Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6 complete 20190527)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-3c)

Post by brythain » Sun Jul 06, 2014 10:56 am

This is the final section of the third instalment of the first part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he tries to keep his friends, gives up at times on his family, and graduates from Yamaku.
For those wondering about Natsume Ooe and Naomi Inoue's relationship at this time, some of it is here.



Kenji: Five Years That Break A Man—Year Three (Part 3)
(20071008-20080330)


I look back to my last year at Yamaku with mixed feelings. So many things learnt, so many things lost, some forever.

When I think about my behaviour in those last months, I sigh a lot. I missed many opportunities. I could have made more friends. I was an idiot much of the time. It was inspiring to see some of my comrades do so well, but also bittersweet that I could not.

What you’re reading comes from my redacted log entries, from 20050404 to 20100418. I call them ‘Five Years That Break A Man’. We’re about halfway through that crazy period of my life.

*****

20071008-20071021:

It’s a short break they give us, around Sports Day. I’m spending it in bed, not because I want to, but because I almost broke my heart chasing after Miki Miura. Ha, what a way to put it. Sorry, people, not a romance issue here. I understand how you might see it that way, since she’s visiting me every day and all, but hey, the Iron Fist is a manly bro in her own way.

Over the next two weeks, I work hard with the books, and I’m happy to help Miura with her math for free. Also, visits from Nakai and Ikezawa (what, they’re together again?)—very ‘get well bro, could’ve been me’ kind of thing; Ooe (what, without Inoue?)—getting a human interest angle maybe; and Hakamichi (with Voice), who is/are just checking to see if this student body is still alive.

I share pizza with the Fist just to watch Hakamichi glower, but she shrugs and almost smiles, which makes me feel kind of bad and causes me to offer her a slice. She eats it. Damn, I’ll have to order another. Then her Voice says, “Shicchan says that it’s somewhat against the rules and bad for morals to have a girl stay all hours in a guy’s room, but in this case the Student Council will make an exception! Wahaha!~ So kind of us, yeah?~” So kind, indeed. Ouch, my ears.

After a while they leave, and I get to enjoy some peace, while Miura feeds me the latest gossip. But no mistake, this is the final leg of the race (irony, irony) and I can’t afford to screw up again, so I’ll need to study soon. Apparently, someone else may be worrying about that too. Fist gets up to open the door when we hear the soft knock.

“Ah… ee… ooh. Miura? Eh… wasn’t expecting you… Oh! Kenji? Are you OK?”

By this time, I’ve already figured out who it is, and it gives me a nice feel. Almost like a 12-year Scotch (which makes me think about bad jokes involving Satou), something very warm inside. “Eh, Yuuko! Doing well. Wasn’t the feminists who got me this time!”

Part of me asks, however: “Where was Shirakawa when all this was happening? Must you be recovering from the brink of death to even draw her attention?”

Another part of Kenji notices that the otherwise peaceable librarian chick is bristling in the presence of the otherwise noisy athletic chick, who’s now very quiet. Both are acting a bit out of character. Weird. Girls always have profound effects on each other, like interfering waves—sometimes they add, sometimes they subtract, constructive or destructive. I could get Tezuka to write some poetry about that.

20071022-20071028:

Oh God. Today is a bad day. I get a phone call from an unfamiliar number. I let it ring for a while, wondering if it’s a sort of trap. Then I realize it’s not so unfamiliar and allow the contact.

“E-elder brother?”

That’s odd. She hardly ever calls me that. “Eh, wassup, sis?” I reply sloppily. It’s early in the morning, and I’m still under medication.

“I’m in the h-hospital. I… I think something’s wrong with my eyes.”

Gah. No. It can’t be starting already? But for me, I was only eight. “Hey, don’t worry, sis. It can come and go for a long time! Can you see now?” I can’t believe I am sounding like such a moron.

She starts to sniffle, and I can’t stand it. Tears, the weapon of the cryptofeminists. But this is my sister. She’s not one of them. So when I hang up, I’m off to the school office.

“Yamamoto-sama, matter of urgency, family medical.” Pant. Pant. Gasp. Shit, I’m out of wind already. My fitness is completely ruined.

“Setou! No need for such formality, I’m only your principal, not your god, haha! Sure, take some leave, the clerk will give you the forms.”

No time for joviality or whatever. I bow to give thanks and respect, then fill up the damn form and head out the school gates for a bus to the train station. I have to be there for her. My kid sister. My family.

I stay with Sachi until it’s over. Floaters, they said. But she hasn’t got the retinal detachment yet. It’s going to be the one thing that breaks her spirit. I hope it won’t happen for a long time.

20071029-20071104:

“Hey, Setou, are you ashamed of being with us?”

I’m being invited to join some women for lunch, it sounds like. I look around and down, and see the girl who reminds me most of Sachiko in serious-but-not-angry mood. “Hello, Ooe,” I reply. “I don’t normally hang with you feminists, but if you have a seat in a crowded canteen I’ll take it.”

It’s only an excuse for the public ear. I actually like Ooe. She’s direct and blunt. A manly type, like Miura but pale and soft. I can work with women like that. I’m not a crazy anti-female kind of guy. I just hate feminists who want to control men. Actually, I hate masculinists who want to control women too, but that’s most of Japan. Ah, shit. Frankly, I hate my father.

Inoue laughs with a light musical sound. I think of laughter like music. Hers is Debussy. Ooe is cranky, she’s like Stravinsky or something. I don’t mind. They treat me like a proper writer, an info specialist. Just a few days ago, I handed in my long-delayed column on how Yamaku dorm-dwellers should maintain their security. They said it was quite a hit.

Security. Damn, somebody discovered my hidden stash of library books in the stairwell. Someone moved my telltales. They’re onto me.

20071105-20071111:

Ooe and Inoue are still asking me about Nakai’s lovelife. How the hell should I know? He’s unusually sociable for a new kid, but that’s probably because all the girls who didn’t talk to anybody else ended up talking to him. Who wouldn’t respond? He’s a hotblooded normal kid after all. I’m curious, though. Did he really get into Boss Satou’s skirts? Amazing. I’d pegged her for a man-hating feminist in that department.

20071112-20071118:

“Hey dude, why so sad? Here, have a slice.”

My neighbour is having one of his manly-sadness moments. He’s thinking of his Scotch whisky, I bet—he’s just leaning quietly against the corridor wall with his eyes closed, breathing shallowly. I can hear his air going in and out, and it sounds depressed as anything.

“She’s really gone, Kenji. She just left me. And when I call her, she’s so far away.”

I press a slice of fried octopus pizza into his hands anyway. “Dude, that blonde killer was all wrong for you. She’s probably hanging out with some guy in a kilt now, with his tackle hanging down and…”

He shoves me against a wall and pastes the pizza across my face. I hear him stomp away. My glasses will need cleaning. So rude!

20071119-20071202:

It’s into the last phase of my life here. Study. Study. I’m not going to Bodai, but at the very least it’s Tokodai or Tohokudai. I’m realistic about going to the Big One; that’s the sort of place Hakamichi would end up at, and I’m not obsessed with getting things perfect like she is. Sometimes I wish I was like that, but I’m not. If I were, I’d be like my father.

20071203-20071216:

I can’t concentrate fully. I keep thinking about what life is going to be like after Yamaku. I’ve been here almost four years. There are people who see worse than I do, people with disabilities worse than mine. I have a better chance of seeing old age than Nakai does, and yet he has a life. Could I have done more for Kagami Takahashi? Is Natsume Ooe really my friend? Would Yuuko Shirakawa really forgive me for being such an asshole to her? Surely you can be manly without being like my father. There’s one friend I have whom I can talk to about all this.

“What did you call me?” she says, incredulous. “I can’t fucking believe you just called me that!”

Iron Fist suits her. It’s a manly, powerful name. I just never called her that to her face before. Maybe it was a mistake. “Why can’t you believe that? It’s very you.”

“Setou, it’s the nicest thing anybody’s called me in this whole shithole of a place.”

What? I feel all my paranoid fantasies coming back. She’s popular, all the guys want to hang out with her, surely they don’t call her bad names behind her back? I mutter something like, “Oh, didn’t know, sorry, Miura-san.” It seems unnecessarily polite, really, but this is a friend I want to keep.

That’s when she tells me about her father. I guess if it weren’t so stressful for everybody at this time, she wouldn’t bother. But one thing leads to another and I tell her what a shit General Setou is, while she tells me about her hero of a dad. Damn. They called him the Nagasaki Fist. How the heck was I supposed to know?

So we sit up late and chat on the roof with some of my spare bottles. It’s nice. I have the feeling someone’s watching us, though. But it could just be my paranoia.

20071217-20071223:

The Christmas break is coming up and I’ll be going home. I think I need to spend more time with Sachi. I’ve been a lousy brother to her. She deserves better. I say that kind of thing a lot, so I guess I’ve been lousy to many people in many ways. My wish is that I’ll be a better person. Even to that asshole of a father.

20071224-20071230:

In Kenji Setou’s alternate universe, he marries Miki Miura and Yuuko Shirakawa is his best friend and Natsume Ooe is his drinking buddy. In another alternate universe, he marries Natsume Ooe and Yuuko Shirakawa is his drinking buddy and Miki Miura is his best friend. And so on. In every universe, Kagami Takahashi forgets Kenji Setou. In every one. Shit, I have to stop drinking this vodka rubbish that my father hides in the house. He gets it from Vladivostok.

Shortly after I drink all of it, my father beats me up. Then he talks to me, and I’m not sure which is more shocking. Even though I’m drunk. And it’s the Emperor’s birthday celebration.

“You useless shit of a son. Number Two? You don’t even deserve a number. Your sister is more of a man than you. You can’t serve the country, you can’t serve the family, your late brother was ten times the man you could ever be. You have ambition to go where? Tokyo Tech? Your mother turns in her grave. You have no spirit.”

Yeah, that’s because I’ve drunk it all, Pops. Merry Christmas, your God died for your sins and it started with him being born in a tavern or something anyway. You let your wife and eldest child die, you chased them away and then Mother drove off a bridge and drowned, you never spoke to your second child until tonight. Fuck you, dad. I have a secret weapon, General-san, I’ll break your damn head with the vodka bottle. Except that I have no strength and I just want to lie down and cry.

“And your slut of a sister hangs out with Jigoro Hakamichi’s girly son. She wants to be a gangster chick when she grows up. I have no children, I only have aborts!”

Stop. Stop. It hurts. How can you say all this? Did you not love your children, your wife? Was all your love given to your country until you retired to be a shit to your family? If I weren’t so useless I’d make you eat your sword.

I can’t remember his face. I can only remember my sadness. It’s my 19th birthday tomorrow.

20071231-20080106:

“Why’re you so rude to Father?!” snarls Sachi. My own sister betrays me. But she is probably right. Happy new year to us all, then. How can I say it’s because he killed Mother and our elder brother? Because he didn’t, he just helped them kill themselves. Here we are, sitting next to their grave markers anyway.

“I don’t know,” I say. “He hates me, and you’re always supporting him.”

“Our parents have always supported us. They only want the best for us.” So she says, right next to the remains of one of them.

“Sachi, Mother’s gone. And Masaru our brother is gone too. There they are.”

All the fight goes out of her. She leans into me, all quiet. I don’t know what to do. Nobody taught me what to do if a girl does that to you. You can’t tell them to be manly about it. Feeling awkward, I hold her carefully. Then we share our pizza, dedicating one slice to Mother and one to Masaru.

“How’s the Hakamichi kid?” I ask. I don’t know how to be close to my own sister. What a damn failure you are, Kenji Setou.

Sachiko sniffs a bit, then replies. “He’s OK. He’s not really that weird, he’s nice and thoughtful. His father is almost as bad as ours though.”

We chat for a while. Then she whispers, “Kenji-niichan, will you look after me until I’m old enough to marry Hideaki?”

What? She’s referring to him like that? I don’t know what to think. I shouldn’t encourage her, right? Ah, damn, who am I to say anything. “Sachi-chan, I’ll try my best. I’m not very good, though.”

“Thank you, big brother.” She hugs me, and I hug her back.

20080107-20080120:

It’s examination period again. This time, I’m not going to screw up. I set multiple alarm clocks. I avoid distraction. I plan my schedule and stick to it. I drink a lot of coffee. My prostate will be protected in the long term by all that coffee-drinking. The weather is freezing, but I’ll stay warm.

I wish the Fist all the best, and she grins. I don’t want to wish Hakamichi anything, since she’ll probably beat us all. I am surprised when she wishes me well before the papers begin. Also, I feel a bit silly for being so petty-minded; a man’s got to be bigger than that. Nakai and Ikezawa are spending a lot of time whispering at each other. Good luck to them too. I shake hands with Ooe, her small, dry, warm hand reminding me that my own is big, cold and damp.

Somewhere in between papers, I get a message on my secure phone. [Kenji, I know you don’t love me, but I wish you all the best. Yours, Yuuko.] What’s this? Why would she think that? Is it true? Don’t I love her? No distractions, no distractions. I delete the message.

20080121-20080203:

“Good morning, Setou-san. So, where do you think you’ll be going after you graduate?”

I’ve never realized that I have such a pretty class teacher. Miyagi-san is all business, but also all woman. She’s small, but sweet, like a plum. Or a cherry blossom. With a very fine bone structure. I can’t believe I’ve not looked at her the whole year. Maybe it’s because I thought she was a feminist conspirator. Stupid Kenji.

“Mutou-san says that you’ll make a good engineer, probably a creative one. The Tokyo Institute of Technology is an appropriate choice, and perhaps also Kyoto. Tohoku is still ranked very highly for engineering, and the neighbourhood will be familiar to you. You can even drop by for a chat now and then!”

When she smiles, she has dimples. Damn. I’ve wasted a year. But her advice seems sound.

20080204-20080210:

I’m pretty sure I did well enough to get one of those choices. The Fist isn’t so sure. She thinks she’s failed. We spend some time on the roof one night, two comrades who’ve just survived a war. We’re all wrapped up thickly, because of the weather. I guess we look like two bundles of cloth stacked up next a hot-air vent.

“So, back to Nagasaki after this?” I ask.

“Nah. Don’t know. Maybe hang around a while, be a ronin or work or something,” she says quietly. Her breath fumes out gently, white in the blackness. “Damn, I’ve no fuckin’ idea what to do. It’s like, school is over, and out into the world where nobody gives a shit about a cripple girl.”

I bump shoulders with her in sympathy. It’s something I learnt from Sachi. Everyone needs a shoulder at times like this. The Fist nudges me back, and we sit there in the chilly silence, thinking our private thoughts, adding occasional words to our little conversation.

How can a man protect all the cherry blossoms when the cold night comes? It occurs to me that I might never see her again.

20080211-20080224:

Admission deadlines are coming. The first week of March, and that’s it. I finally return all the books to the library. You can’t put off a reckoning forever.

Yuuko’s here today. I realize with a funny feeling that this is the first time for a very long while that I’m in the library with her.

“Ah… Kenji. Good morning, err… are those, are those… missing books! Kenji! Did you find them somewhere?”

I decide to be honest. “Sorry, Yuuko. I think I borrowed them without properly checking them out.”

“Oh! Thanks for returning them then. I would have had to… to pay for them, and I was very, ah, worried!”

That makes me feel like an even worse shit of a person. Of course, it’s better like this because she hasn’t had to pay for them yet. But I still feel bad for her.

“Yeah. I should have returned them earlier. Been too busy studying.”

“Oh… I hope you did well… may I ask, errm, which university you’re applying to?”

“Probably Tokyo Tech or Kyoto. The teachers think those are good choices for me.”

“Not Tohoku?” She looks at me. For a moment, I think how amusing it must be for other people to see our thick glasses reflecting the light back and forth between us.

“No, probably not.”

She looks suddenly crestfallen. “Oh. Well… best wishes for your future then. I’ll just sign these books back in.”

It’s only some time later that I remember she’s studying for her history degree part-time at Tohoku. Gah! I think I’ve burnt that relationship forever now. But what would you expect from someone as hopeless as Kenji?

20080225-20080302:

In Japan, you take the exams, and the exams take you. The Yamaku Academy runs its own internal exams which are calibrated against the Central Examinations. We get test scores that can be used for applications, and they appear in mid-February so that we can apply for colleges and universities in March. There’s no way I’m getting into Todai on mine.

I don’t want to be in Tokyo, although I want to be in Tokyo Tech. I don’t want to be in Tohoku, because staying in Sendai would be like staying back another four years and watching all your juniors creep up on you. And also feeling obliged to visit your old teachers every few months. So it’s Kyoto. I’ll get in. It’s the second oldest university in Japan, and my father won’t be able to complain, except it’s not Todai. But we knew that already.

Graduation is next week. I look at the pitiful number of people I’ll really miss, and those I’ll just kind of miss. Did I make so little impact on the place where my hero Date Masamune built his castle? Yeah, Kenji, you weren’t ever thinking straight. I’m not as useless as General Setou thinks, but I have been.

You know who’s topped the examinations here? Ghost-girl. Hanako Ikezawa. And with her, not far below, Hakamichi (no surprises there) and Nakai. Damn, I never thought he’d do it. I mean, he looked smart and depressed, then he looked broken and dogged, and then I stopped looking. But if he could get out of his troubles, so can I. It’s just that even Nakai is better than I am.

20080303-20080309:

It’s just before graduation. This is my list of things that happen and do not happen to me.

I meet Ooe and Inoue in the quadrangle. “Hey, Setou! Thanks for the three pieces you wrote on surveillance, intel and security.” I grimace, but if that’s all I’ll be remembered for, well, at least it’s something. So I nod and try to smile.

“Where are you going after this?” asks Inoue. She’s the sweet one of the two, but not my type. I like people who are salty; you know where they’re coming from. I keep being nice: “Kyoto, probably. Engineering.”

By this time I’m close enough to see their faces. For some reason, Ooe is frowning and Inoue looks a little downcast. “So where are you two going?”

“Osaka,” says Ooe. “It’s my hometown, and you’re welcome to visit any time. Naomi hasn’t quite decided yet where she’ll be going, but she’s from Kyoto and she can probably tell you some useful things.”

I know I’ll miss Ooe. I doubt she’ll miss me. It’s the kind of polite conversation you have when you’re not really going to ever see someone again, and everyone knows it. When I see Hakamichi and Pinko, I think I’m going to have yet another one of those.

To my surprise, Pinko goes, “Wahaha!~ Kenji, Shicchan says it was nice knowing you and all the best. Really, Shicchan? And also, maybe you can get together in Saitama for tea or something! Shicchan, you’re being too kind!”

She is being too kind. Maybe she’s happy my sister has befriended her brother. Who knows? But she’s off to Todai, only God knows where Pinko’s going, and I guess that’ll be that for whatever tiny amount of friendship we have.

I wander around the school, all alone in my head. Juniors greet me, call me ‘senpai’. I don’t recognize them, I can’t bring myself to lose more people. I walk down a familiar but ill-used corridor. There is no more the sound of a violin. I feel like sitting down in the corner and crying, but what’s there to cry about, really? And as for Yuuko, she’ll live the rest of her life in Sendai, and I’ll not ever know what that life was all about.

“Hey, I thought I’d find you here. Just to say goodbye, huh? I mean, you and Nakai were the only guys who actually wanted to help me out, so… thanks? I guess?”

The Fist looks at me. I know her now a lot better than when I first met her. But do I really know her at all? I try to smile, but it’s awkward. “Hey. Maybe we’ll meet again when you are the new Nagasaki Fist?” Oh God, Kenji, what a stupid joke! I mentally berate myself and try not to cringe.

She laughs and says heavily, “Yeah, if ever!” She looks at me, eye to eye, man to man. Then I don’t know what possesses her. She kisses me briefly on the forehead. She’s as tall as I am, taller. “God, Kenji, there won’t be many more things left to remember, and I don’t want us to have any regrets. It’s been fun. Seeya some time!”

Man, the feels. I remember when I started this log, I thought to myself, if this were a game, I’d call it ‘Katawa Shoujo’. All the bitter cripples, the half-formed and malformed, the diseased and broken. But we’re people, we have friendships and we value each damn one of them. So I reach out and clasp her plasteel fist, and then her flesh elbow above it. “I won’t forget,” I whisper, trying not to let the feels out.

And then she too is gone, with one last fist-bump, and I’m alone up here on the roof. There isn’t even any whisky to have a picnic with. I’m so high, all by myself. I can see out on the cold spring day, out towards the city and the bay and the rest of the world. It’s so beautiful, although I can’t see much of it well. And if I fling myself off the old roof, through that rusty patch of fence, nobody will give a shit.

20080310-20080330:

I only heard about it from my sister, at first. The General just said to her, “Why not Tokyo? He didn’t work hard enough for it, that’s why. Well, he needn’t come home. He’s not in this family anymore. Kyoto, my arse, Kyoto. Second-best, always.”

So I took the train home. I missed the graduation ceremony, although I heard about it later when Ooe emailed me. But there wasn’t a home anymore for Kenji—just an envelope with ¥100k (‘basic expenses’), two empty suitcases (‘pack whatever you need’), a letter of recommendation from Yamamoto-san (‘a favour from someone you should have respected more’) and a rather odd-looking scarf. That last item was from Sachiko.

Not a word from him, and I’m damned if I’ll beg. Kenji is his own man now. And that was my last year of high school.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Fri Jul 11, 2014 4:16 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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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-3c up 20140706)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Sun Jul 06, 2014 2:21 pm

I was a bit confused, because in this story Lilly, doesn't seem to leave for Scotland until November...
Also, I wasn't quite sure, whether Hisao was dating Hanako or Lilly before that - but maybe Kenji wasn't either, so that's that.
I'm curious what's going to happen to him after graduation.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
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Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-3c up 20140706)

Post by brythain » Sun Jul 06, 2014 8:14 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:I was a bit confused, because in this story Lilly, doesn't seem to leave for Scotland until November...
Also, I wasn't quite sure, whether Hisao was dating Hanako or Lilly before that - but maybe Kenji wasn't either, so that's that.
I'm curious what's going to happen to him after graduation.
She left for good in August (see previous episode, part 1-3b). But in November, Nakai appears to have a love life (according to various people, whether true or not) and is still sad over Lilly leaving. And Kenji thinks Hisao is dating everybody. :D
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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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4a up 20140709)

Post by brythain » Wed Jul 09, 2014 1:21 am

This is the first section of the fourth instalment of the first part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he finds love of a kind and starts a new life at Kyoto University ('Kyodai').



Kenji: Five Years That Break A Man—Year Four (Part 1)
(20080331-20080727)


This is the log of Kenji Setou, disgraced second son of retired SDF General Noboru Setou. I am probably, at this point, so disgraced that ‘son’ is an overstatement of the relationship.

It was not my fault. Maybe I was never the man my father wanted, but maybe he wanted too much. I have always wanted to honour my ancestors; is the desire at least not worth something? At least I went to university; this part is from my first semester.

What you’re reading comes from my redacted log entries, from 20050404 to 20100418. I call them ‘Five Years That Break A Man’. It was not being severed from my paternal relationship that broke me. Rather, it was a combination of things, and they served also to remake me.

*****

20080324-20080330:

This is actually from the week before, as I’m catching up with my log. So you’re reading things that happened in the last week of March, first.

My father is not at home, even if he ever was. I’ve packed mechanically, as if I always knew this day was coming. In the afternoon, I wait, all ready to go, outside the house in which I lived for many years, and recently not at all. Eventually, she comes home from school. I won’t trouble you with our conversation, but I say my farewells to my very dear little sister and then I set out. I turn back for one last look, and I think she’s waving to me, but my eyesight is not so good.

It’s still cold, but the extra scarf she made for me is nice and warm, if a bit garish. I also have a floppy hat. The cherry blossoms are falling. I have little pride left, and a little money. I do not want to die like a failure before even reaching the streets of Kyoto. But I’m not yet a failure, and I won’t be one. I know myself a lot better now. And the first thing for anyone to do in times like this is review one’s assets.

I have family, but not much. I have brains, and I’m sure they are OK. I am short of meds, and I don’t know if I need more. The prescription in my very slim document folder is signed by Yamaku’s head nurse, my fierce but in the end friendly antagonist, Kaneshiro-san—this contains the full list of whatever I need. I also have friends, but it feels shameful to throw myself on the charity of a thin line of such credit.

Damn. Not so many options. But I can see the route in my head. Down through Tokyo. Onward to Shizuoka Prefecture; specifically, Hamamatsu City. Then, the long road back west to Kyoto.

I’m not the maniac or paranoid conspiracy theorist I was or pretended to be. That was me being a high-school angsty teen. I’ll be twenty soon, and I have no margins for error or insanity. And I have a lot to prove.

In Tokyo, near the station, I stock up on meds. The pharmacist is a middle-aged lady with striking make-up but a severe appearance and a shaggy hairstyle. She reminds me of Ooe, but with darker eyes and a more aggressive stance.

She fills my prescription, offers me the usual pharmacy booklet so I can record my meds, and tots up my debt. I thank God for national health insurance cutting the price down to 30%, and my Yamaku alumni discount cutting it further. “Take care of yourself,” the woman adds, still unsmiling, but with a less severe frown.

I accept my bundles and bow formally. Making friends of strangers, that’s the new Kenji. I look at her name-badge and reply, “I will do so, Nishihara-san. Good day, and thank you for your kind and efficient assistance!”

Now I will stay alive, barring accident or act of God, for a while longer. There is a fire in me, as well as a bitterness. But family is good as well as bad, and I ponder that as I take my next step, the train south to Shizuoka.

This year is the year of the Underground Rat. I myself was born an Earth Dragon. Though I do not believe in astrological mumblings, it’s a convenient sign—I will be a ‘hidden dragon’, and keep a low profile. I’m good at that. But first, I must visit the man I once called the Black Dragon.

There are workmen everywhere at the new lab in Hamamatsu University. In the background, leaning with apparent casualness against a pillar, is a tall man who looks just a bit like me. The graduate student who has led me here so far abandons me, backing away with a deferential bow. My mouth is dry.

“Ah, honourable professor. The lowly second son of the senior gentleman’s elder brother presents himself.” I remain bowed, unsure of how much respect to pay to a senior academic, a man who has spent time at both Harvard and Cambridge, and is now a full professor of his own department. He nods and gestures, making me a guest.

“That would be Kenji! Ah, very pleased to meet you. No need to be so formal. So little contact with family, and all. How is the General?”

The Black Dragon has a pleasant, somewhat dry voice. He sounds like my father, but with a trace of warmth. Just a trace. I sense he can be hard and sharp at times; there is an edge as he mentions his brother.

“Perhaps my uncle would allow me to have a few words in private? Family business is sometimes inconvenient for those outside the family.”

If I sound awkward, it’s because I am. I hate this formal crap, but I was taught how to be traditional, and I’m trying to remember it. It’s the right thing to do.

“Sure! Ikegami-san will take over for me.” An affable younger man nods from afar, his hearing clearly at least as sharp as mine. He waves, and my uncle gives him a time-out hand signal, to which he smiles and nods again. “Sorry about the mess, young Kenji. I’ve just moved in, and stuff needs doing. Especially the positioning of large magnets and things like that. So what’s up, man?”

He is nothing much like my father. The General must have hated him. As I drift down the corridors like a badly-maintained ghost ronin behind him, I feel a sense of how it might be to earn a good living as a proper scientist. Along the way, I tell him about the ‘minor disagreement’ about my post-Yamaku prospects and what the outcome has been. I leave out some parts, trying to keep it to the basic facts of the case. Surely he will respect that.

“My God,” he says, raising his voice a bit. “Your father is still an asshole about anything that isn’t Tokyo! Before you went to high school, I had a big disagreement with him about leaving Todai. He said that being an assistant professor in Todai was better than making associate professor elsewhere.”

Now I remember. This is the rebel uncle who used to climb unclimbed Himalayan peaks because he needed to be his own man. “Uncle, I seek career advice from your experienced self. What should I aim for after Kyoto?”

“Well, you’re to be an engineer, there’s no shame at all. But if you end up interested in nanoengineering, I could find you a place. It’s a pity you hadn’t asked me first, I would have looked to put you up here while you studied. After Kyoto, I suggest you head to Osaka maybe, or overseas. You’ll need some capital injection, and I can help with that. Try something new.”

He has a jumpy flow of speech that is not at all like my father’s hard and deadly blows. He also seems to be a basically helpful person, less reserved than I would have thought. His students might be scared of him, otherwise.

He shakes his head a bit as I thank him. “No, no. You’re family. Would you like to stay over, at least for dinner tonight and one more day? It’s not an imposition. We have a couple of spare rooms.”

Uncle Toshi’s assistant, Ikegami-san, turns out to be a cheerful but very smart guy. He’s easy-going, a bit of a joker. Since I am introduced to him by my first name at dinner, and again at lunch, he takes it upon himself to reciprocate. It helps that he’s not so old, so when he drops me off at the station on Thursday morning, I say, “Seeya, Kouji-san!” and he replies, “Have a good time, Kenji!” I am feeling a lot more positive as I get on the train for Kyoto.

20080331-20080406:

Term starts on 1 April, and I haven’t even figured out permanent accommodations. This is all such a mess, but I have to try to work it out. Well, she did say… I summon up some manly courage and call before I can stop myself.

“Hello! Who is this?” Her voice is as light as ever, a very appropriate springtime tone in it. I hate it that I can’t quite remember what she looks like. There are faint traces of the idea of pale brown hair, a very short nose that’s quite cute. Being half-blind is a terrible thing for visual memory.

“Ah, Inoue-san? This is Setou, whom you may remember from Yamaku? I apologise for troubling you.”

“No trouble at all, Setou! It’s only been a few weeks since we last met, how could I not remember? How can I help you?” I can feel her smiling, like light in the shadows. Have I fallen so far that any little thing can make me feel happy?

When I tell her about my difficulty, slowly and painfully, I am shocked at her response. Live at her house? What? That is beyond hospitality. If I weren’t used to killing my feelings with anti-feminist cynicism, I’d break down and cry. I almost do anyway, trying not to seem to eager to accept.

I meet her parents that day. They are conservative, but not over-traditional. Her father is a technical writer, her mother is an ikebana consultant—an expert flower arranger from my uncultured perspective. They are happy to have someone accompany their daughter to the campus and bring her back. They seem especially happy it’s a bookish-looking young man. How suspicious!

Before I turn in for the night, they bring me out to get some basic supplies and show me to the small guest room, which is neat and inviting. Later, Inoue tells me about her disorder and why it’s good to have company. I don’t mind. I am the guest, it is my honour to be of service. She responds with a small smile, in a way that I find somehow sad and private.

It’s a pathetic Kenji, all neat and trying to be polite, who ends up escorting pretty Naomi Inoue to the university each morning. How can life feel so good? Is there something evil that fate has in store for me?

20080407-20080413:

She brings me to the Kyoto International Manga Museum. She reads the stuff. A lot of it. She is full of surprises that way. They have 40,000 volumes there, they say. We spend hours enjoying ourselves, and when we get home, her father just sighs and then laughs. Her mother sniggers and pours tea.

20080414-20080420:

I’ve been trying to ask her about Ooe. They have been good friends for a long time, but it seems they are not on talking terms now. But she somehow knows when I’m going to head in that direction and cuts me off. Being with her is like having a girlfriend who won’t hold your hand. But right now, that’s fine with me.

20080421-20080427:

Kyodai’s a weird place. It was founded in Osaka and then shifted northward in 1886. I like that date, because it was the year they invented Coca-Cola, the Mercedes-Benz, and Arsenal Football Club. Also the Statue of Liberty, which I saw in an X-Men movie.

What’s really weird, but very convenient, is that the Faculty of Letters and the Faculty of Engineering are side-by-side in the main Yoshida campus. It’s easy for Naomi and me to meet for lunch and check on each other’s drugs and things like that. Then we go home, sometimes hanging out together. She’s so much a girl, but also strangely like a bro. That’s very comforting.

This weekend, Ooe comes up from Osaka and we go out for lunch together. Ooe has also brought her little brother, who is a real slacker but can be sharp when talking about computers, so we have something to talk about while the girls… fight? I hear only bits of it, because they’re being very soft, but both of them are pretty unhappy about something. I hope they’re OK; they’re friends and I wouldn’t want to get between them or something.

20080428-20080511:

I gather that Ooe was supposed to stay over the whole Golden Week holiday. But something happened, and Ooe’s gone back to Osaka with her brother. Naomi locks herself in her room, and as a guest in her house, there’s nothing appropriate that I can do. I do a bit of studying, behave nicely to her parents, and note with interest that some weird people on 4chan are actually thinking of doing a VN based on Yamaku. It is creepy to see what their proposed title is, so I block it out of my mind and try to think about engineering mathematics.

That only makes me think of Miura. I wonder how the Fist is doing in Nagasaki. Her line seems to be disconnected, and I worry a bit. But you can’t protect all the cherry blossoms, can you, Kenji? Trying to be a white knight can just make you look dirty faster.

After a few days, Naomi emerges. Unusually, she has not brushed her hair, which is something she takes pride in doing every morning. “Wanna go to the park, Kenji-san?” she asks, listlessly but as if determined to do something. It is a peculiar mood, coming from her, but I oblige. Her mother smiles at me. There’s something creepy going on here.

It’s cool, dry weather. And for a few days, we are just a couple who go to the park, sometimes with sandwiches or bento. She hardly talks, but seems to like the company. Her pale hair flutters in the wind, and she seems fragile, as if a sudden gust will tear her out of this universe. I shudder at the thought.

20080512-20080601:

“Kenji-san, can we talk?” she whispers. My God, I think to myself, so fast and she’s already using one of the scariest phrases in male-female relationships. I’m doomed. My heart sinks.

“Ah, yes, Naomi-san. We can talk.” What else can I say? I pull on my scarf subconsciously, realize what I’m doing, and force myself to let go. I find myself adjusting my glasses instead. Clearly, I am nervous.

“Er, this is hard to say. I, well, I’m not in a relationship now. And you’re a good friend, but not that way. Don’t get wrong ideas, but I do appreciate having you around. I didn’t expect Kyoto to be so lonely, and you’re a nice person.”

I think she’s spoken more in one gasp than ever before, now. But it’s very conflicted. I don’t know what she intends, and I don’t know what she means. But I can’t just not respond. That’s the old Kenji.

“Naomi-san, you’ve given me a home. That’s more than I can repay ever. If we’re ‘just friends’, that’s also more than I can repay. We’ll look out for each other. Like brother and sister.” That last word reminds me that I’ve not had a proper conversation with Sachiko for weeks, and I feel a twinge of guilt.

“Glad you understand,” she says forlornly. “Sometimes I wish I’d gone to Osaka with Natsume, but I wanted to think things through for myself. And, well, here we are.”

It’s not a bad place to be, I want to say, but I dare not say that. There is warm golden sunlight, and the scent of flowers I cannot name. We are sitting on the steps of a descending path, and the world seems such a strange place to me.

20080602-20080608:

“Kenji, do you know how it feels to have someone you love not love you?” Ah, that’s a dangerous question, Inoue-san, I think to myself.

“I think so. But I’m never sure what this love thing is all about anyway.” Which is true, of course.

She smiles, her small heart-shaped face with its slightly too-broad chin tilting up at me. “Natsume used to think in triangles. She’d draw them in class, map people’s relationships in triangles. People are never one-to-one, she said. The two of us, and Saki Enomoto who was once her best friend; the two of us, and Hanako Ikezawa; later, even Misaki Kawana. We were a baseline, we always found a third.”

It disturbs me that she is talking about her very good friend in the past tense. Also, they are all girls. Where are the guys in these triangles? I keep quiet, and nod, hoping she will continue so that I can understand where this is going.

“In the past, we’d just find someone to settle down with, I suppose. And make babies. But now things are more complicated. The past, it’s a different country.”

I still don’t know where this is going. But Inoue is my friend, so I will try to follow her wherever she takes this conversation. However, she takes it nowhere; she merely sighs deeply, smiles unhappily, and places a hand on mine.

“I guess you really don’t know what I’m talking about, Kenji. It’s OK. I don’t know either, really.” She looks at my confused expression and grins more naturally. “Cheer up, it’s a good thing we each have someone to talk to about things we don’t understand!”

With that, we turn back to our noodles in the little teashop, and sip our tea. Yamaku seems so very far away. It’s just Naomi and Kenji, having a meal.

20080609-20080615:

Sachi’s left me a message: [Elder brother, is it okay to have a best friend of the opposite sex?] When I’ve read it, I laugh quietly. Clearly, I am the last person she should be asking. But I message back: [Dearest sister, it is good to have friends of any sex. If it’s Hideaki Hakamichi, you’ve nothing to fear.]

Naomi’s birthday is on 13th June. Natsume—“Why don’t you just call me Nat?” she says—comes up to visit over the weekend, and things seem normal, almost happy. I dip into my limited Black Dragon funds to buy a small gift—a 3D map of the Milky Way, laser-engraved into a plastic block on a metal stand. The stand has a little message: “Wherever you are is the centre of the stars.”

20080616-20080622:

The moon is full on the 19th of June. Naomi and I are up on the roof, between the silver domes on top of red-brick buildings that are the Astronomy Department. Somehow, I have managed to find access to the roof, which seems to be a specialty of mine. Also, a bit of whisky, likewise.

I toast her. She looks embarrassed, but pleased. I point to what I think is galactic centre. “There, Naomi—that’s where you should be.”

“Thanks, Kenji. I really appreciate all the effort.” She grins, seeming a lot more cheerful than in weeks past. I am glad that she’s happy. We dangle our legs off the edge of the roof, letting our ears chill in the breeze. I watch her carefully. Wouldn’t do to let her fall off the roof, which is one of my recurring nightmares.

“What was your love-life like in Yamaku? The little that Nat and I used to see of you, it seemed like computers and pizza mainly.”

“Ha. I donated the computers to the Newspaper Club after graduation. After wiping the hard drives and swapping the chips around randomly, of course. The pizza was too stale to give away. So was the love life.”

She giggles, a charming ripple that isn’t the jarring dental-drill that some others might produce. “You have a sense of humour inside there, my friend.”

“What’s it with you people, always snooping around people’s love-lives?”

“We were a school newspaper! What else should we have been snooping around?”

“Well, I was in love a couple of times. It was my ‘stupid insane Kenji’ period. Then I stopped being stupid.”

“Don’t stop being insane, though. Some day somebody will need that from you.”

She looks up into my face, searching my expression. My heart is stopping: one beat, two beats… no beats. Do I know how to kiss somebody? That’s a lot of lip gloss on her lips. Or lip balm. Or something. Her breath is very close and very warm. Somebody says, “May I?” in a voice that sounds like mine.

She kisses lightly at first, like a familiar embrace that gets deeper with time. We are sharing a breath, something the night cannot touch. There’s some kind of reluctance between us, for a while. And then, it’s like falling off the roof, after all.

20080623-20080713:

The next two weeks are very quiet. We do the usual things, but we’re more like two cats who have just been introduced in the same house. I don’t know what’s wrong, but Naomi hardly speaks to me, even over our usual lunches on campus. Does she regret what she offered me? Oh God, I can feel the old fear of not being not good enough, it’s crawling up my brain.

She is not angry. She is maybe uncomfortable? Shy? I have no words because I am shit at describing emotions. I am careful not to offend. Her parents are as cheerful as ever; it is not as if some irate father is going to demand satisfaction. In fact, they seem pleased with themselves. It is that creepy thing again.

“Kenji-san, perhaps we can talk?” What’s with the formality? And it’s THAT question again. My heart can’t take much more of this beating. I wonder, not for the first time, how the hell Nakai survived all his ups and downs at Yamaku.

“Ah, sure. What’s up, Naomi?” I am deliberately keeping things light.

“Do you know you remind me a bit of Natsume?” I don’t mind saying I am horribly confused by this question. My eyes are normal and my joints don’t creak. I’m twice as blind as our friend, and my glasses twice as thick. Maybe the hair is as messy.

“Er… no. But it is an honour, right?” Still light, Kenji, still light. The heart needs to relax.

“Maybe…” she pauses. She starts again. “That night, on the roof?”

“Yes?” Oh no. This is one of those regret speeches you read in sad manga. The girl doesn’t mean it and then one or both of them will commit suicide.

“It was nice. But I don’t want to mislead you.” Oh damn. It’s one of those let’s-just-be-friends speeches you read in pathetic manga, where they don’t see each other again but the guy tells his kids about how nice Aunty Naomi was before she died.

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” I say, brightly and sharply, reflecting the glass knives that are poking gently into my chest.

“I did,” she says, just as brightly, as if her words are diamonds. Diamond cuts glass. “But there are things to sort out before we do anything more. And we might not ever be more than that. It’s not easy for me to say this, because I do like you.”

“Ah. It’s not easy to hear this, because I like you too.” Gently, gently.

“My parents want me to settle down with a nice boy. They are happy you come from a good family, your father is a general and your uncle is a professor. They think it will be good for me. But I’ve loved Nat a long time, and I’m not ready to let her go.”

Kenji, you are a blind fool. Kenji, you are a damned idiot who deserves to chain himself to a burning pillar for eternity for just being so stupid. How could you have not seen it? The old Kenji is angry, thinks of ugly words like ‘tease’ and ‘slut’. The new Kenji is going to take his punishment, but not the words.

“… ,” I say, my throat very dry. “That is, I understand. No harm, no foul, the Americans say.”

She holds my hands. I am not so petty as to snatch them away. I am not so strong that I can choose not to listen to her, or to turn away from her eyes.

“I will always be a friend. I won’t promise more. But there is no man closer to me than you are, Kenji.”

I smile at her. I can feel myself getting stronger. That’s fine, then. It is all fine. Kenji is learning new things everyday. But the layer is very thin, because she looks at me closely and says, “I am sorry I have hurt you. Maybe one day we will all be less hurt.” She kisses her finger, touches it to my cheek. It is like cold, moist fire. And we sit like that for a while.

She spends the Tanabata festival, which they celebrate here around 7th July, with Natsume in Osaka.

20080714-20080727:

I don’t see so much of Naomi now, because things are still unsettled, so I spend much more time on the computer and studying. I’m also free to remember that family is important, and so are other people who have influenced you for the better.

I send a long-overdue thank-you note to the Black Dragon, and receive an invitation to spend Sea Day in Hamamatsu. [The seafood is very good] my uncle points out, making it an obligation which I am happy to accept. I reply to my sister, who wants to know how to deal with her best friend’s father. I send her Shizune Hakamichi’s email address, and add some advice on how to deal with Hideaki’s sister instead.

I do a lot of thinking. And I send a short, formal but friendly message to Kaneshiro-san, who was kind enough to improve my health and change my meds. He replies, sounding pleased that I’m alive. He’s the only one who actually says so.

I have to think a lot more about Mutou-san, because I want to ask him for some advice, man-to-man. However, Natsume once told me that he got divorced a few years ago, so it might not be such a good idea. In the end, I email him anyway. He sounds glad to be of service and his email style is more long-winded than I remember. But he gives me good stuff about how not to upset women and how to pay more attention to their emotions. Maybe he’s learnt some lessons the hard way.

To both Mutou-san and Miyagi-san, I send thanks for university advice. The latter also receives some pictures of Kyodai, so that she can see that I am grateful to be here. I don’t have a father anymore, so there’s no need to think about that. I should visit Mother and elder brother soon, though.

On Sea Day, on the train to Hamamatsu, I spend time composing a kind of mental prayer for Takahashi. I can still hear her music in my head, especially when I am alone and troubled. As with the Fist (for whose past friendship I also give thanks), I now have no way to contact her, and may never see her again. But you should never forget people.

So lastly, after spending a good time with the Black Dragon, I decide to email Yuuko. I suppose, if anyone was, that she was my first love. There’s something important about such a person, and there should be no regrets between you. I ask her to forgive all the bad things I might have done, and forget the Kenji she knew.

There is no reply.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Fri Aug 08, 2014 1:55 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: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4a up 20140709)

Post by Serviam » Wed Jul 09, 2014 7:22 am

Why do I get the feeling that Kenji's origin story has no fourth wall?
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

In order of completion:
Lilly > Hanako > Rin > Emi
Currently on: Shizune

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4a up 20140709)

Post by brythain » Wed Jul 09, 2014 8:13 am

Serviam wrote:Why do I get the feeling that Kenji's origin story has no fourth wall?
Haha… if anything, Mutou's story is closest to my heart. But it took me months to get into Kenji's head. He is very adept at hiding things!
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: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4a up 20140709)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Wed Jul 09, 2014 12:39 pm

“Kenji-san, can we talk?”
...
“Ah, yes, Naomi-san. We can talk.”
This is why it is sometimes a bad idea to use honorifics in English language stories.
At this point Kenij and Naomi are long past the point where they would use honorifics.
Then one week later Naomi seems to have dropped the honorific for no reason, and after the kiss it just gets confusing...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

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griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4a up 20140709)

Post by brythain » Wed Jul 09, 2014 1:50 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:
“Kenji-san, can we talk?”
...
“Ah, yes, Naomi-san. We can talk.”
This is why it is sometimes a bad idea to use honorifics in English language stories.
At this point Kenij and Naomi are long past the point where they would use honorifics.
Then one week later Naomi seems to have dropped the honorific for no reason, and after the kiss it just gets confusing...
Honorifics are situational. In this case, Naomi is signaling greater formality (even wives in Japan refer to their husbands with -san at times) and Kenji is following suit. It's a bit (although not exactly) like two people who normally call each other 'Mike' and 'Jill' suddenly calling each other 'Michael' and 'Gillian'—something's up, a certain level of seriousness has returned.
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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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4b up 20140711)

Post by brythain » Fri Jul 11, 2014 4:11 am

This is the second section of the fourth instalment of the first part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he does both wise and silly things, and survives.



Kenji: Five Years That Break A Man—Year Four (Part 2)
(20080728-20081228)


These months of my life that you are now examining bring me to the age of 20. In this period, I am still a young and naïve student, fearful and a bit paranoid about being weak and clueless. But I am stronger than I used to be. It is just that I am realizing how important women have been in my life, and that is uncomfortable to me.

Here, Kenji’s meds have been keeping a lot of Kenji’s problems under control. But perhaps the psychological and emotional burdens that he’s suppressed for so long are beginning to eat into him? What happens when he stops taking the meds? In retrospect, I think that is a fair explanation for some of the things that happened, that were recorded. I don’t remember writing any of it, but it’s there. That Kenji, however, is not who I am now.

All this stuff comes from my redacted log entries, from 20050404 to 20100418. I call them ‘Five Years That Break A Man’. The details that you’re not seeing are not so important, but they are there. I’ve edited the rest. That’s my right.

*****

20080728-20080803:

Now that’s an interesting email address: <mmorpg89@date.yamaku-edu.jp>. It’s interesting because it’s from the hidden server I set up in the school before I left. Either someone’s discovered the closet hardware that’s piggy-backing off the school’s own stuff, or it’s someone I gave a doorkey to in the days when I was insane Kenji. But who the hell is ‘mmorpg’? The subject line says: TEST. How useful.

I scroll down. [Hi, finally made it to Nagasaki. Long story, man! Thanks for the one-time password. It worked! I hope this gets to you. LL, MM.]

It’s the Fist! I don’t believe it. I’m glad she’s surfaced, glad she’s alive and sounds well. It cheers me up from the depths of my gloom.

20080804-20080810:

The spring semester has ended. I still go out for meals with Naomi now and then, but she is spending more time with Natsume. That’s a good thing, I suppose. I can forget about any romantic ideas I once had. For a couple of days I think about going to Nagasaki and maybe emptying a bottle with the Fist. It’s a great idea, I think when I’m in a good mood. But I can’t take rejection a second time so soon, it’s a bastard to swallow. I delete her emails. I don’t reply to her replies.

Bastard, bastard, bastard. What a nice word it is to use. I’m one of those, now I have no father. On impulse, I call the Black Dragon’s home. A recorded message tells me he is on sabbatical and may be contacted through Hamamatsu University. Well, fuck that. With extra whisky. I climb up on the roof and swear that since nobody cares for me, I won’t care either.

The Sendai Tanabata festival dates pass by with a whimper. I don’t hear them go. And when I find the email from <yte-river.melanchole-historia@yamaku-edu.jp> I just delete it. I can guess who it is, but I’m not going back to Sendai. There’s a copy from <y.shirakawa@sal.tohoku.ac.jp> as well. Fuck that too.

20080811-20080921:

Finally I decide what to do. I leave a short note for Naomi, because ugly as I feel, I can’t not do at least that. I go back to Saitama. I have my rucksack and some supplies. I climb Hodosan, and I hole up in a little place I’ve used before. I am Kenji the injured animal. I wrap myself up, as if waiting for hibernation or death. Like snowflakes or confetti, I solemnly throw my meds away, falling down the old mountain like glitches in a virtual world.

I imagine Sachiko reading my note on her bedroom mirror when she gets home. It’s only there in case she needs to retrieve what’s left of me, or know where to direct her prayers. Amazing, how trivial all last words can be, how unimportant the scribblings of the lost.

Half a world but only a few kilometres away, the flowers for Mother wilt and die. I wonder what they will think of the wax-crayon marks on my brother’s marker: [we don’t need another hero]. I tried to make them very neat and clear, but Mother kept telling me to stop. Ah, but I’m not a hero. I’m the bastard, the spare, and I didn’t work out. Too bad for the Setou family name, ha ha.

The weather is nice. My nose feels just a little cold, and my two scarves keep me cosy. I see myself turning into a statue slowly, until only the eyes shine, glazed brown marbles that grow dull and finally go out. I sleep, I sleep and hope for no dreams, or an all-consuming dream. You read too much of that Shakespeare stuff, you might believe such things.

My first thought after my last thought is that I guess I didn’t really want to die, after all. This time I wake up with a truly horrible headache and the worst thing is the first face I see. It’s Shizune Hakamichi. I am of course delirious, there’s no way she is halfway up Hodosan. Oh God, those flashing fingers, take them away, take them away. Damn feminist autocrat whore.

I smell pizza. There’s small fingers feeding it to me. They had better not be Hakamichi fingers. Those things carry secret meanings. They writhe and crawl like maggots. Into my brain. No! No! I taste cheese, or is it pus? With little bits in it. Without my glasses I am blind, or more blind than usual.

“Kenji-niichan!!” Surely maggots do not yell so loudly. Unless they have pink hair. Surely they do not hurt the ears so much. Unless they have drills. No, the feminist conspiracy is here. I hear voices I should not be hearing. This is not Yamaku.

“There’s nothing wrong with his heart. He’s just suffering cumulative ill-effects from exposure and alcohol and taking the wrong meds. And what were those flowers and leaves he was chewing anyway?” Oh, sure. You expect me to give my secrets away? Huh, you must be dumber than I thought, you cunning bitch, whoever you are.

“Young people these days…” “An embarrassment, to be sure…” “General-san, my son might be…” “If you want a fight, you can have it.”

Surely I am dreaming. I have been hoping for this since I went away to Yamaku. Or maybe not. I open my eyes, and everything is silent.

20080922-20080928:

“I was worried for you! Kenji, I told you we were friends. I meant it. You didn’t tell me you’d stopped taking your meds, that you weren’t happy, none of it! I’m angry with you now because you don’t understand what friendship means to me. I don’t have many friends. I have fits or walk into traffic and nobody wants to be responsible for me and look after me, except my parents and Nat and her family, and YOU. Yes, you!”

Those have to be more words at one stretch than I’ve ever heard Naomi say. I am detached, floating. Those words mean nothing to me. Or at least, to old Kenji. But new Kenji wakes up, and suddenly, those words are hard currency.

“Oh, God. I’m sorry, Naomi-san,” I say, like rusty gears grinding.

“You should damn well be sorry, Kenji. You went all the way to some mountain in Saitama to die and all I had was a note on my dressing-table! Your sister panicked when she got your other note. Her boyfriend called his sister, who was Her Bloody Majesty herself, what a coincidence. And when Sachiko told her that you had been living with a friend in Kyoto, Her Bloody Majesty was sharp enough to figure out who it was!”

“How did she do that? I told you she was part of a conspiracy.”

“Stop being an idiot! Kenji-baka, she was my class representative. She had all our home addresses and contact details and I’m the only one from Kyoto. So she called my home first! With the voice synthesiser she hates! My parents almost died of shock.”

I am feeling like a fool right now, but there’s no call to be calling me one. Old Kenji acts like a mule and turns his face to the wall. After a while, she says something like, “No, you’re not sorry. Damn you.” New Kenji hears the door shut firmly as she leaves, and his face burns with shame.

20080929-20081005:

Well, it’s back to university this week. I escort Naomi there and back. We do not talk much. But I try to apologise again after a couple of days, and she says, “That’s a start.”

20081006-20081012:

On Monday there’s a special lecture in Kyodai’s Clock Tower Centennial Hall. It’s by the German Federal Minister for Education and Research, Dr Annette Schavan. The topic is ‘Options of Multi-Lateral Research Policy to Tackle Global Challenges’, or something like that. I take careful notes. It is important to me. I ask Naomi to go with me. She seems happy to be there, and in fact, she takes careful notes. I am very surprised, but I am glad.

20081013-20081026:

Kyodai is a very cultural place. On Saturday 1st November, the whole city will be celebrating the millennium of the local literary classic, ‘The Tale of Genji’. It’s supposed to be the world’s first classical psychological novel, and has a cast of more than 400 characters. I’ve read a bit of it, and it is beautiful but vaguely disturbing. I keep thinking of what I’d do if I were Genji, and his love life is more eventful but more tragic than mine. Damn.

I’m talking about this because Naomi has invited me to attend the celebrations. She is somehow talking to me again. Maybe I should read the book. But it’s so long! It is a web spun by a spider who just watches every fly that walks by and makes no attempt to eat any of them.

Her eyes are so beautiful when she is excited. They glow, like fireflies. But they are not for me. Ah, poor sad Kenji. ‘The Tale of Kenji’ sounds good to me. For two whole weeks, I try to catch up on classical literature, and even talk to Naomi about it. We have many conversations, some very late at night. She laughs a lot. I am entranced, although I shouldn’t be.

20081027-20081102:

I’ve just realized. The end of the month will also see the 50th Kyodai November Festival. It’s like Yamaku on a bigger scale. Fried people selling fried food and lots of amusements by the side of the main concourse and pathways. It’s meant to be fun, and an opportunity to introduce the foreign students who came at the beginning of term to the interesting parts of Japanese cultural life. Maybe that’s how Boss Satou’s parents met, I find myself thinking. What a silly thought.

The ‘Tale of Genji’ thing is quite amusing. I learn that I know a lot less about my heritage than I should. Mostly, I watch Naomi. She loves it all. I love her. Well, I love her for it, and not in that way. Or something. Damn. I’m not supposed to love her.

20081103-20081109:

Monday is Culture Day, which is why it’s the appropriate time of the year to think of Genji’s tale, and even Kenji’s tale, such as it is. I try to fill up the blank spaces in my log, and hope that what I put in is correct.

I’ve just learnt something. When you love someone, even if you don’t mean to, you can end up being a nicer person. I’ve just replied to everybody’s emails. And their replies tell me how much I’ve hurt them by being old Kenji again. I don’t think I know how to tell them how sorry I am. Oh yes, I also emailed Shizune-san. I realize that every time she does something, she means well. It’s not always pleasant, but it’s like Satou—best to just enjoy it.

20081110-20081116:

I’m doing a course in network engineering. One day, I realize that this is how people write novels. People are like nodes in a network, and their communications follow certain protocols and you can map out their topology from all their call-and-response data. You can have simple networks like those in Shakespeare, or you can have complex ones like those in Asian classics. Of course, it’s not only the network, but the journey that information takes within the network, that’s the story. Sometimes the data doesn’t make it. Sometimes it clashes, it aborts, it gets scrambled. All this, it’s story too.

I tell Naomi. She grasps my elbow and says, “We’ll make a poet out of you some day, engineering-student-san.” For some reason, I feel insanely pleased.

20081117-20081130:

“Hey, Kenji, would you like to go for a short holiday with Nat and me? In the December break.”

Ah. I have heard all about Natsume’s theories concerning groups of three. This will not end well.

“Is anyone else coming along?”

“You could room with Matsuo. I think he’s a bit too old to be bunking with us.”

“Where are we going?”

She smiles. “Won’t you say yes first anyway?”

I think whatever relationship we have is getting back to normal. I smile back. “OK, I say yes.”

“Great! We’re thinking of visiting Tsushima. It’s funny that Japan has all these islands that tourists go to, and yet we haven’t been there ourselves.”

“Isn’t that where they have strange wildlife and Koreans?”

“Kenji! That’s just mean. And if you run a search on ‘Tsushima’ you’ll find some very pretty cats.”

It sounds like fun, and I wonder if they have a War Museum. It’s where Japan’s navy crushed the Russian fleet in 1905. We Japanese used wireless communications and so did they, but they used German sets and had problems with them. It was a big event in our military history.

It’s something to look forward to. I can’t remember doing this kind of thing in a very long while. Could it be that my last holiday was with Mother and Masaru? A sad thought to be thinking, that. I squeeze it out of my mind and Naomi and I spend some time discussing our plans with Natsume online.

20081201-20081214:

Natsume can be downright rude. She was apparently already unhappy at having to bring her brother along; she is grousing about having me along as well. She kept quiet about it for a few days, but has finally blown up while talking online. This makes Naomi upset over on this end, and when she suddenly goes silent for an uncomfortable period of time, I wonder what’s up.

Then she crumples slowly into a heap, from her crosslegged-in-front-of-screen posture. I realize that she’s having one of her silent fits, what they call an absence or a vacancy or something. What am I supposed to do?! It’s the first time I’ve ever been with her when she’s doing this.

I cradle her carefully, make her comfortable. Then she wakes up and looks straight into my eyes, alert but uncomprehending. “What? Oh. What’s happened?”

“I should be asking you that,” I say softly. I am just relieved that she looks fine.

That’s when I hear her parents at the door, and look up just as they’re looking in. Ah, Kenji, your life just got more complicated.

20081215-20081221:

For some reason, Naomi forgot, or claims she forgot, to take her meds. A whole week? I don’t believe it. I think she was just doing what we Yamaku-types do once in a while—stop the meds just to see if we are cured. It hardly ever works, and it can be dangerous. Nurse-san used to remind us about that a lot in our final year, telling us that the world wouldn’t be as forgiving as Yamaku, and the least we could do was respect the medication list.

I would scold her, but I don’t have it in me. I might have done it too. All we can do is look out for each other.

20081222-20081228:

It’s the end of the year; with that comes the Emperor’s birthday, and then Christ’s birthday. Here, they are so close it is hard to feel the difference. We have a holiday coming soon. It’s all our Japan, and as I walk Naomi home from school, as we watch over each other, I wonder what strange things will come to us over the years ahead.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon Oct 13, 2014 11:15 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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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4b up 20140711)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Jul 11, 2014 6:12 pm

I’m the only one from Kyoto. So she called my home first!
That's a phone call I'd have liked to listen into :-)
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4b up 20140711)

Post by brythain » Fri Jul 11, 2014 7:36 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:
I’m the only one from Kyoto. So she called my home first!
That's a phone call I'd have liked to listen into :-)
"Hello. This is Hideaki Hakamichi. My sister wants to tell her friend Naomi that Kenji Setou has been reported missing while climbing a mountain in Saitama." :D
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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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-4c up 20140714)

Post by brythain » Mon Jul 14, 2014 2:04 am

This is the third and last section of the fourth instalment of the first part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he learns about other people's friendships, and thinks sad thoughts.

For Natsume's account of her relationship with Saki Enomoto, see this part of her narrative.



Kenji: Five Years That Break A Man—Year Four (Part 3)
(20081229-20090329)


I look back at these records with both wonder and horror. I had just turned 20, and yes, I was a bit of a fool. But surely I had been growing up?

Was I really like that and did I make such bad mistakes with such consequences? I don’t know if the outcomes would have been any better, frankly. I can only say that they turned out better than I would have thought. I stayed alive, and that, in the end, is sometimes all you can ask of fate.

All that is here comes from my redacted log entries, from 20050404 to 20100418. I call them ‘Five Years That Break A Man’. I might perhaps say that these were amongst the most bitter years of my life, except that they are now long ago, and one can always look at the past and imagine what is not there.

*****

20081229-20090104:

“Kenji, you silly man. Christmas is your birthday too, you know. Wake up. I thought you were Catholic, you should be going to Christmas Day mass or something, right?”

“Guh.” It is my most eloquent response after spending another night on the roof with Naomi, whisky, and the stars. As I come back to life, I realize with dawning horror that I am aroused and sticky in places I’d rather not be sticky in. It does not help that there’s someone sitting on me. Or on part of me, anyway.

“Ow! What’re you doing?” Trying to get up, I think, that’s what I’m doing. But my arms are flailing around, and my hands are… wait, what’s this? Oh, Kenji, how embarrassing.

This is what I’m remembering as we take a train ride westward towards Tsushima. A lot of it isn’t quite clear. What is clear, however, is that Naomi has been friends with Natsume for a lot longer, and in many more ways, than she has been with me. So I black out those memories and just remember the words from that space western show: “Take my love, take my land / Take me where I cannot stand / I don't care, I'm still free / You can't take the sky from me…”

I can imagine standing like that, in a brown duster and brown shirt, with a big gun, boots, and a bag for loot. If he’d been Japanese, he’d have protected the cherry blossoms. Me, I’m playing cards with Natsume’s irritating younger brother, and losing. Shit, I’m playing against Natsume, and losing. Sad Kenji.

Tsushima is beautiful and sad. It’s dying forests and lovely cats who won’t live long. It’s tradition that is old and mixed-up, somehow sweet, but also passing. It’s like Naomi, deep inside. I think the problem is Natsume, who loves because she cannot have someone else. Can Kenji do analysis? Ha ha, you would have thought not. But it’s really all about watching the network, seeing what requests are made and what is returned to the requestors.

I do not forget my meds. And I make sure Naomi takes hers. Matsuo makes a joke of it, but I notice that he makes sure his sister does likewise. Natsume, on the other hand, is just grouchy. Instant coffee must be the reason, although it has never harmed me, it makes her worse.

We celebrate the arrival of New Year’s Day up at Eboshidake Observatory, where we sit on the observation deck, sip sake and look down at the rugged coastline of Aso Bay. If this were all the world, I’d be a happy man. But it isn’t, and I’m not. I occupy myself with logic. Matsuo would have to pair up with Naomi, and I’d have Natsume. She isn’t a bad person, she really cares for others. But she acts like a damn bitch to cover it up, I have no idea why.

In the morning, we go down to the bay. Bright pink azaleas everywhere. The hard part of the journey is going home, it always is, always has been.

20090105-20090111:

We’re back to school, and I must say that on the balance the holiday was a good time. I realize that I am frustrated because I think I love Naomi, Naomi thinks she loves Natsume, and Natsume thinks she loves… who? I don’t know. Matsuo has a crush on Naomi, that’s obvious. In the past I would not have noticed. Now, it’s like spotting a fellow-worshipper.

20090112-20090118:

One night I’m up on the roof by myself. Naomi’s asleep after a long and difficult day. I can’t sleep. There’s no whisky, only plum liqueur. I sip it gingerly. After a while, it sips me. That’s when I chuck the little glass in one corner and call Natsume. “Hey Nat, why’re you such a bitch sometimes?” I say in my friendliest voice.

“Setou, you’ve been drinking again. I don’t know. Isn’t everyone? Including you?”

It’s a good answer. I cut the call, and think about it. In the morning, I can’t remember if I actually had that conversation, although my phone shows thirteen seconds of connection to Osaka.

20090119-20090125:

I know what I want to be. I want to be a stainless steel rat, but the kind that lurks in communications networks. My country can accommodate many such rats. Kenji the Earth Dragon will make his name known, transmuting his elemental nature and his animal nature as the greatest disguise of all time! Umeshu is a terrible drink once it gets up your nose.

20090126-20090201:

Things must be quite bad. I dream of Kaneshiro-san, Yamaku’s head nurse. His foxy grin snarls at me, “Stop the alcohol. Start being a man, Setou.” Then his eyes change colour, one brown, one amber. He’s female. He’s Natsume. She says, “And don’t be a bitch about it.” Aaaaaargh! Fine. I’ve drunk all the brandy already.

20090202-20090215:

It’s a month after Tsushima, and I have to admit the truth. Things aren’t the same between Naomi and me. Did she mean this to happen when she invited me to join them? Gutless Kenji has returned: I cannot ask her such a thing.

Despondent, I accompany her to school each day, unable to think of the future any more. I’m not doing this to draw her pity, or to gain her attention. But she senses it, of course, and I know I must look very unmanly to her.

“Kenji, remember, we’re friends. Don’t ever think we’re not.” She says this as we sit at our usual table in campus, sipping some of that too-sweet canned tea. Her mud-brown eyes look into mine. They are warmer than mud. Maybe milk chocolate, which I don’t like because it’s too sweet as well.

“I don’t ever forget that we’re just friends,” I say, accidentally making things worse. I frantically try to compensate. “Good friends, though. Friends for life. I like being your friend, Naomi. Really!” I sound so desperate. Poor, silly Kenji.

“Heh,” she says, uncertainly. “Well, that’s funny. You’ve been treating me like someone you’re really unhappy with, these few weeks. Sometimes I feel that you’d rather not have gone on holiday with us.”

Naomi’s not a large girl. She’s shorter than Natsume, very slim-waisted, a little bony. She curves, but not dramatically. She is pretty in the way that makes me want to keep her safe from anything and everything. I suppose that makes me a typical sexist pig of a man. I lost that battle years ago.

I look at this perfect gem of a lady friend. “I’m sorry, Naomi-san. I always think you are precious to me, so sometimes I cannot stop thinking about you. Then I fear I am making you uncomfortable. But we’re friends, so that shouldn’t be true. Then I get confused. That’s just me, Kenji, being useless. Please forgive me.”

I am surprised by what I have allowed myself to say. She seems surprised too, but now she laughs. “Kenji, you need never ask me to forgive you for this kind of thing. But we’ve not even finished our first year together at Kyodai, and you’re thinking these thoughts. Can we just look after each other for a couple of years? Other things may happen. We can’t know.”

I have to remind myself that this is the best I can hope for anyway. So I make myself as happy as I can, and say, “That is very wise, Naomi. I will remember that.”

11th February is National Foundation Day again. It always makes me think of my father—the father I don’t have. So I forget him. I’ll keep forgetting him until he’s gone. Or if he does anything to ruin my sister’s life.

20090216-20090222:

There are things that go wrong early and never have the chance to go right. And when you try to put them right, it’s like breaking a badly-healed fracture so that you can reset the bone. It’s the weekend, and for some reason I can’t remember, I’m sitting on the floor of Naomi’s neat, feminine-not-feminist bedroom. She is showing me her scrapbook of our last year in Yamaku.

“It’s a beautiful thing, this book,” I say firmly, because it is true. “It helps me because I cannot remember a lot of things, and I didn’t know your cohort of students very well.” To my shame, of course, but that is wearing away with time.

She seems pleased. “I’m glad you like it. Didn’t you know my classmates? You seem to have opinions on many of them. Here, let me show you the class photo we took before Nakai joined the class.”

There are familiar faces here: the Fist is posing in all her sexy glory, Hakamichi is looking strangely out-of-place as class representative, and her pink friend is in a pensive pose—completely out of character. As usual, I automatically count heads so that I can remember them in ordinal sequence. Every class had three rows and six columns, so there were 18 students. Some had more or less, and they added or subtracted chairs accordingly. Eh, something’s odd. Hmm. I check the last few pages of her scrapbook.

“You’ve got eighteen students in this photo. After Nakai came along, you’d have had nineteen, yes? But the final class photo has eighteen students, including Nakai. Who’s missing?”

There’s a really peculiar expression on Naomi’s face. She looks resigned? Melancholic? I can’t tell. But she says, “That would be Enomoto, Saki. She was our class rep when we were 2-3. Then she was transferred to the supplementary list before term started, but joined us for that photo. Nakai took her seat later in the year.”

I think I remember a fair-haired girl who almost fell down the stairs, except that I managed to catch her. That was almost four years ago. But I can’t remember much more. The supplementary list, however… that means something unfortunate. Takahashi, whom I once imagined to be my true love, went supplementary for so long that people forgot she was a student in the school at all; it’s the list for students who don’t follow a normal schedule for various reasons, mostly medical.

“Was it very serious?” I ask lamely.

“She had one of those things that will kill you. It’s killing her now.”

“Oh, I’m deeply sorry to hear that.” What else does one say, that hasn’t been said? It has always been like that at Yamaku, where so many of us are closer to dying than the ‘normal’ population outside.

I look more closely at the photo. Enomoto is standing between Naomi and Natsume, three of them together and Hanako Ikezawa hiding behind Naomi. “Wow, she was actually closer to Natsume than you were, in this shot!” I exclaim jokingly, in the usual Kenji-puts-foot-in-mouth manner.

My friend’s mouth twists as if eating bad fish. “Yes, she was. She was Natsume’s best friend in middle school. Nat spends a lot of time at the hospital in Osaka where they’ve got her hooked up to machines that keep her alive. It’s one reason Nat didn’t come up to Kyodai with us.”

Calmly and steadily, she closes the scrapbook and begins to put the loose pictures away. I’m aware I might have done something wrong, but I’m not sure what. “Hmm, Kenji, would you like to go away for a brief trip? My parents suggested we spend the Spring Equinox long weekend in Hawaii. It’s probably a ploy to get us to spend time together, but I wouldn’t mind a change of scene.”

That sounds good to me. Things can happen on holiday trips that don’t happen at other times. And besides, as Mother used to tell Masaru, you should get to know potential in-laws better. Clearly, I’m being optimistic, but you never know. “That sounds very nice, if I’m not trespassing on your family time?”

It never hurts to be extra-polite when you think you’ve done something wrong. But Naomi’s response stuns me. “Oh, Kenji, you’d be very welcome company at this time, I think.” She momentarily grasps me by the arm as she stands up and carefully places her scrapbook back on the shelf.

Then she smiles up at me, in a way that makes me conscious that I am a whole head taller than her, and not half as graceful. I have also never seen such a miserable ‘happy’ smile ever. It worries me.

20090223-20090301:

Naomi’s parents are very pleased that I’m coming along. Her father says, “We have family over in Hawaii, and I can introduce you to people there. It’s always good for Pacific communities to maintain ties. I hear you’re interested in politics too, young man?”

Actually, he’s always talking about politics and I’m always nodding. But good intelligence is always important, and politics is just the way data expresses its meaning in real human life. So I nod politely and try to look excited.

Naomi’s mother beams. “And you can get to know Naomi better, instead of just spending time studying and studying. University life is so hard! Better to have some fun. You can sunbathe. Naomi looks cute in a swimsuit!”

How creepy. Even the most conservative Japanese parents can sometimes crack at the thought of a marriageable prospect. I nod some more. I have no intention of exposing my pale body to direct sunlight without a thick coating of sunblock. They can program your mind from space if you’re not careful.

No, that’s just old Kenji whispering. New Kenji reflects that he hasn’t seen Naomi in a swimsuit before. Judging from Naomi’s expression, she isn’t too sure about that either. But she gives a half-smile. I ponder that a bit, because I’m still trying to figure out what all these ambivalent expressions are about. The data do not come together very well.

20090302-20090308:

It strikes me that Natsume hasn’t come up to Kyoto for a while, and Naomi’s not expressed much desire to go down to Osaka. Why that should concern me, I do not really know. It just seems strange that best friends who live at most an hour apart do not spend more time together.

20090309-20090315:

I’m sitting in Naomi’s room on Saturday afternoon, leafing through travel brochures with her, when she gets the call. It’s Natsume, making her usual weekend contact. I’m about to find that this is anything but normal.

“That’s terrible, Nat… oh dear, but I’ll be away with Mum and Dad next weekend, visiting folks in Hawaii… yeah, I’ll let Kenji know. Cheer up, I’m sure they’ll do all they can.”

It’s only those parts of a rather messy conversation that I can remember. Naomi looks unhappy, but since my name was mentioned, I have an excuse to intrude. “Let Kenji know what?”

“Enomoto. She’s weakening. Can’t coordinate her movements anymore. The doctors say she won’t have more than a month.”

“Oh God,” I say, meaning it quite sincerely. “That’s very sad. Natsume must be devastated.” Tell the truth, the Yamaku culture prepares us a little for bad news, worse news, and the worst. But when the worst comes, it hurts as just as bad as it hurts anyone else.

“Yeah. She asked if either of us would like to come down and visit.”

“I think perhaps we should. It’s the right thing to do.”

20090316-20090322:

We take the train down to Osaka on Monday. The Enomotos have kindly arranged for us to spend two days at Kasugaoka House, the warm, modern little facility where University Hospital outpatients and the family members of inpatients are allowed to lodge. It’s cherry blossom season, and everything looks beautiful and bright.

Saki Enomoto is like a woman of fine origami paper, or maybe mulberry leaves. She is so pale, so fragile. Her light brown hair makes her seem like a faded image, soon to disappear forever. The vines and veins of her ecosystem trail away from her bed, inputs and outputs that make it clear that a failure state is approaching.

Natsume is by her side, and there are some other friends and family, I assume, sitting outside. I feel like crying even though I only have one clear memory of her, the one in which I stopped her from falling. Now, nobody can stop her from falling. And yet, she smiles, as if cheerful to be leaving soon.

“Hi Saki, I’ve brought my housemate as well. I don’t know if you can remember Setou-san, our senior schoolmate?”

A somewhat floppy hand materializes, and I clasp it, uncertain about how hard to hold on. I feel a momentary spasm, and realize she is trying to offer a greeting. “H-hello, S-Setou-san,” she whispers, her breath whistling up and down the dry corridors of her empty house. “G-good of you.”

I remember her as a normal person. I hate to see her like this. I grip her hand firmly, and happiness glows in her face like the last light of day. Clearly, old Kenji hisses, you’ve spent too much time listening to Naomi’s literary stuff. This girl is a dying person you never knew. Why such words, why so sad?

We leave Japan on Wednesday night. On Friday, we hear the news. Saki Enomoto has gone to be with her ancestors.

20090323-20090329:

They hold the funeral on Tuesday morning, because the death occurred on a day of bad omen, and must be neutralized by a day of good fortune. I don’t pretend to understand all that. Some people have an unusually traditional approach in such matters. However, we don’t get back until Tuesday night because Naomi’s parents have decided to give us a longer break.

It is a very long while before we hear from Natsume again.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Wed Jul 16, 2014 12:38 am, edited 1 time 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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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-5a up 20140716)

Post by brythain » Wed Jul 16, 2014 12:36 am

This is the first section of the fifth instalment of the first part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he suffers dreams, makes new ones, and has an old one destroyed forever.



Kenji: Five Years That Break A Man—Year Five (Part 1)
(20090330-20090830)


The other day, my editor noted that the hobbies and pastimes I was known to be interested in at the time were not really part of my account. As I read through what I have left of my memories, that’s probably true—they do not mean much to me now, and they did not mean much to me in the years when I began redacting my logs. Do you want to know what computer games I played, or the material I studied in school? Huh. I’m not surprised.

What I kept in my logs, surprising even myself, was the faint outline of my life with other humans—the things that made me cry, go mad, howl at the moon; the things that made me feel warm, that were about love and hope. Above all, those humans. You know by now whom I’ve remembered and whom I’ve forgotten.

These are my redacted log entries, from 20050404 to 20100418. I call them ‘Five Years That Break A Man’. The fifth year nearly destroyed me. In fact, the resolution of those black days forced me to become what I am today.

*****

20090330-20090405:

The fair-haired girl stumbles and I move to catch her as she trips over her own feet and goes down the stairs headfirst. “What’s your name?!” I scream. All I hear is the fading ghost-whisper, “Enomoto…” before I awake, soaked in sweat, panting like my heart will burst. Spinocerebellar ataxia. Mitral valve stenosis. Fatal neurodegenerative, meet not-so-fatal cardiological.

She’s dead now, buried in a lovely hillside and blanketed with cherry blossoms. I have dreamed of her every night; in twelve nights I have seen her more than I ever consciously did at Yamaku. Wearily, I stumble to the bathroom to prepare myself for school. Again, and again.

20090406-20090412:

Term has started. Naomi and I are in our second year at Kyodai, the second-oldest university of all Japan. We are closest friends, but not lovers. It is awkward, but I have learnt to live with it; I am not sure what Naomi thinks.

Indeed, I’m resigned to losing her one day. I know she’s not for me. It should make me sad, but it doesn’t. I’m Kenji Setou, and I’ve decided I’ll be whatever I can be. And what is that? The boring life of an engineer, a particular kind—the kind that will let me protect people like her. I’ve been reading the posters and brochures around campus, the stuff people are using to recruit our seniors.

Right now, there are two lines that speak to me from one particular institution. Their stuff says: we will aggressively complete our mission with responsibility, professionalism and pride; we will conduct research and development seeking the most practical technologies that deliver the most appropriate solutions for the user. Yes, that’s Kenji’s meat, that is. I smile grimly to myself, gently to Naomi.

20090413-20090419:

The dreams have gone away. Naomi’s room is across the hallway from mine, in her family’s little home on the scenic outskirts of Kyoto. By clever planning or good fortune, you can look down the passage and out through a window, and see bright blue sky framed by flowers and lit by the sun.

I can only guess that early in the morning, she crosses that passageway, and listens at my door. I have left it unlocked after studying late, and I seldom lock it anyway, because I am in friendly territory.

As I lurch down the stairs too late to catch the fair-haired girl yet again, something grabs my arm. I see her fall, I hear, “Enomoto…” and as I fall after her, I am pulled back. “No!” I cry, “I could have saved her!” There is a cherry blossom falling through the air. She’s gone.

“No, Kenji. Nobody could’ve saved her. It’s OK. Hush now.” I feel my head in someone’s lap. I’m not sobbing anymore. I’m just tired. I rest. And when I wake, another girl with ash-blonde locks and sharp features is gazing down at me.

20090420-20090426:

“No, I’m not going to talk about that anymore. She had a great send-off and half the school turned up, and I’ll miss her, but not as much as other people might.”

I look aghast at Naomi. It seems rather cold of her, normally such a warm person. She looks back with that peculiar miserable-angry-trying-to-smile expression which I have such problems reading. If I weren’t on my meds, I’d be back in my room with the door locked trying to pretend she didn’t exist. But here we are, sitting on the floor again.

“Oh, Kenji,” she says, almost mournfully. She lets my name trail away before starting again. “I’ve never had many friends. I’m a worse bitch than Nat is, when you think about it. I always end up trying to make friends with people who have their own best friends already. And sometimes I forget to be grateful for those I have, and for people like Hakamichi who saved my life and whom I never thanked properly.”

She’s sometimes so mature, sometimes so lost. She’s sometimes a lot like I am, not really broken, just a bit damaged. I put a manly arm around her, not sure why I think it’s manly, but hoping that it is, anyway. Her bony shoulder fits into my armpit, that’s how small she is.

Naomi has shared many things about herself with me. Maybe it’s time I shared something of myself.

20090427-20090510:

Golden Week is here again, with the long holiday break coming at a good time. Our minds are exhausted, and I know Natsume is still not talking with us. It’s time to visit Mother and my elder brother. I make arrangements, and then I ask Naomi. She agrees.

Somebody’s cleaned up the marks I left on the family grave last time. I look up at the sound of shoes on the nearby pathway. Shaggy dark hair framing a pugnacious but winsome face now scrunched up in concentration, my sister Sachiko comes to a halt and glares up at me through glasses possibly as thick as mine.

“Yeah. I cleaned up your mess, oniisan. Is this your lady?” She looks Naomi up and down, taking in the conservative calf-length black skirt, the white blouse and dyed ash-blonde hair, the flowers. “Very decent, elder brother.”

She bows politely. “Hello, this one’s called Sachiko, younger sister of your good friend.” She adds, not looking up, “That is, he who is never at home.”

Naomi smiles. I relax a bit. I can tell when Naomi likes somebody. “Good morning, Sachiko-san. My family name is Inoue, but you can use Naomi.”

“Naomi-san,” Sachi says solemnly, “thank you for visiting our family grave and bringing such lovely flowers. Did Kenji-niichan say what else we normally bring?”

I pull the bottle of 1994 Macallan out. It’s older than my sister. Sachi grins appreciatively and deposits her large pizza bag on the ground. I look at Naomi.

“We honour Mother, and our elder brother Masaru, at least once a year. Traditionally we have a little meal, a white pizza with proper whisky.”

A while later, Sachi decides to let Naomi in on family matters. “Mother and elder brother passed away when I was very young,” she begins. “I don’t have many memories of them, but I always think of Mother as being away for a while and not really gone. Our father brought us up as army brats for a while. Sometimes Mother’s sister would come by to help.”

I twitch a bit at the thought of Aunt Midori. Her tongue is as sharp as my non-father’s is blunt. She has always admired him, though. Damn. Perhaps she might be my non-stepmother one day.

Naomi springs a surprise on me. “Ah, Sachiko-san, I’m not sure if this is appropriate, but your brother told me it was your birthday recently and we bought something for you.”

We did? I did? I can’t remember. I feel a sudden surge of guilt. 18th April. Since when did you neglect Sachi’s birthday?

It’s something simple: a single string of tiny freshwater pearls, the kind of gift someone might buy for a valued but unfamiliar acquaintance. Sachiko looks stunned, and then appreciative. She looks at me gratefully, although there is a touch of disbelief. “Thank you very much, so unexpected! This one doesn’t deserve such a beautiful and well-chosen gift.” She’s all over herself trying to be formal, which is rather cute.

As I watch Sachi and Naomi bond over whisky and pizza, I wonder if there is a chance I can win this fight, make Naomi mine. Is it what a friend should do? Do I have the true feelings that would allow me to make a fair confession? Ah, screw it, Kenji. You have no chance against the feminist conspiracy. Whisky is a mocker, they say.

20090511-20090517:

Random thought: I am embarrassed to realize that I spent three years thinking that Tezuka was male. I wonder what happened to her Tokyo exhibition. I realize that my life has many, many loose ends. On impulse, I focus my efforts back into the Net.

Hmmm. The Fist is studying economics in Nagasaki—well, who would have imagined that! Tezuka did have an exhibition in Tokyo, which had weird news exposure in many websites. And… Takahashi is hard to find. Random images of her performing at various concerts, and no private life. Ah well. At least someone remembers her. I trawl the waters, learn many things, feel despondent, and stop.

20090518-20090531:

“What’s that you’re reading?” she asks. I look up from my history of the siege of Vienna, ready for another book discussion. Then I realize she knows very well what I’m reading, and grin. She’s very good at the indirect approach.

“What’s up, girl?”

“Heh, I just had an idea. You’ve been a year in Kyoto and you’ve not been to Nijo Castle or the old Imperial Palace. Would you like to go? They have a nightingale floor at Nijo, and it’s quite impressive all round.”

It is indeed impressive. As we look around, I’m taken by Naomi’s deep interest in the matter. “I didn’t know you were a history buff. I thought it was only literature, like manga and Murakami and the older stuff, like ‘The Tale of Genji’.”

She gives me a ‘silly Kenji’ look and smiles impishly. “History’s the factual part of narrative, and literature is a narrative art. Like journalism, but with more license. I read a lot, you know. I’m a bit insulted that you haven’t noticed.”

Actually, I have observed her reading a lot, but what I’ve not noticed is what she reads. Time for a Kenji save. “So what have you been reading?”

“I’ve been reading these books by a foreign woman about a culture that’s meant to be Japanese. ‘Ōtori no Monogatari’, the series is called. Kind of a strange mirror of our culture, how other people read us. And the first book was ‘Across the Nightingale Floor’, which is why we’re here in Nijo Castle.”

Aha, that explains the sudden fascination. I was more interested in the castle defences and anti-ninja arrangements. But this Ōtori stuff sounds interesting, so I reply, “Are these books in your room? If so, I’d like to have a look.”

“I’ve already returned them to the library, but it’d be great if you borrow them out and try them. Then we can have a discussion about them! When we were at Yamaku, I used to have book discussions with Nat and Hana all the time.”

“Really? I used to spend time in the library until my final year, which I spend hiding in my room and studying. Never noticed you. But that’s probably because I can’t see much further than my book when I’m reading.”

“Weren’t you dating our librarian at one time?”

Aaargh. That is such a dirty blow. Suddenly old Kenji is raging in my head, saying that the feminists have got to me again, that all this was a set-up, that they’ve been spying on me. I grit my teeth so hard that my jaw hurts. Old Kenji won’t win. This time, anyway.

20090601-20090614:

Book discussions can be interesting. Naomi’s not very interested in the joy I have when I read Donald Knuth, and why I’m so frustrated by the lack of a proper Volume 4 of his works. But I can appreciate history, and although my taste is not for fantasy novels, I don’t mind historical or science fiction.

We’re like a mini book club, just the two of us. It’s a challenge to keep up with her, and I think we both enjoy the verbal tussling and mutual appreciation. One day, I ask if we should invite Natsume to join us, but Naomi just looks away and says, “I’ll ask her when she bothers to speak to me.”

It sort of ruins the birthday surprise I have for her. We celebrate her 20th birthday very quietly instead.

20090615-20090628:

That innocent question Naomi posed at the castle has been eating away at me for a while. Was I ever dating Yuuko? It seems so long ago, as if that wasn’t me, was never me. But I have a feeling I once did. And I feel guilty, although I don’t quite know why.

I look through my emails. Although you can delete stuff, most of it can be found and retrieved. And there it is: <y.shirakawa@sal.tohoku.ac.jp>, just as I recalled. It takes me a long time to figure out what I should say, and I cringe at how unmanly I’ve been in dealing with her. I must have hurt her a lot. Still unsure about whether what I’m sending is right, I send it anyway.

A reply comes quickly. [Setou-san, how have you been? It has been a very long time since we last communicated. I wish you well and hope you will keep in touch. YS.] It seems dry, not particularly friendly, like something a distant acquaintance would write. But maybe it is a restart option. I don’t deserve more. So I think about it some more, decide to keep it to email, and respond carefully.

20090629-20090705:

“Hey, Naomi…”

“Mmm?” She looks up from her latest tribulation, a dense thicket of words by ‘Murakami F.’. It has a title so long that I’d have to borrow it myself to have the time to copy it down [Ed.: here it is — Postmodern, Feminist and Postcolonial Currents in Contemporary Japanese Culture: A Reading of Murakami Haruki, Yoshimoto Banana, Yoshimoto Takaaki and Karatani Kōjin].

“Sea Day’s coming. Would you like to go down to Osaka and visit Natsume? Have some of that famous seafood just a short distance away?”

Very carefully, she places a bookmark in the cleft between pages and closes her book. She looks up at me with oddly steady eyes. “Kenji, perhaps it is still not the time to intrude on her very private grief for our fallen comrade, yes?”

What comrade business is this? Old Kenji cackles gleefully in the forests of my head. I shut him up and get back on topic. “Well, somewhere nearby, just to get some appropriate view of large watery spaces?”

“Hmmmm.” Her face softens a bit, and she twitches her nose in the way she does when she starts thinking about something new. “We've not really explored Biwa-ko. There’s a place where Murasaki started writing ‘The Tale of Genji’. Also, the old pearl fields, where old Mikimoto began our freshwater pearl industry.”

“It’s a lake, not the sea!” I laugh, before I realize that this might offend her. It’s a very historic lake, next to the old Imperial Court and its conspiracies. Biwa is the largest enclosed inland body of water in Japan, and one that I really should have visited. I’m sure she already has, having lived here all her life.

She doesn’t seem to take offence. “Yeah, we can take our time with Biwa. But not Osaka yet. Maybe Awaji? Kobe? Or both? There’s that bridge…”

I know what she’s talking about; the longest suspension bridge in the world runs from Tarumi Ward in Kobe to Awaji Island. They call it the Isle of Flowers. It feels nice, planning a tourist-style trip with her.

20090706-20090726:

I abandon my log for almost a fortnight as I get caught up in things. Naomi turns into a whirlwind of ideas, as if something has been gumming up her creative pipes and she’s now got to let it all out. We visit Biwa-ko on the 11th and 12th of July, backpacking overnight, enjoying the chill night air and the warmth of good company. We go down to Awaji from the 18th to the 20th, which is Sea Day.

Something I can’t explain happens there. We’re sitting in a field surrounded by flowers, and the wind is rising. You can hear it, and in the distance the thrumming vibration of a generator windmill. Then Naomi turns to me and says something really unexpected: “Do you remember Takahashi? She was from your year, I think.”

I stammer a reply, feeling somewhat disconcerted. “Ah, yes. The violinist.” Indeed, the violinist I remember every Sea Day, but how could Naomi have known that? Kagami Takahashi was actually one year older than I, but her academic life was spread out unconventionally by her condition.

“The sound of the wind reminds me of the music she liked to play. That British composer with the long family name? There was a piece that begins with something like that. Nat and I eavesdropped on her a few times. So beautiful.”

Maybe we are all connected by synchronicity. I look at Naomi, lying in the sun with her hands cupping her head, spread out on our groundsheet. I remember Takahashi, like a ghost in a dream, practicing complicated violin parts in a dim and musty room. So different, and yet linked by accidents of fate.

I suddenly want to kiss her. I think she senses it too, and tilts her head inquiringly at me. But old Kenji yells in my ears, “No, you’re not good enough yet!!!” and the moment passes. I look away. She remains silent. We watch the flowers toss in the breeze.

20090727-20090802:

[I miss you, brother. Dad is always gloomy or drunk or both. Hideaki hasn’t quite grown up yet, and I’ve really nobody to talk to each day. I need to type this out because I can’t just let my heart burst all over the phone. It’s kind of humiliating to have to tell you this because you’re such an ass. But I miss you. S.]

Sachiko is fourteen now. It’s a difficult time. Next year she’ll be going to high school, probably with Hideaki Hakamichi as her default boyfriend. It would be amusing, except that I had a difficult time at that age, and I hope she has a better go of it. The email sitting in my inbox is making me feel terrible. I really should try to see her more. She’s all the family I really have.

That thought makes me feel sad. At the moment, the Inoue household is more family to me than whatever was left of the Setou household after Mother and Masaru went away.

20090803-20090809:

[Sachi-chan, I’m sorry this email took so long to write. I’ve been an ass, you’re right about that. Your elder brother should be your best friend, or at least someone you can talk to. But it’s not my fault the General threw me out of the house. Maybe you should come down to Kyoto and live with us. I’m sure Naomi wouldn’t mind. K.]

[You don’t understand. My eyesight’s almost gone, I’m like you. They’re sending me off to Yamaku. Like you. And I’ll be all alone. I don’t want to be like you when you were in high school. Naomi’s nice. But you can’t be serious. S.]

They? Is she thinking of Mother as still alive? I remember how I felt when my eyesight went. It’s a condition we share, hereditary macular degeneration. It can become serious in the early teenage years, and then after that you only have peripheral vision left. I’m taking saffron supplements on the Black Dragon’s advice, and they seem to help.

[What do you mean, ‘they’? And you won’t be alone. Yamaku people always stick together. Naomi’s one of us too. K.]

[Dad and Aunty Midori. She’s going to be my legal guardian. I won’t know anybody at Yamaku. Hideaki won’t be going there since there’s nothing wrong with him. S.]

Legal guardian? Only if something has gone wrong with the General. And even then, Midori-the-Tigress would need to be married. Oh, shit. Of course. She’s always had the hots for my non-father. No wonder Sachi won’t come out and say it directly, that the woman will be her stepmother.

20090810-20090830:

It’s summer vacation, and things are looking up. Natsume is back on speaking terms with Naomi, even though their relationship still feels a bit strained. They’ve gone on a girls-only trip to Taiwan, which might as well be another universe, as far as I’m concerned—a source of once-cheap PC parts.

The Black Dragon has invited me to spend the break at Hamamatsu. Interestingly, he says he’ll be away, but I’m welcome to use his house as a base of operations. He also says I’m welcome to bring my lady friend. Ah well, you can’t win them all.

When I get there, Dr Ikegami hands me the keys and offers me his trademark toothy grin. “What, no girl? The prof will be so disappointed. His aim is to make sure that his nephew has every chance for a happy marriage.” Yeah, rub it in.

If I could summarize Hamamatsu, it’s like this: one skyscraper, ten thousand Brazilians; high-tech defence industries and strange geographical features; museums mostly related to music and Ieyasu Tokugawa, who lived here for almost two decades. There’s enough to keep me occupied for three weeks, and the Black Dragon has kindly provided most of what I need.

But there’s one thing that happens which I won’t forget. I’m working on my secondary list of things to do, and that includes a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum. Interesting place, with maybe 2000 different instruments from all around the world; you’re even allowed to play some of them, and you can hear audio tracks of the rest.

And then there she is, long thick auburn-tinted hair, neatly done up with a striking midnight-blue ribbon. Before I can stop myself, I carve a path through the hordes of little kiddy visitors towards her.

“Takahashi-san?” Several people look up. It’s not a rare name. But she doesn’t turn around until I gently tap her on her bare shoulder.

“Yes?” she replies, frowning a little. “May I help you?”

“This is Setou, your schoolmate from Yamaku. You taught me how beautiful music could be.” I’ve had a lot of time to think of what to say, and now I’m not saying any of it, because—cruel irony—I’ve forgotten all of it and I have to improvise.

“Ah. I’m so sorry that I have not recognized you, Setou-san. We must have changed quite a bit since we left school.”

No, no, you’ve not changed at all, you’re as elegant and poised, and your bare right shoulder doesn’t quite match your purple-clad left shoulder because that’s where you put your violin, and… my thought-stream runs on babbling to itself.

“That is true. I must say you look as charming as ever.” I can’t invite her to lunch: she doesn’t know me. I can’t tell her I love her, because even if I once did, it wouldn’t be true anymore. I’ve been waiting for this moment for ages, and the metallic taste of disappointment is creeping into my mind, because it’s not a fairy-tale, and this is reality.

“Thank you very much; that is a kind compliment.” She looks down at her smartphone, apparently searching for something.

“You’re very welcome,” I reply; I can guess what she’s doing, and I wait for her to run through her auxiliary memory.

“I have an appointment for lunch, I’m afraid. But it was nice meeting you again, Setou-san. It must have been two or three years since we last met.”

She’s learnt to cover up her memory loss very well. She doesn’t know me at all, and she has kept no memories of me. The pain is dulled by time, sharpened on one edge by immediacy. I have to let her go. “The pleasure’s mine, Takahashi-san. Please don’t let me keep you.”

She nods politely, and disappears into the sea of people. It is how I’ll always remember her, that upturned face, the stray wisps of warm red-brown hair, the deep eyes and serious expression.

And that’s all I can have really. I feel cast adrift—my past is gone, my future uncertain. I will never be able to hear some pieces without thinking of her, but from now on, she’ll be only a memory, no longer a real person. Unbidden, I feel the hot tears come. Ruthlessly, I hold them back behind the barrier of my glasses.

=====
prev | next
Last edited by brythain on Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:02 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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forgetmenot
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-5a up 20140716)

Post by forgetmenot » Wed Jul 16, 2014 2:59 am

Hoo boy. Doesn't this pack quite the emotional wallop.

It's interesting to see one's own character used to illustrate themes you'd have never even considered on your own. Especially one with such gravitas as the persistence/illusion of memory when compared to the now. It's funny that she should show up in such a prominent way, but it also makes sense, somehow.

Anyhow I feel like this was the most effective chapter yet out of the whole bunch. Mostly because it's so easy to relate to. People we leave behind often turn out to be just a fraction of what we've built up in our heads over time, and it always hurts to confront reality when it's so starkly different from what you remember. Good job.

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brythain
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-5a up 20140716)

Post by brythain » Wed Jul 16, 2014 3:15 am

forgetmenot wrote:Hoo boy. Doesn't this pack quite the emotional wallop.

It's interesting to see one's own character used to illustrate themes you'd have never even considered on your own. Especially one with such gravitas as the persistence/illusion of memory when compared to the now. It's funny that she should show up in such a prominent way, but it also makes sense, somehow.

Anyhow I feel like this was the most effective chapter yet out of the whole bunch. Mostly because it's so easy to relate to. People we leave behind often turn out to be just a fraction of what we've built up in our heads over time, and it always hurts to confront reality when it's so starkly different from what you remember. Good job.
That means a lot to me; as I fervently hoped, I was being respectful to both you and the lovely character you created. As Kenji comes to the brink of his personal apocalypse, the things that used to tie him to the past are falling away, I guess. Poor guy.
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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