Swaddling Clothes

by Yukio Mishima
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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480

After a shocking incident in their home two days earlier, Toshiko and her actor husband meet friends in a Tokyo nightclub. The young wife and mother is dumbfounded to hear her husband recounting the incident—which has disturbed her greatly—as merely an amusing story for their companions’ entertainment. Troubled and vulnerable, Toshiko feels acutely aware of her husband’s insensitivity, neglect, and lack of consideration for her. Her mind swells with loneliness and her fears of the future provoked by her horror at the scene she has so recently encountered in her son’s nursery.

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The story that so horrifies Toshiko began with the arrival of a new nurse, a woman with an oddly distended stomach and a prodigious appetite. Not long after she arrived, loud moans came from the nursery. Toshiko and her husband rushed in to discover the nurse giving birth on the floor. Toshiko’s husband rescued the family’s good rug and placed a blanket under the nurse to prevent damage to the parquet floor.

Although two days have passed, Toshiko, in contrast to her husband, is still preoccupied by this experience. In particular, she obsesses about one scene that she alone witnessed. The doctor who finally arrived to attend the nurse derided her and her bastard child so strongly that he had his attendant wrap the newborn boy in newspaper. Appalled by the doctor’s cruelty, Toshiko rewrapped the child in new flannel. The image of the innocent child in his soiled paper wrappings, however, remains.

As Toshiko’s husband sets out from the nightclub for other engagements, she goes home alone in a taxi. Riding through the darkened streets of Tokyo, she reflects on the nurse’s child and the secret shame of his birth. What if this boy, twenty years hence, should meet her own son? The one, reared in solid comfort, might be savagely attacked by the other who will have been turned into a brute by a life of deprivation and disgrace. The bloody newspapers in which that newborn was briefly wrapped would mark him for life; they would be a blight on his being, the secret emblem of his entire existence, his inescapable doom. She imagines one day going to the boy to tell him of her secret knowledge of his first moments of life.

On impulse, Toshiko leaves her taxi and walks beneath the cherry blossoms in the dark deserted park near the Imperial Palace. She wanders until she encounters the form of a man, asleep on a bench, wrapped in newspapers. Standing beside the dirty anonymous figure, she imagines this young man as the future manifestation of the baby recently born in her house. With a rustle of newspaper, a powerful hand seizes her wrist. Instantly, Toshiko realizes that both her foreboding and her powerful sense of connection to the baby in newspaper swaddling have been realized.

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