Suicide – or murder? Will scandal taint the Bank of Japan? Here’s Chapter one of Tokyo Summer – A Shig Sato Novella.
“It feels like knives behind my eyes.”
Setsuko Usami said it so often her husband seemed deaf to it. She knew that their years together taught her that Taro would not understand it, not even try. Taro Usami’s indifference had become almost as painful as the migraines themselves.
At one time early in their marriage she was surprised and glad Taro asked about her headaches, if anything was wrong, but that stopped. Her migraines always returned and he was tired of feeling useless, and would say, “What could he do?”
He never had headaches. He didn’t know what to do.
Eventually Setsuko gave up. What could he do? He was a rising star at the Bank of Japan and they had a tiny four-room flat in Chuo and she was the mother of two teenagers. His life was outside the home. Her life had not changed since her 20s. She cooked and cleaned and shopped and succumbed to the incessant, unbearable beat of the never-ending demands of life in Tokyo.
Setsuko remembered when Taro would ask about her day, act like he cared. That was when they were young and the world held so much promise for smart young couples staking their claim to making a good life for themselves in the city. She sometimes thought that being young was the cause of that. Now they were in their 40s and she was weary and laid in bed for hours every day even when she didn’t have her migraines.
She held onto hopes, though. Like it being the year 1988, and thinking that perhaps this would be the year her luck would change. She had heard 88 was a lucky number.
But it was the end of May and she laid on her futon and suffered through her migraines and wondered if her luck would ever change, or if this really was her life. She wondered if she would ever get fed up and actually say something like “that’s the last straw.” She wondered what would it be, that straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
She wondered about it, idly at times, then forgot about it as a new day presented new problems. But the thought always returned. What would happen? What would it take?
The last straw came at the end of June. Plans for the children’s summer holiday had to be decided. Taro’s indifference infuriated her. He said he was busy at work. He said a promotion was in the works. He said he couldn’t get away because the timing was all wrong.
She kept asking. A trip with her sister and their children just didn’t happen on a whim. She needed to know. She needed to plan. Her daughter’s sullen peevishness was driving her mad – getting the girl to agree to anything was a battle in itself, now that she was 15 and in full rebellion mode. Her son was pulling away from her, as boys do when they become teenagers. He was 13 and had sprouted up and seemingly overnight his voice had dropped an octave. His charming little boy self was disappearing. Getting them both to agree to go with her sister and their children to Okinawa had been like moving heaven and earth. And in another year she knew it would be impossible to get anyone to agree on anything.
Setsuko Usami clung to the hope her plans had not gone to pieces. Then one evening Taro came home late and she was ready to have it out once and for all. But before she could get started he said, “I have to go to Singapore for the Pacific Rim finance ministers meeting.” He said it as if he was taking the car to a mechanic.
“What! When?” She prayed it wouldn’t interfere with their holiday. “When do you have to go?”
“You know when,” he said as he removed his clothes and left them where they lay and reached for the pajama bottoms she had laid out for him. He escaped to the bathroom.
“Taro! My plans! Why can’t–”
“It can’t be helped!”
Setsuko stared at the bathroom door until he stepped out. She collapsed onto her futon and watched Taro lay down with his back to her. A thunderbolt of nausea erupted from deep inside her gut and she ran to the bathroom.
Taro called out, “What is it now?”
“You know what it is!”
Taro turned off the light. A pink half-darkness beyond their window spilled into the room where they slept, the dim split in two by a rare moonbeam. Sleep came easily.
Aroused from his slumber, Taro Usami realized he sensed Setsuko’s absence. He sat up and saw her unmussed futon. He listened for any household sounds. He heard nothing. Then he realized a need to relieve himself.
Stepping to the bathroom, half asleep, he wondered why the door wouldn’t open fully.
And why the light was on.
Once he managed to get his head in for a peek, he saw why. Setsuko lay on the floor, her body twisted, eyes open, mouth sagging, tongue limp, strands of hair matted on her forehead and cheek. An empty prescription medicine vial lay inches from her fingertips.
Later, his children would say he shouted “Setsuko” over and over.
Taro Usami would say he didn’t remember.
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