Two of the three fish tanks were ok. Only, where were the large angel fish in the third? My daughter, Sam, walked around to the side. She was standing on tippy toes and still her nose only came up to the sandy bottom of the aquarium. Nevertheless, it was she who found the fish lying flat on their sides gasping. I couldn’t understand it. We had used the same filtration, the same water in all three tanks. What had happened? Five year old Jo, on the other hand, was busy running in and out of the spacious rooms. Finally, at last, our flat was finished. The pictures were hung, the antique carpets were laid and looked luxurious in the mahogany sitting room. It looked like home. Home away from home. Home now in Japan.
I left the children’s ante room and went to Minoru’s sparse study where he was talking to the two young entrepreneurs who owned the building. One had his hands in his dark pockets, his right leg extended, as he jiggled his change, rocking back and forth on his heels. The younger man was standing quietly, his arms to his side. Both wore dark thick framed glasses. Both had stylized short hair. In contrast, my husband looked small, old and slightly bowed.
The move to Japan, had taken a lot out of him. He was tired. But there was always something more, still to do. He was Korean and so the men spoke English together. Everyone was speaking English, lucky for me..
I looked into our living room. It was stately and would be a good place to entertain guests. Minoru’s instruments were hanging on the wall, the cello, the viola, his two very expensive violins near the humidifier. Instruments he liked displayed, not left in their cases.
I kept wishing the men would go, so that we could finally sit down and have some lunch together. I, too, was tired from all the visits and arrangements and strangers in our house. I went to stand beside my husband, smiling sweetly at the men, hoping they would get the message. I put my hands up to Minoru’s arm, as if I were pulling him away. We needed to get water before the shops closed. Did the shops close on a Saturday? There was so much I didn’t know.
My daughter called me into the other room.
“Look, we can save the bigger fish by putting them in the smaller tanks.” She had a good idea. Suddenly, there was this roar outside. This loud, overwhelming noise, like a plane exceeding the speed of sound. The children screamed holding their ears.
“Minoru,” I shouted, “what was that?” There was no answer. I walked back to the other room.
The men were no longer standing in a circle as they had been when I last left the study. They were no longer chatting casually together but were standing side by side, with their backs to the door. They were facing the wide open window. All three had their shirts off.
“What’s going on, Minoru?” I asked frantically, but he didn’t turn around.
Minoru was very methodical in his response, speaking slowly and clearly. “We have to see. If it is what we think it is, you must take the children. Take nothing. Go to the trains.” But he didn’t look at me. He was focused on his task, the task of standing with the other men. The three stood with their shoulders hunched forward as if they were defending footballers standing in front of a goal waiting for their opponent’s free kick.
“Please stand behind us,” my husband said. His tone was stern. “Why aren’t you doing what I told you to do?”
The three were silent. The younger man, the tall one who had said little, then spoke in an accent not unlike my husband’s. His voice was higher. He turned his head as if he were looking at me, though he kept his eyes looking forward.
“We are waiting to see if this is the predicted one. The storm of forever.We’ll know if something happens.”
“If what will happen,” I asked, now annoyed. “I don’t see anything.” It was light outside, not dark. There wasn’t any wind. But I hadn’t paid attention. It was bright outside but not sunny. The day was slightly yellow-tinged which made the fall trees even more beautiful. My daughter called out from the other room.
I turned back to look at her but then there was a huge noise, like a roaring train. When I spun round to look, Minoru was gone. He was not standing besides the others. He was outside the window, as if lying flat. Hovering in the air. “Take the children. And nothing else. Go.” And then he was gone.
The men then turned around towards me. I ran past them to the window to look out but he was no where to be seen. “What happened?” I screamed. The children ran to me from the other room. “Where is Minoru?” I shouted. “Daddy, Daddy” the children screamed, hugging my legs.
“It was as we thought. A great storm is coming as shown by the sacrifice. You should do as your husband said. Go now, Madame”
“Can we take the fish?” Sam pleaded.
I stood in shock not knowing how to process what I had just seen but hardly believed. I was lost without my husband, he who had just been sucked out of the window, but stayed long enough to deliver his message. The ancient wisdom.
“I have a goldfish bowl, Madame, downstairs.” The older of the the two men said courteously. “If you wish to have it, Madame.”
“What about the musical instruments, our antiques? Could I leave them here?”
“If you leave, we have to rent this apartment.”
“Yes, but could I leave them here?” The one man looked at the other. Both shaking their heads. “Someone will steal them,” the older man said. Then there was a small whining outside the window. The children heard it. My daughter asked me: “What’s that Mommy?”
I went outside of the apartment and found a woman walking down the stairs. She had long, white, straggly hair. She grabbed me. “Don’t take your wallet. Take your cards under your boobs and your money under the other. Don’t take sandwiches nor water.” Her eyes were blue and cloudy and were looking in different directions. She let loose of my arm, held on to the stairwell railing and walked sideways down the stairs sideways, scuttling like a crab.
I ran back to the children. Everything slowed down. The men came slowly out of my apartment and appeared to be waiting on me to give them further instructions. The children already had their coats on.
“Just don’t put them in the cellar. If they are damp they will rot. I will call for them. You could send them to me at a later date.”
“Just please don’t wait too long,” said the older of the two and bowed. As if life would go on like it had. Why weren’t they leaving?
I took the children down the stairs quickly but on the streets, time seemed to flow like molasses. People were not in a hurry but were going about their normal business. There was a distinctive reverential quiet. That is, until we walked down the hill to where the taxis were.
Suddenly, there was a great throng, as the crowds swelled. All were waiting for the taxis to take them to the trains. When the taxis did come, they were full of people sitting on top of each other. There was a great mass of people waiting. Oddly enough, there was no pushing. A man came forward with a list. He called out names.
Our names were called out, the children’s last name and my maiden name. We were told to step forward. My son said he was thirsty. Someone gave him a bottle then the man said. “Your name is no longer on the list.” I put the bottle down. “Yes,” he said, “you are all on the list.”
I looked around at the laden cars. Mattresses on top of cars, even bird cages. All sorts of deals being made to save loved ones.
“Could you take my son to this address?”
“Can you pick up my mother?”
“My son is still at school, could you…” Suddenly the ground shook and there was a surge in the crowd. I fell down.
Mt Fujiyama was collapsing, and soon there would be a great land tsunami. A man offered to help me up by extending his hand. He pulled off my cherished wedding ring, then disappeared in the crowd. I felt as if my heart would stop beating. It was the last vestige of Minoru.
My children helped me up.
“Mommy I am really thirsty.” Again the woman offered my son her opened water bottle, but I managed to knock it out of his hand. We got into the taxi which wove through the crowds to the trains, but even with that stroke of good luck, as it would turn out, we did not get in.
There on the six platforms were long long trains, full of people, and yet there was still room. It wasn’t true that you could tape things under your breasts or carry a stone in your pocket. You were allowed nothing on the trains. Nothing. You had to come as you really were and had always been. Only the naked got on the train. Without gold fish bowls, nor water bottles, without mattresses, or lists. The man held the door opened for us, but I hesitated and shook my head. The doors closed. And the trains drove off. The people looked relieved through the window. As if they were finally on their way, leaving this life of worry behind.
And then the great churning of smoke and land debris and large chunks of boulders was headed our way thundering down fast towards the platforms, for the land, the world was turning in on itself. And nothing would be spared, as was told by the ancient wisdom: every creative thought, monument, and sky scraper, every mouse and blade of grass, every parking lot and evil deal made in a board room, every rich and poor person, every disused hospital gown, and immigrant worker sweeping there. Every germ and microbe, the paper towels and the wells, the camels and rosebuds. Nothing would be left behind. I saw it all before me in my mind’s eyes, and in the innocent eyes of my thirsty son and the daughter who wanted nothing but to save one fish.
But what happened to those bold, unashamed people who knew to throw off their clothes to join the train? Were they off to begin a new land? The pure of heart and spirit? I saw no children on board. And the train driver? Had he been naked too? And where most importantly, where did the tracks of that train lead to? Minoru, were you amongst them?
2 thoughts on “The Ancient Wisdom by Crispen Lish”
I am very happy to see your story appear today. The idea behind the behavior presented is
especially keen and unique, and the fine absurdity causes the reader to think. You worked hard to achieve the desired effect–it is smooth and flows beautifully.
What a strange wee story.
It doesn’t really explain anything but I really did enjoy reading this!
It does sort of stay with you and gives you much to think on.
Hope you have more for us soon.
All the very best.