Contemporary Fiction East Asian

“Am I going too fast, Keiko?”

Haruto asked, slowing down on the seesaw— but of course, no reply.

Averting his gaze to the floor, he simply smiled to himself, smiling inward— as if expressing to himself a thought, a feeling; or at the very least trying to, as if trying to convince himself of one, something true.

He held his breath, feeling the evening wind blow, warming his skin and playing with his hair.

He wanted to let out a sigh, but decided to keep it in; something was in his throat.

It’s cold…

The sun was setting by then, the horizon colored a soft gold, the clouds splattered over the sky like paint. The world seemed so still, yet so fleeting, all at once, all at the same time. Or was it just him?

He couldn’t tell.

The playground slowly began emptying, with the kids being made to return home, their mothers calling. Some were ignorant, some threw tantrums; but in the end, one after another, the kids returned home.

The only other people around by then were the joggers, those going out and around the park for an evening run, their phones in their pockets and their earplugs on, playing music, something energetic or popular; some didn’t even wear earplugs, letting the music play.

He could even hear their songs from where he was at times, whenever they came near, running behind him.

This time, a young man in a simple shirt: Hikaru Utada’s Hikari, the Ray of Hope remix.

Looking up again, the breeze blowing and playing with his bangs, he asked,

“Want to go on the swings?”

Still, no reply, not even a sound.

Then again, that’s to be expected. Keiko was a rock. Rock don’t speak.

Keiko was a little rock he found on a bench the day he moved into the neighborhood. And ever since that day, he’d play with her.

Well, she wouldn’t do much; in fact, she couldn’t. Of course she couldn’t.

She’s a rock.

Still, every evening, after playing with her, he would place her in the same spot.

Near the fountain, hidden in the flowerbed.

And every time, he’d find her, just as he put her.

“Why don’t we head over to the swings, okay?”

Saying that, he got off the seesaw and picked her up, carrying her over to the swings on the other side of the playground.

The sunset really looks amazing today…

Putting her on the left swing, he sat down on the right, going ahead and swinging back and forth. Only lightly; his feet kept scraping the ground.

He named her Keiko, which meant “happy child.” He named her so, in part, because he wanted one.

He wanted a happy child.

The other reason being because he lost his first, his only child. Haruko; “spring child.”

Last month, he and his wife filed for divorce, at last ending their four-year marriage. It wasn’t what he wanted to happen; he never wanted anything of it to happen.

And yet, here he was.

He had failed; as both a husband, and a father.

He was unable to support the family, working day in and day out at the insurance office that paid him barely enough to pay their rent, food, and their bills. Most of his money went to Haruko; she was born with a weak heart and weak lungs.

He needed to pay for the medical bills.

But in the end, her soul parted from this world. She was only one.

The stress, the anxiety, the negativity that built up over those many months, naturally led up to his wife wanting a divorce.

She was probably sick of him by the end of it.

When something horrible happens, when they cause emotional trauma or pain, people try to search for someone to blame, for something to hang their emotions on— and for her, it was him.

And for him, it was himself.

So, signing it off, they separated, leaving their home and going their separate ways— her, back to Aoyama; him, here, renting a small house in this little neighborhood.

Everyone here must think he’s crazy or something, going out to the park, playing with a rock

He shook his head, dispelling the thought, then turned to Keiko, putting on a smile as he said,

“It’s time for me to go, okay?”

Looking at her, he immediately felt a deep, heavy sadness— looking at a tiny rock, the size of a pebble, sitting there on the swing, still; it ate him up on the inside, he suddenly felt so empty.

He wanted to do the right thing. Right then, right there. And yet he knew he couldn't. No one could turn back time. And apologizing wouldn't mean a thing.

There are no true second chances in life; and he knew that. (41)

No matter what he did, he couldn't return to that time. He couldn't bring her back to life, nor could he ever hold her by the hand and say sorry, to apologize again and again for being the failure that he'd become. His wife wouldn't even answer his calls, and it's a sure thing that she'd never call him back. She wouldn't even text him; in fact, she'd probably blocked him by now.

Despite all this, he wanted to make things right; he truly did. And yet, is there any use?

Atoning would mean nothing, nor would apologizing lead to anything. His wife wouldn't forgive him, even if she lived a thousand years or ten.

Holding on to Keiko, ridiculous as it is, was his only way to find any form of "atonement."

Atoning for something is but a blind lie to oneself; that's all he could see. Trying to set things right would be a mistake, and he didn't want to make another one.

Ugh... what the hell is he going on about...?

This time, he let out a sigh, closing his eyes as he picked Keiko up to his chest and walked away.

Slowly, he headed toward the fountain.

November 29, 2020 16:27

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