.
But there were no words, there was nothing to understand. The custodian was snoring.
Outside, Unwin dropped his coffee in a trash can and glanced downtown toward the Agency's gray, monolithic headquarters, its uppermost stories obscured by the rain. Years ago he had admitted to himself that he did not like the look of the building: its shadow was too long, the stone of its walls cold and somehow like that of a tomb. Better, he thought, to work inside a place like that than to glimpse it throughout the day.
To make up for lost time, he risked a shortcut down an alleyway he knew was barely wide enough to accommodate his open umbrella. The umbrella's metal nubs scraped against both walls as the bicycle bumped and jangled over old cobblestone.
He had already begun drafting in his mind the report that would best characterize his promotion, and in this draft the word "promotion" appeared always between quotation marks, for to let it stand without qualification would be to honor it with too much validity. Errors were something of a rarity at the Agency. It was a large organization, however, composed of a great many bureaus and departments, most of them beyond Unwin's purview. In one of those bureaus or departments, it was clear, an error had been committed, overlooked, and worst of all, disseminated.
He slowed his pace to navigate some broken bottles left strewn across the alley, the ribs of his umbrella bending against the walls as he turned. He expected at any moment to hear the fateful hiss of a popped tire, but he and his bicycle passed unscathed.
This error that Pith had brought with him to Central Terminal — it was Unwin's burden now. He accepted it, if not gladly, then encouraged by the knowledge that he, one of the most experienced clerks of the fourteenth floor, was best prepared to cope with such a calamity. Every page of his report would intimate the fact. The superior who reviewed the final version, upon finishing, would sit back in his chair and say to himself, "Thank goodness it was Mr. Charles Unwin, and not some frailer fellow, to whom this task fell."
Unwin pedaled hard to keep from swerving and shot from the other end of the alley, a clutch of pigeons bursting with him into the rain.
In all his days of employment with the Agency, he had never encountered a problem without a solution. This morning's episode, though unusual, would be no exception. He felt certain the entire matter would be settled before lunchtime.
But even with such responsibilities before him, Unwin found himself thinking of the dream he had dreamed before waking, the one that had rattled and distracted him, causing him to scorch his oatmeal and nearly miss the woman in the plaid coat.
He was by nature a meticulous dreamer, capable of sorting his nocturnal reveries with a lucidity he understood to be rare. He was unaccustomed to the shock of such an intrusive vision, one that seemed not at all of his making, and more like an official communique.
In this dream he had risen from bed and gone to take a bath, only to find the bathtub occupied by a stranger, naked except for his hat, reclining in a thick heap of soap bubbles. The bubbles were stained gray around his chest by the ashes from his cigar. His flesh was gray, too, like smudged newsprint, and a bulky gray coat was draped over the shower curtain. Only the ember of the stranger's cigar possessed color, and it burned so hot it made the steam above the tub glow red.
Unwin stood in the doorway, a fresh towel over his arm, his robe cinched tight around his waist. Why, he wondered, would someone go through all the trouble of breaking in to his apartment, just to get caught taking a bath?
The stranger said nothing. He lifted one foot out of the water and scrubbed it with a long-handled brush. When he was done, he soaped the bristles, slowly working the suds into a lather. Then he scrubbed the other foot.
Unwin bent down for a better look at the face under the hat brim and saw the heavy, unshaven jaw he knew only from newspaper photographs. It was the Agency operative whose case files were his particular responsibility.
"Detective Sivart," Unwin said, "what are you doing in my bathtub?"
Sivart let the brush fall into the water and took the cigar from his teeth. "No names," he said. "Not mine anyway. Don't know who might be listening in." He relaxed deeper into the bubbles. "You have no idea how difficult it was to arrange this meeting, Unwin. Did you know they don't tell us detectives who our clerks are? All these years I've been sending my reports to the fourteenth floor. To you, it turns out. And you forget things."
Unwin put up his hands to protest, but Sivart waved his cigar at him and said, "When Enoch Hoffmann stole November twelfth, and you looked at the morning paper and saw that Monday had gone straight into Wednesday, you forgot Tuesday like all the rest of them."
"Even the restaurants skipped their Tuesday specials," Unwin said.
Sivart's ember burned hotter, and more steam rose from the tub. "You forgot my birthday, too," he said. "No card, no nothing."
"Nobody knows your birthday."
"You could have figured it out. Anyway, you know my cases better than anyone. You know I was wrong about her, all wrong. So you're the best chance I've got. Try this time, would you? Try to remember something. Remember this: Chapter Eighteen. Got it?"
"Say it back to me: Chapter Eighteen."
"Chapter Elephant," Unwin said, in spite of himself.
"Hopeless," Sivart muttered.
Normally Unwin never could have said "Elephant" when he meant to say "Eighteen," not even in his sleep. Hurt by Sivart's accusations, he had blurted the wrong word because, in some dusty file drawer of his mind, he had long ago deposited the fact that elephants never forget.
"The girl," Sivart was saying, and Unwin had the impression that the detective was getting ready to explain something important. "I was wrong about her."
Then, as though summoned to life by Unwin's own error, there came trumpeting, high and full — the unmistakable decree of an elephant.
"No time!" Sivart said. He drew back the shower curtain behind the tub. Instead of a tiled wall, Unwin saw the whirling lights of carnival rides and striped pavilions beneath which broad shapes hunkered and leapt. There were shooting galleries out there, and a wheel of fortune, and animal cages, and a carousel, all moving, all turning under turning stars. The elephant trumpeted again, only this time the sound was shrill and staccato, and Unwin had to switch off his alarm clock to make it stop.
Excerpted from The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) February, 2009.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
The Towns We Know and Leave Behind,
The Rivers We Carry with Us
— for James Wright
I forget the names of towns without rivers.
A town needs a river to forgive the town.
Whatever river, whatever town –
it is much the same.
The cruel things I did I took to the river.
I begged the current: make me better.
Your town, your river, or mine –
it is much the same.
A murdering man lives on the land
in a shack the river birds hate.
He rubs the red shriek of night from his eyes.
He prays to water: don’t let me do that again.
Let’s name your river: Ohio.
Let’s name all rivers one in the blood,
red stream and debris in the blood.
Say George Doty had a wrong head.
Say the Ohio forgives what George did
and the river birds loved his shack.
Let’s name the birds: heron and sweat.
Let’s get away from the mud.
The river is there to forgive the town
and without a river a town abuses the sky.
The river is there to forgive what I did.
Let’s name my river: Duwamish.
And let’s admit
the river birds don’t hate my home.
That’s a recent development, really
like mercury in the cod.
Without a river a town abuses the air.
The river is there to forgive what I did.
The river birds hate what I did
until I name them.
Your river or mine –
It is much the same.
A murdering man lived on the bank.
Here’s the trick;
We had to stay drunk
to welcome the river
to live in a shack
to die on the bank
beneath the bigoted sky
under the river birds
day after day
to murder away
all water that might die.
A murdering man is dead on the bank
of your new river, The East,
on mine, The Clark Fork.
It is much the same.
Your river has gulls and tugs.
Mine has eagles and sky.
I rub last night from my eyes.
I ask bright water what’s happened.
The river, I am not sure which one,
Says water has no special power.
What should I do?
Now water has no need to forgive
what shall become of murder?
How shall we live
when we killed, when we died by the word?
Whatever the name of the river,
we both had two women to love,
one to love us enough we left behind
a town that abuses the day.
The other to love the river we brought with us,
the shack we lived and still live in,
the birds, the towns that return to us for names
and we give them names knowing the river
murders them away.
Looks like we are heading back to Bluffton this weekend for the fall float and leaf watching. Love this poem.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I am completely sucked into this book so far and I have only gotten slightly further than the excerpt below. The perils of working in the stacks is coming home with even more books. Small price to pay but one must be ever vigilant to avoid so much distraction that one may actually finish a few. Coming soon I will have a post of 10 books I want to read by having judged their cover. Here is a recent interview from Powell's bookstore.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
The ninth night of the fifth month
"Miss kawasemi?" orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. "Can you hear me?"
In the rice paddy beyond the garden, a cacophony of frogs detonates.
Orito dabs the concubine's sweat-drenched face with a damp cloth.
"She's barely spoken"-the maid holds the lamp-"for hours and hours. . . ."
"Miss Kawasemi, I'm Aibagawa. I'm a midwife. I want to help."
Kawasemi's eyes ﬂicker open. She manages a frail sigh. Her eyes shut.
She is too exhausted, Orito thinks, even to fear dying tonight.
Dr. Maeno whispers through the muslin curtain. "I wanted to examine the child's presentation myself, but . . ." The elderly scholar chooses his words with care. "But this is prohibited, it seems."
"My orders are clear," states the chamberlain. "No man may touch her."
Orito lifts the bloodied sheet and ﬁnds, as warned, the fetus's limp arm, up to the shoulder, protruding from Kawasemi's vagina.
"Have you ever seen such a presentation?" asks Dr. Maeno.
"Yes: in an engraving, from the Dutch text Father was translating."
"This is what I prayed to hear! The Observations of William Smellie?"
"Yes: Dr. Smellie terms it," Orito uses the Dutch, " 'Prolapse of the Arm.' "
Orito clasps the fetus's mucus-smeared wrist to search for a pulse.
Maeno now asks her in Dutch, "What are your opinions?"
There is no pulse. "The baby is dead," Orito answers, in the same language, "and the mother will die soon, if the child is not delivered." She places her ﬁngertips on Kawasemi's distended belly and probes the bulge around the inverted navel. "It was a boy." She kneels between Kawasemi's parted legs, noting the narrow pelvis, and sniffs the bulging labia: she detects the malty mixture of grumous blood and excrement, but not the stench of a rotted fetus. "He died one or two hours ago."
Orito asks the maid, "When did the waters break?"
The maid is still mute with astonishment at hearing a foreign language.
"Yesterday morning, during the Hour of the Dragon," says the stony- voiced housekeeper. "Our lady entered labor soon after."
"And when was the last time that the baby kicked?"
"The last kick would have been around noon today."
"Dr. Maeno, would you agree the infant is in"-she uses the Dutch term-"the 'transverse breech position' "
"Maybe," the doctor answers in their code tongue, "but without an examination . . ."
"The baby is twenty days late, or more. It should have been turned."
"Baby's resting," the maid assures her mistress. "Isn't that so, Dr. Maeno?"
"What you say"-the honest doctor wavers-"may well be true."
"My father told me," Orito says, "Dr. Uragami was overseeing the birth."
"So he was," grunts Maeno, "from the comfort of his consulting rooms. After the baby stopped kicking, Uragami ascertained that, for geomantic reasons discernible to men of his genius, the child's spirit is reluctant to be born. The birth henceforth depends on the mother's willpower." The rogue, Maeno needs not add, dares not bruise his reputation by presiding over the stillbirth of such an estimable man's child. "Chamberlain Tomine then persuaded the magistrate to summon me. When I saw the arm, I recalled your doctor of Scotland and requested your help."
"My father and I are both deeply honored by your trust," says Orito . . .
. . . and curse Uragami, she thinks, for his lethal reluctance to lose face.
Abruptly, the frogs stop croaking and, as though a curtain of noise falls away, the sound of Nagasaki can be heard, celebrating the safe arrival of the Dutch ship.
"If the child is dead," says Maeno in Dutch, "we must remove it now."
"I agree." Orito asks the housekeeper for warm water and strips of linen and uncorks a bottle of Leiden salts under the concubine's nose to win her a few moments' lucidity. "Miss Kawasemi, we are going to deliver your child in the next few minutes. First, may I feel inside you?"
The concubine is seized by the next contraction and loses her ability to answer.
warm water is delivered in two copper pans as the agony subsides. "We should confess," Dr. Maeno proposes to Orito in Dutch, "the baby is dead. Then amputate the arm to deliver the body."
"First, I wish to insert my hand to learn whether the body is in a convex lie or concave lie."
"If you can discover that without cutting the arm"-Maeno means "amputate"-"do so."
Orito lubricates her right hand with rapeseed oil and addresses the maid: "Fold one linen strip into a thick pad . . . yes, like so. Be ready to wedge it between your mistress's teeth; otherwise she might bite off her tongue. Leave spaces at the sides, so she can breathe. Dr. Maeno, my inspection is beginning."
"You are my eyes and ears, Miss Aibagawa," says the doctor.
Orito works her ﬁngers between the fetus's biceps and its mother's ruptured labia until half her wrist is inside Kawasemi's vagina. The concubine shivers and groans. "Sorry," says Orito, "sorry . . ." Her ﬁngers slide between warm membranes and skin and muscle still wet with amniotic ﬂuid, and the midwife pictures an engraving from that enlightened and barbaric realm, Europe . . .
If the transverse lie is convex, recalls Orito, where the fetus's spine is arched backward so acutely that its head appears between its shins like a Chinese acrobat, she must amputate the fetus's arm, dismember its corpse with toothed forceps, and extract it, piece by grisly piece. Dr. Smellie warns that any remnant left in the womb will fester and may kill the mother. If the transverse lie is concave, however, Orito has read, where the fetus's knees are pressed against its chest, she may saw off the arm, rotate the fetus, insert crotchets into the eye sockets, and extract the whole body, headﬁrst. The midwife's index ﬁnger locates the child's knobbly spine, traces its midriff between its lowest rib and its pelvic bone, and encounters a minute ear; a nostril; a mouth; the umbilical cord; and a prawn-sized penis. "Breech is concave," Orito reports to Dr. Maeno, "but the cord is around the neck."
"Do you think the cord can be released?" Maeno forgets to speak Dutch.
"Well, I must try. Insert the cloth," Orito tells the maid, "now, please."
When the linen wad is secured between Kawasemi's teeth, Orito pushes her hand in deeper, hooks her thumb around the embryo's cord, sinks four ﬁngers into the underside of the fetus's jaw, pushes back his head, and slides the cord over his face, forehead, and crown. Kawasemi screams, hot urine trickles down Orito's forearm, but the procedure works ﬁrst time: the noose is released. She withdraws her hand and reports, "The cord is freed. Might the doctor have his"-there is no Japanese word-"forceps?"
"I brought them along," Maeno taps his medical box, "in case."
"We might try to deliver the child"-she switches to Dutch-"without amputating the arm. Less blood is always better. But I need your help."
Dr. Maeno addresses the chamberlain: "To help save Miss Kawasemi's life, I must disregard the magistrate's orders and join the midwife inside the curtain."
Chamberlain Tomine is caught in a dangerous quandary.
"You may blame me," Maeno suggests, "for disobeying the magistrate."
"The choice is mine," decides the chamberlain. "Do what you must, Doctor."
The spry old man crawls under the muslin, holding his curved tongs.
When the maid sees the foreign contraption, she exclaims in alarm.
" 'Forceps,' " the doctor replies, with no further explanation.
The housekeeper lifts the muslin to see. "No, I don't like the look of that! Foreigners may chop, slice, and call it 'medicine,' but it is quite unthinkable that-"
"Do I advise the housekeeper," growls Maeno, "on where to buy ﬁsh?"
"Forceps," explains Orito, "don't cut-they turn and pull, just like a midwife's ﬁngers but with a stronger grip . . ." She uses her Leiden salts again. "Miss Kawasemi, I'm going to use this instrument"-she holds up the forceps-"to deliver your baby. Don't be afraid, and don't resist. Europeans use them routinely-even for princesses and queens. We'll pull your baby out, gently and ﬁrmly."
"Do so . . ." Kawasemi's voice is a smothered rattle. "Do so . . ."
"Thank you, and when I ask Miss Kawasemi to push . . ."
"Push . . ." She is fatigued almost beyond caring. "Push . . ."
"How often," Tomine peers in, "have you used that implement?"
Orito notices the chamberlain's crushed nose for the ﬁrst time: it is as severe a disﬁgurement as her own burn. "Often, and no patient ever suffered." Only Maeno and his pupil know that these "patients" were hollowed-out melons whose babies were oiled gourds. For the ﬁnal time, if all goes well, she works her hand inside Kawasemi's womb. Her ﬁngers ﬁnd the fetus's throat, rotate his head toward the cervix, slip, gain a surer purchase, and swivel the awkward corpse through a third turn. "Now, please, Doctor."
Maeno slides in the forceps around the protruding arm.
The onlookers gasp; a parched shriek is wrenched from Kawasemi.
Orito feels the forceps' curved blades in her palm: she maneuvers them around the fetus's soft skull. "Close them."
Gently but ﬁrmly, the doctor squeezes the forceps shut.
Orito takes the forceps' handles in her left hand: the resistance is spongy but ﬁrm, like konnyaku jelly. Her right hand, still inside the uterus, cups the fetus's skull.
Dr. Maeno's bony ﬁngers encase Orito's wrist.
"What is it you're waiting for?" asks the housekeeper.
"The next contraction," says the doctor, "which is due any-"
Kawasemi's breathing starts to swell with fresh pain.
"One and two," counts Orito, "and-push, Kawasemi-san!"
"Push, Mistress!" exhort the maid and the housekeeper.
Dr. Maeno pulls at the forceps; with her right hand, Orito pushes the fetus's head toward the birth canal. She tells the maid to grasp the baby's arm and pull. Orito feels the resistance grow as the head reaches the aperture. "One and two . . . now!" Squeezing the glans of the clitoris ﬂat comes a tiny corpse's matted crown.
"Here he is!" gasps the maid, through Kawasemi's animal shrieks.
Here comes the baby's scalp; here his face, marbled with mucus . . .
. . . Here comes the rest of his slithery, clammy, lifeless body.
"Oh, but-oh," says the maid. "Oh. Oh. Oh . . ."
Kawasemi's high-pitched sobs subside to moans, and deaden.
She knows. Orito discards the forceps, lifts the lifeless baby by his ankles and slaps him. She has no hope of coaxing out a miracle: she acts from discipline and training. After ten hard slaps, she stops. He has no pulse. She feels no breath on her cheek from the lips and nostrils. There is no need to announce the obvious. Splicing the cord near the navel, she cuts the gristly string with her knife, bathes the lifeless boy in a copper of water, and places him in the crib. A crib for a coffin, she thinks, and a swaddling sheet for a shroud.
Chamberlain Tomine gives instructions to a servant outside. "Inform His Honor that a son was stillborn. Dr. Maeno and his midwife did their best but were powerless to alter what Fate had decreed."
Orito's concern is now puerperal fever. The placenta must be extracted, yakumosô applied to the perineum, and blood stanched from an anal ﬁssure.
Dr. Maeno withdraws from the curtained tent to make space.
A moth the size of a bird enters and blunders into Orito's face.
Batting it away, she knocks the forceps off one of the copper pans.
The forceps clatters onto a pan lid; the loud clang frightens a small creature that has somehow found its way into the room; it mewls and whimpers.
A puppy? wonders Orito, bafﬂed. Or a kitten?
The mysterious animal cries again, very near: under the futon?
"Shoo that thing away!" the housekeeper tells the maid. "Shoo it!"
The creature mewls again, and Orito realizes it is coming from the crib.
Surely not, thinks the midwife, refusing to hope. Surely not . . .
She snatches away the linen sheet just as the baby's mouth opens.
He inhales once, twice, three times; his crinkled face crumples . . .
. . . and the shuddering newborn boiled-pink despot howls at Life.
Captain Lacy's cabin on the Shenandoah, anchored in Nagasaki harbor
Evening of July 20, 1799
"How else," demands daniel snitker, "is a man to earn just reward for the daily humiliations we suffer from those slit-eyed leeches? 'The unpaid servant,' say the Spanish, 'has the right to pay himself,' and for once, damn me, the Spanish are right. Why so certain there'll still be a company to pay us in five years' time? Amsterdam is on its knees; our shipyards are idle; our manufactories silent; our granaries plundered; The Hague is a stage of prancing marionettes tweaked by Paris; Prussian jackals and Austrian wolves laugh at our borders: and Jesus in heaven, since the bird-shoot at Kamperduin we are left a maritime nation with no navy. The British seized the Cape, Coromandel, and Ceylon without so much as a kiss-my-arse, and that Java itself is their next fattened Christmas goose is plain as day! Without neutral bottoms like this"-he curls his lip at Captain Lacy-"Yankee, Batavia would starve. In such times, Vorstenbosch, a man's sole insurance is salable goods in the warehouse. Why else, for God's sake, are you here?"
The old whale-oil lantern sways and hisses.
"That," Vorstenbosch asks, "was your closing statement?"
Snitker folds his arms. "I spit on your drumhead trial."
Captain Lacy issues a gargantuan belch. "'Twas the garlic, gentlemen."
Vorstenbosch addresses his clerk: "We may record our verdict . . ."
Jacob de Zoet nods and dips his quill: ". . . drumhead trial."
"On this day, the twentieth of July, 1799, I, Unico Vorstenbosch, chief-elect of the trading factory of Dejima in Nagasaki, acting by the powers vested in me by His Excellency P. G. van Overstraten, governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, witnessed by Captain Anselm Lacy of the Shenandoah, ﬁnd Daniel Snitker, acting-chief of the above- mentioned factory, guilty of the following: gross dereliction of duty-"
"I fulfilled," insists Snitker, "every duty of my post!"
" 'Duty' " Vorstenbosch signals to Jacob to pause. "Our warehouses were burning to cinders whilst you, sir, romped with strumpets in a brothel-a fact omitted from that farrago of lies you are pleased to call your day register. And had it not been for the chance remark of a Japanese interpreter-"
"Shit-house rats who blacken my name 'cause I'm wise to their tricks!"
"Is it a 'blackening of your name' that the ﬁre engine was missing from Dejima on the night of the ﬁre?"
"Perhaps the defendant took the engine to the House of Wistaria," remarks Captain Lacy, "to impress the ladies with the thickness of his hose."
"The engine," objects Snitker, "was Van Cleef's responsibility."
"I'll tell your deputy how faithfully you defended him. To the next item, Mr. de Zoet: 'Failure to have the factory's three senior ofﬁcers sign the Octavia's bills of lading.' "
"Oh, for God's sake. A mere administrative oversight!"
"An 'oversight' that permits crooked chiefs to cheat the company in a hundred ways, which is why Batavia insists on triple authorization. Next item: 'Theft of company funds to pay for private cargoes.' "
"Now that," Snitker spits with anger, "that is a ﬂat lie!"
From a carpetbag at his feet, Vorstenbosch produces two porcelain ﬁgurines in the Oriental mode. One is an executioner, ax poised to behead the second, a kneeling prisoner, hands bound and eyes on the next world.
"Why show me those"-Snitker is shameless-"gewgaws?"
"Two gross were found in your private cargo-'twenty-four dozen Arita ﬁgurines,' let the record state. My late wife nurtured a fondness for Japanese curiosities, so I have a little knowledge. Indulge me, Captain Lacy: estimate their value in, let us say, a Viennese auction house."
Captain Lacy considers. "Twenty guilders a head?"
"For these slighter ones alone, thirty-ﬁve guilders; for the gold- leafed courtesans, archers, and lords, ﬁfty. What price the two gross? Let us aim low-Europe is at war, and markets unsettled-and call it thirty-five per head . . . multiplied by two gross. De Zoet?"
Jacob's abacus is to hand. "Ten thousand and eighty guilders, sir."
Lacy issues an impressed "Hee-haw!"
"Tidy proﬁt," states Vorstenbosch, "for merchandise purchased at the company's expense yet recorded in the bills of lading-unwitnessed, of course-as 'Acting-Chief's Private Porcelain,' in your hand, Snitker."
"The former chief, God rest his soul"-Snitker changes his story-"willed them to me, before the court embassy."
"So Mr. Hemmij foresaw his demise on his way back from Edo?"