"Where is he?"
Kuribayashi sighs, a heavy heave that's more theatrical than aggrieved. Utsumi gives the ceiling a brief commiserating look.
She brings her attention back to him, but he's avoiding her look. "Well?" she prompts. He shakes his head and she slaps her hand down on the desk, startling him. "I thought we were beyond playing this kind of game. I know you don't like me taking his attention away, but you know he does, so please just tell me."
"Yes, but this time it's differ -- "
"Because," he says.
She sighs and puts her knitting down. "Yes, what is it, Manabu?"
He places the dandelion on her lap. "See the pattern, Mother? Round and round."
"I do see it, my heart. Just like a spider's web." She pauses, and looks down at the flower, next to what she's making. She sets it aside and leans down, like she's about to convey a secret. "Would you like to see me make it with yarn?"
"You can do that?"
She smiles at him. He just looks at her with wide eyes. "Of course I can. What I'm working on can wait. Pick a color and and I'll make it right now."
He picks yellow, of course, and he sits beside her, watching with the focused concentration he's had since birth.
Utsumi looks up into the sky, shielding her eyes from the sun's glare. She takes a breath as she drags her gaze down, past the open horizon, the stones and monuments set on the slope away from her, until she settles on the lines of a figure seated on a bench. She's just wasting time, trying to figure out how to approach this -- him -- how to approach him. He doesn't appear to have noticed her yet, but since he's facing away from her, she wouldn't have expected that. She rolls her shoulders back, squaring them with determination, and starts walking, ignoring the urge to dawdle in examining the stones as she passes. He hears her coming; she can tell he does because he raises his head, but doesn't turn to look at her.
She steps past the stone bench he's seated on, her shoes crunching on the gravel path, and takes a moment to read the inscription on the grave, one of which is painted red. She bows her head and then takes one of her business cards out to place it into the receptacle at the base of the gravestone.
He says, "You didn't need to do that."
She turns to face him, noting that he's wearing his glasses. "It's what one does. I'm sorry for your loss."
"May I sit?"
"Yes. Go ahead."
"Would you like to go for a walk, Mother?"
He waits for an answer, and she looks out of the window. There's a bird out there, pecking at the ground. What was he saying? Oh.
"Yes, I'd like that."
He moves behind her, placing his hands on the handles of the wheelchair. She turns her head as he pushes off, and says, "I was thinking today about when you were six or seven."
"I don't expect that you remember this, but after your father left us... I fell asleep crying one day. Do you remember?"
"No, I don't remember that."
"When I woke up, you had tucked yourself into bed with me, and I remember thinking you were the only one left who still loved me."
They've reached the door. He maneuvers her through it backwards. He doesn't respond, and when she turns her head to look at his face all she sees is impassivity. There's nothing to indicate what she's said has made an impact.
"I'm sorry for those days, Manabu."
"There's nothing to be sorry about."
He turns the wheelchair around once they clear the door and she takes a deep breath of fresh air.
"You remember what it was like, don't you?"
"Yes. It was hard."
"I'm so proud of you; what you've made of yourself."
He says, "You've mentioned that before."
"Do people still call you cold?"
"No, not that I know of."
"You and I were very similar in personality, I think."
"Mother -- "
"I'm dying, very soon."
He stops pushing the wheelchair.
"My doctor says a few weeks. I've spoken to your father. He'll be here soon. I have regrets about my life, Manabu. I can't erase them."
"Everyone has regrets. I have already forgiven whatever mistakes you think you've made."
"You were always generous like that."
"I would disagree."
"Yes, you would." She raises her hand, so he can take it. She pulls on it, leading him around to face her. He kneels beside her, on one knee, and she watches, examining his face. Yes, the news she delivered has left its mark in the tightness of his jaw and the paleness around his eyes. She covers their hands with her other one. She lowers her head, closes her eyes, and says, voice quiet, "I wasn't a good mother. I wasn't suited to it. But you were always a good son. I can't miss you when I'm gone, but maybe you'll miss me." She raises her head, catches his gaze. His eyes flicker.
"I..." He looks down. For a moment all she sees is what he was like as a child, in the line of his bent head. It's a clear vision of a memory, but it lasts only as long as a blink. She takes a hard swallow against tears.
She lets go of the loose grasp she has on his hand, so she can move it to his head. When he looks up she removes it and smiles. "You'll grieve in your own quiet way, I know. You have the strength to not need anyone's comfort, my heart." She gathers her hands into her lap, and only she can feel how the clasp of her fingers is so tight they ache. She looks straight ahead. "Take me to the pond, please."
He stands. "Yes, Mother." As he moves behind her, he rests his hand for a moment on her shoulder, and she presses her cheek to it, just until he takes it away.
"Kuribayashi didn't want me to bother you. I know you don't talk much about your childhood." Utsumi pauses, glancing sidelong at Yukawa, trying to gauge his reaction.
He's not looking at her. She tries to follow where his attention has gone but can't see whatever it is. He takes a breath. "If you're going to pry -- "
"I'm not prying. I'm just asking. She hasn't been gone long."
"What was she like? You don't have to answer if you don't want to." He only raises a hand to his mouth, knuckles bent to touch his lips, thumb on his cheek. He's thinking. She tilts her head as she waits, watching him.
Her lower lip begins to tremble and she presses her mouth tight and thin.
"Mother?" She sits up on the bed. His voice sounds tentative. She grits her teeth and shuts her eyes. She doesn't look at him.
"When's lunch?" he asks.
"When I make it. Please, leave me alone for a little while."
"Why?" Forever asking why. She looks at him, then, and a million answers rise, none of which she wants to say, because all of them are too much for an eight year old child to bear.
"I don't need to tell you why, just leave me alone." She winces as her voice rises.
"Are you angry at me?"
"No. Go away, Manabu. Your mother wants to be alone, don't you understand?" He takes a step back, eyes wide. She swallows hard against the lump in her throat. "Just... just... I'm sorry, I'm not feeling well. I'll make you something in just a few minutes, and spend some time with you, if you'll just leave me alone."
"But -- "
"Go away, for god's sake. I love you, but please, leave me alone! Before I start screaming at you!" Except she already is, and she can't stop it, not even at how stricken he looks. He doesn't deserve it, but she's still taking her anger and depression out on him. He's the only one there.
He backs away, his chin trembling.
"I'm sorr -- "
He doesn't stay to listen. His door slams shut. She stares at the space where he was until she hears the faint sound of him crying. She takes a shuddering gulp of air and then she can't hear anything over the sound of her own sobs.
Utsumi says, "So you don't want to answer that. I understand."
Yukawa lowers his hand and laces it with his other. He sits up a little straighter. "She was... she wasn't perfect."
"I don't think any parent is. It's complicated, right? My mother has all these stories from when she was young, but without me in the picture, you know? She was her own person, then, and even now, there's things I don't know about her, no matter how good of friends we are now."
"Something like that."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked. You've been looking at something -- what is it?"
He slides off the bench and onto his knees in one smooth movement, startling her. He gestures, his arm flung out to her, to join him. She raises her eyebrows and then joins him. From here, now that she's looking, she doesn't even need him to point to see that his attention was on a cobweb spider, hanging from its thread. It's spun a web between the corner of the gravestone and the ground. The web is perfect and so thin that it's swaying in what little wind there is.
"Oh, so that's what you were looking at," Utsumi says, and then frowns at how inane she sounds. "It's beautiful, but -- "
Yukawa stands. He reaches out to touch the gravestone as he does, his fingertips brushing down the smooth surface.
He says, "She took care of me as well as she could."
The nurses take her off the machines before she stops breathing and tell them they can stay for awhile after. Her sister bursts into tears and buries her face into her husband's shirt.
That is the only noise in the room.
Yukawa ignores the ruckus. His mother dies as he watches, and the sound of her last breath is lost, but for the final movement. A sigh with no return. That is all. He's ready for it; has been ready.
She looks like she's sleeping. He's not aware he's said that aloud until his father turns to him. "She's not," he says, in a voice quiet and desolate, and then he turns away and lays his head down beside his wife's body.
So this is what's left: people who were once her loved ones, memories, and a body to be cremated. Yukawa stands. He gets the water to put on his mother's lips.
"That's all we can hope for them to do, right? Your father is still alive."
"We don't talk."
"Oh. I, uh -- "
He looks her in the eyes for the first time since she found him here and her apology withers.
"Thank you for your concern," he says. He starts away from her. She manages a jerky nod, a little stunned by his abruptness. She shakes her head at herself. She should be used to it, after all.
After she catches up to him, and a few seconds of silence, he says, "I'm not annoyed with you. It's in your nature to be curious, as it is mine. You have a question about a case, don't you?"
She nods. "Yes."
He used to hold her hand.
"What's wrong, Manabu? You haven't come out of your room all day. Do you want something to eat? You need to come eat."
He used to chatter with endless enthusiasm about everything and anything.
"I'm not hungry. I just want to be alone."
"Is this about that boy on TV? The spoon-bender?"
He grew up so fast.
"He lied. All of it. It wasn't true."
The cord between them stretched thin as yarn, thin as a spider's strand of silk.
"Come here, my heart. I'm sorry you were disappointed. That happens."
It was only a matter of time before it snapped.
"I don't understand why."
He'd be ready for it. She made sure of it.
"Neither do I. Neither do I."