This is the 5th 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 5: Levin’s Letter (3)
When I woke up in the morning, it felt like everything had been a dream, a manifestation of some suppressed desire. I tended to have frequent dreams but was equally skeptical of their meaning. Nevertheless, when I remembered to check behind my bed board, I found a dirty towel balled up there. In the end I had no choice but to believe that last night’s events had actually happened.
After that, I started exploring the area behind the cottage more often. As opposed to just looking out through my window, I felt that going outside would raise my chances of bumping into Ricardo. I–like many other sickly children–loved to read, so I put down a chair by the lakeside and immersed myself in a book. Sensing the Nanny’s imminent protests, I quieted her by explaining how a little time outside would help my condition. Still, she mumbled under her breath to herself about how moving around too much was bad for my health.
Contrary to my expectations, it wasn’t easy to have another encounter with Ricardo, but in exchange I discovered a cat roaming around outside. He was a beautiful male with a fine coat of white fur, and while he did seem quite aged, he exhibited a grace that seemed untouched by the years. He was extremely well-kempt for a stray cat, so in retrospect perhaps he was living at someone’s house. I chose the name Edgar for him. Edgar was very proud and never let me pet him, but sometimes when I was quietly reading a book he would tiptoe over and nap at my feet. That was the type of cat he was, and I found his capricious nature quite agreeable.
One day as I was flipping through pages of a book in the shade of a tree, I caught sight of an angry Nigel leaving the cottage. He was badly bruised and seemed extremely irritated. Face sullen, he walked up to me and sat down on the ground, his back facing me. His pants had become wet from the dew-laden ferns. I watched him with concern, but since he kept quiet I decided to speak up.
Unsurprisingly, Nigel didn’t respond and completely ignored me. From the angle he was sitting at I could see his left sunburned cheek, now red and puffy. I thought he might be crying.
Just then Edgar, who had been resting curled up at my feet, got up leisurely and headed in Nigel’s direction. I guess something over there had piqued his interest. When Nigel saw the cat, he slowly rose to his feet and then forcefully kicked the cat’s white, fluffy underside. Edgar yelped and rolled away, and at the same time I jumped from the chair to my feet.
“What are you doing!?”
I finally caught a glimpse of Nigel’s face from the front and saw that, in fact, he hadn’t been crying. He groaned and stomped on the ferns below.
“He’s actually not that bad of a cat…” I said.
That instant, I caught a glimpse of hatred burning within his eyes and momentarily held my breath. Realizing he was being watched, Nigel suddenly looked down, averting my gaze. His bangs cast shadows onto his face, obscuring my view of his eyes. The words he whispered softly after that, pierced my heart more than any insult ever could.
“He’s just going to die anyway. Stupid old cat…”
With those words, he wandered off somewhere. Of course, Edgar had also long escaped, which left me all alone at Roadford Lake. Edgar did eventually return, but there was something different about him. He seemed nervous, more cautious than before, and even the way he walked was a bit odd. The sense of freedom and grace that I had so adored in him was no more. I grew terribly depressed and became absorbed in my thoughts again. Nigel’s words still rang in my ears. That night, I had another terrible asthma attack and had to be seen by a doctor.
It was an evening one week later when I finally saw Ricardo again.
We stood together wordlessly on the lake’s tiny pier. The thick autumn air of Roadford had a chill to it and seemed to gradually permeate our bones, even in our winter clothing.
“No questions today?” Ricardo said. “I’ll let you ask one more.”
“Just because I ask one doesn’t mean you’ll answer me.”
He went quiet as if caught off guard by my remark, then exhaled, gently lifting up the corners of his mouth into a smile.
“Ricardo, you told me you knew all there was to know.”
This time I smiled, albeit cautiously.
“What does it mean to die?”
Hearing that, Ricardo blinked slowly. Moonlight illuminated his fair-skinned face, long eyelashes casting soft shadows.
“What does it really mean to live? What do we live for? We’re all just going to die anyway. I spend my days with this good-for-nothing body, reading books–days that may end at any time. Why do I do this?”
Despite my barrage of questions, he did not complain this time. Perhaps he realized that what I posed as questions, was just me thinking out loud. After a long period of silence, he spoke a few words.
“Does that sadden you?”
I shook my head.
“No, I’m not sad. I think I’m…lonely. Because I…”
I gazed into Ricardo’s amber eyes. They were bright and filled with a tremendous stillness.
“How can I rid myself of this terrible loneliness? If you know all there is to know, Ricardo, then tell me.”
Ricardo, face void of expression, said nothing for a long time. His expressionless form called to mind a plaster sculpture. I grasped his arm. I could feel warmth gradually seeping through his thin Chesterfield coat. He too was human, flesh and blood. A smile emerged on his face. I gazed even deeper into those eyes and understood that the answer I sought was not forthcoming, for the depths of his eyes hid a loneliness more profound than my own. But the thing that rendered me mute, at a complete loss for words, was his excruciatingly lonesome smile.