“What on earth are you doing here?!”
I find that I say that a lot.
“Fillin’ in for my daughter,” Arakawa replied plainly, as if it was an ordinary occurrence, “Diet’s not meeting today, so I figured I’d come down to help. You like your dashi heavier?”
“Uhhh, yeah, I guess.”
“That’s what I want to hear!” Arakawa’s voice boomed where Tomo’s had been so quiet before, “Good strong fella to give me some good, strong grandchildren!”
Oh, God… please don’t say that when the others are around!
“Don’t worry, I won’t say that when them other ladies are around… but if it comes down to it, I think we could take ’em all in a fight!”
I wanted to tell him to watch our for the redhead, as she’s meaner than she looks, but instead another feeling suddenly crashed over me like a runaway wave.
“Wait… is Ms. Arakawa okay?”
“Son, any woman that crawls into my bed in the middle of the night ain’t called a ‘Miss’ to me anymore… unless that’s how she likes it.”
Oh, dear God, stop!
“Anyway, Tomo’s not feeling so well, and she gets like this from time to time. I always try to help out when I can.”
“Do you happen to know what’s wrong with her, then? Is it some kind of illness?”
Arakawa laughed again, and I thought the windows might break.
“More like a blessing gone wrong, son. ”
“Oh, come on, kid! Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”
I think I know what he’s talking about… but if I say what I’m thinking… it might be a trap, and then I’ll wind up on the bad end of an STF or something. The STF, by the way, stands for “step-over toehold facelock” and was originated by a man named Lou Thesz, and if you know who Lou Thesz is… well, you probably know what an STF is, then.
“I’m not sure I want to keep talking,” I murmured, which only allowed Arakawa another reason to give out a bone-melting laugh.
“Good boy. Don’t want ol’ Dad cleanin’ your clock, am I right?”
“More or less…” I tried to make sure my voice didn’t waver.
“Well, if I can be serious for a second, you know how Tomo’s got those… y’know… big…”
I swear, if he says “Tracts of Land,” I’m going to die.
“Tracts of Land.”
It’s awful when you know that her father likes the same movies you do. It really is.
“And she’s been struggling with it for a while. It’s her back, see… and she can’t always hold those things up like she should…”
For the first time ever, I saw Mighty Arakawa blush. The only time I ever saw his face turn red before was when one of the bad guys on TV would bust him open with some barbed wire or a cheese grater or something. I could feel my own face on fire, but that was pretty normal for me, so we both stood there for a moment looking like two of the ugliest tomatoes the world has ever seen. Eventually something started to boil over on the stove and, with a roar that was very un-teacher-like, Arakawa threw himself back into his cooking. Knowing I wouldn’t get anything else out of him, I headed upstairs to get ready for the day.
It was difficult to concentrate on the ins and outs of political struggles during France’s Reign of Terror when all I could think about was Ms. Arakawa suffering… and for such a bizarre reason, too. For the second night in a row, I resolved to head on over and talk this out (without getting distracted by food this time, which I have learned is one of her most devastating maneuvers) before things got too, um, dangerous? You see, that’s the problem. This is like someone telling Ben Franklin to fix their TV: yes, he is familiar with electricity, and he finds it fascinating, and he has a bit of experience with it… but this is almost completely outside of anything he would be capable to tackle and… what on Earth did I just write down there?
I still had absolutely no plan when I knocked on her door. There was no backpack tonight, and no Baka with me either: I had left him with Cathy for the night and she couldn’t have been happier… and neither could he. I wanted absolutely nothing to distract myself from the task at hand, which was having a frank and mature discussion about a mature topic with a mature woman and coming to a satisfying conclusion and solution.
“You weren’t in school today, again. I wanted to see if everything was all right.”
“Oh… all right. Come on in.”
It was a different set of pajamas this time: yellow, with frogs on them. I felt like Patton storming the deserts of North Africa as I easily made my way into the apartment. I had effectively exploited Ms. Arakawa’s weaknesses of politeness and nervousness and now I would be able to continue on with the campaign as planned.
“Would you like anything to eat?”
“Sure. I skipped dinner, so…”
Damn it, Arakawa, you magnificent bastard… I read your book! And it’s a cookbook!
She brought us both out some simple little tea sandwiches, which were so easily made and yet so incredibly delicious that it almost gave me a headache, but thankfully a pot of tea helped keep a headache out of the picture for tonight. At every moment, there seemed to be something waiting to steal away my attention, to rob me of my focus: a funny commercial on TV, another cup of tea, the way the soft folds of her pajamas fall around her as she pours that cup of tea…
No! Focus, Watanabe! Focus!
“Ms. Arakawa, I’d really like to talk about your health over the past two days.”
She put the teapot down and started to blush. No, I can’t let that get in the way this time!
“It seems like you have some serious medical questions that need answering. Have you, um, seen a doctor about it?”
“And have they suggested anything?”
“Like what? Pills? Exercise?”
I swallowed hard and tried my best to say what came next and not cause a problem.
“It’s nothing like that.”
She turned to me and gave a little smile through the red cheeks, as if to congratulate me on navigating this minefield.
“Whenever I talk to someone about it, the main conclusion we come to is always… surgery.”
The word fell to the ground with a thud, like a bonshō cut loose.
“Do you mean…” I started, trying not to go, um, there, “like, back surgery?”
“So… surgery on… them?”
She went there. She was already looking down, but she seemed to shift her focus to her two, um, closest friends like one might do to console a frightened puppy or something.
“Ah. Well. So…”
I could almost hear the bonshō again as we sat there, hands in our laps, not quite sure how to go on. I don’t care how old you are, or how much life experience you have, or even if you work with this kind of stuff for a living… it’s never easy.
“So… what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know…”
“It seems like this is becoming a big… um, I mean… a problem of large scale, er… you know what I’m saying!”
“Yes, I do,” she gave a nervous little laugh, “I’m just not sure what I should do. I like… I like them, I suppose… it makes me happy to be a woman.”
“Tomo, that has nothing to do with being a woman.”
“But still… I don’t want to get rid of them.”
And then… she turned to me and delivered the real coup de grace.
“Mr. Watanabe… what do you think?”
“What on earth are you doing here?!”