Chapter 2: Block It Out (2)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
It wasn’t the rainy season yet, but it was a day in which the air was humid and a light rain fell intermittently all day, making it hard and annoying to judge whether to open an umbrella or not. He had missed the broadcast of the evening news to tape an interview for a different assignment, and afterwards he drank by himself until just before midnight, then headed over to an all-night movie theater. The sickening feeling in his chest just wouldn’t go away.
“The movie has already started, sir. Do you still want to watch it?”
He didn’t want to go back to his apartment feeling like this, so he bought a ticket without checking what movies were even showing and sat down at the end of the last row. It was a small cinema with 100 seats. Maybe because it was a Friday, or maybe it was the rain, but the seats were about half filled, which was far too full for him. It would have been perfect if he was the only customer there.
Sakae crossed his arms and faced the small screen (or close to a large TV from the looks of it). He had seen this black and white film before; if he remembered correctly, it was called Moderato Cantabile, or by its Japanese title, Rendezvous Under the Rain. It was perfect for the weather outside. Just at the part where the heroine Anne witnessed a murder, his eyelids started drooping, and he dozed off with his arms crossed. He didn’t fall asleep because he already knew the film; it was a daily occurrence for him to sleep at a movie theater. To Sakae, movies were not experiences that fascinated him with story, acting, or cinematography; they played the same role as a TV that he felt like leaving on in the background in the middle of the night. He didn’t have any special interest or enthusiasm for any of the shows that were on it; if it was a home shopping program, a variety show, or a cheap TV drama, he didn’t care. He would leave the TV playing and head out, or he would do something else or even fall asleep. It was one part of his very mundane life. He had no extensive knowledge about films or film theory to talk about. But after he watched something, what remained with him in the end was probably the colors. It was the same for black and white movies. It wasn’t the lines, the beautiful shots, or even the shocking climax that stayed with him; it was only the nuances of the colors from each of the respective scenes. Shitara’s words about Buddha in full and vibrant color abruptly crossed his mind, and with that, his vision and mind became pitch black.
The ocean. He heard the sounds of waves. Sounds that swept up and swept back into the distance. Was this the ocean back at his hometown? When did he go back?
No, that wasn’t it. It was a voice. Voices of people talking.
“Why don’t we just leave him here?”
“Except that we spotted him. I feel like it will cause trouble for the theater. Hopefully no one stole his wallet or anything. Will he be okay?”
“Can I scribble on his face? I have a Prockey, so it’ll wash right off.”
“What do you want to write?”
“I ♡ Hiphop or something?”
“I do want to try it, but let’s not… Souma, oiii, Souma.”
His shoulder was shaken. His arms uncrossed to drop in his lap, and Sakae was fully roused from his sleep.
“Oh, hey, you’re awake. The movie’s over. Oh, is this yours?”
The one who picked up from off the floor the necktie he had probably torn off in his sleep was Shitara. Next to him was a man about the same age as Sakae. He didn’t know his name, but he looked familiar. Was this the someone from the Design team he went with to the movies?
“It’s a damn guy…” Sakae muttered, pushing his hair back with his fingers.
“What was that?”
“How long have you been sleeping here? I didn’t notice you at all. Oh, this is the one I mentioned before, Oku Mutsuto-kun from the Design team. His nickname’s Oku-sama.1 I think you two are the same age?”
He received a “Nice to meet you,” but he wasn’t fully conscious, which made the headache from his hangover even worse, and he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to answer the guy.
“Oh, right. Did you finish the interview okay for the assignment yesterday?”
“…God, shut up.”
Can’t you wait until Monday to ask me that at the office? Use your damn eyes. Do I look like I want to talk right now?
When he answered with his aggravation on full display, Mutsuto broke in and asked him, “Where’re you from?”
What the hell? What’s with the “What junior high are you from” vibe? How old are you?
Sakae didn’t give him an answer.
“Oku-sama, why are you asking?”
“Nothing, just wondering if he came from a place where being polite isn’t a part of their culture.”
“What?” Sakae bit back, his tone rising in outrage.
“I mean, Shitara-san’s the producer, and you’re a newcomer. I can’t believe the way that you can talk back like that.”
Sakae was about to snap back, What does it have to do with you? but Shitara intervened before he could.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Souma is fine the way he is. It’s more stimulating when there’s at least one person on the team like him. It keeps the show on its toes.”
“But everyone says how rude and awful Souma Sakae from the News Department is. Even the cleaning ladies know about it. I bet the pigeons that come to the terrace every morning scatter whenever they see him.”
“That sounds convenient, so why not?”
They took the topic and ran with it while the topic in question stood there in front of them a little dumbfounded at the conversation that held nothing back.
Oh, right, weren’t they saying something about scribbling on my face? Ugh, that’s not important right now, my head is killing me.
Sakae scrunched up his eyebrows as he pressed his fingers to his temples, and Shitara leaned over and asked, “Have a hangover?”
“That’s why I said to shut up.”
“All right, let’s head home to drink it away.”
“I live around here. I’ll let you borrow my shower too.”
Sakae felt pretty chilled from the air conditioning in the movie theater, but he had also sweated a lot during the day, and it was true that he wanted to wash it off. After getting back from the interview, he had debated whether to shower at the office, but in the end, he decided it was more exhausting to stay there and he left. He felt sick that Shitara had seen through everything about him. But because Sakae felt so sick about it, he couldn’t act like he didn’t care, and to compensate, he had to view the situation like it was someone else’s issue, which then made him consider that maybe he would accept the invitation.
“Shitara-san, are you serious? You seem to really like a challenge.”
“You think so? Doesn’t it seem fun to you?”
“I think your idea of fun is pretty questionable~”
Sakae thought to himself, He lied, when Shitara had said that he lived around here. It took about 10 minutes by taxi to arrive at the apartment complex. Mutsuto seemed to be familiar with the place because he rushed to the fridge and called out, “Let me have a Yakult, please!”
“Sure. What about you, Souma?”
“Shower,” he said, stating his needs tersely.
Mutsuto retorted, “What are you, a domineering husband?”
“Go ahead.” Shitara smiled and opened the door to the bathroom. “Feel free to use the towels or anything you need.”
He didn’t necessarily see Shitara as a hard-working personality. From his behavior at the show, he kept a fixed distance between him and the staff, never more friendly with them than necessary. So then what was this generous treatment that Sakae received? Sakae let the hot water run over his head.
It had been about a month and a half since he joined the evening news, but it was more fun than his previous position covering the Metro Police Department. As a reporter, he was like a hunting dog who kept chasing prey in his territory, and every time he got a catch, he would turn in his prize, repeating the process over and over again, wandering in search of the prey he had already chased down for more. But when those prizes were roughly bundled together on a TV news program, there were many more factors involved, such as studying maps of the terrain, forming a strategy, putting out traps, and preparing his kill for consumption. He had to write scripts for international affairs and economic stories and put together videos for his story pieces; he couldn’t only be reading about events and incidents in the papers in a bloodshot frenzy, even from just a single publication. And the broader and more wide-ranging the stories were, the larger that the production scope would expand—What order would they present the stories? What points of view should the script take? How would the studio handle the course of the discussion? What if they were to cut to a live report on the scene…? Even though he had no authority to make such broad decisions, he never got tired of turning over the different considerations inside his head. Most importantly, he generally didn’t have to come to work in a stuffy suit and tie. Shitara had been right when he declared that Sakae wasn’t cut out for his previous role, but it was too annoying to admit it, and he would never ever disclose this admission to him.
When he got out of the bathroom, there was a single teacup giving off steam sitting on the kitchen counter.
“…So weird,” he said, sliding onto a stool.
“What do you mean? A pickled dried plum in bancha green tea is a typical hangover cure. Oh, right, if you take the time to crush the dried plum, it’s supposed to be more effective.”
“I wasn’t talking about the tea. I’m referring to how you keep bothering me with that stupid grin on your face.”
“Things tend to go smoother when you smile. Makes it nice and easy.”
Shitara took out a bottle of brandy, a shot glass, and a long, narrow packet of sugar from a cupboard. He grabbed a lemon from the refrigerator and skillfully cut a round slice.
“You’re the one who lives life going out of your way to put up hurdles for yourself. That’s pretty weird.”
“How am I supposed to smile at something that’s not amusing?”
The bancha tea was still hot, and he probably couldn’t drink it yet. He shot back at Shitara beyond the fog of rising steam.
“Like I can say things that I don’t even think.”
“Yeah?” Shitara placed a lemon slice like a lid on top of the shot glass he had poured brandy into and sprinkled sugar on top.
What is he doing?
Sakae couldn’t take his eyes off of Shitara who stood across from him on the other side of the counter. Shitara took the lemon slice with sugar on it and folded it in half before slipping it in his mouth and chewing on it. Then he downed the shot of brandy and swallowed everything down.
“…I think it’s much harder to say what you think though.”
“Well, you know…”
“Not that. I mean the drink.”
“You’ve never seen it before? It’s a Nikolaschka. You get all the flavor in your mouth like this, so you don’t have to mix anything. Nice and easy, right? Warms you right up in the winter.”
“I could never drink that,” a voice called out from behind Sakae. It was Mutsuto, who was on the sofa. “I can’t eat the lemon rind.”
“It’s organic and domestically produced.”
“That’s not the problem.”
“You could remove it. You don’t need to have the rind on the lemon.”
“That would make me look completely lame.”
Sakae pointed to the empty shot glass. “I want one too.”
“I want to drink it.”
“Don’t, it’s strong,” Mutsuto warned him. “Just sip your bancha and stay out of trouble.”
“Aren’t I here to drink the hangover away?”
It wasn’t that he hadn’t had enough to drink. No matter how much he tried to bluff, his headache still killed, and his body was clearly rejecting additional alcohol into his system. But he still wanted the drink that Shitara just had. This inexplicable drink that this inexplicable man had drunk.
“Mind if it’s the same glass?”
Shitara quickly made another shot and set it next to the teacup. Before the sugar started to dissolve from the heat, Sakae copied what Shitara had done and chewed on the folded lemon slice. The tartness and the sweetness were both far too straight, and it sent tingles to the insides of his cheeks. His teeth crushed the delicate vesicles of lemon pulp to release the juices that mixed with the sugar. He knocked back the shot of brandy to wash it all down. There was the burn of alcohol that scorched his throat down to his stomach in an instant—and the bitter astringency of the lemon rind leftover from the chewing. Nothing was homogenous, and he didn’t hate the irregular sensations that he felt in his mouth. He felt like there was a tint of amber in the breath he released after draining the shot.
“You like it?”
“I’m glad. This might be the first time you’ve ever given me an affirmative answer.”
There was the possibility that Shitara really didn’t think that. Maybe this smile wasn’t natural either. Sakae knew that most people put up a front and behaved this way, but it still enraged him. Maybe his rage sent his blood circulating faster, because he suddenly felt tipsy, so he got off the stool and lay face up on the wooden flooring.
“Oi, you okay? Here, use the sofa.”
“Hmm? Was it a little too strong? Want to use the bed?”
Sakae ignored the voices and said, “I’m fine here.” He closed his eyes and pressed the back of his hand against his eyelids. The sunrise, offsetting the drizzle from yesterday, was too bright for him.
“Hey, if you puke in your sleep, you’ll choke to death.”
Mutsuto, as someone who hung out with Shitara, probably had quite a personality, but there was one definitive difference between him and Sakae. There was no malice or bite in his very outspoken remarks.
“I won’t puke.”
“Even at the movie theater when you were sleeping, you didn’t look very good,” Shitara said. “Did you have a bad dream?”
“It wasn’t a dream. I already felt awful before I fell asleep, that’s probably why. …That fucking old hag.”
Shitara responded with an “Oh” to his muttering at the end, as if he had figured out everything.
“I take it that the interview took its toll on you.”
“What interview was it?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Whatever, I’m not asking you.”
“Okay, stop arguing like kids at the playground. There haven’t been any charges in the case yet, but there are investigations underway. Have you heard about the string of suspicious deaths in Koshigaya?”
“Oh, you mean that woman… Her husband turns up dead every time she remarries, and she always gets an insurance payout, right? It’s written in all the weekly magazines.”
The Heisei She-Devil, all the headlines said, harkening back to the Showa Era.
“The newspapers are starting to write about it here and there. For TV, right now it’s just us and OrientTV who have aired about it with censors blurring out her face. And for some reason, the widow at the center of the controversy has taken a liking to Souma here.”
“Seriously? She’s got some interesting tastes.”
Sakae wanted to punch him, but his head and limbs felt too heavy to move.
“She approached us and said, ‘I don’t mind giving an interview if that reporter comes to do it,’ so he was taken off the Metro Police beat, and now it’s like his exclusive story. Yesterday was an observance for her third husband’s death, and she asked if we wanted to film her visiting his grave knowing full well the answer.”
He was forced to help with the offerings of flowers and water poured over a stranger’s gravestone. He stood there holding an umbrella for the woman who had poisoned and killed the man (which Sakae believed that she did) as she prayed modestly where the bones had laid… Was there a more grotesque farce than that?
“So if she’s arrested, we’re the only ones with the exclusive scoop on her. Damn, she knows how to use people’s weaknesses, so scary~”
“I can’t stand it.”
Sakae hated that his voice sounded more exhausted than irritated. Maybe because he had been exposed to something like miasma from that woman.
Yell louder. Ignore what this body says and move.
“Fucking assholes saying that I’m sleeping with her get the story… Why the fuck would I do that.”
One day an explosive announcement would come out of the investigations, and the story would be plastered over the mediascape as a serial murder case. Sakae would hold all the exclusive footage with the murderer when that happened, and this point of contention caused more jealousy from his own colleagues at the network than from the other media outlets. Sakae had no interest in scoops. As soon as one outlet reported a story, all the others would chase after it. That exclusive information would become all the same everywhere, and the viewers wouldn’t care where the story had first broken. What good was a moment of satisfaction and superiority over everyone else? Did they want a fucking pat on the head from their bosses like a dog?
“Even if she was 30 years younger, I wouldn’t want that lying snake of a woman fawning over me.”
“Listen, I truly didn’t do it. But everyone keeps hounding me, suspecting that I did. Aren’t reporters supposed to listen to my story with fairness and impartiality? You’re the only one I can trust. Truly.”
Shut up. Hurry up and get arrested. That way I can broadcast that fake crying face plastered under all that makeup without any damn censor effects…
But pacifying himself with those thoughts made him feel empty.
“There’s no doubt she’ll get the death penalty if any evidence surfaces that can bring her to trial.”
The lead reporter covering the Metro Police—his supervisor at the time—had no problems counting his chickens before they were hatched.
“If that happens, we’ll probably want you to exchange letters with her while she’s in prison. Oh, but if you don’t want to, we can always get a ghostwriter for you, so don’t worry.”
It was by no means his conscience or a sense of justice that made him feel this way. It was just plain disgusting. Those smeared with lies, and those who spread the lies with a smile. Even the stories on TV, everything was fiction when it came down to it. Someone would always inject their own ideas and opinions; someone would manipulate the materials how they saw fit, chop it up into bite-sized pieces that they emphasized or minimized to air on TV for people to watch and immediately forget—this twisted replica of the truth.
“I see,” Mutsuto muttered softly. “So you’re not just a horrible person, but you’ve gone through a lot. I see you in a different light now.”
“Everyone goes through a lot though,” Shitara commented.
“Wha? But he’s different. Yeah, he makes me think, what a rude and arrogant jerk, but when you watch his videos, you can’t say anything about him. I mean, they’re just that good.”
Uh, you’re saying things about me right now. Without a hint of restraint.
“I thought that he stopped at nothing, no matter how dirty, to get a story and never gave it a second thought.”
“I suppose I understand that.”
Shitara and Mutsuto exchanged a conversation over his head as it throbbed with a dull pain. What a strange day, he thought. Why did he follow them here without a thought, grumble at them about his complaints, and listen to them chat? The back of his head and his body felt cool against the floor, and for the time being, that was the only thing that made him glad to have come. The floor felt a little pliant with the coating of varnish.
“Plus, I heard he kept rejecting Iwai-chan’s narration work when they worked together, and he made her cry. That’s unforgivable. I love Iwai-chan so much. She’s the cutest announcer out of everyone who joined the network last year.”
“That’s because she’s fucking terrible.”
He shouldn’t have cared, but Sakae argued back anyway.
“After dozens of tries, her ‘chi’ still sounded like ‘shi.’ It’s ridiculous. Blame the announcer department’s faulty training, not me.”
“What? If I were you, I would be way nicer and teach her how to fix it.”
“Stupid,” Sakae sneered through his nose. “She’s fucking a guy in the sports department.”
Mutsuto leaned over the back of the sofa to peer down at Sakae. Their eyes met. At that instant he thought, Those eyes don’t lie. He wondered if it was because yesterday a foul, vile gaze had followed him around, clinging to him. If he were to get a hold of himself, he would see that they were just two regular eyeballs found on any run-of-the-mill, probably somewhat attractive man. He laughed at his own ridiculous thoughts and at the expression that appeared to be truly shocked.
“Also for your information, she invited me out for dinner, asking to help her with her narration. She’s pretty shameless under her little act.”
“You’re lying, you’re lying, you’re lying!”
“Ahhh,” Shitara laughed, “You just had to destroy a young man’s dreams.”
“What? Don’t tell me that you knew all this too, Shitara-san? You should have told me!”
“I make it a point to never get involved with the women announcers’ private affairs. I don’t want to get dragged into the mess.”
What was wrong? Maybe there were too many factors at work, and it screwed with his head. He kept laughing at one thing or another. He didn’t know why. But one thing was for certain: Sakae couldn’t laugh at things that weren’t funny. That was why right now, he knew that he was enjoying himself. The kitchen, the floor, and the sofa—they stood, slept, and sat. It was a strange arrangement and a strange conversation.
Drowsiness threatened to overcome him again. It wasn’t a sleep where he would drop off a precipice at night; it was a gentle continuous lull like a ping-pong ball rolling down a subtle incline that might have seemed flat at first glance.
“Hey, he’s falling asleep again.”
“It’s fine, just let him be. It’s not like he’ll catch a cold this time of year.”
“Like this, I can’t tell if he’s super wary with others or not.”
“It probably means he’s just that tired… Souma.”
Shitara’s voice made him even sleepier.
“Yesterday’s all-night screening was all black and white movies. Did you watch it? The Jeanne Moreau special feature. I was wondering if that was what it felt like to dream in nothing but black and white.”
Sakae had been thinking about full and vibrant colors. But he didn’t say anything. His body felt heavy like he had been injected with jelly. He felt his breathing gently smooth out into a regular rhythm.
Sakae didn’t remember his dreams from when he dozed. And because he had slept on the floor, his shoulders and waist cracked with a stiffness like they had been partially turned to stone. Mutsuto was still on the sofa watching TV.
“…I hurt all over.”
Sakae clicked his tongue as he sat up, and Mutsuto rolled his eyes at him.
“What are you saying?” he said. “It’s your fault for sleeping on the floor.”
Sakae stood up and downed the contents of the untouched teacup that had been left on the kitchen counter. The tea was tepid, and it had extracted all the flavor from the dried plum, but his throat was parched after waking up, and he thought that it tasted decently good. He headed for the door to leave, and Shitara popped his head out from the sliding door of the bathroom.
“Hey, you leaving?”
Sakae nodded silently.
“Okay, get some rest at home then.”
Shitara called out “Sakae” just as he was about to leave. It sounded very natural, using his first name. Sakae stopped at the entryway and thought to say, Who do you think you are? Don’t call me that, but he saw the short hallway with Shitara peeking half of his body out from the bathroom to his right and the back of Mutsuto’s head and shoulders in the living room beyond the open door of the hallway. Outside the window, there was a whitish, blue sky as if it had been washed several times over. The entire apartment was filled with a bright, natural light, and the thorns in his heart retracted at the sight. He thought that this color of the faded sky would probably remain in his memories. The view wasn’t anything special, but he felt like getting behind a camera. It was nothing like the frenzied broadcast of live TV—the way that this early summer day etched second by second into his mind.
“See you later.”
Sakae felt like he had woken from a dream again when he heard Shitara’s voice.
“Let’s go see another movie. Also drinks.”
“If I feel up for it.”
“I’ll try my best to make you feel up for it then.”
Sakae left the apartment, and the sky was crisp and clear.
Where’s the train station? I have no idea where I am.
He started walking through the unfamiliar area. The aimlessness that carried his feet was a great feeling.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.