The old house stood on a residential street, some distance from the train station. The enormous park it backed onto surrounded it at all times with a wild scent of greenery, and after rain the air stood as thick as if the entire neighborhood had turned into a jungle, making it hard to breathe.
I spent only a short time in that house where my aunt lived alone for so long. In retrospect, I can see how special a moment it was—one that had been a long time coming, and would never happen again. Like a mirage that I suddenly discovered was real, those days seemed to have been cut off from the outside world, and it makes me feel oddly sentimental to think of them now.
I grieve for the clarity of that time I had with my aunt. How lucky I was to share that space with her, during a sliver of time that had appeared only by sheer chance. It was over now, but it had to be— by coming to an end, it had given me something. Only by coming through it could I get to living the rest of my life.
I see it now. The old front door made of wood had a cloudy brass knob. The weeds in the neglected garden grew thick and wild, stretching tall alongside the dying trees, shutting out the sky. Vines carpeted the dark exterior walls, and the windows were patched haphazardly with tape. The dust lying over the floor rose and danced translucent in the sunlight before quietly settling again. A comfortable clutter reigned, and dead lightbulbs were left in peace. Time had no presence there. Until I turned up, my aunt had lived there quietly on her own, as though asleep, for years.
She taught at a private high school. She was thirty, but single, and had lived alone for a long time. Imagine a reserved, spinster music teacher: in the mornings when she left for work, she was the very archetype of it. Each day, she dressed in a stiff mouse-gray suit, tied her hair back with a plain black elastic, and went on her way through the morning mist in no makeup and a pair of heels of an awkward height. You know the type—people who have an otherworldly kind of beauty, but are hopelessly out of fashion. I could only think my aunt was playing some kind of joke on the world by following a checklist on how to look like a music teacher. At home, doing nothing in particular, and dressed down in what might as well have been her pajamas, she transformed into an elegant stranger.
My aunt lived like a total eccentric. As soon as she came home from school, she took off her shoes and socks and changed into her pajamas. Left to her own devices, she would lounge around all day, trimming her nails and her split ends. She’d gaze absently out the window for hours, or lie down in the hallway and fall asleep. She left her books open half-read and her laundry in the dryer, and ate when she got hungry, and went to bed when she felt like it. Aside from her bedroom and the kitchen, the rest of the house didn’t seem to have been cleaned in years, and when I first arrived I spent all night battling the dust and grime to remedy the terrifyingly filthy state of the room my aunt gave me to stay in. Even then she was unapologetic, and spent hours baking a large cake instead, to welcome her guest. Every single thing she did was just as topsy-turvy. By the time I finished cleaning and we sat down to eat the cake, day was starting to light up the sky. Nothing in that house was ordered or routine.
It was all down to her beauty that these things still came across as somehow being virtues. She had an attractive face; but in that sense, there were plenty of people prettier than her. The quality I perceived as beauty was more like a specific mood whose tendrils pervaded everything, from the way she moved to the way she passed her days, and the fleeting expressions that passed across her face when something happened. It was so stubbornly consistent that it seemed unshakable, like something that would hold right up until the end of the world. It made her seem strangely beautiful no matter what she was doing. The vacant yet bright light she gave off filled the space around her. When she lowered her long eyelashes and rubbed her eyes sleepily, she was as dazzling to me as an angel, and the slender ankles out on the floor were as smooth and neat as a marble sculpture’s. The entire space within the dirty old house seemed to ebb and flow along with her movements.
That night, I’d called her phone repeatedly, but she never picked up. Worried, I’d headed for her house anyway, through the pouring rain. The greenery stood smoky in the dark, and somewhere in the suffocating night air was a hint of lonely freshness. The duffel bag on my shoulder weighed enough to make me stagger, but I walked on determinedly. The night was very dark.
Leaving home was what I did when I had things to figure out. I’d take a trip without telling anyone where I was going, or go stay with friends. It always cleared my head, let me see things more clearly. My parents got angry with me the first few times, but by the time I was in high school they’d given up on stopping me. So it wasn’t out of character for me to come out on a whim like this, without warning. The only thing I didn’t completely understand was why this time it was my aunt’s house I felt like I needed to get to.
She and I weren’t close, and only really saw each other at big family gatherings. But I’d always been very fond of my eccentric aunt, for some reason, and there was also a small incident from the past that was still a secret just between the two of us.
From The Premonition/Kanashii Yokan by Banana Yoshimoto. Copyright © 1988 by Banana Yoshimoto. All rights reserved. Originally published in Japan by Kadokawa Shōten Publishing Co., Ltd. English translation rights arranged with Banana Yoshimoto through ZIPANGO, S.L. and Michael Kevin Staley. Translation copyright © 2023 by Asa Yoneda.