Thriller Restaurant Series – Volume 32
The Night of the Laundry Women and Death God
By Niikura Akiko
Surely you’ve heard the whack of someone washing clothes in the river beyond the bush-line in the middle of the night. The sound I’m talking about is when people whack clothes with a flat paddle while washing laundry. If you hear it, you should make the sign of the cross and instead of looking for what’s making the noise, continue straight on. If you happen to get as far as meeting the women doing laundry at night, you must resist your curiosity and go straight home.
It’s said that on The Day of the Dead people who have departed come back to this world when night falls. On that very night, Gyo happened to meet some women washing clothes in the river. Gyo would drink from morning to night and walk around singing loudly, living an unproductive life.
Like usual, he spent this day drinking and while on the way to the bar in the morning, he glanced at the villagers who were at the church praying for the departed. He enjoyed himself in the bar until midnight, when he headed home, singing in a drunk, off-key bellow. When he came to Roko River and started to cross the small bridge, he heard a whacking petan-petan sound which came from the valley to his left. Still drunk, Gyo stopped singing and froze in his tracks because he didn’t know what was making the sound.
As if drawn by it, he went down to the riverbank. Two women wearing white clothes were kneeling, striking a large piece of cloth as they washed it.
Why the heck are they doing laundry in the river when it’s late and everyone’s gone to sleep? Gyo felt it was particularly strange. He shrugged to himself and started to go back the way he came. Stumbling, he kicked a small rock and it fell into the river with a kerplunk.
The two women doing laundry jumped in surprise and looked up at Gyo. By the light of the moon their faces were as pale as corpses and their eyes appeared to be sunken in and hollow. It was so frightening that he started to run away, but then the women yelled something behind him.
“Come here and give us a hand,” one woman said in a commanding tone. Gyo staggered closer to help. The women held up a dripping-wet cloth they’d been washing.
“Here, help us wring this dry.”
Gyo did just as they’d asked and took one end of the cloth, the two women took their other, and they began to wring it dry.
“Who are you gals, anyway? Why the heck are you doing laundry here in the middle of the night?” Gyo asked.
“Well, we’re washing this outfit for a man who just died this very night. If we don’t finish it tonight, the dead man won’t have any funeral clothing.”
Suddenly Gyo remembered an old tale he’d heard a while ago. If you wanted to escape from the ghostly women who wash laundry in the night, you have to twist the cloth the same direction as they did, thus leaving the cloth dripping wet. He tried his hardest to do this, but as they turned the cloth around and around, he got dizzy and unintentionally ended up twisting the cloth instead of turning it.
“That’s it. That’s it. You’ve turned it in an unlucky direction,” one of the women yelled.
“That’s it. That’s it,” the other woman repeated. Their voices echoed from the river, through the tangled branches of the trees which grew on the riverbank, awaking a songbird which was so startled that it flew straight into Gyo’s head. When he came-to, the women had disappeared.
He shivered, thinking it was a dream, but soon saw that he still held the wet fabric in his hands. Now completely sober, Gyo was struck with terror. He was about to go to a nearby house to ask for help, but it was too late.
He heard the creak of a two-wheeled carriage. Frozen in that pose, he could do nothing but wait motionlessly.
There isn’t a road for a carriage to drive on anywhere near here, so what’s with that sound? After a short time, a horse neighed and a carriage stopped next to the riverbank. A man wearing black and holding a whip approached Gyo.
“So, I’m looking for a man named Gyo. You haven’t seen him around here, have you?” The man’s teeth chattered horribly.
Gyo didn’t respond. The man in black circled Gyo and said in a husky voice, “If I’m not mistaken, you’re holding your own funeral clothes. You must be Gyo.”
Looking at the man’s face in the moonlight, it turned out Gyo was actually looking at the face of the death god Ankh. At that moment Gyo dropped the cloth and fell to the ground. The death god carried Gyo’s corpse to the carriage and put it inside. The horse neighed three times and the carriage creaked off and disappeared into the darkness.
This story had a lot of more complicated sentence structures and I had to ask coworkers for advice even though I just wanted to guess at it and not worry so much about being 100% correct. Judging by their explanations, I’d say that this story is written in a style that employs more natural Japanese that the previous ones I’ve read.
For example, I took a little while to figure out exactly how to explain this one in English and ended up having to add some words that weren’t in the sentence for it to make sense in English. Sorry if this is a bad thing to do as a translator, but I feel as if I have no other choice sometimes.
“There isn’t a road for a carriage to drive on anywhere near here, so what’s with that sound?”