Eupho Christmas Special // Daytime Christmas Lights

I originally planned to release a translation of this short story on Christmas Eve last year but it never happened. Better late than never though, right?

This short story is taken from the last book in the Year 2 arc of Sound Euphonium (a short story collection – [AZ-JP]), and is written from Nozomi’s perspective. She is running errands on Christmas Eve and runs into Natsuki. This story takes place after the main sequence of Year 2 events and is therefore after the events of Liz and the Bluebird and the most recent movie (but does not spoil its ending).

I wanted to translate this story because it offers a rare glimpse from Nozomi’s perspective (who often hides what she thinks) and also illustrates what I love about Natsuki.

Enjoy.

(This may be taken down by the end of the year so read it while you can!)

真昼のイルミネーション // Daytime Christmas Lights

The usual Christmas songs were playing, out onto streets lively and gay, when Nozomi walked into the bakery to pick up the cake her family had ordered: a white-frosted strawberry shortcake, dressed up neatly in a decorative box. Strawberries were a fruit her mother liked, the firmness of the shortcake fit her father’s tastes, and the not-so-sweet frosting was Nozomi’s favorite kind, so as long as she could remember, her family ordered the same cake every year from the same shop. It was, at this point, an integral component of the Kasaki family’s Christmas dinner, along with curry, rice and chicken.

It was only just past noon, but Kyoto’s 4th Avenue was overflowing with people. In no hurry on her way back to the station, Nozomi glanced at the packs of students, all dressed up for the holidays, shuffling this way and that. Nozomi liked the merry atmosphere of Christmas: the tall trees with their bright decorations, the staff with their Santa hats, the skip everyone seemed to have in their step—all of it served to lift some weight off her chest.

“Oh, hey—Nozomi!”

When Nozomi heard her name, she stopped and turned around. It was Natsuki. She was dressed casually, in a light grey coat and purple scarf with subdued hues, and was waving.

“Hey! Never would have thought I’d run into you here! What are you up to? Out shopping?”

“Well if buying a movie ticket counts as shopping, I guess so.”

“You went to see a movie? By yourself?”

“Yeah, by myself. So what are you here for?”

“I came to pick up a cake for the fam, for tonight—you know, it being Christmas Eve and all.”

“Tonight? You don’t celebrate on Christmas day? That’s the normal thing to do, isn’t it?”

“You open gifts from Santa on Christmas day, but everything else happens on the twenty-fourth, right?”

“That’s not the way my family does it at least. We don’t break out the Christmas cake until tomorrow.”

“Well, ‘to each their own,’ I guess. Everyone has their own way of doing things.”

“When you put it like that,” Natsuki said with a nod, “I guess there’s no real right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas.” As far as Nozomi could tell, she did not have strong feelings either way.

Natsuki glanced at her watch. “Do you have time to grab a bite to eat?”

“Yeah, I have time… Did you have something in mind?”

“Not really, but I’m sure we’ll find a good place if we just wander around a bit.”

Without waiting, Natsuki headed across the street and Nozomi followed, looking around and taking in the decorated sights.

The topiary in front of a nearby department store was cut into neat cubes and wound with electrical cords for all the Christmas lights. It was ugly. To Nozomi, the windings of unlit lights looked as if they were choking the life out of the greenery.

“Doesn’t it make you feel a bit strange, seeing the lights during the day?” Natsuki asked suddenly.

Nozomi froze. Was I being that obvious? Or am I just that easy to read? She glanced at Natsuki, but Natsuki was focused on the topiary Nozomi was just looking at.

“At night, they’re all bright and shiny and all, but during the day, all you can see is a tangle of cords. It’s like seeing the person on the inside of a mascot character costume.”

“You’ve seen inside one of those mascot character costumes before?” Nozomi quipped.

“Oh, you know what I mean! It’s a metaphor,” Natsuki laughed.

Nozomi gripped the handle of the bag holding the box with the cake in it tightly. “I really do like the lights though, when everything’s all lit up…”

“But doesn’t it upset you? You know, how the kind of people who wouldn’t even notice the lights during the day just turn around and are always like, ‘Wow! It’s so beautiful!’ the moment they’re turned on? Like, ‘What gives you the right, when you can’t even tell the worth of someone unless they’re burning bright?’ You don’t feel that way too?”

“Am I missing something? Because I think you’re reading way too much into this.”

“I can’t help what I feel okay? …and I really feel that way. You know, I…think the kind of person who can realize someone’s worth without having to see them shine, and can be like: ‘You don’t have to shine to be worth something. I see your worth, and I see you,’ those people—I just think they’re really amazing. Like, Yuuko’s really good at that, seeing people for who they are.”

“Natsuki…you really like Yuuko, don’t you?”

“What makes you say that?”

Anyone who heard what you just said would have the same reaction.”

If you asked either of them directly, both Natsuki and Yuuko would claim to hate the other’s guts. “She and I can never—and will never—get along,” they would say, but despite that, both of them clearly had a deep respect for the other. Nozomi, as well as many others, often wished they would put aside their differences, be a little more honest with themselves and just get along, but she recognized, even if she did not fully understand, that the way they always fought was more proof than counter-proof of the love they shared.

Nozomi subconsciously smiled when she thought about Yuuko fulfilling her role as the band’s club president. She was a model president, from the moment she took on the role to the moment she passed on the torch. She was kind, a little scary, and most of all, determined, in a straightforward way. It would feel weird for Nozomi to say she admired Yuuko; they were much too close for that. To admit she was jealous did not fit either; Nozomi was too soft to hold on to that sort of animosity.

It really is so much easier to speak ill of others than confront your own problems, Nozomi thought, reflecting on where her thoughts almost took her. When things don’t turn out the way we want them to, everyone wants a villain to have take the blame. That way, we can file away the outcome as unfortunate but settled. After all, the future is too long to bear to consider the faults that lay at our own feet; no one wants to admit they could have been better—but if there is one thing I never want to become, it’s someone who refuses to look at the ugliness inside her. No matter how hard that is.

“Oh, look, it’s that café Kanade’s been going on about. Let’s go here!” said Natsuki, as she stopped and looked inside one of the glass-paned storefronts.

The warm-looking interior, dotted with the glow of several wood-burning stoves, looked very appealing to Nozomi, who had begun to shiver from the cold wind blowing outside.

“Do they have dessert?” Nozomi asked.

“I’m sure they do… Look, see? It says they have galletes.”

“Oh, that sounds good… Now I’m hungry.”

Natsuki opened the door, and Nozomi followed behind her. As they walked into the café, they were first met by a pleasant gust of warm air. The table they were shown to had two sofas for seats, with decorative cushions that more-or-less cried for attention.

As they Natsuki and Nozomi wiped their hands with the steamy wet hand towels supplied at the table, they looked over the menu. The names of each dish were overly long, but each was paired with a picture, and Nozomi felt her stomach shift expectantly.

“I think I’ll have this one—the one with the walnuts and vanilla ice-cream.”

“That’s what you’re looking at? I’m really drawn to this one with the bacon and eggs, but I don’t know…”

“If that’s what you want, you should get it,” said Nozomi, offering a nudge.

“You know what? I think I think I will,” replied Natsuki, dropping the menu and waving for the wait staff.

The both ordered one item each. If Nozomi had her way, she would have liked to order some tea as well, but her allowance was running a little tight, so she passed on it.

“I’m glad I ran into you today,” said Nozomi, as they waited. “It’s great to be on winter break, but everyone’s so busy with entrance exams I can’t bring myself to ask anyone if they want to hang out.”

“Well you can always ask me. I’m always up for hanging out.”

“Really?”

“You bet. Now that we’re done with the band, honestly I’m bored to tears,” said Natsuki, with heavy yawn as if for emphasis. She did not bother covering her mouth. “I know it’s not like me to say stuff like this, but it feel like I’ve got this big hole in my heart, you know? When you’ve spent every day practicing as much as we have, hearing ‘You’re free!’ is more of a nuisance than a blessing.”

“Not to mention the fact that we’re both done with our entrance exams.”

“Yeah, that too. Definitely. I mean I have no idea what to do with this much time. I guess once we enter university our time will get gobbled up by part-time jobs and circle activities and whatever, so this is only temporary, but still…”

“Don’t forget to add studying to the mix.”

“Right, studying. I can’t even imagine what that’ll be like—studying at university. Honestly I’m still not convinced going to college is really the right thing for me. I’m only going because that’s how everything ended up. If it wasn’t for everyone else going, I doubt I would.”

Natsuki, who had slumped over to rest her chin in her palms after her yawn, slumped further, onto the table like a pudding collapsing without its container. By the time Natsuki’s chin hit the table, Nozomi could see the whorl on the back of her head without leaning forward.

“I think it’s rarer for someone to go to college with a set goal in mind. Isn’t the whole point of going to figure out what it is you want to do?”

“You really think four years is long enough to find that out?”

“I’m sure it’s long enough for some people, and for the others, they gain the insight that four years of college isn’t enough to find what they’re looking for.”

“That’s quite a spin you’re attempting.”

“But I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Well, I guess…” Natsuki yawned again, this time so hard tears welled up in her eyes. “What do you plan to do at university? Are you going to keep playing the flute?”

“That’s the plan—but there isn’t any concert band at our university, so I think I’ll end up joining an orchestral group.”

“I’m glad to hear that. The flute really suits you.”

Nozomi laughed. “What does that even mean?”

“Seriously.”

Natsuki looked as serious as she sounded, staring up from the table, so Nozomi pulled back the gut reaction she had to laugh it off. But Nozomi did not want to look fazed, so after hugging one of her legs with the other under the table, she moved to change the subject.

“What about you?”

“Me? I dunno, maybe I’ll join a band.”

“You mean like, a rock band sort of band?”

“Yeah, I think it would be fun.”

“You’re not going to continue playing the euphonium?”

“No plans as of yet. I’m kind of burnt out on it.”

“Ah… I hear you.”

Nozomi could not count the many times she had heard the phrase. Burnout was an all-too-common refrain, throughout both middle school and high school. It’s a lot of work, being part of a concert band club. You put your soul into it, sparing no effort to squeeze whatever you can out of yourself, and all for one single performance. As Nozomi reflected on the past few years, she found a lot of pain and suffering—but what lay beyond it all, at the culmination of her efforts, was an unbelievable experience—it was so fun. There’s just something about performing in front of other people. Preparing for it is like refining the tip of a beautiful blade, working improvement on improvement, reaching for perfection. Practice is boring, and has none of the flair of a performance, but the final result, that moment on stage when it feels like the heavens open up and your soul tingles from the excitement and joy, is more than worth it. To Nozomi, that moment was everything; she loved it more than she could bear—but she could still understand how chasing after it for so long could wear someone down.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t think it’s possible for me to have an experience like what I’ve had at Kitauji ever again, so I can’t really justify the effort anymore.” Natsuki, usually brimming with confidence and a do-or-die attitude, looked down at the table and spoke slowly, as if considering every word. “It felt so incredible, performing at the Kansai competition. I thought to myself, ‘This has got to be my peak in life.’ I’m dead serious.”

“It may be your peak for now, but only until you hit your next one. You’ve got no need to worry.”

“If you say so…” replied Natsuki with a smile masked over a sigh. The way she smiled was beautiful, but it was a beauty tinged with loneliness.

Nozomi began folding her hand towel into an awkward looking boat, but before she was done, the wait staff brought their orders, so she quickly shoved it out of sight.

“Well, don’t mind if I do~” said Natsuki, popping a piece of bacon from her gallete into her mouth.

Nozomi took her knife and fork and split hers straight down the middle, spilling the pastry’s caramel sauce onto the plate.

“This is really good,” said Natsuki, after taking a proper bite. “The only problem with stuff like this though, is that there’s never enough to fill you up.”

“But isn’t that a good thing? You get all these flavors, but you still have room for more.”

“I didn’t think of it that way… You’re a genius.”

With that silly of a response, it was hard for Nozomi to take Natsuki seriously, so she answered with an exaggerated shrug. Natsuki meanwhile busied herself with folding a part of her pastry over with her fork to keep the egg yolk from spilling out.

“About what you were saying earlier…” said Nozomi, grabbing Natsuki’s attention back from her plate, “it’s true we may never have an experience like what we had at Kitauji again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have something different. Playing an instrument doesn’t have to be such a serious endeavor.”

Natsuki did not interject, but continued chewing on her food.

“You might think you’ve had enough now, and not play at all in college, but you might feel an itch to play after you graduate. Maybe that feeling won’t come until you’re old and have grandkids. It’s never too late to start again. Competitions offer us really clear goals to strive for, so it’s easy to get obsessed with them, but there’s nothing wrong with just playing because you want to. At least that’s what I think.”

“Were there people like that in the ensemble group you joined outside of school?”

“Yeah, tons! Some people who only picked their instruments back up after starting their careers, and there a few people in our group older than my grandmother—people who just want to play.”

“That’s really cool, taking the initiative like that to be true to yourself. Maybe I’m just overthinking things.”

Natsuki used the leftover pieces of her gallete to scoop up the rest of the sauce on her plate and gobbled up the last few bites of her order. Nozomi, meanwhile, had more than half of hers left on her plate.

After wiping her mouth with a napkin, Natsuki, with a satisfied look on her face, leaned back into her seat. As Nozomi watched her long bangs brush against her cheek, she thought about how much longer Natsuki’s hair was since the time they first met. It looked even longer than usual because it was not tied up that day, perhaps because of how cold it was.

I wonder what kind of face she would make at me if I told her I liked it shorter.

Nozomi’s clumsily made towel ship began to collapse, sinking in the puddle of condensation pooled around her glass.

“I mentioned I went to see a movie, right?” said Natsuki, breaking the silence.

“That you did. What did you go see?”

“The one everyone’s talking about nowadays, you know, the one based on the suspense novel. I went to see it because a band I like did the main theme song.”

“Was it any good?”

“It was. The movie incorporated aspects of the novel pretty well and overall, had a decent script and cast.”

“Great.”

“Well, yeah. I guess so.”

As much as Natsuki seemed to be praising the movie on a surface level, that clearly wasn’t all there was to the story. Nozomi bit down on a walnut with her back teeth and decided to press her on it.

“Was there something that bothered you about it?”

“I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that, but…when I heard the main theme song play during the movie, it was just so catchy, like a pop song. It just felt so different from any of the music the band used to play… I guess this is what happens to everyone when their music starts selling, but I didn’t want to accept that it would happen to this band.”

“So what you’re saying is, now that this band you like has made it big, you feel left behind. A lot of early fans feel that way, don’t they? At least that’s what I hear.”

“I’m not denying that’s part of it, but there’s much more to it than that. Remember how I was talking about the Christmas lights? That’s closer to what’s bothering me.”

“What do Christmas lights have to do with anything?”

Natsuki did a rare thing and took her time to think about how to answer, furrowing her brow.

She must really have strong feelings about this band… Nozomi could only guess what kind of music they played, but most of what Natsuki listened to had lyrics that were a bit too intense for her tastes.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’ve always felt this band was fine just the way it was. Even if they weren’t shining, so to speak, there wasn’t any need for them to. When I was looking at those unlit Christmas lights, I thought, you know, ‘This is beautiful.’ But it’s not like those lights aren’t going to come on; they will, and they’re all the more beautiful for it, so people from all around will come to look at them. But what happens then? Someone will say, ‘We’ve got to make them brighter, so more people will come!’”

“Well, I suppose so.”

“It’s not a problem so long as they understand what was great about the lights in the first place. The kind of people who say, ‘If we do this and this, it’ll really bring out the best in them,’ they’re not the problem. Even if there’s a big change in direction, I can understand when it’s done in service to the original. I can respect that. But the more people gather, eventually you’ll have people who don’t have any idea what they’re talking about speak up. ‘There’s still not enough light. We need to add these other, different lights,’ they’ll say, or, ‘I know the instructions say we can’t have these run all night, but I’m sure it’ll be fine!’ Then what happens? When the circuits overload and the lights all break, it’s always those idiots who are scratching their heads, saying, ‘I wonder why that happened?’ Gee, I wonder why.”

“You’re kind of scaring me here. This is just a metaphor, right? Are you really that upset?”

“I’m not upset, I’m just…worried. I don’t want this thing I love destroyed by someone who doesn’t know the value of it.”

Natsuki became quiet before she continued. “But that’s not the worst of it. What I’m really worried about is becoming one of those insensitive idiots, an adult who doesn’t even realize they’re trampling all over someone else’s love. I can’t see myself as a college student, let alone a working adult, so as I sat there watching that movie and listening to the main theme song, I felt this wave of anxiety swallow me up. You know how they say a lot of people panic right before they’re about to get married? I guess this is just the college version of that.”

Natsuki tried to laugh it all off with a joke at the end, but she wasn’t doing a very good job. Her smile was strained.

Nozomi picked up the last piece of her gallete with her fork and popped it into her mouth. The last bit of the melted ice cream was so sweet it made her teeth hurt.

“I’m anxious too—about college and about starting a new way of life. It’s equal parts excitement and worry.”

“So you’re saying it’s normal to feel this way?”

“Yeah. I’m sure everyone has to deal with a little anxiety. But it’s going to be alright. Even if you end up thinking you’ve made the wrong choice, all you have to do is turn back and start over.”

“Is that you speaking from experience?”

“I…guess you could say that.” Nozomi said, reaching for her glass and downing it in a single gulp. The cold of it gave her a brain-freeze and she visibly flinched.

Natsuki broke out laughing, and when Nozomi saw that this time her smile was genuine, she smiled back.

“Natsuki, you’re not going to turn into one of those adults you hate.”

“Where’s your proof?”

“Okay, so I don’t have any proof, but…” …that’s how I hope things will turn out. As Nozomi admitted, she had little to back up her claim, but, even a baseless confidence is worth something if it can help lift someone up, she thought, and decided to assert herself a little more.

“…I know how good of a person you are, Natsuki, so I’m sure everything will turn out fine.”

Nozomi had spent so long running around in her thoughts that by the time she blurt out the rest of her sentence, it was not quite what she had in mind. Now I sound like an irresponsibly positive idiot.

“What?” Natsuki said, as she responded with a “What am I going to do with you?” sort of laugh.

See? Nozomi thought at first, but in the lightheartedness of Natsuki’s voice she felt a non-verbal thank you.

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