Monday, December 17, 2007

One more time, one more chance [Yamazaki Masayoshi]

What else need I lose, before my heart will be forgiven?
What pain need I feel, before I can see you again?
One more time--I don't want the season to change
One more time--That time we spent joking together

I was always the one to give in when we didn't agree
Your touch of selfishness made me love you all the more
One more chance--My memories hold me back
One more chance-- I can't say where we'll meet again

I'm always searching, watching for a glimpse of you
On the opposite platform, in alleyway windows
Not that I could hope to find you there
If I could have any wish I would be with you now
There's nothing left that I won't do
I'd give everything just to hold you again

Anyone would do if I just wanted
To hold back my loneliness
But on a night like this
When the stars themselves seem like they might fall
I can't fool myself
One more time--I don't want the season to change
One more time--That time we spent joking together

I'm always searching, watching for your face
At intersections, in my dreams
Not that I could hope to find you there
Granted a miracle, I'd want to show you
A new morning, the person that I'm becoming
I'd finally tell you that I love you

I'm lost in memories of summer,
A pulse that fades to nothing

I'm always searching, watching for a glimpse of you
In the city at dawn, in Sakuragi-cho
Not that you would ever come here
There's nothing left that I won't do
I'd give everything I have just to hold you again

I'm always searching, watching for some part of you
In shops when I travel, in newspaper stories
Not that I could hope to find you there
Granted a miracle, I'd want to show you
A new morning, the person that I'm becoming
I'd finally tell you that I love you

I'm always searching, watching for your smile
At train crossings, waiting for the express to pass
Not that I could hope to find you there
If I could live over and over again, I would always go back to you
The most important thing of all

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Down the Takase River [Mori Ogai]

In Edo Period (1603-1868) Kyoto, when a criminal was sentenced to exile his relatives were summoned to the jail to say their farewells, and after that he was placed on a boat that would take him down the Takase River to Osaka. His delivery was overseen by a guard who worked under the authority of the Kyoto city magistrate, and it was the custom for the guard to allow one close relative to accompany the prisoner on the voyage. Doing so wasn’t official policy, but there was a tacit agreement that the practice would be tolerated.

Exile was of course reserved only for those found guilty of very serious crimes, but that does not mean that they were all evil people who had, for example, committed murder or arson as an ends to thievery. More than half of those sent down the Takase River found themselves in that situation due merely to unfortunate circumstances. One frequent passenger was the man who had entered into a double suicide pact, but had only managed to kill his lover and not himself.

The boat would start down the river with the ringing of the evening bell, carrying its passenger under the darkening Kyoto houses that lined both banks. They would head east, cutting across the Kamo River. The condemned and his chosen relative would invariably talk through the night about this grim state of affairs, rehashing the details of things that now could not be changed. The accompanying guard would learn in detail the tragic circumstances of the household that had created this criminal, said circumstances often being beyond the comprehension of a public official whose life consisted of taking public depositions and reading testimonies at his desk in the magistrate’s office.

Just as there are many types of people, there are many types of guards. Some were indifferent to the prisoner’s plight, and considered their talking as just noisy babbling. Others, however, felt compassion for their wards, and though their position prohibited them from showing it there was sorrow beneath their silence. Particularly sentimental or maudlin guards would even find themselves fighting back tears upon learning the tragic state of affairs of those they were charged with overseeing.

This is why becoming the escort for the Takase River boat was a job quite hated by those working in the magistrate’s office.

* * *

The events of this story must have taken place sometime during the Kansei Period (1789-1800), at about the time that Sadanobu Matsudaira was in office. One spring evening, as the cherry blossoms of Chion’in Temple fell to the sound of the evening bells, a prisoner unlike any before was loaded onto the Takase River ferry.

He said that his name was Kisuke. He was about thirty years old, and he had no fixed address. He didn’t have any close relatives to accompany him on his voyage, so he came to the boat alone.

The guard sent to accompany Kisuke was named Shobeh Haneda, and the only thing he had heard about this prisoner was that he had killed his own brother. In just the time that it took Shobeh to escort Kisuke from the prison to the docks, he had already noted how thin and pale Kisuke was, and that he was a meek, quiet man. He paid all due respect to Shobeh’s authority as an officer of the court, and he was compliant in all that was asked of him. It was also plain that Kisuke’s demeanor was not just a show of docility meant to put his captor at ease, as is sometimes seen among criminals.

This all seemed out of place to Shobeh, and for once he didn’t just pretend to watch his charge, but rather took careful note of all of his actions.

That evening the winds were calm, and the thin clouds that covered the sky created a nimbus about the moon. The coming warmth of summer could be felt, almost as a haze rising from the river’s banks and bed. Once they had passed the outskirts of Kyoto and crossed the Kamo River their surroundings became very still. The only sound was the water being parted by the boat’s bow.

Prisoners were allowed to sleep through the night, but Kisuke made no move to lie down. He simply sat quietly, looking up at the moon as it grew brighter and then dimmed again according to the thickness of the clouds covering it. His brow seemed untroubled, and his eyes seemed to have a gleam to them.

Shobeh was not watching Kisuke in the true sense of the word, but he never took his eyes off of his face. Inside, Shobeh was repeating to himself, “How can this be? How can this be?” No matter how he looked, Kisuke seemed to be having an enjoyable time, and that it was only out of deference to the presence of a government official that he didn’t start whistling a tune, or at least humming one.

“I have acted as an escort on this boat more times than I could count,” Shobeh thought, “and without fail my passenger has always been in such a wretched state that it was a hard sight to even look upon. So why is this man different? He looks as if he were out on a pleasure cruise! They say that this man killed his brother. Now perhaps his brother was an evil man, and maybe I don’t understand the circumstances under which he was killed. But no man could be in such a happy state after having murdered another person. Could this pale, skinny man be such a dreadful person that he doesn’t have the feelings of a human being? I just can’t believe that. Or maybe he’s lost his sanity? No, I don’t believe that, either. He certainly hasn’t said nor done anything that would incline me think so. So what is it about this man?” The more Shobeh thought on it, the less he understood.

* * *

After a time Shobeh could no longer resist and called out, “Hey, Kisuke. Tell me what it is you’re thinking about.”

“Yes, sir,” Kisuke replied, but immediately seemed to worry that he had perhaps done something inappropriate, and so sat up straight and studied Shobeh’s expression to gauge his mood.

Feeling that he must give a reason for suddenly asking such a thing, an act inappropriate to the duties he was assigned, Shobeh explained, “No, don’t worry. There’s no particular reason for me to ask. I just wanted to ask you for some time now how you feel about being taken to the island of exile. I’ve taken many people there in this boat before. They all arrived here by different paths, but every one of them was saddened by their situation and would spend the entire night crying with whatever loved one had come to see them off. But to look at you, the fact that you’re being sent into exile doesn’t seem to trouble you at all. Why is that?”

Kisuke smiled. “Thank you for explaining yourself. Yes, I suppose that being sent to the island of exile would be a sad situation for most people. I can certainly understand that. But that is because they are leaving an easy life behind. Kyoto is a big city, with many people, but I doubt that you could find anyone there who has had a life as hard as mine. The magistrate is merciful, and has spared my life and sent me to the island. It may be a hard place to live, but it won’t be unbearable. Up until now, no matter where I went I was unable to find a place where I could live comfortably. But now I am compelled to live on this island by command of the government, and so I will finally find a place where I can settle down. I am terribly thankful for that. As you can see I was born into a weak body, but I never get sick. Though I will have to work hard on the island, I am sure that I will stay healthy. And not only am I being given the chance to live on the island, but I was also given 200 mon in coins. I have them right here.” Kisuke pressed his hand to his breast. The law at the time was that those sent into exile were to be given 200 mon in copper coins.

Kisuke continued: “As embarrassing as it is to say so, I’ve never had this much money in my purse at one time. I have constantly looked for work, and have done my best at any job that I managed to find. But any coins that I came by would immediately need to be paid to some person or another. When I did have enough money to buy something to eat, I would usually use it to pay off debts instead, but then having no money would need to make new debts. After I was put in jail I could eat without working, and so already felt bad for my imposition towards the magistrate, but to add to that once I was released I was even given this money. If I were to use it to buy food, then I would be again eating out of the hand of the magistrate, so I decided to save it. This is the first time I’ve ever had money of my own. I don’t know what kind of work I’ll be able to do once I arrive at the island, but I’m hoping to use it to start some new enterprise there.”

Shobeh replied, “I see,” but was so surprised at all this that he sank into silence for a time to think about what he had learned.

Shobeh had already lived long enough to see old age looming in his future, and had four children by his wife. His aged mother lived with them, making for a family of seven. He lived more frugally than was necessary, to the point where some might call him stingy. The only clothes he owned other than those necessary for his office were the night clothes that he slept in. Unfortunately for him, his wife came from the house of a wealthy merchant. She tried her best to live within the means of the rice stipend that was allotted to her husband, but nonetheless was brought up in lifestyle of a wealthy home, and so found it difficult to live with her purse strings drawn tight. The end of each month often saw the family short on money, and so Shobeh’s wife would secretly borrow money from her parents in order to balance the books. She had to keep this a secret, because her husband hated debts of any sort. Even receiving gifts from his wife’s family at major holidays, or receiving clothing for his children during the children’s festivals made him uncomfortable, so knowing that his family was receiving money just to make ends meet would cause him no end of suffering. But such things are difficult to keep secret, and the occasional disruption of the calm that was the norm in the Haneda household was invariably due to this.

Listening to Kisuke’s story, Shobeh couldn’t help but compare Kisuke’s situation with his own. “Kisuke says that even when he worked and got hold of some money, that money would immediately be handed over to someone else. A sad, pitiable state of affairs indeed. But if I were to compare his life to mine, would we truly be so different? My life, too, consists of taking my stipend from the government, and then handing it out bit by bit to others. The only difference between us is the amount of money involved in each transaction. And at least he has 200 mon in savings, which is more than I can say for myself!

“Since we’re just talking about differences in scale, I can now see how savings of a mere 200 mon could make this man so happy. That I now understand. What I still cannot comprehend, however, is how he can be so free of want, how he can consider what he has sufficient.

“Kisuke had to work hard to find employment, and once he did no doubt he would work his fingers to the bone. Even so, he was satisfied with whatever meager existence he could manage. After having to work so hard to feed himself, his imprisonment meant being given food without even having to work for it. That must have been quite an improvement for this man. It may have been the most enjoyable time of his life.”

Thinking thus over differences in the level of their incomes, Shobeh discovered a large difference between himself and Kisuke. Despite coming up a little short from time to time, Shobeh was usually able to live within the limits of his stipend, though things were often tight. However, he had never been satisfied with his station. Most of the time he felt neither blessed nor cursed, but always carried with him a submerged feeling of apprehension. “What could I do were I to be relieved of my position? What if I were to become ill?” he would think. On the occasion when he would discover that his wife had again borrowed money from her parents, his dread would rear up and move to the forefront of his thoughts.

“What could cause this difference in people?” he thought. “I could put it off to the difference between being single and having a family, but I know that’s not the case. Even if I were single, I know that I would never be like Kisuke. Our differences go much deeper.”

Shobeh’s thoughts turned to human life. When one is ill, one wishes that the illness would go away. When one is without food, one wishes for something to eat. When one finds himself without reserves to fall back on, he wishes that he had saved. Even when one does have reserves, he wishes that he had saved more. And so on. No matter what one’s situation, one strives to improve upon it. “Except for this man Kisuke,” Shobeh realized.

Shobeh looked at Kisuke in wonder. He thought that he could almost see a nimbus forming about Kisuke’s head as he looked up at the sky.

* * *

Keeping his eyes on Kisuke’s face, Shobeh called out “Kisuke-san...” This time he added the honorific -san to Kisuke’s name, but he did so unconsciously. He realized the inappropriateness of his manner of address as soon as the words left his mouth, but words spoken cannot be recalled.

“Yes?” answered Kisuke, seeming suspicious of his guard’s sudden politeness, and so timidly looking at Shobeh’s face so as to again gauge his mood.

Ignoring the awkwardness of the situation, Shobeh said “I’m sorry to keep asking you questions, but I heard that you’re being sent to the island because you killed someone. Would you tell me how that happened?”

Kisuke looked terrified, but muttered “Yes, sir.” He continued: “I’ve done such an awful, terrible thing, and I have no excuse for my actions. Looking back, I don’t know why I did what I did. I can only think that I was in some sort of trance.

“When I was still small, both of my parents died of plague, leaving me and my younger brother. At first the people in our town took care of us like they might watch after a pair of stray puppies, and as we grew we managed to avoid starving or freezing to death by running errands for people in the neighborhood. As we became older and were able to look for work, my brother and I did our best to stay together and to help each other as we could.

“Last autumn, my brother and I were working threading looms for a weaver in Nishijin. My brother, however, fell ill and was unable to continue working. We were living in a hovel in Kitayama, crossing the Kamiya Bridge to get to where we worked. Every evening when I came home with food my brother would apologize for my having to work for the both of us.

“One day, when I arrived home as usual my brother was doubled over on his futon, which was soaked in blood. Surprised, I threw aside the bamboo-skin bundle that I was carrying and ran to his side, crying out to him. He looked up at me, his jaw and both cheeks covered in blood, and could not speak. With each breath he took air would whistle through a wound in his neck. Not understanding what had happened I tried to move to his side asking, ‘What’s wrong? Did you cough up blood?’ My brother placed his right hand on the ground and pushed himself up a little. He kept his left hand at his throat, and I could see clotted blood oozing from between his fingers.

“The look in my brother’s eyes told me not to come any closer, and he worked his mouth until he was finally able to speak. ‘I’m sorry. Please forgive me,’ he said. ‘I knew that I would not recover from this illness, and wanted to make things easier on you by hurrying my death. I thought that I would die immediately if I were to cut my throat, but all that’s happened is that now I breathe through the wound, and won’t die. Thinking that I only needed to cut deeper I tried to ram the blade in, but it slipped and went off to the side. The blade is still in my neck. I’m sure that I can finally die if you’ll just pull it out. Please, don’t make me speak any further. Remove this thing from my neck, and let me die!’

“My brother let his left hand fall away, and again his breath whistled through his wound. Even if I knew what to say I was unable to speak, and stood there looking at the wound in my brother’s neck. It appeared that he had held a razor in his right hand and had cut across his throat, but having not died from that wound he had plunged the razor deep inside. The handle protruded a couple of inches out of the wound. I was transfixed by the scene, and not knowing what I should do looked up at my brother’s face.

“My brother just stared at me. I was finally able to manage to say ‘Wait here, I’ll go find a doctor!’ My brother gave me a hateful look, and holding his left hand to his throat again said, ‘What do you expect a doctor to be able to do? Hurry up and end my suffering! Pull this blade out!’ I remained standing there, still staring at my brother and unsure of what I should do.

“At such times the look in one’s eyes can speak volumes. My brother’s eyes were becoming angrier and angrier, pleading with me to quickly end his torment. My head was spinning like the wheels of a cart, and my brother’s stare continued to deliver his plea. His countenance grew fiercer and fiercer, until he seemed to be staring at me with the hatred he would bear his worst enemy.

“I finally gave in, and knew that I had to do as my brother demanded of me. ‘Alright then, I’ll pull the blade out,” I told him. Upon saying so my brother’s expression changed. He looked relieved, even happy. ‘I’ll have to do this in one swift yank,’ I thought, and so knelt on one knee and leaned forward. My brother lowered his right hand, and removing his left hand from his neck lowered the elbow of that arm to the floor and lay down. I got a firm grip on the razor’s handle, and slid the blade out without hesitation.

“Just then, an old woman from the neighborhood opened the front door and came in. I had asked this woman to look after my brother, to bring him his medicine and such. It had already become quite dark in the house, so I’m not sure how much she saw, but she let out a gasp and ran back out, leaving the front door open. When I pulled the razor out I had tried my best to do so quickly, and to pull it straight out, but I remember the sensation of cutting some place that had not yet been cut. The blade was facing outward, and so that is probably the direction that I cut deeper into. When the old woman entered the room I was standing there holding the razor, and I stared vaguely at her as she ran off. Seeing her leave I looked back at my brother, only to find that he had already stopped breathing. A dreadful amount of blood had come from his wound. I placed the razor next to his head, and watched his face through half-open eyes until the elders of the neighborhood came and took me away to the town hall.”

Kisuke had been looking slightly up at Shobeh as he told his tale, but now his gaze dropped down into his lap.

Kisuke’s story seemed sensible. It was perhaps a little too polished, even. No doubt this was because he had recalled the events of that day many times in the half year since his arrest, and had to carefully repeat it both during questioning at the city hall and while under investigation by the magistrate’s office.

Listening to Kisuke’s tale, Shobeh was able to visualize the scene described as if he had been there himself. Halfway through the story, he had begun to wonder if what he was hearing could really be called fratricide, or any kind of murder for that matter, and upon reaching the story’s end was no closer to resolution on that point. Kisuke’s brother had asked Kisuke to remove the razor, knowing that doing so would bring about his death. One could take the position that by pulling the razor out Kisuke did indeed kill his brother. But the brother would have died regardless, even if Kisuke had not removed the blade. The brother wanted to die quickly, unable to bear the agony of a slow death, something that Kisuke, too, found himself unable to watch. Kisuke ended his brother’s life in order to spare him from anguish. Is that really a crime? Shobeh knew that killing is no doubt a crime, but should it be when the killing is for the purpose of relief? Shobeh found himself unable to come to a conclusion.

Shobeh thought on this for a time, but in the end decided that he could only accept the decision made by his superiors, that it was best to rely on authority. Shobeh decided that the magistrate’s decision would be his own as well. But even after settling on such a resolution Shobeh couldn’t help but feel a sense of injustice, and a desire to ask the magistrate about some things.

The misty-mooned night wore on, and the boat carried the two silent figures, sliding over the black surface of the Takase River.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Three Treasures [Akutagawa Ryunosuke]


In a forest, three bandits are squabbling over some treasure. At first glance the treasure looks like worthless trash, but actually it is a pair of boots that allows the wearer to jump 1000 miles, a cape that turns its wearer invisible, and a sword that can slice through anything, even iron.

The First Bandit: “Give me the cape.”

The Second Bandit: “You be quiet. And give me that sword. Hey, who stole my boots?”

The Third Bandit: “Don’t you mean my boots? You’re the one who is stealing my things!”

The First Bandit: “So it’s settled. The cape is mine.”

The Second Bandit: “Fool! Who said you could have it?”

The First Bandit: “Hit me, will you? Hey, give me my sword back!”

The Third Bandit: “Never, you cape thief!”

And so on, and so on. Just then, a prince comes down the forest path on his horse.

The Prince: “What do we have here?” (He gets down off his horse.)

The First Bandit: “It’s all his fault! Not only did he steal my sword, but now he’s demanding that I give him my cape, as well!”

The Third Bandit: “No, he’s the one who started all this! He stole my cape!”

The Second Bandit: “No, no, the both of them are thieves! All of those things belong to me!”

The First Bandit: “You liar!”

The Second Bandit: “Who are you calling a liar, liar?!”

And so the fight begins anew.

The Prince: “Oh, come now. It’s just an old cape and a pair of boots with holes in them. What does it matter whose they are?”

The Second Bandit: “It matters because wearing this cape will turn you invisible!”

The First Bandit: “It matters because this sword can cut through even an iron helmet!”

The Third Bandit: “It matters because with these boots you can jump 1000 miles!”

The Prince: “I see. Well, those are certainly treasures worth fighting over. In that case, why don’t you each just take one of them?”

The Second Bandit: “What, and have the wielder of that sword come and kill me?”

The First Bandit: “What, and have the wearer of that cape come and steal from me?”

The Second Bandit: “Who could steal from you? Without those boots, we’d never get away!”

The Prince: “Hmm, I see your problem. Well how about this? If you sell me all three treasures, then you wouldn’t have to worry.”

The First Bandit: “Sell everything to you? What do you two think?”

The Third Bandit: “Hmm, that would solve our problem.”

The Second Bandit: “Depends on the price, I say.”

The Prince: “Indeed. In exchange for that cape I will give you this scarlet cape. Look at the embroidered hem! For those old boots, I will give you my shoes, trimmed in jewels. And perhaps this gold-filigreed sword would be a fitting trade for that one? What do you say to that?”

The Second Bandit: “Yes, I would take your cape for this one.”

The First and Third Bandits: “We’re happy with that trade as well.”

The Prince: “So we have a bargain, then.”

The Prince exchanges capes, swords, and boots, and then mounts his horse and starts back down the forest path.

The Prince: “Do you know of an inn nearby?”

The First Bandit: “Just outside of the forest you’ll see an inn called ‘The Golden Horn’. Safe travels to you.”

The Prince: “And to you, sir.” (He leaves)

The Third Bandit: “Well that was a profitable trade. I never thought that those old boots could become such a treasure. Look, these fasteners have diamonds in them!”

The Second Bandit: “Just look how splendid this cape is! It makes me look like a lord!”

The First Bandit: “Such a fabulous sword! Both the hilt and sheath are gold! But what a fool that prince is, to be tricked so easily.”

The Second Bandit: “Quiet, now! The trees have ears, and birds will sing. Now, let’s go off for a drink!”

The bandits head down the path in the opposite direction as the prince, laughing all the way.


The prince is chomping on some bread in a corner of the inn called the Golden Horn, surrounded by seven or eight other patrons. They all seem to be farmers from the nearby village.

The Innkeeper: “They say that the queen is to be married soon.”

The First Farmer: “That’s what they say. And I hear that her betrothed is some African king?”

The Second Farmer: “But the rumor is that she actually hates the man.”

The First Farmer: “Well if she hates him then why doesn’t she cancel the wedding?”

The Innkeeper: “Because he has three great treasures. First, he has a pair of boots that allow the wearer to jump 1000 miles. He also has a sword that can slice even through iron. And he has a cape that will turn its wearer invisible. They say that he offered these treasures for her, and so the greedy king of this kingdom is trading his own wife for them.”

The Second Farmer: “How horrible for the queen…”

The First Farmer: “Isn’t there anyone who can help her?”

The Innkeeper: “No, there are many princes from many countries who have offered their help, but none can match the offer of the African king. All they can do is sit by and watch it happen.”

The Second Farmer: “What could they do? The greedy king has set a dragon to guard her!”

The Innkeeper: “Not a dragon, an army!”

The First Farmer: “If only I knew some magic. I’d head straight off to help her…”

The Innkeeper: “Well, you could try. But if I knew some magic, I’d beat you there!” (They both laugh.)

The Prince: (Jumping into the group) “Fear not! I shall save her!”

All: (Surprised) “You will?!”

The Prince: “I will! And no African king will stop me. (Arms crossed, gazing at the crowd) I’ll chase him off, once and for all.”

The Innkeeper: “But, the king has three treasures! First, he has boots that can jump 1000 miles! And also…”

The Prince: “A sword that can cut even through iron, right? Well I have all of those things myself. Look at these boots. Look at this sword. And this old cape. These treasures are exactly like those that the African king has.”

All: (Surprised again) “Those boots?! That sword?! That cape?!”

The Innkeeper: (Suspicious) “But look, those boots have holes in them!”

The Prince: “Indeed they do. But they can jump 1000 miles nonetheless.”

The Innkeeper: “Truly, sir?”

The Prince: (Condescendingly) “I see that you doubt me. Very well, I shall show you. Open the door there. Now watch carefully, or you’ll miss it!”

The Innkeeper: “Could I ask you to please pay your bill first?”

The Prince: “Oh, come now, I’ll be right back. What would you like me to bring back as a souvenir? A pomegranate from Italy? A gourd from Spain? Or perhaps a fig from far-off Arabia?”

The Innkeeper: “Please bring back anything you wish. Now, let’s see you jump.”

The Prince: “And so I shall! One! Two! Three!”

The prince makes an impressive leap, but finds himself flat on his rump far short of even reaching the door. All those in the inn laugh loudly.

The Innkeeper: “Just what I expected.”

The First Farmer: “1000 miles? You didn’t move ten feet!”

The Second Farmer: “Well maybe he did jump 1000 miles, and then he immediately jumped the 1000 miles back here!”

The First Farmer: “You can’t be serious. You know that’s not what happened.”

They all give a big laugh again. The dejected prince picks himself up off the floor, and starts to leave.

The Innkeeper: “There, now. Don’t forget to pay your bill.”

The prince silently throws down some money.

The Second Farmer: “Where are our souvenirs?”

The Prince: (Putting his hand on the hilt of his sword) “What was that?”

The Second Farmer: (Bashfully) “Nothing at all.” (To himself) “That sword may not be able to cut through iron, but it could likely do a job on my neck!”

The Innkeeper: (Soothingly) “You are yet young. Perhaps it would be best if you headed back to your father’s kingdom. There is no way that you could stand up to the African king. Know thyself, as they say.”

All: “That’s right! That’s just what you should do! None would blame you!”

The Prince: “I…I thought that I could accomplish anything.” (Tears flow from his eyes) “Oh, I am so shamed.” (Hiding his face.) “I wish that I could just vanish from here.”

The First Farmer: “Why don’t you try wearing the coat? Maybe it will make you vanish.”

The Prince: “Damn you!” (Stomping the ground.) “Fine, make a fool of me. But I’ll show you! I’ll save that poor queen from the African king! The boots may not have worked, but I still have the sword! And the cape…” (Forcefully) “I’ll save her if I have to use my bare hands! We’ll see who laughs then!” (He runs from the inn like a madman.)

The Innkeeper: “My, what a mess. I just hope that the African king doesn’t kill him.”


And now we are in the garden of the king. A fountain rises from among roses. No one is there at first, but after a time the prince appears, wearing the old cape.

The Prince: “It would seem that this cape does indeed make one vanish. Since entering this castle I’ve met both soldiers and servants, yet none have challenged my presence. With this cape, I should be able to enter the queen’s chambers as easily as the wind passes over these roses. And who is that approaching but the queen herself? I should hide myself somewhere… But wait, what am I saying? With this cape on, I can just stand right here, and the queen won’t see me.”

The queen approaches the edge of the fountain, and gives a gloomy sigh.

The Queen: “Oh, such a piteous creature am I. In less than one week that horrible king will take me away to Africa! The land of lions and…and crocodiles!” (She sits upon the lawn) “I want to stay forever here in this castle, here in this garden, listening to the sounds of this fountain…”

The Prince: “Such a beautiful queen! I shall save her, even if I forfeit my life in the attempt!”

The Queen: (Looking surprised at the prince) “Who are you?”

The Prince: (To himself) “Alas, my words betray my presence!”

The Queen: “Your words? Are you perhaps insane? What a shame, for someone so fair of face…”

The Prince: “My face? You can see my face?”

The Queen: “Well of course I can. Why shouldn’t I be able to?”

The Prince: “Can you see this cape as well?”

The Queen: “Of course. And what an old cape it is.”

The Prince: (Despondently) “You aren’t supposed to be able to see me at all.”

The Queen: (Surprised) “How so?”

The Prince: “This cape is supposed to make its wearer vanish.”

The Queen: “That would be the cape of the African king.”

The Prince: “And this cape as well.”

The Queen: “But you are quite visible…”

The Prince: “I’m sure that I was quite transparent when I met the soldiers and the servants. Not one of them challenged my presence here!”

The Queen: (Laughing) “Well of course. With such a shabby cloak, they must have thought you a lowly commoner.”

The Prince: “A commoner!” (Sitting dejectedly) “This is just like the boots.”

The Queen: “What about your boots?”

The Prince: “These boots can jump 1000 miles.”

The Queen: “Like the African king’s boots?”

The Prince: “Yes…But when I tried to jump with them, I only flew a few feet. Well, at least I still have the sword. It can cut through even iron.”

The Queen: “Why don’t you try cutting something?”

The Prince: “No, I will not use it to cut anything before it cuts through the African king’s neck.”

The Queen: “Oh, my! So you’ve come to do battle with the African king?”

The Prince: “I didn’t come for the battle, but rather to rescue you.”

The Queen: “Truly?”

The Prince: “Truly.”

The Queen: “Oh, joy!”

Suddenly, the African king appears. The prince and the queen are startled.

The African King: “Hello. I have just now arrived from Africa, having traveled with but a single leap. Are my boots not amazing?”

The Queen: (Coldly) “Why don’t you use them to jump back to Africa?”

The King: “No! For today I come for a long conversation with you.” (Looking at the prince) “Who is this commoner?”

The Prince: “Commoner?” (Standing up angrily) “I am a prince. A prince who is come to rescue the queen! For as long as I am here, you shall not lay your hands upon her!”

The King: (Overly polite) “You do know about my three treasures, don’t you?”

The Prince: “That would be your sword and boots and cape? My boots do not allow me to jump more than a yard, but with the queen by my side I feel like I could leap one, even two thousand miles. Look at this cape. By making me look like a commoner it brought me to the Queen. By hiding my princely countenance, it has indeed made me invisible!”

The King: (Scoffing) “How impudent of you! Behold, the power of my cape!” (He puts on the cape, and promptly vanishes.)

The Queen: (Clapping her hands) “Oh, he’s gone! I’m always so happy when he leaves me.”

The Prince: “It would be quite convenient to have a cape like that. In fact, it is just the thing we need right now.”

The King: (Suddenly and inconveniently reappearing) “Yes, it is indeed just the thing you need. It doesn’t really do much for me, actually.” (He tosses the cape aside) “But there is this sword…” (Glaring at the prince) “For attempting to make off with the joy of my life, I challenge you to a duel! This sword can cut even through iron. Taking off your head will be a small piece of work.” (He draws the sword)

The Queen: (Leaping up in front of the prince) “Then it shall not be stopped as it passes through my breast as well. Go ahead! Run us through!”

The King: (Shrinking back) “I… I can’t cut you down!”

The Queen: (Mockingly) “My breast is enough to stop your sword? Though you brag that it can cut even through iron?”

The Prince: “Wait!” (Holding the queen back) “The king is right. I am his foe, and so it is I that must do battle with him.” (To the king) “Let us go to it, then!” (He draws his sword)

The King: “How noble, for one your age. Are you ready, then? You know of course that my sword will hew you down?”

The king and the prince cross swords. The king’s sword passes through the prince’s as though it were a twig.

The King: “Do you yield?”

The Prince: “You have cut through my sword, but nonetheless I stand here laughing before you.”

The King: “You mean you intend to continue the duel?”

The Prince: “Of course! Come, then!”

The King: “Well then the duel is finished.” (Throws his sword aside) “You have defeated me. My sword is of no use.”

The Prince: (Incredulously) “What’s this?”

The King: “Don’t you see? If I were to kill you, I would gain only the enmity of the queen.”

The Prince: “Yes, of course I know that. I was hoping that you had not yet realized it.”

The King: (Deep in thought) “I thought that with my three treasures I could gain a queen, but I see that I was mistaken.”

The Prince: (Places a hand on the king’s shoulder) “And I thought that with those three treasures, I could save the queen, but I see that I, too, was mistaken.”

The King: “Yes, it would seem that we were both mistaken.” (Taking the prince’s hand) “Come, let us be friends. Please, forgive my discourtesy.”

The Prince: “And you mine. I’m not sure which of us has won this duel.”

The King: “Truly, you have defeated me, and I have defeated myself.” (To the Queen) “I shall return to Africa. You have no need to fear. This prince’s sword was not able to cut through iron, but it has pierced something harder still—my heart. As a wedding gift to you two, I give you these three treasures, the sword, the boots, and the cape. With these gifts you should fear no enemy, but should any rise against you, you need but send word to my country. I shall come to vanquish any foe, accompanied by one million black warriors on horse.” (Sadly) “I had built a pavilion of marble in the center of the capitol of Africa to welcome you when you came. It is surrounded by lotus blossoms.” (To the prince) “I hope that you will some day use those boots to come and see it.”

The Prince: “I am sure that we will take advantage of your hospitality.”

The Queen: (Pressing a rose to the black king’s breast) “I have been very rude to you. I had no idea that you were such a kind person. Please, forgive me.” (She falls into the king’s arms, crying like a baby)

The King: (Stroking the queen’s hair) “Thank you. I am so relieved to hear you say so. I am no devil, despite what your fairy tales may say about my kind.” (To the prince) “Do you not agree?”

The Prince: “I do.” (To the onlookers) “Everyone! The three of us have learned something today. Evil black kings and princes with magical treasures exist only in fairy tales. Now that we have realized this, we cannot limit ourselves to living in one make-believe country. A larger world has come visible through the mist. Let us leave this world of roses and fountains, and head off to explore our new world. A larger world! An uglier world, and a more beautiful world, a wider world of fantasy! Heaven or hell may await us, we know not which. Yet off we go, marching onward towards it like a platoon of brave soldiers.”

(December 1922)