Everything is carved out of marble, even the mother, who sits stationary in the living room, shaped into an upright seated position with a chiseled face that was designed to make her seem serious, but with an appropriate amount of sympathy engraved into the eyes. She stares at the too-perfect Japanese garden that seems painted onto the looming glass. This makes dusting awkward for the young woman hired to clean the house. The wall-windows feel uncomfortable with the crisply-partitioned outdoors that surround the residence. She doesn’t think she should be able to start a fire with a light switch.
The father and the son both wear expressions on their faces similar to the mother’s, except they move their mouths when they chew their cereal. In the morning, the family eats breakfast in the living room, arranging TV trays into a makeshift dining table with the mother placed at the head of the formation. The father places an empty bowl in front of the mother as he sits down to his oatmeal. After breakfast, they clear the mother’s bowl along with their own and pack up the trays in the hall closet. The son goes upstairs to gather his things into his dark blue satchel and put on his school uniform. The father goes downstairs to choose his tie and straighten his bed covers before work. At night, the son lays a blanket over the marble mother and kisses her cheek.
The son walks out to catch his bus (which is not actually a bus, but a silver van with seatbelts), which will drive him to a private elementary school, where he learns Japanese and English so he will be able to speak both languages in a business environment. He uses his lunch money to buy American sweets from one of the students at school, and he locks the candy in a tiny safe, which the father bought for him to put in his classroom cubby hole.
The father could ride the train to work, but he doesn’t. Instead, he drives his German car. Because he drives, he leaves 45 minutes early, so that he can maneuver through the traffic that congests the narrow streets of Takarazuka. The morning commute causes him a lot of stress, but he doesn’t think the car should just sit in the garage, so he uses it every day. He sits in his car, listening to nothing but traffic-noise and the grinding of his teeth against one another. The doctor has told him to stop grinding or he will cause irreparable damage to his teeth and jaws. The father doesn’t stop grinding.
The mother sits at home while the men of the house go about their days. The father and son try not to think about her while they are out. So the father works long hours at a tall building in Osaka and goes out drinking with his coworkers most nights (he doesn’t drink). The son has three tutors that help him after school, one after another, in one-hour segments. The son doesn’t like his third tutor, Don, because every time he comes, he tries to teach him karate in English, and the son doesn’t like karate or English.
When the father and son leave, the young woman who cleans comes to the house. She switches on the fireplace so that the marble surfaces of the room warm up enough for her to touch them with her skin. She takes off the house-slippers and lowers her bare feet onto the marble floor, lightly at first, but then lets them sink onto the hard surface as if it is lush grass, or red shag carpet.
She walks over to the mother, bends down, and stares into her granite eyes. The marble, smooth and shiny, reflects the young woman’s image, her own pupils filling the sockets of the mothers’. The young woman breathes heavily onto the mother’s cheek so that breath-fog clouds the immaculate skin. Still cold, the young woman says to herself.
Sometimes, she moves the mother to different rooms in the house. She will hoist the mother up onto a rolling dolly and, gasping for breath, drag her from one room to another. The mother adds frigid elegance to the kitchen, the young woman thinks. And in the den, she moves her to the middle of the stark room, which transforms into a museum exhibit with the mother’s presence. But when she wheels the mother to the tall window of the entry way, the young woman feels uneasy staring at the mother staring at her reflection against the outdoors. After this, she decides to replace her in the living room as if none of this happened. This has happened several times.
The white silence in the room calcifies the young woman’s insides as she walks to the kitchen. She senses the mother’s gaze as she reaches under the sink for a garbage bag. She senses the gaze as she walks back to the living room, and she senses the gaze as she places the bag over the mother’s head. The father appears in the doorway of the living room.
The father, from the next room, watches the young woman dust the mantle behind the mother’s garbage-bag head. He stares for a few minutes before clearing his throat and entering the room. He says nothing (he can’t speak much English) to her but Hello. She jerks around, dashing back into her house slippers. Her eyes (as well as his) shift to the mother, and they both remain frozen, stiff and rigid as the woman before them. The father, in language that straddles Japanese and English, tries to explain something, and the young woman replies with wide eyes and an open jaw. I don’t understand, she thinks in a broken language. The father thinks the same. So they both sink into a confused hush.
After the silence, the young woman steps toward the mother and begins to remove the bag. The father says Okay, and stops her hand with his own. With the mother’s eyes veiled, the young woman returns to her work, and the father returns to the office. He can’t remember why he came home in the first place.
When he’s left, the young woman reaches into the liquor cabinet and pours herself a drink. She wonders if the mother would like one, or if she’s ever had one. Staring at the mother for an answer, she decides that she was never the drinking type.
The son, meanwhile, imagines what might happen if he were to carve a crevasse deep into the mother’s mineral skin. He thinks about where he would carve it, what he would write. Maybe his name, near the crease of her neck-skin, or I am completely half afraid to think across her half-opened eyelids. Maybe he would chisel a precise incision along the side of her stomach – a c-section scar – or an opening he could crawl into. He can’t seem to imagine whether it will be cold or warm inside. He wonders if a stone-baby already lives in there, if he would be disturbing something that already exists in that space. He wants to whittle away at pieces of her until he can sweep them up with a broom and dustpan, collect them in a pile on his desk, and hand them back to the marble mother. You can have this back, he will say.