Chapter 3 – The Dog Returning to the Sea
Someko was a dog we picked up at the beach when I was five.
We had gone there to sun bathe, and right there being lapped by the waves by the seashore was Someko, crying from inside a white cardboard box. I remember clearly that the box was labelled: “Ehime oranges.”
Someko was an all-black tiny puppy. When we took her out of the box, she wobbled over to lick my toes. While she was busy licking my toes, a huge wave came and swept the Ehime orange box off to sea. It floated on the water along with the waves, and Mao, who watched the white box disappear into the horizon, burst into tears. He held the puppy in his arms, and his wails became even louder. My father and mother exchanged glances. My mother nodded, and my dad went off to the seaside shop to go buy some milk.
I remember clearly the glaring sun that we’d never have see back at Shiroshita town, along with the white wave crest, the hotness of the sand, the warmth of the strange dog’s tongue, and the bold red words reading “Ehime oranges” on the cardboard box.
The three years after she was picked up by our family until she was spayed, she gave birth two times. She gave birth to nine puppies, and we were able to raise six. One of the six was taken in by Kisaragi’s family. The black dog that took after her mother in looks, was given a stupid name like “Sometaro” despite her being female, and it’s still doing as well as ever. Every time I visit the Fujimoto family, she barks at me.
Someko, who’d lived over twelve years at the Yoshimura household, aged suddenly around the Spring of this year. She lost interest in the walks and ball fetching that she always loved to do before, and she spent her days sleeping. When she curled up under the sun in our backyard, she looked like a worn-out carpet. With the warming of the weather, she lost her appetite too. It’s an effort for her to polish off a bottle of milk.
It shouldn’t be too long now.
We didn’t say it out loud, but everyone in our family’s readied themselves for it. Someko’s smart and obedient. As a family pet, she gets a gold star. If you put aside her fear of cats and her dislike of being alone, there’s really nothing that you can really call a flaw, per say. Kisaragi, who has his hands full having to deal with Sometaro who has a tendency to run off, complains from time to time that compared to the mother dog who lives at the Yoshimura household, she’s bad-natured.
Near the end of July, we set off for the beach.
We planned on taking the bus to the train station, and from there on, take the train to our destination.
Me, Misaki, Kisaragi and Suu-chan. Kei-kun didn’t come. I don’t know why. Suu-chan won’t say anything. No one tried asking her why.
“I didn’t end up losing 2kgs.”
Suu-chan pinched her stomach over her blue camisole.
“Well, we did speed things up a bit. If we’d gone in August, I’m sure you would’ve been able to do it.”
“Yeah. But, whatever. I’ve quit dieting. I’ll accept myself as I am now.”
“Yeah, that’s the best. That blue camisole looks really good on you, by the way.”
Misaki, who had on a big straw hat smiled thinly. Despite the size of the hat, it wasn’t decorated with a flower or ribbon. She’s the practicality over style type.
“It’s better if you don’t. You’re the type to get really into things…so it’s dangerous. Once you get hooked on dieting, you’ll find getting thin so fun that you’ll be so scared of gaining even a little bit of weight, that you won’t be able to eat anything, and you’ll turn into skin and bones. Even then, you’ll keep saying how you want to get thinner, and that you’re still fat. There are lots of people out there that are like that.”
Misaki snickered like a mountain witch. Suu-chan has a tearful smile on her face.
“When you say it, it’s pretty convincing. Yeah, I’m fine as I am now.”
The bus came, and we got on.
I wonder what happened to Suu-chan?
Curiosity creeps inside of me. From the time that Kei-kun hit her until today— from the time she announced her plans to diet to the time she decided she was best as she was, what happened to her?
“I’m fine as I am.” That kind of line can be taken as being brave or just desperate. It can be taken as an affirmative or a negative. Smiling, Suu-chan rubs sunscreen on her face. There’s nothing different about her today. But at the same time, I know that that unchanging side is what she’s showing to us. Even if we’re together and we talk and laugh, it’s hard to open yourself up completely. More so if they’re feelings of shame or humiliation. You lock it up tight and bury it deep in your heart. My heart twinges with pain. It’s curious. It twinges with a need to unlock that door and look inside. At the same time though, you want to hold yourself and the other person in high esteem. The heart also twinges with the need to not overstep the boundaries. To hold in high esteem, to show contempt, to be brave, to be servile, to be aware, to be unaware — our amplitudes are wide. We swing widely between the two extremes.
I took a seat in one of the open seats, and sucked in a short breath of air.
At any rate, for now, I should just stay quiet. I shouldn’t give in to the curiosity and say something cliché like:
“Suu-chan, if you talk, it’ll make you feel better. I’m here to listen.”
If I say that, Misaki will laugh her head off. She’ll laugh at me and look at me in disdain.
“Ah, please stop the bus.”
Kisaragi, who had been sitting in the very back seat, yelled as he stood up. The bus came to a sudden halt.
“What is it? Did you forget something? It’s too late to go back now.”
“Over there—isn’t that Someko?”
Someko was running along the road lined with trees. Dragging behind her the leather leash used to walk her, she’s running. From behind, Mao chased after her.
“Someko’s chasing after–”
Before Kisaragi could finish his sentence, I lowered my head to the bus driver and said:
“I’m sorry, but we’ll be getting off.”
“It seems like my dog’s chasing after us. I’m really sorry.”
“That’s all right. It happens all the time.”
I wanted to ask him if it was common for dogs to come chasing after buses, but I didn’t have the time to have a conversation with him. I bowed my head once more before I got off the bus.
After dropping us off, the doors to the bus closed shut, and it continued on as if nothing had happened. A girl who had her hair pulled back in a ponytail was peering from the back window, trying to look at the running dog from the window.
Once she caught up with us, Someko pushed her nose up against my mules and barked. This is the first time in a while that I’d heard her bark. Mao caught up to her, breathless from the effort.
“When you left, she suddenly started barking like crazy. Since she was being pretty noisy, I thought I’d take her out on a walk…and when we were walking, she saw you guys just as you got into the bus…then, she suddenly started making a run for it…”
Mao sat down by one of the trees lining the street, and wiped the sweat from his forehead. We exchanged glances.
“I didn’t know your dog loved you THAT much.”
Misaki comments with a straight face.
I admit it: I’m not a good pet owner. I love animals, but I hate putting effort into taking care of them. Mao was the one who made sure to feed her and walk her and brush her. I could never see her freeing herself from Mao and chasing after me.
“Maybe it’s the beach then.”
Kisaragi pats Someko’s head. Surprisingly, Someko, who had been sitting, barks in reply.
“—so she says.”
“So what, she wants us to take her to the sea?”
“Seems like it.”
I gaze down at Someko. Her round eyes gaze back at me. Back when she still had a hearty appetite, she would look at me like this when she was begging me for scraps. Her eyes were coloured with hope and excitement and a hint of sadness.
“But I wonder why she would want to go to the–”
Partway through my sentence, I gulp, and glanced over at Mao.
“It couldn’t be…right?”
“Maybe it could be that though. She was running like her life depended on it…she’s never done something like that before…”
“So what…she wants to go to the beach once before she died?”
Suu-chan pulled the edge of the sleeve of my shirt.
“Riho-chan, let’s take her along.”
“But…she’s a dog.”
Suu-chan’s eyes were misty.
“You should be more concerned about us than the dog. We won’t be able to make it in time for the train if we didn’t take the bus that we just got off of.”
Misaki folds her arms across her chest and leans against a tree. The shadow of leaves from the trees wave on her white Sabrina pants.
“What are we going to do? If we’re cancelling the trip, I’m going home.”
I moaned. I can’t make up my mind. I don’t know what we should do.
Mao lowers her head.
“I’ll take Someko home. If you take a taxi, I think you’ll still be able to make it. So you guys should go.”
“You’ve got a point there. So what’s it gonna be, Riho?”
“You’re planning on making me pay for the taxi, right?”
“No duh. This critical situation that we’re finding ourselves in is all because of your dog in the first place. You should take responsibility.”
Someko continues to gaze at me.
I think Mao’s suggestion is the most realistic way to resolve this. Having to pay for a taxi will hurt my wallet, but it wouldn’t be an unreasonable amount. But I wonder if it’s really okay to leave Someko with her hope and excitement and sadness to Mao?
Someone honked. From a few metres away, a man wearing a baseball cap peered out from the driver’s seat of a small truck with a hood. The cap bore the mark of the New York Yankees.
Kisaragi walks towards the man while waving his hand.
“Who is he?”
Misaki gestures in the direction of the small truck with her chin.
I’ve met him somewhere. I have a blurred memory of him, but for the life of me I can’t remember a concrete name. Kisaragi seems pretty friendly with him though, and we watched as he exchanged a few words with him before whirling around, and making an “O” sign with the fingers of his right hand.
“He said he’ll give us a ride.”
“Right near the beach.”
Suu-chan and I let out a cheer. Kisaragi pointed to the loading platform, and Misaki, Suu-chan and I hopped in in order.
“Okay then, you too girl.”
Kisaragi slapped Someko lightly on the back. Someko gave a powerful bark. Although her bark was powerful, her body wouldn’t move. Her front paws rested on the landing platform, and the strong bark soon changed to a sad whine. She couldn’t jump up. Mao and Kisaragi pushed her from behind, and Suu-chan and I grabbed onto her front legs, and we managed to somehow drag her up.
“Talk about a handful.”
Misaki, who hadn’t helped out at all, gave a light kick to the side of Someko’s stomach.
“Well then, we better get going too.”
Kisaragi then patted Mao on the back.
“Huh? Me too?”
“Of course. Since you’re already here, you might as well come with us.”
“No, but…I haven’t prepared to go to the beach or anything.”
Mao was wearing the classic casual summer outfit with long shorts and a t-shirt.
“What kinda prep do you need to go to a beach with girls like ‘em? C’mon, let’s go.”
Mao looked at me as Kisaragi pressed his back.
“Yeah, you should come.”
Misaki was the one who said that.
“It’d be more fun with more guys.”
“Misaki, you better keep your grubby hands off my brother.”
“Hah! Even if you got down on your knees and begged, I wouldn’t lay a hand on your brother.”
Mao’s the type who likes to be prepared down to the minutest details. He’s been like this since he was a kid. Preparations for the next day should be done the previous night. He plans things, and then puts those plans into action. He doesn’t do things on the spur of the moment. That’s why during times like this, he becomes really disoriented.
“This is your dog, right? You shouldn’t leave her in the hands of someone like Riho.”
Someko wagged her tail furiously as if she understood what Kisaragi just said.
“Hey, Someko, so what, you don’t trust me?”
Misaki piped in:
“This dog is amazing.”
Mao laughed too. Still smiling, he hopped on in one swift move. He said that he’ll tell mom about the situation via my cell phone.
He’s gotten quick at making up his mind.
If he can make up his mind on the spur of the moment without any preparations, then he might just be able to fly higher than he can right now.
It’s pretty hot underneath the hood. The underside’s turned up, and the wind comes in from all directions, but it’s hot. And it smells kind of fishy. I realized it was the smell of fish. At the same time, the face under the New York Yankees baseball cap ties into a concrete memory.
“Kisaragi—that guy…is he Ayana’s…?”
“Yep, her boss. So what, Riho, you just realized now?”
“Yeah, since I only saw him briefly and his atmosphere seemed a bit different. How did you get so buddy-buddy with him anyway?”
“That’s because after I dropped you off at the hospital, we went to help out at his street stall.”
“Well, by ’help’ it was just like counting the skewer sticks and flapping at the flames with a fan, but we did put in effort. We even got to eat fried noodles and ice cones. You should’ve seen Takeshita though. She was a pro, man. The way she kindled the fire was outta this world. She said she’d be going around delivering lunch sets today.”
The day after the festival, Ayana brought me my sandals along with raw sweetfish. We chatted for a bit, and near the end of our conversation, she told me:
“I wish I could go back to being a high school student.”
Her eyebrows were drawn together into a serious expression.
Ayana and I hate studying. We’re no good at putting in effort to conquer the things we’re not good at, and we’re no good at putting our sincere effort into chipping away at one thing either. We’re irresponsible, cowardly, and half-hearted; but we still have self-confidence. We have confidence in ourselves to make things work someway somehow. Even though we had no basis for it, we have confidence that we won’t be crushed. And yet, Ayana that day was apprehensive and full of self-torment. The strength she showed the night of the festival when she smiled at me and said “oh well” was no where in sight. There’s amplitude here too. She’s wavering—back and forth, which way and that. The pendulum makes big swings. It swings widely within the span of a day, a night–in a single moment. Right this second, I bet Ayana’s forgotten completely of her wish to go back to high school and is busy delivering lunch sets.
“You know, Ayana-chan’s profited from this.”
Suu-chan commented dreamily. Suu-chan, with her hair tied up in two parts wearing mid-length denim shorts looked like a junior high schooler, and she looked cute.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if she continues at it, she might be able to turn her part-time job into a regular full time job. Don’t you think that’s really lucky? I heard that it’s super hard to land a decent full time job in this town—even for those that don’t go to our school.”
They started accepting job-offer application cards for grade 12ers on the first of July. Recruitment from local businesses continued to steadily decrease each year, and this year, apparently it was such a terrible situation that the teacher in charge of handling job employment collapsed from anemia.
“This isn’t something completely unrelated to us, you know.”
Suzu-chan had a rare scowl on his face.
“Next year, this will be your problem. Even if you advance onto post-secondary school education, the odds are against you that a few years down the road, the job employment situation will get any better. The job situation is getting more difficult in the city too–companies are declaring that the tests they make possible hires write is not a test to hire, but a test to sift through the applicants.”
Fitting of the scowl, Suzu-chan’s tone was dark, and had a threatening ring to it. In that tone, he told us that the reality is harsh, so we have to try our hardest. He concluded with that. Despite being reminded that this wasn’t somebody else’s problem, we let our instructor’s words go right past us as if it was. His talk was like being trapped in a tiny square room with the windows and door shut. My ears won’t accept such words. I know that he isn’t trying to threaten us or make light of it. I know that he’s seriously concerned for us. But, if we just accepted all that Suzu-chan had told us, it’d make us feel as if we’re being closed in. It would be like accepting that this was as far as we would go in life. That’s why we tune him out. But it looks like Suu-chan listened to him, and was thinking about how she could overcome the harsh reality.
“Well putting aside Ayana, I wonder why her boss would need to go to the sea anyway?”
Misaki runs her hand through the hair near her ear. Right after being released from the hospital, she dyed her hair the color of tea with plenty of milk poured in. I guess her ears were programmed to only take in what she wanted to hear, like me.
Kisaragi shakes his head.
“He’s not going to the sea. Just near it.”
Letting her milk tea-colored hair flutter against the wind, she glared at Kisaragi. Continuing to glare at him, she rephrased her question:
“Then where, may I ask, is her boss going on a weekday at this time of day that’s by the sea?”
“Beats me. I didn’t think to ask.”
The roads were pretty empty. The truck ran smoothly. The lukewarm breeze throughout town changed into a refreshing breeze as it swept into the back.
“I bet it has to do with a woman.”
I shrugged my shoulders in response.
“So he’s going to visit his lover riding a truck?”
“What does the truck have anything to do with it? He looks like the type who loves women.”
“His wife was sitting in the passenger seat.”
Kisaragi lays down on the platform. Someko licks his face.
“Someko, take a rain check on that, will ya? Anyway, she was holding a bouquet of flowers. I bet they’re going to see someone who’s sick.”
“Either that, or they’re going to visit a grave.”
After that, Misaki let out a big yawn as if to say, “Oh well, what does it matter what he does?”
“But we’re really lucky we found someone who could take us to the beach. I still can’t believe it.”
Kisaragi immediately corrected her:
“NEAR the beach.”
“’Near’? Like where?”
“Dunno. But he mentioned that he could give us a ride back too if it all works out.”
“But what if he drops us off somewhere far from the beach?”
Suu-chan faces me.
“We’ll make it there somehow. We could even hitchhike if need be.”
“Five people and a large dog. Is there anyone that’d give us a ride?”
Suu-chan shifted her gaze from me to Misaki. Misaki replies:
“There’s no denying that the chances are pretty low.”
“But you know, it’d be awesome to go on a journey with a dog. That would be amazing.”
“Kisaragi, then you can walk with Someko to the beach.”
Someko slowly licked Misaki’s hand that had been held out in front of her. Someko’s tongue is warm. I’m sure that right now, Misaki’s hand with its thin skin is feeling the warmth that I felt as a child.
“Um, I’ll walk too.”
Mao joined in on the conversation with a serious look on his face.
“She’s my family’s pet, and she has this habit of suddenly lying down and not moving.”
I grimaced as I called out my brother’s name.
“Don’t take what Misaki and Kisaragi are saying at face value.”
“Oh, but I’m a little serious. Doesn’t it sound great to see a person and dog walking with the sky at sun set as their background? It’s like the start of some long journey.”
“Yeah, that sounds like something out of some road trip movie.”
“You see it too? I’m impressed, Mao. Let’s go together then—on the 50,000km Great Journey.”
“Kisaragi, didn’t I tell you to keep your grubby hands off my brother?”
“Yeah, you should go back to space. You’re an alien, aren’t you?”
Suddenly, Misaki laughed out loud. I laughed too. Last Spring, on our way back from karaoke, Kisaragi had his fortune read by a fortune teller on the main street. We pooled our money, and I suggested that whoever won a round of rock, paper, scissors should have his or her fortune read, and Kisaragi was the winner.
The fortune teller, who despite being really skinny, had brown skin, and she looked like some kind of mummy that had just risen out from Pharaoh’s tomb, but she did give off a mysterious aura. Kisaragi said it was his first time having his fortune read.
“Well then, I guess this will be my first encounter.”
He joked as he extended his hand out. The mysterious fortune teller gazed at his hand intently, and she mumbled to herself. After a while, she turned her solemn gaze to Kisaragi.
“You’re not a person of this Earth.”
“You haven’t realized it yet?”
“You’re one of the thousand aliens who have fallen onto this planet.”
“There are three aliens in this town. You’re one of them.”
“If there are only a thousand on this planet, isn’t three in one town like A LOT?”
Misaki murmured beside him. I couldn’t hold back my laughter. Afterwards, Kisaragi attempted communication with the other two fellow aliens by holding his hands out towards the sky at night. Apparently, he was encouraged to do so by the fortune teller. He got bored of it by a day and stopped.
Mao and Suu-chan didn’t know that had happened, so I explained. Suu-chan snickered as she sat on top of the platform, but Mao continued to tilt his head.
“It’s okay, ‘cause I’ve decided to live as a human. My home star is twinkling beyond the Nebula M78.”
“So what, you’re actually Ultra Man?”
“Well, when you think ‘alien’—admit it, that’s the kind of image that pops into your head, isn’t it?”
“What? Isn’t it more like the smooth-headed ET?”
I thrust out my finger in front of Kisaragi.
“I have the image of Princess Kaguya,”
Suu-chan piped in.
“But Princess Kaguya’s from the moon, right? That’s way too close.”
“Yeah. Don’t you think it’d be better if it was a place beyond the sun?”
“Like I said, I’m from Nebula M78.”
“This is so stupid. This isn’t the time to be arguing about what planet you’re from when we still haven’t figured out a way to get to the beach.”
Misaki places her bare feet, which she took her sandals off of, on top of Someko’s back. Someko continued to lay quietly on her side. She had her eyes closed, and from time to time let out a big sigh.
When Mao called her name, she opened her eyes just a crack and wagged her tail three times.
“I just hope that she doesn’t plan on digging herself a watery grave at the beach.”
“Misaki, don’t be ridiculous. And get your feet off of her. She’s not some pedestal.”
From our town to the beach, you can get to the destination in about an hour by car. It’s a lot faster than taking the train. The level of comfort is way off of anything you can call “comfortable,” but beggars can’t be choosers. We were truly lucky to be picked up by Ayana’s boss. Good luck and bad luck alternate like the strands of a rope. After something good, something bad is waiting in the shadows. I placed my hand on top of Someko’s head. I can feel the hard skull. It’s hard to explain, but that hardness made me feel uneasy.
“Hey, I can smell the sea.”
Suu-chan moved her nose against the wind.
When I closed my eyes to try to get a whiff, the truck came to a stop. A large hand slaps against the glass that’s located between the platform and the driver’s seat. It was a gentle slap that belied the thickness of his fingers.
Kisaragi jumps off the platform. It looks like this was as far as we were going to get. When we got off the truck, we all got in one line and bowed our heads to the boss.
“I’ll be passing by here in about two hours.”
I guess he’s not very good with words. His words are brief, mumbled, and he doesn’t say anything more than what’s necessary. He quickly disappeared from sight with his bouquet-holding wife sitting in the passenger’s seat.
The sea was right nearby. There was no need to go on a walking expedition with the dog or to hitchhike. It’s right nearby. The sandy beach and the white crest of the wave spread out before us. It’s the ocean.
“Isn’t it kinda cold?”
Misaki wraps her arms around her own body. She has goosebumps up her arms.
I acknowledge it reluctantly. It’s cold. There’s the sandy beach and the crest of the wave. The only thing missing was the glaring sun.
I was dressed in a beach get up of a surf-print tank top and Capri pants, so the beach with the lack of glaring sun was, admittedly, very cold.
“We were able to suck up to the heat inside the platform even though he didn’t have any air conditioner running, but I didn’t know it was cold today.”
Suu-chan turned her face towards the wind coming in from the sea. She lets out a sneeze.
“Now that I think about it, the weather forecast said something about slight wind chills with changing weather.”
“’Wind chills’…? Kisaragi, why didn’t you say so earlier?”
Kisaragi pulled out a radio from the pocket of his jeans. He took out his earphone from his ear.
“I just heard it.”
Someko is barking. She scratched her feet against the road.
Mao was surprisingly firm. We headed towards the beach with Someko in the lead. The beach with the sand rolling in was apparently not a public beach meant for swimming. There was no seaside shack, and no swimmers either. Even if it was though, with this kind of weather, there’s no way anyone would be here.
When we unhooked Someko’s leash, she ran towards the water’s edge. She sucked in the scent, and she flapped her tail back and forth while looking our way.
“She looks psyched.”
Kisaragi patted Mao’s shoulder.
“So what, we came here to please some dog?”
Misaki complained as she slipped her arms into a long-sleeved jacket. I guess she had prepared herself for the weather accordingly.
“Well whether it’s a dog or a turtle, as long as they’re happy, what’s wrong with that?”
“That sounds like something an alien might say.”
“Hey, let’s eat our lunch.”
Suu-chan pulled out the corner store plastic bag from inside her woven tote.
“A rice ball, drink, and deep fried chicken. 600 yen per person. Oh, there’s some for you too, Mao-kun. I bought extra.”
“Now that’s what I call being prepared. It was a good thing we asked you to bring the food, huh?”
“Oh, but I don’t have any money with me…”
“I’m sure Riho can pay for you. Even if just in name, she is your sister after all.”
“Misaki, what do you mean by that? I’m a genuine, full-fledged older sister. Mao, I’ll lend you the money to cover your part, so make sure to pay me back the 600 yen later.”
“Mao, you must be happy to have such a straight-laced cheapo for a sister, huh?”
“I’m lucky to have a sarcastic, sucky friend like you.”
While Misaki and I were having our usual back and forth banter, Suu-chan and Mao spread out a plastic sheet and spread out the lunch. Kisaragi continued to gaze out at the sea with his earphones stuck in his ear. Someko played with the waves.
The wind comes in a strong gust. It spreads from the land to the sea. Misaki’s barley straw hat was picked up by that wind and taken away. By the time she let out an “Ah!” it had been swept up high in the air, and taken to sea. It gently came to rest on top of the waves.
“Oh no. If I get exposed to the sun, I break out in a rash.”
Misaki hurriedly took out a parasol. Misaki really is fully prepared when it comes to herself. If she could use those abilities towards someone else, she could actually become a considerate, affectionate person.
“Kisaragi, go and get my hat for me, will you?”
“Just give it up. I don’t want to go into the ocean.”
“You came to swim though, didn’t you? So why don’t you want to go into the ocean?”
“You know…you can come to the beach without having to swim, you know.”
“What’re you trying to act all cool for? My hat’s–”
Someko jumped into the ocean. She caught up to the barley hat that was drifting along the waves without even breaking out in a sweat, and grabbing a hold of it with her mouth, she headed back to shore. Now that I think about it, Someko loves to play in the water, and every time we’d go out for a walk, she’d jump into the river that was near our house, and she fetched the plastic ball that Mao and I would throw to her happily. I’d forgotten. The confident Someko that was full of pride at being a dog came to mind, not the Someko that curled up into a ball like some old carpet.
With the hat still in her mouth, Someko shivered as she shook off the sea water, and she placed the hat softly by Misaki’s foot. She sat down.
“What a good girl.”
Misaki bent down, and hugged the drenched Someko’s neck.
“Dogs are better than aliens any day.”
“Let’s give a rice ball as a reward.”
Suu-chan gave the pieces of rice ball and fried chicken that she’d collected from everyone to Someko, who polished it off in a single bite. And with that, Someko went back to playing with the waves.
The sun won’t show its face. I wonder if they’re locals? Two boys who’re dark from the sun was running along the sandy beach holding fishing gear. In an instant, I was reminded of the night of the festival when the young boy told me that he wanted to have an alligator for a pet.
Misaki had a big mouthful of cod roe rice ball in her mouth as she surveyed our faces.
“Isn’t anyone going to swim?”
“This isn’t a beach for swimming. And besides, wouldn’t it be dangerous to go into the water right now?” Kisaragi said.
“It’s cold,” I said.
“I’m no Kisaragi, but I’m satisfied with just being able to see the ocean,” said Suu-chan.
Mao took a bite of the fried chicken, and replied: “I didn’t bring swimming trunks.”
“Why are you guys like that? We’re at the beach, so you should swim. Riho, what about the memories you were going to make during the summer of your seventeenth year, huh? I thought you were gonna get a tan?”
“You can say what you want. I didn’t have any money so I couldn’t buy a new swim suit. And as for getting a tan, I’ll do that next year.”
“You really don’t do anything unless you have to, do you? Ugh, you’re SO unmotivated.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“I never planned on swimming in the first place.”
Misaki wrinkles her nose. There’s no swim suit in her bag. I wonder if Misaki came to the beach to set up her parasol, put on a hat, and wear a long-sleeved jacket and watch as we swam?
“It’s a seal.”
We could hear the voice of a young boy. The boy who held fishing gear in his hand pointed out to something that was floating in the waves.
“A seal? Do seals even live here?”
In response to my question, Misaki laughed saying “Yeah right.”
“You shouldn’t take what a kid said for face value.”
Mao sprang to his feet.
Someko’s dark figure was no where to be found along the water’s edge.
Mao and Kisaragi begin to run at the same time. I quickly followed. I kicked off my sandals and ran bare foot.
The waves are coming. The waves which reflected the gray of the sky wet my bare feet. The sand is shifting underneath my foot. I could hear the sound of thunder in the distance.
A black head is floating in the waves. That head turns our way. It’s Someko. No ifs, ands, or buts—that’s Someko.
“Someko, come back!”
Mao yells in a loud voice.
I bent my body and put all my strength into it as I called out her name.
Someko glanced for a moment at the people lined up along the water’s edge. Then, she turned her head forward, and began swimming towards the open sea.
“No way! What…What is she doing?”
I wobbled as my legs were swept up by the coming waves. A thin arm supports me from behind.
“Misaki…Someko…what’s going on?”
“If she were human, maybe this would be like death by drowning? This is my first time watching a dog kill herself.”
“There’s no way that’s true!”
That was meant to come out as a yell, but my voice hardly came out.
“Huh, it’s a dog? Not a seal?”
The fish-gear toting kids came to ask with a serious look on their faces.
“It’s a dog.”
It’s a dog. My dog. It’s a living, breathing animal that doesn’t swim in the sea, but rather runs on flat land. It’s black, smart, and an animal that’s been with me for twelve years.
Mao mumbled again. He’s gazing straight at the open sea. He’s so strong. That’s what I thought. I couldn’t do it. I can’t watch Someko as she disappeared into the waves. I closed my eyes, and sat down. The sound of the waves echo in the back of my head.
That was the sound of the sea the summer we found Someko. Someko’s trying to go back to that sea. Someone’s hand is rubbing my back. This softness, this kindness, must belong to Suu-chan. Misaki would never do anything like comfort another human being.
The title “The Dog That Returns to the Sea” rose to mind. Now here’s an idea. This summer, I could write out Someko’s life story. I can leave a record of Someko’s twelve years. The only thing I’m great at is writing. I could make a story of what I know about Someko—
With a slap, someone thumped my back. The slap was so strong that I could feel it to the ends of my spine. It’s a slap that didn’t hold anything back. Misaki was the one who did it.
“That hurt. What’d you do that for?”
I raised my head, and in front of me, I saw Mao entering the waters with a splash. Someko jumped into the outstretched arms of Mao.
“She came back.”
Misaki turned her unique, sly smile in my direction.
“It would’ve made a cool story if she’d actually disappeared into the waters. Too bad, huh, Riho?”
“Human life isn’t a story.”
I turned my face away from her to hide my flustered expression.
“You mean a dog’s life. She was pretty entertaining though.”
Misaki’s hand slapped strongly against my back once again.
“It’s pretty impressive I must say.”
“It means that her life isn’t one that ends in a cheap, clichéd way. You’re good at writing, aren’t you? You should write about that impressive life of hers.”
I’m not sure if she saw through what I was thinking and just made a sarcastic comment or if she was serious in her recommendation, but she said this in an uncharacteristically gentle manner.
Someko dropped the object she had in her mouth onto Mao’s open hand.
“It’s a ball.”
One of the young boys peered over and let out a small yell. It was a white baseball. It’s a rubber ball for playing softball.
“You went all the way out there to fetch this?”
Mao seemed at a loss for words. On top of Someko’s head was a dark reddish-brown colored seaweed. It was as if she had on one of those fashionably popular hair extensions, and it was kind of funny.
“If you don’t want that, could I have it?”
The young boy held out his hand. Mao placed the ball in his hand.
The young boys walked off waving their fishing gear.
“Huh, it must be great being a kid when a thing like a ball’s still enough to make you happy.”
When Misaki folded her arms across her chest, the young boy who took the ball turned around and pointed up to the sky.
“It’s going to rain–”
I look up at the sky. The ash-colored clouds were turning black in certain spots, and spread thickly across the sky.
“You can go to the cliff and wait the rain out.”
This time, the young boy pointed to the cliff that had pine growing on it. Oh, now I see it. I can see a small gaping dark place.
“It’s as if he let us know to thank us for the ball. What a nice kid.”
“Maybe he might’ve let us know of a better place to wait the rain out if we’d given him a soccer ball instead.”
The moment Misaki let out a sigh, the rain began to fall. Huge droplets of rain splash against my cheek. It quickly became dark, and bolts of lightning flashed in the horizon.
The sea level let off a billow of white smoke from the open sea. With nimble fingers, Suu-chan folded up the blanket. She reminded me of a mother with a good head on her shoulders.
“I get it now. When the atmosphere is unstable, it must signal the coming of lightning.”
“Kisaragi, what are you, a weather man in the making? Geez. I wish lightning would come on a more hot day when it’s so muggy that you can hardly stand it.”
“Riho, you can complain while you run.”
Even though we were yelling, we were still having a pretty fun time running up the sands as we made a dive for the space in the cliff.
I wasn’t sure whether the hole was made with help from the wind or the waves. Even though it was a bit too poor to be called a cave, it was just big enough to serve as a place to wait the rain out for four high schoolers, one junior high schooler, and one dog.
We can hear the thunder. A streak of lightning lights up the sky. The intensity of the rain strengthens.
“Don’t tell me this place is gonna flood.”
The dampness of the sand that I can feel under my bare feet frightens me a bit.
“During the high tide, it seems like the water level rises. See the seaweed stuck to the walls?”
Mao picked at the light green seaweed.
“No way! Doesn’t that mean we’ll drown then?”
“Riho, are you honestly going to stand here like some retard while the tide rises? The road’s right there! If we end up drowning in this situation, we’ll be forever immortalized as laughingstocks.”
“Well if we’re going to be dead, then what does that matter?”
Someko barks. She steps out of the hole and stands out in the rain. She squints her eyes as she stood under the rain, and she looked really happy. Mao laughed.
“Maybe this is her idea of a shower?”
“Maybe I should try that too. I didn’t take a bath yesterday.”
Kisaragi scratched his pudding-do.
Misaki’s and my voice overlapped.
“Shut up. So what if I didn’t take a bath?”
Kisaragi sprang out after throwing his t-shirt off to the side.
“You can’t, Kisaragi-kun. You’re going to get hit by the lightning.”
Suu-chan’s calling out to him desperately.
“Riho-chan, you need to stop him. The seashore seems like a place that gets hit by lightning a lot, don’t you think?”
“Don’t worry about him. If he does get shocked, maybe it’ll change him for the better.”
“If he got hurt from being hit by lightning, I wonder if he’d be put under house arrest?”
Misaki asked as she watched Kisaragi and Someko.
“As if. Why would getting hit by lightning equal house arrest?”
“Well, because you get suspended indefinitely if you get into a motorcycle accident, right?”
“That and lightning are two completely separate things.”
“Yeah, I guess. But you know, Kisaragi seems to be having a pretty fun time.”
“If you get hit by lightning, you’re going to die. You should come back, Kisaragi-kun. Even if it’s fun, you have to stop!”
It seems like Suu-chan’s uneasy around lightning. Her face was pale.
“I’m gonna go too.”
Misaki took off her jacket, and handed it to me. Walking in the rain is one of Misaki’s odd quirks.
“You’re going to catch a cold.”
“Just leave me be.”
“Well fine…then I’m coming too.”
I shoved our belongings to Suu-chan, and I stepped out along with Misaki.
“You can’t. The lightning’s going to hit you!”
Suu-chan cries out.
“But…you can’t hear anything.”
Mao lifts his face to the sky. We hadn’t even noticed it, but the sounds of thunder had moved off into the far distance. And as if chasing after it, the intensity of the rain let off.
“What is this? What a sorry excuse for rain.”
Misaki thrust her fist towards the sky. I do the same.
“If you’re going to rain, then rain! If you’re going to clear up, do it properly!”
She curses the sky that showed no hint of blue as it was covered by the clouds.
“Yeah! Talk about doing things halfway!”
Misaki thrust her fist up into the air even further.
Suu-chan and Mao exchanged glances as they laughed.
After that, for an hour, we played on the sandy beach. The beach that had gotten cooler after the rain was still unfit for people to swim, but it was perfect to hang out and run about. It seemed Someko had lost interest in running along the water edge though, because she lay down and kept her eyes closed.
Two hours later, we got back into Ayana’s boss’s truck.
“That was fun.”
Suu-chan commented as she wrapped her arms around her knees.
“It’d be great if we can come here again next year.”
“Next summer, huh?”
I can’t say anything about something that’s a year from now. But, it’s true that I had a blast today. That’s enough.
Kisaragi let out a small yell. Letting out a deep sigh, he took the earphones from his ears.
“What? You’re listening to the radio?”
“You’re listening to the weather report again?”
“Nah. I was listening to the prefectural game.”
Kisaragi pulled out a cute mini-radio from his pocket. He turns up the volume. The strained voice of a newscaster poured out from the radio.
“The game is over. Five to three. –High has advanced to the finals. East Soushuu has been defeated. Their dream of entering two seasons in a row has ended–”
The sound of cheering and noise mix together, and it makes it hard to hear what they’re saying. Even then though, I was able to understand what had happened. I understood more than enough.
“So…Mutsuki, lost, huh?”
“It’s not Mutsuki that lost. It’s not as if he was playing this thing by himself….this thing is really noisy. It’s giving me a headache.”
Misaki turned off the radio. It becomes quiet. All I can hear is the Someko’s breathing.
I didn’t know that today was the regional qualifying round. Mutsuki hadn’t mentioned it to me at all.
“So, Mutsuki’s summer’s over, huh?”
Misaki laughed off Kisaragi’s comment.
“What’re you trying to play it off all cool for? The National High-School Baseball tournament has nothing to do with it. Summer’s going to continue on regardless. Tell Mutsuki that we’d be willing to hang out with him, within reason.”
“Maybe we can come to the beach again?”
Suu-chan seems fixated on the beach.
“I had an awesome time today. We should come here again. Let’s.”
“I don’t have any money. I need to find a part-time job.”
“Yeah. Finding a part-time job during high school’s gonna be a challenge too, just ‘cause there aren’t that many out there.”
I reached out and touched the small radio.
I wonder if Mutski’s crying right now? Does he feel frustrated? Does he feel sad? Maybe he feels relieved? The dream that was almost within reach has disappeared. In that moment, I wonder what Mutsuki was thinking? I don’t think about asking him this. I don’t really want to know either, to be honest. It’s true though that right now, Mutsuki’s experiencing something that I’ll never experience in my life.
Mutsuki, Kisaragi and Misaki are childhood friends of mine. I know it’s commonplace, but they’ve been with me since I was still waddling around in diapers. The four of us were always together. But Mutsuki’s far away. It’s not just about the distance that separate us either, and it’s not just about the length of time we haven’t seen each other. If it were just those things, we could overcome those things somehow. I don’t really know how to put it, but there’s something that separates Mutsuki and me.
I was reminded of the sunset. Oh, that’s right. It was sunset back then too. This was back when I was in grade 7. I’ve gone to see one of Mutsuki’s games in the past. Since it was played on the grounds of our junior high school, it wasn’t an official game, but more of a practice game. At least, that’s what I think. I don’t really remember the details. I don’t even remember why I went to watch the game.
Mutsuki was pitching.
“So Mutsuki’s the person who throws the balls?”
In response to my question, Kisaragi shook his head while biting into some dried squid.
“The leading player wasn’t feeling so good, so he was probably made to pitch, since he can do any position, but…”
“I’m guessing he didn’t want to. He looks really nervous.”
“Really? How can you tell?”
The pitching mound was far from where we were sitting, and it was impossible to make out his expression from afar.
“He’s completely different from when he’s in the batter’s box, can’t you tell?”
“You think? He looks the same to me.”
Ignoring my words, Kisaragi mutters as he continued to gaze at the field.
“They’re gonna get a hit off of him, I bet.”
With that, he took a bite of the dried squid, and peered into my face.
“What’s up with the ‘person who throws the balls’ thing? When were you born, in the Meiji era? Don’t you even know how to use a term like ‘pitcher’?”
Now that he had pointed it out, I found it hilarious, and as I laughed out loud, I heard the ringing of a ball striking metal. The white ball that flew high into the air went over the fence as it disappeared.
“Whoa. What was that? If they hit it that far, there’s no way anyone’s gonna be able to catch it.”
“That’s a home run.”
“I know that. Hey, they got one off of Mutsuki.”
Suddenly, Kisaragi grabbed my arm and pulled on it.
“We’re leaving? But, aren’t we going to watch the rest of the game?”
“There’s no need.”
“You don’t want to see Mutsuki lose, do you?”
Kisaragi, who was much younger than now with the hint of a child still in him, pulled his lips down into a pout as he said this. It was the expression of a sulking child. Without waiting for my reply, he walked off on his own. I followed after him without really knowing why.
We bought juice and sandwiches at the nearby corner store. After we sat down in front of the store and polished off the sandwiches, we went to the bookstore next door and flipped through some magazines and spent our time listening to the latest Cds.
Even though I’ve long forgotten her face and name, there was a girl from my class there, and I remember talking to her about stuff like how great it’d be if we could dye our hair.
By the time we walked out of the bookstore, the sky was aglow with the setting sun. It was such a deep red that the shadow of the bird flying in the sky looked jet-black.
Mutsuki must be hungry.
I thought that without having any basis for it. I went back into the corner store one more time, and spent the rest of the money I had to buy a donut and milk.
“What is that? An offering?”
“Yep. I wonder if Mutsuki’ll still be there?”
Kisaragi didn’t say anything. I broke out in a short run as I climbed the hill to the field.
The field was aglow with the sun set too. It was a beautiful red as if it had clad itself in a rose pink organdy.
The game must have long since ended. There was no one in sight at the field except for Mutsuki. He was standing there by himself. He was standing by the batter’s box by himself, not even doing anything. His shadow cast a long shadow. I stood there holding the corner store bag in my hand. I couldn’t get near him.
Mutsuki, who stood there awashed in the sunset with his shadow cast on the ground, was someone I didn’t know. That’s what I felt. I can still clearly remember feeling that. Although he looked really lonely, he kept people at arm’s length. It was of a different nature to the way Misaki would reject others.
To run up to his side, pat him on the shoulder and smile at him saying: “That was a close game” while handing him the plastic bag—that was something I couldn’t do.
Kisaragi calls out my name from behind me. I don’t know why, but hearing his voice made me feel really relieved. Kisaragi came up beside me, and gazed over at the batter’s box where his brother stood by himself.
And with that, he snatched the bag roughly from my hands, and cut directly across the red field.
Mutsuki turns around. He turns his body towards his younger brother who ran up to him.
From just beyond the pitching mound, Kisaragi throws the plastic bag. Against the sunset, the white bag etches an arch.
“It’s from Rii.”
The bag landed safely in Mutsuki’s outstretched hand.
At the same time, I turned my back to the field. I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything about Mutsuki, and I don’t think I’d be able to understand him any better from here on out either. I felt as if I’d just lost something very precious.
That was something that happened four years ago. I’m no longer of an age when I’m moved to tears by a sense of loss that I can’t explain. Even then, I still feel as if Mutsuki’s someone far away; and I feel a bit lonely.
Misaki kicked my leg that was flung out.
“You should text him.”
“You mean, Mutsuki?”
“Duh. Well what would be the point of texting me? I don’t know what your thoughts are on this, but I’m sure he wouldn’t want you to forget about him.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
I exhaled. It’s no use arguing against Misaki–you can’t win.
“Yeah, that’s right. I’m a liar; I forgot.”
“Well at least you ‘fess up to it. That’s right. You’re a liar, and forgetful on top of that.”
“You’re a hearty eater, and even though you’re boy crazy, you’re dense when it comes to love.”
“Even then, you’re useful to Mutsuki. Pity and comfort are as useless as bra straps, but depending on the person, it can feel good to have ‘em.”
“Hey, bra straps are useful you know. You can’t live without ‘em.”
Suu-chan pulled at the transparent straps that spanned her shoulders.
Mutsuki, we had a great time at the beach. Even though we couldn’t swim, I had a blast. Misaki was saying she’d hang out with you.
Maybe I SHOULD text him. I could try sending him a trivial text like that.
A dragonfly came into the platform. It was a light orange dragonfly. Near the end of July, these dragon flies would fly throughout various parts of town in groups. The height of summer and the beginning of Fall were quickly approaching.
We were a bit tired. We abandoned ourselves to the vibrations of the truck. On the platform, the scent of the sea that we brought with us drifted about without fading.
Surprisingly, I broke out in a fever. Not Misaki, but me. The day after I came back from the beach, I was attacked by a fever, and for three days, I lay in bed and moaned about. The evening of the fourth day, Misaki came to see how I was doing bringing grilled eel with sweet sauce with her.
“Haha. What a sorry sight.”
She came into my room, and after flicking her finger against the photograph on the wall, she sat on the bed as she let out a conceited laugh.
“Thank you for those kind words. It almost makes me want to shed a tear. Kind friends are people one should have in their lives, huh?”
“If you’re able to talk that much, it looks like you’re doing okay. It makes me regret worrying about you.”
“Who was worried?”
Misaki shrugged her shoulders, and she gobbled up the mandarins that my mother had bought for me.
“Hey, I heard that they caught the person who killed those cats.”
“Riho, the connectors in your brain are just getting weaker and weaker, I see.”
In my head, which still had a dull ache, an image of the cats lying in the grass rose to surface.
“They caught them?”
“Just a rumour. There’re opposing rumours between a cram school student depressed over exams and a farmer who had his fields destroyed. I heard whoever did it spread around poisoned food without a care of what might eat it. Can you believe it?”
“Right? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was either one.”
My cell phone rings. When I pressed the cell phone to my hear, I heard a low voice.
“Long time no talk.”
There’s a moment of silence. There were times we would fall into an unexpected moment of silence like this when neither of us had fully grasped the tempo of the conversation.
“Um, I’m coming back tomorrow.”
“Really? Then we’ll be able to see each other for the first time in a while, huh?”
The inside of my mouth goes dry. My lips are really chapped too.
“I want to see you if I can…when are you free?”
“Are you asking me out on a date?”
“You could look at it that way.”
“Sure. But I’m not feeling so hot. I feel really tired.”
“I can’t seem to get in the mood to put in the effort to dress up, you know?”
“Wow, that must be a serious illness.”
“Yeah. Pretty much. If you’re okay seeing me in my no make up glory, I’ll hang out with you.”
I can hear him chuckling on the other end. It’s his laugh as I remember it. Back when we were kids, Kisaragi would always snicker facing up at the sky, but as for Mutsuki, he always lowered his gaze to the ground, and laughed in a way as if to muffle it.
“It’ll be the first time in a while seeing you without any makeup on too.”
“Do you want to see it though?”
“Yeah, I do—a lot. I’ll come over to your house tomorrow.”
“Okay. See ya.”
He hesitated as if he wanted to say something else, but he didn’t end up saying anything more before he hung up.
“You have a date with Mutsuki?”
“He said he’s coming over to my place tomorrow. I don’t think you can really call it a ‘date’ per say though.”
“So you’re gonna comfort the youth who’s had his dreams of going to the Finals shot down?”
“I don’t have the kind of energy required to comfort anyone, thank you very much.”
Misaki glanced at me as she brought her eyebrows together.
“You’re not ready for sex yet. Don’t even think about it until you’ve recovered your strength.”
“Misaki, up until yesterday, I had a fever that went up to 38 degrees. I don’t like it THAT much that I’d want to have sex with him regardless.”
“But he might want to.”
“You’re saying he’d want to have sex with me at my house when I have no make up on and my hair’s a mess, and I’d probably be wearing wrinkly pyjamas?”
“Well, he’s got it bad for you, so I wouldn’t be surprised if even that looks good to him.”
“Talk about guts.”
Misaki rubs her hand on my forehead.
“You still have a slight fever.”
Her hand felt cold, and it felt nice.
“You should heal right up with a bit more rest. For tomorrow though, you should make sure to at least do something about that hair of yours.”
Misaki laughs. It’s a first-rate smile–the kind that has flowers opening up. How can she smile so beautifully?
“Good night. Sweet dreams.”
Misaki’s lips graze my forehead. Her lips were slightly cool too.
In the garden, I can hear the cries of the cicadas. They’re evening cicadas.
The high tone matches the sunset glow that’s reflected on the window, and it’s beautiful.
The cries must probably come from the Japanese chinquapin trees. Back when I was in grade one, the acorn that I buried turned into a tree. At the base of that tree, I can hear the cries of the cicadas. Under the shade of a tree, Someko must be curled up. The whole day after coming back from the sea, she was full of energy, but since about two days ago, she went back to lying curled up into a ball and refused to eat anything. I heard she even refused to drink milk. Mao told me.
Someko’s body doesn’t give off the scent of the sea anymore.
Mao told me that too. I wonder if Someko plans to depart along with Summer?
I don’t know.
Misaki’s footsteps fade.
The cicadas cry.
I get the idea to peer into a hand mirror.
My eyes are watery from the fever. My cheeks are faintly tinged with red. It’s just the forehead that Misaki’s lips grazed that is white and smoothy.
Maybe my makeup-less self isn’t so bad.
I close my eyes.
This summer day of mine was getting ready to pass as it was seen off by the cries of the cicadas.
[ THE END ]