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Number 9 Dream Part 31

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'Life.' No, her knitting needles make the sound of a blind man's stick.

'Nine years ago. How did you know?'

'I shall be eighty-one on Thursday week.' Her mind is wandering, or mine is plodding. She yawns. Tiny, white teeth. I think of Cat. She unpicks a stitch. 'Dreams are shores where the ocean of spirit meets the land of matter. Beaches where the yet-to-be, the once-were, the will-never-be may walk amid the still-are. You believe I am an old woman hoary with superstition, and possibly deranged to boot.' I could not have put it that well. 'Of course I am deranged. How else could I know what I know?'

I am afraid of offending her, so I ask what she thinks my dream means.

She smiles toothily. She knows I am patronizing her. 'You are wanted.'



'Wanted? By... ?'

'I do not give free consultations. Take your persimmon, boy.'

Miyazaki is toytown after Tokyo. At the bus station I go to the tourist information office to ask about the clinic where my mother is staying. Nobody has heard of it, but when I show the address I am told I will need to get on a local bus headed for Kirishima. The next one is not for over an hour, so I go to the station bathroom, clean my teeth, and sit down in the waiting room drinking a can of sweet cold coffee, watching the buses and passengers come and go. Miyazaki people amble. The clouds are in no hurry and a fountain makes rainbows under palm trees. A retired dog with cloudy eyes comes to sniff hello. A very pregnant mother tries to control a clutch of floppy, spring-heeled children. I remember my persimmon my grandmother says pregnant women must never eat persimmons and peel it with my penknife. I get sticky fingers, but the fruit is pearly and perfect. I spit out shiny stones. One of the boys has just learned to whistle but he can only do one tune. The mother watches the kids leap along the plastic seats. I wonder where their father is. Only when they start playing with a fire extinguisher does she say anything: 'If you touch that, the bus men will be angry!' I go for a walk. In a gift shop still with its unsold 1950s stock I find a bowl of faded plastic fruit with smiley faces. I buy it for Buntaro to get him back for my Zizzi key-holder. At a Lawsons I buy a tube of champagne bombs and read magazines until the bus arrives. I should be nervous, I guess, but I lack the energy. I don't know what day it is, even.

I expect a smartish institution with carparks and wheelchair ramps on the outskirts of town instead, the bus follows a lane deep into the countryside. Over a thousand yen later a farmer on the bus points me down a country road and tells me to walk until the road becomes a track and the track runs out. 'Can't miss it,' he insists, which usually spells disaster. A hillside of pines sheers up on one side; on the other, early rice is being harvested and hung out to dry. I find a big, flat, round stone on the track. Crickets trill and ratchet in Morse. I put the stone in my backpack. The cosmos is flowering mauve, magenta and white. All this space. All this air. I walk, and walk. I begin to worry after twenty minutes I can see the end of the lane, but there is still no clinic in sight. Comic-horror scarecrows leer. Big heads, bony necks. The road runs out of tarmac, and I can see that the track dies altogether at a group of old farm buildings at the foot of an early autumn mountain. Sweat pools in the small of my back I must smell none too fresh. Did the bus driver let me off at the wrong stop? I decide to ask at the farmhouse. A skylark stops singing and the silence is loud. Vegetable plots, sunflowers, blue sheets hanging in the sun. A traditional thatched teahouse stands on a small rise in a rockery taken over by couch grass. I am already past the gate when I see the hand-painted sign: Miyazaki Mountain Clinic. Despite the signs of life, nobody is around. I see no bell or buzzer near the front door, so I just open the door and enter a cool reception room where a woman a cleaner? in a white uniform is organizing mountains of files into hills. It is a losing battle. She sees me. 'Hi.'

'Hello. Could I, uh, speak to the nurse in charge, please?'

'You can speak with me, if you like. Suzuki. Doctor. You are?'

'Uh, Eiji Miyake. I'm here to meet my mother a patient. Mariko Miyake.'

Dr Suzuki makes an ahaaaaaaaa noise. 'And a very welcome guest you are too, Eiji Miyake. Yes, our prodigal sister has been on tenterhooks all morning. We prefer the word 'members' to 'patients', if that doesn't sound too cultish. We were expecting you to call from Miyazaki: did you have any trouble finding us? I'm afraid we are rather a long way out. I believe solitude can be therapeutic in our hemmed-in lives. Have you eaten? Everyone is having lunch in the refectory.'

'I had a rice-ball on the bus...'

Doctor Suzuki sees I am nervous about meeting my mother with an audience looking on. 'Why don't you wait in the teahouse, then? We are rather proud of it one of our members was a tea-master, and will be again, if I have any say in the matter. He modelled it on Senno-Soyeki's teahouse. I'll go tell your mother her visitor is here.'

'Doctor-'

Dr Suzuki swivels around on one foot. 'Yes?'

'Nothing.'

I think she smiles. 'Just be who you are.'

I take off my shoes and sit in the cool, four-and-a-half-mat hut. I watch the humming garden. Bees, runner beans, lavender. I drink some barley tea warm now, and frothed up from the bottle I bought in Miyazaki. Kneeling on the ceiling, a papyrus butterfly folds its wings. I lie back and close my eyes, just for a moment.

New York billows snow and grey crows. I know the driver of my big yellow taxi, but her name escapes while I look for it. I wade through journalists and their bug-eyed lenses into the recording studio, where John Lennon is swigging his barley tea. 'Eiji! Your guitar had given up all hope.' Since I was twelve, I have wanted to meet this demi-god. My dream has come true, and my English is a hundred times better than I dared hope, but all I can think of to say is 'Sorry I'm late, Mr Lennon'. The great man shrugs exactly like Yuzu Daimon. 'After nine years of learning my songs you can call me John. Call me anything. Except Paul.' We all laugh at this. 'Let me introduce you to the rest of the band. Yoko you already met at Karuizawa one summer, on our bicycles-' Yoko Ono is dressed like the Queen of Spades. 'It's all right, Sean,' she tells me, 'Mummy's only looking for her hand in the snow.' This strikes us as very funny indeed. John Lennon then points to the piano. 'And on keyboards, ladies and genitals, may I introduce Mr Claude Debussy.' The composer sneezes and a tooth flies out, which causes a new round of laughter yet more teeth fall out, causing yet more laughter. 'My pianist friend, Ai Imajo,' I tell Debussy, 'worships your work. She won a scholarship for the Paris Conservatoire, only her father has forbidden her to go.' My French is perfect, too! 'Then her father is a beshatted boar with pox,' says Debussy, on his knees to gather up his teeth. 'And your Ms Imajo is a woman of distinction. Tell her to go! I always had a penchant for Asian ladies.'

I am in Ueno park, among the bushes and tents where the homeless people live. I feel this is a slightly inappropriate place for an interview, but it was John's idea. 'John what is "Tomorrow Never Knows" actually about?'

John pulls a philosopher pose. 'I never knew.'

We giggle helplessly. 'But you wrote it!'

'No, Eiji, I never...' He dabs his tears away. 'It wrote me!'

At that moment Doi lifts the tent flap and delivers a pizza. When we open the box, it contains cannabis compost. Picture Lady it seems we are her guests produces a cake knife with a polished stoat skull. We are each served a thin slice it tastes of green tea. 'Which is your favourite song by John, Eiji-kun?' I realize that Picture Lady is in fact Kozue Yamaya working undercover we all laugh at this.

'"#9dream",' I answer. 'It should be considered a masterpiece.'

John is delighted with this answer, and mimes an Indian deity, singing, 'Ah, bowakama pousse pousse.' Even the perspex whale outside the science museum giggles. My lungs fill up with laughter and I am having serious trouble breathing. 'Truth is,' John continues, '"#9dream" is a descendant of "Norwegian Wood". Both are ghost stories. "She" in "Norwegian Wood" curses you with loneliness. The "Two spirits dancing so strange" in "#9dream" bless you with harmony. But people prefer loneliness to harmony.'

'What does the title mean?'

'The ninth dream begins after every ending.'

A guru is furious. 'Why are you quitting your search for enlightenment?'

'If you're so bloody cosmic,' scoffs John, 'you'll know why!'

I am laughing so hard that I-

'I woke up. And there was my mother, standing in the tea house entrance.'

Ai turns her music off. 'You giggled yourself awake? What must she have thought?'

'Later, she admitted she thought I was having a seizure. Even later, she said that Anju used to laugh in her sleep when she was a toddler.'

'You talked for quite a long time?'

'Three hours. Right through the midday heat. I just got back to Miyazaki.'

'Neither of you were exactly lost for words, then?'

'I dunno... A sort of unspoken agreement happened. She dropped any "Mother" role, and I dropped any sort of "Son" role.'

'From what you told me, you never played those roles.'

'True. What I mean is, I agreed to not judge her against a "Mother" standard, and she agreed not to compare me to a "Son" standard.'

'So... where does that leave you now?'

'I guess we'll start as, uh, sort of...'

'Friends?'

'I don't want to pretend this was a summer of love and peace festival. There was a minefield of stuff we both skirted around, that we will have to face, one day. But... I sort of liked her. She is real person. A real woman.'

'Even I could have told you that.'

'I know, but I always thought of her as a magazine cut-out who did this this and did and did this this but who never actually felt anything. Today, I saw her as a woman in her forties who has not had as easy a life as the rumour machine on Yakushima reckons. When she talks, she is in her words. Not like her letters. She told me about alcoholism, about what it does to you. Not blaming it or anything, just like a scientist analysing a disease. And guess what my guitar? It turns out to be hers! All these years, my guitar was her guitar, and I never even knew she could play.' but who never actually felt anything. Today, I saw her as a woman in her forties who has not had as easy a life as the rumour machine on Yakushima reckons. When she talks, she is in her words. Not like her letters. She told me about alcoholism, about what it does to you. Not blaming it or anything, just like a scientist analysing a disease. And guess what my guitar? It turns out to be hers! All these years, my guitar was her guitar, and I never even knew she could play.'

'Was the hotelier from Nagano there?'

'He visits every two weekends: not today. But I promised to go back next Saturday.'

'Good. Ensure his intentions are honourable. And your real father?'

'That was one of the minefield issues. Another time, maybe. She asked how I liked Tokyo, and if I had any friends. I boasted about my one friend, the genius pianist.'

'What an elite club. Where are you staying tonight?'

'Dr Suzuki offered to find a futon in a corner somewhere, but I'm catching a train down to Kagoshima to stay with my uncle-'

'Uncle Money, right? And tomorrow morning you board the Yakushima ferry and visit your sister's gravestone.'

'How did you know?'

Urgent clouds stream across a cinema sky.

'I do listen when you tell me about Anju, you know. And your dreams. I have perfect pitch.'

The bored horizon yawns. These tidal flats touch the Hyuga Nada Sea, south of Bungo Straits, where my great-uncle sailed on his final voyage aboard the I-333 I-333. If binoculars were powerful enough to bring the 1940s into focus, we could wave at one another. Maybe I will dream him, too. Time may be what prevents everything from happening at the same time in waking reality, but the rules are different in dreams. I smell autumn fruit. 'My, what a small world,' says Mrs Persimmon. 'Hello again. May I sit here?'

'Sure.' I dump my backpack on the overhead rack.

She sits as if afraid of bruises. 'And did you enjoy my persimmon?'

'Uh, it was delicious. Thank you. How was my dream?'

'Had better.' The weird old lady pulls her knitting out.

'May I ask, what do you do with the dreams you, uh, gather?'

'What do you do with persimmons?'

'I eat persimmons.'

'Old ladies also require nourishment.'

I wait for an explanation, but Mrs Persimmon gives none. A nuclear power station slides by, a frigate at anchor, a lonesome windsurfer. I feel I should make polite conversation. 'Are you going to Kagoshima?'

'Between here and there.'

'Are you seeing relatives?'

'I attend conferences.'

I wait for her to tell me what sort of conference eighty-year-olds attend fruit farming? Stitchwork? but she concentrates on her knitting. I think of atoms decaying. 'Are you some sort of dream interpreter?'

Her irisless eyes are not safe to look into for very long. 'My younger sister, who handles the business side of things, describes our profession as that of "channellers".'

I assume I mishear. 'You collect Chanel accessories?'

'Do I appear to be such a person?'

Try again. 'Channeller? Is that, uh, a sort of engineer?'

Mrs Persimmon shakes her head in mild exasperation. 'I told my sister. This word-meddling confuses people. We are witches, I told her, so "witches" is what we should call ourselves. I have to begin this row again. This is a scarf for my grandmother. She moans if it isn't perfect.'

'Excuse me did you say you are a witch?'

'Semi-retired, since I turned five hundred. I believe in making room for the young ones.'

She is winding me up very wittily, or she is beyond mad. 'I would never have guessed.'

She frowns at her knitting. 'Of course not. Your world is lit by television, threaded by satellites, cemented by science. The idea of women fuelling their lifespans by energy released in dreams is as you say, beyond mad.'

I hunt for an appropriate answer.

'No matter. Disbelief is good for business. When the Age of Reason reached these shores, it was us who breathed the deepest sigh of relief.'

'How can you, uh, eat dreams?'

'You are too modern to understand. A dream is a fusion of spirit and matter. Fusion releases energy hence sleep, with dreams, refreshes. In fact, without dreams, you cannot hold on to your mind for more than a week. Old ladies of my longevity feed on the dreams of healthy youngsters such as yourself.'

'Is it wise to go around telling people all this?'

'Whyever not? Anyone insisting it were true would be locked up.'

I vaguely regret eating that persimmon. 'I, uh, need to use the bathroom.' Walking to the toilets it seems that the train is standing still but the landscape and I are flying by the same swaying speed. My travelling companion is beginning to scare me not so much what she says, but how she says it. I wonder how I should handle her. But when I return to my seat I find she has gone.

Red plague eradicated all human life from the globe. The last crow has picked the last flesh from the last bone. Ai and I alone survive, thanks to our natural immunity. We live in Amadeus Tea Room. Satellites' orbits spin lower and lower, and now the electronic rafts float by our balcony, near enough to touch. Ai and I entertain ourselves by going on long walks through Tokyo. I choose diamonds for Ai, and Ai picks the finest guitars for me. Ai performs Debussy's Arabesque Arabesque live at the Budokan, then I run through my Lennon repertoire. We take it in turns to be the audience. Ai still makes delicious salads, and serves them in TV dishes. We have lived this way, as brother and sister, for a long time. live at the Budokan, then I run through my Lennon repertoire. We take it in turns to be the audience. Ai still makes delicious salads, and serves them in TV dishes. We have lived this way, as brother and sister, for a long time.

One day we hear a meeeeeeeeep noise on the balcony. Meeeeeeeeep. We peer out, through the ajar window, and see a hideous bird strolling towards us. Pig-big, turkey-scrotumed, condor-shaggy. Its beak is a hacksaw blade. Its alcoholic eyes are weeping sores. Every few steps it vomits up an eyeball egg, and then sits on it, wriggling to push it up its butt-hole. 'Quick!' says Ai. 'Close the window! It wants to get in!' She is right, but I hesitate that beak could sever my wrist in one snap. Too late! The bird leaps in, flumphing off a chair, rolling on to the carpet. Ai and I take a step back, afraid, but curious. Great evil might follow, but so might great good. The bird struts and peers at the decor with the critical eye of a potential buyer. It finally roosts on a wedding cake, and says its voice is Doi's 'The cat in the wig on the ceiling will have to go, man, and that is just for starters. Dig?'

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