After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira (Updated 20190704)

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Re: After the Dream—Others (Rika done, Mutou3 up 20140506)

Post by brythain » Tue May 06, 2014 12:13 pm

dewelar wrote:Definitely enjoying this, even if it still feels a tad...unsettled. Your Mutou reminds me of one of my old astronomy professors (a path I still sometimes regret not taking) so I can definitely relate to him. Admittedly, I find his conversations with Goro to be the highlights of these chapters, but that's because his awkwardness with his former students is realistically portrayed :) .
Actually, I have an ex-student who's related to me. One day I and a colleague stop by at an ice-cream parlour after work, just two bitter not-so-old men, tired after too much admin work. It's the first week of school. And there we bump into this student with a date. Fast forward eight years, our two ex-students get married and invite us to the wedding because we were there at the very beginning. Moments like that are gold for a writer, because they provide the source for some rather unusual cocktails of emotions. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 4 up 20140507)

Post by brythain » Tue May 06, 2014 9:38 pm

This is the fourth part of Mutou's arc from my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.
In the AtD continuity, it takes place in 2018. You can find part of it from Emi's perspective here.



Mutou 4: Dreams of Happiness (T -6)

It has been a long time since there was a wedding at Yamaku. Come to think of it… or perhaps, better not to think about it. The slightly disreputable-looking teacher scratches absent-mindedly at the stubble that won’t go away, remembering a young bride and a neatly-dressed career teacher standing… there. There, where the dandelions now wave their heavy heads in the breeze.

Those flowers, he thinks, have a momentarily weight upon them; but soon, they will be unburdened, and send their children to the four winds. He rests his chin upon his fist. I am like them: I too have cast many children abroad—but some return. The grass fades, and the flowers die. But some things can seem to go on forever, like the bright blue sky and the golden light.

*****

I look around the dandelion field, where Michiko and I once had picnics, and were normal people. The students do not question the peculiar things that teachers do in their off-hours, as long as they are not unjust or immoral to their adolescent minds.

The field’s been arranged like an amphitheatre. Our seats ring it round, in the shadow of peaceful trees, all showing August colours. There’s a rented mini-orchestra on the other side of the grassy space, and it’s playing some Amarfi softly to set the mood—interesting, since I’ve never heard an orchestral version before.

At the edges of the field, I see a lot of current and past students taking their seats; some know Emi and Hisao only as teachers, while some knew them as schoolmates. My old friend Goro Kaneshiro sits next to me, both of us on the bride’s side because that’s where Meiko wanted him, and I have nobody in particular to sit with. Around us I see some half-familiar faces from the national sporting fraternity, looking stiff and uncomfortable in their formal suits.

Goro, as usual, is scanning the area like a fox, identifying little bits of useful information and juicy meat for future use. It is this ability to extract maximum knowledge from such sparse data that has made him such a good diagnostician.

“I see your relatives are here, with one very obvious exception, Akio,” he says, nudging me with what he thinks is subtlety.

I have three nieces and a nephew in this story, and one of them is indeed very obviously missing, like Cinderella from the ball. I feel a little sadness, but all that is now water long gone from beneath its bridge. I look around for the others.

Shizune is sitting with Hisao’s parents, as Hisao’s superior officer. She’s also Emi’s boss, but I suppose she would feel more at home with the Nakais. After all, she has spent time with them before, from what the ever-helpful Goro has told me. I don’t see her brother; I’ve not seen him for a decade now, although I’ve heard he’s Hisao’s lawyer.

A smartly-dressed woman slides into the seat on my left, startling me a little. That body seems familiar… so I look into her eyes. Ah, how embarrassing. Short blond hair, well-disguised curves, unusually striking makeup: my eldest niece.

“Hello, respected uncle! I have brought gifts for you, which you may of course share with the gossipy but also respected friend on your right. Two bottles of the Glenlivet, aged a nice long while, one from me and one from Lils. She sends greetings, claims to miss you. Says somebody needs to stay in Edinburgh to run the business. Silly woman.”

I feel a very genuine smile develop across my usually wooden face.

“Hello, Aki-chan. You’re my favourite niece, you know. Anything from you is much appreciated.”

“Aw, that’s a nice line. I bet you tell all the others the same thing. And I know you’ve got a soft spot for Madam Principal too, uncle.”

“Shhh, that’s a secret.”

“The soft spot or the unclehood? Everyone suspects the former and your medical friend knows it all, right? I think …” she lowers her voice to a whisper, “… Madam knows it too.”

I look guiltily across the clearing. Shizune’s been joined by Hanako, who’s interpreting between her friend and the Nakais. My youngest niece, who isn’t supposed to know that her Head of Science is also her uncle, looks relieved to be able to sign rather than use her electronics. I shake my head, remembering how she was in the old days.

Goro leans over. “Akira Satou, whispering is very rude! Mutou-san here should be very proud to have so many beautiful nieces. But I forgive you, since you bring such happiness. He is far too gloomy otherwise.”

Perhaps I still have one secret none of them knows about, though. And it’s that which is dragging my heart down even on this beautiful day, the 5th day of August, the eve of the Tanabata festival. It’s an auspicious day; my superstitious ancestors would have called it ‘Taian’—the day of great peace and the best day to hold ceremonies involving wishes for happiness.

Akira laughs, and I smile in response. Her laughter is infectious, and one of the most feminine parts of her usual self-expression. Goro chuckles, because it’s his nature to do so. I change the subject, waving one of the elegant wedding programmes at her.

“Where’s Hideaki? I’ve not seen him for years although you’ve made him Hisao’s lawyer. Isn’t he supposed to be Hisao’s best man?”

She gives me an odd look. “Errm, respected uncle, your humble niece begs you to examine Hisao’s section more closely. That’s not Jigoro Hakamichi standing there.”

What an odd comment. I wouldn’t have expected Shizune’s father here at any rate, but I look in the indicated direction nevertheless. And I do a quick double-take. The large man in the well-tailored dark suit does indeed look a bit like my ex-brother-in-law, but he clearly is not. His powerful hands are fiddling nervously with a little box.

“That’s Hideaki? Gods, the boy has grown… a great deal.”

My niece snorts, reverting to her less-feminine forms of expression. “Yeah, if you remember him from puberty or something, he was like a mini-Shizune robot. Now, not so much. Also, has a long queue of admirers.”

Goro interrupts my moment of disorientation and enlightenment.

“Ah, I’m in favour of family reunions and such, but we’re here for this part. The family pre-union phase, you might say.”

The orchestra’s long ago done with their instrument-tuning and light music. Part of my brain wonders how the acoustics will work out for heavier music in such an open space. Those considerations fade away as the minister asks us to rise for the arrival of the bride. As they strike up the classic Vangelis theme from ‘Chariots of Fire’, more concealed speakers echo around the glade.

Sitting in an arc allows all of us to stand and watch Emi’s arrival without having to turn awkwardly. Soft gasps and faint whispers filter to my ears as we watch Rin Tezuka precede her with a bouquet of irises and sunflowers. It is a wonderful illusion, I realize, which conceals Rin’s lack of arms completely. Her long reddish hair has grown out and been done up in a French braid, and her gown is a lustrous pale gold.

When Emi enters the clearing, however, there’s an audible silence. Only the soft rustle of summer’s leaves intrudes. Emi is tall and stately today, her usual working ponytail braided just like Rin’s under the light ceremonial veil. The bridal gown is a dazzling pearly white, shimmering with hidden mysteries. I’m probably the only one who listens for the sound of straining servomotor assistance, I think, until I detect Goro doing the same thing. He grins at me briefly, before we both turn back to the bride.

He whispers, “Emi at her Emi-est, eh? And look at the legs on her! That Hisao Nakai, luckiest man on two feet…”

My lips twitch. Only Goro could insinuate so many in-jokes in so short a time. But she is beautiful, and the light behind her… I am both uplifted into the joy of the moment and saddened by my own long-buried memories. I remember Michiko making that very entrance, two decades ago.

As if in a dream, I watch Emi reach the top of our arc, more than three minutes after the processional began. It’s always been strange to hear the traditional ‘Western’ service performed in Japanese, and today is no exception. For me, it is surreal, as my mind sees the past behind the present, in two layers of consciousness.

Hisao looks very happy. The wind toys with his hair; there’s always been this tufty bit that won’t stay down. I see with amusement that he is trying very hard not to stare at his suddenly much taller bride. I remember with melancholy my Michi whispering, “Don’t stare, Akio!”

I think it is finally the vows that get to me. As Emi softly intones her response to Hisao’s vow, “I, Emi Ibarazaki… through illness and health, poverty and wealth… till death brings an ending,” I am tearing up. Mutou-san, I tell myself, the hero doesn’t cry until it’s all over. But it is all over, for Michiko and me. What started here was over for us years ago.

In my heart, in my deepest being, whatever that might be in the cosmic scheme of things, I wish Hisao and Emi well. I wish them great happiness. I wish them a long life, knowing that it’s unlikely for at least one of them. I wish them all the best, that the universe will not let them feel defeated in the end.

They are exchanging rings, made of star-forged ruthenium and incorruptible gold. Each ring bears the other’s name in it, and today’s date. They are my gift, designed by Rin and Meiko, crafted by an old friend from metal hoarded by me.

But my treacherous eyes gaze across the field into the distance, seeing what they cannot really see. For that’s where I walk after school, on quiet evenings when there are no papers to grade, no students to see. That’s where, in a hidden corner of the wilderness on Mount Aoba, a too-tiny grave marks the ending of love, and youth, and my last dream of happiness.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:43 pm, edited 5 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Others (Rika done, Mutou3 up 20140506)

Post by Minion of Chaos » Wed May 07, 2014 1:19 am

dewelar wrote:Your Mutou reminds me of one of my old astronomy professors (a path I still sometimes regret not taking)
Yeah, I was going to go that route myself until I had to change my major this past November. While I love astronomy, not all of us are able to end up as the next Carl Sagan or NDT...

I am enjoying this view of Mutou as well! It's taking something sad to see and making it enjoyable (to read and sympathize with).
Last edited by Minion of Chaos on Wed May 07, 2014 12:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: After the Dream—Others (Rika done, Mutou3 up 20140506)

Post by brythain » Wed May 07, 2014 2:34 am

Minion of Chaos wrote:
dewelar wrote:Your Mutou reminds me of one of my old astronomy professors (a path I still sometimes regret not taking)
Yeah, I was going to go that route myself until I had to change my major past November. While I love astronomy, not all of us are able to end up as the next Carl Sagan or NDT...

I am enjoying this view of Mutou as well! It's taking something sad to see and making it enjoyable (to read and sympathize with).
I'm glad that you're so positive about this. I had to convince myself that Mutou-sensei was serious when he proposed that I edit and publish some of his musings. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Others (Rika done, Mutou3 up 20140506)

Post by forgetmenot » Wed May 07, 2014 2:58 am

brythain wrote:
Minion of Chaos wrote:
dewelar wrote:Your Mutou reminds me of one of my old astronomy professors (a path I still sometimes regret not taking)
Yeah, I was going to go that route myself until I had to change my major past November. While I love astronomy, not all of us are able to end up as the next Carl Sagan or NDT...

I am enjoying this view of Mutou as well! It's taking something sad to see and making it enjoyable (to read and sympathize with).
I'm glad that you're so positive about this. I had to convince myself that Mutou-sensei was serious when he proposed that I edit and publish some of his musings. :)
I quite agree. I'm liking Mutou-as-narrator quite a lot. He's perhaps the best storyteller of all in this body of work, next to Hanako. His internal musings are fascinating to read.

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Re: After the Dream—Others (Rika done, Mutou3 up 20140506)

Post by brythain » Wed May 07, 2014 7:41 am

forgetmenot wrote:I quite agree. I'm liking Mutou-as-narrator quite a lot. He's perhaps the best storyteller of all in this body of work, next to Hanako. His internal musings are fascinating to read.
Maybe it's because teaching is a narrative art as much as a didactic one. Every time Mutou gets into my headspace, he starts with a deliberate story set-up, some objectives to be achieved by the end of the piece, and the instruction to write based on the verifiable facts. However, he tends to loosen up on the last restriction after a few tumblers of Scotch. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 4 up 20140507)

Post by griffon8 » Wed May 07, 2014 1:32 pm

brythain wrote:That’s where, in a hidden corner of the wilderness on Mount Aoba, a too-tiny grave marks the ending of love, and youth, and my last dream of happiness.
Aaaaaand there you go again, pulling out a big surprise.
I found out about Katawa Shoujo through the forums of Misfile. There, I am the editor of Misfiled Dreams.

Completed: 100%, including bonus picture. Shizune>Emi>Lilly>Hanako>Rin

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Re: AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 4 up 20140507)

Post by brythain » Wed May 07, 2014 1:36 pm

griffon8 wrote:
brythain wrote:That’s where, in a hidden corner of the wilderness on Mount Aoba, a too-tiny grave marks the ending of love, and youth, and my last dream of happiness.
Aaaaaand there you go again, pulling out a big surprise.
Really? Noooo… :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 5 up 20140508)

Post by brythain » Wed May 07, 2014 1:48 pm

This is the fifth part of Mutou's arc from my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.
In the AtD continuity, it takes place in 2021, the year after this part of Shizune's arc, and also this part of Hanako's arc.



Mutou 5: Points of Transition (T -3)

Yet another school year has ended, and the cherry blossom festivals have begun. The middle-aged man, still lean and reasonably fit, yawns and stretches as he absent-mindedly fiddles with a red pen that seems to be running out of ink. He won’t be needing it anytime soon, anyway; with a sigh, he lobs it gracefully into a plastic waste bin three desks away.

The staff room is almost completely empty. It’s the Friday after Spring break started. The younger ones have disappeared; the older ones are probably making final arrangements so that their workloads will be easier next year. What should he be doing? He is unused to this sense of freedom, of idleness, almost of uselessness. He stands up, but on his way out, he makes a detour to a cluttered corner of his world.

*****

“Not going on break yet, Hisao?”

The younger man looks up from his computer, refocusing. His unruly hair looks lank, and there are bags under his eyes.

“Ah, Mutou-sensei! Soon, soon. Doing the resource allocation plan. Also, timetabling requests. And working out how much stock we need for the labs next semester. You know how it is… Aargh! How did you ever cope?”

“Come on, my friend, you don’t have to ‘sensei’ me. You’re the boss now!”

I grin at him, half-consciously rubbing my stubbly chin.

“Hisao, let me tell you a secret. Look in the steel cabinet I left you. When I took over from old Taka years ago, I just converted all his ancient templates and printed them out. I copied his stuff, made some amendments, and I was good to go. In your case, Madam Principal wants more. But the old stuff is still a good starting point. I’d already planned for the next academic year, you know. All you have to do is add the material for the new programmes.”

“Gah,” says my former student eloquently, in self-disgust. “Mutou, you told me all that when you had that dinner for me, and I completely forgot. I remember you sipping that damned Scotch and telling me to look in the cabinet.”

“Please, please, Hisao, call me Akio,” I say quietly. “We’ve drunk the water of life together, we are friends now. Go take a break and come back to it, you already have a lot less work to do now.”

“Emi won’t be done till lunch, anyway. She’s still training the school team out at the track.”

“Already? But your daughter…” I do some quick calculations.

“Yes, Akiko’s only seven months old, and a bit. But she’ll be fine. Rin’s a great housekeeper and babysitter.”

“The human ability to adapt and prosper in changing circumstances is what makes us great,” I say solemnly.

Hisao frowns momentarily and then laughs as he realizes I’m pulling his leg a bit.

“You’re amazing. Why were you sometimes so boring in class, though?”

I grin, but with a twinge of sadness. By now, Hisao knows parts of my own personal story, but I’ve not told him most of it; now is not the time to tell him that I had days on ‘auto-pilot’, especially at certain times of the year when remembering things best forgotten.

“Well, some days, you win the class; some days, the class wins you.”

A more-relaxed Hisao gets the subtle joke more quickly this time. He gives a tired but appreciative smile, and gets to his feet. I give him a hand; he’s a bit shaky from sitting too long at his desk.

“Thanks, sensei. Maybe I should go down to the track and sit at the bleachers for a while, just like in the old days.”

“That’s the spirit, young man. I’m sure your lady will be most appreciative.”

I clap him on the back, but not too hard, and send him on his way. But that doesn’t answer my own earlier question: what should I be doing, now that I am free?

Clearly, there is only one route to the answer. I head over to the healthcare and administration block, where a certain Goro Kaneshiro has his office.

*****

“Oho,” says my old friend as I step into his antiseptic place of power. “What brings the newly freed samurai of science to my house of healing?”

I’ve had time to think about that. I know Goro is due for a break too, which means the Ibarazakis will be taking my closest male companions out of consideration. But I have to try anyway—it is the brotherly way.

“Frankly, doctor-san, this patient is suffering from the debilitating disease known as sudden unexpected liberty. Perhaps a road trip of some sort might help. Would doctor-san be able to assist?”

He laughs so loudly that his assistants one floor up might be able to hear it. His eyes disappear in his broad grin. And then he opens his left eye widely as if to ask if I’m serious at all.

“Akio, you know I’d love to go off on that kind of excursion. We’ve not had one like that for… almost three years? That was after the wedding; you were gloomy, Meiko was helping them out by preparing their apartment before they got back from the honeymoon, we were both overdue for a break.”

“But…?”

Of course, I know what’s coming. He knows I know; we’ve known each other long enough for that kind of reciprocal knowledge. Gamely, he plays along.

“This year’s different; Meiko and I have decided to go for a cruise without the kids. Emi’s finally decided her mother can have some freedom too—I think that perhaps married life has changed our fiery athlete quite a bit.”

“Ah well, it was worth a try. Should Meiko somehow change her mind, do get in touch? Otherwise, I shall have to find other ways to diminish my degrees of freedom and reduce uncertainty in my life.”

“Of course, old trenchcoat. But remember, you’ve been alone for far too long. Go hang out with your alchemist friends at Todai or something like that!”

He clasps my left shoulder and gives me one of those half-embraces that gentlemen give when they’ve been brought up not to hug each other in public. I return it, wish him all the best, and leave.

Goro Kaneshiro is truly a gentleman. He’s not mentioned Michiko or my long-ago divorce, nor my only other friendship that could possibly help. But he’s given me permission, as only a brother can, to give it a try. My alchemist friends? One particular silver-haired alchemist, perhaps.

*****

But first, to the other wing of the building, and to the lair of Madam Principal. Of late, she has been uncomfortable with him, as if Hisao’s promotion has diminished him unfairly in her eyes, and she feels bad about that. He hopes that is not the case, since to him, it was eminently fair.

He wonders how to broach the subject. After all, she is family, even if she doesn’t know it. And he has always felt kindly towards her; he does not want to be cruel even by accident or in passing. It is this that is on his mind as he enters the general office, now also sparsely populated.

*****

“Hello, Shirakawa-san! Are you looking after our office all alone?”

“Oh! Mutou-sensei! You surprised me. How can I help you?”

Yamaku’s new office manager bows politely and then gives me a steady smile. I return the bow and the smile, and we exchange looks as well, like comrades who have fought in the same war.

Yuuko Shirakawa once juggled several jobs at once, including that of librarian at Yamaku, before earning a degree in European History. I’ve found that she’s gained a lot of confidence over all these years; if I’d surprised her in the past, she’d have dropped all the files she’s now carrying.

“How’re Kenji and the children? I just need a few moments with Madam Principal.”

“Heh, Kenji is as insane as ever, but that’s only what he says. He loves playing with the kids when he’s not on some project for TRDI. Masako is five and Koji is four; I’ve got them at a pre-primary institution for now, and they’re doing well. Ah, sorry! Too much about me, let me see if Shizune—I mean Hakamichi-san—is free.”

“No, no, take your time. Sorry to impose.”

Being gently courteous to Yuuko is a habit deeply ingrained. Getting her flustered used to be too easy, and not very helpful nor productive for anyone. I watch her bustle off round the corner with cheerful good purpose, still carrying her stack of files.

She’s back in no time at all, somehow empty-handed. She compensates for that by clasping her hands together.

“Mutou-san, sorry for the delay, our Principal says she would be delighted to see you. Let me show you in.”

“Ah, Yuuko, please do not let me take up any more of your time; I know my way around quite well, thank you.”

I smile at her again, just in case she worries about not providing adequate service, and slip past her quickly. She flaps a hand at me, but is otherwise not too obviously flustered. I’ve done this often enough.

I walk down the familiar old corridor to the large room at the end, on the left. I place my palm on the biometric scanner pad, which is the easiest way to announce my arrival. The door display lights up straight away, with my name in glowing green letters. I know that Shizune’s end of the display is said to show skin temperature and conductivity as well, but that might only be a legend.

Shizune’s avatar-voice says, “Enter.” I open the heavy door gently and step into the Principal’s office.

To my surprise, she’s already out from behind her desk. She takes a couple of steps and bows to me before I can deliver my share of courtesy. It’s disconcerting, because it’s not proper custom. As far as I can tell, my niece is a stickler for such things unless she’s found compelling reason to break the rules—at which point most people find her ruthless and direct.

I bow deeper to compensate, purposely losing my usual slouch for this reason. As we straighten up, I find her piercing gaze on me, even though this is softened somewhat by the crinkling of a smile. She falls quickly into sign; we’ve hardly ever used other means to communicate in the very long time we’ve known each other.

[Mutou-sensei. I was hoping you’d drop by, but I hear you have been busy teaching your apprentice how to be the boss. He tells me you are still a very effective teacher in that regard.]

[Ah, Hakamichi-sama. If I had known you wanted to see me, I would have come earlier. Thank you for the compliment. Would you be willing to call me Akio, as before?]

I am now technically one or two ranks lower in the school hierarchy than I used to be. I should, therefore, be much more polite than she. However, it’s not working out that way. I wonder why.

[Oh no, Mutou-san, I couldn’t. You can still call me Shizune, though. May I serve tea?]

[Thank you for your kindness, Shizune.]

This is not a typical conversation with Shizune the boss. It’s more like talking to a Shizune who is communicating in the sign-equivalent of Lilly Satou’s dialogue. Some days you get the boss, some days the boss gets you, Mutou. Just roll with it.

She motions me to a seat while she busies herself with the hot water. I am silent for a while, and we have a few relatively companionable moments as the tea ritual calms us down.

With the tea served, she sits down carefully and automatically adjusts her glasses. I can imagine her preparing to roll three red dice against me.

[My pleasure at your company is great. To what may I attribute this visit?]

[As you were saying, Hisao is learning very quickly how to put things in place. He was already handling his roles well, and he is conscientious about his new duties. If I may, your choice has turned out very well. I appreciate your leadership.]

She smiles uncomfortably. Again, that sense that she has something to say but doesn’t know how to say it. Well, that makes two of us. I shut up and wait, all the while hoping that I am not being a bad person towards her.

[Mutou-san, you have always been honest to me, a supportive friend and mentor. I am very grateful for that. But I sense, perhaps… that there are things you have wanted to tell me? And now I am your principal, it is possibly a harder thing to do?]

She is so tentative that I feel pained for her. This is Shizune being awkward. I try to keep my hands relaxed, keep to my usual slow and deliberate delivery.

[Actually, I was wondering… yes, we have known each other a long time… I hope I have done nothing to diminish our relationship?]

She is unmoving for a while, going so far as to put her cup down and place her hands flat on her desktop.

[No. Not at all. It’s just that…]

She sighs. In my mind, I will her to continue. I remember moments like this when she was a teenager. With Shizune, you have to wait her out.

[When Hisao and Emi were married, I realized that you had known them a long time. Also, many of our mutual friends.]

I am certainly surprised at this new angle. It is a truth, and a very obvious one, since I have taught most of them. I nod cautiously.

[Yes. It has been my privilege.]

[Something curious. You also seem to have known my cousin Akira for a long time, and very well. She sat with you at the wedding ceremony, not with us. And gave you two bottles of Scotch. So I spoke to her. Learnt a few things, but not enough.]

Twenty-four years is a long time to keep a secret. I will reach my half-century in thirty-five days’ time, and that is a watershed for any person. I look at her, my niece, my angry little Shizune who never knew I had become her mother’s brother-in-law. By rights, I was never really her uncle. But in some ways, I have been her godfather. Perhaps it is time to admit it.

It’s been minutes now. Shizune has that impatient look on her face, but she is keeping herself in check. She is… thirty-one, going on thirty-two. I cannot believe that I am hiding behind a wall of mathematics. And I am very fond of her, this Madam Principal of mine. Mutou, I chide myself, time for an executive decision.

[Shizune, yes, this disreputable person has been keeping secrets from you. I confess. I am sorry.]

[Why?]

Her sign is like the slashing-open of a wound. If that is the intent, it cuts deeply indeed. But the reason, if I must give it, it will hurt her more. And if I conceal the truth, it will be the greatest betrayal then. Mutou, all our yesterdays, for what?

[Your parents wished it.]

Or rather, Mayoi wished it, and Jigoro by then did not care. And so Michiko did not share her reclusive eldest sister with me, and I did not know.

[Why?]

The look on her face is anguish. I do not know who will cry first. It is like a bad scene from a Korean serial. Before I can speak again, before I can frame a reply, she is moving.

[Uncle, did you think I would not care to know? Did you think I would hate you? I only want to know why I had only Father for so many years.]

[I am sorry.]

I am defeated. The strength of one who keeps a secret is also the weakness of discovery. And worse, keeping such matters—of love and life, of blood and tears—from someone you have come to love dearly. Ahh… that is the worst thing of all.

I stand up, intending to bow. But she is already standing before me, both Madam Principal in her stern demeanour and my niece, Shizune, in her longing.

[Uncle, I forgive you. You owe me nothing, respected uncle, but you must tell me everything. Please.]

She clutches my hands, forces me to look her in the eyes. When she is sure she has seen whatever it is she is looking for, she lets go.

I have never seen [TELL ME] so eloquently signed before, and so despairingly.

There, in that room which now seems so small and dim, I tell her about the Satous and the Hakamichis and all that has been hidden. When it comes to Michiko and how our love began to fail, I see that Shizune understands, and she sorrows with me. That is what enables me to continue, onward, with trembling hands, through to the little grave of her unborn cousin beyond the dandelion field, and to the end of the life I had.

[Did he have a name?]

[We would have named him Haruki, for he was to have been born in Spring.]

It takes almost all I have left to give her that. But it is her right, and it is time.

[I will remember him with you, because he is my kin. All this, I will keep in my heart, and it remains secret.]

I do not remember all that we share. It has been hours when we finally go our separate ways, friends and relatives. But at the end of it, I feel as if I have awoken to a new life.

*****

No road trip, but no burdens either, I tell myself. I am Akio Mutou once more, whole. I am no longer the pale, boring shadow of a man who taught for many years with only rare flashes of enthusiasm and vigour.

It is late afternoon now. Under the weak spring sunshine, I finally drive away from Yamaku, from the shadow of Mount Aoba. Myths and legends—that's all we are. Do any of us live happily ever after?

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:44 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 6 up 20140508)

Post by brythain » Thu May 08, 2014 11:02 am

This is the sixth part of Mutou's arc from my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.
In the AtD continuity, it takes place in 2024, the year in which most of the arcs converge. It's probably best placed between this part of Lilly's story and this part of Hanako's story, and certainly precedes this.



Mutou 6: Hopes of Redemption (T +0)

Three years make a lot of difference, the neatly-dressed but somehow scruffy man thinks. He sits upright at the back of an outdoor congregation, a small assembly convened to return a friend and colleague to the fruitful earth. His large, lean hands clasp the silver eagle’s head of a stout black cane, almost invisible against his black suit. For today, he has left his usual trenchcoat at home.

His usual companions are absent. Goro Kaneshiro has a patient to attend to back at the hospital; Rika Katayama has chosen to meditate on her failings, although he is sure she is watching through one of her many remote devices. There is just too much absence, too much loss in the air around him. He is thankful for what little he has left, for there isn’t much more to lose.

*****

She has that knack of blindsiding me. I feel the physical movement before I see her, the way her body turns so that it reminds me of her aunt who was once my wife. I turn to my left a little, enough to acknowledge her arrival.

“Uncle,” she says softly, sitting down on my left. Her long, strong, bony fingers squeeze my arm, offering sympathy and compassion.

“Aki-chan,” I reply, staring ahead into the distance and not trusting myself to say more. I place my other hand on hers.

There are five rows of eight seats, approximately. They are broken into two blocks of four columns each, with a path between them leading to the coffin that holds my younger friend’s physical remains. Around me sit some of his students, friends and colleagues. There are many more who appreciated his life, and have come to mourn his death, but there is not enough space in this small clearing to accommodate them all.

Two rows in front of me, I see the darkly veiled blonde head of my second niece, Akira’s sister Lilly. She is dressed in the deep blue of midnight, her spine perfectly upright in her seat. I wonder how she will grieve. Today marks the final point in a relationship that ended seventeen years ago. I do not think I could bear to watch Michiko go into the ground, even though I have not seen her for many years.

She might not be the one who misses him the most, I think. His two closest friends from Todai are here too—Hanako, on Lilly’s left; and Shizune, my youngest niece, sitting alone far to the right. So many contrasts, so many untold stories. Right in front, Emi Ibarazaki sits still as a statue carved in black ice, widowed six years after I wished happiness on them both.

I hear Akira sigh softly and I squeeze her hand a bit.

“Uncle? This family, we’re all close to Hisao somehow. Shortie and me, his lawyers; Lils and Shizune, hopelessly in love with him at one time or another. Lils hasn’t seen him since she left the school, Shizune used to see him everyday. None of us thought we’d come to this. But here it is.”

“I’m sure Jigoro is taking it well,” I say, a pathetic attempt at humour.

“Heh.”

She squeezes back. We’ve always been friends, without a teacher-student relationship to get in the way—more like having a kid sister, now that I think about it. I guess that for someone who doesn’t know how we’re related, it would seem suspicious. Here, neither of us cares; I don’t think that has bothered us at any point, really. My brain throws in an old memory of how I once helped her smuggle alcohol into the school, much against my professional instincts.

*****

The service is over. I remember Lilly leaving early, in some emotional distress. Hideaki has disappeared after her, like a good bodyguard. Misha is hovering around somewhere. Hanako is still at the grave, even though the Ibarazakis have gone. Shizune greeted me briefly, a clasping of hands, an exchange of looks, a hug; she too has left.

It’s funny how decades of class management can prepare the mind to remember every coming and going, even on such occasions at the boundary between life and death. I realize that I’m sitting like an old hawk, my elbows on my knees, my chin resting on the folded steeple of my hands. Watching, watching. Remembering.

“Respected uncle, may your eldest niece invite you to have dinner with her?”

There’s something almost desolate about this quiet invitation. I turn to look at her. Is that desperation I see in those dark, dark eyes?

“Aki-chan? It would be my pleasure. You are showing great kindness to your old and lonely uncle.”

“Heh, it’s a kindness to me too, uncle. Maybe we’re all old, lonely people at times like this. I’ll drive. Pick you up at your place in a while at seven?”

We are only eleven years apart in age, a difference that indeed seems smaller as we grow older. I take her offered hand as we leave the place of departure and reenter the living world.

*****

Before dinner, I think of making two calls. The first would have been to my friend Goro, who would have wanted to be there, but was not. The idea of the hospital public address system saying, “Paging Dr Kaneshiro…” over and over again does not appeal. I will never forget hearing it before I reached Hisao’s deathbed, and knowing I was too late. I pause and decide to call the other person on my very short list.

Rika’s number sends me straight to voicemail, but before I can end the call in disappointment, she’s online. Her voice is quieter than usual.

“Mutou-san. How are you?”

“Katayama-san. Things are as well as they can be, I suppose. You were watching?”

“Yes. Hakamichi-sama gave an excellent speech, although her electronics still make her sound somewhat soulless.”

“Ah. I think she chose that voice because she does not like her electronics. And you, are you feeling better?”

“This undeserving person is feeling more normal. Although one’s friends may generously accept one’s failure, it is still galling. Misery is the order of the day.”

I can tell she means it. Rika of the silver hair, tall, thin, and serious—her research kept Hisao alive for two extra years, but that he died at all is what she considers failure.

“When you feel up to it, perhaps we can speak further. Tomorrow perhaps?”

“I will certainly let you know. I look forward to it. Good evening, Mutou-san.”

“Good evening, Rika.”

My world is changing. I feel the silent wings of time’s chariot, and I feel a fear of sinister footmen. I wash my face, close my eyes, and sit alone in my darkening apartment, waiting for the minutes to pass.

*****

Dinner is a quiet event, a strange intimacy between two not-so-old but fairly lonely people who happen to be relatives. Akira still drives with some sort of controlled insanity, but she’s more measured these days. I am surprised that she has changed into a black dress for dinner; having seldom had anything other than light meals with my niece, I’ve come to think of her in a business suit by default, with only occasional memories of something very casual for holidays.

“Do you like it? It seems appropriate for a serious meal with a serious uncle.”

“I think it’s beautiful, Aki-chan. I am seldom so blessed as to see you in such finery.”

She laughs, but not with her usual raucous mischief. It’s a Japanese laugh that she favours me with, together with the hand-over-mouth gesture.

“Thank you, respected uncle, for not mocking me. It’s one of the few outfits I’ve kept for special occasions. It’s an old dress, but comfortable.”

“The last person to have seen you in it must have been a very special person.”

She actually blushes. There is an awkward silence, which I quickly fill.

“Hmm, the wine list tonight seems especially fine.”

That gets her back onto safe ground, and the next few minutes are spent discussing the virtues of various vineyards in various countries. I am always interested in such matters, so I learn much, as usual, from our conversation. When Akira’s not deliberately being abrasive or provocative, she can be good company.

“Uncle, do you ever speak to Aunt Michiko?”

I’ve been blindsided again.

“No, not for maybe twelve years?”

“Dad once said that if I dressed and acted more like a lady, I’d resemble her quite a bit. But blonde, of course. What do you think?”

I wince. There is some familial resemblance, but Michiko’s facial features are more like Shizune’s. What Akira has is her frame and her body language, her muscular structure. Watching my niece move is painful to me, so I tend to focus on her face—on Akira above the collarbones, so to speak. What can I say?

“Your eyes are a lot like hers, the smouldering dark Satou eyes. All of you have those eyes except Lilly. If your hair turned chestnut-brown, and if your face were a little rounder, you’d look very much alike.”

“I’d look very much like Her Majesty, you mean.”

She sounds disappointed. I wonder why.

“No, no. Shizune doesn’t move like Michiko did, and her hair is like Hideaki’s—very Hakamichi-black, the kind that can easily be made to look blue.”

Akira grins. She seems as if she’s about to tell a joke, when our food arrives and the moment passes.

*****

Over a very good serving of tournedos with chanterelles and red wine, I catch her staring at me. Is she really looking sad, or is she only reflecting my own mood? Poor unhappy Uncle Akio, inflicting his unhappiness on the nearest potential victim.

I choose to smile at her.

“Aki-chan, you’re not eating. What’s up?”

“Heh. Was just thinking of a story from the past.”

“Do carry on.”

“It’s about the last time Lils and I really, really fought.”

An odd topic. But I say to myself, Mutou, you’re not very good at anticipating how these things turn out, best to just listen and look wise.

“When was that? And why?”

She wrinkles her nose at me, an action so unusual that I almost forget to put my little forkful of beef into my mouth.

“Quite a long time before Lils went to Yamaku. She was always a serious child. Or perhaps she wanted to be happy, but didn’t quite know how to manage it.”

She takes a deep breath.

“We fought because she said she wanted to grow up and marry you. And quite stupidly, I provoked her by telling her I’d get there first. She wound up shouting at me, and the whole neighbourhood heard us. Mother had to calm us down, and she was unhappy too. Dad was away of course, so I don’t think he ever heard about it.”

It’s my turn to feel uncomfortable.

“Years later, I’d just turned twenty-three, when I found out that you and Aunt Michiko were… parting ways. I felt so guilty for thinking what I thought then. Y’know, Lils cried about it? It was her second year at Yamaku when you were suddenly not quite her uncle anymore.”

“Ah. That’s very sad.”

These are memories that are not so pleasant for me either. It’s like opening an old wound and scraping it raw, and I’m not sure what to do about this.

“Then she found out that you’d be Shizune’s form teacher, not hers. She got on the phone with me and said bitter things. I had to point out that Shizune didn’t know about you. And all along, I was thinking how sad it would be for you if you knew. So yeah, sad.”

“All water under the bridge, Aki-chan. Forget it.”

I mean that.

“Uncle, are you happy? Do you have anyone to care about, to care for you?”

How can I answer her? I do not want to make a fool of either of us. I am filled with regret as I say what I think I must.

“Aki-chan, I’m not that sad. I care about my students. I have a few friends. If you drop by with one of your usual gifts, I will always cheerfully accept. You have a special place in my heart, eldest niece.”

A single tear runs down beside her nose. She quickly conceals it, and it disappears into her napkin.

“And you in mine, old man. Let’s get some dessert. Then we can talk about tomorrow, when Hideaki and I have to read that damned peculiar will of Hisao’s and you have to be its executor.”

*****

Months pass before I am certain about what I should do next. Twelve years ago, I received a simple business card with a name and a Hokkaido number on it. It remained at the bottom of the little lacquer box where I keep such things, and it takes me some time to retrieve it.

I tap it against my desk thoughtfully. It is hard to prepare for such things. You never know. In the end, I call that number.

“Hello?”

“Michiko?”

“Akio! What emergency is this?”

“Michi, I may be getting married. I would like your blessing and approval first.”

Part of me is delighted to hear the moment of stunned silence that follows. But this is a serious matter, and I must know what the woman I once loved has to say.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 7 up 20140509)

Post by brythain » Fri May 09, 2014 1:23 am

This is the seventh part of Mutou's arc from my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.
In the AtD continuity, it takes place in 2027 after the end of Rika's arc here.
It might be better to read this one first, though.



Mutou 7: Moments of Despair (T +3)

Propped up on one elbow, he looks at the woman he thinks of as his beautiful young wife, and his cares are gone. But not quite, because in all those cares is one that is not going away, and she knows it, and so does he. Five years ago, they met to think about death, and how it could be held at bay. Since then, they have continued to think, and to guard the wall between the worlds.

The moonlight falls across their room, turning everything into faint light. He blinks, because for a moment, it is as if she has disappeared from his field of vision. She stirs, making little grumbling noises in her sleep.

On impulse, he reaches out across the whiteness of her back, gently lays one ungainly hand upon her bony hip. “Mmmmm,” she says, from somewhere deep within. Not quite awake, she turns over slowly to face him. He holds his breath, waiting for that curious moment of uncertainty.

She’s like a statue, an anatomy of beauty carved out of finest marble, translucent, delicately veined. This is Rika Katayama, avenging angel, coming back to the world of the living. She opens her eyes, and the moonlight on her irises gleams red. “Mutou-san…” she says, as if confused, and then not. “Again, my husband?”

So formal, she is, even naked and disheveled. He would laugh, but he doesn’t dare break the stillness of the winter air. So he smiles, delighting in the moment, lifting careful fingers to what is not white, the darkness of her secrets.

*****

Going to work these days is a pleasure, but there are always the in-between moments, the lulls in which one falls into reverie, and is caught up by the net of memory and time. I have to drop Rika off at the station, where her commute to the University will take an hour. I remember when it used to take much longer.

We share a kiss, her breath mingling with mine in the sharp February chill. She pats me on the neck, her signal for ‘time to go to work’.

“See you later, Aki-kun. I’ll let you know if our plans must change.”

“Take care, Rika-chan.”

She leaves the car gracefully in one smooth motion, closes the door. She waves at me, her long silver braid coiled up neatly in her other hand. I wave back. Not for the first time in these few short years, I think ‘patrician’ is the best adjective I have ever learnt in English.

I watch her navy-blue suit disappear into the mundane swarm of humanity. It is almost as if a goddess is shedding her divinity. ‘The legendary Rika Katayama’, I’ve heard her call herself in jest. My students are in awe of her, not only because she is an outstanding alumna of the Yamaku Academy, but also because she is so obviously Mutou-sensei’s real boss.

I let out my breath, not quite in a sigh, and turn my wheel towards Mount Aoba.

*****

More than four hundred years ago, Masamune Datē fortified the mountain above Sendai and thus ensured his place in history. They called him the One-Eyed Dragon, and it was he who first sent a Japanese expedition around the world. He was a man far beyond the narrow limits of his times. The Dragon’s Lair, much diminished by time and disaster, has been built over with modern bricks and glass and steel. The school in which I teach now sprawls in and around the ruins.

We too seek to push beyond the limits of our times. I am reminded of this constantly, as I park in my usual undistinguished lot and climb the stairs, knees clicking and creaking, to the Admin Block.

“Good morning, Shirakawa-san! How are things?”

Yuuko grins up at me from behind her desk, stands up and bows at a scrupulously correct angle.

“Mutou-sensei, welcome to Yamaku! Things are fine. May you have a most excellent day! Shall I show you to Madam Principal’s office?

“Now I know you are joking, Yuuko. It’s been decades since I last got lost here.”

I smile at her. Over the years, she’s turned her natural shyness and anxiety into self-mockery, and then self-parody. Now it’s just her, being serious while doing stand-up comedy on the side.

“Go ahead, Mutou!”

I simulate the dusting-off of dust from my overcoat and saunter down the corridor to the end, where Datē’s spiritual heir has her own lair. The door slides open before I can submit to the retinal scan, and Shizune Hakamichi, already standing, signals for me to enter.

We exchange fairly informal bows as the door closes silently behind me, and she favours me with a warm smile.

[Hello, respected uncle.]

[Shizune. How goes the school?]

[Good. Since your second marriage, your teaching appraisals have scaled great heights. Clearly the school has benefited from this. Also, your long and valued experience is helping to keep things on track in the Science Department.]

There is a wicked grin on her face, but something else lurks behind those steady eyes. I often swear that this mountain breeds pain, but at the same time, I try to be optimistic. The problem she is skirting is that of Emi Ibarazaki.

[I am a happy man, boss. Emi will be fine. It’s been thirty months now, and I think she’s doing well as Head.]

[She may never fully recover. She is… grim, now. Still warm towards her students, still very passionate about her work. But she won’t really talk to me.]

Emi’s always been uncomfortable communicating with Shizune—even now, thirty years since they were students together in school. Emi doesn’t sign much, if at all, and she really dislikes Shizune’s electronic voice.

[She talks to me, sometimes. But I understand; she’s keeping things locked up inside and that’s not healthy. Perhaps I should have a word with Goro, and he can talk to Meiko about it?]

[That would be a kindness, my uncle.]

These days, she reminds me often that we are related. It touches me. I have not had much luck with family, and it is good to have some. Our occasional morning meetings began soon after she persuaded me to talk about my ex-wife Michiko, Shizune’s aunt. Now I check in at her office every morning, before classes start.

[Is there anything else I can do for you, Shizune?]

[Lunch later, uncle?]

[What will people say?]

I mime mocking disapproval. She sticks out the tip of her strawberry-pink tongue at me, the skin around her eyes crinkling in good humour.

[They will say I am torturing my poor hardworking Special Projects Officer, Senior Science Teacher, and General Dirty Work Supervisor. All at once.]

[Ah, yes, they would. See you later, my niece.]

We exchange comfortable bows again, and I head back to work. But first, a visit to the Healthcare Wing.

*****

“Old fox!”

“Eh, sensei, I should call you ‘old dog’, with your pretty young wife and all!”

Goro Kaneshiro’s eyes disappear into his grin, as they always have. The school’s Doctor and I have had a long working relationship, at least two decades of it now. The head of Yamaku’s Health Services Department has used his senior role as a physician at Miyagi General Hospital to good effect; we do trials on students who volunteer with their parents’ consent, and the better successes lead to enhanced patient outcomes at MGH. I act as the science advisor to Yamaku’s board now.

“Goro, it’s been a year and nine months already. Those jokes are getting old!”

“A good joke never gets old. But hey, I was going to call you over for a chat.”

His lips turn downward, and I feel a sense of foreboding.

“That doesn’t sound much like a joke.”

“No. I’ve finally finished looking through the blood-flow test results from Cardiology. Dr Yasuhiro, do you know him?”

“The name sounds familiar.”

Sounds like bad news, I think dazedly to myself. But Mutou dazed and Mutou alert used to look much the same in the old days, and so I’m able to keep my balance.

“Our patient has waived confidentiality and indicated that you’re next-of-kin.”

“Of course she has. Does she know?”

“Not yet, but she said to tell you if she wasn’t immediately available.”

He sighs deeply, puts down the pen that he’s twirling with one hand.

“Well, then, this is me, old friend, as coordinating physician. May I present the findings, prognosis, and treatment options for Ms Rika Katayama?”

*****

The walk back to the staff room is a lot longer than it has ever been. Each corridor looks unfamiliar to me now, each piece of abstract art a concealed threat, each doorway a harbour for a hidden plague. I stumble through the door on leaden legs, my heart like an iron weight.

I pause to catch my breath. I can hear the hissing as the air passes reluctantly through my nostrils on its way to keeping me alive. I can feel the chambers of my heart do their work. And I wonder what it will be like when one day they stop.

“Good morning, Mutou-san!”

“Hello, Emi.”

“What? No twinkle in the eye? No exclamation marks? Aw!”

“Emi, boss, we need to talk.”

I see her fall into gloom, as if someone’s just pulled the scaffolding of good cheer from the building of her face. In the old days, she’d have pouted. But those days were a very, very long time ago.

“What’s up, Mutou?”

She takes me by the arm and I do not resist. Heads of departments now get their own offices, and she pulls me along and into hers. As she closes the glass-paneled door behind her, I sit down heavily in one of her visitors’ chairs.

There’s no finesse left in me. Of all the people to talk to about this, why is it Emi Nakai? It makes what I have to say even more difficult.

“Talk, please. You’re scaring me!”

“It’s Rika. Kaneshiro-san says she’ll need a heart transplant by the end of this year. Chance of success less than thirty percent.”

There, I’ve said it. To the woman whose husband died from a failed heart implant, which was in turn designed by my wife. I look up wearily into Emi’s eyes. I’m too tired to chase the many expressions that run across Emi’s face. If I see anger, I will just close my eyelids and give up.

I don’t see anger, although I’m searching for it. What I see above all is compassion, and underneath it a deep, deep well of barely-concealed grief.

“Oh no, Mutou. Oh.”

She squeezes my shoulder. Please, Emi, I think to myself, don’t squeeze too hard. It will make the tears come out. Maybe for both of us.

*****

“Stop treating me like glass, Mutou-san. At least treat me like a tumbler and tumble me. If I’m going to go at any moment, I might as well go happy. You can get me both coming and going.”

That’s one long terrible joke. The Rika I’ve always known has changed, now that she knows exactly how little time she has left. It’s as if she has been storing the tiny shavings of her sense of humour for years, and now she’s made them into a single bar of soap.

I laugh, although it feels a bit strained. My wife is a very sensual person, although you would not expect it to look at her. Her body is lean and muscular like that of a gymnast. She has economical curves, as she once said to me; my reply was that perceived lack of supply can lead to greater demand. She practices iaijutsu in her spare time, and other mysterious arts. And she is also one of Japan’s leading nanobiologists.

She can be very insecure, for no reason as far as I’m concerned. I love her very much; I make sure I tell her that. But time is passing, and we know there is so little left. In fact, it’s like the final bit in a sandglass—it vanishes down the cincture much more rapidly than you expect.

*****

There is finally a day on which they wheel her into surgery. Her heart has finally spasmed into its final moments, a ruined muscle that was failing from the time she was born.

I am emptied out. There’s no Scotch left in the tumbler, only ice.

=====
prev | end




*****

Editor’s note:

I have had the privilege of editing Akio Mutou’s detailed, elegant, iconoclastic, sometimes sad, and occasionally very funny memoirs. This very short selection, taken from the more personal portions of his history, does not do justice to the man who quietly helped Shizune Hakamichi and your humble editor to steer the Nakai Foundation through the first years of its illustrious history.

For some reason, Mutou-sensei stopped writing after the last lines immediately above. It thus falls to me to outline for you, gentle readers, some of what followed, without which you might be left adrift.

Rika Katayama outlived her husband and went on to become the third Director of the Nakai Foundation. Her nanobiotech heart continues to function well, with regular upgrades coming online without disruption.

I remember looking at her across the boardroom table during my last board meeting, wondering how it might feel to outlive one’s spouse by so many years. As always, there was little expression on her face. But I noticed how she absent-mindedly kept fingering the plain grey band on her left hand. Some losses are never really forgotten.

Mutou himself left a series of private notes to almost everyone he’d known in life. They reminded me of his term reports, but much kinder and more profound. We laid him to rest in a hidden grove up on Mount Aoba as his will specified. The three graves there are under Hakamichi protection. I shall probably never know the whole story.

Thank you, dear readers, for following this humble editor’s efforts to present the life and work of a teacher who would otherwise not be known to humanity. All blessings, however you may construe them, be with you.


— HH, Andorra la Vella, 2064

=====

Rika Katayama and Akira Satou agreed to the publication, in 2034, of some other pieces from Mutou's meticulous memoirs.
One of these is Pavane, the story of the one relationship he never wished to talk about during his lifetime.
Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:46 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 4 up 20140507)

Post by inthewind » Sun May 11, 2014 3:57 am

brythain wrote:There’s a rented mini-orchestra on the other side of the grassy space, and it’s playing some Amarfi softly to set the mood—interesting, since I’ve never heard an orchestral version before.

Belatedly, ahahaha that's a great inclusion.

I really enjoy Mutou's voice, as it were.

This whole puzzle of a story feels like a set of Schrödinger's matryoshka; you don't know that you don't have the smallest until you gently seperate it and somehow even more comes out.

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Re: AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 4 up 20140507)

Post by brythain » Sun May 11, 2014 4:38 am

inthewind wrote:
brythain wrote:There’s a rented mini-orchestra on the other side of the grassy space, and it’s playing some Amarfi softly to set the mood—interesting, since I’ve never heard an orchestral version before.

Belatedly, ahahaha that's a great inclusion.

I really enjoy Mutou's voice, as it were.

This whole puzzle of a story feels like a set of Schrödinger's matryoshka; you don't know that you don't have the smallest until you gently seperate it and somehow even more comes out.
Thank you! That last line of yours is beautiful — 'Schrödinger's matryoshka' is a phrase I've never heard before but which is instantly gripping. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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AtD—Akira's Arc (Part 3 up 20140512)

Post by brythain » Sun May 11, 2014 11:50 pm

This is the third part of Akira Satou's arc from my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.
In that continuity, it takes place in 2018. It intersects Mutou's arc here and part of Emi's story here.
Caveat: Mutou's account of events and Akira's are parallel but have discrepancies. But one is more reliable than the other.



Akira 3: Wedding (T -6)

Nope. Absolutely not. Come on, if I’d never tell you about my own wedding, what makes you think I’d tell you about Lils’s wedding? Nah, just fooling around; neither of us ever got married. But today’s episode is about Emi Ibarazaki’s wedding. What? You want both the Ibarazaki weddings? Hey, I’m a lawyer. You know how much we can bill per hour?

Anyways, this is about all the story you’re going to get from me tonight, Southern Comfort or not. A few drinks won’t make me roll over and beg, y’know?

*****

This is me, Akira. I look at myself in the mirror briefly, then wave at the unfamiliar person in the severe dark red satin. Not half bad for someone hitting thirty-six, even if I do say so myself. Hideaki’s gone off early because he’s got work to do, as he puts it, and here I am, all alone and probably the better for it.

I put on a little lipstick. Let’s try for ‘you will be shocked when I drink your blood’ or something like that. What’s a girl to do, born blonde and half-Japanese? I always look like I’m some character from a particularly dirty visual novel. Okay, that’ll do, I tell myself as I almost think of going for blusher. My car’s got a better figure than I have, anyhow.

Thirty minutes later, I’m early to the event of the day, having forgotten how uncrowded Sendai streets are, relative to London or Tokyo. It’s a beautiful afternoon at Yamaku Academy, up on the hill. They’ve got the students to do the ushering, and these kids look happy. Unbelievable, right? Emi and Hisao must be really popular teachers.

A young lady in a formal green blazer is the last one in a chain of equally smiling young people, and she shows me into, well… some sort of natural amphitheatre, a field full of dandelions, with a few human beings spread out around its edge.

I don’t know what I’m doing here, really. Apart from some fondness for hapless Hisao Nakai, he who used to date my sister and failed epically, there aren’t many reasons for me to be at his wedding. Well, I used to be his lawyer, and I also have to deliver her regrets in person, so that’s something, I suppose.

“Hey, man. You look good in that tux. Even your hair is behaving itself, more or less.”

Hisao looks at me with an embarrassed grin. He also looks over my shoulder, as if hoping against hope to see someone else with me. No such luck, boyo.

“Akira, I’m happy to see you. May I introduce you to my parents?”

“Sure, as long as we’re clear that they know you’re marrying Emi, not me.”

A faint pinkness spreads around his face, but he laughs and we’re good. I accompany him across the dandelion field, to where the older Nakais are sitting.

“Dad, Mum, please meet one of my friends.”

They look up, all ready to be welcoming and nice.

“This is my friend Satou-san, who used to handle my legal matters. She's Hideaki’s cousin.”

They’ve been chatting with Shortie (well, Hideaki’s not short at all now, but old nicknames never die), who’s Hisao’s best man, so I guess they might already know something about that. He looks up too, slow as always, and gives me a 'microwave' by wiggling a finger, and all of them stand up.

Nakai Senior looks a lot like Hisao, but with the beginnings of a middle-aged spread and a much more cheerful expression. Slightly greying, but generally pleasant to look at. Mrs Nakai is lean and willowy, looks a bit like Emi’s mother, but less curvy. Her brown hair is done up in an elaborate style, clearly not something she does everyday. She gives me an interested look, as if sizing up my relationship with her son. What the hell, ma’am, I think happily to myself, do I look that hot?

I give them my most exact bow, which isn’t much, but is normally good for most people of that generation. Then we get into the mutual bowing exercise that’s a Japanese greeting.

“Satou-san, pleased to meet you,” Mr Nakai burbles. “I’m always appreciative that Hisao has made so many good friends in his short time at Yamaku.”

My, my, I think to myself, can it be that you think I’m my sister? That explains Mrs Nakai’s intense curiosity.

“Ah, Hisao actually first made friends with Akira’s younger sister Lilly at Yamaku. They were very close; it’s sad that she is not able to be with us today.”

Shortie, ever the spoilsport. It’s amusing to see all three Nakais’ expressions right now. They look like ‘there are two?’, ‘wrong one, how disappointing’ and ‘this is not the right time to bring that up, Hideaki!’

“Pleased to meet you both! Hisao has told me so much about how supportive you have been.”

Or not. Now that I think about it, Hisao was actually fairly unhappy with his parents for a few years. Only recently have I been hearing good things. Ah, that’s me, Akira Katharine Anderson Satou, metaphorically deaf and blind. Probably an unreliable narrator too.

The senior Nakais beam at me, Hisao gives a pained grin, unsure as to whether I’ve saved him or stuck a knife in him, and I smile back demurely with clasped hands. I can even be more ladylike than Lils if I want.

“This person greatly regrets that her younger sister is unable to celebrate Hisao and Emi’s glorious occasion. Sincere apologies are offered, together with her best wishes and this humble gift.”

The parents nod, but it’s Mrs N who gets in first this time.

“No, no, we greatly appreciate your presence, Satou-san. It is a pity that your sister was not able to be here; we had heard so much about her that it seems a terrible shame not to have the opportunity to meet her in person.”

Hisao’s father nods solemnly, a twinkle in his eye. Hisao looks as if he cannot believe this is happening to him. Hideaki is looking elsewhere, but he recovers in time to help Hisao stash Lils’s artfully-wrapped tea set and cash envelope wherever the best man is supposed to stash the loot.

I sense first, rather than see, my other cousin step into the arena. Madam Principal exudes an aura of firm leadership, whether or not you like that kind of thing. The students go silent in the background, and I make my apologies and vanish because I have someone else to see, and a heavy item to deliver.

Around us, the amphitheatre is coming to life. The school band ( perhaps the school ensemble orchestra—I’m never sure what to call these things) are tuning their instruments. Maybe it’s a modern piece and it just sounds like instruments being tuned. I chase such messy thoughts out of my head and focus on the task at hand.

Ah, there they are: my disreputable-looking but ruggedly handsome old uncle and his equally shady but professionally expert buddy. Those two guys belong on a balcony heckling the performers down on the stage below, I swear. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good company.

“Hello, respected uncle!” I say, sliding neatly into the seat on his left. He looks a little startled.

“I have a gift for you, which you can always share with the gossipy curmudgeon on your right. Two bottles of the twelve-year Glenlivet, one from me and one from Lils. She says she misses you, yet stays in Edinburgh to run the business. Silly girl.”

Akio Mutou allows a charming grin to sneak across his ‘I am a science teacher, don’t mess with me’ face. His partner in crime, the chief medical officer at Yamaku, one Goro Kaneshiro, has the ‘you have a sexy niece, Mutou-san’ look on his face. But he’s always leering at everybody just for the heck of it anyway.

“Hello, Aki-chan. You’re my favourite niece, you know. I would appreciate any gift from you.”

He’s such a dear man. I’ve always felt comfortable with him; it’s not his fault my aunt left him, and it’s not his fault that her sister, Aunt Mayoi, never wanted her family brought into our family mess. I can feel myself blushing slightly.

“Aw, that’s nice. I bet you tell all the others the same thing.”

The look on his face says that he might be slightly offended at the idea, so I make a little joke of it.

“And I bet you’ve got a soft spot for my cousin the Principal too, uncle.”

He gives his little Mutou half-grin and puts his hand up next to his mouth: “Shhh, that’s a secret, Aki-chan.”

I whisper in reply: “Nooo, what could possibly be a secret? I’m sure your medical friend over there knows, and it’s possible Madam Principal guesses too.”

The old fox leans over. “Akira Satou, whispering is just plain rude! Mutou-san here must be proud of his beautiful nieces. But you’re forgiven, since you make him a lot less gloomy.”

I laugh. Yeah, my uncle is the melancholic sort. The fox chuckles, and my uncle smiles resignedly at both of us. He waves a wedding programme at me.

“Where’s Hideaki? I’ve not seen Shizune’s brother for years, even though he’s supposedly Hisao’s lawyer now. Isn’t he the best man too?”

Oh dear. Can it really be that uncle’s not seen Hideaki for so long? He probably thinks of the old Shortie, the cross-dressing weirdo with the puppy-dog eyes and encyclopaedic mouth. How to break it to him?

“Respected uncle, your humble niece begs you to look over there where Hisao’s relatives and friends are seated. That big man isn’t Uncle Jigoro.”

Mutou follows the line of my hand with his eyes. He squints into the distance and then gives a start. He raises an eyebrow at me.

“That’s Hideaki? God, the boy has grown large!”

I mutter a few more things about Hideaki before Kaneshiro interrupts us to point out the ceremony’s about to begin.

The ‘Chariots of Fire’ theme is almost as old as I am, it’s a classic. Very appropriate for the prettiest pitbull in all creation, I think. I give myself a smack in the head for thinking inappropriate thoughts. But the visual highlight I get right now is that of Rin Tezuka, all fiery in the afternoon sun, somehow carrying a bouquet in front of her that’s all purple-blue and gold. How on earth did they… probably with the same stuff that holds up a not-really-strapless bra.

Emi’s entrance is stunning too. She’s wearing her new legs, and she really glides over the ground, very stately, more battleship than pitbull. I smack myself in the head again. They’ve found a gown that really flows over her like a white-cream version of Rin’s bridesmaid outfit. Both of them have their hair braided nicely, in one of those French fashions that I haven’t got the patience for. Come on Akira, admit it, they’re beautiful, and so is this setting.

My two respected senior companions appear to be listening for something. I wonder what it might be. Then they’re whispering at each other. I look at Goro Kaneshiro, but he’s already turned away.

That’s when I look at my dear uncle carefully. He’s sitting up ramrod straight, almost as if he’s looking through Emi and into the forest beyond. His faraway look makes him seem like a depressed old hawk. Scratch that—a VERY depressed old hawk.

Emi reaches the end of her path, where Hisao and Hideaki are standing. She puts her arm in Hisao’s for a while, and Hideaki returns to his seat next to Hisao’s parents. Rin sits next to Meiko Ibarazaki, leaving the couple alone in front.

The words of the service aren’t completely traditional, but they’re good words, and I feel that funny sensation of wanting something that I won’t ever have. Old girl, no point brooding now. You had it, you lost it, you aren’t ever getting it back—suck it up and leave it.

I wonder about Uncle Akio. How does it feel to have a deep, passionate relationship and then wake up one morning not having it at all? He’s too nice a guy to just spend his remaining years all alone. I feel sad for him.

As Emi and Hisao make their vows, I see his eyes grow damp. They exchange rings, and I see a tear roll down his face. I feel like offering him a tissue, but I don’t want to break his moment. Everyone’s got a right to their own sadness.

I think of him and Aunt Michiko, pretty and hot-headed and… Damn. My uncle must be feeling a resemblance between that couple up there and his own failed marriage. What a miserable thought to have during a wedding! Maybe, I tell myself, I should take him out for dinner after this. Akira, girl, you just might be able to make one person less sad today—even if that’s not yourself.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon May 15, 2017 12:53 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: AtD—Akira's Arc (Part 3 up 20140512)

Post by dewelar » Mon May 12, 2014 10:32 am

Thinking about what you said in JohnnyTruant's thread about Emi being vanilla...I find it interesting that Akira seems to be the most vanilla of the characters in this story. I'm not saying it isn't appropriate, because it is, I'm just making a note of it :) .

However, I mostly had to post because of this line:
brythain wrote:He looks up too, slow as always, and gives me a microwave
No no no, Hideaki, I know you like Akira and all, but bringing presents to a wedding for someone other than the happy couple is bad form!
Rin is orthogonal to everything.
Stuff I've written: Developments, a continuation of Lilly's (bad? neutral?) ending - COMPLETE!

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