The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa Read Online (FREE)
Originally published: January 26, 1994
Author: Yōko Ogawa
Original title: 密やかな結晶 (Hisoyaka na kesshō)
Translator: Stephen Snyder
Publication date: 26 January 1994
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
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I sometimes wonder what was disappeared first—among all the things that have vanished from the island.
“Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here,” my mother used to tell me when I was still a child. “Transparent things, fragrant things…fluttery ones, bright ones…wonderful things you can’t possibly imagine.
“It’s a shame that the people who live here haven’t been able to hold such marvelous things in their hearts and minds, but that’s just the way it is on this island. Things go on disappearing, one by one. It won’t be long now,” she added. “You’ll see for yourself. Something will disappear from your life.”
“Is it scary?” I asked her, suddenly anxious.
“No, don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt, and you won’t even be particularly sad. One morning you’ll simply wake up and it will be over, before you’ve even realized. Lying still, eyes closed, ears pricked, trying to sense the flow of the morning air, you’ll feel that something has changed from the night before, and you’ll know that you’ve lost something, that something has been disappeared from the island.”
My mother would talk like this only when we were in her studio in the basement. It was a large, dusty, rough-floored room, built so close to the river on the north side that you could clearly hear the sound of the current. I would sit on the little stool that was reserved for my use, as my mother, a sculptor, sharpened a chisel or polished a stone with her file and talked on in her quiet voice.
“The island is stirred up after a disappearance. People gather in little groups out in the street to talk about their memories of the thing that’s been lost. There are regrets and a certain sadness, and we try to comfort one another. If it’s a physical object that has been disappeared, we gather the remnants up to burn, or bury, or toss into the river. But no one makes much of a fuss, and it’s over in a few days. Soon enough, things are back to normal, as though nothing has happened, and no one can even recall what it was that disappeared.”
Then she would interrupt her work to lead me back behind the staircase to an old cabinet with rows of small drawers.
“Go ahead, open any one you like.”
I would think about my choice for a moment, studying the rusted oval handles.
I always hesitated, because I knew what sorts of strange and fascinating things were inside. Here in this secret place, my mother kept hidden many of the things that had been disappeared from the island in the past.
When at last I made my choice and opened a drawer, she would smile and place the contents on my outstretched palm.