Thursday, March 09, 2023

Once the weasels show up, you're done for

"We meet at school, or work, or maybe a store. Wherever it is, there's just a random group of individuals, right? Within that group, you find your mate. If you were in a different group, you'd end up with a different mate, right? But we never dwell on that. We live our lives in the groups we have — in our cities, our countries, even thought we didn't choose them. Know what I mean? We like to tell ourselves it's love, that we're choosing our own partners. But in reality, we're just playing the cards we've been dealt."

Weasels in the Attic, by Hiroko Oyamada, is a charming triptych of stories, published separately in Japanese, but collected in this English translation. Although authored by a woman, the stories focus on a peculiarly male perspective on maturity, rescinding bachelorhood to settle down, marry, have children, move outside of the city. The order of things. The things we accept we're supposed to do. The man prefers to delay the inevitable; but the woman he chooses must be young and fertile.

It all feels a bit detached, or maybe just Japanese. Their social interactions depend on small talk, ritual, external signs of status. It's their unseen lives and dreams where things get interesting.

The exotic fish, the weasels, the meal preparation. Everything feels vaguely symbolic, as if there is real meaning in the decisions and actions we take. Pregnant with possibility, one might say, without ever giving birth — the fertility issues of the narrator and his wife form one unsubtle thread through these stories. 

At the time, he didn't know about the weasels [...] "Listen, when you think about buying a house, give it some real thought, okay? Once the weasels show up, you're done for. This never would have happened if we'd moved into one those boxy manufactured houses. Those things are airtight. A fifty-year-old house . . . What the hell was I thinking?"  

The weasels struck a chord: It put Nathaniel Rich in mind of his rat. I have a squirrel. I first heard the noises in December, around the solstice, when the cold set in. There was a scratching, and then a thumping. Frantic scrambling.

Its initial entry into the internal workings of the building was likely accidental. But now it's a known haven. I've seen the culprit; it moves with purpose. 

(Why did I choose a seventy-year-old building? Because it has character.)

The noises are random and more occasional now. It's the smell that has become predictable. Whenever the temperature rises above zero, a must wafts through the kitchen from the range hood. Probably old food scraps or nesting material. It's not entirely unpleasant — it's an organic odour, but at least it doesn't smell like death. I turn on the exhaust to reverse the direction.