Chapter 6: Block It Out (6)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
In the morning, Sakae was woken by a phone call from the News Director.
“It’s already 11 o’clock. What are you doing? Are you out on a shoot?”
“I was asleep at home,” he answered honestly, and the News Director ordered him irritably, “Get here immediately. We have questions for you about yesterday’s incident.”
He predicted that it would be an awful day today. No, it would be an awful bunch of days for a while. Sakae drank a cup of coffee while checking the news, and he saw that the newspapers had printed some rather passive headlines about yesterday’s incident, like Wrong Photo Aired by Mistake, but on the internet message boards, just like Shitara had said, people had circulated the screenshots. There were comments of dubious origin from people who claimed to have connections to the case, like This is totally true and I know this kid, and plenty of comments that praised the on-air incident, like Asahi TV has guts and I support them. Had Mutsuto seen these comments? And if he had, did he feel satisfied? If he wasn’t going to get justice from the law, then was he content that he had taken matters into his own hands? But the smile that Mutsuto made when Sakae last saw him in the control room had been entirely hollow. Something that could never be undone—something that he could never get back—the unspeakable had happened to him, and he possessed the look of a human who had no choice but to return an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Transparent on his face had been a thoroughly dry and empty resignation. But he had no option not to do it; Mutsuto had been at the end of his rope, and he accepted it with all of its bitterness.
Sakae finished his coffee and hesitated whether to go into work in a suit or not, but he decided to wear his normal everyday clothes as always. The News Director took one look at him and made a face, and he knew that he had made the correct decision. The News Director said, “Come with me,” and Sakae followed him to a conference room. Waiting for him inside was a line of the network’s top officials—board members that he had rarely seen at the network and executives from the News Department, starting with the General Manager.
“We will be asking you some simple questions regarding yesterday’s broadcast incident.”
Apparently the News Director had been put in charge of the investigation. Sakae didn’t see Shitara in the room.
“First, regarding how the offending graphic in question made its way into the workflow. Souma, you were the broadcast director, was there nothing that could be done to notice and prevent it?”
What the hell is he saying?
Sakae frowned, and the News Director prompted him, “Answer the question, even if it sounds obvious. We need to enact measures so that it can never happen again.”
He gave a show of a sigh and explained his answers like he was addressing a child.
“From the director’s seat, all that anyone can check is the next queued graphic. If someone secretly sneaks a different graphic onto the computer and fast forwards through the queued graphic to the hidden one, there is nothing that the director can do. It can be done with a single click.”
“What was the reason for pushing the CUT button?”
“Because I had determined that it was the best option available to me. Even if I had switched the graphic to a different one, the studio was in a panic. Without a full grasp of the situation in the control room, and I could only run to commercial for the time being. If the same thing happened now, I would make the same decision.”
The old geezers sitting at the tables arranged in a rectangular shape around the room made a show of nodding their heads gravely.
“All right, then…” The News Director paused. “…Just to be sure, you were not aware beforehand that this incident would occur, correct?”
He had been doing nothing but doubting his eyes and ears since yesterday.
“Well, I hear that you are quite close personally to Oku from the Design team. Although from the reactions of the rest of the staff, they don’t believe that you had known about it, but still—can you confirm that you had no cooperation or tacit acknowledgment of Oku’s actions?”
Sakae silently kicked the table from underneath with his knee. Angry voices yelled “Oi” at him, but he was the one who wanted to throw a fit here. He felt like he had ruptured and broken 100 blood vessels in his anger.
“I understand how upsetting it feels to be suspected.” The News Director tried to pacify him with a coaxing voice that disgusted him. “However, we are responsible for reporting our findings to our sponsors and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. This investigation is also in your best interest, so please understand that this is our job.”
Asahi TV disavows any knowledge and participation of the incident. It was all the reckless actions of an individual subcontractor—it was an investigation designed for them to make this argument.
“I knew nothing about it.”
Sakae made a show of raising his right hand like he was in a foreign courtroom as he made his declaration. He was then told, “Could you show us your cell phone history?” It was phrased like a question, but it was clearly an order.
“Of course, we will take the utmost consideration to safeguard your privacy. If you have had exchanges with Oku via email, text, or phone calls, we would—”
Before he could finish, Sakae had thrown his cell phone on the table.
“By all means, feel free,” Sakae spat. “Rummage through it to your heart’s content. I don’t need it anymore, so you can have it. Are we done here? I have work to do, so I will take my leave.”
He ignored the cries of “Wait” that tried to stop him, and he left the room. He headed to a cell phone shop in the area to get a new one. His rage at being suspected without cause wasn’t any ordinary anger, but it didn’t mean that it was all directed at Mutsuto. He was most irritated that he had no outlet for his rage. Why did he feel all this anger and hatred for Mutsuto? Why couldn’t this hatred just go away?
There was an emergency meeting that day after the broadcast, and Shitara delivered the same details designed for the network’s image in mind from his mouth. A designer had made the graphic partly as a joke and had put it on the air. Naturally he was a complete stranger with no involvement in the bullying case, and the designer would no longer work at Asahi TV hereafter. The network as a whole was committed to preventing such an incident from ever happening again—it was so blatantly transparent to everyone that the explanation was not real. But if he considered how it was the job of television to turn lies into reality, then maybe it was the correct course of action for them.
“As for the future of this show, in the meantime we plan to continue the show as it is. However, we must take responsibility for causing such a public scandal, even for appearance’s sake, and so the network plans to replace it with a brand-new news program.”
A quiet commotion spread throughout the conference room that seated the full staff.
“The time slot and the presenters will not be changing. And we would like to bring the entire staff onto the new show. In effect, we are only changing the signs on the outside for people to see, but it is an important display of responsibility, and so Day’s Edge will be ending its run in mid-October. With regard to the incident, no one here is at fault for it. I am deeply sorry that you have been mixed up in this very sudden controversy. If possible, please lend your talents in the making of the new show. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
Shitara stood and bowed his head to the room while next to him, an older man from the news desk gave a faint smile of derision. The lower-level staff tended to be more sensitive to those types of reactions, and after the meeting adjourned, it became a hot topic.
“Did you see that? Oda-san’s smile at the end of the meeting?”
“It was like he couldn’t help but revel in ShitaP’s misfortune. It was so gross.”
“Yeah, it was seriously an accident. There was nothing he could do about it.”
“Anyway, what’s Oku-sama going to do? Has anyone talked to him?”
They then realized that Sakae was walking behind them. They shrank in fear and changed the topic.
“What will they do with the new show?”
“Probably change the set, logo, and stuff.”
“You think they’ll take up time with rehearsals and things?”
“For now, they’ll probably need to rush to make the new show ASAP and then work on a true relaunch for next spring.”
“Yeah, they did say that they wouldn’t change the contents much.”
Likely nothing would change, that was true. They would continue onto a new show pretending that Oku Mutsuto had never existed—because they always had to fill that time slot on the air with something. Empty static was never permitted on TV.
Sakae immediately cancelled the contract for the cell phone that was returned to him. There was nothing that he thought was fun. And now he no longer understood any of the things that he had once thought were fun.
A number of the stories that he had been working on in various stages of planning and scheduling were put on hold, and eventually they disappeared. Since the show was changing, even if only for appearances, it was necessary to adjust the format and the segments of the show, and the temporary moratoriums on works-in-progress changed from TBD to termination. Sakae felt no particular regret at the decisions. Increasingly Shitara had more business to attend to outside of the network, and even when he was in the building, he was constantly summoned for one thing or another. There were also mountains of preparations needed to get the new show ready under the time crunch, and Shitara probably had no time to look after a show that was essentially dead in the water. He basically stopped showing up at the evening news and left everything in the hands of the executive producer who was his adjunct. Sakae was a full employee of the network, and naturally he was expected to participate in the planning of the new show, but he skipped every single meeting and didn’t submit any concepts or ideas to the planning committee. Although he managed to report to work every day, he essentially did nothing all day, spending his time in the smoking areas, coffee rooms, or the outside terrace. He had turned into a complete time waster within the company.
Sakae had seen the suicide note left by Mutsuto’s dead brother. He had borrowed the master tape from the archive and replayed the footage, and he learned just how gruesome the bullying had been. The particulars of the physical, mental, and sometimes sexual abuse that he had suffered were laid out in neat, sharp script that resembled Mutsuto’s handwriting, and it ended with a Mom, Big Brother, I’m sorry. The broadcast version of the story had blacked out the identifying details and hadn’t shown any of the more horrific parts of the note. Sakae wondered if Mutsuto had read the real note. But even if Sakae ruminated over the details, nothing productive would ever come from it. There were a few weekly magazines that had written, Asahi TV possibly employed bereaved family member in bullying case that resulted in on-air misconduct, but no one really took it seriously. Although Mutsuto had been dismissed from his design agency, the network hadn’t pursued any legal damages from him personally. If the network were to make it a bigger issue, it would draw more attention to the original incident no matter how much they tried to hide it, and it would only further substantiate the theory that the photo had been real. Ironically, the anonymity of the young assaulter had become a shield that protected Mutsuto. Sakae wondered how far Mutsuto had foreseen the consequences of his actions.
None of this should have mattered to him, but night after night Sakae would dream about it. On a rough black and white beach, he was there with Mutsuto, and Mutsuto’s cell phone would ring endlessly. Sakae would tell him to answer it, but Mutsuto would smile and shake his head.
“It’s fine. It’s not like I’ll make it in time anyway.”
Or they would be inside the cramped space of The Sea Swallow Theater with Mutsuto sitting in the middle of the front row like he had sat that night. The screen with terrible black specks dotting the image showed the platform of a train station and the back of a child in a uniform with a standup collar as he slowly leaned over the edge of the platform towards the train tracks. The sound of the train whistle warned of its approach, and Sakae had shouted, “Oku!” Had shouted, “Don’t look!” But no sound would come from his throat. Mutsuto’s head had not moved in the slightest as Sakae’s shouts failed to reach him, and the train and its thundering roar hurled past the screen.
When Sakae woke up with his heart pounding, he was always covered entirely in sweat, and he clutched at his chest over his clothes as he tried to catch his breath. He wanted to pluck his heart from his chest and throw it away. He shouldn’t have felt any feelings of guilt, so why did he keep having these dreams? He didn’t know when he would jump to his feet in the middle of his naps, and so he stopped going to the movie theaters too. Only the moment when he dropped asleep after drowning himself in alcohol did he ever feel at ease.
When his dreams had become a near daily occurrence, there had been another unusual change. After he woke up drenched in sweat from his dreams, some time had passed before he had noticed it. His right ear felt strange. No sound would reach it, like he was listening to music through earphones and one side of it was broken. He tapped the side of his forehead and tried swallowing back his saliva, but nothing happened. There had been no pain or any other symptoms, but he was afraid that he would lose his hearing in both ears, and so he stopped by the medical office at the network. The doctor examined him and said, “I think it is sudden sensorineural hearing loss.” Sakae wanted to laugh at how clearly his mental and physical breakdown had manifested itself.
“Stress is a common cause for sudden hearing loss, so if you can think of any sources of stress in your life, do try to reduce or eliminate them. I will refer you to an ENT specialist, so please see him for a detailed examination and prescriptions to treat the condition.”
He was told to reduce his levels of stress, but that would mean he would have to quit his job and move deep into the mountains or to a solitary island where there was no TV reception. But then he realized, yeah, he could quit his job. He had only been working for a year and a half, but he had a pretty high salary. It wasn’t like he had the time to spend any of his money, and with the extra pay from all the overtime, late night and holiday work that the network had not been stingy about, he had enough savings stashed away that he could afford to do nothing for a while. Although he had no guarantee that doing so would make it easier on himself, it made him feel a little relieved that he could come up with this bit of wishful thinking.
The week before rehearsals were about to start for the new show that he hadn’t been involved in, Sakae was smoking a cigarette in the smoking area when the senior colleague whom he had trouble with before came over and raised his voice at him.
Damn, I had to be found by a pain in the ass.
Here he was in a blatant mood that said, Stay the fuck away from me, but the guy had the balls to ignore it and come provoke him, which was impressive.
“Souma, you haven’t helped out with the preparations for the new show at all. What do you think you’ve been doing?”
Sakae ignored him, and the guy nagged, “Are you listening?” He was really sick of the guy, so he flicked his cigarette at him while it was still lit. The guy was so over-dramatic in the way that he screamed, “Waahh!!” and jumped out of the way, that Sakae laughed for the first time in a long while. Was this what it felt like to laugh? He couldn’t remember. His life had been severed into two—before and after that day of the broadcast, and he felt like he couldn’t connect his life back together like before. Did Mutsuto also feel the same way? Like water leaking from a hole, Sakae couldn’t stop his little chuckle as he picked up the cigarette from the ground and dropped it in the receptacle.
“Bastard, what the hell did you do that for!?”
“Sorry, you looked like an ashtray, so I mistook you for one.”
“What did you say?”
“Don’t try to talk to me.”
“Seriously, who the hell do you think you are!?”
The guy grabbed Sakae by the collar of his shirt using the same words that he had said several months ago.
Well that’s disappointing. Why don’t you kick and break the glass again? Like last time. At least let me have the delusion that I’ve gone back into the past to do everything from the start of spring all over again. I won’t pick up the phone at the bar; I won’t go to Atami. I’d warn him to charge his phone, and then I’d leave.
That would be enough. He knew exactly the things that he wanted to edit. Why couldn’t he rewind reality like tape and fix things where he needed them? He didn’t want to see what was real anymore. He didn’t want to hear what was real. He didn’t want to say what was real.
“I’ve had enough of your crap!”
The guy shoved Sakae roughly into a wall, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. The other people in the smoking area didn’t want to get involved in their fight, and they extinguished their cigarettes and scurried away. He didn’t feel any pain, and the threats that he heard through one ear in monophonic sound had sounded so lame and stupid that he didn’t get mad. He understood that a lot of parts of himself had been paralyzed inside, but he no longer thought that the condition was something dangerous.
“I don’t get what Shitara-san sees in you.”
Sakae made no reaction, and the guy spat in aggravation, “Did you hear?” and made a face.
“He’s being transferred. To a local affiliate station. Who knows when he can come back. Maybe he’ll be passed around until he reaches retirement.”
What the hell? I never knew that.
He never received an email from HR that said that. It wasn’t rare for rumors to precede the official notices of personnel changes (that was probably their aim too), but Sakae had no one he was close to at the network who would tell him this information. It had been Mutsuto would always bring him the exclusive scoops. News like He’s supposed to quit soon and He’s in the running for the next president of the network. Even though Sakae had always commented Where the hell did you hear that from? and never paid attention to what he had said.
You talked to lots of people, and they all liked you, huh?
So why would he destroy everything like that? The answer was obvious. Because Mutsuto’s world had already been destroyed.
“Do you know what he did?”
Sakae felt himself hoisted up. The heels of his sneakers were in the air.
“He took all the blame and responsibility for that incident with Oku. No one above him would take any responsibility for it, and there were talks about canning you since you were the broadcast director when it happened. But oh, you say ‘there was nothing I could do, sir’? You could say that if you had actually listened to people up until now, but no, you’ve defied the bosses at every turn without batting an eye, but now you’re asking for fairness and standards? Don’t kid yourself. God, it wouldn’t hurt to see you suffer a little, but Shitara-san kept insisting that you did nothing wrong…”
The end of his sentence shook as it trailed off, and his strength weakened enough to let Sakae’s heels touch the ground again.
Why the hell is he crying? Sakae thought, lost in a daze. Maybe because the voice had sounded so far away from him. It was strange; they had nothing to do with each other. Not Oku, not this guy, not Sakae. Everything was just so fucking strange, and he kept looking back again and again where it had all gone off the rails, but nothing changed.
He heard the shrill sound of a high-pitched ringing in his ear where he had lost his hearing. He started feeling dizzy. He wanted to lie down somewhere. The disgraceful teary face of this man who was hounding him evoked no emotions whatsoever in Sakae. It just made him sick, and he shoved him with his elbow and grunted, “Get out of my way.” The guy jolted him even harder and made his head spin more.
“Don’t even think about running away! You’re always looking down on everyone—do you think you’re so much better than us? But you make Shitara-san clean up after you, and everyone’s trying their best here, desperate to move on, but you’re acting all haughty like you’re not even one of us!! Are you even human!?”
The guy had rattled on with pausing, but then he hung his head and his tears fell. Nothing mattered to Sakae at this point, he just wanted to lie down—that was all that he could think about. But once he lay down, he would fall asleep, and if he fell asleep, he would dream about Mutsuto.
“…I wanted to work together more with Shitara-san. I know that everyone feels the same way too…”
The sobs that wrung out with the guy’s words accelerated his vertigo.
“Someone like you with no motivation to work here… Why don’t you just leave and go away?”
“Is that all you have to say?” Sakae said. “If so, can I go now?”
The crumpled tear-stained face seemed to recover in an instant, and it turned dark red with anger. The guy lifted a fist, but Sakae didn’t brace his body or his mind for it. If he lost consciousness, then maybe he could black out immediately without dreaming. The floor lurched left and right like he was on the ocean; the ceiling was spinning—he had lost all sense of his equilibrium. Even if he kept his eyes open, there was nothing good that would come from it.
However, before the hardened fist could swing at him, he heard the door to the smoking area slam open and someone say, “What are you doing?” Just when he thought that he recognized Shitara’s voice, Sakae slumped to the floor with his back to the wall.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.