Naoto wasn’t surprised when Kanji was happier to have a daughter than she was. It was true that she didn’t particularly mind having a daughter, but she would’ve been more pleased with a son.
So, of course, it stood to reason that her next two children would be girls, as well. It was a statistical improbability: the likelihood of having a male child was fifty-five percent. The probability of having three female children in a row was .45 * .45 * .45—in other words, it was a mere nine percent. After the third, she decided to stop trying. No more children. It disrupted her work, and would probably result in a massive argument over inheritance within the next thirty years. By then she was content with her daughters. Naturally, a boy would have been nice, but more for balance than anything else. Three intelligent, sensible children were good enough for her. They made their beds, did the dishes, helped out with the family businesses, and got along with the other children well enough. As far as Naoto was concerned, they were just about perfect.
Her eldest daughter had always struck Naoto as a bit odd, though. Of the three of them, she was the one who resembled her father most in temperament, but Naoto more in personality. It was a strange, but pleasing, combination: considered and sensitive, assertive without being brash, confidence tempered by a cutting self-awareness. She reminded Naoto of Kanji’s own mother, and was the one least likely to inherit her family business. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the talent or intellect for it, but that Naoto deemed her personality too soft, too light, to handle the nature of crime. Better let her have the textiles shop.
Which was why she was shocked when her eldest returned from high school one day wearing a boy’s uniform. Her once long hair had been cut, and there was an purposeful jut in her jaw.
“I’m home, Ma,” she said, while Naoto stared at her in a mixture of shock and anger. “What?”
“What are you wearing?” Naoto asked.
“I tripped and got my uniform dirty on the way to school, so Yoshino-kun lent me his uniform for the day.”
“And your hair?”
“Someone stuck gum in it, and Miyako-kun cut it badly. I got Takatsuki-kun to even it out for me. It’s no big deal.” With a practiced swagger (it looked pathetic. Had Naoto really looked like that?), her daughter headed upstairs and said, “I’m going to review some of your case files for a while. That okay with you, Ma?”
When Kanji came home from the textiles shop, he barely seemed fazed by their daughter’s change in style and manners.
“Let her do what she wants to,” he said. “Not going to do anyone any harm.”
What about the fact that she was horrible at impersonating a man?
“Well,” Kanji said, “She looks cool in the uniform.” Then he said, “’sides, she probably picked it up from you.”
“I beg your pardon,” she said, more affronted than she had any right to be.
Of course he was right. The next day her daughter came into her office and handed Naoto a collection of files.
“I have reviewed these files, and wrote brief reports that may illuminate the true culprit,” said her daughter.
“Thank you,” said Naoto, trying to decide whether she ought to praise her daughter’s work ethic, or ask why she went through the trouble of adapting such a strange affectation. She decided on, “Where did you get that hat?”
“I asked Pa to make one for me.”
“Go do your homework.”
“Yes, Ma,” said her daughter, and marched dutifully back up to her room.
The swagger still looked fake, but her daughter had her father’s height and mother’s coloration and seriousness on her face. The sad thing was, she looked more like a man than Naoto ever had. Perhaps Naoto could see right through her, but who else could?
When her daughter came in with another set of case files, Naoto handed her daughter the files she had marked up before and said, “I have marked and corrected what you have done incorrectly.”
“Excuse me?” said her daughter.
“Many of the conclusions you have drawn here are incorrect,” Naoto said. “You make too many assumptions. You do not have the rigor or thoroughness required to be a true detective.”
At that, her daughter flushed angrily and said, “I know I’m right.”
“Mere hubris,” Naoto said dismissively. “Reread these files and come back to me when you are capable of distinguishing acetate from an ethanoate.”
“That’s a trick question, mother. An ethanoate is the same thing as an acetate.”
“And acetate is?”
“It is the anion C2H3OO-, a carboxylate and conjugate base of acetic acid.”
“And how can a chemist properly distinguish an old blood stain from a mud stain?”
“Luminol will oxidize with the iron in hemoglobin.”
“And what is one way of distinguishing polyester from rayon?”
At this, her daughter hesitated, and said, “I do not know.”
“Then leave, and do not come back with either of those files until you can tell me,” Naoto said.
Her daughter’s nostrils flared, ever so slightly. Kanji did the same thing when he got angry. “You’re not fair, mother. You were solving cases on much less knowledge—”
“I was trained for this, as is your sister,” Naoto said. “I didn’t train you.”
“I’m better than Meiko. I know I am.”
“So this bizarre change in dress is to convince me of your supposed superiority?” Naoto said. “Why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove?”
Her daughter looked off to the side and said, “You wanted a son to continue the family business. Even if you never said so out loud, I know it. You became upset whenever you gave birth to another daughter.”
“I don’t need a son to continue the family business,” Naoto said. “I am capable of carrying it out.”
“But you don’t think of yourself as a woman, anyway.”
Sensitive and considerate. Her insults cut deep. Naoto went to the door and held it open. “Get out.”
“Yes, Ma,” said her daughter, and with a slouch and dirty look, went up to her room and slammed the door.
Kanji told Naoto that she and her eldest were too much alike: stubborn and defiant, prone to hypersensitivity and lashing out instead of dealing with things in a responsible manner. Those hadn’t been his exact words, but it was close enough, anyway. Naoto ignored him for the rest of that night, and the next morning, after waking up alone, called the textile shops to make sure he hadn’t been shot on the way to work. It was a illogical fear, one she could trace back to the early deaths of her own parents. A need to cling onto those she loved, in fear of losing them. Illogical, but she had a family now. She didn’t want to leave them. She didn’t want to be left alone.
Kanji told her that he had taken worse, and wasn’t it about time that she made up with their eldest before the other two got upset? Then he said he had reserved a table at Aiya’s for the two of them that evening so they could duke things out while he taught their other two girls how to knit. Or maybe play soccer. Whichever, really. He was cool with either.
So that was why Naoto was at Aiya’s with her daughter, the both of them studying the menu for an unnecessarily long time. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Souji and Rise eavesdropping in an entirely unsubtle manner. Rise even waved at them.
Neither she nor her daughter paid them any attention.
“Applying high heat,” Naoto said finally, because she was the adult here. She needed to take the initiative. “Polyester melts. Rayon burns.”
“I know,” said her eldest tersely. “I looked it up in my room.”
“You aren’t trained.”
“You didn’t want to train me.”
“I thought that you would have wanted to take over the textiles shop instead.”
“Because I’m a girl.”
“Because you’re gentle.”
“This is what I want. Well—I would’ve liked to have kept my hair. But this is kind of cool, too.”
Naoto frowned behind her menu. “You will have to compete with Meiko.”
“I’m better than she is.”
“You may think so.”
“I work harder than she does. She’s a natural. She won’t try as hard. I will.”
There were benefits to being a natural, though. The confidence to be yourself, to pursue what you are good at, the knowledge that you are, as you are, the best you’ll ever be; the knowledge that you didn’t have to change yourself to be good at anything.
Naoto said, “Prove it to me.”
Her daughter said, “Yes, mother,” and in an entirely unfamiliar gesture, flicked the brim of her hat up and grinned.