“…Influenza, you said?”
“Yes… Right after I contacted you yesterday, I went straight to the hospital for an exam…”
“That’s not good… Then, you won’t be able to come in for a week, at least… Or, you shouldn’t come in, actually.”
Haruki apologizes for the awful timing.
“Ah, no, no, if you’re sick, you’re sick. You’re not the kind to fake it, anyway. …Now, if it were Matsuoka telling me this, I probably wouldn’t believe it, but…”
“Not the kind to fake it.”
Hamada-san’s unintended needles pierced my heart mercilessly, over and over.
But, this time around, there wasn’t anyone I could blame. …Actually, the worst of them all was me.
Hamada says he’ll handle things as best he can with the editors, and let Haruki know of any major decisions. Haruki tries to tell him he’ll keep working, but Hamada insists that he simply recuperate until the flu goes away. Overextending himself would just cause problems for those around him, and he can’t risk passing it to Kazusa, either, so Hamada tells him to refrain from that particular part of his work, too. He is, in fact, strictly prohibited from going about things in his usual workaholic manner.
Haruki apologizes and apologizes and apologizes. Hamada tells him not to worry about it.
After the call ended, I bowed my head deeply to someone who wasn’t there. If anyone had seen me, they would have pointed and laughed.
I’d screwed up in one way for the first time in my life yesterday, but this was seven times worse. This marked me as a failure in society.
Skipping out on an entire week of work, using an excuse so full of holes—if anyone did so much as ask for a medical report, the whole thing would crumble…
But how else is he supposed to explain it?
‘Every single day I go to the station, but then I start feeling so sick that I can’t even get on the train.’
I wasn’t some middle school student skipping class… What was wrong with me?
When I looked at my pitiful face reflected in the mirror, my expression twisted into something even more pathetic.
I vomited in the station bathroom and rested on the bench for half an hour, but the nausea, headache, and dizziness wouldn’t fade.
Anyone could see that I was in bad enough shape for it to hinder my work—and yet, miraculously, as soon as I returned to my apartment, it all went away.
No, to be more precise…
“Haruki… Is everything okay?”
“Come on, I just said I’d have the food ready soon. Are you that starved?”
“No, I’m not talking about me… Are you really staying home again today…?”
He tells her again: since his work focus is on her right now, he doesn’t have to go into the office. It’s been this way since last month. Never mind that he did leave for work earlier.
The moment I did the same thing I had done an hour before, as I was leaving—all of my symptoms mysteriously vanished.
In other words, the period of effectiveness of this “drug” had shrunk to less than an hour.
The world without Kazusa. The world with my boss, my colleagues, my friends, and my love. My former world…
Had become like the bottom of the sea for me. Untrodden territory.
Haruki brushes Kazusa’s long, lustrous black hair. He’s always adored it. If anyone were to ask him what he thought Youko Touma’s finest achievement was, he would say this hair, and its owner.
Kazusa needles him slightly by suggesting that it’s his fault it got tangled and gummed up in the first place, but then says she doesn’t care. For him, she would even go so far as to sell her hair, gladly.
Haruki buries his face in it, breathing in its fragrance. He could do this forever. Then he wraps his arms more tightly around her, and kisses her cheek, then starts to move his lips nearer to the center of her face…
And then, right at the critical moment, they are disrupted by a ring tone.
Kazusa checks her phone on the top of the dresser and scowls. Haruki has a pretty good guess of who it is; there are only so many people who would contact Kazusa directly at this point. The matter of the message is pretty predictable, too.
“Since I didn’t show up at the studio yesterday.”
Because she was in bed with him all day yesterday. Panting, giggling, dozing, all the rest.
They say that, if a pianist skips one day of practice, it takes several days to make it up.
If this kept up for too many days in a row, with her performance only two weeks away, getting into perfect condition for it would be nigh-impossible…
So, right now…
From any normal standpoint, the actions Kazusa was taking were impossibly reckless.
Instead of just saying, “You can’t keep doing this,” he asks, “Are you sure about this?” But, for some reason, this hurts Kazusa. She’s right there within touching distance, and here he is, telling her to get out.
He tries to tell her he’s not saying anything like that. It’s her apartment, anyway.
“Don’t try to spin it like that, stupid… You really don’t want me here with you, huh?”
“If I didn’t want you here, I wouldn’t have my hands out, holding you like this.”
Kazusa’s irrationality tears at him a little. He’s already holding her so tightly that her thin body could break.
“Don’t go, Kazusa… Don’t leave my side.”
“You coward… Why didn’t you say that from the start? Why do you always, always force me to decide these things?”
“I won’t let go of you…”
She makes him say it again, twice, three times—he won’t let her go, never again, never, not tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after, before finally relaxing into his arms. Jokingly, she laments the effort that went into brushing her hair. Haruki says he’ll brush it again and again, as many times as he has to.
We both knew.
The hair that I had taken so much trouble to tidy up was about to become disheveled, messy, dirty…
After that, I did the same thing, and switched off my phone as Kazusa watched.
…I had two messages waiting from Setsuna, but I didn’t so much as open them.
Kazusa’s watching the moon. They’ve spent the whole day in bed again, only getting dressed when their dinner delivery order arrived.
Kazusa remarks that she hasn’t seen any snow since she came back to Japan.
Morning, noon, and night, we were tangled up in each other, forgetting time in our intensity, until we passed out from; then, as soon as we woke up, we were back at it again.
As we passed these hours—useless to the rest of the world, irreplaceable to us—once again, we were approaching midnight.
Haruki wonders aloud whether they’re just having a particularly mild winter. Kazusa feels like it’s still been plenty cold.
Even though we were completely, deeply entwined, Kazusa once again pressed her warm body tightly against me.
“Do you want to see the snow?”
He recalls that it was snowing in Strasbourg, too. That night in Strasbourg, and five years ago, those days that would remain in his memory forever…
Back then, as Kazusa and I watched the snow together, there was undoubtedly one other person, watching the same snow.
The one who loved the snow the most, out of the three of them—and the one who came to hate it the most. The one who had it right there as one of the characters in her name.
But, for right now, I desperately drove that name out of my head.
Because I was terrified that that reaction might rise up again, in my body, in my heart.
He suggests they take a trip together—somewhere up north, where they can see the snow. Just the two of them.
Someone—years ago—said, “I want to see the snow.” Maybe that was when they learned to love watching it fall. It hurt the same way, then.
Kazusa seems to like the idea.
“Why don’t we go to a travel agency tomorrow? To see where the prettiest snow-viewing spots are.”
“If we’re gonna go, we’d better hurry. We’ve only got this week left…”
“There’s no need to rush. If it keeps on until March, we’ll be able to see snow anywhere we go in Japan.”
And it doesn’t have to stop there. Japan has four gorgeous seasons. In spring they can look at the cherry blossoms, in summer they can go swimming in the ocean, in autumn they can watch the leaves turn.
But Kazusa is starting to look more desolate than happy. The more excited Haruki gets, the more light seems to leave her eyes.
And yet, despite his awareness of this change, Haruki can’t stop himself. Kazusa has talked before about how much she hates this country, but…
“But, the real Japan… It’s even more beautiful than you know. I know you’ll fall in love with it, if you give it a chance.”
“So… Why not stay forever? Why not live in Japan again?”
He may just be saying whatever comes into his head, with no thought whatsoever for the future, but there’s no lie in it. He’s speaking exactly what he feels. He can feel the joy that will come of making it happen. He tells her she can make Japan her base of activity again after her upcoming concert. She’ll be in great demand here.
Kazusa doesn’t believe it.
“Will you just… knock it off. Get real. Stop… dreaming like that.”
“The tickets were gone in a flash. If you only do one or two concerts, that won’t be a good supply-and-demand balance.”
“It’s just a craze. Give it a year and I’ll be completely forgotten.”
She can play piano anywhere, right? He tells her to come back to Japan. Come back to him…
But Kazusa tells him she never even considered a future like that.
And Haruki, stunned, realizes that that joy was only a figment of his own heart. Everything he just said, nonsense.
“Just the same as how… you never thought about a future in which you abandoned Japan.”
And the future he was visualizing if it could all be realized…
I wasn’t even prepared to react to this. This childish reasoning, like I would have used five years ago.
“…If I asked you to think about it, would you? Will you seriously consider it?”
“You can’t, right…? It’s the same thing.”
With shoddy reasoning like that, even I, who had never lost an argument with Kazusa, was easily toppled.
Up against this impossible premise, I was so soundly defeated that it left me at a complete loss for words…
“It was stupid of me to…”
Kazusa cuts him off. Tells him not to say anything else.
“What I said just now was completely wrong. Forget about it.”
For both their sakes, she says.
But… Just as I was finally about to be crushed…
Right at the very end, Kazusa loosened the hand that had me pinned down so mercilessly.
She gave that impossible, unspeakably absurd premise just a hint of extra meaning.
Kazusa says she’s not interested in doing any more today. She’s going to bed.
Was that really a path that was possible for me to choose?
Wasn’t that a future in which one person, only one single person, could feel some self-satisfaction?
It’s already noon, and Kazusa hasn’t shown up to rehearse yet. Youko is ready to leave.
Miyoko is in a bit of a panic, unable to even get in contact with Kazusa, with only ten days left until the concert; Youko assures her that she’ll only need three days to get everything in order. Never mind the articles accusing her of a lack of rehearsal for the last concert—one or two failures don’t mean anything in the big scheme of life.
“You might not know this, but I once skipped out on a concert completely to go chasing after a man. Same for my first collaboration with M Hibiki.”
Sure, she lost Japan’s attention for two years after that, but here she is now, and she can afford to eat, and to pay Miyoko’s salary. Miyoko doesn’t think she should assume Kazusa will manage the same.
“As long as Kazusa keeps on playing the piano, she’ll be fine. She has enough talent to surpass me.”
“Ah, but we don’t know whether she’s going to keep playing the piano, do we? In her case, she at least has something more important than that.”
Miyoko begs her not to make her anxiety even worse.
Kazusa fiddles with Haruki’s old guitar while Haruki makes their afternoon tea. It’s far out of tune. He’s played it maybe two or three times since graduating from university.
He’s not sure how many days he’s stayed home by now; he’s starting to lose track of what day of the week it is.
“All right… That seems good enough. Any requests?”
“Well, uh… Something I know, at least.”
As always, she’s amazing at it.
With her extremely casual attire and messy appearance, and yet with skill far exceeding my own, as she strummed at the guitar, Kazusa fit into my room as though she had been living there for years.
As it happens, until a few days ago, they hadn’t been doing any relaxing in his apartment like this. She was so uncomfortable there that as soon as they finished up their business, she went straight back over to her own apartment. This made sense to Haruki, considering this is the apartment where he’s been spending his quality time with Setsuna.
But, little by little, that reluctance has been breaking down. He’s begun to make moves on her in this apartment. She’s started eating there, bathing there. She’s enjoying her double life, their apartments separated by a single wall.
Kazusa asks for four or five spoonfuls of sugar in her tea. Playing one song has left her absolutely desperate for something sweet. Then she demands that Haruki blow on her tea to cool it off.
There’s no reluctance any more. No one’s going to disrupt them. They’ve disconnected the landline.
“You play something, too. It’s been ages.”
He rolls his eyes, accepts the guitar from Kazusa, and sets it on his knees, but doesn’t do anything with it yet.
“C’mon, go for it. Even if you’re terrible at it, I won’t laugh too much.”
Laughing isn’t the concern. She never laughed at his guitar playing, even five years ago when it was so full of flaws. She simply pointed out the flaws, one by one, sparing no harshness.
“Please, Haruki… I haven’t heard you play guitar in forever. I want to hear it.”
And yet, after all that, equally thoroughly, she would show him how to fix those flaws. One by one, in a way he could understand.
And sometimes, as he thanked her, she blushed, just slightly.
“…All right, but only a little.”
And, as I took the guitar in my arms, Kazusa sat down in front of me and stuck out her knees, claiming the front row for herself.
He’s not really sure why she’s looking forward to it so much. He’s not sure what to play, either.
“Mm, I’m fine with whatever. Something that’s easy for you to play.”
There’s really only one song. One that he could conceivably bring back out, even without having practiced it at all. He waits for it to come to him.
Then, he remembers.
‘Haruki-kun, you’ve been practicing and practicing just so you could play this for me, haven’t you?’
‘The Setsuna who heard my terrible guitar playing and decided to sing along with it…’
‘That’s who I love most in the world.’
‘If you forget the melody, just listen to my guitar. If you forget the words… Well, cover it up with a smile.’
‘I couldn’t possibly forget… This song is just for us.’
‘When the concert is over… I want you to take me by force.’
Haruki chokes up.
“…What is it?”
“…Sorry. I can’t do it. I’ve forgotten how to play.”
My fingers wouldn’t move against the strings.
It wasn’t that they couldn’t do it well. They genuinely refused to move.
“You don’t have to play me an entire song… Just the hook would be fine.”
“I really can’t… I’m sorry.”
Because the last memory I should have recalled at this moment had just rushed furiously through my head.
“I… really haven’t played at all since then. I’ve forgotten everything you taught me.”
That which remained in my memory, from two years ago… My confession, Setsuna’s response…
All of them, one by one, disavowed everything I was right now.
He derides himself aloud, making excuses—never had the talent in the first place, and never put the effort forth, either.
What came to my face was a forced laugh. What came to my heart was far more scornful.
The fact that the feelings I held now weren’t fake. The fact that my memories from two years ago weren’t fake, either.
…The fact that both of these were true served only as further proof that I was a shallow, horrible person.
That’s why I couldn’t play it. The song Kazusa wrote…
Because, that song… belonged to Setsuna now.
‘Is everything okay?’
‘Sorry to send you so many messages in a row.’
‘You weren’t doing so well over the weekend, and I haven’t been able to get in touch with you lately… So, I’m just wondering how you’ve been.’
She’s wondering whether he might have gotten sick again, preventing his getting in touch—or whether, maybe, he hasn’t wanted to get in touch for some reason. The point is, she has no idea what’s up.
‘So… When you see this message, will you contact me? Whatever has been going on, I’m fine with it.’
Even letting the phone ring once before hanging up would be fine.
‘Just… If you’re okay, I want you to tell me you’re okay. …If you’re not okay… well… I still want you to contact me.’
‘I’ll be waiting.
The next thing Haruki knows, it’s completely dark inside his apartment. He and Kazusa have been going at it so wildly, over and over, that they’ve lost all sense of time.
“Aaaahh… Ah… All the… It’s all the way… Hah, ahhh, ahhhh… Haruki… I… I…!”
But who cares? Trivial things like that are meaningless to them.
Yes, meaningless. Food, sleep, society. Talking to, coming into contact with, being acknowledged by anybody else.
Even the sky held no interest for us, unless it was snowing. We didn’t need anything more than what we desired.
He doesn’t need anything else. He doesn’t fear anything.
He tells Kazusa to scream louder.
“With you… losing control inside me, Haruki… All the way… inside… Ah, it feels… so good… Ahh… so hard… Haruki…!”
Kazusa’s concert, my own job, and… her.
Were I alone, I would have come to a halt with anxiety. I would have been unable to move for fear. My heart and body… would have broken from despair.
But, as long as I was with Kazusa, I didn’t feel that anxiety, that fear, that despair.
It’s that simple. This must be his real usual self.
The usual me—not thinking, not worrying… Getting swept away in my desires, dissolving in lust, seeing nothing but Kazusa—the real me.
“Haruki, do it, more… all of it… over and over… deep inside… Pour yourself… into me… ahhhh!”
And what’s so wrong with that?
Suddenly, they both freeze. Hearts still pounding. Kazusa covers her mouth and tenses up her entire body.
Someone just rang the doorbell.
It’s dark out. It could be a solicitor, or some other acquaintance; but, at this hour, they know who it’s most likely to be—who else but the one who comes and visits every week?—and it makes them shake all over.
What time was it? What day of the week was it?
I tried to reduce that likelihood a little, tried to call back the reality I had forgotten, but now that my head had stopped working, it didn’t respond that easily.
All he can focus on is the look on Kazusa’s face, and how it twists as he thrusts into her again, even under these potentially lethal circumstances. Even if he’s only flinging himself into ruin.
Kazusa panics, knowing she’s likely to scream if Haruki finishes inside her. He promises to stifle the sound—so she shouldn’t let go of him, not now, not ever.
And, as he said, he blocks her mouth with his own, lips and tongue swallowing both their voices at once. All he can do now is pray that none of the other sounds of their lovemaking—skin on skin, the creaking of the bed—make it to the ears of their visitor, this visitor who might be Setsuna.
Takeya and Tomo stand outside the door to the apartment, wondering what’s going on. Tomo thinks she heard voices, but Takeya doesn’t think Haruki is there. Still, he’s never just disappeared without a word like this.
Takeya figures some sort of situation might have come up.
“Situation? What situation? Not only does he not call, but he doesn’t pick up, either?”
“Well, he could’ve been hospitalized suddenly, or… No, actually, I don’t wanna imagine a worst-case scenario like that.”
“Oh, that’s not even remotely the worst-case scenario. What would really be the worst is…”
Tomo stops. Takeya presses her—does she actually have some notion about where Haruki is?—but she won’t say anything more. She just gives the door to the next apartment over a final test buzz.
The bell finally stops ringing, and the footsteps depart, together with the voices—a man and a woman, from what they could tell.
So, not Setsuna.
The danger is gone. They could relax now. But they remain feverishly intertwined, their lips, their tongues, their teeth. Kazusa wraps herself as tightly around him as she can.
At last he ejaculates, over and over and over, all the way inside of her. Their lips only part for the brief moment, the briefest breath, before connecting again. He can feel every spasm of Kazusa’s lower body.
And she takes all of it in. The same pleasure he’s feeling, into both her body and her heart.
They remain deeply connected in the aftermoments, bolstered by their solidarity in betrayal.
The sound of the air conditioner was getting annoying, so Haruki relaxes out on the balcony. There’s not a single cloud in the night sky over Tokyo.
Kazusa joins him there, just out of the bath, her hair still wet. He beckons her over to warm her up in his arms, and it’s clear that was her aim in the first place. He’ll never get tired of this—the way she looks, the way she smells, the way she feels, how spoiled she is.
They gaze at the moon together. Kazusa reflects on the dangerous moment they had earlier—it’s a good thing they hadn’t turned any lights on—and wonders whether she shouldn’t stay over at Haruki’s apartment after all. Says she doesn’t belong there in the first place.
Haruki cuts her off: where she belongs is wherever he is. He has no more doors to shut on her.
“And, anyway… Having to get dressed every time just to move a few meters would get annoying, right?”
“…Haha, maybe so. I’m always practically naked anyhow.”
“You could have a little more self-respect, but… I also want you around because I get the breeding urge every time I see you.”
“Ahaha… You really are a wild beast, Haruki.”
Kazusa chuckled at my slightly off-kilter answer, and went along with my intention.
He’s just trying to keep things from getting any more melancholy than they already were in bed—something akin to covering up a sense of embarrassment.
“Then, why don’t we keep the lights off forever, so that even if someone comes by like they did today, they won’t catch us? We can wake up when the sun rises, go to bed when it sets…”
Haruki points out that, given the season, that means they’d be sleeping for more than half the day. Kazusa reminds him that there are other things to be done in bed.
“Wake up in the morning, work until the sun sets… When the sun sets, we screw until we wear ourselves out, then go to sleep… Then wake up in the morning… Pretty natural life. How does that sound?”
“Kind of sounds like how cave people would have lived in the Stone Age.”
“You’ll have to go out hunting during the day. …Would you be able to manage that, though?”
“I can do anything. You’ll see.”
“You think you could win against your prey? You’d probably be right on the edge of getting, like, a mouse, and then some other guy would snatch it from you by brute force at the last second.”
“Not all hunting comes down to tests of strength, you know. I’ll survive by using my head, using tools, and tricking the other guys.”
He would invent fire for her. She might call him a coward, she might laugh at him for being weird, but he would evolve.
“Well, Kazusa, you’re not going to go looking for your own food, are you? All day long, just playing instruments you made out of rocks, your beauty your only saving grace, a slothful queen…”
“…I won’t accept charity from any other man but you.”
If he doesn’t evolve, she’ll die, she says. So he’d better do it.
He promises he will.
I gave myself over to the feelings welling up inside me, and embraced Kazusa tightly.
He says they’ll have lots of children. Eventually, the world will be overrun with their descendants. Kazusa teases him for having such grand ambitions, but doesn’t seem displeased with the thought.
As ourselves in antiquity, we could chatter on about this rich future for ourselves. We could paint a happy picture.
But our selves now were modern people, no matter how much we might struggle against it.
Modern people without wisdom or courage, who couldn’t envision such a sparkling future.
That’s why we indulge in an alternative, entrusting the dreams we can’t now speak of to the ancient past
“Hey, Haruki… What am I supposed to do?”
“Right now, I’m happy.”
“What… What’s wrong with that?”
“This is a mistake… This is the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life, I know that, and yet, it’s the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Again: what’s wrong with that?
“All I need is to have you with me. That’s… my happiness.”
“Hey, that’s my line… Don’t steal it. You can’t… turn into me…”
The melancholy that they’ve been feeling every day for the past few days has crystalized, falling from Kazusa’s eyes in warm droplets.
Haruki suggests they take that trip he was talking about, to see the snow. They’ll leave in the morning, as soon as the sky is light.
“Let’s go to our Stone Age, where nobody knows us, where there’s nobody around who cares about us…”