by Eric Shun (エリック旬)
illustrated by pearljamz
“My son hasn’t left his room in months.”
Hiro nodded as he placed groceries into plastic bags, taking special care not to squish the French bread with the jars of jam.
“He won’t even come out to eat dinner. I have to leave it in front of his door.” Mrs. Saito’s eyebrows grew into a furious knot as she typed in the code for apples.
“I don’t know what to do—”
“Mrs. Saito, the code for apples is 0039.”
She paused for a minute, corrected her error, then continued with her dilemma. “As I was saying, I don’t know what to do about him! My husband hardly comes home from work and I can’t stop worrying about my son. He should be out doing what most twenty-three year olds are doing, going to college!”
Hiro handed the bag to the customer, a salaryman who was off work unusually early. “Mrs. Saito, not all twenty-three year olds are in college. For instance, I’m twenty-three but I dropped out of high school.”
Looking at him and suddenly realizing that he was right, Mrs. Saito corrected herself. “But,” she offered, “at least you haven’t placed yourself under solitary confinement.”
It was at Mrs. Saito’s insistence that Hiro spent the next Saturday at her house. Upon hearing the distressed tone in Mrs. Saito’s voice as she complained about her son yet again, Hiro reluctantly canceled his plans for a small concert at Yoyogi Park with his biker friends and took the subway to the nice apartment complex in the middle of Nagoya, where Mrs. Saito lived.
“Hiro! I’m so glad you can make it! Come in, come in!”
He walked into the entryway, taking off his shoes while noticing the room with portraits lined across the walls. It began with a picture of a young smiling boy around the age of five and each year after that was a new portrait. This long trail continued until it ended abruptly eight frames later with a very unhappy thirteen year-old boy. Underneath the frame was a plaque which read, “Jun Saito, Chiyorozu Jr. High.”
“Oh, before I forget.” Digging into his knapsack with cut-out shapes of screwdrivers sewn all over it, Hiro pulled out a box of chocolate he had picked out at the station. “A gift for you. I don’t know if it’ll suit your tastes but—”
“Hiro, you shouldn’t have!”
“It’s not much but—”
“Why thank you! How very kind of you!”
Once the obligatory exchange of gifts was over, with a social custom fulfilled, Mrs. Saito invited Hiro to sit down in her kitchen while she poured for herself a cup of tea and gave Hiro a can of soda. “I’m hoping that if you’re here, you can interact with my son Jun. Anything to get him out of his room.”
“You mean he hasn’t left his room all day?” He took a sip of his soda which tasted much too fizzy and not sweet enough.
“Well, he leaves his room late at night when his father and I have long retired into our rooms, but other than that, he won’t come out when we’re awake. For ten years its been like this.”
Hiro choked a bit on his soda. How can someone stay in his room for ten years?
“If it’s been ten years, I don’t think I can do much—”
“Hiro, please!” Suddenly her hands clenched into tight fists, her knuckles white as the table cloth, “I’m running out of hope, I’ve tried to get him to come out but he won’t! Please, I don’t know who else to turn to! If I told anyone else at the grocery store that my son has become a hermit crab, they would shun me for failing at being a mother! I don’t know what else to do, you’re the only one who can help me!” Tears welled in her eyes. Hiro sighed, giving into defeat. He hated it when middle-aged women cried.
“Fine, I’ll do my best.”
He walked over and was about to knock on the door to Jun’s room when Mrs. Saito handed him a key. There were still tears in her eyes.
“You’ll have to use a key. He always keeps his door locked.”
Hiro nodded and stuck the key into the door. His stomach churned violently as he turned the knob.
The room was completely dark except for the sliver of light that shone through when Hiro opened the door. As soon as light slipped into the room, the sleeping figure on the bed woke from his light slumber, enraged by the lack of privacy.
“What the fuck do you want?” He peered from underneath the heavy comforter; noticing that it wasn’t his mother, he threw out another question. “Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m—” Hiro started to speak but was cut off by Mrs. Saito.
“Jun, this is Hiro, a co-worker of mine from the grocery store. I thought you might want some company so I invited him over. He’s your age.”
“Leave me the fuck alone.” He mumbled, throwing a pillow toward the door’s general direction.
“Hiro, please make yourself at home. I’ll go fix some treats.” She gave him a shove; Hiro could feel the desperation lingering from her fingertips as she pushed him inside the dark room and shut the door tightly behind him.
“Um. Hi.” He started. The room smelled musty with sweat, as though it hadn’t been aired out in eons. Discarded clothes lay strewn everywhere, on the floor, on the bed, on the lamp, and everywhere he looked were books, so many books! There were some newspapers in the corner, yellowed with age, magazines flung open, and books about philosophy, books about grammar, books about any subject imaginable!
“I can’t. I promised your mother I’d—”
Flinging off the covers to reveal a very naked young man with a very nicely toned body. (‘Pretty fit for someone cooped up in their room for ten years,’ Hiro thought.) Jun pounced onto Hiro, his hands wrapped around Hiro’s neck.
Hiro slammed against the wall with Jun on him, his hands still clenched tight around his neck. No matter how much he struggled and tried to break free, Jun’s grasp was much too strong. He tried to use his hands to push Jun away but when his hand accidentally brushed against the bare skin of Jun’s penis, he immediately withdrew, feeling embarrassment from having made contact with such a private area.
The room was so dark Hiro barely noticed the clenched fist Jun made. With one lethal swing, Jun’s knuckles crashed into Hiro’s jaw with a loud thwack and pain blossomed throughout his senses. Out of defense, Hiro pushed Jun off and scrambled for the door, running past Mrs. Saito who stood in the kitchen with a tray of snacks.
“Hiro, wait!” she called out.
But he couldn’t hear her. Hiro was already out the door.
Mrs. Saito apologized profusely the next day, bowing her head over and over again as she promised that something like that would never happen again. Their coworkers walked past them, giving very strange looks.
“It’s okay!” Hiro assured her, “it’s not your fault. Your son’s just agitated, I guess. He had to take his anger out somewhere and I happened to be the next available victim.”
Again she apologized. The bruise on Hiro’s jaw had turned into a deep purple.
“Sometimes he has his outbursts! He even hits me. I’m really sorry Hiro, I really am! But if it won’t trouble you, can you stop by again this evening, around five?”
“Mrs. Saito, it’s okay—what? Stop by again this evening? After your son just punched me square in the jaw?” He was utterly shocked. Either this woman was crazy or she was so desperate she reached the last frays of her sanity.
“Yes, I know he’s hurt you, but you wouldn’t believe what happened after you left! My son came out of his room and had dinner with me for the first time in ten years!” Her voice grew louder, gaining even more odd stares, this time from coworkers and customers. “It was a really quiet dinner but he did ask me more about you.”
Hiro touched his jaw lightly and recoiled; even the slightest touch to his bruise made him whimper like a wuss. “Mrs. Saito, with all due respect, I don’t want to—”
Her eyebrows fused together; her eyes watered; her lips quivered.
“—but you see—” He continued, determined to decline her invitation at all costs. He already had plans to go karaoke with his friends, to make up for his absence the day before, and he didn’t exactly want another struggle with a hermit crab who was much stronger than anyone could expect.
A river of tears flowed down Mrs. Saito’s cheek. She was crying.
“—but…” Hiro took a deep breath. “…I’ll be half an hour late.”
Mrs. Saito smiled through her tears, “Thank you so much, Hiro! You don’t know how much this means to me!”
Hiro smiled weakly. He couldn’t refuse a crying middle-aged woman, especially when she looked so much like his mother.
She gave him the key and he was inside Jun’s room once again, only this time he came prepared with an aluminum bat, ready to strike if the hermit decided to pounce him again.
The room was dark, just as it was yesterday, but this time there was a change in the air. Jun pulled back his covers and sat up in bed, still bare naked.
“You’re here again? Are you stupid, or what? This time I might give you a sock in the eye. Or worse.”
Hiro gulped and tightened his grip on the bat. “Your mother really is worried about you. She told me to come over again because she thinks my visiting will help you get out of your room, or something like that.”
“Her? Worried?” Jun rose out of bed and walked over to Hiro. They were standing so close their noses touched. Hiro could feel Jun’s hot breath on his face, Jun’s warm toes on top of his, that penis lightly pressing against the fabric of his shirt…
“Yes, she’s worried.”
Jun laughed. “She’s not worried. She doesn’t care about me, I don’t know why you let her trick you into believing otherwise. All those years she forced her expectations on me, telling me that passing entrance exams would make her happy. No matter what I did she was never satisfied.”
He pressed his face even closer to Hiro’s. “Do you know how heavy those expectations were? Do you know how much it hurt to see the disappointment in her face every time I failed?”
Hiro broke away from the deadly gaze. “She loves you.” He backed away slowly, only to bump into the door.
“She doesn’t love me,” Jun scoffed, “never once did she hug me or kiss me or tell me how proud she was of what I did achieve. Which wasn’t much, to tell you the truth. So when I failed to get into prestigious junior high of her choice, after she yelled at me and called me worthless, I shut myself up in this room.”
“Shut up!” Jun began pounding his fists onto Hiro’s chest, beating against him. Even though it was obviously the abuse he was anticipating, Hiro couldn’t bring himself to use the bat.
“I feel so lost!” Jun shouted, “I can’t be the genius scholar my mother wants me to be! I couldn’t stand the bullying at school when the kids started calling me the milkman’s child! It’s like I’m a square thrown into a world full of damn circles! No matter how hard I try, I can’t fit! No one understands this! I’ve spent years pouring over books, trying to figure out why I won’t fit, but nothing helps!” His shouts turned into sobs that racked his entire body, his shoulders trembling, his fists grew looser and the pounding grew lighter and lighter until they were nothing more than hands reaching out for a lifeline.
Then Hiro did something his mother used to do to him before she passed away. He wrapped his arms around Jun’s body, bringing the young man who was really a little boy closer into his body. Hiro didn’t mind that Jun was bawling like a baby, he didn’t mind that his expensive shirt was being soaked with salty tears.
Sitting on the floor, Hiro cradled Jun like a baby, singing (though mostly to himself) the latest Mika Nakashima song to hit the Oricon charts. It felt odd at first to be holding a man the same age as him, to be comforting him like a mother would to a child. Was this the reason why Jun kept himself in his room? Was it a lack of tender loving that made him this way?
The cradling soon evolved into kisses, Jun grasping for Hiro’s lips like a baby suckling on its mother’s breast. Deep kisses turned into fingers brushing against bare skin which turned into another type of love.
Hiro’s shirt easily slipped off, followed by his slacks. Several times he tried to stop himself, breaking off from the session of kissing and touching. “Wait, I don’t think we should be—”
“Just do it,” Jun pleaded.
“But would that be taking advantage—”
“You won’t be taking advantage, I’m giving you permission.”
He sighed, defeated by temptations. “I’m warning you, I’ve only done it with girls.”
Their body parts bumbled around like a mad experiment, arms tangled into knots as they tried to touch each other in places that made them shiver. Jun let his body recline onto the floor, lying on top of books and clothes, his legs created an opening for Hiro to slide in effortlessly. The two of them played games only lovers knew about, rocking against each other awkwardly, going through a series of trial and error. Jun wrapped his arms around Hiro’s back, pushing him even deeper into his body, kissing along that smooth jaw line (“Ow!” Hiro winced, “That’s where you punched me yesterday!”), laughing and crying at the same time.
He was still humming that same Mika Nakashima song when he came into Jun’s body, a smooth and slow release. The two of them dragged their tired bodies onto Jun’s twin sized bed and the two of them fit in it like perfect pieces of a puzzle. Their hands wrapped against each other’s sex, stroking as they played around, pressing their arousals together and laughing at sensation of rubbing against each other. They kissed and kissed, over and over again. They shared secrets and dreams, like newlyweds do after the first night. They embraced, trapped each other in their arms and fell into a deep sleep, completely exhausted.
Hiro woke the next morning in an awkward position. His legs were tangled in the thick comforter and between Jun’s legs. Not only that, but he had had sex with his coworker’s son.
He had had sex with his coworker’s son, whom he was trying to help by curing him of his anti-social behaviour.
Slowly he untangled himself and looked for the pieces of his clothing. The digital clock said in big bold red letters that it was twelve in the afternoon the next day, and there were twenty missed calls on Hiro’s cell phone. He cursed. It was Monday, he was supposed to be at work. But how was he supposed to go to work, much less leave this room, after fucking Mrs. Saito’s only son?
He was just about to quietly leave the room when he felt Jun slip his fingers into his hand and pull him back. “It’s too early for you to leave.”
“I have to go to work.” He turned and gave Jun an awkward smile, “What happened last night…”
“Did you hate it?” Jun asked, rejection written in his face.
“No, I didn’t. But it still feels awkward.”
Jun smiled, relieved. “So that means you’ll be back tonight, right?”
Now it was Hiro’s turn to smile. “Only if you come pick your mother after her shift. Then I’ll come back with you.”
“What? I haven’t been outside in ten years! What if people stare at me? I don’t want to be judged the minute I walk outside, it’d be too much!”
“Don’t worry.” Hiro gave Jun a little kiss on the cheek. After last night, it still felt awkward to be kissing a boy. “You’ll do fine. You’re a big boy, aren’t you? Be a man, just like last night.”
Jun gave him a playful little shove. “Oh, just go to work already!”
“See you tonight then, if you show up!” Hiro opened the door.
“Wait! What was the name of that song you were singing?”
“Mika Nakashima. ‘Cry No More’. It’s a good song.”