Baby Steps

November, 1991

Matsuda Residence, Sumida

Almost three in the morning, and once again my wife and I are being held hostage in our apartment. "Is it possible to die from sleep deprivation?" I ask, rubbing my eyes.

"No dear. You'd go insane long before that." Mie, you always know how to comfort me.

The apartment is dark except for the moonlight coming in through the only window. We're sitting on the bedroll in the middle of the only room in the apartment other than the bathroom. There's an empty crib against the wall. Mie is holding Takato, who is loosely wrapped in a blanket and just will not stop crying. Again. What is with that kid?

"Maybe he's scared of the dark," I suggest.

"We tried that idea two hours ago, Takehiro," she reminds me as she again tries rocking Takato back and forth.

Right, right. It's hard to remember what we've tried and what we haven't. You'd think we would have gotten a hang of this by now. "What did we do the other night that seemed to work?"

"We are not giving him more sake," Mie says sternly.

"Oh come on," I plead. "It was only a few drops and he went out like a light."

"Yeah, until the next morning when you went off to work. If you think Takato's a handful now you should see him with a hangover."

"Well if we don't do something I'm not going to get any sleep at all," I tell her. "How's that going to go over at work?"

"Heaven forbid you burn the cereal or something," she quips.

I groan. "Laugh it up, Mie. Laugh us all the way to the poor house."

"Sorry," she grumbles. "Long day, you know?"

"Tell me about it," I say, rubbing my hand over my jaw. The scratchy stubble on my chin reminds me it's been days since I've even had time to shave. Every day starts early with the train ride to Aoyama, by far the highlight of my day. Then of course I run from one customer to the next and cook for hours and hours. I'm a personal chef by day: I cook meals for families with more money to spare than time. By night I'm a sous-chef at a restaurant not far from our apartment, so that means another restful train ride back in the evening followed by the safety and comfort of cooking in a busy kitchen with lots of sharp or scalding things and no sleep.

Takato wails loudly. It's like nails on a chalkboard and I think Mie's had all she can handle. "Takehiro, you take him for a bit," she says, quickly handing him to me.

"What do you think I can do?" I ask, trying to get my arms around him in the dark.

"Do a dance, sing a song, whatever," she says in a huff. "I just need a minute to myself." She stands up and turns on the light. Great, now my eyes hurt too. I try to look down and shade my eyes from the sudden light; even my own green t-shirt and pajama pants are a little too much to look at right now.

"And mommy says I'm the grumpy one," I say, looking at Takato.

"You are," she reminds me. "You're just too tired right now to act like it."

"Well then if this keeps up I'll be the nicest guy in the world soon."

"I'll be out in the hall," she says as she walks to our front door, putting on her bathrobe over her nightgown. "And no sake."

"Relax, I wasn't going to give him any."

"I meant for you," she says wryly, stepping out into the hall of the apartment complex and closing the door behind her.

I sigh. "Come on, Takato. Mommy didn't say anything about beer." He, of course, only cries, burying his face in his blanket so the only thing I can really see of him is his hair, the same color as my wife's.

My back creaks and pops as I drag myself to my feet. The apartment seemed really small when we got it, but it was just the two of us then and we didn't exactly mind the close-quarters. If anything I'm surprised Takato didn't come along sooner with how we were back then. Of course now just getting from one end of our single room to the other has turned into an everyday adventure; getting to the bathroom is more like an odyssey. Takato's stuff is absolutely everywhere, you see. Toys and furniture and everything else are strewn about our already tight living space. I have to step mighty carefully just to make it to what I laughably deem our "kitchen." It's a journey I'll gladly take to get to the refrigerator though. It will all be worth it when…

When I realize we're out of beer, it seems. I hang my head.

"Well, kiddo, now what?" I ask.

Takato responds pretty much how I would expect. Maybe he's hungry? We tried it half an hour ago and it didn't work then, but maybe he got hungry in the mean time. I don't know, but it's worth a shot. I grab the jar of strained something-or-other from the refrigerator and close the door.

"I wish all my customers were as easy to cook for as you," I say with a smile while looking for a spoon. I bend down to get into the drawer and—OW! My back! Was that popping sound my spine? What have I done to myself? That was a whole new kind of pain. I'm still hunched over, holding Takato in one arm and leaning on the counter with the other. Man does that ache. It's starting to fade, but I don't really want to move at the moment.

Takato wails in my ear. This just isn't fair. I just screwed up my back and he's the one that gets to spend all night crying endlessly for no apparent reason. I'm the one in pain here! Oh this is all I need. This should make it so much easier to get up for work in… four hours. And of course the train will be an absolute breeze, I'm sure.

Alright, it's hurting a little less now. It's tender, but… yes, yes I can move. Mie, if this is what those last few months of pregnancy were like for you I have no idea how you put up with me. I gingerly grab a spoon on my way back upright. Please work. I swear, Takato, if you just eat one tiny spoonful this will all be worth it. I spoon up a little of his food and…

No dice. That's not going to stop me from trying though. I keep at it, but every time I even get the spoon near his mouth he just cries harder and shoves it away.

"Well you're about as picky as my customers, Takato," I have to admit. "A natural-born connoisseur." I start putting away the food. "Alright, what else?"

The front door opens and Mie comes in with a heavy sigh. She shuts the door behind her again. "No luck?"

Takato cries, tugging at my shirt with his little fist. "We've been down the list twice already. We have to be missing something," I conclude.

"Alright, let's think about this like sane people" she says, looking at the ceiling. "You know, instead of like us. Is he too hot? Too cold?"

"Tried both," I grunt. I even feel Takato's arm and he feels like a pretty regular temperature to me. "He's not hungry: I just tried."

"Alright, not hungry," she says. "Does he need to be changed?"

I shake my head. "Clean as a whistle. Maybe he just needs a toy or something."

"We've tried every toy in this house." She's exhausted. We both are. "Pacifier?"

"I think that made him spit up when we tried it last," I say. "He stopped crying just long enough to do that I think."

"Maybe he's teething," she says. "Or he's bored, or angsty, or he thinks that's an ugly shirt."

"Hey," I say, looking down at myself. "What's wrong with this shirt?"

"Look, it doesn't matter. The point is babies cry," she says. "Apparently some cry way, way more than others."

"Is it the color or something?" I ask. "Does he not like green?"

"Would you forget about the stupid shirt already?" she insists, going to sit down at the table.

"Sorry," I say as I join her. "I just can't always keep up with this stuff, you know? I mean, I'm at work so much, the only time I get with Takato is… well, when he can't sleep."

She looks at the kitchen and mumbles something.

"What's that, honey?" I ask. "I couldn't hear you; Takato and all."

"Nothing," she says. "Just forget it."

Crap, I know that tone. I sigh. "What's wrong?"

"Don't worry about it," she says. "I'm fine."

"Can you just tell me what it is this one time, Mie? I need to be up in a few hours and I don't want to play twenty questions."

"There it is," she says. "That's my problem."

"What?" Okay, now I'm confused. "You don't like me getting up early or something?"

"You're gone all day long," she says. "By the time you get back we're usually already asleep."

"I'm sorry about that, I really am," I tell her, "but what can I do? We need the money. Not just for the two of us, but for Takato."

"I know that." Great, she's getting frustrated. Now on top of everything I can feel a headache coming on. "I just… Why don't I get a job too? You could cut back then."

"We can't both be out of the house," I say as I try bouncing Takato on my knee; sometimes that works. Of course being hunched forward on my chair thanks to my back doesn't make it easy.

"Well we could be if I worked mornings and you worked evenings," she points out.

"I thought you wanted to stay home with Takato."

"I did! Just not forever, Takehiro. I love him with all my heart, but if I don't get out of the house now and then I feel like I'll go crazy." She reaches over and runs her hand through Takato's hair. "I just feel terrible saying it, but…"

"No, I get it," I say. "You just need some time to not be mommy, right?"

She sighs. "That sounds just awful when you say it out loud."

"No it doesn't," I tell her. "You just sound worn-out."

"It just doesn't end, you know?"

"I know, honey. We're both working really hard on this. You're running yourself ragged here while I'm breaking my back out there." The second part is almost literal, given how sore my back still is. I try to straighten up, but it's still really tender.

"So do you think you could stay home with Takato during the day if I got a job somewhere?" she asks.

"Well, it might disappoint some customers," I say, "but family comes first."

"Thank you, Takehiro," she says with a smile. She yawns and rubs her eyes. "Here, let me see him."

"All yours," I say, handing Takato over. The knee-bouncing did not do the trick.

She puts him over her shoulder and starts patting him on the back. "What are we going to do with you?" she asks.

I yawn loudly. This might be the most tired I've ever been in my life. In fact I know it is. I think the last time I actually had a good night's sleep was before Takato was born. Since then I get so little sleep that every day I'm more tired than I was the day before. So no matter what day you ask me, I am always going to be the most tired I've ever been in my life.

Wait a minute. This idea about her working has a problem. "If you work mornings and I work evenings, we'll hardly ever see each other," I say.

"We hardly see each other as it is now," she says with a shrug.

Oh yeah. I guess she's right. It wouldn't be all that different, but… "But I want to see you. I miss you."

She smiles. "I miss you too," she says, taking my hand in hers.

I rub her hand. I can't help grinning a little.

I think she caught sight of my grin. "Don't even think about it," she warns me.

I grunt my frustration. "Do you remember how we spent our last anniversary?" I ask her.

"Of course," she says. "We got a babysitter and went to a hotel."

"And we used it to sleep," I add. "We didn't even bother getting undressed before climbing into bed!" And no, that didn't count as a good night's sleep; I was still tossing and turning.

"How can you even think about that right now, Takehiro?" she asks. "Aren't you exhausted?"

"Yeah, but I don't see how one has anything to do with the other."

She groans. "Same old Takehiro."

"You're the one that married me," I say with a shrug.

"I'll have to check my schedule, but I think I can pencil you in for a kiss a week from Friday," she says.

Ah Mie, you surely know how to set my heart aflutter. "All I'm asking is what happened to my old sweetheart, huh? The beautiful girl I married. The one who was all about romance."

"She moved into a one-room apartment with you and had a kid."

We kept meaning to get a bigger place, but were locked into a lease until after Takato was born. We talked a lot about getting a bigger place, but we just sort of got used to living here. Plus we didn't really have any time to spare for apartment hunting what with the new baby and me being at work all the time. Besides, if we did get a bigger place we couldn't save up money like we are.

The money is piling up, slowly but surely. Right after we found out we were going to have Takato we really started to cut back. We wanted a lot more wiggle room; we wanted to be able to get him a good education; and we—well, I wanted to spoil him rotten. Hehe. I think I bought most of the toys in this room myself, much to Mie's frustration. Whenever I bring home something new for Takato it gets him excited, and it's one more thing for us to trip over in the middle of the…

I can't believe I forgot! It's worth a shot. I get up and go over to where I left the backpack I take to work by the door, careful not to move my back too much. I start rooting around in it, digging through my change of clothes. I know I had it in here. Where is it? Aha!

"What's going on?" Mie asks from the table.

"Oh, nothing," I say slyly, approaching the table with my hands behind my back.

Mie rolls her eyes. "Not another one, Takehiro."

"Oh come on," I say, kneeling next to Mie and Takato. "I just want to make my family happy." I pull the toy out from behind my back and nudge Takato with it. It's a red, stuffed dinosaur. I just couldn't help myself. Takato's still crying but he seems to have taken an interest.

"What good is a happy family if you aren't there to enjoy it, honey?"

I sigh. "You're right about that. This work is killing me. We need the money though. Especially if…" Well, I'd better not say. I mean, we've never even talked about it before.

"Especially if what?"

Well, I guess I should bring it up sooner or later. "Especially if… one day… maybe… we want our family to get even bigger."

"And just how do you see that happening?" she asks. "Short of divine intervention, I mean. We don't really have the time or energy to try, much less actually raise another baby."

"Well I don't mean right now, of course," I say. "But maybe in a year or two when Takato's a little older and we've got a better handle on things. What do you think, Takato? You want a little brother or sister?" He isn't paying attention to me, of course.

"Well…" I can see a little smile on her face. I really didn't expect that, given how much trouble just having Takato is at this point. "It might be nice to have another baby. Just not now, of course."

"Of course."

"And we have to get a bigger place first."

"Come on, honey, our little apartment has character!"

"And only one room," she groans. "I swear, half the time I think Takato's crying just because he wants a minute of privacy."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," I admit. "Besides, it might get pretty awkward if he's still sharing our room when he starts bringing girls home."

"To say the least."

"So what should we do?" I ask. "Do you want to find a job first then look for a new place? I can find apartment listings in the morning and you can check them out in the evening."

"I don't know," she says. "We'd still hardly see one another. That can't be good for Takato."

I look at him. He's actually stopped crying. Right now he seems way more interested in his new toy. "So what can we do?" I ask.

"What if we… I don't know…" she's really straining over this one. Honestly I don't think I could come up with any good ideas with how tired I am, so I'm impressed she's even trying right now. "What if we could work from home? Together."

"Huh?"

"I mean think about it," she goes on. "We'd be with Takato and each other all the time."

"I thought you wanted to get some time away from Takato during the day," I said.

"A little," she said. "Just a few minutes for something different. Even talking to you makes a nice break from it."

I roll my eyes. "Gee thanks."

"You know what I mean, Takehiro."

"Well that would be great and all, but who's going to pay us to stay at home with Takato all day?"

"We would," she says. "We could start a family business."

"Do you have any idea how expensive that would be?" I ask. "And what if it doesn't work? We could be out on the street."

"Well what if you lose your job because the restaurant burns down or something?" she asks. "It wouldn't be any different." She has a point, I guess.

"But the money," I say. "We don't have nearly enough for, well, anything. Maybe we could swing a down payment on a house, but a business? There's just no way."

Apparently, the phrase "there's just no way" is exactly the one that gets Takato to start crying again, much to our frustration. I guess his newest toy wasn't as big a hit as I'd hoped.

Mie sighs at me while she does her best to comfort Takato. The look in her eyes means she thinks the answer is obvious. "We're not adrift at sea, you know. We can get a loan."

"No way will that happen if I quit work to start up some business," I say. "I don't think we could get a loan even with me working two jobs."

"I mean from family," she says. "When I married you my dad said if we ever needed money to chase after our dreams he would be more than happy to help us out."

"Really?" I ask. He said that? I never knew. I thought he didn't like me back then.

"Well… not in those exact words. It was more like, 'If you ever want to dump Takehiro and marry a nice, respectful boy, I'll pay for everything.' But the thought was there." Yeah, that sounds a little more like something he'd say back then.

"Alright, say we want to do this," I can't believe I'm even considering it, "what would we do?"

"Gee, I don't know Mr. Chef," she says with thick sarcasm. "What could we possibly do that would make use of our skills and people would pay for?"

"I thought you said it was going to be a family business," I said. "Not just me doing all the work."

"Oh har, har," she says. "I can cook just fine, I'll have you know."

"News to me," I tell her with a grin.

"That's because ever since we started dating you've wanted to be a chef," she reminds me. "Always playing in the kitchen. You never even gave me the chance to make you something."

"So what kind of cooking are you thinking?" I ask her. "Like, do you want to open a restaurant?"

"I'm not sure," she says. "A restaurant might work. Or maybe we could do catering. Or a—"

I've got it! "Bakery," I say abruptly.

"Yeah, that could work," she says.

"No, I mean the bakery!" I say. "Don't you remember that bakery down the street that closed down last month?"

"At the end of the block?" she asks. "Yeah. I think it's a package delivery place now."

"We always used to take Takato on walks around the block when he couldn't sleep," I tell her. "Worked like a charm every time until right after that bakery closed down."

"Oh yeah, I remember that now," she says. "We kept on trying but it just didn't work anymore."

"Early every morning they were in there baking bread for the day. You could almost smell it from here!"

"So wait, you think the smell of baking bread is what did it?" She sounds almost hopeful.

"I don't know," I say excitedly, "but something changed to make it so those walks didn't work anymore. If it was just the smell of bread that did the trick, maybe we can finally get him to go to sleep!"

"Could it really be that simple?" she asks.

"One way to find out!" I say as I stand up in a hurry, only to be suddenly and painfully reminded of my wrenched back. Screw it, I've got to test this idea out! I scramble toward the kitchen. I could make bread in my sleep, which is handy since I'm so close to passing out. Please tell me we have flour!

"Takehiro," she calls to me as I rush around in the kitchen. "You didn't tell me what you think about this idea."

I can't stop to talk, but I respond in an almost ecstatic tone. "Honey, I swear to you if this works and Takato goes to sleep, we will start our very own bakery. I don't care if it costs us every last yen we've got, I will work in that bakery with you every single day and night to keep you and Takato happy."

Please, all I ask is for this to work.


I hope you enjoyed this one. It's just so easy to call Takato a crybaby that I figured I'd make it literal. Oddly, the biggest problem I had with writing the story was just coming up with a title. Nothing really seemed to fit, and I'm still not completely happy with it. Really though, I just wanted to explore Takehiro and Mie a little with this piece. I'm not sure how well I pulled it off, but I tried to get a nice, light tone in this one.

Also, I already have a plan for my next story. It would be very helpful if anyone can confirm if Jenrya's sensei's name was ever mentioned. I've been unable to find it, but that doesn't mean it's not out there somewhere. Until next time.

love,

ian