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Yamanoha Nobuko (1941– ) Yamanoha was born in Nago, in northern Okinawa, where she lives today. She is among a growing number of Okinawan writers, many of them women, who began publishing in local forums during the 1980s and whose stories focus not on the war or occupation, but rather on contemporary Okinawan life in relation to the natural landscape and traditional religious beliefs. As of September 1999, Yamanoha had written fifty-five stories, most of which were published in the small-circulation magazines of private literary circles. “Will o’ the Wisp” (Onibi), however, appeared in the Ryu -kyu - shinpo - in 1985 and won the newspaper’s Short Story Prize for that year. This story draws on a local superstition that the ghosts of drowning victims pull others into the ocean to assuage their chagrin. 234 235 Will o’ the Wisp  Yamanoha Nobuko Mommy, Mommy. The voice was faint at first and didn’t register. Through thick layers it reached her, jolting her to consciousness. She wanted to wriggle, but she couldn’t move, as if steel reinforcements ran through the center of her body. She felt trapped in cement, gooey cement that had just been poured around her body without leaving her an inch of space. She opened her eyes suddenly, which smarted immediately from the cold. It was water, the weight of water that was constricting her. Saltiness assailed her nostrils and overflowed into her already open mouth. The sea! she shouted, and the pressure of the water thrust her upward, knocking her against some rocks. She felt the back of her head and her spine being gently crushed. Bubbles glistened in a row along a single strand of her disheveled, swaying black hair. There was no sunlight ; only the glow of the water gave the dimness its form. A ceiling of stone; below, only the dark depths. Something like mist settled around her; shuddering, she felt as if goblin-like creatures were gushing from her in rapid succession. She floated face down, her arms extended above her. Fishes of all sizes and kinds schooled around her, nibbling on her body. She felt no pain—only a strange lingering itchiness. Looking around, she saw innumerable small bugs squirming everywhere in the water, drifting and dissolving in it as if they made up its very substance. The bugs, forming a ring and coiling around her like smoke, pricked her skin. The itchiness abated. It was as though the water bugs had settled in her central nervous system. She felt as cold as if she had been shut up, half-cooked, in a freezer. This was the middle of an ocean begging to be described as muddy, it was so filled with tiny living things. There, in a tunnel connecting the yato, the big hollows in the immense reef: that’s where Yu -ko was. Perhaps she had drowned; her body seemed swollen, and her clothes were torn. Where are you? Yu -ko asked, searching for the voice. I’m here! In here. The voice came from her belly. “Ah!” she gasped, startled. She noticed her body, plump like a medaka fish, a vivid reminder that she was seven months along. Am I . . . not going to be born? A boy’s voice called from inside her. The voiced seeped through a membrane in her belly, a membrane not quite yellow though not transparent either, a membrane oddly sticky like the film on milk. Oh? You’re a boy. Can you see Mommy? Yu -ko was shocked to hear the word “Mommy” coming from her own mouth. I can’t see you, but I think I understand. I see. She felt a strange tickle. A child was definitely growing in her womb—a boy, the child of Nakajima Kazuhiko. Mommy, am I not going to be born? the voice in her belly asked a second time. Could she give birth to this child? Yu -ko looked on as a fish chewed off pieces of her flesh. Her skin, as white as if bleached, split open here and there like a ripe pomegranate , and blood oozed out from one vein after another only to vanish . Her body felt slippery like a fish. She had a twinge of apprehension as the black wall of water beat against her. Staring at the large fish directly in front of her eyes, Yu -ko thought, Maybe this little boy is merely borrowing the sack in my belly. If my belly were ripped open, he would be sucked...


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