by Sorata Pachinko (空太パチンコ)
“Listen to this: a man from Hokkaido, married to his wife for twenty-six years, is a severe agoraphobic. It says here that in all those years, he never once left his house in the daytime. Then one day he murders his wife, hides the body and goes out in her clothing. They said it was three weeks before anyone noticed!”
“She must’ve been a very ugly woman.”
“Twenty-six years,” Koshino repeats exultantly, as if there is something magical about the number.
Aida looks at him impatiently, but says nothing.
“And yesterday there was that nurse from Kobe who was found smothering infants in her ward…doing it to get attention. Some kind of strange psychological disease.”
“Is that so…”
“But that’s not as terrible as that case they had down in Okinawa, when they caught that doctor who was sedating his patients and raping them in their sleep, right?”
“Who knows…” Aida gets up and takes both their coffee cups to the sink, where he washes them and stares out the kitchen window idly. Outside the weather is blue and kind, not at all informative about the shocking and gruesome crimes that are clearly taking place on a daily basis, all around.
Lately the domestic news has been enough to keep Koshino happy. When Japanese newspapers are unobligingly filled with interest rates and elections, he is forced to wander the internet for abnormalties abroad. Aida hears of serial murderers in America, disgruntled day traders and mothers with post-partem, nannies in England who kidnap and torture their charges, German farmers who ritually behead their livestock and smear the blood on their neighbor’s luxury cars, the infamous cannibal. Mexican druglords who kidnap and torture hundreds of migrant women for black magic. A Russian fetishist who forces his wife to mate with animals, a secret polygamist in Spain.
“They should have these sites in Japanese,” he often complains. “My head hurts, looking at so much English.”
“Do you want another cup?”
“No, or I won’t be able to sleep tonight,” Koshino says into his papers. “I have an early morning meeting tomorrow, so I must get to bed around eleven.”
“I’m dumping the rest out, then.”
“Did you feed Fun-chan?”
“I’ll do it,” and Koshino puts down his papers and stands up, rolling out his shoulders. ‘You always overfeed him, he’s getting fatter by the day.”
“I can’t help it. He meows at me. It’s just like he’s begging for a little more.”
“How do you know he isn’t just saying, ‘Oh, it’s Aida, the dumb bastard. If I just keep nagging him he’ll put some more in the bowl.” Koshino is opening the lower cupboards, taking out the bag of dry food. At the rustling sound of the stiff paper, Fundoshi comes running in from their bedroom.
Fundoshi was found as a kitten in the small alley next to the local convenience store. The convenience store manager kept him in a cardboard box for three days, at which point Koshino came in to buy some coffee milk.
When he first arrived, he was only a scrap of black and white in the corner of the box, weighing less than a kilogram. “Look at his funny stomach,” Koshino exclaimed. “There’s a stripe of white that runs right around. It’s exactly as if he’s wearing a loincloth,” and Aida shut his mouth and went online to look up information on the care of cats.
Fundoshi is more than six kilos now. The last time they took him for a check-up, the vet said that he was being overfed.
“You must not feed him from your plates and leftovers,” he said sternly.
Koshino is crouching down, holding the bowl with no trace of hypocrisy on his face. “Come on, Fun-chan. Don’t let Mama spoil you.”
Fundoshi has the power to instantly lift Koshino’s mood in a way that even Aida sometimes cannot. If anyone is guilty of overfeeding Fun-chan, it is not Aida.
“Why am I Mama?”
“Because I’m Papa.”
“So then, we’re married…” Koshino must be in a good mood, for he smiles.
“Well, let’s do what married couples do.”
“What, now?” Koshino lets Fundoshi’s face slip from his fingers, and opens his eyes wide. Fundoshi, beside him, has pushed his face deep in the bowl, crunching noisily with his short and powerful jaws. Their apartment is too clean to have mice, but sometimes Aida wonders if Fun-chan is bored, living the life of an apartment pet. We should let him out to chase squirrels or something, he sometimes says to Koshino, but Koshino never agrees. He is too frightened that Fun-chan will go out and not come back.
“You’re not doing anything now, right? Have you got anything else you needed to do?”
“No, nothing in particular…”
“I said I’d drop by the store, but there’s no need to go before five and it’s only three. There’s plenty of time.”
They sprawl onto the bed, which is really two beds pushed together. They use the comforter that goes with Koshino’s bed; Aida’s comforter is folded up on the top shelf of the closet.
Aida, as usual, wants to take things slow. He likes to whisper endearments, to kiss Koshino’s pale arms and to embarrass him by sucking on his toes. ‘You enjoy humiliating me,” Koshino accuses him.
“Maybe,” Aida says, but the truth is he only does it because he likes it. He suspects that Koshino likes it too, but a confession seems unlikely, probably impossible.
Koshino tends to talk more. “We should go out tomorrow night,” he is saying now. “Go drink, or have a meal. We’re becoming hikikomori ourselves.” He becomes wordless only when they are both naked and Aida’s face is completely serious.
He squirms when Aida rubs the back of his knees and his buttocks, protests after a few kisses. Aida knows every stage of his protests by now, the protests which mark their unique rhythm.
He is still learning. For example: If Aida’s fingers slip into his hair, he will murmur feebly, but he permits Aida’s tongue to swipe against his nipples. During sex he is surprisingly generous with his noises. He enjoys kissing but frowns at biting, or at anything that leaves a mark.
Once, when they had only slept together a few times, he pushed Koshino down and pinned his wrists. Koshino grew red and began to struggle, yelling “Pervert! Get off me, sadistic jerk!” Aida laughed, and Koshino turned pale.
“So you like that kind of thing?” he said, before pulling on his clothes and leaving. It was two days before Aida could find him. Finally, he went to Koshino’s office and waited in the parking lot.
Koshino seemed wary at first, but quickly grew lenient and accepted his apology as well.
“A bad experience, or something like that,” he guessed at the time.
Koshino does not like oral sex, although he will allow Aida to suck him at times. It surprises Aida at times that Koshino even allows himself to be entered, but they have never tried swapping positions. Aida himself thinks this way is fine.
Koshino refuses to do it in any position other than on his back; that was the cause of their second fight.
“Wait, let me wash my hands.”
“Would normal people stop at a time like this?”
“I only need a second.”
“Are you alright?” he asks when he comes back, and Koshino in response spreads his legs. There is a faint crease on his forehead, as if he is concentrating or forming a resolution.
Even now, as he pushes back Koshino’s thighs, dissatisfaction sails through his mind like a cloud.
When they are lying together afterwards, Koshino says suddenly, “I really love you very much, I can’t help it.” His tone is fretful, as if someone has just accused him.
“I know. Don’t worry, you’re always worrying. It seems I can’t make you stop.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Aida.”
“Idiot,” Aida tells him tenderly.
Some days afterwards, a week perhaps, they are sitting in the kitchen while Koshino scans through the national news. This time it is raining, drops drumming restlessly against the window, and Aida is thinking of asking Koshino to take a vacation. A few days for the two of them, somewhere away from the city. Maybe even outside of Japan? He is beginning to feel that their apartment is not large enough; the walls seem tight against his skin. Maybe he’s becoming claustrophobic, or getting ready to snap, like one of Koshino’s headlines: Kanagawa Restaurant Owner Does a Runner.
There is a small sound.
The other man starts and looks up at him with terrible eyes. Koshino flings down the paper and dashes into the bedroom, slamming the door shut. He follows, calling anxiously.
Hearing no response, he drifts back to the table. The jolt has knocked over a coffee cup, and he snatches a paper towel to staunch the spill. Fundoshi moves between his legs, escaping the thin and erratic stream.
Aida bends down. The newspaper has been less lucky than Fundoshi.
Beneath the brown splatters he finds a paragraph that starts, “Child molestation case resolved in Gunma Prefecture.” His eye lingers for a moment on part of the line: “The offender confessed to homosexual and other tendencies” before he crumples it into a ball in his hands. In that instant, he looks almost unrecognizably angry.
His face is smooth again by the time he goes to stand in front of their bedroom door.
“Koshino, you mustn’t feel that way. It’s not the same at all.” He waits, but there is no response.
He heaves a single sigh, and goes to look for Fundoshi.