Lundy's Hardware she stopped and looked at the display of victory garden
shovels in the window. They were well-made shovels with sturdy metal handles
and she thought, for a moment, of buying one-the price was right and she
did not like to pass up a bargain. Then she remembered that she already
had a shovel at home in the shed. In fact, she had two. She did not need
a third. She smoothed down her dress and went into the store.
"Nice glasses," Joe Lundy said the moment she walked through the door.
"You think?" she asked. "I'm not used to them yet." She picked up a hammer
and gripped the handle firmly. "Do you have anything bigger?" she asked.
Joe Lundy said that what she had in her hand was the biggest hammer he
had. She put the hammer back on the rack.
"How's your roof holding out?" he asked her.
"I think the shingles are rotting. It just sprung another leak."
"It's been a wet year."
The woman nodded. "But we've had some nice days." She walked past the
venetian blinds and the black-out shades to the back of the store. She
picked out two rolls of tape and a ball of twine and brought them back
to the register. "Every time it rains I have to set out the bucket," she
said. She put down two quarters on the counter.
"Nothing wrong with a bucket," said Joe Lundy. He pushed the quarters
back toward her across the counter but he did not look at her. "You can
pay me later," he said. Then he began to wipe the side of the register
with a rag. There was a dark stain there that would not go away.
"I can pay you now," said the woman.
"Don't worry about it," said Joe Lundy. He reached into his shirt pocket
and gave her two caramel candies wrapped in gold foil. "For the children,"
he said. She slipped the caramels into her purse but left the money. She
thanked him for the candy and walked out of the store.
"That's a nice red dress," he called out after her.
She turned around and squinted at him over the top of her glasses. "Thank
you," she said. "Thank you, Joe." Then the door slammed behind her and
she was alone on the sidewalk and she realized that in all the years she
had been going to Joe Lundy's store she had never before called him by
his name. Joe. It sounded strange to her. Wrong, almost. But she had said
it. She had said it out loud. She wished she had said it earlier.
She wiped her forehead with her handkerchief. The sun was bright and she
did not like to sweat in public. She took off her glasses and crossed
to the shady side of the street. At the corner of Shattuck she took the
streetcar downtown. She got off at Kittredge and went into J. F. Hink's
department store and asked the salesman if they had any duffel bags but
they did not, they were all sold out. He had sold the last one a half-hour
ago. He suggested she try J. C. Penney's but they were sold out of duffel
bags there too. They were sold out of duffel bags all over town.
* * *
When she got home the woman took off her red dress and put on her faded
blue one-her housedress. She twisted her hair up into a bun and put on
an old pair of comfortable shoes. She had to finish packing. She rolled
up the Oriental rug in the living room. She took down the mirrors. She
took down the curtains and shades. She carried the tiny bonsai tree out
into the yard and set it down on the grass beneath the eaves where it
would not get too much shade or too much sun but just the right amount
of each. She brought the wind-up Victrola and the Westminster chime clock
downstairs to the basement.
Upstairs, in the boy's room, she unpinned the One World One War map of
the world from the wall and folded it neatly along the crease lines. She
wrapped up his stamp collection and the painted wooden Indian with the
long headdress he had won at the Sacramento State Fair. She pulled out
the Joe Palooka comic books from under his bed. She emptied the drawers.
Some of his clothes-the clothes he would need-she left out for him to
put into his suitcase later. She placed his baseball glove on his pillow.
The rest of his things she put into boxes and carried into the sunroom.
The door to the girl's room was closed. Above the doorknob was a note
that had not been there the day before. It said do not disturb. The woman
did not open the door. She went down the stairs and removed the pictures
from the walls. There were only three: the painting of Princess Elizabeth
that hung in the dining room, the picture of Jesus in the foyer, and in
the kitchen, a framed reproduction of Millet's The Gleaners. She placed
Jesus and the little Princess together facedown in a box. She made sure
to put Jesus on top. She took The Gleaners out of its frame and looked
at the picture one last time. She wondered why she had let it hang in
the kitchen for so long. It bothered her, the way those peasants were
forever bent over above that endless field of wheat. "Look up"' she wanted
to say to them. "Look up, look up!" The Gleaners, she decided, would have
to go. She set the picture outside with the garbage.
In the living room she emptied all the books from the shelves except Audubon's
Birds of America. In the kitchen she emptied the cupboards. She set aside
a few things for later that evening. Everything else-the china, the crystal,
the set of ivory chopsticks her mother had sent to her fifteen years ago
from Kagoshima on her wedding day-she put into boxes. She taped the boxes
shut with the tape she had bought from Lundy's Hardware and carried them
one by one up the stairs to the sunroom. When she was done she locked
the door with two padlocks and sat down on the landing with her dress
pushed up above her knees and lit a cigarette. Tomorrow she and the children
would be leaving. She did not know where they were going or how long they
would be gone or who would be living in their house while they were away.
She knew only that tomorrow they had to go.
There were things they could take with them: bedding and linen, forks,
spoons, plates, bowls, cups, clothes. These were the words she had written
down on the back of the bank receipt. Pets were not allowed. That was
what the sign had said.
It was late April. It was the fourth week of the fifth month of the war
and the woman, who did not always follow the rules, followed the rules.
She gave the cat to the Greers next door. She caught the chicken that
had been running wild in the yard since the fall and snapped its neck
beneath the handle of a broomstick. She plucked out the feathers and set
the carcass into a pan of cold water in the sink.
Excerpted from When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie
OtsukaCopyright 2002 by Julie Otsuka. Excerpted by permission of Knopf,
a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from
commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps
unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision,
Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracinationboth physical
and emotionalof a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters,
each flawlessly executed from a different point of viewthe mother
receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to
the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the familys return to
their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four
years in captivityshe has created a small tour de force, a novel
of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly
understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation
of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times.
It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist.
Otsuka was born and raised in California. She is a graduate of Yale
University and received her M.F.A. from Columbia. She lives in New York