Seven o’clock when the morning sun was at its brightest. I passed in front of the school far too early to attend, walking on and on until I had arrived at Mayu’s apartment. We’d be living together starting today. I ended up waking up early with the thrilling expectations of an adult on the release date of the sequel to a game that had been part of his childhood, one he’d been awaiting for twelve years. A lie, mind you.
I simply didn’t want to meet my aunt who was practically nocturnal, working the night shift as a nurse. We had gotten into quite a large fight when I got home yesterday. Before illicit relations even came to question, we were shouting at one another, denying each other basic human rights as we questioned whether the other had any right to live. Before the fight could turn physical, my uncle—a doctor who was a little more understanding— stepped in and permitted it under the condition I came by to see them at least once a month. My aunt was opposed to the very end. She was a little overprotective. But at the very least, she wasn’t as much of a villain as me.
“Perhaps a little too early…”
I rode the elevator to the third floor and muttered as I stopped in front of Mayu’s door. Mayu did sleep quite a bit. At school, I remember often seeing her sleeping over her desk, sometimes sleeping in and only arriving for second period.
“I did promise to come get her, but is she awake…”
I pushed the doorbell knowing it was hopeless. If she wasn’t coming out, I’d just have to waThe door shot open and slammed me in the face.
My overflowing emotion and feelings I couldn’t put into words flowed out as a red liquid from my nose.
While I was pinching my nose, Mayu greeted me with merry innocence.
Mayu tilted her head with her smile. She was wearing her pajamas, and she used their sleeves to carefully do away with the blood pouring out of the gaps in my fingers.
“No need, you’ll get dirty.”
“It’s fine, totally fine. Mii-kun’s is clean.”
The blue and white striped pajama acquired its third shade of speckling, restricted to one portion. Upon witnessing that, Mayu laughed innocently, her eyes clouded with ecstasy. I asked just in case, my face freezing up with the sort of goosebumps and cold sweat as if a reptile had walked along my spine.
“… How long have you been waiting here?”
“… And from when yesterday?”
“Right after I took a bath after you ran away.”
I left this room before seven.
“You were waiting in front of the door?”
Ummmm. Should I break into tears of gratitude at this girl’s devotion, or tremble in the corner of the hall in fear? I couldn’t quite decide. And I didn’t decide, that choice wasn’t meant for someone as twisted as me.
“I should have come sooner, I’m sorry.”
I picked the safe option to test the waters. Don’t worry about it, her light attitude seemed to say as she pounced and embraced me.
She sweetly said, burying her soft face into my chest.
… Hm? Wait, wasn’t there something I wanted to ask this girl who acted like a spoiled child…
“Hmm? You kinda smell like soap.” She noted, letting off quite a sweet scent herself. It was all thanks to that scent that I completely forgot what I was supposed to ask.
“I like morning baths.” I replied, though today was the first time I’d ever taken one. I hadn’t found the time to bathe yesterday.
I entered with Mayu still firmly joined to me. She didn’t even ask if I was going to live with her or not. There wasn’t much point in asking. Or more accurately, not much point in my answer.
The living room was the same as it had been when I last saw it, and I left my school bag and sports bag with a change of clothing on the floor. When I took a glance at the Japanese room, I saw the screen was firmly shut. I’m surprised they didn’t go insane spending all day in there, I noted down as someone else’s business.
“What about breakfast?” Mayu asked as she clung to my arm.
“I haven’t had it yet.”
“I meant bread or rice, which would you prefer?”
Oh, so she already concluded I was eating. If you don’t eat, I’ll have you with chopsticks like yesterday, I vividly imagined her saying. My, my, looks like I really am insane, end quote.
“Then bread. This is a western room and all.”
My answer lacked any coherency whatsoever but, “Understood,” Mayu seemed to have received some sort of understanding. Regardless, she didn’t demonstrate any actual action. I must have received a passing grade as a body pillow, at least judging by the satisfied look on her face. We threw ourselves down on the sofa together and powered on the thirty-two-inch TV.
“This is the first time I’ve watched TV in the morning, Mii-kun.”
So it wasn’t rare, it hadn’t been a while, it was actually a first? The screen showed a familiar scene. A part of the town we lived in. Serial Killer on the Loose, the same old captions burst out in an exaggerated manner.
“I hear someone died last night.”
“Sure sounds dangerous, but people do die every day, they don’t have to make such a big deal about it.”
I lightly feigned ignorance. I already knew about it yesterday. The one who was murdered was the chairman of the neighborhood committee, who had been on patrol. It had happened once his rounds were over, in the meager five-minute window when he’d been alone waiting for someone to swap out. The cause of death rather orthodox, stabbed to death with a blade. Apparently quite the astounding hole was opened up in the side of his head. The incident took place at eight in the evening, close to the elementary school. There were no witnesses. It was about time for some residents to begin suspecting if there really was a human murderer at all. Perhaps this was some occult or supernatural phenomenon. That was simply how foreign murder had been in these parts. Up to half a year ago, at least.
“How scary… Mayu?” She showed no reaction to my thinly veiled impression. She had discarded her prior smile, eyes with no light or impurities gazing at the scenery projected on the cathode ray tube.
“… It’s been a while.” She muttered to herself. At the same time, she basked in remembrance. I found the thought of her remembering far more disgusting, repulsive than shoving a limb into a bucket of maggots.
“Hey.” Mayu suddenly looked at me. Her inorganic eyes gazed right into mine.
“Did Mii-kun do that?” She casually asked. When she had no basis or evidence, her tone barely made it sound like a question at all.
“Nope,” I lied. “Maa-chan, you detest murderers, don’t you?”
“Yep. I hate them more than anything in the world.”
Her face formed a smile once more. She took a seat on my lap as if to hide me away. She pushed our cheeks together and nuzzled me.
“And I XXXX Mii-kun more than anything in the world.”
“… Well thanks.”
Naturally, that wasn’t enough to fluster me.
“Oh what’s this? Mii-kun, your cheek’s heating up. Your skin is getting all bumpy.”
Alright, that was a lie.
“L-let’s have breakfast. I need to get my daily wheat intake.”
My dismay deserved the descriptor of wimp. “Yeah, yeah,” Mayu soothed me with a triumphant, composed smile. How humiliating, for a child to treat me like a child. She could say she liked me and rub up against me all she wanted, but I just couldn’t deal with that one XXXX word. I forced a sour look and warded off my layer of shame.
Mayu parted, walking off towards the kitchen. She seemed to be calmer today, she wasn’t going to sprint off in a rush. Back and forth she swayed like she was pacing through a dream and I called out to her back.
“Just hypothetically… what would you do if I really was the culprit?”
She turned to me and tilted her head like she was trying to twist it off.
“Do about what?”
“No, you know, would you turn me in to the police or call me scary, creepy, pervert, say go die, you idiot…”
I was amazed by the lack of depth in my own imagination. Those were just plain playground insults, lower than elementary school level at that.
“Yeaaah… ah dunno.”
She broke into the local dialect as her head tilted forward. After that, she started walking right back on her way.
“Then Mii-kun, what would you do if I died right now?”
Said her voice from the kitchen. She wasn’t speaking particularly loudly, yet it vividly struck my eardrums.
“I never ever want to think about it, so I don’t know.”
“Yep! Now you get it!”
I see, I get it now! I didn’t get exactly what she was saying, but her surging confidence encouraged me bringing me to some sort of understanding. It wasn’t like I asked with malice, so this was fine for now.
Before I got bored, I carefully opened the Japanese room screen. As expected, the dark room exuded a vile odor that could turn a thousand ships. I covered my nose—only now noticing my nose bleed had stopped— and stepped in.
The two of them were lying down asleep in one corner of the room. Kouta-kun embracing Anzu-chan as if protecting her, while Anzu-chan was curled into a ball like a sunbathing cat.
I did find it heartwarming. But my face muscles wouldn’t budge. It does seem they won’t relax for me without a very specific set of stimulus. What could that be? Why I only smile at fun things of course. Though that was a lie.
I left for now and made for what I presumed to be Mayu’s room, a place I had yet to enter. When I crossed the corridor and opened the door, this time it wasn’t my nose but my eyes I got the strong urge to seal up. There were textbooks strewn over the floor, the bed’s sheets were left crumpled up in a corner. There was a mountain of fancy and funky little gadgets piled over her desk, none managing to carry out its intended function. As Mayu never really actually read, there weren’t any magazines or normal books, nor was there a bookshelf.
I sighed as I stepped over the textbooks to open the closet. The clothing inside was violently stuffed away with no care paid to wrinkling. After digging through Mayu’s clothing, I produced a crude blanket and brushed off a thin layer of dust. I promptly made my escape with it under my arm.
“So the living room isn’t messy because she never uses it…”
An un-lived in living room, I mused at the sheer pointlessness while making my way back. I unfurled it and was just about to drape it over the two when Anzu-chan’s fox eyes reacted.
“… I don’t need it.”
Her pupils half between dream and reality focused up on me.
“Don’t need the dole of a kidnapper…”
Why dole, she knows some hard words there. Unlike with yesterday’s meal, the lack of any immediate physiological demands caused her to demonstrate rejection. However.
“Unfortunately, a kidnapper’s dole is all you’re going to get. Just take it.”
I spread the cover over them. Hiding half her face, her voice muffled by the new layer languidly protested, “I said I didn’t need it.”
“If you forcefully get your way, your brother might catch a cold. Are you sure.?”
Anzu-chan shut up. Her eyes wandered here and there, and finally she burrowed under the cover. I took that as a half-hearted acceptance and decided to leave before she could change her mind.
A fleeting voice like the hum of a mosquito’s wing. Perhaps she had intended I didn’t hear her at all. But in the stillness produced on an early country morning, she would have been better off not speaking at all.
“… Kouta said I had to say it for yesterday…”
She added on as an excuse.
“You’re welcome,” I muttered in my mouth and left. Only now was I recalling how fulfilling it felt to be a complete hypocrite.
Breakfast was spent playing at being a couple: saying “Aaah”, feeding one another, the whole shebang. The moment we left the room, Mayu covered up her childishness. Silent and expressionless, she passed identically as she had up to yesterday as she walked coldly beside me. Was this how an adulterous couple felt leaving a hotel room, I thought, as I accepted this as Mayu’s stance in regards to the world and commuted without a word myself. Though I did lend her a hand in place of the railing when climbing the stairs.
When we arrived at the classroom, Mayu made a straight shot for her seat and hung her bag from the hook at the corner. Her upper body flopped right over the desktop. That was a kiss to the surface head-on. This way of sleeping was a waste of Mayu’s good looks, the other half of this fake couple thought.
Not a single one called out to her. Her sleep wouldn’t be interrupted until after school. Starting with our homeroom teacher Kaminuma-sensei, the teachers at our school operated under a doctrine of live and let live, pretend not to see, and idolized the concept of sitting on the fence. Each lesson began with no one bothering to point out her attitude in regards to class.
Should I have woken her up at lunch break? Would I be better off returning with her? I rested a hand on my cheek at my seat distant to hers, gazing at her sleeping body curled in a C shape, and in the end, decided to take a page out of the teachers’ books and ignore her entirely.
Mayu slept the day away without moving a muscle.
School ended without anything of note. I checked over the headings of the two printouts being passed around in the clamor. One of them came from the student council, the other was about the field trip.
The student council flier was filled with platitudes from the diseased minds that stood at the top of our dear school. Quite literally. Only a single line was an advisory about the murder case that was shaking the nation as of late. ‘Be careful if you meet anyone carrying anything dangerous,’ a statement that made me wonder what dangerous substances occupied the brain matter of whoever wrote it. The remaining blank space was covered up by the student council executive committee’s various ideals, fashions and exploits (with a hierarchy of importance, of course), meaning it was literally a ‘look at me’ self-aggrandizing paper. With a group like that in charge, I wouldn’t pick a fight even if I were some mysterious transfer student. I folded a paper airplane and flew it into the trash. Score.
The other flier, on the other hand, detailed the itinerary, recommended budget and contact information for our school field trip; it was more geared towards parents and guardians. After a broad glance over it, I folded it and tucked it away.
We were scheduled to go on a field trip around three weeks from now. A month ago, Kaminuma-sensei had off-handedly explained that it would be a three-night, four-day trip, touring all around Northern Kyuushuu. When I heard that, I couldn’t help but imagine just how much our student council president Sugawara Michizane would be teased one we got to Daizaifu Tenmangu.
Now then, while Mayu usually revived herself once school was over, she didn’t look like she was resurrecting today. I felt a little hesitant but putting it on the scales with the retribution that likely awaited me should I return alone, I picked the lighter option.
I inconspicuously traced the back of the classroom to her seat. I gently shook her shoulders. This was the first time anyone had ever attempted to do so and I garnered just a bit of attention.
Despite some incomprehensible murmurs, she raised her face with sleepy eyes, slurping in her drool as she rationalized my existence.
“Yeah, let’s go ho- me?”
Mayu pounced on me with a cry for joy. I had to catch her with my entire body. And she kissed me. It was quite surprising indeed. Exclamation point.
Sound receded from the classroom. Sound echoed within me and nowhere else. The contraction of my muscles, the grating of bones, the rubbing in my joints. The beat of my heart. Mayu’s tongue crept its way in, squirming as if it were collecting up my spit. She licked all the way from the bottom of my tongue to the back of my teeth, slurping up the fluids she’d amassed with an indecent noise. That was evidently where she finally awoke. She rapidly jumped back.
“… Bad idea?”
Her finger scooped up the saliva dangling from the edge of her mouth. She expressionlessly looked up at me.
“… It felt like saying good morning to our new life together……”
I got the feeling an impenetrably strong wall was suddenly constructed between me and my classmates. Oh come on, you see these sorts of stupid couples all the time around the station. I thought I would proclaim it so in a loud voice, but I felt that would be digging my own grave, so I kept it to myself. A lie, mind you.
Mayu briskly and carelessly folded the printouts down the middle, shoving them into her bag without so much as a first glance. She immediately stood from her seat. I never looked for belonging here to begin with, and now I’d be rejected entirely. Of course, in a high school full of local students who knew all about our kidnapping case, I couldn’t hope for anything as extravagant as friendship.
I followed Mayu to the corridor. She didn’t seem affected by her failure in the classroom. She was calm, as if nothing had happened, correcting her crooked clothing. Her display right now confirmed I was the only one she ever wanted to see her infantile side. I was the exception. Does that make me happy you ask? Let’s just say yes for now.
Putting all that aside, there was Mayu’s bag to worry about. I associated her treatment of it with the disastrous state of her room and decided to have her show it to me once we were out in the corridor. “Go ahead?” the bag she handed over was featherweight class. I opened it for now. A prismatic display of printouts had formed a mountain at the bottom. I could see her textbooks and notes had mysteriously vanished. Rather, they were still just laying around her room, weren’t they.
I stuck my hand down to the bottom to collect all the printouts. Had she been hoarding them from first year? I noted the flier distributed at our commencement ceremony. Regardless, I opted to throw them out altogether.
I turned to a voice from the classroom. Kaneko was there, standing against the door.
“What’s up, class rep?”
He approached with an ambiguous laugh to my spiteful tone. A finger scratching his forehead, a hand to his hip, what a busy man he was. Then don’t waste time on us, I thought to myself.
“No, not you, I’m asking Misono-san.”
“What do you want?”
She immediately reacted to her name. Not as hostile as yesterday, but her cold impression still the most conspicuous part of her.
“No, remember, I was thinking about asking you yesterday. What do you think this school’s good points are?”
Mayu took a short sidelong glance at me before, “It has none,” she curtly replied.
“Aaah… none, huh. Yep, got it.”
At the end of his empty words that couldn’t even be considered one end of a conversation, Kaneko’s face miserably fell apart. The look of his drooping eyes passed through Mayu, reaching the man silently watching over these developments—me. He was clearly phoning in an emergency. I could also see him concealing his interest in asking for the juicy details of ‘what exactly was that back there?’. Therefore, I quite blatantly pretended not to notice. A simple ‘alright, thanks’ would end this exchange already. Why couldn’t he just say it?
“Ahem, ahem. Well, nothing would be a bit troubling here. I’m taking statistics, see.”
“A lax school policy. A scenic location. It has all the necessary facilities. Is that enough?”
“… Yeah, that works.”
I never should have asked, was the message conveyed by his bitter expression. But, “Oh, one more thing,” he started up with.
“Were, umm, you two dating?”
Looks like that was what he really wanted to know, I could see a dubious sense of accomplishment on his face the moment he said it. Mayu, in contrast, was thoroughly indifferent.
“And what good would it do me to answer that question?”
Just as Kaneko was about to greet his limit,
“Now look here, if you’ve got time to hit on a girl, then get to swinging that bamboo sword until sweat erupts from your arm guards,” A student who exited the neighboring classroom called over in a teasing tone. Student council president and captain of the kendo club, among other things. A high school student boasting various titles. Yes, there were all sorts of things he was associated with, but who cares. He was just Sugawara Michizune-kun, who loved talking about himself.
The word omnipotent fit him like a glove; it was hard to think he was the same species as me.
With his relief appearing from an unforeseen direction, the strain in Kaneko’s face slackened. Yes. But still.
“That wasn’t what we were talking about, please don’t link it to such idiotic notions.”
Mayu seemingly lacked the ability to recognize a joke. Instead of reading the mood, she took it quite seriously. The president was taken aback but, “Yeah, sorry about that,” he immediately brushed it aside. He sent Kaneko a sharp side glance, urging him to explain, ‘then what exactly were you talking about?’.
“I was just collecting data for the pamphlet. Hold up, isn’t this something you should be taking care of, captain?”
“Just say they’ll be able to meet me and include a picture. That’s all you need.”
“Hey now, you ever heard of the attraction effect?”
Fed-up as he seemed, Kaneko took on a friendly attitude as he started up a conversation with our student council president. He had put up a thin wall. A clear demonstration of human relations prevented any further entry from our side. We had put up a mosquito ned ourselves, and there was no need for us to loiter outside it at all.
“Yeah,” Mayu replied and gripped my hand.
Our hands were joined down the stairs, and all the way to her shoe cubby.
The moment we returned to her room, “Let’s do something naughty,” Mayu energetically declared as she leaped onto the sofa, only to have taken off to the land of dreams by the time I had gotten a change of clothes from my bag. She was lying face down and it looked like her neck would hurt if I left her there, so I carried her to her room. Cradling her small body, I set her to sleep on the bed. I didn’t feel any strong urge to actually do anything naughty to her. I draped the cover and left.
“I wonder when she’ll be up.”
Deplorable as it may be, I do not possess the skill required to cook rice. Even if I could endure the hunger, I had to do something about the meals for the other two. After changing into casual clothes, I slid open the screen to the Japanese room.
“Oh, welcome back.”
I received a courteous greeting. Is this supposed to be your house? I thought, but giving such a boorish response felt idiotic. “Yeah, I’m back,” I grounded myself in good manners.
The two were sitting huddled close to one another, not much different from yesterday. The only real differences were the blanket on their laps, and the plate their breakfast had been on.
“Umm, thanks, for this.”
Kouta-kun lowered his head, wildly throwing his bangs about. His fingers pinched the cover in bashful delight. Anzu-chan firmly faced her best friend: the wall.
“Anzu, say thanks.”
The brother tugged at his little sister’s sleeve. The sister’s eyes narrowed in displeasure.
“You’re being stupid, Kouta. This guy’s a kidnapper. Why do I gotta say thanks?”
I wholeheartedly agreed. While her argument was terribly simple, it also made perfect sense.
“But this Onii-san wasn’t the one who kidnapped us.”
He was also making sense, but that wasn’t something I could just let slide.
“Oh no, I would quite like if you started thinking I kidnapped you.”
They both turned unpleasant faces at those words. Perhaps naturally, as common sense dictated both Mayu and I were equally criminal. Despite my hypocritic treatment of them, by the point I remained silent that these children were being held captive, I was your average everyday accomplice.
“And she doesn’t have to thank me. Ikeda-san properly said thank you this morning.”
Anzu-chan’s eyelids and mouth flitted open and closed. To operate them concurrently, perhaps that was a high-level ability that could only be carried out unconsciously.
Anzu-chan fled to a corner of the room to avoid Kouta-kun’s face peering into her own. Had she fallen into self-loathing? Her cheeks and ears were slightly touched by red.
“You’re hungry, aren’t you?”
Kouta-kun honestly nodded. Perhaps his fear had reduced, as the movements of his head were getting smoother.
“Could you wait a bit? That onee-san is asleep right now, but if she doesn’t wake up soon, I’ll go out and buy us bento.”
Either the convenience store half an hour away with average price and taste, or the high-priced, terrible tasting supermarket right in the neighborhood, I’d been considering it a while now.
“That onee-san sleeps a lot, doesn’t she.”
Kouta-kun bitterly smiled.
“Last weekend she fell asleep on Saturday and only got up on Monday.”
… If your sleep time exceeds your waking hours, can you really say you’re living life?
“Now that sounds rough. Well, I think you’ll be fine this weekend; I’ll be here.”
“Onii-san, you live here?”
“Looks like it. I’m a newcomer here, but I hope we get along.”
I held out my hand as a joke. Kouta-kun timidly reached out his own and rubbed his palm against mine. It was strangely slippery, a sensation I couldn’t process psychologically.
“Grime… a bath is, a bit much. I’d like to give you one, but I can’t just let you run free.”
It would be plain idiotic if I took off the chains and they used that opportunity to run. But honestly, what was I supposed to do with these children? I didn’t have any plans or flashes of inspiration. What course of action would bring in peace for everyone?
Kouta-kun’s reserved voice interrupted my train of thought.
“Onii-san, are you that Onee-san’s friend?”
“Good heavens no, why perish the thought.”
I tried putting on a posh accent only to fail at it completely. Yeah, not a good idea. I continued on like nothing had happened.
“I’ve never felt any form of friendship towards Mayu, and most likely neither has she. She’s just someone important to me.”
“… I’m surprised you can say something so embarrassing.”
Anzu-chan muttered. Did the world’s common sense classify those as words overflowing with shame? I was far more bothered by that shady accent I put on.
“So our relationship is probably closer to what you two have.”
“We’re not like that!”
Anzu-chan intruded to destroy the moment Kouta-kun accepted it with a, “Oh, so that’s it”. He laughed a strained laugh seeped in a sense of loneliness and “you’re right,” agreed with Anzu-chan instead. As Kouta-kun looked far more down that expected, Anzu-chan awkwardly turned away to face the wall again.
“Ah, well… a lie, mind you. Right, just a lie. Mayu and I are already like a middle-aged couple. Your ages are still in the single digits; to put it in bug terms, we’re bell crickets, and you two are cicadas that have just come up from underground. But bell cricket males get eaten by the females you know.”
A sense of responsibility pushed me to smooth over the situation. And naturally it had the opposite effect. I received only the slightest smile of pity from Kouta-kun, while Anzu-chan projected a look of pure wrath. I don’t have what it takes to be class rep. I’m just part of the cleanup committee.
“Wow, everyone’s a critic. So, you wanted to know if me and Mayu are friends?”
“Ah, ye, umm, well…”
“Do you like Mayu?”
Falling in love with a kidnapper eh? That good old Stockholm syndrome?
“W-wrong! It’s not that at all!”
His hands and head wildly flailed back and forth, looking like they might snap off as he desperately denied it. Suspicious. Wait, then am I the one he likes? Not happening.
Kouta-kun hung his head down, pink to his ears. I wonder what he thought of that cold look from Anzu-chan. “That’s really not it…” he explained away.
“She’s too scary.” He paused for a moment. “So liking her is a bit…”
Eh? Then what does that say about me? I considered reacting hysterically.
“And I’m not sure about all the noise…”
“Mn? … Noise?”
I latched on to that nonchalant word from Kouta-kun. While slightly hesitant, he nodded once. Anzu-chan’s chin bobbed as well.
“How should I put it, she starts screaming really loudly in the middle of the night… ah, not every day though.”
I touched a hand to my chin to mull over it. It didn’t require much thought at all, this was what the world called a sickness of the heart.
“Her PTSD’s acting up…”
Did the doctor know about this? Mayu never did attend her periodic checkups.
“Sleep talk would be the simplest conclusion…”
But that was impossible. Mayu didn’t possess the ability to wake herself only half-way in the middle of the night. She fell asleep easy enough, but she slept like a log, with no energy to scream.
“… You didn’t know?”
Kouta-kun didn’t seem to expect that at all. It wasn’t anything particularly unusual. I didn’t know anything about Misono Mayu. Only her name, her nickname, and pen name. It goes without saying, just one of those was a lie.
“I don’t really want to know.”
Even I couldn’t determine how much of that one was a lie. “I see,” and “Hmm,” the two halfheartedly replied.
I lifted myself up to go to Mayu. But. I took a glance at them before that.
I looked from the whorls of their hair to the tips of their toenails and decided to carry it out.
“It may be drops in the bucket, or rather a one drip of wine in a casket of bilge water, but… take off your clothes. I’ll wash them.”
Perhaps it would be less effort to throw them in a bath with their clothes on, but I couldn’t quite do that. The siblings opened their eyes wide and blinked them a few times before finally reacting to my proposal.
“Is that alright?”
“Is it not alright?”
Is it really that dubious for me to do a good deed, you little scamp?
“I-I think it’s fine.”
Looks like I scared him a bit. Time to reflect. I put a strict decree on myself to treat guests as courteously as a certain international theme park.
“Then could you take off those clothes for me?”
I held out my right hand with a gentle tone. I received a shirt, trousers, and bashfully removed undergarments from Kouta-kun. When I looked at Anzu-chan, she hid herself under the blankets, wriggling around in that narrow space. A hand clasping a ball of clothing thrust out from underneath it. I left once I had it in hand.
I arrived in the laundry room with the source of the smell and chucked them into the washer. As the water filled up, they the liquid turned a bizarre pale black even before the detergent hit. This was a filth I had to wince back to. There was little to be done, I pulled the clothes out and washed them by hand, getting out all the dirt on the surface. After that, I drained the washer and shoved them in again, letting the machine do its work. After watching it a while, I went on to the next step.
I made for the bathroom. First, I washed my hands covered with some slippery substance. I prepared a wash basin, turning the shower faucet to fill it to the brim with hot water, then submerged a towel in it and returned to the room with the basin in both hands.
“Alright, use these to wipe down.”
That must have been quite unexpected, their mouths were hung open. It looks like good deeds really aren’t for me. That being the case, I’m not capable enough for villainy.
“Thank you very much,” Kouta-kun seemed so grateful he nearly forgot his position. I see.
“You’re pretty gracious.”
No, don’t just say yes to that.
Kouta-kun crawled under the blankets and began wiping down Anzu-chan’s body. It did seem both sides had accepted his overprotective handling as a fact of nature. When the towel was out of the blanket, it was an ochre color like it had been used to wipe down a window covered in tar. Kouta-kun immediately submerged the towel and wrung it out before getting back to work. While I couldn’t see the actual process, I got the impression of a big brother carefully and cautiously cleaning, leaving no spot untouched like he was polishing a piece of art. His faithful attitude that ran close to blind devotion cause me to think back to mikan peels.
I had a little sister once. It was impossible for us to form a favorable relation like these two, and we were only half related by blood. My selfish little sister liked mikans, she would be eating them all year round, breakfast lunch and dinner. She untiringly devoured those fruits so much her skin had turned yellow. Peeling those mikans and removing the white veins had been my job. She never thanked me for it– not a single time– and yet now I thought back to it fondly. I felt no loathing towards her. I think it’s probably because I had no reason to hate her. It was simply that I wasn’t too fond of her.
Kouta-kun exited the blanket, one job over. Anzu-chan also showed herself, only up to her neck as she exposed a face that had lost its yellow tint. I decided to take the opinion of the girl now dressed like a teru-teru bouzu.
“Ikeda-san, are you feeling any better?”
While her lips curved sharply into a frown as discontent as could be, she did display a small nod. And a whisper on the wind, she gave me the pardon.
“… Anzu is fine.”
“Anzu… oh, about referring to you. You sure?”
Don’t make me say it again, her eyes barked.
“Got it, Anzu-chan.”
“I don’t need a chan!”
The exact opposite line from what I’d gotten from Mayu made me shrug. It did seem my favorability rating has climbed up from negative two to the origin point on the x-y axis. Was there still any room left for a positive incline?
“Tune in next time to find out.”
Never mind, I waved my hand dismissively at the big brother. Come to think of it, I never heard her address Kouta-kun by any conjugation of the word brother. Does she do it when they’re alone?
After turning the towel inside out and squeezing out all the water, Kouta-kun wiped his own body. Quite clearly different from his treatment of Anzu-chan, his rough hand movements removed the general dirt around his body, finishing him up faster than it took a crow to bathe itself.
“I feel refreshed.”
He said, his gentle features smiling wider.
“I’m glad you enjoyed our services…”
I arbitrarily replied as I continued observation on Kouta-kun’s body.
His skin was just as pale, there was only one difference that stuck out. The traces of internal bleeding on his armpits and inner thighs, the places that would usually be hidden by clothing.
There were bruises engraved here and there. The odd discoloration made it seem almost as if he was growing moldy.
“… I’ll get you your clothes once they’re dry.”
I practically snatched the basin away and stood. While the two of them tilted their heads in confusion, I ignored them and immediately left the room. I closed the screen behind me. Keeping mindful of my feet on the floor, I dumped the basin in the shower, washed the towel under cold water and wrung it out before I finally opened my mouth.
“How should I put it…”
You really brought home some troublesome little kids, Maa-chan.
It wasn’t a habit of mine to pry into other peoples’ business, but so many trivial bits of information had piled their way up I could no longer deny them. This was dangerous. Despite everything, I’m on the benevolent side. Truth be told, more on the malevolent side. Both lies, by the way.
“Those wounds weren’t Mayu’s work…”
Going off last night, it’s pretty hard for me to proclaim her innocence out of some nauseating reason like affection. But still. It’s hard to think Mayu was capable of calculated violence. Blows specifically aimed at places where they wouldn’t be seen could hardly be carried out by Mayu with her int stat of nineteen. In her case, if for example, Anzu-chan showed thorough defiance, I wouldn’t put it past her to kick her right in the face.
“… This really is a nonsensical kidnapping.”
And the kidnapper herself had already shifted her interest towards me. In the first place, why did Mayu even kidnap those kids… oh right, that was the question I was looking for. I should ask her if I still remember when she wakes up. Though it’s not something I necessarily had to know, just in case.
I inclined my ear to the sound of the washing machine, my eyes trained on the ceiling a short while. There weren’t any stains that looked like human faces. Clean and pure and wearisome scenery, but convenient if I wanted to work my head.
I thought back to Misono Mayu’s sleeping face.
That sculpted look that lost all trace of emotion.
I thought back to Misono Mayu’s sleeping form.
Yielding itself to delirium, as if even her breath had ceased.
To think a girl seeped in such stillness would start screaming,
I would never believe it had it not happened only three days later.
It came at a volume I couldn’t describe in words. Different from the cry of a beast, a sharp and rending exclamation. It shook me enough I began to feel the room’s contours warping around me.
“Mayu? Hey, Mayu!”
I abandoned the late-night shopping channel, raced from the living room to her bedroom and flicked on the lights. She was still lying down as she raised her screams, her eyes murky and unfocused. I shook her by the shoulder.
“IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS……”
Endlessly, endlessly, she chanted the spell. When I sat her up, as if in response, she held her head and began clawing at her scalp.
“Oy, stop it!”
“It hurts, my head huuuuurrrts!”
It’s going to start hurting more the way you’re going! Her bloodshot eyes glared into empty space, a white foam seeping out from the gaps in her grit teeth.
Her slender arms over which I could see the bone, muscle and blood vessels tried to remove my hands. Her hair thrown out of order, she thrashed with frenzied limbs. Mayu’s hand hit my cheek, her nails forcefully tearing through. I felt the fissure of heat race through it. This wasn’t just a weal, she had drawn blood.
“It hurts it hurts it huuuurts!”
“I get it, I get it already! Calm down!”
My voice wouldn’t reach her. My very existence only irked her. Some part of me understood that was the true nature of our relationship.
This time her nails dug in around her eyes in an attempt of self-mutilation. She was trying to rip her face apart with enough force to overpower anyone her age, and in my attempt to stop her, I grasped her wrists and gripped them with enough strength to crush the joints. I thought it wouldn’t matter if I broke them in this instance, but thankfully it never reached that point.
Mayu’s body suddenly folded. It was as stiff as ever, but now directed towards suppressing whatever that something was welling from her depth. She groaned, sweat erupting from every pore on her body.
I let go of her half unconsciously. Like I’d pulled some sort of trigger, she threw up on the spot. Her limbs frozen, she scattered her gastric juices and stomach contents all over the bed with a vile sound. It fell on my legs and my laps, its sour stench spreading all through the room. I did not stroke her back as she spat out with tears in her eyes. I simply watched what happened in a daze.
She sobbed a few times, only to vomit again after that momentary pause. The juices flowed from her nose plugging up every path to breathe, her eyes rolled back as even now, her forward bent posture was dead set on spewing out every last thing inside of her.
Mayu didn’t raise her face, she kept it down in the sheets soaked in stomach acid. It was there that I finally lifted her body and lightly wiped off her debilitated face before holding her close.
“It will be alright.” I cast meaningless words to her as her shoulders rose and fell with each breath. “We’re the only ones here, Maa-chan. No one’s going to come bully you. They’re never, ever going to come again. So it’s alright.”
She threw up a bit more when I rubbed her back. The body-temperature liquid flowing down my neck gave me goosebumps. But I didn’t feel unpleasant, nor did I get the urge to release her. This time Mayu grabbed my wrists.
Her unmaintained nails stuck into my blood vessels, I thought she’d tear right through the artery.
Mayu said to someone. I had a few ideas on who it might be.
What Mayu saw.
What Mayu felt.
I’m sure I had shared the experience.
She maintained that state for around an hour. Mayu shook as she refused to let go of my hand. The blood flow had already stopped, it had turned from its depths a shade so dark I was sure I was on the verge of necrosis. If that was what it took to return Mayu’s normality, it was hardly worth consideration.
“It’s gonna be alright.”
I wiped the sweat from her forehead and mouthed the same shallow phrase for the hundredth time.
“Your cheek is hurt. What happened? You’re bleeding. Does it hurt?”
She indicated my cheek—stinging in pain—with broken sentences.
“Oh, this. I just scraped it against a tree branch on the way here.”
“A-ah, I see, so that’s it. Does it hurt?”
She traced my wound with her fingertip. For the time being, I would kill that topic and move on to the next one.
“This is important, Maa-chan. Do you have any of that medicine the doctor gave you?”
I purposely phrased it like I was soothing a child. She shook her head bit by bit.
“Why won’t you go to the doctor?”
“I-I mean, I mean, I hate her. She always lies to me, I hate her.”
Meaning you hate me too, Maa-chan. Well, that doesn’t matter. All I could really do was have her take the medicine I had.
“I’ll get you something to make you feel better, wait here…”
“D-don’t want to, don’t want to, don’t want to. I’ll go too, Mii-kun is going, we’re going together.”
She obstinately clung to my hips. I pat her head one to accept her request. So I carried Maa-chan with me as I got down from the bed. I held her hand as I would a child’s, telling her it would be alright again and again. I really should have practiced how to smile, I regretted just a bit.
We headed to the living room, where I pulled the paper bag containing my medicine from the side pocket of my backpack. I swiftly made for the kitchen holding the paper bag in my mouth. I stood an unsteady Mayu on her own feet, snatched a glass cup from the shelf and filled it with water.
“Okay, you’ll feel better if you take this.”
It wasn’t dangerous medicine or anything. I took two pills from the bag and set them on her unreliable palm. Her eyes were moving restlessly and when I tried handing her the cup,
Mayu’s shoulders reacted violently, her fingers snapping it away. It loitered through the air, bouncing off a chair before smacking the ground. A dull crash as its death throes, the glass cylinder burst into large fragments.
“A-aah-ah, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.”
Mayu desperately pleaded to someone for forgiveness. She had already bent down in an attempt to recover the fragments, so I interrupted her, lightly embraced her and rubbed her on the back.
“Don’t worry about it. No one’s angry at you, Maa-chan.”
The spilled water soaked between my toes. I took care not to step on any fragments as I took some distance, and lightly pat her fragile shoulders. I abandoned the pills on the floor, taking out an entirely new dose, which I made sure was firmly in her hand. Once again, I took a new cup with new water.
“Put the medicine in your mouth.”
I guided her hand, opened her thin lips and placed the pills on her pale red tongue. And next, I put my hands over hers, slowly tilting the cup. Her lightly quivering lips planted a kiss on its rim, letting the water flow into her mouth. She swallowed with a sound, and once I’d seen that through, I gently pulled the cup away from her
“Yep, good job, good girl.”
I lightly pat her head. She clung to my body, burying her head in my chest. I discarded the remaining water in the sink, leaving the cup behind. From there, I dragged Mayu along to comfort her on the sofa.
“Let’s watch some TV. I’ll be awake until you get sleepy.”
When I glanced at the CRT, that infomercial on the onion slicer was long gone, and this time there was an overblown sale of gold pearls going on.
She desperately cried without a shred of optimism. While silent, I stroked her hair to answer.
“Mii-kun isn’t going to bully me, right?”
“Never. I’m your ally, Maa-chan.”
“That’s right, Mii-kun is an ally. Mii-kun is an ally…”
She repeated in a trance. As if she was imprinting that information in her mind. I didn’t interrupt her.
“Mii-kun will save me. He saved me from the bee in kindergarten, in elementary school, he saved me from the teacher I hated. He’s always with me, he’ll always save me. He’ll always, always be my ally. That’s why Mii-kun won’t bully me he’ll stay with me he’ll always be with me he won’t betray me he won’t lie to me.”
“… There, there.”
I took on an evasive attitude. I mean, that last one. You know.
“Let’s go to the doctor tomorrow.”
Her head trembled as she shook it like a small animal. She reminded me of a chihuahua. The imprudent notion struck me that a beautiful woman could play a part beautifully no matter the situation.
“It will be fine. I’ll go with you. And we’ll go on a date after that.”
Like persuading a child who didn’t want a shot. Mayu extracted and reflected over only a single word.
“Yes, a date. You don’t want to play with me?”
She reverted to a small animal again to deny that. She was shaking even more than before.
“I want to play with Mii-kun.”
“Got it. Then we’ll go wherever you want to and play, Maa-chan.”
Though a park was all we really had in these parts. Whether we liked it or not, the lack of options was one detestable characteristic of the countryside.
“And that’s why we’ll go to the doctor, alright?”
And that’s why what? Those points were completely unrelated, but Mayu’s head was shaking up and down. She was hooked as easily as a goby.
“Okay, I’ll put up with it. I’ll see the liar. Mii-kun will come with me, won’t he?”
“Of course,” I strongly asserted. Had that done the trick? Mayu slumped down like a plant that had been given too much water and lay down over the sofa. She silently admired the exercise machine that could burn an hours-worth of calories in thirty minutes as her eyes slowly drooped. And without ever leaking a sleeper’s breath, her activity ceased like her power had been cut.
I turned off the TV along with her. I let her lay on the sofa and headed to her room. I pulled away her sullied sheets and bundled them up as they had been when I first saw this room. Taking up the cover I used, that hadn’t been covered in vomit, I entrusted the room to darkness before returning to Mayu. After covering her, I gazed at her sleeping face just a short while before offering her the usual words.
She showed no response as per usual. I turned off the lights.
… It might go without saying at this point, but Mayu and I shared the bed. Naturally, it was only used for sleeping, nothing more. How wholesome, our relationship was the farthest from an R-rating as could be.
The room’s air made me tremble. The coldness of the floor indicated the encroaching shadow of winter. I decided to call it a day early as I thought over where I’d sleep.
Kouta-kun’s reserved voice made it across the screen. I turned, slid it open and set foot on the tatami. I pulled the string dangling from the low ceiling to wake up the fluorescent lamp.
The two sat with the blanket wrapped around them. Their expressions sleepy, their hands rubbing their eyes.
“What happened to your clothes?” Kouta-kun asked.
“I rode a merry-go-round all night with a bad hangover. More importantly, did I wake you up?”
“Oh, it’s fine. We’re used to it.”
“Used to it?”
What a dubious statement. Perhaps it was a slip up to both of them, “Kouta you idiot,” Anzu-chan lazily muttered and pinched his side. Again. I was taken up by a delusion yet another piece had fallen into place. Rather, I was already beginning to see the calamity, disaster that had befallen these children, and I was eighty percent sure I was right. No matter how reluctant I was to get involved, they were dropping way too many hints.
I had to change the topic. I had to produce a discrepancy from the slightest change in direction.
“But it’s strange, you know. I’m surprised she hasn’t gotten an eviction notice yet with all the noise…”
It hit me. I felt an urge to strap a lightbulb to my head to show the world.
I finally noticed what was off. It was so removed from what I’d experienced myself, I couldn’t see it even when it was on full display right before my eyes. It hadn’t been done to us only because our situation had been different.
Kouta-kun made a dubious face at my question with no subject. Anzu-chan didn’t react.
It was simple. These kids were conversing with me. Their mouths weren’t gagged. If Mayu’s mania wasn’t getting any complaints, perhaps the apartment complex was well-soundproofed. But on top of that, these kids’ legs were free and their hands as well. If they hit at the wall and screamed out, continued making a ruckus with body and soul, it would most definitely make it to the neighboring room. If an investigation was conducted here, the cuffs on their legs would ironically be the unmovable evidence to place cuffs on our arms.
“By God, it’s full of holes.”
This crime was too crude in both planning and execution. I felt like tearing out my hair as Mayu had done. I don’t wanna look at reality.
“So anyway, you two…”
I cut off my words again. So anyway, you two, why are you even here? The moment I asked, I got the feeling something far too undesirable would begin faster than the rush of nagashi soumen. Kouta-kun’s eyes were wide open at my suspicious conduct. Perhaps he was faithfully waiting for me to continue. On the other hand, Anzu-chan had lost her usual edge, her expression nodding off.
“Hey,” her mouth listlessly wriggled out its words. “That lady.”
“It’s not ‘lady’, it’s onee-chan.”
I corrected her somewhat strongly. What do you mean lady, where are your manners? That’s my lady you’re talking about there. Though I lie. Anzu-chan was either overpowered or just sleepy. She corrected herself without argument.
“Is that Onee-chan funny in the head?”
A sincere evaluation, no beating around the bush. I had no intention of telling her that wasn’t true.
“Anzu, you’re not supposed to put it like that.”
Meaning he had a problem with her phrasing, not her destination.
“Nah, it’s fine. If you thought that back there was a Karaoke competition, you’d be just as bad off as her… to be honest, I’m pretty sure all the screws are there.”
I had to acknowledge those words. It wasn’t like I held a negative viewpoint of Mayu. I felt no shortage of charm in those aspects of her. Her soul was too prone to sudden changes in emotion, but that was precisely why she could hold a sensibility not found in any other. Whether that was genius or madness was difficult to say.
I’m pretty sure these kids would understand if they got to know her a bit… no, more importantly.
“… The screws are all there, but something went wrong when they were put together. Someone got in the way, see.”
I wasn’t one to talk about someone else’s past without permission, but for some reason, I didn’t feel like just leaving it at that. I exposed just a bit of the past to a stranger.
“Mayu’s parents were killed, right before our eyes.”
I stated without emotion. I couldn’t put any in. I didn’t know which ones to use.
“I think that’s when my and Mayu’s screws went loose. It’s more noticeable when they’re as loose as Mayu’s… but I’m sure I’ve got it a little too.”
The reason being, I don’t find fault in her actions. I don’t feel guilty about them either.
My hearts sleep to make sure it stays that way.
I observed the two faces. Kouta-kun somewhat startled, no reaction from Anzu-chan. The same old reactions, so I decided to tie it up in the same old way.
“And that’s just how it works. If you want to insult Mayu, please abuse me first. No, no, I don’t mean that in any perverse way. It’s just, we’re all better off if I’m the one insulted. Yep, that’s it.”
I was speaking rapidly by the end. I wanted to twist my body in shame. To hell with please abuse me. The conversation was over, I didn’t feel like holding a question corner, but Anzu-chan who was waking up smacked me with a frank question.
“Why are you going so far to cover for her?”
Because I like, like, super like her, it’s totally that. I lie. Maybe.
“Because she’s precious to him, Anzu.”
Kouta-kun answered first. I sensed the sparks flying in a troublesome direction, so I subtly shifted the topic.
“Once upon a time, someone was asked a similar question.”
“…? Who was it?”
Asked Kouta-kun. I answered without using any proper nouns.
“Someone’s mother. Someone who was killed in place of a child. That person trembled and shook but still answered this with no hesitation.”
I paused for a moment before repeating what I had once heard, word for word.
“Because I’m your mother, she said.”
The children furrowed their brows. Did they think it was a sham? But that wasn’t a lie. I definitely remember her mother saying that. It was one of the few memories I couldn’t falsify even if I wanted to.
It was also the greatest reason I cover for Mayu.
The full volume heavy metal pierced my ears through the door.
I was the only one grimacing at the BGM so badly matched with the tranquil morning scenery I gazed out at through the window of the first-floor waiting room. I was the only one around, after all. Even further removed from the town that was barely populated to begin with, this building at the base of a mountain did not reek of disinfectant. It didn’t have to: this was a hospital for the heart.
The door that’s white paint was peeling away from it swung open. Out came Mayu, slamming the door behind her with clear displeasure on her face. She practically collapsed into the seat next to mine.
“Good work. How was it?”
I spoke louder than usual. Unless I made a conscious effort, my voice would be eaten up by another sound.
“I’m not coming again. She’s a liar, I hate her.”
She spat her frustrations, not caring to hide her childish side. Today, she was dressed nice in clothes I’d washed for her, with a beret pulled down deep over her head.
“What did she lie to you about?”
“No clue. There’s no worth in remembering what a liar says.”
But then why do you remember my words? That’s what I don’t get.
Mayu fixed the position of her hat that went off when she crashed down as she stood from her seat.
“Then wait here a bit. It’s my turn next.”
Her raised foot slammed into the ground like a spoiled brat. Her skirt flipped up for a moment in the process, letting the conspicuous long and narrow scar on her outer thigh peek its way out. To think it was still living strong; how very nostalgic.
“We’re going on a date, aren’t we? There no point in staying here.”
Her brown boots stamped at the floor in succession letting the sound echo out to the corridor. Yet even that was assimilated by the background noise making it difficult for even me to pick up.
“My checkup is today. Just hold out a little longer, please.”
I pleaded like I was making a request to a higher power. Had my prayers reached? She reluctantly nodded despite all the dissatisfaction she could muster plastered over her face.
“Another date tomorrow.”
“And the day after that.”
“If you’re fine with the chemistry lab and gym.”
With this and that, this girl who had no stake in the matter finally gave me permission to enter. I opened the creaking door. Beyond the entrance, the woman in a ponytail sitting by the window noted my existence with nothing more than a slight shift in her eyes.
A clean lab-coat, a blue miniskirt. Her slippers had been carelessly stripped aside, her legs unreservedly stretched out.
“That girl never changes.” Was the first thing she said. “She hasn’t changed one bit since she was a kid. Oh, but I guess, ‘where’s Mii-kun’ has turned in to ‘Mii-kun is here’. Not what I’d call a change for the better.”
She threw the clinical records on the table and yawned. Why does this doctor just start lounging around when I enter? Does she perhaps mistake me for a drinking buddy?
“So, what were you hoping to accomplish by bringing back that impertinent lass who forcefully got herself discharged from our hospital, ‘Mii-kun’.”
“Only Mayu gets to call me that.”
“Yeah, yeah, look at you lovebirds.”
She rubbed her eyes, letting her chair’s backrest creak as she finally turned to me.
Dr. Sakashita Koubi. A psychiatrist in her thirties, single. An adult whose reading list consisted solely of manga.
“And what brought about this change of heart? I never thought you’d reveal yourself to Misono.”
She folded her arms, looking over me with an appraiser’s eyes. This was a posture well suited to an intellectual beauty, if only she hadn’t been barefoot.
“Would it be alright if I just answered the first question?”
“Sure, why not. You only ever lie anyway.”
She saw right through me. We’d known one another since elementary school, and she did seem to have a perfect grasp on my personality.
“Mayu’s head suddenly started hurting in the middle of the night. I was worried, so I thought I’d have a professional look at her. That’s all.”
“Middle of the night eh… are you living with Misono now?”
The doctor narrowed her eyes, her cross-examination wouldn’t let that one be glossed over. If you’re a psychiatrist, I’d like it if you paid more attention to the head hurting part.
“We’re just sharing a place to eat and sleep.”
“Which means you’re living together.”
“In this limited living environment we call the earth, as a citizen of this narrow island region known as Japan, in the righteous spirit of economizing what limited resourced we have, we’re putting the available space to its most efficient usage through joint operation.”
“By living together. Got it.”
“… You seem kinda angry?”
She tapped her forehead to the beat of the song, the top of her foot jauntily hitting the ground.
“Though that’s a lie.”
She imitated my style; however, the indignation in her voice made her lie itself reek of falsehood. The doctor silently closed her eyes a while before she finally shook her head, her inner conflict over.
“I saw it coming. When I saw you and Misono come in side by side.”
“Did we look like a nice couple?”
“Are you stupid?” She sent me a scornful look. Suppressing her brow with one finger, she sighed. “It feels like my pet dog was made off with by a cat burglar.”
“How very dramatic.”
“Back when we first met, instead of Dr. Koubi, you were calling me ‘Doctoor’, restlessly holding onto me…” she lamented. “This must be what it feels like to have a kid going through puberty,” she snuck in a complaint. “Well, it’s your life, not mine. That’s outside of my jurisdiction. Even if you fester and rot off. But I have to tilt my head at whether that situation would be beneficial to Misono’s mental state.’
She was back to normal with no rhyme or reason. She really did tilt her head. Crick, crick, it let out a nice sound.
“You being there for her isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I’d even say it’s detrimental. Too much fertilizer is poison to the plant.”
“But we’re so full of affection. Isn’t friendship the greatest treasure of all?”
I wasn’t even considering something like that. Drumming at the table with her fingertips, Dr. Koubi made an expression tinged with bitterness and enervation.
“Lying’s become a habit for you, a bad one. Try and restrain yourself.”
“Doc, don’t you think telling a human not to lie is like telling a soccer player not to kick, and telling a mountaineer that the mountains are too dangerous to climb?”
“Alright, I’ll concede that point, but I’ll argue it is impossible to apply that to you. There’s a small difference between a player, a mountain nerd and you. A soccer player chooses what he kicks. It’s generally a ball, with the occasional person and vending machine. A mountaineer wouldn’t try reaching the summit of a mountain of food. Meaning, it’s moderation. That’s what you’re lacking. It is impossible to apply the logic of a standard human to someone who persists in making their entire life a lie.”
She casually implied I wasn’t human. Isn’t this slander? There’s a delicate line there. I’d leave that to ponder in my free time and return the conversation on track.
“So about Mayu.”
“She’s thrown out her hips. Don’t put her in too many crazy positions.”
“What nonsense are you spewing? We’ve barely even kissed in public, we have.”
“Now that’s a far greater harm to the general public.” She smugly teased.
I corrected the course of the conversation, strengthening my tone.
“I’m asking about Mayu’s psyche, psychiatrist Dr. Sakashita.”
She stuck her glare on me and coldly opened her mouth.
“Humans are all liars. Especially me. Only Mii-kun tells the truth.”
She spat out those words that hadn’t changed in the slightest. She said them with resignation.
“It’s impossible for me to treat her. I’ll give you her medication, make sure she takes it every day. Also, keep the lights on when she sleeps. That was probably the cause of her sudden outburst.”
There was one thing I learned from her diagnosis: Mayu’s outbursts were involuntary, but they didn’t occur during the day, or at least not at school. They were limited to night time, most likely due to her trauma regarding the dark.
I see, I can relate.
“The kid’s not aware of her own scars, this is happening because she’s routinely turning the lights off before sleeping. She’s only ever come to get her medication from me twice, I don’t know how many years she’s been suffering.”
She spoke like it was someone else’s business. Well, it was probably impossible for her to maintain a good impression of someone who shouted, ‘shut up liar’, whenever she opened her mouth.
“But if it’s impossible for you… that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible for another doctor, perhaps?”
The doctor lifted the corners of her mouth into an expression similar to a smile. This was definitely not a display of happiness.
“Well I don’t know what low opinion you might have of me. I should really drag it out of you one of these days. But putting that aside, Misono’s treatment… hey, what do you think it means to treat someone.”
She returned a question with a question. What’s more, it wasn’t a teacher’s leading question. More like what a friend at school might suddenly think up and ask on the fly.
“What? Doesn’t it just mean to use medical care to heal a wound?”
“You’re right, one hundred points.”
Yet she still sighed. Since she didn’t say full marks, perhaps the punchline was that it was a two-hundred-point test.
“So you just have to heal the wound?”
“If the patient couldn’t survive what was required to treat it, but the wound was still healed, would you still call that treatment?”
“… No, probably not.”
She entered a thinking posture without reacting to my words. Her fingertips drummed against the knee of her folded leg, her other hand propping up her head. Tapping on things with her fingers and feet was this doctor’s habit.
She excluded my existence from her mind, indulging herself in thought. Well, there was no need to treat me as a patient today, I had no complaints.
“… Umm, then I’ll just be leaving.”
I nodded and stood. She called me to a stop.
“Let me share a bit of gossip.”
That was a peculiar preface. Keeping her same stance, she sent me a melancholic look. I sank my bottom back down. She didn’t seem eager to talk about it.
“The two of you are suspected of murder.”
While I felt like doing a spit take, I maintained my composure, even suppressing the quiver in the corner of my eyes.
“I hear there have been some murders in these parts as of late.”
This uncultured working adult who saw the TV as a mirror and the newspaper as strictly a tool to exterminate cockroaches spoke proudly like she was leaking some top-secret information. Should I tell her she’s late to the party?
“You should be careful if someone carrying anything dangerous talks to you.”
“… Doc, did you ever happen to be a Student Council President?”
“I was a life-long cleanup committee.”
Oh? … Getting back on topic.
“So who’s suspecting us?”
“Why it would have to be either a detective or the police, right? Those are the only psychos who could suspect someone of murder while having a friendly little chat with them.”
“You have a point. So? Who’s going around spreading these lies?”
“The armchair cop.”
Isn’t that just derelection of duties?
“Since when did you get along with the police?”
I remember her verbally abusing the hell out of them last time she got a speeding ticket.
“Don’t throw this psychometric mind assassin such foolish questions. How should I explain…”
What was this liar talking about, I wonder. She spoke right on without a care in the world.
“One of my classmates in high school went into law enforcement—not a sukeban, mind you. And she asked me this and that. She was always a strange one, even as far back as elementary school, she wrote she wanted to be a detective.”
She stated indifferently with no nostalgia. Perhaps to her, these high school days were as fresh in her mind as what she ate for dinner yesterday. I will refrain from commenting on the age factor.
“She said she only suspected you personally. She has you two down as possible suspects.”
Possible suspects, is it. That sounded a little redundant. Weren’t we suspects if she suspected us?
Good grief, I acted calmly.
“To suspect such virtuous and harmless lower-middle-classes, the investigation must be at quite the standstill.”
“There are plenty of reasons you’d be suspected. Those who’ve had crime committed against them are more likely to become criminals themselves. You get along with a psychiatrist. You have no social life. You look after the animals at school. One of those is a lie.”
Was it really only one? Rather, how could she imitate me so well?
“Well, personally, I think it’s inevitable that Misono is suspected.”
“How can you possibly suspect someone so innocent, thoughtless, infantile and slow at running?”
“You’re not really defending her there. What’s with your low opinion of her? Anyway, she said she wanted to speak with you two personally.”
“You better not mean in the interrogation room.”
“Would you prefer a cell?”
A joke you can’t laugh at is usually just the truth.
“I would rather not meet her, not personally nor professionally.”
A subtle lie.
“Well that’s up to you, decline if you want to. But she’s pretty interesting, she’s just a little like you.” She said with a gentle smile.
A person who resembled me, if only a little… she must be a terrible person.
“But while you only lie, she can weave in lies and truth.”
I’ll even put money on it, she’s horrible.
I rose as the music reached its climax. And there, a question occurred to me, so I pointed at the audio player and fired away.
“Don’t you ever get any complaints about that?”
“Not really,” the doctor lightly refuted. “It’s a hit with the death metal granny.”
Hit or miss, I got the feeling there was a problem with attaching the word ‘death’ to granny.
“I play songs by patient request, it’s surprisingly popular. When I don’t get a request, I either turn it off or put on my own tastes.”
“Oh really. You never consulted me, not once. It’s about time I leave, I’ve got a date.”
“Hmmm, good on you. Wanna trade weekends?”
I firmly declined. A life of sitting in a manga café all day wasn’t for me.
I lowered my head lower than usual and quickly retracted it. I turned, thinking I might trip myself up as I swiftly made my way to the exit. Only when my hand was on the knob did I give my feet a rest.
“I’ve killed someone before.”
The reply didn’t come for a while. Perhaps my voice hadn’t reached her. That was perfectly fine in and of itself. I turned the knob, I pushed the door.
When I was halfway into the corridor,
“BS, I’ll call it.”
Correct, I didn’t say as I left.
Despite her face turning pale from lack of oxygen, she was there, enshrined in the waiting chair in the corridor. The death metal granny humming along to the tunes flowing out of the examination room. I would believe it if she introduced herself as a ghost.
Mayu was there too, skillfully curled up in her chair, asleep, unbothered.
After receiving our medication, I shouldered Mayu and returned to the apartment.
I sat by her side, thinking over what lies I would tell her once she woke up.
The Ninth: ‘the pensive murder’
To make a wholesome comparison, murder is similar to an excursion. You could even call it a trip. Whatever the case, it is the preparation and planning that troubles the heart far more than the execution. For better or for worse. That’s precisely why before I do anything, I make sure to dream; I take every possibility into account while I grapple with a fictional existence. That way, when it comes time to do it, I can entrust my body to my subconscious. It’s far more stable that way. Right, stable. A human’s behavioral pattern relies heavily on repetition, and it is therefore inevitable that they seek out stability. Repetition is especially important for actions that carry the greatest risk. For example, to purchase illegal substances. For example, to shoplift. For example, to murder. I am no exception. I desire stability. I long to gain comrades towards that goal. I thirst for comrades. Comrades who accept murderous actions to come as naturally as to breathe and to blink. I’ve searched for many years. So many years in this country town. Unable to raise my voice to proclaim it, in this human lifetime I have little control over. And naturally, such a person never appeared before me. I’m not looking for the sort who would kill someone they hated if they were given a gun and knew they wouldn’t be charged for it. A person who would not hesitate to murder even as they saw the gallows towering before their eyes, or perhaps someone who might let their foe off on a whim no matter how they detested them—I’m searching for humans who adhered steadfast to a personal code. Humans burdened with excess emotion. To meet, speak and maybe kill one another over something trivial, whatever happens, I yearn for any interaction. That was why I came here, I changed my search policy. I decided to murder. As moths gather to a flame, I hoped it would draw my kind to me. All this has done is lower me to the lowly role of one offering scoops to the media agency. I was no different from a dog who could walk on two legs, or a whale stuck on a beach. Very well, if you deride me as a lowly beast, let me entertain you all the same. I’ll walk on two legs and put on a show, I’ll lie on a bed of sand for you. I am sad to report there are no beaches in this area. An excess of rivers though. Now let’s return to the main topic. The man next to me reading a porn mag in-store keeps laughing to himself, he’s creeping me out. Right, back to topic, what was it again? Oh yes. The point is, my success in producing human connections over this dreary backdrop hinges on my unproductive actions. I wonder how long it will last. Judging by the standstill of the police investigations, if I were to liken this to a three-minute match, the first had yet to transpire. I had a ways to go. Now then, what wonderful fate would come around to me before the grand finale? I considered various things in the convenience store I had teetered to after the murder, returned the magazine I’d been reading to the shelf, and set my feet for the bento rack that had just been restocked.