Moonlight in Water

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One day, Kyoko had the idea of showing her vegetable garden reflected in a hand mirror to her husband upstairs. For her husband, confined to bed, this alone would open out a new life before him. One could never say that it was simply “this,” a mirror.

The hand mirror belonged to the dressing stand that was part of Kyoko’s trousseau. The stand, although not large, was of mulberry wood, and the mirror too was mulberry. Shortly after their marriage, when Kyoko, to look at her back hair, held the mirror behind her to see the reflection in the front mirror, her sleeve would slide all the way down to her elbow. Kyoko remembered how ashamed it had made her. This was that mirror.

Sometimes, like when she came from the bath, her husband would say: “It’s awkward. I’ll hold it for you,” and snatch the mirror from her.He seemed to enjoy gazing at Kyoko’s nape reflected from various angles in the dressing-stand mirror. There were evidently things that he discovered for the first time when they were reflected in the mirror. Kyoko was not awkward, but when looked at from behind by her husband, she grew stiff.

Since then, not enough time had passed for the color of the mulberry hand mirror to change inside the drawer. But there had been the war, the evacuation, and her husband’s critical illness. By the time Kyoko had the idea of showing him the reflection of the vegetable garden, the surface of the mirror had clouded, and the frame and handle were stained by the dust and leavings of make-up.

Of course, it was not obscured enough to mar the reflection of things, and Kyoko, rather than being bothered by it, did not even notice it. But from then on, her husband, who would not let the mirror out of his sight, in the restlessness and nervousness of the invalid, had beautifully polished both the mirror and the frame. Even when there was no longer any cloud on the mirror, Kyoko had seen her husband blow on the glass and wipe it clear. Perhaps, she thought, his tubercular germs had gotten into the tiny invisible fissures of the wood. After Kyoko had combed a little camellia oil through his hair, her husband, passing his hand over his hair, would rub the mulberry wood of the mirror. Although the mulberry wood of the stand was the color of dried mud, the mulberry of the mirror gleamed brilliantly.

Kyoko had taken the same dressing stand into her second marriage.

However, she had left the hand mirror in the coffin of her first husband, consigning it to the flames. In its place, a mirror in the Kamakura style of carving had accompanied the dressing stand. Kyoko did not tell her present husband about this.

Immediately after her previous husband’s death, according to custom his hands were joined and his fingers interwoven. Even after the body was placed in the coffin, Kyoko did not make his hands hold the mirror. Thinking that the mirror had been an important part of their married life, she had laid it on his chest. “Since you had an illness of the chest, probably even this is heavy.”

Murmuring this to herself, Kyoko had placed the mirror on his stomach. She had put it into the coffin so as not to attract the notice of her husband’s relatives. Over the mirror she had heaped up a layer of white chrysanthemums.Nobody had noticed anything. When they had gathered the ashes, by the force of the heat the mirror’s glass had melted and warped into a thick, round, uneven mass. Somebody, seeing the sooty, yellowed lump, had said:

“It’s glass. What do you suppose it could have been?”

Actually, on top of the hand mirror, another little mirror had been placed. It was the kind of mirror that comes with a toiletry kit. Shaped like a little poem-card, it was a mirror on both sides. Kyoko had dreamed of using it on their honeymoon. But it being the middle of the war, they had been unable to go on a honeymoon trip.During her previous husband’s life, Kyoko had not been able to use it on a trip even once.

With her second husband, she had gone on a honeymoon trip. The leather of her old toiletry kit had gotten terribly moldy, and so she had purchased a new one. Of course, a mirror came with this one also.

On the first day of their honeymoon, her husband, touching Kyoko with his hand, had said:

“You’re like a girl. You poor little thing…” His tone was not sarcastic; it conveyed, rather, an unexpected pleasure. For her second husband it may have been better that Kyoko was like a girl. But at his remark Kyoko had suddenly been invaded by a violent sadness. Her eyes overflowed with an unutterable sorrow, and she shrank into herself. Her husband may have thought that in this, too, she was like a girl.

Kyoko could not even tell whether she was weeping for herself or for her previous husband. It was not something that could be clearly distinguished as one or the other. When this feeling had come to Kyoko, she had felt terribly guilty toward her new husband. She attempted to make it up to him by playing the coquette.

“No, I’m not. How could anyone be less like a girl than I?”, she had said. Afterward, it had seemed gauche. Her cheeks burned with shame. Complacently, her husband replied:

“It’s because you never had a child.”

This remark, also, had carved into Kyoko’s heart.

Coming up against the strength of a man different from her previous husband, Kyoko had experienced a humiliation as if she were being trifled with.

“But, it was as if I did have a child.”

With an intention of resisting, Kyoko had said just this.

Even after her long bedridden husband had died, he had been like a child inside Kyoko.

But if he was to die anyway, of what use had been her strict continence? ”

I saw Mori just once, from the window of a train on the Upper Echigo line…” Her new husband, with this mention of Kyoko’s home town, drew her close to him again.

“Like its name, it was surrounded by ‘forest groves.’ It looked like a pretty town. Until what age did you live there?”

“Until I graduated from girls’ school. I went to work in a munitions factory in Sanjo for my war service.”

“Ah, so you were in the neighborhood of Sanjo. There’s a saying, ‘The women are beautiful in Sanjo of Echigo.’ So that’s where you got your beautiful body.”

“It’s not beautiful.”

Kyoko put her hand to the chest-opening of her kimono.

“Her hands and feet are beautiful, so her body must be beautiful too, I thought to myself.”

“Oh, no.” Her hand on her chest likewise became an encumbrance to Kyoko. She quietly took it away.

“Even if you had had a child, I would have married you, I think. I would have taken it in and loved it dearly. A girl would have been nice.”

Her husband whispered this in Kyoko’s ear. It was probably because he had a boy of his own, but even as an expression of affection it sounded strange to Kyoko. His having extended the honeymoon trip to ten days might be his commiseration for there being a child in the household.

Her husband had a traveler’s toiletry kit of expensive leather. Kyoko’s toiletry kit could not compare with it. It was big and sturdy-looking. But it was not new. Whether because her husband took many trips, or took good care of it, it had the burnished look of long usage. Kyoko remembered her old kit, which, not having used even once, she had allowed to get terribly moldy. Yet the mirror only, she had given to her previous husband to take with him on his journey to that other world.

The little glass rectangle had melted and fused with the hand mirror. No one, other than Kyoko, knew that they had been two separate objects. Kyoko had told no one what the curious lump of glass had been. Had any of the relatives guessed that it had been mirror glass?

Kyoko felt that it was pitilessly cruel that the many worlds reflected in those two mirrors had perished in the flames. She felt a loss equal to that of her husband’s body vanishing into ashes. At first, Kyoko had shown her husband the reflection of the vegetable garden in the hand mirror from her dressing stand. Although her husband would not let it out of his sight, even a hand mirror seemed too heavy for the invalid. Kyoko had had to massage his arms and shoulders. She had given him the lighter, smaller mirror.

It was not just Kyoko’s vegetable patch that her husband, for as long as he lived, saw reflected in the two mirrors. He saw reflected the sky, the clouds, the snow, the distant mountains and the neighboring forest. The moon was reflected. In the mirror, he’d gazed at the field flowers and birds of passage. People had passed by on the road in the mirror, children had played in the garden in the mirror.

Kyoko too had been surprised at the richness and expanse of the world that appeared in the little mirrors. Although the smaller mirror was nothing but a toiletry accessory, for the purpose of making up one’s face, and the hand mirror, even less, for the lowly purpose of reflecting the back of the head or the neck, for the sick person they were a new world and a new life. Kyoko, sitting by her husband’s bedside and looking into the mirror with him, talked with him about the reflected world. By and by, for Kyoko also, there came to be an altered relation between the world she saw directly with her naked eye and the world she saw reflected in the mirror. They came to be as two separate worlds. A new world was created by the mirror, and this new world in the mirror came to seem the real world.

“In the mirror, the sky is a silvery color,” Kyoko said. And then, looking up through the window:

“Although it’s a leaden-gray, cloudy sky…”

There was none of its louring oppressiveness in the sky of the mirror. It truly gleamed like silver.

“Is it because you’ve polished the mirror so well, I wonder.”

From where he lay, her husband lifted his head and looked out the window.

“You’re right. It’s a dull gray. But the color of the sky is not necessarily the same to the eye of the dog and the sparrow, say, as it is to a human eye. There’s no telling which eye sees the world truly.”

“And the mirror? The eye of the mirror…?”

A thought came to Kyoko. She wanted to say, the eye of our love.The greenery of the trees in the mirror was more freshly verdant than the reality. The white of the lilies was more vivid than the reality.

“This is your thumbprint, Kyoko, on the right.” Her husband showed her the right side of the mirror. Somehow startled, Kyoko blew against the mirror and wiped away the thumbprint.

“It’s all right. The first time you showed me your vegetable garden, you left a fingerprint on the mirror.”

“I didn’t notice it.”

“You wouldn’t have. But thanks to this mirror, I’ve memorized exactly your thumbprint and the print of your forefinger. It’s probably just like a bedridden person to memorize the fingerprints of his wife.”

It might be said that since marrying Kyoko her husband had done nothing but be sick. During the war he had done no fighting. Shortly before the end of the war, even he had been drafted, but after a few days of working as a coolie at an airfield, he’d collapsed, and had come home at the same time as the war ended. Since her husband couldn’t walk, Kyoko had gone with his elder brother to fetch him. After her husband had been taken by the army, Kyoko had gone to stay with her family at their place of refuge in the country. Most of her husband’s and her belongings had been transported there beforehand. The house they had lived in as newlyweds was lost in the incendiary bombings. Her husband had gone to work from a room he’d rented in the house of a friend of Kyoko’s. In other words, Kyoko’s married life with a husband who was not an invalid had been that month or more in the new house and the two months in the friend’s house. Renting a small house in Takahara, the husband had gone there to convalesce. In that house, also, there had been a family in flight from the war, but the war ended and they’d returned to Tokyo. Kyoko had inherited their vegetable patch. It was no more than eighteen square feet of the weedy garden that had been dug up and planted.

It being the country, they could buy enough vegetables for two, but not wanting to abandon the patch that it had taken so much time and trouble to cultivate, Kyoko would go out into the garden and work. She became more interested in these vegetables she had tended with her own hand. It was not that she wanted to leave her ailing husband’s side. But it depressed her to be always sewing or knitting. Even though it was her husband she was thinking about, her hopes for him grew brighter when she was working in the garden. To innocently steep herself in her love for him, Kyoko would go out into the vegetable garden. As for reading, it was enough if she read aloud to her husband at his bedside. Kyoko had the thought that in the garden she was retrieving the self which, perhaps because of the fatigue of nursing, she seemed to be losing in various ways.

They had moved to Takahara in the middle of September. After the summer people had returned to the city, the long rains of the commencement of autumn cast their faint, damp chill over everything. One evening before sunset the sky cleared at the transparent voice of a little bird. When Kyoko went into the garden, the green vegetables shone in the strong rays of sunlight. Kyoko was entranced at the pink-colored clouds at the edges of the mountains. Her reverie was broken by her husband’s voice from upstairs. When, all in a flutter, she ran upstairs with her hands still dirty from the garden, her husband was breathing in painful gasps.

“I kept calling you. Didn’t you hear me?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you.”

“You’ll have to give up the vegetable patch. This way, I could call you for five days and be dead and gone before you heard me. First of all, I can’t see where you are or what you’re doing.”

“I’m in the garden. But I’ll give up the vegetable patch.”

Her husband calmed down.

“Did you hear the titmouse singing?” That was all that her husband had called to her about. Even as he spoke, a titmouse sang out again from the nearby forest. The forest floated up in the evening glow. It was then that Kyoko had learned the song of the bird called the titmouse.

“If you had something that would ring out, like a bell, you could rest easy. Until I buy the bell, why don’t I put something by your pillow that you could throw out the window?”

“You mean I could even throw a teacup out the window? That might be fun.”

And so, it was all right for Kyoko to continue her work in the garden. But it was not until the harsh, lengthy winter of Takahara had passed, and the spring had arrived, that Kyoko had the idea of showing her husband the vegetable garden reflected in the mirror.

It was a happiness that, by means of a single mirror, the world of green leaves came to life even for a dying man. Of course, when Kyoko caught an insect, it was too small to be reflected in the mirror, so she would have to go upstairs to show it to her husband. But when she was turning the ground over, her husband would say:

“I can see the worms you’re digging up in the mirror.”

At other times, when the sun’s rays were aslant, it would suddenly grow bright in the garden. When Kyoko looked up, her husband was flashing the mirror’s reflected light at her. Her husband had told Kyoko to make a pair of work trousers from the blue splashpattern kimono of his undergraduate days. He seemed to take pleasure in seeing her wearing his clothes, working in the garden and reflected in the mirror.

Kyoko, aware that she was being watched in the mirror by her husband, half thinking about it, half forgetting it, worked in the garden. What a difference from when I was a new bride and felt bashful about my elbow being exposed when I held the mirror behind my back hair, she would think. The thought warmed her heart.

Although Kyoko thought of the ritual of counter-mirrors as a compensation, this had been in the midst of Japan’s defeat. She had never allowed herself a satisfactory layer of rouge and powder. And afterward, while she was nursing her husband and then mourning him, she had not made herself up fully. It was not until she had remarried that she’d made herself up to her heart’s content. Kyoko knew that in so doing she had become noticeably beautiful. It came to seem true to her, what her new husband had said on the first day of their honeymoon, that she had a beautiful body.

When she came from her bath, say, Kyoko was no longer ashamed of her nakedness reflected in the dressing-stand mirror. She saw her own beauty. A feeling that she was different from others, implanted in her by her previous husband, had even now not faded away. It was not that she did not believe in the beauty in the mirror. On the contrary, she did not doubt that there was another world in the mirror. But there was not as great a difference between the body she saw reflected and the body she saw directly with her eye as there was between the leaden sky outside and the silvery sky that gleamed in the mirror. That may not simply have been a difference of distance. It may have been the desire and longing of her bedridden husband. If that were so, then there was no way of telling, now, exactly how beautiful Kyoko had been in her husband’s mirror upstairs as she had worked in the garden. Even when her previous husband had been alive, Koyko had not known.

Rather than the mild spirit of reminiscence, Kyoko felt a sharp longing for herself working in the vegetable garden in the mirror that her late husband had held in his hand, for the indigo of the hare’s ear, say, or the white of the lily, for the band of village children playing in the fields, for the morning sun climbing over the distant snow-clad mountains, for the different world in the mirror that she had shared with her first husband. For the sake of her new husband, Kyoko tried to quell this fresh nostalgia. She tried to think of it as a distant view of the world of the gods.

One morning in May Kyoko heard the song of a field bird on the radio. It was a broadcast from the mountains near Takahara where she had lived with her previous husband until his death. After seeing her present husband off to work, Kyoko took out the hand mirror from her dressing stand and tried reflecting the beautifully clear sky in it. Then she gazed at her own face in the mirror. She discovered something strange. Unless her face was reflected in the mirror, she could not see it. Her face alone was invisible to her. Believing that the face reflected in the mirror was the same as a face that she saw directly with her eyes, she made it up every day. What did God have in mind when he made man so that he could not see his own face For a while Kyoko mused on the matter.

“Perhaps if one could see one’s own face, one would go crazy. Perhaps one couldn’t do anything.”

More likely, however, it was man himself who had evolved in such a manner so as to be unable to see his own face. Perhaps, Kyoko thought, such creatures as the dragonfly or the praying mantis could see their own faces.

It seemed that what was most one’s own, one’s face, was something meant to be shown to others. Did it resemble love in that?

Putting the hand mirror away in a drawer of the dressing stand, Kyoko even now was struck by the fact that the mulberry stand and the Kamakura mirror did not go together. Since the original hand mirror had followed her previous husband in death, the dressing stand might be called its widow. But there had surely been advantages and disadvantages in her giving that mirror and the other little mirror to her bedridden husband. Her husband had constantly looked at his own face in the mirror. His continual fear of the deterioration of his condition as reflected by the face in the mirror, had it not been as if he were face to face with the god of death? If he had committed psychic suicide by means of the mirror, then Kyoko had committed a psychic murder. Kyoko, mindful of that possibility, had tried to take the mirror away from her husband, but already there was no likelihood of his giving it up.

“Are you going to make it so that I can’t see anything? As long as I live, I want to love something that I can see,” her husband had said. In order to make exist the world in the mirror, her husband may have sacrificed his own life. After days of heavy rain he had gazed at the moon reflected in the puddles in the garden. That moonlight, which one could hardly even call the reflection of a reflection, even now floated up freshly in Kyoko’s heart.

“A healthy love can only dwell in a healthy person.” When her new husband said this, of course Kyoko had meekly bowed her head in shamefaced assent. But something deep in her heart would not submit. When her first husband had died, Kyoko had wondered what good it had done, the strict sexual abstinence that she had practiced with her ailing husband. For a while afterward it became a painful memory of love. During the days and months of that memory, it seemed to Kyoko, her love had matured within her. There were no regrets. Would her second husband simply overlook her woman’s love?

“You’re a gentle person. Why did you separate from your wife?” Kyoko asked her new husband. Her husband did not answer. Strenuously urged by her first husband’s older brother, Kyoko had married her second husband after a more than four months’ period of getting acquainted. There was a difference of fifteen years between them.

When Kyoko became pregnant, she was so frightened that her face changed.

“I’m afraid, I’m afraid,” she would say, clinging to her husband. She suffered severe bouts of morning sickness, and began to behave oddly. Going out into the garden, she would pluck off needle clusters from the pine tree. When her stepson set out for school, she would hand him two lunch-boxes. Each had rice in it. Taking it into her head that she could see through the Kamakura mirror on her dressing stand, she would sit and stare into it. Once, getting up in the middle of the night, she sat on the quilt and looked down at her husband’s sleeping face. Overwhelmed with terror at the ephemerality of a human life, she undid the sash of her night-clothes. It seemed to be a gesture toward strangling her husband. Abruptly raising a wail of ‘aa-a’, she broke down in sobs. Her husband, waking up, gently refastened her sash. Although it was a midsummer night, Kyoko was shuddering as if with cold.

“Kyoko. Please believe in the life of your child,” her husband said, shaking her by the shoulder.

The doctor recommended hospitalization. Kyoko, not wanting to, was persuaded to go.

“I’ll enter the hospital, but first I want to go back home, just for two or three days.”

Her husband took her back to her family. The next day, Kyoko, stealing out of her family’s house, went to Takahara where she had lived with her first husband. It was the beginning of September, about ten days earlier than the day they had moved there. On the train Kyoko suffered nausea and dizziness. She felt a fear, getting off, as if she were leaping from a high window. But when she left the station and breathed in the cool, pure air, she became relaxed and calm. As if a demon had gone out of her, she came back to herself. Standing still, thinking strange thoughts, Kyoko looked around her at the mountains that ringed Takahara. The mountains, their green tinged with a dark blue, stood vividly outlined against the sky. Kyoko felt the living world. Wiping her eyes, which had become wet and warm, she walked toward her old house. From the forest, which had floated up in the pink-hued evening glow that day, the voice of the titmouse was heard.

Somebody else was living in her former house. White lace curtains were visible in the second-floor windows. Not approaching too near, Kyoko stood and looked at it.

“What shall I do if the child resembles you?” she suddenly murmured, surprising even herself. Then, with a warm, peaceful feeling, she went on her way.

Translated from the Japanese by Lane Dunlop