Later - Prologue

A Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi fanfiction

By Brian Randall

Disclaimer: The series begun with the light novel 'The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi'/'Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu' is the creation of Nagaru Tanigawa. No disrespect is intended with the creation of this work.

Note: May contain spoilers up through book nine.

The Tsuruya estate is fairly large, even for the neighborhood it's situated in. Within the confines of the walls, there's the actual compound - which consists of no less than eight separate buildings - and the gardens. There are three of those.

One is the sand garden, which is set in the lee of the main building and a smaller connected guest house. Another face of the house, the side with the long porch, faces a larger garden of the more traditional sort, including a koi pond. The third garden completely encloses a separate building, which contains the Tsuruya family shrine.

Near the driveway is a lawn, which is not really a garden. It shares space with the wild cherry trees, and just inside the walls of the compound are well-trained hedges. A small team of people could properly maintain it working a few hours, one day a week.

Due to the relatively private nature of the Tsuruya family, they instead employ a single gardener, who works year-round.

That gardener is me.

I can honestly say that when I was a younger man, I would not have seen myself in the place I am. It's the nature of life to change that way, I suppose... Or to at least be unpredictable.

Then again, very little of what you know in childhood tends to follow you into adulthood. In my experience, a very small handful of the friends you make in school will be true enough to still be at your side when you are older. It's not that things come up, and friends stop being friends ... but distance develops ... grows between people.

A once-dear friend is seen again, and then there's the dull realization that after all that time, they really aren't friends ... not like they used to be. Acquaintances, but the spark of friendship doesn't quite rekindle; common interests just don't connect.

And then, for various reasons, I don't actively seek out many people from my past anyway.

It happens. People change.

You long for the past, but the past is gone; a seed sprouted doesn't send its leaves burowing back into the earth. And if it does ... it dies.

At some point, I just got used to the cycle of the years ... time passed. That kind of thing happens. One day, you're surviving. A few days later, you're living. A few years after that, you realize where you are, and then ... that's what's familiar. That's what's comfortable.

It's not to say that I'm stuck in a rut, but once you've set down roots...

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. And then again, maybe not.

It's winter, which means that in the Tsuruya estate, most of the plant life doesn't need much attention. The fish are slow when it's cold, but it's good to check on them every other day, at least. Tsuruya is not a demanding employer, and this time of year, I don't come by until later in the afternoon.

That may be a bit of an excuse...

My key unlocks the small door within the estate's larger gate, and once inside I survey the lawn. No branches fallen from the winds last night, which is good; some of these trees are quite old. After that, I circle around the outer edge of the shrine garden, checking the hedges. This also lets me listen for any sign of the family within.

Maintaining that garden is also my responsibility, but given the nature of it, I always do my best to make sure that the family is undisturbed there.

There's no sounds of anyone within, and more tellingly, no scent of incense. I round the shrine garden's outer wall of dense bamboo, and walk beneath the torii that defines the entrance, pausing to bow in ritual recognition. Inside, everything is as it was left the day before. Most of the plants are covered, and those that aren't haven't changed.

The shrine door is open, so I step inside. I don't make eye contact with any of the portraits, but I check the small box of incense near the burner. Plenty left - but I light one and ring the bell, spending a minute of contemplation there before I leave.

After that, around the back of the house to the traditional garden. It's still in order, and the koi are fine - no need to feed them today.

The sand garden is a relatively private area, really, like much of the estate. Acoustically, it doesn't let a lot of sound out, but there are still points where one, perhaps a gardener, can listen discreetly. I do, and I catch two familiar voices - Tsuruya, and her son Kintaro.

At this time of day, he's just arrived home from school and is eagerly telling his mother, "...and tomorrow, we're going to start reading up on Basho!"

Tsuruya chuckles in response, then says, "Basho is your uncle's favorite, you know. Can you guess which verse he had in mind when he made this garden?"

"Um..." Kintaro thinks about this for a while.

It doesn't feel like I'm interrupting, so I step around the corner on the lower walkway that surrounds the sand garden, just below the porch lining the house's exterior.

Kintaro is eleven years old, which makes him shorter than me a bit - but given the height difference of the walkways, he's almost half a meter taller at the moment. His hair is more subdued in tone than his mother's, more of a dull gray to her own vibrant green, but he's inherited her grin completely.

He does not get his eyes from his mother, though most of his temperament comes from her. Right now, his gaze is fixed on the sand garden behind me, furiously contemplating - trying to extract some meaning from the arrangement of rocks and the lines that have been carefully combed into the surface. Taking a look at it myself, I know what symbols I was trying to make.

The garden has a quintet of carefully maintained bonsai trees. They're each surrounded by a low ring of painstakingly placed stones, lining a bowl shape to limit their root growth, but still set within the confines of the garden. Being relatively permanent plants, I very rarely move them; currently, they are arrayed in a half-circle around the garden's central boulder. The other two prominent boulders are at points on the other side of the central stone.

The pattern was very simple - I combed across the entire garden with a sand-rake, perfectly straight lines, right-to-left, only breaking around the permanent interruptions in the area. Those lines I smoothed as much as possible, trying to make it look natural. After that, painstaking hours were spent giving every object its own circular ring of groomed sand - proportional to the size of the interruption. It wasn't done after that, of course, and then I needed to repair the base underlying lines around the new patterns to cover my own footprints.

Now, the central boulder is ringed with great concentric circles in the sand - circles, not a spiral (I can do that, too, but it's more difficult than you think). It stands in the middle of the garden, given more prominence by those symbols. The bonsai are far enough away that their own auras are free of the boulder - though the very outermost ring swirls around the bonsai in a complex braided spiral, weaving the five of them together with whorls that make them look connected - almost a single object despite the significant area they cover.

The other two stones I decided to treat differently, combing lines to connect them and then giving those lines (and the stones at their endpoints, naturally), another intentionally irregular form.

Kintaro's eyes don't go to me, studying the shapes for a long minute. "I see the sun," he says after a moment, his grin widening as he studies the central boulder. "The trees are the heavens - clouds, and a roof for the sun. These boulders are the earth, beneath the sky!"

Tsuruya nods at that, though I can barely see her from where I stand at the moment. "But do you know the poem?" she presses gently, the smile carrying in her voice.

Kintaro hesitates a moment, then shakes his head guiltily, turning to give his mother an apologetic smile. "I don't think it's Basho," he determines.

"He's right," I say gently, smiling myself. I step into the garden on the walkway. It takes almost an entire day to properly groom the garden, though thanks to the house's structure, it will usually last over a week before needing to be repaired. "I do adore Basho, but this garden's poem - to me - is a renga."

"Ah!" he says, grinning, shaking his head. "I thought so! This is too modern for Basho!"

I laugh when Tsuruya gives a tiny, scandalized gasp at that. "Kintaro!" she says with a chastising giggle. "Such words!"

"It's true," I assure her, grinning at Kintaro and reaching up from the walkway to tousle his hair in a familiar way. "Now..." I get a glimpse of movement from within the house but turn back to the garden before I process it. I clear my throat and recite:

"Sun, cloud, earth and sea:
"Circles within and without;
"All are connected.

"Sunlight fades as clouds ascend,
"Seas stir while the earth slumbers."

This form of poetry is not properly renga. That is to say, a standard haiku, followed by two seven syllable lines. These are formed in groups, usually collaboratively working together to make a single poem. Traditionally, there are at least five people involved in creating one, because three is not quite enough, and four is unlucky. The theme was popular in Basho's time, especially among his students.

And it should be obvious that he is one of my favorite influences. Tsuruya, Kintaro, and I therefore don't truly fit the classic theme. Our verse exchanges tend to be shorter, too.

But then, what I admire most about Basho isn't his adherence to form - it's the spontaneity of the expression. You see something, there's a shape that's difficult to put into words ... and then you shape a very strict form that tries anyway. Can that thing that you saw really be captured entirely in so few words?

Kintaro has been familiar with the style for some time, and mulls it over, not recognizing this particular poem yet. Tsuruya remembers, though. In retrospect, Kintaro would only have been eight when we made it. What I quoted were the verses that I originally scribed, so Tsuruya, naturally, echoes with her own lines from that more distant winter:

"So sleeping, we dream.
"Do you share your dreams with me?
"Or do they wander?

"Through the starry skies above,
"Knit together in a quilt."

Ah ... yes. I hadn't seen her perspective when I made my verses. But that's the wonder of a collaborative poem - those fascinating bits of insight that you share and receive with others. Kintaro brightens, remembering it as well.

Standing perfectly straight, as though for a formal recital, Kintaro says:

"We are together,
"Different words or the same..."

He falters, hesitant... Not that I can blame him; it was a poem from a long time ago, and he's still young yet. He's got better things to do than fill his head with all of the poetry he can memorize - even if that does seem to be his goal, most days.

But then another voice picks up from within the house - and I freeze as the speaker concludes:

"All in harmony."

She pauses for a moment, reflecting on the line. I can see her, somehow missed behind Tsuruya. She's aged well - that's a given at a glance. Her hair is longer than when I saw her last, and her signature ribbon is gone. Now it's bound up in a no-nonsense ponytail, hanging low behind her.

Her eyes aren't looking at me yet, so my heart still works. Her lips purse slightly, and the faintest hint of concentration appears between her eyebrows, as though she's deep in thought. With a tiny, shimmying shake of her head, she recites the final lines of the renga (my words, when Kintaro couldn't come up with a conclusion):

"Self, family, city, world,
"One circle contains many."

Then her gaze sweeps to me, from her study of the garden that I'd groomed, and she gives me a look I can't entirely read... She's slightly quizzical, I can tell that much. Surprised, a little bit. And ... I don't know ... I used to be much better at this. Wistful? Melancholy? I can't say, because she's smiling anyway.

"Aw," Kintaro pouts. "Uncle had to help me with the last bit, anyway..." Then he seems to remember his manners. "Oh! Uncle! This is Mother's friend, Suzumiya Haruhi-san!"

"'Uncle?'" Haruhi asks with a laugh, her gaze swinging away, letting me breathe once more, and my heart start to work again. She shakes her head, seeming for some reason faintly relieved, and at the same time, vaguely disappointed. "Ah, you know, Kintaro-kun, I know Kyon- That is, your uncle, from way back when!"

"Really?" Kintaro asks, surprised.

"That's a story for another time," Tsuruya says with a chuckle, shaking her head at Kintaro. "Now, you change out of your school-clothes, alright?"

He pads off with a cheerful acknowledgement, and Tsuruya shakes her head again, watching him leave. She gives me a sympathetic, apologetic look. "Um ... so, Haru-nyan, ah ... as I see you remember, this is ... well, Kyon-kun," she offers uncertainly, indicating me.

That expression I can't quite place returns, and she looks back at me, from where her gaze had been following Kintaro... "I know," she says softly. "So. What's it been ... fifteen years, huh?"

Not to the day ... but not that far off, really. "Yeah," I manage.