Nao-cola Yamazaki trans. by Polly Barton
First, you draw a semicircle. Then, taking the diameter of that semicircle as the radius of the next, you draw a second semicircle on top of the first. Then you take the diameter of that circle as the radius of the next, and draw another semicircle on the opposite side again. Repeat this process, over and over, and you’ll end up with an ammonite.
The natural world produces truly amazing spirals.
The ammonites that once lived in the sea died, and got buried in the sand. When the Earth’s oceans shrunk, this sand became a part of the land. Then, one day, some people came along and dug up this land, and found fossilized ammonites.
Ayumi Kandagawa’s dad took her to see a dinosaur exhibit. All the usual contenders were there: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Pteranodon, and Brachiosaurus. There were dinosaur skeletons, pieced back together from bones that had been found, and plastic replicas.
“What’s the difference between dinosaurs and monsters?” Kandagawa asked, tugging at her dad’s pant leg.
“Dinosaurs really existed once upon a time, but monsters never did,” said her dad.
“But for me, now, there’s basically no difference between things that existed at one time but don’t any more, and things that never existed, is there?” said Kandagawa.
Nobody can prove anything about the past. The past is the same thing as the imaginary. Take paleontologists, for example—what they are really studying is the present. They’re looking at ancient times as they exist now.
After they had been around all the displays in the exhibit, they came to the gift shop. Kandagawa pestered her dad to buy her an ammonite fossil. It cost seven hundred yen. It was about the size of the circle she got when she put her thumb and forefinger together.
“Kids sure do love rocks, eh?” Kandagawa’s dad said, and laughed. He gripped the steering wheel of their Toyota Corolla, and they set off. Kandagawa was sitting by herself in the back of the car.
“I like rocks.”
“That rock you’ve got there used to be alive, you know.” Each time her dad said something to her, he looked at her in the rearview mirror.
“Will I become a rock one day too?”
“Yep,” her dad said.
Kandagawa put her finger to her lips and nibbled at it. At the moment, only the nail bit was hard. But from now on, she would get harder and harder, until her hand was as hard as stone, and then her whole body would turn into a rock. . . . It was fun to imagine.
As the car sped along, Kandagawa rested her forehead on the window glass. The lights in the town whizzed by, underneath a sky of black. She stared at them for a while, then took out the case containing the ammonite that her dad had bought her and opened it up. The spiral-shaped fossil was sitting there on a piece of absorbent cotton. She picked it up with finger and thumb, then quickly popped it into her mouth. The hard stone clunked against her teeth. It didn’t taste like anything at all. She traced the circling groove with the tip of her tongue.
Who will lick me when I turn into a rock? Kandagawa wondered to herself as she looked out at the night moving past outside the window.
Polly Barton's translations of Nao-cola Yamazaki's "Fossil Candy" and "An Imaginary Band History" as well as "Let People Buy You Lunch," "A Totally New Kind of Umbrella" and "Logic and Sensitivity Are Not Incompatible" can be read in the print edition of The Arkansas International 2.
Nao-Cola Yamazaki debuted in 2004 with the Bungei Award-winning novella Don't Laugh At Other People's Sex. She has published over ten novels, essay collections, and a children's book, and has been nominated for the Akutagawa Prize five times. Her latest release is Utsukushii Kyori (A Beautiful Distance), published in July 2016.
Polly Barton was raised in London and lives in Osaka. Aside from Nao-Cola Yamazaki, she has translated a variety of Japanese literary fiction and non-fiction, including Aoko Matsuda and Misumi Kubo. She is a 2017 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant recipient. Her translation of Tomoka Shibasaki's Spring Garden came out from Pushkin Press in 2017.