Read The Earthquake Bird Online
Authors: Susanna Jones
“Jones’s pacing is skilled and deliberate…. The descriptions are delivered with fluency and intimacy…. An examination of the
slippery nature of truth and memory, obsessions and betrayals, all of which Jones handles with confidence and skill.”
“This small gem of a first novel…unfolds as neatly as origami…. In concise prose perfectly suited to its setting… Jones captures
the sense of a foreign country and culture and creates an unusually provocative protagonist.”
“Fast-paced and claustrophobic… a subtle portrait of how jealousy blooms from nothing…a promising debut.”
“Susanna Jones renders Lucy’s painful realization of lost love and missed opportunity with seductive delicacy.”
“Moving… suspenseful and absorbing.”
“Astonishingly accomplished…. It is hard to believe that this skillfully constructed and beautifully written work is a first
“Alluring…. This spare, urgent debut is not only a polished crime novel but a hymn to Tokyo and an awkwardly tender love story….
Noodle bars, skyscrapers, subways, and the rainy season are described with the fragile elegance of a Japanese painting.”
“Powerful… disturbing… an incredible shocker of a tale.”
Midwest Book Review
“Written with the cool detachment of a could-be killer, this beautiful and bizarre chiller is compelling.”
“Intriguing… smudged with dark humor… a succinct, confident debut.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Compelling and rather disquieting…. The sentences may be lean and spare, but the murder on the first page heralds a weight
and menace to this story that’s strangely chilling.”
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2001 by Susanna Jones
All rights reserved.
Originally published in hardcover by Mysterious Press
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
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The Grand Central Publishing name and logo are registered trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
First eBook Edition: September 2009
Acclaim for The Earthquake Bird
arly this morning, several hours before my arrest, I was awakened by an earth tremor. I mention the incident not to suggest
that there was a connection—that somehow the fault lines in my life came crashing together in the form of a couple of policemen—for
in Tokyo we have a quake like this every month or so, sometimes more, and this morning’s was nothing special. I am simply
relating the sequence of events as they happened. It has been an unusual day, and I would hate to forget anything.
I was between the covers on my futon, in a deep sleep. I awoke to hear my coat hangers hitting the sides of the wardrobe.
Plates in the kitchen rattled and the floor creaked. The rocking made me nauseous but despite that, I hadn’t realized why
I was moving. It was only when, from outside, the familiar sound reached my ears that I understood. A tinny voice croaked
in the wind from far away. I sat up in the dark, shivering.
Since Lily’s death and Teiji’s disappearance, I have become nervous about many things. I pulled open the wardrobe door and
crept beneath the clattering coat hangers. I put on my cycling helmet, reached for the flashlight that I keep taped to the
wall, and crouched in the corner. I shone the light around to check that my whistle and bottle of earthquake water were with
me. They were. A cockroach ran across my bare leg and settled on the floor beside me.
“Go away,” I whispered. “Get out. Do you hear me? I don’t want you here.”
The cockroach’s black feelers shifted slightly in my direction. Then it shimmered away and disappeared through an invisible
crack in the wall.
It was some moments before I realized that the wardrobe was still. The earthquake had stopped. The night was quiet.
I crawled back into the warmth of my futon but couldn’t sleep. I knew now I was not alone in my flat. I pulled my pillow under
my face and curled up on my side. I have many tricks to deal with the problems of ghosts and insomnia. One of them is to test
my Japanese. I took the word for earthquake,
, and tried to think of words with the same pronunciation but different characters. Putting together
, meaning “self,” and
, which means “trust,” produces “confidence.” With other written characters an earthquake can become an hour hand, a magnetic
needle, or be simply oneself, myself. Here I ran out of ideas. There must be more words but I could think of none. I would
normally be able to count seven or eight words before dropping off, but this morning my game wasn’t working.
I tried another strategy. I imagined Teiji was behind me, circling me with his twiggish arms, rocking me to sleep, as he had
done in the happy days when we slept together like spoons. We both loved earthquakes then, as much as we loved thunderstorms
and typhoons. I felt comforted by the memory and I may have dozed off for half an hour or so. When I awoke again, the room
was light. I folded my futon and kicked it into the wardrobe. I grabbed a package of instant noodles for my lunch and drank
a quick cup of tea. At seven o’clock, I set off for work feeling no more tired, no worse than I have felt for the last few
weeks. I expected a normal day at my office.
The police came for me in the afternoon. I was at my desk working on the translation of a new design of bicycle pump. I was
concentrating hard and didn’t notice the arrival of my visitors. The work was not particularly difficult—my job is to translate
tedious technical documents, and I do it very well—but it took my mind off recent, disastrous events. I became aware that
my colleagues had stopped working and were looking in the direction of the door. I raised my head. Two policemen stood in
the entrance. I wasn’t surprised. I’m sure no one was. My coworkers looked from the police to me and back again.
To be arrested in the middle of the office, in front of an unsupportive audience, was a degradation I didn’t want. I leaped
from my seat hoping to preempt the police officers’ strike.
“It’s for me,” I muttered. “I think they just want to ask some more questions. No big deal.”
And before I could cross the room: “Ms. Fly? We’re taking you to the police station for questioning in connection with the
disappearance of Lily Bridges. Bring your alien registration card.”
I stood before the two dark blue uniforms and tried to edge them toward the door.
“It’s in my pocket. I never go anywhere without it. But I’ve already answered a lot of questions. I can’t imagine I have anything
else to tell you.”
“There are new developments. We’d like you to come with us down to the car.”
I was nervous. There was only one potential development that I could think of, but I didn’t dare ask my question. Had they
found the missing parts of Lily’s body? By now the disparate pieces may have been washed ashore with the tide, or caught in
nets by the night fishermen. Perhaps the police had been able to put her back together again and make an official identification.
That would be a formality. According to the newspapers, the police knew they’d found Lily.
Nothing has been the same in the office since that morning a couple of weeks ago when someone brought in the
and passed it quietly from desk to desk until, by the afternoon, it had reached mine. The headline announced: “Woman’s torso
recovered from Tokyo Bay. Believed to be missing British bartender Lily Bridges.”
And no one would look at me after that, not properly. I don’t know whether they thought I was a murderer or whether the whole
horror of Lily’s death had left them too embarrassed to talk to me.
The police led me out of the room—as if I didn’t know the way—and down to the car on the street. I didn’t look up. I knew
my colleagues were watching from the window but there was no need to wave them goodbye. I shouldn’t think we’ll meet again.
I shall miss one of them, my friend Natsuko. She wanted to believe in me, but the headline was too much even for her and she
had deserted me.
My own reaction to the news story was that Lily wouldn’t have approved of the wording, brief though it was. She was a bartender
only in Japan. At home in Hull she had been a nurse. She was a fine nurse, as I discovered on our hike in Yamanashi-ken, when
I slipped and fell on the mountainside. She led me down and bandaged my ankle with such efficient compassion that I almost
cried. But in the bar she was clumsy and meek. Her voice was so high and whiny it made people want to jump behind the bar
and get their own drinks. The bar job was only intended to be temporary.
But now Lily’s dead and I’m in a police station. It is my first brush with the Japanese legal system, apart from a few avuncular
questions when Lily first disappeared. I’m not sure what they want from me this time, but it seems serious. I am sitting on
a bench in a corridor. The men who brought me here have gone away and there are two policemen fussing around nearby. An old
fat one and a young thin one. The fat one is persuading the thin one to speak English to me to find out whether or not I can
speak Japanese. I have not bothered to tell them that my Japanese is fluent, that indeed I am a professional translator. It
is a fact they should know, if they know anything at all. They have reached an agreement. The thin one faces me.
“Hello. I’m going to be the interpreter.” His English is slow, hesitant.
“Could you please tell me your full name?”
“It’s on my alien registration card. I gave it to someone before.”
This information is imparted to the other officer, in Japanese. The reply comes back in Japanese, then English.
“It’s not my job to know what happened to your alien registration card. Your full name.”
The fat one knits his brow.
“Rooshy Furai,” I say, making an effort to be cooperative. When the police questioned me before, my friend Bob warned that
I should try to act normal, although it goes against my nature, and I will be as obliging as I can.
“I’m thirty-four years old.”
He doesn’t respond.
“I was born in the year of the snake, in fact.”
“And you work in Tokyo, in Shibuya,” the old, fat policeman says in Japanese. When it’s relayed into English, I reply, “That’s
Again, I wait for the translation before I answer, “Sasagawa.”
“You’re an editor there?”
My young, thin friend obediently conveys this to me.
“A translator. Japanese to English.” I expect the coin to drop but it doesn’t.
“How long have you worked there?”
“About four years.”
“So you speak Japanese.” The interpreter says, “So you speak Japanese.”
“Yes,” I say.
, I think.
“Yes, she does.”
The policeman looks at me. It is a suspicious, unfriendly look that I feel I have not deserved. Not yet.
“Pera pera,” I say.
“You didn’t say so.”
“I wasn’t asked.”
The interpreter leaves, in something of a huff. I am glad to be rid of him. I didn’t think much of his accent. I’m left with
the old fat man.
My captor shows me to a chair in a small room. He sits opposite me and looks everywhere but at my face. I’m not complaining.
Why should he have to look at my face? Lucy is not an oil painting, as everyone who has seen her knows. When I am comfortably
seated, though, he forces his eyes upon my face only to find that now he can’t let go. There’s something about my eyes, I
“I want you to tell me about the night Lily Bridges-san disappeared.”
“Do we know which night she disappeared?”
“The night after which she was never seen again. As far as we know, you were the last person she spoke to.”