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The Way They Died

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i.

Tezuka Kunimitsu dies at age seventy-seven after climbing the Matterhorn with two of his grandsons and his granddaughter. He is in the middle of laughing at a joke when he feels a sharp pain in his left arm. He dies of a heart attack before anyone can get help.

Later all the papers run his obituary—the pillar of Japanese tennis. Those who run a picture usually chose the famous Saori Shiba photograph of him after his second win at a major tournament, the Australian Open, when he is nineteen. He is looking to the right of the camera and he is touching his left elbow. Though he just won the look is sad, haunting and seductive. Reports estimate that at one time thirty percent of all tennis posters sold were of this photograph.

ii.

Kikumaru Eiji dies at age seventy-eight. His will leaves everything to the school for disadvantaged children where his late partner used to teach.

iii.

Momoshiro Takeshi dies at age eighty-four. His children don't know what to do with the cats. All his grandchildren want one, as compensation for that fact that he won't be able to buy them burgers anymore, but his children shake their heads and give them away—to the neighbors, to the pound, to a children's hospital that uses animals as therapy.

"I don't understand it," they all said, "He was more of a dog person anyway."

iv.

Fuji Shusuke doesn't die; or at least not that anyone is aware of. When he was thirty and staying with his brother's family (because he never bothered to find a house of his own in Japan, what with all the travel he did) he left one evening to take a walk and never came back. He didn't even take his camera.

Yuuta spent years trying to locate his brother—one thing, anything, a body even—but after a decade and a half his wife sat him down and said: "You have to let go, this is killing you. This is killing all of us." Now it is only the photographs, the good ones in the newspapers—train wrecks, hurricanes, earthquakes, and airplane crashes—that make Yuuta think of his brother. Any more and he'd be pulled under again: angry at getting left behind, angry that, even in his absence, Yuuta cannot escape his older brother's shadow.

v.

Kawamura Takashi dies at eighty, after making his son promise to let tennis players eat for free. His son has none of the talent with a sushi knife that his father had, but he is an excellent manager and knows enough about food to only hire the best chefs. He buries his father's ashes with a tennis racket, and their best set of sushi knives.

He never misses the racket (he prefers swimming), but when they go through an unusually large number of sushi knives the following year, he does regret the knives.

vi.

Kaidoh Kaoru dies at age eighty-three. He has one daughter, a stern librarian of a woman who hates cats and loved her father in a practical way: she fed him and made him go to the doctor when he was sick. She uses her inheritance to invest for the future. She gives the cats to her father's best friend, who protests madly, but has a soft look in his eyes that let her know he'll consent in the end. When she comes home from the funeral and places the urn on her mantle and lights the incense, she reaches to the back of her closet to grab the running shoes she hasn't touched in years and then goes and runs and runs and runs and remembers how she used to do this with her father when she was a child. The tears are dried by the wind.

vii.

Oishi Shuichiro dies at age sixty, bald from the radiation and sick with chemotherapy. The sad part was that they said he was recovering. The doctors had finally released him home, again, but within a week he collapsed in the kitchen, falling to his left side, and suddenly not breathing.

His will leaves everything to his partner with an old, almost yellowed, note, with the added remark: "It's your turn to hold the rope now." At his funeral his family and friends are surprised to see that the majority of the crowd is made up of those who had had him for a teacher or coach and who remember how he was able to make biology interesting, how he was able to teach anyone to hit a tennis ball.

viii.

Inui Sadaharu dies at 34.6679, or at least that's what he would say if he were alive to tell anyone. He is not alive, however, so tells no one what angle the cars crashed, or how large the force of impact was that it shattered the windshield. An autopsy of the bodies in the other car does tell everyone that the other driver had a blood alcohol reading of .15 and forensic analysis indicates that the other car was going well over the speed limit, but Inui is unable to say that there was a 22% chance that the other car was filled with university students who had just taken their last exams, or that there was a 67% chance that his own reaction time was slowed down due to his slight preoccupation with the night's events.

At the funeral, after (almost) everyone is gone from the temple Kaidoh sets some wilted roses by the ashes. When he leaves the temple he is surprised to find Momo waiting for him, silent, for once, holding out a jacket because Kaidoh forgot his, ushering him back to his apartment and into bed.

ix.

Echizen Ryoma dies at age seventeen, just before his second major tournament, the Australian Open. After the plane crash there are blurbs in sports magazines about a promising career cut short, but other than that, no one really seems to care.

Several days after the news, his father (who has, over night, grown even more sullen and anti-social) notices that the damn cat has run away.