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  • The Story of The Inflated Man
  • Kanai Mieko (bio)
    Translated by Hannah Osborne (bio)

I was introduced to an artist who only ever painted pictures of caves, and I listened to his story. This is what he told me.1

I never completely bought the story about the children kidnapped by the circus who were forced to drink vinegar because it made their bones supple; but I had no doubt that “once upon a time” this kind of thing really happened. That tale used to hide, coolly and quietly, among the ancestral ashes, in the middle of a darkened room, from where it would leak out in a faint, rasping voice. I had absolutely no idea exactly how long ago “once upon a time” meant, that had been left deliberately vague. In attempting to picture such a time in the past, I had to test the limits of my imagination; but I can only describe such an age as a vast sea of gray mist, absurdly surrealistic, or as a world that just simply didn’t exist. When I was little, of course, I didn’t realize that things such as “time” and “memory” existed inside of me. And while I responded sensitively to the stimuli of simple, everyday reality, I still had no awareness of the concept of “a void.” In other words, around that time, I had yet to encounter the Inflated Man, and I had never even seen a circus, not even once. However, I was fascinated by this circus that I had yet to see; it sounded like a perfect miniature world. If a museum is a compendium of everything dead from the whole of natural history, then the circus is a compendium of everything alive and exciting in the world, complete with a zoo and an aquarium. If memory serves, the first time I saw the circus was when I was seven, when a big circus troupe came to our park. In the wide-open space of the park grounds a huge khaki tent suddenly appeared one day, and just as suddenly disappeared on another. Now, what kind of shape was that circus tent? I must have seen it from somewhere afar, but to be frank, my memory remains a little sketchy here. I can remember the inside quite clearly—the look of the thick khaki fabric seen close up, the thick wire rope pulled taught to secure [End Page 234] the tent in place, the robust-looking steel pegs that were driven into the ground, and the cages of fierce animals lined up at the rear of the entrance—but I cannot recall the shape of the whole tent when seen from a distance. I suppose for kids who live in cities with zoos, wild animals and elephants are hardly something to drool over; but for kids like me from the country, the first chance to get close up to real predators was at this peripatetic zoo, the circus.

At the circus, the crowd turn their heads to watch the trapeze in mid-air—and wouldn’t it be great if I could remember the shape of the tent above, but, somehow, I only had a vague notion of height—at the time the only tents I knew were small, triangular ones for camping; so from the outset, I’d gone in believing that all tents were like that—indeed, I don’t even think it crossed my mind to consider what shape the circus tent might have been. But I was struck by how peculiar it was that there was a thing so immense that it couldn’t even fit into my field of vision; nevertheless, into it I went.

The breath-taking speed with which the circus materialized and then vanished aside, more than the circus itself (the “actual circus” to which my parents took me to see), I was bewitched by images of the circus. I became quite the expert. The circus was really exciting, and being a little child, I didn’t know how to regulate such excitement; indeed, after seeing it that first time, I broke out in a fever. The khaki-colored interior was as vibrant as a...