“Get a child already”
That was my father’s favorite phrase.
Born to a house where women were only seen as tools to birth children, I was already in my twenties. I was standing on the crossroads of life.
At my fingertips were close to fifty photos of different men. They were the marriage partner candidates my father had prepared.
Those who took the initiative and volunteered because they wanted his company, and those that were recommended to strengthen our ties with other companies. There were various reasons, but I was to marry one and build up a child.
That was my reason for existence in this house.
I don’t think I can love another.
I wonder how everyone believes in something so shapeless as love. It was only a marvel to me.
That I couldn’t do something any standard person could must be because I was a person who was never properly loved.
I put a break on the countless answerless questions I held since my birth and stared down at the photos around me.
That I chose him was truly a coincidence.
The largest reason I chose him was because his photo was at the very bottom of the stack. The order of the close-to-fifty photos was decided by how much profit each person could bring to the company. Since he was at the very bottom of the stack, he was practically pointless to my father’s company. As revenge against my father, I took his photo in hand.
He of the photo was a plain man you could find anywhere. A man whose only real trait came from the diligent air given off by the glasses on his face. When it was a photo to hand to a potential marriage partner, he wasn’t smiling at all. More than that, it even looked as if he were glaring. Angrily.
His unflattering bearing held a contrarily favorable impression.
Looking at the profile on the back of the photo, I was even more certain I would settle with that person.
His history indicated, after graduating a second-rate college, he entered a mid-tier company you could find anywhere, and his years in service to it would total five this year.
And for such a man, the reason for his candidacy was to save his grandfather’s company, he wrote. My mind went strange.
“What a fool.”
By the time I noticed it, I had leaked those words.
Going out of his way to marry a woman he didn’t love to save someone else. He must have been unbelievably softhearted, and kind passed salvation.
‘I can’t think I’ll love you, but if you’re alright with me.’
Those words he let out the first time we met. I couldn’t forget my father’s face the moment he said it. Scowling, with his shoulders perked up, as he scattered shouts at me to give up on that man.
It was so amusing I couldn’t help myself. That alone made me glad I chose him.
And we were married.
When our marriage was still young, he said this to me.
“I may kill you and take all the money you’re to inherit for myself. Even so, are you alright with me?”
I thought he was a man to say interesting things. If he was really planning such a thing, he’d keep quiet and carry it out, but for some reason, he sought my consent.
At the very point he said it, I was sure he wouldn’t kill me, but for some reason, his eyes were serious, and I laughed without restrained.
And I thought up a game.
“That’s fine. It’s only a matter if I can get you to fall before that, right”
I thought it would be interesting if he fell for me for real.
Though I doubted I would love him either, I could act in love as much as I wanted. On the other hand, with how blatantly it seemed he hated me, he was likely bad at lying.
Then to act out a happy couple, I knew it would be necessary to make him fall.
‘A game to make him fall.’
When I thought of it like that, this married life for the sole purpose of having a child began to feel fun to me. How strange.
“Shall I make it seem I took a trip myself, and kill you? It seems I’ll succeed almost 40% of the time.”
An overseas trip I had been planning from before the marriage. On the day before, he said that.
I had no idea what forty percent was supposed to mean, but it seems he was thinking about killing me again. And once more, he confessed it to me. What a strange man.
I answered whatever felt appropriate, and the day came to a close. Early the next day, I took a large bag and descended from my second-floor bedroom to the living room. And I was surprised by who I found there.
“… Good morning.”
He who had become my husband a few weeks ago was there, his appearance in order. I was so surprised I was at a loss for words. He gave a dangerous scowl, and asked, “Won’t you be late?”
By his urgings, I headed for the parlor, and turned back.
“… See you later?”
The reason my line became a question was because I couldn’t determine whether he had woken up early to see me off or not.
He simply nodded and didn’t reciprocate my words of parting, but the words I heard before closing the door slackened my face.
That was all it was. But it was an important thing to me.
From before I gained awareness, I didn’t have a mother. Even when she had married into a house like mine, she had died promptly after having me, so my family was my father alone. That man of work, my father, rarely returned home, and the times we ate breakfast or dinner together were few enough to count.
But even so, to the time I rose to high school, I was alright with that. Living alongside the house’s helper I got along well with wasn’t bad, and she who was around the age of my grandmother doted on me quite a bit.
It was a relation built on the money invested into her employment contract, but at that age, I didn’t feel too strongly about that, and I depended on the fatherless ‘family’ given to me.
In the spring of my first high school year. She passed away.
Father said he would hire another helper around the house, but I declined. Because to me, she was family and a position that could never be replaced.
But even so, father went and hired one. I brushed them aside, but in my doing so, my father had forcefully changed my cognizance of her as, ‘family’ to mere ‘helper’ and I had lost the ‘family’ I had within me.
And my life alone began.
It was a house large enough for it to be painful. I took food alone, prepared alone, and went to school.
There was no one to see me off or back, and my father who’d occasionally returned wouldn’t hold up a proper conversation.
If I were to die just like this, would anyone even notice I was no longer there?
That question even floated up, and floated out.
Without giving me a motivation to kill myself, mind you.
Like that, I gradually grew used to being ‘alone’.
The first words for my well-being I’d heard in a while.
What’s more, the one who said them were my loveless husband from a few weeks ago, and the one who threatened to kill me just the other day.
I felt it amusing to the depths of my heart, and filled with a pleasant feeling.
Unable to contain it, I laughed through the taxi I’d called, and remembering his sour face as he saw me off, my head was filled with thoughts of nothing but how to make him fall.
It was a trip of a few days, and to be completely honest, the most fun I had was choosing the souvenir to give him.
And in regards to my return, his first words were as follows.
“The probability I will love you half a year later is 0.001%, it seems.”
Meaning it will take more than half a year. That was my only impression. I already knew half a year wouldn’t be enough to nab that man, so I wasn’t particularly surprised at it, and I merely drank it down as him stating a fact.
It did seem he was discontent at my attitude, and a little irritated, “I was sure you didn’t hate me.” He declared.
It seems he wanted to knock me speechless.
I’m sure he wanted to see my bitter face and hatred. And he thought his sour stomach filled with the thought he had been ‘bought’ would subside some by that.
But from the start, I didn’t have the slightest intent to move as he wished, and he wasn’t the type of man to fall for a woman who moved however he wanted.
“… Could I ask how you plan on killing me next?”
When I said that challengingly, he let out a wimpy voice. He likely never thought it would come to that.
“You want to be killed?”
“If possible, I want to be loved.”
Those were without a doubt my true feelings.
Before my eyes, he flipped the switch on his glasses-shaped PC, and carried out a future prediction. The characters I could see spelled out, ‘The probability I can kill my wife without being found out’.
I see, so that’s what he was looking into, I accepted.
So that’s where the ‘forty percent’ he came out with before the trip meant.
After the end of a fierce clash. I handed him the souvenir I had put several hours into choosing. I could tell from looking at him that he treasured those glasses, so in the end, I chose to play safe and buy him a glasses case.
A black, leather-coated case. On the bottom, I had carved in his initials myself. The only one of its kind in the world, if you called it that, perhaps that was the case, but by appearance alone, it was a glasses case you could find anywhere.
And he tossed it into the trash with good momentum.
It was a shock. A greater shock than I anticipated. It was an act by someone I didn’t think anything of, so I didn’t have to pay mind to it, but I bit my lip a bit, and kept silent. He hurriedly returned to his room, but for the hour that followed, I was glued to the spot.
That was how our newly-wedded life had started out, but by the time I had noticed it, half a year had gone by.
I continued on with my ‘game to make him fall’, and it seems he was still checking that probability every day without fail.
“Today was quite a treat. 17%.”
As he reported it every morning, at the start I doubted his motives, but to be blunt, I was already used to it.
In short, this was a conversation starter. And so I would always make use of it as one.
“You’re up two percent from yesterday. Good for you. A good thing happened to me today too. Look, those perfectly dashi-rolled eggs. You like them, don’t you?”
“… You’re not wrong, but there are times I find myself afraid of you.”
“Oh my, why’s that?”
“I wonder why.”
Giving a sudden smile, he took his seat, and after preparing his breakfast, we ate together. That was the usual flow.
Every morning, every meal, I would diligently make what he liked. It wasn’t that I was thinking to grab him by the stomach, but between a woman who made what you liked, and one who didn’t the former was overwhelmingly more likable, I thought.
His likes and dislikes were easy to see through. Unable to lie, whenever he liked something, the corners of his mouth would rise, and when he didn’t a wrinkle would visit his brow.
“Is it good? Nicely done, right?”
It seems today’s breakfast was to his tastes.
And just like that, a year went by.
In that period, my father began pestering me about whether I had a child yet. Even if he asked that, we slept in separate rooms, and he didn’t show any signs of doing anything like that, so what’s impossible was impossible. If I had a child, it would be the second coming.
When I told my father that, I was yelled at again. He heatedly went on about how a woman’s happiness lay in leaving a child in the world, but at present, it wasn’t hard to imagine he just wanted a successor, given his age.
“Don’t call me again.”
With those words I hung up, and faithful to them, he barged into the house next. It was a holiday, and he had barged in when that man was home, so I was more panicked than you could believe.
My father demanded from him the meaning behind all of it. Because I had ended up leaking the fact that the separate rooms was his idea over the phone.
“I have no intent to embrace her. I do not love her, and I doubt she feels she wants to be embraced by me either. A woman’s purpose isn’t a tool to have children. If that’s the reason you married her to me, then you are the one who made the wrong choice. So let me divorce her at once, and please marry her off to someone she properly loves.”
Those words shut both me and father up.
Father returned as if running from the spot, and I put out some coffee.
“I don’t understand your thanks.”
“You did that with me in mind, didn’t you?”
“I… just wanted a divorce.”
Saying that sulkily, he sipped the coffee.
He really was a kind person. It seems the individual himself hadn’t realized it, but those truly were words sticking up for me.
I opened my mouth to bring forth more gratitude. But the words coming from me were extremely twisted on the way out.
“Oh, are you really fine with that? If we divorce, you can’t kill me, and a large sum of money will be distancing itself from you.”
“… That’s right. I wouldn’t want that.”
“Could I hear your next plan?”
“If I tell you, then you’d move so as not to be killed, wouldn’t you?”
“As your wife, I have the resolve to accept anything from you. I’d like you not to underestimate me.”
“Even if this were a knife?”
He touched the coffee cup against my chest and grinned with just his lips. I stole the cup from his hands and downed its contents.
“Even if this were filled with poison.”
When I said that with a smile, he burst into laughter. Within this lifestyle, wasn’t that the first time I saw a real smile from him? I thought. And with his lips alone still in a leisurely smile, he held up a finger.
“Then could I order another coffee? Without the poison, if you will.”
“I’ve never even thought to feed you poison, dear.”
When I said that and assented, he reverted back to his usual expressionless state. That felt somewhat lonely, so I decided I would definitely make him laugh again sometime.
I understood it only in hindsight, but at that point, I had fallen.
When I was supposed to be dropping him, it was honestly pitiful and all that jazz, but my life from then on was like a gemstone to me.
I still didn’t understand love. But I still did treasure him.
From there, another year and a half passed, and it was three years for our marriage.
I was still playing the ‘game to make him fall’, and I had mastered his tastes in makeup and dress.
Having come this far, I was already nothing but a woman in love, but my small bit of pride didn’t allow me to accept that.
He was going at it bit by bit, but there still was a change. Of all things, he got around to help around with the chores. At the start, any and everything was left to me. I had kept quiet to that point, but recently I protested that while I stayed home, for argument’s sake, I still had a job, so wasn’t that unfair? He accepted division of housework all-too-easily, and now, the laundry and trash every day was his charge.
“If it was that hard on you, you should’ve said something earlier. I don’t want to have you dying form overwork. I want to kill you without being found out.”
It was a recent occurrence that he began to smile whenever he said something like that.
We were becoming a family. Slowly, but surely.
I was unbearably happy at that fact, and my heart danced at the prospect of having a warm household for the first time in my life.
And his birthday came.
Moving by the plan I had devised long beforehand, the preparations of morning to dinner, I did my best on my makeup and dressing up.
I thought to go on a date with him. Embarrassing as it was, it was the first date in my life. I was a sheltered daughter by the definition of the term, and in truth, my acquaintances numbered zero.
Just how long had I waited for this day.
I argued down his agitation, and took him to his beloved aquarium.
I had learned he liked the aquarium quite recently. When we were coincidentally watching TV together, an aquarium commercial came on. I could determine it by the sparkling eyes of a young boy with which he eyed the penguins. I was certain he loved the aquarium.
The result was superb. It seems he loved it, and I enjoyed it as well. I was happy.
When I let too loose, and bought enough paraphernalia to carry in both hands, that he quietly took all of them from me and carried them all home was actually the part I enjoyed most, but that’s my life’s secret from him.
“Thank you for being born.”
His flushed face was lovely.
After that, we got around to going out together around once per month. Starting with the nearby park, we got as far as small trips out of the prefecture.
When I made lunch, he’d make a sour face as he quietly ate them, but I didn’t let slip by the rising of the corners of his lips whenever I packed fried chicken or eggs.
The next time, I tried loading the lunch with those foods, only for him to look at me with a bit of a surprised face, and say this:
“Can you read hearts?”
It was so strange, so interesting… he still didn’t smile very much, but even so I thought it had become quite an enjoyable married life.
And from there, a year went by, and my desires began to come out.
Around four years since we had been married.
At that point, I knew it was about time I admitted that I liked him, and it was because I accepted it, that these desires began to be born. I wanted him to come to love me. I wanted us to become a normal couple, and family.
And honestly, I’d devoted myself so much, so I thought he should at least have taken to me a bit. But with his usual poker face, there were times I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
I wanted to know his feelings, so I decided to test a certain means.
The means he used every morning.
I started up the old-type notebook PC I had stowed away in the back of the closet, and started up a future prediction.
On the empty input that came up after a while, I hesitated a moment on what to enter. And with a nervous face, I typed it.
‘The probability a husband loves his wife.’
In the husband and wife slots that came up, I entered our names, and birthdates, the serial numbers that identified us as individuals, and various other things. I pushed down the enter key.
That was the answer.
That answer that fell with a thump made me finally realize it.
That every bit of it had been me rushing at windmills.
Wanting him to love me, the cooking and makeup I had put all my effort into studying, the flowers I changed every day with a smile, the words I exchanged to understand him just a little bit more, if I thought back to it all, I was always alone. I had made merry by myself and done it all myself. To him, I’m sure it was all a bother.
From the start, to him I was a human to be hated, and in these five years, I’m sure that had never changed once.
(Come to think of it, I’ve never heard a, ‘see you soon,’ or ‘I’m home,’ from him.)
I let tears spill onto the keyboard, as I thought along that vein.
And even after that, I continued my ‘game to make him fall’. The point was, I simply wanted him to like me, but if I thought about it like that, I felt too ashamed, so there was no helping it.
Frankly, it was irrelevant whether he found it a bother. Because all of this was something I only did because I wanted to.
Believing he would turn back to me one day, I spoke to him again with a smile.
And that day came without any forewarning.
The usual morning, the usual time to leave for work. I saw him off as I always did.
“See you soon.”
I thought I had misheard for a moment. But there wasn’t anyone but him there, and by how he averted his eyes with a red face, I could understand I had heard them right.
Come back safely. Those words I returned got caught up in my nose for some reason.
“See you soon.”
Once more, he said it this time with a little clearer a voice, and fled from the house like a fired shell.
My face was wet. The drops moistening my face were flowing from my own eyes; It was something I realized ten-odd seconds later.
I returned to the living room, and took care of the tableware he’d eaten with. My footsteps were light, enough I could burst into a skip at any moment. And I noticed his forgotten item on top of the desk.
A leather glasses case.
I had never seen him use a glasses case before, but he was the only one who wore glasses in this house, so there was no doubt it belonged to him.
I took it in hand. I thought it was something I had seen before. From living together so long, perhaps I had just caught a glance of it somewhere, but my heart was screaming that wasn’t the case.
I turned it over, looked at the bottom, and froze.
His initials were carved in, and I recognized them.
It was the souvenir. When our marriage was still young, the present from the trip I took alone. The case he tossed into the trash a few seconds after I gave it to him.
I gripped what looked worn out, but well looked after.
And I moved it to embrace in my arms, and cried again.
Honestly, this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was supposed to make him fall, but before I realized it, I had fallen myself, and I was fed up with myself. Having fallen so easily, I wondered why it had been that man. There were as many men with better appearance and personality than him, then there were stars in the sky, and I’m sure even I could have met such a man in my life.
With a repeated stream of whys, I was no closer to the answer, but there was one thing that was certain.
Among all the men I’d met in my life, he was the only one who taught me ‘family’.
That entire day felt pleasant. I wasn’t troubled at all with shopping for dinner, I mean, nothing but his favorites were floating in my mind, so there was no helping it.
While I was doing prep work for the meal, I suddenly turned to the calendar, and unintentionally burst out laughing.
Today was my birthday.
The happenings of the morning must have been some birthday present from god or something. If that were the case, then wouldn’t it be fine if I celebrated my own birthday a bit?
No one had celebrated it for many years, so I was on the verge of forgetting it, but one day was fine. I mean, what a wonderful day it was.
I was lonely. Lonely. Truly lonely.
If I was happy, I’d say ‘I’m happy’.
If I was glad, I’d say ‘I’m glad’.
If I was sad, I’d say, ‘I’m sad’.
I always wanted a ‘family’ where I could quarrel over those trivial things.
Right, I’ll buy a cake.
It just has to be big enough for two to eat, a round one, with a candle on top.
I always wanted to do it once. I could count the times I’d been invited to a friend’s birthday party on my hands, so I’d recreate the scenes I’d seen in my dreams here and now.
I’m sure he wouldn’t tell me, ‘congratulations’ or anything of the sort. That was fine. Just sitting around a cake together was plenty.
“If I recall correctly, you’re supposed to blow all the candles out at once.”
My restless lips let such a thing out.
With light steps, I took my purse, and left through the parlor. The inside of my head was filled with thoughts of tonight, so perhaps I was careless.
I got into an accident.
When I came too, I was standing in empty darkness by myself.
Ah, I’m alone again. I suddenly understood, and my chest felt tight. In the end, perhaps god was telling me not to get carried away. That life wasn’t so soft, that such turnabouts don’t happen.
I mean, the probability was zero point zero zero zero percent, was it not? The probability he loves me was zero. Even if a year had passed, I doubt that probability would make some dramatic comeback.
He loving me was an impossible thing for eternities to come. So he wouldn’t be my family. I got the feeling he told me that as well.
So my mind sunk down once more.
The next place my consciousness resurfaced was a space more gray than black.
I didn’t quite have a grip on my sense of time. Whether a lot of time had passed, or it had only been a few hours. To me, the fact I was alone again came first, and I could care less about the time, so perhaps that’s how I perceived it.
It felt as if a light was hitting me from somewhere. While they were closed, an impact of something piercing into my retinas gradually changed my surroundings from gray to white.
‘Yuri, today’s probability was 0% again. You’ll have a good day today.’
I heard a voice. His voice.
It was a bit muffled, but it was definitely his voice.
But that was strange. Did he ever even call me by my name before?
Thinking that far, I understood that voice was an auditory hallucination. The words and voice I wanted to hear were arbitrarily being broadcast by my brain.
‘The weather’s nice today. When you wake up, let’s take a walk together.’
“Oh, I can’t see it from here. But that sounds nice. I’d like to walk with you too.”
I had answered before I realized it. How foolish, having an internal conversation with the him of my illusions was sheer stupidity. I thought, but even so it was fun, and I joyfully responded to the words coming down.
The next time, and the time after that, every time my mind resurfaced, I would converse with his illusion.
‘Today, I brought some dashi-rolled eggs I cooked up. They’re not tasty at all, and I ended up burning them, but won’t you eat them with me someday?’
“Of course. If it’s something you made, then I’d eat it even if it were poisoned. Didn’t I tell you that?”
‘The truth is, I punched your doctor today. I don’t regret the fact I hit him, but I do want to apologize, for what it’s worth. But I don’t have the courage. When you wake up, can you go together with me? I think that will boost my confidence.’
“You’re a bonafide adult, so you can go on your own. I’ll see you off half the way.”
‘Today’s flowers are gerberas. They look like they’d suit you. It seems that gardening’s the new fad these days. Do you think we should try it out together sometime?’
“Sounds nice. The truth is, I like cosmos. But they’re not quite suited for gardening, right? I also like pansies, so should we start with those?”
His illusion often used the word, ‘together’, and when I thought over how that was indicating my own desires, I became excessively embarrassed. But are these really hallucinations?
What I was exchanging words with was a phantom. That was what I thought, but could it be the words themselves… seeing myself think that, my chest became tight.
If these really were his words, I’d be delighted. Unbelievably delighted.
I’m not sure how many times it had been. I felt my mind resurface.
Today, his ever-muffled voice sounded much clearer than usual.
‘Happy birthday. I brought the flowers I couldn’t get to you last time. This time I have a proper one hundred. Amazing, isn’t it? We can go buy a present once you wake up. For seven years’ worth, it doesn’t matter whatever you ask for. And I haven’t the slightest what you would want. You’ll have to tell me in detail next time.’
And I tried to respond as I always did. But it was strange. Today of all days, my voice wouldn’t come out.
‘Hey, today’s probability was also 0%. Why are you still in bed?’
Those words were caught on his nose for some reason. Was he crying? When I thought it, I couldn’t just stay as I was.
‘What color do you like? What are your hobbies?’
Why are you crying? Are you in pain? Sorrow?
‘What did you do when I was away? What flowers do you like?’
I like cosmos. I told you earlier, didn’t I? What’s wrong? Didn’t you hear me?
‘Show me some pictures of your childhood next time. What high school did you go to?’
I’ll show you as many as you want, and I’ll tell you all about them. So you don’t have to cry, I don’t want to see your crying face.
No matter how many times I tried to let out my voice, it wouldn’t come out. A hazy, strange sound was all that came out, and no words to comfort him would escape my lips.
If he was crying, then cheering him up was my role.
I mean, I’m his ‘family’.
A painful light seared my eyelids. My painfully dry throat only let off a strange sound. That shadow I could vaguely make out was surely you. There’s no way I would be mistaken.
“Good morning. You sure slept in today.”
“Good morning. Masahiro.”
Again, my voice wouldn’t come out. And again, he cried.
“Did you think up a good birthday present? Want a new computer? Your old notebook was already broken, wasn’t it? Or would a bag or necklace be better? Woman have an image of liking precious metals, but does that image fit you?”
On a certain day, near my encroaching discharge, Masahiro asked me.
“Can I really ask for anything?”
“Yeah, because I made you wait quite a while. But please limit to what I’m capable of. I don’t think I can become an oil baron.”
“Oh, I’ve no desire to extort something so expensive from you.”
As my mouth turned sour, the hand he reached to pat my head was comforting.
“Then say it. Quickly. Anything.”
“Masahiro, please lend me your ear.”
Since I was sitting in a wheelchair, he brought his head close.
And with all my might, I pestered him this.
“I want a family with you.”