This is the English translation of the last part (of four) of the first story (“Stargazer”) of the series of short stories titled “Final Days of Summer” (残夏) by Masaki Hashiba (ハシバ柾). I’ve gotten permission from the author to translate and put these on my blog, and he is very excited about his work being translated to English.
While this first short story ends with this part, there are several more short stories already written that continue “Final of Days of Summer”. I’ve read them and they are pretty good, with the second having a strong tie to this one (I’ll let you guess where it is set…). I’d really like to start translating that, but I have a few other competing projects I am looking at doing, so it may be a little while until I get back to this.
As always, any feedback on this story will help me decide where to focus my energies. You can vote for this story on my survey here, or even better you can leave a comment on this post, or like it.
Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for proofreading this chapter.
Story 1: Stargazer (Part 4)
At long last, the day of the meteor shower had arrived.
Under a clear sky as if yesterday’s rainstorm had never happened, the village youth bustled about in preparation for the star festival. Although only visiting, I was no exception, busying myself hanging paper lanterns and arranging chairs.
Had Nameless been here together with me, I would have gladly participated in the festivities. But his place was at that beach which meant my destination was decided. I intended to sneak out as soon as the festival began.
……that was, until I heard about that.
It was in the evening, when the festival preparations were nearly over. The men in the village who made their living fishing were busying themselves with their own preparations. I overheard a few fragments of their conversations: “Tonight is the big catch”, “We strike once the meteor shower begins”. After considering things for a moment I realized what they were planning; I immediately tossed aside the paper lantern I was holding and sprinted hard towards the beach.
Once a year, on the day of the summer meteor shower, a great many dolphins gathered in the shallow water at the beach. The dolphins, normally cautious creatures, were unknowingly coming to a place where they could easily be trapped. There was no way that the fishermen would miss such a chance.
(Dolphins have no need for legs, right?)
Nameless was definitely not a dolphin. His tales weren’t anything but figments of his overactive imagination. I knew that. I really knew that, but……my heart began to throb painfully. Until I knew for sure he was safe, this ache would not subside.
I prayed that it wasn’t true. I prayed that everything he had said–especially about being a dolphin–was all a lie.
Holding my chest tightly, I finally reached the beach, only to discover a commotion unlike anything I’d seen there before. The shadows of fishing boats loomed close by. They were heading this way. I went to the usual rocky place and gasped as I saw Nameless slumped there on the ground, legs stretched out before him.
I rushed over to him.
From his hands, peeking out of thick sleeves, to his bare feet……his body was covered in fresh injuries: ugly bruises and cuts still damp with blood.
When I shook Nameless, he groaned weakly. But then he recognized me and a smile slowly blossomed on his face.
“I’m glad I made it in time. I thought you were probably already dead. I should take care of your wounds……”
“Naoyuki. Do you really believe the dolphins are your friends?”
I paused, bewildered by Nameless’s unexpected question.
The dolphins had waited for the stars together with us the entire time. I’m not sure if I would call them friends, but I did feel some type of kinship with them. However, the reason I rushed here was not for them, it was for Nameless–a man who claimed to be a dolphin.
“I consider you a friend. An irreplaceable, dear friend.”
Nameless smiled again, a soft sadness in his eyes. “I already knew that,” he said.
“I’m sure you came here to save me–a dolphin–because you believed what I’d said……”
He was completely right.
The only reason I had ran here, pushing my body to its limit, was because I hadn’t doubted Nameless. There was no reason for me to make excuses and say I wanted to see the meteor shower or check if the stars really became shells. I had believed in Nameless unconditionally, a belief I held on to tightly so it wouldn’t escape.
“I wanted to protect the dolphins. I knew it was crazy, but I charged directly into a human’s boat. I didn’t care if I was caught and killed. I got injured and had nearly given up all hope……until I remembered you.”
Until I made one final wish–to spend this last night with you.
Water dripped from Nameless’s face. Whether it was the spray of some whale, or water that spilled from an ocean on the other side of the sky, I couldn’t say. He smiled up at me, a smile overflowing with contentment. He began talking again, his voice hoarse.
It was about the day of the meteor shower long ago–the last day in the journal I’d kept as a boy.
“On that day, the fishing boats had come dangerously close, just like today. Before the dolphins knew what was happening they were surrounded on all sides, with myself and the others having nowhere to escape to. Naoyuki, just when I thought it was all over, you……”
……raised your arms to your sides, screamed at the top of your lungs……and plunged from that cliff right into the ocean.
Nameless indicated an outcropping of rock that jutted out over the water.
Even though the water below it was shallow, I’m sure it was deep enough so that my feet couldn’t touch the ocean floor. I’d dived into that when I was still just a young boy. While the fishermen hurriedly tried to pull me out of the water, all the dolphins escaped from the nets to safety. Of course, Nameless was one of them.
“I–we–are alive thanks to you. I know it’s a little late, but thanks.”
Many years later, we were all here again on the same white, sandy beach, on the same day. Despite the fact I didn’t remember any of it, Nameless’s words resonated somewhere deep within me.
At that very moment, something hard fell from above. I went to pick up the object that had struck my head and landed in the sand near my feet; it was a bright red shell. Shifting my gaze upward, I stared awestruck at shooting stars flowing along the surface of the ocean on the other side of the sky.
The meteor shower had begun.
Shells began falling to the ground in quick succession, as if following the example set by the first one. Beautiful ones, plain ones, cracked ones, oddly-shaped ones……all sorts of shells fell onto the shore, tucking themselves into the sand as if fast asleep. Spraying water all around, the dolphins cried out joyfully.
It was true. Everything Nameless had said was true.
“Unfortunately, it seems I can no longer move. Naoyuki, could you pick one out for me? Find the most beautiful shell–the one you feel is the most beautiful.”
His voice was weak, like his battered and bruised body.
I wanted to tend to his wounds first. But, knowing him, Nameless would never let me. The meteor shower would be over before we even finished. There was little time left for this brief event that he and the other dolphins had waited for so long.
I reluctantly left Nameless there and began to search the sand.
The rain of shells struck parts of my body and scattered to the ground. Their number multiplied even as I searched; how could I ever find the most beautiful shell? But just as I was nearly overwhelmed, a certain shell caught my eye.
I wouldn’t call it beautiful. At best, it was a very plain shell. Thicker than the others, it was a drab grey color. I stopped rummaging around in the sand and reached for it.
From the moment my fingers made contact, I knew for certain it was the right one. It might have been because its color, reminiscent of Nameless’s hair. Or perhaps it was its thickness that reminded me of his clothes……Unable to explain this sensation, I picked up the plain-looking shell.
I passed the shell to Nameless and watched as a smile grew across his gaunt face. His hand trembled, as if the last vestiges of warmth were nearly gone.
“I’ve accomplished what I came for. Now, I must return to the ocean……”
He gripped my hand tightly with his free hand as he said this.
We both knew that was impossible. Where was he expecting to go without being able to move his body? At the same time, some part of me secretly wished that he wouldn’t go anywhere. I hoped he would stay here together with me, using his battered body merely as an excuse.
But I saw cold conviction in his eyes. He pointed to the high rock that I had jumped from once long ago.
“The air here on land is too heavy for me. Can you carry me? As long as I can return to water, I think I’ll be alright.”
He’s really going, leaving me without even a shred of regret, and I’ll forget everything, even his melancholy smile. Unable to bear it anymore I squeezed his hand tightly, but he said nothing. He only squeezed my hand in return.
I had no right to call him heartless and blame him for wanting to leave; nor could I ask him to stay. After all, the ocean was his home. It was me, no one else, who had acknowledged this as a fact.
I heeded his request, lifting up his body gently. He was even lighter than I had expected. Despite having such a frail body, he had smiled so brightly…begged me to stay with him…gotten soaked by the rain…and even challenged a fishing boat.
It was summer, but even so, tossing someone into the ocean who was nearly bruised beyond recognition and unable to move was an act of madness. I ran up to the outcropping of rock, unable to believe I was actually doing this. The terrible height made me dizzy as I looked down at the ocean from this natural diving board.
I understood as much as the next guy what it looked like to throw someone who seemed human into the ocean like this. But I wanted to believe–in a dolphin called Nameless and everything he’d told me.
Hearing the solemn tone in my voice, he looked up questioningly from within my arms.
Were my eyes giving me away? Was my smile able to hide these feelings, knowing that Nameless was leaving me? I prayed that it was.
“I’ll see you again next year.”
I’ll never forget you.
Nameless smiled softly in response to my artless, time-worn parting words.
I’m sure he’ll be here again next year, in wait of the stars. I’ll be sitting at his side, drinking sake as I listen to his tales. We will meet again, next summer, here.
I felt my arms go limp. On the way down to the ocean far below, Nameless’s smile never left his face even for a moment. There was a large spray of water before he completely disappeared from my sight.
Nameless’s body never returned to the surface of the water.
The group of dolphins gathered there once the water calmed down, as if they had come to welcome their friend back. They swam in a circle around the place where Nameless had plunged into the ocean, then called out in unison with their high-pitched whistles. Their snouts were raised high, as if in the hope that their calls would reach me up here.
(Do you really believe the dolphins are your friends?)
I consider you a friend. An irreplaceable, dear friend. That will never change, even if you leave me and return to the sea. Nor will I lament your decision, because I know you would never want me to do so. Instead, I will do whatever I can to help you.
Then, all at once, the dolphins began to stir. It seems they had realized the boats had gotten uncomfortably close. I glared out at the boats and took a step towards the end of the rock platform.
(I–we–are alive thanks to you)
Even now, years later, after I had long forgotten my week waiting for the stars with the dolphins, become an adult, and taken on many responsibilities, I made the same choice as when I was a boy. It was funny how I hadn’t changed even the slightest bit. Nameless might have felt the same as he thought wistfully about our past. Next time we meet I’ll be sure to ask him.
The group of boats was now so close that individual people could be made out upon them.
I screamed using every last ounce of air, towards the boats which had moved to encircle the cornered dolphins. This caught the fisherman’s attention. I drew courage from the dizzying height, the dark sea sprawling below, and the knowledge that Nameless had disappeared at that very spot.
Since I’m going to risk my life like this, Nameless, you’d better make it out of this alive yourself. Wait for me, here, next summer.
I took a deep breath, jumped off the rocky platform, and plunged into the ocean below.
I don’t remember what happened that day. From what I was told, apparently I had screamed and jumped into the ocean. But I have no memory of that or why I would have ever done something like that. When I was pulled out from the sea, I was consumed by a lingering feeling of terrible loss and was sobbing violently, unable to answer any of the fisherman’s questions.
It was almost like I had lost something very precious in the water. But I didn’t have any idea what that might be.
When my short–yet seemingly long–summer vacation ended and I returned to work, the manager position for that project had, predictably, been filled. This probably should have bothered me, and yet, strangely, I didn’t care one bit. The fear of losing my place in the world also vanished after that summer, and at the end of my vacation the health issues I began with, which stemmed from mental trauma, had also gone away completely. Even so, the strange feeling of loss that began on the day of the meteor shower continued to deeply haunt me.
I was missing something. No, that wasn’t quite right. I was forgetting something. Desperate to discover what, on a summer day nearly a year after that strange event, I took a vacation once more–this time willingly–and returned to visit that same beach.
Crystal clear waves silently washed against the shell-scattered beach. I kicked off my shoes and socks, and dipped my feet into the cold shallow area, as if I’d been invited in.
Each subtle movement of my feet caused ripples in the water along with a tiny splash. When I realized it, I was swishing my feet back and forth in the ocean. In the process, I began to feel there was something funny about all this and laughter welled up in me.
In the distance, the evening sun left a faint afterglow as it gradually sank. The darkening twilight sky reminded me of a painting I saw once at an art exhibition that a coworker had taken me to.
In the painting, a pillar of light shined down into the ocean where a group of dolphins swam, their bodies glimmering. I remember surprising him when I blurted out, “Those look kind of tasty” after seeing how the dolphins were surrounded by bubbles that looked like glass balls. Sometime later, he told me he never expected me to say something like that.
Come to think of it, it was only after that summer–and a strange experience upon that beach–when I began to feel an attraction to all things mysterious and unknown. I gazed up at the sky where the first signs of stars were appearing, forgetting to roll up my soaking wet sleeves.
Just then, I heard a noise.
When I turned around in surprise, there it was.
The summer I had thought was lost was waiting for me, just as it had back then.