ISSUE 5 · FALL 2010




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Copyright © 2010

Author





A Tale of a Snowy Night

NAOKO AWA

Translated from the Japanese by Toshiya Kamei

 

 

The sun went down on the snowy field. The distant horizon changed its color from rosy red to light purple. A star shone above a fir tree, flickering over the white field stretching as far as the eye could see.

It was a cold, windless night. Other stars began to appear, but the largest, brightest, and most beautiful of all was the first one. But there was no one to look up at the starry sky. The field was totally empty—not even a single house was there.

Late at night, a truck with a gray canopy hurried along the straight road through the field, its chained tires whirling.

“Phew, it’s cold!” The driver in a fur hat puffed white breath.

“We’re almost there,” his coworker in the passenger seat said, as if to encourage him. The tip of his cigarette glowed red.

Then the truck bumped, dropped an apple to the ground, and drove away toward a distant town.

Left alone in the snow-covered field, the apple stared up at the sky. “How unlucky I am to end up in such a cold, empty place!” she thought.

Then someone called her in a clear, resounding voice, like a small silver bell. “It’s lonely, isn’t it?” said the voice.

“Yes, it is,” the apple answered, wondering who was talking to her. Then the star above the fir tree glimmered. “Ah, it’s you, star,” she said joyously. “I know you!” she cried. Delighted to find someone she knew, the apple continued, speaking rapidly. “I’ve known you a long time. Since when I was ripe on my mother tree. No, even before that. I’ve seen you every night since I was a white flower.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” said the star. “But there are so many orchards, and so many apple trees. I’m sorry, but I don’t know which orchard you’re from, let alone which tree you were on.”

“I’m not from any orchard.”

“Hmm, where are you from, then?”

“Do you see a dirty old house on the hill? The one with low eaves? Do you see a splendid apple tree in the yard?”

The star nodded.

“That’s my tree. It’s better than any tree in a farm or an orchard. It bears a lot of sweet apples. But the family who owned the tree was very poor and lived on rice porridge. They had only one set of clothes and couldn’t afford firewood to warm the house.”

“That must have been very hard for them.”

“Yes. Five children lived with their grandmother in the house. Their father had died long ago, and their mother worked in a distant town, but rarely sent them money. So the old woman did odd jobs at home and scraped barely enough to feed the children rice porridge. But life was so hard for them, and one day the old woman decided to sell her apples to a nearby orchard.”

The star nodded and stared at the small house on the hill beyond the field. As the heavy snow weighed down its roof, it looked as if it were about to collapse. The apple tree in the yard was also covered with snow, the branches bending under its weight.

“Do you know how the orchard owner bought apples? He put a price on the tree. That is, he would pay the same every year regardless of how many apples the tree bore. His workers came to disinfect the tree, cover the apples with bags, and pack them in boxes, but every single apple now belonged to the orchard. Being a miser, the owner made this point repeatedly.

“‘You can’t pick a single apple from the tree. It’s not yours anymore,’ he said.

“All the children looked sad, some sulked, and others cried. Seeing this, we apples sang in chorus:

‘Wind, wind, shake the tree

Wind, wind, drop the apples.’

“The wind blew down from a faraway mountain and shook the tree violently, causing ripe apples to drop. Then we sang from the tree:

‘Who owns the fallen apples?

Who owns the fallen apples?’

“When she heard us sing, the old woman came out into the yard. She stood on tiptoe and looked down at the road to make sure the orchard truck wasn’t in sight. Then she picked up the apples, hid them in the kitchen, and fed fresh ones to the children at night. While cooking damaged ones in a pot, she prayed that there would be more on the ground the next day. Then the next day, the wind blew more furiously and blew down many more apples.”

“I see. But you didn’t fall from the tree.”

“No. I wasn’t ripe enough, so no matter how hard the wind blew, I was still on the tree. Soon the orchard workers came and picked us from the tree. For a long time we slept in the warehouse. We woke up this morning as they packed us in boxes and tossed us into the truck. I felt cheerful, thinking we would soon arrive in a strange town.

“But look what happened. I fell out of the truck in the middle of nowhere. Now no one is going to eat me, and I’ll be buried in the snow. Soon I’ll be frozen. After the snow melts, I’ll go rotten.”

“Do you want someone to eat you?”

“Of course. It’s so sad to freeze to death or go rotten! I would have been happy if the children on the hill would have eaten me, and had buried my seeds in the earth. Then I would have grown into an apple tree someday.” The apple sighed, remembering when she was still on the tree.

“Hey, star.” She called out, but there was no answer. A cloud appeared and hid the star. “Looks like snow again,” she thought. Looking up at the fir tree in the distance, she thought about the other apples who were taken away in the truck, about a big, bright town she had never visited, and about the apple jam the old woman cooked on the potbellied stove. She was fast asleep before she knew it.

As she dreamed several short dreams, she slept a good long time.

. . .

Someone came toward the apple, crunching through the frozen snow. A boy stopped just before her and called her in a clear voice that sounded like a silver bell.

Having been lifted by the boy, the apple awakened in his pale, soft hand. “Who are you? Where on earth did you come from?” she asked, blinded by his beauty.

He had blue hair and blue eyes, wearing clothes as blue as a dayflower.

“It’s me,” he said. “I’m the star. I’ve just come down from heaven. I want to eat you.”

“Oh, really?” The apple laughed. “A star comes down here to eat an apple? Does it really happen?”

The boy nodded, took a knife out of his pocket, and began to peel the apple. He cut her skin in a long spiral that reached the ground, just as the old woman on the hill used to do.

The apple laughed loudly.

“Do you find this funny?”

“Yes. I can’t believe a star has just peeled an apple.”

The boy slowly ate the freshly peeled apple. He finished the whole of it, including the core. In the end, he was left with five seeds.

He grasped them and held his hand to his ear. Then he heard the apple’s voice inside the seeds: “Star, star, please take me with you.”

The boy smiled. “Sure. This time you can grow into a tree in heaven.” He blew his warm breath on the seeds. Then he began to walk toward the distant fir tree, toward the horizon, and toward invisible stairs to heaven.

. . .

No one saw what happened that night. The endless snowy field was empty except for the long coil of red apple peel.