Let Him Sleep, by Mika Yamamoto

First Rei—age six, then Leo—age four, came down to the kitchen for breakfast. I was making octopi out of hot dogs. The octopi were going to fill the spot I’d intended for cucumber hearts in the bento boxes—because where were the cucumbers? All nine of them? I’d bought them at Aldi. Sixty cents each. This I was fretting about when Rei walked into the kitchen.

“I caught a leprechaun in my trap last night,” Rei said as he tucked his red shirt into skinny black jeans. They make leprechaun traps in kindergarten now. He brought one home last week with instructions on how best to not only nab one but extort gold. Why do you want gold? I’d asked him each time I saw him set the trap. His only answer was the meticulous laying of poker chips. Do leprechauns want poker chips? I wondered. Now I know—they do.

“You caught a leprechaun?” I asked, looking up from my octopi. I hadn’t heard about the leprechaun. I had gotten back late from my fiction workshop last night. A graduate student now, I had evening classes forty-five minutes away. Sometimes (most times) I went to the bar after with my creative writing friends. Last night was such a night. No one was awake to tell me about the leprechaun when I got home.

“Yeah, he did,” Leo now said, spinning in his purple princess dress, my little Princess Leo.

“Did you make him give you gold?” I asked, pulling the bite-sized-dinosaur Jell-O molds out of the fridge.

“No. He looked really tired so Dad made him go to bed.”

“Oh. Where did he make him sleep?” I asked—my attention still on the Jell-O.

“In the guest room!” replied Leo, twirling some more.

After the boys were settled in with their cereal, Ben came downstairs. I was standing in front of the refrigerator, contemplating the mystery of the cucumbers—again. Ben leaned over to kiss me. I stretched.

“Did the boys tell you about the leprechaun?” he asked as he reached around me for butter.

“Yes. They said you put him up in the guest room.”

“That’s right,” Ben said, walking toward the bread box. “He looked tired. I thought he should take a nap before I sent him on his way. I’d already explained the ‘catch and release’ concept to Rei, though.”

“Maybe I should take a peek at him,” I said, wiping my hands on my apron.

“You should. Tell me what you think. He might be sick. He didn’t look too hot.”

The bento boxes were left half-made as I went upstairs.

The guest room was in the back corner of the second floor. The door whined when pushed. A sleeping mass was wrapped up in the purple comforter. The creature was definitely green. Close up, I could see he had a bowl-shaped indentation full of water on the top of his head. Through his beaked mouth, he snored—sound asleep. Webbed fingers clutched the comforter under his chin. Shit, I thought. This is not a leprechaun.

I returned to the kitchen, maybe slightly green myself.

“What’s the matter? Is he sick?” Ben asked as he poured a cup of coffee.

“It’s not a leprechaun,” I said.

“What is he?” Rei asked, his spoon dripping milk on the table, “If he’s not a leprechaun?”

“Yeah, what is he?” Leo, always the echo for his brother.

“It is a kappa.”

“What’s a kappa?” everyone asked in unison.

I looked at my family. Sometimes it awed me, how little they knew my heritage. True, we lived in Michigan. True, we’d never been to Japan. True, Ben was Jewish. True, I didn’t raise my children bilingual. All true. I don’t share enough, didn’t share enough.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised. Yet I was. I was surprised.

“The kappa is a water spirit,” I began. The boys were sitting but I was still standing—my hands reversed on the counter—my weight leaning on to them. Ben was standing across from me, leaning against the counter of the kitchen’s island. The space between the two counters now seemed expansive—our kitchen expansive. It had always felt too large but now it felt endless. My children at the kitchen table, so far from me; my husband at the island, so far from me—my children and my husband so far from me. Now suddenly, too, the color green seemed everywhere. Here I was in my green apron; here, too, were the walls, which I’d painted green; there, the bowls I had chosen—green. The apples in the basket, green. The Jell-O dinosaurs, jiggling on the white plate on the counter—green. Outside the windows our yard, abandoned to nature— turning green.

“The kappa can be helpful or destructive, especially to fishermen,” I continued.

“What do you mean, destructive?” Ben—safety action committee chairperson—alert to words of danger.

“He can release your nets of fish. He can cause shipwrecks. He can make you drown,” I said. I saw Ben visibly relax. We were not fishermen. We did not live near water. These were not relevant concerns.

“How can they be helpful?” Rei, modeling his father, wanted counter-examples.

“They can call fish into their nets. They can save people from drowning.”

“But do they only live in water? Because why is one here then?” Rei, ever logical, found the pattern to my answers, the problem this pattern posed.

“They can live on land too. On land they can destroy your garden, they can destroy your house. They can cause problems between you and your neighbor,” I said, anticipating Ben’s next question.

Ben’s face tightened and between his eyebrows a furrow emerged. I realized my mistake. My list was not long enough, and he knew the list was not exhaustive. In fact he already had a list of other ways the kappa could harm his family here, on land, in Michigan. I have been with this man for thirteen years. I knew how his mind worked—I knew the places it went—I knew how it got there. He had a PhD in engineering; he was trained to take the information he had and figure out the other consequences such information might reveal. He proved me right with his response.

“If they can do those things, I can think of other things he can do,” Ben said.

“Yes. You’re probably right.”

“I know I’m right,” he said. He was right.

“You’re right,” I said. Because he was right. Kappas were creatures driven by desire. They could be fun, lighthearted—even caring at times. He wasn’t, however, a deep thinker and his actions were rash. If he wanted something, he wanted it, and nothing else much mattered. This is the reason why generations of fishermen have lived their lives on eggshells trying to please him.

“Dad’s right,” Leo cheered for his dad.

Ben was right but he was wrong too.

“You’re right, of course, but I think you’re being racist,” I said.

“Why racist?” Ben asked, surprised.

“Leprechauns have their dark sides too. They are known to rape and kill at times. Yet last night you weren’t thinking of the bad things leprechauns can do. You had no problem letting a leprechaun stay. It’s because the leprechaun is familiar to you,” I said.

Ben thought about this, still leaning on the counter.

“You’re right,” he said—because I was right.

“You’re right. I’m an asshole,” Ben said. I love this about Ben. When he’s an asshole, he admits he’s an asshole.

“Well, now we agree,” I said.

“That I’m an asshole.”



Just then Leo asked the most obvious questions of all. “How did he even get here?”

Everybody looked at me. I shook my head.

I didn’t know.

“The better question is—how is he getting back?” Ben said. It was a question but it was a statement. He was saying—the kappa cannot stay. In fairness, a leprechaun probably couldn’t stay either, and I would have been in agreement about that. We were not a halfway home for wayward spirits. The kappa, however, was different. It wasn’t that I wanted him here, because I didn’t. I wasn’t happy that he was here, I wished he’d never found me here. I, too—like Ben—dreaded the harm he could do. Life with a kappa around was always fraught with anxiety. But what Ben didn’t know—because I hadn’t told him—was that the kappa could not be sent back.         “He’s here to stay,” I said. I said it like that. I said it simply, I said it like fact. I said it like that because it was fact—and the opposite of simple.

“What do you mean, he’s here to stay?” Ben was still standing across from me, his arms on his chest—crossed now.

“It’s my turn,” I said.

“Your turn for what?” Ben asked. The boys, still at the table, looked at their parents, who were faced against each other.

“It’s Mom’s turn to take care of the kappa,” Leo said. Despite his young age and clueless ways, Leo always surprised us with his lucidity.

“Yes. It’s my turn to take care of the kappa,” I said.

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Ben. Rei was draped over the back of his chair and was nodding—ever supportive of Dad.

“My father was born in a little Japanese fishing village—”

They all nodded. They knew this, even Leo.

“In the village that he came from, they worshipped kappas…”

Fishermen relied on keeping kappas happy. They could be their fortune or their demise. My father’s father was a barber, but he came from a long line of fishermen. For generations his family depended on the kappas’ goodwill. Even as a barber, my grandfather’s livelihood was intertwined with the kappas. In a small village like theirs, a community’s fortune was the whole community’s fortune. My father’s family, therefore, had not been exempt.

“In this village they decided long ago that it’s the responsibility of the oldest son of the oldest son to take care of their family’s kappa. Kappas attached themselves to families, so every kappa had a family, even if not all families had a kappa. The oldest son made sure that there was easy access to water for their kappa, a safe place for it to sleep on land, and a constant supply of cucumbers—which were the kappas’ favorite food. This responsibility of the oldest son could only be evaded through death or madness. If you were the oldest son and you didn’t take your responsibility seriously—bad things would happen to your family,” I explained.

I had known all my life that this day might come—that one day—the kappa might come to me. But I’d forgotten.

While I lived with my parents, I had remembered. Every summer, when the smell of cucumbers gave me hives, my parents explained to me that this was the sign. I believed it then and I remembered. I didn’t dread it either. My parents said it was an honor and looked pleased. I was honored. I was honored to be chosen.

When we visited Japan—Izu, my father’s hometown—I remembered. Watching my father dive for sea urchins, holding my breath, waiting for him to come up, not being able to hold my breath long enough, worrying when he didn’t come up, then seeing his head—black hair slicked—come up, seeing the shiny sea urchins in his hands—I remembered. I never saw our kappa, but in Izu I felt him everywhere.

There were plenty of ways to remember back then.

Then I moved away from my parents and my own life happened. College happened, an unhappy marriage happened, children happened, divorce happened, jobs happened, a happy marriage happened, and more children happened. In between these and around these friendships happened, death of friends and death of children of friends, death of nephew, birth of nieces, all these happened too. This, not to mention the books that happened, the meals that happened, the weddings that happened, the houses that happened, the travel that happened—this, and the moments when nothing happened. My life, this is, in a paragraph.

All to say I’d forgotten. My life got between me and my life.

And really, after thirty years, I didn’t blame myself for forgetting—or even having stopped believing.

But now here was my family, and they did not know, because I had never told them, and because they never breathed it and lived it the way I breathed it and lived it, it would sound so very—foreign—to them, I knew. Lost heritage cannot be picked up. The story might be interesting, but the story would always only be a story to my husband and my children. It had even become only a story to me—after so many years away from it.

Now, though, it wasn’t. Like a friend I lost touch with and even forgot about for years and years—but who suddenly appeared in front of me and with whom I picked up right where I left off—here was my kappa in my house, and all the years of forgetting was now what was forgotten.

“But your father was the younger son. And you are the oldest daughter of your father,” Ben said. He was fighting the statement by deconstructing the details.

“Nonetheless,” I said. I said this because it was true—what did the details matter? Kappa was here. But I knew this answer was unkind toward my husband. So I reminded him that my father’s brother was dead, reminded him that my own father, too, was dead. I reminded him, too, that my uncle had no children, reminded him about my own brother, Shirou, younger than I by three years but technically the oldest son. I asked Ben—would he go live with Shirou if he were a kappa?

“No. I wouldn’t go live with Shirou if I were even just a cactus,” Ben conceded. Shirou would be exempted for madness—if only because it behooved the kappa that way. Shirou was never not drunk, even at his own father’s funeral.

“I knew this day might come,” I said. Once again I said this simply—when nothing about what I said was simple.

Ben only looked at me—no words. No need for words. How did I dare say, so simply, I knew this day might come when I had never told him such a thing? I’m sorry, I forgot, I wanted to say, but how could I say that? I forgot something so important, which now I was going to claim was destined? How, then, could I say this to my husband from whom I’d vowed I’d keep no secrets, with whom I’d promised to build a life together? How could I say such a thing?

I had made the mistake of saying I knew this day might come. With these words, between the counter I was leaning against and the island Ben was leaning against, an ocean sprang up. Thirteen years of trust, cracked in half.

The children, though, were boats. They bobbed around the table.

“So the kappa is going to live with us? Forever?” Leo, lit-up, excited.

Ben said nothing. I said nothing. Rei, the pragmatist, had answers.

“He could sleep in Kei’s room because Kei is at college. And Kei’s room is closest to the bathroom if he wants to be in the water.” Kei was Rei’s older brother, a child from my first marriage.

Through the study door and through the study window, I saw the yellow school bus pull up to the stop. It was too late for Rei to make it.

“You missed your bus, Rei,” I said.

“What?” Rei ran to the study window and saw that he had, indeed, missed his bus.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take you to school,” Ben said to Rei. “Leo, I’ll take you too.”

“You’ll have to buy hot lunch today,” I said to Rei.

“Me too? Do I have to buy hot lunch?” Leo asked, hopeful.

“No, Leo. You don’t go to kindergarten. You don’t have hot lunch. Or, actually, you always have hot lunch at daycare,” Rei, ever patient, explained Leo’s life to Leo.

“Oh, yeah. I do always have hot lunch,” Leo said—joyful about his hot lunches.

“Ben, I’m sorry,” I said. “You’ll have to go out to lunch too. I never finished packing the bento boxes.”

“I’m coming home,” Ben said to me, “after I drop the kids off.”

What he meant was—we were not done talking, but the day needed to begin.

It needed to begin.

As they walked out the door, I heard Rei say, “But I don’t get it. My trap was for a leprechaun.”


Mika Yamamoto’s work has been previously published in numerous journals, including Caveat Lector, Diverse Arts Project, Foliate Oak, Fourth River, Hawaii Pacific Review, Knee Jerk, Nimrod International Journal, Bluestem, Noonand Whiskey Island.  Yamamoto received her MA in creative writing from Central Michigan University, where she was introduced to the world of experimental fiction. She is a certified hypnotist who swears she has never used her hypnotic skills while working as a first grade teacher, an E.R. technician, or even as a Starbucks barista. Yamamoto is currently a writer for ESME.com, an online resource for single mothers. She also teaches at Daley College. Her website is mikayamamoto.ink.

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