Hit Parade of Tears: Trial Witch

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Hit Parade of Tears: Trial Witch
An unexpected acquisition of supernatural power. A cheating husband. A just comeuppance in this excerpt from Izumi Suzuki’s incredible short story collection.

My husband came home late again. By this point he’s probably pickled his liver. It’d be one thing if I could’ve called it a night from the moment he went out, but he always woke me up later, in the middle of a sweet dream, calling out for “Water” and “Leftovers” as if those were my names. Though I don’t like to admit it, I always crawled out of my futon and headed over to the kitchen.

I hasten to add, though, that he wasn’t actually addressing me. He was talking to the kitchen. But since my husband wasn’t a magician, no tall glass of water jumped into his hand, and no bowl of green tea over rice waddled over to him, huffing and puffing.

That night, I sat up with my elbows on the tea table, the evening paper spread before me. First I read the ads, especially the ones for the tabloids, my thrifty way of picking up some juicy celebrity gossip without making an additional purchase. Then maybe I’d read a couple of columns. If there was an article about a gory robbery or something, I’d read that too. I rarely spent time with the front-page news.

Just as I was folding up the paper, I heard the most incredible noise. Was that a bomb? I asked myself, as cloying smoke spiraled through the room.

It made me sneeze.

Behind the haze, someone else was feeling the same effects.

Achoo! Gah, that’s awful . . . Achoo! Well, that one was a dud . . . Duped again . . . Thirty percent off sounded like a good deal at the time, but this is ridiculous . . . Achoo!

I said loudly: “Excuse me?” Then sneezed two or three times. The yellow smoke cleared, to reveal a man standing with what looked like a black coverlet wrapped around him. “Well then, how’s that for an introduction . . . Achoo! Sorry, but might I borrow a tissue?”

“Why don’t you just use that wacky cloak of yours. Who are you, anyway? Barging in here in the middle of the night. Watch out or I’ll scream,” I warned him, quite loudly already.

“I’m afraid this is the only time of day that I can manage. I have a number of side businesses to attend to, you see.” His voice was hoarse. The voice of a much older man. His wrinkled face switched between passion and austerity from one second to the next, like a ham actor begging to be pelted with tomatoes.

“Who are you?”

I wasn’t the least bit scared. I figured he was lost and suffering from mental problems, though I couldn’t think of any reasonable explanation for his abrupt appearance.

“You really don’t know? Hmm . . . Could it be the acoustics? Or is my costume to blame?”

He stroked his chin, lost in thought.

“I’ll need to ask you to leave.”

“Well then, in that case, let’s give it another try. This time I’ll use some trumpets, for a proper fanfare. Or would you prefer a crash of thunder and lightning?”

“I’m not joking.”

“Of course not. Neither am I. For I come on important business. I would never show up in so cramped and stuffy a place as this without an excellent reason.”

“You have no business with me.”

“Right you are. But I suspect you’re not too keen on letting good luck slip through your fingers, either. Am I right? You see, my dear, you have been chosen.”

The man cleared his throat emphatically. Then, from the shadows of his cloak, he produced what appeared to be a scroll.

“Technically this ought to be sheepskin, but lately prices have been soaring. I gave pigskin a shot for a while, but this is normal washi, what they use on paper doors. Anyway.”

The man pulled out a pair of pince-nez spectacles and set them on his nose.

“Let’s see, your occupation—none? I suppose that makes you a housewife. And your age—twenty-six, I see . . .” “What difference does that make?” I exclaimed. “Simply wishing to confirm,” he said with a placating look. “My dear, please don’t think for a second that I doubted you. This is strictly a formality, you understand, the first order of business. We’ll be done in a second. Now, the other members of your household are your husband and . . . anyone else?”

The man muttered something as he completed the form. “Seriously, who are you?” I demanded again.

“I’m a messenger. Were you not expecting me?” He sounded a little hurt.

“Who sent you?”

“Who sent me? Why, none other than the League of Witches! Which is a fancy name for just three people. All of whom are well advanced in years. Each of them in their dotage and somewhat oblivious, I’m afraid. No surprise there, what with so few young people interested in traditional witchcraft nowadays . . .”

“Sounds like a joke to me.”

“Oh my, you’re very quick to judge. Remember just a minute ago, when I materialised in a puff of majesty? I would hate to think you still don’t believe me . . . but we mustn’t waste our time with nonsense. I’ll give it to you straight. You’ve been selected to be a trial witch.”

“I don’t recall applying,” I told him, in a tone that made my skepticism clear.

“Of course not, you were randomly selected.”

“In that case, I respectfully decline.”

“I’m afraid that’s out of the question. This is your fate. You may as well accept it. For I will now invest you with a nominal amount of magical power. Mind you, I am unable to guarantee what kind of power you will receive. You may rest assured that the witches made a wise selection. If you practice hard enough, you can expect to be promoted in the future. And if it doesn’t work out, we’ll strip you of your powers as appropriate. Now, read this over.”

He handed me the scroll, which I unfurled, but the writing made no sense.

“I can’t read this.”

“You have a lot to learn,” he said, with a pompous flourish of his cloak.

“Can you read it?” I asked him.

“Sure I can, bits and pieces.”

“Why is it written in red ink, though?”

“Technically we should be using lamb’s blood, or the blood of a cat found prowling in the cemetery around three in the morning. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so red ink it is. Besides, the witches have been squeamish of late when it comes to animal cruelty.”

“Take this b-back, I don’t want it.”

I was so discombobulated that I found myself stuttering. “In that case, would you mind very much if I used it for a tissue? To be quite honest, that thing isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”

“Spare me.”

“Very good, so when you wish to summon me, just draw a circle on the floor with chalk and sprinkle bay leaves all around. This isn’t strictly necessary, but you don’t want any pesky devils showing up instead. The chalk and leaves are my signature design. Think of it as a direct telephone line to me . . . However, I do sometimes wish I’d thought of some thing more complex. Like burying the head of a kitten in the middle of a crossroads on a moonless night. Which sounds splendid, but these days it’s concrete here and concrete there, everywhere you go. But alas, I digress. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

The chatty messenger disappeared into another cloud of sticky, yellow smoke.

Next thing I knew, my cheek was smooshed into the tea table. What the heck? Was that whole thing a dream? It felt so incredibly real.

When I sat up, I saw a white cylindrical object by my knee. The scroll of paper! What on earth was going on? For a minute, I sat there in a daze.

It sounded like my husband was home.

I could tell because of how the barking of the neighbour’s dog came through the window. It was past two in the morning. Most people on the block worked normal hours. My dolt of a husband was the only one who would come home so late.

I opened the door and waited. He staggered down the hall and stepped inside.

“Hey, wifey, long time no see,” he said, pretending to be in a chipper mood.

“Where’ve you been all night?”

I set the kettle on the gas range. Last time he came home drunk, he said, “Where’s my tea” and slapped me in the face. He could have at least started with, “I want some tea.” Otherwise, how was I supposed to know? I could hardly have been blamed for getting angry. But he just groaned and climbed into bed in all his clothes.

“No need to get your panties in a bunch . . . Come on, let’s play nice, huh?”

My husband shed his suit jacket and tossed it in the corner. I fetched a hanger and hung it up. He pulled off his cotton polo easily enough, but had some trouble with his pants, so he dragged them and his underwear off in one go.

I handed him pajamas and fresh underwear, then folded up the clothes he had removed.

He hadn’t answered my question.

“Where have you been?”

“Shibuya, then. Aoyama. Drank some local sake,” he said, like it was no big deal.

“Just bars? You sure you didn’t stop off somewhere and cozy up in someone else’s bed?”

“Of course not.”

As he pulled up his pajama bottoms, he looked off into space. “Ah, right. Then how do you explain this lipstick stain?” “That, uh . . . that must have happened on the ride home.” “So you rode the train without any pants on? The lipstick is on your underwear.”

“Mohhh . . .”

My husband let out a mooing sound.

“Seeing as you love women so much, I wish you’d just turn into one. Then you could fondle your own butt and stare at your own—”

Before I’d finished speaking, my husband (or rather his body) transformed into something else entirely. As if another person had taken his place.

At first it was unclear exactly what had changed and how. “Hey!”

Squirming and fidgeting, he did his best to assess his new figure.

Next thing he tore off his pajamas. What do you know, my husband really had become a woman. Several inches shorter than before, smaller overall in stature. There was no more stubble on his face, which had acquired a new roundness. Same haircut, though.

“Hey, what’s going on? Hey!” he (I’ll stick with “he” for now) squealed, in a peculiar high-pitched voice. “Wow, look at you.”

“How did you do this? Huh? How?”

Right. A minute earlier, I’d wished that he would turn into a woman . . .

Was this the doing of my magic powers? It seemed the man in the cloak had been telling the truth after all. “Come on, do something, will you?”

My former husband stood up, utterly flummoxed. He needed me to intervene, but what was I supposed to do? I wiggled my fingers, doing my best to cast a spell. “Go back, go back.”

My husband changed again, this time into a primate, or something like one. He must have taken my command too literally and “gone back” in the evolutionary sense. He was a female primate, by the way. Growling loudly, he charged at me, enraged at what I’d done.

“I didn’t mean to. Stop! You’re scaring me.”

“Gimme a break.”

“You may look like a monkey, but you talk the same as ever.”

“Quick, turn me back!”

The primate let out a fearsome bellow, as if thirsting for blood.

“This is a bummer for me too, you know.”

“Don’t make me repeat myself . . .”

“Alright, alright. Okay, go back to your original form. But don’t go back, like, a million years.”

Shit. This time he turned into a baby girl, covered in thick fur. The paleolithic infant wailed relentlessly. I lifted the screaming kettle from the stove and made some tea. After all, this was as good a time as any to think things over.

“Dis keddo watts some chea!”

The grumpy child flailed its legs, staging a hissy fit. “Don’t tell me you can still talk.”

“Coss I can.”

“Your pronunciation could use a bit of work . . .” “Jon’t chease me.”

I strolled over to the tea table and took a seat, then cut myself a slice of takuan. Delicious.

“You think I’m enjoying this? Last thing I want is to accidentally turn you into a T-Rex or something. I’m not lifting a finger now—hey, want some of this?”

“I jon’t like it.”

The baby was red in the face.

“No?”

I had another bite of takuan, drank some tea, and pondered the situation for a while.

“How does it feel to be a girl?”

“Jisgushting.”

“But I thought these disgusting girls were what you lived for?”

“Jis and jat are two jifferent chings.”

“Okay, fine. Now you’re a boy.”

I twiddled my fingers again. Ever so faintly, I could feel the magic do its work. After a few adjustments, my husband transformed into a baby boy. Though just as hairy as before. “Now you’re thirty-nine.”

The caveboy grew long legs and stood up, but his back was pathetically bent.

“What’s this? You’re an old man. Last thing I need.” “Backed in, duh wife expecting see was at foot it is now.” I could barely understand him. Most of his teeth had fallen out.

“You look like you’re about to die.”

“Dance to weight. Do sun thing.”

“Okay, jump ahead ten million years.”

“Do eddy it! Chew man beans hub on lean bin a row fur chew many un years. Chairs no jelling what Cayenne d’Monster R2-N2. Bee sighs, en an azure aid many un years, chew man beans zar lye glee to go it stinked!”

The prehistoric geezer lowered himself, exhausted, to a cushion on the floor.

“Okay, then jump ahead two million years.”

My husband turned into a slender man with rosy skin and purple eyes. This time his hair was brown.

“Oops, a bit too far. What now?”

“Since when have you been able to do this?” he asked me in a steely, strident voice.

“Ever since the . . . the messenger came by. The messenger, of course! I’ll call him up. It’s all his fault.” I had no chalk to draw a circle with. It was a shame to spoil the carpet, but I found a tube of lipstick that was sort of on the whiter side and drew an awkward ring. Then I sprinkled a whole bag of the bay leaves that I used in stews and curries on the floor. Sitting in the middle of the circle, I called on the messenger to return.

“Come back, come back!”

The future man was aghast at what he saw.

A cloud of blue smoke and a nasty sneeze betokened the arrival of the messenger.

Achoo! Achoo! What’s this stuff on the floor? I thought I told you to use chalk. Ahh-choo!

The black cloak trembled as he spoke.

“Well, I don’t have any.”

“Just forget it-choo! Heavens, it’s hot in here.”

“It’s the same as earlier.”

“I was just at the North Pole . . . Did you want something?” “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have called you. Explain this.” “Huh?”

The messenger looked at the purple-eyed man. “Is he a friend of yours?” he asked.

“He’s my husband. Or used to be. But look what he’s turned into now.”

“My, what a specimen. As elegant a figure as ever I have seen.”

“Don’t mess around with me.”

“Hardly. I would never mess around. Are you asking for advice?”

“Tell me how to switch him back to normal.”

“Sadly, that won’t be possible.”

The messenger’s eyes betrayed a hint of mischief. “But it’s your bosses, the three witches, that gave me these, uh, magical powers.”

“It’s magick, if you please . . . spelled with a k.” The messenger chortled like a clucking hen.

“Whatever, I don’t care, just do something!”

“Not for free. By rights, this is something you should frankly be doing on your own.”

The messenger flashed me a cheeky grin.

“What do you want, then?”

“Now that you mention it . . . this cloak of mine is starting to fray.”

“I happen to have a black cloak I can spare. Made using hundreds of pieces of cloth. Long enough to reach your toes.” “Sounds like it’s only good for winter.”

“So what? It’ll be getting cold soon.”

“But my next trip is to the African savanna. I’d much prefer a silk number, maybe something with a crimson lining . . .” “Fine,” I sniffed, pursing my lips.

“Splendid, it’s a deal. I’ll expect it by next week.” “Let’s make it the week after. You can have the winter cloak as well.”

“Hmm . . . alright, it’s settled. I can see it now. With these additions to my wardrobe, I’ll be quite the dandy. Where were we . . . Ah, yes, I’ll now teach you the magick word required to turn your husband back to normal.”

The messenger leaned forward and whispered something in my ear.

“Kinda odd that I didn’t need a magick word to change him into something else . . .”

“Changing something back is much harder to do, my dear. Take whiskey and cola, for example. Imagine how hard it would be to separate the liquor from the soda.”

This silly logic cut no ice with me.

“If you say the magick word, you’ll break the spell. It’s that simple. On which note, I bid you good day. Don’t forget, you owe me two cloaks.”

Again the smoke churned through the air, disappearing with the messenger.

“Who the hell was he?” asked the future man, incredulous. “Doesn’t matter. Don’t worry. Let’s just try it.”

I said the magick word. My husband changed back to normal. Though I won’t pretend that he was happy. He put on his pajamas without so much as a thank-you. “Don’t blame me. I was in my trial period.”

“You could’ve used your magic powers to make me a stack of money. Then I wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow.” I turned toward the bare floor and said: “Stack of money, go!” but nothing happened.

“There’s no going back,” I said. “Not really.”

My husband set a box of matches on the tea table. “Try turning that matchbox into a hunk of gold.” Nothing happened. I tried turning the matches into flowers or fruit, too, but it was no use.

“See, your powers are gone. If you ever had them.” “I can’t believe it. What happened?”

I scratched my head, bemused.

“Who cares. I’m going to sleep.”

My husband climbed into bed.

The next morning, I was convinced it’d all been a dream. I thought about saying, “Now be caviar” as I placed the break fast pickles on the table, but didn’t bother.

Once my husband was out of the house, though, I decided I would give it one more try. He had left for work at nine, his usual disappointing self, nothing prehistoric or futuristic about him. He worked for a music production company, where they had flexible hours.

I gazed into the fishbowl at our goldfish and said: “Turn into a tadpole.” To my astonishment, it was a success, for the most part.

So, it only worked if something was alive . . . I tried transforming the cup of parsley growing on the windowsill, but no luck there; I guess it didn’t work on plants. Regardless, I was having a great time experimenting.

Out in the street, I changed cats into dogs and dogs into cats. None of them knew what hit them. The cats, especially, must have been at a loss, unsure of how to go on living, now that they were dogs.

I stepped onto the train, but it was packed.

Between there and the next station, I turned all the passengers into homunculi, on average just over an inch tall. This gave me all the space that I could wish for. But the homunculi reacted badly. They were up in arms.

“You’re getting sleepy, very sleepy. You have amnesia. None of this ever happened.”

This time, the spell worked perfectly. The train fell quiet. I lay down on the bench. From outside, it must have looked as if the car were empty. We had pulled into the station, so I said the magick word. The passengers turned back to normal. Though they all looked pretty groggy.

This was great. Imagine doing it somewhere on vacation. So fun . . . I got off the train and went into a café. A waitress was leaning against the counter, looking bored. There were only a few customers. She yawned and watched a different waitress bring me a glass of water.

“Now you’re a lion,” I whispered, eyeing the bored waitress. Boy, was everyone surprised! Most of all the waitress who had become a lion. She looked around the room, standing with her forepaws propped up on the counter. I covered my face with both hands and laughed. Then I turned her back into a person.

Did the magick only work on others?

Out on the sidewalk, I tried it on myself.

“You’re a bird, you’re a bird,” I told myself repeatedly, but no such luck. By then I was tuckered out, so I decided to head home.

Waiting at a traffic light, I spotted my husband across the road. With another woman. He’s incredibly nearsighted, so I don’t think he noticed me. They hailed a taxi and drove off.

It seemed like the news my girlfriend had given me over the phone the week before was true.

“The girl must live in Ikebukuro. Does he regularly stay out all night?”

“Yeah. All the time.”

This was nothing new. By then I didn’t care. In fact, I did my best to wipe it from my mind.

“The other day I saw them having breakfast at the café. Eating hot dogs. Total morning-after vibe. They were all over each other. Fact is your husband’s awful cute, not gonna lie.”

I’d never caught him red-handed before. With my friend’s voice echoing in my ears, I walked the rest of the way home.

That night, I got a phone call.

“Hey. It’s me.”

I knew where this was going.

“Hi,” I said, hitting myself in the ribs with a tight fist. “What’s the matter?”

“What’s the matter? I’m your husband, calling home.” “Oh, of course, dear.”

I recited the words like they were scripted.

“What’s wrong, had a bad day?”

He was trying to butter me up.

“I guess I’m not feeling too hot, now that you ask.” “Read tonight’s paper?”

“Not yet.”

I put a bit more oomph into my fist.

“There’s a rather strange article, about a mass hallucination. Apparently a waitress at a café in Shinjuku suddenly transformed into a lion. Though some people say it was a tiger.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Everyone’s convinced, her especially.”

“Did they call someone from the zoo, or what?” “That’s the thing, everyone was so shocked they didn’t think of it. According to eyewitnesses, she changed back about twenty minutes later. After that, they called the police or the hospital, you know.”

Twenty minutes? No way. I changed her back in thirty seconds, tops.

“If it was summer, I might chalk it up to heat stroke—but it’s not.”

He was obviously making the connection with last night.

“I know what you’re thinking. But it wasn’t me. You saw me yesterday, trying with the matches. I can’t do it anymore.” “Oh, so it wasn’t a dream, after all . . .”

“Where are you right now, anyway?”

“I was about to say. I’m stuck here late tonight. We’re compiling this pamphlet for a music festival.”

“You are, huh? Then put Yamashita on the phone. Isn’t he next to you?”

“Nah, it’s just me. But I’m not at the office.”

“Where are you?”

“You know . . . Setagaya.”

“Are you, now?”

I giggled into the receiver.

“Don’t you trust me?”

He sounded uneasy.

“I saw you two today. Out and about.”

“Saw what?”

“You got into a taxi with some woman. Today. Or tonight, I should say. Closer to five.”

“That, uh, that was a work thing . . .”

“It’s fine. Because now you’re a bull. A big black bull.” I hung up the phone.

Then I switched on the TV and lit a smoke. About ten minutes later, the phone rang again.

“Excuse me, this is Nani Nani Design Studios calling.” It was a woman’s voice. I didn’t recognize her. “Can I help you?”

“Can you? I sure hope so. What have you done? My work . . .” “Work? You’re a piece of work, you know that? Fess up, or he’ll be stuck like that for good.”

There were whispers on the other end. The sounds of them conferring. The woman and the bull.

My husband, who as far as I knew was still a bull, roared into the receiver.

“Hurry up and undo this! Now!”

“No way. You two can figure it out yourselves.” “I’ll kill you for this.”

“You say that, but how’re you going to get out of there? You may as well enjoy your love nest. That’s what you wanted, right? You’ve finally gotten rid of me.”

“I wish you could’ve chosen something else. Anything, really . . . We’re having a hard time being in the same room.” “I bet you are.”

“Come on, switch me back.”

“Come home first.”

“Look, it’s like you said, okay? I can’t get out of here!” “Then stay there. Fine by me.”

“Maybe I will!”

He hung up.

I grabbed my wallet and walked over to the bar around the corner, where I had three whiskey and waters. This put me in a good mood. I came home to find a nervous-looking woman standing at the door. In fact, it was the very woman I had seen with my husband on the street.

“I need you to come back with me,” she burst out. “Hey, how’s he holding up?”

“I was so scared, I couldn’t stay! We’re talking about a full grown bull here. If he’s there for one more day, I don’t know what I’ll do . . . Come on, let’s go.”

“It’ll be fine, calm down. Let’s get a drink.”

“This is no time for a drink. We have to go.”

She seized me by the arm and hustled me into a taxi.

“Nice digs you got here,” I said, looking around the lobby of her building. We took the elevator to the sixth floor. She was so scared she handed me the key. I opened the door to find a black bull sitting in the middle of a loft apartment.

“Come on, hurry up. Or you’ll regret it.”

The bull stuck out his peach-colored tongue, as if to intimidate me.

“I doubt I’ll regret any of this. Now be a good boy and transform,” I said, before whispering something more specific: “Into a T-Rex.”

My former husband’s muscles jiggled and distended. He broke the chandelier.

The girlfriend let out a frightful shriek and disappeared. “Hey, where’s she going? Your sweetheart ran away.” “Don’t be cute. Who wouldn’t run away from a T-Rex? This is a disaster. We gotta get outta here.”

“How?”

“By making me small, how else.”

“Shrink-a-dinky-doo. Now you’re little.”

My former husband turned into a two-inch-tall dinosaur. Just as I dropped him in my handbag, I heard three or four people running over from the elevator.

“What now?”

Stuck in the bag, my mini dino of a husband caterwauled. “Alright, now be Superman.”

That’s how the pair of us escaped. Flying, obviously. But we were spotted by a ufologist (or hobbyist), which caused a certain hullabaloo. People thought it was the second coming of George Reeves.

You’re probably wondering what happened next. Well, I’m happy to report we’re still together. Except my poor husband is stuck hanging in the chifforobe. After I turned him back into a bull, he got furious with me and roared, “I’m going to spill the beans,” and we couldn’t have that, could we.

At the top of my lungs, I shouted: “Now you’re a living, breathing piece of jerky!”

In an instant, he was as rigid as a dried and salted aramaki salmon.

Believe me, I planned to turn him back eventually. Once he’d cooled off. But then, no matter how many times I said the magick word, my husband wouldn’t change. He just hung there in the chifforobe, with a dazed look on his face.

So I summoned the messenger. And what do you think he said?

“Your magick powers have expired.”

“Well, can’t the witches turn him back for me?” “I’m afraid that’s not the way it works. A magick spell can only be undone by the person who cast it.”

I asked if there was any hope at all. He reflected for a moment.

“The spell will break once all three witches die. Which should be soonish. They’re getting up there . . .” “How soon?”

“Let’s say twenty years.”

That’s how I wound up living with a mute paddle of salmon for a husband. At first I thought of turning myself in to the police, but no one had been killed or injured, and there’s nothing in the law books saying it’s illegal to cast spells.

The only thing that bugs me is that lately, one of my smoked husband’s legs has gotten all stretched out and ribbony, on account of hanging there so long. It’s not like I can cut it off. But it just keeps getting longer, I mean it’s really in the way, so every time I close the chifforobe, I have to kick it shut.

Hit Parade of Tears
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