Fantastic Metropolis

Quin’s Shanghai Circus

An Excerpt

Edward Whittemore

Welcome. It’s raining. This house has not seen a caller since the war.

Quin found himself facing a tall, cadaverous priest in his middle seventies. The old man smiled gently. He sat down in a chair with horsehair arms and poured tea from a tray brought by the dwarf who had met them at the door. Quin introduced himself and Big Gobi.

It’s raining, repeated Father Lamereaux. Exactly half century ago I came to Japan on a day much like this. At one time the Emperors of Japan were men of great stature but all that changed when military dictators seized power and moved the capital to Kamakura. The young Emperor was left behind in Kyoto to barter his autograph for pickles and rice. That was in the thirteenth century. Then in the 1920s I went to Kamakura to study in certain Buddhist temples.

Father Lamereaux unbuttoned his coat. There was something wrong with the movement. Quin looked more closely and saw that the buttons were reversed, buttoning right side over left as with a woman. The priest turned his attention to Big Gobi, who had nervously taken out small gold cross to polish it on the side of his nose.

Four decades ago, whispered Father Lamereaux, I heard the tale of a cross very much like that one. This other cross was a rare Nestorian Christian relic that had been the hands of a Malabar trading family for hundreds of years, during which time the family made a fortune in peppercorns. A man named Adzhar married into the family and traveled east with his wife and the cross. Of course Adzhar wasn’t his real name, only the name we knew him by. He was a Russian from Georgia and I believe he adopted the name of the province where he had was born. He also died before the war.

Father Lamereaux paused. He looked thoughtful.

I hope we’re not disturbing you, said Quin.

Not at all. I was just working on my memoirs as I have been every day for the last quarter of a century. Did you know cannons were placed around the Shinto shrines during the thirties? Decrepit artillery pieces captured from the Russians in 1905?

Father Lamereaux rubbed the horsehair arm of his chair

An ugly mistake. For me the best years in Japan were the 1920s. I was young and I had just arrived, so everything here appealed to me. My studies were in Kamakura but I came to Tokyo on the weekends, to this very house, which was filled with cats then. In those days Tokyo was constructed entirely of wood and every night there would be a fire within walking distance, the flowers of Tokyo they were called. There’s nothing more stimulating than watching a fire when you’re young. On Friday nights we had our meetings here, and if we had been to see a fire the discussions we had on No drama were always more spirited Since the war I’ve been a strict vegetarian, honey and eggs excepted. Rice has a particular effect on the Japanese an hour or two after they’ve eaten it, which is undoubtedly the principal reason they prefer the out-of-doors.

Quin nodded. He was looking at the legs of Father Lamereaux’s chair. They ended in carvings of claws crushing the heads of rodents.

Copyright © 1974 by Edward Whittemore.