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  • Villon's Woman
  • Dazai Osamu (bio)
    Translated by Ralph McCarthy


I'm awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of the front door clattering open. I realize it's only my husband coming home drunk, however, and just lie here quietly in bed.

He switches on the light in the next room, and I can hear him panting noisily as he rummages through the drawers of his desk and bookcase, searching for something. Then he plops down heavily on the tatami mats, and all I hear is his husky, rapid breathing. I wonder what he's up to.

"Welcome back. Did you eat dinner? There are rice balls in the cupboard."

"Oh. Thank you," he says in a gentle tone I'm not accustomed to hearing from him. "How's the boy? Still got a fever?"

This, too, is unusual. Our son will be four next year, but whether because of a lack of nutrition, or his father's alcoholism, or some sort of disease, he's smaller than most two-year-olds and still can't walk very well. As for talking, the best he can manage are words like "yum-yum!" and "no!" I fear there's something wrong with his brain. When I take him to the public bath and hold his naked body, he's so heartbreakingly tiny and withered that I've been known to burst into tears, right there in front of everyone. He's sick a lot, too, forever having stomach problems or breaking out in a fever.

My husband rarely spends any time at home to speak of, and I have no idea what he thinks about all this. I'll tell him the boy is running a temperature, and he'll say something like, "Oh? Maybe you should take him to the doctor," then throw on his inverness and head off for parts unknown. I'd love to take the boy to a doctor, but it's not as if we have the money or means to do so. The best I can do is lie down beside him and stroke his little head.

But tonight, for some reason, my husband asks about the boy's fever and sounds genuinely concerned. That ought to make me happy, but instead I have this ominous feeling, and a chill runs down my spine. I'm lying here listening to my husband huff and puff, not knowing what to say, when I'm startled by the reedy voice of a woman at the front door. [End Page 95]

"Excuse me," she says. A shiver runs through me, as though I've been doused with cold water.

"Excuse me! Ohtani-san?" There's a little more irritation in her voice now. I hear her slide the door open, and this time, in a decidedly angry tone: "Ohtanisan! We know you're in there!"

At this point my husband finally goes to the door.

"What? What is it?" he says. He sounds terribly awkward and apprehensive.

"As if you don't know," the woman says, lowering her voice. "Why would a man with a fine house like this be stealing things? Stop with the nasty pranks and give it back. Give it back, or we're going straight to the police!"

"What are you talking about? How dare you. You people have no business coming here. Go away, or I'll be the one bringing charges."

Then another male voice speaks up.

"Sensei, you've got some nerve. We have no business coming here, you say? How are we even supposed to reply to that? Taking money from someone else's house is no joke! Don't you realize how much trouble you've caused us already? And now you pull a disgraceful stunt like this. I really misjudged you, Sensei."

"It's extortion," my husband proclaims, but his voice is quivering. "Blackmail is what it is. Get out of here. If you've got a problem, we can talk it over tomorrow."

"Listen to you. Sensei, you're a full-fledged criminal now. I guess we have no choice but to go to the police." The hatred in the man's...