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Manoa 13.2 (2001) 176-199

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Dead City

Fukunaga Takehiko

. . . Like an ashen coffin floating in the water. Kitahara Hakushu, Omoide

I could make out the river only by its gleamy surface, as the thin moon resting between the groves darkened the treetops and branches into a shadowgraph. I was looking out in the direction of the river, struck by its continuous sound. It was late, the town was asleep, and all I could hear was the sound of the river. Although there was a moon, from where I stood I could not see its reflection on the river's surface. I clicked my tongue and leaned on the handrail of the veranda, my thoughts adrift. Every traveler knows the experience of reaching a strange land and not being able to fall asleep on the first night. For me, it was the sound of the river that kept me awake. Directly opposite the garden lay the river, and although I had hardly noticed its gentle sound when I arrived in the afternoon, it seemed extraordinarily loud when I lay down to sleep. Even then, I thought that I would eventually fall asleep to the gentle rocking of the boats, especially since I was exhausted. However, as the night passed, my mind became clearer and I could not fall asleep. I stepped out of the mosquito net with a fan, gently slid open the door to the outside, and stared vacantly at my new surroundings. That's when I heard what sounded like a woman crying in the distance. I thought it came from the direction of the house, but I could not be sure. She breathed heavily, her sobbing long and thin, and I felt an unearthly chill. Clouds passed over the moon, hiding it at times. The night air had descended silently, and it was no longer hot. I stood and listened patiently.

That was ten years ago. I was a college student at the time, and I spent that particular summer at that house and in that town, writing my senior thesis. Of course, I originally had no intention of going to a distant town that I had never been to before. Any inexpensive and quiet inn would have sufficed, but these were not easy to come by. By chance, a relative told me about the house of an acquaintance where I could stay. There must have been something about the way he described the town and the house that appealed to me and made me travel such a distance, but I have already forgotten what it was. How quickly one's youth passes and memories are erased. The busy, monotonous life of an office worker leaves little time or [End Page 176] inclination to reminisce about the past. Had I not come across a newspaper article reporting a fire that burned most of the town, I would have never recalled such old events. As I read the article, I thought about the people I had met there. I imagined that the town had died and fallen into ruin after all, though it had been a quiet place at the outset, possessing the loneliness of a godforsaken land.

I packed my books and clothes in a bag and casually boarded a train. I was young at the time, and my parents hardly worried about my impetuous behavior. As my uncle had instructed, I disembarked at the town's station and then headed for the old Kaihara house he had told me about. It was early summer, and the sun shone intensely that afternoon. When I finally arrived at the house, I was drenched with sweat.

Although impetuous, I had at least written a letter to the Kaihara family to confirm their willingness to host me. I felt intimidated when I saw the dignified, old house enclosed within a stately gate and surrounded by a garden thick with trees. I gave my name to a young woman, who guided me through a long hallway to a building resembling an annex. The family provided me with the second floor of this annex, which was appointed with...


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