Chapter 38:

"Your Father's Rage"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

We step into a tiny hallway and remove our shoes. The house is flat - just one story - and not all that wide either. Light cuts through windows, illuminating floating strands and specks of dust; Shizuko’s voice echoes through it. Everything looks and feels still, like a time capsule suddenly unearthed at long last.

An older woman wiping her hands with a towel hobbles into the hallway. When the light shines on her, I see the resemblance immediately - she’s a wrinkled Shizuko, her face more elongated, strands of gray mixed into her dark hair.

“Shizuko?” her mother says in surprise.

Her daughter can only nod.

With light footsteps, her mother shuffles over and embraces her. Shizuko’s short compared to me, but her mother is even shorter; Shizuko bends forward to hug her. The motion looks so natural, however, that I could easily imagine Shizuko collapsing in her mother’s arms - I wonder how many times that happened during her childhood. They say there’s a point in life where your parents picked you up and placed you back down for the last time. Is there an expiration date on letting everything wash away in the arms of your mother's love? I’m not sure.

In this case, Shizuko stands there, embracing her mother, letting out deep sighs, holding her close. And then something surprises me - her mother is the one letting everything wash away in the arms of her daughter. Her eyes grow teary, but she blinks it away before she starts crying.

“Part of me thought I’d never see you again,” she admits. “And I wouldn’t blame you. We were too hard on you growing up. We wanted you to be someone else. Of course you’d go to Tokyo to get away from us.”

Shizuko shakes her head. “It was to get away from everything. But just running away doesn’t solve anything.”

“You’re having trouble in Tokyo?” her mother asks.

From the movement of her mouth, Shizuko wants to say something witty, but she can only give her mother a quiet, sheepish smile. “Yeah. I was. I really was. I even dyed my hair.”

Her mother blinks. “Actually?”

The mother and daughter start laughing, and while watching their reunion, I’m starting to realize something - Shizuko and her mother must not have spoken at all during her time in Tokyo. I can't imagine not speaking to your parents for a year and a half. I guess I really haven’t mentioned mine so far, but they’re alright. My mom says she’ll make something for me when I get home, so I got that going for me. One day, I’d like to introduce them to Shizuko.

As for right now, Shizuko’s introducing me. “This is Shunsuke. He’s from Tokyo. We met here because he’s writing a book about Yoshiaki.”

I bow in her direction, and she bows in mine. “Please take good care of Shizuko.”

Her mother doesn’t see Shizuko stick her tongue out at me. I tug on my collar, because, really-

“Shizuko’s been taking good care of me. I’m in her debt.”

Her mother manages a laugh, then eyes the bandage around Shizuko’s forehead. “What happened? Did someone hurt you?”

Shizuko raises her hand. “I had a bit of a fall at the Soga festival. We were there last night.”

“Did you see the girl who got punched? The man on the radio had a big to-do about it.”

We both shake our heads. When her mother leads us around the house, I realize that the most advanced piece of technology in this dilapidated home is the radio. No internet, let alone television. Rice still gets boiled, clothes are hand-dried. Where am I? What epoch is this? But it’s also kind of nice. The house is so still and so slow, I can really soak everything in, like the photo of Shizuko on her first day of middle school. She has a stoic, thousand yard stare on her young face that contrasts with the billowing cherry blossoms behind her.

“Like a man walking to his execution,” I murmur. Her mother laughs; Shizuko taps me with her hip. I’m having fun exploring the tiny living room with peeled wallpaper, seeing Shizuko at varying stages in her life - wearing the yellow hat and red backpack of an elementary schooler, the white sailor fuku of Soga High. There’s candid ones, too - her in a backyard, her up on a ridge, her looking at dandelions during a summer in full bloom. A familiar pattern emerges - she’s frowning in all of them. She always has that thousand yard stare.

But when I glance back at her now, when I see the way she’s smiling at my back, at the look on my own face, there’s a giddiness inside me. I’m happy that it’s me, I’m happy that it’s her, I’m happy that she’s feeling this way. I want to take her dancing again, out to another lake, out to a school rooftop - but then I see those storm clouds on the horizon through the window. Time is short.

The nearby shrine, full of memento mori and all, that lies quietly on a shelf at the back of the room also doesn’t really help. There’s a black and white photo of a young factory worker staring out at me. With those huge arms, I can imagine him hammering steel, mining coal, picking up Shizuko and twirling her about.

Her mother goes to get us tea. Shizuko steps beside me as we look at the shrine to her father.

“My dad used to be so angry,” she reflects. “He was pissed about working in a factory. He was pissed about losing his job when the factory closed down. He was pissed that we lived in the mountains. He was pissed that there was something wrong with his daughter.”

She maintains her composure as she says all this. “He wanted me to be normal. Not the odd girl in the village. But I could only be me. He got sick from his factory job while I was in high school. I didn't know the full extent of it. But he was dying by the time I left.”

There are songbirds outside, fresh and colorful flowers, and the photo of a dead man staring at me. Shizuko gazes into his eyes. “I can’t even remember the last thing I said to him. Something angry, I’m sure. And his last words to me were probably along the same lines as well. He passed away a month after I got to Tokyo. I never even answered the letter my mother sent me telling me about it.”

She taps her fingers along her side, then her fingers curl up in a tight ball. “I wish he told me how bad his condition was before I left. I wish my last words to him could’ve been nicer. But that’s just the way it is.”

I don’t know what to say. Maybe me just standing here is enough for her. “Yeah…that’s the just way it is.”

“There’s a reason he didn’t tell you,” her mother interjects from down the hall. When she returns, she’s not carrying tea - she’s carrying a VHS tape. She holds it gingerly, as if it might snap or scatter away into dust and dreams. “He knew this village wasn’t kind to you. He was afraid that, if you learned the truth, you’d stay here and miss out on Tokyo. Here, you were just the girl from the contaminated part of the village. But in Tokyo, you could be anyone.”

Her father watches as Shizuko struggles to process that information. “But I couldn’t be anyone. I was just me. I’ve always been me.”

Her mother touches her on the shoulder. “You swore you’d never come back to Yoshiaki after high school. But you’re here now, right? The only reason that’s true is because you gained a new perspective in Tokyo.”

Shizuko’s just like her mother - she blinks away the tears as fast as they come. She gives her a tired smile. “Something new. I guess that’s just the way it is, too.”

“You look tired,” her mother says gently.

Shizuko can only nod. “I am. I really am.”

Under the gaze of their lost family member, Shizuko and her mother embrace again. Her mother doesn’t hesitate when she says-

“Welcome back.”

Steward McOy