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Cabbage Butterflies

The guy looked disappointed when he saw me. My one sales point is that I’m young, but my eyelids are so puffy they look like caterpillars, and my lips are pale and kind of caterpillary too, and so are my fingers and toes, so I’m pretty much caterpillars all over, and the problem was that the guy was fairly young himself. Not as young as me – I’m only 20 – but late twenties at most, which is about the same or a little older than my friend’s brother, who drives a Soarer and got arrested for possession of crank and who I had sex with a couple of times, but it was on bare tatami mats and the mats made a creepy-looking imprint on my ass.

 

‘Good evening, I’m from the Snake Pit,’ I said, and the guy laughed and said, ‘“Snake Pit” – sounds like a gym for pro wrestlers.’ He had a very gentlemanly-sounding sort of laugh, which put me at ease in a way, but then again it’s always the ‘sophisticated’ ones who want you to stick your tongue in their ass or smooth out the wrinkles in their ball sack and lick it, stuff like that, which I hate, so I acted very shy when I walked in, like it was my first time to do this, but I couldn’t tell if the guy bought it or not. It seemed like he was experienced at this kind of thing, though, and it was one of the best hotels in the city, and the room had this giant bed, and I was thinking, Where does a young fucker like you get off, staying in such an expensive place?

 

While I was calling my office to tell them I’d arrived at the appointment, the guy took a bottle of wine from this ice bucket that looked like a robot’s head and popped the cork and poured himself a glass, and he seemed right at home, like he did this sort of stuff all the time. I had some wine too, and I was thinking it wasn’t as good as the gin and tonic LUI and me always drink together, but I stopped thinking about LUI when the guy said, ‘Show me your ass.’ I asked if I could take a shower first, and he said, ‘No need. I’ll hardly even touch your body. Just lift up your skirt and stick out your ass.’ I kind of stalled and kept fidgeting, and finally he said, ‘Never mind,’ and pulled a ten thousand yen bill from his wallet and held it out to me and said, ‘Take this and leave.’ I realise now that I should have just taken it and left, but at the time I thought he must be incredibly rich and maybe I could get a lot more money out of him, so I went ahead and showed him my ass. He poked at a cyst on my ass cheek with the tip of a ballpoint pen and said, ‘What the hell is this? It’s disgusting!’ I said it was a cyst, and he said, ‘You must be undernourished. That’s what happens when you eat nothing but noodles, like the Filipinas do – they’re all covered with cysts and boils.’ I knew some Filipinas from the last place I’d worked, and it made me so mad that he’d say that, it brought tears to my eyes.

 

‘You crying?’ He slapped my ass. ‘What are you, a moron?’ he said, and grabbed hold of my ass cheek and started touching my pussy with his other hand. He was so good with his fingers that even as I stood there crying, I started to get wet, and all I could think was, Shit, I really am a moron. Then he let go of me and said, ‘Cover your ass back up, it looks like hell,’ and took twenty thousand yen from his wallet and told me to leave again.

 

‘Please,’ I said, ‘I’ll do anything you ask.’

 

I don’t know why I said that. I think it must have been because my grandfather used to bawl me out about giving up on things. He used to tell me it’s important never to quit, that you need to finish things you’ve started, and I’ve always remembered that. But why would I think of my grandfather, who I loved so much, at a time like this? It made me sad, and I started crying again.

 

As I cried I knelt on the floor and tried to undo the zipper on the guy’s velveteen pants so I could blow him, but he grabbed my hand and told me to stop. LUI always forgives me if I give him a good long blow job, but I guess this guy was a different type. ‘Look, I’m offering to pay you,’ he said, ‘so just go,’ but I said, ‘They’ll yell at me at the office if I go back early.’ He stared at me for a minute, and then he said, ‘Ah, what the hell,’ and asked me if I was hungry. I nodded, and he took me down to a bar on the basement floor.

 

The bar was all gold and black, and the shelves were lined with bottles of liquor I’d never even seen before, and the waiters were tall, and it made you feel special to be in there. The guy ordered a steak sandwich and put it in front of me and said to the bartender, ‘This one’s got a cyst on her ass,’ and the bartender, who was mixing up a drink in a shaker, got a big laugh out of that. I was kind of shocked, but I figured maybe that sort of talk was normal in fancy bars like this, and I just quietly ate the steak sandwich. It was really delicious. I told the guy this, but he didn’t even look at me but kept talking to the bartender, saying stuff like, ‘Remember that Vietnamese girl? Half Chinese, half French. If she wasn’t strung out on smack I’d consider making her my main squeeze,’ and the bartender kept working the shaker and said a girl named Natsuki, from a bar in Ginza called Madonna or La Donna or something, had shown up and asked a waiter for the guy’s room number, but the waiter wouldn’t tell her, so she sat drinking whiskey and went through half a bottle before she got up and left. When the guy asked if she’d been wearing a kimono, the bartender nodded, and the guy said, ‘Phew, I really dodged a bullet there,’ and took a slice of pickle from my plate and stuck it in his mouth but didn’t chew it, only let it hang out over his lower lip, and said, ‘But that woman’s a genius at giving head. Let her have her way, she’ll suck on it all night long. You’ll wake up in the morning and find her slurping away,’ and this time both he and the bartender laughed.

 

It wasn’t until I was finishing my steak sandwich that I realised that I’d missed the last train, and then I remembered my grandfather again. My grandfather always said you should never let down your guard, not when you’re taking a dump, not when you’re sick – never – and here I was mooning over the brown juice oozing out from between the slices of bread and forgetting all about the time. To be honest, though, maybe the sandwich wasn’t the only reason. I’ve missed the last train before, and when I asked the customer I was with if I could spend the night, they were always happy to let me. I didn’t think this guy would let me but went ahead and asked him, and he said he was going to have a woman over. I asked if I could sleep in his room anyway, and he thought for a minute and said, ‘Well, that might be interesting. All right, stay and watch.’

 

It was past two in the morning when we got back to the room, and before long a woman with long hair arrived. She was so pretty it pissed me off. ‘It’s raining,’ she said, and didn’t even look at me. She was wearing an expensive-looking raincoat, and her shoes and blouse and skirt all looked like they cost a fortune too. ‘Strip,’ the guy told her, and she said, ‘Send the dog home first,’ meaning me, but the guy just said ‘Strip’ again, and she started taking off her clothes.

 

I thought they’d just fuck and that would be it, but I was wrong. They were both perverts. The guy told the woman to masturbate and then told her to rub her pussy against the window, and she actually went to the window and turned around and spread her feet apart and bent over and pressed her ass against it. The room was on the twenty-sixth floor, and the window looked out on the lights of the city, and she was sliding her ass up and down and then spread her cheeks with her hands and asked the guy if it was all right for her to come now, and the window got all wet and smeared, and when she pulled her ass away there were these, like, slimy threads on the glass.

 

This all kind of scared me, so I tried to remember the time I went with my grandfather to catch cabbage butterflies. It was spring, and there were so many butterflies flitting around over this cabbage patch, it was like snow falling, and my grandfather caught dozens and dozens of them using only his hat, and when I took them to school everyone was amazed that I’d got so many, and they all crowded around, and when I told my grandfather about it he was really happy. Then I heard the woman say, ‘Ow, that hurts,’ and my grandfather’s face disappeared and I looked over at her, and her breasts were squeezed together with a big rubber band, and it made them look like a pair of eggplants. The guy was reaching down and plucking the rubber band like a guitar string, and the woman was on her knees blowing him. As I watched I started to want to suck something too, but I was also getting really angry. I felt like the guy had soiled my memory of my grandfather and those butterflies, and I started sobbing, and all of a sudden I shouted, ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’

 

I shouted it again – ‘WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’ – but they just kept sucking and plucking and didn’t seem to notice, and finally I got so mad I jumped up off the bed and walked over to them and said it again right in their faces, and as he’s getting this noisy blow job the guy reaches over and grabs hold of my hair and pulls my head down and says, ‘Never mind, go to sleep.’ I could see my own tears falling on the floor, and I had a good view of the woman sucking his cock, and her face was shiny with saliva and stuff, but the guy still had hold of my hair and started jerking my head back and forth, which made me cry even harder, and finally I yelled, ‘Perverts! I’ll kill you! You’re crazy!’ and stuff like that, and the woman stopped sucking and turned her face away and said, ‘Make her go home,’ and the guy let go of my hair and said, ‘You heard her. Go home,’ and I said, ‘There aren’t any trains now,’ and I was still sobbing, and the woman wiped her lips and asked where I live, and when I said Urawa she lit a cigarette and held it in her slender fingers and said, ‘Poor thing. That’s a long way.’ She turned her back to me as she smoked the cigarette, and she didn’t have a cyst on her ass, or anything else, no blemishes at all, just smooth, round cheeks, even though she wasn’t that young and her lower stomach sagged a little. I sat down on the floor crying and saying I couldn’t walk home, but the guy took my clothes from the chair they were on and tossed them to me and said, ‘Hurry up and get out.’ His thing was still hard, and all wet and shiny, and having watched the woman blow him all that time I was getting wet too, but I knew he would never stick it in me, and that just made me feel angrier and more frustrated, and all of a sudden I shouted in a voice so loud it surprised even me, ‘WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, YOU FUCKING PERVERTS!’ The woman laughed and said, ‘The security guard’s going to come, just like last time,’ and the guy got his wallet and took out another twenty thousand yen and said, ‘Use this to take a taxi home,’ but I’d never taken a taxi home from Tokyo before and didn’t know how much it cost, and I was afraid to go home without any money, because LUI was always reminding me that he might leave at any time, so I snatched the guy’s wallet out of his hand and yanked out a bunch of bills, and when he grabbed me by the hair again and tried to take the money back, I bit him on the arm.

 

The guy let go of me and rubbed his arm, and then in a slow, quiet tone of voice he said, ‘Do you realise what you’re doing? That’s grand theft.’ The woman stubbed out her cigarette and stood up and said, ‘What club are you from? The Snake Pit? Well, I’m going to have to speak to your manager about this,’ and a chill went through me, because if she told on me I’d probably be fired, so I hit her in the mouth with my fist. She put a hand to her lip, then reached for an umbrella that was leaning against the wall and tried to poke me in the eye with it. I closed my eyes and ducked, but the tip of the umbrella hit me in the forehead and gouged out a big gash, and I started bleeding, and she tried to poke me again, but the guy stopped her, and I was shouting all sorts of things and didn’t even know what I was saying, but I guess I said I’d get my yakuza friend to kill them both, and the guy let go of the woman and turned around with his cock still hard and came up to me and said, ‘Your yakuza friend, eh? What’s his name? Which organisation? Why don’t you call him right now, tell him to come here. Go ahead. There’s the phone.’ He was kind of growling the words in a scary way, and I wondered if I should call LUI or not, because even though he wasn’t exactly a member of a syndicate, he said he had a friend who was. The only problem was that I’d never told LUI that I did this kind of work, and now he’d probably find out, but I went ahead and called him anyway.

 

He sounded grumpy answering the phone, and the guy grabbed it from me and said, ‘You’re from the Koseikai organization in Urawa?’ LUI was half asleep and didn’t know what was going on. The guy said, ‘Your woman’s here in my room and just stole seventy thousand yen from me,’ and then they talked back and forth for a while, and the guy handed the phone back to me, and LUI said I had to do exactly as the guy told me, and I was sobbing and saying, ‘Wait, wait, listen,’ but he just yelled at me – ‘You dumb cunt!’ – and hung up. His voice was trembling, which really scared me, so I handed the guy back the seventy thousand and was about to leave like he wanted me to, but the woman said, ‘Wait a minute. Get down on your hands and knees and apologise,’ and the guy said, ‘Ah, what difference does it make, let it go,’ but the woman was really angry, so I knelt down and bowed my head, and two drops of blood dripped from the gash on my forehead to the floor. And that’s when the guy seemed to change his mind and told me to stay just as I was and pulled up my slip and pulled down my panties and had me stick my ass way up in the air. My forehead hurt and I didn’t want him to insert his thing in me as much as before, but when he touched me down there I got wet again, but he only touched me and didn’t try to stick it in, even though I just kept getting wetter and slimier, but suddenly he pulled my hands down toward my feet and strapped them together with a leather belt so I couldn’t straighten up, and then he pushed something hard inside me, but it wasn’t his cock but a vibrator, and he moved it slowly in and out, and my voice started making these sounds. The woman stuck her foot out in front of my face and told me to lick her toes, and I shook my head and said I wouldn’t but then a drop of blood fell from my forehead onto her foot, and it was a slightly darker shade than her toenail polish, and it all looked really pretty, and my mouth just opened and closed around her big toe.

 

I’d never sucked a toe before, but this one was smooth and slippery and it felt kind of like sucking LUI’s cock but a little different, and when I realised the woman hadn’t taken a shower it made me kind of sick, but then I thought about the time back in middle school when I watched the prettiest girl in class cut her toenails during lunchtime and it made my heart start beating real fast and later I picked up the toenail clippings and smelled them, and it was the same smell now, and it kind of made my nasal passages go numb, and my ass started quivering, but just as I thought I was going to come the guy pulled the vibrator out and started poking me lightly with the tip of it, and my ass kept shaking and my mouth came open and slid off the woman’s toe, but she tapped me on the nose with it, and I apologised and took it in my mouth again. I sucked on each of her toes, but every time I was on the verge of coming the guy would pull the vibrator out, and my ass got really tired, and then they made me lie on my back with my knees still bent, and the woman straddled my head, with her pussy right in my face, and then the guy put the vibrator aside and lifted the woman up and rammed his cock inside her, and she let out this insane scream, and white foam came dripping out of her, and the guy told me to lick the place where they were joined, but I really, really didn’t want to do that and started crying and saying I wanna go home, I wanna go home, I wanna go home, and he got mad and pulled out of the woman and spread my legs apart and shoved the vibrator way up my ass.

 

My asshole hurt like crazy, even after I left. On my way out, I ducked into the toilet on the same floor the bar was on. I was thinking that when I got home I’d ask LUI to rub some Mentholatum on it for me, but then I realised that wasn’t a good idea, because LUI hates the smell of Mentholatum, and the smell of shit is even worse. My eyelids are puffy anyway, but after all that crying they were really swollen, and when I looked in the mirror it practically made me start crying again. I hated to think that LUI was going to see me looking like that. My Mickey Mouse watch said it was past 4am, and I was hiding in a stall, sitting on a toilet with my skirt up and my panties down, even though I didn’t have to go, because to sit on a toilet with my skirt and panties on would have felt weird, but then without expecting to I peed, and I almost laughed about that but couldn’t because I felt so awful, and I thought about people who’ve been in a fire or earthquake and lost their mother or father or sister or brother, how they can’t laugh even when something funny happens, and now I felt like I understood why. I came out of the stall and looked in the mirror to see if the swelling in my eyelids had gone down, but it hadn’t at all, and then a security guard opened the door and looked at me and said, ‘Excuse me, are you a guest at the hotel?’ and I said, ‘I’m sorry, I just needed to use the restroom,’ and he scanned me up and down and didn’t go away, so I had no choice but to kind of cover my face and leave, and he followed me all the way up the stairs and across the lobby, where a skinny old man was polishing the floor with a piece of cloth, crawling around like an insect. The guard followed me all the way out of the hotel.

 

When I said ‘Urawa,’ the taxi driver was thrilled and tapped the window with his fist and said, ‘Finally a bit of luck,’ and turned the radio way up and started singing along to an old enka song, and my forehead and asshole were both hurting, and I wondered if they were tied together somehow, and unfortunately that made me remember the woman’s tits with the rubber band around them. The driver glanced at me in the rearview mirror and gave me this phony smile and said, ‘Working awfully late, aren’t we?’ Of course he must have known what kind of work I do, leaving a hotel at this time of night, so at first I thought he was a jerk, but it turned out he’d had a hard life, failing in business and going deep in debt and selling his house and moving into a tiny apartment, and since he couldn’t buy things for his son, who was in high school, his son had developed a real attitude, and he was telling me how hard it is when your own kid doesn’t respect you, and saying the kid gets violent with him a lot but that to be overpowered physically is the same as giving up moral authority, so even though he can’t really afford it on his salary he’s been training at a karate dojo, and when I said I had to admire him for that, it seemed to make him feel really good. But he said that, actually, the big showdown had already taken place, that they’d arranged to fight it out early one morning on the playground of the kid’s old elementary school, with towels wrapped around their fists, and the kid was a lot bigger and stronger, and the driver’s punches didn’t have much effect, because he’d only been practicing karate for less than a month, so the kid was winning but then finally broke down in tears and said, ‘I can’t hurt my own old man!’ and ran off into the sunrise, and the driver said it was like being in a TV drama, and I was thinking how lucky men are. Men don’t have vaginas, so they can face problems head-on. That’s what I was thinking, so I said it, but the driver just asked what my family was like. I didn’t answer at first, but then I started thinking it would probably be all right to open up to a man who’d learn karate in order to fight it out with his own kid, so I told him. My father works for a company that hardly anybody knows the name of, which makes hundred-yen cosmetics that my mother sells door-to-door, and my brother used to be a volleyball player but now works in a printing shop, and my little sister is even chubbier than me. I told him stuff like that, and then he asked me what kind of work I do, and I just said, ‘Um,’ and he said, ‘Your mother and father must worry about you,’ and that really pissed me off, so I said I was a banquet hostess, but of course I don’t have the face for that kind of work, and I was thinking what a lousy lie it was, when the driver said, ‘This is none of my business, of course,’ and went into a long lecture about how you’ve got to have pride. ‘As long as you’ve got pride you never have to bow to anyone inwardly,’ he said, ‘even if you bow to them outwardly.’

 

I didn’t really understand what he meant by bowing ‘inwardly’, but then I remembered the way I felt when I was sucking that woman’s toes back in the hotel room and wondered if that had anything to do with it. But sucking toes is nothing compared to, like, carrying around a straight razor, which I did when I was in a girl gang, even though I wasn’t really serious about using it. Helping kick the shit out of people and having the shit kicked out of you, and saying things like ‘What’re you lookin’ at?’ and all that hard-ass kind of crap just makes you really tired in the end. But when I was sucking that woman’s pretty little toes while being fucked in the ass with a vibrator and sobbing, I felt like my body let go of a lot of things. It was different from when LUI fucks me, because I didn’t have to feel bad about being ugly, and it didn’t bother me that the woman was so pretty. Maybe my ancestors were all lower-class people, like servants or whatever, which is why it’s so hard for me to get people to treat me like their equal. This is something I always think about when I’m depressed, or when LUI gets drunk and sticks vegetables in my pussy or drags me into the bathroom by my hair and pisses on me and stuff.

 

It started to get light out as we were crossing into Saitama Prefecture, and the driver was still talking about pride, and my forehead started bleeding again, and I was thinking that when the guy stuck the vibrator in my ass I didn’t feel humiliated or outraged or anything but sort of went all limp, like when I have an orgasm, and even though I cried afterwards I wouldn’t even have dreamed of hitting the woman again. Her spread legs and round ass and jiggly tits all looked so right, like they fit in perfectly with something really important, while me and my figure and skin colour and puffy eyes and uneven fingernails and toenails, and my cyst, we didn’t fit in at all. I was thinking it might have been better if I’d been born a caterpillar or something, when we pulled up in front of mine and LUI’s apartment.

 

The light was on, and I picked up the milk and newspaper and went inside, but LUI wasn’t there. The futon was spread out on the floor, but it was cold to the touch, and I figured he must have gone for a walk, but then as I was reading the comics in the Sports Daily I realised he never goes for a walk in the morning, and I started to get worried and opened the drawer and saw that his bankbook and seal were gone, and his precious Ray-Ban sunglasses too, and that scared me even more – because why would he need sunglasses when it was still practically dark out? – and I called his name but all I could hear was water dripping in the sink, and I hate that sound, but no matter how hard I twisted the faucet it wouldn’t stop, and pretty soon my asshole started to hurt again so I went to the toilet to put some Mentholatum on it, and there on the wall was a piece of paper that said die, you stupid  cunt. I must have read those words about a hundred times while I applied the Mentholatum, and then I realised that if I smelled like Mentholatum LUI wouldn’t want to have make-up sex, so I wiped it all off with some tissue.

 

There weren’t any buses or trains yet, and LUI didn’t have money for a taxi, so I knew he couldn’t have gone very far, and when I went to his friend’s apartment next to the public bath to look for him, there he was, sleeping on a futon with the covers pulled up over his head. I called his name but he didn’t wake up, so I started to get worried again and went outside for a minute. I sat on the steel steps and opened my compact and looked in the mirror, and my eyelids were still puffed up like caterpillars, and the steel stairs were cold, and my asshole started to hurt again, and I felt the tears welling up, but I told myself that at least I’d done the right thing by wiping off the Mentholatum. I went back in the room and shook LUI by the shoulders and knew right away he wasn’t really sleeping, because his muscles were tense. I figured he’d probably hit me about five times and then if I sucked him off long enough that would be the end of it, so I kept shaking his shoulder and calling his name, and finally he opened his eyes and looked at me. I was so happy right then, that I collapsed on top of him and burst into tears. But LUI didn’t hold me, or hit me either, but just said, ‘It’s over,’ and I didn’t know what he was talking about but wriggled under the covers next to him and reached down and felt his thing. It was all limp in his briefs, but I knew if I could just make it hard everything would be back to normal, so I ducked my head under the covers, but LUI just swore and kneed me in the forehead. The cut opened up again and blood ran down into my eye, and when I closed my eyes I could picture it trickling over my plucked eyebrow and caterpillar eyelid, and in my mind it looked like a locomotive speeding over faraway hills. I tried to pull off LUI’s briefs, but he said, ‘Don’t touch me,’ and stood up and put his jeans on and grabbed me by the hair and dragged me to the door. Then he picked up a leather sandal and smacked me on the thigh with it, like I was a dog or something. I could see that some of my hair that got pulled out was twisted around the sandal in his hand, and I really, really wanted him to fuck me and started crying and pulling up my skirt and trying to pull down my panties, and then suddenly he made his voice very quiet and said, ‘Listen, I’m sorry. It’s over,’ and my mind went totally blank, and I couldn’t see anything because of the blood, and my thigh hurt, and I staggered outside in my bare feet with my panties down around my ankles, crying so loud that people leaving for work turned to look, and LUI came running after me, and in this horrible loud voice I said, ‘DO ME! DO ME! DO ME!’ and grabbed his arms, and he went all pale and shook me off and took a bottle of milk from in front of the pub on the corner and smashed it on the ground, and milk spray splashed everywhere. It looked a lot like that cabbage patch my grandfather took me to, with pure white butterflies all taking to the air at once.



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


is a Japanese novelist, filmmaker and talk show host. Awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1976 for his first book, a novel about a group of young people drowned in sex and drugs, he has gone on to explore with cinematic intensity the themes of violence and technology in contemporary Japanese society. His novels include Coin Locker Babies, Sixty-Nine, Popular Hits of the Showa Era, Audition, In the Miso Soup and From the Fatherland, with Love. Murakami is also a screenwriter and a director; his films include Tokyo Decadence, Audition and Because of You.



Ralph McCarthy is the translator of Ryu Murakami's books, including From the Fatherland, with LovePopular Hits of the Showa EraSixty-NineIn the Miso Soup and Piercing, and of Osamu Dazai (Self Portraits and Blue Bamboo).




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