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Today is a Diamond

Chapter Text

It's not like his memory has ever been good, ya know.

Can't remember the code to his own office, can't remember his social security number. It's nothin' new, even back in 1995 when his age was still what, twenty, he had trouble remembering shit like that. It didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now. Nobody asks you what your numbers are, all the way here in buttfuck nowhere Okinawa. Could be everyone knows already.

Could be somewhere there's a chart with all the old geezers like him, everyone eighty-five and above, and they got all their pictures and age and info and whatnot all lined up in a nice pretty book, in case they got lost — lost like he was now.

God fucking dammit he was lost again.

What the hell is Kiryu's number.

 

***

Kiryu appeared at the doorway sometime later, walking out of the night into the bright lights. First it's just his outline, then the rest of him shimmered in and filled it up; could be he's magical or just plain bad eyesight. Money's on the magic. Kiryu looked concerned; he always looks concerned. Kiryu-chan puts the wart in worrywart, he does.

"There ya are," He said. "About fuckin' time. I thought I was gonna hafta spend the whole fuckin' night here. Where the hell were you?"

"Majima," Kiryu growled. "What the hell did you do this time?"

"How should I know?" He grumbled. "Ask the pig over there. Tell the cop he's lucky I ain't got a knife on me, comes ta that."

Kiryu goes. Goes. Goes. A long time later he came back, looking now even more concerned than he was. You live with him long enough you start to recognize the situation from the amount of wrinkles in his face. Right now the frown's a level 10 — either an earthquake broke out or someone died. Either way he had pressing concerns.

"I'm hungry," He complained. "Can we fuckin' go?"

Yes, Kiryu said. Without another word they went out into the night, walked side-by-side on the dark cliff roads that curve up-up. It's a hill really, and their place was somewhere up there. Below them the sound of the sea; constant and forever. Every few minutes it's a woosh. Tides came and went, going then gone.

The progress is slow and arduous; it's all been different since the last fall. Used to be they would run, up-up, feet on the tarmac the rhythm of the water. Him screaming loud enough to frighten seagulls; Kiryu saying, for god's sake, for god's sake, not this again. Suppose they can't fight now without breaking themselves into pieces.

Halfway up the hills Kiryu said, "Have you eaten anything since morning?"

"What the hell kinda question is that."

"You did?"

"Sure, ya ever know me to skip breakfast?"

"What did you eat?" In the dark, Kiryu was just a moonlit shoulder.

"Same ol'"

"At Osa's place?"

"Sure."

He sensed it was the wrong answer but couldn't tell why. Maybe it was the thickness of the silence, which accompanied them all the way home. Haruka wasn't in, had a thing going on in the cities. She'll be back next week or tomorrow. He went for the kotatsu, turned on the TV to dispel the silence. Kiryu slipped off his jacket and into the domesticity of his apron and slippers.

"What do you want to eat?" Kiryu asked. "We've got most things except meat."

"How come we ain't never got meat? We poor or somethin'?"

"Because we don't. What do you want?"

"Omurice?"

"Alright."

Kiryu went going-gone. Reappeared sometime later out of the periphery of his vision with omurice. It's perfect every time, double eggs like he likes it, and none of that goddamned awful sauce people pour on. Smelled good and it's gonna taste perfect.

"Thanks," He said. "Kinda big helping though. Not sure I can finish this."

"I'll finish what you can't," Kiryu said.

Sure, he said, and tucked in.

Turns out he could finish it after all. Guess he was hungrier than he thought.

 

***

Gone fishing!

Or rather, gone fishing again.

Feels like these days all they do is fish. Not that he's complaining, fishing's one of his favorite things to do — but what about all the rest? Used to be they'd go for shogi, mahjong, even the lousy pool place at the back of Osa's cafe with the bumpy table you can't calculate shots on. Darts too, or else karaoke at Sawa's bar. Real funny place Sawa's got, he's got those old-timey classics all the way back to the 80s, imported now into newfangled discs but good all the same. He has maybe sixty, eighty tracks, but you won't know it because Kiryu only ever picks all of five songs.

Judgement tonight, seeing idiots, today is a diamond.

It was a good day to be out fishing, nice weather all around, the clouds on the horizon a single silver line. Blue up and blue below. Sea's like liquid jelly, turgid and slow. All the waves today brought down low.

Kiryu off somewhere again, always up to something. At the bait shop, he reckoned, getting refills of worms. Gotta hurry if ya want the good stuff. In the meantime it was him and two poles, Kiryu and his, betting twice to win big. He held onto one and

He dreamt of bright things. When he came awake he saw a long line of imprints in the sand, and at the end of it Kiryu a few steps away, holding onto his own pole, whistling a soft tune.

"Hey," He said, yawning. "Been here long?"

"Oh, give or take, fifty years." Kiryu's smiling at the sea. He couldn't see it but he could tell, there's a tone to a smile.

"Caught anything?"

"Not yet."

He tilted his head up; saw that the sun had run ahead of him faster than he thought, descending in a celebration of cloudless light. Their shadows had grown longer. Just a moment ago it'd been a palm wide.

"Yo Kiryu-chan," He said. "Why don't we go for mahjong after this? Been a while."

Kiryu's line stirred in the water. Said, "Nah."

"How come? Ya fell out with someone?"

"Just don't feel like it."

"'kay," He said, shrugging. "Maybe I'll go alone then. Meet you back at the house."

"Oh." Hesitation. "I'll come with you."

"Eh? Thought you don't wanna?"

"Well."

"What the hell, Kiryu-chan. Ya goin' senile or something."

For a long time Kiryu said nothing; so long he was about to open his mouth and say it again, thinking the man had gone deaf. Not so. The long line was reeled in, nothing caught yet except the shiny wet worm at the end. Turning around, Kiryu began to pack their belongings. The remains of their lunch, the long day in the sun.

"Let's go," Kiryu said.

He went, walking behind anxious-angry. Had no right to not-talk to him like this, Kiryu. Well, what the fuck. Menopause or something, mood swings like these. Eighty and still the emotions of a damned rock. The waves now coming slowly and methodically behind them, seeing them off. The crabs rolling in their sandy beds, turning one and all, claws in the air waving goodbye.

He let Kiryu take them wherever; saw in short moments that Kiryu meant to take them home, or did not, because at the next intersection he'd gone left again, mahjong-wards.

"Are we goin' or not," He grumbled. "Ya lost or somethin'. I don't wanna be on my feet all fuckin' day."

Kiryu said: "Going."

They go, went, reached. Found the parlor and the old crew there. Waited until a table came to be empty, and filled it in with themselves and two other friends, all of them laughing, calling for tea. Tea comes, them shooting the shit before the game begins, the way they always did. Have they heard. Did they know. And remember that? Then it was time to play in earnest and out comes the set of hundred tiles in jade-green worn with thumb prints and he started picking his pieces, set them into straight lines and

 

***

about to go somewhere, but couldn't find the keys to the house. Searched high and low and found it in his pockets at last and was about to go out, when Kiryu appeared behind him. Kiryu everywhere lately.

"Yo, Kiryu-chan!" He said. "Goin' to the store. Ya need anything?"

"I'll come with you," Kiryu said quickly, already putting on his shoes.

"Eh? Don't ya got the rice on? Keep ya eye where ya need it. It's just the fuckin' store, I'm not gonna break my neck."

He went before the protests could happen, before Kiryu could trail him like a hen. Treating him like a damned child. He got to the store pronto quickish and bought all he needed — smokes and some cold tempura for dinner, then a pair of gloves 'cuz winter's coming on soon and he'd misplaced his last pair, heat packs, plasters for 'em small nicks — and just as he was exiting he saw the mags Kiryu was always reading, shiny red-and-yellow wheels on them. He dug out money and got change for it.

He took it all home and handed everything over except the cigarettes, which he left on the table for Kiryu to share.

"Thanks for the magazine," Kiryu said, and suddenly he realized.

"Did I bought ya that before?"

"Not this one," Kiryu tucked the magazine under an arm, the rest of the things in a bag still. Later they'll go away to their rightful place.

"Oh," He said. He sat waiting for dinner at the table, watching mindless baseball going on, very late in the season. Smoked one by one the pack of cigarettes. Warmth inside. In their house you can hear the sea, and some days it's the loudest sound to be heard. You can't think unless you shout. It's the strong dense tides marking the minutes. Above the sound of that roiling cauldron, he yelled: "Kiryu! Stuff's burning!"

He heard Kiryu hurried wet feet to the kitchen, running in from the gardens, then the cursing and clattering of a good but harried chef. He got up. Went to their bedroom and dug about, opening closets, shutting doors, closing secrets. In a drawer on Kiryu's desk third one from the bottom he found oh, about twelve or so of the same magazine, and sat there thinking, thinking, in the dark — holding onto red-and-yellow by the dozen.

 

***

Thursday he met Osamu at the store and said, "Yo, did ya catch the game yesterday?"

Osamu looks at him confused, said — what game?

"The game." He said, echoing himself. "The game! There's only one, innit?"

There's no game, Osamu said. Season's been over half month.

He sat there opening and shutting his mouth like a fish, egg on his face and he didn't even know why. Face burning hot coals of embarrassment and he mouthed, mumbled, of course, of course.

Don't worry, Osamu said. Happens to all of us.

 

***

Turns out it wasn't even Thursday.

 

***

eating shoveling stuffing something into his mouth and realized — oh, meat!

"Haruka-chan, ya the best." He said. "Yer old man practically starving me, don't get no meat dishes unless ya around. Tell him off, will ya?"

She smiled indulgently and patted his hand. "I will, I will. There's some today though!"

Kiryu in an apron by the kitchen table, slowly sipping a beer. "Got enough for the whole week. Twenty percent off at Maru."

"Yessssss," He said, and shoveling done he stretched out with a beer under the kotatsu where it was warm and toasty, put the music player on some old tunes to cover the commentary of the baseball replay, and came awake slowly later listening to Kiryu and Haruka talking shit about him in the kitchen, thinking he doesn't hear. It's like just become someone gets a bit stupid people think they're deaf too, or else you can talk shit right to their face and five seconds later they won't know or remember. As if it works that way.

He turned around spitefully and watched them talk until they noticed him watching, eye as wide as eyes go.

"I'm not deaf, ya know," He said. "Ya got somethin' to say why don'tcha say it to my face?"

It's unbearable how sappy it makes Kiryu-chan, who in the middle of the night holding onto him like he's a bag of bones from behind; like it's old times and Kiryu wanted to break his ribs in the middle, only with a hug, and trying to be gentle, only he can't because Kiryu's salting his back with all that damned misery.

He couldn't hear the muffled sounds of sadness being sad. The gasps and sighs of a body in anguish. There's a window in their room from which you can hear the sea, here most of all. Every minute it's a woosh. From the beginning of time maybe a billion billion tides. It's strange, but he could hear the wings of insects when they flew close enough to his ears, clapping their little hands celebrating time — yet on Kiryu he could hear nothing. Maybe it's wilful deafness.

"Oi," He complained sometime later. "Can ya stop."

"Sorry," Kiryu fumbled.

"Ya crampin' my style here."

He's looking ahead, always ahead, even in the dark when he could see nothing. He was sleepy but he didn't want to sleep, was afraid that if he goes to sleep he'll wake up elsewhere in time.

 

***

But great times sometimes!

Long stretches of time where nothing really happened, and everything perfectly a-okay. Mean, no great memory still, but leastway he didn't put his shit in the fridge or something stupid like that. Would be real embarrassing wouldn't it, if someone came home and found his wallet and his teeth in the fridge. If you only think about that you'll realize how degrading it is.

Nothing happens means good times. Almost winter now and the fishing is good, even if the sun don't come out as much and it gets a bit cold. Nothing to worried about, we've got Kiryu. Kiryu always remembers — extra jackets, extra gloves, warm blankets, double lunches. Bet if you asked him he'll pack a diaper too, thinks he's playing nurse.

He'd gotten tired of asking why they don't go into town anymore, don't do anything except fishing. Probably Kiryu had his reasons, a real big fight with one of the old crew.

"It's nicer here when it's just us," Kiryu said sometimes, and it's sweet enough that it placated him.

"'kay," He said. "If that's what makes ya happy."

And Kiryu's face crumples.

The shame! On a public beach? Indecency!

He hit Kiryu to stop that shit from happening, and it stopped.

They dragged out the old boat slowly and sail a couple of inches out to the sea, floating in the middle very close to the shore. Bobbing up and down on that ol' blue jelly is calming. Around them everywhere the smooth polished surfaces of a ring of rocks, waxed fit to shine by the sea. A ring like this too, long long time ago. Don't wear it anymore 'cuz he didn't want to lose it putting a kettle on, but it's back in the house in a drawer, and whatever else he forgot he'll always remember that.

 

***

It scares him when people start to know, starts giving him pity.

Pity!

Pity!

Pity!

Hated pity, hated it!

Sad sad look like he didn't matter anymore, looking past him! Like he was invisible! Past him! They're not even talking to him anymore, just a spectral from the past or a visitor from the future. In it they've already buried him. Can't wait til he's gone for good — all of him and his memories. Then when he's just a memory they can talk shit or not-shit about him. Remember -— ? Remember how he used to?

Pity!!

When he's gone they'll make shit up about him the way he was, said he was nicer or worse than he really was. But they're getting ahead of themselves; they're being fools.

One person never gonna forget: Kiryu-chan, and if they don't watch our Kiryu will knock their fucking dentures out for remembering him wrong.

"Buncha old farts," He complained loudly to Kiryu, who smiled and stroked his hair like he was calming a horse. Demeaning but it works, and he curled up by the steps beside Kiryu. Head on those strong shoulders. Breathing in scents. Kiryu practicing his ukulele, singing 'bout nothing. They're on the front steps of their house like they were about to go in, go out, go away, and haven't decided yet. Even deep now in winter things were blooming in the garden. Sea air's good for them.

Kiryu's mindless melody merged with the soft sounds of the tide. In between the cries of birds, today is a diamond. Let's go frolick under the sun. Go reclaim our youth. Get on a boat and go, 'cross the seas of times, and there our lives again.

When the strands of the melody faded into the calm, he said, "I don't miss the old times."

Kiryu looked at him, tilted his head. He knows it's strange coming from him. He liked the past. He liked reminiscing. He liked talking about the shit he could eat back in the day, the balls he could bat, the heads he could bust, the wildness of his many lives.

So he explained, "I mean, don't get me wrong, 'cuz I miss bustin' heads. But this is nice too, innit." He looked out in front but what he saw was behind; the sea, the sea. In it was swimming a quiet life forty-years-old now, older than most people who die young.

"I like this," He said, palms wide. "All I've ever wanted was this. Takes a long time, but ya figure it out."

They bumped heads together and sat there. Him smiling like an idiot, Kiryu smiling inside like an idiot. Hands around hands. Either way happiness all around.

 

***

One Thursday he walked into the middle of his living room about to call up Saejima to shoot the shit, and found a delivery man. Man's standing with his arm around a bunch of shit, packages big and small, and rude shit that he was he'd walked right into their place. Didn't lock the door but doesn't mean people can barge right in.

"Hey, what the hell!" He yelled. "Get the fuck out! Ya ever heard of doorbells?" He looked the packages big-and-small. "We don't buy so much shit as that. Ya got the wrong address or something?"

The man looked stunned, as well he should be. Times past he would have the knocked the man into the walls for rudeness as this.

"Get out!" He said, and pushing shove shoved he made the man go out, and slammed the door shut. Locking it for good measure. Fucking kids these days man.

He went back to the phone and punched in Saejima's number from the address book. Saejima didn't pick up. Guy's real bad at gettin' his calls. Couldn't remember the last time he ever picked it up. Frustrated, he went back to the TV, found it boring, and took out his knife and shakily continued a woodcut. With so much nothin' to do out here he'd picked it up ten maybe fifteen years ago and gotten pretty good.

Sometime later the doorbell buzzed, and when he opened it was Kiryu-chan, back from shopping.

"Forgot yer keys?" He asked.

"Yeah," Kiryu said. "Yeah, I forgot my keys."

"No worries, happens to all of us, eh? Heh!" Generously he took the shopping bag and the packages from Kiryu, helped him put it all away. Saw there was meat to be had, and was glad for it. Somewhere in the back of the freezer he found leftovers, and later he and Kiryu walked down to the shores to throw them to the seagulls, who ate anything and was grateful for everything. Ya can learn a lot from the gulls.


***

Then it gets bad but he doesn't know how to put it. Trapped within yourself. Trapped inside yourself. Prison. 25 years. Inside looking out. Saying without words. He looks at — and knows it's the guy, the guy he loves and he's spent years with, only the name dances on the tip of his tongue but will not be said.

"Haruka," He said. "Tell him— to put a kettle on."

Haruka went, but she called him ojisan. This was not what he wanted. What he wanted was a reminder; didn't want to say — hey, can you let me know again? Nice to meet ya would be real awkward after fifty years, only what else was he supposed to say?

He recognizes the guy! He knows who it is! So how come he couldn't say it? What the fuck kind of problem is this!

He roared around the living room as lively as water while the two were away, looking for something that reminded. In the back of the storage he found a cabby uniform with Suzuki Taichi sewn on, and knew it was the wrong name and won't say it.

In the end he didn't remember in time, so he used — Oi.


***

So then there are good days and bad days and on the good days things are really good, great even, and on bad days he ends up like this walking up and down the cliffside road, going up then forgetting to go down for something then going down and forgetting why. Could be he tried to articulate it on good days on bad days he won't know what articulate means. Walking at length by and forth front to back he gets to the store at last and remembers what he needs to buy but when he gets his change back he's remembered he got the wrong things or else wrong brands. Only thing right were the cigarettes, which he smoked longer than he's known Kiryu and probably can never forget, but then again he forgets Kiryu too sometimes so who's counting.

Worse part is lucidity; you start to be afraid of lucidity. Because if you're embarrassed caught with your pants down your ankles, head in your pants saying some shit that's wrong and making everything awkward, you don't remember it later on. But then you do, and you just sit there thinking, holy shit did I really tell Sawa his daughter sings like a disemboweled cow? Did I really forget about Haruka-chan and said yeah, yeah, just me and Kiryu-chan up there in the big ol' house always been that way?

Like getting the wrong answers in school and everyone's looking ashamed of your stupids. Salt water on your face and sand and grit in the crevices of your skin, your eyes red-rub-raw from all the seasoning and pains. People trying to pretend you didn't say what you just said, then talking over you and in the end you're just frustrated and sad to be talked over, like you don't even exist while you exist — they're just waiting for you to go away so they can properly remember you.

Kiryu-chan the only bright spot on all this. He don't forget Kiryu too much, or else he forgot that he forgot, but for the most part he didn't think so. Forgetting Kiryu's like forgetting his own self, they been together so much, been through so much. Even if he forgets he's thinking actually it'll be fine — Kiryu can remember for the both of them. Most everything they'd ever done they'd done together. Prison too, just different kinds of bars.

They went fishing more and more on the bad days so there'll be less embarrassment, took the boat further and further out, so that the waves are strong enough to rock it. Every minute there's a woosh. The water like crystal all around them; so clear you can see its bottomless depths, and pretend they're near. From across the horizon clouds from the mainland drift them-wards. Hey, he said. Y'all been to the cities? How's things going there then? How's Saejima been? How's Nishida and the crew?

They don't really catch anything anymore. Heart not in it. He slept more than he fished and Kiryu, Kiryu played and sang more than he fished. Always more and more about diamonds.

It’s been such a long rest, but today
By the sea you love so much
If you want to return to our youth, we could
Frolic
forgetting our years

Let’s find time for a boat
We’ll watch the setting sun, together with our love

In collusion with all the waves, Kiryu sang to him about all the roads they'd pave, and he dreamt.


***

One Thursday he woke up and realized — no more.

He won't be made to forget an inch more than he'd given, he'll fight tooth or nail this thing — even if this thing was himself. He ain't the kind of person who will take this lying down, just be forgotten bit by bit like this. Who was he? Majima Goro! Majima Goro, the mad fucking dog! He wasn't going to go away in shreds, cut out like droplets and scattered into the seven seas!

Majima Goro, he remembers now.

In the early dawn when all the world was black and only the sea was awake, Kiryu still dozing snoring gently by his side as steady as bygone rocks, he thought of the texture of his death and began to decide how he'd like it. No euphemisms, no sir — death! Glorious beautiful death just the way he liked it, and he was gonna be damned if he shat himself to his death drooling like an idiot six months from now in a corner, and Kiryu always remembering him as the guy who couldn't remember how to poop.

What the hell kinda legacy is that? Shitting on the hands of someone you love, or else going out some day and getting lost and breaking your neck on the rocks. What are they gonna think when they see ya? You'd look like a damned idiot with your ass hanging out in the air, last thing you were doing trying to feed the birds then feeding them with yerself. Hell no!

Today will be the last of the sea that Majima hears, and he listened to it carefully. From below their house came the sound of the ocean, constant and forever. Tides coming, going then gone. This early and quiet he could hear more than that. Could hear the trickle of the sand making way for the white foamy waves. Living water. Replacing itself, displacing itself, but always the same. The craggy edges of the bluffs, welcoming, beckoning, then parting with the sea.

In the frothy edges there was an inaudible line where seafoam parted with land that existed only moment to moment — in which the ghost of starlight and the dreams of unsleeping fishes say their goodbyes. Dawn about to come, but never fear, never far, there's always tonight.

He left the house just as the first spears of moonlight had withdrawn themselves. The veil of dawn was about to fall. The colors of rose lilac pink purple tinges of azure; even word-wise and world-weary he couldn't capture with all his nets the beauty of this day, of this sky, from which he looked out into a warm and full life. Today he was about to die, and all the stars had stayed to say hello. Twinkled at him merrily from far above, crinkling stardust in welcome, and all around him, the ebb and flow.

Majima waited on a suitable rock until Kiryu came to him, which didn't take long. Already he was concerned. Kiryu puts the worry in worrywart, he does.

"There ya are," He said. "About damned time. Thought I was gonna hafta sit here all day."

"Majima," Kiryu yelled — had to, to be heard over the water. "What the hell are you up to now?"

"I'm gonna go. Ain't doin' this anymore."

"Go? Go where? It's five in the morning!"

"Don't reckon they care too much," He chuckled. "Unless they start business at nine."

"What?"

"I said — I'm goin'!"

Kiryu looked at him, all around him, saw for the first time where he stood and the precariousness of his fall. Don't worry, he said. He won't fall before his time. All the courts of the sea had come to see, from far across the oceans, perhaps even from the bays of Tokyo in which once they'd lived; the seas had come to pay their respects. An island, his name. An island he might be.

"Majima, don't do this." Kiryu said. "I swear to god, if you make me fish you out of the damned water in the middle of winter —"

"I'll wash up."

"Stop it! Get off that right now!"

"Nope. Mind's made up."

"No!"

"Uh-uh."

"For fuck's sake, Goro —"

"Aw, no call for the big guns."

"Get off there! We're going home!"

When he saw Majima's mind couldn't be changed, leastways not with words, still he plead and plead. "Please, Goro. Can you please get off the rock? Are you really going to do this without breakfast? Let's just go home — I'll make you whatever you want. What do you want? Rice again? Omelettes? Hell, meat even. Too early for this but we can do it. It's too early for this. It's too fucking early for this, do you understand me?"

"Naw, Kiryu-chan," He said. "Everything I ever wanted I got."

"No! We still have more!"

"Nothing of import, got all I need."

"Don't be an idiot!"

"Oi now."

Kiryu crumpled then. Folded and unfolded and began to cry his dragon tears, wailed loud as a widow, soft as the shallows, a whisper and a beg almost for things to not come be.

"Please," He said. "Please."

"Aw, Kiryu-chan, not that."

"Please. Please. Please! Goro — for fuck's sake! It's too fucking early for this! So much time left and you want to what, throw it away? Why?"

Why?

Because he wanted to be remembered.

Not like how he's going to be, but like this. In this moment, with his watery chariot around his ankles, foamy and white, with sand and living grit between his toes. The sun about to be in his eye, and color all around him, a knitted tapestry of sky. Holding onto himself in a jacket of his own choosing, a knife in it he'd chosen for himself, going to a destiny he's about to take, gripping tightly one in each hand — setting forth on a path that was his own choice. What Kiryu wanted was a blind cliff to come one day, and that ain't, that ain't how Majima Goro works at all.

"Please, Goro," Kiryu said. "Let's just go. Go home. Long day ahead of us yet."

Long day ahead of us shorter in time.

He could have said: remember me as I am now. Remember me as I was.

Remember the me who loved you best, when no one else in the world had time for you I was there.

We've scaled cliffs taller than this, swam in the pools of the sun. In collusion with all the waves we've done grand things — against the current, along with the light, out across the shore far and wide. We have had time. Eighty if we are a day. We've fought and vanquished demons, inside and out. Every step of the way we have had each other. Everything we've ever wanted, we got. That's you, Kiryu-chan, just to get it into that thick head of yours. All I ever wanted was you, and I had you, all of you and then some.

Loved ya best. Love ya always. Thanks for everything.

Remember me as a diamond, eh?

But sayin' all that -- that ain't cool, right?

So he said, "Got my eye on you 24-7, Kiryu-chan! Might be gone for a bit, but still ya watch your fuckin' back!"

Then with a hop and skip he was gone, the way he'd lived.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

They fished him out of the sea first and Majima second, and he hated them for months afterward.

Hated, with the kind of malevolence his person was unused to, which he had reserved for the worst men he ever met, and not even they. These cruel fishermen.

He didn't understand how it could have happened. Majima was wearing a fucking yellow jacket. He was in grey. Any fool could have told you Majima would be easier to find. The sea is grey-white-blue. It was him who should have drowned. It was Majima that they should have rescued.

Later they tell him shit like, well it doesn't matter. Majima had broken his neck on the way down. Even if Majima had been saved first, it would just mean they'd both drown.

And he told them — that's the fucking point.

 

***

There's no note.

He went home and searched the place up and down, turned half the house around. He was worried and frightened; what if in the time he'd been sleepwalking the note had been blown away? What if someone puts a kettle on it (maybe even himself) or else it was eaten by rats? Could be he left a window open and it got rained on. Anything could happen, and it's been — days?

How long do funerals take.

They've turned Majima into powder by now, and put him in a little pot; in a few days he can pick up the urn at a counter, like a bagged purchase. Like sea-salt.

He should have looked for this days ago, he's such a fool...

Well he looked, and he didn't find one. Why was he surprised? Majima's probably illiterate. Five decades they've been together and the only literature he ever read was the address book. Unless you count the manga, and let's be honest it's just the pictures he's looking at. Even the address book he read wrong; he'd been calling Saejima and Nishida years after they're gone. Kiryu added a star beside those numbers, and still he didn't catch on.

Suppose he told Majima now: "I need closure."

Majima would just cock his head, then chuckle, "Whazzat? Sounds like a wrestling move. Don't know what that is, but I got a mean-ass chokehold. Ya wanna see?"

And either he liked it or not he'll see.

 

***

There's no note.

There really isn't a note.

There's just… A whole lot of nothing.

Is this funny to him? Is this a game to him?

Goddammit Majima, have some fucking decency.

 

***

One night he came home and started making dinner, Haruka about to be in at either ten or eleven, back from a long trip to the mainland. It's tough running her own business. Traveled a lot. Proud of her. Thinking they could celebrate and have something nicer, he started making all her favorites — braised pork stews, gyoza, a mushroom-tofu salad, and omurice. Beer he got too, and by the time she came home there's a ton of food on the table.

"Oji-san!" She said, and hugged him, then handed over all the souvenirs and things you accrue in a trip like this. Somewhere in the house some sixteen boxes of Tokyo Bananas. Never had the heart to tell her neither of them liked it. He took her luggage from her and stowed it away in her room; later she'll put everything in the rightful place. She's a neat girl, unlike Majima.

In her room there's no window, you can't hear the sea.

"Oh," She said, looking at the table. "Quite a lot of food, isn't there?"

"Yeah."

"I'm not sure we can finish this."

"I made a mistake with the portions."

"Well, I guess anything leftover we can bag for tomorrow."

"Yeah."

Halfway through the meal he said, "You'd think it doesn't matter. Not like I never made a portion for two before."

Haruka looked at him; responded.

What she said he didn't hear, he'd gone back to sleepwalking.

 

***

They keep telling him he needs to go out more, play some mahjong, drink with friends. What they don't understand is that they're not his friends; they're just people peopling his life. He had friends, and most of them are dead. He had one best friend, and the idiot had thrown himself off a cliff.

He'd lived for Majima. Do they understand this? Can they understand that?

They went everywhere together, did everything halfway. It's the others and Majima's that's got the wrong idea. Majima always telling him — ya can do everything. Put a worm on a hook, stir porridge with one hand, cut radishes with the other. The way Majima said it he was a wholly independent unit, that didn't need anyone, that existed okay alone.

That's not true, he was terrible at being alone, and it's just one of the long line of things he wish he'd told Majima in time. He went now to that great receptacle of forgotten time — the sea, and told it to the waves instead.

"I hate pruning the garden," He confessed. "That's why I made you do it. Back's probably worse off than yours."

That didn't sound right, so he tried again. "Omurice is really hard to make right. The recipe's actually yours, did you know that? That time you tried it with flour, and you figured it out."

Then running out of words but desperate for his one-sided conversation he said, "You left the soap on the floor. Someone could get hurt."

It's no use, he's just nagging the sea. This isn't a conversation, this isn't anything. He dusted the sand off his pants and walked back, slowly up the narrow path home. The sea, petulant and angry at being scolded, washed its hands of him.

 

***

In the house somewhere there's a hoard of things, all of them Majima's. It looks like a garage sale, or else a dump for old clothes, which he'd folded and pressed together into a large pile without washing any of them. The way he thought about this is, if he took out one every week and slept with it until its scent was displaced by his own, he had maybe fifty or fifty-five, which could last him a whole year.

If it was Majima's favorites — like that smelly hat of his that he'd soaked with sweat since its purchase some twenty years ago and never washed — it could go longer, maybe forever. He remembered nagging Majima about that; well he was glad Majima never listened to him.

This is his secret but not his shame.

If someone walks in and mocks him for it he won't care. They won't understand just how little he gives a shit about them.

Majima had taken the snakeskin jacket with him, cruel til the very end.

"Dragon's hoard of shit," Majima would cackle if he saw this now.

 

***

Someone handed him a brochure, and he thought it was a festival; it had the colorful tones of a travel ad, pictures of woodland and low-lying hills and windswept tea farms on it. Deciduous trees a thousand years old. Maybe one of those bus trips they're always selling, for Mt. Fuji or Shizuoka, and it was on the tip of his tongue to say he'd been to all those places before: they'd been kicked out of almost every ryokan between Tokyo and Okinawa — Majima had a bad habit of wrecking shit and having sex on the rocks. Public rocks.

Then he took a second look at the brochure, and realized it was trying to counsel him.

"The five stages of grief," It got in, before he crumpled it. In his balled-up fist the paper added, "The first of which is denial."

"Don't worry," He said. "I'm not denying it. He's gone. I'm straight in angry."

He shoved it politely into his pockets; he'll throw it when he gets back home. Then with polite meaningless words he was off to the store, where he did his weekly groceries. Into the cart he added heads of cauliflowers and shoulders of lamb, long ribs and liver-shaped salmon slips. Dug out change and counted it high enough. Hated breaking his money up. He went home alone up the long cliff roads, where footsteps used to chase him along this way, saying — Oi Kiryu-chan! Fight! Fight! Fight! Even around dentures those words were said.

Shush, said the mid-noon seas. Shush, shush. It swept cleanly, and everything came away smooth. The wind blew clean through him, so invisible was he. By the rocks a dozen seagulls, eyeing him.

He got home and put away one by one all his purchases into the fridge, and realized it was still stock full with last week's groceries. Every inch of it crammed full of meat, and no one in the damned house to eat it.

There wasn't anyone around to see how stupid he was being, so he cooked, and cooked, and cooked — made grilled platters by the dozen, too hard for octogenarian teeth, and when he was done with that everything else: homemade yakitori, braised vinegar pork, sesame ginger chicken, marinated spicy beef. When he was finished he set out the table and ate alone everything on his side, saw that Majima would never eat his, and took it outside with the urn. He fed one to the gulls and the other to the sea.

Majima wants so much to be drowned he can stay fucking drowned.

 

***

Then he regretted it and sat around all day wondering if he could fish it all back out; if science had come far enough to separate a dead man from the seas.

When he realized he couldn't get it back, that this was it — nothing left at all — he sat crying on the steps to their house unwilling to go in, until Haruka came home at night to bring him inside by the elbow.

 

***

And so it goes.

But before asking this question of whether there was a way to capture ashes in the sea, there were many other questions each by degrees more important than the last.

Was there anything he could have done?

Did he miss out something, skipped something that should have been tried?

Was it something he'd said? Was it something he didn't say?

Had he been too obsessed with his own griefs and what was to come, and forgot to tell Majima the important stuff — said please, please stay, for a single moment more with you I'll personally break the heads of everyone we know?

Had Majima been unhappy? If he'd cried less, cried alone, cried elsewhere, would it have stopped Majima from feeling bad about what was happening to him? If Kiryu had just bottled it up inside. Take it out of himself and set it on a voyage, a message for the sea. Crampin' his style, Majima had said.

Suppose he go back now in time and pretended everything was fine would it -- ?

Oh for fuck's sake, it never would have worked. Majima sees through him every time.

If only he had made dishes that Majima likes. Something to look forward to everyday. Took him more to town even if it was so hard, so damned painful, to watch him fumbling around town lost and unable to place himself, then unable to place the faces he knows so well. Watching him with words curled on his tongue half-said, or else spilling out things that should be left unsaid. Getting the days and times and places wrong; one day thinking there was still a bubble, next day thinking the bubble never popped.

Youda, he said, to Osa. Called his daughter Yuki. Said Yuki, ya still sing like a drunken cow. Use yer belly, girl.

Would it have made Majima happy in those moments between forgetting and remembering, if he'd been living his many lives in the sun? Is that where he made a mistake? To keep Majima fiercely to himself, guarding every second they had together against everyone else — so that alone Majima felt and thought and concluded and so went ahead and did this, and left a vacuum behind.

Fucking idiot!

They're both fucking idiots.

Well what should he have done then? What else is there left to do? Angrily he walked these questions down to the shore, where he sat in a boat trying to fish and nearly wrecking himself; rocking the boat with the motions of a body in rage. There was no fish that would come near him, not with that attitude — his line trembled in the water like someone else's heartbeat. In the thin rheumatic sunlight of a cloudy spring day that should have been beautiful but was not, he imagined it was Majima's, beating beneath the waters.

"Weak heart," He chided.

 

***

In an empty bed two-futons wide one cold one warm he slept angry at himself for his unwillingness to dream. He'd never been able to dream — that was the problem — of the things important to him.

All his life it'd been this way and it'd never been an issue up til now. His dreams always came to him as fragmented still life: an arrangement of flowers in someone's hall, the calligraphy on the wall of Kazama's old office. He could dream of any thing. The sewer grates of Kamurocho, the graffiti on long-demolished walls, someone's upended bookshelf, even once the teeth of a zipper he'd pulled down a long long time ago in a dirty bathroom and found inside that he was gay.

"Yo, ya gonna do somethin' or paint a picture?" Those zippers had said.

That was about as close as he was ever going to get to a dream of Majima. Everything else just still life, life still — but not important.

Grinding his insomniac's back into the thin mattress (the shirt Majima last wore somewhere close but carefully away; he couldn't bear it, if he wrinkled it with his own scent) — he willed himself to dream of Majima, recalled every single memory he could and then made up some, and still nothing would come. No dreams. No ghostly love. From outside the sound of the eternal sea, wracked now in a crepuscular storm like his moods. Thunder and light. Tomorrow there'll be clear skies as far as the eye can see. Might be grey — unlike the vibrant day Majima had gone into the sea.

Stop it, he groaned. Stop it.

He had to move on but he didn't know how to; was there a point in moving on? He was eighty two now. Maybe he can just nurse this wound until it dies with him. When he too is reduced to ashes none of this will matter. In the skinny darkness the wet bugs flying in from the storm took pity on him and came winding up to his ears; with their little wings they clapped the answer into him.

"That'll hurt her," He said. "Haruka-chan."

"Well," They said. "You think you're helping right now?"

"No," He said, and yes he went out and slipped down the wet cliffs until he rolled falling over tumbling gangly limbs into the sand that had become mud in the space between granite and the raging water. He stood there thinking how easy it could be, how the water might come and dash him upon the rocky teeth and he'd be eaten whole, soul and all, and wake up somewhere on the other side in the exact same hell as He.

"Kiryu-chan," He'll say. "Ya thief! Trying to swipe my moves?"

He stood there shivering in the wetness of the storm that covered for him, covered the extent of his wet miseries, and thought — no guts for this. All these years and he's still braver than me. In the end he worked himself into a depression between the rocks and stood there waiting for the storm to pass so he could go home.

 

***

Got sick.

You stand in the storm when you're eighty for hours you get sick.

"Oji-san, what happened?" Haruka asked, putting a cold cloth across his forehead the temperature of a wintry day.

"Stayed too long in the bath," He said on a thick tongue.

Technically it's true.

 

***

On a Thursday he went into the bar to get a couple of drinks, trying to soak up air that didn't smell salty with memories. The old crew was all there and he took his place among them, silent but showing up, and took drinks one by one and put it in himself. They were playing old music but nothing he or Majima liked — not that anyone except Majima would ever play those tracks. Get to the top always gonna be bottom of the pile now. 24-hour Cinderella in the 25th becomes a pumpkin. He'd gotten good and drunk on his sixth drink when he started listening, and heard for the first time they were reminiscing about Majima — with all the pieces wrong.

Wildcat, they began — and incorrect already. Rabid dog.

They made Majima kinder than he really was, crueler than he meant to be, talking non-shit out of politeness and the nearness of their feelings. They said he said things that he never said, then refused to accept the shit he spewed; they mixed up the stuff he liked with the stuff he loved, then said he hated things that he loved best of all.

Remember, they say, without remembering. Or else remembering wrong with so much effort when they could have just turned to him, and he'd fill up accurately and precisely everything they got wrong and then some. Memory like a vice; that was his curse. Nothing ever forgotten, nothing ever escapes. Grief pooling in the secret places stagnant forever. They were making a courtesy out of Majima's memory, pulling out pieces to examine in the dim bug-glow of the bar's single bulb, and saying — was that Majima or Tanaka who always did that? Well guess it doesn't matter now.

Doesn't matter?

Out of his sleepwalking flesh he came out swinging with a right hook, and hit their flat lying faces; with long practice he went for the bottle on the counter, shattered it with short ease on the wood. Nearly blinded someone's head and broke someone's eye. Sometime later they found him about to cut someone's throat, but unable to decide which one; wanting to hit more but couldn't find an inch on them that he hadn't bruise. In pity more than anger they led him to the police station to chalk it up as a mistake.

"Kazuma-san," They said.

"Kiryu-san," said someone else.

Probably they said other things too but he won't listen. He's heard enough.

 

***

Alone he went swimming instead.

Used to be Majima and him would swim down all the lakes near their place, before they graduated to the seas. Just to be safe. Not Majima's idea, obviously. Back when they first came to Okinawa, between the both of them they couldn't out-paddle a dog. Kiryu is a strong swimmer now, the best of his age probably — which Majima jealously said and generously told him, "Ya the best at anything ya do anyway."

Best but he wished he was less so, when he sometimes pulled ahead as much by accident and fate than ill will, and found Majima somewhere behind him almost a pool-width away. He'd panic then and swim backwards afraid Majima would cramp up and drown in the time it took him to get back, and finding Majima wholesomely strong as he but still no relief.

"Stop ya hen-head," Majima said. "I ain't gonna drown in a kiddy pool like this. I wanna drown I'll be in the big leagues, Pacific or bust."

"Just worried."

"Stop worrying about everythin' and go."

"I can stay."

"Go, asshole. I like watchin' ya swim. Ya wanted me to say? Fuckin' go."

Now he can swim.

Swim as far as he wants, as fast as he wants. He never has to double back unless he wants to. He can swim until his arms are overcome with lethargy, and then float upon that soothing cauldron and let it carry him wherever it will; generously the seas decided this would be the shore, and by inches and seconds he was brought braver and braver back onto the foamy edges of the sea, and laid gently upon the wet sandy casket.

He held up a fistful of it to wound the sands. In some small insignificant way he was angry at it; if it'd been calm as this on that day Majima would have washed up alive. His anger clung some to his hands but most fell back to the land, and became no more when next the waves retreat. Smooth as cut marble. Compact as his grief.

He swam out again. Far and long enough that the seas became a single sunless sea, and the rocks ringing the edges of their home disappeared into the brightness of night, until he felt physically that his joints could take no more, either the sea carried him home or he'll fall apart at the seams. Still the sea was generous, and he was brought back to the edge in one piece.

"You could have done this," He told the living water, lying in the shallows. In the sea the dreamless fishes stirred for the night, about to begin their discourse with the heavens; through it they'll find out what lies in store. A fourscore more than anything a man might have.

"You could have saved him, if you wanted to." He said.

The sea laughed at him, and the tides came to his ankles and pushed him away. "Go," It said. "Your miseries mean nothing to me."

 

***

He moved on to denial, which for everyone else was not acceptance (was in fact a step backwards) but it calmed him and made him feel better — and Majima had always told him, even way back when, that what mattered was themselves and nobody else.

"Listenin's for fools," said Majima. "Let's stop doing that."

He took those words, and accompanied by them he began to pack as he did, as he used to do — for two. Lunches in double, bait in triplicate, and twin poles. Basket brimming with gloves, blankets, shawls, everything a petulant spoiled Majima might need down at the beach. Extra change for snowcones too.

"Three of everything," Majima might say any time to the shop, without even checking if they'd brought money. Then it'd be his job to run back to the house to get his wallet, Majima going: "Got bad legs! Can't walk! Oh my aching ankles! Ya really gonna put an old man through this, Kiryu-chan? Beast!"

He took the boat out to the waters and found enough peace to bring home a small dinner. He wanted to talk to Majima, but when he tried the words still won't fit right.

"Heard there's a typhoon coming beginning of Summer," He said. "Make sure you stay in when it comes."

It didn't work, felt artificial. His ashes sprinkled everywhere a typhoon would only bring him further out. Maybe out to the larger world full of countries they've always said they'd like to see — but never made time for. You know how it is. Anyway they liked home best. Homebodies, Majima said. Maybe by now Majima had been swallowed somewhere by a whale. He would like that. Would tickle him pink, to be in a whale's belly. Adventures still to be had.

He tried next: "Haruka's in discussions again with that asshole. Could be they might get back together. I'm thinking of going down and giving him a talking-to,"

A little better, but it only made him think of Majima with a fearsome grin on his face; a demonic old man with a wavering knife still deadly as pox.

"You wanna come with?" He said, and knew in his heart this wasn't true at all.

He would never have told Majima. Majima would have stalked him across the trains, already knowing what he was up to before he knew himself, and having followed him would appear startlingly in one of the train stations he passes, grinning fiercely, "Oi, ya think ya was gonna shake me, fuckwad? Ya givin' anybody hell ya call me!"

In this way, he told many untrue things to the waters, which mirrored the sky but not his boat. his reflection swallowed up by the significance of summer blues. Tales from the future. The stories dropped into the water one by one like little stones, which the deep blue swallowed and said, gurgling lazily and gently, tell me more.

He went home with just the small fish and found at home that Haruka had come back earlier than planned. She made tea and they sat. Outside since the weather was nice.

They didn't talk much. It'd been a long time since he talked to anything that wasn't water, and she didn't push him, so he wasn't pulled. He spoke more to the tea than her.

Halfway down the teapot she sighed, and said, "I wish I'm half as good as him at talking to you. He'll know just the right thing to say, if he's here."

"Won't need anything if he is."

"Yeah," She said. "Yeah, I guess so."

She too is old now. Not old like them, but not young anymore. Had her own life and her own sorrows.

"If you're going to court again you'll be away for a long time, won't you."

"Yes," She said. "But— I'm thinking, later."

"Don't wait on my account."

"Oh, not really."

"Don't hold up your life for mine, Haruka," He said. Ours, he nearly slipped.

"A pause."

"A stop. Not worth it. Just keep moving on. He was here, he'd chase you away himself."

"With a bat, I suppose?" She smiled, thinking of ancient days, when Majima had terrified her into going to school, then putting that fear into her young enemies.

"Yeah."

She poured them both tea, the last remnants of it. In it was the used twiggy tea leaves, and petals too — for flavor.

"Will you promise me that you won't… Do anything silly while I'm away?" She asked, hesitating every other word. "That there'll be no long baths again."

He looked at her. He didn't think he was being expressive, but things were expressed.

"Leaves stuck to your hair," She said. "Sand between your toes, mud under your nails."

Oh, he said. Drank his tea and thought shortly. "No. No more long baths. He'll beat me black and blue if I went for no reason." Thought longer. "If it hadn't been — for that, he would have lived to a hundred and still went screaming. Loved life too much. If it wasn't for that." Upon the wood he traced the fluctuating patterns of dew.

"You promise?"

"I promise."

She nodded, and next week her bags were slowly packed and about to go — off elsewhere to the mainland to get her own stories in order. He watched upon their doorsteps her small retreating back walking down the path to where the car sat beneath the slope, angled too steeply for him to see. Remembering how small she'd been once upon a time, and them all grown now large then small, in the end everyone grains of sand.

He did not think he'll see her again, even with the promise he'd made and intended to keep. Some things were. Some things will be.

"Safe trip, Haruka," He called out, and she turned and waved smiling at him.

 

***

On a certain day in June he walked as he did many times before out into the gardens and off the narrow path to the side, descending steeply step by step down the cliff roads attended by a court of gulls bowing curious beaks until he reached the shores, bringing with him always things in double but eventually less and less because he'd found a way to squirrel them into his heart instead, so that though his hands swing lightly his heart became heavier — but kindly, with love.

There he spoke at first in silence and then in madness and then eventually in pleading and forgiveness, until he could speak without having inflections of deep grief in his words, and then not at all, for the sea had returned to him for his loyalty a ghostly love, whom he could see sitting by his side if he promised not to look, so he didn't.

He pushed the boat out to the sea most days when the weather was fine and the ocean glittered like a jewel, this sight that had once decided for him their home, and either singing or playing to entertain the fishes or else disturbing them with softly worded songs for a dinner, he'd spend his day.

In fitting and refitting his words he found that he'd been saying too much, either about the past or the future, which held no meaning to the both of them — because they'd always lived strictly in the present. This he knew now and he reduced the words one by one bit by bit until there was no further news, no bygone days, no worried futures, and no prying questions. Everything known now between them, as it's always been.

"Hey," He said, as he did every day. "Nice weather today."

When he got far enough out he realized he'd sailed into a canvas of unvaried blue, blue above and below, skies and sea ending in a silver line beyond what his eyes could see. The sun ascending in a blazing celebration of daylight. He cast his line into the waters and heard again the beating of a heart, now as slow as his. He yawned, balanced the pole, and said, "Good breeze. Maybe I should sleep too."

Whiling away time until they could meet again, he slept.

Dreamt while he slept, for the first time in his life, of someone.

 

***