001. The colorful house by the sea.
My mother died giving birth to my later, gravely loved little sister. I was twelve. The last thing she ever said to me was “get your father!” Then she called me something rude and I simply didn’t. I went to my room, because I didn’t know why she would want to meet him right then; we were in the middle of having a really nice talk between young son and dear mother and she suddenly got really mad.
Of course, she wasn’t exactly mad at me, just, mad in general. Or something like that; at least that is what Momo told me later. He said that “women often get cross at you for different reasons, but remember Harold, whatever they say you have done: you are always wrong” he then smiled and put down his pencil so the cat could grab it and run away with it.
“I don’t think your mother was mad at you though, or anyone at all. I wouldn’t know, but they say giving birth is a hard thing to do and all we can do is be grateful it’s not us… I don’t think any of the men at your house would be able to go thought what your mother did with both you and your sister” he said, but then his eyebrows moved together and he looked down at me with a weary look.
“Not that I would know anything about it”
I nodded but then shook my head; a lot of things Momo said made no sense at all, and he often said he didn’t get himself at all ether.
“But my mom wasn’t able to ‘go thought it’ ether!” I said. Then Momo quieted and looked sad before he patted my head and looked around.
“Where is that damned cat?!”
That day, the birthday of my dear sister, my mother was left by herself in her room, not even maids to help her. And as her screams faded my father came out of the living room to tell the butler to check on her. He stood quietly looking at Nakayama’s back as he shuffled into her room. I walked up to him, tears in my eyes and my words were clouded in heavy sobs, I asked him: “is mom okay? What is going on?” He didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at me. The next second Nakayama came out with a horrid look on his face and hands trembling as he held the door shut behind him. My father didn’t even care to check he just said “tell them to take care of her” and turned to leave. But then he stopped like he had remembered something and said, without turning around “and the child as well” Nakayama looked sad and said with a hoarse voice “her, its a girl…”. My father walked out.
I stood there, tears streaming down my pale cheeks without realizing what really had happened. I looked at Nakayama but he looked away. I stumbled towards the door to my mothers room and forced it open as Nakayama moved away with a sad whine; he didn’t even try to stop me.
The room was colored in a pinkish almost orange hue as the sun shone straight through the blossom-patterned curtains, small red and green shadows playing tag all over the floor. Mom were laying spread out on the bed. First I thought it was just the regular color of the sheets, that deep, deep red color. And her nightgown as well, so deeply sunken into her body as if it was a part of her skin. Her face was hollow. Her hands thin, grasping the pillow behind her but her elbows fallen. Her mouth were opened in a silent shriek and her legs bent in a weird position. The shadows lowering them selfs around her and the areas of morning sun. My whole body started shaking uncontrollably and I felt sick. The smell of iron and perfume oozed all around the room and it’s thin walls. I fell to my weak knees and pressed my forehead against the floor. I closed my eyes to stop the world from spinning around me. A second of quietness that was abruptly canceled by the screams of a baby laying on the floor only an arm-length in front of me. I looked up and met her half shut eyes, blue, behind thin flushed skin.
I cried again.
It wasn’t my father who I got to hug as I was finally obtained enough strength and moved from my mothers side; it was the head maids strong arms that embraced me and her smooth hands that pated my head till I stopped crying. My father had hidden himself in his study refusing to come out or talk to anyone, only Nakayama was allowed to enter, bringing his meals and telling him about the preparations for his own wife’s funeral. For two whole days, I didn’t see him or my sister. I saw my mother, two or three times more. She was beautiful now. They had cleaned and dressed her. Colored her pale skin in rose colored makeup. The head maid was the only one who talked to me. But at the morning of the third day, she didn’t stay after bringing me my breakfast and when I told her not to go she answered quickly and with a harsh tone. When she left I cried. I cried a lot. I sat there, refused to eat and refused to look anywhere but my hands glittering wet by my salt tears. I didn’t know for how long I sat there, but when my tears finally dried I looked up and out the window. A sudden feeling of strong resolution filled my small chest and a tickling feeling in my knees. I stood up, adrenalin started flowing through my body, pushing all the buttons inside me and both anger and sadness boiled in my chest. I wanted to run. So I did. I ran down the stairs. I ran past the empty living room and long hallway. I ran towards the main door, I slammed into it and with arms and upper body stinging like needles I pulled it open. I ran down the driveway, I ran past the smaller houses on our street, I ran down the long road past many similar houses with many similar gardens with abundantly growing summer flowers in bright colors. Bright colors fading as I ran past them and the blues sky with a bright shining sun above. I ran down to the beach. The sea spreading out like a sheet of indigo-blue cloth, not yet cut to fit as a dress. I fell, wheezing with aching lungs and cold air turning hot as I exhale. My hands and forehead, knees and toes sinking into the warm sand. My tears drying in the musty thin air.
It was on the beach that I met Momo. Or well, he met me, to be specific I would say he practically tripped over me.
I felt a sharp pain in my right side and a heaviness that pressed over my back. Someone shouted and as I looked up, I catch a glimpse of a man falling in front of me. I sat up in surprise, eyes wide open and my mouth shaped as an O but no sound reaching my lips. The man tumbled a few meters away from me then stopped, falling flat on his stomach with his head deep into the sand. A bag in bright colors laid open and a couple of books and a lot of different pencils and small boxes was spread round him.
“Sir!” I exclaimed and stumbled over to him. He sat up, laughing loudly as he rubbed the back of his head.
“Sir?!” I said again, falling down on my knees beside him and placing my hand on his arm; the size difference of my tiny child hand and his, grown up rugged hands that grabbed mine scared me a little. He held my hand in his both and opened his eyes to look straight into mine.
” how unfortunate” he laughed and his Japanese leaked through a overall pretty good English.
“Here I was supposed to be the one to comfort you and now there you are, making sure I’m fine” he smiled, his eyes didn’t, it was more like an sudden shadow laid its hand over his forehead and his half open eyes darkened.
“I’m fine” I added and sat up properly, dusting some sand of his shirt.
“But you see, I saw you from afar, running down the street over there” he said as he tuned slightly to pick up his bag.
“I thought you looked like you were running away from something, and when you slumped together here, I thought you might have hurt yourself…” he bit his lip and frowned as he opened one of the small boxes and a wave of sand flooded out of it, followed by a greed sigil in the shape of a panda.
“You do seem to be without harm, but tell me, boy, why are you crying” I looked up at him. He had stopped in a single motion, looking back at me with serious eyes, those kind of eyes my mother often wore when I was sick and she was taking my temperature. The box was held open in his hand midair and the sigil laid glittering green in the sand. I felt warm tears still streaming down my face.
” I’m not…” I tried but chocked up and couldn’t say anymore. The man smiled, but not happily, as he lowered his arm and reached out to pat me on the head. I did not stop him. Usually I wouldn’t have let a strange man touch me so freely, but under these circumstances…
“Let me just pick this all up, and then what do you say we’ll take a little walk so you can calm down, yes?” He said and hurried to scramble together the boxes and different pens from around him. I nodded, right now I would’ve taken anyone’s kindness as I was given it, so it did not bother my mind that I frankly knew nothing about him and that he could be anyone, even a really bad guy… even thought he didn’t seem like one. I was just happy that someone cared.
As we walked along the shoreline I slowly calmed down; I wasn’t crying anymore and soon I built up the courage to speak to the man, whose name were obviously Momo. Momotari, he said he lived by the sea, just around island. I said that I had never heard of any house by the sea, that no one lives that far down because of the tsunami risk. He smiled, he frankly smiled lot so telling about it will soon lose its purpose because, he smiled, a lot. Now, he smiled happily, a bit smug, like he knew something I knew and he was thrilled to be able to tell me about it.
“Well… Harold, I do” then he asked me about what happened, why I was crying.
I simply told him everything; about my mother and father, and about Nakayama and the head maid and, about my sister. My sister whom I’ve not yet had encountered properly. Momo listened with anticipation and eyes fixed on his feet as we walked. I for once did not want to stop talking, for the first time in a very long time, I felt heard and respected. My problems seemed to matter just as much as anyone’s else’s and I was filled with relief as I saw Momo’s small nods and shakes in the corner of my eye. When I finally told him about the scenery I had seen in my mothers room, he sighed. But not as if he was bored, he sighed with sadness an it was like he was saying “poor child” and I could almost feel the touch of his hand patting my head I pity, while he himself, did not touch me once during this time. I had a feeling he would if he could, but he didn’t, because he was carrying his bag, though I still really would’ve liked him to. It gave me a really nice feeling of being seen upon as a child with feelings and thoughts that mattered and that he understood my hardships. Suddenly, we stopped and Momo looked at me as if he was asking for permission to smile again (which he had not been doing lately as we were talking about serious things) I just looked at him curiously, eyes opened a bit to much and eyebrows raised to my hairline. He smiled. He pointed and said proudly:
“There, over there, that’s where I live!”
The first time I laid eyes upon the colorful house by the sea, that summer day that was just on the bridge of evening, the sun shone through its windows and over its different colored facade. It was like a thousand water drops in a row creating the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen. Not one centimeter of the house was like the other and the colors it was painted in were so I couldn’t even name them. Momo walked ahead, proudly and with clothes and hair meddling with the house itself. It was a house like no other in the little town by the sea. It was tall, three floor or more, and with multiple windows on each floor. Flowers and vegetables were growing in and around each other around the walls of the house and climbed all the way up to its roof. A tall staircase led up to its wooden door; deeply colored in some golden hue and with a sign hanging above its center.
“Sea house” the sign read and under the text itself a painted picture of the house and a bird was seen. I stood and stared in amazed silence in this picture for so long, that Momo had to shake me slightly to awake me from a kind of trance that it put me in.
“Do you like it?” He asked while bringing up a big old key to open the door with. I nodded and he laughed.
“I’m happy you do” he said and opened the door
“How do you like this then?” He reached out and tuned on the lights inside the house. I didn’t really see what he was suggesting to so I leaned forward and looked inside.
There was one big room, one big room with walls covered in paintings. Finished, unfinished, some of them of scenarios I’d seen on my way here and some of them in themes and colors of another world. The floor of this room had a kind of paper layer covering the wood and a couple of huge bunks of paint standing on each corner of the paper to hold it still. Two or three easels that I only saw the back of but from the little I could see, they carried canvases strapped on a frame and held empty palettes on tables in front of them. On a table closer to a hole in the wall that seemed to lead to a kind of kitchen, thousand of boxes, opened and closed, with paint-tubes and fancy brushes shattered all over the empty spaces between smaller and relatively unfinished paintings. The sun shone through the huge crystal windows and the colors of the outside of the house was reflected on the inside. Momo took a step inside and turned around to look at me. I couldn’t really express what I was feeling at that moment, so I just nodded again.
A few minutes later we both sat in the kitchen, I on the counter beside the sink and him by the table. I had a bandaid on my knee and I had seen two and a half cat in the house so far (one of them I only saw the tail of, disappearing up to the floor above). Momo had a big hand painted cup of tea by his side and I, a glass of lemonade and a cinnamon bun. He said that the lemons grew by them selfs in the garden that pointed out to the east thus the sweet taste; because there were no other plants to steal the morning sun from them except from the small elderflower growing around them. Momo told me a lot of things I didn’t know that evening. Momo was a man who had traveled a lot overseas and he knew a lot about flowers and plants, even those he had never encountered. He had a big book where each spread had a beautiful picture of the flower it later described and a lot of information about each and every one of them. On those pages where the flowers were from other places than those Momo himself had traveled, there were inputs from real flower lexicons and pictures taken by professional photographers, sometimes Momo’s scribbles and sketches covered the sides of the glued in text and pictures.
Momo also knew, a lot, about painting. Painting was everything he did other than planting flowers and making lemonade. Now when he no longer traveled, painting was his way of living- his words- and it was the only way to live. He said that, before he painted he always searched for something, but since he found out he could create whatever he wanted with only a canvas, a brush and the right colors, he didn’t have to search anymore. He showed me a lot of the painting and told me about them. He had over twenty similar paintings of one and the same motive: his own house by the sea in different weathers and on different times of the year. He said that it was his impressionistic persona that forced him to catch the moment in those paintings, even thought he rather painted fantasy and imaginary scenarios. He liked to draw and paint sequences from his dreams, those were always so vivid and colorful, often very different from the real life. He took me out behind the house and out in the garden facing the sea where a bench stood silently looking out over the endless water. We sat down and group of five or more cats came prowled over to us. They spun round our feet and some of them jumped up beside us. A smaller, pitch black cat, jumped up in my lap and allowed me to pet her. She purred and closed her eyes while bumping her small head against my hand. Momo laughed, which two huge cats on each shoulder and one in his lap.
“I think I have to go home now” I said, honestly sad to have to, when the sun had fallen and the darkness crept up upon us. Momo nodded.
“Of course” he said and removed a sleepy cat from his lap and stoop up to take my hand.
” I’m happy your okay and, I hope it’ll get better” he looked stern for the first time and e frowned
“You should trust that your father is just as sad as you are, if not more, he needs you right now”
“Yes but what about me needing him?!” I wanted to say but I just nodded.
He smiled again and ruffled my hair.
“Good luck!” He said and shoved me of in the direction of the door. I went, but before I closed the door after me I tuned around.
“Can I come again?” I asked and from the bench surrounded by cats, Momo waved and I saw fireflies arise from the raspberry bushes.
I got as much as two weeks together with Momo and his cats. He tough me how to paint, even though I weren’t too good at it, and he got me to help him with his garden. He told me a lot of exiting stories about countries from far away and about people he had met there. He gave me a book he thought I should read: A Story About The Sea it was called and he said it was about the origin of this island and its legends. I red it every night and found it very interesting. I don’t see my dad that often during those two weeks, I ate by myself or at Momo’s and I went to bed by myself. One day, it was a Sunday and the first day in two weeks that the rain fell, someone knocked on my bedroom door and as I tuned around I saw my father standing in the doorway. He looked tired, dark circles around his eyes and he seemed thiner.
“Hello” he said, and his voice faded at the end.
“Hello” I answered and tried to sound annoyed. I was a little mad at him still, but I did my best not to think about it. I laid on my bed and red my book, now I put it down between my arms and heaved myself up to lean against my elbows.
“Harold…” he said and took and unsure step into the room. I didn’t move. It felt strange to see him there, standing hovering in my own room. As if he didn’t fit in. As if he was something black in a colorful painting, a speck on something perfectly clean.
“I need to…” I he seemed like a totally different person than the one I thought I knew him to be. He was unsure and fragile. I had always thought he was stone cold and hard to the touch, I had never gotten a hug or a pat on the head from him. I had never held his hand but now when I looked at them, I didn’t think it would hurt that much. They were big, but with slim fingers and a very flat structure. They would probably absorb mine completely.
“I need to talk to… you” he said, he moved closer to my bed but not with ease. He didn’t allow himself to look up at me and he walked slowly. I sat up.
“I’m listening” I said and decided that if he couldn’t, then I would be the one to take charge.
He looked up, his eyes look weary and sad and the blue were almost completely soaked in dusty grey.
He nodded as if to agree but also to tell himself to do as he was told.
“I want…” he said but then bit his lip and looked as if he was in paint.
“I have to…” I tried to continue but I seemed really hard for him. He walked over to the bed and sat down slowly. He took my hand and looked me in the eyes.
“I’m sorry” he said.
It felt like something had been lifted from my shoulders and the constant pain in my chest disappeared. I felt my head clear up and then… my tears fell quickly. Father sighed in relief and graves my shoulders to hug me. He held me tightly as I cried loudly into his shoulder and I held onto his shirt with all my might as if I was afraid he would leave. He didn’t leave though, he stayed until I could speak again and he stayed until he could answer. We didn’t actually talk that much, we just sat and cried and hugged and said things like ” I’m sorry, it’s gonna get better” and “were fine”.
When we decided we didn’t have to cry anymore he stood up and prepared to leave. I was happy and embarrassed at the same time, I rubbed my eyes till it hurt but smiled a little. Father turned around in the doorway and looked back at me.
“Harold” he said and I looked at him through my fingers.
“Do you…” he said and nodded in the direction of the room beside mine.
“Do you want to say hi to your sister?”
I smiled and jumped out of my bed. The book fell to the ground but I was already in the corridor jumping up and down outside my sisters room as father opened the door and a purple lamp lit up the room before us. I heard her giggle as father leaned over her bed and he lifted her up to show her to me. She was the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen and she looked at me like she knew me.
The next day the rain stopped and the sun came out. I ran down to the sea, to the colorful house with its crystal windows and beautiful gardens, to tell Momo all about what had happened. As I came closer to the place where you had to turn around a corner to actually see the house, I felt unsure for some reason. I ran faster and turned around the corner, a few trees stood in the way and for some reason I couldn’t see the house.
“No one lives that far down by the sea because of the tsunami risk”
I remembered fathers words as I had put my shoes on that morning.
“Where are you going?” He had asked, with my sister on his arm and eyes a lot bluer.
“To the colorful house by the sea!” I said happily. But he frowned and shook his head.
“What are you talking about? There isn’t any houses by the sea” I remembered I got angry because it felt like he didn’t believe me.
“No one lives by the sea, there isn’t any colorful house by the sea”
I ran out on the sandlot along the shoreline and looked up at the place where the house usually stood. First it was as if there were something wrong with my eyes, like I missed something that should be there. Then I saw: the ruins of a tall building, shattered crystal windows and long dead land that once grew flowers and vegetables. The color painted on the broken parts of the house were old and faded and I could see only the old steel bench stood up right at the back of the house, looking longingly out over the sea.
Father told me later on, when I came crying back home, that there was once a house on that hill, looking out at sea. He said that indeed it lived a painter there but that he was an old man and died before the house. It is said that one rainy night, a huge wave came running from the sea and that the water hit the house so hard it shattered into pieces and left nothing behind.
I cried that whole night but the next day, it was all forgotten.