A boy is obsessed with a woman who sells sandwiches. He goes to the supermarket almost every day, just so he can look at her face. She is beautiful to him, and he calls her "Ms Ice Sandwich", and endlessly draws her portrait.
But the boy's friend hears about this hesitant adoration, and suddenly everything changes. His visits to Ms Ice Sandwich stop, and with them the last hopes of his childhood.
A moving and surprisingly funny tale of growing up and learning how to lose, Ms Ice Sandwich is Mieko Kawakami at her very best.
About the Author
Originally from Manchester, UK, Louise Heal Kawai has lived in Japan for about 25 years and been a translator of Japanese literature for the past 10. Her translations include the bestselling memoir Yakuza Moon by Shoko Tendo, the ground-breaking feminist Taeko Tomioka novel Building Waves, and A Quiet Place by the mystery writer Seicho Matsumoto. Ms Ice Sandwich is her second Mieko Kawakami translation.
Read an Excerpt
two-hundred-thirteen to Florida, three-hundred-twenty to polite, three-hundred-eighty to church medicine,
four-hundred-fifteen to choco skip, four-hundred-
thirty to your forties, vegetable boots is always five-hundred. Five-hundred-twelve is a gravestone for rain; the big cat bench where all the girls like to hang out in the evenings is six-hundred-seven.
If someone speaks to me I lose count, so I keep my head down and try not to catch anyone’s eye. Sometimes there’s a crack in the white line I’m following, and sometimes it breaks off for a bit, but I keep my concentration,
and the soles of my trainers land spot-on the line and I do it with a steady rhythm. Seven-hundred-thirty-
one is souvenirs, eight-hundred-twenty, wait a minute, wait a minute, eight-hundred-eighty a famous writer, and nine-hundred-twelve a French person. At this point it’s suddenly crowded, full of people, and bicycles are lined up like mechanical goats.
The automatic doors open and out pour people holding white plastic shopping bags stuffed with food.
I guess they’re on their way home. Most of them are grown-ups. One in five has bought those leeks with their green tops poking out, and the bags look like they’re about to burst. Just as I’m thinking how most of the stuff they’ve bought is going to be put in their mouths, I’m surprised by people saying hello, good evening
to me. I say it back. Then, careful not to bump into anyone, on to the potato zone, nine-hundred-thirty.
And then always, without fail, it’s nine-hundred-fifty exactly to Ms Ice Sandwich.
The cheapest sandwich you can buy there is the egg sandwich. There are two to a pack, but they’re superthin,
and I come every day, or every other day, to buy them. If Mum sends me to the supermarket, I can pay for my sandwich with her money, so I like to hang around the house hoping she’ll ask me to go shopping for her, but sometimes I have to use my own pocket money. I get one hundred yen a day five times a week,
Monday to Friday, and I make sure I put half of it in my coin purse. My sandwich money. To tell the truth,
I don’t even like sandwiches that much; in fact, for meals I definitely like rice instead of bread, and for a snack it’s much better to buy a big bag of crisps or something, and eat them really slowly one piece at a time, and anyway, I never really get that hungry. I get full after I’ve eaten about half of my school lunch, and that might be why I’m so skinny and I don’t seem to be getting any taller. But I can’t help it if I don’t like what they serve. Mum got so worried she came to school and showed my teacher how skinny my arms were for a boy, but now that I think about it, that was ages ago,
and it seems like she’s forgotten all about it by now,
or maybe she’s just given up, or maybe the moment’s passed, or that’s what it feels like.
Around the train station, there’s only the chemist’s and the level crossing and the supermarket that are lit up at night. But to be honest there’s not much there in the daytime either—this town is really just made up of houses, and the top floor of that two-storey supermarket is full of laundry detergent and buckets and dishes and toilet paper, all those things that’s not food, and the meat and the vegetables and yogurt and fish and stuff is all on the ground floor, and everyone in the town comes here nearly every day to buy what they need. I watch Ms Ice Sandwich from the only door in and out of the supermarket; she’s always standing behind a big round glass case, just to the left and a little bit behind the cash registers, with that look on her face that’s like a mixture of surprise and boredom,
as she’s selling sandwiches and salads and bread and things like that.
“Ms Ice Sandwich” is a name I made up; of course,
I thought of it the minute I first saw her. Ms Ice
Sandwich’s eyelids are always painted with a thick layer of a kind of electric blue, exactly the same colour as those hard ice lollies that have been sitting in our freezer since last summer. There’s one more awesome thing about her—if you watch when she looks down,
there’s a sharp dark line above her eyes, as if when she closed her eyes, someone started to draw on two extra eyes with a felt-tip pen but stopped halfway. It’s the coolest thing. And then when she looks straight at me, she has these enormous eyes which are so big I
feel like I get swallowed up in them. They look exactly like the great big eyes of the dogs that I read about in a storybook long ago… What is the title of that book?
Well, it’s not only the title that I’ve forgotten, I can’t even remember what happens in the story, but I do remember the faces of the dogs with their gigantic eyes; it must have been a children’s picture book or something… Anyway, Ms Ice Sandwich has eyes just like those dogs do in that story, which has a soldier in it,
and a castle, and there’s a princess—that story. The dogs with the giant eyes run around like crazy everywhere.
Where was it they came from? And then someone got married to someone else, or they didn’t get married, I
forget what the story was about.
The day I first saw Ms Ice Sandwich, I was with Mum,
but when I said out loud in surprise, Look at her eyes!,
Mum pretended not to hear me and started talking about something totally different, and it wasn’t until we’d paid for our shopping and got completely outside the supermarket that she started in on me. You have to
stop that! You cannot say things like that out loud, she can
hear you, it’s rude. Mum’s face is awesome whenever she gets annoyed, if there was an animal that didn’t know what being annoyed meant, then just one look at my mum’s face and they’d get the idea. You could make a rubber stamp of Mum’s face as a demo. I say,
Why can’t I talk out loud about her eyes? They’re huge,
they’re amazing! Mum says, It doesn’t matter what they
are, it’s not proper to talk about other people’s faces. Me:
Why? Her: Because! All the way home I keep asking
Mum why, but now she’s busy playing with her mobile phone and just keeps nodding and saying yeah every so often. Well, I’m kind of getting used to her being like that these days, not paying attention to me, but the more we walk the more it bugs me, so I stop and say, If video games make you stupid, then what do mobile
phones do to you? (This is me being real extreme to her.)
She answers, What?, not stopping, I’m not playing a
game, I’m updating something. It’s work. It’s hot, can we
walk faster? And of course she hasn’t taken her eyes off the screen for a second, madly pressing buttons,
keeps on walking.