The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 3.7 MB
Beautiful and mysterious, THE THINGS SHE OWNED explores the complexity of lives lived between cultures, the weight of cross-generational trauma, and a mother and daughter on a tortuous path to forgiveness.
Years after the death of her cruel and complicated mother, Erika’s house is still full of the things Michiko left behind – an onigiri basket, a Wedgewood tea set, a knotted ring from Okinawa.
In defiance of Japanese tradition, Erika has also kept the urn containing Michiko’s ashes, refusing to put her memory to rest.
Erika throws herself into working as a chef at a high-end London restaurant and pretends everything is fine.
But when a cousin announces that she will be visiting from Japan, Erika’s resolve begins to crack.
Slowly the things Michiko owned reveal stories of Michiko’s youth amid the upheaval of Tokyo during and after the war.
As the two women’s stories progress and entwine, Erika is drawn to the island of Okinawa, the homeland of her grandmother.
It’s a place of magic and mysticism where the secrets of Erika’s own past are waiting to be revealed.
Erika spends her one day off a week cleaning her own and Lila Mackenzie’s flats – three hours for herself and two for her elderly neighbour. She goes upstairs each Monday afternoon, taking a week’s worth of casseroles and soups to put in the eighty-five-year-old widow’s fridge, and when she’s done she stays for a chat and a cup of tea and a biscuit. Mrs Mackenzie is frail and leaves messages on Erika’s answering machine whenever she needs help with something, like opening a jar of honey or changing a light bulb. The relationship grew organically. There’d never been an official arrangement, but they’d assumed the roles of carer and cared for, settling into a comfortable companionship that bridged the fifty-five-year gap between them. Erika never tires of the stories Mrs Mac tells again and again as she reminisces over old photographs and prized objects. The old woman’s memories are a robust and lively contrast to her brittle body. She sits curled and impeccably dressed in her enormous golden velvet armchair, her eyes sparking as she talks.
Mrs Mackenzie’s stories reconnect an unidentifiable, broken thread inside Erika. She leaves, feeling restored somehow, clutching a shopping list and a purse of money from the widow’s pension. She delivers the groceries before her evening shift later in the week, giving her a chance to check up on her neighbour. Mrs Mackenzie has two daughters and five grandchildren but Erika’s never seen them visiting. The daughters are busy people and rarely seem to call, yet Mrs Mackenzie speaks lovingly of them, smiling at their photos above the mantelpiece. Erika wonders if they know how lucky they are, having this mother’s unconditional love.
She’s glad of the hours she spends cleaning the flat and tending to Mrs Mackenzie’s needs. It keeps Erika from swimming into uncharted waters of empty time. Without these tasks, she’d happily work seven days a week. Before she got to know her neighbour, she’d even suggested this to her boss, André, the head chef at the restaurant where she worked. He said he’d be more than happy to let her kill herself working every day of the week if she wanted to, if it weren’t for the miserable bastards at Health & Safety. He’d never had anyone complain about having time off, he’d said, and frankly, mate, Erika was a freak, but he’d forgive her because she was a fucking awesome sous-chef and had a nice arse. She’d grimaced before getting back to her station to prep her mise for evening service.