Re: Black Iris (A Rin Epilogue; Update 8/8/2018)
Posted: Mon Aug 13, 2018 12:24 pm
Not exactly the direction I was expecting this chapter to go, but certainly one I had considered. I especially liked the ending, where neither Yumi nor Rin are happy, but for opposite reasons. This chapter fit the flow of the story really well, in my opinion, and had some important elements that distinguished it from the route in the VN.
Excellent work, as per usual!
Posted: Sun Mar 31, 2019 7:27 am
The Moon and the Earth
Thin glass double-doors were the only things standing between Rin and the big grey lobby of a skyscraper, which stretched up so high you could barely see the top.
The doors had to be pulled in order to be opened. Each had a handle near the center- little silver bars at torso-level. Rin was trying very hard, unsuccessfully, to open one of them.
She forced her shoulder into the glass. Her sleeve, tied off at the end, dangled through the loop of the door handle, but the end of her arm wouldn't fit through.
Rin's breath momentarily stained the door. Little clouds on the glass.
A loud grunt escaped from deep in her chest. She raised a knee and pressed it into the glass, but stumbled backward, almost falling back onto the sidewalk. Her sleeves flapped like flags in the wind and smacked her in the stomach.
Both feet planted on the ground, she focused intently on the lobby of through the glass, just on the other side of the door.
Her toes wiggled around inside her shoes, which were too tight. Her toenails were cut. Yumi had cut them, and painted them, too. Lime green. It wasn't the kind of thing Rin normally did, but Yumi offered, and for some reason Rin agreed to it. She didn't mind the color, but that decision puzzled her anyway, and she had spent a long time trying to understand her own reasoning for agreeing to it.
Rin stood on one foot again and raised it to the door, pressing the bottom of her shoe against the glass door. She almost managed to wedge her foot through the door handle before losing her balance and being forced to lower her foot again.
A tall woman in a black pantsuit walked out of the lobby, opening up the glass door and stepping through. The door shut behind her, but she hesitated for a moment at the sight of Rin, who did not return her glance. Instead, she puffed out her chest and raised her foot in the air again, pressing it into the door and struggling to wedge it behind the handle.
"Miss? Excuse me, miss?" the woman stammered quietly.
Rin hopped on the balls of her feet to keep from losing her balance.
"Miss! Excuse me!" the woman repeated herself more forcefully that time. "What- what on Earth are you doing…?" Defeated, Rin lowered her foot from the door to look at her, and the woman froze in place, eyeing her up and down. "…Oh! I'm… um, I'm sorry…" Raising a finger, she pointed past Rin's shoulder, to the silver handicap door button on the wall next to the door. "Um, there's a… a button…"
Rin stared blankly at it. "I know."
"…Oh. Excuse me." The woman nodded a few times, but regardless, she seemed to be more confused than before. "…Um, why didn't you… use it…?"
Rin turned her attention to the door handle again, the shape of which seemed to perfectly accommodate the shape of her foot. "I didn't think I needed it," she replied honestly.
"Oh." The woman pursed her lips, which were a dark shade of red because of her lipstick. "Well. If it's all the same to you, it would really be better if you didn't touch the glass. It's easy to scuff it up." She cupped her hands together, drumming her fingers on her knuckles.
The glass didn't seem particularly scuffed up to Rin's eye, though she examined it thoroughly to make sure.
Regardless, she didn't protest. She probably just didn't see it the right way.
After a pause, the woman returned to the entrance of the building, opening the door and holding it for Rin. Not to keep the strange lady waiting, she obediently stepped through, but she kept focusing on the handle anyway. She could have opened it her way, but apparently that was wrong…
The two of them went in opposite directions, and Rin headed directly for the elevator. The other woman, Rin observed, kept an eye on her until she disappeared from sight.
Rin had been instructed to go to the thirty-second floor. She hit the button with her shoulder and pushed it on her second try, and the elevator rattled its way up without stopping a single time to let anyone else on. So it was just her.
The thirty-second floor was a lot like the first. Just narrower, with more walls. A pretty woman wearing a lot of makeup sat at the desk at the center of the room, and Rin approached her with a determined frown.
"Hi!" the receptionist chirped, sitting up straight at the first sign of a visitor. "Can I help you, ma'am?"
"Yes," Rin declared with feigned certainty. "I'm Rin Tezuka. I am here to meet with Mr. Fukuhara." She paused. "For a meeting."
They stared at each other for a moment. The receptionist pressed her lips together into a tight smile, which Rin did not return.
Then she reached for the phone. "Rin Tezuka is here," she mumbled into the receiver, looking back at forth between her desk and Rin's face. "Would you like me to…?"
The receptionist and Rin were staring at each other again. It seemed like Rin had put her off somehow, but she had no idea how, and the thought of it made her restless. She looked past the reception desk to the window, where another skyscraper across the street blocked almost the entire view from the thirty-second floor. Rin wondered why the window would even be there in the first place. If she worked there, she doubted she would ever deliberately look out of it.
The voice on the other end of the phone at the desk chattered something Rin couldn't quite hear, and the receptionist listened to it attentively before sitting up and instructing, "You can go ahead in. He's ready for you."
She did as she was told. As an afterthought, she thanked the receptionist on her way out, who smiled in response. Or, at least, Rin assumed that it was in response, since she had never stopped smiling in the first place.
Rin's invitation to the office had come a week prior. At the time, Rin had forgotten Mr. Fukuhara's name. But she had been unable to forget what he'd said to her. What he'd said about her art.
For the meeting, she had worn the nicest clothes she had. Men's formal wear. Her mother had packed it, she recalled, even though Rin herself had said she would never have the occasion to wear it. Yumi had tied the sleeves off, and stuffed her into too-tight close-toed shoes, covering up her lime green toenails.
Nobody in the world except for Yumi and Rin herself even knew that she had green toenails. Rin wondered briefly what her mother would think about that.
She stared at her shoes as she walked to the office where Fukuhara was waiting for her. She didn't look up until he enthusiastically declared, "Tezuka! You're here! Have a seat."
He seemed happy to see her. She wasn't sure what to make of it.
"Okay," she replied thoughtfully.
Fukuhara's desk, Rin observed as she took a seat across from him, was large, and cluttered, and made him look quite small by comparison. It wasn't a formal meeting- at least as far as Rin had been told- but he was wearing a fancy suit anyway, and shiny cufflinks, and a tie, and an expensive-looking ring. Rin decided it must be a wedding ring, which made her curious what his wife was like, and how many pantsuits she owned.
"Thank you for taking the time to meet with me, especially on a weekday." Fukuhara folded his hands on his desk as he prattled on. "I know it's around the end of the school year, and you must be very busy. I hope I haven't pulled you away from anything."
"You haven't pulled me away from anything." Rin slumped back in her chair as she spoke, avoiding eye contact. "This is more important than any other work I have to be doing."
"Fair enough. I appreciate your enthusiasm." He paused uncertainly. "Can I get you something to drink? Tea, maybe? Or something else?" He pointed a finger straight up in the air, toward the ceiling. "I have an espresso maker."
She wasn't thirsty, but she considered the proposition anyway. "Do you have a straw?"
The question surprised him enough to make him hesitate, but he came around quickly. "Um… yes, I can get you a straw."
"Then I'll have tea." That seemed right.
He seemed to think so as well, and nodded approvingly before putting in the request over his intercom.
But these were just formalities. Rin was no good at them, and, fortunately, Fukuhara seemed to have no patience for them. So they moved on quickly.
As they waited for Rin's tea, he asked her, "Can I show you something?"
Without waiting for a response, he stood from his chair and walked over to one of the shelves next to his desk. A few little trinkets rested on it, but he was interested in one in particular- a small circular tile, decorated with a pattern of a tree in a dreary brown and grey. He sat back down with the tile in hand, propping it up on the desk so Rin could look at it.
"It's ceramic tile," he explained. "Impressive, isn't it?"
"Did you make that?" asked Rin.
He smirked like he was going to laugh, but he didn't. "No. That was a gift. I received it from an artist named Ryoko Yoshida just last year. She's a close friend of mine." He rested the tile on the desk so he could fold his hand together. "I met her eight… actually, almost nine years ago now, at a student exhibition. Much like the one where I met you… albeit slightly smaller. At the time, she was painting, but she has always been more interested working in three dimensions- that's what she told me at the time, too. I could tell from the beginning that small exhibitions would be stifling her talents. And I was much newer at this at the time, mind you."
Rin had no idea who he was talking about, or how to respond, so she simply focused on the tile lying face-up on the desk while Fukuhara waited for her to say something.
The tea arrived. The receptionist from earlier brought it into the office with an awkward smile. This time, Rin tried to return it. The tea was bitterer than she had expected, but she didn't say anything about it.
She didn't say anything at all, in fact. Neither she nor Fukuhara said anything for what felt like a long time. The receptionist returned to whatever work she was doing outside. In the interim, Fukuhara took a small sip of his tea, pinching the handle of his cup with two fingers.
He smiled uncertainly at Rin as he set the cup down cautiously on its little plate. "…Anyway… would you care to guess where she is now? Yoshida?"
She wanted to answer him that time, and so she looked him in the eye and proclaimed, "No."
"London. For another month now." He grinned. "Then Dublin for another two. Then she'll be spending the rest of the year overseas, in the United States. She is doing a collaborative project with a Senegalese artist, whom she met at an event right here in Tokyo. Back-to-back exhibitions in four cities. Isn't that exciting?"
After a long moment of consideration, Rin tentatively decided to respond with a "Yes" that time.
She smiled as she said it. Squeezing her lips together, like the receptionist outside. Fukuhara traced a finger around the edge of the ceramic tile, then drummed his hand on it.
"Okay," he said firmly. "Let's not beat around the bush. As you know, after the student exhibition closed, I met with your professor about your display, and we had a photographer come in to take some reference images." As he spoke, he stood from the desk to return the tile to his shelf, retrieving in its place a manila folder from on top. "Long story short, I co-own a small- fairly prominent, keep in mind, but nevertheless small- gallery with a close friend of mine here in Tokyo, where we host a number of solo exhibitions every year. But, from time to time, my friend organizes a smaller-scale joint project with several more unknown artists. Much like yourself, I mean. He considers it a public service to help keep our community's art scene alive. It can be an excellent source of exposure." He opened the folder on the desk, revealing his photographs of world. Rin watched with narrow eyes as he continued: "I showed him these, and as I expected, he shares my interest in your work. And with a little finagling, I believe there is a chance I could convince him to include you in one of these exhibitions at the gallery. Might you have any interest in doing something like that? Possibly sometime during the next academic year?"
It was a familiar sort of proposition. But a weighty one.
Rin was stricken. "Tell me more."
Fukuhara nodded contemplatively. "Okay, well. While I was going to the trouble of compiling these photographs, I looked through the portfolio you submitted to Admissions for your application to your current school. And after a little digging, I found an article on the exhibition you did last year in high school. I have to say, it's all very promising… but, not current. And, to be honest, not really quite sufficient." He shrugged with one hand. "Point being, if you decide you're interested in this- if you want to work with me to take part in another exhibition- it would be beneficial if you could put together some new material in the coming months. Something for me to present alongside 'World'. And alongside- what was the title of the exhibition you did last summer?"
He dragged her back to Yamaku again, to the dusty old atelier and the dark painting now hanging above her bed. The question felt wrong to her. Out of place.
She answered him truthfully, but with reluctance. And something like guilt. "It didn't have one."
But he didn't seem to care one way or the other. "…Alright, well. Regardless. Putting together something more substantive for me to present to this friend of mine… that would be our next step. Only if you would be comfortable committing to exhibiting your work again moving forward."
Comfortable was the wrong word for Rin. That much she knew. But the last exhibition had left her without a direction. And she had made up her mind long before she had put on that suit, or come in to the office, or painted her toenails green.
"I don't understand. I don't…" She stopped herself from trailing off- from losing track of the most important question. "What do you need from me?"
"I'm not asking you to sign anything. Just… if anything, consider this an informal offer. A trial run, if you would even want to call it that. I just need you to work with me." He seemed dissatisfied with that at first, and before Rin could reply, he continued on. "My interest is in helping you to cultivate your potential. And my hope is that, if you can get started out on the right foot, so to speak, you will be in a better position to capitalize on that when the time comes to consider your options after your schooling is finished. You have something unique, Tezuka. And I would like to foster what could be a very rewarding professional relationship. If you'd let me, with time, I really believe we could make something really great together."
"So you want me to paint for you."
"And you want me to work on a new exhibition."
"At present, I just need a little more material from you so I have something to verify your… talents," he explained slowly. "Listen. Your schooling is your primary concern right now. I fully understand that, and I want you to be able to prioritize those obligations. But if you work with me now, you will just have more options available to you moving forward." He leaned in close to look into Rin's eyes, which were wrenched wide open. "Now is the time to be asking yourself- what do you want from your future?"
There was something unusual about Fukuhara. Something about the way he looked at her. Like he was seeing something that wasn't there.
Rin lost herself for a moment.
"I want to be an artist. Can you do that for me?"
Fukuhara did not hesitate this time. "That's my job."
"Then I want your help."
"I am glad to hear that."
"But my family will want me to go back after the school year ends."
"It's not a problem. Do what you need to do. We can work out a timetable that works best for you."
Rin thought about the coming year. She had almost said, 'my family will want me to go back home'. Something stopped her.
She shuffled her green toes around in her shoes. "I'll contact you again. When I can."
"I'll be looking forward to it," Fukuhara replied with a smile.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Rin left the office with Fukuhara's business card. She finished her tea before she did. Her knotted sleeves dangled at her sides.
On her way out of the building, Rin shoved her chest against the metal button next to the entrance, and the double doors opened for her automatically. She hovered in the doorway for a second or two, one foot still inside, and then she disappeared into the crowd outside.