By Jesse Ball, from his novel Silence Once Begun, out next month from Pantheon. Ball is the author of several books of fiction and poetry, including, most recently, The Curfew.
Interviewer’s note: I was woken up by knocking at the door of the house where I was staying. I went downstairs and there she was. She apologized for the sudden visit, but said she felt there was something that must be cleared up.
mrs. oda: I will tell you a story about Jiro. I will explain why he cannot be trusted, not really at all. He used to have a game where he would pretend that he was a lord and he would have his toys come before him and present him with cases to decide. He thought this was a very amusing game. I do not remember him ever playing it with anyone else, just alone. He would do different voices for the different toys. They did not need to be figures in order to bring a petition. His favorite spoon, for instance, often came. First in line, second in line, third in line — they would all argue and jostle, trying to be the first to speak to Jiro, and he would sit on a little stage he had made and argue with them or tell them what was what. Well, it would be like this: Jiro would say, Who is this and what have they to say? And the little wooden box would be there in front of the spoon, which was in front of the cloth bird, and they would all be shouting and saying things and Jiro would hold up his hand for silence. Then there would be some quiet and he would say they would all be taken and killed if they couldn’t speak in turn. Then the box would say — I don’t know what it would say exactly, this was something that went on all the time, hundreds of times. Possibly the box had something it was always asking for and never getting, I don’t know. But it might say, I don’t like the spot where I am put at night. Often other things get placed on my head and it’s uncomfortable, and Jiro would say, Don’t open your mouth again or I will have you killed, and he would send the box away. Then it was the spoon’s turn. He would say that, would say the same thing every time. No matter what was said to him, he would say that, Don’t open your mouth again or I will have you killed. I doubt he even remembers it. This was long ago, even before he went to school.
interviewer: But why do you say that he can’t be trusted? I’m sorry, I don’t see . . .
mrs. oda: That he thinks everyone should receive the same treatment, regardless of what they did or what they say? Or that it doesn’t matter what anyone does — it all ends up the same? Maybe he has changed some things about himself, but a boy is a boy. He is still the same one he was. Don’t tell him I told you this. Or do. I guess I don’t know.
[She rooted around in her bag and brought out an old soupspoon.]
This is it, I thought I would bring it to show you. For some reason, he would always have this spoon go on and on. It was like the spoon was trying the most to persuade him. But it never did. I would be sitting in the next room and listening as he would play this game. I would listen to the whole game. Every time I listened from beginning to end. The things he would have them say, you couldn’t believe. But this spoon was always the one with the most elaborate excuses, the most long-winded speeches. Always it was the same, though. Don’t open your mouth again, or I will have you killed. I really pitied the spoon, so I still have it.
interviewer: It is a keepsake, from Jiro’s childhood. That’s a good thing to have, and a good reason to have it.
mrs. oda: Oh no, I don’t think of it that way. I rescued it from him. I don’t think he cared about the spoon at all.