I glance up from my boiling water that I had placed not long before at the apple-shaped clock on the wall opposite me. The radio blares nearby a song from some pop band that I hadn’t chosen to hear, but it played on anyway. My wishes meant nothing to it, so I simply sigh and let things go. I take the package of pasta—little ones that remind me of bits of chopped up water hose—and empty the contents into the bubbling pot. Before they got finished I still had to make quick work of preparing the vegetables and fettuccini sauce.
I maneuver around the kitchen swiftly, grabbing what I need from the fridge, piece at a time, and set it down on the counter top near the cutting board that I had forgotten to put away in the cabinet from the early morning. I make quick work of chopping the bad parts from the veggies and throwing them away before I chop some of them up thinly and others thickly. I then pop open a glass jar of the sauce and dump it into a smaller plastic bowl and stick it in the microwave. I stand there, listening intently to a song by The Beatles that I don’t quite recognize; the only thing familiar is the sound of the tune and the voices. No matter the song, it seems, they always have a distinct sound. Then again, when I think about it seriously for a while, that seems to be the case with anyone at anything.
I sit down and wait after setting the chopped vegetables into their own boiling pot to simmer and soften for later. To pass the time, I pick up a fresh pack of Marlboros and crack the seal and open the top, taking one between the index and middle finger of my right hand and slip it between my lips. It sticks a little since they’re pretty dry, but I remove it and lick them before placing it back, which helps out tremendously. I pick up the typical red Bic and light up. The smoke still stings my eyes a little, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I first picked up the habit, which would have been some time in college. Perhaps it was freshman or junior year? I had long forgotten and I felt no need in keeping up with the record anymore. The only thing that to care about is the number of years I have left to live and that end would be so far in front of me that there would be no need in worrying about it.
As I sit waiting, the thought suddenly strikes to make a pot of coffee. I had recently bought vanilla creamer and a bag of sugar. I stand up, smoke in hand, and take the coffeepot and fill it up, set it down and fill the maker with freshly ground coffee beans and enough water to suffice. By this point—it had been much longer than I thought originally—the pasta was getting near done if it wasn’t already. I lift a few pieces from the pot with a wooden spoon that I’d gotten many years back and nibble at one of them. They were soft enough. I lean down and take out the strainer from one of the high cabinets over the stove and place it in the sink, careful of its position. I then turn off that particular burner and carry the pot to the sink where I then drain the water from the noodles. I then, with great caution so as not to lose more than I had to, dump them into a large bowl. I then proceed to do the same with the cooked vegetables. The microwave had gone off quite a while earlier, but I chose to ignore it. Knowing I couldn’t ignore it all day if I wanted to actually eat something, I grab it and stir the sauce into the mix before tossing everything, except for the food of course, into the sink for washing later.
I dip out enough to satiate me, which isn’t much, and begin eating. The veggies, namely the broccoli bits, are fairly crunchy. I don’t understand exactly what possessed me to make something like this, but I don’t bother; food’s food when you boil it down to the meager roots of the situation. Perhaps I could have made a better crunch by leaving it to fall to a more tepid temperature instead of the present scalding one. Regardless of my wavering tastes I eat it anyway. Being picky would get me nowhere.
The phone suddenly rings as I eat, drowning out the song Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkel, a song that I grew to like quite a few years before; an ex-girlfriend of mine actually introduced me to their music and I almost instantly fell in love with the tunes. It catches me off guard, but I stand up anyway after setting my cigarette in the old and yellowed ashtray. I pick it up and press it to my ear, but the only thing I hear is silence. Dead silence. It’s the sort of silence where you could hear a pen drop forever away from it, the sort that makes you uneasy while making you comfortable somehow at the same time. It’s a strange, contradictory feeling, but I somehow feel a connection to it. The allure of darkness and silence I suppose; I imagine the place on the other end being nothing but an abyss of darkness in which you could make out absolutely nothing. My end has some sounds such as the ticking of the clock, but I keep silent as well, listening intently for something.
“Mr. Shimura?” The voice confused me; it sounded like a woman, but a man too. Confusion erupts and fills me. What do I do? I take a deep breath and listen. “You are Hayate Shimura, aren’t you?”
I clear my throat. “Yes, I’m Shimura. How can I help you?” I try my best to keep up a professional sound.
Again that deep unending silence returns. It lingers for a good two minutes. I pick up my smoke—it has lost quite a bit of its length—and stick it in my mouth again, puffing to pass the time while I patiently await an answer. “My name is of no importance now, but perhaps it will be at a later date. As of now, I wish only to make an acquaintance of you, Mr. Shimura.” A long pause. “I wish to know more, but I’m afraid my room is becoming too filled with heavy poison air. Not the deadly poison in typical thought, but it is nonetheless. I look forward to speaking to you again and remember this: nothing is ever as it seems.” With that, I hear the click of the receiver and the typical tone to a dropped call. Feeling chilled, I decide to sit down and finish eating; I need to calm my nerves. From that ‘conversation’ I’ve become way too anxious.
I finish eating and put the dishes into the sink along with the rest for later. I reach into the fridge and grab my next to the last beer; Karin probably grabbed one of the others. My younger sister of twenty-three—she’s seven years younger than me—moved in about three or four months back after a nasty divorce with her husband which was thought to have been more of an asset and power struggle than anything. She gets on my nerves like she always did when we were kids, but we actually get along well enough not to kill each other. I hate it though when she takes my booze and smokes; I pay for it myself.
I turn on the TV only to find nothing interesting as far as sitcoms or otherwise so I decide to flip it on the news. A story comes on about a house fire then one about a resolved kidnapping; I don’t find either to be particularly interesting. I decide to flip it off and pick up a novel I had begun recently, The Holy Man of Mount Koya by Kyōka Izumi, which I greatly enjoy. I had already made it near the middle of the book. I flip to my marked page and begin reading, my fingers running over each character as its sound enters my mind. I feel my mind go numb to reality, leaving me only to hear and see and feel the world being formed around me; I feel wonderful and light.
That fabricated reality is suddenly shattered when I hear the slam of the front door and Karin’s call of “I’m home!” I shake my head and close the book after slipping my bookmark back between the pages. “Did you make dinner!? I’m starving!” she whines. I groan and stand up, making my way into the kitchen long enough to see her arrival and point out the obvious location of the meal’s remainder in the fridge.
“You’re loud,” I remark as I lean on the counter, beer can in hand. She glares at me but I pay no heed to it. I’m used to her. “Can’t you shut the door softly instead of slamming it? And, I mean, you’re voice really booms, even when you whisper.”
She purses her lips and she tries to look pouty and pitiful, but fails miserably. To any other guy it may have worked, but it wouldn’t work on me no matter how many times she tried. “You’re such a jerk,” she whimpers as she grabs the leftovers from the fridge and scoops some out for herself. She sits down, unopened beer in hand, and begins to eat. I frown deeply. “What? Don’t look at me like that, Hayate.”
“I can look at you how I want,” I reply briskly. “Besides, I pay for this stuff. You drink like an old alcoholic. You haven’t been drinking long?”
“Long enough,” she answers and pops the top. She turns it up and takes a big drink, a little running down her chin. She wipes it away and focuses her eyes on me. “So, what’s it matter? If I drink or not should be my business and you buy it and drink too, so why does it concern you?”
“Because it’s my money that buys it,” I retort with a heavy hopeless sigh. “Besides, don’t you need to be sober for work and court proceedings? I mean, everything still isn’t finalized with Ichirou.” She huffs and looks away. I watch her and take note of her eye position; she seems to be watching a bird fluttering about in the yard.
“I know, but I can’t help it,” she finally says. “It’s hard with all this stress so it really helps to wind down with a good mind-numbing drink every now and again. Okay, I’ll tell you something good: why don’t I pay you back with a case? I’ll buy this time and give you over half?”
I shake my head. “No need,” I tell her. “I can handle it. Just slow down and help out every once in a while. It’s not exactly easy to support the habit for two.”
She says nothing else. She sits silently and eats with her attention elsewhere showing from the distance that suddenly fills her eyes. I do the same, allowing my mind to drift into another world where, maybe, I’ll feel more comfortable. Everything from the loss of my fiancé to the inclusion of my sibling in my home and then the sudden call from a person I know nothing of suddenly begins to bear down in unimaginable weight. My chest feels tight and sweat has already formed on my brow. My breath feels strained but I am already aware of my changing mentality from the cool one I had always known to one that is a bit more conscientious of everything else and a bit more concerned to the effect of these shifting things; namely, with careful weighing of everything else, the air. The air feels heavy and tainted somehow, but I can’t quite place my finger on it. I decide not to bother for the time being as I still have job hunting to do and a home to take care of.
Once certainty comes that she is satisfied, at least for a while, and finished speaking, I make my way back into the living room and settle once more upon the sofa. I sip at my beer and flip the TV on again. This time I manage to find a fairly interesting talk show, so I settle and decide to watch for a while. If I happen to get tired I figure that leaning back and napping on the couch to be a pretty good idea; it’s comfortable so I see no need in concern for a stiff neck or anything. Besides, I’ve yet to consider myself old or even old enough for those sorts of pains despite the fact that I feel them sometimes in a few of my joints from a rough young life.
I would stay in fights during my middle and high school years so I had become used to getting punched or anything else that would happen in those times of frustration or whatever the cause may have been; typically it was for a girl’s sake or due to some unkind words that were spit thoughtlessly. I had gotten expelled a time or two, bringing my parents to think me an unruly child, but they still took my upbringing in stride and convinced me, on more than on occasion, to stay in school and I finally graduated. Actually, at the ceremony and a few times out if it, a few people who I brawled with on a regular basis came to me and thanked me and I made friends with a few of them. I tend to keep in touch most of the time, but with work and everything else—namely work on their end since I became unemployed through a buyout—they don’t seem to have time for me anymore.
Karin comes and sits beside me. “So, is there something on your mind? You look a little agitated, Haya.” She takes one of my Marlboros and sticks it between her lips and lights it. She takes a long drag and sets it in the ashtray almost immediately after blowing a smoke ring. “You know you can tell me, don’t you?”
“I got a call,” I tell her.
“Call? From who? A girlfriend maybe?” Her eyes glimmer in a hopeful way; I figure she just wants a reason to get me out of the house. “If so then you’ve got my full support, Haya!”
I furrow my brow. “Don’t call me that and it wasn’t a girl who I’ve grown close to. As a matter of fact, I don’t know who it was.” I take a deep breath and close my eyes.
“You don’t know? See, that’s why I pester you to get caller ID, but you have to be stingy! If you had it then you would know.”
“With what I was told it would do no good; he or she would have blocked the number as unknown or something somehow, so I would have wasted money on a device that would do me no good.”
I look at her to see her glaring at me. “I don’t know why you say that sort of thing, but whatever. You’re so stubborn and old-school.” She stands up and lifts her cigarette carefully. It looks a bit strange dangling between her long, thin fingers. She walks out of the room and into the backyard. I don’t know why, but I don’t really care. I enjoy the silence.
She shuts the door behind her and I stare up at the ceiling. Everything feels a bit foggy. I think back on the conversation. I’d heard that saying before, “nothing is ever as it seems,” but I can’t seem to understand it. You can hear something over and over and not be able to understand exactly what it means. I think on this a long while, but I can’t seem to make any sense of it. I sigh and forget about my beer and smoke; I can concern myself with them later. For now, however, I feel a bit better in thinking about nothing. Besides, with my tendencies, I usually get depressed or frustrated in things of that nature when I allow them to rest on my mind for so long.
I check the time. It’s three-thirty. I then glance outside to see the clear sky. The weather is rather warm so I decide to head out for a while. I go out the back and let Karin know before I walk around the house and step onto the sidewalk. Each step makes me feel strange; it seems to me that I’m walking into a maze—more figuratively than literally—or into a deep, unending tunnel of the purest darkness imaginable. Nervousness creeps over me just as it did before, but it seems to me more mental than it was previously. There is no set means to make me feel so now as the silence on the phone did, meaning it was more real since I could actually sense it, imagine it, feel it.
I stop at a bench finally and sit down. I think about grabbing some coffee since I forgot to pour myself some at the house. I reach into my pocket and realize that I’d forgotten my wallet. Damn, I think to myself. The hell is wrong with me today? I’m never like this. I sigh and look around at the faces around me. I recognize none of them. I amuse myself for a long while, just sitting and watching people go by. I find some sort of strange tranquility, a foreign placidness, in this leisure of mine. Soon after, without my realization, I don’t feel so anxious. Instead I melt into this serenity, even if it does last only a little while.