(Translated by Jay Rubin)
“So Masakichi got his paws full of honey—way more honey than he could eat by himself—and he put it in a pail, and do-o-own the mountain he went, all the way to the town, to sell his honey. Masakichi was the all-time No. 1 honey bear.”
“Do bears have pails?” Sala asked.
“Masakichi just happened to have one,” Junpei explained. “He found it lying by the road, and he figured it would come in handy sometime.”
“And it did.”
“It really did. So Masakichi went to the town and found a spot for himself in the square. He put up a sign: ‘Deeelicious Honey. All Natural. One Cup ¥200.’ ”
“Can bears count money?”
“Absolutely. Masakichi lived with people when he was just a cub, and they taught him how to talk and how to count money. Masakichi was a very special bear. And so the other bears, who weren’t so special, tended to shun him.”
“Yeah, they’d go, like, ‘Hey, what’s with this guy, acting so special?’ and keep away from him. Especially Tonkichi, the tough guy. He really hated Masakichi.”
“Yeah, really. Meanwhile, the people would say, ‘O.K., he knows how to count, and he can talk and all, but when you get right down to it he’s just a bear.’ So Masakichi didn’t really belong to either world—the bear world or the people world.”
“Didn’t he have any friends?”
“Not a single friend. Bears don’t go to school, you know, so there’s no place for them to make friends.”
“Do you have friends, Jun?” “Uncle Junpei” was too long for her, so Sala just called him Jun.
“Your daddy is my absolute bestest friend from a long, long time ago. And so’s your mommy.”
“That’s good, to have friends.”
“It is good,” Junpei said. “You’re right about that.”
Junpei often made up stories for Sala before she went to bed. And whenever she didn’t understand something she would ask him to explain. Junpei gave a lot of thought to his answers. Sala’s questions were often sharp and interesting, and while he was thinking about them he could also come up with new twists to the story he was telling.
Sayoko brought a glass of warm milk.
“Junpei is telling me the story of Masakichi the bear,” Sala said. “He’s the all-time No. 1 honey bear, but he doesn’t have any friends.”
“Oh, really? Is he a big bear?” Sayoko asked.
Sala turned to Junpei with an uneasy stare. “Is Masakichi big?”
“Not so big,” Junpei said. “In fact, he’s kind of on the small side. For a bear. He’s just about your size, Sala. And he’s a very sweet-tempered little guy. When he listens to music, he doesn’t listen to rock or punk or that kind of stuff. He likes to listen to Schubert, all by himself.”
“He listens to music?” Sala asked. “Does he have a CD player or something?”
“He found a boom box lying on the ground one day. He picked it up and brought it home.”
“How come all this stuff just happens to be lying around in the mountains?” Sala asked with a note of suspicion.
“Well, it’s a very, very steep mountain, and the hikers get all faint and dizzy, and they throw away tons of stuff they don’t need. Right there by the road, like, ‘Oh, man, this pack is so heavy, I feel like I’m gonna die! I don’t need this pail anymore. I don’t need this boom box anymore.’ ”
“I know just how they feel,” Sayoko said. “Sometimes you want to throw everything away.”
“Not me,” Sala said.
“That’s because you’re young and full of energy, Sala,” Junpei said. “Hurry and drink your milk so I can tell you the rest of the story.”
“O.K.,” she said, wrapping her hands around the glass and drinking the warm milk with great care. Then she asked, “How come Masakichi doesn’t make honey pies and sell them? I think the people in the town would like that better than just plain honey.”
“An excellent point,” Sayoko said with a smile. “His profits would be much greater that way.”
“Plowing up new markets through value added,” Junpei said. “This girl will be a real entrepreneur someday.”
It was almost 2 A.M. by the time Sala went back to bed. Junpei and Sayoko waited for her to fall asleep, then went to split a can of beer at the kitchen table. Sayoko wasn’t much of a drinker, and Junpei had to drive home.
“Sorry for dragging you out in the middle of the night,” Sayoko said, “but I didn’t know what else to do. I’m totally exhausted, and you’re the only one who can calm her down. There was no way I was going to call Takatsuki.”
Junpei nodded and took a swig of beer. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’m awake till the sun comes up, and the roads are empty at this time of night. It’s no big deal.”
“You were working on a story?”
“How’s it going?”
“Like always. I write ’em. They print ’em. Nobody reads ’em.”
“I read them. All of them.”
“Thanks. You’re a nice person,” Junpei said. “But the short story is on its way out. Like the slide rule. Let’s talk about Sala. Has she done this before?”