Authors: Kerri Sakamoto
Tags: #Psychological, #Fiction, #General
The Electrical Field
introduces us to a writer with a large talent, one capable of unsettling the reader with her disturbing perceptions of a world in which ugliness and beauty are so intertwined that they cannot be teased apart.”
The Montreal Gazette
“A stunning novel … A major new force in the landscape of Canadian fiction.”
The Toronto Star
“This rich and complex novel probes the unsettling psyche of a community and one person in particular—Asako Saito, who embodies all the contradictory hopes, fears and prejudices of her diverse neighbourhood.
The Electrical Field
is full of prickly darkness, made magnetic by the author’s unabashedly wry and subversive sense of humour.”
, author of
Cereus Blooms at Night
“Darkly beautiful … Delicate, absorbing,
The Electrical Field
recognizes two hard truths: the only redress available to those betrayed by history is love; and love is difficult to come by.”
, Book of the Month
“Hypnotic, haunting, and utterly original. From within the mind of a woman scarred by war and injustice, Kerri Sakamoto illuminates that shadowy terrain where history meets illicitly with sexuality and human longing.”
, author of
“Sakamoto’s novel is of the calibre to join such stellar performances as Ann-Marie MacDonald’s
Fall On Your Knees
and Anne Michael’s
.… It is an unusual, elegant novel, full of bitterness and regret, yet with some hope of renewal at its core. Sakamoto is an enormously talented writer.”
The London Free Press
“This poetically rendered novel translates a world of separations, the world of Japanese North Americans after the humiliation of internment. What a brilliant and radically new way of seeing the effects of this history. You will be surprised.”
, author of
The Unbearable Heart
First Vintage Canada Edition, 1998
Copyright © 1998 by Kerri Sakamoto
All rights reserved under International and Pan American Copyright Conventions. Published in Canada by Vintage Canada, a division of Random House of Canada, in 1998. First published in hardcover in Canada by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, Toronto, in 1998. Distributed by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
The electrical field
PS8587.A318E43 1998 C813’.54 C98-932390-0
IN MEMORY OF
HAPPENED TO BE
dusting the front window-ledge when I saw her running across the grassy strip of the electrical field. I stepped out onto the porch and called to her. I could tell she heard me because she slowed down a bit, hesitated before turning. I waved.
“Sachi!” I shouted. “What is it?”
She barely paused to check for cars before crossing the concession road in front of my yard; not that many passed since the new highway to the airport had been built. Shyly she edged up my porch steps to where I stood. She was out of breath, her eyes filled with an adult’s burden. “I don’t know,” she said, panting. “Maybe it’s nothing.”
The sweat glistened on her, sweet, odourless water, and it struck me as odd, her sweating so much—a girl and a nihonjin at that; we nihonjin, we Japanese, hardly perspire at all, and the late spring air was cool that day. I sat down to
signal calm and patted the lawn chair beside me. She sat but kept jiggling one knee. Finally she stood up again. “Yano came and took—,” she began.
“Mr. Yano,” I broke in, though everyone called him Yano, even myself.
“He took Tam out of class this morning. Kimi too.”
“Tamio,” I corrected her, as if I could tell her what to call the boy, her special friend. As if I could tell her anything. “A doctor’s appointment, maybe?”
She shook her head as a child does, flinging her hair all about. Though at thirteen going on fourteen, she no longer was a child, I reminded myself.
“Yano looked crazy,” she went on. “Like I’ve never seen him. His hands were like this.” She clenched her fists and gritted her brace-clad teeth: a fierce little animal. “He hadn’t taken a bath, not for a long time,” she said, pinching her flat nose and grimacing. “Worse than usual. Everybody noticed.”
She almost pushed me away when I patted her brow with a paper towel, then smiled meekly as I smoothed out her thick black hair. I felt the tangled nest of it at the back of her neck but stopped myself from getting a comb. I gave her a glass of juice and a cookie and made her sit still until she cooled off. I gazed across the field at the Yanos’ green-roofed bungalow, identical to the others in its row except for the overgrown lawn and the curtainless front window.
Suddenly Sachi was at the bottom of my steps again, peering up at me. Like a child with no mother to clean her up: crumbs scabbing her chin, and her skin dirty in the light. She made me think of a scraggly urchin
’d passed on the road leaving the internment camp after the war, Papa and
me, long ago. I was unhappy that day as I recall, because we were not going to the sea, I would not see Japan; we were staying in Canada. Leaving the mountains, going deeper in to a place that Papa could barely pronounce. “On-ta-ri-o.” Standing in the back of that crowded, rattling truck, I gazed down at the urchin, her lost eyes. Left behind. I was glad at least not to be left behind.
“I have to see if Tam’s back,” Sachi was saying, her knee jiggling again. I dabbed around my chin until she did the same, backing onto my lawn. “How’s your mother? Tell her to come by,” I said, and immediately felt foolish.
I warned her to watch the road, but already she’d scampered across it, back to the field. “Let me know what happens,” I shouted, remembering why I’d called her over in the first place. She waved her thin arm at me without turning, afraid I’d make her come back. I felt a tinge of loneliness as she crossed to the other side, to those bungalows in a row that kept one another company. Not like our house, built by a veterinarian decades before, sitting at the edge of the field, up from the creek, all on its own.
Nothing that unusual, I told myself, a father taking his children out of school for the afternoon. Not at all. He might have needed them to lick some stamps, give out flyers for one of his redress meetings that no one came to. Maybe a last-minute treat, an outing. Yano was capable of that much.
I watched Sachi wait at the Yanos’ door for a moment or two, all she could stand, then run home to the grey-roofed bungalow a few houses down. I could not help thinking of the games she liked to play, with me and with herself, and how convincing she could be. But I told myself her worry
was not to be taken lightly. Sachi was a perceptive child, gifted, really. She reminded me of myself in a way: a finely tuned receptacle for others’ impulses and confidences. I often caught myself telling her thoughts better kept to myself, at least until she was older. It was the knowing way she had about her, the way she carried an understanding in that wispy girl’s body. She wasn’t muscular like most nihonjin, with hard, dense flesh. Even I with my restful life, old enough to be her mother, had flesh more taut than she.
When I went back inside, the smell seemed worse than usual. After all these years, I’d never grown used to it. It was Papa, his body whittled away upstairs, the smell of the sheets, the pillow, no matter I’d just changed them. There was his moan calling for one thing or another, coming steadily down the stairs like a creeping vine; quickly I passed by, plumping up a cushion on the chesterfield before sailing through the kitchen and out the back door.
In the garden, my flowers were coming up nicely, in spite of the frost we’d just had, not unusual for mid-May, I suppose. My tulips and daffodils in the far corner, my peonies and irises coming up on both sides. I caught the scent of my narcissus, potent, I thought, for such a delicate-looking bloom, its pale colour. It went straight to my head when I put my nose to it, like a drug. Stum had mown the grass short and even, as I’d asked, and swept the walk of clippings. I spied a hardy spiked weed sprouting in one corner of the garden, and was about to get up when I felt a sensation rise inside me that would not go away.
It was Yano, the thought of him, wild, crazy man in the middle of my placid afternoon, riling me. He was forever
ranting about something, raking back his hair with his dirty fingernails; his hair that was too long, like a teenager’s, his clothes too tight at the armpits and crotch, so they showed his bulge. Standing at the foot of my steps, where Sachi had stood, his dog peeing in my flowers. Over and over he’d ask me about the camps. He’d say the government owed us money and an apology. Badger me with where this, when that, and how long. “How long were you there, Saito-san?” For the tenth time.
“I told you,” I would scold back, not keeping the impatience from my voice.
“Each time you say different,” he would say. “Four years, five, which is it? When was it you left? Forty-six, forty-seven?”
When I didn’t answer, he’d come up with more to taunt me with. “Why didn’t you leave sooner? Right when the war ended? Why did you wait, Saito-san?” I could have asked him why too, why didn’t he stay in Japan? Why did he come back? But I did not. Really, it mattered little now. Thirty years gone by, and still it was fresh in his mind.
Whenever he came to me with his petitions, his flyers for meetings, he’d stand so close and I’d have to breathe through my mouth because he smelled. Even out here, in the open air. It wasn’t like Papa, a slow, seeping odour coming down the stairs, settling on you; it was alive and pungent, insistent, a man’s odour probing you all over. How I wanted to shake it off, shake both him and Papa off me, but I couldn’t.
Instead, I reached under my skirt and unhooked my stockings. I was careful with them because they were expensive. These days it was nothing but pantyhose in the stores.
I left the stockings in beige pools on the stoop and stepped onto the cool, cool grass. I even forgot to yank out the weed.
It was the first time in a long while that I’d given myself over to such an impulse, gallivanting in my garden, barefoot. Beyond the fence of the yard, the bushes and grass seemed thick as a jungle leading down to the creek.
Later that evening, after dinner, I noticed one of my stockings hanging out of Stum’s pocket. “What are you doing with that?” I demanded, and took it from him. He smirked a little. “Where’s the other?” He pulled the second from his pocket as well. “They were there,” he said in his drawling way, pointing to the stoop where I’d left them. His fingers were gentle and slow giving it back.
I knew it wasn’t the first time he’d touched a woman’s things. Years ago, I caught him with his nose inside my underwear drawer. Since then, as far as I knew, he’d held only day-old chicks, just so in his palms, squeezed and scrutinized so he could tell their sex. One after another, eight hundred in an hour, so he said, separated out to do their business, the males from the females. He’d never brought a girl home.