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Ten Nights of Dreams: First Night

Written by Natsume Soseki

Translated by Gabriel Rasa

The dream went like this:

I’m sitting against a pillow with my arms folded, and a woman lying there with her face tilted upwards and her eyes closed says in a soft voice, I’m going to die soon. Her long hair tumbles across the pillow, falling into soft contours that frame her face. The purest white of her cheek is tinged with the color of warm blood, as it should be, and her lips are crimson, of course. She doesn’t look dead at all. But in her soft voice she had suddenly said, I’m going to die soon. And to that I think, You are?

Are you now? I ask, looking down on her face from above.

Yes, I’m going to die. I’m certain of it. And as she says that, her clear eyes open. They’re filled with tears and hidden behind long lashes, and pitch black. Inside that unrelieved black pupil my own image rises up vividly.

I gaze into the murky depths of her black eyes and I think, How can such a thing as this die? Then, gently, I lower my mouth to whisper and ask again, You’re not going to die, right? You’ll be fine, won’t you?

The woman’s eyes widen drowsily and she says in the same quiet voice, But I will. I have no choice.

Can you see my face? I ask heatedly, Can you see it? Look there, is it not captured in your eyes? I show her a smile. I fall silent and draw my face from the pillow. I fold my arms, thinking about her death.

Soon the woman begins to speak again.

I want you to bury me when I die. Dig me a hole with a shell of mother of pearl. Make my gravestone from the broken pieces of a star fallen from the heavens. Then wait beside my grave, because I will come back to see you again.”

And when will you come back? I ask.

The sun will rise. And then the sun will set. And then it will rise again, and then it will set again, a red sun that rises from east to west, then falls from east to west. Will you be waiting for me?”

I nod in silent assent.

Her quiet manner grows agitated. “Wait a hundred years for me,” she says. “Sit and wait by my grave for a hundred years. Because I promise, I will come back to you.”

I answer that I will do nothing but wait. And with those words, the vision of myself that I could see in her black eyes begins to crumble. As it streams out of her like a ripple of shadow through a pool of still water, the woman clenches her eyes shut. Tears trickle out from between her long eyelashes and down her cheek.

She was already dead.

I went out into the garden, and dug a hole with an oyster shell. The shell was big, its surface glassy and its edges sharp. Each time I scooped up earth, the light of the moon was reflected off the shell’s inner lining. I could smell the damp earth. Eventually I had hollowed out a grave. I put the woman inside it. Then I piled the dirt above her. Each time I scooped the earth, the light of the moon shone back from the lining of the shell.

And then I gathered the pieces of a fallen star and placed them on top of the tilled soil. The star’s fragments were round. It must have spent a long time falling from the sky, I thought, to have worn down the corners. As I held it in my arms and set it on the earth, my chest and hands grew warm.

I sat down on the moss. And I shall wait like this for a hundred years, I thought as I folded my arms and surveyed the round gravestone. As I waited, it happened as the woman had said, the sun rising from the east. It was a huge, red sun. And on its heels, as she’d said, the sun setting in the west, abruptly leaving in a blaze of red.

One, I counted.

Soon after that it came up again in a crimson trail across the sky. And then it silently sank.

Two, I counted.

I continued counting like this, one, two. I don’t know how many times I looked at the red sun. No matter how I high I counted, the sun kept passing over my head. And still a hundred years had not come. Finally, gazing at the round stone that stuck up from the moss, I began to think that the woman had deceived me.

Then suddenly a green stem came curling upward from underneath the stone. As I watched, it grew longer and came to a stop in front of my chest. And as I was wondering at that, a long and slender bud at the top of the stalk inclined its neck to me, unfurling its petals. It was a pure white lily with a scent that pierced me straight to the bone. Dew fell on it, drop by drop from far above, and the flower swayed under its own weight.

I leaned my neck forward and kissed the white petals, dripping cold dew. The moment I started to move my face away from the lily, I looked into the distant sky and saw the morning star twinkling there.

For the first time, I realized that it had been a hundred years.