This short story by Masahiko Inoue was the piece picked for the 2018 Kurodahan Press Translation Prize. I didn’t win, but here is my translation nonetheless.
The pastel hues of the sea in the distance. The dense copse of evergreens. The aromatic orchards and rose garden. The light hitting the clouds just so, at sunset and daybreak. The moon, a cheerful blue… All as if the old woman’s brush had soaked up every tint of the health resort’s landscape in order to transfer the boundless glitter and gleam onto her works, the motifs of which had begun to change in recent days, ever since she’d come to spot the elegant troop’s parasols dotting the dunes.
“Something not quite right about those people with the umbrellas.”
The painter cleared dishes from the table as her housemate complained.
“I mean, where on earth do they come scuttling in from, even? No decent man would be caught dead with those garish things…”
“Oh, let them be, Mari. I find them lovely,” replied the painter, now adding a mint-colored parasol to her canvas. “Besides, it’s not just men. Women too, and even the odd child.”
Mari changed tack.
“Have you seen their pallid faces, though? Downright unnatural. I thought at first it might be the light reflecting off those horrid things they carry, but no. …Could it be their diet, perhaps?”
“Now that’s just unkind.”
“Nonsense. What if they turned out to be a cult, or the like? I can’t stand the thought.”
“Hey there, Miss Naomi.”
The owner of the mint-colored parasol poked his face through the open window.
“What did you manage to paint today?”
Mari nearly leapt from her seat in quick retreat.
“Goodness, we were just having a conversation about your parasols, Mint,” said Naomi with a chuckle.
“Is that so?”
“I was inspired to immortalize you all, in fact. See? There’s Orange, Blue, Lemon, and Violet.”
“My, my. Now isn’t that something.”
The man only known as Mint broke into a wide smile, his face no less white than had he coated it with a vineyard’s chalky earth. The mint-colored parasol spun between his fingers, though in truth it was an ordinary folding umbrella. The sort the English were wont to carry yet never open while out on a stroll, even if it meant a right proper drenching.
These particular people, however, could always be found beneath theirs. The passel of parasol enthusiasts had descended on the resort just the previous week, renting out a number of cottages.
“Gossiping about us, were you?”
“My friend here was, at any rate,” said Naomi, beaming. “She wonders if you might in fact be the living dead.”
Mari was facing away from the conversation, but at this, her shoulders bounced up.
“The living dead, are we?”
Mint paused a beat but then burst out laughing.
“You mean, because we’re like May flowers, brought back to life by April showers?”
“Aren’t you, though?” teased Naomi, chuckling.
“Without a doubt,” laughed Mint. “So be sure to bring a bouquet or two once we return to the grave.”
“I swear, you can be so…”
No sooner had Mint departed than Mari started in.
“And what’s worse, you’ve always been this way.”
“It must be because he reminds me of you-know-who, rest his soul. Which also explains why you don’t like me talking to him, Mari.”
“Good gracious, Naomi. Why dredge up the past? What’s done is done, and besides, you know full-well he never had any intention of making you his wife.”
“Only thanks to a certain busybody.”
“Must you pick this fight now, after all this time? How many decades has it been?”
“We might’ve reconciled, if only you hadn’t hid those letters in that jewel box of yours, amongst the perfume, the pressed flowers… And by the time I laid eyes on the letters, he was already…”
“It was a lifetime ago.”
Naomi’s voice dropped.
“Yes, he’d long since made that fresh start.
“Whatever the case, the umbrella man isn’t him. And now it’s medicine time,” said Mari as if coming to her senses, sounding less like Naomi’s housemate and more like a professional caregiver.
Ultramarine, indigo, apricot, lemon, gold, silver, vermillion, pink, and so on; Mint led the procession of parasols streaming from the cottages, and when they reached a spot of lawn with a view of the water, violet was planted fast in the earth. The crowd was in the middle of a deep bow when the old woman approached slowly from behind. Sensing her presence, Mint turned and acknowledged her with a tilt of his head.
“What are you all doing?” asked Naomi.
“This is why we’ve come,” came Mint’s answer. “By nature, we move from one journey to the next, never staying put for long. But Violet is weary of that life, and has decided to end it here, where they were born and raised.
“I see…” said Naomi, hanging her head. “So the rest of you will be moving on?”
Mint’s parasol nodded with him.
“We must be off on the next journey.”
“In that case…”
“Well, I suppose it would be ridiculous to ask you to take me with you?”
Mint’s eyes grew wide—not in surprise, but rather as if to examine the woman’s face.
“You want to come…?”
“Mhm. I don’t have long. …But then, you already knew as much?”
Another nod, eyes bulging.
“Please. May I?”
Mint turned to his companions, whose parasols bowed in assent.
“Very well… Under mine, then. Come on.”
Like a lover stealing a kiss in the rain or perhaps a butterfly snared by a spider, Naomi ducked under Mint’s parasol, and her entire body shuddered. Upon emerging, she held a parasol of her own.
“Starting today, you will be ‘Rose.’”
She opened up her namesake.
With a new hue added to its palette, the group turned west, towards the orchard path.
“Naomi? Where’ve you gone now?” echoed Mari’s voice throughout the house.
“It won’t do to sulk about this forever.”
The howls of the strong evening winds frightened her a bit, and Mari stared out at the seam between sea and sky where shadows danced, obscuring the full splendor of a gorgeous sunset.
Like a great bat with wings spread, a single violet parasol spun gracefully into the waiting sky.