This is the seventh and last part of Emi's arc in 'After the Dream', my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic.
It takes place about six months before the events of Lilly's arc here.
Emi 7: Victory Lap (2034)
It’s been a cold autumn at Yamaku, and a colder winter. January is a two-faced month. Spring is coming, but it’s far away.
You can’t grieve forever. But there’s a serious question in my mind now, and I’ve asked around, and maybe the people around me are all as bad as I am, because only Mom tries to answer it, and I’m not Mom.
What if you love somebody so much that you don’t have much left for anyone else—and then they go away?
I’m not even sure who ‘they’ is. Rin, for one, would fit the ‘anyone else’. Just a few months ago, we were talking about butterflies. The next day, when I was about to head out for my morning run, there was a note on the door. [Butterflies fly. See you someday.]
There was a lot left in her old room, but no clues, or maybe there were clues but we couldn’t understand them. My oldest friend was gone. I’d known her for a quarter-century. The kids were stunned; they’d grown up with Aunty Rin. Sometimes, they even thought like Aunty Rin.
Hisao would have said, “Let her go.” But that’s not always a good thing. The last time I let her go, she painted non-stop for days for her stupid exhibition and then wound up wandering deliriously around Tokyo.
Or maybe he would not have said that. He’d grown up a lot when we got together at Gakudai. Hisao’s my ‘love somebody so much’. It’s been more than five years since he went away, and when they say you can never love again? It’s not true for everyone, but I’m beginning to think it’s true for me.
Looking back, this run began when Nurse told me to look after the new kid at Yamaku. I don’t think I fell in love with him then. He was an extra motivating factor for me to turn up regularly in the mornings and train. I used to bet with myself, and sometimes with Rin, whether he’d turn up or not.
I was pretty wimpy then. Fast, but light. Light was good because my stamina was always enough—there wasn’t a lot of bulk weighing me down. But it was hard to go further. Except that I used to imagine shifting a large Hisao body around and realizing that if he really collapsed, I’d be pretty darned useless. So, weights.
You know how it is when you’re used to training at a higher intensity and then you stop? Everything feels light at first, like you’re air, or sunshine. Then you realize you miss the intensity. You can’t really work up passion for something without pushing yourself.
Hisao once shared with me something Mutou-san taught him. It goes like this: “Whatever acts cannot be destroyed, nor can it be destroyed naturally.”
That’s what it means to run, to be a runner. As long as you’re in action, you’re good, you’re indestructible, invincible. As long as your heart goes on, you’re golden.
But all things end, and you see the final stretch and the tape and your vision narrows to the track before you and the thin strip ahead somewhere and you hurl yourself through it headlong. And then you have to stop, sooner or later. There’s no point continuing the race once it’s over.
I never thought of such things until I’d spent enough time with Hisao. He never successfully persuaded me to read his favourite books, but he’d talk about them, and lots of the ideas in them, and you can’t help but be changed by that. In a way, even if what comes next goes wrong, it’s still his fault. Hmph.
The triumph of the human will, Hisao told me, is that it makes natural the impossible.
I’m a bad mother. I love them so much, but it’s been six years now and he’s never coming back and he left me when he said he wouldn’t. It wasn’t his fault, though. These things just happen.
But even after the race is done, you can make plans. I know now that my heart’s really quite broken, and that you can expect some people to heal but some people heal badly. I’m no fit mother, but my children have many around them who still love them.
I’ve been Emi Ibarazaki—I know what I was doing there, being Dad’s daughter, fastest thing on no legs. I’ve been Emi Nakai—I know what that was too, being Hisao’s wife, carrying on a combined legacy at Yamaku. But I’ve also just been plain Emi, what Rin used to say was Emi at her Emiest.
Nobody will believe that Shizune’s completely innocent. She keeps losing her science heads. They’ll think bad thoughts about her, as they always have. But her brother Hideaki knows what’s likely to happen, because he’s known Hisao’s mind on this, been in on it since the beginning.
I surprise Shizune in her office. Her face is only a closed book if you haven’t shared a common sorrow. I sign to her slowly, tell her to shut the recording devices down. The fact that I can sign is just the first surprise. This is going to be one hell of a principal-teacher meeting. I head straight in, armed with truth.
[You loved Hisao too. He liked you. He trusted you.]
Her face tightens and her brows knot. Misha’s not here, cannot be here for this. And I’m cutting close to the bone, for all our sakes. She nods, not trusting herself further. She seals the door behind me for privacy.
[I need you to consider something unusual.]
[If I am gone, who takes care of the children?]
She squirms a bit. This is not the conversation she’s expecting. We’re equals in this room now, not Yamaku’s principal and her head science teacher.
[Your mother? The godparents?]
The obvious answers, but not good ones. I have her at a disadvantage.
[My mother is of retirement age. Akira? Hanako?]
Her lips are pinched. Both godparents are hardly ever in Japan. I press on.
[Who is related to both? Answer is not Lilly.]
Her eyes narrow. I’ve cut us both. Difference is that I was prepared for it. Hah, Shizune Hakamichi, I’m good at games too. Especially when there’s a stake to play for.
[You cannot be serious] she signs with enough force to slit the air.
[Hideaki knows it can be done. He will ask it of you on Hisao’s behalf.]
She’s shocked. This game was begun months after the reading of the will, years ago. Her own brother never told her about this. She realizes I came prepared for a clean win.
[Hakamichi-sama, the late Hisao Nakai and I humbly request that you make all effort to become the legal guardian of our children in the event that we have both passed before they attain their majority.]
It takes a lot to learn unfamiliar signs. I’m slow, deliberate, unmistakable—inexorable. But this is not a fight. We’re on the same side. We’re friends, although most friends don’t do such things. And to show that, I reach out painfully and hold her hands for a moment before she can say anything.
She withdraws her hands after a decent interval. She stands and motions to me to do likewise. She bows to me, very slowly, acknowledging my win, affirming our friendship. I return her bow. Then she gives me the answer that everyone needs.
Well, I’ve made it this far, had a good run. They’ll be checking on me soon, but I see the finish line. And the human will—it can make natural the impossible.
I open my eyes, and see.
I see him. I see him ahead of me, completing the first lap. Hisao, I’m coming for you. There hasn’t ever been an event Emi Ibarazaki Nakai has given up on, and when I get my hands on you, you’ll know it!
She has her running face on. There is hungry devotion in it. She accelerates round the bend. The straight beckons to her as her blades flex beneath the fire of her muscles. Far ahead, but not so far, Hisao turns to look.
And then it’s as if she shoves a door open and steps beaming into the sunlight.
“I don’t know what to make of it, Kaneshiro-sama.”
“Please, call me Goro.” The senior physician’s voice is soft in the presence of the peaceful. “It’s not as if I am so much older than you, Hansuke.”
His mind seems to be a mile away. Hansuke clears his throat unobtrusively. “It’s a strange case. Patient presented yesterday with chest pains, no obvious cause, otherwise asymptomatic, had history of mild depression. We warded her for observation. She said you knew her, so we left you a message.”
The young man pauses. “This morning, Director, there was sudden tachycardia before first meal, double her resting heart rate. Her vital signs spiked and then just flatlined. We did the usual, but no heroic measures as per the file.”
Goro Kaneshiro, once a nurse and now a doctor, has seen most things. He never thought he’d see this one. But he thinks he knows exactly what happened, so he can do something for his younger colleague, who’s still in shock. “I know. I can tell you for certain that it’s not your fault. Let me handle the next of kin. Did she leave anything behind, besides the legs?”
“There’s a note.”
“Let me have it.”
Hansuke bows, hands the little piece of paper over.
Goro returns the bow. The words are clear, unhurried. GONE RUNNING
, in neat, moderately large script. It doesn’t look depressive.
Normally, Hansuke’s boss is all sinister smiles and bad jokes. Now, he can barely make out the next words as Director Kaneshiro turns away, sighing. There’s a deep, controlled grief in there.
“Fastest thing on no legs.”
What an odd thing to say.
| end | akiko's story