By Arthur Shattuck O'Keefe
Falling down drunk in the street. It’s a cliché, isn’t it? But that’s what S. did two nights ago, out near the station’s west exit, soon after our departure from Yokohama’s oldest and finest English pub, one of the only two places nearby where I can get a pint of Kilkenny on tap. It wasn’t the first time, you see, and I find such situations humiliating. So I’m still angry, and I’m not speaking to her.
S. is doubtless not in a conversational mood anyway, as she nurses the lingering effects of a hangover destined to last the weekend. She’s asleep on the sofa bed. Not because I’ve banished her there. We sleep in separate rooms, usually, because she snores.
Out the windows it begins to turn from black to grey, an overcast dawn. I’m up early, as I tend to be these days whether I wish it or not. I decide to take a walk in the park.
Park seems like a misnomer. It is a park, of course. But not the sort of manicured, well-ordered space you will find in Ueno with its cafés, event spaces, and famous museums. Nor does it have the seaside vista and relaxed urban vibe of Yamashita Park in Yokohama. No, Izumi-no-Mori Park is more like being in the woods. Which it is, really. It’s a prefectural wildlife preserve. Its name means “The Forest of Springs.”
It’s a big park, Yamato City’s closest thing to a tourist attraction. There are woodland trails and streams, and a large pond full of carp you’re not supposed to feed. The pond is fed by the park’s eponymous springs that form the source of the Hikichi River, which passes through Shonan before emptying into Sagami Bay. In the morning you can hear bush warblers. It’s a pleasant place, at least in the daytime. There are no lamp posts.
Standing in my kitchen, the invisible sun obscured by grey, I look at the clock. Just after 5:00 AM. I leave S. sleeping on her sofa bed.
It’s a row house, a rental. Really just a glorified apartment. I go downstairs, let myself out, lock the door, and turn right down the narrow street. In less than a minute, I’m in the park.
But this isn’t Izumi-no-Mori, exactly. It’s Shinoyama Park, essentially a densely wooded hill with a trail leading down to Izumi-no-Mori. They’re adjacent, for all practical purposes the same park. There are no lamp posts here, either.
An opening between trees forms a natural entrance from the street. Someone, for some reason, also planted a cactus here, next to the narrow stone marker identifying the park. I walk through, going down the hill, past the recently erected playground equipment, toward Izumi-no-Mori proper. I want to relax and contemplate the carp.
Just before the bottom of the hill, on the left, there’s a low wooden platform with benches and a roof. It’s pretty small. I’ve never sat there. There’s a man standing there, his back to me as I walk downhill. White haired, balding. Oldsters like coming to the park early. Like me.
What could he be looking at? I see the odd person sitting there, reading or smoking in the afternoon. It’s a quiet spot, but you can’t really see the view of Izumi-no-Mori, as there is a line of trees right up against it. Maybe he just likes a close-up view of the trees.
I start to pass him. Something feels wrong. He’s too still. I turn to look.
First: visual input not processed, not registered. Perception of that which is not. Ludicrous in hindsight. Occurring in the flash of an instant.
Weird health kick. This guy is trying some new stretching thingamajig he bought on the teleshopping channel.
He’s dressed in a greyish work uniform, the kind one might wear in a factory. White face mask, metal-rimmed glasses. His eyes are closed.
There is a white elastic brace or bandage around his neck, smaller and more flexible-looking than a whiplash brace. Then I notice the thin nylon rope leading up from the back of his neck, tied securely, and with great skill, to the beam of the roof above him.
I look down to see that he is not standing, exactly. The balls of his feet are just touching the ground. This is not a trendy new exercise regimen.
In old movies people panic and scream upon encountering a hanging corpse. I don’t panic, exactly. But I am at a loss, standing there looking at the dead, almost-standing body of the elderly man in his factory uniform.
But is he dead? Is there a small chance he’s still alive? Should I attempt to release him in hopes of reviving him? But he’s perfectly still, I tell myself.
And if you somehow manage to untie or cut the rope, your fingerprints are all over a dead body. Then what? Accused of enabling a suicide? Or a murder arranged to look like one? Let’s assume he’s dead. He’s not moving. He must have come in here when it was still dark, over an hour ago. Nobody is alive after an hour hanging by the neck. You have to decide what to do.
God damn it. I just wanted to go for a walk and this son of a bitch decides to hang himself right in my way.
I walk back home to find S. awake, still in bed, playing a game on her tablet.
“A man hanged himself in the park,” I tell her, only then wondering why I haven’t called the police. S. calls them.
They arrive, along with the paramedics who take the body away. The questioning takes about an hour, and I start to wonder who the man was and why he did it. A chain of events I will never learn, except for the final one.
I sleep with S. on the sofa bed that night and hold her close, and don’t mind the snoring.