Chapter 4: Block It Out (4)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
The rainy season ended, and the real start of summer arrived. And to fill the time that he had in between his stretches of work, Sakae would go to the movies and drink with Shitara and Mutsuto, or just one of them if they were free. He had core working hours that were fixed for working on a regularly scheduled program, but his other hours were at his own discretion, and he had more flexibility with his time than when he worked as a reporter. Shitara and Mutsuto didn’t recoil from Sakae’s aggressiveness, nor did they get angry with him. And in his own way, with the two of them, Sakae didn’t mind if they said something to him that was a little intrusive. In the end they never went to see any fireworks together, but they would crash at some movie theater in the area, spend two hours or so not speaking, and then rambled at each other afterwards. The conversation was nothing special. When the night was over and the alcohol lifted from his system, he pretty much forgot everything that they talked about. And that was why it worked for him.
And then in a blink of an eye, summer was ending. At least, according to the calendar it was. The Bon Festival had passed, and high school baseball was over. Even the vacationless adults in the last vestiges of August felt like they had lost something that they could never get back. That was when the three of them went drinking together, which they hadn’t done in a while.
“Souma, I heard that you yelled at a lady reporter over the headset and made her hyperventilate when she was out on the scenes for a live report. Did you seriously do that?”
“How come you always hear such stupid news about me?”
It made his alcohol start to taste terrible.
“So people didn’t just make it up, Shitara-san.”
“Well, yeah, she cried a lot, and her eyes were all red. She was supposed to go on after 5, but we had to push it back for after 6,” Shitara answered as he opened pistachio shells.
“Don’t give him the gory details.”
“But Sakae wasn’t in the wrong here.”
“Why’d you snap?”
“If you want to know, then make it your treat today.”
“Wha?? Fine, I’ll treat you to a drink. Excuse me, I’d like a Nikolaschka without any sugar and hmm, a beer for me will do. A Brooklyn Lager then.”
“Why are you ordering for me?”
“If I’m treating you, I’ll probably get more out of it if I treat you to something strong.”
“I seriously don’t get you.”
“So why did you make her cry?”
Why was he so interested in the story? Sakae was in utter disbelief at Mutsuto’s brimming curiosity. “Her earrings,” he said, drumming the rim of his empty glass with his fingers.
“We were preparing for on-the-scenes coverage of a deadly accident, but she was wearing huge dangly earrings without thinking about the time or place.”
Remembering it made him irritated all over again. He switched to drumming the glass with his nails, and it made a testy tapping sound.
“The director was also to blame for not saying anything to her, but dammit, she should have realized it herself. How dumb is she?”
Not to mention, when he ordered her over the headset to take them off, she started making stupid excuses. “What?” she had argued. “But my mom gave these to me for my coming-of-age gift. I’ve been wanting to wear them as a lucky charm on my first live broadcast…” She didn’t even have any worthwhile arguments, and he snapped, “What the hell do I care!?” without thinking. However, when Sakae insisted that anyone would have yelled at her in his place, Shitara had laughed at him.
“I’m pretty sure no one would say, ‘Tear them off with your damn ears and have your mama hold on to them.’”
“Did I say that?”
“You did, you did. Well, she’s still new, cut her some slack, okay?”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. How many months has she been here already?”
“Gotta remind you, but don’t use yourself as the standard for everyone else.”
The bartender passed a glass over to him over the counter, and Sakae took the lemon and started chewing on it. The acidity puckered his tongue and his cheeks, and when it fully flooded his mouth, he downed the shot of brandy in a single gulp. He had realized after his third one that the drink was much stronger without the sugar and that he liked it better. The burst of lemon juice slowly made the inside of his jaw tingle, and there was a trembling behind his ears. Washing it all down with alcohol felt nice. He even swallowed the lemon rind and wiped his lips.
“Don’t chug it like that,” Shitara chided him. “It was a treat for you.”
“He ordered it without asking; don’t grumble at me how to drink it.”
It wasn’t a cocktail that was meant to be slowly sipped anyway.
“Hmm, but it’s different, isn’t it?”
Mutsuto had white foam stuck to the corner of his lips, and as he talked, the foam started to pop and disappear. Somehow Sakae could imagine the fragrant bitterness of it on his own tongue. Mutsuto really liked sweets, and he always had candy like chocolates or caramels on his desk, stacked like an offering to the gods (according to him, girls thought that it was funny and brought them over). When they went out for drinks, Mutsuto was the only one who would finish the night with ice cream or sherbet, but he wouldn’t drink sweet alcohol.
“It feels pretty refreshing to hear that Souma got mad at something so sensible.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Hmm, I’d say that the reason he gets mad is always pretty reasonable,” Shitara interjected, and then ordered a bourbon and soda with no ice. “What’s unreasonable, or goes too far, is probably how he expresses it.”
“Oh, I see.”
They talked about whatever as the night got later and later. It was a night like their usual nights. They had only been hanging out for about three months, and it wasn’t like they had established a routine that could be called “their usual,” but still, sometimes Sakae felt like the three of them had been drinking and talking together like this for much, much longer than they had. Shitara and Mutsuto seemed to understand each other, but Sakae didn’t feel like he had been added to their mix or just wedged in between them, no, everyone was themselves and it felt natural. There were no stifling promises or nauseating displays of solidarity. It was a weekday, but it hadn’t hit midnight yet, and he could still drink. If he felt sleepy, he could stop by the neighborhood cinema and get some rest. He felt incredibly free and liberated. There was nothing to fear. At least, if he were asked what he was afraid of, he would say that there was nothing.
As Sakae thought about what to drink next, his cell phone started ringing, wedged between the stool and his jeans pocket.
“What’s someone calling me for at this time of night…?”
If he was still a reporter, he would click his tongue, figuring that something had happened, but now he had no idea who would be calling. If it was a situation that required all hands on deck, then Shitara would be the one getting a call first. His spirits were dampened. Irritated, he heaved a sigh and checked the caller. It was from someone who couldn’t be calling with good news. He was even more reluctant to answer. He jumped off the tall barstool and withdrew to an area by the restrooms.
“Hello? It’s me. Huh? Oh, okay… Got it.”
Just as he predicted, it wasn’t good news, but it wasn’t the worst case scenario either. He concluded that he could still keep drinking. Sakae returned to his seat and felt stares on him from both sides.
“Who was the call from?” Shitara asked.
“Liar. Your face clouded over just now. Did you get bad news or something?”
Shitara had seen through his brush-off, and Mutsuto was staring at him wondering what happened, so Sakae gave up and confessed, “My gramps.”
“Your grandfather? What did he say?”
“That my grandma fell and broke her foot, and he took her to the hospital. That’s all. Nothing else to report.”
Sakae tried to wrap it up so that they could go back to drinking, but Mutsuto retorted, “Don’t say ‘nothing else to report.’ Your grandma has to be pretty old, right? Breaking a bone can be pretty serious for the elderly. Where do they live?”
It turned into a troublesome conversation. Sakae frowned and waved a hand to indicate his annoyance.
“Atami. It’s not like I can go there right now.”
“Why not? You can totally go. Come on, we’ll go with you.”
Sakae couldn’t believe his ears.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Shitara said, easily agreeing.
Or that either.
“Why don’t we take the Shinkansen while we’re at it? We still have time to make the last train.”
“Cool, I’ll make a reservation on my cell phone. From here, Shinagawa would be the closest… Okay, done. Got us three tickets for the 10:54 Kodama~”1
“All right, let’s hurry. Excuse me, check please.”
“Oh, I’ll pay you back later. And for Souma’s Nikolaschka.”
“You can just round it to 3,000 yen.”2
“Huh? That’s way too little.”
“Oi, what the hell are you two doing? Quit making decisions for me.”
The conversation had proceeded without the person in question, and he finally interrupted to make his protests known.
“She didn’t break her spine or her skull; it was her ankle. Anyway, it’s not like she even died, so why would I go all the way back to see her? He was just letting me know. It’s not like they expect me to come.”
“You’re really stupid, Souma,” Mutsuto said, floored with disbelief.
If it had been anyone else who made that comment, Sakae would immediately want to strangle them to death, but Mutsuto had said it in the same breath that he would say The weather’s great today or I’m starving, and his anger would never hit. Maybe he was just too dumbfounded to get enraged.
“If she dies, then you’re too late; there’s no need to rush over. But because she’s alive, you should hurry over and see her.”
“Come on, come on,” they said, rushing Sakae out of the bar and later pushing him onto the Kodama at Shinagawa Station. The train was surprisingly crowded with businessmen who had long-distance commutes to work.
“How old is your grandma, Souma?” Mutsuto asked, sitting in the middle seat between them. Sakae answered curtly, “I don’t know,” from next to the window.
“I never paid attention to how old she was. My grandma’s just my grandma.”
In his memories, his grandparents had always been categorized as elderly. And in the seventeen years that had passed after they first took him in, they had only become even older.
“What about your parents?”
This time it was Shitara who spoke up from the aisle seat.
“Even less of a clue. Anyway, my grandparents are listed as my parents on the family register.”
When he turned the age he would enter elementary school, his parents had divorced. Neither of them wanted to raise their only son, and so his grandparents on his mother’s side cleaned up their mess for them and adopted him. So yeah, he got the short end of the stick.
When Sakae told them the story, Mutsuto just gave a normal-looking expression.
“Hnnn,” he said, “Is that why you turned out so twisted? Because of your parents?”
“What kind of simpleton do you think I am?” Sakae leaned his head against the window, annoyed. “There are plenty of divorced families out there.”
“That’s true.” Mutsuto laughed. “My parents are divorced too. Oh, hey, if the food cart comes around, I want to buy Sujahta ice cream. Think it will come?”
“There are no food carts on the Kodama.”
“Seriously? We should have stopped by a convenience store first.”
As the people who had dragged him here against his will (and decided to tag along), Shitara and Mutsuto didn’t show any sense of pity or obligation towards Sakae’s situation; they didn’t feel the need to comment on his poor grandparents or to give him a morale boost. They just looked like they were enjoying this unexpected trip. Shitara had even said “Let’s take the Shinkansen while we’re at” for god’s sake. But that irresponsible indifference of theirs didn’t make him mad; it made him relieved. If they had preached to him with a self-satisfied look on their faces about how to conduct his own family relationships, he would have immediately erupted on them. The three of them were each self-centered in their own ways. They talked to each other whenever it was convenient for them, and whoever could make time to get together would come and enjoy themselves until they were satisfied, at which point they would leave if they felt like it. There was no need to act modest or grateful. There was a balance to their flippant behavior—and Sakae suddenly realized that it was probably why he felt so strangely comfortable around them. Not that he ever thought to tell them that.
“I’m going to make a call.”
Sakae got up and went out to the gangway. He called his grandfather and informed him, “I’m heading over.” His grandfather had been a little sleepy when he answered, but he suddenly raised his voice and said, “What?”
“I said I’m heading over.”
“But it’s not anything serious.”
His grandfather didn’t know how to react. He didn’t blame him. Their grandson (slash son) hadn’t been back since he graduated from high school, but now he was suddenly coming over—he would have suspected that he had hurt his head.
“I’m on the Shinkansen now, and I’ll arrive in less than 30 minutes. Where’s the hospital?”
“Atami Hospital, but they’re closed to visitors now. Your grandma was given painkillers and went to sleep, so I’m back home.”
“Okay, I’ll head there for now. Leave the door unlocked for me.”
His grandfather probably wanted to ask what was wrong but couldn’t. What are you thinking about? Why would you do that? They were reasonable questions to ask in an ordinary conversation, but Sakae had no memory of any conversation like that the entire time that they had lived together. Sakae would make his own decisions, and if there was any need to inform them about it, he would give them only what they needed to know. His grandparents had never once raised any objections to this. It wasn’t like there was any bad blood between them, but he didn’t have much emotional attachment to living there. Even when he was young, Sakae never had any childishness or cuteness to him. He thought that his grandparents who were forced to take in this surly kid probably felt a sense of obligation, duty, and maybe a bit of nuisance. And probably guilt for feeling that nuisance.
Sakae returned to the train compartment, and Mutsuto and Shitara had each moved one seat over, leaving the aisle seat open.
“It’s not a big deal, just take the seat there. It’s pitch black outside the window anyway.”
It was true that it was more of a hassle to move over to the inside, and so he sat down in the seat in front of him.
“Shitara-san, did you know that Seat B has more seat pitch than the other seats?”
“Apparently by a couple of centimeters. The middle seat can feel pretty cramped.”
“Now that you mention it, there seems to be a little more room.”
In the first place, there was no need for three adult men to pack into the same row of seats. It was too close to be called a trip, but they were about to arrive at their destination anyway. Shitara and Mutsuto started talking about shows from other networks that they liked. If Sakae closed his eyes, the conversation sounded like strangers talking at a bar. He didn’t mean it in a cold and distant sense; just that there was an ease, a comfort to the conversation that didn’t require him to participate or think about anything. He then heard the announcement from the train, “We will be arriving in Atami shortly.”
His grandparent’s house was about 15 minutes away from the station, down the hill in the backstreets of town. It was in the downtown more or less, which was called the “Atami Ginza,”3 and it probably wasn’t the joke that it was now back in the day. It was abundantly clear how rundown it was, even if it hadn’t been the middle of the night. He saw the lowered shutters of the dried food shop and the hot spring buns shop and felt no shred of sentimentality; he just had enough of it. Naturally Sakae had never known its heyday back when this town had flourished as a popular honeymoon and resort spot, but people everywhere had talked about its vestiges, telling stories of “Back the day…” yadda yadda yadda. That was what he had hated most about this town. He wouldn’t have been this annoyed if it had been a plain, worn-out town in the countryside with nothing to its name.
Sakae took a cross street off the arcade of the shopping district. He stopped in front of a house and said, “Here.” Mutsuto looked up at the exterior and murmured, “Seriously? This is your house?”
“I wouldn’t go to someone else’s house at this time of night.”
“Uh, did you know about this, Shitara-san?”
“Nope, I just learned about it now…”
Their gazes were fixed on the concrete two-story building with a signboard that said The Sea Swallow Theater. Most of the paint was peeling off the old Gothic typeface with the wood grain showing through, and the swallow painted in the corner of the sign had the appearance of an ancient mural from a tomb. There were posters on the bulletin board attached to the wall outside, and coupled with the retro design and the discoloration from the sun, they sort of strangely looked like spirit photographs.
“It’s a movie theater, huh?”
“Does it look like a library to you?”
It looked run-down was Sakae’s first thought. It was already an antiquated facility when he had first come to this place, but now it was even more aged, more weathered. It was like this single area had preserved the dull, flat colors of Showa-era film photography, and it slowly faded little by little.
“This is so cool! It’s just like Nuovo Cinema Paradiso~!”
Mutsuto abruptly got excited, and Shitara had to warn him to quiet down.
“It’s a revival house, huh? What they’re calling it.”
“Well it doesn’t look like a first-run theater. You’ve been doing nothing but spewing the obvious here.”
Sakae ignored Mutsuto who was endlessly snapping pictures of the building, and he opened a quiet-looking door off to the side. One part of the movie theater was a long and narrow traditional-style townhouse, and when Sakae stepped inside, his grandfather immediately stepped out from the living room.
His face looked he still couldn’t believe what he was seeing as he stared at Sakae, faltering as he probably tried to say Welcome home, but Sakae cut him off before it could happen.
“You didn’t have to stay up.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not? It’s not like there’s anything worth stealing here.”
It was almost like his grandfather decayed at the same speed as the buildings and the town—the way that his wrinkles were carved, the rough dryness of his gray hair—in all these signs of old age, Sakae felt a whole other level of beauty in the transience and imperfections that he saw. However, his two companions popped their heads out from behind him, and a faint flicker of life tinged the dull dark eyes at the sight of something unknown. It was due to an abundance of fear and caution, of course, but the moment his grandfather startled and watched the two of them in shock, Sakae thought, Oh, he’s alive. He could show his feelings on his face.
“Good evening,” Shitara greeted him and bowed. “I am very sorry for the late night intrusion. By the way, I would like to ask who chose the films for your screening? With A Brighter Summer Day and Danger Pays as the double feature, I feel like we have incredibly similar tastes.”
What the hell was he talking about?
“Shitara-san, I think you probably got your greetings wrong.”
“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”
When his grandfather asked nervously in a low voice, “Are you Sakae’s acquaintances?” Mutsuto picked it up and answered with no hesitation.
“Oh, yes, we’re his friends.”
Apparently the introduction as his friends had enough of an impact to make the old man’s perpetually half-closed eyes juggle up. His eyes widened in an instant.
“Oh…. You’re… Sakae’s friends…”
“Yes, we’re very sorry, we got excited and decided to tag along.”
“We won’t be a bother, so please don’t mind us.”
“You came all the way from Tokyo?”
“It’s a stone’s throw away.”
With a confused look on his face, his grandfather finally gave a formal greeting. “Thank you for looking after my grandson,” he said. “What will you do for tonight?” he asked, his voice lowered and hesitant.
“I’m afraid that we don’t have the bedding for everyone to stay the night…”
They were the ones who decided to come here; they could figure out what to do for the night. This place was an obsolete tourist attraction; there were plenty of hotels in the area. Even if there weren’t, they were men, and they could deal with it. However, Mutsuto expressed another wish of his own.
“Ummm, if it’s not a bother, could you please show us the movie theater?”
“Huh? What the hell are you saying?”
“I mean, it has a really cool look to it. Since we’ve come all the way here, I’d love to see what it looks like inside. Don’t you want to see it too, Shitara-san?”
“Oh, yes, by all means, if it’s not a bother.”
Obviously it was already a bother coming over to someone’s house this late at night. But Shitara was shameless enough to say those words despite knowing full well of this breach in etiquette.
“I don’t mind, but… It’s cramped, and there’s nothing interesting to see inside.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine~”
“All right, I’ll go open it, so please wait out by the entrance.”
His grandfather grabbed the keys to the theater that were hanging on a hook on the wall, and Sakae said “Oi” to stop him.
“You don’t have to listen to what they say.”
“But they’re your friends, right?”
“They’re not like that.”
He didn’t care if they were “like that.” Sakae felt comfortable enough around them that when he felt like it, he would spend his time with them. He shouldn’t have cared about how Mutsuto chose to define their relationship. But yet, why had he felt the strong urge to deny it just now? Was it because he had never experienced the feeling of having friends before?
“But,” his grandfather repeated. “They were the ones who brought you here, right?”
His grandfather carried the set of keys, attached a plastic tag, and went around next door to open the double glass doors with round flat doorknobs. On the doorknob swung a sign that said, Showtimes have ended.
“I’ll turn on the lights, so please wait here. …All right, it’s okay to come in.”
Steep steps were lined with faded movie posters on both sides of the walls, leading to a space that was called a lobby in name only. It had a vending machine and a black sofa ripped all over with patches of cushioning showing through (Sakae had also picked at it plenty in his day). His grandfather pulled open a deep red door that led to the theater seating and invited them to please come in.
“Wow, the inside is really cool too! I guess it seats about 90?”
They were the same standard seats that could be found anywhere, but Mutsuto went exploring through the rows and aisles all excited. Sakae stood there for a while gazing at the place that had not much to see. Was it always this small? It was about the same size as the private screening rooms at the network. Maybe half of it was because this place was like his home, but Sakae had thought that he would never forget the things that he had felt here with his five senses—the darkness, the lack of space, the musty smell of the old curtains, the angle of the sloping floor against his feet, the vague green of the emergency exit sign, the way that talking voices echoed through the space. But now that he was here again, he was surprised by how cramped and worn out this place was, and he realized just how vague and ambiguous that memories were. He had lived in Atami until he was 18, and so it wasn’t that his body had grown and his sense of scale had been thrown off.
“If you would like, I could play a movie for you?”
The two agreed wholeheartedly with his grandfather’s suggestion. “Yes, please, thank you.”
“Oi, you can ignore them and go to bed. Don’t you have to open this place tomorrow?”
“With your grandma’s situation, I’ll be closing it for a while.”
Underneath his words was an acceptance of self-derision that no one would come to the theater anyway. Apparently aging and depopulation went lockstep with the times. It was only natural. Nowadays, people could watch old movies easily and cheaply from the comfort of their own homes. Even if revival houses were recognized for their cultural value, it was only the ones in Tokyo that could barely manage to survive. It had more people and more money to go around. Atami was less than one hour away by Shinkansen, but there was a qualitative difference between them. This was the only movie theater in town, and every time there were talks to tear it down, whatever activists had always come to protect it, but with consideration for his grandparents’ health, maybe now was the turning point for this place. Sakae knew nothing about the heyday of The Sea Swallow Theater. To him, it was a quiet business left behind by the times, and that suited it. If it had been a flourishing a business, he probably would have hated it and avoided it as much as he could. He thought from the bottom of his heart that he was glad that it was deserted.
The lights went down in the theater. The curtains over the screen staggered open, squeaking with each pass, and before long a black and white image appeared. Two of the three audience members clapped. Sakae sat at the end of the last row, Shitara sat in the middle of the row, and Mutsuto sat at the very center in the front row. They had changed up their seating from the Shinkansen—now they were spread much farther apart, and Sakae thought that this was much more comfortable. He listened to the faint groan of the film projector behind his back—the sound of 35 mm film rolling as light and shadow were thrown through a lens onto a screen. Sakae loved watching the tiny specks of dust that floated in the light emitted from the projector. Sometimes it was more entertaining than the movie itself, and he would gaze at it endlessly.
Even though he had been so excited, Mutsuto’s head in the front row started nodding off, and soon it slumped over and stopped moving. He probably fell asleep. The seats were old, and the armrests couldn’t be lifted so that someone could lie down. They must have been utterly mad to want to stay here for the night instead of a hotel. As Sakae blankly watched the low-resolution image, his eyes became blurry, too used to the smoothness of the TV. He noticed that Shitara had stooped down to leave the theater, but he came back in no time.
“Move over a seat.”
Shitara sat down next to Sakae and offered him a can of cola.
“I always seem to crave this when I’m watching a movie.”
“There’s no popcorn though.”
There was the sound of pull tabs cracking open two soda cans at the same time. The air-conditioning didn’t work very well, and it made the cold soda taste unusually good.
“Is the reason why your dreams are black and white because you’ve watched so many movies here growing up?”
“Dunno. It might have been that way before I came here. I can’t remember exactly.”
“But you could watch all the movies you wanted.”
“Well there was nothing else to do here.”
Sakae had spent all his time at the theater. On weekdays he came here after school, and on the weekend, there were the all-night movie screenings. There was nothing he wanted to do, nothing he was interested in, and so he glimpsed at the fake lives of strangers. Time seemed to flow faster as he sat there silently watching the images in the dark, and that idleness felt comfortable to him. He didn’t care what movies they were, he just watched them repeatedly as they changed once every few weeks. He never thought about which ones he liked, but there were a few that had stayed with him in his head, be it the camerawork or lines from a scene, and sometimes they would be overwritten by something else. In the end, it was only the colors that remained. Lots of different people had come to this tiny space of darkness. Movie buffs, drunkards, office workers who skipped work and just wanted to nap, and couples who just wanted to flirt with each other. He had nothing to do with any of them. Sakae had grown up in this space where everything was equally irrelevant to him, just like the scenes that played out on the flimsy screen.
“…This is unfair,” Shitara murmured. “You must have grown up showered in all these films here. It’s no wonder your work is so good, whether it’s a video piece or directing, you know how to capture people’s eyes. For you, it’s ingrained in your body, and not something that you think through with logic.”
“You’re exaggerating. I didn’t even pay attention when I watched them.”
It was only natural to fall asleep or let his mind wander. He had no aspirations to enter the movie industry; he only got a job at a TV network because he had heard the media industry had a fast selection process. He had never thought to take his childhood lazing to turn it into something productive. If he had to say something, then his special skill for falling asleep in a hard chair instead of a soft bed came in pretty handy for the TV industry which was exploitative in every way except that they paid on time. It was nothing more than that to Sakae, but Shitara said, “I’m jealous of you,” his face in quiet profile.
“I’m sure I could spend my whole life and never win against you.”
Sakae was surprised by the sudden comment. The cooled air caused more condensation to moisten the bright red can, and it almost slipped from his hand. There weren’t even drink holders on the seats.
“What?” Shitara noticed Sakae’s gaze on him and gave a quick smile.
Sakae thought that it was a smile of someone who smiled because it was easier to do so, and for a moment he felt like dumping the contents of the can over Shitara’s head, but he didn’t know why.
“I feel a competitiveness as a director too.”
“…That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”
Sakae tried to ask Then is that cool and compassionate face of yours all fake? but Shitara continued.
“Sometimes I can’t stand you so much, I can barely take it.”
He pressed the rim of the can to his lips and took a drink of the cola. The gulp that his throat made sounded awfully loud. Mutsuto’s head in the very front row didn’t even make a movement.
Sakae had fallen asleep without realizing it, and when he woke up, the screen was blank, and the door was thrown open. Mutsuto was still sleeping in the same position, but Sakae didn’t see Shitara or the cans of cola that he wasn’t quite sure that they had finished. He stood up and went out to the lobby and saw Shitara sitting on the sofa.
The wall-mounted clock said that it was 7:30 am. He had slept surprisingly pretty well.
“It’s pretty hard to sleep in a chair.”
Sakae said nothing and smoked a cigarette in front of a cigarette receptacle on a stand. He started thinking that those words had been so unlike Shitara that it had to have been a dream. Then he felt like maybe everything after the cola might not have even been real. Nothing was clear.
“Sakae, will you take over this place someday?”
“You kidding me? You think that this place gets any business?”
The place made no profit to be blunt. His grandparents owned several properties in the city and lived off the rental income and their pensions. There was severe damage to the building that had been built over half a century ago, and apparently his grandparents had planned to give the land back to the city after they closed the movie theater. Even if he inherited the business, it was too much to deal with, and Sakae felt better off with the way that things were. On an emotional level, he would feel better if the place were dynamited to smithereens, but it wasn’t his property, and he had no intentions to say anything about it. If they got rid of the place and didn’t give him any trouble, then that would be the easiest for him. That he had thought this, meant that inside of him, he considered his grandparents’ deaths to be not too far off. Even if he had yelled at a new reporter’s earrings, in the end, humans were essentially the same.
“It’d be such a waste.” Shitara ran his hand down the wall yellowed with nicotine stains. “I’d love to run and live at a small movie theater like this when I’m older.”
“Then buy it off my gramps.”
“I’m tempted, what should I do?”
Shitara expressed his aspirations for the future, though they were already dead, but he hadn’t been like this last night.
“Hey, when you—” Sakae started to ask him, but Mutsuto came out of the theater with a loud yawn.
“Ahh~ I hurt all over~… Good morning~ I’m starving.”
“You slept pretty well. …Sakae, were you about to say something?” Shitara asked him, but Sakae shook his head.
He told his grandfather who was sweeping out front that he was heading out, called a taxi for himself, and went to the hospital. His grandmother was just as surprised as his grandfather to see him, but after a stilted conversation, even though she couldn’t move from her own bed, she told him, “Take care of yourself.” He finished his very short perfunctory visit (more like a check that she was still alive), and when he left the hospital, he received a message on his cell phone from Shitara.
“We’re over at Sun Beach.”
It was hot out with the sun shining overhead, and he wondered what was wrong with them. Why would two men go to the beach together? He thought that they were both morons as he got into another taxi to head over there. The ocean in the morning sparkled at the horizon, and even the sand was filled with light. It was so bright that he couldn’t keep his eyes open. It was a different world from the darkness of the movie theater—which then reminded him of the past. When he went outside after watching a movie, it could be bright out, it could be dark out, it could be raining or freshly stopped—that feeling like he was cut off from the world like a torn-off ticket stub—he didn’t hate it. It felt like a small loss and a small gain at the same time. Mutsuto spotted Sakae and started waving his hand wildly.
“That was quick! How was your grandma?”
Mutsuto lightly shoved Sakae in the shoulder, calling him an unfilial grandson, and smiled. “But it’s good that you made it in time.” Then he ran to the water’s edge, playing tag with the waves, trying to stay as long as possible without getting wet, tirelessly repeating the process over and over again.
“When I was a kid, I thought that Atami was a place with warm seawater like a bath.”4
“You’re probably the only one who thought that.”
“What? I’m not the only one. Oh, hey, I should take a picture… No way, my cell phone is dead. When did that happen!? Shitara-san, please take a picture and send it to me~”
“Take whatever pictures you want.”
Shitara was standing a little ways from them and tossed his cell phone over without hesitation. Mutsuto caught it and pointed the lens at Sakae. Sakae yelled, “Quit it,” as he turned and ran.
“What’s with you~?” Mutsuto called out.
“Sakae likes pointing the camera at others, but he doesn’t like it when it’s pointed at him,” Shitara said, smirking. “It was so obvious he hated giving reports as a reporter. Most of the people there loved the attention and were happy to appear on TV.”
“So they’re all damn exhibitionists.”
Sakae withdrew to the side of the stairs that led up to the promenade to take a smoke, and Shitara came up to him and said, “Hey.”
“I don’t have any more. This is seriously my last one.”
“I’m not asking for a cigarette. Sakae, do you feel like making a video about your grandparents’ movie theater?”
“I think that it would look great visually. The name The Sea Swallow Theater is perfect too. It’s a little cliche, but you could also tie it to the history of Atami, and I think it’d be pretty interesting. I mean, look how there’s the ocean and the mountains here. It’s an amazing location, don’t you think? It would be heaps and heaps of beauty shots.”
“Not really interested.”
“Don’t say that. And if it’s a longer piece, you can bring the project to the documentary side. I know that you’ll do a great job on it. I’m sure that your grandparents would be happy about it too.”
“You telling me to pour my work into this for my gramps and use the public airwaves for them?”’
He was only being sarcastic, but Shitara said, “Yeah, that’s right,” and nodded.
“As a creator, it’s important to know who you want to see your work and who you want to make happy. But I don’t see any hunger or ulterior motives in the things that you make. Your skill in knowing what’s interesting is incredible, and you can make other people interested in it too, but if you can somehow look outwards more, I think you can be even better.”
Sakae was angry. What the hell do you even want from me? He had thought that Shitara had viewed him as a producer and wanted to help cultivate his work, but then there was that remark from last night that he couldn’t stand him. Even though Shitara had said when they first met that he wanted to work with him—so which one was it? But the ocean was bright, and the artificial beach was peaceful. Hatsushima Island was clearly visible in the distance, and black kite hawks circled the sky. The scenery was so wholesome that it made him sick, and he was somewhat scared to hear Shitara’s answer here. There was nothing but lies inside a movie theater, but outside in nature, everything was real, and none of it would disappear into the night.
Scared? Me? Why?
His inexplicable thoughts were interrupted by a very fake-sounding shutter sound. Before he knew it, Mutsuto had come to point the cell phone camera at them.
“Oi, what the hell are you taking?”
“It was a nice two shot just now~”
“Delete it, stupid.”
“Shitara-san, you take care of it~!”
Sakae stalked over to Mutsuto, and Mutsuto threw the cell phone in a clean arc over his head, returning it back into Shitara’s hands.
“If we don’t leave soon, work will start without us. Let’s go.”
“Ahhh, that means we have to climb the hill back up to the station? That’s gonna be tough~”
“Oi, delete the picture.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll delete it. It’s not like there’s any good in keeping it.”
They ate breakfast at a nearby coffee shop and took the Kodama back to Tokyo. Shitara said, “Sorry, let me have the window seat.” He took the seat and leaned against the window to start sleeping. He probably hadn’t slept well last night. The Shinkansen seats were far better than the ones at The Sea Swallow Theater. Mutsuto sat in the middle seat, full of energy like he was still excited from the trip, and he flipped through a sightseeing leaflet that he had picked up at the station.
“Let’s come here again~ We can take our time next time. I want to try the hot springs and go to the museums…”
“You can go by yourself.”
“Why do you gotta say that? Wow, I never knew that Atami does fireworks shows over the ocean all year round. That’s so cool~ I can see them even after the summer! Let’s come here in the fall or winter.”
“I just said I’m not coming.”
Sakae looked at the scrolling news screen at the front of the car. A sharp drop in the Nikkei Index, three deaths in a series of car collisions, a partnership between car companies, delays in regular trains due to an accident… A lot of things had happened today, and as usual he would have to process a few of them and serve them up on a platter over the airwaves for people to consume.
“Whoa, an accident with the trains…”
Apparently Mutsuto had seen the same headline, and he murmured, “It’s going to be tough for the commuters and station attendants then.”
That had been a Friday morning, and Sakae typically had the weekends off, so he went to the neighborhood library. He didn’t know how seriously to take Shitara when he suggested that he make something in Atami, but he decided to flip through the books about its geography and history. He had never viewed his hometown as a subject for a video piece, but when Shitara had said that it was great visually, he was actually quite right about it, and it piqued Sakae’s interest in an objective way. It wasn’t all that hard to make a video about it, but it pissed him off to leave the challenge unanswered. If he was going to do it, he might as well find an angle that Shitara would never have thought of, something that would make him look at the proposal and praise him openly, Wow. If Shitara was frustrated with him and hated him inside, then that was his problem. It had nothing to do with Sakae. That was what he thought as he piled up books and copies of materials on a desk at the library.
Even if Shitara hadn’t said anything, Sakae had a greed that he wanted from the outside too. He was always thinking, What kind of face would you make if you saw this? That was an ulterior motive, wasn’t it? Sakae pressed his cheek down against the desk. He was in a cubicle area, so no one would see him like this. The chilled surface of the varnished wood reminded him of the wooden floors of Shitara’s apartment.
It wasn’t that he wanted to be praised like a dog. It was just that Shitara very accurately captured Sakae’s intentions, whether he pulled things off smoothly or left things in unintentionally. That was why he could never let up, and why it relieved him. But now that he was aware of it, he became frustrated with himself. What the hell? They were his own feelings, but he couldn’t accept them. He tried to tell himself that it wasn’t like that, but it didn’t work. Just the thought of Shitara’s face in his mind made somewhere around his stomach crumple. Was this the same frustration that Shitara had for him? But Sakae would never tell Shitara this. He couldn’t say anything that he didn’t think, but even more so, he couldn’t say anything that he never expected to think. The sunlight shining through the large window cut a diagonal partition through the thick, lazy air of the afternoon, casting Sakae under dual tones of light and shadow. With only a single eye open, he chased the specks of dust slowly floating in the light.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Kodama is the slowest train that runs on the route between Tokyo and Osaka.
- 3,000 yen – Approx. $30 USD.
- Ginza is a very ritzy shopping district in Tokyo.
- Atami is famous for its saltwater hot springs, and its name means ‘hot sea.’