The most important part of preparing for the winter is stockpiling food . Unlike Japan, there aren’t any supermarkets around here that stay open all year round . The winter weather closes down the town markets, and there aren’t very many vegetables that can really be gathered outside . So, if you don’t want to starve to death, procuring enough food in advance is indispensable .
And, so, here I am, sitting in a beat-up second-hand wagon amidst a huge pile of boxes . I was rudely awakened this morning, in pitch-blackness, long before the dawn had even begun to break .
“Now, then,” my father cheerfully boomed, “today we’re going to the farming village! Is everyone ready?”
There’s no excuse for doing that .
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, wondering what on Earth he’s talking about . I scowled at him, but both my mother and Tory are beaming happily . What do I do? All I can do is follow along with the conversation .
“Come to think of it, Maine,” said my mother, clapping her hands together, “you were out sick while we were talking about this earlier, so you might not have heard . ”
My father and Tory nodded in consent . Once again, I’d been left out of a family discussion . I wasn’t the slightest bit amused . I tried to glare sullenly at them, but they’d already started quickly moving around as they got ready to leave .
“Anyhow, make sure you dress very warmly, Maine!” she said as she gathered boxes . “You got really sick last year!”
There’s no way they were going to leave me to take care of myself all day, so I had no choice but to quietly follow along as she clattered her way downstairs .
…Nevertheless, why are we going to a farming village, anyway?
I had hoped to walk on my own power in order to work on building up some more strength, but my father, frustrated by how slow I was, picked me up and put me in the cart . Now, I’m riding amidst a variety of barrels, empty bottles, piles of cloth, bundles of cord, bags of salt, and all of the other things it seems like we need in order to go visit a farming village .
…Hmm? Perhaps, since I’m in this cart, I’m the most useless piece of luggage on this trip?
I don’t have a whole lot of space up here, so I make myself as small as I can and settle down . Up front, my father is yoked to the cart, pulling it forward while my mother and Tory push it from behind . It’s becoming really obvious that I’m just extra weight on this trip, which is a little bit depressing .
“Hey, Mommy,” I say, “Why’re we going to a village?”
“There’s not many places where we can go in the city to smoke our meat, you know?” she says . “So, we’re going to the nearest village and borrowing one of their smoke huts . ”
“Smoking meat? Oh yeah, we did go buy a lot of meat the other day . ”
We already salted it, brined it, and did all sorts of other things to preserve that meat, but there’s still more stuff to do? Is this process maybe a little too painful? Is the meat still okay?
As I count off the days since we bought the meat on my fingers, I grow more and more anxious . My mother looks over at me, shocked .
“What are you talking about? Today’s pig-slaughtering day, you know . We’re going to buy two pigs, then help everyone out to spread out the work, and then we’ll all share the results . ”
My ears instantly reject my mother’s words . In the fraction of a second it takes the sounds to reach my brain, a chill starts running down my spine .
“P… P-p-p… pig-slaughtering day?!”
“It’s a day where we go meet up with our neighbors, slaughter and butcher a few pigs, salt and smoke the meat, and make things like bacon, pot roasts, and sausage . Maine… oh, right, last year you stayed in the cart because you were so feverish . ”
If at all possible, I would like to get a fever this year too . If I can do that, then at the very least I might be able to shield my eyes from that grim display .
“Mommy, didn’t we buy a ton of meat at the market the other day…?”
“There’s no way that much meat would last the entire winter, you know? We bought that to supplement the meat we’re going to get from slaughtering pigs today, since you know that won’t be enough by itself either, right?”
I thought we had bought a huge amount of meat, but I hadn’t even considered the possibility that what we bought was just to supplement our stocks . I have no idea whatsoever as to how much meat is truly required when preparing for the winter .
It looks like can’t save myself from being dragged to pig-slaughtering day, so a wave of depression sweeps through my heart . In contrast, Tory is wearing her biggest smile while she pushes the cart onward .
“This is going to be fun!” she says . “We’re going to get to help out, and then we’ll get to eat freshly-made sausage . This is your first time helping, but when you get caught up in the noise and excitement everyone’s making, it feels kinda like a mini festival! I’m excited that you’re helping out this year!”
“‘Everyone’?” I ask, tilting my head to the side in confusion .
My mother shoots me a look, as if asking me why I’m asking such obvious questions . “The rest of the neighbors, right? Slaughtering a pig is a big task, so it’s not really easy to do it with less than ten adults, you know?”
Whoa, the neighbors, huh…
There’s a lot of spots in Maine’s memories that are really fuzzy, so there’s no doubt that there will be a lot of people there who will know me even though I have no idea who they are . Far more troublesome, however, is what we’ve come to do today: slaughtering and butchering a pig . Just remembering the grisly spectacle at the market the other day sends chills down my spine .
“…I don’t wanna go,” I say .
“What are you saying?” asks my mother . “If we don’t go, we’re not going to have any sausage or bacon for the winter, you know?”
It seems like I’m not allowed to complain, since we don’t have enough food for the winter otherwise . If we don’t go, we’ll starve, so no matter how much I complain, I’ll still be forced to cooperate .
As my mood grows gloomier and gloomier, our cart reaches the southern gate of the city walls .
“Good morning,” says a soldier, one of my father’s subordinates, standing guard at the gate . “Oh? Sir, are you running late? Everyone else already left the gates a long time ago . ”
“Yeah, I know…”
Somehow, it seems like our neighbors have are already long gone .
“Have a good day, sir . ”
The young-looking guard smiles and waves at me as we go past, and I make myself wave back . Being friendly is important .
This is my first time leaving the city since becoming Maine, so when the cart rumbles out of the short tunnel the gate is set into, I let out an astonished gasp . To be honest, I hadn’t even thought that the environments inside and outside the city walls could be so different .
First of all, there aren’t any houses . The streets within the city are always so crowded and claustrophobic, but this road widens into a broad highway as it leaves the gates . Off in the distance, I can see a village, with about ten to fifteen buildings that just look like dots on the horizon .
Also, the air is fantastic . As we leave, the accumulated stench of human filth dissipates into nothingness, leaving only sweet, clean air in its place . There are no walls here to trap in foul air .
Everywhere I look is green, from the light green of the rolling fields before me to the deep green of the tall, tall trees of the forest in the distance . Everything is extraordinarily tranquil .
“Maine, close your mouth before you bite off your tongue,” warns my father .
Immediately after my father gives his warning, the cart lurches hard to the side, then starts to bounce and jostle even worse than it was doing so before . We’ve left the cobblestone roads of the city behind us, and the road ahead is packed, unpaved dirt . The luggage shakes around as if it might pop out of the cart, but, luckily, the ropes tied around it keep it in place . I, however, have no such security .
On a sunny day, you’d have to clatter over hard, uneven packed clay . On a rainy day, you’d have to slog through mushy, soggy mud . These roads are the worst! Pour some asphalt!
Unable to escape through my tightly-closed mouth, my objections bounce around in my head wildly . I cling, desperately, to the side of the cart, trying my hardest not to fall out .
“We’re almost there,” says my father .
Fifteen minutes after we left the city gates, we’ve arrived at the entrance to the farming village . The village is bustling, with countless people moving about .
Butchering pigs is primarily a man’s work . Holding down a hundred-kilogram pig, trussing it up, and hoisting it all requires a good deal of strength . Meanwhile, the women handle setting up the smoking huts, getting huge amounts of water ready for boiling, making sure all of the tools and salt are ready, and doing other general prep work .
It looks like the slaughter had actually started just before we finally arrived . Of course, if you’re not there to help, you don’t get any meat .
“Oh no,” exclaims my father, “they’ve already started!”
“That’s not good!” says my mother . “Tory, hurry!”
The three of them let go of the cart, then pull out aprons made from some sort of thick, heavy material that looks like it’s been heavily covered with wax . My mother and Tory run towards the smoking huts, where quite a few women have already gathered, putting on their aprons as they ran . My father ties his apron on securely, grabs the spear he uses for work out of the back of the wagon, then dashes towards the town square .
That was fast!!
In the blink of an eye, my family abandoned me before I had any time to react . I might still be able to run after my mother, but I have no idea what I’d be supposed to do in such a huge crowd, so it’s only natural that I’m apprehensive about that idea . Since this is a yearly event, it looks like everyone already knows what they need to do from common knowledge . Give me the instruction manual, please…
Since I’d just get in the way if I tried to help, I’ll stay here and watch over the cart until someone calls for me . I sit down amongst the rest of the abandoned luggage, staring off into space, convincing myself that what I’m doing is an important task .
However, the spot where my father chose to leave his luggage is in full view of the village square, where they’re doing the slaughtering . There’s a little bit of distance between me and the square, but I can clearly hear the agonized squeals of one of the pigs and plainly see as it frantically tries to escape .
A rope has been tied to a wooden stake set firmly in the ground . The other end of the rope has already been tied around the pig’s right hindleg . The men chase it around and around the stake, desperately trying to catch and hold it down . I see a flash of familiar pink hair amongst the crowd; Ralph and Lutz are undoubtedly in there .
“Here I come!” yells my father, charging onto the battlefield with spear at the ready . He sets his spear, then with a mighty shout, pierces into the pig with a single, strong thrust . The pig collapses to the ground from that one strike, convulsing in its death throes before finally falling still .
I squeak in horror as all the blood drains from my face, but the people in the plaza start cheering for my father . My mother runs out, carrying a metal container, kind of like a bucket, on a somewhat lengthy wooden pole . Another woman follows, bringing with her some kind of large bowl .
I have no idea what they’re about to do, so I lean forward to get a better look . In the next instant, blood suddenly flies out, and some people’s aprons are stained bright, dripping red . Preparations for catching the blood had just been finished, it seems, so my father had yanked out the spear and caused blood to start spurting from the wound . Reflexively, I clamp my hand over my mouth and fall back into the wagon .
The pig is concealed from view behind the skirt of the woman with the bowl, but I can see how she collects the massive amounts of blood in her bowl, transferring it to the bucket whenever it gets full . This seems to be her everyday job, from the way she moves . My mother, on the other hand, has her brow deeply furrowed as she puts all of her strength behind churning the blood as it’s poured into the bucked .
…My mother’s pretty scary .
Then, the pig was brought over to a specially prepared tree and strung up, upside down, from a sturdy branch . All of the blood that hadn’t been completely drained from the body starts to drip down .
Now, it’s time for the real butchering to begin . A man steps forward, wielding a thick, heavy butcher’s knife, and vertically slits the pig’s belly open .
That’s about all I can remember . When I wake up, I’m no longer in the village, but instead in some room made of stone . Judging by what I can see of the ceiling from where I’m laying, this isn’t my house . I blink my eyes to clear them, then I suddenly recall what I was watching just before I fainted . I feel terrible, suddenly .
It’s strange, though . I can’t shake the feeling that I’d seen something like this before .
What would it have been? Something where something got hung up, then carved apart…
It feels like it’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t quite make the connection . I don’t think this is one of Maine’s memories, I think this is one of mine . I think I saw something similar to this in Japan…
Oh, got it! I was at a fish market near the harbor in Ibaraki, and I watched them hang up an enormous goosefish and slice it apart! I remember it clearly now .
Now that I think about it, there are some similarities between slaughtering a pig and the live fish cleaning show . There are some things that really can only be eaten when they’re really fresh, and I can understand how everyone seemed to find it such a fun sight to see . 2
Well, I can understand it in theory, but I don’t personally find it all that fun . For one thing, a tuna fish don’t scream sorrowfully when you kill them, and the blood doesn’t drip thickly out of it . Urgh, I really don’t feel well…
I cover my mouth and roll over on my side, which causes me to fall off of whatever I was sleeping on with a thud .
I push myself up with my arms to get a better view of my surroundings . It seems like I had been laid down on a smallish wooden bench . There’s a fireplace nearby, with a fire crackling inside, so I don’t feel cold at all . I don’t, however, see anyone nearby, nor do I hear any voices .
…So, where am I?
As I try to figure out where exactly as I am, a soldier peers into the room, drawn by the thud I made when I fell down .
“Oh! You’re awake,” he says .
I sigh in relief, seeing a familiar face . If Otto is here in this stone building, then this must be either one of the waiting rooms or the night duty room at the city gates . Now that I know where I am, my anxiety gradually starts to dissipate .
“Ah, you remember me, then?” he says, relief showing plainly on his face . Since I look like a little girl, I’m sure he was worried that I’d start crying if I woke up and saw someone I didn’t know, and then he wouldn’t know what to do .
“I didn’t forget!” This man, after all, is one of the precious few cultured people in this world, and the man who is going to (hopefully) teach me how to read and write .
I give my best imitation salute, tapping my chest with my fist . Otto smiles wryly, ruffles my hair in response, and starts to explain my present situation .
“The captain brought you here a little while ago, looking really embarrassed . Apparently, you collapsed in your wagon . He said he’ll come by to pick you up as soon as he’s done with what he needs to do in the village . ”
I don’t know how long it takes to butcher a pig, but even after it’s butchered there’s a lot of processing work that needs to be done, so I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that’s going to be over quickly .
…Now that I think about, Tory said that there was going to be dinner made with really fresh meat, didn’t she?
It seems like I might be waiting here for quite some time . I’d brought the materials for my fake papyrus with me in the cart, since I didn’t know if I was going to be waiting around for a while in the village . Unfortunately, I don’t have any of it with me now .
“What’s wrong, Maine?” asks Otto, “Are you lonely because your mom and dad aren’t here?”
“…No,” I say, shaking my head . “I’m just wondering what I should do while I wait?”
I accidentally let slip my true motives . Otto stares at me for a little bit, then mutters something about remembering that I look a couple years younger than I really am .
“I’ve got just the thing, Maine,” he says, retrieving something from nearby . “How about we kill some time with this?”
“Whoa! A slate!”
Otto hands me the slate . He must have known that I’d definitely come through the gates today, so he would have brought it with him to give to me . He’s cultured, he’s considerate, he’s kind, he’s too amazing!!
“I have to stand guard at the gate today,” he says, writing Maine’s name at the top of the slate, “so how about you practice with this?”
He hands me a slate pencil and a cloth, then leaves the room . I see him off with a huge wave and a brilliant smile, clutching the slate tightly to my chest . As he closes the door behind him, I look down at the slate .
It’s probably best to describe it as a kind of mini-blackboard, about the size of an A4 sheet of paper . It’s a thin plate of dark stone, surrounded by a simple wooden frame . Both the back and the front can be written on, and on one side, thin lines have been painted to help you practice writing straight .
The slate pencil is a tool for writing on the slate . It’s cool to the touch, hard, and seems to be made out of some kind of stone, but it looks to me like a long, slender piece of chalk . This slightly dirty cloth seems to be what I’ll use instead of an eraser .
The letters Otto wrote at the top of the slate have gotten a little smudged, after I held the slate against my shirt a little while ago .
“Whoa, my heart’s racing!”
I set the slate on top of the desk, and pick up the chalk . As soon as I grip it like I would a pencil, my heart starts pounding in my ears .
First, I try copying the completely unfamiliar letters that Otto wrote at the top for me . The mental strain of writing these new characters for the first time is almost too much, and my writing is wobbly and distorted . If this were Japan, the teacher would tut at me and have me start over . However, stopping now to erase the board would be a waste of time, and I’m far too happy right now to finally see letters again .
I force myself to take deep, slow breaths, then use the cloth to gently wipe off the left side of the board . I carefully write out another line, and this time it’s much better than before .
I write my name, and erase it, and write it, and erase it… When I get tired of that, I switch to writing all of the haiku and tanka poetry I can remember in Japanese, and erase it, and write it, and erase it…
Ahhh, this is bliss . Reading and writing is such a joyous thing .
There may have been a fire going, but a cold draft still crept its way in . As I waited for however many hours it took for my family to come pick me up, playing with the slate for the entire time, my weak constitution caused me to catch a cold embarrassingly quickly, and my fever came back .
“Your temperature still hasn’t gone down, so stay in bed,” admonishes Tory . “Don’t get up again!”
“…Fine . ”
My parents are rushing in and out of the house, carrying in loads of vegetables and cramming them into the winter preparation room . In the kitchen, Tory has been boiling down the fruits that she collected from the forest and making jam . For the first time since coming to this world, I’m smelling sweet things, and the way it permeates the house makes me a little bit happier .
In the midst of stocking up on alcohol and bringing in pig meat, Tory had come in to bring me some soup for lunch . I had put my slate to the side, and taken the tray from her .
“I’m sorry, Tory,” I say .
“I mean it!”
“Oh? Do you promise not to tell on me?”
“I don’t make promises like that!”
That is, she doesn’t make promises . What even is a promise, anyway?
While the family clatters about, finalizing the preparations for the coming winter, I’m stuck lazing about in my bed, scribbling on the slate that Otto gave me . I practice writing my name, writing whatever sentences in Japanese that come to mind, and so on .
I really do want a book that I can record things in permanently . If I’m this happy from just being able to write, I’ll be even happier if I’m able to read book!
I have to get better soon, so that I can work on making my paper .