The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 18, No. 1


by Yuko Sakata

The morning Miwa loses her voice and becomes a Silenced, some twenty-odd crows are found dead in downtown Yokohama. At the Small Business Support Division of the city’s Economic Bureau, where she works as a temp, bird flu is on everyone’s mind. Throughout the day the staff members discuss the development, how some of the birds are being examined for the virus, how there is also a rumor of poisoning. No one takes note of Miwa’s condition.
     Answering the phone is one of her responsibilities, but it rarely rings. Most small businesses don’t know of the division’s existence. Her remaining tasks include making coffee and tea, mailing, filing, stocking, and copying. Miwa took the job precisely for the kind of mindless busywork it entails. Yet this, the realization that her voice is hardly required at all, comes as a mild surprise.
     She noticed the absence herself earlier this September morning when she greeted the cactus on her kitchen windowsill. It’s the only plant that survived the long period of neglect—seventeen months, to be exact—during which the once-lush ficus and pachira and two long planters full of perennials withered on the balcony, becoming indistinguishable from their parched soil. During which she let go of so much else, including her profession of eleven years. When she finally resurfaced this spring, the cactus was the sole thing in the apartment for her to talk to.
     Her lips formed the words—good morning—but no sound came out, as though someone had pointed a remote at her and pressed mute. She tried clearing her throat, coughing, humming, and still the silence persisted. She felt no pain or discomfort.
     In the bathroom mirror she expected to find something different about her face, some subtle yet clear manifestation, like a radiance or translucency, yet everything was ordinary. She mouthed, I don’t have a voice, and her reflection did the same.

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