The Last of Our Summers
Kazuha sits in the silence of her room, and types nonsense into a search engine.
numbers over head
numbers over person's head
countdown for a person
why can I see numbers on top of peoples heads
are the people around me going to die
She doesn't hit search on the last one. Instead, she switches tabs and reads more about spatial-numerical association instead.
Her mind is filled with static.
She sits at her desk for hours, scouring Google for answers. She watches videos from evangelists. She reads opinions on forums. She's halfway convinced that she's a psychic before she realizes how ridiculous that is.
When she can't bear it anymore, she springs on to her feet. Her ankle twinges.
She's stuffing her feet into a pair of sandals when she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She looks exactly how she feels: anxious and messy, dark circles and greasy hair.
Change of plans.
She scrubs her face in the sink until her skin starts looking more clear. She pulls her hair into a ponytail. After some thought, she changes out of her shorts and T-shirt into a dress, a pretty one-piece that she knows she looks respectable in.
One of her study alarms goes off -switch to Modern Lit.- but she barely looks at it before she switches it off.
Then she leaves the house before she can talk herself out of it, lopsided because of her throbbing ankle. She walks ten minutes on instinct alone, going off of sense memory of the one time her mother had taken her and Natsuki to visit their new neighbors, years and years ago.
The house she approaches belongs to the Suginos. When she rings the bell, her classmate Rin Sugino opens the door, and gapes at Kazuha a little.
Sugino is a petite girl with a short, boyish haircut and an elfin chin. She's wearing an oversized T shirt with a picture of a round frog on it, and shorts that just barely peek out from under it. Kazuha, in her flowy dress, envies her comfort.
"Ah, Sugino," Kazuha says. She clutches her phone very tight. "Long time no see."
"We saw each other in class this morning."
She doesn't sound accusing. It sounds more like she's baffled.
"Ah yes, of course. Dumb of me." Kazuha gives a nervous laugh: hah hah hah, like she's reading it off a script. She squeezes her phone harder.
Sugino raises an eyebrow. "Did you, like, need anything?" she hesitates, and awkwardly adds, "Is, um, Auntie okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, my mother's fine."
Sugino offers her an awkward, distant smile. "Well then. If that's it, I'll–"
"Please," Kazuha says. She puts her foot in the door in case Rin decides to slam it. "Is, is your mother in? I have something to ask her."
Rin Sugino's mother is Dr. Rei Sugino, acclaimed pediatrician. She's the closest Kazuha can get to getting real answers.
Sugino is looking at her with a frown. "She is, but. Kajiura, I don't know what's going on, but my mom's a busy person, and you can't just–"
"Please. I just want ten minutes of her time."
"Is this about the accident today?" her voice has softened a fraction.
Kazuha looks down, and nods.
Sugino sighs, and moves aside. "Come in, I guess. Would you like something to drink?"
Kazuha shakes her head quickly as she toes off her shoes.
She pads inside. Their house is laid out the same as Kazuha's, but it couldn't be more different: for one, there's knick-knacks everywhere, defeating the purpose of the minimalist furniture. Most of the couches have long brown dog hairs on them.
Sugino flushes a little and pats a chair. "You can sit here."
Two cheerful Pomeranians come scrabbling across the floors to sniff at Kazuha's ankles. Sugino goes even redder and collects them under both of her arms, and tells Kazuha, stiffly, "I'll go tell my mom you're here."
"Your dogs are cute," Kazuha attempts.
Sugino's face softens. She looks at the two furry faces looking up at her adoringly. "They are, aren't they? They're pretty old but they're still little rascals." She looks back at Kazuha. "I hope you're not, um, allergic."
Kazuha shakes her head.
Sugino leaves to fetch her mother, taking her dogs with her. In the comfortable quiet of their cluttered house, Kazuha sneezes twice. She wipes her nose with her hand.
Dr. Sugino, when she enters, looks exactly like her daughter might in thirty years. Her hair's a little longer: it curls around her warmly smiling face.
She sits down next to Kazuha on the couch. "Kazuha, my dear. My daughter tells me you're her classmate now. Tell me, how is your family?"
"Good, good." Kazuha can't stop her leg from bouncing. She makes herself sit still for ten seconds, but then it starts bouncing on its own again. "Doctor, I wanted to check something."
"I hope this isn't a consultation. I would need my equipment, you know."
Kazuha shakes her head. "It's–it's about something that happened today. I, um."
She falters. In the silence, Dr. Sugino, with her kind eyes, waits.
"A girl–this is something I read about, but would someone my age carry through if they threatened someone's life?"
"Oh. That's a troubling question, Kazuha."
Kazuha grimaces apologetically.
Dr. Sugino leans back in thought. "It would depend on many factors, of course, but I'd say yes. High school is not an easy time for anyone, and it's sadly all too easy to channel negative feelings outward or inward."
Kazuha bites down her disappointment. She could tell as much from Google. She'd been hoping–she doesn't know what she'd been hoping for, exactly.
She gathers her courage. "This–this isn't. It's something I read about, um, online. But I read that some people could see a sort of countdown above people's heads. Counting down to when something bad would happen."
Dr. Sugino's laser sharp focus slips. She laughs.
"That would certainly be a medical breakthrough. No, my child, whoever said that was making it up. Or suffering from hallucinations, at best."
"So it's not a known phenomenon?" Kazuha leans forward. Her phone clatters out of her grip and on to the hardwood floor, but she barely notices.
Dr. Sugino shakes her head.
Kazuha isn't quite sure what happens, after that. Sugino reappears and offers more awkward small talk that Kazuha flubs, and then she and her mother wave as Kazuha wanders back home, their dogs dancing around their heels. Kazuha can hear Sugino ask what was for dinner as the door closes behind them.
By the time she gets back to her house, two familiar bikes are in the driveway.
Kirigiri moves into view. Natsuki is standing next to him.
"You shouldn't be putting pressure on that ankle yet, Kazuha," Natsuki says.
When she says nothing, Kirigiri frowns. "What's wrong? Kajiura, you're acting strange."
She looks up at him, helpless. She doesn't know– should she tell him? But it's such a weird thing to say when she doesn't know anything for certain.
Her gaze falls to Natsuki. He's watching them with his brows raised.
“Sorry. Just–it's been a weird day.”
"Where did you go? You're wearing a dress."
Kazuha flushes. "Friend's place."
Just as Kirigiri says, sharply, "What friend," Natsuki cuts in.
“Kirigiri told me what happened. You should be resting, Kazuha. How's your ankle?"
Kazuha pokes out her leg. Beneath her strappy sandal, the bruise has faded to almost nothingness.
“Huh,” says Kirigiri. “Did you put ice on it?”
“Yeah,” she lies.
Kirigiri snorts. "Sure you did."
His face comes into full clarity as Natsuki opens the front door to slip inside, and light slants over them both for a brief moment.
His smile is so achingly familiar. It makes the roiling storm of uncertainty inside Kazuha calm, makes her think that she was paranoid for worrying. Her heartbeat slows. She breathes deep, tastes the slight hint of the sea in the air.
She could tell him now. Tell him, and ruin this peace. Make it weigh on his mind as well as hers.
"Well, guess I'll see you tomorrow morning," Kirigiri says, swinging a leg over his bike.
"Yeah," Kazuha says. The night is calm, quiet. From far off, she can hear the sea.
When she goes back inside the living room is empty, but in the kitchen she finds her mother working on a laptop while a pot boils on the stove behind her.
Kazuha's whole body goes cold.
Without looking up, her mother says, “Was that Kirigiri?”
Kirigiri was never good enough for her mother. Very few people were. “Yeah.”
"Hm. So you're still associating with that boy."
Kazuha balls her fists. "Yeah."
For a moment, her mother doesn't say anything else. She clicks a few things on her laptop, glances back at whatever's on the stove.
Kazuha thinks of saying, Kirigiri's more than I deserve. She thinks of saying, Kirigiri's the only person who talks to me most days.
She says nothing.
Then, like a whip crack: “Your grades have been dropping."
“I heard from your teachers that your Midterm results are worse than last term's. I expect I don't have to tell you that Kyoto University isn't in the habit of accepting mediocre students who simply would like to go there.”
Kazuha tries to calm down. She pictures herself wandering the hallways of Kyoto University alone and unbothered, but the image keeps fading as if it doesn't belong to her anymore.
“Yeah,” she says, her voice faint in her own ears. She should have stayed in her room.
“Did you skip cram school again?” her mother finally looks up. Everyone says they look alike, but Kazuha privately thinks that Natsuki looks a lot more like their mother. Kazuha has the worst parts of both their parents: her mother’s too-sharp jaw, her father’s coarse hair.
Her mother’s mouth thins. Her eyes are cold. Kazuha wonders if this is what she looks like to everyone at school. Sugino and her mother had looked so alike.
“Sorry,” Kazuha says. Forcing herself to move, she reaches into the fridge and pulls out a carton of strawberry milk.
“Since your father’s still away on a business trip,” and her mother’s lip is curled in a sneer, and Kazuha pretends not to understand what she means. “I can’t always be nagging at you about your own future. You should be pursuing these things on your own. I swear, you’re worse than Natsuki sometimes.”
There it is. Her mother’s biggest insult these days. Kazuha thinks of when all her mother could do was brag about Natsuki to everyone. How the mighty had fallen.
She swallows all that down. Gets a clean glass a pours herself some milk. “I’m going to go and sleep early so I can wake up to study.”
Her mother nods. She’s looking back at her laptop already. “Make sure it’s before 3, you never get started properly if it’s after.”
"Don't drink so much of that garbage. It's got too many calories."
"You know I'm saying all this for your own good."
Her mother's mouth thins. Kazuha takes the break in the conversation as an opportunity to slip away, murmuring a quiet good night as she goes.
She runs into Natsuki on her way to her room. He’s holding a mug that’s twin to hers. He looks at her in silence, then cracks a tired smile. “Nothing’s changed around here, huh?”
Kazuha dips her head. She doesn’t want Natsuki’s sympathy right now, or condescension, or whatever this was.
“Like you’d know,” she mutters.
A sharp inhale. Kazuha pushes past him in the silence, and locks herself in her room.
Please log in to leave a comment.