”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” is a short novel written by Yuki Fujimura that is published on syosetsu.com, which I enjoyed so much I decided to translate into English.
This story takes place in a society where each citizen is legally obligated to write a single book during their lifetime.
You can see more information about this novel including a brief synopsis, my original review, previous translated chapters, and the original Japanese chapters at this table of contents page.
This is the final chapter. Enjoy!
Chapter 10: Graduation
There wasn’t anything particularly memorable about our high school graduation ceremony.
I wasn’t overcome with emotion or anything like that. The principal’s speech was long and boring, and I had to struggle to stay awake.
Any important memories would surely be made now, after the ceremony.
I climbed the ladder leading to the water tower on the school’s roof. Saki was waiting up there for me with a hardcover book open.
A pair of two books: one blue, one black.
That’s what we published last week.
Once I reached the top, I sat next to Saki and picked up the volume that listed me as the author.
At home I’d already received a sample copy, but this one Saki had bought personally.
Saki spoke, her eyes fixed on the first volume published under her name.
“I was sort of expecting it, but the examination process really was a total joke.”
“The same person would have to read both books to realize what we did. The character and place names are different too.”
Our two books depicted the same set of characters in the same world, but each volume described things from the perspective of a different country.
That’s why the character and country names are slightly different. It’s like one book was written with English pronunciations and one with German.
In the examination, the judges try to catch plagrism by looking for matching proper nouns and areas of text, which is probably why we managed to get through it without any problems.
Saki breathed a sigh of despair.
“Everyone is able to publish, so from society’s point of view, the significance of a single work is equivalent to zero. The only thing that matters is whether you follow the established rules or not. People just pay attention to the parts that are easy to understand, and ignore the rest.”
“If you look at the big picture, just about everything is like that.”
Just like that, she ended the conversation.
However, by now they were probably staring to realize what had happened.
News of Saki’s book had spread throughout school, and many people had ordered it together with “my” book.
It was clear that many students had already figured it out. Rumors could be heard all over about our books.
In the middle of one of my many re-readings (I lost count how many), I spoke.
“I heard the teachers were planning on waiting until graduation before reporting us, so the cops will probably come any time now.”
“I guess you could call them considerate.”
“Maybe they didn’t want actively enrolled students being arrested. Especially you, a honor student.”
If one of the brightest girls in the school was exposed as a criminal, the teachers themselves might be suspected.
We didn’t ask for college recommendation letters; it was the least we could do for the school.
Saki and I had stoically accepted the fact that our admission to college would be revoked.
And yet, out of what I guess you could call a societal obligation, we still made an effort to study for college entrance exams.
When the ceremony ended, the campus was bustling with new graduates and those who had come to see them off.
A lower class girl holding a blower bouquet walked restlessly around the campus, as if searching for someone.
I wondered if it was really a good idea for Saki to be up here when there were surely a bunch of people searching for her down below.
I glanced at her briefly, but she was still deeply absorbed in her book. Maybe she was searching for typos. Did she actually expect there to be a second printing?
Presented with a perfect view of her beautiful face from the side, I exhaled slowly and withdrew something from my bag.
I showed it to Saki.
I handed the thick manuscript to her.
Saki looked down at the book’s cover, her large eyes wide in surprise.
“Is this manuscript…”
“I wrote it.”
A manuscript, which no longer had any chance to become a book in my lifetime.
A story never likely to reach the bookshelves, never likely to be seen by others.
But after my college tests ended I wrote it anyway.
I held nothing back, putting my entire heart and soul into it. One book, one life.
“I want you to read it.”
In this day in age, was it commonplace to dedicate a story to someone, or was I just deluding myself?
If nothing else, I guess Saki writing her book “for me” was her own way to atone for sacrificing my life.
Saki had tried to write a story that I would fall in love with. Or at least she hoped it would turn out that way.
That’s why I wrote this for myself. And for her.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds. I simply made the assumption that anything I liked, she would like too.
And the only person to ever read my story would be her. That’s why I wrote this story.
Saki placed the manuscript on her lap. She exhaled deeply.
Straightening her posture, she began to slowly flip through the manuscript.
I watched her long eyelashes. I could tell her dark eyes were following the story, line by line.
Long ago, she had made a request that I read in front of her. Now that the roles are reversed, I’m really surprised she had the courage to ask that.
To be honest, having someone read my manuscript right next to me was extremely embarrassing. I found myself practically jumping at every little breath of hers.
I had ended up finishing my story without any one proofreading it. It was all or nothing, and I don’t think my odds were too great.
Nevertheless, I’d done my best. That alone was certain.
Up above on the quiet rooftop, the only thing I heard was the sound of pages being turned.
Quite a long time had passed, but Saki hadn’t looked up from the book even a single time.
Next to her, I gazed absent-mindedly down at the school grounds.
As if we had been discovered, I could see a group of several people pointing towards the water tower and speaking amongst themselves.
I guess that hanging out up here was, not surprisingly, a bad idea. The crowd gradually began to grow.
“Saki, this isn’t looking too good.”
Perhaps we looked like lovers about to commit suicide together. Before I realized it, several teachers had also come outside and were staring towards us.
We had locked the door to the roof on our way up, but I got the feeling it was only a matter of time until someone reported us, or broke down the door.
I went to shake Saki’s shoulder.
But she caught my hand midway.
“What are you going to…” I started to say, but her pale hand grabbed my shirt collar before I could finish.
Staring at me, she brought her face close to mine.
I gazed deeply into her dark eyes and time seemed to stop––––and for an instant, our lips touched.
Her long eyelashes gently caressed my face.
A gentle breeze blew by, carrying sand with it.
Her face slowly pulled away from mine.
As I stared dumbfounded, Saki whispered in my ear.
“I love you, Sakizaki.”
Her voice sounded like the clearest, purest thing in the universe.
Still dangerously close, her beautiful face stared openly at me. For some reason, I didn’t recognize the person reflected in her dark eyes.
“…Saki, so you’ve finally lost your mind?”
“I’m being serious. I’ve your trying to be funny to hide your embarrassment, I’m knocking you off this tank.”
“I won’t survive the fall, so please don’t.”
What’s with her all of a sudden?
If she said the kiss was because she’d practically ruined my life, I’d tell her to leave me alone. It’s a little late for that.
But if she said it wasn’t for that reason, but rather because she had read my novel and––––
“I have no memory of writing something which is supposed to blur the line between the story and the author who wrote it.”
“That’s true. The characters are totally different than you.”
I knew she couldn’t lie about this sort of thing.
I hadn’t known her very long, but I knew that much about her. What I didn’t know is why she had suddenly said such a thing to me.
But then she smiled––––a smile so bright that it put to rest all my doubts.
“I love the one who wrote this story–you.”
“What does a story tell you about me?”
“It tells me who you are.––––And what else is there to love about a person besides who they are?”
Her hand took mine.
Our lips met.
A kiss of breath, of words.
A vow to spend the rest of our lives together.
Even in this world of limitations, she would live her freedom to the fullest.
“That’s why Sakizaki, you are the one who will change my life.”
On the verge of tears, Saki grinned at me shyly.
Her smile was just enough for a single book.
How should one confront the single book of their life?
Writing can be seen as a projection of a person’s life. Written honestly or not, a book is a mirror that reflects the person who wrote it.
But neither Saki nor I desire such a thing, or consider it to be just.
Books, and the world itself, is much freer, much more open to possibility.
As it should be. As we create our own worlds, in defiance.
From up on the water tower, I looked down at the school grounds.
Someone had apparently reported us–I could see a police car coming in through the school gate.
A large crowd of students had gathered below. Soon the negotiations would begin. We might also be questioned about our publishing violation.
I stood up and offered my hand to Saki.
“Did you finish reading it?”
“Sure did. And I remember every single thing.”
“Wow, you’re a pretty fast reader!”
Could this be the reason for our difference in grades? I was suddenly envious of her, but this wasn’t the time nor the place for that.
I looked down at the manuscript in my hand. I gripped it tightly, nothing but a bundle of printed papers bound by a black string.
The novel I’d stayed up until late to write, night after night. I’d edited it so many places, I don’t know how it ended up.
I glared at the result of all my hard work with an expression part pride, part irony.
Then I untied the string.
I raised my voice so all the students around would hear me.
“If each one of us has the capability to produce a single work worthy of being called a ‘masterpiece’ in our lifetime…”
I removed the string which held together the story.
The white sheets began to spill from my hands.
“…Then I choose to dedicate my book to this girl. This is all I want.”
All for this girl, whom I knew cherished this world so dearly, more than anyone else.
This is the freedom I’ve chosen.
It’s how I chose to confront myself, head on.
And if she truly loves my story––––as an author, I couldn’t be any happier.
The manuscript left my hand and rained down upon the schoolyard in fragments.
I could see a bunch of students starting to move around and collect the falling pages.
Saki looked up at me with a look of utter astonishment.
“…Wow, that was pretty impressive.”
“If even a single person reads one of the pages and wants to see the rest of the story, they’ll go around collecting all the pages.”
“We’ll, aren’t we overconfident.”
“Not nearly as much as you.”
Up until now, I’d been surprised many times by her and lost many battles.
But it was kind of nice to see her surprised for once.
I offered my empty hand to her.
Saki took my hand, acting just like a girl of her age should––––
As always, a special girl, my girl.
Thanks for reading to the end!
I decided to write up another post with some thoughts of this series. You can see it here.