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Excerpt

Earthlings

Sayaka Murata

October 8, 2020 
The following is excerpted from Sayaka Murata's latest novel, Earthlings, which asks what it means to be happy in a stifling and uncanny world. Named a Freeman's "Future of New Writing" author and Vogue Japan Woman of the Year, Murata is the author of many books, including Convenience Store Woman, winner of the Akutagawa Prize. Ginny Tapley Takemori has translated works by more than a dozen Japanese writers, including Ryu Murakami. She lives at the foot of a mountain in Eastern Japan.

The car was filled with the smell of melted rubber.

“Open the window and let in some fresh air,” Mom said, rubbing my sister’s back.

I was in the front passenger seat, gazing out the window at the increasingly flat and populated landscape.

Dad had not uttered a word for miles. Mom was desperately trying to soothe my sister.

“Family” is hard work I thought. I gripped the ring in my pocket.

I closed my eyes and conjured up Yuu. Now in the darkness behind my eyelids there were some glimmers of light, like stars. Maybe this was a new magical power, letting me see into outer space where Yuu’s home, Planet Popinpobopia, was located.

If he ever found the spaceship, I would get him to take me with him. Now that we were married, I would be going home as his bride. Of course I would take Piyyut with me too.

With my eyes closed, drifting in space, it felt as though the spaceship from Planet Popinpobopia really was close by. I was immersed in my love for Yuu and my magical powers. As long as I was here in this space, I was safe and nobody could destroy our happiness.

*

My town is a factory for the production of human babies. People live in nests packed closely together. It’s just like the silkworm room in Granny’s house. The nests are lined up neatly in rows, and each contains a breeding pair of male and female humans and their babies. The breeding pairs raise their young inside their nests. I live in one of these nests too.

This was how I’d always thought it was, and when they gave us sex education classes at the beginning of fifth grade, I felt vindicated.

The Baby Factory produces humans connected by flesh and blood. Eventually we children will also leave the factory and be shipped out.

Once shipped out, male and female humans are trained how to take food back to their own nests. They become society’s tools, receive money from other humans, and purchase food. Eventually these young humans also form breeding pairs, coop themselves up in new nests, and manufacture more babies.

This was how I’d always thought it was, and when they gave us sex education classes at the beginning of fifth grade, I felt vindicated. My womb was a factory component and would couple with someone’s testes, which were also a factory component, in order to produce babies. Males and females all crawled around their nests with these factory components hidden within their bodies.

I was now married to Yuu, but being an alien he probably couldn’t make babies. If we couldn’t find his spaceship, society would make me form a breeding pair with someone else.

I hoped we would find the spaceship before that happened.

Piyyut was asleep in the bed I’d made for him in my study desk drawer. I continued to use the magic wand and mirror he’d secretly given me. My magical powers helped me take my life forward into the future.

*

As soon as we arrived home, I called my best friend, Shizuka. She had stayed in town during the Obon holiday and had apparently been bored while I was away.

“So are you coming to the pool tomorrow, Natsuki? I said I’d go with Rika and Emi, but I don’t like Rika. It’ll be so much more fun if you come too. Let’s go on the water slide together!”

“Sorry, but I got my period last night.”

I supposed she’d kicked me again. She always comes and kicks my back when I’m on the phone.

“Oh no, that sucks! Oh well, let’s go to eat crepes the day after tomorrow, then.”

“Sure!”

“Cram school starts next week, right? I hate it, but I’m kind of looking forward to seeing Mr. Igasaki. He’s such a babe!”

I laughed. I was enjoying chatting on the phone with Shizuka after so long. Suddenly I felt a forceful thump on my back.

“Get off the phone!”

I turned to see my sister standing there looking cross. I supposed she’d kicked me again. She always comes and kicks my back when I’m on the phone.

“Sorry, it seems my sister wants to use the phone.”

“Oh really? Okay then, see you the day after tomorrow!”

“See you!”

When I hung up, my sister said irritably, “My fever comes back whenever I hear you speaking so loudly.”

“Sorry.”

She pushed me out of the room and slammed the door. It would be ages before she came out. It was always the same.

I tiptoed to my room, trying not to make a sound.

I slipped my ring onto my finger and gazed at it. When I did this, I felt like Yuu and I were sharing the same finger. Come to think of it, my ring finger did look strangely pale. It resembled Yuu’s slim fingers I thought, and I stroked it gently.

I lay down to sleep still wearing my ring. When I closed my eyes, I could see outer space.

I wanted to return to that pitch-blackness as soon as I could. I’d never been to Planet Popinpobopia, but I was beginning to feel it was my true home.

*

The day cram school started, I wondered what I should wear and eventually settled on a black shirt. I buttoned it up all the way to the top. It was a bit hot, even though it was short sleeved.

I picked up my school bag, slipped Piyyut inside it, and went downstairs. Mom was in the hall. She scowled when she saw me.

She often hit me on the head. She said that since I was so stupid, giving my head a little shock would make it better.

“What do you think you’re wearing? You look like you’re going to a funeral.”

“Um.”

“You’re so gloomy, I swear.” She sighed. “I’m tired enough as it is.”

It’s handy having a dumpster in the house. In this house, that’s my role. When Dad and Mom and Kise get so fed up they can’t bear it any longer, they dump everything onto me.

Mom was just on her way next door to pass on the neighborhood news circular, so I went out with her.

“Hi Natsuki, off to cram school are we?” the next-door neighbor called out to me. “You’re all grown-up now!”

“Oh no she isn’t,” Mom said loudly behind me. “She’s always making a mess of everything. Can’t take my eyes off her for a moment.”

“I don’t believe that, eh, Natsuki?” the woman said, turning to me.

“No, Mom’s right,” I said.

When I wasn’t using my magical powers, I really was a dead loss. I’d always been clumsy and ugly. From the perspe tive of the people in this Baby Factory town, my very presence must be a nuisance.

“In comparison,” Mom went on loudly, “your little Chika is so talented. This child is so stupid and slow at doing whatever she’s asked. She’s like a weight around my neck. I swear I’m quite worn out.”

She smacked me on the head with the file containing the circular. She often hit me on the head. She said that since I was so stupid, giving my head a little shock would make it better. And what’s more, since it was empty it made a good sound. That was probably true. The thwap as it hit my head rang out loud and clear.

“And just look at how she dresses! What a disgrace. We’ll never be able to get her married off looking like that.”

I nodded. “Yes, it’s true.”

The person who had given birth to me said I was a dead loss, so I decided it really must be true. I was probably causing a nuisance to the neighbors just by existing. My sister said I gave her the creeps. I was such a useless lump that she felt stressed out just looking at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said, automatically bowing my head in apology.

“Oh, but no! No, it’s not the case at all,” the woman said, taken aback.

“Well, I have to go,” I said, bowing my head again, and I got on my bicycle and headed off to cram school.

“I mean really,” I heard Mom’s voice behind me. “Where on earth does that child get it from? She doesn’t take after us, that’s for sure.”

*

As I cycled past the rows of identical houses, I thought to myself again how much like nests they looked. They resembled a huge cocoon that Yuu and I had once found in the Akishina mountains.

My town was a collection of nests, a factory for manufacturing babies. I was a tool for the town’s good, in two senses.

Firstly, I had to study hard to become a work tool.

Secondly, I had to be a good girl, so that I could become a reproductive organ for the town.

I would probably be a failure on both counts, I thought.

__________________________________

Excerpted from Earthlings by Sayaka Murata. Excerpted with the permission of Grove Press. Copyright © 2020 by Sayaka Murata.




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