Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6 complete 20190527)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 upd 20140901)

Post by Oscar Wildecat » Mon Sep 01, 2014 9:57 am

brythain wrote:Sorry for the disjointed nature of this section; Kenji admits that he hadn't much time to take notes when he was running around helping to look after Masako. But I think there's a lot more story left in this most unreliable of my narrators, who is about to pick up an even more interesting editor… :) Thanks, as always, for being enthusiastic and appreciative readers!
When I'm dealing with a couple who's looking after an infant, I overlook much -- especially the lack of time to take notes. So Kenji -- and his editors -- have little to fear from this appreciative reader.
I like all the girls in KS, but empathize with Hanako the most.
"Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience." - Mark Twain
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 upd 20140901)

Post by brythain » Tue Sep 02, 2014 1:59 am

Oscar Wildecat wrote:
brythain wrote:Sorry for the disjointed nature of this section; Kenji admits that he hadn't much time to take notes when he was running around helping to look after Masako. But I think there's a lot more story left in this most unreliable of my narrators, who is about to pick up an even more interesting editor… :) Thanks, as always, for being enthusiastic and appreciative readers!
When I'm dealing with a couple who's looking after an infant, I overlook much -- especially the lack of time to take notes. So Kenji -- and his editors -- have little to fear from this appreciative reader.
I've just caught Yuuko attempting to mislead Hisao in Shizune's route where she says she didn't go to school at Yamaku. Luckily the AtD-verse isn't based on that route… :) Have you seen Yuuko sulking before? It is tremendous. She's better at it than anyone else I've met in the KS context. Of course, Kenji's not too happy I've said that. But in a manly way, he agrees. :)
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 3-1b upd 20140912)

Post by brythain » Fri Sep 12, 2014 1:15 pm

This is the second half of the first instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he learns a lot more about friends and family than he thought he would.



Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year One (Part 2)
(January-March 2016)


There were three men, once upon a time. They dreamt big dreams, and all of those dreams mixed with the inspiration from their teachers and friends, and somehow, improbably, a map of the future was sketched.

We thought it was fantasy then. But when I look back to the long off-and-on relationship that I had with Hisao and—years later—the other guy, it was amazing that it had happened at all.

These notes come from the years 2015-2020. A lot happened in those years that I thought was quiet, domestic and not too difficult to handle. If I’d been listening more carefully, I would have heard more. That’s why I’ve called this section ‘distant drums’.

*****

Stress. But this time, not mine, but Hisao’s. I’ve managed to convince him that the occasional Scotch is fine. And here we are, in Saitama, having a slow drink.

“The qualification period started two years ago. She’s qualified. Several times over. She trains. She trains so hard that I’m often not sure we’re having a relationship.”

Yuuko makes good coffee. It’s pleasantly aromatic. But for some strange reason, there’s a long winter break and she’s gone off with little Masako to spend time in Yokohama with her siblings. Her younger sister-in-law Azami, Shin’s wife, seems to like our little pink cabbage a lot. I find that cute, and I completely understand.

But sometimes, brotherhood comes first. Yuuko just laughed when I said that, and said, “You spend time with your depressed friend, then! I remember him telling me all about his Satou problems, years ago. I told him it was… ah, always better to try than to not try!”

So here I am with old friend Hisao, using slightly inferior coffee to wash down our highly superior whisky. I listen sympathetically, providing manly support, as Hisao talks to me about the Ibarazaki we see on TV, the Paralympics track star who sometimes doesn’t seem to be his girlfriend.

“Bro, didn’t you ever like anyone else?”

He looks up at me, his forehead sadly wrinkling. “You know I did, you heartless asshole.”

“I mean, besides my former class rep.”

Hisao laughs, but it’s hollow. “The first girl I liked gave me a bad heart, the second girl I liked stole it away, what more is there to say?”

“Hey, hey, you have that spunky little beauty making you exercise every day to make your heart work better, what’s the problem now?” I gesture at the large screen hanging from the tavern ceiling. Then I stop and look at him.

“You mean there was someone else before Lilly Satou? And you never told your good friend Kenji??” I’m about to thump him on the back when I remember the day in the cafeteria when he yelled at me for doing just that. Whoops. Heart condition, yeah. And we were just talking about it too.

“Yeah. Didn’t I tell you? I had one letter from her while I was at Yamaku.”

“Oh, dude. The yellow letter, right? From some girl with a fishy name?” It’s amazing what you can dig up when you think hard enough. In this case, it’s also a case of ‘amazing what you can dig up when you go through people’s trash’. Oops. He’s looking at me as if I’ve grown wings and boobs.

“How the hell did you know that, Kenji?”

“I… ah, I think you showed it to me.” Actually, not directly.

“I did?” His brow furrows so deeply I’m afraid his forehead will have an earthquake. “Well, yeah, that one. We’ve lost touch. I guess she’s still somewhere in Yokohama.”

“Really? I never knew you were from there. Why didn’t you say? We could have gone there, visited your parents, hung out a bit. Now I feel bad.”

“Nah, too much trouble. I have nice folks, but they’re happy with the way my life turned out. I just don’t like going home. What if I see her? I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“My friend,” I sigh, “Life’s too short. It’s been ten damn years already! Forgive and forget! She was your first love, man! Besides, Yuuko’s visiting her family in Yokohama this week, and I’ve never visited them before.”

“Yuuko? Has a family?” He sounds so surprised, as if other people aren’t supposed to have families.

“Of course she has a family. She has two brothers in the big family home there. Her father travels a lot, so they also have an apartment in Tokyo because father’s wife is some sort of senior violinist at the Philharmonic there. She’s actually a Kyoto girl, I believe.” It’s one fact about Yuuko’s stepmother Mari that has stuck in my head.

“I thought Yuuko was an orphan. I came out of Yamaku thinking everyone had only one parent, or no parents, or missing parents, except me.”

I laugh at his expression. Damn, after all these years, Hisao Nakai is still so naïve. Either that or it’s part of his infiltrator skillset which makes him a Master of Romance. Girls fall for innocent-sounding guys.

Then he starts to laugh back at me, no longer able to maintain his poker face. Idiot. “Hisao,” I hiss at him, “You were my best man! You’ve met them all already! Asshole!”

“Yeah. I guess becoming a father takes a lot out of you, huh?”

I punch him on the shoulder, hard enough to make his tumbler shake but not enough to waste good whisky. It just makes him giggle. Such an unmanly sound!

On impulse, I make a decision. “Hey, Hisao, wanna go south for the winter? Come on, it’ll be fun.”

He makes a face, then looks up at the TV, where his girlfriend is having her ultratight running outfit and composite-material legs scrutinized for the umpteenth news-cycle. “Yeah, why not? I have unfinished business, anyway. Kenji, you always get me into interesting situations, but Emi’s not due back till… whenever. So, okay.”

Just like that, another turn of events. How the hell was I to know what would happen next?

*****

It’s right that we visit Hisao’s parents first, and besides, it gives me time to pinpoint Yuuko’s location in Yokohama before we proceed with Operation Garden Market. Or at least, based on what he tells me, that’s what I call it.

“Futamatagawa Station?” I ask him again. I can’t say I know my way around at all, in this region. But it sounds interesting.

“There’s a great Farmer’s Market there, all kinds of good food, things like apple/rye bread and sweet cabbage… I used to hang out with my friends there, before, well… before.”

“It’s January, Hisao. What do they have in January?”

“Strawberries, of course. Apples, persimmons. Mushrooms, leeks, mountain yam, burdock root, delicious lemons…” He gets a funny faraway look on his face at this point. Unbelievable.

“Hey man, you told me once you were a city boy and didn’t know shit about such things.”

“I don’t know how to grow them, Kenji. But I had to eat, you know, help my mother with the groceries, that kind of thing? And I wasn’t a pizza and whisky fiend like some people I know!”

Come to think of it, I had a very unhealthy diet when I was growing up. The General probably was feeding us surplus SDF ration packs.

The train pulls into the station, and we get out, stretch our legs and look around before Hisao takes off at a casual but surprisingly efficient lope. That woman must be having a great effect on his cardiovascular fitness. Both of us have heart problems and yet… gah, I try my best to catch up, and after a while he slows down when he notices I’m looking a bit queasy.

About an hour later, we carry bags of groceries up a narrow lane that winds its way up the hills to the southeast of the station. The sky is filled with overhead power cables, and I can see a few large Eiffel-Tower-shaped pylons. I wonder about the electromagnetic flux density. We stop at one of the nondescript houses that cluster on one of the ridges, and Hisao dings the doorbell.

“Hicchan!”

My friend winces. I wonder why that voice sounds so familiar. Then I realize that it’s Shizune’s friend Misha. Not. It just sounds a bit like her. I stare a bit harder, trying to get my lenses to focus better. The woman bustling out to greet us is tall and lean, sharp-featured with a piercing gaze. Her face is more like Shizune’s, but with brown hair like Hisao’s.

“Mum!” he says, bowing.

“So pleased to see you! When Dad told me you were visiting, I was wondering who you would bring with you, though.” Quick to the chase, Hisao’s mother. She is already looking me up and down, as if disappointed that I’m not a girl. “Who’s this young man?”

“Ah, Mrs Nakai, my family name is Setou,” I say, bowing deeper than Hisao. “Very privileged to be able to meet you. I was Hisao’s neighbour in the Yamaku dorms.”

“Oh? You are the one who knows a lot about pizza and alcohol and computers? Welcome, welcome! Come in! Hicchan, bring the food to the backroom fridge.”

Lunch is a good, solid affair. Hisao’s father cooks like a master chef. He’s a retired financial specialist, a stockbroker type. Hisao’s mother is an architect. Over the table, I learn more. It is hilarious but in a bad way when Hisao’s father starts talking about my friend’s love-life.

“So this beautiful girl opens the door, and she has perfect manners, her hands tucked into her sleeves and all. And I’m wondering, have I got the wrong address, which can’t be because I pay the rental. So I check her out,” he says, while Mrs Nakai glares daggers into his cheerful round face, “and I think to myself what a wonderful tan she has, and my son is so lucky! Then she says, ‘Hisao’s not at home, I’m only his friend, don’t worry,’ and I suddenly feel so sad!”

I laugh, and then I almost choke when he continues, “Story of Hisao’s life, stubborn fellow. They’re all his friends! This one was embarrassed to show us she only had one hand though. It’s sad. But a pretty girl anyway.”

“She was living with him?” I ask casually.

“Yes! Almost like man and wife, the way she poured tea for us and all!”

Miki. I feel a sudden funny twinge in the guts. She actually lived with him? Bastard!

Hisao’s mother coughs politely. “Eh, Father, you are terrible. She was just a friend. I think she made it very clear to us, and we shouldn’t tease poor Hicchan like that.”

“Was joking only! Anyway, he was dating a blind girl and there was a deaf one, I think; the next one has no arms at all, and then it’s Emi Ibarazaki, and I told Mother, ‘Hey, dear, if this goes on, our son will have no body at all!’ Haha!”

That’s a very off-putting joke. There’s deathly silence around the table. Then Hisao says, “Ah, Dad, let me help Mum do the washing up.”

I look at him. He doesn’t look happy at all. He looks a bit miserable, actually. So I say, “Nakai-san, thank you for sharing those stories about Hisao. We learnt a lot at Yamaku together, there were many nice people there.”

Hisao’s mother gives a tiny nod at my attempt to defuse this situation, and it makes me feel better. Who would have thought Kenji Setou would be the tactful guy? Damn!

*****

It’s evening now. After a manly walkabout in which Hisao shows me the parts of his neighbourhood he still has good memories about, we’re heading into the visit-the-in-laws phase. My in-laws. Yuuko’s family. Strangely, Hisao looks more depressed than I do. I actually quite like my in-laws: silent and solitary Shou with the mystical utterances, affable Shin with the high tolerance for bullshit, and his wife Azami with the quirky bipolar thing.

“That’s where I went to school,” he says bleakly as we take the train westward and alight at Kibogaoka Station. “There’s a little wood behind the school, which I know very well.”

Why’s he sounding so sad about it? In fact, he’s sounding more and more subdued, as if visiting my in-laws is a great pain for him! “Hey, dude, why so melancholy?” I ask, feeling uneasy.

“That wood was where I had my first heart attack, Kenji. I’ve not been back for almost a decade now.”

“Here?”

“Yeah. Near where your in-laws live.”

“How on earth do you know where they live?”

“You have the map address on your phone and you keep waving it around.”

“Oh.”

He sighs deeply, then leads the way to Yuuko’s family home. Clearly I’ve underestimated his map-reading skills. I was right all along, he’s got the infiltrator skill set at a very high level. I catch up with him, and we reach the gate together. “Hey, slow down, dude, you don’t want them to find two of us collapsed within arm’s length of safe haven, you know!”

He grunts. “Let’s get it over with, Kenji.” He sounds so surly and so unlike himself that I wonder about whether he’s forgotten his meds or something.

The gate opens by remote and Yuuko comes running out from the front door to greet us. “Hey, husband! You got Hisao here safely… aha, I thought you might have got him lost in some tavern somewhere!”

I hug her warmly, and over her shoulder I see Shin and Azami. Shou is probably lurking in his upstairs observatory. Arm in arm, we stroll up the path that leads to the warm dark wood that frames the house.

“Father and his wife are in Tokyo for a concert tonight. Masako’s sleeping upstairs and Shou’s looking after her. So Shin’s cooked dinner all by himself for you and your old friend.” Actually, I can totally imagine that. Azami, always on the skinny side, never seemed the kind to enjoy cooking, while Shin’s a bit chubby.

While we chat, Hisao’s flanked me on the left. He reaches the door first, and Yuuko and I turn to see what he’s doing.

“Hey, Shin,” he says. “Mai-chan, nice to see you both again.” What? He sounds very familiar with my in-laws, despite only seeing them for a few minutes at the wedding.

“Hicchan!” Azami says, giving him a warm embrace of the sisterly kind and baring her huge teeth. “We have so much to catch up on!” Shin joins in with a huge hug for everyone.

I look at Yuuko. “Wife, how come they know each other so well?”

“Um, I don’t really know. When I told them who you were bringing, they went all funny and Shin decided to go shopping for special food, and Azami cleaned the house. Weird!”

“Yuuko, what aren’t you telling me?” I smile at her. Nowadays I can detect it when she’s avoiding something.

“Ah, well. I think Shin knows Hisao. When I was working in the library years ago, Shin called me and said he had a friend going to Yamaku, and asked me to help him if I could. Then he was strange, he said, ‘Don’t tell Hisao about me, he might get angry.’”

I guess we’ll just have to wait for dinner to get some questions answered, then.

*****

It’s a good dinner. Shin’s made little deep-fried tofu and omelette-wrapped appetizers, meat skewers, and small delicately grilled fish. There’s a big hotpot with spicy sauce, something I don’t recognize. Our little Masako joins us halfway through, and gets a meal from her mother, who excuses herself shyly.

I’m happy to be with family, since mine is mostly gone. But I’m interested to see how Hisao fits in. Surely he’s not a long-lost cousin or something? That would be stretching the bounds of probability. The truth, when it comes, is a lot more mundane.

“So,” I try to summarise, “Shin and Azami were your close friends in school, and then this girl Iwanako gave you a heart attack, and you ended up in Yamaku, and that’s your story? But why didn’t you guys stick together? I mean…”

Yuuko looks up from her breast-feeding, also curious about the story. There are guilty looks being traded all round the table. Finally, Azami breaks the lull.

“We used to visit Hisao in hospital, and wonder when he’d ever get out again. They had to operate a few times on his heart, and each time he just got more and more discouraged. Then one day he told us to get lost, he was angry and cursed us. He was depressed that he might die and it wasn’t even his fault.”

After all these years, I can still sense the emotion in my sister-in-law’s voice. “So Takumi, our other friend, said, ‘Let’s just leave him alone, maybe he’ll change his mind, but if he doesn’t we did our best.’ Iwanako felt very bad about that, and she kept visiting him, even when he didn’t want to talk.”

“Yeah…” Hisao says slowly. “I finally told her to go away. She came every day, then every other day, then only once a week, and one fine day… she never came again. By that time, I thought I was dead, just stuck between earth and hell in a white box, with a tiny TV set mocking me, and my parents appearing like ghosts to give me books to read.”

Shin clears his throat. “We were all worried for him, but we were young, and I think we were afraid that if we went back he might blow up and that would trigger another heart attack. Then my father had this idea, and when he met Hisao’s father at the hospital, he told him about Yamaku, which is where he’d already sent Yuuko some years before.”

Hisao gives a wry smile. There are a few tiny drops of bitterness in it, but not too many. “Well, that didn’t seem a great idea to me, but I was a walking dead man anyway. The first week of school at Yamaku, I almost gave up. I mean, my only neighbour was Kenji here.”

“Hey!” I say, neatly finishing off the last gyoza dumpling. “Don’t blame me, man, I was trying to save your life from the women!”

Azami chuckles at that. “When I saw Hisao at your wedding, I couldn’t believe it. Shin and I didn’t dare to approach him, in case he exploded or something!” More seriously, she adds, “Iwanako had written to him and got no reply, so it was as if Hisao had cut us off completely from his life.”

“Mai-chan… I think I had,” my friend says. “It was better to go on without all that memory of sadness. And I’d met Lilly…” His voice trails off, and I sense the dangerous edge of the cliff waiting there for him.

“Well, he’s got Emi Ibarazaki now, fastest thing on no legs, track champion, chirpy as a bird!” I sound desperate for a happy moment, even to me.

Fortunately, everyone decides to laugh, and after a while, Hisao smiles. His smile is a little tired, but good food and some lovely chilled sake help take the edge away. Not all of it, though.

“Where’s Iwanako these days?” he asks, playing with his little sake cup.

Again, that guilty silence, that uncertainty. I’m almost beginning to regret bringing Hisao into this, except that… maybe, it’s necessary? I feel uncertain about this, but it feels true.

Azami again. “She married Takumi and they moved up to Fukushima. He is, was a nuclear engineer. I think they’re both working in some engineering company still. We’ve lost touch.”

Hisao takes a deep breath. “Well, I hope they’re fine, wherever they are.” He finishes off the last few drops in the thimble. “I never knew Shin would become such a great cook! What’s for dessert?”

You have to give the man credit for trying.

*****

“Hey, Kenji!” says the voice over the phone a few weeks later.

“Wassup, man?”

“I just thought I’d thank you for that great trip we had to Yokohama!”

I was beginning to wonder. Hisao had hardly spoken to me on the way back, and when we’d changed trains, he’d given a rather brusque wave before he was gone.

“No problem! Glad you got something out of it.” I hesitate for a moment. “Actually, I was a bit worried for you, so I’m happy you called.”

“Heh. Guess whose birthday it is today.”

Oh, shit. It’s Lilly Satou’s birthday. Who else would it be, in February? Except, of course, Miki—and hers is on the 19th. “Errm, what are you going to do?”

“When I told Lilly about Iwanako’s letter, she said to me, ‘Instead of doing what was easiest, she built up the courage to talk to you one last time; not only for her sake but, from how it sounds, for yours as well.’ I wrote those words down. I’m not as brave as Iwanako was, I can’t call Lilly up and say I’m sorry. But I’ve made sure that one day she’ll know how I felt.”

“Right.” I don’t know what to say.

“So, thanks for the reunion. It was really good to see Shin and Mai again. They’re good people. I was bad to them back then, and it was good to make up. Give my regards to Yuuko and Masako!”

“Sure! You take care, dude.”

“Bye, Kenji.”

Spring is coming in a month or two. It always comes. Every year has a burden of sadness, but also a payload of joy. We all do what we can, with what we have. I wish Hisao all the best. And perhaps for the first time, I say a little prayer for Lilly Satou, my enigmatic classmate whom I hardly knew.

*****

I’ll end this chunk of my records with a few simple facts. In March, Yuuko turns 28, and we celebrate a lot. It isn’t April yet, when she says, “Kenji, um, I think Masako’s going to have company.”

I am delighted. I am thrilled. I embrace my darling wife so tightly that she has to wriggle a bit to get comfortable. Who knew that my life would have such undeserved gladness in it?

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Wed Nov 26, 2014 8:02 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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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-1b upd 20140912)

Post by azumeow » Fri Sep 12, 2014 1:38 pm

Lemons, small worlds, and a hint to Hisao's grave marker.

Brythain, you genius, you. Keep it up. Like McDonald's, I'm lovin' it!
"I don’t want to be here anymore, I know there’s nothing left worth staying for.
Your paradise is something I’ve endured
See I don’t think I can fight this anymore, I’m listening with one foot out the door
And something has to die to be reborn-I don’t want to be here anymore"

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3b upd 20140912)

Post by Silentcook » Fri Sep 12, 2014 3:04 pm

brythain wrote:This is the second half of the first instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
You're getting... convoluted. :|
Shattering your dreams since '94.

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3b upd 20140912)

Post by brythain » Fri Sep 12, 2014 7:12 pm

Silentcook wrote:
brythain wrote:This is the second half of the first instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
You're getting... convoluted. :|
Blame Kenji! All it means is that that's Chapter 3-1b. :D
azumeow wrote:Lemons, small worlds, and a hint to Hisao's grave marker.

Brythain, you genius, you. Keep it up. Like McDonald's, I'm lovin' it!
Thank you! Like an earlier McDonald's jingle said, "We do it all for you!"
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 3-2a upd 20140919)

Post by brythain » Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:12 am

This is the first third of the second instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Kenji's daughter Masako turns one! And Hisao Nakai unburdens himself a lot.

The Rika Katayama incident can be seen from Rika's perspective here.



Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Two
(April 2016-September 2016)


There’s always a sense of unease in my country. The neighbours are too big, and the whole Pacific Rim teems with competition. It is like Britain in the Atlantic, no longer the best place to live, no longer a leader, but still inspiring funny emotions from everyone around them.

Throughout five years of my life, the man named Hisao Nakai taught me as much as I taught him. He was my best man. I was his best friend. And yet, not everything was as clear as people think.

These notes come from the years 2015-2020. I heard the drums, and so did he, and neither of us believed in anything except love. Sometimes, not even that.

*****

“So, dude, how many does she think she’ll get?”

“Ha, she’s going for at least four golds. I used to think Shizune was competitive. This is what you call dramatic irony; my God, Kenji, if you could see Emi’s schemes unfolding! Sometimes I feel as if I’m just a character in a game, in a vast conspiracy. All I want is to settle down and have a life.”

“I’ve felt that myself too.” I have indeed. It was a creepy feeling four years ago when those Internet-inspired people decided to make a visual novel game thing about Yamaku. I swear I could recognize some of the people they drew inspiration from. Creepy, I tell you. You think my ideas about conspiracies are far out? You have no idea.

He takes a swig of his Scotch. We’re back to Laphroaig this evening. “You know I love her, right? She’s my little Ibarazaki girl, and she’s got that spark, that fire, that spunkiness in her. And I don’t want to make her pout.”

I look at him. Is he trying to fool himself? No. He’s trying to remind himself, trying to keep his love alive. It must be hard trying to keep in touch with someone you can’t talk to, someone who is far away. And then I realize, maybe he’s tried both of those things before. He can’t stand to fail. I have to help my bro here.

“That’s right, man. She’s hot, don’t you forget it. Old sad stuff is past, this is the future. After she gets her medals, you can both retire to Yamaku and be teachers forever, like Mutou and Miyagi!”

“Ha. Those two, I don’t think they ever had a relationship. Too professional, man. But me and Emi, we can be the real thing. We can show the kids that you can be damaged, but you can have a life.” The ghost of a smile kindles on his face.

There’s that line again. ‘Have a life,’ he keeps saying. Dude’s more in touch with his death than I am with mine. That’s some scary shit.

I stare at him. There’s something I need to know. “Hey, Hisao, what’s all this stuff about lawyers that you’ve been doing? You can tell me, I don’t give away a brother’s secrets, y’know.”

He flinches as if slapped by a twintail. “What’re you talking about, man?”

That’s a serious reaction. I wonder what’s going on, as he puts down his tumbler carefully and mumbles something about me being bad for his dietary plan. Then he becomes more audible.

“… Lilly’s sister, Akira.”

“What? You’re in bed with Lilly’s sister??”

“No! Never! What the hell are you talking about, man?!”

“Sorry, it was a figure of speech. But I’m shocked, I don’t mind saying. She’s your lawyer? I thought she was some bigshot corporate type, based on the rumours. Family, even. I always thought the Satous were Mafiosi. Mafioso. Whatever.”

“She’s doing it as a favour, handling my will and stuff,” he says, looking down into his empty tumbler. “Or she was; now she’s setting up her cousin to take over my case.”

“Cousin? What? Shizune?? Emi will have your ribs for… running prosthetics.”

His eyebrows twitch at my not-so-elegant turn of phrase. “No,” he says, “Hideaki, Shizune’s brother.”

I’m about to say that the male Mafia are the dangerous ones, when I remember that this Hideaki had been Sachiko’s best friend. A wave of sadness washes over me. My sister’s death anniversary is only a few days past. She’d have been 21 yesterday.

“Hey, I’m sorry I asked, Hisao. Just looking out for a bro, that’s all.”

“Appreciate that, Kenji. Sometimes, you just need a manly picnic, right?” True, that. He grins at me, and for a moment, we’re not nearly thirty, we’re still not twenty yet.

Then he adds, mischievously: “So, what trick shall we play on Shizune for her birthday this year?” Suicidal idiot! I smile back. That makes two of us.

*****

Yuuko gets home just after I’ve started simmering the mushrooms in red wine. She’s about to greet me when she sees what I’m doing and comes over to inspect the work in progress. We’ve figured out that talking while the other person is cooking is a recipe for disaster, we being the people we are. So, no talking. Instead, she sniffs the air, pantomimes slurpy eating, and pats her tummy.

I grin in response. I mime back: [Baby sleeping in spare room.] She exaggerates confusion—[What baby? Oh no, you left her in there all by herself?]—and dumps her bag on the way to look in on Masako.

There’s a trick to the mushrooms. I’ve taken to freezing them first, then slicing them into the wine. The aroma comes out better. Meanwhile, you can just dunk the pasta in hot salt water to soften, then cold water to rinse, then in hot seasoned oil later so it doesn’t stick. I’ve tried sesame oil, olive oil, chilli oil, all good. I tried whisky once, but that was an accident.

This is my new vice. I have been learning to cook foreign-style. Yuuko got me some food books by some dead British author named Elizabeth David. Never heard of her before, but the ideas are cool. I laughed at first, because British food is all sausage and potato and rubbish. That’s what I thought. Then this David-san’s stuff turns out to be all Italian mafia cookery. It’s enough to make a man think of conspiracies all over again.

When we’re eating the pasta, she says, “So, how’s Nakai-san these days?”

“Nakai-san?”

“Heh… husband, you always look sad when you’ve been talking to him.”

“Oh.” I think about that for a while. “Really?”

“Also, there’s a missing bottle of whisky.”

“Ah. Well. Hisao’s lonely and he’s getting his legal stuff done, will and so on. That’s about it.”

“When are they getting married?”

“Woman, how do you know all these things?”

“She’s on TV looking lonely, he’s lonely and getting his will done… I bet they get together after Rio is over and spend a year or something settling their issues, then they’ll be married and live happily ever after!” She beams at me happily, the feminine story-teller in her appeased. “Umm, I like the mushroom sauce tonight.”

“You do? It must be the wine.”

“Also, you take off your glasses when you cook.”

“Huh? Of course. Otherwise they get all steamed up and I see even worse.”

“You look even more handsome with them off.”

“Woman, are you flirting with me?”

“Me, flirting? I’m Yuuko the school resource administrator, not… um, Yuuko the flirtatious character from some perverted visual novel!”

It must be the wine, indeed. But at that moment, Masako cuts loose with one of her ‘my face is red and will turn purple soon’ waking-up yells.

*****

In June, we send out the invitations for September. Masako will be a year old, and Natsume as proud godmother will help coordinate the celebrations. We’ll hold them at my family home in Saitama. Today, I take the opportunity to wish Naomi a very happy 28th birthday.

“When did we grow so old, Kenji?” she says, half-playfully, half-regretfully.

“Ah, don’t start that again, everybody says that every birthday, it gets old really fast!”

She grins at me, her face small even on my large smartphone screen. I see her ashy-blonde hair flutter in some unseen wind, Natsume a smaller figure in the background. “Guess where we are right now, old man?”

“Errm, I don’t know Osaka that well, Naomi.”

“Silly! We’re at the Shirakawa Canal in Kyoto! Where we spent a night talking about stuff…”

I remember, Naomi. I remember you saying: It would be so much easier for my life to just listen to my parents and marry you. But that boat left the canal a long time ago. I toughen my manly will and say, “Yeah, I remember.”

“I appreciate that you remembered my birthday. I’ll be with you in September, when I come up with Natsume to Saitama.”

“Sure. Take care, Naomi. Thanks for being my friend.”

“Always, Kenji. Give my regards to your lady wife.”

Always. Ha, see where that got us? I terminate the conversation and shake my head. Always is such an easy word to use, sometimes.

*****

Two men walk into a… well, now that these bistros are popping up all over the region, it’s a bistro. With coffee, and light meals, and that. In Saitama, to which my good friend Hisao has summoned me. He smells funny, damn, the whole thing smells funny.

“No alcohol today. Come on. What the hell, you’re my best man, you have to come to Masako’s first-birthday party.”

“I feel so unworthy.”

“F... fine. Tell Uncle Kenji your whole sordid story. Shit, I can’t believe I’m doing this. You’re supposed to be the fine upstanding citizen and I’m the insane shut-in conspiracy theorist who throws people under the bus or off the roof.”

“She kissed me.”

“Well, good for you! Congrats!”

“Not Emi.”

“Oh damn, bro, you’re screwed.” I take a deep breath. “So, who was it? And please don’t say Shizune Hakamichi.”

Whatever is on my mind, I’m not expecting the name from Hisao’s mouth.

“Rika Katayama.”

I choke on my yuzu citrus fizz and attempt to smother the acidity in a table napkin. “Christ h-have mercy,” I cough, relapsing to Catholicism. “Did you kiss her back? Did she suck your soul and replace all your blood? Let me know, and I’ll go to corporate headquarters to ask for a list of stakeholders.”

“No, I didn’t kiss her back. I got the impression she did it out of impulse, and she regretted it, and then she had a heart attack or something. I’ve just come from the hospital.”

Worse and worse. My mouth is hanging open, so I close it first. “Mmmph.”

“What?”

I wave a hand at him and rest my chin on the other hand, so that I won’t say anything. I think I should hear the whole story first. When a Master of Romance goes evil, he goes evil all the way.

“I had a lot to think about.”

Clearly, he wasn’t doing a lot of thinking, though.

“So after I met with Hideaki, I went to a little watering-hole.”

If he means Katayama’s apartment, I will kill him myself. Off a roof, too.

“Was having a drink, and watching the news from Rio.”

Right. The Paralympics, at which his girlfriend is performing. I mean, running. By the end of it, she’ll have won four medals. But I don’t know that yet.

“Then Rika enters the place.”

I can imagine it. Like a John Woo movie. Tall woman enters, long silver hair in a braid that is whipping in the air like an albino cobra. Mirror shades. Maybe a nice trenchcoat. A pigeon flutters, takes wing as the last light of afternoon fades from the sky. The whole place falls silent. One man turns to look, and blanches, quickly turning back to his drink. The camera locks onto Hisao Nakai, resolutely downing his Suntory while keeping one eye on the widescreen TV.

“Kenji, are you listening?”

“Errm, yes. Carry on,” I reply, moving my jaw carefully.

“Somehow, she’s tracked me down and she’s wearing lenses that make her eyes look even scarier. So she sits, and we’re polite, and we have a couple of drinks. Then she looks at me, and kisses me.”

“Oh God, Hisao. You’re in deep shit. If her father ever finds out…” Actually, I can’t even imagine how Rika could look even scarier than she does. She looks like a vampire, to say the least.

“He’s blaming her, I think. Wasn’t my fault. Listen: this is what happened. I grab her hands and pull away from her. She looks mortified and runs off and falls down. From out of nowhere, these two big guys appear, and they disappear her body into some big car. I chuck money on the counter and follow. All the way to the hospital, another car is tailing me!”

I let out a long deep breath and whistle softly. “So what happens next?”

“Well of course I have to see how she is, I’m not some irresponsible teenager who goes around giving other people heart attacks, you know. It’s been two days now.”

“Where’ve you been staying?”

“In the hospital, mostly. I’m on leave.”

I make a command decision. The General would be proud of me. “Come stay in the family home. I order you to do so. We’re all on leave till 25th September anyway. And we can protect you from the wrath of the Ibarazaki women!”

He laughs, but sounds otherwise sober. “It will be fine. I just feel bad. Did I lead her astray or something? I keep asking myself that. If she’d died? She’d never be able to tell me. But she says it’s not my fault. Her father hasn’t even spoken to her, can you imagine? Instead he sent a note by some henchman.”

Yeah, I can imagine it. I’ve had my share of notes delivered by some junior lieutenant. Once I even got a delivery from a colonel. Some fathers are like that.

*****

After all that excitement, Masako’s birthday turns out fine. Yuuko and I are happy to see our very independent-minded one-year-old daughter have fun with ‘Aunty Nat’ and ‘Uncle Hii’. Yuuko says she’s about 2-3 months ahead in development. I have no idea about such things, but she’s got about maybe six or seven words and can walk around and make big eyes at her many ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’.

She makes the biggest eyes at Naomi, and then trundles into her lap and spends most of her time there, to everybody’s amusement. Except mine. I feel strange. I look at Hisao, where he’s chatting with Shin and Azami across the room. I wonder how he feels about his past, before Yamaku.

A hand falls lightly on my shoulder. I turn, a bit irritated that my feelings are all over the place. Damn, it’s my father’s wife, Aunt Midori. It’s not that I don’t like her; it’s just that she’s my mother’s sister, and she’s not Mother.

“Aunt.”

“Kenji?” She looks at me, then sighs. “I’m glad you’ve got somebody, and Masako’s a beautiful child. I just wanted to tell you that this morning, while you and Yuuko were getting thing ready… I drove Masako and her godmother, Natsume—is that right?—and her friend to see your brother and my… your mother. I thought it was the right thing to do.”

“Why?”

“It’s a woman thing, I suppose. All about continuity, tradition. Masako should know her ancestors, her grandmother. I was surprised to find out that your friends knew the way to the cemetery.”

I find myself feeling stupidly sentimental. She meant well. I imagine what each person might have felt—Nat, Naomi, my daughter. Maybe Kenji’s grown up, since he wouldn’t have tried that in the past. Kenji, me, I… I look up at Aunt Midori and see on her face a look that asks me, “Did I do the right thing?”

And I find in me an answer. “Thank you, my aunt. It was a good thing to do.”

There is happiness in the house this evening. I can feel it. Behind us, loud laughter erupts as someone tells a joke. I can see Nat squinting at me through her glasses, a half-smile on her face. Yuuko’s chatting with Naomi. Everything’s going to be all right, I tell myself. Everything.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Fri Oct 10, 2014 11:43 am, 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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Interlude (20141001)

Post by brythain » Wed Oct 01, 2014 8:44 pm

"Redact that. That. Also, that."

"Dammit, Kenji, it's hard enough writing a coherent narrative without you… oh, snap, it's hard writing a coherent narrative WITH you."

"Hey! You can't just write stuff. It has to be true. Also, not dangerous!"

We both look up at the same time. I smell apple blossoms before I see the pink-tinted hair.

"Wahaha!~ you two are so funny when you work together!"

Kenji turns his back on her and glares at me. "What. Is she. Doing here."

"What all of you do when you come here. Chat, drop cryptic hits, make me feel sad or happy, drink my booze."

He twitches his thick glasses at my sardonic wit, then realises he isn't THAT Kenji anymore.

"Well. Hello, Misha."

"And hello to you too, Colonel! I'll make sure author-san leaves out that part about us, don't you worry!"

I would like to bang my desk in frustration. Which part? Oh, that part. Redacted.

But by Shizune Hakamichi's orders.
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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Posts: 3497
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:58 pm
Location: East Asia
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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-2b upd 20141004)

Post by brythain » Sat Oct 04, 2014 1:13 am

This is the second third of the second instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Kenji's son Koji is born! And Kenji thinks a lot.



Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Two
(October 2016-January 2017)


Sometimes you go back to work, and sometimes the work gets back to you. This part is all about my unglamorous world, things that I do when Yuuko is busy and Hisao is stuck on Ibarazaki business.

Here, I have to remind my readers that the people I work with have real names, but I can’t use them. So I have given them other names. Even the other names I use will need changes at times. Eh-heh, that is the kind of thing that happens in my world, almost every day.

These notes come from the years 2015-2020. I heard the drums, and so did other people, and yet we all hoped for the best while not quite preparing for the worst. This is my tribute to my valiant colleagues. Also, let me introduce my new editor, ‘S’. I must thank my old editor ‘N’ for putting up with me for so long; she’s likely thankful we never ended up together—that might have meant a lifetime of edits—like Hanako Ikezawa with her husband, poor guy.

*****

The one thing that has not changed is the kind of scarf I wear. It must have stripes, spaced for usefulness, measuring the space off around me, providing something to tug on when in thought, keeping my neck warm and the heat in. My glasses have changed over the years, keeping out more light, letting the light of other days in, making it harder for the cameras to see me, so that the brethren cannot track me.

[K: Hey, S! That’s not sounding like Kenji!]
[S: I’m sorry, it’s just that when I see you, I think that this is how your mind proceeds, and so I mortar up the gaps between your thinking and your deeds.]
[K: Oh. Tone it down a bit?]
[S: … ]

It’s a good scarf, purple and yellow. I’ve had it since Sachiko gave it to me when I left home. I also have the old one, the one Hisao says I look naked without. He should know, we used to share a bathroom. Haha.

The rest of me looks like a typical Japanese businessman. I take the train to work, walk down the grey street in pressed shirt and trousers, carry the briefcase Yuuko bought for me after we were married. And then I enter the little sidestreet that is clean and peaceful, where even the rats don’t go. The woman I’ve named Sora has security duty this week, and so the first door has interesting security.

<I think we are in rats’ alley> is the first passphrase I see when I carefully look into the retinal scanner’s socket.

My careful response: [wherethedeadmenlosttheirbones]

<What is that noise?>

[thewindunderthedoor]

<What is that noise now?>

[0]

<What is the wind doing?>

[0]

That’s about enough to get me into the corridor. I nod at the camera, walk to the end of the narrow corridor, turn left and then right. The floor is lined with some kind of thick polymer, finished so that there is no sharp angle between wall and flooring. It makes cleaning easier.

Room 1001. My posting puts me in ‘the Madhouse’ as some senior colleagues have named it. My team includes Kei and Nobu, and as usual, I’m first one into the shift. Mundane jobs: check the stationery, fill out some forms, sign some forms, look through the filedumps, answer team emails, and then sit down to think about the quarterly reports. I have a boring job, in many ways. It is compensated for by the insane sense of crisis that hits us now and then.

Somewhere in the sea to the south of us, our neighbours are building a five-storey detached house with extra lighting and a pair of SUVs. So says the message from Room 1002; Sora has signed off on it, which is unusual because normally Ryu would do that. I call up the relevant documents. I may be legally blind, but at close ranges, I can see enough to know that this is something Kei should check. I send a flag into her inbox, and put a green pen into its place.

Oh, damn. I have to go next door anyway, to collect the brown folder. I look at the schedule. If it’s Ryu on duty, I’m screwed; if it’s Chi, it’s caustic sarcasm, which I don’t mind. But no, it’s Sora who’s got the last signature. Not so bad.

I press the blue button, exit 1001, shut the door and knock gently on 1002. A little red light glows and I look into the retinal scanner. After a while the sticky sound of rubber seals slurps at my ears and the door seems to relax slightly before it opens.

“Come in! Don’t worry, I don’t bite. We have some time before the light.”

“Excuse me?”

“Indulge me. Breakfast downstairs.”

“I’ve had breakfast, Sora.”

“I haven’t, and it’s a couple of hours before Kei’s due.”

I make a quick calculation. It’s been a quiet night, so I have at least thirty minutes. It’ll be fine, and I haven’t had much time to get to know my colleague anyway. “OK, lady. My treat.”

She smiles. Her narrowed eyes suddenly look more friendly. “Appreciated.”

*****

Working in the little side-corridor that’s our Madhouse, I’ve not spent much time elsewhere in Deep Sakura. Today I nod at various colleagues, but they seem to give me embarrassed smiles. Am I made of something slippery? Do I have dirt on my face? I look at Sora to see if she’s noticed anything.

Sora… what am I looking at? She has turquoise-dyed mid-length hair, a bit straggly. She’s shoved her hands in her pockets, has a sleepy look, small nose, gently crooked smile. Black sweater, dark blue jeans, ankle boots. Skinny. Her only concession to official behaviour is the little pin in her white collar. Too informal for work, maybe, but there are allowances for night shift work.

I’m not tall. Her head is near my ear. She glances at me, from not too far away.

“They’re trying to ignore me. I sleep on the job a lot, and get promoted anyway, sometimes faster than those who spend their time working in the day.”

“Ah. What can I get for you, Captain?” Technically, that is her rank, but we never use ranks in the Madhouse. Nor uniforms. We don’t feel entitled to them, since we’re really civilians given such things for convenience. I’m going to use it in my journal because I’m not going to use her family name.

“Breaded veal cutlet, pumpkin croquette, curry sauce, thick black coffee. Thanks!”

She doesn’t seem to mind me using her title, even if it’s only a joke. Unusual, but then, who is ‘usual’ around here? It reminds a bit of Yamaku; all of us have damage, but we’re trying to build a better world.

I get her what she’s asked for, and a coffee for myself, then join her at a quiet side table. The walls here are made from large blocks, painted over with glossy white paint that has seen better times. The ceiling cables and fixtures are exposed but painted over in matt black, leaving only lightbulbs exposed. Our furniture is probably recycled from other ministries: chairs and tables alike are made from metal pipes, old thick plywood, heavy wood crates, forklift pallets—the whole things has an industrial look.

“How’s life in the Madhouse, Setou?” She unleashes her quirky little smile again.

“Interesting. Not like my earlier posting.”

“How different?”

“Hmm. I feel I’m doing more, and also using my brain more? Hard to say.”

“That’s good. If you don’t mind me saying, I have a little knowledge of you from high school days. You’re a very different person now.”

“Really? How different?”

She laughs, a low throaty half-giggle half-chuckle that would be creepy if not just a little cute. “Everyone thought you were this crazy person who got even crazier by chasing after Lilly Satou without result. But reliable sources inform me that truth is stranger than fiction.”

“Satou? No, that was Hisao Nakai!” Truly, I am shocked. Never thought Sora would be able to do that to me.

“Yeah, my class figured it out eventually. Poor Nakai! The guys were nice to him, and so were the girls. Some of my female classmates were very close to him, by graduation.”

“Tell me more.”

“Hey, I hear Nakai’s your friend, true? Better ask him, than ask Sora.”

She cuts her cutlet and croquette into strips, eats carefully, drinks a lot of coffee. I spend some time looking at her again. She doesn’t seem to mind. There’s a ring on her left hand, a simple solid item with no gems.

“What made you take up our profession?” I ask, curious.

“What is our profession? I wanted to go into drama, kept falling asleep at rehearsals. I wanted to write, but… ah well, unpleasant things. And here I am, like a stage director, making sure things happen at the right times. You?”

“Ah. I needed a respectable job. Also, to get away from my past. Ended up here, married to my past and looking to the future. Funny.”

She gives me a half-grimace, half smile. “Sounds just like my story. Anyway, you get back to the Madhouse, greet Kei and Nobu for me, and that’s it for the morning glory. Thank you for breakfast, Setou.”

*****

In November, autumn comes to Japan. ‘Autumn’ is ‘aki’ in our language. That’s why you find so many names with that in it. But not all of those names have autumn in them. It’s complicated.

At the office, something odd happens in early November. People go crazy. Or so I think. When the parcels are opened and the chocolates are eaten and people stop singing strange songs, that’s when Kenji finds out that it’s Sora’s birthday on 4th November. I wonder why nobody ever celebrates other birthdays. I’m dumb enough to ask.

Kei glances my way. “Anything that keeps her awake, we celebrate. Also, chocolate. In the pantry, Setou, now.”

The pantry is a crowded place today. It’s made for maybe four people at most, a plain space with shelves and a small countertop. Normally we use it for instant noodles and coffee only. Its main resource is an industrial filtered hot-water device that draws from our base water supply. We each have a little locker, with no lock, where we can stash snacks and drinks, nothing that needs refrigeration.

When Kei prods me along into the room, there are now six people in it. I can smell the chocolate. It’s a little mousse cake, with a candle on it. No flame of course, for obvious reasons. Sora is backed into a corner as Nobu kneels in front of her, cake held above his head like a supplicant. She looks a little uncomfortable. She’s smiling her half-pained smile.

“What trouble! You shouldn’t have! I get enough of that when I visit my parents!” She sounds most unlike herself, almost incoherent. There’s some strong emotion there, but I can’t tell what it is.

She’s a little bit like Yuuko, but with blue hair. No. Silly Kenji, what a thought!

*****

I walk on grey cement. Regular steps. My heart hurts because I remember that when I was in school, there was a bounce in those steps. Even when I was being furtive, I bounced. I felt lighter. I had a quirky theme song in my head.

But now I’m getting heavier. And older, and less responsive to my friends. My job means I cannot speak to some people, especially those in certain industries. So in the last few months, I have been impolite to Miki—who was always kind to me, and Shizune—who was more good-humoured with me than anyone else. They still send me birthday wishes, but you can tell they do it only as a courtesy. We are not really friends any more. My heart hurts, because I remember.

I have to talk to Nat still, because it is one of my jobs. I have to tell her some truths, and avoid telling her others. This also is pain. And when I speak, on rare occasions, with Naomi-whom-I-loved, I cannot answer many of her questions about my life. There was once a river of regret between us. I think it has dried up now and left an empty valley.

December is the start of winter. In my spare time, I visit Mother, and Masaru my elder brother, and Sachiko my younger sister. Dead, all dead, in the ground. And then I come back to the living, to my wife and daughter, and to my work in the underground world of the Madhouse.

*****

On the 4th of January, the waiting is over. Yuuko and I celebrate the birth of our son, Koji. Strange name, that. It can mean ‘lieutenant of the light’, or ‘bright number two’—but our secret version is koji, the mold that makes our soyabeans ferment into black sauce, the ‘national catalyst’. So patriotic! I think ironic thoughts as my father the General makes baby noises at his new grandson.

This year, work only starts for me on Tuesday, 10th January. A second child hardly gets the same attention as a first child, so we find ourselves having more time to relax. Of course, it helps that Koji’s godpa is around.

Hisao is very touched that he is now a godfather. Although his date of birth was 1st April 1989, we Japanese are like the Chinese, writing it 1989-4-1. In English we sometimes write 1/4/89. That is why some Americans think his birthday is 4th January. I don’t care, it works, that’s all.

“Whisky and papayas,” he says earnestly, “are good for breastfeeding.”

Yuuko looks at him strangely, unsure whether to laugh or not. “Uhm… what do you mean, Hisao?”

“Emi told me that.”

“Haha! That’s rich, coming from someone who has no…”

A glare from my wife stops me from making an inappropriate joke. Kenji, bad boy, I say to myself.

“Is that an old wives’ tale, like the time you told me grape juice masked body odour?” she says sweetly.

“I think it’s green papayas and the smell of whisky. Or papaya whisky,” he says in an uncertain, vague way. That tells me he’s being sincere. Hisao hasn’t changed. When he sounds like that, he’s just confused because his mind isn’t working but he thinks it is.

“My friend, maybe you should check with Emi before you tell her what you told us that she told you.” By the end of that sentence I am confused too.

“Ah. Yes, maybe I should.” He looks at me strangely. “You know Rin Tezuka too, right? That sounded a lot like her.”

“Ha, I’ll never forget Rin! I thought she was a guy for years!”

Yuuko laughs so hard that the little creature at her breast is almost disengaged. Koji opens one beady black eye, as if to say, “Watch it, guys!” and then closes his eye again.

Koji’s godpa looks fondly at his godson. “I’m looking forward to having children of my own, I don’t mind saying.”

My father, sitting in the corner with his granddaughter, laughs harshly. “May you have lots, so our national birthrate doesn’t fall so fast. Also, get married first. Makes it harder to bail.”

*****

“Hello, Kenji.”

“Hello, Naomi.”

There’s a little pause, just long enough to be forever.

“Thanks for inviting us to Koji’s one-month celebration. This is just to let you know I’ll be coming over with Nat. Is it all right if we arrive on 4th February?”

“Oh, not a problem. You can stay over if you like, we have a spare room. Masako will be glad to have more time with Aunty Nat.”

Another pause. I can hear Nat in the background, like the rumbling of distant traffic somewhere in far Osaka.

“We hear you’ve met a… former classmate of ours at work.”

“Woman, is nothing sacred?” I try to joke. My heart sinks. Lines like the one Naomi just dropped always mean something bad. Also, the fact implies that someone’s mouth has been loose.

“She’s had a hard life. Don’t let her behaviour fool you.”

I hear Nat in the background again. I can’t hear what she’s saying.

“Ah, well, no. I won’t. We get along fine at work though.”

“Just to say, don’t judge her.”

“Naomi, I’ve learnt to be careful about that. I’ve learnt a lot from you. I know she’s got unusual work habits. She does good work anyway. It’s enough for me.”

A third pause.

“That’s good. Take care, Kenji. See you in February!”

“Goodbye, Naomi. Also, our regards to Nat. Good health to both of you.”

I sit there for a few minutes after ending the call. Yamaku alumni always look out for each other. It’s nothing new. It’s an old-boy, old-girl network of the dying and the disabled. We help each other because Japan isn’t very good with people like us. That thought…

Maybe I should do more for my friends. Maybe I should do more for my family. For the first time in my life, I wonder about the children. What would their lives be like if their father drank himself into an early grave? Should I stop drinking? Kaneshiro-san was always telling me to stop. Maybe I should. Maybe, so many things may be.

I look at the thoughts I’ve been thinking, the life I’m leading. They all lead me to one big question.

Am I still Kenji?

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Fri Oct 10, 2014 11:48 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 3-2 complete 20141010)

Post by brythain » Fri Oct 10, 2014 11:47 am

This is the final third of the second instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Kenji tries to deal with the aftermath of a very big mistake.



Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Two
(January 2017-April 2017)


Sometimes you go back to work, and sometimes the work comes home with you. Sometimes you are lonely even in the midst of family. And you are weak, and stupid.

I walk the noisy streets alone. Some things you do, some things do something to you. Damn, Kenji, you’re beginning to make as much sense as she did. It was only a thing. Some thing. Two lonely people, who shouldn’t ever have been lonely. What were we thinking? They should cancel our security clearances for that.

These notes come from the years 2015-2020. They were easy years. They lulled us into complacency, they made us vulnerable. I made mistakes. Hisao got married. My son was not even a month old when I betrayed him and dishonored my family. I won’t tell all about those stories now. Maybe later.

*****

“Yuuko?”

“Captain. Dinner has been made. You are… late. Please clean up when you are done.”

“Thank you. I will.”

I walk past the room that my wife shares with my two children. I have my own room now. My pills are laid out in my little bathroom. I laid them out myself this morning. If I don’t do it, nobody will now do it for me.

Kenji, you’re an idiot, a fool. You loved a girl, you lost her, that was when you were young and stupid, and a bit mad. Then you fell in love with someone else, and you were not clever enough, and you could have had that, but you gave it up because you thought you were the better person. And then you found the first girl, and you married her and built a family, and threw it away.

We are Japanese. We have an agreement. She is my wife, I am her husband, we are parents. But there will be no more children. Nobody else comes into this deal.

I confessed my crime within a week. I could not live with it. I could not imagine betraying Naomi that way, but I have been a traitor to Yuuko. That is very screwed up.

There will still be a naming party for our son on 5th February. And Natsume and Naomi will be arriving the night before. Should I tell them how foolish I’ve been? No. There’s no point. I know what each of them will say and think. In a way, Kenji’s let everybody down.

It is that moment of despondence that makes me do the unexpected thing. I call a distant friend in a distant land. The more distant, the better, perhaps.

*****

[Kenji! It’s not my birthday] is the first message I get.

[Hi, Shizune. Happy birthday anyway.] It’s an old joke between us.

[You’ve surprised me.] Her brows furrow inquisitively and she instinctively pushes her spectacles further up her nose. Unusual. I think she has contact lenses. Must be working at home.

[That’s a good thing, right?] She looks at me curiously after I’ve typed this.

[There’s something on your mind.] To her, it is a decided statement of fact.

[Yes. Need to talk. You free?]

[Do you trust the general of the feminist conspiracy?] She grins, but behind it she is serious, still my friend.

[Yes.]

[Then I’m free. But don’t you normally talk to Hisao?]

I can’t, Shizune. This isn’t something I can talk to him about. I don’t know why. All these thoughts in my brain. I stop them moving. [I’d rather talk to you.]

[Now I’m truly surprised.] Her frown is one of concern, I think.

I look at her, my courage dying with each second. Dammit, Kenji, what made you think you could do this? I see her concern turning to a deeper worry. Shizune has always worried too much about others. I must say something. Shit, my fingers are doing something before I can think about it.

[I had an affair.]

She looks at me in disbelief at first. Then she sucks her lips into her mouth. She looks sad, and angry, and a little hurt. Hurt? Why? Her shoulders fold in a little. I’m watching it all, wondering if I am about to lose another friend. A long moment passes. She sighs visibly.

[That’s irresponsible. I won’t ask why. It’s up to you to tell me if you want.]

I tell her everything. I tell her about the woman we both know, and how the job got tiring and lonely. I give her all the stupid excuses people make, admit these were all stupid. The affair’s over. Both of us felt guilty. When it’s all said, I have nothing left. I’m not worth anything.

[You’re right. You’re worthless. You hurt other people.]

What else could I have expected from her? She was my hard-assed Student Council president, after all. I prepare to cut the conversation, throw the tabphone away. Another message comes in.

[Did you want me to be your priest?]

[No. Not asking you to forgive me. Just want to talk.] Somehow, I know that’s partly a lie. I do want to know that somebody thinks I’m worth something.

[I’m your friend, Kenji. You picked my stuff up. Worthless isn’t forever.]

[Ha. I made you drop it first.] I remember that. It was a long time ago, when she was a first-year and I was her senior.

[True. But it means you repay your debts.]

[This debt can’t be repaid.]

[Maybe not, but you can only spend the rest of your life trying.]

[She’ll never forgive me.]

[Maybe so. But here are some rules, if you want.] Rules? Shizune, she’s always Shizune. Wearily, I nod. I’ll take her rules.

[One: it’s not Yuuko’s fault at all; it is yours. Two: you will continue to be a responsible person to your family. Three: you will be a better person. You must.]

Half my mind notices that she’s counting them off on her fingers. The other half is telling me, Kenji, you can do this. The third half notices that she’s scowling at me, daring me not to comply. Wait, I can’t have three halves of a brain.

[I’ll try.]

[There is no ‘try’.] That almost makes me laugh, except that it hurts.

[Thanks, Madam Chairman. I’ll do it.]

She smile grimly at me, but with a little softness in it. [Setou-san, I’ll be back in late July to check on you in person. And don’t forget my birthday. Gotta run. Thesis to defend.]

[Hakamichi-san, I am grateful.]

[Bye.]

Maybe there’s a road back after all.

*****

It’s a long, hard road. It hurts me to go through the faces and spaces. But I take what I can get, and try to give more than I get.

My son is a month old. We officially name him Koji. His grandfathers both get the pun. Both of them are career military. “So young to be a Number Two,” says my father, belabouring the obvious. “Ha, I’m so old and still a Number Two,” says Yuuko’s dad, positively beaming.

Their wives, who are not really Koji’s grandmothers, are just happy that he’s a handsome kid. It’s like some folktale in which the supernatural godmothers each bestow some blessing. Aunt Midori, my father’s second wife: “He’ll be tall and strong, a leader of men.” Aunt Mari, my father-in-law’s second wife: “He’ll be musical, he has rhythm and pitch, I can sense it.”

It doesn’t take much to sense that. He has the ability to wail with an unnerving constant frequency, “Aaaaaaaaaaaa….” until he turns purple from lack of air. Then he stops, which worries us a lot. Big lung capacity. Maybe he’ll be a saxophonist. Or the leader of a band, the way these wishes are going.

Nat says, “May his dreams come true.” Naomi says, “May he find true love.” Hisao, his hair still as tufty as it was years ago, says, “May he live a good long life.”

I feel miserable inside. But I smile. I agree with all these wishes. I want them to be true for Koji. May my son—no, OUR son—be a better person than his father. Yuuko is smiling, and although her eyes harden a little when she looks at me, she is still at least a bit happy.

*****

Later, I’m up on a roof with Hisao. It seems that for much of my life I’ve been up on a roof—often with Hisao. This time, I tell him, there’s no alcohol. And then, without even the anaesthesia, I tell him the rest. He sits, silently, sipping canned tea. We’re both with the canned tea, which is the right colour but wrong taste.

It’s a long story. He hardly interjects, except sometimes to clarify things he finds confusing, or to show me that he is bothering to listen.

“Yeah,” I sigh, “Stupid Kenji did all that shit. And now I have to make it right.”

It wasn’t easy to tell him. You’d think that the manly brotherhood has no secrets and shares all burdens. But sometimes, man to man, it’s embarrassing.

My best man sighs too. Curious, I look at him. What the hell has he got to sigh about? He gets to marry the legless menace, who is actually quite pretty.

“Kenji,” he says, “It’s her birthday today.”

Oh, so it is. ‘Her’, referring to the lady of the Scottish mafia.

“Come on, man, are you going to think about it all your life?”

“Well…” his voice trails off, a little shaky. “I don’t even call her to wish her a happy birthday. We haven’t spoken for years. I just sit in some quiet place and wish her all the best. Because she was my first, and she was my dream, and then it was over.”

“It’s over. And Emi and you, it’s true love, right?”

There’s silence. For a long while. Then he stretches out his long legs and puts his can down.

“Yeah. But in some strange way, I’ll always be unfaithful to Emi. Two damn months, a few days in Hokkaido, a sudden farewell—and some days, she is all I can think about. I don’t think marriage will change that.”

“Hey, man, that’s all wrong. It’ll be different after you’re married.”

“Will it? Kenji, at least you have a chance to make it right. For me, it’s already happened, and it broke me, and I’m stuck back together because my friends are wonderful people. But the cracks are still there, and as Mutou once told me, you can see the nature of what is hidden by the effects it has on what is not.”

We sit there a while, two old friends on a roof, but no whisky between us. We are both damaged, it seems. But we can both be better people, right? I don’t know. Neither does he. And there we sit, till there’s no light at all.

*****

Two weeks later, I call the Fist to wish her a happy birthday. She brandishes her sinister prosthetic at me and snarls, “Bloody fool.”

“Happy birthday, Miki!” I say, determined to say it before she hangs up on me.

“It’s Miura to you. I had enough of her whining and I told her we weren’t friends any more. Now it’s your turn. Fuck off.”

“I’m sorry, Miura.”

“Ah fuck fuck fuck.” I hear the sound of something breaking. “Shit, now I need a new coffee table. This damn fist is too hard.”

“Sorry?”

“Yeah! You should be. I’d have punched you by now if you were anywhere in range. I’m really pissed with you, Setou. I thought you were a friend, that you could be trusted, but you shat on everyone!”

“I’m going to try to work things out. Will you help?”

Her mouth opens in astonishment. “What did you say?”

“I’m asking… you… for…” the words don’t want to come out. I’m tired. She’s right, I shat on everyone. I’m presuming too much on our friendship, and I don’t think it can take the strain.

“Never mind, Miki. I’m sorry.”

I turn my phone off. And that’s it, I guess, for all that’s been between the Fist and me.

*****

In March I’m transferred to another department, at another base. I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t make friends, I put my head down and work hard and bow more than I ought. Ryu is transferred with me, but he’s in a different block, and I don’t bother much. He asks me to join some guys for beers and bowling, and sometimes I go. I don’t mind the bowling. I don’t touch the beer, and he’s shocked.

Hisao invites me to a birthday party for his girlfriend. I decline. He doesn’t press.

I pay the bills. I try to make Yuuko’s life more pleasant. She acknowledges that I exist, and lets me baby-sit my own children once in a while.

It is a very long March.

*****

Then April comes. I dread it. Every April, the ghosts haunt me and I visit them—Mother, Elder Brother, Younger Sister. This year, I have to tell them what a failure I have been. And there is no supporting arm, no kind friendship, to be a buffer between the dead and me. Yuuko tells me, “Setou-san, I will come with you if you want,” but I tell her that I’ll do this myself, and I thank her sincerely.

You’re old, Kenji. You’re not crazy, but you’re not right either, I tell myself. Nobody answers. Maybe the older versions of Kenji have all decayed.

The funny thing is that my senses have become very much sharper since I stopped drinking alcohol and started drinking coffee in large quantities. In the graveyard of the old church, I sit alone. The scent of the garlic in my white pizza combines oddly with the fragrance of cherry blossoms.

“Mother, I’ve made a big mistake,” I begin. “I cheated on my wife. I’ve disgraced you, and Brother, and Sister.”

Nobody expects ghosts to reply. I don’t. There was a time in my life when I heard their voices. It was only my medications speaking. The air is still, even though it is cold—the usual cold of a Saitama spring—and a faint drizzle is falling. But if I listen hard… is that…? No, only something in my head. Words.

“Son, your father cheated on me. With my own sister. And I was angry, and I left. I took your brother with me. When the truck rolled over us, that was the end of everything. Yuuko is far better than I was, and you know that deep inside. She is angry, but she has stayed.”

“Brother, I was angry that Father cheated on us. And I told Mother to take me with her. And the truck came over the bridge, and that was the end of everything. Your children are too young to know. But someday, you must tell them. Tell them you were young and foolish too.”

And from a distance, from the other side, where my sister is buried in unconsecrated ground: “Dearest elder brother, don’t give up so soon. I gave up too early, and it was wrong. But there’s no way to take it back now. You should try your best. It’s not the end of everything. We forgive you. Give my regards to Naomi. You should tell her.”

It must be about 12°C out here. I get up, bow to Mother and Masaru, and make my way through the early morning mist to Sachiko’s resting place. For a moment, there’s the illusion of a shadowy figure in the mist, and I smell tea, as if someone has been paying an unusual homage. But there’s nobody there to see me as I cry for my sister’s wasted life and promise not to waste my own.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon Oct 27, 2014 8:38 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 3-2 complete 20141010)

Post by azumeow » Sat Oct 11, 2014 2:10 am

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuckk....

That....wow, that hit home. Especially the graveyard scene. I've never been to visit any of my dead yet. Not one. Not my friends, not my grandparents, not my uncle. Not one, because I couldn't bear it. I'd break before I reached the grave, and I'd need more people to carry me than usual. I could have taken off one of the worst days of my life to attend the funeral, but I didn't. I can't. I just can't do it. I'm ashamed, but I've never been very strong.

Kenji's got his work cut out for him. My parents still haven't mended their relationship after my dad got caught cheating. Kenji...Kenji you fool.
"I don’t want to be here anymore, I know there’s nothing left worth staying for.
Your paradise is something I’ve endured
See I don’t think I can fight this anymore, I’m listening with one foot out the door
And something has to die to be reborn-I don’t want to be here anymore"

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-2 complete 20141010)

Post by dewelar » Sat Oct 11, 2014 3:25 am

I still can't say I was ever invested in Kenji's story, because it's gone in all sorts of directions I haven't cared for. Can't help but feel for Yuuko, though.

But then this drops...
brythain wrote:“Yeah. But in some strange way, I’ll always be unfaithful to Emi. Two damn months, a few days in Hokkaido, a sudden farewell—and some days, she is all I can think about. I don’t think marriage will change that.”
Damn you, AtD!Hisao. Damn you to hell and back.
Rin is orthogonal to everything.
Stuff I've written: Developments, a continuation of Lilly's (bad? neutral?) ending - COMPLETE!

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-2 complete 20141010)

Post by brythain » Sat Oct 11, 2014 5:10 am

dewelar wrote:I still can't say I was ever invested in Kenji's story, because it's gone in all sorts of directions I haven't cared for. Can't help but feel for Yuuko, though.

But then this drops...
brythain wrote:“Yeah. But in some strange way, I’ll always be unfaithful to Emi. Two damn months, a few days in Hokkaido, a sudden farewell—and some days, she is all I can think about. I don’t think marriage will change that.”
Damn you, AtD!Hisao. Damn you to hell and back.
We can only hope he was exaggerating. After all, it was -her- birthday. But wow, the language! :shock:

Edit: See, this is what happens to the bitter dreams of youth when the soul hasn't been given enough time and space for proper developments:wink:
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 3-2 complete 20141010)

Post by dewelar » Sat Oct 11, 2014 10:29 am

brythain wrote:
dewelar wrote:I still can't say I was ever invested in Kenji's story, because it's gone in all sorts of directions I haven't cared for. Can't help but feel for Yuuko, though.

But then this drops...
brythain wrote:“Yeah. But in some strange way, I’ll always be unfaithful to Emi. Two damn months, a few days in Hokkaido, a sudden farewell—and some days, she is all I can think about. I don’t think marriage will change that.”
Damn you, AtD!Hisao. Damn you to hell and back.
We can only hope he was exaggerating. After all, it was -her- birthday. But wow, the language! :shock:

Edit: See, this is what happens to the bitter dreams of youth when the soul hasn't been given enough time and space for proper developments:wink:
*laughs* Yeah, my reaction to this was quite visceral. I guess this passage really drove home for me how much of a coward your Hisao was, both for never resolving things with Lilly and for hiding so much from Emi for all those years. Both deserved better, but at least Emi had the bliss of ignorance...
Rin is orthogonal to everything.
Stuff I've written: Developments, a continuation of Lilly's (bad? neutral?) ending - COMPLETE!

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-2 complete 20141010)

Post by brythain » Sat Oct 11, 2014 10:53 am

dewelar wrote:*laughs* Yeah, my reaction to this was quite visceral. I guess this passage really drove home for me how much of a coward your Hisao was, both for never resolving things with Lilly and for hiding so much from Emi for all those years. Both deserved better, but at least Emi had the bliss of ignorance...
Humans are complex, and loose ends sometimes never get neatly tied up. Flaws and all, I suppose… :)
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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