A dreamy little piece from author Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. An interesting read despite very little actually happening!
Translated by Hamish Smith
One October afternoon I was walking and talking with a couple of friends down a path lined with pines. There wasn’t a shadow of another person on the path. Just the calls of the birds from high up in the trees.
“And Van Gogh’s body was on this pool table, right, and to this day they still use it for pool games…” S, who had just come back from overseas, was telling us some stories.
After a while we found ourselves in front of a granite gate. It was covered in a thin layer of moss. The words set into the stone nameplate read ‘The Quiet Manor’. It was a western style building with a roof made from thatched grass. Its windows were closed. I had been looking forward to seeing this place for a while. One reason for that was because the house looked so elegant. Not to mention that its desolate surroundings, its sprawling garden and dried-up pond, also had a lot of charm.
“Maybe we should go in and take a look.”
I was the first to go through the gate. Wild mushrooms, a faint shade of red, poked out from between the gaps in the cobblestones which lay under the pines.
“The owner of the manor hasn’t been back since the earthquake…” I said. T, who was looking over the bush clover which grew in front of the door step, answered me with a face full of thought.
“No, they would have come back last year. Those clovers wouldn’t have blossomed like that if they hadn’t been properly trimmed last year.”
“Yeah, but take a look over at the grass. That clay is from a wall that collapsed. It would have been like that since the earthquake hit.”
The young son of a businessman, taking a hit from an earthquake that he couldn’t fight back against, floated in my mind, along with the nice western style house, overgrown with ivy. Palm trees and hardy banana plants outside the windows, placed in perfect harmony.
T bent down and picked up some of the dirt that lay on top of the grass, and again gave me an answer. “This isn’t a fallen clay fence. This is a special kind of soil used by gardeners. It’s the expensive stuff, too.”
We found ourselves standing in front of a glass window with the blinds drawn. Naturally they had turned waxy.
“I wonder if we can’t get a peek inside.”
We wandered around the house, peeking in the windows as we talked. The blinds were shut tight, keeping the inside hidden. There were two medicine bottles sitting on windowsill of the south facing window.
“Look, they had been using iodine,” said S, speaking over his shoulder. “The owner of this holiday house had a bad lung.”
We continued on through the long grass to the back of the house. There was a single shed with a rusted zinc roof. Inside the shed was a stove, a western style desk and a plaster statue of a woman with its head and arms missing. The statue was caked in dust and lay sideways in front of the stove.
“Looks like that guy with the bad lung sculpted to pass the time.”
“These are also for the garden. You could plant, say, orchids where the head should be. Same with the desk and the stove. This shed has glass windows as well, it was probably used as a hot house, ” said T. He was right. There was part of a cork board in the desk, used to plant some variety of orchid.
“Look, under the leg of the desk. That’s a can of Victoria sanitary pads.”
“You think they belonged to the wife? Or maybe the maid?” Said S, grinning to himself as he spoke.
“Well this much is certain. The owner of the manor enjoyed this garden once he came down with a bad lung.”
“And then last year he died.”
We backtracked through the trees to the steps of the Quiet Manor. The wind blew against the flowering long grass.
“This place would be too big for us to live in… but it’s a pretty nice house,” T Mumbled to himself as he climbed the front steps.
“I wonder if the door bell still works…”
The button for the door bell poked out from beneath the leaves of ivy. I pushed that button with my finger. It was made from ivory. Unfortunately the bell made no sound. But even if it had rung, I would have gotten a little creeped out and probably would not have wanted to push it a second time.
“What did you say this place was called?” Asked S out of nowhere, not speaking to anyone in particular. “The Quiet Manor?”
“Yeah, the Quiet Manor.”
The three of us stood there for a moment on the door step in a daze, gazing over the dried pond and the garden that stretched out before us.
Original work was taken from the Aozora Bunko and is in the public domain
English translation © 2014 Hamish Smith. All rights reserved.