Vicky Vicky: A Novella

Tatsuo Tabata
Copyright © 2003 by Tatsuo Tabata

The version of this novella with minor corrections and modifications has been included in Tabata's book "Passage through Spacetime," the PDF edition of which can be downloaded free of charge at


  • Vicky: A Novella
  • Vicky's Comments on "Vicky"
  • Acknowledgements
  • Vicky: A Novella

    March 10, 1997

    Dear Yosi,

    I've read your essay about Soseki's "Sorekara" on your home page with much interest. Especially it is a good story that a father who liked that novel gave his daughter, a classmate of yours, the same first name as its heroine.

    In my senior high school days, the textbook of national language had an excerpt from Soseki's "Sanshiro." I liked this novel and its heroine, Mineko, very much. It also reminds me of a classmate of mine, an intelligent, tall and beautiful girl. Her name was not Mineko, but I cannot think of her without reminding myself of Mineko. You might not have read "Sanshiro," or, even if you read it before, you possibly do not remember the details of the story. So I'll write its summary below by omitting the temporal background given by Soseki and his critical observations of Japan in the 1900s, though these are important factors for appreciating his work properly.

    Sanshiro, born in a village of Fukuoka Prefecture, comes to Tokyo as a freshman of a university. There he breezes new air of the metropolis, and is acquainted with various people: the physicist Nonomiya (modeled on Torahiko Terada, whose essays you like), the classmate Sasaki, the higher school teacher Hirota, the painter Haraguchi, and two young ladies of about the same age as he. One of the ladies is Nonomiya's sister, Yoshiko, and the other is a friend of hers, Mineko. Sanshiro sees Mineko for the first time near the pond of the university. She is in a kimono and has a fan in front of her forehead.

    Having lost her parents in her childhood, Mineko has been living with her elder brother and grown up free from old traditions. She allures Sanshiro unconsciously by giving him the words "stray sheep" and sending him a postcard with a picture of two sheep. He is gradually captivated by her. However, Mineko gets married to a friend of her brother's. Haraguchi completes a painting entitled "A lady in a wood." The model was Mineko. Sanshiro visits an exhibition to look at the painting, in which Mineko stands in the same pose as seen by him at his first sighting of her. Sanshiro says repeatedly in his mouth, "Stray sheep."

    The memory of the classmate I mentioned is associated not only with Mineko but also with all the other heroines of the novels I read in those days, because I was reading always by supposing that the heroine had the same look as her. In my diary I called her by the nickname Vicky I gave her in my mind. Vicky and I belonged to different home rooms, but in our first year at the high school we attended the same classes of lessons except one or two. I could therefore stealthily look at her during most of my lessons. Her look had something of Venus de Milo. Moreover, when teachers announced the name of the student who got the highest mark in the examination, it was mostly hers (and less often mine). The letter V of her nickname was thus V of both Venus and Victory. Early in the summer vacation, I sent her a postcard, writing that she was my good rival, that I was very glad to compete with her, and so on.

    These days I'm busy in doing some jobs to be completed within this fiscal year. So I'll write the continuation of this story after your moving to Hokkaido.

    Wishing good luck to you and your family in Hokkaido,

    Best regards,

    April 17, 1997

    Hi Yosi,

    Thanks for your e-mail message of March 31, in which you told me that you are going to move to Ebetsu on the 20th of this month. I said "Good luck in Hokkaido" to you too early.

    The best of my best friends from my junior high school days died of disease just on the day I sent you my previous e-mail letter. After attending the same junior high school for two years, he and I went to different senior high schools, and exchanged diaries monthly or bimonthly all through the senior high school years. His nickname in my diary was Sam. I had a business trip to Tokyo at the end of the last month. Therefore, I had been planning to meet him during that trip. It would have been a meeting after ten years or more since the previous one. However, I received a phone call from his wife on March 13 about his sudden death to make my plan an impossibility.

    Naturally, I wrote much about Vicky in the diaries exchanged with Sam. I was therefore thinking to tell him about what had been happening between Vicky and me these years, but Sam is now in heaven. Thus, you, Yosi, are now the only person to whom I can tell the story of Vicky by continuing it from my last e-mail letter. It looks as if God had chosen you as a substitute for Sam to listen to my talk about her.

    I waited and waited for Vicky's response during the summer vacation, but nothing came from her. The second term began. I saw her again in the same classes of lessons, but she did not speak to me, nor did I to her. Thus I began to have a little of hostility to her as well as respect for her. Ice and fire at the same time.

    One afternoon Vicky and some of her friends were walking a few meters behind me on our way from school. The road was covered by half-melt snow mixed with mud. They were talking about a new movie. Then I overheard Vicky say "Sono ega, zehi mitai! Mi-nakerebanaranai wa! (I want to see that movie at any cost! I must go see it!)." In a conversation, "nakerebanaranai (must)" is almost always replaced by one of its shortened forms. Therefore, her saying of the word in its formal style was rather unusual. I felt that I had been insulted by her, because I remembered that I had wrote this word too many times in my postcard to her. At the same time I was glad to think that she remembered something of my postcard. It was possible however that her utterance of the word had no relation to the postcard and that my heart was too sensitive to what she said.

    In our second year I made rather peculiar choice of lessons to prepare for the entrance examination to the university together with a few of my friends. Analysis II, physics, etc. Vicky, who lost her father in her childhood like Mineko, Sanshiro and me, was not wishing to go to university (at least just after finishing high school). Thus she and I had never been in the same lessons in the last two years of the high school.

    At the completion ceremony of the high school Vicky was the valedictorian, and sat at the right front corner. I was to receive T Prize, and seated myself next to her. T Prize was an honor given to ten students prospective in the field of chemistry from all the high schools in our prefecture. She and I, sitting so closely, did not speak to each other. In that evening my mother, who was one of the parent participants at the ceremony, told me that Vicky (of course, my mother did not call her by this nickname but by her real name) had been trembling possibly from a strain. Once or twice during the ceremony I glanced at Vicky's shapely legs. These were joined in a delicate curve onto her feet, tips of which in turn vanished into black shoes of the type worn by adult ladies. However, I did not notice her tremble. I believed that if she had had any tremble, its cause would have been the coldness of the school hall in that morning. Vicky was rather thin and must have been difficult to endure the coldness. Some years later, one of our teachers told me that Vicky had had old newspapers around her belly to make herself seem not so thin when she had attended a personal interview for employment.

    On returning home after the completion ceremony, I found a letter from Dr. J. T. Memorial Association. It told me that a stamp was missing on the T Prize certificate and that I had to bring it to the Association at the City Library. It was one of rare fine days during the earliest spring in the northern town, and the time of the day was early afternoon. I walked to the Library. It was a walk of about thirty minutes one way. The return path I took happened to be Vicky's regular path to and from school (I lived nearer to the school). Part of the path was a long and gentle slope, having a stream on one side far down below.

    At the middle of the slope, I saw Vicky walking toward me. She was just coming back from school belatedly. I was at a loss without finding what to do. Which of us should greet first, she or I? . . . Then she made a polite bow, saying nothing. I said, "Good-bye." Just a "good-bye" on the day of our departing. This was the only exchange between Vicky and me during our high school days. I still remember how she, in a light-blue overcoat, bowed to me. I walked the rest of my path by feeling that the small ice in my mind was melting away.

    Why was the exchange between Vicky and me this minimum? My shyness was one of the reasons for this, but there were more reasons. First, in our old castle town after several years since the end of the Second World War there remained one of feudalistic ideas of regarding the conversation between a boy and a girl of adolescent ages as a bad thing. Second, without receiving Vicky's response to my postcard, my pride refused any trial of my speaking to her. I will write later about the possibility of the presence of one more reason.

    Sam knew none of the episodes given below. Vicky worked for some years at a branch of N Bank in the home town. During my university days in Kyoto, I heard that she had gotten married to a medical scientist, and had moved to Tokyo. I thought that her husband was possibly much older than I. This is a similarity between "Sanshiro" and my story of Vicky (I will write about this again). Later I also heard that after her sons being grown up, she had studied in a university.

    After thirty-five years or so from our finishing high school, I attended an alumni meeting held in the home town, and saw Vicky unexpectedly. I sat at the table far from hers, but she came to greet me. She was outstandingly shining in a crimson suit. We had a little bit of courtesy talk, and attended a party after party together with many of our friends. At that party, however, I was again a shy boy of high school days. Only when she stood up to go back to hotel, I said to her, "I wish to talk with you more someday." She replied simply, "Possibly in Tokyo."

    About a month later, I was in a bullet train from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo. It was on my way to Atomic Research Institute in Tokai. Near Tokyo I made a phone call to Vicky, and asked her if we could meet on my way back. She said like one of heroines in Soseki's novels, "Nanika ohanashi surukoto arimasite? (Do we have anything to talk about?)" I said, "Nothing especially, but . . ." I did not know what I wished to talk with her. Possibly I wished to grow out of the dream that I had dreamt sometimes, a dream in which I was a schoolboy struggling to talk with her in vain. Then she told me that she had had a throat cancer and went to hospital still regularly. Vicky, who looked so young and beautiful, had suffered from a cancer! It was a shock to me. I promised that I would phone her up again from Tokyo on my way back. In my second phone call I gave her some words by which I wished to enliven her, but am not sure if these were really something to her.

    Our classmates living in the Eastern District have a reunion each year in Tokyo. Since I had talked with Vicky by phone, I attended such meetings twice, by going a long way from Osaka. She was also there and seemed to have recovered from her disease completely. I had only a little talk with her each time, but was happy to look at her pleasantly talking with friends. At one of the meetings she was in an elegant kimono like Mineko in the painting "A lady in a wood." She told me that K-san, a friend of hers, had been suffering from a heart disease. I remembered that U-kun, who was also at that meeting and had been one of the best high school baseball players in the Northern District, liked K-san very much in our elementary school days. I told this to Vicky. Just then U-kun passed by us. Vicky stopped him and told him about K-san's suffering. U-kun made a porker face, and wondering why Vicky told him about K-san, said "Eh?" Vicky looked at me and laughed a laugh of a mischievous girl. I returned her a smile to congratulate the success of our cooperative mischief and the young mind of Vicky, a mother of two grown-up sons.

    At the same meeting, Vicky asked me if the radiation treatment she had gotten would cause another illness later. Being a radiation physicist (not a physician), I could not give her a sure answer at once. Next morning I phoned her from my hotel to tell her what I thought out in the night before, assuring that such would not happen. However, she wrote on her latest New Year card that she was suffering the damage of the gum as an aftereffect of the treatment. On my last business trip to Tokyo, I called her from my hotel to talk about the effect of radiation treatment and what I learned recently about the latest technology in radiation therapy. Regrettably our topic was not a merry one, but hearing her ever joyous voice soothed me.

    A few years after beginning to receive a New Year card from Vicky, I reminded myself of a haiku or senryu I had found in my student days, and suddenly understood its correct meaning. It was placed at the closing of a New Year essay in a local newspaper, and read:

    Gajo kinu mukashi no koi wa sarigenaku.

    This is translated as follows:

    A New Year card has come from my ex-lover,
    Written in a casual manner
    Without any hint of past days.

    When I found this poem, I thought "konu" was the right reading for the second word, instead of "kinu (has come)." Both "ko" and "ki" are possible ways of reading the Chinese character used here. When we adopt "konu," the phrase, "gajo konu mukashino koi," means "an old love the partner of which does not send me New Year cards." Then the meaning of "sarigenaku" does not fit in the context, but somehow I interpreted the poem as this: "Even a single New Year card did not come from her; my old love was such a transitory one." Vicky's cards corrected my wrong reading, though I had never thought that my feeling to her had been "love." -- It would be a difficult task to tell her this last episode. -- Anyway, this indicates that experience is another teacher in our life.

    As written above, I have been believing that my feeling to Vicky has been nothing but great fondness and respect, at least at the conscious level. One of the reasons for this belief is that I guessed the following: She is the type of girl who would marry a man much older than she, similar to Mineko who got married not to Sanshiro but to a friend of her elder brother's. Another reason is that I had a tendency of becoming, or wishing to become, friends with some of the cleverest classmates irrespective of gender. Sam was one of such friends. I have also such female friends from elementary and junior high school days. Thus I wished Vicky to be one of such friends. At the ages of senior high school, namely the ages of adolescence, however, it was possible that I had unconsciously something more than fondness and respect to her to make her notice it (remember that I secretly looked at her during lessons), and this might have been one of the reasons for that a simple friendship between Vicky and me could not be established in our high school days.

    Speaking of unconsciousness, I remember the words "stray sheep," which Mineko gave to Sanshiro, as well as Soseki's main theme in "Sanshiro," an unconscious hypocrite (this interpretation of the main theme was described by Toyotaka Komiya in his review of "Sanshiro"). Mineko was an unconscious hypocrite in the sense that she allured Sanshiro and loved him unconsciously. Mineko also drew two sheep on a postcard sent to Sanshiro, suggesting him that both of them are a stray sheep. In my high school days I might have been both a stray sheep and an unconscious hypocrite by making myself believe that what I had at the conscious surface was all of my feeling to Vicky. To be a stray sheep might be one of the privileges of the youth.

    Sorry for making this such a long letter. Now it seems to be the time to say "Good luck in Ebetsu" to you and your family.


    May 2, 1997

    Hi Yosi,

    How is your life in Ebetsu?

    I am thinking to modify my last two e-mail letters to you to make them a short "novella," but have found that I lost the copy of the first of these. If you happen to preserve it, please send it back to me when you write me next.

    Best regards,

    May 8, 1997

    Hi Yosi,

    Nice to hear from you now in Ebetsu. It sounds great to live in such an environment that is friendly to children. I wish that your new company will have a good start.

    Thanks for the copy of my own letter. After modifying and editing my letters, I will send you the result, "Vicky (a Novella)." I am supposing that Vicky herself would be one of the readers of this "novella." Is this a stupid idea?

    Here we are having hot days like the end of June or the beginning of July.


    May 23, 1997

    Hi Yosi,

    On your home page I have found that many things have now a new look. I wish to make my own in the near future.

    I have completed editing "Vicky (a Novella)," and a copy is appended below.

    In the column, "Words to Remember" in Asahi Weekly, May 18, I found the following lines cited from Edward Thomas's "October":

    Some day I shall think this a happy day
    And this mood by the name of melancholy
    Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

    It seems that I have arrived at this "some day," remembering the melancholy of young days happily.

    Thanking you for that your essay on "Sorekara" gave me an opportunity to write this "novella,"

    Best wishes,

    Vicky (A Novella)

    March 10, 1997

    Dear Yosi,

    I have read your essay about Soseki's "Sorekara" . . .

    (Note: An obedient reader should go from here to the top of this novella, because the lines attached to the last e-mail message above are those starting there. Then the reader will come to this note again and have to go back to the top for the second time . . . , being trapped in this novella forever. "Vicky" is a never-ending story. Sam would have liked this trickery.)

    (23 May 1997; last modified 14 Apr 2003)
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    Vicky's Comments on "Vicky"

    December 5, 1997

    Hi Yoshi,

    Thanks for your e-mail message from the snow-white world, which reminded me of a heavy-snow year in my childhood in Kanazawa.

    Just on the day when I sent you my last e-mail message, I received a letter from "Vicky." She responded to my "novella" unexpectedly and quickly. First she thanked "the author" for that he had let her read his "painstaking work," that he remembered her at the corner of his mind, either for good or evil, and that he made her the heroine of a novella. Then she wrote as follows: This is a "novella," so that she cannot guess to what extent it is based on actual happenings. However, she deeply regrets ("naishin jikuji taru mono ga arimasu") her having been arrogant in her youth, and asks "the author" for forgiveness. She, as one of the readers of the novella, has an interest in its continuation. After having been caught by a serious illness, she began to think that it was the most important thing for her to have good human relations. She wishes very much ("inotte yamimasen") that the remaining lives of "the author" and "the heroine" be worthwhile to live.

    It was a natural and good letter filled with high intellectuality, though the passage, "The remaining lives . . . ," sounds a little sentimental (or is it written sarcastically?). I responded to her letter by writing (in Japanese): I was glad unexpectedly to receive her kind comments on my poor novella. I composed it to please her by documenting an example of male classmates' admiring minds for the model of Vicky in high-school days, though my experience was limited and my writing technique was clumsy. However, I have found from her letter that I was quite careless to make her feel regrettable about her youth. I would like to tell her only that if Vicky as described in my story seemed arrogant, it represented high pride possessed by her model and that it was one of the important charms of the latter in her young days. Each time when I saw her at a class reunion these years, I found that she had an attitude to value good human relations, and I admired her for it. I think it also necessary for "the author" to polish his humanity for becoming the writer of such a good continuation of "Vicky (A Novella)" that might get many readers.

    Writing a "continuation" seems to have started already. I would like to say to Vicky, "Be careful! You are being watched by the author." But it would be unnecessary. Without being careful, she has always been too good a model for me; she wishes herself to read a continuation! There are persons who do not like to be a model of a novel. An example: Before our marriage, my wife read my novel I wrote in my senior high school days, and said, "Will you write another novel in the future? I don't like to be a model."

    Best regards,

    (5 Dec 1997; last modified 14 Apr 2003)
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    I would like to thank Hiroaki Tahara for giving me a motive to write this novella. I am also grateful to Dr. Shunichi Kawamura for his careful reading of the earliest web versions and kind commenting. A summary of "Sanshiro" was inserted by his suggestion.

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