An excerpt from The Seaside Road by Tomoka Shibasaki, translated by Ted Goossen
“Aah,” I said, sprawled out on the bed.
“Aah,” I tried again, covering my right ear with my right hand. I blocked my left ear with my left hand and repeated the sound, this time holding it a little longer. Spreading out my arms, I turned my eyes to the ceiling, where a pool of light wavered like crumpled cellophane. As I watched the light, an image of my stuff scattered on the floor came to me. I saw a scrunched-up plastic bag, the transparent one my clothes had come in, tossed on the floor sometime before. The breeze coming through the window was causing it to stir. The breeze couldn’t get rid of the heat, though—my T-shirt was damp with sweat.
I covered my right ear with my hand again and listened closely. There definitely was a noise, kiiiiii. A kind of high-pitched whine. It seemed about to break off, but it went on nonstop, growing neither louder nor softer. Kiiiiii. I tried the left side again: nothing.
“Waah,” I tried changing the sound. That made a slight difference.
Just as I thought.
I knew I should go see a specialist, but it was already noon on Saturday and I had work on Monday, so it would have to be after that, by which time the problem might have fixed itself, and it was while turning these thoughts over in my mind that I finally dragged myself to my feet. My first step landed the sole of my foot squarely on the plastic bag, blotting out the light on the ceiling. I heard the plastic crumple. It sounded muffled, with a sharper crackling around the edges.
My ears were skewered by the sound of my doorbell being rung over and over. The moment I unlocked the door Miiko pushed her way in.
“Peepeepee!” she squealed, racing to the prefab bathroom without a glance in my direction. I picked up the convenience store bag she had flung on the floor and looked inside: a plastic bottle of pop, another of green tea, and a box of chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream treats. I stuck the ice cream in the fridge to keep it out of the heat and cracked open the bottle.
“Ah, you’re stealing my pop!” Miiko shrieked when she stepped out of the bathroom. I could hear the water whoosh and whirl behind her.
“Don’t shout! My ears are killing me,” I wailed dramatically, sticking my fingers in my ears. Miiko’s big eyes grew even wider.
“What do you mean, your ears?” she said, coming to me.
“I caught another show last night and did it again. Noise-induced deafness. Got to go see the ear doctor.”
“Aren’t you too old for that kind of thing, Hatchan? Hey, where’s my ice cream?”
She followed my finger to the freezer, pulled out the box and opened it. I could barely make out the sound of the ripping cardboard. I picked the clothing bag up off the floor and tossed it in the garbage. A glance at the ceiling told me that, sure enough, the wavering light was gone. It too had been chucked in the garbage can. What if it managed to crawl out—hey, that would be pretty cool, I thought, studying the can. A clump of wastepaper light, tumbling across the floor.
Miiko made no move to share her ice cream with me. I knew she wasn’t being mean—her brain just didn’t work that way. Maybe because she was just nineteen. I was seven years older, so that sort of thing didn’t tick me off. Her long brown hair was still partly damp. She gave off a scent like soap, scrunched up there on the stool with her knees poking in the air.
“Where’s Kashiwagi?” I asked her. She and I were both living with fourth-year students from the same college on the second and third floors of the same apartment building. I was on the third floor. Miiko tossed the now-empty box at my garbage can. It landed squarely on top of the pile of trash.
“Ah, that’s right. He took off with the key. I phoned and asked him to bring it back, but he said he was already on the train. Some gentleman, huh. Lend me something to wear?”
Without waiting for an answer she stood up, went over to my closet, and opened the drawer of the semitransparent wardrobe where I keep my clothes.
“I know what I want, that pink thing you were wearing the other day.”
“Pink?” I replied, but she was already dragging a T-shirt from the drawer. It was more magenta than pink. Close to purple.
“And Masahiko?” she asked, pulling off her sweatshirt.
“At his lab,” I replied. Although I had asked him three times what kind of experiment they were carrying out, it was still a mystery to me, so I had quit asking. But since September whatever it was required him to be at school by eight o’clock each morning.
Miiko didn’t reply. The bright-colored T-shirt looked a lot better on her than it did on me. She was wearing black shorts and her feet were bare.
“What’s that thing feel like, anyway, noise-induced deafness?” she said all of a sudden, catching me off guard. So she had been listening!
“Like your ears are clogged and they won’t pop. Then this whining noise kicks in, kiiiiiiii. And any kind of machinery drives you crazy. A microwave oven makes you want to scr—”
“Was the band good?”
It all came back to me: the piercing wail of the electric guitar, the pounding drum, all the other instruments I couldn’t place. The band’s black T-shirt on the guy in front of me—they were selling those in the lobby. In the crack between the other spectators, I could see the bouncing ends of the untrimmed guitar strings shimmering in the lights.
“So then can the complaints.”
Miiko squatted on the floor but the next moment she bounced back up and drained the rest of the pop.
Miiko regarded me with wide eyes. “It’s too quiet,” she said, moving her hand closer to my iPod, which was hooked up to my speakers. “It’s creeping me out.”
“Don’t touch that!” I cried, grabbing the tail of her T-shirt. It felt like hers now, too, like I would never wear it again.
“You serious?” Miiko said. Yet what could I do? Any other music would drive out the concert replaying itself in my head.
Miiko restlessly walked around my apartment then climbed on the bed and stuck her upper body out the open window to look down at the street below. Seen through the opening in the thin curtain, the sky looked white. Dazzling. Maybe it wasn’t just my ears acting strange—my eyes might be as well.
Apart from the occasional car engine, no noise could be heard outside. The whole area was packed with houses, each presumably inhabited, yet all was still.
“I’m going out,” Miiko said, turning to me. “Lend me your bike, huh?”
“Then what will I ride?”
“You serious?” Miiko said again.
The hallway faced west so the sun hadn’t reached it yet. The concrete was still cool to the touch. Miiko rang the doorbell next door over and over, as she had mine.
“Gotō-san!” Finally the door opened and a man with a receding hairline and silver-rimmed glasses poked his face out. We could see magazines and manga piled in the entranceway and corridor behind him.
“Lend me your bi-cy-cle!”
“Sorry, not today…” Gotō said, closing the metal door. Miiko gave it a resounding kick. The boom took a while to arrive, sinking into my ears gradually, as if it had come from far away. I wonder, when sounds enter that inner part of the ear that looks like a whirlpool, do they accumulate somewhere in the body?