第五章 | また冬
FIVE | WINTER AGAIN
... back to the street where we began, feeling as good as lovers can
picking up things we shouldn't read, it looks like the end of history as we know
it's just the end of the world
into a place where thoughts can bloom
into a room where it's nine in the afternoon
you know that you feel it too
back to the street, down to our feet
losing the feeling of feeling unique
back to the place where we used to say
man it feels good to feel this way
back to the street, back to the place
back to the room where it all began
By mid-December, has sold his car and most of his belongings. He's made as much peace as he can with Kagura and his kids, and when all is said and done, he takes a plane up to Tokyo. and Keigo are there waiting for him and his little suitcase of things. The colour in his face looks better, he remarks, and she remarks inwardly that he's been more cheerful ever since he quit his job.It eases her heart to see that he's doing better the best that she's seen him in a while—years, even—but at the same time, her brother's presence is like a looming storm cloud. It's a reminder to Keigo that each passing day is one day closer to goodbye.
unpacks a few of his things—some of them, but not many—in the spare bedroom that now rarely ever gets any use. She spends the day off helping him figure out what he needs to sort out before leaving the country—which calls to make, and to whom. Keigo comes home at more humane hours as the final day approaches, bringing with him chocolates and bottles of wine—little things that bring them pockets of happiness, but don't last beyond the evening.
Her brother spends a lot of time on the phone to Aoife. They go over and over the same plan, and thinks that it's less about being prepared for the big day and more about building the excitement for it. Their exuberance is positively contagious. She can't help but listen in on their conversations sometimes.
"You can fly into Dublin Airport and catch a bus to Country Sligo. It'll pull up right in front of the university that you want to study at, . Oh, will be studying there with you?" The way Aoife says her name gives it a little bit of an Irish lilt.
"Perhaps." says, with a smile. "I'd like to."
They talk for a little while about their plans and what they want to do. Diarmuid interrupts their conversation to ask if he would fancy working at a bed and breakfast that is owned by a dear friend, and gives him a fierce and immediate yes. Aoife tells that there are any number of cafés she can work out while she studies, if that's what she'd like to do, and laughs. She could do with something familiar in a new and totally different environment.
Aoife and talk on and on about Christmas, and for a moment, sees her brother as though he's still seventeen, raving about the newest boy for whom he is head over heels. His happiness is the only thing that can bring her enough joy to stop thinking about the last day she may ever see Keigo.
- x -
Her citizenship papers come through a couple of days before they're set to leave for Ireland.
It's the last nail in the coffin, she thinks. Part of her has been hoping that, in the time leading up to receiving approval for Irish citizenship, Keigo would have said the words that she's been wanting to hear so that she'll stay—but he never did. And now part of her wishes that she would have tried saying herself, before she cemented her fate by going to the embassy with all those documents under her arm. If he'd said it back she would have stayed, and if he didn't then at least she could have gotten closure. But now it's too late. She's spent so much time mooning around and waiting to hear those words, and if she hears it now, she's going to regret her decision but not be able to take it back. The thought scares her more than anything.
On the last day, they go out for dinner. Keigo takes the evening off, and they go to the little Italian place near her old apartment. Dinner is pleasant, but it's superficial, and no one at that table says the words that they really want to say. Keigo talks about work. She talks about training her new replacement. talks about how his kids want to come up to Tokyo over the summer to spend time with Uncle Keigo. It sends her mind spinning, that maybe if she'd stayed—one day—he really could have been Uncle Keigo, and the kids could come up and bother him and Aunty any summer they wished. Keigo pays for dinner—because of course he does, it's his goodbye present to her—and the three of them go back home to the apartment. goes to bed early, because he wants to be awake and ready the next day, but and Keigo stay up a little longer. They drink wine and dance to Chet Baker until she's falling asleep on her feet, and they go to bed, holding on for the last time, not wanting to let go, but knowing that in only a few hours, it must be done.
And Keigo drives them to the airport the next morning. He takes the morning off to get behind the wheel himself and take them and their bags—just one suitcase each—to Narita.
"Haneda is much closer." He says at least three times throughout the ride.
"Yeah, but flights from there are so expensive!" always counters.
"Well, of course I would have paid the difference. You need only ask." Keigo says, somewhat offended that they hadn't considered the possibility.
He parks at Narita and walks them in, and they look around for their check-in gate. Keigo waits off the side while they cue up to check their baggage in and get their boarding passes, and when all is said and done, they huddle near the security gate. There's an ominous silence, and it's all she can hear over the clanking of trolleys and tourists in the background asking for directions in broken Japanese.
"Well." Keigo says, to break the silence.
He's caught off guard when goes in for a hug. He's so unsure of what to do that he continues to stand around awkwardly, reaching around to pat 's back once or twice until her brother finally lets him go.
"Thanks." says. "For, you know, being like a big brother to me. Like an uncle to my kids. "
Keigo's not sure what to say in response to that. "Yes, well, nurturing does have the effect of filling one with a strange sense of satisfaction."
tries to smile, but it falls short. "I know that..." He bites his lip, chewing on it as his gaze flickers from Keigo to and back again, like they're playing a match of tennis. For a long time, he doesn't speak. Then he says: "You've been so kind to me—and my family. I always meant to repay you somehow, but I never could. All I've done is take and take. I never wanted to cause your problems... but I... I can't do this alone. I'm sorry. For everything."
And then he turns before he can hear a response and disappears through the security gate.
For a heartbeat or two, Keigo just stands there, trying to process what happened. The look on his face is completely unreadable, and she doesn't make the effort to try and dissect it. She keeps her eyes well away from his face, afraid that she might see something there that will undo it all.
There's no words, so they hug. They hug for the longest time without a word spoken between them, and before they pull away, Keigo presses a chaste kiss to the forehead. It's nothing like the goodbye she was expecting. It's more like he's just seeing her off, as though she'll be back any day now, and this will all have been some sort of giant practical joke. She can't look at him in the eyes when he says goodbye. She can't look at him at all when she murmurs it back to him and plants a kiss on his cheek.
She doesn't turn to look back when she leaves, because she's afraid of what she'll see in his eyes. She's afraid that it'll be enough to cement the regret she's already starting to feel.
- x -
She posts a letter to Keigo on Christmas Day. She knows that it probably won't arrive until January next year, at the earliest, so she seals within it her best wishes for the new year. She decides to walk back from the village, figuring that the next bus won't be along for a while yet, hurrying along to warm herself against the chilly December twilight. There's something different about the wind here—fresher, not so stifling. It's a nice change from the smoke that all the cars and buses and factories regurgitate from their pipes in dear Tokyo.
There are a number of things that she likes better about Ireland—or, in Sligo, at any rate. She likes that there are more open spaces here—that you can go for a drive and see little more than fields of green. She likes the look of the houses and the vibrant colours—how it's more than just a concrete jungle, but buildings with history behind them—years of it, too. She likes to look of the abbeys, how wide the streets are, the sight of people walking their dogs here and there. She loves that the city goes dark at night—that it's not just light, all times of the day—and that if you go outside and look up, you can actually see the stars.
She decides to walk along the inlet today, even though it's cold enough to make her face go numb, because it's the closest thing that she has to the Meguro River. They two bodies of water are nothing alike, of course, but it's the closest thing to it. When she makes it home, she's positively frozen from all the wind across water, but it's worth it when she steps across the threshold and the inside of the house is all warm. She hears kids shouting when they hear the front door open and close, but it's just her cousins' kids, letting their parents know that she is home. She walks into the living room and looks at all the amused looks on the adults' faces.
"You find it alright, then?" Diarmuid asks her.
"Yes, I did." She says. "It was a nice walk along the inlet."
"Bloody freezing one, too, I bet." One of her cousins said. She agreed that it was.
She helps Aoife out in the kitchen, along with one of the cousins and his wife, peeling potatoes and chopping onions. It's chaotic with all four of them in the kitchen, made even more chaotic by the children that run through it periodically to check on how much time is left before dinner is along. It's not until it's completely dark outside that dinner is ready, and too many people told to sit around an already too small table in not enough chairs. It's by far the most memorable Christmas that she remembers ever having, and certainly the most hectic. There's laughter and chatter and recollections of last year's Christmas. talks with one of their cousins' wives, who was born and raised in Catalonia, and listens to her explain the bizarre tradition of the Tió de Nadal.
All throughout dinner, is positively glowing. She genuinely can't remember the last time he's looked this way. Even though it's such a happy thing to see, she can't help but stop herself from wondering how this amount of family interaction would make Keigo uncomfortable. If it weren't such a painful thought, she might have laughed at the idea of Keigo sitting off to the side, searching for her hand on the table and fiddling with it uncomfortably throughout the evening.
After they've eaten their fill, they retreat to the living room to chew the fat. plays with the kids until they're put to bed, and after that, he excuses himself and retreats to the kitchen. She's inclined to do the same, but by the time she's worked up the courage to excuse herself, she finds on his laptop, talking to someone. From where she's standing, she can't see who it is, but she recognizes the voice as Kagura's.
It's a surprise, to be sure, that would keep contact with his ex-wife after taking the trouble to move all the way to the other side of the world to escape her. The last remembers having a proper conversation with about his ex-wife, she remembers him saying emphatically, "I remembered why I fell in love with her, but then I remembered why I fell out of love with her."
listens in closer, and for a moment, she thinks she hears Kagura crying, and then asking over and over why he had to leave for Ireland, and wouldn't it have been enough for him to move to Tokyo? "I thought you loved me." She said, and those were her final words before she lapsed into silent tears.
waits for a heartbeat or two, and then he speaks. "How much I love you doesn't mean anything. No matter what universe you're in, sometimes two people just aren't meant to be together. And it took me a long time to realize that. I'm sorry it took so long. I'm sorry, Kagura. I'm sorry."
decides that it's not right of her to listen in to the conversation anymore, so she goes upstairs. A small part of her is left unsettled by 's calm acceptance. If she'd brought up Kagura's name to him a few months ago he would have been a wreck, but there's something different about him now. She can't tell if it's just because he's found to time to accept the way things have turned out and move on, or if it's the distance that he's put between himself and the matter that's helped to ease his heart. She doesn't know what the answer is; all she knows is that, for her own sake, it's probably best that she takes his example. She wants to move on, she really does, but she just doesn't know how to fill the void that's opened up inside of her.
... if all our life is but a dream—fantastic posing green
then we should feed our jewellery to the searching
for diamonds do appear to be just like broken glass to me
the ink is running towards the page
it's chasing off the days
I missed your skin when you were east
you clicked your heels and wished for me
I know the world's a broken bone
but melt your headaches call it home
you are at the top of my lungs
drawn to the ones who never yawn
sugarcane in the easy morning
weathervanes my one and lonely
Things settle down after the hype of the New Year. is delighted to receive his acceptance letter to IT Sligo, and starts his new job at the bed and breakfast with more gusto than she's seen put him into anything other than pursuing love interests. She's considered going back to study, just like , but she lacks the motivation to study writing like she always thought she would. It's become more of a private thing for her—an outlet for her to write about all the things that have happened to her these past for years, and before that even. She has no shortage of things to write about, so on the days in between her new job as a kitchen hand in the pub down the road, and her other job at an early bird café down in the village, she finds herself in the study, writing away.
It's on a day like this—one of her days off, that is—that the postie arrives to deliver some letters and a single parcel. The letters are nothing interesting: just bills, bills, something for Diarmuid, something for Aoife, something for . The parcel, though, is addressed to her.
It's a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. She leaves all the letters on the counter and takes the parcel to the study. It's not very big—just big enough to fit her address on the front, and an English address on the back. She peers more closely at it and realises that it's from Keigo.
She blinks, and opens it.
There, she finds a small black box, and atop it, a folded square of paper. She unfolds the paper, and it reads:
"If you asked me what one could hope to accomplish in three hundred and sixty-five days,
I would tell you that I simply wish to get it off my chest."
Inside the box is a ring.
And it hurts to look at, because it confirms every suspicion about Keigo that she's ever had. It confirms that, all along, he's found her presence and instances of silent rebellion against his old ways were enough for him—that all the little things she's done for him have made his life better, not worse, and how could she have gone when this was the truth all along? This, she thinks to herself over and over, would have been enough. That, and an "I love you", and that's all it would have taken to make her stay.
But how could he have known? How could he have known that it wasn't sporadic trips to the other side of the world, or nights in fancy hotels, or dinners at extravagant restaurants in extravagant dresses weren't what she wanted in the end? How could he have known that those nights leading up the day that she left, when he came home from work, was what started to make her waver? How could he have known that if he'd said those three simple words at the airport, she would have given up the plan and her citizenship papers and gone back to her days working at the café, coming home and waiting for him, making dinner together, enjoying sobremesa, drinking wine and dancing to Chet Baker, and then fallen asleep curled in one another's embrace? How could he have known that she was stubborn only until those ends?
Part of her wonders, though, that if she'd stayed in Japan, things would have changed at all. Would they always do that same routine, where she waits for him to come home so they can dance and smile and laugh, and that's the rest of her life—married to a man who she loves, and who loves her, but doesn't have the time of the day half the time. How is that life any better than what she has now, where she's working new jobs and meeting new people, where she has family that she's grown close with, where she gets to watch her little brother be free for the first time in his life—watch him go to the university, study hard, get his degree? Back there, the future she sees is not altogether different from her past—the same routine, over and over. Here, though, there are any number of possibilities of things that she can do. She and can buy a farm when they have the money. Maybe turn it into a bed and breakfast. On afternoons, they can sit out on the porch with their dog and 's new husband or wife, and look out to Ben Bulben on a clear day. There's possibilities for her here.
And she thinks about what said that night he was video chatting with Kagura—remembers him saying that some people just aren't meant to be together—and can't help but wonder if he's right. She thinks about the world that Keigo lives in, where he fills the shoes of whoever's shoes he is expected to fill, and she thinks about her world, where things are simple and clean, and she has the freedom to make the decisions that she wants to. Perhaps this is for the best, she thinks, as she folds Keigo's letter and puts it inside the box, wedging it in there with the ring as she snaps the box shut. Perhaps this is for the best, she tells herself, as she wraps it back up in the brown paper and tapes it up the way it was before.
Perhaps this is for the best, she tells herself as she takes it up to room and tucks it in the way of her bottom desk drawer, never to see the light of day again.
Perhaps this is for the best, she tells herself over and over.
Maybe one of these days she'll start believing it.
Princo & Ribbon
December 27, 2017.
Lack of... Irishness: So as it goes, you know that there are all kinds of differences between American English, Australian English, English English, all the other kinds of English, and all the kinds of English within those Englishes. It's a complicated language so I didn't even try to write those differences in the characters' lines. Partly because I wanted to cover my own ass in the event that I fucked it up really badly. I know very little about Ireland to begin with, let alone the dialects and where Gaelic is even used and dear God I should have researched this more before writing it.
The Tió: Okay but this is an actual thing. Basically it's a Catalan tradition where you have this log (the tió). I think these days he tends to come standing on 2-4 stick legs and wearing a hat with a smile painted on its face, and a blanket on him to, supposedly, keep him warm. You give him a little something to "eat" starting from December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception), and the kids have to take good care of him, making sure that he is warm and well-fed. On Christmas day, the kids are sent to another room to pray for lots of presents from the tió, at which point the adults will hide presents beneath the blanket that covers him. When the kids come back, they beat the tió until he shits out their presents. I'm genuinely not even joking, my group of friends in Sweden actually did this and my Catalan friend made us do this and it was the most hilarious, confusing and unsettling Christmas tradition I've ever experienced.
Ribbon: I keep promising myself when I'm writing novels that this one won't end like a conventional romance novel, but for some reason every time I come to the end, disgusting sappiness seems like the only way to properly end it. Tbh what is my life.
Princo: I'm kind of mad at Kotarou, but I'm trying to make myself feel better by thinking maybe Atobe and Saori were lovers in a past life. Maybe in Ireland.