Excerpt

Fracture

Andrés Neuman trans. by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia

May 1, 2020 
The following is excerpted from the newly translated novel by Andrés Neuman. Neuman was selected as one of Granta's Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists and was elected to the Bogotá-39 list. Traveler of the Century was the winner of the Alfaguara Prize and the National Critics Prize, Spain's two most prestigious literary awards, as well as a special commendation from the jury of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

The sky pierces the transparent roof: an endless blue tile. Mr. Watanabe has to make an effort not to be distracted by that other landscape circulating above his head. In the end, he thinks, we never look where we should.

The road looks unnervingly clear. He scarcely passes any other vehicles. Some parts are still full of cracks from the floods and the shifting of the tectonic plates. From time to time there is a brief rumble beneath the wheels, like bags full of air popping.

At intervals, Watanabe drives past small police checkpoints. The officers cast him strange looks. A few order him to stop the car, give information about the state of the roads, and ask him questions before allowing him on his way.

Perhaps because he’s afraid the truth won’t sound plausible, he tells one officer he’s writing an article for a Tokyo newspaper. He tells the next one he’s making a documentary about the tsunami. He explains to the following one that he works in television (well, he thinks, that isn’t so far from the truth). The next one seems more mulish, and he tells him that he has relatives who have been affected. Every good lie, reflects Watanabe, is based on different layers of truth.

He can’t find any music he likes, and keeps the car radio tuned to the news. In different locations across the region, the radio informs, radioactivity twenty-five times above the maximum safety level has been detected. Despite appeals for caution, the hypothesis has begun to spread that people residing in those areas won’t be able to return to their homes for a long time. If at all.

A river of cracks down the asphalt. Bags of air beneath the wheels.

*

In the prefecture of Iwate, as the sunroof frames midday, Mr. Watanabe turns toward the coast. The GPS informs him he is approaching Rikuzentakata, a place that remains associated in his mind with an unfortunate headline: wave wipes quiet coastal village off the map.

To be expelled from the map, wiped off the planet. To cease being real. “The town no longer exists,” he’d read in March. And yet its name is still there, flickering on the radar. He imagines a silhouette traced around a hole, like the chalk drawing around a corpse. He wonders what difference there is between disappearing beneath a ring of fire and a blow from the ocean.

His car moves forward, he enters the town, and he both wants and doesn’t want to get out. He is surrounded by a landscape in pieces, but he only looks straight ahead. He looks only at the ocean.

A couple of kilometers further, the beach comes into view. He steers along mud paths hardened by the sun. He gets as close as he can and leans his head out of the window. The murmur of waves fuses with the noise of cranes.

He stops the car, climbs out, and runs toward the beach.

He is running fast in his mind, slowly in his body.

In the distance, one of the workmen watches him with dismay, fearing perhaps that he means to plunge in fully clothed and be carried away by the current.

But Mr. Watanabe stops running, drained from his exertions, startled all of a sudden by a tree on the shore. A tree that is no longer really visible.

Only the base and roots remain. The water’s axe has lopped off almost the entire trunk and has sliced a meter into the earth where the tree once grew. With its roots exposed to the elements, the stump now looks like a hesitant spider or a paralyzed crab.

As he walks back to his car, he contemplates the reconstruction work. Its painful slowness. Its patience from another era. Its conviction.

Then he notices that a man is waiting for him next to the car. He is wearing a hi-vis jacket and a safety helmet that doesn’t seem to offer much protection. They both bow at the same time, as if they had seen the same object on the floor.

A journalist? asks the man.

Just curious, replies Watanabe.

What’s the difference? the man says with a grin.

During their exchange, he learns that Toshiki lost his wife on the day of the tsunami. The wave took her and she hasn’t turned up yet. Toshiki knows she won’t come back, but he’d like to recover her body. To have somewhere he can visit her. He is now working as a volunteer, he explains, so that he doesn’t go crazy. He helps the fire department, who have lost most of their men, and the local health services, which still can’t cope.

Before leaving, Watanabe asks if he has thought of moving away, of starting a new life. Toshiki removes his helmet. He is completely bald and yet smooths his head. He gazes at the sea and replies: I like this town. I want to live here. This place exists. It’s ours.

*

As he drives on in his car, Watanabe observes the intricate destruction all around him, as though a flotilla of ships had smashed to smithereens on the shore. Yet, despite everything, the destruction is matched by a sense of order. Every vestige has been classified, gathered, and organized with an almost unreal efficiency that inspires as much horror as the preceding chaos. The pine trees are piled up alongside one another. Remnants of houses are also heaped up, outlines of the homes they once were. Cars are pressed together like an exaggerated sculpture made of millions of beer cans.

All this apocalyptic symmetry, Watanabe imagines, is a part of some industry whose aim is to dismantle and undo. To de-produce.

Clouds cross the sunroof as he drives through the outskirts of Ōfunato. He lowers the window. He breathes in what he is seeing. The mountains and the sea seem to be arguing: cool air descending from one, a wave of humidity rising from the other.

He zigzags through streets that have lost their edges. Their steel girders torn out, the buildings also reveal their roots. Others preserve a precise memory of the water, thermometers unable to forget the sickness that assailed them: the first floor ruptured completely, the second badly damaged, the third with a few blemishes, the fourth filthy, the fifth intact.

As he drives on in his car, Watanabe observes the intricate destruction all around him, as though a flotilla of ships had smashed to smithereens on the shore.

By the road, a drinks vending machine flashes. He pulls up across from it and stares at the lengthy cable trailing behind a wall. The machine is still lit up, colorful, inexplicably upright, like a drunken sentry who hasn’t realized that the enemy has already attacked. All at once, every object appears to have some other meaning. Maybe because destruction is illegible, a language no one can speak.

Only then does he become aware of the hollow sensation in his stomach, the throbbing at his temples, the dryness in his mouth. He feels in his trouser pocket for some change. He steps out of the car. He inserts the coins into the luminous slot.

Nothing happens, except for the noise of the wind.

*

To the west of the city there are open windows. Next to one of the open windows is a garden. In the garden is a little girl. In that little girl is fear. That would be the summary of his first scouting mission in Sōma.

He has just leaned over the fence, said hello to her, noticed her distrust. Watched her play in the late afternoon. Observed with relief, and secret surprise, that a little girl is still able to have fun with a Hula-Hoop. He has marveled at the speed of her waist. Reflected on how this small body is the center of all concentric circles, the reason why the future will go on spinning despite everything. He remained silent as long as necessary, waiting for her to come over to him.

My name is Midori, the little girl says, still making the hoop spin.

I imagined so, Mr. Watanabe smiles.

What did you imagine?

That your name was Midori. I could tell.

She stops spinning, grasping the hoop as she looks askance at him. Her disbelief gradually melts before the seriousness of his gaze.

What’s your daughter’s name? Midori asks.

I don’t have any children, replies Watanabe.

Really? she says, astonished.

If we all had children, he says, there would be too many people.

Here, there aren’t too many people. There aren’t enough children. My best friend isn’t here.

And where has she gone?

I don’t know. She went away with her parents. At school they say she’s coming back soon.

And what do your parents say? Why did they stay?

I don’t know. Dad and Mom say there’s nothing dangerous here. And if Dad and Mom say that, it’s because there’s no danger.

Mr. Watanabe contemplates her in silence.

That’s right, isn’t it? Midori insists. Isn’t it?

He smiles. Her doubts dispelled, the hoop starts to spin more energetically than before.

At the far end of the garden, a curtain is quickly drawn.

*

He walks at a brisk pace. It’s already getting dark. He needs a hotel and a restaurant. Or possibly a hotel with a good restaurant; he is more hungry than sleepy.

Suddenly, he hears a voice and comes to a halt. A voice that resembles a song and a prayer. He follows the plangent trail. Beneath a dissenting cherry tree still in bloom, he makes out an old man. Shabbily dressed, eyes closed, and a half smile on his lips, the old man is singing in a childish tone: Sakura sakura yayoi no sora wa . . .

Watanabe stops to listen, partly because the voice intrigues him and partly because he is waiting for the old man to open his eyes. He wants to see what they look like. For them to look at each other.

Good evening, sir, good evening, a passing couple greets him.

They walk arm in arm, obviously out of step. The man struggles with a stiff left leg. She pauses at each step, bringing her shoes together before taking the next one.

Watanabe returns their greeting and when he bows, he discovers with embarrassment the muddy marks on his own shoes.

They introduce themselves briefly. They motion toward their house somewhere in the distance. He tells them the near truth. It becomes immediately obvious that the Arakakis are one of those couples who disagree with one another by default.

This is the best time of day for a stroll, wouldn’t you say, declares Mr. Arakaki. There’s the breeze, and it’s cooler out.

Yes, says Mrs. Arakaki, but it’s a bit late.

All the better. That way we work up an appetite.

But then you eat practically nothing.

Watanabe tries to agree with both of them, even as he glances sidelong at the cherry tree.

Do you know him? asks Mr. Arakaki.

Sorry, who? replies Watanabe, distracted.

Old Kobayashi. He’s a little touched, if you get my meaning. He lives off handouts. He’s been here who knows how many years.

He does handicrafts, too, adds Mrs. Arakaki. And he isn’t all that crazy. He’s a very nice man.

I never said he wasn’t nice, her husband retorts.

I know. He’s simply a free man.

There’s no such thing as a free man.

But some are freer than others.

When old Kobayashi has finished singing, he pulls open a plastic bag, extracts a chamber pot, and exclaims contentedly: Chirp, chirp!

*

As they bump along together, they tell him about the city’s precarious recovery. Mr. Arakaki praises the groups of volunteers that are helping with the relief efforts. His wife declares that life returned to normal when the government started to collect the garbage again. Garbage, thinks Watanabe, the height of normalcy. Together the couple laments (and their agreement on this one point creates an almost disturbing effect) that the delivery companies still won’t service their region, as they have a fragile parcel they wish to send to their daughter in Tokyo. They explain that it’s a glass dinner set for her wedding anniversary.

Do you know what I read the other day? says Mrs. Arakaki. That when water is served in beautifully colored glasses, the taste of it changes. It’s scientifically proven.

Scientifically? says her husband. Are you kidding me?

Yabai! she replies, losing her patience. The power of suggestion has a scientific basis too. Psychology proves it.

Everything’s scientific nowadays!

You may know a great deal about taxes and invoices, but you know nothing about colors.

The discussion continues for a while. Until, turning toward Watanabe, the couple asks his opinion. They seem prepared to accept his verdict, whatever it is.

To avoid offending either of them, he offers to deliver the parcel to their daughter in person as soon as he gets back to Tokyo.

Moved by the proposal, the Arakakis shower him with thanks and insist he dine with them. He tries to refuse. He explains he has been driving all day, that he is looking for a hotel and that, given the hour, he would be most grateful if they could recommend one. The Arakakis shake their heads in unison. They make all kinds of exclamations. They entreat him not only to dine with them, but also to stay the night at their house.

It’s the least we can do, Mr. Arakaki concludes.

You can’t imagine how happy this will make my daughter, Mrs. Arakaki adds, tugging at his arm.

*

He settles himself in the guest room. Which is in fact their daughter’s old room, untouched since her departure. Photographs showing the speedy development of the absent girl, posters narrating her evolution from princess to goth, school certificates, picture books, necklaces and bracelets, gadgets that were once technological novelties and the cause of an ephemeral enthusiasm. Everything is immobile, as if time’s batteries had run out before the astonished gaze of a thousand toy animals.

Once we reach a certain age, Mr. Watanabe reflects as he connects his phone to the charger, our houses stop moving. It happens little by little, without us noticing. The windows start to shut. The present ceases to run through the corridors. It’s not until a stranger—or a much younger person— enters, that everything becomes terrifyingly clear. Then, every detail betrays us. Every object loudly professes just how much its owner has aged.

Someone knocks several times on the door, causing a tiny gorilla on the adjacent shelf to wobble. Mrs. Arakaki announces that dinner is ready.

The table is laid with far more food than three people can eat. Watanabe attributes this excess to his hosts’ hospitality, and possibly also a longing for family feasts. The three of them clink glasses.

This sake, says Mr. Arakaki as he raises the drink to his lips, is wonderful. We buy it from a brewery in the Aizu valley, in the west of the prefecture. They don’t filter or pasteurize it after the fermentation process. And it’s made exclusively using rice from our region. What a shame they have nothing like this in Tokyo.

Watanabe keeps the wine in his mouth for longer than is polite.

*

He divides his attention between the damaged asphalt, the map on the GPS, and the see-through roof. He makes up for the loneliness of his journey by imagining, as he did when he was a child, that he’s competing with the clouds. He still isn’t sure who is chasing whom.

For an instant, he has the impression that a piece of cloud is falling onto the road.

There are an increasing number of potholes, cracks, abandoned objects. After driving for so many hours, he is no longer alarmed by the jolts to the wheel, the steering going off course, or the unforeseen obstacles.

But whatever has just struck the front of the vehicle doesn’t resemble any of that. The force of it was something else. The sound different.

Watanabe grinds to a halt, climbs out of the car, walks back.

And he sees a dog writhing.

The first thing he does, in vain, is to look all around in search of some kind of help, which he knows won’t be forthcoming. He is unable to muster another reaction. All he can do is spin in circles. The landscape, the light, the objects, everything shrinks before his eyes.

He only sees his most recent gestures, the last few seconds, as if he were still in the act of slamming the brakes.

He was distracted, and he didn’t see it. He didn’t see it, and it was there.

In this area, he surmises, there must be legions of pets roaming the countryside, abandoned by owners who’d left their homes, believing they would be shortly returning.

This dog, for instance, what’s left of its breathing presence, is wearing some sort of collar.

There must also be a fair number of cattle wandering aimlessly, hoping for an unlikely survival. He remembers reading, back when the subject scarcely mattered to him, something about these animals being slaughtered, and compensation being paid to their owners.

He makes up for the loneliness of his journey by imagining, as he did when he was a child, that he’s competing with the clouds.

Health, money, slaughter.

Watanabe realizes he has killed, is about to kill for the first time in his life. Something is instantly activated in his body, something that originates deep in his gut.

There’s no other way out for this mound of blood, fur, and helplessness, which he is incapable of looking in the eye.

Yet, at the very least, he owes it that: a look. To take in its existence. To acknowledge what he is killing.

His stares fixedly into the animal’s eyes. Then he gets into the car, puts the gear into reverse and rolls over it again.

*

The GPS spews out places, roads, distances. He drives on and on toward the south. The forbidden east seems so close on the map, so far beyond his capabilities. Watanabe again feels an intermittent tightness in his chest. Why does this sensation come and go?

What’s choking me, he thinks, is this detour.

He takes a deep breath. He looks at the wheel purring in his hands. And, at the first opportunity, turns abruptly to the left.

Leaving the main road behind, he slows down as he enters a bumpy back path that no one has bothered to guard or block off. It’s a steep, winding track, surrounded by mountains filled with moist green, patches of shadow, and fragments of sunlight.

Mr. Watanabe proceeds slowly east toward the coast he was avoiding and desires. Gradually he is penetrating the periphery of the prohibited zone, the realm of the last circle.

Halfway along the path, he makes out the columns of a Shinto shrine. He doesn’t stop.

*

Once he has climbed the mountain, he exits onto a wide highway. The glare forces him to change into his sunglasses again. He picks up his speed and his journey south.

As is his custom when in doubt, he allows himself to be carried by his own momentum, waiting for some kind of trigger; he lets the random signs decide for him.

Soon afterward, amid the cracks in the asphalt, he comes to a fork in the road. Its choices diverge like a pair of trousers about to tear. He slams on the brakes.

Ovine clouds drift over the sunroof.

Mr. Watanabe consults the screen. The profusion of data doesn’t help him decide, so he unfolds his old printed map. There he sees that one of the branches leads to the tiny village of Hirodai.

Mr. Watanabe drives on, steering between the cracks.

*

The car advances with the rhythm of a horse, avoiding the fissures so the wheels won’t get stuck. It is more like a jigsaw puzzle of a path. Watanabe imagines that each piece contains the hint of a movement, a possible detour to somewhere else.

He comes to a halt at the entrance of the village, which is located at the top of a slight hill. According to the GPS, at this very moment he is twenty kilometers from the nuclear power station, on the exact edge of the critical zone. Neither inside nor outside.

He steps out of the car. This time he decides not to look at the dosimeter.

He begins to walk around Hirodai. The fact that this is the closest he has ever set foot to the Fukushima plant makes him feel he’s floating, and his shoes sink less into the ground.

His first impression of the village isn’t the accumulation of things and spaces that comprise it, but the overwhelming sum of its silence. A very specific silence that Watanabe recalls having heard only once before in his life. There are peaceful silences that are a cure for noise, and others that emphasize absence.

And farther away, in the distant background, the sea. The echo of the waves, which his experienced ear instantly associates with the swish of a cassette tape or the crackle of vinyl, just before the music starts.

Since his arrival, Mr. Watanabe’s sense of smell has been sending him disconcerting signals. He has the impression that this place somehow smells like yesterday. As if smells reach his nose with a delay, like when sound and image are out of sync.

He wonders whether Hirodai is like this at all hours of the day, or if the remaining inhabitants are finishing their lunch. He heads toward the town center. Everything looks as unscathed as it does deserted. Streets without cars. Houses without inhabitants. Shops without customers. Schools without students. This is the without town, he thinks. There’s no destruction: just subtraction. A pure subtraction. A number minus itself.

Everything has the look of a house that’s for sale. Lowered blinds, parched flowerpots. Dried mud on the benches, fountains no longer running. Squares visited only by the cats and dogs that run over to lick his shoes. Buses with seats draped in white fabric, transporting ghosts. Closed temples. Idle offices, bureaucracies that have finally achieved perfection.

*

Watanabe finally comes across a few people, all of them elderly, moving slowly along and propping themselves against walls. Gazing into infinity, their faces covered with surgical masks.

All children and young people appear to have been evacuated. Only grandparents, great-grandparents, elderly widows and widowers chose to remain. This place, he reflects, has turned into a kind of demographic prophecy. The rehearsal of a future where only the past exists. Chained to a post, a bicycle leans.

All of a sudden, on a street corner, he sees an old man kicking the air. He seems to be carefully following the movements of something Watanabe can’t see, possibly an insect or something stuck to his trouser leg.

Mr. Watanabe approaches gingerly. When they are almost on top of each other, the old man raises his head and asks his name.

Ah, says the old man. I met a Yoshie many years ago. His family was from Toyama. Good people. They loved the sea. He studied things. Strange things. I once saw his photograph in the newspaper because he had died. My name is Sumiteru, a pleasure.

Unable to curb his curiosity, Watanabe asks what the old man had been doing before he walked up to him.

When? replies Sumiteru. Just now? Ah, playing soccer. I always wanted to. When I was young, when our country won the bronze medal, I dreamed of going to the Olympics. Back then no one around here had the slightest interest in soccer. But it’s never too late to play.

*

On his way back to the car, he walks past the entrance to a small guesthouse. In carefully painted lettering, a sign announces: hinodeso modern minshuku. Although it gives every impression of being closed, the sound of a radio reaches him from inside. With nothing to lose, and assuming there won’t be many choices of places to stay, he calls out a couple of times.

The radio falls silent. After a long pause, footsteps grow louder as they approach the door.

A stocky man in a stained apron appears, a pair of rubber gloves dangling from the pocket. The stains don’t look as though they were made by food, but something thicker and shinier.

Bowing, Mr. Watanabe explains he is searching for somewhere to stay the night. The man bows in return and ushers him inside.

The Hinodeso guesthouse looks modest but pleasant. Apparently Mr. Satō, its owner, is the sole occupant.

Forgive me for taking so long to open the door, says Mr. Satō. I was out in the back, repairing some ceramics. Do you like kintsugi?

More and more, replies Watanabe.

Do you practice it?

You could say that.

I used to when I was young. Then, what with the family, I let it slide. Until I said to myself recently: why not? Naturally, I only use cheap objects. What’s important is repairing them. Do you have a moment?

Mr. Satō hurries off, disappearing into the back of the building. He returns holding a cracked bowl in both hands. Gold radiates from the base, as if it were supporting a sun tree.

Look, says the owner, what lovely cracks.

*

When Watanabe confirms that he wishes to stay at the hostel, Mr. Satō glances toward the entrance, and—with the expression of someone contemplating an endless line of people waiting—announces that the house will offer him the biggest room at the standard price. He thanks the man with a sardonic grimace and goes outside to fetch his luggage.

On his return, the owner is no longer wearing his apron and has adopted an air of enthusiastic efficiency. He asks Watanabe if he is hungry. He admits he is. The owner instantly brings him soup with tempura left over from his lunch. He downs the remains with a voracity he himself finds surprising. His host sits down across from him.

There were thousands of us here in Hirodaimachi, says Mr. Satō. Now only twenty or thirty are left. At first, I thought of leaving, like everyone else. How could I not be worried about Fukushima? But I felt I didn’t have the strength to move and the town, as you’ve seen, is intact. As we’re on a hill, the tsunami didn’t affect us. Besides, where would I go at my age? I prefer to stay in my own home. My memories are here and memories need their own space, don’t you think? What I miss most are my grandchildren. My daughter Suzu decided to take them away with her until the situation improves. I agree it’s for the best. I hope they’ll be able to come back soon. Life without grandchildren is too long. That’s what my deceased wife used to say. Do you remember Kurosawa’s seven?

Watanabe nods, finishing the soup with a slight sucking sound.

That’s how I want to go, Mr. Satō continues. Listening to the sails of a windmill. Or in the mountains, like my grandfather. My grandfather loved the mountains. Whenever he had a problem, he would leave the village and climb to the top of Mount Otakine to meditate. Do you know what he did when he realized he no longer had the strength to carry on climbing? He decided to go up one last time and there he stayed, waiting for the end.

And how long did your grandfather have to wait up there? asks Watanabe, wiping the corners of his mouth.

To be honest, I don’t know, replies Mr. Satō. It was before I was born. My father told me about it.

*

The afternoon burns his forehead. He has left his phone charging in his room but doesn’t care. He has just set a goal for himself that enthuses him: to meet every remaining inhabitant of this abandoned village. He wants to see, greet, approach those people. Mr. Watanabe feels they all belong to the same family, a small gathering of the last ones.

Wandering away from the town center, Yoshie makes out in the distance a tiny old woman in a doorway, wrapped prematurely in a shawl, as if the chill to come at nightfall could make her catch a cold beforehand.

As he draws nearer and his tired eyes start to focus on the old lady, Mr. Watanabe realizes she is positioned differently than he’d first thought. Or rather, even if he had perceived her correctly, his mind modified the image to make sense of it. She isn’t facing the street leaning against the door, but rather the exact opposite. She has her back to him and her face is pressed up against the door, like a salamander.

He is only able to discern her movements once he is a few meters closer: the old lady is trying to force the lock using some sort of implement, pushing the door with an aggression incongruous with someone her age. (And gender, thinks Watanabe; then recalls his arguments with Lorrie and feels ashamed in mid-thought.)

Hearing his footsteps, she stops pummeling the door and turns toward him, giving him her sweetest smile. She asks if he’s connected with the police. He introduces himself, explains that he is passing through and that he is staying at the Hinodeso guesthouse. She welcomes him to Hirodai. Declares that she is pleased to meet him, but doesn’t mention her name.

I’ve run out of rice, the old lady explains, concealing the implement beneath her shawl. No rice and no preserves. I know that my neighbors have some. They left weeks ago, or was it months, I don’t remember. They have some, I’m sure. It’s difficult to cook here. What would you do without rice?

I’d order sushi over the phone, replies Watanabe, failing in his attempt to crack a joke.

She fixes him with her stern gaze.

They don’t need the rice, she says, or the preserves. Don’t you think it’s a waste? All that food in there. I’ve seen it from the yard, on the shelves. If they come back one day, I’ll apologize and thank them. There are several jars, all full.

He nods, preoccupied by the blotches on her hands, her raised knuckles: an archipelago with five stony islands.

Now, sir, the old lady adds with a bow, if you’ll excuse me . . .

And she brusquely resumes her hammering, paying him no more attention, as if Watanabe had vanished into thin air.

*

What about the trains? he wonders some time later, what’s become of the trains that no longer depart, the cars no one enters, the platforms waiting for someone to wait on them? What fraction of the world’s journeys is lost each time a train remains in place?

All the lines that used to run through the region, a couple of incalculable age informs him in wispy voices, have been suspended. It is suspected that the tracks linking the town to Hirono, Hisanohama, and other places might contain high levels of radiation due to the transport of waste from the nuclear power plant.

Mr. Watanabe asks for directions and heads for the station.

No sooner has he entered the building than a rumble of metal startles him. A screech in motion, rotating, growing.

A moment later, he sees the man in a wheelchair.

The man coming toward him, screeching as he smiles.

His name is Mr. Nakasone, a former ticket collector at the station. He worked here all his life, he says, until he had the accident. He has never lived anywhere else. In his present condition, moving out of his home would create more problems than it would solve. He now depends on the few families who have stayed behind. While there’s at least one neighbor willing to help, he prefers to remain. He has two homes, counting the station. The trains are his family, he explains.

Those trains that he has seen depart and arrive so often he has lost count, he recalls, motioning into the distance. He means this literally: for many years he kept a precise tally of the number of train services he supervised. Not out of vanity, he adds, but just to be aware of the passage of time.

They move together toward the platforms. Watanabe offers to push the wheelchair, Mr. Nakasone refuses with an abrupt gesture. He immediately changes his mind, and rubs his forearms.

It’s not because of my arms, he clarifies, but because it’s comforting.

They advance in silence along the station walkway. The only noise is the screech of wheels, like a stream of rodents.

Watanabe notices the old clock presiding over the entrance to the platforms. It is speckled with shadows.

Isn’t it a bit behind? he comments.

That clock hasn’t worked for years, replies Mr. Nakasone.

Lifting some caution tape out of the way, they emerge into the open air. The heat is starting to subside. The light divides, rectifies the tracks.

It’s very strange, says the former ticket collector. The platforms seem smaller when they are deserted like this.

They approach the tracks. Look down at them.

Are there only these two platforms? Watanabe asks.

Only these two, Mr. Nakasone nods. One to arrive and the other to leave. No need for more.

__________________________________

Excerpted from Fracture by Andrés Neuman. © 2018 by Andrés Neuman. Translation copyright © by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.




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