Hako no Naka

 
 
 

Hako no Naka Chapter 14


There were no oncoming cars or cars behind him, so he did not end up in an accident. Douno’s arms still trembled violently from the shock. He remained in the middle of the intersection for quite some time, causing other cars to honk at him repeatedly.

Douno thought he would die from spinning out, and that woke him to his senses. He passed through the intersection and drove slowly. He eventually arrived in front of the bridge where Honoka was thought to have been pushed off. Douno and his wife had come to this bridge just once after the incident. They had left quickly after putting down Honoka’s favourite flowers and sweets. They had not wanted to linger for long.

Douno got out of his car. Without even bothering to get an umbrella, he began to cross the bridge. In the middle were mounds of flowers and sweets left in memorial. He gazed at them while being drenched by the freezing rain. The sidewalk was lit up for an instant by a car’s passing headlights, and his eye caught vivid yellow flowers. They were arranged in a neat ring. When Douno picked it up, he could see the short stems bound neatly with thread.

Douno returned to his car and drove without a second thought, making his way to the single detached house in the outskirts of the residential area. He parked his car in the empty lot beside it.

There were no street lamps around the dilapidated house, which looked like it would collapse any minute. As Douno entered the gates, the entrance and yard were also darkened.

Douno banged on the sliding door with both hands.

“Kitagawa, Kitagawa,” he called over and over. Eventually the yard lit up a little as the lights were turned on inside. Shortly, a light went on in the entrance as well, and the sliding door rattled as it was opened.

Maybe Kitagawa had been sleeping. The man squinted his eyes as he looked silently down at Douno.

“You were kept in detention all this time, weren’t you, because they mistakenly thought you were the killer?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Kitagawa answered in his usual flat manner.

“I’m so sorry,” Douno apologized. “It must have been so frustrating for you.”

Kitagawa smiled faintly.

“It’s not your fault that I got arrested. They kept pressuring me to say I killed her, and they questioned me every day from morning to night, but it was no big deal. But they suddenly let me go this morning. I wonder why?”

It’s because the real killer was caught. It’s because the police didn’t have to twist a convenient person’s story to make him into the murderer anymore.

Douno wondered if the police had given Kitagawa a proper apology for mistakenly arresting him, and for detaining him for several days.

“Why are you wet?”

Douno had completely forgotten that he was drenched until Kitagawa pointed it out.

“Oh, I was just―walking outside, and I forgot my umbrella.”

“And have you come to blame me?”

Douno was surprised. Kitagawa had been the one forced through an unpleasant experience; he had been mistaken as the killer just for being tall and spending a lot of time with Honoka. He was not to blame. If anything, Douno was the one causing all of his troubles in the first place.

When the detective had told him Kitagawa was a possible suspect, Douno had outwardly denied it, while at the same time carrying a small suspicion in his heart. He had not been able to completely believe Kitagawa. If he really had, he would have made his objection heard, and he would have gone to see Kitagawa in person at the detention centre. I’m a coward. I abandoned a man with no friends to defend him as soon as I found out that he might be the killer. I knew he was totally alone, and yet I still―

“I saw a crown of yellow flowers on the bridge,” Douno explained. “I thought it was probably you, and I came to say thanks.”

“I would’ve made a hundred, two hundred, as much as it took,” Kitagawa mumbled. “That day, I promised I’d go over in the afternoon, but I drank too much and overslept. If I’d gone to your place as I promised, Honoka wouldn’t have died.”

Kitagawa’s eyes were distant, as if his gaze were fixed on something beyond the night.

“If I’d kept my promise, she wouldn’t have died.”

“It’s not your fault,” Douno insisted. “There was a lot going on. It was an unlucky incident.”

“To hell with luck,” Kitagawa spat. “The fact is, if I’d gone, Honoka wouldn’t have died.” He repeated stubbornly. “She wouldn’t have died. I didn’t want her to die.”

Tears spilled from Kitagawa’s eyes.

“Tell me, am I being punished? Is that why someone important to me had to die? I killed a guy. But I went to jail. I was there for ten years. Wasn’t that enough to atone for my crime? Or―”

Kitagawa looked at Douno.

“Did the guy I kill have people who loved him―people who hate me now? Is that why the people I care about have to be killed in the same way?”

“No, this is―”

“Because it doesn’t make sense any other way,” Kitagawa interrupted.”I didn’t feel anything towards killing that guy. But because I killed him, there must be someone out there who feels how I feel right now. Did I bring this on myself? Tell me,” he demanded. “You always know a lot about everything.”

“I’m going to say this again, but it’s not your fault,” Douno said steadily. “If anything, it was a problem between my wife and me. You’re not to blame. None of this is your fault.”

“If it’s not my fault, why did she die?” yelled Kitagawa. His voice rang out across the rainy yard. Douno felt wracked with pain to look at the man in front of him.

“―Fate just made it happen that way. There’s no reason for you to blame yourself... you don’t need to feel that it’s your fault. Even if you didn’t come over that day―if Mariko hadn’t fallen asleep, if I hadn’t gone to work on my day off, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.”

Kitagawa pressed a hand to his forehead.

“I shouldn’t have thought your kid was cute. She said she liked me, that’s why... that’s why it hurts so much―”

Douno touched his cheek, wanting to comfort him somehow. Kitagawa slowly raised his head. 

“Are you gonna die someday?”

Douno felt a chill pass over his heart.

“I am.”

“When you die, what’s gonna happen to me?”

He could not answer. Kitagawa clenched Douno’s right hand tightly. At the same time, Douno felt a presence. This kind of presence was easy to detect from someone. He tried to shake the man’s arm free and run, but was chased down. It was dark. He lost his way and dove into the yard. The overgrown grass ens"nared his feet. As he stumbled, he was caught. Douno lost his balance and fell into the grass. He struggled against the large man’s presence weighing down on him.

“Kitagawa, Kitagawa―!”

Douno’s cold lips were overlapped by another pair of cold lips. His belt was unbuckled, and his pants were yanked down. He felt something cold on his lower parts, then in the next moment, something large and hard was being pressed against it.

“Ah...!” Douno cried out in pain.

He was deeply and forcefully penetrated. Having prevented Douno from moving this way, Kitagawa tore off Douno’s tie and yanked his shirt up. The rain felt cold as it hit his bare skin. But Kitagawa’s hands were colder than that. Kitagawa supported Douno with his arms as he thrust his hips. Each jerking movement sent sharp pains through the region pried open to accept him, and Douno cried out in agony.

Even while being taken by force, Douno did not reject the man’s kisses. He entangled his warm tongue with the other man’s, and wept in pain as he embraced him.

There was an instant where their intercourse of pain turned into one of pleasure. It hurt, but it hurt and felt good. Amidst their violent and reckless sex, Douno stopped caring about what would befall him.

When the other man moved, the grass moved around him. Something fluttered onto the man’s shoulder. A yellow flower petal―Douno watched it absently, then scooped it up with the tip of his tongue before swallowing it quietly.

 

After their animalistic act in the yard, Douno was carried by the man and taken into the house. While they waited for the bathwater to warm up, Kitagawa wrapped a naked Douno in a blanket and held him in his arms.

Once the water was hot enough, Douno was put into the bath. At first the water stung his lower parts, but he soon got used to it. They made love again in the bath. Unlike the first time, Douno did not feel like struggling anymore. 

Once they were out of the bath, Douno was towelled off thoroughly and taken to the futon, still unclothed. Kitagawa was also not wearing clothes. Kitagawa slipped into the futon with Douno, and began sucking at the buds on his chest, making Douno feel like he was caring for a little child. Kitagawa did not stop there; he licked Douno’s entire body like a dog. From behind his ears to between his toes, Kitagawa thoroughly licked every part of him.

Douno was flipped over onto his stomach, where Kitagawa let his tongue flicker over his stinging part before penetrating him again. Even though it really hurt, even though he cried, Kitagawa would not pull out of him.

“I love you,” the man told Douno as he lay weeping against the pillow.

I love you, I love you, I love you... so many times it made his ears ache. It was strange―he felt like the words lessened the pain somehow.

Kitagawa finally fell asleep around dawn. Douno’s lower parts were in such pain from the jerking movements that he could barely stand to go to the washroom. Unable to go to work, Douno called the company from Kitagawa’s house and asked to have the day off. His guilt vanished as soon as he hung up the phone.

It felt chilly walking around naked, so Douno returned to the futon. Kitagawa looked like a child as he slept with his mouth open slightly. Douno needed no reason to kiss him. He did it because he wanted to.

Douno wondered what love was. Everyone used the word like the moral foundation of everything―but what was it? He definitely had loved his wife. But if someone were to ask if he still did, he could not answer. Why? Because he had been betrayed. Because she had slept with another man. Because she had continued to betray him for two years. Her betrayal was enough to make him lose sight of his love for her. Did this mean he had never really loved her in the first place?

Was real love the kind you saw in movies and novels, when you loved one person forever? Had Douno’s own love been fake?

What did he feel towards the man who was sleeping beside him now? What would he call this desire to kiss him? What would he call the feeling that seized his heart every time the man told him he loved him? Or was he simply being swept up in the man’s persistent devotion, thrust upon him at a time when Douno himself had grown apathetic with despair at his wife’s betrayal?

He had turned to the man because he had lost everything else―did that make him a coward? Unpleasant event after unpleasant event had swooped down on him; responsibilities had been thrust upon him. Perhaps he was just trying to escape reality by making himself think he loved this man.

If he really loved Kitagawa, he would have been able to love him ever since they were in prison. When Kitagawa confessed, he would have been able to answer with the same. After all, Kitagawa had continued to tell him he loved him ever since.

He had thought Mariko was cowardly for betraying him and unloading all of her responsibility onto him. But what he was doing was essentially the same. People didn’t need to know what love was to have sex. The only difference in his case was that no one would get pregnant. Whether they had done it once or numerous times, the fact remained the same.

The more Douno thought about it, the more he wanted to cry. He thought of the life that had ended and a life that was about to begin, and about himself. His thoughts made him sick of himself, and he curled up into a tiny ball.

When Douno woke up past noon, Kitagawa was not there. Perhaps he had gone to work. Douno looked at his surroundings. In the room was the futon he was sleeping in, a narrow three-level bookcase, and nothing else. Inside the bookcase, books and sketchbooks were sorted and arranged neatly. Almost none of the books looked new, and most looked worn and tattered. There was only one new book among them. On the cover was the Sagrada Família, and inside, Gaudí’s architectural pieces were featured with photos.

There were also many sketchbooks, close to ten. Douno extracted one from the shelf, wondering what kind of pictures Kitagawa drew. He flipped the page and was startled to see his own face. The date under the drawing was from three years ago, so he supposed Kitagawa had drawn the face from his memories in prison. Douno’s head was shaven in the drawing. Feeling awkward at seeing his own portrait, Douno continued flipping through the pages, but every drawing was of him. The next sketchbook was the same. The newest one was not used up yet, and on a page midway through, a single line was scribbled across the sheet. Starting to forget his face.

It was impossible to take photos in prison, so Kitagawa had probably drawn his face entirely from memory. But as years passed, even that had begun to fade. From March of this year onwards, there were no more portraits of Douno’s face in the half-used sketchbook.

Douno returned the sketchbooks to the shelf. Spotting no towels in the room, he opened the sliding partition to the next room, still naked. A sudden burst of sunlight dazzled him, and he closed his eyes. A TV was placed on the floor, and a small table sat in the middle of the room. There was an engawa porch facing the garden, and Douno could see the shadow of a broad back seated there.

The shadow turned around at the sound of the partition sliding open. Kitagawa was wearing jeans, but nothing on top.

“My clothes are gone,” Douno said.

“They’re drying right now.”

Douno looked over to see his wet clothes drying on a line strung between two trees in the yard.

“Do you have a towel or anything?” he asked. “Even something I could wrap around my waist while my clothes dry―”

“The walls are pretty high. No one’s gonna see from outside.”

Kitagawa was right, there were the walls, but Douno felt unsettled walking around naked. However, as the man showed no signs of getting a change of clothes out for him, Douno resigned himself to crawling over to Kitagawa without wearing anything.

On the wooden floorboards of the porch were scattered many yellow flowers clipped at the stem. Kitagawa was binding each of them together with thread.

“A crown of flowers?”

“This is today’s. Flowers wilt quickly. I figured she wouldn’t like wilted ones.”

Kitagawa’s fingers moved nimbly.

“I heard somewhere before that thinking of someone is one way you could memorialize them. That’s why I’ve been thinking of her this whole time while I make these.”

Douno embraced Kitagawa from behind. His chest swelled with emotion, and he even teared up a bit. All the things he had mulled over endlessly―whether it was love or not, whether it was real or fake―seemed not to matter anymore.

Right now, Douno was overcome with love for the man in front of him. Purely love, and only love. That was the only reason he needed to hold the man close.

“...Don’t you need to go to work?” he asked.

“I got fired,” Kitagawa muttered. “I have to look for another job, or else I won’t be able to pay the rent.” Kitagawa placed his hand over Douno’s hands around him.

“Once I found a place where I could stay for a long time, I wanted to live in a house with a yard. One with lots of grass and trees, where I could keep a dog. This is my house, but it feels lonely. I can’t get it to feel warm like your house.”

Kitagawa gazed out beyond the garden.

“It’s lonely in a house with no people.” Kitagawa’s quiet voice spoke over the rustling breeze.

 

Douno returned home in the evening before the sun set. Kitagawa followed him out to the gate, but did not stop Douno from leaving. When Douno opened the door to his apartment, it was just as dark inside as it was outside. He turned on the light and spotted Mariko’s shoes neatly placed in the doorway. It looked like she was home after all.

He entered the living room to see a shadow curled up on the sofa. Mariko had apparently sensed him from the light turning on, for she sprang up.

“Are you feeling sick?” he asked her.

Mariko shook her head.

“...Where were you last night...?” she whispered.

“I slept over at Kitagawa’s place.”

A look of relief crossed Mariko’s face.

“I thought you weren’t going to come home,” she said. Her slender shoulders shook as she covered her face with her hands. “I called your work, and they said you took the day off...”

Douno put the plastic bag he had been carrying on the table. 

“Have you eaten anything?”

Mariko shook her head.

“Let’s eat. I just bought some stuff on the way.”

They laid out the side dishes bought from their neighbourhood convenience store, and ate together. Mariko poured some tea. Once they finished eating and Mariko cleaned up, Douno began the conversation.

“I want to talk to you about something.”

They sat across from each other on the sofa in the living room. Mariko kept her eyes on her feet and refused to look up. 

“After that, I thought about a lot of things. About your affair, about the baby inside you, and about Honoka.”

Douno paused.

“One option is for us to stay together and to raise the baby as our own. I said I wouldn’t be able to love it, but maybe if I spend time with it long enough, I’d develop an attachment and would come to care about it. But though I might able to love the baby, I won’t be able to look at you in the same way as before―as my wife, or as my lifelong partner.”

Mariko’s cheeks stiffened.

“You might think it was just one affair. Maybe some people would be able to forgive that. But that’s where our values differ.”

“I...” Mariko continued in a tremulous voice. “I love you.”

“Frankly, I don’t understand what’s going on in your heart. Feelings aren’t things you can measure in the first place, so maybe it’s wrong for me to say ‘understand’. But one thing I know for sure is that even if we continue to be together, I won’t want to protect you. I can’t see you as someone precious to me anymore.”

“Please divorce me,” Douno told her. Mariko chewed her lip and clenched her fists.

“What about the baby?”

“I’ll leave anything to do with the baby up to you.”

“You’re being irresponsible!” Mariko lashed out.

“But you’re positive it’s not my child, aren’t you? You know it’s his. It’s wrong to ask me for a decision.”

“But―” Mariko began, but Douno interrupted her.

“Once we divorce, you should remarry with that man if you can. Then, you can live as a true family. You’d have to deal with the neighbours talking here, so maybe it would be a good idea to live further away. He loves you, and he’s willing to claim the child as his own, right?”

“Use your common sense!” Mariko yelled. “He’s the husband of the woman who killed Honoka! I could never remarry someone like him!”

“But he says he wants you to have the baby, right?”

“But―”

Douno had thought long and hard over whether he should say this fact or not. But in the end, he chose to put it into words.

“You need to take responsibility for your actions.”

Mariko chewed her lip.

“I’m not going to let you get a divorce,” she murmured. “I still love you.”

“I don’t want to fight in court. I want to separate on good terms.”

Mariko broke down into tears. Even while watching his wife weep, even while feeling pity for her, Douno told himself he could not comfort her.

“I’ll hand over all of my property to you. I’m the one who brought up the divorce anyway, and once you have the baby, you’ll probably need money for living.”

Mariko cried and cried, then finally staggered out of the living room. He thought she had gone to the bedroom, but after a while he heard the sound of the shower.

The running water did not stop. Once Douno realized this, he dashed into thechange room. The door to the bathroom was not locked. When he threw it open, the first thing he saw was the bathroom floor stained red. A paring knife lay on the floor nearby. Mariko was slumped over. When Douno gave her a shake, she appeared conscious.

Douno made a frantic call for the ambulance. Fortunately, Mariko’s wound was shallow and she did not need stitches. Mariko put up a fierce fight as she was brought into the hospital, screaming at everyone to let her die. She was injected with tranquilizers, and only then did she fall asleep.

Mariko remained unconscious in a deep sleep for half a day. When she finally opened her eyes, she looked at Douno, a tear rolling down her cheek.

“The cut wasn’t deep. The baby is okay, too,” he told her.

Mariko pulled the sheets over her face as sobs escaped her lips.

“Your parents are coming soon. They’ll take my place when they get here.”

Mariko tried to sit up from her bed.

“You’re not going to stay with me?”

“I have to go to work. I’ve taken a lot of time off already.”

“I’m going to kill myself if you don’t stay with me.”

“Please don’t make this hard for me,” Douno said wearily.

“I’m serious. I will die.”

Douno let out a strained sigh.

“I’ve talked to your parents. I’ve also told them I want to get a divorce. They have no problem with it.”

Mariko’s expression changed instantly from frail to furious.

“You made it sound like it was my fault, didn’t you, telling them their daughter was the one who went and had an affair first?” she accused.

Douno did not even have to go so far as to say Mariko’s affair was the reason, for it had been implied as such on yesterday’s news already. Mariko’s parents and Douno’s parents were sure to be aware of it.

“Let’s start over on separate paths,” Douno said. “I don’t think it was wrong for us to get married. I don’t, but I think somewhere along the way, we’ve drifted apart.”

Mariko did not agree to the divorce. Her parents arrived at six in the morning, and they switched places. Douno returned to his apartment and said his prayers to Honoka before going to work and apologizing to his boss for suddenly taking time off work the previous day.

Douno finished work past seven in the evening and headed straight to Kitagawa’s house. When he knocked on the sliding door, Kitagawa came bounding out to answer it. He was out of breath―such a small thing was still hopelessly endearing. 

“What were you doing?” Douno asked.

“Reading a book,” Kitagawa answered, looking at his feet.

“Have you eaten dinner?”

“Not yet.”

“Let’s eat. I bought some stuff.”

They sat across from each other at the small table and ate. Kitagawa looked at him every so often as if to gauge his mood. The window facing the yard was open, and Douno could hear the chorus of the insects from the dense greenery outside. As if drawn to the nostalgic sound, Douno went out onto the porch after he finished eating. Kitagawa sat down beside him.

“I think I’ll be divorcing my wife,” Douno said, feigning nonchalance. “There’ll probably be some issues along the way, but once it settles down, would you mind if I moved in with you for a bit? If I end up giving my property over to her, I’ll have no money.”

There was no response. Douno panicked. He could not look the other man in the face anymore, and it was not out of sheepishness.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized hastily. “I understand if it’s too much of a short notice. And I’m kind of taking advantage of you, aren’t I, moving in with you right away like this...”

“Don’t you have anything else to say?”

Douno’s throat gave a loud gulp at his question. The quiet, the sound of the insects, stirred his panic even more.

“No, not really.” Douno looked down and clasped his hands. They lapsed into silence again. Unable to stand the awkwardness, Douno tried to stand up, but was grabbed by the right hand.

“Where’re you going?”

The man stared directly into his eyes.

“I was thinking of going home today.”

“Don’t go.”

“But―”

He was drawn close and embraced. The man’s hand snagged his belt and fumbled in a rush to take his clothes off.

“Kitagawa, I―” Douno resisted, but the man refused to listen. Partway through, Douno braced himself. He was stripped naked and made love to on the porch. As before, the pain in his lower region was enough to make it numb, but he shed no tears this time. Kitagawa released himself inside Douno twice.

After they had sex, they took a bath together. The man washed Douno’s hair. Since there was no shampoo, he scrubbed Douno’s head with soap, and it hurt a little.

“Don’t go,” Kitagawa murmured in the bath with his arms around Douno. Douno wanted just as strongly to be by his side, but he had his own reasons for wanting to go home.

“Mariko’s not at home today, so Honoka’s ashes will be all alone. That’s why I want to go back.”

Kitagawa wrinkled his brow and looked down. But he still held Douno tight.

“If you go home, I’ll be by myself.”

“I’ll come again.”

“I used to be fine alone. I was always alone. Whenever I went to your house to eat, play with your kid, and had to go home, I had this bad feeling. I feel even worse now. I feel like crying. I wonder why? You’ll have sex with me, and kiss me, but that just makes it even more―”

The man looked to him desperately. Douno cradled his head and kissed him.

“Just a little bit more. You only have to wait a little bit more, and I’ll come here. I’ll be with you so you don’t have to feel lonely.”

Once he got out of the shower, Douno began to prepare to go home.

“I’m leaving now,” he called hesitantly to the man, but Kitagawa sat with his back to him in a corner of the room without answering. When Douno gave up and started out the door, the man stopped him at the gates.

“Will you come tomorrow?”

“I might not be able to stay the night, but I’ll drop by after work.”

“Each day feels long.”

Douno laughed softly. “Once you go to sleep, half of the day will be over. Then, it’ll already be morning.”

As the man fussed like a child, Douno consoled him by squeezing his hand, and got into the car. Kitagawa did not move from the gates, and Douno felt pained as he watched the unmoving man in his rear-view mirror. He had looked so lonely―perhaps he should have brought the man home. But by the time the thought occurred to him, Douno had already arrived back at his own apartment.

Douno was startled to see the lights on inside. Perhaps Mariko was home? Or were her parents?

When Douno entered the apartment, he saw Mariko’s shoes. True, she had not been in serious condition, but he had not expected her to be home already after what happened yesterday.

“Welcome home.” Mariko came out into the hallway, apparently having heard the door open. “You’re home late. You haven’t had dinner yet, have you?”

Mariko’s attempt at acting like everything was normal was painfully unnatural.

“Actually, I already ate.”

“Oh.” Mariko looked at her feet. The white bandage around her wrist stung Douno’s eyes.

“Then will you take a bath?”

Mariko tilted her head when Douno hesitated.

“No, that’s fine, too. I’m just going to go to bed.”

He slipped past Mariko. Suddenly, he was grabbed by the arm.

“Where were you?”

Her eyes looked at him severely. 

“What do you mean, where...?”

“I’m asking you where you ate and where you took a shower!”

Douno’s heart quaked at her sharp eye.

“You smell like cheap soap. It’s nauseating. You’re looking down on me because I’ve cheated, but you’re doing the same thing.”

“I’m not.”

“You are! You’re cheating too! But you go around and make it sound like it’s my fault you want to get divorced. Who is it? What kind of woman is she? Tell me the truth!”

Mariko lunged at him, and Douno tumbled backwards on the floor. It hurt to be hit, but he did not try to resist. Mariko eventually quieted down and began to cry, still straddling Douno.

“You’re going to say you want to separate because you love her more than me now, aren’t you? No,” she sobbed, “we still have our child.”

Mariko stroked her belly, but the baby inside her was not Douno’s child.

“I don’t really know if I love this person. But I do want to be kind to him.”

Mariko looked up.

“He says I just need to be there for him. That’s why―”

“It’s unfair,” Mariko said angrily. “You’re hurt, but at least you have someone you can lean on. I’m left all alone to deal with all the pointing fingers―”

It’s your fault that people are pointing fingers at you. Mariko refused to look at how many people she had actually hurt through her “game”: not just Douno, but her extramarital partner, and his wife―

“Who is it?” Mariko shrieked. “Where’s she from? Spit it out. Spit it out!

She grabbed his collar and shook him. Douno tried to remember what he loved about his wife. But even good memories with her turned muddied and grey, eaten away by the bad memories.

“Kitagawa. I ate and took a shower at his place.”

Relief instantly crossed Mariko’s face.

“You should have said so if you went to Mr. Kitagawa’s house. You’re very close to him, after all.”

“I slept with him.”

Mariko’s face tensed.

“Kitagawa’s been through a hard life. He went through a lot growing up, and he’s never been loved by someone. That’s why I want to be by his side.”

“Wh―What are you saying?”

“When someone tells me I’m the only one for him, I want to return his feelings.”

“But you’re both men! And besides―”

“That doesn’t matter.”

Douno paused.

“That kind of stuff doesn’t matter.”

He shifted Mariko off of him and sat her on the floor.

“We started being intimate two days ago. I haven’t separated with you yet, so I guess it might be considered an affair. I’m sorry.”

Douno placed both hands on the floor, and bowed his head. Then, he looked straight at Mariko.

“Please divorce with me so I can be with Kei Kitagawa.”

Mariko said nothing. She only turned her face away in silence.

 

The next morning, Mariko showed no signs of getting out of bed. Douno did not bother talking to her. He had a simple breakfast of toast, then left for work.

Douno finished work past seven. He wanted to go to Kitagawa’s house, but he felt it was a bad idea to come home late when Mariko was home.

There was also the fact that Mariko had still not come to terms with their relationship. There was also their divorce, and several things they still had to discuss in depth.

I can’t go today. Douno felt especially guilty because he had seen the man look so lonely the day before. Feeling apologetic, he called the man’s house, but no one picked up.

Concerned, he took a detour on the way home to stop by Kitagawa’s house. As he sat absently waiting at a red light, he saw Kitagawa whizz by him on a bicycle.

Douno hastily rolled down the window and called out to him, but it was too late. Kitagawa had sped off in the opposite direction from where Douno was headed. It bothered Douno that the man had gone out despite their promise. Perhaps it was his own arrogance, but he could not help it. Douno turned his car around partway and began heading in the direction that Kitagawa had gone.

Douno knew Kitagawa had his own private life, and just because he had a promise with Douno did not mean he could not go out. But it still bothered him.

Perhaps Kitagawa had turned off somewhere on his bike, for Douno could not spot him anywhere. He continued to coast along in his car until he eventually reached the bridge where Honoka had fallen. He tried to turn back, then realized that perhaps Kitagawa had been heading here all along. 

He had been making flower crowns every day. Maybe he had gone out to deliver today’s crown.

Douno continued for the bridge. People continued to leave flowers and sweets in the middle of the large bridge. Douno spotted a bicycle and a person’s figure. So Kitagawa had been heading this way after all. Douno tried to call out to him, then froze in shock. There was someone across from him. The street lights illuminated a figure―Mariko.

Douno was so shaken he could not even call out to them as he passed in his car. The two appeared not to notice him drive by. They neither turned around nor looked at him. Douno crossed the bridge and stopped his car a few dozen metres away. There were few cars on this road which ran along the ocean. He figured it would not be much of a nuisance if he parked his car here.

Douno wondered what kind of conversation Mariko and Kitagawa were having, but he hesitated at approaching them and joining in.

Douno watched the two a little ways off the bridge. The two were looking down at the river, with their hands on the railings. There was a break in the cars crossing the bridge, and a moment of silence fell. Only the street lamps dimly illuminated the two figures. Mariko suddenly glanced left and right, then pushed Kitagawa from behind. His large frame teetered forward, and he looked like he was about to fall. As he heeled and steadied himself, Mariko pushed him further.

“St―Stop it!”

Douno tore away from the railings towards them. Mariko jumped back looking astonished. Kitagawa was swinging off the railings by one hand. Douno threw the top half of his body over the rails and grabbed Kitagawa’s right wrist just moments before his fingers let go. He instantly felt the weight of a whole other person pull down on right hand. The man was heavy.

“Kitagawa, can you grab something with your left hand?”

The man was too heavy to pull up. Although Kitagawa tried his best, he was unable to grasp the rails.

“Mariko, get somebody!”

Mariko stood unmoving with a pale face.

“Hurry!” he yelled. “Just bring someone!”

Douno’s right hand was growing numb. He would not be able to support several dozen kilograms worth of this man’s weight with one hand for long. To make things worse, the wind was making Kitagawa’s body sway back and forth.

He saw the dark water of the river below Kitagawa. Even his left hand began to grow numb from holding onto the railing, and Douno wondered if this was the end.

Hurry, somebody, please. As Douno gritted his teeth in desperation, he heard a voice.

“Let go of my hand, or you’ll end up falling, too.”

There was no hint of fear in Kitagawa’s face as he swayed below him.

“N―No!” Douno said fiercely.

“You’re gonna have a kid, right? That means your house’ll be warm again.”

Douno knew more than anyone else that even if the child were born, their household would not become the warm and welcoming home it had once been.

“I’m glad you were the last one to be with me.”

Kitagawa exhaled.

“I’m glad I met you.”

With those words, Kitagawa twisted his right wrist out of Douno’s grasp. He had already been barely able to endure the weight―Kitagawa’s twisting motion made him almost let go.

Douno did not want to let go of the hand he had caught. He did not want the man to go to the other side alone, just because of this.

If you’ll be happy with me, I’ll stay by your side. With that thought, he released his left hand from the rails. Suddenly, he felt lighter. They began falling as if they were being sucked in, and in that short moment, Douno remembered Kitagawa looking at him with an expression of disbelief.

In the few seconds until he felt the impact of the water, Douno remembered he had never said “I love you” to Kitagawa. He regretted it, but it was too late.

 

Takafumi, Takafumi, a voice called, shaking him persistently. When he opened his eyes a crack, he was gathered up in a suffocating embrace.

“Kitagawa...”

He was hugged so tightly it hurt. Beyond the man’s shoulders, Douno could see the bridge in the distance. They had fallen, but not died. Relief washed over him, and at the same time, took all the strength out of his body.

He was soaked, but he was alive. He was definitely alive.

“You weren’t moving. I dragged you all the way here.”

Kitagawa’s voice was trembling.

“I thought you were dead. I wondered why you had to die without me. I thought maybe I wasn’t even allowed to die with you because of what I did.”

Douno held the man’s trembling head close.

“I love you.”

The man’s back shook.

“I love you. So I want to be with you.”

“But there’s a baby coming, right? Your wife said so. That’s why she told me to go somewhere far away.”

“But I want you. You’re like a kid yourself, anyway, so if I had to choose one or the other, I’d take you.”

“But my house isn’t warm like yours. It’s old, and it’s not clean.”

“I still want to live in your house.”

Douno looked directly at Kitagawa.

“You’re the one I want.”

Kitagawa cried without restraint. He cried like a child. Douno held him tight, and told him over and over that he loved him.

 

The bridge was high up, but not high enough to die from falling off. Douno had apparently lost consciousness from shock, and if Kitagawa hadn’t been there, he would probably have drowned.

When Douno had talked to Mariko about separating, she had been unable accept that Kitagawa was the person in Douno’s life. That was why she had called him out and told him to leave them alone because their child was on the way. Kitagawa had remained silent, neither saying he was staying or leaving. Then, Mariko had pointed at the water below, saying she had spotted something. As Kitagawa drew close to the railings to peer over it, she had pushed him from behind.

If Kitagawa had been hurt from Mariko’s act, she would have been criminally charged with causing bodily injury. However, Mariko appeared to regret her impulse, and Douno also bowed his head to Kitagawa and begged him to forgive her.

“Doesn’t matter,” Kitagawa had mumbled.

Douno discussed matters with Mariko on the premise that they were getting divorced. However, the situation was slow to progress, and it took about a year until their divorce was finalized.

Douno moved in to stay at Kitagawa’s house before their divorce was made official on paper. Frankly, he felt suffocated living with Mariko. Ever since then, his wife had starting cooking complicated dishes and had become excessively affectionate to him as if to assert her presence. It all seemed like a lie to Douno, and he could not bring himself to thank her from his heart. He preferred eating takeout meals with Kitagawa, rather than eating Mariko’s delicious cooking while constantly feeling a sense that something was not right.

When Douno began to stay with Kitagawa, he told the man truthfully that he had not divorced his wife yet, and that their discussion was going to take time. Kitagawa never asked once what was happening with Douno and his wife.

Mariko’s belly swelled as talks of their divorce wore on. Mariko’s parents saw this and came to him once, asking him if he would reconsider. Douno refused to change his mind.

Mariko gave birth to the child with the unknown father. Douno did not see the baby’s face, but he did get news that it was a boy. After giving birth to the baby, Mariko began saying that she would not stamp the divorce papers unless Douno formally acknowledged the child as his own. This made Douno certain that the child had been the other man’s.

Douno acknowledged the child as his own, and in return, he received his stamped divorce papers. It was the end of July. Douno took the stamped papers which his wife had mailed over and went to submit them to city hall during his lunch break.

Douno returned to Kitagawa’s house that night, newly single, and he thought of telling the man that their divorce was now official. But he figured it would be awkward to say, “I got divorced” suddenly, but the more he tried to find the right timing, the more he began to think it did not really matter. It was just a piece of paper, after all.

“Hey.”

Douno was watching TV in the living room, fresh out of a shower, when Kitagawa called to him from the porch.

“Wanna eat some pears?”

“Oh, sure.”

Douno sat down beside Kitagawa. He plucked a slice of neatly-peeled pear and brought it to his lips. It was crisp, sweet, and delicious.

“So,” Kitagawa began. Douno was just in the middle of scratching what felt like a mosquito bite on his neck.

“Someone abandoned a dog near our site. If it’s still there tomorrow, can I bring it home?”

“Sure.”

Kitagawa did not look this way, but he hunched his shoulders happily.

“You don’t have to ask me for permission,” Douno said. “This is your house. You should bring it home if you want to.”

“Well, yeah. But I wanted to talk to you about it.”

Kitagawa took Douno’s right hand and brought it to his lips. His fingertips were sweet from eating the pear, and Kitagawa lapped at them like a dog.

“There’s something red on your neck.”

Douno touched it. “I think I got bitten.”

“Want me to suck it out?”

Without even waiting for an answer, Kitagawa pressed his lips against Douno’s neck. He bit down lightly, then sucked. Douno felt his skin begin to tingle, and he could no longer tell if it came from pleasure or itchiness. 

Pleasure won out, and Douno’s face flushed deep red. Kitagawa looked at him and laughed.

“My dream’s gonna come true.”

“Dream...?”

“I have a house, you’re here with me, and I get to have a dog. It’s just like I’ve been dreaming about.”

His modest dream―such a small, child-like dream―pulled painfully at Douno’s heartstrings. He kissed the man on the lips.

“I’m officially divorced starting today,” he told the man nose-to-nose.

“...Mm-hmm, and?”

He was right. Maybe it was insignificant enough to be brushed away with an “mm-hmm”. Maybe I was the only one hung up about this. Douno smiled wryly, and reached out to stroke the man’s sun-baked temple.

“And nothing,” he murmured.