Bury my Love
The only way you can keep something a secret is to never tell anyone. Including yourself.
Tomoko K & Kouichi K
Perhaps it wasn't the ideal hiding space from the world but she couldn't bear to bury it any further. Her mind told her she didn't need to; there was only one other person who frequented the home and he respected her and her privacy enough to never open that box. But her heart disagreed, because in that box was the thing that could destroy that respect.
She was a reasonably level-headed woman. She had to be, to work as a shift nurse at one of the busiest hospitals in Tokyo's capital. She had to be, to raise an infant alone till twelve years of age on a meagre salary and ridiculous hours as well as watch over her dying mother. She had to be, to turn away her son's sad blue eyes to something happier every time he came home to find her slumped on the kitchen chair, worn from a hard day's work.
She knew the level headed thing to do was not to keep the fuel to the fire so close at hand. But even the most rational people had irrational views about certain things, and at certain times. And she could not bear to part with what remained of those memories, of the other child she had borne in her womb and the man that had helped make it possible. She couldn't bear to let go of the last remnants of that love, and of her other son, where they should have been growing up together if not for their own inability.
What sort of world was it? She wondered for the uptenth time, fingering the clasp on the box. What sort of world was it where children had to pay for their parents' mistakes?
It was a little foolish she knew to not even keep a lock on that box, but she couldn't even do that. A lock meant another barrier she would have to pass through, along with anyone else. A lock invited a means of burial. If she was to lock it, she might as well bury it too. And if she lost that key, that past would remain buried forever.
She didn't return to it often, but there were times that every person felt the need to bask in their past.
She closed her eyes, before flipping the lid open and opening them to let them come to rest on the top image. Her wedding photo.
They had been so happy then, she remembered nostalgically. She still didn't know what had broken them apart but the rational part of her told her it was inevitable. Nothing good lasts forever.
She removed the picture and looked at the next one. Two bundles of joy, each in the crook of one of her arms. One of them she had raised and watched blossom into a fine young man, but anyone who knew him well enough could see something missing. His few friends from school attributed it to the fact that he lived alone with her; in fact, some others ridiculed her ability to be able to raise a child, and male at that, on her own. Some assumed things, and although her son never told her, she knew well enough because the whispers would reach her ears too by another road. It was a taboo to raise a child on her own as she did, but what did they expect of her? To abandon what was left to her of a once dream family?
He was a curious child approaching his adolescence…much like his father, she mused, fingers hovering over the right bundle. He would seek out the truth. He would find out eventually. If not because someone set the events into motion but because not even she could keep him from his father's image forever. And one thing would lead to another, and then…
She wondered if he already knew. Something at least. Her mother had passed away a little over a month ago, and whatever she had said in her last moments, only Kouichi bore any witness too. But when she had finally borne the strength to ask, he had simply shaken his head and looked to his lap, eyes dark.
And she had no idea what he had been doing on his own. He had been unusually quiet, but after the funeral he said he was going to the library. He didn't mention why and she didn't question him, thinking perhaps he wanted to drown himself into the fictional world of some book and other.
But when he came back home, a little later than she had been expecting, she knew he had been wrong. But she didn't press him. Neither were ready for that.
She had to go to work the next day, and he to school, and her hours had kept her from talking properly to him again for the next few days. When she did though she noted he seemed bothered by something, but whatever it was, he didn't divulge it during their meal nor during the clean up afterwards. In fact, he didn't say much of anything, and even though she knew he didn't have a fever, she teased a checkup on him anyway, the way that used to send him to bed giggling as a child even with a parched throat.
A small smile had appeared on his face but there was no giggling six year old trampling off to bed before it vanished and his eyes narrowed slightly.
''kaa-san?' he had asked softly, slowly. 'Can you tell me about my father?'
She noted he hadn't used the term 'otou-san' or any variant, though she supposed no-one could blame him for that negligence. As far as he was concerned, his father cared nothing for him. She knew he did; she sent him photos sometimes, and he always covered the costs she couldn't quite manage. He had been perfectly willing to pay for the fifth grade camp as well, but Kouichi had simply refused to go, even when she had tried to assure him that the funds were not a problem. She knew she could have told him that minor detail (he had looked rather sceptical and for good reason) but one thing would inevitably lead to another.
And now, after years of not uttering a word, he was asking her.
She had shaken her head slowly, though she knew in her heart nothing would deter him if he had his own heart set on it. 'Maybe another time,' she said. 'I'm tired now Kouichi.'
He had nodded, eyes still cast down, and gone to bed.
She wasn't quite sure what he had been expecting, or what sort of answer he had wanted. But she knew the one she had given him was definitely not that.
Under the picture was an envelope. A recent one, with a school picture and a letter inside, and on the outside, neatly printed, a return address.
It had changed so many times over the years that she never remembered it. There were times where the return address wasn't even in written to Japan, but to somewhere abroad. But it was to Japan now. Shibuya she noted from the code. It wasn't the nearest they had ever been, but it certainly wasn't the furthest.
The distance didn't really matter though. If they never told their children…
She opened the envelope and took out the letter, unfolding it before reading it again carefully, all the while with half her mind drifting to her other son. He had left for somewhere again, though he hadn't said where. Just that'd he'd be home in a few hours. Too long for just his usual wanderings, but she knew it was inevitable.
She smoothed out the letter, before counting the crease marks. She didn't really know why she did that, because the number never changed from one to the next. The envelope was always the same too, and she always tucked the flap in-
She broke off at that, staring at the envelope a little suspiciously. The flap hadn't been tucked in. She had been sure of that.
The return address. She fingered the neat print slightly, before packing the envelope again, just as it had been, and tucked the flap gently in. Seeing, knowing a lie would shatter any bonds of truth, and he had always known she had been keeping something from him from the very first time he had asked about his father. Perhaps that was why he stopped asking, she thought, somewhat sadly as the latch caught and clicked into place. Because he didn't want her to lie to him.
They had both been selfish. And both children had paid for it, in different ways. Kousei she knew had told Koji she was dead. Which she wasn't, not literally, but to them she was. That was an easier way, but not one she could ever use. The constant moving due to his job made it impossible to know where the non-existent corpse lay buried but they had kept the apartment for too long for that to work. That lie would have been easily uncovered.
Any lie would eventually, she knew. Any secret. The only way to keep them was to never tell anyone. Including yourself. She told herself too often for it to be kept forever.
She would just have to wait and see what happened.
A slight tear hovered upon her lashes. But it was never given the chance to fall. The shrill cry of the telephone interrupted its motion, then the words on the other line froze them utterly.
For a moment, her heart stopped. Skipped. Before it started up again and she flew for her keys and train.
An eternity later, she was at her son's bedside, hugging him tight as the dam restarted.
'I'm sorry,' she sobbed into his hair. 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry.' The words repeated themselves, almost like a mantra.
'It's okay 'kaa-san,' he whispered softly, tone light. He knew exactly what she was talking about. 'I know.'
She pulled away, putting on a stern face under the almost heart-wrenching relief. When the Doctor had told her his heart had stopped-
She shook her head, before staring sternly at him.
'I'm sure I taught you better than to be running on stairs,' she scolded. 'And looking through other people's personal belongings.'
He flushed at that. He was so pale though that it was hard to tell the extent though.
'Sorry,' he murmured quietly, his voice still a little weak. 'But Obaa-chan told me, and I couldn't stand not knowing.' His voice shook a little. 'I couldn't stand that one of you was lying, but-' He broke off, before a small smile graced his face. 'It's okay now. We understand, but we want to see each other now, if that's okay?'
He looked up to her as she tried to process that.
'We?' she asked.
Kouichi raised an arm, the one with the white plastic bracelet and IV insert, and pointed at the door.
She turned slowly, before gasping. 'Kouji…'
She really should have been able to guess that, she thought wryly, enveloping he son she thought she'd never see again into a warm embrace, feeling his arms encircle her waist. So he felt the same.
'H-how?' Her mind was reeling with the possibilities. How could everything change so drastically so quickly? How had all this even happened?
There was a definitely awkward pause.
'That's a long story,' Kouichi confessed finally, but made no move to elaborate.