Story 6: Head-Spinning Diary
Author’s Note: This Koi Dance cover is so nostalgic to me now! I think Tatsuki would totally do a full copy of the dance for fun. I’m strangely happy that I could issue a New Year’s book for an event around New Year’s. I hope that I can write about what happens with the calendar.
Illustrator’s Note: It’s Kunieda-san performing a certain dance that was once popular. As is my usual habit, I used a mouse to create this drawing and even added a ridiculous amount of detail to it. I was really pleased with myself at the time, but when it came to actually using the image, I got cold feet and shrank it down as much as possible. All while thinking Tsuzuki-san probably wants to make something like this too.
First published in 2016 in the doujinshi Head-Spinning Diary.
Translator Note: This story takes place after “Daydream Believer” at the end of the year. You can view the Koi Dance from the TV drama “Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu” and the full song “Koi” by Gen Hoshino on YouTube.
Announcers weren’t comedians; they didn’t even have the fundamental qualities needed to be comedians (obviously), but every year, some unexpected job would inevitably drop on them before the end of the year—and it wasn’t like he needed the extra cash or exposure, he had plenty, and so there was nothing actually great about it. Rather, most of the jobs just made him think, What the hell is this? And sometimes the projects that came from the entertainment production side just made him think that they used the end-of-the-year demands as a means to satisfy their own personal amusement. That was his own assessment of the situation anyway. Maybe there was nothing he could do about his popularity, but damn it, those numbskulls had better watch themselves.
Kunieda-san has his limits, you know, so handle him with care.
It was the start of November, and his schedule for December was filling up with more and more work. That was when he was presented with a job that was the greatest What the hell is this? of his career. He had to control himself from heaving a sigh of utter disbelief.
“Um, has everyone received a handout?”
A very large title was emblazoned across the handout that he was holding.
It read, Asahi TV Male Announcers Calendar Project.
“Well, due to the great popularity of the Female Announcers Calendar that we sell every year, we have decided to make a male announcer version for next year to test the waters. The Contents Division has selected 12 male announcers under the age of 30 to be featured on the calendar as our models, which is why you are all gathered here today. We have assigned each of you a month according to a theme that we have envisioned for you, so please take a look at the table on the second page.”
They had asked for none of their input and just informed the group of their decision after the fact. They didn’t even assume that there would be pushback. What the hell happened to human rights for announcers?
“Ohhh, I’m August~” the junior colleague sitting next to him babbled. “I wonder why?”
Obviously because you’re damn smothering, you doofus.
“We won’t be printing as many copies as the female version. It will only be sold online or at our shop in the building, and we won’t be doing a huge ad campaign about it either.”
People started chattering around them.
“What’s the point of printing the calendars, if we’re not going to promote them?”
“A lot of people don’t want announcers treated like TV personalities. That’s why they won’t give it the full budget. If we make do with what we have for now and the calendar takes off, it’ll turn into a much bigger project next year apparently.”
“So we’re the guinea pigs.”
“Excuse me, your attention please… And so the location of the shoots will be either here or within the vicinity of the area. We will prepare props to give each of the months a sense of the seasons, but the wardrobe will be at your own expense.”
“Huh, does that mean I have to wear swim shorts for mine?”
“No, there won’t be any swimwear… I will email everyone individually the days and times of your photo shoots and the details for the themes of your months. Thank you, everyone, I look forward to working on this project with you.”
The meeting was adjourned without the chance to voice any objections. After the broadcast that day, Kei went up to Tatsuki to give him a stiff warning.
“Oi, don’t you dare say anything about the calendar.”
“Huh? Oh, you mean to Tsuzuki-san? I see, so you’re too embarrassed to tell him yourself, so you want me to tell him for you?”
Quit misconstruing my words on purpose.
“No, damn it. This isn’t Dacho Club, I’m not Ueshima, so you better not say anything. If you leak it to him like you did last time, I’ll seriously kill you.”1
“Last time… You mean the time with the hot springs? Wow, that happened ages ago, and you still remember that~? But didn’t it go well in the end because I told him?”
“Shut up and just keep your mouth shut!”
“What are you so embarrassed about when you go on TV every day anyway?”
That was that, and this was this. He really didn’t want Ushio to see him in anything unrelated to the news. If Ushio were to hear about it, he would make fun of him for it, and then he’d buy a copy of the calendar and hang it up. He’d keep it up from December of this year until December of next year.
“But even if you hide it from him this year, what about next year?”
“I won’t be eligible next year.”
The calendar was for announcers under 30.
“Wha?? Oh, Paisen, you’ll be 30 next year!? 30! With that personality of yours!? That’s hilarious~!”
“I don’t want to hear that from you, dammit!”
“Well, whatever, I’ll keep quiet, but don’t blame me if Tsuzuki-san gets a hold of the information through a different source. So don’t go making false accusations at me later, okay~?”
True, in this advanced information age, it wasn’t unusual to find out information from anywhere. However, Ushio had been very busy these days with a commission that he needed to complete before the end of the year, and Kei was lucky that Ushio had no time to pay attention to other things. And so his request to Santa Claus this year—please let the calendar be sold-out (although he hated the thought) without Ushio finding out about it so that he could get through the new year without any incident. And if he didn’t get his wish, he’d roast those damn reindeer and eat them.
The tips of the chopsticks were bobbing in the air.
“…What are you even doing?”
Ushio’s eyes had also been adrift in a daze. He sat across from Kei at their table for two, and he quickly regained his focus as if woken from a dream.
“I was just thinking.”
It was a late-night meal, and the menu was a bowl of grilled salmon ochazuke. Every time Ushio took a bite, he would wander off into another world. He would wave his chopsticks around like he was drawing a picture, or he stared up at the ceiling, or even whispered “Maybe that” or “Maybe not” to himself. Kei decided to leave him alone and quickly finished his food. He washed his own dishes and got into the bath. Ushio’s head seemed to be filled with work, but judging by his appearance, it wasn’t in a bad way, like creator’s block. He ate his meals, and he still slept, although it was a little less than normal. It was likely the normal flow of the creative process instead of frustration.
It was fine for a working adult to be busy with work. Kei would love it if Ushio continued to pour his heart and soul into his work and paid no needless attention over Kei’s way.
So keep mulling over that work of yours.
However, just when his hair was fully dried and Ushio came over and asked, “Huh, when did you take a bath?” it didn’t mean that it didn’t worry him.
“You’re not starting to go senile, are you? I won’t take care of you, you know!”
“If you toss me out to the streets when I’m senile, I might go spreading rumors about Kunieda-san.”
The threat sounded all too real.
“I’ll abandon you in the mountains.”
Kei sat on the sofa to fast-forward through the news from the other networks, and then he climbed into bed. Ushio came out from his bath and called, “Let me know when it’s nice and toasty.”
“I’ve got no use for a thief.”
“A body heat thief.”
“Oh, I like that~”
What was there to like about it? But Ushio laughed and said, “Good night,” and withdrew to his own room. But even when Kei fidgeted around in the bed by himself, he was still cold.
In the end, Kei fell asleep without calling for Ushio, and in the morning there was no sign of the thief in the warm bed. He went to the room next door and saw him wrapped in a blanket sleeping.
There was no bed in Ushio’s space. The sofa was only large enough to lie down in if he folded his legs, so then where did he sleep? Typically, in the bed in Kei’s room, but when he took naps during his breaks like he did now, he would use the hammock strung between the walls in a corner. Ushio had installed it himself, and he liked it a lot, but Kei hadn’t used it even once. No, it wasn’t that he didn’t trust Ushio, but it would hurt if the fixtures fell out and he fell to the floor.
Kei watched the sleeping face, noticing that the eyelashes didn’t even tremble, and thought, He can sure conk out over here. He ended up sneezing, and Ushio immediately opened his eyes.
“…Don’t wander around in such light clothes.”
“And what about you?”
You just have a single blanket and a net.
“I thought about going to the bed, but my hands and feet were cold, and I thought that I might wake you.”
“Heh, that’s how you catch a cold like that.”
“And if I catch a cold?”
“I’ll nurse you back to health.”
“Seriously? Do it, do it~”
Heh, you can’t even relax when you’re feeling weak— Hmm, but maybe it’s different now?
Kei looked down at Ushio to evaluate the seriousness of his smile, and Ushio offered out his hand.
“It’s rated to hold 200 kilos,2 it’ll be fine. If it starts creaking ‘Eee, eee, eee,’ it’ll be bad though.”
What sort of sound was that supposed to mimic?
“Anyway, I’m starving!”
Kei smacked the hand and made his demand.
Ushio slowly sat up and placed his feet to the floor. The hammock flexed in response, and the shadows on the floor swayed.
“I’ll try to finish my work as early as possible.”
“No, it’s fine.” Kei shook his head solemnly.
“No need to worry about me. Don’t compromise on your work.”
“I’m not compromising anything though.”
“Give your work your 100 percent focus until your deadline.”
Since it would be a problem if he wasn’t distracted for another month.
Normally, Kei would face more suspicion at this point, but his boyfriend was half-distracted as he nodded back with a dubious look.
The photo shoot for the calendar was held at a place truly within the vicinity. The plan was to have Kei hold out a present (a prop) against a backdrop of trees lit up in Christmas lights from a street in the neighborhood. He felt like this location was more perfunctory than the hotel pool where his idiot junior colleague did his photo shoot.
“So you would like a smile here?” Kei asked to confirm with the director, and he got an insistence back to remember the theme.
“It’s a smile, but a bit of a sly one that says, ‘I’m sorry, will you forgive me,’ as you hold out a present you prepared for your girlfriend for Christmas after being so busy that you sort of neglected her for a while!”
It wasn’t a theme; it was a damn roleplay fantasy. Just like that wall slam project from a while ago—their stupid self-interests were on full damn display.
“Um… how is this?”
“Please make it a little more indulgent.”
“How about this?”
“I think a woman would like a tiny hint of a sadistic streak in it! But at the same time, there should be a slight nuance of uneasiness too…”
“Are you really sure about that? If you combine all those things together, won’t you just get an emotionally deranged person?”
“Kunieda-san can do it! He’ll be fine!”
There was no unhappier He’ll be fine than this, Kei thought, but it was work, and he put all his effort into finishing it. Afterwards, he went straight to the year-end party for the announcer department. Just because everyone was busy in December, why would they hold the party earlier to compensate? Did they even have their priorities straight? There was no need to have the damn party. Of course, Kei escaped the afterparty as usual, but there was the customary year-end raffle that ate up quite a bit of time. Furthermore, Kei had won one of the best prizes in the raffle—a bath powder set with a coupon for a 3-day, 2-night stay for two at a hot springs in Tohoku. The sponsor for the prize was one of the group leaders, and it was a pretty huge hassle.
He was not afforded the choice to not use the coupon, and Kei had no inclination to go on the trip himself—so he thought that he might as well do something nice for his parents, and he messaged his mother after he got back from the party.
“Want to go on a trip to the hot springs?”
“Let me think about it.”
“Not with me! With Dad.”
“I’ll go, I’ll go.”
There was no way that he wanted to go on a trip with his parents either. However, he felt strangely annoyed when he sent over the photo of the coupon. As long as she had the coupon code, she should be able to make the reservation.
Ushio couldn’t be found in the apartment. At night, he would film at his studio in the basement, and during the day, he would work on the computer in his room. With that cycle established for his work, the only time that Kei really got to see him was during breakfast. But even then Ushio would be spaced out and lost in thought. Things like chores and housework was a good change of pace for him, and Ushio finished them properly despite spending less time on them than usual.
When they had lived separately and Ushio was busy, Kei was pretty much left alone, but when they did get together to talk, Ushio focused on him properly and didn’t space out like he did now. But the reason why it had been so different before wasn’t because Ushio’s work right now was particularly hectic; it was because Ushio had gone out of his way to prioritize Kei before everything else. And the Ushio now was probably him at his most natural state. In terms of coming over frequently versus actually living together, the emotional states between the two were unquestionably different.
Well, anyway, there were times when Kei became too busy with his own things to pay attention to Ushio as well. It was best to keep things stress-free, so he could deal with it. Actually, he would prefer to have Ushio stay like this for a while. Even now, Kei only had to walk over to see his face. They lived together with their connected rooms and shared the same bed after all.
There was no way that he was feeling lonely.
He heard the sound of the door to their building floor open. After a while, their apartment door opened, and Ushio showed his face.
“I’m home. How was the party?”
Of course, he wouldn’t tell him about the photo shoot for the calendar that he had today.
“Is that all? What’s this?” Ushio picked up the raffle prize on the table.
“I won it in the raffle. I’m giving the travel coupon to my parents.”
“Hnnn, then I’ll just put away the bath powder. I’m hungry, so I’m thinking of making udon. Want some?”
“Which one you want? Kamaage style or an egg dropped in it?”3
“Kamatama,” Kei replied immediately. “Kamatama with butter and soy sauce. And a mountain of agedama on top.”4
“You seriously like fat… Hmm, I can’t remember, do we still have agedama?”
When Ushio headed to the kitchen, Kei received a LINE message from his mother.
“I made the reservations just now at the hot springs. We’ll be there from New Year’s Eve on, just to let you know~”
“…What?” Kei uttered aloud.
“Hmm?” Ushio lifted his head from the pot.
“Uh, it’s nothing. I need to make a quick call.”
Kei moved over to Ushio’s area and called his mother.
“Are you fine with buns and things for your souvenir?”
“Meat or seafood… Wait, that’s not the issue here! Why did you purposely pick New Year’s to go!?”
“Because it’s a very generous coupon with no exclusion dates~ It’s a housewife’s dream, you know? There’s all the meals with tons of little plates that I don’t have to clean up. I don’t have to put away the futons, and I can hop in the baths as much as I want without bothering with the laundry. Plus all the nice towels~ Ahh, I can’t wait, I can’t wait~”
When Kei heard all this, he caved because he did want his mother to enjoy herself after all. However…
“What about my visit home?”
“Why don’t you come on the 2nd?”
“I go back to work on the 4th!”
“It’s not like we’re incredibly far away. You can come over whenever you feel like it. Do you want to see your parents that badly?”
“Of course not!!”
“So then I’ll just give you my greetings really early for now. Have a happy New Year. Give my regards to Tsuzuki-kun too. Good night.”
Maybe because it was late at night, but she clearly hung up on him.
Moron, I don’t care if I go back home. The issue here is that Tsuzuki-kun.
They hadn’t talked about it specifically, and Kei hadn’t bought Shinkansen tickets either, but Ushio liked visiting Kei’s parents, and Kei had been thinking about going there for New Year’s again. It was a little hard for Kei to disappoint Ushio. Just a little, okay? But still, it would have been too much if his parents had eagerly awaited his return over New Year’s. It was their graciousness that never asked for anything from Kei that let him feel comfortable there.
“Oi, are you done with your call? The udon’s ready.”
The steam from the udon on the table obscured Ushio’s face, and Kei roughly pulled his bowl over without thinking. The smile that he finally saw asked, “What is it?” Ushio was fully present now.
“Don’t worry, I won’t steal your portion.”
“I know that!”
Kamatama needed to be eaten while it was hot, so Kei poured soy sauce over the noodles and mixed it all up to wolf down the food for now. Ushio seemed to be distracted again, which probably made him eat that much slower than Kei, but when Ushio finished, he immediately got up.
“Do you want coffee?”
Ushio used a dripper pot to make two cups of coffee. He picked up one of the mugs with a lid on it and headed for the front door again.
“You can leave the dishes as they are. I’ll wash them in the morning.”
“Uh, oi, wait.”
Kei wondered if he should give this news to Ushio now, since it might affect his work, but he would be busy anyway, so there was no way around it.
“Just now my mom said that… she’s going to the hot springs with my dad for New Year’s.”
Ushio’s response was quick.
“Was that what the phone call was about?”
“I guess we’ll have to return her Tupperware at another time then.”
“Oi, act more discouraged here!”
Otherwise my hesitation would be for nothing.
“Huh? But it’s nice that they’re going on a trip by themselves. Oh, did you think that I would be disappointed?”
Kei answered with a “Not really,” which could only be an affirmation, and Ushio smiled wryly at him.
“We can go there any time even if it’s not New Year’s. Plus I look forward to ringing in a relaxed New Year’s at home. Anywhere is fine as long as we’re together.”
Kei was incredibly annoyed that Ushio threw a fastball directly at him when they hadn’t had much contact recently. He turned his head and sulked.
“…Even though you said that you would visit them by yourself.”
“That was obviously a joke. I’m sure that I’d only make your parents feel awkward if I had shown up without you.”
No, I think that they’d be fine with it.
“I think it’s incredible that they can say that we can come over even without the excuse of New Year’s or anything.”
But instead, they’re not around for New Year’s… Hey, wait.
“What about your grandma?”
“You don’t have to visit her?”
It wasn’t like Ushio didn’t have any relatives. Even with that father of his removed from the equation, what was Ushio planning to do about his grandmother who lived by herself? Ushio could truly see her at any time, but it was a season that could be particularly gloomy to spend New Year’s alone.
“My grandma has trip plans too.” Ushio shrugged his shoulders. “Every year she goes to see the Takarazuka Revue.”5
“Huh? You’re not referring to Hibiya, are you?”
“Yup, she goes all the way to the Grand Theater in Takarazuka. She’s been doing it for maybe 10 years now. She says that she’s just going along with her friends, but she probably enjoys it too. She goes at the end of the year, dresses up in a kimono for the New Year’s Day performance, and comes back on the 4th.”
Good for her, then. He sort of felt a little inferior compared to her. That grandmother was a pretty active lady.
“What? Were you worried about my grandma? What a good child you are~”
Ushio ruffled Kei’s hair, and Kei retorted, “I wasn’t!”
That really wasn’t what he had in mind. When Kei was someone who had everything, then of course he would feel concerned when others didn’t. It was the same as if there was someone starving on the other side of a glass wall—he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his own meal. It was nothing but his own self-centered concern. After all, he had no intentions of sharing what he had with others.
“Thank you,” Ushio whispered. He seemed to have seen through Kei’s concerns as he pulled Kei into a hug with one arm and patted his back.
“Ok, I’m off then. Lock up after me.”
From the moment Ushio turned around, Kei knew that his head had already disappeared to the basement studio. He had switched completely away from the Kei channel. Kei locked up behind him and carried the now lukewarm mug of coffee into Ushio’s room. He tugged at the ropes of the hammock and sat himself in it, but he changed his mind, thinking that he couldn’t do it after all.
This space was missing its owner, but it still felt like Ushio’s place here. The furniture and layout were completely different from Ushio’s old home, and there was no distinct style about it, just that it was Ushio’s place. Before Kei had realized it, this empty new home of theirs had just become this way. Anyone who knew Ushio to some extent would probably agree with the sentiment. There was no trace of any attempt to unify the place into some kind of theme or style like monochromatic, or Asian, or Scandinavian, but it didn’t feel chaotic or all over the place.
When and what things contributed to the foundation of a person’s personality? Ushio had changed a little—just like how Kei had changed himself—but his home still gave off the same essence as before. Kei was sure that it would be the case no matter where or how he lived. When he thought this, he felt a little comforted when he missed the old home that they had lost. The coffee that Ushio made for him still tasted good even cold.
The days flipped through December like a daily calendar pad swept in the wind, and somehow Ushio managed to deliver the video commission before Christmas. All that was left were touch-ups and corrections, but that would be saved for after the new year. That meant he was done with his work for now, and he planned to close out the year by finishing up any leftover paperwork. After Kei left for work, Ushio went over to see how his grandmother was doing. First he stopped by a crowded department store to buy a soft muted red shawl and had it gift-wrapped. The color was similar to a Japanese plum mixed with a little milk. When he handed it to his grandmother and told her, “It’s a Christmas present,” she looked a little bashful as she asked, “It’s not too cute, is it?” as she brought it up to her shoulders again and again.
“I was thinking of cooking azuki beans and making a red bean soup dessert. I have some frozen rice flour dumplings that I can use. Could you remove the bad beans for me?”
Ushio picked up a handful of azuki beans, which felt nice and cool to the touch, and started removing the discolored and broken beans. The work was actually pretty fun. He could understand why there was a monster related to such a thing.6
“Okay, I’m done.”
“That’s fast. It’s helpful to have a young person here with good eyes.”
His grandmother transferred the azuki beans from the colander to a pot full of water to boil before draining them again. The second time the beans came to a rolling boil, it removed the bitterness, but the beans still remained stubbornly hard. When it came to a boil a third time, the beans were cooked at a low heat, and with patience, the beans would finally become nice and soft.
“I’ll watch the pot for you, so take a seat.”
“Really? Okay then… Add some water to it from time to time.”
The smell of cooked azuki beans rose up with the steam.
“So you’re going to Takarazuka again this year?”
“Yes. When I see such lovely beautiful people at the start of the year, it feels like a blessing. Like my heart has been washed.”
“Be careful that you don’t catch the norovirus or the flu.”
“Well, when it comes this age though…” An enlightened smile appeared on the profile that peered at a newspaper through a magnifying glass. “Everything becomes a staircase to the other side.”
“Don’t say that.” Ushio raised his voice a little. “If you start feeling sick, even if it’s just a little, go to the hospital immediately, and give me a call.”
“Yes, yes. The old have to listen to the grandchildren after all.”
The azuki beans simmered in the pot, and Ushio added just enough water to replace the water that had evaporated. The contents of the pot cooled a little, but the flame of the burner heated it back up. Ushio now had a partner who would add water back to him before he burned or dried out. Kei didn’t constantly supervise Ushio like this, but he would notice when Ushio had boiled down a little too far. That Ushio knew that he would reflect on this happiness over and over again in the future—that was a happiness in itself.
“I’m sorry that I can’t do anything for you.”
“—What’s wrong? That came out of the blue.”
His grandmother looked up from the newspaper and gave Ushio a puzzled stare.
“Hearing something like that while we’re watching the pot. I’m not quite sure how to react.”
“I was able to become an adult because I had you, Grandma, but I haven’t been able to do anything for you in return.”
Of course, he would take care of her as much as he could if she happened to come down with a major illness or injury, or lost her mobility due to old age. But even if that were to happen, Ushio had Kei at the center of his life, constant and invariable. When Kei took care for him, Ushio felt a prickling sense of guilt towards that unwavering steadiness. Up until now they had each faced things one on one before, but they very simply became two against one.
The heat from the bottom of the pot circulated the beans in the bubbling water. That was the only sound that drifted through this tiny dwelling. Eventually his grandmother took a breath and said, “I don’t want you looking down on me just because I’m old.”
“No, it’s not like that.”
“I beg to differ. You’re young, and you’ve decided that your grandmother who lives by herself is lonely, helpless, and weak. While it’s not wrong, it’s also not true. I can’t say that this is the best time of my life, but I don’t think that it’s the opposite either.”
It was a careful, deliberate voice, like the gentle flame that heated the hard, half-cooked beans.
“But it is true that I used to be afraid, like anyone else. Of becoming dry, frail, and wrinkled. But well, time just passes some way or another. I once read in a book that you should surrender to the flow of time, and I quite agree. I no longer think that growing older and weaker is something that has to be sad.”
Ushio’s grandmother had always been “Grandma” to him. As time went on, that feeling had only grown deeper. But now Ushio felt like for the first time in his life he had heard the words of Tsuzuki Sayoko, the human—an ordinary woman. Maybe she had judged that her grandson had grown old enough that he could hear those words from her.
“I mean, think about it. If I could go back in time and start over, I would have to watch my daughter’s death again. Even if I could change her destiny like a movie, that fear would always haunt me. If just my body became young again right now, I would have to experience the depression of growing old again. And if I could stay young forever… I would hate that the most. That would truly make me all alone. Ushio, right now I’m just happy that I no longer have to bury anyone else that I love. Even if someone dies in the future, it won’t be long before I follow them. It’s a huge salvation that I didn’t have when I was young.”
Ushio checked that the beans were well submerged before leaving the stove. He kneeled down in front of his grandmother and gently took the thin little hands into his own. In his memories, when it was winter she was always applying hand cream to them, and he hadn’t understood why she had needed such a heavy product because his own body was young and full of moisture.
“Ushio, have you found someone you love?”
“So you’re thinking about yourself. When you’ve found happiness, everyone else looks paler to you in comparison, hmm?”
“Maybe you’re right,” Ushio admitted.
“Oh, you’re still a child,” his grandmother said, laughing at him. “I would like to meet them one of these days. Would you introduce us?”
“It should be fine, but the surprise might be bad for your heart.”
“Anyone is fine with me,” she said, pressing a cold hand to his cheek. “…If they’re someone who won’t leave you behind, then anyone is fine.”
No one could predict the future, and his grandmother knew this fact painfully well. But this was the one condition that she could not help but wish for Ushio.
“I think we’ll be fine, for the time being.”
“Yeah. …Somehow they just give off the feeling that everything will be fine. Like they’re just born with that feeling in them.”
“Like a silver spoon? As in never going hungry?”
Gold would be better than silver. It would sell for higher too. Kei would probably say something like that.
When the beans were boiled to the point that they were soft enough to be crushed by hand, his grandmother threw in a shocking amount of sugar in the pot.
“Isn’t that a lot?”
“It’s the perfect amount. You can have it with kelp cooked in soy sauce, so it’s good to have it on the sweet side. The secret to making anything good is to throw away your hesitation.”
“Okay, I see.”
She added water and a little salt, and after cooking it for another 10 minutes, it was done. She added the rice flour dumplings that had been softened in hot water, and the two of them ate the dessert together. It was hot, and the sweetness was designed to be sweet—which was cloying, but it made him relieved.
“Grandma, what’s that?”
A narrow white tube leaned against a corner of the room.
“A calendar. I got it for free, but the dates are so small that I can’t read it.”
“Hnnn, can I take a look at it?”
“Be my guest.”
When Ushio removed the plastic cover and unrolled the calendar, on the cover was a grid design with pictures of men in each box. Were they the male Takarazuka roles? Nope. Clearly not, because Minagawa was on it.
Above all else, Kunieda-san was on it too. And it said Asahi TV Male Announcer Calendar.
“…Where did you get this from?”
“When Kunieda-san came to visit me, he gave me some Asazou goods. They were so cute that I wondered if they had any other items, so I called the network to ask about them. They told me that if I joined their member’s club, I could buy them at a discount through mail order, and I decided to apply. This month when I bought all the Christmas versions of the goods, I got this for free with my order.”
When Ushio checked the Asahi TV online shop on his phone, the calendar was sold-out and out-of-stock due to popular demand. Of course Ushio had not known that Kei had done such a photo shoot, and he could guess why he hadn’t told him about it. Ushio flipped through the pages and found Announcer Kunieda featured on the month of December. It was for work use and so Kei rarely directed it at Ushio, but in the photo, Kei gave an indulgent smile as he held out a present. Oh, this was too cute. It made his head spin.
“Grandma, can I have this?”
“Be my guest.”
He had secured an unexpected time bomb. He would pretend to know nothing, and then he would hang it up next year in December. Just the delight of imagining Kei’s reaction made him feel like he had received a present. His grandmother divided the leftover red bean soup into ziploc bags and gave them to him to take home. He could add rice flour dumplings or mochi to the soup, or even add cocoa powder, or boil it down to spread onto toast.
“Okay then, be careful, have a happy New Year.”
“Yes, yes, thank you, have a happy New Year.”
They exchanged seasonal greetings, and Ushio left his grandmother’s home. For some reason, his feet took him towards his old family home. More than half a year had passed by in a flash since Kei had taken him from the place, it couldn’t have changed very much—or so he had thought, but there was one very clear change that he spotted. A simple little police box had been put up across from the front gate, and a uniformed police officer was standing there.
Oh right, now that he’s a Cabinet minister, he gets security detail.
Ushio was carrying a long rod-shaped item (a calendar). If he loitered around, the police officer would probably question him (and the Cabinet minister most likely wouldn’t cover for him), so he looked at the darkened house from a distance and turned around to leave. He placed earbuds in both of his ears and listened to music on his cell phone.
The shuffled playlist played Substitute by The Who. When he was younger, he did not know what the lyric I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth meant. He walked at a brisk pace and left behind a trail of white from his breath. Powdered snowflakes disappeared into the foggy trail.
His father had become the substitute for an uncle whom Ushio had never known or seen. And Ushio did not want to become a substitute for his father. Even now, he didn’t know which path was the correct one, but now Ushio no longer felt unbearable whenever he looked at the snow. It hadn’t been a consequence of time; it was because Kei had been there for him.
Ushio loved Kei. To hell with any substitutes, there was no one who even resembled him. He would never have to say to Kei, Have a happy New Year, and that made him happy. They had only been apart for half a day, but Ushio wanted to see him as soon as possible. As night fell, Ushio once again entered the even more crowded department store, and this time he bought a silver-colored spoon for Kei. It was made of aluminum, which readily transmitted body heat, and apparently it made it easier to eat even rock-hard ice cream. If the coldness got colder, there would be a job for it to do—to melt something sweet using Kei’s body heat.
Kei returned home past midnight. He was carrying a medium-sized cardboard box.
“Did you pick up a cat or something?”
After setting down the box on the table and tearing off the courier slip, he grunted at Ushio. Apparently Kei wanted him to open it. Ushio peeled off the tape and opened the box, and there was another box inside. It hadn’t been wrapped, and he could see what it was immediately.
“Oh, an espresso maker. The one that I bought two years ago.”
“It’s not. Take a closer look,” Kei said. “It’s the newest model from this year. It’s also 5,000 yen more expensive!”7
“Oh, pardon me.”
When Ushio took the item out, it was nearly identical, down to the same color. He hadn’t bought a new one because he had felt no inconvenience from not having one, but with the item right in front of him, he felt a nostalgia well up inside him that surprised him.
“Put it over on your side.”
“Huh? But it’s more convenient over here.”
“Just do it.”
Ushio could tell from the short response that it was important to Kei that it was placed inside Ushio’s territory. And he understood why Kei hadn’t bought the exact same item either. He loved Ushio’s previous house, but this place was their new home.
Ushio hugged Kei over his scarf and coat. The cold air from the outside seemed to compress and diffuse from the boundaries where their bodies touched.
“You’re cold. Didn’t you take the taxi?”
“I had to get the package from the convenience store.”
“Oh, got it.”
Ushio touched their noses together. The coolness was like a smooth stone, and it felt nice.
He shifted his nose just a little, and their lips met.
“Let me warm you up.”
The bath was hotter and shallower than usual. It would take more time to warm him from his chest up, but with another pressed against him, it should probably get better. Kei soaked in the water, watching his toes poke out from the tub, and Ushio walked into the bathroom to wash up first. Ushio always started washing from the neck down (not that Kei had watched him all that much), but Kei loved the slight curved line of Ushio’s throat when he did so—and that was Kei’s little secret. Ushio never used cleansing foam or soap on his face and just rinsed it off with water.
“Move forward a bit… Pardon the intrusion~”
Ushio took up a position behind Kei. The water level rose in an instant and sloshed against the tub. Ushio threaded his arms to the front of Kei’s body and tore open the packet of bath soak powder in front of him. It was the prize that he had won from the year-end party raffle. The fine powder dropped into the water and immediately turned it a cloudy white.
“Mix it up well.”
Kei ran his hands around the overcrowded bathtub, and the milky white color diffused through the rest of the water.
“It doesn’t smell like anything,” Kei muttered.
“Don’t these things normally have scents? Like a forest or a rose scent.”
“There are some that are unscented.”
When Kei lifted his hand to check the package, the bathwater felt different from before.
“…This is strangely slimey.”
“Because that’s what it’s supposed to be.”
Okay, sometimes the hot springs had baths similar to this, but it felt a little thicker here. Was there not enough water for it? It seemed more like a gel.
He thought that it was totally weird and checked the empty package.
“…Powder for a massage gel bath? What the hell is this!?”
“Oi, oi, don’t play dumb here.”
Ushio hugged Kei from behind, and his chest stuck to Kei’s back all slick and wet.
“It’s the bath powder that you won from work.”
“I had no idea, okay!?”
It was a product from that company with the best of science, right?8 That was all that had registered with him, and he hadn’t thought to look at it too closely. But now that he thought back on it, the group leader had been smirking a lot when he said Aww, I wanted a girl to win the prize~
Damn it, I’ll report you to compliance.
“Idiot! What if it clogs up the pipes!?”
“Then I guess we’ll be homeless for New Year’s?”
“This isn’t funny!!”
“It says that it’s safe for home use. We just wash it out afterwards. Ahh, it feels nice and thick, huh? I’m glad we followed the recommendations to make the bath hotter and with less water.”
Ushio caught an ear between his lips. “Right?”
Kei shivered in reaction, and the bathwater swayed.
“No, I’m getting out…”
“But you’re not warmed up yet.”
Ushio traced the back of the ear down with his tongue and repeatedly nibbled on the earlobe. A slight tremor reached Kei’s heart—that maybe Ushio might actually eat him—but he wondered why it was never a bad type of fluttering.
A hand clung to his chest, and it seemed to sound out the speed and echoes of his heartbeat and moved on to fondle his nipples. They pebbled under the smooth touch of the fingers smothered in a thick smooth fluid. The melting sensation of the wet teasing and the tingling of nerves underneath the skin seemed to swell and grow. Ushio clung to Kei like a large playful dog, nibbling and sucking the back of his neck over and over again. If he left any marks, Kei wondered if they would disappear by the weekend.
The swollen sensitive spots throbbed with the temperature of the water. It was like a soft and warm mouth toyed with him lazily there. When one nipple was rubbed between the tips of Ushio’s fingers, he could have sworn that it was two tongues that teased him instead. Sweat collected on his forehead and temples. Ushio murmured, “Salty,” as he licked the back of Kei’s neck.
“Ahh, the heat is rushing to my head…”
“Okay, how about we cool you off a little.”
His body was lighter than usual, and naturally it was easier to handle as a consequence. Ushio lifted Kei’s legs to prop them up on either side of the tub.
“You should be fine if we cool off your legs.”
Ushio reached for a very tender area which had already shown signs of desire, and it submitted to Ushio’s caresses. His legs wanted to close, but his cock wanted them to stay spread open, and in the end, it was clear which emotions had won out.
“Nnn… Ahh, ahh…”
Kei’s body slipped forward as far as his legs were lifted, and his head came to rest near Ushio’s neck. Kei rubbed his damp hair against him and writhed as he moaned. He couldn’t see anything through the cloudy white bathwater, but the hand movements that stirred up his cock made waves on the surface, and the noises below told them the secrets of what was happening there.
The hand clad in slick stroked him submerged in the slippery gel. It was frustrating to feel no friction, but it still aroused him. Kei grabbed at Ushio’s head behind him. Instead of sheets, he tugged at what could have been Ushio’s hair or his ears, but Ushio made no complaints.
Ushio came down on Kei with a hard intense kiss. His impatience plunged his tongue into Kei’s mouth before Kei could respond in kind. The bathroom was filled with sounds of water, and the clacking of teeth on teeth rang distinctly in his ears. But then it disappeared into the intimate exchange of their lips, and Kei didn’t know which was what anymore. Kei traced the back of Ushio’s teeth with his tongue, and it seemed like in return Ushio pumped his hard swollen cock, stimulating the particularly sensitive tip with his fingers. His hips trembled and shook on their own. It was probably a biological response that sought copulation inside another’s body, but Kei’s desire was for something different.
His hole throbbed to be filled full and deep.
“…Nnh, mmh, mmh— Ah, aaah…!”
The place gasped and twitched with just a touch, and Kei wanted Ushio to fill it with his hard hot desire.
The tip of a finger slipped inside. The gel wasn’t as slick as the lube that they normally used for sex, but it was much warmer than normal, and he softened up with ease. There was no resistance even if the finger pumped in and out of him right away.
“Ahh, ah, ah.”
Ushio filled him with lust from the inside. The fingers probed his heat source through his inner walls, and just when he froze up in pleasure, the hand stroked him under the sensitive ridge of the head, and Kei felt like his body would float away.
“Noo, d-don’t do them both… at the same time… ngh.”
“But I’m restraining you so that you don’t come inadvertently?”
Ushio’s fingers unraveled Kei’s body. Strong and weak, gentle and sly. Teased with the rhythm of the waves in the too tiny sea, his toes fluttered, propped up on the bathtub, eloquently expressing the pleasure that he tasted. They would curl down tight, curve back up the next moment, then splay out in a fan before he knew it—regardless of his own wishes.
“Ah… Ngh, noo, ah.”
“I can’t see the most important parts under the water, but this is enough to turn me on,” Ushio said, taming the twitching hole with a twist of his fingers.
“Shut up, ah, ahh.”
“It’s like your feet are moaning.”
His heels slid on the slippery enamel. Ushio removed his fingers slowly, in a way that made his touch linger. He brought Kei’s legs back into the tub and folded them with his knees up. The hands that pushed his back were terribly gentle, but Kei placed his hands on the tub to make it easier to slide over. The hands followed the curve of his back downwards and wrapped around his hips to lift them up, and there was enough strength in them to dig into his skin.
The cock that fit up against him from behind repeatedly rubbed wet and slick against the little cavity. Kei’s insides had expected to be filled, and it clenched down tightly by itself, his belly buzzing again.
“No, don’t do that, you idiot…”
Ushio laughed wryly. Apparently he really hadn’t done it on purpose.
“It’s just too slippery everywhere.”
“And whose fault is it!?”
“I’m sorry, okay?”
Two fingers slipped into his hole tactlessly (but with an awareness of his limits), spreading it open to allow something that wasn’t his fingers inside in between them.
When Kei swallowed the hard bulging head, it was the most painful part of the process, but it probably gave him the most ecstasy.
“Ahh— Ah, Ushio.”
“Hmm… Here, right? Where you like it.”
Ushio took careful aim at his most sensitive spot, and pleasure ran straight through Kei’s body. The tip of his cock skimmed the surface of the water and released his come over the similarly colored fluid.
Before Kei dropped from his climax, Ushio repeatedly thrust into him, and his cock was forced to spit out any remnants that was still inside him.
“Nooo, aaah, ah, ahh— Wait, no, not yet…”
“Liar. You’re twisting your hips for more.”
“No, I said not yet… Nhh!”
Due to the volume of the tub, Kei’s legs were nearly fully closed, and the sensation of being split apart was more intense than usual. The bathwater was rough and choppy, but he could clearly hear the sounds similar to sex. The sounds similar to a very filthy kiss.
“Ah… ah, ahh.”
Ushio rubbed Kei from the inside, and the blood vessels all over his body boiled. When Ushio pushed in and out of him just at the entrance, his back flexed with dissatisfaction, completely unfulfilled inside, and when it finally thrust deep inside of him, Kei bent his head back to expose his throat.
“Ah, no, nnnh, so good…”
“Yeah? …That makes me happy.”
Ushio hugged Kei tightly from behind, and the external flash of heat mixed with the excitement of his emotions intoxicated him. Ushio used his hips to thrust into him with short brief strokes, quickly catching up to Kei.
It must have been hard to move and indulge in his pleasure, but Ushio never let go of Kei. His arms wrapped around him as if to cling to Kei, all while they were connected with their most exposed parts. You’re so stupid, Kei thought. He reached an arm back to stroke Ushio’s hair. The wet head nuzzled Kei like a cat. You’re so stupid, he thought again and smiled. He could tell that Ushio was smiling too against his back.
Kei wrapped himself under two layers of blankets and fearfully tried sleeping in Ushio’s hammock. When he put his weight on it, it flexed down, but then it suddenly stopped when some kind of balance was established. It was different from a futon or a bed. There was a unique sense of stability and floatiness about it. It felt nice. He could get addicted to it, once he got used to it.
“Kei?” Ushio peeked his head over. “What? You’re sleeping over here?”
Kei stuck just a hand out from the blankets to call him over, and when Ushio was lured within range, he grabbed his wrist and pulled him over.
“Aren’t you scared?”
Even in the darkened room, Kei could tell that a huge smile had broken out on Ushio’s face. He stretched the center of the net and slipped into it with practiced movements.
“Don’t you dare move! Don’t shake it around! And this isn’t Dacho Club, ok!?”
The two of them were tucked together snugly like they were wrapped in the same cocoon, sharing each other’s breath to the quiet rustling of clothes. Their body heat mingled. It was like a cradle that breathed. There was a stillness and a tranquility that seemed to belong to a time prior to birth or perhaps after death. Morning would probably arrive soon, but even if the room filled up with light, he would pretend not to notice it. He would stay like this together until he got tired of it. If the short day fell to become night again, he wouldn’t mind it, Kei thought.
The fried shrimp turned out great for today. It almost seemed to be a waste to put them in the soba noodle soup after letting the excess oil drain off. He would fry a bunch of agedama while he was at it. Kei would throw the crunchy bits into his miso soup, rice, ochazuke, or whatever, and they would disappear fast.
It was impossible for him to prepare the full spread of New Year osechi dishes, but he made simmered shrimp, char sui, and marinated seafood, and there was red and white kamaboko fish cake and herring roe that he had bought. Also a nice Japanese sake. For dessert, there was ice cream and red bean soup. He kind of threw everything together, but there was still a spirit of New Year’s, he thought. And if they felt like something warm to drink, he could make espresso at any time.
He had a faint memory of that old house at New Year’s, and it had taken 5 or 6 cooks to prepare everything for the celebration. There had been an endless stream of visitors to the house; shoes and sandals crowded the entranceway, and strangers who made him think, Who are you?, would give him New Year’s money like an offering. He had hated it all. And there would be 50,000 or even 100,000 yen9 stuffed in the envelopes, and as a child he had wondered uneasily what kind of human being that these strangers had thought that he was. What would he do if they had thought that that was only natural for him? What would he do if one day he became a person who thought that this was all natural?
But he remembered well the multi-tiered food boxes that they had only used once a year and the vivid gold lacquerwork that had decorated the boxes. And when he thought how he would love to put those color combinations into his work one day, that made it fun for him.
“Food’s done~ Want to eat in front of the TV?”
“I want to eat at the table.”
Kei had spent almost the entire day lounging in front of the TV, and he turned it off and got up off the sofa.
“You could have left it on.”
“I’m tired of it.”
“We can’t play mahjong with just the two of us. Maybe I should have bought the Game of Life for us or something.”
Kei snorted at him when he said that.
“Why would we play a boring game about dreams and fantasies when it’s been smooth sailing in real life?”
“Well, I suppose that half of you is like a cast member from the land of dreams.”10
There were things about TV networks and theme parks that they shared in common.
“What’s that supposed to mean!?”
“You’ve worked hard for the past year, Kunieda-san and the person under the costume.”
“There’s no one.”
They spent a quiet night in without any background noise, which turned into a more bustling one as the new year began. How would it be next year? And the year after that? Would he one day look back at these days as a distant memory? At time when he became old enough that only a little of his future remained? Right now, Ushio wasn’t sure about any of those answers. But he wanted to live in expectation for the next coming second that Kei had given him, down to the very last moment. And he wanted to give Kei his own moments that shared the same weight.
“Oh, it’s midnight. Happy New Year. Want to go on a first shrine visit for the year?”
“Happy New Year. I’m not going. It’s obviously better luck to pray to me than some god.”
When it came to Ushio, that insolent remark was absolutely true.
“Okay, then I hope that I won’t incur any divine wrath this year, so please take care of me~”
“Why is the premise that you’ll do wicked deeds already a given!?”
“It’s a promise, God.”
“Give me a donation.”
“I think I have a 10 yen coin with a reeded edge.”
“I don’t want it!”
Ushio’s present, future, and his love—they all belonged to God.
“Hey, Senpai, Happy N.Y.~”
This poor dolt of a junior colleague couldn’t even give a proper greeting. He didn’t even wait for his senior’s response and followed up with a nonsensical outburst.
“It wasn’t me!”
Kei wanted to avoid a conversation and responded on LINE instead. “What are you talking about, moron?”
“Ahh, my super sharp sixth sense told me that the thing about the calendar was found out already.”
“It wasn’t found out.”
Anyway, he had been relaxing over the holiday and completely forgot all about it.
“Waaah? So I got excited for nothing.”
“You mean worried, you idiot!”
God knew nothing about the calendar that was currently hidden in the closet. However, even if he did know about it, he would still probably confer his luck and blessings for a healthy and happy life until December.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Ueshima from the comedy trio Dacho Club has a gag he does where he announces he doesn’t want something done, and when his partners don’t do it, he gets mad at them and asks why they didn’t do it.
- 200 kg – Approx. 440 lbs.
- Kamaage style is when udon is served directly from the pot with dipping sauce on the side.
- Kamatama style is kamaage with a raw egg dropped on the hot noodles. Agedama are fried tempura bits.
- The Takarazuka Revue is an all-female theater troupe. They have performances in the Hibiya area of Tokyo, but their main theater is in Takarazuka, Hyogo.
- There is a monster in Japanese folklore that is associated with the washing and/or grinding of azuki beans near a body of water, and if the person hears the sound and approaches, they will fall in the water.
- 5,000 yen – Approx. $50 USD.
- The slogan refers to Tsumura, a company that make herbal-based products.
- 50,000 to 100,000 yen – Approx. $5,000 to $10,000 USD.
- Land of dreams refers to Disneyland.