Misao’s Mother’s Brain
by Antoine Bargel
My friend Misao lives with her aging parents in a popular district of Tokyo, in a small wooden house located right next to a suburban train line. About thirty times a day, the whole house suddenly starts shaking and for a few seconds, all one can hear is the deafening rattle of the train going by.
Misao’s mother had a car accident when she was in her fifties. “She lost a part of her brain,” Misao told me, tracing a large circle on her forehead with her index finger. “At first, the doctors said that she was not going to make it, but after a week in a coma, she woke up and started talking. The doctors could not find anything wrong, so they let her go home. When she left the hospital, one of the nurses gave my mother a jar containing the piece of her brain that the surgeon had taken out during the operation.
“My mother was very happy about it,” Misao said. “She disposed of the jar and picked a special drawer in the kitchen to store the small piece of brain that soon became all dried up. When people came to the house, she liked to take it out and show it to them. Actually, what she did was hand it to them and say nothing, just smile, and it was me who had to explain to the guest what they were holding. People would try their best to hide their surprise, then bow multiple times and quickly return it to her.
“Once, an American friend was visiting me,” Misao said, “and my mother put the piece of her brain in his hand while I went to the bathroom. It was my friend’s first time in Japan, so he thought it was a cookie or cake and that it would be polite to eat it. When I came back from the bathroom, I saw him about to put the piece of my mother’s brain in his mouth and I yelled for him to stop! Just then, a train went by.”
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Antoine Bargel is a French-born writer and translator of fiction and poetry. His work has been published in France by Gallimard, Mercure de France, Triages, Harfang, and others. This is his first U.S. publication.