Sanshi by Daniel Tovey

I will not eat. I will not sleep.

I have taken to hiding items of food around the house. Rice gets pushed into the rips in the tatami matting. Greens, I dump outside. I scatter them in hedgerows and amongst the grass. I have made a hollow in the floor of my room for meat and fish.

It smells in here. But, that helps me. The smell keeps me up at night. It is sour and foul and impossible to get used to. Mother and father think that something has crawled beneath the house and died: a mouse perhaps or a pond turtle. They cannot tell. It smells of too many different things, they say – both meaty and fishy.

They have noticed my weight loss, of course. It would be impossible not to. The fat is melting from my bones. My elbows feel sharp and angular and it hurts to bend them too far; it’s the same for my knees as well. This makes life difficult for me as walking and sitting is uncomfortable. It means I lie down a lot – flat on my back. But, when I lie down, I mustn’t sleep.

At the dinner table, my father comments on my thinness. He says it is good to be thin. It is what boys like. I must be thinking about boys; I am at that age. They like pale white skin and high bridged noses, quiet obedience. Before, I was fat, he says. You could have pinched small lumps of my flesh with your thumb and forefinger. You could not now. The skin is too taut; it would sting too much. Now, my father says, I am in danger of becoming too thin. These boys, evidently, cannot make their minds up.

In private, I hear my mother whispering to my father in the other room. Perhaps this is not about boys. She has never shown an interest in boys. Perhaps this is something else. It is understandable for her to feel unsettled what with Naozumi and everything. Perhaps it has made her ill – that is why she is losing the weight; her body is not working properly; it is not digesting the food right. Perhaps a doctor should be contacted.

I do not need a doctor. There is nothing wrong with my digestion. If I choose to eat, I’m sure that my stomach will process the food well enough. It will be grateful of the food. But then, so will the sanshi. And that is why I will not eat. I cannot let the sanshi eat. I must starve them.

As I lie down, I can feel them, those three grubby little worms. They’re crawling around in my stomach. But, they won’t find anything. I’ve not eaten for days. They’re wasting their energy looking for food they will not find. If I continue to lie here, still, on my back, I will outlive them.

Their wriggling, much like the smell of the rotting meat beneath the floorboards, helps me. It is hard to sleep through the discomfort and I do not want to sleep. If I sleep, they will crawl out. They live in the digestive tract and like to crawl up through the system and out of the mouth. Even if I sleep with my teeth clamped, they’ll still find a way out. And I would be asleep, so I could not stop them. All the while I’m awake, they cannot escape me and all the while they’re within me, I can starve them.

Whatever I do, I cannot let them wriggle out. They know things, see. They hear everything. My stomach is like an echo chamber, amplifying the sounds from outside. They can ever hear the whisperings of my thoughts. Their eyes do not work like our eyes, either. They can see things we can’t; they can see through things we can’t. They watch the outside world through the gaps between our atoms.

If they get out, they will tell. Like silkworms, they will form a thread. They’ll climb it up to the river of the Milky Way. Ten-tei will be waiting for them. He who saw nothing will hear all.

From the other room, Naozumi, my brother begins to cry. I am grateful for this. Sometimes my own thoughts are not enough to keep me awake. Sometimes I become used to the smell; I stop feeling the writhing in my belly. His is a blessed caterwauling. It’s shrill and ear piercing: the kind of yell which only a young child can make; the kind of yell which is impossible to ignore. He will have tried to roll again. That always gets him crying. He has reached the age where he should be rolling, but he never will. His limbs do not work. He gets a little movement in his lower back, but that is all.

As he cries, I feel the sanshi once more. It feels as though they are gnawing again, but I know it must be a trick. There can be nothing left for them to feast upon. They are trying to make me think that they cannot be beaten. They are reminding me of what they know. They are reminding me of how the screws came loose and the bars of the cot snapped. They are reminding me that the cot was empty – that Naozumi was already on the floor. They remember the telephone call from Sosuke – a boy. They remember the place on the counter where I laid Naozumi down as the phone’s siren trilled away. They remember Naozumi’s first and only roll.

I will not eat, then. I will not sleep.

About the Author

  1. Avatar Daniel Tovey (1 story )

    Daniel Tovey is an English teacher and storyteller from Dorset. He specializes in telling traditional Japanese stories to audiences and, in writing, converting those myths and nuggets of folklore into new stories.