by Kono Taeko
We were the last to leave the room.
As we both slowly descended the stairs, stopping in front
of the exhibit on the wall and at the display case on the landing, an attendant came down right
Hardly any visitors could be seen in the room downstairs, and another attendant was
picking up the signboard to bring inside.
“Are you closing?
Is it too late to look around?” asked a person who had just come in.
“We close at four,” answered the attendant.
The clock on the wall showed that it was not quite four.
A few people had come into the front
lobby, unaware of the closing time.
Soon the two attendants, who had changed their clothes to
go home, came back to close the large front doors, leaving one door ajar as they departed.
“They’re closed,” a voice remarked outside the doors.
Stragglers inside began leaving one by one from the now darkened lobby.
We were also
walking toward the door.
“Would you excuse me for a moment?” she suddenly said to me.
“Let me hold that for you,” I said, indicating her umbrella; like most women, we did
things like that for each other.
She seemed puzzled for a moment, then looked at what she had in
“It’s not raining now, is it?” she said to herself, and handed me the umbrella.
you go on yourself and I’ll join you soon.”
She returned the way we had come.
I left the building, trying not to look back to see where she was going.
I thought I
understood why she wanted to return; it had not been necessary, then, to offer to hold her
The reason we had stayed until closing time in the first place was her obvious
reluctance to leave, which didn’t seem unreasonable.
It must have been the front lobby that she
couldn’t resist seeing again.
She wanted to be there, to look at the place once more without my
When we had arrived, the rain had almost stopped; now the sky above the trees was
faintly colored by an autumn sunset.
I went down the stone steps to the drive, still trying not to
look back the way I had come, and slowly walked along the gravel in the front garden.
narrow garden was met by a walkway.
I took the walkway, turned, and continued until I came to
an arrow pointing toward the building I had just left.
I stopped there and neatly folded both
The ground was covered with fallen leaves.
I played with the leaves, poking them
with the umbrellas, remembering that there were several pressed leaves and flowers among the
various articles that had belonged to those men.
They looked quite incongruous beside the
rougher, more disturbing items in the display case.
Their color had faded against the paper
underneath, which was also discolored.
In the same case I had seen several photos of young
women, or perhaps I should call them girls.
One of these young victims must have pressed these
leaves and flowers.
The paper strips cut in irregular sizes, and the manner in which the leaves
and stems had been taped here and there, told of the awkward hand of a girl who used scissors to