Sunday, October 29, 2006

Death Concept at Age Two and a Half

Death Concept at Age Two and a Half

At the age of two and a half, my daughter, Aiko Cornucopia Nishikawa, has clearly formed a concept of death.

This fact emerged when my wife and I were returning home on foot with our daughter, having just received flu shots at a local clinic. (For me, my first-ever flu shot in my life.)

Cornucopia discovered an impressively large kamakiri lying in the road. My wife asked me what a kamakiri was in English, and I explained that it was a praying mantis.

Since the mantis seemed to be in a bad way, I suggested that it would be appropriate to rush it to the nearest hospital, but my wife nixed this suggestion, asserting that the mantis was dead.

My wife has absolutely no background as a veterinary surgeon, and, what's more, had made no move to physically examine the patient. But she was, as ever, Lady Confidence, claiming, on the basis of a cursory glance in the direction of the casualty, that it was dead.

She mad this pronouncement on the basis of two facts:

a. The mantis was not moving; and

b. It was lying belly-up.

If these criteria were used on any busy beach at the height of summer, there would be any number of unsuspecting sunbathers bundled willy nilly into the corpse wagons at collection time.

As my wife was not responsive to the notion that we should take on the role of Good Samaritan, I reflected on the fact that, in all probability, a trip to the hospital would be useless, since the mantis was highly unlikely to be enrolled in the Japanese national health scheme.

So we walked on by.

A few meters down the road, my daughter discovered a second kamakiri, and this one was emphatically dead. I could tell because it had lost one of its dimensions, ie had been squashed flat.

Although the substrate of Known Reality consists of ten dimensional space, for practical purposes we make do with three, and, if you're a three-dimensional lifeform, then three is all you need. But if you lose one of your dimensions then, sorry, that's it. Curtains.

The praying mantis had definitely carked it.

My daughter remarked on the fact that the two-dimensional praying mantis was dead.

"Shinjatta," she said, a compressed colloquial version of "Shinda shimatta," a statement telling us that this is an ex mantis.

The following day, Sunday, I was in the living room when one of our household spiders attacked, killed and ate a very tiny ant, doing this in front of my wife and daughter. They both saw the whole thing.

My wife apparently decided that it was time to have a Serious Discussion About Death, and she approached the subject by talking about an apple, using the English word "apple" to denote this item.

The talk was in Japanese, and, translated, went (very approximately) in this direction:

"You eat an apple, don't you? And that isn't a smile happy for the apple, is it? But you have to eat the apple. You need to eat so you can grow big and strong.

"And, just as you had no option but to eat the apple, so the spider had no option but to eat the ant."

Shortly thereafter, my wife left the house for a rare Sunday lunch with friends (the first in six months) and I and my daughter were left to fend for ourselves.

For lunch, I cooked two-minute noodles, boiling them up with green peas, a can of tuna and a can of scallops. There were some cardboard pizzas in the fridge, so I cooked one of them, too, in the toaster.

For the sake of domestic peace, my wife permits Cornucopia to enter the kitchen and spectate, standing on a small stool for the purpose. But I, being somewhat accident prone due to my health circumstances, thought it unwise to have Miss Energy Bundle in the kitchen while I was busy with a saucepan containing, amongst other things, a quantity of boiling water. I did not think that would be a good combination.

So I kept the young barbarian outside the kitchen's security gate, and she did not protest, apparently understanding that when I'm cooking in the kitchen we play by my rules.

The cooking went smoothly, since two minute noodles are no big challenge when you've been cooking them for decades, and so food was duly delivered to the table.

And we had music with the meal, Cornucopia having demanded music. I let her choose, and she, being in a "the hell with Humpty Dumpty" mood, opted for TECHNOSTATE, which, as the title suggests, is a techno album, one that I bought a few years back at a flea market held on the terraces outside of Yokohama Stadium.

My wife doesn't like this album, deeming it to be "noisy," which it is.

We had plenty of stuff to do on Sunday, such as blowing bubbles and playing with the neighboring kid's trike.

For a moment, then, the world is at peace, our vital three dimensions intact and our lives, at least for the moment, on track.

At peace, sort of, while the house, bit by bit, takes on the aspect of Battlefield Earth.

Given that the spilt vase did not break, I figured that it would be sufficient to mop up the mess then push the soaking wet chair into the sun where, in all probability, it would be more or less dry by the time my wife got home. I figured that there was no need for my wife to know more than, say, a tenth of what had gone on while she was out.

When my wife got home, Cornucopia's chosen music was cranked up a little loud, but my wife made no comment on the volume, perhaps just relieved to see that the house had not burnt down in her absence and that nobody had been kidnapped by Madonna.

Escaping the Bell

My daughter
Quirks free of norms,
Eludes the bell-shaped curve.
Patiently, I explain to her
That people-poking,
A dead insect the device of choice,
Is not quite etiquette.
Though, admittedly, a praying mantis,
Dead,
Is perfectly ideal for the purpose.

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