That evening, I was soaking in the aforementioned leaky tub. It was a cool night in May.
I think it was just past nine o’clock. Night air was coming in through the window that I’d opened a crack. I was quietly sitting in the tub, thinking about nothing. Somewhere by my ear I could hear a clear trickling sound almost befitting a beautiful garden fountain. But it was only the sound of the hot water gradually escaping through the cracks in the tile. Even that sound was relaxing to me now that I was used to it.
The bathroom also seemed to have a drafty gap hidden somewhere in its walls, because we found too many ants and snails and other things crawling around or cooking in the bathwater. At first I was so disgusted I really could have screamed, but I got used to them, too.
I was gazing at the dull, discolored tile mosaic under the bare light bulb. There in the steam, I suddenly felt like I might be on the verge of remembering.
That feeling – I think it’s one everyone knows. It goes something like this.
A sudden rustling in your chest. A premonition of understanding. You feel you might be on the verge of uncovering something… You’re a little fearful, oddly excited, and somehow forlorn… Like there’s something coming around the next corner that’s going to turn everything you know about yourself on its head.
But why did this feeling always make me think I was going to discover something about my past? Did other people also feel like they might be able to recall something they’d forgotten? I was soaking in the tub, pondering this question, when I felt something tap me on the back. Something firm floating in the water – something big.
I looked behind me, startled, but there was nothing there. Just ripples in the clear water. And, when I listened, the same quiet trickling sound.
What was that…? I thought, and when I turned back around, I was suddenly in a terrible mood. My body wanted to get out of there immediately, and my hair stood on end, breaking my skin out in goose bumps even though the water was hot. I was cornered and vulnerable, and my lizard brain was sounding a deep and terrified warning.
Just as I tried to get to my feet, I felt something bump up against my tensed back again. Slowly, I turned my head again, and this time, it was still there.
It was a rubber duck.
A toy duck made of rubbery red plastic with its beak painted on in yellow, the kind you play with in the bath, or in a paddling pool.
I doubted my own eyes. I was baffled that something could suddenly materialize that wasn’t there before, and the more I thought about it, the more spooked I started to feel, until I shrieked loudly, stood up with a surge of water, and rushed out of the tub. Everything moved at a strange speed, like I’d just been freed from a paralytic sleep.
Mom heard me and came rushing in from the kitchen, opening the door shouting, ‘What happened?’
I took a breath, looked into the bath again, and –
There was nothing there.
Just the tub with quiet waves rolling across its surface, and the murmur of the water slowly draining away.
‘It’s nothing,’ I said, and went to my room and went straight to bed. My heart was still beating wildly in my chest.
When I eventually reached fitful sleep, I had a bizarre dream that didn’t feel at all like a dream.
In it, I was someone else, killing a baby. Yes – the unpleasant sensation still comes back to me easily. Although it was only a flash, it had the whiff of truth.
I was standing in the bathroom, but it was full of the hot, bright sun of noon at the height of summer. The windowpanes and the tiles looked newer than I’d ever seen them. I was wearing slippers on my feet that I didn’t recognize at all. They had a garish plaid pattern, and the way their soles flapped under my feet on the wooden duckboard was spine-chillingly realistic. Cold sweat trickled down my neck, and my hair was in a short style I’d never worn. I watched helplessly as, with my own hands, I held a crying baby under the cold water that filled the tub.
I’ll never be able to forget the baby’s weight, its futile resistance as its eyes looked into mine. My mouth was dry, and I felt dizzy. The sun was dazzling. The sound of water echoed off the walls. And there it was, in the small basin by my feet, glinting tackily in the sunlight – the toy duck…
Then I woke up.
I opened up to Mom for the first time about everything that had happened that day. I hadn’t breathed a word about it to anyone. The sun shower continued, making my vision flicker each time I looked up to the sky. Even as I told her the story, I felt like I was glossing over things. It didn’t seem real, and I just wanted to forget all about it.
‘But you’re sure it wasn’t just a dream? You think it was real?’ Mom said. She wasn’t laughing. She’d always taken us seriously, even when we were kids.
‘I did some research,’ I said. I sounded so calm I was almost scaring myself. ‘I talked to our landlord. Then I found a newspaper article at the library. It was the same house, and the details matched: a barmaid went out of her mind after her husband abandoned her, and killed her baby. It happened in summer, just like in my dream. August.’
‘…I see,’ Mom said, sinking into thought.
‘Mom, when I was younger – did I ever see things?’ I asked.
‘Why?’ she said quickly.
I turned to her, and my heart ached to see the clouds in her eyes.
‘It’s just a feeling I get.’
It was a topic I should let lie, I knew. It was like teetering across a tightrope on a lonely night, when all you can see in the dark is your own feet on the white rope. You don’t feel ready, but there’s no going back. I kept staring at the grass.
‘You were a terribly sensitive child. I read books about it. Precognition, ESP, you know. Dad doesn’t believe in any of that, so he wasn’t too concerned. But when you were really small, you used to tell us who was calling every time the phone rang. Even the people you didn’t know – you’d say, Someone called Yamamoto, or, It’s a person from Daddy’s work. And you were almost always right. You’d also sense things that had happened in the past. The one I always think of is when we went to Shichirigahama. You said, There was a big battle here a long, long time ago. That gave me a fright. And you’d stay away from accident sites, and railway crossings where people had been killed, even though we never told you about them. Isn’t that amazing? You probably don’t remember… Oh, and when Dad and I had a blow-up? We’d do it after you and Tetsuo went to bed, so you’d be all smiles at breakfast, but the moment you went into our room you’d say, Mommy, Daddy, are you fighting? It happened so much we took you around several different clinics to get specialist opinions, but in the end, it kind of stopped as you got older.’
‘I didn’t know that.’ None of this even rang a bell.
‘It’s true. I remember thinking how hard it seemed to be for you. To be able to see, at a glance, what other people don’t – but maybe that’s not so bad while you’re young. Children are like that anyway, to a greater or lesser extent, aren’t they? But as much as it was a gift, Dad and I, we didn’t want you to end up like – you know, those people you see on TV, that psychic Monsieur Croiset, or the spoon-bending boy. We wanted you to have a normal, easy life. We were worried that if that ability was going to stick around once your spirit no longer had the freedom of being a kid, if it kept expressing itself against your will once you were an adult – then you’d either need to spend an awful lot of energy trying to control it, or end up in an institution, one way or another. Do you know what I’m saying? We talked about it a lot because we were worried for you. A long time ago now.’
‘I get it,’ I said. ‘But that was then. It’s not what I’m worried about. My question is, why did I see what I saw when we were in the other house? I’m not sure, but if it was just triggered by the leftover thoughts lingering at the scene of a crime, then it won’t happen again.’
‘I hadn’t thought of it that way,’ she said, finally smiling in relief. ‘Then we have nothing to worry about. Let’s put it behind us and enjoy our new house.’
‘Let’s do that.’
I agreed wholeheartedly, but I felt dismayed by how much of myself I hadn’t been aware of. There was too much I didn’t remember. Too many parts that were hidden away from myself. The rain stopped, and immediately, the sun came out and lit up the entire garden like the rain had never been. We resumed our gardening.
Looking back, it’s obvious the afternoon of the sun shower was a major turning point. That day, that Sunday, my family was all there at home, doing our own things. It was a gentle, ordinary day.
But a huge tide was already incoming. As much as I cherished its peacefulness, a handful of images crossed my vision that day that I was unable to deny. I could only watch in astonishment while they unspooled in a stream like an old 8 mm film clattering into motion, distant and yet treasured, filling my heart up with pain and longing.
The first was a hand. An old woman’s hand holding a pair of shears, putting some flowers in a vase. The hand wasn’t my mom’s. It was wearing an emerald ring. It was a slender, woman’s hand.
Another was the image of a happy couple, walking slowly, seen from behind. The woman had to be the one whose hand I’d just seen.
These visions continued to flow in a place wholly set apart from the real world around me. I held my breath, to try to retain as much of them as I could as they appeared and then disappeared in succession. They seemed to sear my eyes and pass too quickly, as if I were watching my favorite landscapes on earth through the window of a speeding car. The longest and most memorable was the scene with the girl who was my sister.
She was young, and had her hair in tails. She was looking up at a window with an oddly mature expression. She stood near the edge of a deep green lake, wearing red sandals that looked bright against the gray of the flagstones, and called out my name with a pensive look.
Her voice was sweet. The lukewarm breeze brushed past her hair. Her familiar profile looked up warily at the overcast sky. I stood with her, watching the clouds in the far distance streaming past, blown by the wind.
‘Yayoi, there’s a typhoon coming.’
In that moment, I had no doubt this girl was my older sister. I didn’t say anything, but nodded. She turned to me and smiled.
‘We’ll lay our mattresses by the window tonight and watch the storm.’
Image © Specious Reasons
An excerpt from The Premonition by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from Japanese by Asa Yoneda and published by Faber & Faber in the UK and Counterpoint Press in the US.