Extra Episode – I

I looked up at the sky again, the empty sky. The same sky I had been forcing myself to look away from for five years.

The sky that set in after those dreamlike days, days of happiness and pain, ended.

Kazusa
“…Hey.”
Youko
“…Hey.”

When I opened the hospital room door, a blunt response welcomed me.

…Well, I suppose I was the one who was blunt in the first place.

Kazusa
“Here, I got you a souvenir.”
Youko
“Where did you buy these…?”

A boring, private room, with only an empty flower vase as a decoration. Well, it’s not as though the patient, or her visitor, really had any interest in flowers.

Kazusa
“You like frozen mandarins, right?”

Because both of us craved fruit more than flowers. Or anything with high sugar content, really.

Youko
“Oh, this is too cold. I can’t peel it like this.”
Kazusa
“I’ll do it, then.”
Youko
“Don’t be ridiculous. A pianist can’t get her fingers all yellow.”
Kazusa
“I don’t really care about that…”

The two of us, in this single space where we could speak Japanese, found ourselves relaxing some of the tension we’d been holding.

This was my hour of comfort, which only came once a day.

But…

Kazusa
“…”
Youko
“What? Why are you staring at me?”
Kazusa
“I’m not really…”

It looked like she had lost weight again.

Youko
“So, how have you been?”

As she chewed the frozen mandarin, Mom muttered as though she had just remembered something.

Kazusa
“I’m pretty sure that’s the visitor’s question…”
Youko
“There’s nothing interesting about an invalid’s health. I want to know about your piano.”
Kazusa
“Eh, it’s… okay.”

I popped a slice into my own mouth. …The hardness and coldness pierced my teeth, together with a dull crunching sound.

…Maybe my refrigerator was a little too strong.

Youko
“This is the perfect time to sell yourself, after your massive success with your performance in Japan, but you’re seeming a little half-hearted.”
Kazusa
“The first one was a massive failure. That extra concert just helped me recover a little.”
Youko
“All’s well that ends well, you know. …Actually, the fact that your first one was a failure makes your dramatic jump in the second performance that much more of a success, from an industry standpoint.”
Kazusa
“That doesn’t make me all that happy as a pianist. It’s like being told, ‘You’ll never know until you try playing it.’”
Youko
“Well, it’s true that you’ll never know until you try. If you don’t like it, get more stable. Play for fifty or a hundred hours a day.”
Kazusa
“If you can prepare that sort of practicing environment for me, Director, then by all means.”
Youko
“It’s all about finding time and the right attitude. Anyway, now that the theory is complete, all that’s left is to experiment.”

As we talked like this, just like always, it seemed like Mom hadn’t changed at all since we were in Japan…

No, since the days here, before we returned to Japan.

But…

Kazusa
“Sorry.”
Youko
“Ah, that’s right. Frozen mandarins may have a thin film of ice on the outside, but the peel and flesh have that subtle tenderness…”
Kazusa
“I’m sorry for making you come back to Vienna, just for me.”
Youko
“…You couldn’t play along with my little stab at senility?”

One week after I ran away from Japan…

Mom finished up her own business in Japan, and came back to Vienna as well.

…Actually, she didn’t finish up anything at all.

She just chased after me, to protect me. This time, she abandoned Japan for real. …Without any consideration for her own illness.

She abandoned her modest, final hope of living out the rest of her life in Japan.

Kazusa
“I’ll do anything. I won’t be picky, I’ll come and visit you every day, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do. So, just…”
Youko
“How many times do I have to tell you? Play the piano. You don’t have time to say it’s just ‘okay.’”
Kazusa
“Mom…”
Youko
“Also, I don’t regret coming back. My home is wherever the daughter I love is. I finally feel that way…”
Kazusa
“…”

When I first found out about it, here in Vienna, my emotions were a mix of despair, irritation, and grief—and, in some corner of that, there was a part of me that finally understood.

Why Mom was so fixated on that performance in Japan. Why she was so determined to get me to sprout over there.

Everything started to line up, and I started to hate myself.

Mom used up all her love on her stupid daughter, who trampled all over her firm determination over a childish broken heart.

My own selfishness. The fact that I forcibly brought Mom back to Vienna. The fact that I might well have hastened that time.

Kazusa
“O-Oh, right. I just had an exam here, at this hospital.”
Youko
“So? Are you carrying my first grandchild?”
Kazusa
“You were practically making me cry just a second ago. Why can’t you ever stay serious?”
Youko
“Oh, you don’t think of that as something that could have an influence on someone’s life?”
Kazusa
“Look, just for right now, that’s not what I’m talking about. Listen to me.”

…I wasn’t pregnant.

So, I didn’t want to talk about it any more.

I wanted her to let me move on…

Kazusa
“It was a compatibility test. For a marrow transplant.”
Youko
“…”

So I did the utmost that I could, right now.

The one bit of filial piety I could perform.

Kazusa
“They said it won’t be long before the results come out. You just need to wait until then.”
Kazusa
“If we’re compatible… No, it’s going to be fine. And then, Mom, I’ll…”
Youko
“…I won’t allow it.”
Kazusa
“Huh…?”

I knew from experience that, whenever I threw myself into something, it almost always wound up going in the wrong direction…

Youko
“You’ve clearly been doing plenty of investigating into this hospital, but I had no idea you were thinking of anything that absurd.”
Kazusa
“What the hell do you mean, ‘absurd’?!”
Youko
“I mean exactly what I said. I won’t let you do anything that foolish, however much of a fool you may be.”

And yet, I had felt confident that in this instance alone, I wasn’t making a mistake, so Mom’s words came as a considerable shock to me.

Kazusa
“You’re the one being foolish! If you get a transplant, there’s a high probability you’ll be cured, right? And there’s a high chance of compatibility between family members.”
Youko
“So?”
Kazusa
“In that case, why wouldn’t I get tested? If we’re compatible, then you can…”
Youko
“Even if we are compatible, I won’t accept it.”
Kazusa
“Why not?!”
Youko
“I just won’t.”
Kazusa
“That’s not a reason!”
Youko
“We’re in a hospital room. Stop yelling or you’ll be kicked out.”
Kazusa
“Why wouldn’t I be yelling?! There’s a possibility right here in front of you, and yet—“
Youko
“I won’t allow you to hurt yourself…”
Kazusa
“Huh…?”

Right…

As long as we were talking about normal things, it seemed as though nothing had changed for Mom.

Youko
“You’re Kazusa Touma, the pianist. I refuse to allow you to make any choices that would leave wounds on your body, your ability, or your nerves.”
Kazusa
“What are you saying…? I’m obviously fine with…”
Youko
“I won’t allow the slightest risk. Absolutely not…”
Kazusa
“M-Mom…”

But that was all it was—“Seeming”…

Youko
“No one has the right to take my single hope away from me.”
Kazusa
“But I…!”
Youko
“Even if it’s what you want, I won’t allow it.”
Kazusa
“…”
Youko
“I won’t let you do it, Kazusa…”

Mom loved me too much.

She was picturing me as her successor.

Imagining the world after she was gone…

……

Kazusa
“Ah…”

When I left the hospital, that same empty sky greeted me.

A sky at the end of a dream, reflecting my own heart, feeling like I had even less of a place to go than I had that afternoon.

But, even after I woke up from that dream, reality would go on.

A reality that was even crueler because it had granted a lifetime’s worth of wishes… because I had caught a glimpse of heaven.


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