by Ivy Rangee
Chapter One: A Prayer to Kannon
Pressed for time, Detective Soichiro Arima dashed through the sleek, sliding glass doors of the ultra modern apartment building where he and his family made their home. Striding across the elegant lobby in full dress uniform, the tall, handsome police officer thumbed through the contact index of his cell phone, searching for his wife's office number. When he found the entry, he dialed her, and then, having reached the elevator, he punched the up button.
"Hello, Doctor Yukino Arima's office," came the pleasant, professional voice of the office manager, Ms. Juiz Takizawa. "How may we be of service?"
"Good morning, Ms. Takizawa, may I speak with the doctor?" asked Soichiro, as the elevator's stainless steel doors glided open. The only passenger, Soichiro entered the elevator post-haste, and then quickly pressed the button for the sixth floor, sending the doors sliding in the opposite direction.
"Just a moment, Detective Arima, I'll see if the doctor is available," said the office manager before placing him on hold.
With a diabolical grin, Soichiro celebrated his luck. He'd gotten a break; usually the apartment building's elevators were locals. But a hand pushed its way through the not-quite-closed doors, forcing them apart; he'd rejoiced too soon. With a growl he glared at the hand's chubby five digits, considering the consequences of breaking one; fortunately for the intended victim, he'd gained enough control over his more negative impulses to nix such an action. However, he could not stop a deep scowl from advancing across his usually passive face as eight people piled into the tiny space. By the time the elevator finally ascended the floor number on every button shone brightly. Soichiro stared at his shinny black dress shoes, concealing his irritation; after all, these people were his neighbors.
"I must apologize; Doctor Arima is still in surgery, Detective Arima," said Ms. Takizawa, coming back on the line.
"But this is urgent," whispered the rushed police officer, looking up to find everyone glaring at him for the sin of talking on the phone in a crowded elevator. Feeling guilty, he pointed to his badge; clearly a misrepresentation of the situation, but in a way it was true. He was due at the promotion ceremony for his boss, Superintendent Ogami, where he was to give testimony regarding the man's prowess.
"I could get a message to her," offered Ms. Takizawa.
"Couldn't you connect me to the surgery theater?" whispered Soichiro as everyone went back to their own business.
"Excuse me, Detective?"
"I must speak with her," demanded Soichiro, just as the bell dinged for the second floor. "It's of the utmost importance."
"If it's that urgent I could relay your message to her and wait for her answer."
As the door slid shut, Soichiro swore under his breath. Everyone would know the truth. He could not function without Yukino. He shrugged his shoulders; ah, well, anyone who knew them for more than an hour understood that.
"Please ask her where my winter Pershing cap might be?" In the elevator, all eyes turned to him, and little, old Mrs. Yamaguchi shook her head with a loud tsk tsk. He watched his credibility crumble.
"Of course, Detective Arima," said Ms. Takizawa, as the doors slid open for the third floor.
Soichiro could hear the smirk in her words, and he roiled at her temerity. "Thank you, Ms. Takizawa," he replied through gritted teeth.
As several passengers piled off on the fourth floor, Ms. Takizawa placed him on hold once more where he remained for several minutes listening to Yukino's Muzak channel which played orchestral arrangements of Yin Yang's greatest hits as arranged by his father, Reiji Arima. It was only as Soichiro fumbled with his keys while making his way down the sixth floor corridor that Ms. Takizawa returned.
"Master bedroom closet, top shelf on the left, black hat box, labeled Soichi-chan's Winter Pershing."
"Thank you, Ms. Takizawa, and thank Doctor Arima for me. Good day." Irritated, he hung up before the woman could reply. He'd heard the sarcasm in her voice; she thought him a loser - a detective who couldn't even find his own cap. He would mention the woman's disrespectful tone to his wife; on the other hand maybe not, Yukino would only instruct him to lighten up. With relief he checked his watch; he would make the ceremony in plenty time if he didn't dawdle.
Upon entering the master bedroom his mood lightened, although he still wondered at his absentmindedness – forgetting his cap on a day when dress uniform was prescribed. He smiled at the bed, thinking how much he looked forward to coming home at night. In his thirties, he'd finally achieved that mature sexiness Yukino swooned over. She wanted to be with him all the time, and, to that end in typical Yukino fashion, she had done a great deal of research into the erotic arts. He felt a surge of heat just thinking about her tricks. Was there a luckier man on earth than he?
Smiling with pleasure as his beloved wife danced naked in his thoughts, he slid open the closet door and scanned the top shelf. There it was, a black hat box with his name on it, just as Yukinon had said. Gods, she was good! And in the middle of surgery, no less. As he pulled the hat box down three small rectangular boxes, resting on top, slid precariously to the edge, almost falling to the floor before he managed to balance the hat box. Curious, he carried everything to the bed where he sat down to investigate. One box was pink and the other two were blue. They were decorated with cute little stuffed animals, and each had a summer scene painted on its lid.
Each of the small, rectangular boxes bore the name and birth date of one of his three children in beautiful, hand-painted calligraphy. He opened the pink one which belonged to his eldest, Sakura Arima, now fifteen. Inside, neatly folded pink tissue paper with white hearts protected the contents. Deeply moved by the devotion, care and affection this implied, he pulled the paper aside to find Sakura's childhood things - the outfit she wore home from the hospital, her first pair of shoes, her teething rattle, and a tiny, soft, fluffy, wool cap hand knit by his mother, Shizuni. Soichiro carefully lifted these things from the box to find a jeweler's bracelet box with his daughter's baby teeth arranged neatly on soft cotton gauze inside. Beneath this lay a braid of Sakura's fine, silky, black baby hair twisted into a neat circle and fastened with a butterfly pin.
With sentimental tears coursing down his cheeks, he remembered the childhood of his beautiful baby girl, conceived when he had been at his most unbalanced. With a deep breath he smiled, pushing his tears aside, and putting her things away, returning everything to its original state. Unable to restrain himself, though the hour grew late, he searched through the boxes of his fourteen year old twin sons, Suo and Ai. Each box showed the same loving hand – Yukino's hand.
What a wonderful mother; his children were so lucky – at least when it came to Yukino. As a father Soichiro was a slacker; it had never occurred to him to prepare such treasure boxes. Out of nowhere a surge of jealousy overwhelmed him; its intensity struck him with a wave of nausea, forcing him to lie down. He felt his heart tear between his selfish envy and his happiness for his children. No one had ever prepared such a box for him. His birthmother, Ryoko, had used him as a way to extort money from his birthfather, Reiji Arima, even as she refused to let Reiji see his son. She had neglected and beaten him, until, finally, in his third year she had deserted him as he lie sick and dying with fever in the small, squalid apartment they shared. If Reiji had not hired a private detective to find his son, Soichiro would have died, unconscious in the snow after he'd fallen down the stairs while trying to follow Ryoko, promising her that this time he'd be a good boy. Just before she left she'd reached down to where he lay, putting her hand to his nose to see if he were breathing. His own mother wished him dead; that, more than any of her other misdeeds, had wounded him beyond repair.
Soichiro stared at the scar on his left hand; the place where he had pierced himself wishing to release the blessed endorphins that would bring him relief from the intensity of his misery. Once again he wept, but this time his tears fell over the anguish of events which can never be changed. What was it like to be loved so deeply by the woman who bore you? - A woman, who cherished your soft, silky, fine baby hair and kept your pearly white baby teeth wrapped like precious jewels. He would never understand how that felt, but he found the grace to thank earth and heaven his children knew that loving, unconditional embrace. As he stared at the ceiling, he fell into dark habitual musings; why had been born to such a woman? Was it his karma? Had he done something to deserve it? These thoughts always made him sick with a kind of anxious emptiness for they led to only one conclusion; in some previous life he had tormented and neglected a helpless child.
Forcing his body upright, Soichiro put his hands together and whispered, "I place my trust in Bodhisattva Kannon." As he pronounced the last syllable his phone rang.
"Soichiro? Did you find it?" asked his wife.
"Yukino," said Soichiro, after clearing his throat.
"My cap was right where you said it would be. You're amazing."
"Thanks, but you're deflecting."
Shit! Ever since Yukino had done a rotation in psychiatry during medical school it had been impossible to put anything past her. She'd even forced him into years of therapy, which he had resisted at first, but, in the end, his doctor had been a most interesting man who had helped Soichiro immensely.
"I'm due at Superintendent Ogami's promotion ceremony," said Soichiro. "Can we talk about it tonight?"
"You always say that, but then Asapin shows up and the kids need your help with schoolwork…"
"You know I have no problem kicking Asapin out."
Yukino laughed. "True enough. Alright, tonight – no excuses."
"Thank you …"
"Being such a good mother."
"Soichiro, I love you."
"Ditto? Is that the best you can do?"
"Wait until tonight. I'll demonstrate how much I love you in a way you will never forget."
"Mmm … you really have matured quite nicely."
"Same here, except for me it's a tummy tuck."
"See you tonight."
Soichiro stared at the phone. He was late, but he took a moment to wash his face afterward setting his expression to that of a stern, serious police officer. As he stared into the mirror he mouthed the word monster, and then made his way back to the bedroom where he grabbed the three boxes, wondering what the hell he was doing. Maybe he'd better call his therapist, Doctor Kawai.
As Soichiro slid into the borrowed police vehicle, memories of a particularly bad day with his mother flooded his mind. Pushing them down, he placed the three boxes in his brief case and drove to the testimonial for his boss. While waiting at a stoplight, he put his phone on speaker and called Doctor Kawai's office.
"Hello, Doctors' Services, may I help you?" said an exceedingly saccharine voice.
"Is Doctor Kawai available?" asked Soichiro, his hand shaking.
"He's at a symposium in Switzerland, but Doctor Taira is on call."
"When will Doctor Kawai be back?"
"I'll call back then."
"Why don't you leave a message? He checks in daily; I can tell him you called."
"Detective Soichiro Arima. He has my number."
"Of course, I'll give him the information. Have a good day."
"… uh … Thank you."
Hanging up, Soichiro laughed. Why would the woman have said have a good day? Seriously, he was calling for a psychotherapist for help. The more he thought about it the funnier it seemed. She might as well have said have a good day, you nutter. By the time he reached police headquarters, his laughter had reached cosmic proportions, forcing him to sit in the car until he gained control. As he meditated on a calm, serious attitude, the memories he'd tried to suppress earlier returned. So he gave up and went inside to give his speech – better to laugh inappropriately than relive that torment.
Two hours later Detective Arima sat at his desk doing paper work, having made it through his boss's promotion ceremony without incident. Fortunately, as soon as he took his seat on the dais, he'd entered the moment and enjoyed the party. Compartmentalization, the doctor called it. But now, alone at his desk, those terrible memories danced on the edge of his awareness, waiting to take him to hell.
It had been summer, and his birthmother's expression had so frightened him that little Soichiro peed his pants. She carried scissors in her hand and when she threw them they'd grazed his shoulder. He could see the blood.
"You little bastard, look what you've done!" shouted Ryoko.
"No, Mommy no!" he'd screamed, as she pounced on him.
"You'd better wise up. Cause when your daddy stops paying, you're history. Nobody wants a retard like you."
What happened next was hazy, probably because she'd brought her fist down on his head. Grown-up Soichiro held his head in his hands, fighting tears. How had that little child survived? The next thing he remembered, she was dressing .
"Stop looking at me, you little pervert." She slapped him, and he retreated behind the door. He shivered with fright; he knew by her dress-up clothes she planned to leave him alone in the apartment overnight. He hated that.
"Don't go, Mommy," wept little Soichiro, grabbing her skirt.
"Get away from me," shouted Ryoko, pushing him aside. "And this place better be in order when I get back or you will pay."
With that she disappeared out the door; the boy Soichiro's breath came in short gasps as the intense gravity caused by anxiety dragged him into blind panic. He pushed a chair to the window, and, after climbing it, he caught a glimpse of her as she climbed into a car. When it drove off, he pressed his face to the window to follow it as long as possible. Then he climbed down, dropped to the floor and wept. The next thing he recalled it was late afternoon, he lay on the floor staring at the ceiling as hunger gnawed at him. But his attention was diverted from the desire for food when light from the setting sun poured through the window, casting a shadow of fluttering wings and tiny hanging bells upon the ceiling. Getting to his feet, he climbed back up the chair and looking out the window, he found a hummingbird trying to drink nectar from the neighbor's brightly colored wind chime. He watched the poor bird flit from bell to bell, searching for sustenance from something that could never give it.
"Poor little bird," little Soichiro cried, weeping for the creature.
The little boy was about to climb down from the chair to search for food when he heard laughter. Down the steps in the parking lot below, children played football. Technically, he was not allowed outside when Ryoko was away, but he rarely had the opportunity to spend time with other kids, and the desire to be part of their game pushed fear of his mother aside as he ran down the stairs to join them.
All he could think was 'Oh, boy! Oh boy,' as he watched them from the sidelines, but when the ball came to him he kicked it back. That's when they noticed him. He'd assumed they be pleased because he'd hit the goal, but instead they pointed at him, taunting him with the words 'dirty monster'. They shouted at him to go away. He'd ruined their ball with his dirty, monster feet.
The child Soichiro hurried up the stairs; wondering if the children spoke truth, he pushed the chair into the bathroom so it faced the mirror. Climbing it, he stared in horror at the creature who gazed back at him. Its lopsided head wore a swollen red bump above the left eye and another on its right cheek; its half-closed swollen right eye had a black bruise around it, and it was filthy. The little boy cried big, round tears that cut gleaming streaks through the dirt that covered his little face.
Soichiro woke suddenly from this memory, quickly scanning the office. Thank goodness, he was alone. Checking the time, he finished his work and picked up the phone.
"Hello, Arima residence," said the warm, welcoming voice of Shizuni Arima, his aunt and mother by adoption.
"Are you busy this afternoon?"
"Nothing I can't change."
"May I see you?"
"Of, course. When?"
"Now," said Soichiro with some urgency.
"Is there something wrong?"
"I want to show you something. It's important."
"I'll start the tea."
"Are you alone?"
"Good, this is private." He put down the phone, cleared his desk and signed out for the day. If he rushed he could make the early afternoon train.