An extract from a novel.
The Feminist's Wife
It was approximately one year after the GOLEM incident – as it happens, on the same day that Apple announced that it would be rebranding its integrated, one-stop iOS digital value manager app, the app which united into one slick intuitive interface everything from bank accounts, to credit cards, to cryptocurrency, to loyalty cards, to concert tickets, to really cool concert tickets, and would be quietly discarding the app’s original name, which was ‘Passbook,’ and trumpetingly giving it its new name, which was ‘Wallet’ – that Sozen Nishikawa remembered what it was like being a root vegetable.
It was a remembrance so sudden and so vivid that it caused Sozen Nishikawa to spread out his arms, like the curling tentacles of potatoes in the darkness, a Christful gesture which made the young engineer who was sitting beside Sozen in the coffee shop loudly remark, ‘Varo! Sinä melkein vuotanut juomani!’
Moreover, Sozen’s reminisces of his one-time root-vegetably-ness seized him with such suddenness and vividness that Sozen did not even notice that he had spread his arms, let alone what or whom he had spread them like, and did not hear the woman beside him as she exclaimed, ‘Varo! Sinä melkein vuotanut juomani!’, except perhaps as a kind of roaring contour of noise without sense.
Nor did Sozen even notice how many customers in the coffee shop, understandably startled by the soundless and violent expansion of Sozen’s upper body and his companion Satu’s near-simultaneous exclamation Varo! etc., craned their necks to observe the pair, tugging the many headphone cords that grew from their laptops into their many ear cavities, as if a strange wind were blowing through the coffee shop from Sozen’s wide hands and tugging its strange varicoloured vegetation to and fro.
Or more accurately, whereas Sozen did not notice that he and Satu were getting some looks, Sozen did notice that he had spread some arms, only the thing was that, just as a very violent and real-feeling nightmare can often weave the real squirming of the sleeper into its unreal narrative, also by the way making pillows and blankets into the crumpled surfaces of wolves and murderers, in a similar way Sozen simply assumed that he had spread his arms in the past, but not spread them in the present.
Sozen remained in this large pose for an unreasonable amount of time. So long, in fact, that by the time that the root vegetable was eventually Sozen once again, the young engineer Satu Sjöström, who regarded Sozen as a bit sketchy and weird but would not have gone as far as ‘insane mid-level yakuza boss on the run’, had managed to completely solve the problem which they’d come into the coffee shop to talk about.
Sometimes, people plunge into reveries and return with responses to problems. But often it’s those who are left behind, forced to wait for the fairy-adventurers to uncross their eyes, who unravel rightly what ought to be done.
The point is not really what the particular problem was, nor what solution Satu Sjöström proposed. The point is what happened next. What happened next was that Satu explained to Sozen her solution, and in her mild excitement about the solution, and discomfit about the arms, she explained it a little badly, although not that badly. Sozen, being slightly still in his potato nature, and moreover battling to get by in autotranslation Finnish, mistook Satu’s solution for something else, something which would never have worked. This renegade resolution, however, this supposed suggestion which was as it were only a trick of the light, or a mondegreen of the lyrics, this complete and utter solution to nothing proposed by absolutely no one, just happened to knock Sozen’s brain cogs aswirl, so that his brain swiftly begat a far more ingenious idea, an idea which happened actually to be the same idea that Satu had just seconds ago actually explained to Sozen.
A common enough occurance. So it is that those who have been away with the fairies often misattribute, to their own adventures at that seelie and lootable Court, creations of mortals who have labored in their absence.
On this occasion Satu wisely chose to clarify the fairy fruit’s supply chain. But because Satu was an engineer and devised solutions all the time, whereas Sozen was a financial patron, and for all Satu knew had never solved anything before, and also to be honest because Sozen had just now yelled ‘Aha!’ and then, while everybody stared, had frozen for about a full minute with his arms at full stretch, and also because of other asymmetries at play, Satu did not stake a very forceful claim to the solution. All she did was sigh, ‘Kyllä, tarkoitin sitä,’ or something of that nature.
At which sigh Sozen, who was a committed feminist – something Satu was even less likely to have guessed him than an insane mid-level yakuza boss on the run – vociferously conceded and apologized to Satu, even somewhat profusely apologized to Satu, for having inadvertently taken credit for what had definitely been her idea all along, conceding and apologizing so vociferously and profusely that he took Satu by surprise, escalating the emotional tenor of the conversation so disconcertingly that it never occurred to Satu to suspect what was actually the case, which was that Sozen hadn’t actually understood her at all, and in fact still thought the idea had been his idea.
For Sozen had interpreted Satu’s hesitance as that hesitance by which we commonly tell our listener that the words now on our lips, although they may be the truest words with which our thought can at this juncture supply those lips, are alas words much more wonkily aligned than usual to whatever invisible inner pattern must be those words’ source and test, whatever kind of agitated shapelessness there is that never settles into either a thing we do nor a thing we are, and to be whose equal must be the work of all our words. And because by that kind of hesitance, which was seriously not at all what Satu was going for, we commonly license our listener to speak on our behalf, or we invite our listener to sit quietly and inhale our language with long, untangling ears, or if reliably untangling ears are not among the ears which our listener is equipped to prick, then it is to listen with speculatively deranging ears that we invite our listener, with long, beautifully labyrinthine ears like like the plumbing of bongs, or if our listener has no wonderful ears to prick whatsoever, then it is only that they clamp their mundane ears to the sides of their head like ear-muffs and venture into the unknown with us, for however far as they can, that we we meekly ask them, that they smilingly accompany us a short way into the frozen wintry wastes of the inexpressible, where, of a necessity, they and we will part ways – or whatever, something like that, but basically because that kind of hesitance is basically weird, or whatever, Sozen was pretty convinced it was basically still him who’d nailed the solution, and that what Satu was trying to say, but at this time couldn’t quite find the words to say, was that she had basically come up with the idea, or at least that the unworkable non-solution which she had proposed had haphazardly contained the rudiments of Sozen’s real solution, the real solution to which, if Sozen hadn’t so gauchely and manfully butted in first, most probably Satu would have gradually fumbled her way, although now they’d never know for sure, right?
And so it was that, as Sozen and Satu gathered and sorted black scarves and coats and hats during their myriad preparations for their triumphant exit from the coffee shop, rising from their leather armchairs prepared in principle to transact dark wool to and fro indefinitely, if necessary, in order to establish what was what and whose was whose, though in practice expertly landing hats on heads and tucking chins in scarves all correctly all within a few breathless seconds, Sozen and Satu each believed, with an absolutely settled inner conviction, that they were the sole inventor of the solution to the little problem which, half an hour earlier, they had nipped into the coffee shop to discuss, a belief which in Satu’s case was correct, and for Sozen as wrong as wrong can be.
So committed a feminist was Sozen that when he returned to his apartment that afternoon he did not boast to his wife of five years about the solution he devised, but instead looked at what lay upon their chopping board and quipped quirkily: ‘I don’t know if I am a man who dreamed he was a potato, or a potato who dreamed he was a man!’
His wife froze, and then continued to chop. Her train of thought had dramatically switched tracks.
As it so happened, Sozen had a more pressing problem, although he did not yet know it, which was that he had not yet done anything good, and this was the very last day of his life.