This is the fourteenth in a series of posts featuring speculative flash fiction in translation. The series highlights both new and established spec fic writers from around the world.
Yusaku Kitano (北野 勇作) won the 4th Japan Fantasy Novel Grand Prize in 1992 with Mukashi, Kasei no atta basho (Where Mars Used to Be), and has won a devoted following in the SF community for his examinations of a range of social and personal issues, all cleverly cloaked in humor and gentle storylines. His novel Mr. Turtle (translated by Tyran Grillo) came out in English last year from Kurodahan Press.
Tyran Grillo is a translator, music critic, and scholar who finished his Ph.D. in Japanese Literature at Cornell University in 2017. He is currently a Dorothy Borg Postdoctoral Scholar in East Asia and the Americas at Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute, where he teaches on Japanese film, literature, and disability. His music-related writings may be found at ecmreviews.com.
Micro-Novels by Yusaku Kitano, translated by Tyran Grillo
(1) On my way back from the pool with my daughter, a giant angel fell into an empty lot nearby. As soon as we got home, I handed her off to my wife, grabbed a camera, and hopped on my bike. “What’s going on?” my wife called out. “Angel,” I answered simply, pedaling my bike and looking up at a sky of red.
(2) The concrete-block wall separating the house out back, just beyond the clotheshorse on the second floor, has become something of a thoroughfare for local cats. Their paws tread along single-file, as the wall is only wide enough to accommodate one cat at a time. In the evening, when traffic increases, they sidle past each other on hind legs.
(7) I heard a terrible racket out on the veranda. I went for a look, only to find my turtle tinkering around…again. He’d been building things on his own, and by no small measure of skill, for quite some time. Maybe he wasn’t a turtle after all? When I said as much to my wife, she was astonished I’d taken so long to notice.
(9) I heard a terrible racket out on the veranda. I went for look, only to find the neighborhood cats deep into a meeting. I pointed this out to my wife, who was astonished I’d taken so long to notice.
(13) There’s a sniper in my closet. He’s been there since I was in middle school—over 40 years now. He’s never moved from his position, never taken aim at his target. My parents, who allowed him to be there, are dead. I have yet to tell my wife.
(18) I’d been told that I could find my way home along any path, no matter how complicated, by using Mars as my North Star, so that’s what I always did. But the red planet I thought was Mars isn’t Mars at all. Neither is this my real home. Knowing this, I question everything.
(22) “What’s this one do?” my wife asks, clicking a switch on the wall, upon which everything disappears. Having no other choice, I grope along the wall for the switch, and with a click she and the world are restored. Ah, so only the wall is unaffected!
(23) With a scrubbing brush shaped like him, I polish my turtle on the veranda and bring him inside. During this interim before hibernation, he neither eats nor goes out, but moves around just the same, as any turtle would. Watching him scuffle along the carpet, I mutter to myself, “Roomba, anyone?”