The Kashigawa district, two hours from the Endos’ home in Tokyo,
was an isolated farming community with two claims to distinction: indigenous
harrier monkeys up in the hills, and a new restaurant—Fireside Rations—that
served “rice” made from locally grown yams. This restaurant had been featured
in an Asahi Shimbun article about the trendy resurgence of wartime food,
also known as nostalgia cuisine, and it had received special mention on NHK’s
thirty-minute Rural Getaways show. City dwellers, jaded by French and
Madeiran cuisine, were flocking out on weekends to try it. It seemed a fitting
place for Dr. Kenji Endo; his wife, Sumiko; and Dr. Ogawa to toast the start of
a new primate field study.
This field study would be Kenji’s last. Sumiko
had insisted on it, quoting the doctor about the seriousness of his arrhythmia.
“There’s enough work for you at the university,” she said, “where you’ll have
access to phones and doctors.” Kenji had conceded with ill humor. Even now, at
odd moments, that decision pressed hard on his chest, where he felt his heart
galumphing under the skin. He was lucky, he supposed, to have this last
project, a mere thirty-minute drive from this small town of Kashigawa. It would
require almost no physical exertion; he had deliberately confined his mirror
experiments to the provisioning area where monkeys came to feed.
Tonight, dressing for dinner at the Red Monkey
Inn, Kenji stood behind his wife, who was fluffing her hair before the vanity
mirror, and faced his own reflection. It pleased him that at fifty-eight he
still looked good, belying the heart condition that, despite medication or
perhaps because of it, had drained him over the past three months (“What
happened to those pompous monologues of yours?” a close friend had joked
recently). He was permanently tanned from years of working in the wilds of Borneo
and Madagascar, and beneath his pressed spring suit he retained the lithe frame
and hard calves of a trekker. Unlike Dr. Ogawa, whom they were meeting tonight,
Kenji still had a full head of salt-and-pepper hair which he parted in a
dashing side sweep each morning. His only visible symptom of age was a tendency
to walk or stand with knees slightly bent: the first sign of a curved back,
according to his secretary at the university. He always caught himself,
therefore, and corrected it immediately.
“I’d forgotten,” his wife remarked, “how common
yams are in Kashigawa. I’m surprised we didn’t get one in our welcome basket.”
She smiled enigmatically at her reflection, turning her profile this way and
that. Sumiko had grown up on the west side of this district, in a small hamlet
long since swallowed up by postwar suburbs. Secure in her own sophistication,
she often amused their city friends with anecdotes from her rural childhood.
“The monkeys today sure liked them, ne?” Kenji
said. Ordinarily, he discussed primates for hours on end—anytime, with
anyone—but lately this tendency had abated. He found himself economizing in
other ways as well: if he needed a book from another room, he put off rising
from his chair until it was time to use the bathroom; he sat silent in the
chair while working through a complex thought process, rather than pacing the
room and talking aloud as he was accustomed. He sensed how this slower pace
hampered his creativity, his greatest asset, and this realization also lay
heavy on his chest. For so long now, his mental agility—augmented by his
affiliation with the nation’s most elite university and a long and respected
publishing career—had cleared his every path like a red carpet. As a young man,
naturally, he had battled hard for advancement. But that was decades ago; until
the advent of his arrhythmia, he could barely remember how it felt to be
On this particular evening, however, Kenji was
in fine form. He was eager to talk. His thoughts sprang up, keen and full
bodied, like stringed notes plucked by a koto master. He had felt this way for
two whole days now, and he harbored a secret hope that his heart problems were
receding as mysteriously as they had once appeared. Luckier things had happened
in his lifetime. “Did you notice,” he said, “how they peeled the yams with
their incisors, then washed them in the stream?”
“Aaa, aaa,” Sumiko agreed, “you showed me.” She
powdered her nose, leaning in close to the mirror. “Like miniature housewives,”
she said, “with those little black dexterous hands.”
There was an emotional hardiness about Sumiko
that Kenji assumed came from her country stock or—more likely—from being
married to him. He had always appreciated this quality in her, like a rope to
which he, the mountain climber, could entrust his full weight. “I’m a research
widow,” she had mourned jokingly in their early years, as Kenji departed for
one exotic locale after another. “Wave bye-bye to Papa-san,” she told their
toddler, Toji, carrying him in one arm and demonstrating with the other. After
Toji entered high school, she immediately joined several women’s committees;
the experience had added a gloss of poise to her unruffled core. “A charming
woman!” people often said of Kenji’s wife.
“Their food washing is learned behavior,” Kenji
told her. “It’s one of the brightest discoveries credited to Japanese
“Aaa,” Sumiko murmured, blotting her lipstick
with a tissue.
“Because it’s proto–tool use, you see, which is
a key component of human culture.”
This afternoon’s tour of the site had been
brief, just to confirm all was in order. Dr. Ogawa and his assistant, who were
actually here on a project of their own, had been kind enough to set up Kenji’s
freestanding mirror for him, lugging it up the dirt trail and propping it
securely in the middle of the clearing. The monkeys would have unlimited access
to this mirror before official tests were performed; this would allow plenty of
time for them to establish familiarity with it.
“In the first mirror study eleven years ago,”
Kenji explained to Dr. Ogawa later that evening at the restaurant, “a few
orangutans actually showed signs of self-recognition. The same with
chimpanzees. An exciting discovery! But then that study of Japanese snow
monkeys, headed by my friend Itakura—do you know Itakura?”
Dr. Ogawa, who dealt with physiology rather than
cognitive behavior, did not. But he had run across articles.
“Well, anyhow, that study was a disappointment.
The monkeys interpreted the reflections to be either other members of the same
species or else meaningless images. So the obvious question is—”
“Is there a rift between monkey and ape,” Sumiko
provided, rummaging in her handbag and pulling out a handkerchief.
“—soh soh, exactly. Whether it indicates a major
“Fascinating,” breathed Dr. Ogawa’s assistant.
“I think it’s pretty early for a conclusion like
that,” said Dr. Ogawa.
Kenji halted him with a raised forefinger,
nodding. Absolutely, he said. There were so many unexplored variables. Some
apes, such as gorillas, showed no self-recognition whatsoever. He personally
suspected a correlation between a species’ level of aggression and its concept
of self. “Wouldn’t aggression be the natural result,” he said, “of a capacity
for self-awareness being developed and adapted for survival?” These Kashigawa
monkeys represented a strain of macaque that was, with the exception of
baboons, one of the most ferocious in the entire primate order. He hoped this
characteristic would make for some interesting findings.
“On what grounds?” Dr. Ogawa asked.
“It’s still a hunch at this stage,” Kenji said.
A good many such hunches had paid off during his career. Much of this, he knew,
was sheer luck, but surely some of the credit went to a scientist’s gift for
inventiveness, for subconscious mental connections. He loved telling the story
of Einstein, whose theory of relativity had begun with a childish fantasy of
riding on a beam of light. “I have some latitude to explore as I go,” he now
“Aggression studies must be ‘in’ again,” Dr.
Ogawa said grimly. “Psychologists, sociologists, they’re all whipped up about
Kenji laughed. He felt invincible tonight,
closer to his old self than he had been in a while; he was conscious that every
good hour, indeed every good minute, was ensuring his odds of recovery. “Our
nation has a hunger,” he explained, forearms leaning heavily on the dinner
table as if it were a podium, “given our experience with the most destructive
war in modern history, to understand what seed within humans made it possible.
We can look back now from the safe distance of time. Even this wartime
cuisine—I think it’s all part of the process.”
Dr. Ogawa, a middle-age medical man with little
regard for trends of the masses and even less for culinary fads, drank his
Asahi beer and looked skeptical. He was collecting DNA samples for a study of
pathogens and sialic acids, a process that led him and his assistant far out
into the hills with their stun guns. Dr. Ogawa vaguely reminded Kenji of
alpha-male apes he had studied in the past. Not in any aggressive sense but
rather in the quiet force of his linear focus, that unrelenting, almost brute
push of each thought to the very end. Kenji looked forward to some interesting
debates. He knew from a colleague that Dr. Ogawa was fairly well known within
“Soh soh, wartime cuisine,” sighed Dr. Ogawa’s
assistant, a weary-eyed graduate student whom Dr. Ogawa perversely addressed by
the babyish nickname of Kana-chan. “We’re simply inundated with it,” he said,
with a prim moue of distaste comically identical to Dr. Ogawa’s.
Kenji laughed out loud at this, slapped his
thigh. His exuberance had been rising all evening. His heartbeat was returning
to normal—yes! he could sense it, with that intuition for success that had
seldom failed him in the past. “You’re absolutely right!” he said generously.
Speaking of war cuisine, he told the table, two okonomiyaki places had sprung
up in his own neighborhood. Kenji, having grown up in the city during the war
and the occupation that followed, remembered those crispy pancakes: meager
substitutes for rationed rice, their flour content barely enough to bind
together leftover scraps of cabbage or turnip stems. Nowadays, of course, such
ingredients were upgraded for modern consumption.
“Rock shrimp! Calamari! Filet mignon!”
Kenji crowed. “They’ve missed the entire point!”
His audience laughed appreciatively, the
assistant most heartily of all.
“Way before your time, Kana-chan,” Dr. Ogawa
teased, patting the young man’s shoulder. Kana-chan flushed and stopped
Their waiter approached. In the muted
candlelight (Kenji took out his reading glasses), they peered down at the
identical bowls set before them. Yam rice, the waiter said, was unique to this
region. First, yams were mashed. Binding glutens were added, and the mixture
was strained through a large-holed colander into boiling water. The resulting
noodlelike strands, once cooked, were chopped into rice-size bits. These were
bleached, then finally roasted.
“All that work,” murmured Sumiko, “just so they
could pretend they were eating rice.” The rice had a chewy, nutty texture not
unlike that of brown rice, although its flavor was largely masked by salt and
From nowhere, a familiar tiredness hit Kenji.
The shock and disappointment of it paralyzed him; he had put so much faith in
this comeback. He sat still, feeling himself descending in slow motion beneath
the bright surface of the dinner conversation, as if to the bottom of a sea.
With this underwater sensation, which so often
accompanied his fluctuations in blood flow, he gazed dully at his wife sitting
before him. She was eating slowly, pensively, deep in a world of her own. He
recalled her saying once at a dinner party that her own mother, who had died
when Sumiko was in middle school, used to reminisce about eating yam rice while
she was pregnant with Sumiko. He wondered if his wife was remembering this now.
It was strange how these small shifts in blood flow could open him up to the
sadness of things, like a receding tide exposing sea creatures crumpled on the
sand. His wife’s way of eating this dish struck him as profound, an
acknowledgment of all the loss and longing that had created it.
“Think of all the labor they could have saved,”
Kana-chan was saying, “if they’d just baked their yams instead.”
Tiredness poured in from all sides now, like
sand into a hole, infusing Kenji with an unaccustomed sense of disadvantage.
The new generation, he thought. Never gone hungry, never had a familiar world
jerked out from under its feet. Before this young mind, as hard and green as an
unripe peach, Kenji felt unaccountably uneasy.
“Irregular heartbeats have various causes,” Kenji’s doctor
had told him at the beginning. “For example, minuscule heart attacks over time
can build up scar tissue, which interferes with electrical impulses.”
“But I have excellent arteries. My blood
pressure, my cholesterol, everything’s in a good range!”
“Well, then,” the doctor said—briskly, as if
nipping a pointless argument in the bud—“yours must be hereditary. These flaws
do crop up in later years, and we can’t always explain them.”
It was unnerving to think how confidently he had
stridden through life, utterly ignorant of what defects lurked in his genes.
Now, weeks into his study, Kenji mulled it over again, sitting at the edge of
the dirt clearing and observing the macaques. Five or six of them, sated from a
lunch of yams, loitered thirty meters away, grooming each other or strolling
about on all fours. Directly overhead the sumac leaves rustled, intermittently
letting in a blinding flash of sun. Kenji closed his eyes—it was just for a
moment, the monkeys were nowhere near the mirror—and orange flooded his eyelids,
the warmth pressing down on his face and body like a blanket. He felt great
solace in the midst of this loudness that was nature: the back-and-forth of
birds, the drilling of a woodpecker, the alternating drone and chi-chi-chi
of insects, the grunt of a monkey.
How he would miss fieldwork: this riotous energy
all about him, each cell living with all its might, yet synchronized in cycles
of deceptive efficiency.
Kenji’s fascination with nature had started when
he was six, when his family had evacuated to the countryside to stay with
relatives after the Namiki bombing. He still looked back on those months as the
finest in his childhood. One day his granny had taken him to a dense pine
thicket to pick shiitake mushrooms with other villagers, wicker baskets slung
over their backs. They had all roared with good-natured laughter whenever
someone forgot and leaned over too far, causing the contents of his basket to
come tumbling out . . .
“Everything in nature is put here on purpose,”
his granny had told him, pushing apart mushrooms as soft as flesh, “to keep
something else alive. Nature knows exactly what it’s doing.” And the boy, young
as he was, had grasped something of this omniscient bounty. He felt secure and
protected on those rainy nights when they all hunched over the brazier, mouths
watering for roasted mushrooms and quail eggs.
Later, as a young man, Kenji attempted to
recreate the wonder of those early days by studying the natural sciences, which
promised ever-widening vistas of discovery. His focus on primate sociology was
a lucky accident—the influence of a particularly charismatic mentor—or so he
had always believed. But in the past few months, as he looked back on his
career, it had occurred to Kenji that his specialty was a logical, if somewhat
extreme, extension of his nostalgia for living off the land. In primate society
was the essence of oneness with nature that humans must once have had, muddied
now by all the ills of modern life. At this late age, Kenji felt a rueful
tenderness for his early idealism; and perhaps because of this, he had become
unduly disheartened during yesterday’s talk with Dr. Ogawa.
Over the past few weeks, the two men had held
some interesting discussions as they drove into town in the evenings (Kana-chan
had to stay behind, sorting specimens). Both Kenji and Dr. Ogawa were
interested in the concept of evolutionary divergence.
“New studies tell us,” Dr. Ogawa had said, as
they descended past terrace after terrace of rice paddies darkening in the
twilight, “that human DNA is almost identical to that of primates. Almost
identical. How is this possible? What accounts, then, for the vast difference
between the species?”
A few months ago, Kenji would have made an
irreverent quip about not being so sure there was a vast difference, following
it up with various conjectures of his own. Since the yam-rice dinner, however,
his old economy had returned. This evening, weary, he merely shook his head
with a hnn sound.
“Sialic acids,” Dr. Ogawa said with quiet
relish. “That’s one of the clues.” Characteristic of his step-by-step thought
process, he started at the beginning. Sialic acids acted as a protective layer
over a species’ DNA structure, shielding it from invasion and alteration by
outside viruses. It had been discovered, only recently, that human sialic acids
have a makeup distinctly different from that of other primates’.
“Which would suggest,” Dr. Ogawa said, “that
each species was influenced, over time, by different viruses.”
Dr. Ogawa’s theory was this: Long ago, in humans,
some virus tampered with the delicate balance of electrical impulses that
limits the size of every mammalian brain. “So now humans are born with open
sutures in the skull to accommodate further brain growth,” Dr. Ogawa said,
“whereas every other mammal continues to be born with a fully knit skull.”
“So what you’re saying,” Kenji said dully, “is
that our larger brains, our self-awareness, basically everything that makes us
uniquely human, is in direct violation of nature’s internal control system?”
“Maa maa, Endo-san, isn’t that a dire
interpretation! Evolution is all about mutation.”
Kenji could sense his own brain firing, working,
but in that slow, underwater way, the clean lines of scientific thought
tangling in the kelp of his personal sorrows. “A mutation like this would have
enormous repercussions,” he said finally. “It casts a whole new light on humans
running amok over the biosphere. The human brain as the supreme anomaly, a
divine defect . . .” A sense of futility had washed over him, and in spite of
himself he sought Dr. Ogawa’s eyes for reassurance.
Dr. Ogawa’s eyes, squinting suspiciously behind
the lenses of his eyeglasses, seemed small and far away, as if seen from the
other end of a telescope. “Defect? What, like de-evolution? What kind of
unscientific talk is that?”
“Viruses, too, thrive by ravaging their own
environment,” Kenji said. In the deepening dusk, the dirt road glowed whitely
“Interesting. I suppose one could find
similarities.” Dr. Ogawa turned his headlights on. “But why make moral
judgments about life-forms?”
A woodpecker, drilling directly above his head,
brought Kenji back to the present. He opened his eyes. His recent problems
suddenly seemed alien compared with the sunny scene before him, tasseled grasses
waving and everything in perfect harmony down to the pyoo-pyoo of a
whitetail: one giant, attuned orchestra. He had a fleeting impression that his
arrhythmia was the consequence of straying so far, over the decades, from the
simple faith he had once known as a boy. How much this career of his had cost
him: the joys of a simple home life, the bonds he might have forged with a son
now grown and distant in Wakayama.
One of the monkeys, a young male, had ambled
over to the mirror and now sat hunched before it with his back to Kenji,
unmoving. Typical beta behavior, he thought automatically. An alpha would have
charged the mirror or bared its teeth. But in another few weeks they would all
be sitting sideways before the mirror, monitoring the scene by glancing back
and forth between the clearing and the reflected image.
In the freestanding mirror, Kenji could make out
the monkey’s close-set eyes peering unblinkingly at its own small, reddened
face. Seen from the rear he looked pitifully human, tiny shoulder blades poking
up through the fur, and Kenji had the same urge he used to have when his son
was small, to rest his hand on that narrow back. Primates moved him, as did
children, by all they were incapable of understanding.
When Kenji came home that night (they had by now transferred
from the Red Monkey Inn to a condominium overlooking the Kashigawa valley),
his wife was boiling something in the kitchen. Its pungent, earthy smell hit
him as soon as he opened the door.
“They’re wild fuki shoots from the hills where
your monkeys are,” Sumiko told him. She looked excited and happy. “A woman at
the market gave me the recipe.” Her hair was wrapped up, peasant-style, in one
of the dyed indigo kerchiefs native to the area. Her dark-skinned face, washed
clean of cosmetics and glistening from the heat of the stove, put him in mind
of the healthy country women of his childhood.
“Ara, you’re cooking!” he said in mock surprise.
“What’s going on? Is this the latest in country chic?”
She gave an embarrassed little laugh, pulling
off her new kerchief as she did so, and once again she was the university wife
from Tokyo. “So how’s your medication working?” she asked, businesslike.
“So-so,” Kenji said. He couldn’t help an inward
cringe; his condition was a fragile thing, to be cradled in the soft recesses
of his mind and handled, only at the right time and with utmost delicacy, by no
one but himself.
“Try not to get your hopes up,” Sumiko said.
“Remember what the doctor said? That a certain level of fatigue is probably
“Aaa, aaa, right.”
“Try to be more careful about long hours, and
don’t run yourself down. Remember, you have a serious condition.”
“Aaa! Aaa!” He escaped to the bathroom for his
predinner bath, which was ready and steaming under its heavy lid. Sumiko had
purchased some old-fashioned gourd loofahs, as well as an array of local beauty
products. Kenji picked up, then put down, a small jar of soy curd labeled the beauty lotion of our mothers. It
was unseemly, an intelligent woman like Sumiko embracing this wartime trend
like she was a member of the masses. It occurred to him, briefly, to wonder
about her day-to-day life, so closely linked to his and yet riddled with
mysterious gaps. He tried imagining it: a slower pace, a narrower scope, the
kind of world he himself had always resisted.
Settled in his bath now, his mind restfully
blank, Kenji gazed down at his body wavering beneath the shifting water. It
always came as something of a jar, after a full day of observing primates, to
view the naked human form: the vestigial shortness of the arms, the pink,
hairless skin, vulnerable and fetuslike.
Evolution is all about mutation.
That talk with Dr. Ogawa had vaguely reminded
Kenji of the ideas of another scientist, and he now remembered, with the satisfying
click of a fact falling into place, who it was. Buffon—a French naturalist from
the eighteenth century—had proposed that humans, biologically speaking, were
born at least a year too soon. Kenji had read him many years ago, in the
context of another topic which he could not recall, and at the time he had
found the man’s claims entertaining but not particularly relevant to his work.
Buffon claimed that man was forced to complete, within society, a psychological
development that all other species accomplished within the womb. As Kenji
recalled, this had to do with the human head being too large to be carried full
term. Man’s problems, apparently, traced back to this prematurity of birth.
Buffon’s idea had been bolstered in the 1920s by
another European—Ludwig Bolk—who proved that mutations inhibiting maturation
did occur naturally in animals.
Kenji closed his eyes and conjured up the
perfection of the afternoon: the sound of leaves and insects and birds weaving
together into one drowsy murmur, the monkeys seated on the ground, gnawing on
yams with their hairy legs splayed out before them. Like Eden, according to the
Western conception: the paradise from which man was banished almost immediately
after his creation. Kenji recalled that Christianity, unlike the Eastern
religions, held humans to be distinct from animals, born under a shadow of
original sin. Well, perhaps they had tapped into something. Clues were
everywhere. How odd that he had never noticed.
“Dinner’s ready!” called Sumiko from the
Unfortunately, Kenji’s medication brought on proarrhythmia,
an exacerbation of his preexisting condition. “Saa, who knows why?” his doctor
had said blandly, ignoring Kenji’s glare of exasperated disgust. “Every so
often, antiarrhythmic drugs have tricky side effects.” An appointment had been
made for a pacemaker installation.
The operation was to take place in three days.
This afternoon, sprawled in a chair on the condominium terrace, Kenji mulled
over the mirror test that he planned to administer the next day. It was the
first and most basic of the series: anesthetizing the monkeys, painting green
dye on their heads, then seeing if the recovered monkeys touched their own
heads while looking in the mirror.
It worried him that, after almost two months of
loose observation, he had come up with no significant brainstorms, unusual
connections, or inspirations for more tailored tests. Loose observation was
usually his most fertile period, when chance details coupled with spontaneous
insights guided the course of his study, refining a general hunch into a
testable hypothesis. But this time, although he earnestly, even desperately,
watched the monkeys grooming or fingering the mirror or leaping lightly from
branch to branch, nothing clicked into place. He was like a thick-witted
detective at a crime scene, unable to make sense of clues right before his
Never mind, Kenji told himself. He gave a curt
sigh and glanced at his watch. It was a little after four. In a few hours, his
new assistant from the university, whom he had recruited to handle the monkey
anesthetization as well as any lifting or dragging, would be coming by to go
over the checklist.
“I still don’t see why you can’t put off your
experiment until we get back from Tokyo,” Sumiko said. She was sitting beside
him on the terrace, alternately squinting at an instruction manual and weaving
something out of rattan.
Kenji brushed away her words with one hand, as
if they were flies. She’s like Ogawa, he thought with a flare of helpless fury.
A horse with blinders.
They sat silent. The terrace overlooked the
south end of the Kashigawa valley, and the cluttered towns lay faint and
ephemeral in the dense daze. To Kenji’s left loomed the hills of his final
project, so close he could distinguish the colors of certain trees. Despite the
patchwork of lime-colored rice paddies encroaching on their lower regions, the
hills gave off an ancient air, as if they had never been shadowed by anything
but clouds and an occasional red hawk.
After some time, Kenji glanced over at his wife.
Her arm, weaving the rattan stalk in and out, moved as serenely as a swimmer’s.
“What are you making?” he asked.
“A pouch,” she replied, “for hard-boiled eggs.”
They fell silent once more. Below them in the
valley a train whistle sliced the air, echoing the mournful, delayed quality of
“The first time I ever rode the slow train,”
Sumiko said, “my mother packed hard-boiled eggs in a straw pouch. We peeled
them on the train, and ate them.” She said this absently, unmindful of his
response, as a mother might talk to herself in the company of a child. Kenji
felt himself freeze as he instinctively did before creatures in the wild,
peacefully eating and as yet unaware of a human presence.
“The window was open, the breeze was blowing
in,” Sumiko continued, “and you could smell the iron heated up by the sun. We
were so hungry in those days. And the eggs tasted so good, with a
sprinkle of salt. It was a wonderful day.”
“Is that why you’re making this bag?”
His wife looked up, suddenly self-conscious. She
regarded him for a moment, with dark eyes as unfathomable as a primate’s. “I
thought it might be nice to take a train ride,” she said. “Just for a couple of
Kenji was jolted out of his own self-regard. His
no-nonsense wife of thirty years, with her dinner-party conversations—how long
had she harbored such longings? He pictured her sitting alone by the window
(did train windows even open anymore?), a woman past middle age, peeling an
egg. He remembered her eating yam rice at the restaurant, and he felt a pity so
deep he could not tell where it ended and his arrhythmia began.
“June is nice here in Kashigawa,” he said
gently. Then, after a pause, “I know what you mean . . . When I was a boy, I
once picked mushrooms in the forest.” Nodding, his wife resumed her handicraft.
They said no more.
This is married life, thought Kenji. Suddenly
his underwater state seemed not so much a banishment as the entering of a new
realm, with the slowly dawning kinship of divers who swim among the fish. In
him welled up a strong allegiance with Sumiko, with his entire aging generation
reaching back for its simple beginnings. What countless private Edens they had managed to
extract from the war . . .
Sumiko got up to attend to something in the
kitchen. Kenji remained sitting in the evening light, which now slanted low
over the hills and cast pink shadows on the valley haze. And as effortlessly as
the spreading of the light—not with the clean scientific click of old, but with
a soft suffusion—his allegiance widened out over his entire flawed race, with
its fierce need to create beauty for itself.
A memory floated up in his mind. Madagascar,
early in his career: towering stone crags whose jagged outcroppings snapped
beneath his boots with high-pitched pings, and below them, the famous sunken
forests where lemurs lived. The forests had been created, millions of years
ago, by earth collapsing into itself for kilometers around, destroying all life
in its wake and forever changing the land’s topography. Kenji was a young man,
and the forest’s lush beauty had astonished him.
“Isn’t life a resilient force,” one senior
member of their party had remarked as the scientists gazed upward in wonder,
faces tinted green from the virgin foliage, “turning the worst of its disasters
into something like this.”
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