Monday, October 11, 2010

Fountains in The Rain

The boy was tired of walking in the rain dragging the girl, heavy as a sandbag and weeping continually, around with him.

A short while ago, in a tea shop in the Marunouchi Building, he had told her he was leaving her.

The first time in his life that he'd broken with a woman!

It was something he had long dreamed of; it had at last become a reality.

It was for this alone that he had loved her, or pretended to love her; for this alone he had assiduously undermined her defenses; for this alone he'd furiously sought the chance to sleep with her, slept with her -- till lo, the preparations were complete and it only remained to pronounce the phrase he had longed just once to pronounce with his own lips, with due authority, like the edict of a king:

“It's time to break it off!”

Those words, the mere enunciation of which would be enough to rend the sky asunder… Those words that he had cherished so passionately even while half-resigned to the impossibility of the fact… That phrase, more heroic, more glorious than any other in the world, which would fly in a straight line through the heavens like an arrow released from its bow… That spell which only the most human of humans, the most manly of men, might… In short:

“It's time to break it off!”

All the same, Akio felt a lingering regret that he'd been obliged to say it with such a deplorable lack of clarity, with a rattling noise in the throat, like an asthmatic with a throatful of phlegm, which even a preliminary draft of soda pop through his straw had failed to avert.

At the time, his chief fear had been that the words might not have been heard. He'd have died sooner than be asked what he'd said and have to repeat it. After all, if a goose that for years had longed to lay a golden egg had found it smashed before anyone could see it, would it promptly have laid another?

Fortunately, however, she had heard. She'd heard, and he hadn't had to repeat it, which was a splendid piece of luck. Under his own steam, Akio had crossed the pass over the mountains that he'd gazed at for so long in the distance.

Sure proof that she'd heard had been vouchsafed in a flash, like chewing gum ejected from a vending machine.

The windows were closed because of the rain, so that the voices of the customers talking around them, the clatter of dishes, the ping of the cash register clashed with each other all the more violently, rebounding subtly off the clammy condensation on the inside of the panes to create a single, mind-fuddling commotion.

Akio's muffled words had no sooner reached Masako's ears through the general uproar than her eyes -- wide, staring eyes that seemed to be trying to shove her surroundings away from her thin, unprepossessing features --opened still wider. They were no longer eyes so much as an embodiment of disaster, irretrievable disaster. And then, all at once, the tears had burst forth.

There was no business of breaking into sobs; nor did she bawl her head off: the tears simply gushed, expressing nothing, and with a most impressive force.

Akio naturally assumed that waters of such pressure and flow would soon cease. And he marveled at the peppermint freshness of mind with which he contemplated the phenomenon. This was precisely what he had planned ~ worked to encompass, and brought to reality: a splendid achievement, though admittedly somewhat mechanical.

It was to witness this, he told himself again, that he had made love to Masako he, who had always been free from the dominance of desire.

And the tearful face of the woman now in front of him -- this was reality! A genuine forsaken woman -- forsaken by himself, Akio!

Even so, Masako's tears went on for so long with no sign of abating that the boy began to worry about the people around them.

Masako, still wearing her light-colored raincoat, was sitting upright in her chair. The collar of a red blouse showed at the neck of the coat. She looked as though set in her present position, with her hands pressed down on the edge of the table, a tremendous force in both of them.

She stared straight ahead, letting the tears flow unchecked. She made no move to take out a handkerchief to wipe them. Her breath, catching in her thin throat, gave out a regular wheeze like new shoes, and the mouth that with student perverseness she refused to paint turned up disconsolately, quivering continually.

The older customers were looking at them curiously, with stares of a kind calculated to disturb Akio's newfound sense of maturity.

The abundance of Masako's tears was a genuine cause for astonishment. Not for a moment did their volume diminish. Tired of watching, Akio dropped his gaze and looked at the tip of the umbrella he had stood against a chair. The raindrops running from it had formed a small, darkish puddle on the old-fashioned, tile mosaic floor. Even the puddle began to look like Masako's tears to him.

Abruptly, he grabbed the bill and stood up.

The June rains had been falling steadily for three days. As he left the Marunouchi Building and unfurled his umbrella, the girl came silently after him. Since she had no umbrella herself, he had no choice but to let her share his. It reminded him of the way older people, for the benefit of the outside world, went on pretending even after they'd stopped feeling anything. Now he too had acquired the same habit; to share an umbrella with a girl once you'd made the move to break with her was just a gesture for other people's benefit. It was simply being cut-and-dried about things. Yes: to be cut-and-dried (even when it took such subtle forms) suited Akio's nature...

As they wandered along the broad sidewalk in the direction of the Imperial Palace, the problem foremost in his mind was finding somewhere to dump this tearbag he was saddled with.

I wonder -- he thought vaguely to himself -- if the fountains work even when it's raining?

Why should the idea of fountains have occurred to him? Another few paces, and he realized the physical pun in his own train of thought.

The girl's wet raincoat, which he was touching -- remotely, of course, and unfeelingly -- in the cramped space beneath the umbrella, had the texture of a reptile. But he bore with it, forcing his mind to follow the pun to its logical conclusion.

Yes: fountains in the rain. He'd bring the fountains and Masako's tears into confrontation. Even Masako would surely find her match there. For one thing, the fountains were the type that used the same water over and over again, so the girl, whose tears all ran to waste, could hardly compete with them. A human being was scarcely a match for a reflex fountain; almost certainly, she'd give up and stop crying. Then he'd be able somehow to get rid of this unwanted baggage. The only question was whether the fountains would be working as usual in the rain.

Akio walked in silence. Masako, still weeping, followed doggedly under the same umbrella. Thus, while it was difficult to shake her off, it was easy to drag her along where he wanted.

What with the rain and the tears, Akio felt as if his whole body was getting wet. It was all right for Masako in her white boots, but his own socks, inside his loafers, felt like thick, wet seaweed around his feet.

There was some time still before the office workers came out, and the sidewalk was deserted. Traversing a pedestrian crossing, they made their way toward Wadakura Bridge, which crossed the palace moat. When they reached the end of the bridge with its old-fashioned wooden railings topped by pointed knobs, they could see on their left a swan floating on the moat in the rain and, to the right, on the other side of the moat, the white tablecloths and red chairs of a hotel dining room, dimly visible through rain-blurred glass. They crossed the bridge. Passing between high stone ramparts, they turned left and emerged in the small garden with the fountains.

Masako, as ever, was crying soundlessly.

Just inside the garden was a large Western-style summer-house. The benches under its roof, which consisted of a kind of blind of fine reeds, were protected to some extent from the rain, so Akio sat down with his umbrella still up and Masako sat down next to him, at an angle, so that all he could see, right in front of his nose, was a shoulder of her white raincoat and her wet hair. The rain on the hair, repelled by the oil on it, looked like a scattering of fine white dew. Still crying, with her eyes wide open, she might almost have been in some kind of coma, and Akio felt an urge to give the hair a tug, to bring her out of it.

She went on crying, endlessly. It was perfectly clear that she was waiting for him to say something, which made it impossible, as a matter of pride, for him to break the silence. It occurred to him that since that one momentous sentence he hadn't spoken a single word.

Not far away, the fountains were throwing up their waters in profusion - but Masako showed no inclination to look at them.

Seen from here, head on, the three fountains, two small and one larger were lined up one behind the other, and the sound, blotted out by the rain, was distant and faint, but the fact that their blurring of spray was not visible at a distance gave the lines of water, dividing up in various directions, a clearly defined look like curved glass tubes.

Not a soul was in sight anywhere. The lawn on this side of the fountains and the low ornamental hedge were a brilliant green in the rain.

Beyond the garden, though, there was a constant procession of wet truck hoods and bus roofs in red, white, or yellow; the red light of a signal at a crossing was clearly visible, but when it changed to the lower green, the light disappeared in a cloud of spray from the fountains.

The act of sitting down and remaining still and silent aroused an indefinable anger in the boy. With it, amusement at his little joke of a while ago disappeared.

He couldn't have said what he was angry about. Not long before, he had been on a kind of high, but now, suddenly, he was beset with an obscure sense of dissatisfaction. Nor was his inability to dispose of the forever crying Masako the whole extent of the frustration.

Her? I could easily deal with her if I cared to, he told himself. I could just shove her in the fountain and do a bunk -- and that would be the end of it. The thought restored his earlier elation. No, the only trouble was the absolute frustration he felt at the rain, the tears, the leaden sky that hung like a barrier before him. They pressed down on him on all sides, reducing his freedom to a kind of damp rag.

Angry, the boy gave in to a simple desire to hurt. Nothing would satisfy him now till he had got Masako thoroughly soaked in the rain and given her a good eyeful of the fountains.

Getting up suddenly, he set off running without so much as a glance back; raced on along the gravel path that encircled the fountains outside and a few steps higher than the walk around the fountains themselves; reached a spot that gave a full view of that; and came to a halt.

The girl came running through the rain. Checking herself just as she was about to collide with him, she took a firm grip of the umbrella he was holding up. Damp with tears and rain, her face was pale.

“Where are you going?” she said through her gasps.

Akio was not supposed to reply, yet found himself talking as effortlessly as though he'd been waiting for her to ask this very thing.

“Just look at the fountains. Look! You can cry as much as you like, but you're no match for them.”

And the two of them tilted the umbrella and, freed from the need to keep their eyes on each other, stared for a while at the three fountains: the central one imposing, the other
two slighter, like attendants flanking it on both sides.

Amidst the constant
turmoil of the fountains and the pool around them, the streaks of rain falling into the water were almost indistinguishable. Paradoxically, the only sound that struck the ear was the fitful drone of distant cars; the noise of the fountains wove itself so closely into the surrounding air that unless you made an effort to hear you seemed to be enclosed in perfect silence.

First, the water at the bottom bounced in isolated drops off the huge shallow basin of black granite, then ran in a continual drizzle over the black rim.

Another six jets of water, describing far-flung radiating arcs in the air, stood guard around the main column that shot upward from the center of each basin.

This column, if you watched carefully, did not always achieve the same height. In the almost complete absence of a breeze, the water spouted vertically and undisturbed toward the gray, rainy sky, varying from time to time in the height of its summit. Occasionally, ragged water would be flung up to an astonishing height before finally dispersing into droplets and floating to earth again.

The water near the summit, shadowed by the clouds that were visible through it, was gray with an admixture of chalky white, almost too powdery-looking for real water, and a misty spray clung about it, while around the column played a mass of foam in large white flakes mingling like snow with the rain.

But Akio was less taken with the three main columns of water than with the water that shot out in radiating curves all around.

The jets from the big central fountain in particular leaped far above the marble rim, flinging up their white manes only to dash themselves gallantly down again onto the surface of the pool. The sight of their untiring rushing to the four quarters threatened to usurp his attention. Almost before he knew it, his mind, which till now had been with him in this place, was being taken over by the water, carried away on it's rushing, cast far away.

It was the same when he watched the central column.

At first glance, it seemed as neat, as motionless, as a sculpture fashioned out of water. Yet watching closely he could see a transparent ghost of movement moving upward from bottom to top. With furious speed it climbed, steadily filling a slender cylinder of space from base to summit, replacing each moment what had been lost the moment before, in a kind of perpetual replenishment. It was plain that at heaven's height it would be finally frustrated; yet the unwaning power that supported unceasing failure was magnificent.

The fountains he had brought the girl to see had ended by completely fascinating the boy himself. He was still dwelling on their virtues when his gaze, lifted higher, met the sky from which the all-enveloping rain was falling.

He got rain on his eyelashes.

The sky, hemmed in by dense clouds, hung low over his head; the rain fell copiously and without cease. The whole scene was filled with rain. The rain descending on his face was exactly the same as that falling on the roofs of the red-brick buildings and hotel in the distance. His own almost beardless face, smooth and shiny, and the rough concrete that floored the deserted room of one of those buildings were no more than two surfaces exposed, unresisting, to the same rain. From the rain's point of view, his cheeks and the dirty concrete roof were quite identical.

Immediately, the image of the fountains there before his eyes was wiped from his mind. Quite suddenly, fountains in the rain seemed to represent no more than the endless repetition of a stupid and pointless process.

Before long, he had forgotten both his joke of a while ago and the anger that had followed it, and felt his mind steadily becoming empty.

Empty, save for the falling rain....

Aimlessly, the boy started walking.

“Where are you going?” She fell into step with him as she spoke, this tune keeping a firm hold on the handle of the umbrella.

“Where? That's my business, isn't it? I told you quite plainly some time ago didn't I?”

“What did you tell me?”

He gazed at her in horror, but the rain had washed away the traces of tears from the drenched face, and although the damp, reddened eyes still showed the aftermath of weeping, the voice in which she spoke was no longer shaky.

“What do you mean, 'What?' I told you a while back, didn't I? -- that we'd better split up.”

Just then, the boy spotted, beyond her profile as it moved through the ram, some crimson azalea bushes blooming, small and grudgingly, here and there on the lawn.

“Really? Did you say that? I didn't hear you.” Her voice was normal.

Almost bowled over by shock, the boy managed a few steps further before an answer finally came and he stammered:

“But -- in that case, what did you cry for? I don't get it.”

She didn't reply immediately. Her wet little hand was still firmly attached to the umbrella handle.

“The tears just came. There wasn't any special reason.”

Furious, he wanted to shout something at her, but at the crucial moment it came out as an enormous sneeze.

If I'm not careful I'm going to get a cold, he thought.


Yukio Mishima - who was born by the name Kimitaka Hiraoka - wrote the short story Fountains in the Rain - translated by John Bester, 1963. In 1970, Mishima attempted to lead a coup d'etat against an ever-growing "westernized" Japanese governemt. Upon his failiure - and shouting "Long live the Emperor!" - he committed seppuku with the help of his under boss and lover, Morita - who then committed seppuku himself.

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