[Kuroda Seiki, Lakeside, 1897, Kuroda Memorial Hall, Tokyo]
This story is a story of a childless couple, probably Japanese, thirty-something, living modestly, with scarcely anything to call their own. Together they work, they struggle, and they persevere. Remaining childless but committed to each other, they endure the hardship that is a part of life when resources are scarce, complete with a small apartment, meager furnishings, and a diet of instant noodles. Over time the couple begins to see a turn for the better. Their hard work pays off, they become more affluent, albeit ever so slowly. They move into a larger apartment, which they make comfortable, enjoying some of the creature comforts of success—enough to celebrate life and enough to put away for the future. The woman in particular sees her self-esteem grow, her abilities develop, and her wardrobe becomes more elegant without crossing the line into arrogance. The couple at last is living the life they have wanted for so long.
Then one day, when the couple is enjoying one of those moments when they look back on their life, the husband tells his wife how much she’s grown since they first got together. He admires her successes in life and how graceful and confident she’s matured over the years. He then tells her that maybe she has grown enough where now she can move on. The woman is confused at first, then understands that he means for her to move out of their apartment and leave behind the life they have built. His voice is perfectly calm when he tells her this. There is also no mention of a mid-life crisis, another woman, or any kind of trauma that might explain her husband’s sudden decision to end their relationship. It was simply time for her to move on.
The woman is now on her own, sitting by a river in a lightly wooded area. Her belongings have all been bundled into a perfectly stacked cube, draped with a soft cotton cover and bound with rope. The perfectly packaged block is sitting in the middle of a small boat, which looks more like a large canoe. The canoe is without a pilot and is staying serenely still, not far from where the woman sits as she contemplates her life.
The woman’s friends, who are all her own age, learn of her whereabouts. They seek her out by the river. They have not seen her in quite some time, so they are all anxious to find her. When the woman hears, then sees her friends approaching her at the bank of the river, she becomes startled! How did they find her, she wonders, and why did they have to choose now to want to see her? Although the woman is still nicely dressed and her hair and jewelry make her look radiant, she does not want her friends to see her “like this.” She is without the home and husband she once knew, and she is not ready to tell anyone what has happened to her.
The woman hears her friends call her name. However, in spite of the festive and amiable group approaching her, the woman gets up from her spot by the river and begins walking briskly and apprehensively up a paved path. The path follows the wending of the river, on which the woman is not quite running, but her gait clearly indicates someone trying to get away. The woman’s friends continue to call her name. The woman repeatedly looks back to see if she has yet outpaced her pursuers. The chase continues, the woman’s heart beats faster. Abruptly, as the paved path starts to follow the upward incline of a hilly area, the path ends. Below the edge of the suddenly ended pathway is a water mill, rotating irreversibly. The woman glances down for a moment and lets herself fall into the mill. There is no blood, no tearing of flesh and bone. She simply disappears into the mill, into the river below, until there is only the mill turning and the river flowing.
Story by David Martínez