Story 9: Daydream Believer
Author’s Note: Ushio settling his differences with his father with the help of his sweetheart like the main character in Oishinbo… would probably never happen! If they were to settle their differences, Papa would have to say as a condition, “Break up with that rude, black-bellied announcer!”
Translator Note: This story takes place after Early Summer Constellation.
It was soon after they had finished moving. They had settled into a somewhat decent routine at their new home when Ushio suddenly made an announcement. But it wasn’t such a huge surprise that it threw a wrench into the gears of their newly established life.
“I’m thinking of making a short film.”
“Aren’t you always making something?”
“It’s not for work. It’s for myself,” Ushio said. “I mentioned it before, right? That I wanted to make a continuation for the aliens from the opening for The News. I want to get started on it.”
The matters with the move were pretty much settled, and Ushio had generally wrapped up the work that he needed to finish. Apparently, he had developed the storyboards for the continuation already, and he wanted to devote his time to working on the rest of it. Anyway, he could do whatever he liked, but…
“I don’t get what you mean by it’s not for work. Are you saying that you won’t get paid for it anywhere?”
“Well, it’s not like anyone’s commissioning me for it.”
“When you say it’s for yourself, so you’ll spend weeks on end fiddling with your sets, filming, editing, and then you’ll watch it by yourself, tell yourself, ‘Oh, that was great,’ and call it done?”
Ushio was free to do that if that was what he wanted, but Kei couldn’t help but make some envious and slightly disbelieving comments. Then Kei remembered that Ushio had flown over to the U.S. before to help a friend out with a personal project.
“No, I want to make it public. But I don’t want to put it somewhere that pays for the number of views. Since the characters are already in use on TV, I’ll need to discuss it with Shitara-san.”
“Why are you going through so much hassle for this?”
Ushio was a professional who earned his living in this line of work, and just because he wanted to work on something that he had a personal attachment to, it didn’t mean that he cut corners on his other work, but in Kei’s opinion, the thought of not wanting to profit on the project was rude to those who commissioned him. Kei hated when people insisted on things in order to take a moral high ground.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re doing this for, but if you start giving away your work for free, you might not have a leg to stand on later.”
“I’ll make sure to draw a clear line,” Ushio answered. “But for this, I want to do something different… I’m not disavowing the work where I have to count how much I make and how much I spend. I find it worthwhile to work on projects with other people’s interests in mind. But first I want to do something without any of that. I want to make something that I enjoy, something I really want to see. And I want to do it without worrying about how it will be received or if it has the desired effect on people. I just want a blank slate for this.”
Ushio was serious about it, and so Kei had nothing else to say. Just like how Ushio never interfered when Kei was serious about something.
“So how long is it gonna take?”
“Hmmm… I have my data on the computer, but I need to remake the sets.”
Kei flashed back to the days when he had helped Ushio with his work.
Don’t tell me you want to remake all those clay figures from scratch?
“You’re not gonna be broke by the time you finish, right!?”
“It should be fine. I won’t need to do so much pre-production work like last time. Hmm, I can probably make things work until fall.”
“That’s three months. You can afford that?”
“I can’t take on any large jobs, but I can do small jobs here and there part-time. If I go broke, please save me, Kunieda-san.”
“When you hear the interest rate from the Bank of Kunieda, you’ll get more chills than a paranormal experience.”
“I’ll pay you with my body.”
“That’s a 10,000 yen1 surcharge for making a lame remark.”
“I’m sorry that I’m not as funny as you, Kunieda-san~”
“You’re fucking mocking me. That’s a fine of 10,000 yen.”
“I’ll be bankrupt in three days. Leave your predatory practices to just my body, okay?”
“I just said it’s not funny!”
“That’s fine.” Ushio reached across the table where they faced each other drinking beer, and he grasped Kei’s hand. “I’m being serious here, and it would hurt my feelings if you laughed at me.”
…Kei wanted to laugh in Ushio’s face for his nonsense. But then there was the timing, the overindulgent smile that made Kei want to shout, Aren’t you tired of looking already!?, the soft but strong grip of the fingers over his hand—they made the bullets of words, stocked inside him and ready to fire, come tumbling out of their magazines. His head abruptly overheated, and all that could come out of his lips was a feeble jab back at him.
“Are you an idiot?”
Ushio stood up without even a scratch to his smile.
“Whoo~ I’m gonna do my best to get preyed on for all my worth tonight~”
“You’re messed up, you’re messed up, you’re messed up.”
But nevertheless, Kei kept their hands linked together.
They had finished their bout between the sheets, but there was a lot of room for argument over whom the predator actually was. Kei waited to catch his breath and called out to Ushio.
“I don’t know what you’re planning on making, but I can help you like the time before if you want.” Kei then sped up his words. “But I don’t owe you anything this time, so it’ll cost you! 5,000 yen per hour!”2
“Huh, the expenses would outstrip the losses from not taking commissions if I do that…” Ushio lifted the tips of hair matted with sweat off of Kei’s forehead. “But I want to do this myself.”
Kei had pretty much expected this answer. He roughly wiped Ushio’s temple with the back of his hand and whispered, “You’re really a pain in the ass.”
“But it would be nice if we could do things again like we did back then. Just chattering about stupid stuff and fiddling with the sets as I worked and filmed. I think back on it now, and it was really a lot of fun.”
There was a distant look in Ushio’s eyes for a moment, but then he looked back at Kei. He brushed up Kei’s bangs with his fingers and said, “I’m sorry. I had planned to move the clay figures that you had worked on and put them into storage, but I just had a strange attachment to them and I wanted to keep them around.”
Kei twisted his face in a frown and batted Ushio’s hand away. “Quit it. Don’t take the initiative to apologize for stuff.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“If I feel like blaming you for something, I’ll do it myself, and you can feel terrible all you want when it happens! I don’t know how to react when you get all gloomy and sorry on me!”
Ushio was the one who was hurt far more here.
“Okay, I won’t care about anything anymore.” Ushio all of a sudden nodded his head with vigor.
“Who the hell said you could forget about everything?”
Kei was exhausted and sleepy, and so he turned his back to Ushio.
Ugh, but I need to shower.
“By the way, I’ve always wanted to ask you, how did you feel back then when you would come over to my place?”
…I’m just about to sleep, and you ask such an aggravating question.
Kei didn’t bother to hide his annoyance and shrugged, “I forgot.”
“My first impression of you was terrible, but maybe for you it was love at first sight?”
“You fucking delusional!? You pretty much threatened me into helping you, you damn quailbrain!”
“What’s a quailbrain?”
“A birdbrain, but it didn’t quite cut it.”
“You remember it just fine.”
Of course he remembered. And now that he thought back on it, Ushio had lied to him from the first day they met.
—I’ll warn you now, I can hold a grudge for a long time.
If Kei had ignored his threat and never came back, Ushio probably wouldn’t have looked for him. He would have continued working through his injured arm without any need for Kei. It was a thought that pissed Kei off.
“Well, I guess if I find out, things can’t go back to before when I didn’t know,” Ushio said. “It might have been nice to have Kunieda-san and Owari toy with me a little while longer back then.”
“You were the one wavering around on your own.”
“No, no, inside I was really torn between the two. But at the same time, it was also exciting and fun for me.”
Ushio seemed to have detected the thorns in Kei’s voice. He pressed himself up to Kei’s back and asked, “What’s wrong?”
There had to be something wrong with himself. Their skin was sticky with sweat and pressed together, but Ushio’s touch made him feel relieved.
“I bet you were over the moon, basking like the main character out of a standard manga plot, all giddy with your pick between two girls on completely different ends of the spectrum.”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Aren’t you that indecisive guy who’s everyone’s friend, but you always run into lucky perverted situations, and despite that, you have an odd gentleman-like insistence to behave normally, and somehow you attract everyone’s interest in you no matter how forced and dumb it seems?”
“Hmm, I don’t recall ever being that lucky…”
“Well, I never want to go back to that time.”
Kei buried his head deep into a pillow. It was a ludicrous double life, living his days as his public and private personas. Ushio was right—although he did enjoy some parts of his time back then, he couldn’t handle it anymore after a while. His anguish from that time only grew more when he recalled it. The dread of what would happen if Ushio found out about his lies, the guilt that he felt for deceiving Ushio for so long, the fear that Ushio would hate him if he came clean and confessed—they had haunted him so much. When he had watched Ushio act so friendly in front of Kunieda-san, he should have been pleased with the result that he had tried to engineer, but he only felt hollow and sad. It was a time that had long since passed, and that pain could have turned into a sweet memory, but for him, it was the complete reverse.
“For you, it might have been a choice between beef and tuna, where each was great and you wondered which one choose, but for me it was different…”
“It was something that seriously weighed on me too…” Ushio’s strained laugh tickled the back of Kei’s neck. “But, yeah… You’re right. I don’t think it compared to what you felt at the time. I’m sorry.”
Ushio pressed his lips to Kei’s neck.
“I love what we have now. Nothing compares to it.”
Ushio left a series of short kisses behind him—bubbles planted on bare skin yet to have cooled from their passions.
“Don’t get the wrong idea.” Kei mustered all of his might to issue Ushio a warning.
“This by no means implies that I fell in love with you first or that I loved you more, okay!?”
“I know, I know.”
“So why the hell are you hard!?”
There was an unsettling heat pressed up against an unsettling area.
“You were just so cute that it made me horny.”
“Learn to restrain yourself, idiot!”
As soon as Kei said that, Ushio pressed his body up against him, wrapping his arms around his waist, and sweetly nibbled an earlobe.
Kei’s nerves had been ready to enter a lull, but they sent a small wave that rippled through his shoulders and paralyzed them.
“Stupid, no, no more—”
“Okay.” Ushio’s breath scorched Kei’s skin as he whispered, “Stay still then.”
Ushio’s cock grazed past the fusion point where they were just connected, and it slipped itself in between Kei’s closed thighs.
“I won’t do anything.”
Ushio rocked in and out behind him, creating a friction. Kei had to admit it was nice that he didn’t have to do anything.
But just because Ushio wouldn’t do anything, it didn’t mean that Kei wouldn’t feel anything. Well, no, Ushio was actually doing plenty, rubbing against him down there. Kei could feel something supple nuzzling the underside of his cock, like when Ushio would rub his nose against his own. The skin between his legs was surprisingly sensitive, creating a sheath for the rhythm, and he could distinctly register Ushio’s pulse and desire there. Every time Ushio grazed against his taint, barely the width of a fingertip, it would send shivers through his tailbone.
Kei couldn’t see Ushio’s face, but he could feel Ushio’s breath, losing its composure behind him—the intimate caresses, harsh and raw, right into his ear, curled around him like an animal in heat, and it felt so dirty and shameless that it thrilled him.
“Nhh, ahh, ngh…”
It was the sense that his body was being used that was so exhilarating. Kei wouldn’t stand for it for one second if it was anybody else, but with Ushio, it felt incredible. He couldn’t control the emotions that welled up inside him, and it mystified him how much he loved this than hated it.
“Nnh, no, nooo…”
Ushio’s cock repeatedly nudged his own in short little motions, transmitting Ushio’s desire over to him and making him hard. Fluid smeared all over his delicate area, whether it was freshly spilled pre-come or come spent from earlier—he didn’t know, and he heard wet, filthy sounds that he never thought could have come from simulated intercourse. Arousal swirled through his body down to his fingertips, sweat drenching him everywhere. Even his voice, Ushio’s gasps, the air from the new apartment—they all soaked into his skin with no way for him to ever recover.
“Aaah, ah, ngh, ahh.”
The inside of Kei’s body knew this particular cadence very well, nuzzling over and over against him from the outside. It was only about 15 minutes ago that he was spread open and wanton around that thick cock, tasting the pleasure of each thrust and taking everything that was poured into him at the end of it. Kei could feel his shameless little hole, impatient and eager for it, opening and clenching to the sinfully delicious rhythm.
But the hard tip of Ushio’s cock only teased him, sliding over the wet, slicked skin of his entrance, refusing to invade him. Kei’s hole gasped open restlessly, like a baby chick waiting and waiting to be fed but never getting its treat. His frustration affected him down to his cock even. Kei clutched his pillow so savagely he could probably tear it to shreds, and he fought down the urge to writhe in his agony. He was going to jerk himself off if Ushio kept this up, but it wasn’t exactly what he wanted.
Kei wanted Ushio inside of him, not rubbing outside of him. He wanted Ushio’s cock thrusting in his hole, plundering him deep. He wanted Ushio drilling his pleasure into his body, so that he could never feel satisfied by anyone other than Ushio, even if that person was Kei himself.
“Don’t move. I’m going to come soon.”
But he didn’t want Ushio to come yet. If Ushio came, it would all be over. He didn’t want Ushio to come outside of him. But the thickness that slid back and forth between his legs throbbed harder and larger, and it felt like it would welcome its release at any time.
Just as Kei tried to say, No, don’t, Ushio suddenly raised Kei’s leg and shoved his cock into Kei’s hole that he had been bypassing all this time.
He didn’t panic at the sudden thrust rammed inside of him. His hole was as flexible as fired melted glass, and it happily accepted Ushio, tasting him in the deepest parts inside, clutching at him wet and sticky.
“No, ahhh, noo, don’t…”
All the bones in his body slumped helplessly, and he came—less as a spurt and more as a dribble that flowed out of him without any other means for his release. His hole was tender, throbbing and puffy from his need, but it clutched at Ushio’s cock, feeling its length inside him, and it was shameful how aroused he felt from the slightest bit of movement.
“Ahhh, ah, ah, noo, stupid, you liar… nhh.”
“Why?” Ushio asked. He dug his fingers where he clutched the back of Kei’s knee, rocking it with his thrusts.
“I did say that I was coming soon.”
Dammit, you said that to mislead me on purpose. Ugh, this was what you were after from the beginning.
“You said that… you wouldn’t do… anything—ah, ahhh, no…”
“That’s what I had planned.”
“Nnnh, no, not there.”
“But you would try to suck me in every time I grazed by, so I thought that you were full on seducing me.”
“No way, you idiot, nghh…”
“Yes way. You wanted it so badly.”
Ushio clutched Kei’s body to him, nudging the leg that he held up to slip his hips between Kei’s thighs, deepening his thrusts.
“You don’t want to move all that much, but you kept following me back to where you wanted it. You must have known what you were doing.”
The hand curled around Kei’s body moved up to his chest to find a nipple. His channel was tight and narrow to begin with, but Kei found himself squeezing down on Ushio even more, gasping hard as the fingers tormented the little pebbled peak.
“Ahh, no, nooo…”
“Kei, kiss me.”
Kei turned his head, his body still under Ushio’s full mercy, and greedily devoured Ushio’s lips. For how difficult it was to move his hips, he made up for it by licking and sucking and plundering his tongue. The strain he had to endure from their positions instead spurred his lust even further. Sparks flew when their teeth clashed, and in the midst of his ecstasy, Kei thought that he might catch on fire.
“Nnh, nnhhh… ah, aaah— Ushio.”
“…What part-time job are you planning to take?”
“Huh? I don’t have anything in mind really. Anything that’s short-term and flexible. Why?”
Kei clutched the back of Ushio’s hand spread against his body.
“If you work at a hostess bar again, I’ll kill you…”
“What? What? Say that again. I didn’t hear you.”
“Hey, you said it really quietly.” Ushio broke into a full smile and lightly kissed Kei on the cheek. “You’re really too cute.”
“Shut up. Drop dead.”
It was as if his smile repelled insults because Ushio didn’t seem like he heard Kei at all.
“…Of course I wouldn’t take a job like that. I promise that I’ll never do anything to worry you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Because if he always doubted him, then Ushio would always try to show him otherwise. The proof that he received all of Ushio’s love, all of Ushio’s thoughts, all of Ushio’s concerns.
“…Let me come for real this time.”
Ushio pumped in and out of Kei with short, repeated strokes, as if to prevent his arousal, fully happy inside, from slipping out. Kei’s come-smeared hole sucked greedily on Ushio’s cock, making endlessly obscene sounds that filled his ears with shame. But even though the sounds made him so embarrassed that he wanted to disappear, he surrendered to the pleasure as soon as Ushio fisted his cock.
“No! …D-Don’t touch me in so many places.”
“Idiot,” Ushio whispered, tracing his tongue behind Kei’s ear. “I physically don’t have enough hands to touch you everywhere I want, so I’m holding myself back here, you know.”
“Ah, noo, ah, ahhh…!”
“Nnh, you’re so tight, it feels so good…”
They shamelessly demanded their pleasure from each other, finding new heights. The pleasure they gave, the pleasure they received, it was all the same to them, overwhelming their senses.
Kei sucked all of Ushio’s come into him, like he was a creature designed just for that purpose, and his cock spilled its own white, milky release. In that moment, the world disappeared from all five of his senses. The sense of void with the sense of fulfillment that immediately followed afterwards—they shared and occupied him in equal parts, and without stopping to catch his breath, he exchanged hungry, insatiable kisses, happy to indulge the night to his heart’s content.
If newsprint paper was the cloudy sky, then he was at the height of the rainy season as he took in the text like a flurry of raindrops. Kei was plowing through the evening papers at the network when his eyes landed on the headline, PHP Leader Eba Hospitalized After Falling Ill, and the raindrops turned into words again complete with meaning. After attending a conference in the city, Eba had fallen ill and was sent to a hospital with a fever and cough. It was thought to be a slight bout of pneumonia, but to be safe, he would be hospitalized for the time being. It didn’t appear to be a serious illness, but with his age, it made Kei feel a little concerned.
Kei hadn’t seen Old Man Eba since the uproar at Ushio’s father’s house. Kei had made it clear that the only compensation for Eba’s help was his gratitude, and Eba probably didn’t need an explanation for the events that had transpired. Kei was sure that above all else Old Man Eba was happy to see Ushio all grown up as an adult, and that was why Kei had felt he had done enough to show his appreciation for the old man, however…
Kei stood up from his desk and headed to see Shitara.
“I’d like to talk to you about Eba-sensei.”
“Oh, he’s hospitalized, isn’t he?”
“Yes… Would it be possible to pay him a visit at the hospital?”
“You personally, Kunieda?”
“Hmm~” Shitara closed his eyes and crossed his arms. “Despite how he seems, which sounds pretty rude, but he is the leader of a national political party. Wouldn’t it stir up rumors again about you running for office?”
“That is true, but…”
There was no chance that he could get permission from his manager at the announcer department, and there was too much risk at stake if he were to go secretly and it happened to get out. That was why he tried asking Shitara, where there was maybe a hope of getting an okay, but the negative response of “I don’t really recommend it” in short meant that it was impermissible from the view of the network.
“You are an announcer, after all. You are a company employee, but at the same time, you’re not. But I’m sure you know that very well already.”
Was there really nothing he could do? Well, Eba was still a regular on a BS program. Maybe Kei could run into him in the building and see him after he was discharged. He replied back, “I understand.”
“Do you really want to go?”
Shitara fixed his gaze on Kei. However, it wasn’t a stare that tried to probe his intentions.
“Do you really want to pay Mr. Eba a visit at the hospital?”
“Yes.” Kei didn’t hesitate as he nodded.
“I see. Can you leave this matter for me to handle? If he’s discharged from the hospital before I can work things out, then sorry.”
“Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.”
“You can thank me after I can get it to work out… Oh, right, speaking of politicians. It’s still a long way’s off, but I thought I’d tell you about it now. We’re going to have Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Wakamiya as a special guest on the show.”
That name was a complete ambush, and Kei wanted to applaud his facial muscles for only displaying the normal amount of surprise on his face. Also his vocal cords for answering in a pleasant voice, “Oh, is that so?”
“We haven’t fixed a date for him yet, but it will probably be in September or October. If he requests that it happen before the Diet’s extraordinary session, then probably September.”
“Is there a reason for that particular time?”
“Not really. We’ve made requests to have him on the show ever since his appointment to the Cabinet, but he’s been extremely busy. It seems that he’s finally had some time in his schedule for us. You know how next year will be the 60th anniversary for the network? I think for part of our time with him, I’d like to see him have a discussion with Asou about the future of the TV industry, so we’ll prepare a number of questions along those lines beforehand.”
So that probably meant Shitara didn’t plan to bring Announcer Kunieda into the discussion. But still, Wakamiya could have turned down the request. Maybe he was plotting something… But probably not. If he was going to do anything to him, there was no need to come to Kei’s home turf to do it. Kei had full confidence in his ability to outmaneuver him on camera. It was a pain in the ass, but it was nothing to be scared about.
“Old Man Eba was hospitalized.”
Ushio was surprised at the news when Kei came home that night and told him about it.
“He’s a contributor on our network after all.”
“I was working and wasn’t really paying attention to the TV. Is the hospital close by? I wonder if it’ll be okay see how he’s doing.”
“You probably need to make an appointment.”
“I don’t have his contact info… Maybe I can leave a message with someone at his office?”
“…And what if you happen to bump into your old man at the hospital?”
Ushio raised his eyes in thought briefly and answered, “If he’s there, then he’s there. There’s not much I can do, and he’ll have his security detail with him. We’ll probably pass each other, and that’ll be it.”
Kei was relieved that Ushio didn’t appear to be lying or forcing himself. Maybe Ushio needed to feel conflict over his feelings, that maybe it was something he needed to go through, but Kei would rather have him feel at ease.
“…Anyway, so Grandpa Eba, huh…”3
For some reason, Ushio suddenly sounded out of it, and Kei had to retort, “Oi, he’s still alive. It’s just a slight bout of pneumonia.”
What was he getting all lost in thought for? Ushio didn’t seem to realize he was knitting his brows and muttering to himself, saying things like Maybe it would work or That would be good. Maybe he got distracted again with his project once the conversation hit a pause. Kei had planned to bring up Minister Wakamiya’s planned guest appearance on The News after telling him about Old Man Eba, but with Ushio off in his own little world again, Kei lost his chance to mention it.
Shitara issued the green light for Announcer Kunieda’s hospital visitation about a week later, but it took about 10 days before Kei actually went to see Old Man Eba. He didn’t know how Shitara managed to swing it, but he was given a date and time he could go and a box of sweets to bring with him.
“You’re paying the visit on behalf of Politics Free Talk, the BS program that Mr. Eba appears on. You have a lot more freedom in your schedule during the day, so I was able to put you in charge of it.”
“But I don’t have any connections to Politics Free Talk.”
“The host of the show, Kudo, he was your training instructor as a new hire, right? Both he and the show’s producer are overseas on an assignment and can’t make the visit, so you’re going as their proxy. But the reason doesn’t really matter. If anyone tries to say anything, I’ll handle it myself, and if anyone happens to ask you about it, just say it’s orders from above.”
Kei looked at the nameplates posted outside of the hospital room. There were three other names listed along with the name Eba Sougen. He was a member of the National Diet and (more or less) the leader of a national political party, but these were rather modest accommodations. Kei knocked on the door to be polite and announced as he opened the sliding door, “Good morning.”
There was an elderly man in a bed by the window in the four-person room. The curtains were fully pulled back, and Kei could see right away that it was Old Man Eba. He was sitting upright with his arms crossed and his eyes closed. As Kei walked closer, he could hear music coming from the earphones that Eba was wearing. It was the Japanese cover version of a famous song.
Eba noticed Kei in the room and opened his eyes, removing his earphones. The first thing that he asked was “Where’s my sake?”
“I’ve brought you jelly today.”
“Shall I put it in the refrigerator for you?”
“It’s fine. My wife will be here soon, so you can leave it here.”
Kei placed the bag with his gift on a small table and turned to bow to Eba. “It has been a while since we’ve last seen each other.”
“Hmmph, it sure has.”
“I’m glad to see you looking well.”
“Asahi TV only aired a single 30-second story about my hospitalization. How heartless is that?”
“It was 25 seconds.”
He should probably keep his private thoughts to himself here, but Kei couldn’t help correcting Eba because he didn’t have to put on appearances in front of him.
“That’s even worse.”
“Have the other patients sharing this room gone somewhere? It appears that you’re the only one here, Sensei.”
“Yeah, they’re all young men, but none of them align with any party and they don’t even vote. I’ve been lecturing them every day about the importance of participating in the political process, and they probably decided to flee.”
Heh, they should’ve quarantined you in a separate room.
“Oh right, Homare’s son came to visit me yesterday.”
So Ushio was able to contact Eba and visit him. Kei evaded the topic with a “Hmm.”
“I used to think he resembled more of his mother when he was young, but now he resembles more of Homare.”
That doesn’t make me happy.
“His personality… resembles him too, a little. Just how he just seems to do the things he wants in his own way.”
“Did he say anything rude?”
“No, no,” Eba chuckled wryly, shaking his head. “That was just my impression. Anyway, thanks for coming all this way. Give everyone at Politics Free Talk my regards. I should be discharged next week.”
“That must be good news for the people sharing the room here.”
“That’s enough out of you! Hurry up and scram!”
Eba waved his hand to chase him out, but Kei understood that Eba was taking Kei’s position into consideration and minimizing the risk of people seeing them together.
“Then I shall take my leave.”
“Hey, wait,” Eba called just as Kei reached the door.
“…I still think you would make a pretty good politician.”
“Thank you very much,” Kei answered with a smile. “But I don’t think that I’m quite suited for it.”
“That’s a humble statement.”
“You have it reversed.”
“I’m saying that I’m not suited for such a small position of a politician. Please get well soon.”
Kei gave a wave of his hand as he left the hospital room and heard an outraged voice yell, “Damn whippersnapper, thinking you’re so clever!”
Please keep your voice down within the hospital.
The rainy season gave way to the call of summer. Kei didn’t ask about every little detail about Ushio’s progress, but it looked like he had thrown his heart and soul into this project that he wanted to do for himself. It wasn’t like he worked without sleep or rest though, and judging from his appearance, he consciously scheduled breaks throughout his day. He wanted to work, but he didn’t want to complete his tasks under an emotional high—this discretion was likely proof of how serious he was. And upon finishing the project, Ushio planned to purchase and install a hammock that he had wanted for a while as a reward for himself.
“I know that we already have a bed here, but because of Kunieda-san’s fault, I haven’t been able to use it anyway.”
“Don’t get carried away with your damn accusations!”
At the end of July, Ushio took a small part-time job helping out on an overnight assignment for The News. It was nothing special, and after they aired the story, Shitara invited them out for dinner.
“I want to celebrate the completion of the assignment and thank Ushio-kun for the wonderful footage that he shot. What do you think about dinner with the three of us?”
“Thank you, I would love to join you.”
Please don’t make me attend, Kei thought to himself, but he owed Shitara for helping him out with Eba, and so he had no choice but to readily accept the invitation. It was just around the Bon Festival season when they sat down at a round table in a private room at a stylish and casual Chinese restaurant.
“It’s been a while since the three of us have gone drinking together. It was before the re-launch of The News, so probably 2½ years? Time sure flies by~”
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t exactly the three of them together again. Ushio hadn’t known about Kunieda-san’s true identity back then. That was why it was a slightly bittersweet atmosphere for Kei…
Ugh, I don’t have to go remembering it.
Kei took a sip of shaoxing wine chilled over crushed ice to help calm himself down.
“Kunieda has really changed, hasn’t he?”
It was another remark from Shitara that almost made Kei lose his composure. He feigned innocence and commented, “I’m not quite sure what you mean, but if you’re saying that you see growth and improvement in me, that of course makes me very happy.”
“You’re always growing and improving… But well, to speak frankly, it feels like you’ve become more interesting. It doesn’t mean that it’s good or bad, but I prefer you the way you are now, Kunieda.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Oh, me too, me too,” Ushio interjected.
Don’t freaking chime in, idiot. I’m gonna start sweating.
Kei could only gloss over the comment with a beautiful, vague smile.
“By the way, Ushio-kun, how is your film going?”
It relieved Kei to see Shitara shifting his attention to Ushio. He picked up some abalone braised in oyster sauce with a pair of long and smooth chopsticks, taking care not to drop it.
“It’s going okay.”
“I’ve given a lot of thought to what you consulted me about earlier. What do you think about bringing your film to our network?”
“Of course, I don’t mean that we would use your film for free. We could unveil it on Asahi TV’s video streaming channel as part of our community outreach project, where our network will contribute 1 yen per view to be donated to a cause. That would naturally mean that you won’t see a single yen, but the film will earn a great amount of exposure to the public. I think it brings a lot of extra value, and it might even net The News more viewers after people see the film. It’s a pretty good idea, in my opinion, but what do you think? Or would you prefer to keep it more low key?”
Ushio’s face was a little frozen in surprise, but he slowly shook his head. “No, I definitely appreciate that you’ve put so much thought into it. Thank you very much. It’s a great idea, and I would love to see it happen.”
“Fantastic! That’s great to hear. I’ll work on getting everything arranged with each of the departments at the network then… But I have to say, you’ve also changed a little, Ushio-kun. I can’t really put my finger on it, but that was the impression that I got when I saw your storyboards for the film.”
Ushio briefly fell silent again. On the other hand, Kei was completely focused on the char sui plate sitting in front of Ushio.
Turn the plate over here, dammit.
“…I guess I would have to say it’s my frame of mind.”
“Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it’s more like my feelings… It’s the first time that I ever wanted someone to see my work.”
“Who would that be?”
“My family,” Ushio answered. He deliberated over his words carefully, which he never usually did. His grandmother was in good health, but she was probably not the person who Ushio had in mind for his answer.
“Before I didn’t want them to come near my work, but now my frame of mind is different. It’s not like I want them to feel something or to tell me what they think about it though. Hmmm, I’d say it’s kind of like my business card? Something that says, this is my work, and they can look at it and say, okay, and that would be it. Anyway, something like that. But it’s not like I need to give this business card to them directly. If I put it on the net, it’ll be out there, and that’s enough for me.”
Shitara didn’t say anything more, just like how Old Man Eba never inquired further. He only smiled and raised his glass. “I look forward to seeing your business card.”
They exited the restaurant, and only after Shitara’s taxi turned the corner and completely left their line of sight did they start walking side-by-side together.
“Want to buy some yakitori to bring home?”
“It’s fine… By the way…”
There were other pedestrians around, and so Kei spoke in a low voice with his head down.
“I didn’t know that you were thinking that.”
“I wasn’t really thinking about it… More like I just realized that it was what I was doing all this time. I don’t really think too much about what I’m doing, but when Shitara-san said that I had changed a little, it was the first time that I really thought about it.”
“Aww, don’t pout.”
Ushio reach his hand over to catch the button on the cuff of Kei’s suit jacket. It was a Saturday, but Kei had work earlier in the day. Even though it was ridiculously hot out, he was more at ease outside armed in a formal suit. Ushio wore a three-quarters-sleeve boatneck linen T-shirt with jeans—completely different from that time they had dinner together.
“I’m not pouting.”
Kei wanted to reach out and pinch the bit of bone on the outside of Ushio’s wrist, but he fought down the urge and said, “Actually, I want yakitori after all.”
It was right before dawn on an early September night.
Kei was sleeping when Ushio shook him awake. He got up without complaining, slapping his bare feet on the floor. The late summer heat felt like it would boil him to death during the day, but at this time of night, the flooring was nice and cool to the touch.
“Let’s watch it here.”
Ushio left the lights off in the room and pulled down the roller shade that hung where their two rooms connected. A mini-projector projected Ushio’s film onto the screen. They sat down on the floor next to each other to watch it, and it felt kind of like the movie days that were held in his elementary school gym. They didn’t just watch it once—they played it on repeat. Kei didn’t say anything. Because he knew that Ushio didn’t need any words from him. They just sat next to each other with their legs crossed and their hands linked together, resting in Ushio’s lap.
It played over and over again, and as the short film repeated itself, the room slowly brightened, slightly fading the world projected on the screen. More time passed, and the canal reflected the light of the sunrise like the surface of a mirror. He didn’t know how many times they watched it, but they didn’t stop until morning came calling on them at their home.
Shitara’s cell phone rang.
“Hello? Oh, I see. No, it’s all right, it’s not something that any of us can control. We will try to delay it as much as possible until you can arrive… Yes, thank you.”
Shitara ended the call and said to no one in particular, “The minister is apparently caught in traffic.” Wakamiya was already late for his arrival, and it didn’t surprise any of the staff. They had planned for a 9 pm arrival at the studio, and because of a party meeting of his running long, it was now 9:45. His appearance was planned for 10:30, but now it looked like they couldn’t even have a pre-show briefing. Kei wasn’t inclined to greet him in front of other people here, and this made it more convenient for him if Wakamiya just showed up and left after fulfilling his obligations.
“Um, what should we do on the off chance that he doesn’t show up in time?” The on-air director frowned. “Should we move sports up ahead of time?”
“Can the clips be ready if that’s the case?”
“They’ll spit fire, but yeah, we can make it happen.”
“All right, we’ll do that. And if he still can’t make it in time, we’ll just have to fill up 10 minutes… We can re-air the stories from the evening news: the marijuana story and the serial cat poisonings. We don’t need to edit the clips at all. Then we’ll add another minute to weather and three fresh stories for the flash news. Let’s make that our backup plan. If the minister manages to make it in the nick of time, he’s of course the first priority. I’ll make the call at the commercial break before it happens.”
The staff rushed around the studio in more of a panic than usual.
“Kunieda, if we have to switch around the segments, I’ll have you read the news stories.”
Fundamentally, it didn’t matter who was coming into the studio as a guest or not. Kei would simply do his job as Kunieda Kei. But Kei would probably click his tongue and grumble, That stupid old man of his, if he couldn’t make it in time today. Kei accepted the extra scripts prepared for their backup plan and looked them over. After a couple of readthoughs, it was time to stand by for the show. He got up from the long worktable in the corner of the studio and moved to the table on the set under the lights. He wondered what would happen here today.
The studio door opened around 10:20 pm. Kei could tell without looking that it wasn’t a staff member or a presenter who had entered. There was an air and a commotion from the outside world that wasn’t merely just sound. While Kei commented here and there to show that he was listening to the commentator’s criticisms, he caught sight of Ushio’s father in his peripheral view. He seemed to have made it in time. From a quick glance, Kei saw that he brought with him some heavy security detail, that secretary Saijou, and a few other people. He didn’t have much time, and so the staff quickly mic’d him up and combed through his hair at the same time to make him presentable.
“—After the commercial break, we will have our special guest tonight Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Wakamiya here in studio to discuss the future of TV within the media landscape.”
For a few minutes, the studio was released from the cage of the live broadcast.
“We’re in commercial!”
“Minister Wakamiya is entering the set!”
“Please take a seat here!”
Ushio’s father sat down in the chair that the AD prepared for him, and facing Asou, slightly bowed his head. “I apologize for my late arrival.”
“Oh, no, I understand how very busy you must be. Thank you very much for making time to be with us today. We will be doing this pretty much off the cuff, but I think you will be fine if you stick to the topics that we had communicated beforehand. If there is anything too difficult to answer, please feel free to dodge the question as you feel fit.”
“I believe that would be scarier than just answering the question.”
Minister Wakamiya was smiling, showing the soft, humble personality from the time when Kei had first encountered him. Kei didn’t think that this face of his was completely fake, but he did wonder how much of it made up his true personality. Although Kei also did the same thing, taking the trouble to create an image for the public, it wasn’t like Kei would ever find the answer. He would shift himself as needed, depending on what the situation called for, but only in front of Ushio, would he ever be 100 percent freely himself. Kei wondered if Ushio’s father had someone like that right now, but he didn’t know if he wanted the answer to that question.
The commercial break ended, and they entered the next segment. They talked back and forth in between short video clips that the show had prepared. Their conversation flowed smoothly, as if they hadn’t only met a few minutes ago, and there was no hint of artifice or awkwardness in the interview. They discussed the balance between broadcasting liberties and ethics, methods in use for disaster coverage, and the handling of breaking news bulletins covering a range of different topics. Today was the first time that they had ever spoken with each other, but their masteries in discourse meshed beautifully with each other. Kei thought that it was an excellent interview, even from an objective point of view.
“Having just touched on the role of TV in the Internet Age, we would like to take the opportunity to show off a wonderful new short film related to our show. Please take a look.”
A video clip played after Asou’s lead-in.
Ushio’s alien dolls appeared on the screen accompanied by a light piano melody. They traveled in their UFO on a long journey until they found a new planet and built a new home for the two of them there. The wind blew down their straw house. Fire burned down their wooden house. Flood waters carried away their stone house. They lost their home over and over again, and every time it happened, they would face each other, holding hands, and repeat the process of building a new home all over again.
In the background was a husky, subdued singing voice, almost as soft as humming—singing Daydream Believer.4
Ushio had said a long time ago that there was no meaning or theme to his films. That was why Kei didn’t know what the video truly meant. Was he trying to say that everything will eventually break? Or that no matter how many times things break, people can always start over again? Or that people are creatures who continue to grow and make progress? It could be anything—they were all valid. This was Ushio’s business card, and Wakamiya Homare watched the full 1½-minute video without pulling his eyes away. That was enough.
“What did you think, Minister Wakamiya?”
“Oh, well…” Wakamiya made a non-committal comment as he smiled wryly to Asou’s question. “First, I have to say I’m quite shocked to hear such a very familiar singing voice.”
“Oh, did you recognize it? The singer is actually the leader of the Progressive Honor Party, Eba Sougen. Apparently the filmmaker thought that his voice was perfect for the film and asked him to do the song. I think it’s quite incredible how fitting his voice is.”
“I wish he could always keep his voice this quiet.” After making the studio laugh, Wakamiya continued, “I prefer the English lyrics for this particular song. If I recall correctly, it is about a young couple who believe they can live happily together even without very much money. But in the Japanese cover, the song becomes a sad one about how they are separated.”
“It is about his mother,” Kei opened his mouth to say. He met Ushio’s father’s eyes for the first time tonight and continued without pulling his eyes away. “He is singing about his deceased mother in the Japanese version of the song, and so the ‘she’ refers to his mother.”5
Kei couldn’t tell if the surprise in his eyes was real or an act.
“…I did not know that. Thank you for sharing that story with me,” Wakamiya answered pleasantly and shifted his gaze.
Announcer Kunieda was in charge of the closing comment to round out the segment.
“The full version of the short film can be viewed at Asahi TV’s streaming site, and Asahi TV pledges to donate 1 yen for every view that the video receives to the Japanese Red Cross Society. We hope that all of our viewers will go and watch it. Asahi TV will continue to deliver content on the Internet and engage the issues that our industry faces. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Minister Wakamiya.”
Wakamiya stood from his seat, gave a bow, and exited the studio. Kei couldn’t tell for sure if Wakamiya had realized who the filmmaker was, but Kei watched his back as he left and had a few thoughts.
There are tons of things that you don’t know.
That right now, Kei and Ushio were living in the apartment where a long time ago “she” had once lived. That the three sets of handprints were still on the walls. That “her” son was now the happiest he had ever been and he lived every day with a smile.
Because he has me to love him.
When Kei returned home, Ushio was his usual self.
“I got lobster as a gift for my locality tax donation. Want to eat it tonight?”
Ushio boiled the Japanese spiny lobster whole, and they ate it with lemon mayonnaise. Kei sank his teeth into the fluffy white lobster meat.
“It wasn’t anything.”
Kei hadn’t arranged the announcement out of his feelings for Ushio. Since they were fortunate to have a prominent guest on the show, he simply suggested that they make the charity fundraising announcement at the end of the interview, and it was approved. There was nothing more to it. That was why he had nothing else to say, and they spent their night eating lobster and drinking beer.
There were times when Kei would wonder if this was all a dream. That maybe he was still Kunieda-san and he had never met anyone—that he was just dreaming all alone by himself. That when he woke up, he wouldn’t have any of the beautiful memories inside him—that it was just a sad and empty dream.
But Ushio, sitting in front of him, he gave Kei this reality. With his gaze, with his smile, with his fingers dampened with condensation holding a can of beer, with his words saying, “Let’s use the head and shells to make a stock and have ramen tomorrow.”
But maybe, possibly, this wasn’t reality, but a long, long dream that had no end. Either way, it was fine. As long as he made Kei believe that this would never end.
And Kei would make him believe that it would never end.
An endless dream wouldn’t be bad either.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.