Read The House of the Sleeping Beauties Online

Authors: Yasunari Kawabata

Tags: #prose_contemporary

The House of the Sleeping Beauties (8 page)

BOOK: The House of the Sleeping Beauties
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"A good combination." Toying with the girl's fingers, he closed his eyes. The small boned fingers were supple, so supple that it seemed they would bend indefinitely without breaking. He wanted to take them in his mouth. Her breasts were small but round and high. They fitted into the palm of his hand. The roundness at her hips was similar. Woman is infinite, thought the older man, with a touch of sadness. He opened his eyes. She had a long neck. It too was slender and graceful. But the slenderness was different from that of old Japan. There was a double line at the closed eyelids, so shallow that with the eyes open it might become but a single line. Or it might be at times single and then double. Or perhaps a single line at one eye and a double at the other. Because of the light from the velvet curtains he could not be sure of the color of her skin. But it seemed tan at the face, white at the neck, somewhat tan again at the shoulders, and so white at the breasts that it might have been bleached.

He could see that the darkly glowing girl was tall. This one did not seem to be much shorter. He stretched out a leg, His toes first came against the thick skinned sole of the dark girl's foot. It was oily. He drew his foot away hastily, but the withdrawal became an invitation. The thought flashed through his mind that old Fukura's partner when he had his last seizure had been this dark skinned girl. Hence tonight there were two girls.

But that could not be the case. The girl who had been with Fukura was in vacation until the welt over her neck and breast went away. Had the woman of the house not just this moment told him so? He again put his foot against the thick skinned sole of the girl's foot, and explored the dark flesh upwards.

A spasm came over to him, as of to say: 'initiate me into the spell of life'. The girl had pushed off the quilt, or rather the electric blanket beneath it. One foot lay flung outside the quilt. Thinking he would like to roll her out into the midwinter cold, he gazed at her breasts and abdomen. He put his head to a breast and listened to her heart. He had expected it to be strong, but it was engagingly subdued. But was it not a little uneven?

"You'll catch cold." He covered her, and turned off her side of the blanket. The spell that was a woman's life, he thought, was not so great a thing. Suppose he were to throttle her. It would be easy. It would be no trouble at all even for an old man. He took his handkerchief and wiped the cheek that had been against her breast. The girl's oily smell seemed to come from it. The sound of the girl's heart stayed on, deep in his ear. He put a hand to his own heart. Perhaps because it was his own, it seemed the stronger than the two.

He turned to the gentler girl, his back toward the dark one. The well shaped nose seemed the more courtly and elegant to his farsighted old eyes. He could not resist putting his hand under the long, slender neck and pulling her toward him. As her head moved softly toward him there came with it a sweet scent.

It mixed with the wild, sharp scent of the dark girl behind him. He brought the fair girl against him. Her breathing was short and rapid. But he need not fear that she would awaken. He lay still for a time.

"Shall I ask her to forgive me? As the last woman in my life?"

The girl behind him seemed to seek arouse him. He put out his hand and felt. The flesh there was as at her breasts.

"Be quiet. Listen to the winter waves and be quit." He sought to calm himself.

"These girls have been put to sleep; They might as well be paralyzed. They have been given some poison or some strong drug." And why? "Why if not money?" Yet he found himself hesitating. Every woman was different from every other. He knew that. And yet was the one before him so very different that he was ready to inflict upon her a wound that would not heal, a sorrow to last through her life? The sixty seven year old heal, a sorrow to last through her life? The sixty seven year old Eguchi could, if he wished, think that all women's bodies were alike. And in this girl there was neither affirmation nor denial, there was no response whatsoever. All that distinguished her from a corpse was that she breathed and had warm blood. Indeed tomorrow morning when the living girl awoke, would she be much different from an open eyed corpse? There was now in the girl no love or shame or fear. When she awoke there could remain bitterness and regret. He would not know who had taken her. She could but infer that was an old man. She would probably not tell the woman of the house. She would conceal to the end the fact that the rule of this house of old men had been broken, and so no one would know but herself. Her soft skin clung to Eguchi. The dark girl, perhaps after all chilly now that her side of the blanket had been turned off, pressed against Eguchi with her naked back. One of her feet was between the feet of the fair skinned girl. Eguchi felt his strength leave him… and again he wanted to laugh. He reached for the sleeping medicine. He was sandwiched tightly between them and could move only with difficulty. His hand on the fair girl's forehead, he looked at the usual tablets.

"Shall I go without them tonight?" he muttered.

It was clearly a strong drug. He would drop effortlessly into sleep. For the first time it occurred to him to wonder whether all the old men who came to the house obediently took the medicine. But was it not compounding the ugliness of old age if, regretting the hours lost in sleep, they refrained from taking it? He thought that he himself had not yet entered into that companionship of ugliness. Once again he drank down the medicine. He had once said, he remembered, that he wanted the drug the girl had taken. The woman had answered that it was dangerous for old men. He had not insisted.

Did 'dangerous' suggest dying in one's sleep? Eguchi was but an old man of ordinary circumstances. Being human, he fell from time to time into a lonely emptiness, a cold despondency. Would this not be a most desirable place to die? To arouse curiosity, to invite the disdain of the world… would these not be to cap his life with proper death? All of this acquaintances would be surprised. He could not calculate the injury he would do to his family. But to die in his sleep between, for instance, the two young girls tonight… might that not be the ultimate wish of a man in his last years? No, it was not so. Like old Fukura, he would be told that he had committed suicide from an overdose of sleeping medicine. Since there would be no suicide note, it would be said that he had been despondent about the prospects ahead. He could see the faint smile of the woman of the house.

"Foolish ideas. As if I wanted to bring bad luck."

He laughed, but it was not a bright laugh. The drug was taking effect.

"Al right." he murmured. "I'll get her up and make her give me what they had."

But it was not likely that she would agree. And Eguchi was not eager to get up, and did not really want the other drug. He lay face up and put his arms around the two girls, around a soft, docile, fragrant neck, and a hard, oily neck. Something flowed up inside him. He looked at the crimson curtains to the left and the right.

"Ah."

"Ah!" It was the dark girl who seemed to answer. She put an arm on his chest. Was she in pain? He took away his arm and turned his back to her. With the free arm he embraced the hollow at the hips of the fair girl. He closed his eyes.

"The last woman in my life? Why must I think so? Even for a minute." And who had been the first woman in his life?

His was less sleepy than dazed.

The thought flashed across his mind. The first woman in his life had been his mother. "Of course. Could it be anyone except Mother?" came the unexpected affirmation. "But can I say that Mother was my woman?"

Now at sixty seven, as he lay between two naked girls, a new truth came from inside him. Was it a blasphemy, was it yearning? He opened his eyes and blinked, as if to drive away a nightmare. But the drug was working. He ha a dull headache. Drowsily, he pursued the image of his mother. And then he sighed, and took two breasts, one of each of the girls, in the palms of his hands. A smooth one and an oily one. He closed his eyes.

Eguchi's mother had died one winter night when he was seventeen. Eguchi and his father held her hands. She had long suffered from tuberculosis and her arms were skin and bones, but her grip was so strong that Eguchi's fingers ached. The coldness of her hand sank all the way to his shoulder. The nurse who had been massaging her feet left quietly. She had probably gone to call the doctor.

"Yoshio. Yoshio." His mother called out in little gasps. Eguchi understood, and stroked her tormented bosom. As he did so she vomited a large quantity of blood. It came bubbling from her nose. She stopped breathing. The gauze and the towels at her pillow were not enough to wipe up the blood.

"Wipe it with your sleeve, Yoshio." said the father. "Nurse, nurse! Bring a basin and water, Yes, and a new pillow and a nightgown and sheets."

It was natural that when old Eguchi thought of his mother as the first woman in his life, he thought of her death.

"Ah!" The curtains that walled the secret room seemed the color of blood. He closed his eyes tight, but the red would not disappear. He was half asleep from the drug. The fresh young breasts of the two girls were in the palms of his two hands. His conscience and his reason were numbed, and there seemed to be tears at the corners of his eyes.

Why, in a place like this, had he thought of his mother as the first woman in his life? But the thought of his mother as his first woman did not bring up thoughts of later women. Actually his first woman had been his wife. Very well. But old wife, having sent three daughter out in marriage, would be sleeping alone this cold winter night. Or would she still be awake? She would not hear the sound of waves, but the cold of the night would be harsher than here. He asked himself what they were, the two breasts in his hands. They would still be coursing with warm blood when he himself was dead. And what did that fact mean? He put a certain sluggish strength into his hands. There was no response, for the breasts too were deep in sleep. When, in her last hour, he had stroked his mother's bosom, he had of course felt her withered breasts. They had not been like breasts. He did not remember them now. What he remembered was groping for them and going to sleep, one day when he was still an infant.

Old Eguchi was finally being pulled to sleep. He brought his hands from the girl's breasts into a more comfortable position. He turned toward the dark girl, because hers was the strong scent. Her rough breath hit his face. Her mouth was slightly open.

"A crooked tooth. A pretty one." He took it between his fingers. She had large teeth, but this one was small. Had her breath not been coming at him, Eguchi might have kissed the tooth. The strong scent interfered with his sleep, and he turned away. Even then her breath hit the nape of his nape of his neck. She was not snoring, but she seemed to put her voice into her breathing. He hunched his shoulders and brought his cheek to the forehead of the fair girl. She was perhaps frowning, but also seemed that she was smiling. The oily skin of the dark girl was unpleasant behind him. It was cold and slippery. He fell asleep.

It may have been because he had difficulty sleeping between the two girls that Eguchi had a succession of nightmares. There was no thread running through them, but they were disturbingly erotic. In the last of them he came home from his honeymoon to find flowers like red dahlias blooming and waving in such profusion that they almost buried the house. Wondering whether it was the right house, he hesitated to go inside.

"Welcome home. Why are you standing there?" It was his dead mother who greeted them. "Is your wife afraid of us?"

"But the flowers, Mother?"

"Yes." said the mother calmly. "Come on in."

"I thought we had come to the wrong house. I could hardly have made a mistake. But what flowers."

Ceremonial food had been laid out for them. After she had exchanged greetings with his bride, Eguchi's mother went into the kitchen to warm the soup. He smelled sea bream. He went out to look at the flowers. His bride went with him.

"Aren't they beautiful?" she said.

"Yes." Not wishing to frighten her, he did not add that they had not been there before.

He gazed at a particularly large one among them. A red drop oozed from one of the petals.

Old Eguchi awoke with a groan. He shook his head, but he was still in a daze. He was facing the dark girl. Her body was cold. He started up. She was nothing breathing. He felt her breasts. There was no pulse. He leaped up. He staggered and fell. Trembling violently, he went into the next room. The call button was in the alcove. He heard footsteps below.

"Did I strangled her in my sleep?" He went, almost crawled, back to the other room and looked at the girl.

"Is something wrong?" the woman of the house came in.

"She's dead." his teeth were chattering.

The woman rubbed her eyes and looked calmly down at the girl. "Dead? There is no reason that she should be."

"She's dead. She's nothing breathing and there's no pulse."

Her expression changing, the woman knelt beside the dark girl.

"Dead, isn't she?"

The woman rolled back the bedding and inspected the girl.

"Did you do anything to her?"

"Not a thing."

"She's not dead." said the woman with forced coolness. "You needn't worry."

"She's dead. Call a doctor."

The woman did not answer.

"What did you give to her? maybe she was allergic."

"Don't be alarmed. We won't cause you any trouble. We won't tell your name."

"She's dead."

"I think not."

"What time is it?"

"After four."

She staggered as she lifted the dark, naked body.

"Let me help you."

"Don't bother. There's a man downstairs."

"She's heavy."

"Please. You needn't bother. Go back to sleep, There is the other girl."

There was another girl… no remark had ever struck him more sharply. There was of course the fair skinned girl still asleep in the next room.

"Do you expect me to sleep after this?" His voice was angry, but there was also fear in it. "I'm going home."

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