Author Topic: 1990 words Chapter 1 House of the Kappa - Contemporary Fiction - Set in Tokyo  (Read 237 times)

Offline scottinjapan

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Hello everyone! Please have a read and share your feedback if you have time. Thank you.
House of the Kappa - Most of Chapter 1 (1990 words of approx. 2900)

Keiko reached breaking point about a year ago in an altercation with Mr. Suzuki, the manager of her condo building. A middle-aged, pudgy man who sweated even in the midst of winter. He wore a cap adorned with badges and embroidered with the name Musashi, a military warship from the Second World War although she doubted he had served his country. His breath smelled like a mixture of strong cigarettes and dried squid, a rancid odor which he made no attempt to disguise. Simple greetings were gruff, his tone arrogant and condescending, especially with the ladies in the building. It grated on her nerves. The personification of everything Keiko despised in a man, the uncultured buffoon needed to be put in his place.

As a member of the residents' committee, he demanded she make a poster for an upcoming community event. He told her to redesign it three times before telling her offhandedly that they wouldn’t need it after all. Some residents complained a poster would lower the tone.

"We don’t need it now, we’re going with a letter to each apartment instead," he barked.

Forever the perfectionist, she spent countless hours putting it together, choosing the precise words and layout. Not even the hint of an apology. Internally spitting with rage, she quickly slipped the poster into the file and thanked him for his time. That should have been the end of it, but this time was different. Fleeting images flashed across her eyes of her bashing him on the head with her handbag, stuffing the poster into his fishy little mouth. She was a lady; however, and ladies don’t go about their business in that way. She decided to seek revenge in a way more fitting for someone of her background.

Mr. Suzuki lived in the ground floor apartment, next to the entrance. One of the rooms in his apartment had the office in which there was a hatch with sliding mirrored doors. If you needed to contact him you rang the bell and he emerged like a toad from a hole. The mirrors were two-way so he saw you, but you didn't see him. Keiko felt a little uneasy passing by the windows and unwittingly focused her gaze on something else, the same way that people do when they go through airport security. He lived alone and spent most of his time building models of warships and military aircraft. Having run out of space in his apartment, he started to line them up in the office. Such a childish pastime for a man of his age, Keiko thought.

In the reception area, he had set up a 1:250 scale model of the Japanese battleship Yamato. It was often admired by visitors and children were under strict instruction not to touch it. He yakked on about how it had taken a full year to complete and on the day of its grand unveiling, he invited some of the residents along to celebrate. He served tea in cheap paper cups with pandas on them and didn’t bother to provide anything to snack on. As a member of the committee, she felt she had to show her support and dragged herself along to his dreary little gathering.

Under the cloak of night, she put on her jacket and made her way down to the battleship. There it was, illuminated under a spotlight he had installed especially, like a dancer on the stage. She ran her fingers over the body of the ship. She felt the minute detail of the tiny bumps, emulating the rivets used in the construction of the hull. She had to admit, it was well done. She admired how he had taken the time to space out the little people in a natural way.
Her fingers glided gracefully across the deck and one after the other, she snapped off all nine of the gun turrets. They came away with a crunch and she laid eight of them in a neat line in front of the model, in the same order they had been on the ship. She kept one as a souvenir, thinking it could come in handy one day. She stepped back to admire her work. Her hands were trembling and her mouth was bone dry. She felt for a moment she was being watched through his little window.

When she got to her apartment she thought she was going to have a heart attack. She gulped a glass of water and leant over the sink, the place she spent so much time at each and every day. What had come over her? Having not felt such exhilaration in years, it was all she could do to hold in her laughter. She didn’t want anything to ruin this moment and felt alive. A droplet of blood in the sink made her look at her hands and she noticed her index finger was bleeding. After applying a Band-Aid, she hummed Tchaikovsky’s ‘Wall of the Flowers’ to herself and got ready for bed. There would be no danger of waking up her husband as they slept in separate bedrooms.

The next morning, Keiko felt an irresistible urge to go downstairs for a peek to make sure it wasn’t a dream. It’s often said that criminals return to the scene of the crime to gloat at their work and it was at this point she knew what that meant. As the elevator doors opened, she saw a small crowd had gathered, mostly the retired residents and housewives who had nothing better to do. Mr. Suzuki sat to the side, hat in hand, a look of disbelief on his pudgy face. The other residents crowded round the great battleship Yamato. She pretended not to notice the kafuffle, walking straight past them but was stopped by an elderly lady.

"Have you heard? The Yamato has been vandalized."

"Oh, that’s awful," she replied. "I mentioned to Mr. Suzuki a few days ago we need to improve the security around here, but he seemed to have a lot on his plate." 

"They found some spots of blood on the model, you know," continued the lady. "I doubt the police will be interested, though."

Suddenly feeling self-conscious, she hid her bandaged finger behind her handbag and softly bit her bottom lip. She couldn’t help but steal a glance at the model maker. Their eyes met briefly, she bowed politely and gave the little straight smile people make when they hear bad news. She left the building and headed to the local supermarket. The tofu was on special offer.

A few weeks passed and her depression showed signs of returning. The monotony of daily life was getting her down. She caught herself staring into space at the strangest of moments. She hadn’t been putting on her make-up and the act of getting out of bed exhausted her.

 She thought about going back to see Dr. Nakamura, but he would tell her to get out more and fob her off with those little blue pills. They took the edge off for a few hours, but left her feeling empty and useless. She never dared tell her husband of the gloomy battles in her mind, knowing she would be met with indifference. He didn’t notice anything was amiss, but grumbled that she was looking her age and should make more of an effort.

Dr. Nakamura, a pleasant gentleman of 81, should have retired years ago, but he loved his job, saying it kept him young.

"The moment I stop working, I’ll shrivel up and die," he would say.

Keiko liked him as he had a nice gentle way of talking and wore a snazzy tie with a crisp white shirt. A keen fisherman, he had a deep suntan making his white shirt look crispier. As he got older, he forgot to trim his nasal hair and she often had to hold in a chuckle when she noticed a hair invading the other nostril. He reminded her of someone, a character from a fairy tale.

With the advent of the internet, everyone was an amateur doctor these days. Keiko preferred speaking to a real person, it put her at ease. Some younger patients questioned his diagnosis and yes, it must be said, he was a little behind the times. He didn’t have any of the new-fangled equipment you see in modern clinics. Most people went to see him as they had been going there for years, especially the older ones. They saw no point in changing as they would be dead soon. A case of ‘better the devil you know,’ you might say. His patient list had dwindled the past few years and his practice was running the natural course. In a society where people change doctors and dentists like they change their socks, his office stood the test of time. It spoke a lot for the man.

Having made an appointment for ten, she knew she wouldn’t be seen until about eleven. Patients were treated to his latest fishing story, complete with slide show and classical music. It had been meticulously produced and he finished off his presentation by extending a telescoping pointer and pointing to the location on a huge map of Japan over his desk. The nurses' eyes rolled as they went to the waiting room to apologize, but it was nothing new. As Keiko took out the latest issue of 'Quilt Making Monthly,' she prayed the man who had gone in before her wasn't an avid fisherman.

Mental health wasn’t taken seriously in the old days, seen more as a character flaw or a sign of weakness. Dr. Nakamura, a general practitioner, was no expert in the field.

"Nothing a good night’s sleep and a walk in the park won’t fix," he would often think to himself, but he listened to their symptoms, prescribed some pills and told them to come back if things didn’t change.

She talked of her depression in a self-conscious kind of way, glossing over the details, but admitted to constant exhaustion. The notion of sending her to a specialist crossed his mind, but that was only for severe cases. The mere process of telling your problems to someone in a white coat can be therapeutic. The conversation was drawn to a close with a pep talk, encouraging her to think about her responsibilities as a wife and mother. As she shook his hand on the way out, she could feel he was a little thinner than before, his grip not as convincing. She wondered how long it would be until it was time for him to hang up his stethoscope for good.

When Keiko decided to try something new, she wanted to be the best. Not in an overbearing way like some people, it was more internal. She competed against herself. A teddy-bear making class was being offered at the local community center. At least it would give her something to do in the afternoons. She had run out of things to put on instagram which had resulted in daily posts of her collection of woolen Argyle socks.

To show punctuality and eagerness, she arrived at the center ten minutes early. Unsure what to wear, she went with a cream silk blouse, knee-length gray skirt and lavender cashmere cardigan. She finished it off with a Venetian mask brooch she fell in love with on a trip to Italy years ago. It was a proven ice-breaker and trips to Europe never failed to impress.

The first to arrive, she perched awkwardly on a sun-bleached plastic chair, one eye on the door, the other on her watch. As with all public spaces, ill-fitting plastic slippers were provided and expected to be worn by visitors. They were always a terrible color, in this case, a putrid brown. She wondered why she went to the trouble of choosing an outfit only for it to be ruined by these stupid slippers.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2020, 09:42:47 PM by scottinjapan »

Offline PIJ1951

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I enjoyed this snapshot of life in a culture notably different from the one most of us live in. I particularly liked the way you brought your rather eccentric characters to life.
My only concern would be the rather disjointed sequence - there isn't always a feeling that the events you are writing about follow a set order from one paragraph to the next or indeed a sense of cause and effect. Were there no consequences following this act of vandalism? It would appear not because the entire episode fizzles out.

The temporal switch between these two paragraphs in particular makes no sense:
. . .As a member of the committee, she felt she had to show her support and dragged herself along to his dreary little gathering.

Under the cloak of night, she put on her jacket and made her way down to the battleship. . .

I've also highlighted a few other minor issues.

Keiko reached breaking point about a year ago in an altercation with Mr. Suzuki, the manager of her condo building. A middle-aged, pudgy man who sweated even in the midst of winter.
The second sentence is a sentence fragment so it would work better as part of the first, separated by a dash.

"We don’t need it now, we’re going with a letter to each apartment instead," he barked.
Forever the perfectionist, she spent countless hours putting it together, choosing the precise words and layout.
She has been told the poster is no longer needed so she spent hours putting it together before being given this information not afterwards. The easy fix is to write 'she had spent hours' so it's clear this was done before the request was cancelled.

Thanks for sharing.

Offline scottinjapan

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Thank you very much for taking the time to have a read through and for your suggestions. It's great to get a fresh perspective on things. I'll have a look over it again to make sure it all makes sense.