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  • The Snow of Memory
  • Mutsuo Takahashi (bio)
    Translated by Jeffrey Angles (bio)


I have a photograph.

This photo, which has browned with age, is taller than it is wide and has roughly the same proportions as a playing card. In it stands my mother. She is leaning upon a waist-high set of shelves against the wall of what appears to be the interior of a photography studio. She is wearing a coat of iridescent material over an under-kimono decorated with a striped pattern, and her hair is up in the rounded marumage hairdo traditionally worn by married women. On her right is a little boy with his hair cropped close. That is me as a boy, probably three years old. I am seated on top of the shelves with my back against the wall, and I am wearing a white turtleneck sweater under a three-piece suit that looks too grown-up for my age.

Here and there, little flecks of black and white are visible against the background of the suit. You can see them on my jacket, vest, and pants. These little flecks of black and white look like snow. The white remind me of snowflakes falling from the sky to the earth below, and the black look like dull bits of snow that have fallen to the ground and become soiled. Beside me on top of the shelf is a black vase. Even though it is almost the same size as my head, it is positioned so that it looks as if I am holding it in my right hand. Inside are several plum branches covered with blossoms. Come to think of it, the petals of the plum blossoms also look like snowflakes floating in the air.

As I remember it, snow was falling that day. When I slid open the wooden doors of Grandmother’s house and went outside in response to Mother’s urging, the sky hung down heavily over us. At the same time, however, part of the cloudy sky seemed to be swollen with light, almost like the insides of a frothy, spoiled egg. Snow was gently falling from the spot where the heavens harbored the light, but when the flakes reached the dirty patch of earth in front of our house, they simply disappeared. Likewise, when they fell in the water beyond the embankment on the far side of our yard, they turned the color of the sky and vanished in the murky water. [End Page 30]

We went along the road by the embankment, passing the houses of the Kawahara and Kaneko families, and then we turned. When we reached the main road, my playmate Kakko-chan from the Hashimoto family jumped out, pointed at Mother’s rounded hairdo, and started jeering, “Bride! Look at the newlywed!” I seem to remember Kakko-chan was wearing an apron over a jacket and black rayon work pants.

We climbed into the rickshaw waiting for us in front of the Hashi-motos’ house. First Mother got in, then I climbed onto her lap. Once we were situated, the driver threw a worn-out fuzzy quilt over my lap. He lowered the hood of the rickshaw over us to shield us from the weather, then started to pull the rickshaw forward.

In the center of the hood of the rickshaw was a celluloid window that allowed us to peek at the world outside. From where I was seated on Mother’s lap, the window was directly in front of me, but it was too high to see much more than sky. The celluloid of the window had turned slightly yellow and taken on an irregular warp, perhaps from weathering the wind and rain. Through the yellow, warped window, I watched the snow fall in a twisted trajectory toward the earth.

The rickshaw climbed up and down hills, crossed railroad tracks, and passed through streets lined with houses. From Mother’s lap, I felt the warmth of her body and, along with it, the quick movement of the rickshaw rolling forward. Each time the rickshaw rolled up an incline, down a slope, or across a flat stretch of ground, I sensed the change...