I am writing from my brother’s house, and this time away has given me clarity. I’m not oblivious to how we became such strangers to one another, and it would be ignorant of me to say it was your affair. I’ll not dwell on the unimportant - because lies are just lies, and our marriage was falling apart long before that.
I knew the stress of your work was pushing us apart. I knew how much you hated it, yet I insisted we couldn’t afford for you to quit. If I only then knew what the price of losing you was, I would’ve paid it over and over.
Arriving home from my trip early – and what I came to discover – seemed at first like a nightmare, though now I’m starting to believe it is some odd way of fate pushing us where we need to go. I’m guessing this is making very little sense, so let’s start again with the death of Hinata Nakayama.
The notecard I received in the mail for the old man’s funeral struck me as odd for two reasons – the obvious being that I hadn’t spoken with him for twenty years, and was surprised to be remembered at all. The second was how anyone managed to find my address, as I had moved many times since leaving my childhood home.
You couldn’t understand why I wanted to travel half-way across the country for the funeral of a man I hadn’t seen since I was a small boy, and I can’t say I blame you. It’s difficult to explain the relationship between Mr. Nakayama and myself, but it was an important one. He lived next door to me - we spent a lot of time in each other’s company, yet interacted little.
But how was I to explain this to you? We had lost the ability to understand one another. So I left, and it was not without hesitation. Yet I had this strange feeling something was pulling me there, and I hope in a moment you’ll understand why this was.
The story lies not in the funeral itself, but in the wake. I followed the throng of people into the house. It was darker and dustier than I thought it would be, but I could still acknowledge the beauty of the scuffed hardwood floors, and the cobweb-covered chandeliers. There were around twenty people or so milling in the living room, where small sandwiches and coffee were being offered.
I noticed Mr. Nakayama’s carer almost instantly – she would join Mr. Nakayama and I on the patio often, bringing out tea and biscuits. Though she had aged twenty years, she looked very much the same. I adjusted my suit jacket – that ill-fitting one you hate – and approached her.
‘Excuse me, Martha. You probably don’t remember me,’ I fumbled.
To my surprise, she embraced me in a tight hug.
‘My little Tristan, of course I do! You were always sneaking around the yard, playing in the treehouse.’
I blushed and pulled away, only she lingered longer than I’d expected. It was then that I saw she was crying. I reached for the tissues in my pocket and handed her one. She stood to face me with a sad smile and took it, dabbing her mascara.
‘Thanks, Tristan. I didn’t expect to be such a mess today. I mean, he was ninety-eight for crying out loud.’
‘I hope this isn’t a bother…’ I began, hoping to get my answers from her. ‘But I just wondered…does the man have family, or a will? I mean, who put all of this on? Who sent out the invitations?’
She shook her head with a sad smile.
‘No will. I tried to get him to do one, but he refused. He used to say “the house will go wherever it wants to go”.’
‘So then it’s for sale?’ I asked hopefully.
From as soon as I had arrived at the house that day, I had a strange and sudden longing for it, as though it was a part of me I couldn’t live without. I knew it was a fantasy, and that we could never afford a place like that in such a nice location. Even if we could, I could never convince you to move out there away from your family.
Martha gestured to a short woman in a bright red suit perusing the kitchen.
‘She’s managing the estate. She’ll make heaps of money from selling the place.’
I looked over at the woman. She swiped some dust off the counter with one finger, looking down in a haughty manner. I immediately disliked her.
I turned back to Martha, hoping to answer one final question.
‘And who sent out the invitations?’
She lent in as though she was telling me a secret.
‘He did. One day before he died.’
Weirdly, this did not come as a surprise from Mr Nakayama – he had always had this weird ability to know things. I bid my goodbyes to Martha and followed after the estate agent out the back door.
The woman was surveying the grounds, including the treehouse I was so very fond of. I cleared my throat. She turned around and gave me a confused smile.
‘Excuse me, Miss. Are you selling this house?’
She clicked her tongue. ‘Why, yes. A little out of your price range, I’d imagine.’
She looked me up and down. Her criticism was searing.
I asked her how much the house would sell for, and unfortunately, she was right. The deposit for it was more than I could scrape together, even if we used all of our savings.
‘Well, I best continue,’ she said, stifling a yawn.
The woman strolled down the side of the house back towards the front yard. I turned to the treehouse. It was a small wooden structure, with a hodgepodge of runs drilled into the huge tree. It had looked larger and more remarkable as a child, I’ll admit, but it was still full of character. Mr Nakayama had made it right after he moved in. I suddenly felt a strong wave of both nostalgia and melancholy when I thought of the man.
I couldn’t say exactly what made me climb into the treehouse, but my body had seemed to decide upon it. I didn’t even care if someone from the kitchen window had watched me do it.
Inside it was all as I remembered – tables and stools, crayons covered in dust. Only there was something on the table I didn’t recognise. It looked too clean, and out of place. It was a small, black notebook. There was nothing odd in that particularly, but I had figured no one had been up here in many years. Written inside it was a letter in a familiar font. I included the little black notebook in the envelope for you, Eloise:
‘Tristan – if I am correct this will find its way to you, and if I am wrong whoever is reading this will be very confused. As you know, I had no children or family of my own, though I desperately wanted one. You provided the joy that I had always felt I was missing. To see you grow was a blessing, but it was bittersweet as I knew you would likely depart and forget about me. But to see that you have returned makes me certain that you loved this place as much as I, and your intentions were pure. I have no need for material things, and if I am alive in your memory, I will remain alive for quite some time. To thank you for the joy you brought to my life, please take this key, and use it on the box underneath the table. Use this to live your life as best as you see fit.’
I did as he instructed – hauling the heavy metal chest out from under the table and picking up the key from the folds of the pages. I placed the key inside the lock, and it fell with a thud. I stared down at the money. Eventually, I reached out and started to count the notes. I feared it was a mirage; that as soon as I touched the money it would evaporate back into nothingness. But no, it was there. Twenty-thousand dollars in total. And it was, according to the letter, mine to use ‘as I saw fit’. Mr Nakayama had managed to plan all of this in some way. He just knew – his death, the funeral, even, me being in that treehouse. He really was a remarkable man.
At first, the money seemed like a solution to my problem. I hate to say it, Eloise, but I was thinking little of your feelings in this moment. With this money, and the rest of our savings, I could put together a deposit for this house. We could raise our kids here in this treehouse. They would play on the lawn. I knew you would never agree to it, but this image of our future was persistent.
I heaved the chest into my arms and peered down at the ground. I wonder how Mr Nakayama got it up there. Either way, there was only one option for getting it down. I dropped it to the grass with a loud thud. I looked across to the kitchen window, but there didn’t seem to be anyone looking on.
I slipped Mr Nakayama’s little black notebook into my suit jacket pocket, and climbed down the wooden runs of the treehouse. When I reached the ground, I stared at the chest. What the hell had I gotten myself into, Eloise?
I hauled the chest into the boot of my car, and sat in the driver’s seat. I was completely still, looking out at the house. It seemed so close to being mine, yet now there were the means, I felt more disconnected from it.
Then, I thought of you, slaving away at the job you hated, while I was sitting there with twenty-thousand dollars in the back of my car. It was then that I truly understood how selfish I’d been. It had never even crossed my mind that this money would allow you to quit, and focus on writing your novel like you always talked about.
I started the engine and drove away from my childhood home – both my actual home and that which was the fondest from my childhood – and started making my way back to you. I had booked for another night in the motel, but I couldn’t wait to tell you I had the solution to our problems. You will, of course, recall what happened when I arrived.
You might be wondering what happens to us now. Well, I am truly sorry. It is shameful that it took the death of Mr. Nakayama to remind me that you are my priority, and that shouldn’t change – money or not. I know we have our problems – I am not blind – but that would never change my intentions. The money from Mr. Nakayama will go to you, to help you pursue your writing career. You can quit your job, enjoy life, and do ‘as you see fit’.
At the bottom of this envelope is a check for $20,000. You may not understand me giving this to you, but believe me when I say that I owe you this much.
You know, as much as I wanted to buy Mr. Nakayama’s old house, I knew that it would really only be buying the memories, and I have already got those. I am not sure what will become of it, but I am sure Mr. Nakayama was right; the house will go wherever it wants to go.
And as for you, Eloise my love, now your life is yours. I hope to still be in it. Yours,