Authors: Osamu Dazai
I went back to my room and sat down, chin in hand, and gazed at the lily that was on my desk. It had a lovely perfume. With the scent of lilies around, I could sit like this by myself forever, and never have an impure thought. I had bought this lily from the florist yesterday evening, on my way home from a walk to the station, and since then it seemed to have transformed my room, its refreshing perfume hitting me the moment I slid open the fusuma door. I was immensely comforted by it. Sitting here now, staring at the lily, I was struck with a realization—an actual physical sensation—that it was greater than Solomon's glory. Suddenly I remembered the time when I was in Yamagata last summer. We had gone to the mountains and I was surprised to see an astonishing number of lilies growing halfway up a cliff. It was such a steep precipice, I knew there was no way to climb up there, no matter how much I wanted to—all I could do was look. But there happened to be a miner nearby who quietly clambered up the cliff and, in no time, he collected more lilies than he could carry with both hands. Then, without the least hint of a smile, he handed all of them over to me. There were so many flowers. No one had ever received so many flowers—not on any magnificent stage or at the most extravagant wedding. That was the first time I understood what it's like to feel dizzy from flowers. I could barely manage to carry that enormous white bouquet with my arms open wide—I couldn't see in front of me at all. Such a kind and very admirable young hardworking miner, I wondered what he was doing now. All he had done was bring me some flowers from a hard-to-reach place, but now, whenever I see lilies, I think of the miner.
I opened the desk drawer and rummaged around to find my folding paper fan from last summer. It had a Genroku-era woman waywardly sprawled on a white background and, next to her, two green Chinese lantern plants had been added. This fan suddenly summoned last summer like a vapor. The days in Yamagata, being on the train, wearing yukata, and watermelon, the river, cicadas, and windchimes. I had a sudden urge to take the fan and get on a train. I like the feeling of opening a fan. The clattering as the ribs unfurled, the sudden lightness. As I played at whirling it around, Mother came home. She was in a happy mood.
"Oh, I'm so tired," she said, but her face belied her words. It was just as well—she liked taking care of other people's business for them.
"It was quite a complicated matter," she went on as she changed out of her kimono and got into the bath.
After her bath, while the two of us were drinking tea together, Mother wore a curious smile, and I wondered what she was about to tell me.
"You know how you said you've been wanting to see The Barefoot Girl? If you really want to go see it, then I'll let you. In exchange, would you rub my shoulders a little tonight? It will make it all the more enjoyable if you have to work for it."
I was overjoyed. Of course I wanted to see the movie, "The Barefoot Girl," but since lately all I'd done was loaf around, I had hesitated. Knowing just how I felt, Mother had given me something to do so that I could go see the film triumphantly. I was so happy, I beamed with love for Mother.
It seemed like it had been a very long time since Mother and I spent the evening like this at home, just the two of us. Mother has such a large number of acquaintances. She tries so hard not to do anything that would incur ridicule. As I massaged her shoulders, I could feel her weariness, as if it were being transferred into my own body. I ought to cherish her, I thought. I felt ashamed about the earlier resentment I had harbored towards Mother when Imaida had been here. I'm sorry, I formed the words softly. I only ever think of myself, I thought, I let myself be coddled by her to my heart's content, and then take such a reckless attitude with her. I can't begin to imagine how hurtful or painful it must be for her, instead I always avoid thinking about it. Mother has really grown weaker, ever since Father had been gone. And look at me—despite always going to Mother with the things that were difficult or unbearable, when Mother depends on me for the slightest thing, I'm appalled, like I've seen something filthy, which is really terribly selfish. Indeed, Mother and I are both as weak as the other. From now on, I would be content with our life, just the two of us, and I would keep Mother's happiness in mind, bringing up the past and talking about Father, all day long if she liked—I would make Mother the center of my days. This could give me an admirable sense of purpose. In my heart, I worry about Mother and want to be a good daughter, but my words and actions are nothing more than that of a spoiled child. And lately, there hasn't been a single redeeming quality about this childlike me. Only impurity and shamefulness. I go about saying how pained and tormented, how lonely and sad I feel, but what do I really mean by that? If I were to speak the truth, I would die. While I am perfectly aware of what I should do, I can't even utter the words. All I do is feel wretched, and in the end I fly into a rage—I mean, really, it's as if I were crazy. Long ago, women were called slaves, dolls, mere worms with no selfregard, and though bad things may have been said about them, they had a vastly superior sense of femininity than the likes of me, as well as inner reserves and the wisdom to contend with their state of subservience effortlessly. They understood the beauty of genuine self-sacrifice and knew well the pleasure of wholly unrewarded service.
"Ah, my masseuse! You're quite good at this," Mother teased me the way she always did.
"You think so? That's because I did it with all of my heart. But, you know, giving massages isn't my only strongpoint. I'd be so discouraged if it were. There are more good parts of me."
Having uttered the candid thoughts in my head, they sounded rather refreshing, and I realized that for the past two or three years I had felt unable to express myself so clearly and without affectation. I was thrilled by the possibility of a new, calm me, one who had emerged after I had simply accepted my place.
After her massage, I wanted to offer something else as another form of thanks to Mother tonight, so I thought I would read her a passage from Heart. Mother was glad to see me reading this kind of book. The other day when I was reading Belle de Jour by Joseph Kessel, she had calmly taken it from me and glanced at its cover with a dark look, and although she had given it right back to me without saying anything, for some reason I no longer had any interest in reading any further. I'm sure Mother hasn't read Belle de Jour but nevertheless she seemed to have intuited what it was about. In the quiet of the evening, as I read Heart aloud on my own, my voice seemed to echo ridiculously loudly, and at times while I was reading, I felt foolish and awkward in front of Mother. Because it was so quiet, any silliness seemed conspicuous. Whenever I read Heart, I am as deeply affected as I was when I read it as a child, and I love the way my own heart feels genuinely purified, but somehow reading it aloud seemed quite different from reading it to myself, and the effect unnerved me. Still, Mother cast her eyes downward and wept when I read the parts about Enrico and Garrone. My own mother is as fine and beautiful a mother as Enrico's mother.
Mother went to bed before I did. She had been out and about since early this morning so she must have been exhausted. I fixed her futon for her, pressing the edges of the cover to tuck her in. Mother always falls asleep as soon as she gets into bed.
I then went to do laundry in the bathroom. Lately I've had this strange habit of starting my wash when it's nearly midnight. It seems a shame to waste the daylight hours splattering about, but I suppose maybe it's the other way around. From the window I could see the moon. Crouching as I scrubbed, I smiled softly at the moon. The moon pretended not to see me. At that same moment, I became convinced that somewhere another sad and pitiful girl was doing the wash and smiling softly at this very moon. She was definitely smiling. There she was now, a suffering girl, quietly doing the wash by the back door late at night, in a house at the summit of a mountain in the distant countryside. And there, on the back streets of Paris, in the corridor of a squalid flat, a girl just my age was furtively laundering her things, and smiling at this same moon—I hadn't the slightest doubt, I could see her as clearly as if through a telescope, in distinct and vivid color in my mind. Nobody in the world understood our suffering. In time, when we became adults, we might look back on this pain and loneliness as a funny thing, perfectly ordinary, but—but how were we expected to get by, to get through this interminable period of time until that point when we were adults? There was no one to teach us how. Was there nothing to do but leave us alone, like we had the measles? But people died from the measles, or went blind. You couldn't just leave them alone. Some of us, in our daily depressions and rages, were apt to stray, to become corrupted, irreparably so, and then our lives would be forever in disorder. There were even some who would resolve to kill themselves. And when that happened, everyone would say, Oh, if only she had lived a little longer she would have known, if she were a little more grown up she would have figured it out. How saddened they would all be. But if those people were to think about it from our perspective, and see how we had tried to endure despite how terribly painful it all was, and how we had even tried to listen carefully, as hard as we could, to what the world might have to say, they would see that, in the end, the same bland lessons were always being repeated over and over, you know, well, merely to appease us. And they would see how we always experienced the same embarrassment of being ignored. It's not as though we only care about the present. If you were to point to a faraway mountain and say, If you can make it there, it's a pretty good view, I'd see that there's not an ounce of untruth to what you tell us. But when you say, Well, bear with it just a little longer, if you can make it to the top of that mountain, you'll have done it, you are ignoring the fact that we are suffering from a terrible stomachache—right now. Surely one of you is mistaken to let us go on this way. You're the one who is to blame.
I finished the washing and straightened up the bathroom, then snuck open the fusuma door and there it was—the lily's perfume. How refreshing. It was as if I had become transparent, to the bottom of my heart, you might even call what I felt a sublime nihility. As I quietly changed into my nightclothes, I was startled when Mother, whom I thought had been fast asleep, suddenly started speaking with her eyes still closed. Mother does this kind of thing sometimes, and it takes me by surprise.
"You said you wanted summer shoes, so I looked for some while I was in Shibuya today. Shoes have gotten expensive, too, haven't they."
"It's okay, I don't really want them anymore."
"But don't you need them?"
"I guess so."
Tomorrow will probably be another day like today. Happiness will never come my way. I know that. But it's probably best to go to sleep believing that it will surely come, tomorrow it will come. I purposely made a loud thump as I fell into bed. Ah, that feels good. The futon was cool, just the right temperature against my back, and it was simply delightful. Sometimes happiness arrives one night too late. The thought occurred to me as I lay there. You wait and wait for happiness, and when finally you can't bear it any longer, you rush out of the house, only to hear later that a marvelous happiness arrived the following day at the home you had abandoned, and now it was too late. Sometimes happiness arrives one night too late. Happiness...
I heard Poo walking around in the yard. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter—Poo's footsteps are distinctive. His right foreleg is a little shorter, and he's bow-legged like a crab, so there is a peculiar sadness to his footsteps. He often wandered around the yard like this in the middle of the night, and I wondered what he was doing. Poo is such a poor thing. I had been mean to him this morning, but tomorrow I would show him some attention.
I have the miserable habit of not being able to fall asleep unless I cover my face completely with both hands. I put my hands over my face and lay there.
Falling asleep is such a strange feeling. It's like a carp or an eel is tugging on a fishing line, or something heavy like a lead weight is pulling on the line that I'm holding with my head, and as I doze off to sleep, the line slackens up a bit. When that happens, it startles me back to awareness. Then it pulls me again. I doze off to sleep. The line loosens a bit again. This goes on three or four times, and then, with the first really big tug, this time it lasts until morning.
Good night. I'm Cinderella without her prince. Do you know where to find me in Tokyo? You won't see me again.