Nana: Hello! This is something I wrote for dncontest, a community on Livejournal. It deals with a character so minor that she doesn't even have eyes—Mikami's mother. It deals with the difficulty of raising a child like him, and of the social pressures his mother must face as a single mother—as compared to Sachiko Yagami, and her children. Enjoy, and leave me a review on your way out!
The Mother Of The Law
It's a scorching morning, and Atsuko Mikami has her first day off in weeks. She wishes she didn't, the office is air-conditioned, and her skin is slick with sweat. Her own home doesn't contain much more than a few cheap, paper fans. Her favorite of which is missing, because Teru doesn't think that they ought to have more than two.
Teru is lying on the floor at the moment, whimpering and swatting at flies. His glasses have slipped in a river of sweat, and he will be furious as soon as he notices. The hot day and the sweat and stink it produces have made Teru moody and belligerent. Atsuko, too. She wants to tear those glasses from his face and smash them, but she restrains herself. She'd have to buy new ones, later, if she did, and anyway she doesn't want to trigger a nervous breakdown.
Atsuko stretches, works out the kinks in her neck as she tries to decide what to do with her high-strung child today. Teru will do nothing if she does not prod him, and come the end of the day, probably while she's in the shower, he will explode into a tantrum about how he's filthy and sweaty and needs to get clean, now.
Out the window, children are traipsing past their apartment, towards what she thinks might be the local playground. That's where normal children go during the summer, that or the pool. Teru isn't normal, and he doesn't belong at the playground—the fights and broken rituals aren't worth it—but the pool is clean enough if you don't think about it. Atsuko can only hope that Teru won't.
Of course, Teru thinks about it. "Mom," he whispers through clenched teeth. "Somebody probably peed in this pool at least once today. And there are so many chemicals, my face is going to burn right off. Do I have to go in the water?"
"Yes," Atsuko says, attempting to wrest his clammy hand from hers. "Look, if there is pee in the water, the chemicals will help neutralize it. And they are not going to burn your face off, Teru, it's just chlorine, and not much of it!" She sighs, places their things on a chipped, plastic beach chair. "Don't worry so much," she says, searching her tote bag for the towels. (Any old thing for herself, and the meticulously ironed green-and-blue striped towel for Teru.) "You'll be fine. Just go have fun, okay?"
"Can I at least put on sunscreen first?" Teru asks with arms crossed and head bowed. Atsuko shakes her head; she hasn't brought any. She doesn't know why she remembered the ironed towel and not the sunscreen—if he gets burnt she'll never hear the end of it.
"Don't worry," she says, "it's more humid than sunny, and you don't burn easily. Like I said, go have fun."
With that, Teru stomps sulkily away to 'go have fun'.
After a quick dip in the pool herself, for cooling purposes, Atsuko decides that her time here would be best spent going over her unpaid bills. She may have to ask her sister for another loan, and the very idea makes her shudder. She doesn't want to ask that pretentious bitch for anything, but she must if she means to keep feeding Teru. Atsuko has had to swallow her pride more than once for him, and she can't always cool the flames of resentment. He embarrasses her with his constant claims of moral superiority, and his breakdowns at the slightest disruption of order.
It's easier to resent him than to fear for him, and it's easier to pretend to work on her bills than it is to think about her son at all. She keeps looking back at him, watching him cower in the corner of the swimming pool, demanding that the other children stop splashing each other, but she feigns disinterest, looks down at her bills and then out at the world. She doesn't know many people in the area, but she lands on somebody she's seen before.
Sachiko Yagami, wife of the recently promoted Police Chief Yagami, is standing by the shallow end of the pool, her infant daughter as she sits on submerged steps and kicks the water. Her young son is nearby, swimming laps with a competence that Atsuko herself can't match. She wonders what this family—the Yagamis, who appeared on TV when the Chief received an award for outstanding service to the district, the Yagamis who must be bloated with cash—is doing here. This is the free pool, the one you go to when you can't afford better. Despite what she said, the chlorine is strong here, and there probably is pee in the water. Not to mention, the lifeguards are incompetent. Today's guard is reading manga and scratching his ass, completely oblivious to his surroundings. Why in the world would Mrs. Yagami take her children here?
After a while, the girl begins to grow fussy. She balls up her chubby fists and hits the water, cries "out, out!" as she does. Mrs. Yagami removes her daughter from the pool, and wraps her in a fluffy pink towel that was probably ironed by someone other than an eight-year-old. Atsuko is willing to bet that Mrs. Yagami has all the time in the world to do the housework, and that nobody is going to lose their mind if she feels like slacking off. Mrs. Yagami probably has time to cook dinner, too, and her children likely don't rearrange their food for an hour before they will eat it.
She doesn't know her, but Atsuko Mikami is beginning to despise Sachiko Yagami.
Her resentment is irrelevant and apparently, undetectable. Mrs. Yagami plunks herself and her daughter right down next to Atsuko, and doesn't try too hard to keep the girl's wet hands away from Atsuko's display of bills and envelopes. Not that she's finicky about these things, God forbid, but she doesn't want important documents destroyed. "Excuse me," hisses Atsuko, rage she tells herself she isn't feeling creeping into her voice. "Could you move your baby? She's quite cute, but she's getting water all over my papers."
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" squeaks Mrs. Yagami, tugging on the flowery strap of the little girl's bathing suit. "Sayu, sweetie, come back here. Don't touch the nice lady's papers, we brought plenty of other things that you can play with!" She smiles and brandishes a brightly-colored plastic ring, which Sayu snatches and begins to beat against the ground. Mrs. Yagami bows her head nervously, apologizes again. "I hope nothing got ruined?"
"It's fine," Atsuko snaps, pretending not to care about the tiny droplets that now dot her cable bill. "Don't worry about it, it'll dry in the sun. Um…" She trails off, wondering if she ought to try and continue this conversation. It would be pointless, Atsuko is not looking for neighborhood friends—especially not rich housewives with perfect children. But Mrs. Yagami's smile is as warm as the sun, and as stifling. Atsuko will know she's there if she ignores her, so she annihilates her pride yet again. "It's hot out today, isn't it?" mutters Atsuko, lying back on her nondescript towel. "I don't think it's been this hot all year."
"Oh yes, it's absolutely broiling," Mrs. Yagami says brightly. As if she's enjoying this. "I guess that's why you came to the pool to do your work? Personally, I'd have stayed in for something like that…looking at the nice, refreshing pool and not being able to swim is just torture! I'd be swimming right now if I didn't have this one to look after." She points affectionately towards Sayu, who is now contentedly gumming the plastic ring.
"I can't afford to buy a fan, and it's cooler by the water than it is in my house," Atsuko says, wiping sweat from the bridge of her nose. "Not that it is cool, but, it's better. Anyway, I came here mainly because it's my day off, and my son would have driven me insane if we stayed in all day."
"Oh, you came here with your child! You look so young, I didn't realize you were a mother!" This is painfully transparent bullshit. Atsuko looks anything but young. She's raising a finicky, neurotic boy who is constantly endangering his own life by playing superhero, on the salary of an office-bitch. She has yet to hit thirty, but stress has aged Atsuko's features far beyond her chronology. At least, that is what Atsuko sees.
Mrs. Yagami continues, asks politely which child is hers. Atsuko has to remind herself that no, it isn't obvious. Teru isn't exactly the spit out of her mouth, and it's not like she'd immediately focus on the ill-tempered little boy who is currently trying to mediate a fight that has nothing to do with him. It's just, she's so used to people blaming him on her. "He's over there," Atsuko says, finger waving vaguely in his direction. "In the deep end of the pool, the one who's…yelling at those other kids…"
"Oh, that's him?" she says. "I don't think he's yelling. It seems like he's trying to help them—see, look, that little girl is thanking him now. He was just trying to help. What a nice son you have."
Atsuko bristles. She knows that it should warm her heart to hear her baby praised, but she reacts instead to contradiction. "He isn't nice," she says. "He means well, but an eight-year-old is not a moral authority, and that's what he thinks he is. And he's so finicky, he…he's not nice. I love him, of course, but…well, I'm sure your kids are perfect. You probably don't have to worry about things like this."
Mrs. Yagami laughs at that, though her eyes are narrowed slightly. "My children are wonderful, yes, but of course they aren't perfect. Nobody is. My son is still getting the hang of sleeping in his own bed and not wetting it, and my daughter likes to destroy people's property." This last part is said with a smile that seems sarcastic, but probably isn't. "What's your name?" she asks. "I don't believe we've met before."
"Mikami…I mean um….Atsuko…Mikami…" she trails off, knowing she sounds like a gibbering idiot. This woman is disarming, and Atsuko isn't sure which name she ought to give. She isn't looking for friendship, so there's no reason to give her first name. She gulps nervously, scans the pool again for her son. His face is twisted into such a gloomy expression that Atsuko nearly bursts out laughing. Her stomach is aching with it.
"I'm Sachiko," she says, reaching out with the hand that does not reign in her baby. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Sachiko. Not Sachiko Yagami, or Mrs. Yagami. Just Sachiko. As if she were human instead of a pasted-on smile.
Time passes, and boredom paves the way for discussion. Sachiko is eager to talk, and while Atsuko has yet to shed her apprehension, anything is better than trying to figure out her bill situation. She responds sleepily to the woman's queries, tells her all about her useless life. In response to Sachiko's statement that despite holding a degree in art history, she hardly remembers a thing about the subject, Atsuko snaps, "I went to college too!" She says this with such forces that Sachiko looks taken aback.
"I believe you," she says, giggling slightly. "There's no need to get defensive. What's your degree in, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Literature," se says, pulling a worn volume of Derrida's work from her tote bag. She doesn't read this kind of thing for pleasure at all, but ever since Teru told her that he would like one day to be a lawyer, Atsuko keeps that book with her at all times; the only parts that matter to her highlighted. Teru's her son, but "I am the mother of the law. Behold my daughter's madness." has defined her life for the past eight years. Teru is law. Teru would remember the context of the quote. "Literature," she repeats. "I never got my degree, though. I got pregnant and had to drop out."
"Oh…Sachiko says, perkiness slowly draining from her features. "That must have been so difficult. Maybe now that your son is a little older, you can think about going back to school? I'm sure your husband would support you if you asked him."
Oh, Mrs. Yagami, you assume so much. "I can't," Atsuko says. "There is no way I could take off that much time from my job—I work for Yotsuba, do you know about them? They're brutal, and all I do is go on coffee runs and stuff envelopes. This is my first day off in weeks. And, Teru, my son, he needs me around—he'll spend the whole day organizing the closet over and over again if I'm not. And," she says, tipping her head back, staring into the haze of clouds and sun. "You shouldn't assume that everyone has a husband, Mrs. Yagami. I'm sure it's great to be able to rely on someone else to run your life for you, but I don't have that. Teru's father fucked off years ago."
"I'm so sorry," she says, anxiously eyeing her daughter, perhaps attempting to glean whether or not she heard the foul word. Atsuko should apologize, but she doesn't. For a moment, Sachiko says nothing. She runs her fingers through her daughter's sparse, soft hair. Finally, she heaves a sigh and says, "my husband doesn't run my life. He foots the bill for our family, yes, but finances aside I may as well be a single mother. It wasn't so bad before he got promoted, but now he's working too hard to come home. He didn't even show up for his daughter's birthday—her first birthday, too. Not that she'll remember, but…do you understand what I'm saying? You seem to have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about my life and my family, and I don't want you to think things that aren't true."
Atsuko blushes furiously, says, "okay, fine, I shouldn't judge without knowing. But really, it is not the same. People look down on me. They look down on my son. They're justified in that, he's insane, but that doesn't make it better. I have no money right now, my landlord is threatening to toss us out on the streets! I would kill to have a husband who missed my kid's birthday, I would kill to trade my life for yours!" And she stops, then, because Sachiko is not listening. Instead, she is leaping up and running full-speed towards the pool.
"LIGHT!" she screams, hair flying wildly behind her. Atsuko has never seen a grown woman look more panicked, and she cannot even see her face. Sayu's lower lip is beginning to quiver, and tears are threatening. Atsuko picks her up, and walks calmly towards to the side of the pool. When she gets there, she nearly drops the kid. Because, it isn't Light who's in danger now—it's Teru.
What's happening is this—a snarling boulder of a boy has one solid hand pushing the top of Teru's head into the water. Another hand is shoving his shoulder, and is foot is crushing the small of Teru's back. And he's hissing, "mind your own business, asshole! I do what I want, and you got no right to stop me, that brat deserved to drown!" Atsuko hands Sayu off to a bewildered Sachiko, screeching the whole time that she will tell this child's mother, and she will tell the owner of the pool, and boy oh boy is he going to be in trouble. The boulder doesn't even twitch.
It doesn't work, so Atsuko doesn't think about it anymore. She dives clumsily into the pool, and drags her baby to safety, to air. The boy climbs out and slinks away, humiliated or wishing to avoid punishment, Atsuko doesn't care. Hatred will gnaw at her later, right now she has to see that Teru's breathing. She tightens her grip around his tiny waist, and lifts him up onto the concrete floor.
"Teru," she whispers frantically, fingers to his neck as she tries to remember how to find a pulse. She stumbles across a steady beat, and the relief that floods her comes out in tears. Atsuko rams her fists to her eyes, shoves them back and yells "Teru you idiot! What the hell do you think you were doing, you could have been killed! Teru, open your eyes, sit up, please, you stupid little…" She trails off, unable to control her tears. "TERU!"
It takes some time, but he does open his eyes, and he does struggle into sitting position, coughing with every movement. The lifeguard shambles over, too late to do a thing. Thank GodTeru hadn't needed any help is untrained mother couldn't give; thank God she got to him in time. "Teru," she says through tearful gasps, "say something."
He does. Coughs stand in for punctuation, but he can speak, he can breathe. He croaks, "Mama, is the boy okay?"
This forces Atsuko to look back at the Yagamis. Sachiko is standing there stricken, running her fingers through the wet hair of a sobbing four-year-old. "What happened? Atsuko demands, "I wasn't watching—is he—is that the boy?"
"Yes," Sachiko says, her tone as shot with sadness as Atsuko's own. "That boy was trying to drown my Light, and your son, your Teru, he…he saved him. And then he became a target himself and I'm so…I'm so sorry. Please forgive me, Ms. Mikami."
"It's okay," Atsuko says, gathering her shaking son into her arms. "Everyone's alright, and that's what counts. Light is, right? I mean, I take it he's rather upset, but he's not hurt?" Atsuko doesn't care a bit about Light, but Teru does, and that, that, is what counts.
"Light's fine," murmurs Sachiko, bending down to rub the boys tiny shoulders as he cries. "Right baby, you're fine? That nice boy saved you, didn't he? Why don't you go say thank you? He's a hero, you know." She looks pointedly at Atsuko as she says this. "He is," Sachiko says, and Atsuko grinds her teeth.
Light wipes his eyes clean of tears, and wraps his small arms around his mother's bare right leg. "Thank you," he whispers, so quietly that Teru probably cannot hear him past the water in his ears. Atsuko wishes the kid would speak up, or at least make some gesture of appreciation, but he does not. Instead he begins to cry again, tells his mother that he wants to go home.
"We should go home too," Atsuko says. "Come on Teru, stand up. Let's go."
Before they head off they must take care of logistics. Sachiko tells Atsuko not to worry about prosecution, she knows the boy's parents and she will talk to them, and involve the police if she finds it necessary. With her husband's position, Sachiko is able to handle issues of law enforcement with ease. She also recommends that Atsuko take Teru to the hospital, just in case, and states that she will be doing the same thing with Light. Atsuko nods along with her, pretends that she will do just that. In reality, the Mikami family is going straight home. Their budget doesn't stretch far enough for the hospital.
She walks to the bus stop, Teru clutching her arm uncertainly, shivering in the sun that now seems cold. When they get home he wants to sleep immediately, for once not waiting for the last two numbers on the clock to flip to zero. Atsuko hopes this hasn't hurt him, that Sachiko's suggestion is born of excess cash and paranoia, rather than necessity. She doesn't know, and so she sits in his room with the ironing board, carefully watching his breathing, smoothing every scrap of clothing he owns into wrinkle-free perfection. Before today, she has never done this. Even though he burns himself consistently with the iron he's too small to use, she never has.
Tonight, it's all that Atsuko can do. She can't praise Teru for his efforts, can't encourage him to risk his life at every turn. As his mother, she must be his voice of reason, be the one who keeps him safe. She isn't proud that he risked his own life, but Atsuko couldn't help it. She believed that smiling housewife when she said that Teru was a hero.