Manabu had been standing in front of this convenience store for almost half an hour. His feet shuffling. His heart rattling.
He wasn’t going to rob the cash register. Or hit on the clerk. Or buy condoms. This feat would be more daunting than any of those.
It was okay. Manabu was wearing sunglasses, a surgical mask, and a loose hoodie (with the hood up). It’d be hard to recognize him. Remember him. Even tell whether he was a man or a woman. …
“You’re sleeping again?” Risa petted Neku, who was curled up in her cat bed like a donut, one caked with chocolate and caramel.
Neku had been sleeping a lot lately — more than the average cat, that is. Risa would wake up, and she’d be asleep. Risa would come back from work, and she’d be asleep. Risa would go to sleep, and she’d be asleep. Neku only rose to go to her food bowl and litter box. The veterinarian had said this was normal for an elderly cat. …
The first item of The Pile was Masao’s electricity bill.
He was on his way out of his apartment when his eyes veered to the mail catcher. He tucked his hand inside, expecting something dreadful like a wrong delivery, a legal document, or —
The electricity bill. Right, it was about time to pay it — Masao could do that tomorrow. Or the day after. Tokyo Electric Power Company wouldn’t mind if he delayed a bit.
He tossed the electricity bill in the middle of the room and stepped out of the door.
Masao was looking for a pen in…
Susumu’s first accident happened when he least expected it.
His day started hurriedly. He was late for work. So he washed his face and brushed his teeth without combing his hair. Then he put on his black suit and blue tie and sprinted out of his apartment without having breakfast.
As he trotted down the sidewalk, he thought about the day that lay ahead.
He’d have to organize spreadsheets just for the sake of organizing spreadsheets. Attend meetings that were about meetings. Work for the only purpose of keeping working.
That wouldn’t be the worst. Susumu would have to endure…
When I stepped into the dining room, I was greeted by an unusual sight. It was subtle like a soy sauce stain on a black T-shirt.
Kaito had left some slices of onions from the gyudon. And the bottle of beer was half full (or half empty). I frowned. He’d never left a single grain of rice or a drop of drink before.
Perhaps Kaito had stomach problems? Perhaps he’d snacked at work? Perhaps he’d thought today’s food wasn’t good?
Perhaps I was overthinking this.
I gathered the plates and carried them to the kitchen.
The next evening, Kaito left…
Halfway through painting my nails in the bedroom, I heard a bang coming from the bathroom. Oh no! Had Manabu slipped?
I sprinted into the bathroom. “Are you okay? I told you not to get the floor wet.”
Manabu was clutching the sink, frowning at it. More specifically, at the three strands of hair stuck to the white porcelain. This wasn’t a sign of concern — except he had so few strands left that you could count them. “I can’t believe I’m going bald at thirty.”
“Hair is overrated.” I patted Manabu’s broad shoulder. …
Yui twisted her webcam. “Can you see me?”
Osamu tapped his microphone. “Can you hear me?”
That was how they began each online rendezvous. It was funny — since they could clearly see and hear each other. Perhaps they just wanted to acknowledge each other’s existence, make sure they were physically there.
These internet meetings were virtually the same every time.
Until one day.
“What’s wrong?” Yui asked, leaning toward the webcam.
Osamu lifted his mouse. “I think this is broken.”
“The batteries died?”
“It’s not wireless.”
“Maybe try unplugging and replugging it?”
Osamu did as he was told. …
One of Mai’s greatest fears was to have a child with a birth defect — a cleft lip, Down syndrome. She never expected to suffer the opposite predicament.
The birth of her baby, Ami, went without complications. She was cleaned by the midwife, wrapped in a blanket, and placed in Mai’s arms. This was, no doubt, the happiest day of Mai’s life; she was cradling someone who’d been inside her. Someone who’d been part of her body. Someone she’d been eager to meet for eight months.
This marvelous moment was disrupted by an observation: Ami was watching her. It wasn’t…
My boyfriend keeps me in his desk drawer.
Now his footsteps echo throughout his one-bedroom apartment. They are getting louder. Clearer. Gradually, light seeps in, brushing the too familiar darkness away like dust.
The giant hand I know so well descends and clutches me. Gently. But firmly.
Then it lifts me. The wooden floor, the folding chair, the computer desk — all of it looks enormous even though I’m hovering high above them.
Hello, my friends, I greet them.
You look good! the floor flatters.
You came out earlier today, the chair chirps.
The desk decides to remain silent.
Once upon a time, my dishes got smaller and smaller. It all started when I returned from the kitchen one day. Eita had finished the rice, miso soup — everything except…
“How come you left these?” I asked, pointing at the plate that had held the tonkatsu cutlets.
He blinked at me as if I’d spoken in a foreign language. Then he lowered his head and said, “Oh, you mean the cherry tomatoes?”
“Well, they’re more of a decoration anyway.”
“They aren’t, but that’s not the point — you’ve never left anything before.”
Eita put down his chopsticks…