Authors: Osamu Dazai
Oh, I almost forgot. I had better offer the guests something for supper. What should I do with that big fish? In the meantime, I should cut it into three pieces and marinate them in miso paste. That will make it taste great. With cooking, you just have to trust your intuition. There was a bit of cucumber left, so I put that out and doused it with sanbaizu sauce. Then—my specialty—egg omelet. Then one more dish. Yes, that's it. I'll cook "rococo." This is something that I have invented. Various and sundry items found in the kitchen are mingled on each plate—ham and omelet, parsley, cabbage, spinach—beautifully and skillfully arranged, economical and trouble-free, if perhaps not the least bit delicious. But it presents a surprisingly lively and gorgeous table, and manages to appear as a quite sumptuous meal. There was the green grass of the parsley beneath the omelet, then beside it the coral reef of the pink ham poked its head out, and the golden cabbage leaves were spread out on the plate like petals on a tree peony or like a fan of feathers, with the lush spinach a pasture or a lake, perhaps. Serve two or three plates like this, and guests will be unexpectedly reminded of King Louis. Of course that won't happen, but anyway, since I can't offer much in the way of cooking, the least I can do is try to fool guests with something beautiful that bedazzles them with its outward appearance. With cooking, it's all about the way it looks. That's usually enough to fool anyone. But cooking rococo requires a particular artistic inclination. You must have an uncommonly keen sense of color. Or at least my level of delicacy. When I looked up the word "rococo" in the dictionary the other day and saw that it was defined as a decorative style that was elaborate yet devoid of substance, I had to laugh. It was an apt description. Heaven forbid if beauty were to have substance. Genuine beauty is always meaningless, without virtue. It goes without saying. Which is why I love rococo.
As always happens, while I was busy preparing the meal and adding things here and there, I was overcome with an extreme emptiness. I felt depressed, and dead tired. I lapsed into overload from all my effort. Nothing mattered anymore. In the end, who cares?! I told myself desperately and, no longer concerned with taste or appearance, I flung things about in a messy clatter. Looking decidedly displeased, I brought the meal to the guests.
Today's visitors were particularly depressing, Mr. and Mrs. Imaida from Omori, and their son Yoshio who turned seven this year. Mr. Imaida was probably already near 40 but he had the pale complexion of a handsome man, which disgusted me. Why did he have to smoke those Shikishima cigarettes? For some reason, filters on cigarettes seem dirty to me. If you were going to smoke, then it had to be unfiltered. Smoking those Shikishimas throws a person's whole character into question. He looked up at the ceiling each time he exhaled smoke, saying, I see, I see, Is that right? He said he was teaching night school now. His wife was timid and petite, and unrefined. At every boring comment, she convulsed with laughter, her face almost pressed against the tatami floor. Was it really so funny? And was she under the impression that it was classy to prostrate herself while laughing so excessively? These people seemed like they were of the worst rank in today's world. The filthiest. Were they what they call petit bourgeois? Or some kind of minor bureaucrat? And the child was a bit too saucy, there wasn't anything animated or genial about him. Despite my feelings, I forced myself to bow and smile and chat, saying how cute Yoshio was and giving him a pat on the head. Since I was the one lying outright and tricking them all, maybe the Imaidas were more pure and innocent than I was. Everyone ate my rococo cooking and praised my skill, and even though I felt like crying—either out of loneliness or exasperation—I tried to put on a happy face. Finally I joined them in the meal but Mrs. Imaida's persistent yet empty and ignorant flattery eventually stirred my bile.
All right, no more fibbing. I looked at her sternly and said, "This meal isn't delicious at all. There's nothing to it, really, it was a last-ditch measure on my part." My intention had been to state the obvious, but the Imaidas praised my use of "last-ditch measure," clapping their hands and laughing merrily. I thought about hurling my chopsticks and bowl with annoyance and howling at the top of my lungs. Instead I sat there and forced myself to grin at them, until Mother said, "This child is becoming more and more helpful."
Though Mother was perfectly aware of my sorrowful state, she chose to smile and spout such nonsense in order to entertain the Imaidas' sentiments. I had never seen Mother be so obsequious towards anyone, let alone this lot. She was not the same Mother when she was in the presence of guests. She was nothing more than a weak woman. Was this how subservient she had become since Father was gone? It made me so miserable, I was speechless. Please go home, please go home. My father was a fine man. Kind, and with a distinguished character. Now that Father is gone, if you're going to belittle us this way, please hurry up and go home. I dearly wanted to say this to the Imaidas. Yet I was just as weak, so I cut some ham for Yoshio and passed the pickled vegetables to Mrs. Imaida.
Once the meal was finished, I quickly retreated to the kitchen and started the washing-up. I could hardly wait to be alone. I didn't mean to be haughty, but I couldn't see any reason why I should ever be forced to make conversation with or sit and smile with those kinds of people, ever again. Those types certainly did not deserve my courtesy, or rather, my currying favor with them. I hated it. I couldn't take it anymore. I had tried as best as I could. Hadn't Mother seemed happy to see my patient and affable attitude today? Wasn't that enough? I didn't know whether it was better to maintain a fierce distinction between yourself and your acquaintances in society in order to deal with and respond properly to things in a pleasant manner, or rather never to hide yourself, to remain true to yourself always, even if they say bad things about you. I envied those who were able to go through life simply in the midst of all the other weak, kind, and warm people like them. If it were possible to live my life without pain or hardship, then there would be no need to seek it out on my own. That would be best.
While surely there's something to be said for suppressing your own feelings for the sake of others, if everyday from now on I was forced to nod and smile at people like the Imaidas, I would probably go mad. I wouldn't make it in prison at all, the odd thought suddenly occurred to me. I couldn't work as a maid, much less be in prison. I couldn't be a wife, either. Well, being a wife is different. If it were duly resolved that I should devote my life to a particular person, then I could dedicate myself to the task, no matter how difficult, because I would have a purpose in life, I would have hope. Yes, I think I could even do a good job of it. It's not surprising. From morning to night, I'd make myself dizzy working like a busy bee. I'd do the laundry with vigor. Nothing upsets me more than a heap of dirty wash anyway. It makes me so restless you'd think I was manic or hysterical. I can't stop, no matter what. Then when the last article is washed and hung out to dry, finally I feel at peace.
Mr. Imaida was leaving. He must have had something to take care of, since Mother accompanied him as he left. The Mother who followed after him in acquiescence bothered me too, and this wasn't the only time Imaida had availed himself of Mother's assistance, but the Imaidas' impudence was so appalling, it made me want to give them a wallop. I saw them all off as far as the gate, and stood there alone in the dusk, staring at the road, and felt like trying to cry.
In the mailbox were two letters and the evening edition. One letter was addressed to Mother, a circular for a sale on summer items from Matsuzakaya Department Store. The other letter was for me, from my cousin Junji. He was being transferred to a regiment in Maebashi. Send my best to your mother, he wrote in his brief note. As an officer, you can't expect a particularly remarkable lifestyle, but I envy such a rigorously efficient and disciplined daily existence. It must be easier to relax when someone always told you who you are and what to do. For instance, right now, if I wanted to do nothing, then I could just do nothing. My circumstances are such that I could be as bad as I wanted, but then again, if I felt like studying, I could study for as many hours on end as I liked. If someone were to give me a particular limit to abide by—to start here and use this much effort and finish there—you have no idea how much it would assuage my mind. I think I rather would appreciate a certain amount of constraint. I read in a book somewhere that soldiers in battle at the front had only one desire, to sleep soundly, and while on one hand I feel sorry for those soldiers, I am also terribly envious of them. To break free from this vexatious and awful never-ending cycle, this flood of outrageous thoughts, and to long for nothing more than simply to sleep—how clean, how pure, the mere thought of it is exhilarating. If someday I could live a military life, and be disciplined harshly, then I just might be capable of being a self-contained, beautiful daughter. There may be people, like Junji's younger brother Shin for instance, who are compliant even though they aren't in the military, but me, I'm such a horrible girl. Really I am. Shin is the same age as I am but I don't understand why he's such a good kid. Shin is my favorite relative—actually, he's my favorite person. Shin is blind. How dreadful it must be to lose your eyesight when you're young. I wonder what it's like for him, on a quiet night like this, alone in his room. The rest of us, when we're feeling forlorn, we can read a book or look out at the landscape and that might distract us a bit, but Shin can't do that. All he can do is sit there quietly. Shin studies twice as hard as anybody, and he's good at swimming and tennis too, but what is this kind of loneliness or pain like for him? Last night I was also thinking about Shin, and when I got into bed, I tried keeping my eyes closed for five minutes. Even just lying in bed with my eyes shut, five minutes felt like so long, I couldn't breathe. But morning, noon, and night, day after day, month after month, Shin never saw anything. I would have been happy if he ever whined or lost his temper or acted selfish, but he never did. I have never heard him complain or say anything bad about anyone. In fact, he always has an innocent look and a cheerful way of speaking, and that comes across all the more clearly to my mind.
My thoughts wandered while I swept the parlor and then prepared the bath. As the bathwater heated, I sat on a mandarin orange box and did my schoolwork by the flickering light of the burning coals. When I had finished it all, the bathwater still wasn't hot so I reread A Strange Tale from East of the River. I didn't find what's written in the story the least bit disgusting or dirty. But there were times when the author's pretensions stood out, which somehow reminded me how old-fashioned and unreliable he was. Maybe he was just an old geezer. But foreign writers, no matter how old they are, they love their subjects more daringly and deeply and, what is more, without pretense. Though in Japan, was this book even considered good? I found the relatively truthful and quiet resignation that was at the heart of it refreshing. Of all this author's works, I liked this one, it seemed the most mature. I had the impression that he had a very strong sense of responsibility. His intense attachment to Japanese morals seemed to make much of his writing overly reactionary and strangely lurid. Excessively passionate characters have a tendency to behave poorly. The author contrived to wear the mask of a wicked fiend, which only served to weaken his stories. But this tale gained a resolute strength from its pathos. I liked it.
The bathwater was ready. I turned on the light in the bathroom, took off my kimono, opened the window wide, and quietly slipped into the bath. The green leaves of the sweet viburnum poked in through the open window, and each leaf caught the light, gleaming brilliantly. The stars sparkled in the sky. They sparkled no matter how many times I looked back at them. Lying there as I gazed up with rapture, I purposely avoided looking at the paleness of my body, but I was still vaguely aware of it, somewhere in the periphery of my vision. Yet, still silent, I sensed that it was not the same white body as when I was little. I couldn't stand it. The body had no connection to my mind, it developed on its own accord, which was unbearable and bewildering. It made me miserable that I was rapidly becoming an adult and that I was unable to do anything about it. I suppose there is no choice but to give myself over to what is happening, to wait and see as I become a grown up. I want to have a doll-like body forever. I splashed the bathwater about, trying to imitate a child, but I still felt depressed. I was distressed, like there wasn't any reason left to live. From the field across the yard, a child's voice called out tearfully, Sis! It startled me. The voice wasn't calling for me but I envied the sister whom the child was crying out for. If I were her, with such a beloved and cossetted little brother, then I wouldn't live my life so shamefully day after day. I would have the encouragement to live, to dedicate my whole life to my brother—I would be prepared to face any hardship. I would strain hard all on my own, which would make me feel all the more sorry for myself.
After my bath, I went out into the yard, the stars still occupying my mind for some reason tonight. The sky was filled with them. Ah, summer's almost here. I could hear frogs croaking. The barley soughed. No matter how many times I looked across the sky, the infinite stars continued to gleam. Last year—no, it wasn't last year, it was the year before last already—I had insisted on going for a walk, and even though he wasn't well, Father took a walk with me. Father was always young. He taught me the German song that goes something like, "Until you are 100, until I am 99," and we talked about the stars, and tried to make up impromptu poems. Wonderful Father, walking with a cane, spewing spittle, and blinking his eyes constantly as we walked together. As I looked up at the stars silently, I could remember Father with perfect clarity. In the year or two since then, little by little I had become a horrible girl. I had so many secrets of my own now.