I've learned I was part of someone else's happiness. What a wonderful discovery.
2068 JANUARY. WEEK 3.
[Suzu Asano. Description: Platform POV. Train receding into distance; three figures in black waving from window of last car. 32s.]
"Mine looks like a dashing monk. Such cheekbones."
Shiori, amused – a monk, that’s new – nudges the ashtray across the windowsill in silent encouragement. The woman – late thirties or early forties, expensive outfit, exactly Iseya’s type – nods once and stubs out her cigarette in the proffered container, her movements darting and graceful. The type of sophisticate Shiori tended to admire in life: asymmetrical haircut colored auburn, a smile made for the gloss of a fashion magazine cover. But there is a genuine openness to her too: no surface oil slick, but an undercurrent with a firm pull.
"Anyway, he does his job well, letting an old woman like me go on and on about all her exciting affairs."
"You're not old at all." Once, those words might have tripped clumsy, aghast from her mouth before the sentence even concluded, but Shiori, though she looks not a day over eighteen, shed the awkwardness of youth years ago.
Her companion laughs. The afternoon light, suffused through frost and glass, falls in a luminous slant across her face.
"I suppose not." A pause. That mouth acquires a rueful twist and she cradles her elbows in her palms. Her sweater is made of some luxurious material; for a moment, Shiori yearns to press a fingertip to a sleeve. The counselors’ plainly made uniforms are practical, made to last as long as eternity would allow. She blinks as the ache vanishes, like the echo of a dream.
"But I regret nothing," the woman adds. "I think that means I had a good life. I think that’s what it means.” She peers out at the frozen courtyard. “I know I’m lucky.”
"Does that make it easier or harder to choose?"
The woman turns her smile like a beam of sunshine on Shiori, and she feels the thrill of admiration. "Oh, I already know what I’m going to choose. Painting toenails."
"Painting. A home pedicure. The brightest red polish, cotton balls, all my hair fresh in a towel. Maybe a fan, one of those cheap floor ones that rotate slow, this way and that, to convey that it's summer, right? But also to hint at that delicious nail polish smell blowing about the room." She looks thoughtful. "Too bad you can't smell the movies, huh?"
[There are two pairs of feet, and two pairs of hands negotiating the bottle of polish and its dainty brush, the bits of cotton. Someone in neon green socks stomps by in the background. A minute and a half into the film, off-frame, there is a shout of something incoherent from several rooms away. “What a pain,” Yoshino’s voice can be heard to murmur. An answering snort of laughter.]
At the staff meeting that night, as expected, Iseya will not shut up about how forward Yoshino Kouda is. The two of them are inseparable for the rest of her time there, and she – off-camera – paints his toenails and fingernails as a farewell gift.
2029 MAY. WEEK 1.
[Miyako Sasaki. Description: Homemade plum wine in glass jar; kitchen window, daytime. 24s.]
“Nearly four decades of marriage to my best girl,” exclaims Chika Kouda. She is tiny, arthritic, and. Just. Filled with delight. Iseya meets her at lunchtime on Tuesday. She tugs on his earlobes and tells him he reminds her of a young Buddha, a real heartbreaker with that buzz cut, and he declares her to be his favorite. Shiori spends five days laughing at the most outrageous stories she’s ever heard, and she doesn’t fully believe half of them.
"Our life was wonderful," Chika tells Shiori over and over again, eyes glimmering. "I was so lucky ..."
[They film one of the younger female clients from behind, sitting on a back porch, humming tunelessly. She is fiddling with what turns out to be a pole and reel. Repairing them, it seems. A closed tackle box sits at her right side; a plate of whitebait and toast on her left.]
According to her file, Sachi Kouda is 32 years old, unmarried, formerly a nursing supervisor of a terminal care ward in Kamakura. Her week is fraught with old hurts, though she never cries, at least in front of Shiori. “I didn’t have enough time. I never did, not ever,” she explains coolly at their first meeting. Resentment flashes through Shiori fast and bright, as it still occasionally does when she hears this casual statement from an adult client. She marvels distantly at her two selves: the mortal teenager blessed with heartbreak, the now-ageless counselor cursed with perspective.
Sachi almost stays. She reminds Shiori of Takashi, in her private anguish. But at the last minute, Sachi chooses, and the film they make for her is easily one of Shiori’s favorites, and Shiori will replay it in her mind years later, including herself as an addition, as one of the four younger sisters spilling out of the verdant front yard and the gate that doesn’t lock, hollering back at Sachi to don’t worry, all right? she will pick up the dry cleaning on the way home from work tonight, she won’t forget, she won’t, she promises.