This is the 7th chapter of a story I am translating titled “House Ephemera” (蜉蝣の家) by Hatasu Shikishima (識島果).
Thanks to Sherayuki for helping proofread this chapter.
You can read the full Japanese text of this chapter here.
See this page which contains a brief synopsis and links to other chapters (as they are posted).
As usual, whether I continue translating this will depend on feedback/views from various sources. If you like it, please consider leaving a comment here or vote for it on this survey of things I should translate.
Chapter 7: Hurt by a friend
After boarding the train, I remembered my smartphone had been turned off. There was a large number of missed calls again. I skimmed the first three emails in my inbox and deleted the rest without reading them.
My mother’s compulsive worrying began the day it happened.
The day of my father’s suicide.
Less than half a year after I entered medical school and started living on my own, my father nonchalantly bid goodbye to this world. It was all so terribly sudden. I had been drinking cheap liquor at a classmate’s house when my mother discovered my father’s body, hanging from a beam in his study.
I jumped on a train heading to the country, and by the time I reached home my father’s body had been already taken down and laid out. My mother clung tightly to me, but I didn’t return her embrace.
To this day, I sometimes imagine my father’s stiff body hanging in midair.
A pair of legs dangling down.
The dead silence of the study.
Light passing through wide open curtains onto my father’s back.
A shadow cast onto the floor.
My father in his study, completely still, like a piece of furniture.
The rope, hanging straight down, soundlessly supporting my dad’s body as if it was a weight.
Each time I imagined my father’s dead body–a sight that I had not actually witnessed–it was rendered in even greater detail with a deeper level of realism, gradually becoming increasingly like a real memory.
Why had my father chosen to hang himself? I couldn’t help thinking about that. His bloated, purplish face. Bloodshot conjunctiva. Why would he have chosen a death which left his corpse in such an unsightly state? More importantly, why had he chosen death at all, something he never mentioned to his son or wife? No suicide note surfaced from a search of the well-organized study. My father’s death was completely unexpected. It happened far too easily–like someone simply flipping a switch.
In doing this, my father had taught my mother and I only one thing: people are apt to suddenly disappear without warning. All of us walked amongst a countless number of dark, bottomless pits, which anyone might fall into, at any time. Ever since that day, my mother started to fear that I too would disappear from before her very eyes, just like my father.
Once the short holiday weekend was over, as you might expect my life got busy again, but strangely enough, I came to realize that the busier I was, the more I tended to seek out Ricardo. That day, after finishing medical training I found myself heading for his hotel.
He was generally reading a book in some corner of the lobby or in a seat in the 24-hour cafe. As to what he was doing the rest of the time and what brought him to this area, I had no idea. I had never tried asking him. He seemed to dislike being questioned about details of his private life. He never told me directly to stop prying, but I got the feeling he wouldn’t appreciate those types of questions.
Tonight I found Ricardo sitting once again in a corner of the lobby. He was in the middle of drinking a watered-down complimentary coffee. He bid me good evening with a smile.
Ricardo often smiled, but there was always something dark hiding behind it. He always seemed to be in a state of mourning, although I actually took fondly to this aspect of him. There was something akin to a thick, invisible mist surrounding him, perceptible even from a distance away. That mist prevented anyone from knowing the truth about him, and seemed to obstruct prying hands from coming in direct contact with him. Soft words and silence were the only ways to get through to this man.
There was something different about that night: he summoned me to his room. I didn’t know if there was any particular reason. But it made me feel as if the distance between us was instantly reduced, and that very much pleased me.
“Shall we order some room service?”
Ricardo withdrew his vintage pocket watch and checked the time, making the offer to me as if he’d just realized something. I declined; I wasn’t particularly hungry nor did I want anyone interfering with our time together. He responded by standing up and pulling a mini bottle of Johnnie Walker from the minibar.
“That’s fine with me,” I quickly reversed my decision. “But who is going to pay?”
“You’re a student, right?” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Although if you drank through the entire stock here that would be a problem…”
Something about this seemed wrong. I just couldn’t see Ricardo as a person who subscribed to the common societal belief that students should pay for the drinks.
My hands fumbled to prepare two glasses. Ricardo poured the alcohol. The surface of the liquid, amber like his eyes, reflected the lights in the room. The unfamiliar whiskey had an equally unfamiliar burnt flavor to it, yet it had a calming effect, as if writing over my memories of the electric scalpel’s terrible smell.
I put down my glass, withdrew Kokoro from my backpack, and placed it on the table. Ricardo gazed at me, eyes smiling.
“I thought about what you said. It took me a little while, though.”
“A long time ago when I first read that book…I thought betrayal had caused K’s death. The older man had taken away the only person K loved, and he, betrayed and heartbroken, died after giving up all hope on life.”
“So you thought it was betrayal that drove him to commit suicide?”
“Yes,” I concurred.
“But, something is not quite right–that’s what you thought after rereading the story.”
“You thought it might actually be guilt.”
Ricardo raised his well-formed eyebrows and urged me to continue.
“K was seeking enlightenment, the truth of the universe. He had declared that it was necessary to sacrifice all earthly desires to achieve that goal. But in spite of all that, he had fallen in love. He had failed to suppress an earthly desire. Do you remember when K said, ‘There is nothing I am not prepared to do?’ It was when the older man questioned him after K admitted his love for the girl.”
“ ‘What happened to all of your lofty ideals?’ “ Ricardo whispered.
“Around that part of the story, the older man said that to K.”
“That’s right. He was prepared for everything, even death. At that time, K had already made up his mind to commit suicide. He had become a ‘fool’ who had strayed from the righteous path and lost sight of his only goal in life. Come to think of it, his reason for dying was clearly explained in his suicide note. K died because he was ‘weak willed and saw no hope for this future.’ I imagine that because of his high standards, he was unable to forgive himself for going astray.”
I made a short pause, then finished my thought.
“That’s why his suicide was not caused by betrayal. Nor was it caused by the anguish of heartbreak. I think it was his way of atoning for a moral transgression.”
I waited for Ricardo’s response.
“What you propose is not an answer to the universal question of ‘What kills people?’ However, it is a valid interpretation of Kokoro.”
Ricardo turned to me and said this after a moment in silence with his eyes closed. There was a hint of something in his eyes that bared a resemblance to despair. On the other hand, I may have simply been misreading him. But nonetheless this deeply disturbed me.
A moment later, he smiled and mumbled, “To be honest, I don’t quite agree with you.”
Ricardo went quiet after that. It was unfair of him to refuse to give his thoughts on the matter after I gave mine, and although I didn’t want to admit it, this angered me. I had expected him to at least give some kind of an answer. But just as I opened my mouth to express my discontent, he cut me off.
“Why do you keep coming to see me?”
I tried to speak, but nothing came out. His expression gave no indication about what he was thinking. At a loss for how to interpret his question, I finally managed to force a few words out.
“Does it bother you?”
“Does it sound like it bothers me?”
“Yes, it does.”
Ricardo grinned warmly and offered me an apology.
“I just don’t get it. I can’t understand why a young boy like you would want to spend time with someone like me.”
Something bothered me about Ricardo that was hard to put into words. At times, his peculiar way of speaking seemed to place him in a generation different from mine. It was as if he had lived a full and satisfying life, and was now spending out the rest of his days burning out slowly. But at the same time I was confounded by the youthful glow of his white skin that gracefully reflected the lights of the room.
“A guy of your age must have good friends to go out drinking all night with. You probably have a girlfriend too.”
“No, I don’t have…”
I shook my head once, then again. The whiskey was starting to take effect.
“I feel like everyone in my department is in a different world. It’s like they are all inside an invisible circle, and I’m the only one outside.”
Ricardo carefully chose his words.
“Do you want to be inside that circle?”
“No,” I said with a gentle smile.
“I think that I was never meant to be in the circle,” I said with confidence. “It took me a very long time to figure that out. I guess I just don’t go well with them, the way oil doesn’t mix with water. In that sense I am, in essence, alone. And I want to remain alone. No one can put me inside that circle.”
Once I finished speaking, I gazed at Ricardo.
To be honest, at that time I fully expected Ricardo–a man I considered a kindred spirit–to agree with me.
Ricardo. A man outside of the circle, a man who didn’t quite fit in with anyone else.
Just like me.
Ricardo simply sipped at his whiskey quietly. He didn’t agree, nor did he disagree. In fact, he gave no answer at all, leaving me feeling cruelly betrayed.
I too fell quiet, and Ricardo, seeing my reaction, tried to change the subject. I played along, and we talked about books we’d been reading lately. Right around the time a thin scab had formed over the terrible injury he had inflicted upon me, Ricardo glanced at his pocket watch again. The more I looked at that item the more vintage it seemed. I wondered how much it would go for at an antique shop. Ricardo looked up from the watch and glanced at me.
“Joe, you really should go home soon.”
Oddly, I was reluctant to return home, as if I’d completely forgotten how badly Ricardo had hurt me. In his presence it was amazing how simple-minded I became, just like a young boy.
“Can I come back again?”
“Sure. But I’m sure you have studying to do.”
Ricardo emphasized his point by reiterating that I was a student. I said farewell and left the hotel. Outside the hotel, a frigid wind blew, passing right through my jacket and prickling my skin like needles.
Once in a while, Ricardo would speak to me like this with a cold, distant attitude. I had been certain we were on good terms, which is why it pained me so.
It wasn’t much later until I learned that Ricardo’s intention was not to hurt me, but rather the exact opposite.
He had been doing everything in his power to keep from hurting me.