Part 14: House of Sweets ~un petit nid~ (14)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Rio had to write an essay about his summer memories as part of his homework assigned for over vacation, and so everyone headed out on a trip to the beach together on their day off. Chise had come to Kase with her hands pressed together and asked him to come along because she didn’t want to cause any undue speculation at the school if Agi was the only one with them.
“Parents’ Day is scheduled for right after the start of the second semester, and I think that they’ll probably read their essays to the class. When the child of a single mother household talks about an Uncle Agi in his essay, people are going to talk and speculate about it. But I can’t tell Rio to write any lies, and that’s why you’re here, Kase-kun.”
Chise had already explained herself a number of times before this as she drove Agi’s SUV.
“What speculation? It’s not strange for a single woman to have a man around.”
The owner of the car was in the passenger seat all lazy with his feet stretched out. He looked pretty sketchy with his shorts, Hawaiian-patterned hoodie, and sunglasses.
Chise sighed with her hands on the steering wheel. “That’s true, but there are always a few people who talk about things anyway. I don’t care what they say about me, but I would feel bad if kids started saying things about it to Rio. I mean, they already call him a little pill bug as it is.”
They were just first graders, and matters hadn’t gone as far as bullying, but apparently Rio stuck out from the rest of his class. Chise said that it helped a lot that Rio was calm and so well-behaved.
“Well, a great person once said that good travels at a snail’s pace. Rio can take his time and grow up at his own pace. Besides, I’d feel lonely if he grows up too fast.”
“That’s true. If he rushes to grow up and becomes a man like Mutou who six-times others by the time he reaches junior high, you’d be pulling your hair out.”
“Six-timing? You’re off your rocker.”
Since Kase started seeing them off work, he noticed once again how well Agi and Chise got along. There was no hint of anything romantic between them, but Kase felt a depth in their relationship similar to a happy married couple.
Kase lowered the window of the backseat a little and let the breeze hit his face. He had been feeling worse and worse since they got on the expressway. Every time the car made a lane change, he felt a sudden light dizziness.
Rio was sitting next to Kase eating his snacks when he spoke up. “Oh, yeah, Hiro-kun. Do you remember the kid from the time with the cat?”
Agi turned around and asked, “The kid that bullied the cat?”
Rio nodded. “I heard he’s spending the rest of summer vacation with his grandma in Nagano. He might not come back for the second semester. There was an older boy who knew about it and told me.”
“…Hnn. Well, you never know what life throws you. Rio, give me a pastry from back there. Something good.”
Agi changed the subject, and Rio asked, “Something good?” and started to search through a backpack.
Last week, Kase had called the government office about that particular child. He had found the resolve to do so, but mostly because he couldn’t let himself do nothing about it. He had faltered over the phone, unable to explain himself very well, but apparently the office had received a number of phone calls about the child, and the caseworker was already in talks with the child’s parents. When Kase ended the phone call, a bitter aftertaste was left in his mouth.
—We never know what life brings. We can only live our own lives from this point forward.
What Agi had said offered neither comfort nor encouragement. If it had been any other person, Kase would have probably blown up at them and yelled, What the hell would you know about it, but Agi had grown up in a children’s home, and Kase could accept those words from him.
However, there was a part of Kase that wasn’t happy about it. There were plenty of unfortunate children nowadays, and the news of child abuse had become so common that no one batted an eye at it. However, beyond the manuscript that a news anchor read for a mere one or two minutes on TV, there were the kids that actually experienced that abuse. He had been one of them.
No matter how many years passed, no matter how large they grew, they would never forget it. Memories were like a knife without any shape. And because it had no shape, it never rusted, and it would stab at them forever.
“Oh, it’s the beach!” Rio shouted in delight. He pressed his hands and face up against the window.
There was a glittering blue that reflected light in the distance and a faint scent of the tide.
White cumulonimbus clouds rose from the horizon like over-whipped cream. The camel-colored beachfront was crowded with groups of young men and women, couples, and families. Before claiming a spot, they went to rent a swim ring and beach umbrellas first.
“Hurry, hurry, let’s go swimming~”
Rio had changed into his swim shorts, and he pulled at Agi’s and Kase’s hands.
“Wait, wait, you can’t swim without a floatie though.”
Agi held down the cuff of his long-sleeved hoodie as Rio pulled on it. “Look, pick one,” he said, pointing at a row of swim rings available for rental dangling from a kiosk. They came in sorts of colors and shapes.
“Wow! I wonder which one I should pick. Oh, I like this one. I want to ride on it.”
Rio pointed at a floatie that was shaped like an orca.
“No, you can’t get that one. You might slip and fall off of it. Pick this one where you can actually fit your body in it.”
Even though he had told Rio to pick one, Agi rented a normal yellow swim ring for him.
“What a cute little boy. Why not have your daddy rent the orca with you?”
The shopkeeper of the rental shop made his best sales pitch.
“I’m not his—”
“Rio, come swim with Mommy.”
Chise had finished changing and came out to meet them. Agi took one look at her floral-printed navy bathing suit that looked like a sundress and frowned.
“Huh? What the hell is that? Wear a bikini or something that a man can appreciate with his eyes.”
“Don’t expect too much from a woman in her mid-thirties.”
“Well, that’s true. It’s not like I want see your flabby—”
“I have no flab!”
Agi staggered in the sand as Chise smacked him in the rear with her bag stuffed with clothes.
“Hiro-kun, Hiro-kun, come swim with us. I can do the doggie paddle.”
“I’ll go later.”
“Okay, then could you please find a spot and watch our things? Oh, and don’t forget to get two beach umbrellas.”
Rio was running for the water as Chise talked, and she shouted, “Wait, don’t run off,” as she rushed after him with the swim ring.
As Agi paid for the swim ring and beach umbrellas, the shopkeeper commented, “You’re a lucky man to have such a beautiful wife. Plus the adorable boy.”
“Haha, it’s true, it’s true.” Agi laughed it off, like it was too much trouble to correct the guy.
Kase and Agi walked in the sand, looking for a spot to sit.
“Maybe somewhere here,” Agi said and put his things down.
Kase squinted his eyes in the glare of the brightness. It was overwhelming how much more light there was at the beach than in the city. The music and people’s voices buried the gaps between the crashing waves. It was an energetic liveliness that suited the beach.
Summer memories. Kase recalled that he had a similar assignment when he was young.
Homework had been nothing but a heavy burden. Kase had none of those fun summer memories that would be suitable for an essay. For him, the combination of summer and the beach was a symbol of melancholy and inexplicable anxiety.
“You know… You don’t look like you belong on the beach. You look like you’d fit a picture of the Sea of Japan in the middle of winter,” Agi said as he put up the beach umbrellas.
Kase pulled a sullen face. “You too, you don’t fit the beach in the summer either.”
“What are you saying? I look cool and fresh here.”
“With your sunglasses and Hawaiian print? Anyway you look at it, you look like a thug.”
Agi looked down at his loud printed hoodie. “You think so?”
However, if Agi were to wear a suit like Mutou, he would exude far too much presence that it would probably make him scary. If Agi were to stand there silently, it would come out somewhat, but maybe because he was conscious of his place as the owner of the local bakery, he always had a tendency to hide away that serious presence.
They adjusted the angle of the beach umbrellas and weighed down the corners of the beach blanket with their things, and then they could finally relax. Agi asked for a cola, and Kase opened up the cooler.
“You’re not having a beer?” Kase asked, taking out a cola for himself as well.
Kase didn’t really like alcohol and didn’t drink it, but Agi was a man who always had a drink at dinner. He seemed like he would enjoy a cold beer at the beach.
“If I drink, then I can’t drive on the way back.”
“Even though you had Chise-san drive on the way here as you laid back in the passenger’s seat?”
“She’ll be exhausted after playing with Rio all day. I’ll put them in the back on the way home, so you’ll get the passenger seat. Oh, but if you can drive us home, I can drink all the beer I want.”
“I don’t have a license.”
“Hnnn, that’s rare nowadays.”
“…When I was little, I was in a car crash on the expressway on the way home from the beach. Both of my parents died.”
Agi looked over at Kase.
Kase looked down and fingered the sand that soaked up the heat of the sun.
He had no memories of the accident. But when he was a child, he often had frightening dreams. A truck that hurled towards him at high speed. A crash that felt real. Short screams. Had it really been a dream? Or could it have really happened? When he woke up, he was always covered in sweat.
And with time, he could no longer remember his parents.
Whenever he experienced something terrible at his uncle’s house, he would remember his parents to comfort himself, but it was only on those nights when he would see those terrifying dreams. For some reason, the happy memories and the scary nightmares were like the front and the back of a playing card, and as soon as Kase fell asleep, it would flip and trap him in terror.
The reality and the past. It was a distance that a child could not possibly traverse.
Maybe that was why Kase’s memories of his parents and anything before the accident were now so vague. Happy memories with no fixed contours, like an out-of-focused photograph. His parents’ faces that could only be seen in pictures.
“Would you have rather taken the train here?”
“No, it happened a long time ago.”
Kase took a fist full of sand and let it pass through his fingers. On the ride here, there had been moments when he felt a sudden sense of fear. He wasn’t particularly bad with cars, but maybe the combination of the expressway and the beach had affected him. However, Kase didn’t want to say it.
“Hiroaki, lay down.”
“Since we’re at the beach, I’ll bury you in the sand.”
“I don’t understand why.”
“Come on, just lay down. I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ll bury you with sand like a burial mound with just your head sticking out, and then I’ll make two more mounds on your chest.”
“I’ll do it if you’re the one who’s buried.”
“How can I do something that embarrassing?”
Kase gave Agi a dissatisfied look, and Agi laughed, digging out the sand in front of the beach blanket. Agi placed his feet in the ditch and covered them back up in sand. “Ahh, it’s nice, it’s nice,” he said, pleased with himself.
Agi dropped backwards on the beach blanket with his feet still buried.
“Let’s go back using the local roads.”
Kase turned to look at Agi, but Agi said nothing. He had his hands underneath his head with his sunglasses on, so Kase couldn’t see his eyes, but his breathing slowed down, and Kase knew that he was asleep.
Kase watched Agi sleep for a while, and for some reason, he copied what Agi had done, digging a ditch in the sand and burying his feet. Hmmm, so it did feel nice. He let himself fall backwards on the beach blanket.
Kase closed his eyes, and he could hear Agi breathing in his sleep next to him. The sounds of the gentle waves were mixed in with the noise from the people and music. He wondered why. He didn’t have any good memories of the beach, but it wasn’t as depressing as he thought.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.