Chapter 39:

"Your Mother's Love"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

Shizuko catches her mother up to speed on recent history - Tokyo didn't go so well, so she returned to Yoshiaki, will be staying in Yoshiaki, working with her aunt in Mabuchi. She made up with Ume, and I see her mother's face grow warm, because there must've been a day when Shizuko first mentioned her friendship with Ume to her, and then one sudden day, she would've stopped mentioning it, would've stopped speaking about friends in general. 

As for the VHS tape-

“Your father went to an electronics store in Soga to record his last message to you on this,” Shizuko’s mother explains. By this point, evening is starting to settle in, the first of the gray bands of dusk stretching over the countryside, flowers swaying in the evening breeze.

Shizuko, a look of surprise on her face, holds the tape with trembling hands. “For me?”

“He thought you might be having fun in Tokyo, so he didn’t want to interrupt it. He said to mail it to you once you graduate. I don’t think he ever saw you coming home.”

“Why not?”

Her mother gazes at his photo. “He cried the night you left. That’s the only time I’ve seen him like that. He realized that Yoshiaki, not you, was the problem. In Tokyo, you’d shine, because you weren’t held back by the past. You could reinvent yourself.”

Shizuko goes to protest, but her mother knows her better than anyone. “Reinvention is too strong of a word. You can’t turn over a whole new leaf. But you can change, transform, grow older. Your father was really proud of you by the end, you know. You’re someone who worked hard enough to get to Tokyo, after all. And, it seems, you’re someone who had enough courage to admit things weren’t working and return home.”

Shizuko hugs the tape close to her chest. “Yeah…I think you’re right.” She runs a finger down its plastic edge, then glances back at me with a sad smile.  “Want to watch this together?”

My heart skips a beat - we’re close enough to watch something this important to her together. Maybe she needs me with her. Maybe she wants me to see it as well. It’s probably both, somewhere in-between.

“Let’s do it.”

With the tape held delicately in her hands, Shizuko turns to her mother. “You have a VHS player for us?”

Her mother looks at us blankly. “Do I have a what?”

Any sapping music that would’ve been playing immediately stops. Shizuko looks down at the tape, and then back at her mother. “You need a VHS player to play a VHS.”

“And…and a television,” I realize.

“Hmm…” her mother rubs her chin in thought. “Your father never mentioned anything about that. He’s the one who went to get it recorded in Soga, after all.”

“Mom, you were in your twenties during the Nineties,” Shizuko points out. “How do you not know about VHS players?”

“Shizuko, dear, the polio vaccine didn’t reach here until 1998.” Her mother then laughs. “Look at you, Shizuko. The tech-hip Tokyo girl. You really did change. And you’re bringing home boys, too!”

I can imagine a high school aged Shizuko, standing there in her sailor fuku, the thousand yard stare on her face, going beet red at such a comment. I can imagine young Shizuko coming home after a long bus ride from school, telling her parents about the trends her classmates have mentioned at school, stomping with quiet frustration when her parents just don’t get it. I can imagine the first time she ever listened to punk rock - maybe it was with Ume after a long day’s run. Did she sneak a sip of alcohol under a starry sky? Did she dream of being a famous Tokyo artist, a studio apartment to herself, just open the curtains and you can see the dazzling blue waters of the bay right there?

I’m glad Shizuko took me here. I’m seeing new sides to her. There’s still so much I want to learn about her.

But our remaining time together is so short.


We turn in early that night. I mean, the festival was last night - after all the running around she did, I’m not surprised that Shizuko is running on fumes and tuckered out - not to mention she's still nursing a head injury. As for me - I need some time to think. I kissed Shizuko yesterday and met her parents today and will leave her tomorrow. Well, in a few days, but time goes by with a snap of your fingers. I can already see myself at the bus depot or train station, waving goodbye to her.

The “guest room” was just Shizuko’s old room, now used for storage. And since that was the only spare room, we slept in there together. Well, her mother manipulated the pianos and desks in there to keep a wall between us, so at least we kept up propriety for propriety’s sake. But still - Shizuko is laying under a thin blanket just on the other side of a desk. We’ve always slept in separate rooms at the ryokans.

It’s dark. It’s a moonless night, and the crickets chirp. Shizuko calls out to me. “Hey, Shunsuke? You still awake?”

“I’m awake.”

I imagine her twiddling her thumbs and tapping her fingers. “We only have a few days left, huh?”

I speak quietly, reluctant to admit it out loud. “Yeah. Just a few more days.”

“I’ve been thinking.” She hesitates before this next part. “You wanna just stay here these next few days? I didn’t realize how much I missed my mother. How much I missed home. And just how much we’ve traveled. Do you want to stop traveling and just spend these last couple of days relaxing with me?”

She continues speaking before I can answer. “I can cook something for you. I learned how to make some things in Tokyo. You can read the newspaper at the kitchen table while I’m making something on the stove. We can also sleep in for once. This is the first time since high school I’ve slept in the same room as someone. We can talk all night. I don’t even know your favorite color. And if you really want to, we could take a day trip back to Soga. Find somewhere to play this tape. Get some ice cream. Come home and sit on the grass outside, my hand in yours.”

Shizuko keeps talking, but I’m still stuck on stop traveling. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Certain sharks have to stay in motion, otherwise they drown. I’m not saying I’m a stone or a shark, but I always keep myself moving. Up there with cigarettes and drinking, it’s the best way to keep yourself occupied.

Well, I’m down two of those - and it's definitely for the better - but that just leaves me with movement. I only have a few more days with Shizuko. But I only have a few more days in Yoshiaki. I checked out the map while we were on the bus earlier today.

The Temple of the Eternal Flame - there’s a boat service and ryokan just a couple of buses north of here that’ll take me up river. That temple and its endless fire is waiting for me. Because I got my own past to deal with, too. It’s gnawing at me in the darkness, daggers in the mist, plaguing me.

I have to see this flame. I need to see something that never goes out. I’m desperate to believe that something like that could be true. Talk about being stuck on the past - but I need those golden summer days to last forever. Or rather - I need to face it on my own terms, right here and now. I think I might lose the chance if I go back to Tokyo. Too easy to slip back into old habits. Too easy to forget about how I want to improve myself and feel content with that familiar sadness.

“It’s green,” I speak into the darkness.

“I can see it,” she answers. “Mine’s periwinkle.”

“Are you just making up words?”

She chuckles. “It’s a shade of blue. I think I have some of my old painting supplies here somewhere. Let’s find them tomorrow. I want to paint the ridge. Maybe some flowers.”

I nod at the ceiling.

“Yeah…let’s look at the flowers.”

Steward McOy