Story 4: Other Short Stories – Part 2
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Translator Note: This part contain ficlets written for “Daydream Believer” from Off Air Volume 1.
Dreams of Love
He had thought that he had seen a lot of sides of Kei and a fair number of sides of Kunieda-san, but this particular Kunieda-san was unusually rare—a first he’d ever seen of him, in fact. Kunieda-san was on The News as always, at the same time as always, just calmly reading the sports news like nothing was wrong, and Ushio uttered a “Huh?” without thinking. Kunieda-san had already read the news for the regular news segments; it couldn’t be that the producers decided to switch up their roles.
What happened? Did Minagawa catch a cold or something? But still, weren’t there other announcers besides Kunieda-san who could step in and pinch hit for him? Ushio just hoped that nothing serious happened, like he had fainted or had gotten into an accident before the broadcast. He was worried as he watched Kunieda-san’s sports news segment, but it went smoothly, and he did an excellent job.
“Why were you doing the sports news tonight?” Ushio asked when Kei arrived home.
Kei scowled and answered, “Because that moron ruined his throat, having too much fun at karaoke. Can you believe that? Argh, I want to kill him.”
“Ohhh, so it wasn’t anything too serious, I’m glad. And you were able to pay him back for everything he did for you.”
“I don’t owe him anything.”
Okay, now that I have that off my mind, let’s watch it again… Ushio reached for the remote to try to replay The News, but Kei stole it from him.
“Why are you watching it!?”
“Well, I was too worried about Minagawa, so I couldn’t focus on the show.”
“Don’t waste your energy worrying about that useless thing, and pay attention when you watch the show!”
“So which one do you want me to do? Want to eat dinner?”
Ushio heated some canned sardines in oil in a frying pan and placed them on top of rice with julienned perilla leaves and grated radish. To flavor it, he added soy sauce and plenty of sudachi lime.
“But anyway, so Kunieda-san also has a command on sports, huh?”
“You didn’t pay attention, did you?”
“I said that I watched it.”
Kei was like a Russian nesting doll who hid lots of different Kunieda-sans inside of him, but it was pretty surprising to see a new one show up out of the blue. Like Ushio had never expected to see this type of pattern. With one presenter down, regardless of the camera work or the news or the discussion, Ushio would think that the show would feel more samey, but this new variation of Kunieda-san easily made up for Tatsuki’s absence. Ushio probably wasn’t the only one who thought that he was amazing.
Kei held out the empty rice bowl that he finished in a blink of an eye.
“You can sure eat.”
“I’m exhausted from all the extra work I was forced to do!”
“Ohhh, okay, okay.”
Ushio decided for the second helping, he would make a fragrant chabushi soup ochazuke, pouring green tea over rice with miso, bonito flakes, and a mountain of green onions.
“Minagawa had to be depressed after the show, I bet.”
“Not all,” Kei answered, annoyed.
“That can’t be.”
“And yet it was. He acted like nothing happened. I wanted him to wail more, despair more, throw a tantrum even. I even worked extra hard because I was determined to make him cry.”
It was incredible how far apart the excellence of his performance and the ridiculousness of his motivation were.
“Oh, so you gave it your all, thinking all about Minagawa~ So you pictured his face in your mind, huh~”
“I-I didn’t mean it like that! Absolutely not!”
Ushio was satisfied after he saw Kei completely flustered, so he just said, “Well, enough of that,” and let it go.
“That’s all you wanted to say!?”
“I’m pretty sure that Minagawa, on top of screwing up, had his own pride and didn’t want to show Kunieda-san a moment of his weakness.”
“That moron?” Kei snorted. “Get sad or depressed? He doesn’t have any delicate settings to begin.”
For how intelligent he was, it was surprising how incredibly dense Kunieda-san could be when it came to feelings that people kept to themselves. Tatsuki always had a sunny and positive personality, but in a profession where exposure was a presenter’s life, there was no way he could think nothing when he watched his seat be stolen right in front of him.
“No, I’m positive he’s whining somewhere to get his frustration off his chest. To someone who’s not Kunieda-san and who Kunieda-san doesn’t know.”
“…What are you trying to say?”
“That maybe you’re upset about it.”
“I’m not upset. And enough about him, okay!?”
“Ahhh, okay, okay, sorry, sorry.
“Quit repeating yourself when you talk.”
“I love you, I love you.”
“…That doesn’t even make sense in the conversation!!”
Ushio had been worried about Kei, who had been in a terrible mood when he got back, but Ushio figured that his work here was done.
When Kei went to take his bath, Ushio sent a LINE message.
“I heard you ruined your throat? Are you okay?”
There was an immediate reply from Tatsuki.
“Oh, did you hear about it from Paisen~? I should be back to normal after a night of sleep~”
They were only words on a screen, and he couldn’t infer anything about Tatsuki’s true state of mind from them. Ushio thought about it for a little, but he decided to wade right into it and wrote, “I wasn’t referring to your throat. I was asking how you’re feeling mentally, if that’s okay.” This time, it took a while for his response “I wasn’t okay before, but I’m okay now” to arrive. Followed by “Oh, but if you’re worried, I’ll be more than happy if you wanted to treat me to more gyoza!”
Ushio laughed wryly, He’s really too clever, but he was relieved. Kunieda-san really was dense, not realizing that there was an existence that had made Tatsuki okay again.
Ushio put on his headphones that were connected to his computer and listened to the file of Old Man Eba’s singing that he just recorded the other day. When Ushio had asked if he could record him, Old Man Eba had grumbled, “Don’t see why you’re asking,” but apparently he had secretly practiced the song in his hospital room, and when Ushio went to see him after his release from the hospital to do the recording, the song had turned out great. There was a unique quality to his voice that only someone older could produce. When Ushio showed him his home recording equipment, he had deflated and lost his enthusiasm however.
“What? You’re doing it here? I wanted to go to a proper studio! I wanted to try singing like a pro wearing giant headphones in front of a mic hanging from the ceiling!”
Ushio was glad that the old man throwing a tantrum unbecoming of his wise years had recovered and was full of spirit. When he finished his film, he wanted Tatsuki and Old Man Eba to see it. How they felt or didn’t feel about it, that wasn’t for Ushio to say; he just simply wanted them to watch it. That was his own selfish wish.
Although naturally, he had his heart set on one person he wanted to show the film to first. Ushio closed his eyes. He listened closely. There was a song weaving a story about days like dreams. To Ushio, those days were every single moment that he experienced now.
(First published as a gift-with-purchase bonus paper for “Off Air ~Yes, No, or Maybe Half~” in August 2017.)
OFF OFF AIR
“Oh, hey, I heard that Tsuzuki-san’s video hit 5 million views in a week.”
“And Tsuzuki-san won’t be seeing a single yen from it? He’s gotta be a saint~ I watched it too, but tell him that I prefer things with more bams and kapows and stuff, okay?”
“Watch your direct-to-video movies direct to death.”
“Ohh, Paisen, was that a pun just now? Better watch out, your age is starting to show~”
“I was going for the alliteration!”1
“Oh, you trying for a rap? You’ve never taken a step into a club before~ Senpai all the dissin’, kouhai never missin’, watch yo’ back, yo, yeah!”
“Shut up, you stupid party animal, AKA drop dead.”
“There wasn’t even a single letter there that matched~ Anyway, so the network has to shell out 5 million yen2 to charity? We must be rolling in it~ They can afford to raise the expenses cap from 12,000 yen3 per night for our hotels.”
…Kei was suddenly taken aback by Tatsuki’s words.
Damn it, I shouldn’t have shown him Buddha’s mercy (I’m Buddha here, okay) and introduced his film on the show.
“What the hell are you gonna do about it if your film reaches 100 million views? That’ll mean 100 million yen from Asahi TV!”4
“They can afford it.”
How can you answer so blithely when it’s not even your wallet? (Though it’s not my wallet either.)
“You’re gonna bankrupt the network!”
“Anyway, you know that the sponsors on my show are fronting part of the capital, right? It’s tough business working with sponsors, you know. I’m not allowed to eat while standing, cross any diagonal crosswalks, walk into Shinjuku’s Kabukichou, all sorts of things, but now I have the backing of huge companies with their pristine images because I followed all their restrictions. So of course I’m gonna exploit you for all your worth.”
“Weren’t those restrictions imposed on Singer Brother Daisuke?5 Anyway, it’s not like there’s no time limit imposed on the campaign for the fundraiser. They can just announce that the campaign is over whenever they need to end it.”
And then for some reason, Ushio started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, I just had a thought that you really love me… You don’t need to worry, I won’t ever hit 100 million views. Your personal estimation of me is really overblown.”
“I was talking hypothetically!!”
“I know, how about you start with yourself and stop watching the video every day?”
“I don’t watch it every day!!”
“Aww, again with such a transparent lie~”
“I love you even more, by the way.”
Kei was about to yell, Liar, but he figured that it would be a trap if he accepted it or denied it either way.
“L?” Ushio tilted his head and grinned back at him.
“Let me eat ushi!!”
“Hey, hey, you forgot the ‘o’.”
Let me eat ushi.
Let me eat Ushio.6
“Damn it, no! Ushi! Cow! Moo!”
“Okay, I’d like to eat cake without the ‘ke’ then~”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“Aww, there you go lying again~”
And so another night passed between them, never changing, and yet never the same.
(First published in a blog post celebrating the release of “Off Air ~Yes, No, or Maybe Half~” in August 2017.)
The sharpened tip of the pencil became duller and duller as it wore down. The graphite powder on the graph paper were mainly meaningless sketches of circles, triangles, and rectangular boxes. If he were a famous artist, maybe the sketches would go for millions or tens of millions of yen at auction.7 Actually, works of art capable of fetching money turned things without meaning into something with meaning—which was fundamentally different from doodles made out of pure restlessness… Uh, now he just confused himself. Ushio leaned back against his desk chair and stretched his arms over his head.
Ushio was currently in a state of frustration over his work. His thoughts were in a haze, unable to shape and express exactly what he wanted. There were times when he could forget about his work for some time and come back later with a clearer mind, but right now he only had one little thing he wanted to finish before he was satisfied, and it made it hard for him to stop. It was times like these that new and fresh ideas never seemed to jump out at him.
It was a frustration that he was familiar with. Eventually, something would come to him—maybe it was good, maybe it was bad—and he would repeat the process all over again. But right now he couldn’t ease up on it yet. He strained his eyes, trying to dig deep to find the thing inside of him as quickly as possible.
He only needed a little bit. It didn’t have to be a huge breakthrough. If he could just add a tiny, new perspective that he hadn’t ever seen before, he could somehow run with it—
Kei plodded over out of bed, a sight that Ushio was familiar with, but it was also very new in a sense.
It was 2 pm on a weekend, and apparently he couldn’t endure his empty stomach any longer.
Ushio was just about to get something to drink himself. It wasn’t good to have caffeine on an empty stomach, but Kei probably didn’t need Ushio telling him that. Ushio headed to the kitchen next to his room, set the coffee into the machine, and prepared a mug.
“Kunieda-san, I think you put your sweatshirt on backwards.”
Kei would always pull out this navy-colored tracksuit jacket sweatshirt whenever it was cold. It was likely a vintage piece from his high school days. There were multiple snaps dotting the back of the sweatshirt, probably used to keep a removable jersey number in place, but Kei was wearing it so that it faced the front. He was always too lazy to undo the zipper whenever he pulled the sweatshirt over his head, so he had probably fumbled around half asleep and put it on like that by mistake. It was a fresh view to see Kei with his shirt on backwards, but unfortunately it was just too overused to be of any inspiration… Oh, but when it came to the person inside the shirt, he was more creative than anyone that Ushio knew.
“…What are you staring at me for?”
“Nothing, just thinking that you look good in sweats today too.”
“It’s better than not looking good in them. Best Sweatshirtist~ No, wait, Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award Sweatshirtist~”
“It’s like a runoff between you and TetsuTomo.”8
“Why the hell are you comparing me to comedians!?”
When Ushio handed Kei the mug of freshly brewed coffee, Kei immediately tried to scurry to the sofa in the living room.
Ushio didn’t mind that Kei had no intentions of helping him prepare lunch, but Ushio decided to grab Kei’s arm to detain him.
“Nothing, just— Hey, stay still.”
Ushio stopped Kei from turning around and examined his back. The person inside the sweatshirt had his back facing him, but the shirt was actually the front, the zipper opening at the back of the neck. A zipper joined the two sides of the sweatshirt, and the zipper tab rested near the area where his neck met his back.
Ushio grabbed the little tab and pulled the zipper down. This favorite sweatshirt of Kei’s had been worn for over ten years, and the zipper still worked smoothly. Ushio was impressed at the quality of school clothes despite its ready-to-wear mass production. But Kei didn’t care how impressed Ushio was and he of course blew up at him.
“What the hell are you doing!?”
“I was just thinking that I can see your back.”
“Well, obviously! Anyway, it’s freezing!”
He could see Kei’s back. Normally Kei would wear a T-shirt underneath the sweatshirt, but then Ushio remembered that he had asked Kei if he had anything to wash before turning on the washer. The rolypoly in bed had squirmed around to take the T-shirt off and threw it at him.
Ushio pulled the zipper up and then pulled it back down again.
“…This is pretty sexy.”
“When I pull this down to reveal your back.”
When the worn-out, navy blue cloth parted, ivory-colored skin, cold and never exposed to the sun, appeared. The outfit was stupid and ridiculous, but it was a bewitching view.
“I see. There aren’t really any men’s clothing that open up from the back like this.”
“Dammit, I said it’s freezing!”
It was a fresh, new look at something he was accustomed to seeing. Modest, and yet refreshing.
Oh, I think I might have found something. I think it’s coming to me.
It was probably rude to call it a dumb coincidence, but well, that was how things rolled from time to time.
Ushio seized the mug from Kei’s hands and set it down in the kitchen. Then he wrapped his arms around Kei’s shoulders and dragged him away.
“Let’s get a round of exercise in first to get us refreshed~”
“What the hell are you talking about!? Dammit, hurry up and close the zipper at my back!”
“I’ll close it for you in bed.”
And then he would open it all the way up.
Ushio didn’t know if that something would actually come to him or exactly what he would create from it as a result—but he looked forward to opening it up—just like the zipper on Kei’s sweatshirt. Oh, but Ushio already had full knowledge of the contents (more than the person himself), but he still really looked forward to it. Especially since it was Kunieda-san.
“Hmm, I think it’s your win after all.”
“What the fuck are you rambling about!? Anyway! Where’s the food!?”
“If we exercise first and work up an appetite, we’ll enjoy the food more.”
And well, among the bedsheets, still warm from Kei’s body heat, there was a new wave to crest.
(First published as a blog post celebrating additional printings of “Off Air ~Yes, No, or Maybe Half~” in October 2017.)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- In the Japanese, Kei is going for the rhyme, but alliteration is the closest fit I can get with the English.
- 5 million yen – Approx. $50k USD.
- 12,000 yen – Approx. $120 USD.
- 100 million yen – Approx. $1 million USD.
- Singer Brother Daisuke was a popular host on NHK’s Okaasan to Issho (Together With Mommy), and there was a huge uproar when a list of things he was contractually prohibited from doing came out to the public.
- In Japanese, ‘o’ is an honorific usually placed in front of the food name as a show of respect. Examples would be oushi (beef) and okome (rice). You can see where Kei’s head went and how Ushio anticipated it, lol.
- 1 to 10 million yen – Approx. $10-100k USD.
- TetsuTomo refers to the comedy duo Tetsu and Tomo. Their appearance seems to involve wearing sweats/tracksuits all the time.