When she poled her face into the kitchen to ask her mother, Sachiko's face was an embodiment of unpleasantry.
"Oh, he's back. He says he's sick," Sachiko said as if accusing him, while she washed a potato. "He was carried back by somebody from the government office. If he was that sick, he should have said so this morning."
Kaori watched her mother's obstinate back.
Her father was sick, is what she was saying. The day before yesterday, he went to the doctor's and came back, went to bed early, then he said the same thing yesterday, Sunday, not getting out of bed. Her mother's mood was horrible because of it. It seemed she thought that her father was avoiding her because of her being in a bad mood. He doesn't even have a slight fever, Sachiko accused her father.
"He could have just said something, but he has to make it seem like he's forcing himself, making a show of having someone from the office carry him back!"
Kaori wanted to butter up to her mother, to try to say something in his favor but the right words to do so wouldn't come to mind. And so without a word she left the kitchen.
It seemed Akira had come home too but there was no sign of him. She went up to the second story, put away her bad and changed out of her uniform before peeking into the next door toom where Akira was lying down on his futon. He lifted his head to look up at Kaori but without a word he sullenly rolled back over.
Natuno was gone now. Yesterday he was buried in the temple graveyard. Kaori and Akira went to the funeral but Natsuno's father didn't even say anything to Kaori and Akira. No thanks for coming, nor with a word of apology for breaking his promise when he'd said he would let them know if anything changed. To have been something just completely not in his mind at all wounded Akira deeply.
Understanding her little brother's sentiment, Kaori side and slid the sliding screen door of his room shut. Heading back down the stairs, she next peered into her father's room. Her father was still laid out in his futon but unlike Akira he reallydid look to be sick. His color was poor, his breathing wild. She sat at a pillow at his bedside and felt her father's forehead where it seemed he had no fever. Her father faintly opened his eyes.
"Did I wake you? Sorry. How do you feel?"
Her father didn't say anything. He faintly nodded but what that was supposed to convey, Kaori didn't know. He just stretched out his hand, touching hers in a seemingly sympathetic way. Kaori gave a small smile.
"Get better soon, m'kay?"
Her father nodded, then closed his eyes again.
Her mother was still in a foul mood through dinner preparations. It had only gotten worse since word of Natsuno's death came and Akira ran out during dinner. Taking Akira's attitude about being rejected as sulking, thinking it was because she had been unhappy, there was also the fact that having said that their father wasn't sick, he said he was doing worse and she thought that he was using it to avoid her. And in the end, Kaori and Akira had neglected their yard chores to go to Natsuno's funeral, all of it spurring her poor mood on more than necessary.
Thanks to that there was a heavy air in the home. Her father didn't come out for dinner at all, Akira only took a superficial interest in dinner and sat quietly. Her mother, perhaps thinking that nobody had a mind to do anything to try to improve her mood, was building an even stormier temper. Kaori alone eagerly heaped praises on the dinner she didn't really taste as she shoveled it down, tried to help with the clean up, but it didn't do anything to curb the tide of Sachiko's upset.
When she returned to her room to go to bed early, she was worn to the core. Nestling into her futon and turning out the light, she could hear the wind. Natsuno died, she thought once again. Likely, it was retribution for having realized that Megumi had risen up.
Maybe it was because Natsuno had called and put their guard up, but there had been nobody who had come to visit Kaori or Akira. But Natsuno was dead. Their turn might be next.
Thinking of that she was afraid. More than that, while she knew that Natsuno was dead, knowing that they might have let him die was painful. They couldn't do anything. It was sad. Wasn't there some way they could have done something, if the two of them had just been a little more clever, mightn't they have been able to save Natsuno? Or was it the case that no matter how they struggled, they couldn't have done anything? ---Wasn't that how death was?
Blaming herself for various things, eyes wide open, no matter how much she tossed and turned in her futon she couldn't sleep. The sight of her displeased mother's back, her bedridden father, her dejected little brother, a number of things rose in sequence to mind and out, each coloring her with their own strange tint of urgency that remained in her. It was when she was unable to bare it and thought about just getting up that it came.
Kon, a light, sharp sound.
Kaori sat up. The sound came again. It was from the window, a sound like somebody tapping on the storm shutter.
(That, shouldn't be)
Kaori was on the second story. Her window was above the entryway roof, so it wasn't as if there were no place to stand, it wasn't impossible to climb the tree in the front yard to the entryway (in fact, Akira had proven so a number of times) but even so, there was the time of night to think of.
Kaori turned her eyes to the bedside clock. It was near one in the morning.
Kon, came another tap on the storm shutter. Was it possibly Akira? Had he snuck out of his room and been locked out? In the past they had never locked their doors before going to bed but just when did they start? At some point her mother had begun locking up here and there at night (come to think of it, when did she herself start closing her storm shutter......?). Since they had suddenly started always doing it, if he slipped out of his room in the night, he wouldn't be able to get back in would he, she thought.
"......Is that you Akira?" Kaori rose up and neared the window. When she called out, the sound stopped. She had been about to open the window.
"......'s dead, you know."
That was when the voice spoke from just outside the storm shutter. Kaori literally sprang up, holding her breath on the spot.
It was a hushed girl's voice. ----A girl?
(No, this is)
"Did you hear me? Kaori."
Kaori stuffed her fist into her mouth, stiffling down the scream that rose up. That was without a doubt Megumi's voice. Shiver rose throughher. Her teeth rattled together.
"Your father's dead, just so you know."
Just beyond the storm shutter, there were signs of a person moving.
"......Serves you right."
Kaori let out a short scream. She couldn't bear it. Desperately she felt for the light and turned it on. Her room was as it had alwaysbeen, without anything warped or out of place, nothing had changed.
Kaori stepped quickly out of there. Without knowing what to do, hesitating over her next move, before she knew it she had flown out of her room and into Akira's. When she turned on the light, Akira was sleeping.
"Akira, ...... Wake up!"
It seemed his sleep was light. After shaking him twice, three times, Akira's face lifted in protest.
"Megumi! ---Megumi is"
Akira rose up with a snap. "......What?"
"Megumi was there. Outside the window. ......Dad's dead, she said."
"I'm sure it was Megumi's voice!"
Akira pushed the futon cover aside. He rushed out of the room. Kaori followed after him, down the stairs. When they went into their parents room, there were two futons. One had a person in it, but the other was empty. Kaori went towards the bathroom inside, Akira went towards the tatami room beyond their bedroom. Kaori had not quite peered in the washroom when Akira screamed.
Kaori hurried back. Entering the dark tatami room, she could see the veranda sliding door and the storm shutter were opened. Akira was crouched in the yard, a person collapsed at his feet.
"Daddy, ... Dad!"
Akira shook his father. The waning moon's light fell over them. In that relatively bright light, his father's eyes were faintly open, and she could see him half outside laid out half on the porch. Kaori too knelt at his side and joined him in nudging their father. Their father didn't so much as twitch.
He was really dead.
"Serves you right, Megumi said."
Kaori gripped at Akira's arms.
Akira's eyes were wide as if he'd been struck. But before he could open his mouth, a questioning voice rang out as their mother entered the tatami room.
Sachiko was awoken by the noise and with it the height of her foul mood had arose. Kids making a ruckus at this hour. There were times when Sachiko thought of those children she bore herself as intolerable.
Getting out of her futon and towards the veranda, that was when she heard her daughter scream. She couldn't make out what she was saying but her voice was pressing and urgent. Finally thinking that much strange, Sachiko caught sight of her fallen husband.
Her children claimed, while crying, that Yoshikaze was dead. Sachiko thought it looked like her husband was dead too, but that wasn't right, she thought. There was no way he was dad, but really, it was undeniable that he was in very bad condition. Sachiko felt angry in a way she couldn't play. For some reason, she felt terribly betrayed by something, as if something were trampling on her.
At any rate, she hurried to the phone, thinking to call an ambulance. No, with her husband in that state, it would probably be faster to contact the Ozaki Hospital, wouldn't it?
(He shouldn't be dead.)
But none the less, there was no doubt it was a race against time. At an rate somebody had to treat him as soon as possible. When thinking she would contact the Ozaki hospital after all, Sachiko opened the address book and took the phone in hand. At that moment, she noticed a business card attached to the wall by the phone stand.
"What is this?" Sachiko asked of her blue faced children that followed her. It said Ebuchi Clinic. Kaori spoke up.
"A doctor. It's the hospital Dad went to."
"Yeah. He had an appointment ticket."
Then did her husband stick this here?
"Then it'd be better to call them, I'm sure. They should know about Dad," Akira said, and so Sachiko nodded. Beneath the clinic number was neatly written Emergency Contact, with another phone number written beneath that. Strangely reassured by those words, Sachiko called. As soon as she called, somebody picked up. It was so quick that Sachiko didn't know how to convey the situation, still lost for words.
"Uhm.... I'm sorry for the hour... That is, this is Tanaka, but."
Ah, the voice on the other end spoke with recognition. "Tanaka Yoshikazu-san's family, is it? Could it be that something has happened to Yoshikazu-san?"
"Yes," Sachiko said sounding as if she thought they were saved. "He's collapsed. Uhm..."
How to explain her husband's condition, Sachiko sought for the words but before she could find them, the person said "I'll see him right away."
Sachiko hung up the phone. The ringing of the front doorbell was really right away after that.
"It is Ebuchi," that aging man said, heading in towards the tatami room where he was lead. Without knowing what to do she put down a cushion beside her husband, and Ebuchi took to his knees beside him and began examining his body. Sachiko and the children sat on either side of him, absorbed in what he did. Ebuchi didn't take much time.
"I'm sorry to say that he has passed on. It was acute heart failure, I daresay."
Ebuchi spoke as if apologetic. Kaori's voice rang out in a sob. As Sachiko sat watching him dumbfounded before him, Ebuchi took out the official documents and began to write. He smoothly handed it over to Sachiko. It was her husband's death certificate.
It couldn't be that her husband was dead. Since this summer, there had been death after death here and there, but to think it would really come to them, she never even dreamed of it.
That's right, Ebuchi said to Sachiko who sat with the paper in her heand, dumbfounded, as he took out another sheet. "Actually you see, your husband has made arrangements with the Sotoba Funeral Home?"
Sachiko was intensely bewildered. She wasn't that familiar with even the concept of a funeral home, she didn't know the village had one. She couldn't understand why her husband would make arrangements with them, much less why the doctor, Ebuchi, would no about it, why he would bring the documents to show to her, and on top of all of that she wondered why he had that document at all, all of it was beyond her understanding.
Ebuchi smiled as if sympathetic. "They are called the Sotoba Funeral Home but you didn't know? So to speak, we are a mutual aid group. My offices assist with their duties you see. Perhaps your husband thought that things would come to this, for he has made arrangements. It was the day he first came, wasn't it? As you can see."
Sachiko's eyes fell to the paper. It looked to be a copy, and on it was indeed the necessary information written in her husband's handwriting, with his seal on it.
"My..... Why would he do this?"
"I wonder?" Ebuchi smiled. "He had seen the pamphlet, it must have interested him I suppose?"
"But, we don't need it. There's the mourning crew. ......That's right, I have to contact the Care Manager."
When Sachiko rose, Ebuchi said is that so, as if disappointed. "Well, of course, you aren't obligated to it, but. It's just, well, it would be quite the waste. If I recall, your husband has already paid the contracting fees."
"Indeed. Not that I know the specifics. But I'm certain he made the down payment. When I introduced him to Hayami-san--the manager of the Funeral Home, he had paid the money then. If you speak to the Funeral Home, I'm sure not all of it has already been spent on arrangements for the funeral, but. Well, it's up to you if you'd like to treat it as scrap paper."
What took hold of Sachiko was a feeling called doubt. Something about this doctor was strange. She shouldn't just trust in this contract, she felt. In the first place, her husband wouldn't have likely paid what was sure to be no small fee without consulting Sachiko.
That's what she thought but Sachiko stood up. She went to the bedroom and opened the drawer, taking out the bank book. What she saw inside shocked her. Three days ago, one 3,000,000 yen deposit was withdrawn.
"This can't be!"
Sachiko's eyes widened. This much, she thought. And then she felt outrage. ---What a selfish thing to do. Sachiko returned to the seating cushion. She was sitting before Ebuchi.
"That contract, it can't be cancelled?"
"I don't think that it cannot be, but. It's just, while it depends on the terms of the contract, I don't believe that full refunders are terrible common, you see."
"But that's... This is something my husband did himself without consulting me at all! We don't need a funeral home. The village has the Mourning Crew. If we use the Mourning Crew, it wouldn't cost such a ridiculous amount."
Ebuchi gave a bitter smile. "You will have to discuss that with Hayami-san. Even if you tell it to me, I cannot do much. Well, if you wish to break the contract, I think it would be best to be quick about it. There's a contact number written there, I suggest you perhaps try calling him. ---Well, then."
Ebuchi stood up. Sachiko showed him out and went straight to the telephone. Sachiko's speed was spurred on by rage at her husband just flippantly up and doing whatever he wanted.
(Without a single word to me, just doing something like this...)
She couldn't forgive such a thing.
At this number too, someone picked up immediately. When Sachiko gave her name, the pattern of the person seeming to know who she was immediately was the same too.
"I'd like to cancel the contract. It's something my husband did on his own."
"That will unfortunately be a problem." a man's yawn-like voice replied. "In that case, we will still take the commission charges, will that be a problem?"
The commission charges were a hefty fee, Sachiko understood him to mean.
"Then, I'll prepare the paperwork, so please come by with your husband."
Sachiko at first started to nod, but then once again remembered that that wasn't possible.
"Uhm...... My husband is dead."
That's right, her husband was dead, she realized belatedly in a daze. Suddenly, he died, and he was still left in the tatami room.
"My that is a problem," Hayami said. "If you look at the contract I am sure you will see it says as much, but if the one who signed it has already died, then the contract can no longer be terminated."
"You see..... It is a contract for a funeral after all? If your husband has passed on, he cannot cancel the contract anymore. Of course, you're quite free to throw the contract away, but in this case, we will not be able to refund the deposit, you see."
"But that's! This was my husbands own selfish,"
"However, your husband made a contract you see. It has his stamp and everything, you see. If you make use of us for your funeral, then we do have a system by which we can square the accounts with the initial deposit, and return any extra fees as a gift to you, but."
But that's, Sachiko once again mumbled. Hayami explained the system to the wordless Sachiko. The words largely went in one ear and out the other but even the bewildered Sachiko could understand that if she abandoned the contract she would be out a considerable about, and that on the other hand if she used the funeral home, there wouldn't be too great a loss.
"What shall you do?" Hayami asked in his yawny voice. Sachiko nodded.
"I understand. I will depend on you."
I see, said Hayami, his voice sounding as if he were licking his lips. "Then, I shall be right over."
Sachiko breathed a sigh and hung up the phone. Sachiko saw Kaori standing in the living room doorway. What is it, she asked, only for Kaori to collapse into herself running off. She could hear her footsteps echoing up towards the second story.
Sachiko tilted her head and returned to the tatami room. At some point, a futon had been brought in. It must have been from the bedroom. Her husband was laid out in the futon. She couldn't say it was done well or flatteringly. He was diagonal on the futon without any sheet over it and disheveled. Her husband's body was still clad in his wrinkled pajamas, a comforter thrown over him, with Akira on top of him crying.
"We'll have to get him into a yukata. --Or don't we need to do that? Now help me with this. We should at least do it properly. The futon's a mess, isn't it!"
"Leave him alone!"
At Akira's outcry, Sachiko's brows furrowed.
"Mom just has to worry about money!"
Sachiko stool bolt upright.
"Me and Kaori did our best, so it's fine like this! Even Dad'd probably say that this's fine! It's way better than being stretched out over cusions!"
Akira clung to his father's body. Akira himself wanted to do it right too. But his father's body was heavy. He couldn't just manhandle him like some object when doing it, so even when he and Kaori put their all into it, this was as much as they could do.
"......What is this attitude of yours," Sachiko said, so angry she now felt nauseous. "Do you know how much a funeral costs?! With your father dead, how do you think we're going to get by from now on? That father of yours, taking out such a deposit! That money was for your future---"
"Shut up! Get away. Don't touch him!"
"I see. Then just do whatever you want. When the man from the Funeral Home comes, the one who's going to be seen in a sorry state and be thought poorly of is going to be your father after all."
Akira didn't answer. Sachiko returned to the living room, shaking with anger. She then let out a crying yell.
It wasn't long at all after that that Hayami from the Funeral Home had come. Hayami came with two younger men, all saying their words of condolence in unison. He brought out the orginal contract, pointed out the claus and explained it to her.
At first she had been irresponsible about it, but as she'd heard more of Hayami's explanation, she felt some sort of malice to its contents.
"Uhm...... What was that, just now?"
Hayami's slender eyes narrowed. Hayami was a small man in his fifties, with narrow eyes that always seemed to be laughing. On the other hand, no real emotion was conveyed in them.
"As I was saying, your husband requested a non-religious service, so there will be no monk nor posthumous name."
"Oh, no. That won't do."
"Even if you say it won't do, that is how it will have to be," Hayami said, with an expression that seemed to be smiling with enjoyment.
"Rather, if it doesn't suit you, you're quite free to abandon the contract, but. Yes, indeed, we will suffer no losses that way."
Sachiko kept silent.
"And so there we have it, there will not be an altar either. Well, of course for the memorial service there will be an solemnly decorated altar. However it will be very different from a normal altar from a Buddhist ritual."
"Then there won't be any chanting of sutras? No burning incense?"
"Yes. Rather than sutras, we will be playing somber music. Rather than burning incense, the attendants will offer flowers, as this will be done as an act of individuals parting from him, they will bring their own."
"I see.... Is that right."
"You needn't worry a bit. It will not be seen unfavorably when compared to a Buddhist ceremony. During the flower offering, there will be a light show in the meeting hall, it'll be, how to put it, like shining a spotlight on each of their faces!"
Sachiko's face twisted in disgust. Without paying her any mind, Hayami continued on proudly. "And once each flower offering is over, his honorable family shall hammer the nail into the coffin, and at the end, that coffin, yes? It will be eased down, down...."
Hayami's eyes narrowed.
"Like I've been saying, there's what's called a snapping turtle door in stage terms, you see?"
"Uhm, are we really doing something so exaggerated? As you can see, our living room is---"
"Oh dear me nooo," Hayami laughed. "Madame, it really will be a problem if you aren't listening! The grounds shall not be here, but at our funeral home's funeral parlor!"
That's here in the contract, Hayami added on.
"Then I guess it can't be helped but, but, such a gaudy display..."
"Even if you say that, this is what is written into the contract you see. It'll be quite the problem if you don't allow it," Hayami said, eyes narrowing. His face looked strangely uneasy. "----Our offices have already made the arrangements, you see."
For some reason Sachiko felt a chill. Maybe it was because her children weren't at her side, but somehow she felt very small.
"From here, we will carry your husband out. ---Oh, have no worries. From the washing and dressing of the body to placing it into the coffin, we will be seeing to all of it. The vigil will start at six o'clock, the funeral home will be left open, so please do use it as long as you like. There is a waiting room for relatives and a sleeping room as well, and you may change clothing there. Of course, you're free to stay the night but the funeral service will be in the evening, and so."
Eh, Sachiko said, looking to Hayami's face. Hayami's eyes sharply narrowed. "Did I not state as much? The circumstances of the show? The funeral will be tomorrow at six. We will be hosting the event at our place of business. This is so that those who have work may attend with ease. Because it will be a burial, we'll prepare an illumination even to the graveyard. Those who accompany the body out to the fields will carry lights shaped like candles and---"
"Please don't, that's just---"
"That is what is in the contract, you see." Hayami was smiling but there was something about him that seemed strangely as if he would not allow refusal. Sachiko felt another chill and, with no other choice, she nodded.
"Well then, I will now take custody of your husband."
Hayami said, directing to the young men who appeared to be his assistants. The two brought out what looked like a stretcher from the car, put her husband on it, and carried him to the car. They were so good at it it was strange, without giving Sachiko even a chance to say goodbye to him.
"---And so, at the funeral hall."
Hayami lowered his hat courteously.
In something of a daze, Sachiko returned to the tatami room. In the growing light before the break of dawn, her husband's bed clothes were left behind like a dsicarded skin.
Her husband was gone. He would never be returning to the house now. He was carried off by Hayami and his men.
Sachiko had the strange feeling that it was as if her husband had been pillaged away.