An Excerpt from As Dark As It Gets

I’ve done many things in my life, but I’ve never stolen an umbrella. They say there’re only two things we Japanese steal… bicycles being the other. The doctor told me I’d be able to ride one in two weeks, but I didn’t want to get tied up in that racket. When I woke that morning to find myself alive, I climbed from bed without thinking and set off an alarm. The nurse found me leaning against the window. The shipyard had never looked so beautiful. She told me to climb into bed, but I refused. ‘Where’s the doctor?’ I said, and in came a totally different man. ‘Where’s my doctor?’

‘I am your doctor’ he said, and pointed at the bed like he was instructing a dog into its basket.

‘You’re the reason I’m alive?’

‘You were never in danger of dying’ he said, and took a clipboard from the end of my bed.

The ascending artery was being held open by a metal spring, successfully inserted by the skilled doctor who was nowhere to be seen. I was just saying yes, yes, yes, in my head the whole time this man was speaking. I was supposed to be dead. I’d already come close to making peace with it. A bright day outside when they let me go, just a few small clouds. I thought I might float off into the sky and that’s when I pulled an umbrella from the stand. There’s nothing more life affirming than umbrella theft! If I’m alive it may rain on my head. And you may be dead and won’t need it. It’s just a game of chance isn’t it? But chance kept me alive and I’m choosing to take the umbrella for myself!

Down the street I wondered, how long have I got? Twenty years? Thirty even, they’d said. That’s the same as saying forever. And also the same as saying it ends tomorrow. I kept stopping and feeling my chest. I paused at the main street and looked at the yatais all folded up. That was me, I thought. Folded up. But just like the yatais are each night, I’ve been unfolded. I’ll live to drink again and Chihiro had promised to come see me. Was this really my life? For one moment I thought I heard someone shouting my name. I imagined feet and running. ‘Umbrella thief! Stop!’ But it was nothing. Or maybe it was the train crossing the old bridge or the tide going out. Everything seemed white, and I stopped on the street outside my apartment. I opened the umbrella. I didn’t care anymore if anyone saw me. I’d just say it was mine. It was mine! It’s mine, I said out loud. In the shade I could see the ground more clearly and I walked up and down searching for that coin that my angel had thrown from the window. Was I alive because of that? The doctor had asked me if I was superstitious, but this went beyond that. Really, it did. I could smell that fresh hair of hers. So young, my old heart went racing. I touched my neck, looked everywhere, even down the storm drains. It was gone! There’d been no rain since yesterday. Someone else must have chosen to take it just like I had chosen to steal this umbrella.

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