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The Woods

By Colin O'Sullivan

They have arranged to meet in the woods.  Everyone is at it in the woods.  And it isn’t just the young people; older people too have had enough and are doing it under trees and hidden in dense foliage.

Taro and Shiho first made contact over the Internet.  They had used false names initially but now what does it matter?  As they stroll on the dirt pathway towards the leering trees at the foot of the mountain, Taro thinks what a pity it is, all of it.  He sees the shame in other couples’ eyes too as he trudges on, holding her hand, and Shiho turned out to be really pretty, which he hadn’t expected.

If there is regret it is that there is not a more noble way.  Shiho had been taught in school and even by manga, about the samurai way, the way of the sword.  But every time she really considered it her stomach would churn.  She remembers a Mishima story about a husband and wife and it was so visceral she could never get to the end of it.

 

The thing that strikes Taro most significantly is the smell of the place.  The websites had warned him about this.  They had advised to bring masks. You don’t want to be breathing in others, and it also protects identity—that is if you have or ever have had one.  But Taro paid no heed.  His mother had always scolded him on his waywardness, his recklessness, his forever paying-no-heed. And now, even as the stench fills his nostrils, causing the little hairs to move and tickle, he realises that he is as calm as he has ever been. And holding Shiho’s hand seems just so right, at last.

 

Shiho doesn’t bother to look at him.  His tight hand clutching her is enough.  They are both anxious.  She is not wayward, nor is she reckless.  Her academic record is commendable, her family name spotless.  She just knows that it is right, just so right, at last.  She carries the little box of sushi, each piece laced; she wonders which tastes stronger, vinegar or cyanide. 

 

Someone mentioned in the newspapers that they should set up stalls, sell masks, disposable cameras and such. And the reporter said that “grief tourism” is all the rage in America; people actually get quite a kick out of visiting the sites of tragedies, a pop star’s motel room, stains still on the musty carpet, the tour leader letting off gunpowder whiffs so that you can get a real feel for what went on, right at the end.  Grief tourism could be big business, especially here, here in the woods, especially with the bones left on the ground, full skeletons, and no one bothering to pick them up anymore.  Could be big business, the ending of it all.

 

Taro squeezes her hand one last time refusing to glance again and see how pretty she is. 

 

 

Colin O'Sullivan is an Irishman living and working in Aomori, North Japan. His stories and poetry have appeared in magazines such as The Shop, Carve, Dublin Quarterly and Staple New Writing. A collection of his fiction, Anhedonia, is due out in December 2006 from Rain Publishing.

 Photo "Red Tree 1" courtesy of Warren Gibb, Horely, UK.

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