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

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brythain
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Re: After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira Triptych (Complete)

Post by brythain » Sun Aug 17, 2014 11:49 pm

YutoTheOrc wrote:Akira!!! How I wish I could have shared a nice glass of whisky with you, mayhap in the life after death. Once again excellent arc, you portrayed her quite well. I particularly enjoyed the fact that she liked Mutou in a woman-to-man kind of way;very nice touch. Puppeteer, I'm going to refill my glass and then I shall visit your humble library once again. :D
I'm glad you liked it; Akira is one of my favourite characters in KS. It was very hard to write this, towards the end. It was as if Akira was saying, "No more, at least let people remember me the way I was before I got old."
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—Rika/Mutou/Akira Triptych (Complete)

Post by YutoTheOrc » Mon Aug 18, 2014 12:49 am

Nobody likes getting old, Ha. Well, I just finished good 'ol Mutou's arc. Poor chap, felt bad for him at the beginning. I kept have a crawling feel at the back of my head that maybe his ex-wife was different then she played herself off. I had a hint that she was more sad and depressed than Mutou was about the infant's untimely demise. I feel as if she took blame upon herself for the fragile x-chromosome. She didn't blame Mutou's work, merely herself. Yet, whenever she looked at Mutou, all she could see was her own faults, her failure to provide life to their son; that or my whisky has been getting to me :lol: . Really enjoyed Mutou, his friendship with Goro was something to last the ages! Next up is Miki Miura! :D

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Re: After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira Triptych (Complete)

Post by brythain » Mon Aug 18, 2014 1:41 am

YutoTheOrc wrote:Nobody likes getting old, Ha. Well, I just finished good 'ol Mutou's arc. Poor chap, felt bad for him at the beginning. I kept have a crawling feel at the back of my head that maybe his ex-wife was different then she played herself off. I had a hint that she was more sad and depressed than Mutou was about the infant's untimely demise. I feel as if she took blame upon herself for the fragile x-chromosome. She didn't blame Mutou's work, merely herself. Yet, whenever she looked at Mutou, all she could see was her own faults, her failure to provide life to their son; that or my whisky has been getting to me :lol: . Really enjoyed Mutou, his friendship with Goro was something to last the ages! Next up is Miki Miura! :D
That's a very interesting interpretation, considering that I deliberately left Michiko mysterious. :) I think you're probably right!
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—Rika/Mutou/Akira Triptych (Complete)

Post by YutoTheOrc » Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:33 am

Oh god, what a time to have a heart attack Rika! I was reading Rika's arc when a daunting question appeared in my mind. Well, if the bad Satou gene is on the x-chromosone. Mutou's male child died because he had it, but the girls were born with disabilities. What about Hideaki, if I'm not mistaken his mother was a Satou and his father was A hakamichi. What's going on here -_-?

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Re: After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira Triptych (Complete)

Post by brythain » Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:18 am

YutoTheOrc wrote:Oh god, what a time to have a heart attack Rika! I was reading Rika's arc when a daunting question appeared in my mind. Well, if the bad Satou gene is on the x-chromosone. Mutou's male child died because he had it, but the girls were born with disabilities. What about Hideaki, if I'm not mistaken his mother was a Satou and his father was A hakamichi. What's going on here -_-?
Because you have a 50/50 chance of getting the Satou fragile-X from that generation of Satou women, who also have a non-Satou X. So Hideaki is healthy because he has Jigoro's Y and Mayoi's other X. Shizune has Jigoro's X and Mayoi's fragile-X. More information about the fragile-X syndrome can be found here: LINK.
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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Interlude (20140824)

Post by brythain » Sat Aug 23, 2014 1:54 pm

I look up from my work, suddenly realising it's only been six months since I entered these forums on 24 Feb 2014. And there they are, a tall thin lady with a characteristic silver braid; and another one, blonde, with a typically aggressive but rather sweet presence. I am at first a little perturbed when Rika Katayama decides she will tell this interlude in her own words, but one doesn't argue with the Sword of the Mountain. So, dear Rika, go ahead.

=====

“When did he write all this?” she asks, her fading blondeness reminding me of that actress, Jamie Lee Curtis. She sounds a little agitated, or perhaps incredulous.

“Most esteemed... friend, Mutou-san kept memoirs. All those notebooks over there are part of the past he had before this unworthy person came back to haunt him in 2012.” Your editor has always had trouble deciding how to refer to Akira Satou, who is some years older and yet is junior to this one’s late husband.

“And these?” she says, stabbing a dramatic hand in the direction of another, smaller group of black notebooks.

“Those are his notes after 2012. It was not this one’s doing. Something happened in-between his time with that colleague of his and the first personal meeting this one had with him.”

Akira’s look is pensive, unusually so. “I think I know what it was. It was the year someone else returned to Japan.”

“Ah, that explains matters considerably, to this ignorant one. He made notes about that.” Your editor has, of course, seen her late husband’s description of the last dinner he had with his ex-wife, a most charming lady that this one has had the privilege of knowing and interviewing.


=====

"Is that all?" I ask Rika as she absent-mindedly coils and uncoils her long silver braid.

"Oh no, not at all, author-san. It is just that I am considering whether it would be wise to allow those six thousand words to flood your forum. It would not do your reputation much good, I fear. My husband's extensive memoirs are possibly longer than Kenji's, and perhaps better written, but they are full of obscure references."

"Katayama-san, at this point, this unworthy author has nothing to lose. I shall leave the disposition of Mutou-san's memoirs to you."

"I'll have a bit to say about that!" interjects her friend.

"Yes, Akira," I grin. "You always do."
Last edited by brythain on Thu Oct 23, 2014 2:16 am, 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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Mutou: Pavane — from his memoirs

Post by brythain » Sun Aug 24, 2014 3:24 am

Dear readers, this piece has come to me from the editorial assembly committee that you too have come to know and appreciate, if not love. In the interlude preceding this piece, you may find the motive force behind its publication. It appears to be a collection of episodes spanning the years 2006-2011, and finding an epilogue some time in 2016. Dedicated explorers might want to match the events with those found in other accounts, or in Mutou's own. Other than that, I shall hand you over to the inestimable 'R', who presents the following:

Mutou: Pavane

He was a very tired man, sometimes. This part of his life began in 2006, when his old life fell apart and only the school was left. How does one shape a story within the larger story, that spans ten years in fits and starts? He himself called it a ‘pavane’. Your editor looked the word up, and found it to be a medieval dance, slow and dignified.

This undistinguished person will tell that story for him, because he wanted it told. It gives me pain at this distance, because I would have wanted to comfort him, had I known all of this then. But I am only his editor, and this service of mine comes too late. So, from his own mouth, and with my understanding of the man, please accept these small fragments, bits taken from his many notebooks, pieced together with what little talent I have.


=====

I wake and it’s the day after the 2006 Spring Equinox, when winter’s hold on reality goes, and life is free again. But this morning I wake to a cold bed, because my bird has flown, and all warmth has gone with it.

“Michiko?” I whisper, looking up at the ceiling, not daring to look elsewhere. But the room’s emptiness mocks me. “Ko… ko… ko…” it echoes, in the silence of my head.

It’s been three weeks since the papers were officially filed and our marriage died across a scratched and battered government table. Settlements are simple in Japan. Her grief, my grief, a potent recipe for giving up at last. It hadn’t been more than three months since…

I get out of bed, my mouth thick from wasted whisky. I move across the smooth-worn wooden floor, to the window, to roll up the blinds and look out. It’s a very clear day, and I can see the mountainside from here. A beautiful day, the cool breeze drying the old tears on my face.

I don’t have to go into school, because the holidays are here. Another group of students has graduated; I will miss burly Nishida and shy Aikawa, practical Kugizaki and mad little Hirata. Every year I miss students, but the feeling goes away after a while. They have their own lives to lead. Why burden them with my own?

But I have work to do, I always have work to do. A good gardener visits his garden every day. Even if there is nothing in it worth seeing. You never know.

*****

I should have known it would be a mistake. It’s because of this damned place—my little desk, my class records, my student files—that I have lost the loveliest flower of Japan. Who names a woman ‘Beautiful Intellect’ unless they want her to attract the gaze of a stricken science teacher? Fate grants, and Fate removes. I cannot put my thoughts together. What use am I now, then?

On the day of the Spring Equinox, we Japanese sometimes go home to visit our families, renew ancestral ties, clean the graves and grave markers of our familial dead. This year, I’ve not bothered. Okinawa is too far for a drowning man, and my parents, already aghast at me marrying above my station, are now bitter in their mockery. Two families I could have had, and neither one is mine now.

“Mutou-san?” a soft voice inquires. “Still working?”

It’s one of those damn things. Rei Miyagi is my counterpart, the humanities coordinator for Third Year. Her career has shadowed mine, or mine hers. We’re like a dog and a cat of the same colour.

She’s a pretty girl, but that’s not what I need right now. Because when I look at her, I see a small thin faded version of my beautiful Michiko, whose chestnut hair filled the air with heat. Miyagi is nothing like that. The vision passes. Poor Miyagi. Poor me.

“Miyagi-san, sorry. Not working, really. Just putting things in order before I go away.”

That’s a half-lie. I don’t know where I’m going, or even if I’m going away. I am even thinking of dropping by the medical centre, to see if Kaneshiro is in. The new Chief Nurse has somehow become a drinking buddy. If it weren’t for this, how else would we cope with our daily burden of care?

“Ah, may you have a pleasant holiday. See you again when the new term begins!”

“You too, esteemed colleague.”

She smiles, dimpling. As she turns on her sensible heels, her black hair sways like a curtain. A last nod, then she gathers an armful of items, and leaves. In the shadows of the staff room, I suddenly feel empty. There’s no life in me.

*****

“You should get a girlfriend!” says my older friend. As usual, he dispenses advice in a way that makes it hard to tell if he’s joking or not. “It does wonders for your love life!”

The man’s such a teenager, even though he’s entered his fourth decade. Well-preserved. Looks younger, sometimes, than his once-in-a-while on-again-off-again lady. Looks younger than I do, most days. I envy him. He has the ability to laugh anything off, while being serious and professional inside.

My treacherous memory attacks. I can hear Michi saying, her cheeks burning with pale fire, “Yes, it’s always professionalism with you, isn’t it? You’re always better than others, a model teacher. I think you love your job more than you love me.” It wasn’t true, but I didn’t show her that till everything was broken and it was too late.

“So how about it?” Goro Kaneshiro asks. “Want me to ask Meiko, fix something up for you? She has a lot of pretty friends!”

“Hey!” I blurt out. “It’s too soon. Please.”

He looks at me, assessing, thinking. “Mutou, you’re right. It is too soon. My apologies. I had to know. I’m your friend, right?”

“Forgiven,” I say curtly. I’m tired, and I don’t have enough to keep being polite and human. “I’m sorry. It’ll take time.”

*****

Another day, another pile of marking. I can’t stand my job. So much for the young and stupid Mutou who wanted to be the best teacher in Japan. “Screw it,” I mutter to myself.

There’s the soft but awkward clearing of a young throat. I look up. Short black hair, tinted blue. Trendy glasses, titanium frames. I quickly stack papers and stand up as she bows. I bow back.

[Greetings, Mutou-sensei. I trust you are in good health?]

Still so formal, she is. Less angry, these days, but very driven to succeed. I remember having a terrible conversation with her father over the phone. Damn the man, he should be more encouraging of his daughter’s ambitions.

[Ah, Shizune. What can I do for you?]

[Now it’s second year. I want to run for Student Council President. Your advice is always much appreciated, respected teacher.]

I think she only calls me that because I was the first one to talk to her when she first arrived at Yamaku. I look at her with a sinking sensation. Of course she wants to do this. And of course, her rival would be my ex-wife’s niece, who has already asked me this question in her own polite, soft-spoken way.

I shake my head, lost in my own thoughts, and then suddenly realize that Shizune is watching me do this with a look of betrayal on her face. [No, no, I was shaking my head over some other matters. This old teacher apologizes for giving the wrong impression. I think you should do it. Your father would be proud of you.]

[He would just say it is an achievement but not a great one. Then say how much greater he was when he was doing that kind of thing.]

It is indeed possible to convey bitterness without speech. I try to convey encouragement without bias: [I am proud of all my students when they try to overcome their difficulties. I am happy when they succeed. My advice to you is to value people. To try to work with them.]

[What if they don’t want to work with me?]

This is stupid. In the jut of her determined chin, the set of her jaw, I momentarily glimpse a memory of Michiko. Why would that be? Am I going insane?

[Then you look at yourself, and you look at them, and you try again. Go for it.]

[Thank you, Mutou-sensei.]

[You are most welcome, Shizune.]

*****

A year later, after a minor promotion. A stormy and far too long meeting of academic heads, during which Arts Head Nomiya literally gets spitting mad and walks off. Our acting Vice-Principal, Mathematics Head Iwata, takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes tiredly. He gives an apologetic smile before getting up, bowing, and trundling off. We haven’t had a Foreign Languages Head for a year now, and Miyagi’s covering that as well as Humanities. Principal Yamamoto is off in a corner having stiff words with Japanese Language and Literature Head Koyanagi.

I have a headache. I open one weary eye to see Miyagi looking at me. “Mutou? Perhaps something to eat? You need to keep your spirits up.”

She has always seemed kind. But in her there’s a kind of steeliness that I cannot quite understand. At this time, though, I’m not thinking of that. I’m hungry, and the room is freezing cold in January.

“Ah, that is a good suggestion,” I decide. “May I perhaps have the honour of buying dinner?”

She smiles very slightly. She has one dimple. The asymmetry does not displease me as much as I would have thought. Because she is lean, she looks tall in her formal attire, but she is actually only about Shizune Hakamichi’s size. Except that she is perhaps in her early thirties, a career professional looking tired after a hard day’s work.

“I am honoured to accept.”

*****

We’ve had dinner a few times now, and I’m quite aware of the rumours floating around the staff room. One old carcass teaching literature to the First Years saw us having a meal and sniffed about it to Koyanagi, who ‘expressed his concerns’ to the Boss. So here I am, in the Principal’s room.

Yamamoto stares at me thoughtfully after we’ve gone through the formalities and sit down. I wonder if he is related to the wartime general of that name—huge bullet head, slightly paunchy, the feel of an honorable man who doesn’t want to do what he’s about to do.

I respect him for that. I haven’t been myself for a few months now, and perhaps I’m not the Science Head he expected me to be. I wait for the blow, the transfer suggestion, the replacement of my responsibilities with something less strenuous.

Instead… “Mutou, let me be blunt. I keep you because you’re smart. So do smart things. Get cracking on the new curriculum. Takamori couldn’t do it, you can. And if you are more than friends with any other senior colleagues, I don’t want to know about it in a bad way. We’re still Japanese, not English.”

He sighs deeply, places his hands on the table instead of waving them around as he’s been doing for the last minute or so. “Maybe you need to get married again. I don’t know. If you need to talk, come here. We talk. Okay? Everyone has bad times.”

I nod, dumbly.

“I care for my people. Not so good at talking, me. After you get out of my office, look sad, as if I scolded you. Then go talk to your… friend, because I’m not good with pretty girls. My wife and daughters hate my guts.”

He rises, waits for me to stand, dismisses me with a nod and a grunt. I feel grateful, but also a bit sad for him.

*****

It’s the first time she’s come home with me. I feel tense, anxious like a teenager. We’ve been discussing life, school, the arts, the sciences, tradition, myth, and our students. The list seems to get longer each time.

I wait for her to take off her shoes and don slippers. Almost sick with fear of the unknown, I escort her into my cold apartment, turn the lights on. It’s relatively neat, because my papers and books are all in the unused second bedroom.

“Thank you for the invitation, Akio. Hmm, you seem to be a good housekeeper, esteemed colleague.”

She still teases me that way. A formal touch, an informal joke. Her black hair falls down the nape of her neck now, covers her shoulders when she’s not tied it up. I don’t think she’s cut it shorter for months.

“Do take a seat, Rei. Let me pour you a drink.”

She nods, gracefully moves towards the sofa and very naturally curls her feet under her as she sits down—exactly where Michi used to sit. It sends butterflies through me. I quickly turn away, look for the Uigeadail that my elder niece smuggled over in January. The name and its flavour remind me of my companion—dark and mysterious, with hidden richness.

“With ice?”

“Just a little, not too much.”

The cubes clink in the tumblers. There isn’t much of this bottle left. On other nights in the past, I’d have saved some for the nieces. I apologise silently to them, wherever they are.

Rei looks curiously at me, as if I’ve said something. I’m quite sure I haven’t. But she turns a little and says, “It’s not my place to ask, so I apologise if I am at fault: what was she like?”

I follow her gaze. Damn, I’d locked the wedding photos up and hidden the rest away, didn’t want to look at them. But there’s one left on my spare working desk, near the big screen. It’s the one taken when we went skiing with Lilly and Akira in Hokkaido, almost a decade ago, now. In the frame, it’s still 1998: Akira is gawky, Lilly is chubby, and we are… happy.

“She was a beautiful woman, Rei,” I say. Sorrow is numbing me, and I am unable to censor my words. “I loved her very much. And then I lost her.”

“Your daughters?”

Right, all dressed up for the slopes, you can’t see their faces. Rei would recognize the top English student at Yamaku, otherwise. Even then, you could see those determined features, the look of a girl who can’t see but still wants to risk her life going quickly down a mountain. As long as her uncle is with her, she says, the memory coming alive in my mind.

“No, my… our nieces. A long time ago.”

I’m frowning, my nose blocked up as I blink angrily. I didn’t want to remember.

“Oh… I didn’t want to make you sad. I’m sorry. Old griefs, best left alone.”

“It’s okay.” We’re very private people, in Japan. Very few people know I’m... divorced. It’s an ugly, shameful word to me. Rei probably thinks Michi is dead. Sometimes, it feels that way. I heard that Lilly wept when she heard the news; Akira’s eyes were wet when she told me that. A favourite aunt, a favourite uncle—torn apart.

“I do feel bad. Perhaps it’s a good idea if you show me to the station?” Her skirt rustles briefly as she uncurls her slender feet.

No. Why is that a good idea? “No, no. Please let this unworthy person drive you home. I respectfully insist.”

“I respectfully accept. Thank you, Mutou, for a lovely evening.” Her dark hair flutters a little, like the wing of a sleepy raven.

I feel the moment slip from my grasp. And then it hits me. Up on Mount Aoba, where the little grave is hidden, is the reason why there can’t be another Michiko. At least, not for a long while.

“I’m sorry, Miyagi, very sorry.” She nods, an unfathomable expression on her face. We’ll remain colleagues, and nothing more.

Later that night, I find a message from AKA.Satou: [Dearest Uncle, if you need company, I’ll be dropping in this weekend. Aunt is fine. Love, AK. 2 Mar 07.] She knows it’s been a year, and that I’d want to know about Michi. There’s a reason she’s my favourite niece, I guess.

*****

“Bowling? You cannot be serious.”

It’s the first day of June in 2007. Fifteen months since I began my journey into the wilderness. They say that support networks are important, that the loss of a child, the loss of a spouse, these are important stressors. My network is thin, pathetically so. Miyagi and I still talk, but the barriers have gone up.

I haven’t shaved for a week. Yamamoto looked at my face this morning, shook his head, moved off in a different direction heavily and sadly like a ship leaving port. My mind is going, as the computer said in one of my favourite old films. That terrifies me.

“Of course I’m serious, trenchcoat-san. Meiko and I can’t keep going out on dates by ourselves! It embarrasses Emi! Come along. It’ll be fun, and we can drink that American root beer and eat hot dogs!”

Oh. It’s that bowling alley. My friend the Chief Nurse has rather unrefined tastes. I’m surprised his girlfriend puts up with him. Then again, she has an interesting sense of humour too.

“Sorry. I have a niece to entertain. She drops by every few months.”

“Aha! That’s a clever scam, you crafty fellow. That short-haired blonde is your niece? What a story!”

“You’ve seen Akira?” My surprise betrays me and creates confusion.

“It’s a nephew? I saw him one day when I was driving past your apartment. He seems rather feminine, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

It’s a common mistake, because my elder niece has a name that’s most often masculine in Japanese.

“No. She’s certainly female. Her sister is in 3-2 this year, Satou the class representative.”

“Ahhhh… silly, I should have made the connection. Bring her along, I’m sure a young lady her age is a good bowler. Bring them both along! And your other niece too!”

I’m not getting sense out of him. The words don’t quite fit.

“I shouldn’t be bringing a minor to such a place.” Too late, I realize he’s got access to the medical records. Lilly’s already eighteen.

“Ha! Even the youngest one isn’t a minor anymore. Hakamichi turned 18 in May, you terrible liar!”

Hakamichi? Shizune? What on earth? “What are you saying?”

“You cannot conceal such things from the Chief Nurse, the man responsible for providing for their healthcare needs, you know!”

I cannot conceal my puzzlement. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He frowns. “That’s not funny. Your ex-wife’s sister is Shizune Hakamichi’s mother, and you don’t know it?”

Bloody hell. Which sister? A pit has opened up at my feet. I didn’t know. Couldn’t have known. Besides, I know Shizune’s parents are divorced…

Lightning has struck twice in the same family. Oh, poor Shizune.

“No,” I whisper. “I didn’t know, and Shizune’s not to know I’m her uncle, if she doesn’t already know. They kept it from me for a reason, I’m sure.”

The look on his face would be something to enjoy, if I were in the mood. But I turn away as I say, “Fine. Let’s do bowling.”

Meiko and Akira get along well. Lilly is a surprisingly good bowler, it turns out. She hears the ball rolling, and even keeps score by sound alone. I suppose with hearing like that she can hear a pin drop. She and Akira take turns, doing about as well.

As for Shizune… many years later, I still occasionally mull over the sad fact that I never got to go bowling with my youngest niece.

*****

A few days later, I meet Hisao Nakai for the first time. I get his name wrong in class. But when I look at him, I see the fleeting reflection of a skinny but keen student from Okinawa. My first thought is: may he have a happier life.

He spends only nine months in Yamaku. He makes friends. But amongst all the many individual tragedies I hardly talk about, one of the saddest is this: that he falls in love with my niece Lilly, and she with him, and then she goes away. It is a matter that lasts perhaps three months; it will be a romance that is to last seventeen years.

The only person I ever really discuss it with is Akira. It’s a few months into 2008, and she happens to be in town on her birthday.

“Why couldn’t she just visit, Aki-chan? It’s ridiculous. Your family can afford first-class air travel every week, if necessary. What happened?”

My eldest niece, twenty-six years of age this day, looks at me over the rim of her whisky tumbler. “She’s a Satou girl, you know. We don’t give up. But if we let go, we don’t go back.”

After two years, it still feels like a slap. “Of course,” I say. Bitter, bitter.

She stirs, sits up a little straighter. “Aunt Michi never let you go, respected uncle. I think she blamed herself.”

“Ha. No, no. It was my fault. I’m not so proud I won’t admit it.”

Akira sighs, shifts a little within the shapeless old pullover she’s wearing. “Well, Lils loves you, uncle. It’s just that you’re Hisao’s mentor, and she believes that Hisao’s moved on. Or that he ought to. For her, it’s either life together or not—she doesn’t want to be flying in and out all the time. For me, it’s a bit different; I’ve never felt at home anywhere.”

“My dear niece, I’m sure you’ll find someone to make a home with.”

“It’s the curse of the Satous, uncle.” She downs the last dregs of her drink, carefully puts her glass down and looks into it. “If anywhere’s home these days, it’s your little apartment in Sendai, once or twice a year, not that monstrosity in Inverness.”

“You honour me, Aki-chan.” I mean it. Perhaps it’s also because she’s really my last link to her aunt, apart from our secret place up on the mountain. “You could always stay over in Saitama, surely.”

She looks up in surprise. “You know?”

“Yes.”

“Aunt Mayoi forbade the family from mentioning her relationship to outsiders. It’s made for much confusion, especially since Shizune and Hideaki look nothing like us.”

“And I suppose I’ve always been an outsider.”

She moves slightly closer, rests her right hand on my shoulder. “Uncle, it happened before you and Aunt Michi got married. Almost a decade before. I helped babysit Hideaki—Shizune’s kid brother, remember him? Never got along that well with Aunt Mayoi’s husband, though. He was clearly in the wrong, and he knew it.”

“Not for me to know, niece. After all, if it never was part of my life, it’s never going to be, best leave it alone.”

“Shizune’s very lonely, uncle. For a couple of years she at least had Lils, but it was hard, and then they had that fight, and then there was Nakai. You know what? She looks up to you, and she doesn’t even know you’re our uncle.”

“Well, I was her form teacher. Doesn’t say very much.”

“She used to fight her classmates, fight her father. But she told me you taught her to fight wisely, be a better person, be useful.”

“I did? I don’t remember. And maybe it’s best she never knows I’m her uncle.”

Akira swings one denim-clad leg over the other, prods me gently in the calf with her left big toe. A mischievous grin spreads over her face. “You’d be her favourite uncle. Hell, you’ve always been our favourite uncle too. Not that we’ve had much choice.”

“Best not,” I say, although it pains me. Somehow, I manage to smile back. “Best not. And you’re my favourite niece, so we’re even. Come, you need to get to the airport in time. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks, uncle. Try not to be lonely? Please? Or else I’ll have to keep flying back to Sendai!”

We laugh, but there’s a sting in the tail of that scorpion.

*****

“Hello, Mutou-san, Kaneshiro-san. A sad day, it’s been.”

“Hello, Miyagi-san,” Goro and I chorus softly, a little out of sync. It’s indeed been a sad day, which explains our formality. The crowd has yet to disperse after Saki Enomoto’s funeral. She was well-loved, by both staff and students; many tears have been shed, and some are still flowing.

In Osaka, it’s March 2009. The cherry blossoms are already falling. Her grave is littered with them. The school year has ended, but for Saki, all the years have gone, all at once. It has us depressed, each in a slightly different way.

“I’ll leave you both to it,” says Goro, quick as ever. “I’ve got a flight to catch, but only to Tokyo.”

“No, no, do let me give you a ride to the airport. Kansai or Itami?” Miyagi asks.

“Itami, but only if it’s really no trouble!”

“No trouble at all, colleague. It’s been hard on all of us, why make it harder?”

“You drove down?” I’m surprised; it’s a great distance, and the drive via Niigata can take twelve hours if you’re unlucky.

“Yes. I suppose I needed some time to myself, and there wasn’t anyone else in school when I left. You flew in?”

“With Nurse-san here, yes. Although I had no idea he wasn’t heading straight back to Sendai.”

“Well, after dropping him off, if you would like to accompany me back to Sendai, it would be appreciated. By the time I drive back, it will be long after midnight.” She looks seriously at both of us, not joking at all.

Oh. What the hell, I think. Goro Kaneshiro strikes again; he’s looking very pleased with himself. Although he might’ve had nothing to do with it.

“Ah, in that case, I can hardly refuse. Not that I would want to,” I add hastily. “Thank you very much for the kind offer.”

“Thanks!” echoes Goro. Later, as we drop him off at Itami, he adds, “And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, children! Ha, kidding, that’s what I tell all the students when they’re off on a long journey in mixed groups!”

We can see the sun set as we crawl along the coast later, heading up to Niigata. It’s been a relatively quiet, reflective journey. I am glad she’s left me mostly alone with my thoughts, and so I am startled when she interrupts.

“If it’s not an inconvenience, Mutou, we’ll take a break at Niigata. There are a couple of things I need to do, and we can do with a rest. Stretch our legs, do the needful…” She risks a quick sidelong look at me.

“Ah, yes, of course,” I reply, unable to think of anything else to say. The sun gleams gold on her face and hair, a corona of dying light. She smiles briefly, already turning her attention back to the road. A quick signal, and she decelerates smoothly leftward towards the next ramp.

There’s a little park in the gathering dusk. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to find it again, if I were to return. As we get out, she points silently to a service area, then says, “I’ll be a while. Please wait for me here if I’m not back by the time you’re done.”

“Do you need company, Miyagi?”

“Not at this time. Thank you.” She smiles again, but it’s a formality; something melancholy cloaks her expression, an almost desperate seriousness at the corners of her eyes. She tucks some stray dark hair behind the fine pale edge of her ear before walking away.

It’s deep evening by the time we swing onto the expressway east of Niigata to Iwaki. I’ve taken over at the wheel, glad to be of service. Miyagi sits silently, her navy-blue coat neatly buttoned and her hands folded on her lap.

“Mutou?”

“Mmm?” I spare some attention from the monotonous grind of driving safely on an expressway.

“My apologies in advance. May I take the liberty of asking a somewhat personal question?”

“You’d have to call me Akio to do that,” I jest weakly. In truth, we’re both pretty tired, and I’m not sure my mind is up to handling personal questions.

“It’s been a while,” she notes. “Let’s be Akio and Rei for at least the rest of this journey?”

Indeed. We’ve not used first names since she visited my apartment more than two years ago. Since then, we’ve been friendly colleagues, nothing more. Perhaps in another world we might have been lovers, if there had been a chance of love. But not in this one, of all the many. I glance at her, wandering what I’ll see.

She looks… hopeful? Could that be it? I don’t know. I’ve not looked at a woman’s emotions for a very long time. I think maybe I’ve nearly lost that ability.

“Rei…” Her name sounds awkward on my tongue, somehow. “Ah, what was the original question?”

“How does it feel, Akio, to have lost someone? Even if that was a long time ago?”

I ease my foot slightly off the accelerator. It’s good to slow things down when your mind is distracted. Or your heart. Michiko and I parted three years ago, but that wound has not healed well. To answer such a question is to court pain.

Carefully, slowly, I reply. “It doesn’t go away quickly. It still hurts, but not so frequently. And sometimes, with sudden intensity. Unexpected. Like at several moments today. Like… now.” With detached interest, I note my knuckles are white on the wheel.

“Oh! I’m… sorry to have hurt you.”

“No, it’s more like I hurt myself and it hasn’t healed.”

She shifts in her seat, and I can sense her looking at me even while I gaze straight ahead, watching traffic, anticipating movement, pretending that such things matter. At the back of my mind, I’m wondering what it’s like in Scotland.

“You… hurt yourself?”

“Forget it. Maybe I have expressed myself carelessly.” It feels somehow rude to say such a thing. Clumsily, I continue. “Have you lost someone too?”

If I could take my hands off the wheel and punch myself, I would. Maybe Goro will do it for me next time I see him. Stupid, Mutou, not tactful at all. But she answers anyway.

“Akio? My husband died eight years ago. We’d graduated, we got married, we had just a few months left but I didn’t know it. One day, he just went to Aokigahara… It’s why I moved from Niigata to Sendai.”

A bomb has dropped somewhere in central Japan. I feel blinded, as if my own sorrow has prevented me from seeing that of others. Am I so bad at seeing things? Was I always so useless?

“I… I’m sorry to hear that.” If Michi had died, I think it would have been much worse for me, no matter what. Then I realize that perhaps Rei still thinks my wife is dead. Could she not have discovered the truth by now? Maybe not.

“My… Michiko and I were divorced three years ago,” I say quietly, in the dim cabin of her car, across the narrow space that is so wide between us. It is a shameful thing to admit. But now I owe Rei something because she has revealed part of her own story. “I think it was mostly my fault.”

“Oh.” She struggles with words, doesn’t seem to find the right ones. From the corner of my eye, I see her hands move, as if trying to frame something that cannot be framed. Then she lets them drop. “Thank you for answering. I shouldn’t have asked. My earlier apologies, they are not enough.”

I want to say that it’s all right, but I can’t. It isn’t. And yet, it feels better that I’ve shared this with Miyagi. Rei, I correct myself. I find myself saying, “Maybe another time, when we both feel less tired. Thank you for being a friend.”

We look ahead into the night, as the lighting begins to change and the Tohoku expressway winds towards Mount Aoba. It’s early Sunday morning in Sendai.

*****

Our relationship has suddenly become something from a Kurosawa film, like a courtship between two very traditional and slightly terrified young nobles. Each night, I wake around 2 am. There’s a moment of disorientation, sometimes fear. I’m thinking to myself that if I ever love again, that too will be taken from me.

One night, I text her: [Rei, I miss you.] I sink back into bed, cursing myself for stupidity; 2.30 am, who’s awake except pathetic Akio Mutou?

[Miss you too. See you later.] — and just like that, I find it easier to sleep.

Is it a love affair, Mutou? That is what my professional self asks my emotional self. We can’t have that. She’s your fellow department head, the other heads will respect you less, and it’s not the right thing to do in a school.

But we can, if we’re discreet. Which we are, we think. That’s what lovers always think. They think if they leave school in separate cars, if they only meet outside the city, if they never do things obviously in public areas or the school, nobody will ever know. It takes a year for us to learn that this is never true.

*****

Maybe we should get married. And that is the most terrifying possibility of all, because she tells me that she never thought she could love again, and I tell her the same thing, and we look at each other, fearful that it might be true. Truth and fear, fear and truth—it is like some dance in the middle of some fairy-tale palace, after which something horrible comes to light.

This, says Yamamoto-san, is the only solution. Not in so many words, of course, although he is capable of that. Rather, he is uncomfortable about the whole thing, he praises our loyalty, our ability, our professionalism… before coming back again to this point about appearances. We’re Japanese—appearances are important. We’re teachers—it is doubly so.

It’s in that frame of mind, at the start of the 2010 school year, that I look down at a small girl, faintly reminiscent of my youngest niece—glasses, short hair that is brown but not midnight black, slightly scruffy. She looks anxious, sad, almost on the verge of panic. “Hello,” I say, “Can I help you? What’s your name?”

For some reason, she’s come to see me and I have no idea why. “Errm… Mutou-sensei?” She tells me her family name and that I taught her brother. Her own personal name is Sachiko.

“Oh? That young man! Yes, you do look a bit like him. Sachiko, did you say? What is it that’s on your mind?” I keep my smile bright, although my heart is sinking—will this young lady be as difficult as her notorious brother?—and my mind is elsewhere.

“I’m… I wouldn’t... Mutou-sensei, I don’t get along well with my classmates. Nobody wants to talk to me. I feel lonely.”

She is a lot like Shizune, but much more verbal, of course. I feel a bit of pity for her. In retrospect, it was the wrong thing to feel. I should have felt concerned.

“You’ll be fine. You seem a lot more presentable than your brother! How is he, anyway? And welcome to Yamaku.”

She gives me a pained little smile, stutters some courtesies and tells me a bit about her brother. I need to talk to Rei. The young lady seems to need to go somewhere else too, so what’s left of the conversation is perfunctory, very short.

I can’t remember how many days passed. Then there were sirens in the night, and in the morning, a covered body and a distant grave. Mutou, I say bitterly to myself, where was your professionalism? You could have helped her. Talked to her, taken her seriously, the way you did with Shizune. What people think of you is one thing; what you should do for your students is another. I remember Enomoto saying this: “We do what we can, with what we have.” And damn it all, that’s exactly what I’ve not done. What can I do now?

When the answer comes, it’s again about professionalism, but from a different direction. “Yamamoto-san told me that he wants me to replace Iwata as Acting Vice-Principal,” she says, as we sip tea on a cold November day.

“That’s great! You deserve it!” I smile, meaning every bit of that. Iwata’s being promoted to Acting Principal in another school.

“It’s only nominal. I’ll still be Head of Humanities. But…” she looks lost, suddenly.

“But? Surely you’re not thinking of turning it down? You’re more than capable!”

“Akio, the principal says that I’ll be on probation for a year. And I’m not to have anything to do with you, because it really wouldn’t be professional at all.”

With some alarm, I watch as tears well up in her eyes. She’s not one to weep easily; Rei Miyagi is as tough as they come. “What is it?” I ask, wondering.

“He started telling me about all the things people have been saying about us, the reports they bring to him. He said that he can’t have a VP who isn’t respected as a professional. And he sounded so beaten when he told me, that I couldn’t be angry with him. I wanted to tell him off for being such a sexist. Then he said that he’d told you something like that too.”

She swallows, and somehow, her eyes remain wet but do not overflow. “I’m still angry with him. But he’s right. His second choice for VP is you. You should take the job, and maybe we’re just not fated to marry someone else again.”

Oh gods. That’s stupid. I… we… There aren’t words to describe such feelings. In what other country would this be an issue? I don’t know. I’m only a simple Okinawa boy who had dreams too big for his skull. There are days that one regrets being Japanese, perhaps. It’s hard for an outsider to see how one remains Japanese despite that.

There’s time for one last kiss. And it is, indeed, the last. In the end, we’ve found ourselves. I’ve always been a teacher, and I have never stopped loving the people I’ve loved. She’s always wanted to make things work better, and she’s never forgotten the memory of things past.

Somewhere, despite the longing and the bitterness and pain, two people have helped each other discover life again. The short time we’ve had together has given us an unexpected reward: the strength to go our different ways alone.

*****

When Akio Mutou sees his vice-principal in the corridors of the school, they always greet each other warmly. Although they’re not as cool as quirky Nakai and fearsome Ibarazaki, students appreciate their friendly demeanour, their obvious concern for those under their care. They are professionals, the students decide, who know each other well. Rumour has it that… but nobody has ever seen such a thing.

The news comes on a day late in 2016. Vice-Principal Miyagi will be posted to Niigata to head a new school. She is well-liked—the assembled students happily line up to wish her well and offer their thanks and blessings. Nobody cares if for a moment, she seems to hold Mutou-sensei’s hand just a bit more carefully, just a bit longer. He’s the last one in the queue, after all. When she returns his bow and steps back, it’s like a signal for everyone else to clap, cheer, and say goodbye.

=====

Editor’s Note:

I have undertaken to obtain some form of agreement with the various surviving participants of these events as to what can decently be presented. However, any poverty of style and content is entirely my fault. I would like to express my gratitude for the kind assistance and encouragement of Shizune Hakamichi, Meiko Ibarazaki, Hanako Ikezawa, Goro Kaneshiro, Rei Miyagi, Akira and Lilly Anderson Satou, Michiko Satou, and as always, my late husband.

— R., Noda Research Institute, 2034.

=====
index | end
Last edited by brythain on Fri Mar 11, 2016 4:33 am, edited 12 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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YutoTheOrc
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Re: After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira (Complete; upd 20140824

Post by YutoTheOrc » Fri Aug 29, 2014 9:07 am

Damn, well...I think you just punched my heart again :/. A great addition to Mutou's Tale, really liked his fling with Miyagi though! Sad, how it ended though.

Sachiko! Oh gosh, Sachiko. Whenever I see Kenji in game now I remember her :(

Really liked the new addition, only one small spelling error, but other than that phenomenal job as always! :D
brythain wrote:connexion
Should be connection.

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Re: After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira (Complete; upd 20140824

Post by brythain » Fri Aug 29, 2014 10:28 am

YutoTheOrc wrote:Damn, well...I think you just punched my heart again :/. A great addition to Mutou's Tale, really liked his fling with Miyagi though! Sad, how it ended though.

Sachiko! Oh gosh, Sachiko. Whenever I see Kenji in game now I remember her :(

Really liked the new addition, only one small spelling error, but other than that phenomenal job as always! :D
brythain wrote:connexion
Should be connection.
Ah sorry, used to old Brit spelling. Glad you liked this piece! It's been sitting around a long time in my files, and only recently was I allowed to release it. :)
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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Gamma
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Re: After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira (Complete; upd 20140824

Post by Gamma » Tue Nov 18, 2014 1:24 am

And... Now I'm completely caught up with everything in the After the Dream universe.

Damn.

I really like being able to consume good fiction. As soon as I find something that's awesome I have to put everything else I'm doing down and experience as much of that world as possible. Only problem about fan fiction is that the all the ones I've liked are still ongoing. So I always manage to catch up to everything in a couple of days and then have to wait a couple of weeks between updates. The contrast between not having to wait and having to wait is agonizing to someone as impatient as me. I guess the way I'm so impatient for any updates shows how much I still look forward to reading more, which is always a good thing. Even if it doesn't always feel like a good thing.

I managed to read the bulk of After the Dream in one thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I took a day's break to process everything before I read the last remaining part, Mutou's memoirs. Like anything written or about your interpretation of Mutou I thoroughly enjoyed his perspective and narration in this piece. I'd hoped that somewhere along the line I'd get to see a decrease in his melancholy but considering how drastic the consequences of his personal failings became I can gain a broad understand of his sadness. Especially with the whole deal about Sachiko. Unfortunately us humans can't stay at our top game constantly, and we can't always understand when we need to be at our best. This sometimes leads to avoidable but tragic consequences. Mutou's reminder about this topic was especially harsh.

Anyways, like with nearly all of your works I thoroughly enjoyed reading the last of my backlog. So far you've had a pretty prolific writing pace, and I'd love to see you keep that up. For my impatience's sake at least, though I'm fine waiting as long as I have to if the quality of your work stays the same.

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Re: After the Dream—Rika/Mutou/Akira (Complete; upd 20140824

Post by brythain » Tue Nov 18, 2014 3:05 pm

Gamma wrote:I managed to read the bulk of After the Dream in one thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I took a day's break to process everything before I read the last remaining part, Mutou's memoirs. Like anything written or about your interpretation of Mutou I thoroughly enjoyed his perspective and narration in this piece. I'd hoped that somewhere along the line I'd get to see a decrease in his melancholy but considering how drastic the consequences of his personal failings became I can gain a broad understand of his sadness. Especially with the whole deal about Sachiko. Unfortunately us humans can't stay at our top game constantly, and we can't always understand when we need to be at our best. This sometimes leads to avoidable but tragic consequences. Mutou's reminder about this topic was especially harsh.
I'm glad that Mutou made sense to you. Of all the characters, he's the one I empathise with the most. What you've said about consequences is unfortunately very true.
Anyways, like with nearly all of your works I thoroughly enjoyed reading the last of my backlog. So far you've had a pretty prolific writing pace, and I'd love to see you keep that up. For my impatience's sake at least, though I'm fine waiting as long as I have to if the quality of your work stays the same.
I am blessed with a reasonably fluent writing ability, and I can only hope it lasts. Let's see how things turn out. Thanks very much again! :)
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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Rika—Strings (Update 20150331)

Post by brythain » Tue Mar 31, 2015 12:58 pm

WARNING: SPOILERS — probably best if read only after the three main arcs in this thread

We all grow old together, but Rika Katayama least of all. She has the advantage of always having had white hair, we joke when we meet these days, if we meet at all. But few at this end of the century know that the Ghost of Noda was once married, to a man who never wanted to be a hero and yet was someone we all respected. Even fewer know how accomplished a writer she could be. It is with Madam Katayama’s kind consent that I present this long-hidden piece, written fifty years ago. [N., Osaka, 2077.]


Rika: Strings (2027)

This person for some time has resisted the publication of this minor recollection from her married life. It has somehow seemed impious and slightly disrespectful to the memory of her husband. And yet, on the other hand, one thinks of him and sees him shaking his head, only too happy to be impious or disrespectful as the occasion demanded. And so, also somewhat persuaded by this editor’s own editor, here is something that others may remember him by. One should not be so selfish as to hide such treasures for oneself, as one’s fierce old friend has said.

So here is Rika Katayama, writing originally for her own pleasure. If the tone is inept or impolite, accept her apologies. If you hear her husband’s words sounding as if she had scripted them, blame her inability to imitate him. She had honestly never intended that others should read such material. Please trust that she accepts whatever criticism comes with public notoriety, and would like to make amends.
[R., Niigata, 2077]

=====

I am sitting in the little apartment near the school, still recovering from my minor surgery. I have had a change of heart, as one of my friends jested. I itch to return to the comfortable hum and odd scents of my laboratory, but my husband is conservative in at least one sense and has indicated a preference for keeping me at home at least for one more week.

So here I am, pottering around the kitchen, answering my communications, writing short paper notes for a future self to remember, and tidying up a house that is normally very neat, but has messy little corners. The huge built-in cupboard space in the spare room is one of those, and if we are ever to have children, it should be cleaned up. Not that such a thing is on our minds these days, of course.

And that is how I come upon the violin case. My first thought: I never knew. My second thought: is this what every second wife thinks when she finds out what her husband used to be like? The thought fills me with sadness for his sadness.

“Mutou?” I whisper softly. I have the gift of making softness hard, my husband has told me.

“Coming!” I hear him mutter frantically as he leaps through a doorway that has fortunately no solid door to impede his movement. “Are you all right, Rika?”

“Very much so, husband. I have… perhaps, just a question to ask?”

“Ask away!” he says, glad that nothing more severe has befallen me. “Ask…” and then he sees the case I have in my lap, and continues rather lamely, “… oh, that.”

“The violin, my husband?” I am not being accusatory. I am being merely curious, a trait which both of us, as scientists, have in common. It is a request for more data, and he understands this—I think.

“Ah. It was a very long time ago, Rika.”

“Mutou-chan,” I say, sounding rather childish because I am bored to tears by being cooped up in the apartment for so long, “I have plenty of time to listen to old stories.”

He gives me a pleading look, but I am not a soft little girl even though I can force myself to behave like one. I am Rika of the Katayamas, and he can see it on my face. There will be no mercy, not to the lovely man who has kept me stuck in this place for weeks.

And suddenly, I do not feel so sure. I am a second wife, but I have heard the rumours, and I know that he has certainly loved others before me, and it is all rather difficult and painful. I feel indecisive, undecided; all too late, because he has made up his mind—I see it on his face. I coil my long silver braid in my left hand, and he smiles sadly at me.

So I make myself comfortable as he sits beside me and tells me—everything.

*****

“My dear wife,” he begins—and it touches me, “I was once a shy student from Okinawa, who had won a scholarship. But scholarships then could be stingy, and my love of books was too great.”

There are few books in our apartment, but I know my husband is suspiciously well-read. So many mysteries, in such a straightforward man. He even has the knack of sometimes apparently reading my mind.

“There’s little mystery there. I had only one marketable skill.”

I cannot resist interjecting: “Only one, husband?”

He gives me that maddening mischievous look and continues. “I could play the piano, I had taught myself to play popular songs and some classics. So that is how I financed my life—I played in various establishments that required a pianist.”

This, I have not known. I show him my best ‘I am displeased at not knowing this sooner’ look, and he grimaces in acknowledgement before picking up the thread.

“I should confess that this was how I met Michiko. She was a bored and very intelligent young lady who was unhappy with university life. Somehow, she was taking courses in both economics and biology, she loved reading books on jurisprudence, and she felt that the teaching was insufficient in all areas. I noticed her after some weeks, a pretty girl who would listen to my playing but never request a tune.”

I have seen photographs of his first wife, and she is far more beautiful and shapely than I am. But I have no jealousy in me for all that. I do not have negative feelings towards her, because that is all in the past. Yet, I feel a pang of loss. What he describes is a time—I do the arithmetic silently—when I was only a baby; it is a time that I will never experience for myself.

“One day, I plucked up the courage to ask her if she liked the music. I was heartbroken when she looked me in the eye and said, ‘I prefer the violin, myself.’ It was then that I began to sell some of my books. I also played more frequently and for longer hours. Eventually, I saved enough to buy that violin.”

He looks regretfully, tenderly at the case. I do not know much about the making of such instruments, although I have some musical skills of my own. But it seems like a very well-made piece. He sold his books for it, I wonder to myself. On impulse, I offer it to him, but he moves his hands away, as if in fear.

“In the early years of our marriage, I played that violin to her quite often. She liked Rachmaninoff.”

His voice seems softer. I realize that this is because I feel sadder. My tears are threatening to overcome the barriers of my eyelids.

“Don’t be sad, Rika. All that is in the past.” He uses my own thoughts, but he misses the point. I acknowledge the chronological distance. I am sad because he is sad, not because I grieve or am unhappy.

“Does my beloved husband have any other talents of this nature?” I ask, giving him the opportunity to come clean and perhaps enjoy catharsis. I am not prepared for what he says next.

“Were there rumours about me, perhaps about my love-life, when you were at Yamaku?”

“Er… well, it was suspected that Mutou-sensei was…”

“Say whatever you want to say. You are my wife, and I love you, and this has been true for some years now.”

It seems so petty, now. But he has asked me to speak, and I should. So I say what is on my mind: “It was suspected that he had some fondness for Miyagi-sensei, who was senior humanities teacher.” It really sounds as if someone else’s voice has said this, from a great distance away. Yet, it is I who have spoken it.

My husband looks me in the eye, his expression one of love and pain together. “This, Rika, was true. We were very close at times.”

“Why did you not marry her?” Now, these words come from my lips before I can curb my rudeness. They sound terribly harsh to me; they sound like a judgement, and Akio flinches from their jagged edges.

“It was never the right time for either of us. You will also remember that shortly after you graduated, she became vice-principal. If there were chances before that, they became very slim. Some years later, she left to become a principal elsewhere.”

The person that I am pursues everything once I have its scent. I do not want to refresh his old aches, nor make new ones. But I have to ask this: “Do you still keep in touch?”

It is a silly question. I have seen the brief greetings on cards sent once a year, perhaps twice. They have never seemed overly affectionate. Yet, he hesitates before he replies, and then he says, “There was a cello, once. She liked it but I was never any good at it. I donated it to the school music room when she was gone.”

In an attempt to lighten our grey spirits, I ask, “And did she have a favourite composer too?”

I can tell that he does not know whether to smile or frown, so I try to show him warmth. I am very bad at that, but I place my hand gently on his arm. He seems to draw strength from it, and I am pleasantly surprised when he holds it and moves it to a place over his heart.

“She liked English composers. I cannot remember all their names. But we parted amicably. You know we exchange cards sometimes, the way old friends do?”

I nod, not trusting myself for more. He is encouraged by that. “That is all we are now, but it is also acknowledgement that at a difficult time, we helped each other survive as teachers.”

“I understand, Mutou-san, my husband.” And I do. I have taxed him so much today, opened up the ancient stores of personal memory. I have so little history to share with him, because I have not lived so long—or so much.

With great care, he takes the violin, in its worn old case, from me. Tenderly, he places it high up on the storage shelves. “Who knows?” he says awkwardly, “Perhaps one day there will be a little girl or boy who wants to play that thing.”

I take him into my arms, loving him too much to say anything that will deny such a hope. “That would be nice,” I say, meaning every bit of it.

*****

Postscript

Some years later, I had the honour of meeting my husband’s first wife. She was indeed beautiful; next to me, she was like summer before winter. I offered the violin to her, and at first, she declined. “I have received much from him, and you should have the rest,” she said.

It was then that I told her what he had told me. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but nothing came out. A single tear, almost like a diamond, fell from her left eye before she could restrain it. “I… do not play the violin,” she said quietly. “Neither do I have anyone left who will play it for me. But I will display it in his memory.”

=====
index | end
Last edited by brythain on Fri Sep 23, 2016 5:03 am, 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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HipsterJoe
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Re: AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 7 up 20140509)

Post by HipsterJoe » Thu Apr 16, 2015 2:30 am

Decided to stop lurking and give props to the amazing authors on this board. You sir have the distinction of pulling me into this rabbit hole. I really enjoy this universe you've created and that reading each arc adds new pieces and connections.
brythain wrote: “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.”
This line was one of my favorites in the whole piece. I mean it's clever, lewd word play, what's not to like? Giving it to Rika seemed a little strange, but you lampshaded it in the next line, so I guess you realized as well.

Keep up the great work, and I look forward to reading more of your writing!

PS: Has anyone ever told you that you are the ATLUS of KS because I'm convinced you must feed off tears.

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brythain
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Re: AtD—Mutou's Arc (Part 7 up 20140509)

Post by brythain » Thu Apr 16, 2015 12:15 pm

HipsterJoe wrote:Decided to stop lurking and give props to the amazing authors on this board. You sir have the distinction of pulling me into this rabbit hole. I really enjoy this universe you've created and that reading each arc adds new pieces and connections.
... [snip]
Keep up the great work, and I look forward to reading more of your writing!

PS: Has anyone ever told you that you are the ATLUS of KS because I'm convinced you must feed off tears.
You're very welcome! I think those two had a very intense and yet delicate relationship. I'm thankful for your enjoyment, and may you enjoy anything else you read here (even if there are some sad moments)!
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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brythain
Posts: 3478
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
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Interlude (20151116)

Post by brythain » Mon Nov 16, 2015 6:30 am

Out of the corner of my tired left eye, I catch the periodic movement of flashing silver. It's like suddenly becoming aware of a kitten playing with a ball of string at your feet. You're not sure what to do because you might somehow deprive yourself of the pleasure of observation by chasing that which is observed away.

"It is all right, author-san. This one is content to wait until you have a moment of time to spare."

The words are softly said, like dewdrops falling into grass as the wind blows. I smile. There is always pleasure to be had, not only by observation, but by interaction with this particular austere beauty: Rika of the Katayamas, Sword of the Mountain. She is a lady for whom the Japanese saying 美人薄命 was made.

"What may your humble servant offer you this day?"

"Ah, one suspects you have been over-doing your learning of keigo. May one ask if it is difficult, this learning to be Japanese?"

I smile at her and show her a quote on my computer. She tilts her head to get a better look, and I am struck by how slender and yet strong she appears, just like a master's katana.

“Take a large bowl,” I said. “Fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic, and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilization, bellow 干杯—which means dry cup—and drink to the dregs.”

Procopius stared at me. “And I will be wise?” he asked.

“Better,” I said. “You will be Japanese.”

She laughs again. Perhaps I'm doing these things just to hear that laugh, the way Mutou-sensei does. "Author-san, that quotation is only partly true. The last word should read 'Chinese', if one has been assiduous enough in one's pursuit of foreign literature to recognise Hughart."

I grin. "Indeed, most assiduous lady."

"However, one is here to inquire as to the author's intention of researching one's younger cousin Midori. It is an unusual direction of thought."

"Ah." I pause a little guiltily. "That is for a private project involving some friends who wish to think of other characters besides the ones we already know and love."

"That is a good thing, perhaps. But one should perhaps note that Midori is a favourite cousin, and one has faith that author-san will treat her well. Even though she is only known to the most dedicated of the readers here, those who might recognise the green-haired girl running behind Emi Ibarazaki."

"Noted, most puissant lady."

She shakes her head a little and then chuckles. "It is impolite, one supposes, to call author-san a foreigner. But it is somewhat accurate."

I smile ruefully as she fades away, faintly beautiful till the end.
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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