Soccer Magazine

Pulp History 1.05: The Master of Go

Posted on the 16 September 2011 by Sgulizia @catch22soccer

Pulp History 1.05: The Master of Go


night like this would frighten the impious. The familiar demons of sleep descended in full ceremonial attire, making the wind shriek past each doorway like the crack of bamboo poles. Interpreter Hatsune Gemnu slided his feet along the corridor to Master Zac’s quarters, in the Athletic Center, staying close to the wall, where, he hoped, the wood was less likely to squeak. He reached a paneled door. He held his breath, listened, heard nothing. He opened it a tiny crack. . . The space was stewed with heat and vigilant; volatile patches of pulviscular darkness in each wall indicated windows.

On the corner of the floor lied what might be discarded sheets. Hatsune entered and approached the sacks, hoping they could be roped together without disintegrating Master Zac’s slumber. He thrusted a hand into the bundle and found a man’s warm foot. His heart stopped. The foot recoiled. As Zac turned his limbs, shifting the blankets, a snore snagged in his throat. Interpreter Gemnu mumbled to himself: “Sleep now, Master, remember Doha. . .” The thought was vanishing with the sick inertia of peeling paint. He then crouched, not daring to breathe, much less run away. . . Minutes passed before Hatsune was even half sure the other man was asleep. He counted until ten before carrying on to the door behind. Its sliding rumble sounded, to his ears, loud as a thunderstorm in the Swiss village of Saas-Fee, where the national team had been training the past summer.

Stepping outside on Higashizaka Street, Hatsune watched the tunnel of his fear widen into a domed chamber of routine, as if a sculptor chiseled it from a block of night sky. His steps were slippery and frozen. Unaware of wearing the blue uniform of Japan’s team, he was approached by a female fortune-teller, standing among two elderly candle-sellers. “Samurai-sama?” a lipless voice called him out. The woman had cataracts in both eyes, and all the interpreter could see was a predatory mouth open—the covetous gaze of a place that knows where is the answer. The cold was like an enormous, circular blade running on waxed corridors.

Pulp History 1.05: The Master of Go

"a predatory mouth open. . . like an enormous. . . blade"

Inside, the middle table, lit by a large and still flickering votive candle, watched the intruder from her plinth in the center of a small, luxurious kamishibai box. (Master Zac had asked to replace the post-war shojo manga, which was lined inside by blood-maroon silken cords, with a picture of his wife.) Do not meet her eyes, he once warned Hatsune on a jokingly threatening whim, or she shall know you. In his black robe, the interpreter was often asking whether all of Zac’s letters were written to his spouse in Cesenatico. The calligraphic style was clear enough, but peering through them made the youngest of the Gemnu clan puzzle, like staring at familiar ideograms arranged in unknown combinations.

On the table, the placemats smelled resinous and new. To the right and left of the dish, a generous helping of the soft squacquerone cheese that Stefano Agresti, Zac’s second coach, had brought directly from Italy on his last journey, was shaped in a cylinder of crispy vegetables and sesame seeds.

Pulp History 1.05: The Master of Go

In Zac’s sleep—a rythmic retraction of Sapporo beer and dumpling particles, like a horse grinning and widening his nostrils in front of a bowl of milk—images of the Romagna region were flowing back with a lingering odor of straw, of animals, and people. The paneled walls and floors of his Master’s quarters evoked hissed shivers of the tomatoes oven-roasted by one of his friends in Faenza, and a farmhouse of middling prosperity. Beyond the scroll hanging at either side of the door lied a wooden Go board, where he could move and then retreat his fingers into the troubling unintelligibility of each rock’s click-clack sound.

The night before, Zac and his second manager, Takashi Sekizuka, went to what remained of a rustic old izakaya (the Japanese equivalent of a pub) by the sea. The air was sweet with dung, and their desire to taste prickly-ash cuisine. They sat at a table, sipping tea and growing a boisterous conversation on the correct role of playmaker Honda in the team, until they eventually looked like two fishermen arguing about a woman.

On the way back to their room, Zac and Takashi speculated about a tunnel escape dating from Japan’s buried military past, as they saw a yellow-and-black-winged bee, a Vespula vulgaris, zigzagging overhead and finally buzzing further and further away with the deepening loneliness of its stinger, like a piece of marzipan into the liquid clouds of sake.

Rolling on his sheets, Zac thought he could almost see the roadside billboards of the magazine STOP, which still welcome the driver who reaches the coast of Cesena from Imola on the regular state road. A nightmare was pressing down, pressing down. . . Past the dim torpor of the votive candle, blinking at him, Zac saw the faces of the tertiary syphilitics who hope in the salvation of mercury medicine or in the miracolously clean waters of Viserbella. A cockroach twitched on the rim of a hole in the statue’s skull—the statue turned into bottle and cork, and then into something dark, with thousand little feet, a harmful bug whose animal blood was mixed, perhaps, with mud and whose unreadable characters were daubed in whitewash and saliva. He lived off rotting carcasses of cats and dogs. When he was full, he would fall asleep where he lay, leaving a mountain of hollowed corpses aside. . .

Pulp History 1.05: The Master of Go

"something dark. . . a harmful bug"

Then Zac’s mind snapped back to his night with the wise Takashi. Paper lanterns with candles inside, their flames capering in imperceptible breezes, marked the steps of a walkway. Shadows of laughter and music spilled from the house above. In the izakaya by the sea, people were lung-smoking, kissing cheeks and elbowing one another till they reached the porch with a molding chess-set and the Go board. “Remember Doha,” whispered Hatsune Gemnu. The dinner party rose up and swallowed them, as it was meant to. ♦


The ‘agony of Doha’ is a term used by fans of the Japanese national football team to refer to their qualification match for their 1994 FIFA World Cup match with Iraq, where they implicitly capitulated to arch-rival South Korea for the last spot on the Asian roster.

Pulp History 1.05: The Master of Go

A 2010 Blue Samurai Training Camp in Saas-Fee, Switzerland

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