A Stately White Barge

   I wonder if that really was death. I don't feel the slightest fear. I don't feel the slightest anxiety. I don't even remember resigning myself.
        I think it would have been good if it had been death, if I had died right there. I would not have to resign myself to die now. I would not have to feel fear at this point. I would not have to feel anxiety. I would fold my hands and feel that I were throwing myself to death while I smiled.
        At the bath house I lost the power of speech. While I was using the rinse water I felt strange and so I tried to say something to someone but there was no one I knew. I dried myself, put on my kimono and tied the sash. I tried to call the woman in charge but I couldn't manage it. I sat down on a chair with my mind a blank. A young employee of the bath house was suspicious and made me take a pill and then he carried me home on his back. I noticed then that I didn't bring back the wooden clogs I had come in. It was about a minute from the bath house to my home.
           I was carried home and I remember where I was put to bed. A neighborhood doctor came and I remember him pulling at my numbed legs. After that I don't remember anything. I don't remember at all that I was put into an ambulance and brought to the hospital. I wept when I found out later that they put me into an ambulance and brought me to the hospital making a grand sound. It seems that they gave me a shot of sedative.

           I heard a rumour that my father found out that I had died and he suddenly died himself. I think of how my father had been in bed for four years with the same illness and had not died. Then he died from shock because I died from a sudden illness. Two weekly magazines came out with my father's biography right away. Then it seemed that my wasted shank and father's sickly shank stood side by side like two pestles and without thinking I wept. Lying in bed with my left hand under my head, I resembled too closely that attitude of my father lying in bed with his left hand under his head and I wept again.
             When my son said, "I'm going to visit grandfather," I thought, Father is dead, and so I couldn't believe he was alive. In spite of myself, I wept tears of joy. At the same time I was glad that we invalids were separated in Tokyo and in the country. If we were together in the country or in Tokyo the two of us would be in bed with the same illness. It was about two months after I had become ill and my son was intending to go back in my place for the seventeenth anniversary of my wife's, that is, his mother's death.

             I easily confuse my grandmother and my mother. I think it is because my mother's age now is close to my grandmother's when she died forty years ago. Anyway, I think it is my mother because it is a living person.
               Mother never came to see the sights in Tokyo. I was not a dutiful son and never had her come to see Tokyo. Mother finished with father's funeral and took two or three days and came to visit me. Special arrangements were made for her to see me. The hospital had a spiral staircase and it was planned that mother being carried up, and I being carried down would be brought face to face. Mother was buried in the billows of a white silk kimono and I couldn't catch a glimpse of her face. I tried very hard to think back but there was no memory of that face. It seems to me that mother was carried up, and my only remaining impression is of the white kimono and not of mother herself. Mother wanted to pay me a visit and it seems to me that only her spirit came to call. Then mother went to Heaven and from there, I think, she went back home.
                 My room was on the second floor past mother's. When I looked up out the window I could see an old ivy. The leaves were dark brown exactly the colour of the window.

                 My youngest daughter had been married in Kagoshima and I was often asked later if I knew that she had been up. It was a way of suggesting that perhaps I didn't know. But I did know about it. I did not know that she couldn't get through by phone or that she missed her plane and arrived late. I didn't know either that going home she took a first class train. But it seemed that she was gone in two or three days. One of those days I think she went to visit at a friend's house. She wore a two-piece dress but it looked like a soiled, ordinary one she wore at home.

                 My daughter's family had a fairly prosperous bakery, but I had it in my head that they were fishing folk who moved about everywhere following the fishing seasons and that they had moved out of Kagoshima and were now in the country. For that reason it did not seem to be an awfully attractive existence. I would see Satsuma port opening up in the distance and a very poor house with a stone mortar tipped over in front. Or I would catch sight of my daughter going to a border town in Kagoshima Prefecture and buying various goods in a way she wasn't accustomed to. She appeared moody and not very cheerful. I felt that way about my daughter, but the real daughter was different. l wept when I found out later that I received a part of the expenses for my recovery and a set of bedding from her. A grandchild was born two or three months later but I didn't even know that she was pregnant then. My oldest daughter was pregnant too and gave birth at New Years but I still haven't seen the grandchild. Two grandchildren were born and both of them were girls. I shall be able to see my grandchildren by the grace of having escaped death. If I had died I could not have seen them.

                I hear that in the beginning my immediate family, that is my son and his wife, my younger sister and my oldest daughter and her husband did everything for me, but I don't remember at all. It seems that they took turns doing everything. After two or three days a tall nurse was brought in and it seems that she overlooked my uncontrolled urinating, but she was physically weak and so in two or three days she was exchanged for a different nurse.
                   This nurse was called Ishitani and I heard that she had been born at Shimabara in Kyushu. I heard that the town she was born in was the castle town of Shimabara. She was more than twenty when she married a man over fifty and went to Manchuria. Now she was a widow. She had had a lot of experience as a nurse over a long period of time. She told about taking care of an old man who was past ninety and how she prolonged his life by a year and seven months through sun baths. And once she had nursed an old man who was past seventy and he had an unhealthy eroticism and would poke her behind when she did the cleaning.
                     I had planned to make a trip to Kyushu soon and go to Kumamoto passing through Nagasaki and Shimabara. I had intended to stay at an inn in Amakusa Tomioka and meet maid I had known there forty years ago. This maid was very chatty but recently her eyes had become very weak and she always had someone else write letters for her. Since she was three or four years older than I, she was probably sixty-five or sixty­six now. She had written about the changing of the season which she knew by ear saying that it seemed as if the migrant birds had come swooping in to the grove earlier than usual this year. I was looking forward to going to Amakusa to meet this maid. Seeing that she was in the same position as before at the inn, she was probably not a maid but a daughter of the innkeeper. Once I was rather tempted by that daughter. Watching the moon rise over the full waves of the Ariake Sea, she had said, "When you see this autumn moon out on the ocean, it comes up dancing," and she took me to the window. When the tide was full it struck against the windows. We slid open the storm window a little and with our faces almost pressed together we gazed at the moonlight. I had planned to bring out an old work called "Amakusa Souvenir" in Amakusa. It was intended to resemble the old Amakusa Christian publications. The people who live in Amakusa-Hondo are not supposed to mind hard work. Just as I was intending to set off in a couple of days I was overcome by fatigue and I collapsed. My new suit was left just as it was.

                     I was en route home eastward from Kyushu following night and day the small ship lanes of the Inland Sea and then following a river in the care of Mrs. Ishitani. The nurse's boat was a stately white barge.
                       Mrs. Ishitani was a great person to her patient after she went to bed at night. Every night when she got into bed she became a great person. She drew a cross on her face with some white thing and there was a cross-pattern clearly imprinted on the quilt. Then there was something with my name Tokuhiro IWAKI carved on it in a small box which she would give me when left the hospital. There was also the portrait of a great person but I have for­ gotten the name. At any rate, the head was divided into two and a sign was attached to one half. When she would shave me, the nurse would divide my head into two and press the sign to one side. It seemed as if she made me like the great person. Somehow it seemed to be a great Catholic person.
                         According to the nurse's story, a great Christian lady had ridden in a beautiful stately barge that was polished like crystal. She said that a man had ridden in a boat that was polished like burning oil. I couldn't finally see the boat the man rode in. The boat that the lady rode in was an unceremonious barge. Consequently, it appeared to me only in a vague form.
                           When I compared it to Mrs. Ishitani's boat the lady's boat was dark. It seemed as if it would not become beautiful no matter how much it was polished. Mrs. Ishitani's boat shone with a deep light. Mrs. Ishitani's boat was the most beautiful. In my native town it is said that when you die a white boat comes to meet you. For that reason, when you become critically ill people warn you, "Don't get on the boat!" That might have been why I dreamed about such boats.

                           I couldn't sleep at night and so I was given a sedative. Still, I woke up early in the morning while it was dark. Then the furnishings in the room appeared jet black as though they were burned. My bedclothes looked like a floating island in the middle of everything.
                             Long ago a great person received baptism here. That person was a rather old man, a small man, and he was brought by a woman and received baptism. It was Masamune Hakucho. Being the site of Masamune Hakucho's baptism, it is said to be a holy place. Since I was the second man of letters here, I thought seriously that things had to be done beautifully. Even so, my urine was blocked and I tried to go any number of times. Still, I endured it but finally I couldn't stand it and I urinated from the edge of the bed. At that moment I woke up. When I told the nurse she scolded me. She told me that the boat I had been riding on was a Christian boat. When the nurse came up to me in her pure white make-up it was quite startling. The nurse changed the soiled night. I, too, was troubled with the cold.

                             One night I read a well-known Christian sermon in the supplement of a large newspaper. It was all a dream and I don't remember anything about it, but it was carried in the original text. I have forgotten what the content was, but since the newspaper was a large, representative Christian or Catholic one, it would also carry the original text. A party of Christians in Japan endured cruel persecutions and so they wrote about them like an adventure story. Some of the Christians wrote pilgrims' diaries full of all kinds of troubles. These were all written in the original language. I read each of the original English texts.  When I read them in the original they were really short and I finished them right away. I was having difficulty getting to sleep and when I would finish reading one I would wake up. It seemed just as if they had carried the short original texts in order to make my sleep shorter. An exotic Christian incense overflowed the short texts.
                               The original texts of these sermons are printed in the margins of the newspaper which are usually left blank. When I read those texts the old Christian fragrances rose up; things like a white castle, glass paintings, sour fruit and sweet cakes.
                                 I became better little by little and Mrs. Ishitani could have some free time. There was a lot of time left especially in the evenings and so Mrs. Ishitani wanted to read my second work. I had to search for it. Many writers write their maiden work erotically but their second work is not erotic. It seemed to be like that as I thought about it with the nurse beside me sitting with an indifferent expression under the lamp. Second works are chiefly domestic situations and are not in the least erotic. However, the nurse considered my second work to be an erotic piece. While I was searching for it I found my first work and so I gave it to her. After that I thought about giving her the second one but there are no erotic scenes even in the fifth and sixth works and so I gave up looking for the second one. All at once I caught a whiff of a smelly fart from the book that the nurse was reading. "Aha! She just nosed out an erotic work", I nodded. The more it smelled the more it suggested an erotic work. I expect that my works were not erotic to me, but the nurse would undoubtedly have found that in my fifth or sixth works.

                                 When I got well the nurse put a cushion in the sun and leisurely read weekly magazines. She read books just the way a silkworm gobbles up mulberry leaves and so she might have devoured those smelly works like that.

                                Once the nurse asked me "Did you know that one night I slept holding you?"
                                  "No, I didn't know," I replied, not having known.
                                    "You brushed my bed two or three times with your left hand. Of course it's because he wants to sleep with someone and he's looking for his wife, I thought, and I took her place and slept with you holding me."
                                      "Really? My wife has been gone about twenty years so I don't feel so lonely sleeping alone," I laughed.   "Even so, when you held me you held on very gently. I knew then that your whole system was all right," the nurse assured me.
                                        "I really don't remember anything about it," I laughed.

                                        My room was all painted with white enamel and only one electric cord came into the room. I took a walk around the town two or three times a day and was surprised that this town was made of things like very beautiful shells. It would go up like the rising of electric wires or again, become like wires swallowed up by snow. When I went walking in the town it made me wide awake.
                                          This town was where Nagayo Yoshio was raised in his childhood. That is, it was Omura in Hizen. Mr. Nagayo grew up in Tokyo but he was a person who had continuing ties with this town. We were told that in his youth Mr. Nagayo owned many beautiful things we had never heard of before. The house he lived in was elaborately put together and appeared to be a far grander one than the houses we lived in. When Mr. Nagayo went away those rare things disappeared one by one. The person lives then now is Mr. Nagayo's younger sister and she is the one who owns the shells and the things made of lacquer. This sister as like the beautiful women who appear in the paintings of Takehisa Yumeji and we felt that she had great charm.
                                             We were happy just to see her in the street and receive her relaxed smile. It was all the more heavenly state of mind when we were shown the beautiful things.
                                              There were in Mr. Nagayo's house two beautiful carvings of leaves by Takehisa Yumeji. One he had pasted on a wooden panel. The other he had done as an expedient measure while he was on a trip and hard up for money. There were things like streets and houses that became his models, but now they have all disappeared.
                                                There was one window above my head. There was only one and it was more than a foot wide and about three feet high. This year the weather has continued to be very fine and the sun has shone in all day long. Every time I had an enema we opened the window to get rid of the smell. A1l around the window it was dark with ivy but the leaves scattered and disappeared. Then there was a chimney outside the window and it quietly put out smoke into the blue sky. Sometimes it put out a lot too. The room below was the surgical examination room and heat from the stove came up through. But on Sundays the surgical examination room was closed and so no smoke came out of the chimney. Usually I wasn't conscious of it being cold in the room, but on Sundays it was cold. Once snow fell. There were big snowflakes. The snow was dark brown and didn't seem white at all and it danced as if someone were stamping on it with the heels of his straw sandals.
                                                   On waking I would look forward to looking out the window. I could see two similar sick rooms and make out dimly the nurses taking care of the patients. The person in one of the rooms left the hospital and a new in patient took his place. That was the only other world I saw.
                                                     A mischievous child tried to come up to the second floor and he was scolded by the nurse but I couldn't see any of the incident. I wanted to look outside from the second floor, but according to what Mrs. Ishitani said, there was only a single pine tree standing alone and roofs that were no different from anywhere else.
                                                       The roof across the way was black and the sparrows were black just as if they were protectively coloured. When there were many sparrows five or six would play together and when there were a few one would play alone. When they flocked the males would play with the females. When there was only one it would play all alone and streak away over the roofs.
                                                        In the evening the moon came out. Even when clouds would be flying the moon did not appear blemished. However, my head had to be turned in the right direction to catch the moonlight.

                                                         The thirtieth day of this year, the ninetieth day since I entered the hospital, we decided to discharge the nurse. The young folks hated her meddling in our private affairs and I agreed because I was annoyed by her superior attitude. For instance, I would wake up early in the morning and want to turn on the light, but she wouldn't allow it. So at about ten o'clock the nurse hurried and got ready and went away.
                                                           She didn't leave behind the carving that was promised to me or the portrait of the great person. For one thing, it might have been because she went away as if we had quarreled. Since I regretted our parting and wept and since we clasped hands when she left it doesn't strike me as having been a quarrel some parting. Looking at it that way, it might have been my mistaken belief that she owned a carving and a portrait of a great person. I was careful and watched as she was getting ready, but, after all, I didn't see the box that she had put those things into. She did leave the quilt she had borrowed from the hospital. It was that quilt that she had decorated with a cross. It was a faded quilt. Perhaps the nurse in her cross of white make up and the quilt decorated with a cross were phantoms that I had made up in fantasy. The nurse changed from a great phantom being into an ordinary human being and went home.

                                                           I wanted to leave the hospital right after that. The weather was just beginning to get warmer day by day. But the doctor in charge said that it still wasn't warm enough and that they wouldn't be well enough prepared at home to take me in, and so I should put off leaving the hospital. However, the doctors who had been there longer, like the assistant director of the hospital, said frankly that the weather was just right and that it would probably be good for me to leave the hospital.
                                                            "The ground will seem strange when you leave the hospital," the assistant director said. That man liked to drink sake and he was optimistic about illness.
                                                              That's right, I thought. I had not set foot on the ground for three months. I hadn't seen a bit of ground even from the window. For that reason, I had been in the habit of fondling a potted begonia by my pillow and some pussy willows that were arranged in a long, black vase. The begonia was planted in a pot but I could hardly see the dirt. Still, I would cuddle the sweet flowers and leaves to my cheek. The pussy willow flowers had long gone by but when I would cuddle them to my cheek they felt good just like a kitten's paws.
                                                                 If I went home I could see the dirt in the small garden. Unfamiliar grasses would be sprouting. The black dirt would show through. I was determined to leave the hospital in two or three days.

                                                                 Soon the day came to leave the hospital. Early that afternoon my son and the ambulance driver came and put me on a stretcher. I didn't see a single nurse in the corridors. I looked for the nurses I knew, but I didn't see them. As we went down each flight of the winding stairway, I began to smell human beings. My eyes were drawn to the pictures and medical advice that are always on the walls in any hospital. I felt that I had returned to the human world. All kinds of footgear were left scattered about.
                                                                   I was carried to the ambulance that had to wait in the garden. I heard the cry of a warbler in a small bush and it was fine weather. I tasted it after four months. When I was placed in the car they pushed in bed clothes at the foot and packed in various items at the side until it began to be difficult to breathe.
                                                                     It was arranged that I would go home first alone. The car brought me back along the streets that I knew. There was the cleaners and the second hand book shop. But I couldn't see anyone in any of the houses. The car crossed a street and there was the big wine shop. No one was there either. My house was getting close and there were all the familiar stores, the sundries shop, the pharmacy, the wine shop, the fish market, but I couldn't see any faces. When the car turned in at my house, the wife at the rice shop was there to greet me. Her husband was stricken with the same illness and she was probably worrying. I bowed slowly from my bed.

                                                                    Although I say that I left the hospital, my right arm and leg and my speech are impaired. Translated by Warren Carisle.

                                                                  A Stately White Barge(Shiroi Yakatabune)

                                                                  The author who wrote acknowledged works of “ill wife series” depicting companionship with ill wives, after losing his wife, was stricken with cerebral apoplexy with partial paralysis and speech impediment. Through the course of overcoming this mishap he came up with another line of works, “disability series” so to speak. A Stately White Barge (Shiroi Yakatabune) appearing herein was first published in the August 1965 issue of Shincho Magazine and was later included in the author’s anthology “A Stately White Barge.”


                                                                  The work appearing herein was completed by the diligent care and dictation support on the part of his younger sister. The story covers the 90 or so days span of his hospitalization due to cerebral apoplexy. Based on the true exchange with relatives and friends depicting a companionship with both living and dead related to the protagonist, the author sublimed to a short story the whole monotone world without colors symbolized by the stately white barge that is said to come to the death bed, and the visionary mixed image of reality and illusion while drifting between life and death, all drawn from the author’s own experience. This work shows the author’s maturity as personal experience writer who always tried to find truth in reality. This anthology received the 16th Yomiuri Prize.   A Stately White Barge (Shiroi Yakatabune)was translated by Japan P.E.N. Club in February, 1966.(From The Japan P.E.N. News No.17)

                                                                  KANBAYASHI Akatsuki
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                                                                  KANBAYASHI Akatsuki

                                                                  Novelist. October 6, 1902-August 28, 1980. After graduating from Tokyo Imperial University, he joined Kaizo sha Publishing Co., Ltd. One of his early works The Plucker of a Rose(Bara Nusubito)caught the attention of leading writers of that time including Yasunari Kawabata, whose recommendation was part of the reason for Kanbayashi, a professional short story teller. Among his works, Byo Sai Mono or a series of ill wives stories received special mention. Those works, various narrations of trying experiences of taking care of ill wives became popular. Perhaps best known and recommended among them is At St. John Hospital (Sei Yohane Byoin Nite) based on his own experience of taking care of his wife who was suffering from severe mental ailments. Later, after the Second World War, Akatsuki himself became ill after two bouts of cerebral apoplexy. Yet he continued to write with the help of his sister, who dictated her brother’s stories. In the realm of the Japanese literature, Kanbayashi is known as one of the leading masters of personal experience writers and short story tellers. Unlike self-destructive types of personal experience writers so well known among us, he described his stories writing in his detached observer style reaching even to the arena of stoicism. For his works, he received a host of awards including Yomiuri Prize and Kawabarata Yasunari Award, which is given to great short stories. In 1969, he became a member of Japan Art Academy.

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