From the Left Bank of the Flu

Misumi Kubo for Granta
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A short story by Misumi Kubo for Granta, translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton:

It was the evening of the 28th of December. Just as I had got out of the bath, and was thinking that the air seemed especially chilly, I felt a creaking pain pipe up from the joints of my knees and elbows. I picked up the thermometer, still lying on the circular bedside table from the last time I’d used it, and stuck it in my mouth. Sure enough, it read 38.3 degrees. I decided to take some of the cold medicine I had in the cabinet and get into bed. But I couldn’t stop shivering, and though I managed to doze off for a bit, the tremors eventually woke me. The blankets I had on clearly weren’t enough, so I dragged out the feather duvet I kept rolled up in the wardrobe, stacked it on top of the pile and coiled the whole thing around my body.

When I wake up tomorrow, I told myself as I shut my eyes, I’ll go to the hospital. The hospital was only a three minute walk from my flat.

The following morning, the thermometer read 39.8 degrees, the highest temperature I’d had since I was a child. That’s it, I thought to myself. I’m dying. I swapped the jogging bottoms I was wearing for a pair of jeans, picked up the down jacket which was lying in the place I’d thrown it off the day before, put on a woollen hat to cover my sleep-ruffled hair and cold mask to hide my stubble, and staggered down to the hospital which lay by the Loop Route No. 8, the furthest out of Tokyo’s concentric expressways.

The sunlight was painfully bright, which I figured was probably a result of the fever. The big road looked to me like a river, the cars rushing by as if carried along on its current. I resented anyone who had the energy to drive at such a blistering speed. As luck would have it, there weren’t too many people waiting at the hospital, and I was called up almost immediately. It was my first flu test, and it struck me as pure torture. The doctor stuck a long cotton bud-like thing right up my nose and proceeded to jab and jiggle it around. It was humiliating – enough, in fact, to call the phrase ‘human dignity’ to mind. You can’t stick foreign objects so far inside other people’s bodies like that, not with that degree of force. It’s not okay. This is supposed to be the twenty-first century.

I was told to sit back down in the waiting room. When I was called up again, the doctor announced merrily that it looked like a case of Hong Kong Type A.

‘Which would you prefer?’ he asked. ‘Tamiflu, Relenza or Rapiacta?’

Damned if I know, I thought. I had no idea what any of those things were, and even if I’d been given a halfway decent explanation, my fever had rendered my powers of judgement null and void.

‘Would you prefer oral medication or a drip?’

I opted for the drip. Somehow I had the feeling it would kick in faster.

‘Now, you’re not allowed any human contact for five days, all right?’ the nurse said, as the needle of the drip slid into my arm, in the sort of voice one might use to soothe a child. There goes my New Year’s holiday, I thought.

A holiday stamped out by the flu. Not that I had anything planned for it, but still.

 

It was right before lunch on the 18th of December when I got the call saying my dad had died. I was in the van at the time, having just installed my third copier of the day. The call was from someone at the old folks’ home where my dad had lived.

‘Can you come now?’ they asked at first, but must have noticed my hesitation, explaining that if I could just come to the funeral on Saturday, the day after tomorrow, that would also be fine. They gave me a quick run-through of the arrangements, and put the phone down.

‘What’s up?’ Yoshioka, the van driver, asked, peering at me.

‘Oh, it’s, um, my dad’s dead.’

‘How old?’

‘Seventyish. Seventy-two or three,’ I said. In truth I didn’t know my dad’s exact age.

‘What’s happening with the funeral?’

‘He was in an old folks’ home, it looks like they’re going to take care of it all there.’

‘In that case, you’ve gotten off lightly,’ Yoshioka said as he steered the van into the parking lot of a ramen restaurant.

Half-choking on my hot and sour noodles (‘sour, spicy and soup-er good!’ said the menu), I sent a LINE message to my brother, Takashi.

‘So Dad’s dead.’

Takashi was probably on his lunch break too, because the word ‘Read’ flashed up immediately next to my message.

‘For real?’

‘Yup.’

‘What about the funeral?’

‘Day after tomorrow. Looks like they’re gonna take care of it all there. Can you come?’

‘Kanako’s got work so she won’t be able to.’

‘Just you and me will do. There’s no point inviting the whole family. We’ll only end up getting a kicking from everyone who’s had to put up with all his crap.’

(…)

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