“A Vanishing Dimension” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)
Original: Japanese (母子像), 1974
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017
Synopsis: A history professor bides his time in libraries while his younger wife and new-born child remain at home, a dreary old mansion set among overgrown foliage and surrounded by more modern homes. On the way home from work one day, the man buys a white monkey with clapping cymbals for his young son. Though initially fearing the toy, the boy takes a strong habitual liking to it. On another day, upon returning home, the man finds his wife and son gone, yet hears the crying of the latter; when he sees apparitions of them, he runs to pull them from the ether, only to pull the clapping monkey back into his own dimension. Later, when he hears another cry from his son, the monkey pulls him toward that invisible dimension, one limb vanishing before another. Desperate to be reunited with his family, he tries to pull them both back with monkey in hand.
Analysis: With a mind for the past and willingly indulging in his studies, the professor ignores the emotional and environmental needs of his wife and son; his presence must be missed while their home isn’t suitable for a young family. When his one passing thoughtfulness takes to his son, the object, instead of bringing them closer together, divides them by dimension: his own physical reality versus their ghostly, timeless dimension. His neglect causes their separation, yet when he attempts to rectify the situation, his hasty solution creates a half-result, one where they can be there in body but not in spirit or participation.
Th albino monkey toy is the divisive ploy that creates a schism between 1) the professor’s contentment with and study of past and 2) his family’s happiness. But what allegory does this have?
The monkey could represent a trickster, perhaps a person who divides a family so that the husband/father would be ostracized by his own family. “Albino” might be important as it might represent a foreigner or a foreign idea that divides the family, where the husband/father is abandoned by his wife and child after going abroad; perhaps, upon their unwilling return, their relationship is stagnant and silent, only the timeless idea of family happiness remaining in the professor’s mind.
Review: This seems to be one of Tsutsui’s most popular stories as it can be found in a variety of Japanese collections of horror, as evidenced by the number of covers pictures above. This story pre-dates Stephen King’s short story “The Monkey” by six years and, in my opinion, offers a much creepier and less obvious horror element to the story. In addition, the conclusion leaves a further sense of lingering horror. By itself, without any allegory, the story can sit among the best horror stories with supernatural/haunted elements, but the niggling allegory makes it rise just a bit higher over the rest.