sakakaorin sample

witchofbreath Dec 8th, 2019 173 Never
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  3. Her eyes snapped open, and stared unfocused at the darkness ahead of her. Even in the deepest folds of her modest futon, it was freezing. Without hesitation, even in her waking delirium, Kaori threw her covers aside and clambered to her feet. She walked a few meters over to the kerosene heater, knelt, grabbed the matchbox lying next to it, and put the flame of a struck match to the wick. With skill and just a bit of luck, the space heater granted her a little motivating warmth instead of a faceful of cold, black smoke. She rubbed her hands together, and gave the heater a slight smile of gratitude.
  5. Breakfast. Spare, bordering austere, with more than a few leftovers thrown in, but enough of it to do what needed to be done today. There was milking, there was feeding and grooming... there was a heifer soon to give birth, she would need special attention and care... and there was another that had been seeming strangely listless... they’d need to run and to graze, and she had to bale some hay and...
  7. The sun cycle went in fast-forward, the day slipped by along the ceaseless progression of tasks like these. Kaori--no one called her Kaorin nowadays--shared these duties with ten other women. They all lived in a sort of dormitory that they had customized for their partitioned cohabitation. Kaori was at least cordial and often gregarious among the women she worked with, but she lived alone, in her own separate quarters, a humble and considerably smaller construction.
  9. At the end of a day like today, Kaori was typically achy and sleepy, but despite it she was always eager to engage in some of her cherished hobbies, which were chosen from a limited set and intended to satisfyingly occupy her especially limited free time.
  11. Tonight, she would engage in amateur astronomy, leaving a certain other great passion aside for the night.
  13. Stargazing was possible in rural Hokkaido to an extent that it had never been in the deliriously light-polluted city where she dwelled for her childhood and adolescence exclusively. The meager lighting in these parts only weakly dimmed the formidable sea of luminous pinpricks swirling through the crowded skies, and there was so much loveliness that Kaorin could see even through her thrifty binoculars and unremarkable telescope.
  15. Tonight was marvelously clear. She had brought along a little flashlight, and a notebook to record her observations and track her progress in. She had packed a little... snack. Yes, a snack, of sorts. A little... brain food, let's say. Some mushrooms in a plastic baggy. They were horrendously bitter, but she still munched on them, slowly, and with great relish.
  17. Her body digested the mushrooms. The mushrooms passed into her, and imbued her with their curious properties. The sky above her was minute by minute becoming more and more beautiful before her scarcely-believing eyes. It was so full of patterns, but not only patterns: *textures*, Kaori thought with inspired delusion, textures and glimmering hues, and a deep, thick darkness with immeasurable breadth and no bottom, an esoteric realm of twinkling souls and shimmering wishes where infinite mystery held court in perpetuity, over the gently raised hill she stargazed from atop of. As the indescribable wonder of the studded veil above transfixed her, as she consulted references by flashlight, eyes dilated with pure and simple bewonderment as she peered keenly through delicate lenses and recorded artfully meandering notes, recorded the breathless ecstasy of her awestruck mind.
  19. Yes, it's true she was on drugs, yes, this was her favorite thing to do, and it was never a problem for her and it never became a problem, even though psilocybin mushrooms, which can readily be grown inconspicuously by the cleverly industrious, were made illegal in Japan in 2002, the same year that she graduated. (The same year that she first tried them.)
  21. In these reminisces, Kaori thought about the skies she’d seen--the suburban view from her early life which was a meager approximation of the humbling spectacle before her, the empty sky of reflected earthlight that suffocated her in urban Tokyo--and she daydreamed about Chinese constellations and little stories and superstitions associated with the stars, she imagined the luminosity of the stars up closed, imagined their raging heat, imagined their spectacular deaths and the clouds of hot rainbow that they leave behind in their rebirth, she flashed back to an old New Year's dream, was confronted by the aggressive presence of a mad feline spirit--and she thought back to the origin of her prized, persistent hobby. Ah, heady, bitter nostalgia...
  23. First-year high school starting. Oh, Kaorin, her mom always badgered her like that, don't forget, Kaorin, pick a club, you got to pick a club, wouldn’t do to join the go-homers club ha ha, can’t do sports clubs (not by preference but by inability am i right), boring boring boring, insipid insidious insufferable, better pick something, pick anything. oh fine. this one. this whatever. astronomy? okay. okay.
  25. She was coasting, had coasted along to a seemingly meaningless decision, but at least she’d gone with something. Done slightly above the bare minimum. The club was okay. The work was tedious and sometimes uncomfortable, but at least it was something.
  27. And then, almost instantly in response to the slightest impetus, that attitude changed. The whole meaning of the endeavor was transformed completely. Of course it had changed. By the strongest possible means it had been made to change. Everything her entire life had been made to change, because of this one trivial decision and what came of it. Because one night, some forgettable-now-forgotten clubmate of hers had brought along an equally forgettable guest and the sponsoring teacher, who was forgettable, had explained to the rest of the club that it would be okay for them to bring guests who were interested in learning a little bit about the cosmos.
  29. A guest?
  31. Her.
  33. HER! HER!! HER!!! THAT GIRL!!! THAT ONE RIGHT OVER THERE!!! said Kaori's instincts, oh so urgently to Kaori.
  35. Kaori, or Kaori's instincts, rather, had thought of a guest. This was not a guest who was forgettable. In fact, she’d had the face of a completely, thoroughly, and immediately unforgettable guest snap immediately to the forefront of her mind as soon as the possibility was presented, and linger as an inexorable image in her thoughts until she, almost unconsciously, walked herself into the nerve-wracking, unreal experience of asking the raven-haired goddess, whose name was Sakaki, if she’d like to come out for a night of skywatching with the astronomy club.
  37. Oh, Sakaki... majestic Sakaki, immaculate Sakaki, Sakaki, unreachably distant...
  39. Sakaki was, to Kaori’s imperceiving eye, everything that Kaori herself was not and could never be. That which could be desired yet never attained. Athletic, of an imposing height and build, and with a cool, reticent demeanor that seemed to suggest that in her after-school hours she led some obscure movie-like life of sukeban pugilism and bad-girl derring-do. Sakaki’s praises were regularly sung in the secret annals of popularity and attractiveness ranking discussions at the school, and not just by the boys (who seemed, not by coincidence as it would turn out, to end up ever distant from her notice or interest... or so Kaori hoped.) Kaori herself was only slightly closer than the boys, in this era still yet firmly situated on the periphery of Sakaki’s awareness or care. She spent more time than any of them in her orbit--close enough to know she had a small circle of female friends, close enough to glimpse her unspoken, image-compromising affinity for all things cute, but never close enough to know, to bond with, to do anything except passingly admire in the locker room. This was the chance to change that,
  41. It was from this awkward, close-yet-distant kind of position that Kaori found herself posing the question to Sakaki The hardest question that she had maybe ever had to ask. And when she asked, in the form of a meandering, half-apologetic soliloquy, whether Sakaki would maybe accompany her to an evening  nnnnwfield trip to see the stars, Sakaki just stared at her for a few moments in silence. What did it mean? Oh my gods, what did it MEAN!? Sakaki’s eyes were so, so dark, and so piercingly direct, and she was so cool, like ice, and smooth, like glass, (and maybe a little soft?) and surely Kaori was disgracefully stepping out of her bounds, and surely Sakaki was...
  43. In the moment where Kaori sought to vocalize a readymade excuse to pardon Sakaki from attendance to the event of her surely rude and unsolicited invitation, she felt something very strange inside her. Do you know what a tuning fork is? It's a fork that vibrates. And here she was, indeed vibrating with intense anxiety here at one of her life's great forked crossroads. She could feel another Kaorin, another her, spiraling towards the abyss, yowling in misery as she hurtled towards the bleakest, darkest, most Sakaki-less future. She felt resentment. She felt anger, even. Stubborn, unyielding rage. "No! Not me! Not this time! Not this freaking time, Kaorin!" No, no, no! She wasn’t! She was not! She was NOT going to apologize, she was NOT going to hem or haw, she was NOT going to self-deny, she was...
  45. She was...
  47. She was going to *insist* for once.
  49. “Please, even though it’s a huge imposition, Sakaki-san, the night sky is actually pretty amazing and, to put it bluntly, you’re denying yourself a part of our... our um... our celestial birthright if you deny yourself an experience like this!”
  51. Sakaki was silent for a moment more. Kaori writhed in pure agony while also standing still and forcing a friendly slightly eager smile.
  53. “Celestial birthright...? Ahh. Sure, Kaorin.”
  54. “Haha, that’s fine, I’m sorry to have--” Ahh...??
  56. Her hair started frizzing up. Her eyes went pure white. Her mouth expanded to unknown frontiers of awestruck wideness as realization inexpressibly dawned.
  58. Sure?? As in, surely? As in, YES?!
  60. Sure, Kaorin?? Sure KAORIN?? Not Aida-san, but Kaorin?? Sure, her friends called her that, but to speak with such familiarity, and at such a critical juncture...
  61. “C-Come again?”
  62. “...I want to go.”
  63. Sakaki’s eyes were inscrutable still, but they yielded what Kaori was somehow certain was a crucial and mistakable clue: She wasn’t kidding. She was serious. She was genuinely interested in sacrificing time and sleep and going to a meeting of this stupid club with this weirdo who was having a full-blown internal meltdown in front of her.
  65. What was the event itself like? Life-changing? Was it really okay to say that about a few hours standing shoulder to shoulder, excitedly indicating star-patterns and speaking of distance, heat, magnitude and luminosity to her handsome, taciturn companion? Yes, it must be okay to, because it was.
  67. Life-changing. The sporadic shining holes in the mild darkness above had never looked so lovely. Kaori would, from that day, never again be anything but a fervent lover of the twilit sky, an avid quaffer of infinite draughts from its bottomless well of sheer wonder.
  69. Sakaki...
  71. She tried not to think outside of this memory too much. There were some bright points, but no happy endings. Letting her mind wander unchecked through her memories was especially dangerous in her current state. If she thought about it too much, thought too much about her high school days, and her old friends, and the girl she would probably always love but never be close to... then she'd remember all the painful parts, she'd remember the fear and the loss, she... she couldn't...
  73. She couldn't be bothered to deal with all that. She had made love to and dated several women since her high school days of antiquity, thank you very much. Just because she had been single for years and was still heartbroken over a dumb crush, didn't mean it was all bad. Here was her universe. Here was infinite beauty, here was peace and comfort. Tonight she would sleep well, and tomorrow she would show her co-workers her brightest smile.
  75. Her writing hand cold and cramping, Kaori withdrew from her scribbling and her lenses and spread out face-up on the blanket beneath her. The undulating vision of the heavens wavered before her silently.
  77. The cows were lowing. Their voices were filled with agitation and sorrow. Something was wrong... Kaori snapped out of her warm fugue and back into cold reality. She scrambled to her feet. Leaving her setup entirely behind, she rushed to the barn and hurled the door open.
  79. That chorus of distress coming from the cows amplified, and she stepped into the midst of it. Gazing up and down the aisles of pens, she saw a cow head bobbing and ebbing with every emotive emission it produced.
  81. Except one.
  83. When she saw the collapsed middle-aged heifer on the floor of her pen, a complex mixture of emotions bubbled up from the depths of her heart. One part of the mixture was empathy. She’d had more than her share of rough times on the farm, and cows were like people, in that many of them were difficult, willful, capricious, and hard to handle, but after putting in her time on the farm, she’d gone from regarding the creatures with a mild distancing disgust to loving each and every cow that came to be on the farm. There were fifty heads of cattle to love, and the sight of even a single one in pain or danger rent her heart to shreds.
  85. The other ingredient, however, was different. Was a cold, economic, self-centered feeling. This feeling made her calculate. Living was very tight on the small cooperative amongst its colossal rivals. Not like the indie milk game in Hokkaido was ultra hot in this era. So the health and well-being of each and every cow, the assurance of its steady and abundant milk production, these made the difference between survival and complete destruction. What then? Work on another farm? Could all eleven of them even get hired full-time? Could Kaorin get hired full-time and support herself on the wages?
  87. It was a panic-driven decision, then, but it was the only decision to make. Kaorin tended to the cow, listened to its laborious breaths, sought some intuitive assurance that the cow she loved, and the asset her survival needed, would not slip away in the time it took to go do what she needed to do.
  89. She scrambled back to the dorm, she woke everybody up and had a few go tend to the ill. She had a couple make breakfast and tea for everyone, since urgency demanded the day begin.
  91. She went to go make some phone calls.
  93. Life is but a long sob story.
  95. 2
  97. Life is really bad right now. Life is immediately terrible, at this very second. Now, in this moment, in this instant, life is being a long sob story.
  99. So Sakaki was trying not to think about the situation at hand, and instead fixated upon the situation ten years ago.
  101. Ten years ago, when Sakaki was still young enough for a search for marital companionship to not come off as ridiculous or embarrassing in the eyes of others, she had gotten pretty close to making it happen. University studies and establishing herself as an animal doctor were no longer excuses to keep society’s imposition upon her romantic life at bay.
  103. He was nice. Nicer than he might have been. Nicer than some of the men who had affixed their attention to her before, who had sometimes proven difficult to evade. He was not even necessarily uninteresting or bland, but somehow he could leave no impression upon her. They got together, yet she was ever distant. He fretted, he complained. And it was true, she could never give him what she wanted, and she never seemed to let herself react to his advances, and she did stay far away from him at all times, in her mind. But there was nothing to be done. Marrying a bit character like Ooyama-kun was a logical outcome, a mechanical deterministic certainty, the result of a very complex and simple figuration of compulsory heterosexuality calculus. So too was the marriage's failure, or, as she conceptualized it for too long, Sakaki's failure. Having failed so utterly, leaving him had felt so inevitable, and so natural. She had There was nothing that she, specifically, could have done. So why had it been so hard to do?
  105. Her parents got upset, and spoke to her less. She let work, which never left her devoid of purpose or meaning, occupy more and more of her life. She still saw her friends, but only a little, and some had gone away and she hadn’t seen them in years.
  107. She was thinking about how it was during this time. What was she then? 27? 28?
  109. In those days, when she was at her limit with work, being in possession of a dearth of confidantes, she found herself spending more time alone with her troublesome thoughts. Somehow, even in her state of relative estrangement, all she could find herself thinking about in those times were her friends. Some of them had become such amazing people since they graduated. Sometimes when she met up with them, she was dazzled at what they’d become, and smiled despite herself, as if to even be in their presence was an honor for someone like her. That they always seemed to feel the same toward her was a fact lost on her, deflected always by her austere, self-effacing humility.
  111. One day, coming home at the end of a typically exhausting shift, Sakaki spotted a familiar face, a friendly familiar face. This was a face that meant so much to her that she was temporarily too stunned to comprehend the rest of the entity. Here was the face of a magnificent woman, a woman of indulgently unbounded strangeness, that beloved and sanctified klutz and her face that had always possessed a faraway gaze and a wonderstruck smile upon it. There was a time when Sakaki would have been terrified to strike up conversation even with a cherished old friend. That time was now, and also basically literally always. But something about the rarity of the event coupled with her desperation for human contact drove her to throw off her terror and double around through the crowd, honing in on the Ayumu-signal with a powerful magnetism. And yet in the din of the station it was all she could do to track the back of her old friend Ayumu’s head through the morass of people crowding the station, and once they had egressed from the crowd Sakaki was still torn, afraid to approach and determined not to let the moment pass, aware on some level how infinitely weirder she must look trailing her unwary high school compatriot from a moderate distance behind.
  113. Persisting in her pursuit, her pursued oblivious, Sakaki followed Ayumu into a part of town she had never been to before. It was very busy, and very bright, and very noisy. The effusive glow thrown off by the prismatic procession of lighted signs and streetlights and stray radiance leaking out of doors and windows was stronger here than it was seemingly anywhere else that she’d seen in the city. She strained to keep her focus on Ayumu as the population they waded through gradually thinned while streets narrowed. Ayumu stopped in front of a lavender tiled alcove with a matching rail leading down a stairway, gazed at it enraptured for a moment, then turned around.
  115. She locked eyes with her. And addressed her, in that idiosyncratic Kansai-ben with the Tokyo enunciation...
  117. “Oh, heya Sakaki...”
  119. And upon saying this, descended into the mysterious grotto, leaving a dumbfounded Sakaki behind. Too late, Sakaki cried out her friend’s old nickname:
  121. “Osaka!!”
  123. Sakaki paced, and crouched, and looked around, as the pedestrian traffic flowed ceaselessly around her. Going in? No, that... that wasn’t an option. Look at the strange sights around her? No, because such a world didn’t, couldn’t exist... Go home? But...
  125. But...
  127. In her dithering, in her uncertainty, letting the glances from strangers wash over her and marinading in her absolute irresolution, Sakaki was desperately grasping around her for... something solid, some kind of purchase that she’d always been searching for but could never find. She was beyond even being anxious or terrified here at the point of finding it, though. There was a warmth she was yearning for, there was something about this place seemed too hot to touch without burning...
  129. Sakaki proved able to spend a considerable amount of time treading in these murky waters of self-reflection before Ayumu surfaced. She was with someone a little taller than her, and a little less slender, with a head of short, ruffled, jaunty-looking hair, a brash and and an unusually broad, playful smile. She was affectingly handsome in her chic black slacks and her trim white blouse, she was debonair yet there was nothing stoic or reserved about her. And she was new. She was an unforeseen element. She was not one of their high school crew and she was not somebody that existed within the rules of that particular universe-era-locality and that made her interesting.
  131. Without thinking, Sakaki mentioned to herself privately about how she was clearly perfect for Osaka.
  133. What? Perfect for Osaka? What was she thinking, right? I mean, she and Osaka were both girls! What the... ah,no.
  135. No, no, no. that one wasn’t going to work. Sakaki was shy, and maybe a little sheltered in some ways, hailing from a narrative stratum where overt gayness is barely permitted and, as an unironic concept, practically unthinkable. But she wasn’t stupid. She didn't stay the ignorant sheltered high school girl, and she wasn’t totally out of touch with the world around her. She knew what was up. A least a little. Maybe she knew some serious stuff. Maybe she had read this or that from time to time...
  137. She had read about it in comics. She wasn't typically forthcoming with that factoid. And she had heard about it in passing conversation and overheard media tidbits. That one was less personally incriminating, at least.
  139. Oh sh**. Osaka and her date were approaching. Osaka regarded Sakaki with wide-eyed bliss, portraying happiness but yielding not the slightest sign of surprise. Her date grinned guilelessly, she was just along for the ride.
  141. “Ah, Sakaki...” Osaka offered her opening gambit.
  142. “Ah...” Sakaki was not to be beaten.
  144. But there was a beat. There was a wordless silence for the yet-nameless girlfriend to break.
  146. “Sakaki, right?”
  147. “Yes...”
  148. “Classmate of Ayumu’s?”
  149. “Ah, yeah...”
  150. “I see. First time here, I’m guessing?”
  151. “H, how can you...?”
  152. “You just look a little... lost.”
  153. “Well...”
  155. Osaka’s attention seemed to snap back to Sakaki. “Ah, Sakaki!”
  156. “Y-yes?”
  157. “Sakaki, this is Mika... Mika, this is Sakaki.” Osaka gestured vaguely between them, as if to seal the introduction.
  158. Sakaki gave a measured nod of acknowledgement. “Nice to meet you...”
  159. “Yeah, let’s get along well now.” Mika stuffed her hands in her pockets and glanced around her surroundings, as if feeling slightly bashful herself.
  160. “Come to think of it, it’s been a while, hasn’t it. You raking in big profits these days?”
  162. Sakaki’s nonplussed expression gave way to a slight smile. It had been a while, but not everything had gone away, had it? Osaka was still, after all these years, more than a little unnatural in enunciating the accent that had earned her her apparently thoroughly persistent origin-based nickname. “Well, maybe not so much. But I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do for a while.”
  163. “Ah, really! You wanted to own a stuffed animal shop, right?” Osaka’s face plainly expressed the satisfaction remembering this tidbit gave her.
  164. “That’s pretty cute, isn’t it? Sakaki, you’re impressive.”
  165. “N-no, I... It’s actually at a veterinary practice...”
  166. “Ah, really! Sakaki, back in high school, you were sort of a neko, weren’t you?”
  167. “N-neko!? Yes, I love them, but...”
  168. Mika nodded in immediate understanding. “That makes a lot of sense. People can always surprise you, right, Osaka?”
  169. “They really can.”
  170. The conversation was outpacing Sakaki’s sparse worldly wisdom within the confines of this particular category. Her desire to excuse herself from the conversation was flaring up once again. As if cued by this, Osaka upped the ante.
  171. “Sakaki, come with us! We have more clubs to visit! There’s a jellyfish guy we might see, and there’s this place with some nee-sans and mamas, and there’s a club full of neko, and...”
  172. Sakaki’s heart begin thumping a little faster at the idea of going with her ten-years-estranged friend and her girlfriend to go be around those precious creatures... But it wasn’t enough to overcome the reservation, that accumulated distance over years of being mostly alone in non-professional contexts.
  173. “...No, sorry, right now is a little...”
  174. “Okay. Bye, Sakaki!” Osaka waved at her and turned around as if to say, see you tomorrow at school!
  175. “Wait a minute! Osaka! Jeez! You didn’t even...” Mika turned around with an appreciative exasperation and an apologetic commiseration written all over her face. Sakaki pondered for a brief instant how Osaka probably approached her without self-doubt or self-consciousness, without letting herself be dazzled into reticence by the beauty in her vicinity. Sakaki felt an envy devoid of malice.
  176. “Sakaki, I’m sorry. It’s been real nice meeting you. If you come around here again sometime, we’ll probably...”
  177. “I’m not sure.”
  178. “There’s no rush. See you later.”
  179. “Wait!”
  180. Mika, who had begun strolling away amiably, turned around just as naturally at Sakaki’s call, her expression curious but unintimidatingly so.
  181. “Yeah?”
  182. “I’m really not sure when I’m going to be ready to face this. It might be a very long time. So, can you please answer some of my questions in the meantime?”
  183. “Heh, why not.”
  184. “How did you and Osaka...”
  185. “It wasn’t in a bar, it was just out here on the streets. I just noticed her and started talking to her. She was doing her little, yknow... her looking-around thing, and I asked what she was looking at.”
  186. “Hehe. I bet she told you.”
  187. “She sure did. I don’t know how prepared I was for the response. But she was an intriguing person, and it turned out she was bian too.”
  188. “Bian...”
  189. “Well, surely you’re not surprised.”
  190. “No. No, I suppose not. Um, what’s she doing these days?”
  191. “Rakugo.”
  192. “Rakugo?”
  193. “Yeah. It’s her day job, sort of, and I guess her passion. She’s really... really something at it.”
  194. “That’s... that’s amazing.”
  195. “Right? We spend a lot of time with friends here in the district, and I think we have a good enough time of it.”
  196. “I’m... I’m really happy. To hear that Osaka is doing so well. What about y--”
  197. “Shh. Nah. Sorry to cut you off. Listen.”
  198. “I--”
  199. “If you want to learn all about Osaka’s cool new girlfriend, who by now is three-years-old-news you need to gather a little courage and come hang out with us. I promise we won’t be hard to find if you’re around here. And I wasn’t kidding... Take your time. We’re not going anywhere.”
  201. Sakaki’s lips turned up only slightly, because there were a lot of things going on inside her that couldn’t find their way to the surface just yet. But her eyes covered all the niceties and sincerities of her genuine thanks and appreciation.
  203. After all, she could take her time.
  205. They weren't going anywhere, after all.
  207. “Okay. It was nice meeting you, Mika... Please enjoy the rest of your night.”
  208. “Yeah, you too. Be good, see you later.”
  210. As she walked back toward the station without letting herself take a glance behind, Sakaki considered. There was something outside of her singleminded pursuit of a passion... there was something outside the stodgy cloister of expectations she had always been wedged into... there was something...
  212. Something, but she wasn’t ready to admit what. She had taken her first steps forward, but she was still teetering at the threshold and was on course to dither there for quite a while. Sakaki was going to spend a lot of time alone for the foreseeable future. Sakaki was going to read tons more comics, that was for sure, she was going to read a lot of squishy rose-scented yuri comics and spend a lot of time safely ensconced in the plush-soft world of her warmest fantasies.
  214. But in doing so, she’d know that somewhere out there, someone was living what she could only dimly consider, only faintly admit to herself.
  216. The narrative of this memory had run its course. Sakaki found herself thrown back into the ugly reality of her currently very precarious situation, and had no way of knowing at this time that she was on the thinnest verge of taking a step over that long-deferred threshold.
  218. For now, the present experience was just a hospital closure, and economic uncertainty, and oh-my-god-my-forties-are-approaching level regrets. The present was an unresolved mess, with a lot of dumb popular fiction used to try and fill in the gaps left by her absconding and to give some sort of sense of direction for her dwindling future.
  220. Her capacity to reminisce on the past without inducing listlessness had reached its end, and she didn’t want to start dealing with the emergent present situations yet, so she was reading. She was reading “Slowly, the Melody” again. She had a physical copy, and she’d scanned a digital backup. “Slowly, the Melody” was a story about a bian couple who go from being childhood friends to blissfully spending their plentiful remaining decades together as lovers. It was the rare comic of its type that was published in full-color. Its style was simple but sweet and adeptly stylized and the computer-generated color printed on the page was soft and natural-looking, highlighting the down-to-earth sincerity that seemed to effuse the author’s whole vision. The inamorata at the heart of the story were cutely complementary, in their relaxed and stylish coordinations, and conveyed an unspoken and unaddressed gender-nonconformity in their presentation and in the balance of their relationship. Their presence was repeatedly demonstrated to be, despite the evanescent minor mishaps and quarrels, a sort of living proof to the audience that such a world was possible. Reading it, Sakaki felt (and she was sure that this was shared by most readers) that the anxiety of her own unfulfilled romantic desires melted away underneath the warm, syrupy sentimentality that pervaded the story. She felt as if she was seeing a clear path... around? through? over those barriers to love which had managed to stymie her every step towards self-actualization, towards a potential future where girls like her don’t go on from high school to decades of selective repression and smothering of feelings in work and media distractions.
  222. That was a good feeling to have, for someone in a situation like hers. So she liked “Slowly, the Melody” a whole bunch, and had probably read it more than anything else in her collection due to its pleasant, almost pastoral feel... but, her collection was awfully big, and there was a bunch of stuff she could have recommended to you if you asked. How about “Strawberry Milk Summer?” That one was so funny and interesting, and a lot of people who didn’t normally like yuri liked it because its humor was accessible to those not already drawn in by the schoolyard lesbian romance intrigues. “Anomie Engine” had a crude, harsh-looking art style and its story was emotionally complex and full of sorrow, in a way that resonated with her own experiences. “Where The Willows Never Weep” was a sort of idyll written with dense esoteric symbolism and drawn in a baroque, heavily outdated shoujo style. The story was an impossible anachronism for its setting, a fact which Sakaki loved and was deeply saddened by. And there were countless stories like “Pop Passion Panic”, which was garish and loud yet dull and lifeless, and “Night Slinking”, which was the sort of comic that even Sakaki understood mostly guys read. And there were class-S comics that she consumed by the bucketful, like “Hydrangea Whispers” and “Then, The Letting Go”... these were worse, because they told her, in the form of cheap, bombastic comedy and lascivious drama, that the kind of feelings she had were for girls, and there came a time when girls became women, and women were to give up this play-acting and marry men, and this meant that she was both too old to know what it was like, and that she already had blown her chance to properly marry a man, and this crushing anxiety would not depart even in the presence of objective contrary knowledge, or her consumption of contradicting narratives.
  224. There was a lot she could have told you about these comics, what made them good, what made them bad, but she would forsake all else if it meant keeping “Slowly, the Melody”.
  226. She was there in the deepest throes of the story’s influence, gripping the pages a little tighter as the story verged near to one of its frankly depicted intimate moments, when the phone rang. Sakaki picked up, and a jarringly familiar voice inquired.
  228. “Hello? Um... Sakaki?”
  229. “Aah, Ooyama-sensei...”
  230. “It’s fine. Please. We’re both practicing doctors... You can call me Ken, at least.”
  231. “Right, Kenichi. Did you... I’m sorry, did you need something?”
  232. “Oh, yes, pardon me. Well, the um, the fact is, that since things, you know, concluded between us, I’ve been doing a lot of travelling in my work, and trying to stay as far away from Tokyo as possible...”
  233. “Is this some kind of attempt to--”
  234. “No! I, I’m not expressing myself properly here. I don’t care about guilting you. You did what you needed to. I’ve done what I needed to, to, um... deal with it.”
  235. “Then may I ask what is it that you need from me?”
  236. “Well, various things happened, and I’ve been up in Hokkaido for a while. We came up here in high school, right... I don’t remember if you were there.”
  237. “Yes, I... I didn’t go. I got some bear soup as a souvenir. The bear population in Hokkaido is quite vulnerable... There are estimated to be around ten thousand Ussuri brown bears remaining. Human activity has severely curtailed their habitat and engaged in excessive harvesting of their population.”
  238. “Mm, right...”
  239. “...”
  240. “A-anyway, my hospital is located in a medium-sized town up here. There’s a call we’ve gotten from a dairy farm, but it’s quite far from us, and I really don’t have personnel to spare in orderly to comfortably leave behind the animals we’re caring for and monitoring here at the hospital. I realize this is an absurd request, and I know you’re quite far and already committed to an existing practice, but... I haven’t really been the best at making reliable contacts in my field. You’re the only one I can count on in this situation.”
  241. “No, it’s fine.”
  242. “Really? Will they let you take time o--”
  243. “It’s fine. It’s really fine. Just, allow me a day or so to prepare my travel arrangements and pack.”
  244. “R-right! Okay. Thanks. Thank you so much. And, um, Sakaki...?”
  245. “Ooyama-sensei.”
  246. “I was, I was wondering...”
  247. “Goodnight, Ooyama-sensei. I will see you in two days.”
  248. “W--”
  250. Sakaki hung up. She felt immediate guilt over this action, but the guilt made her less sad than the conversation had. Her employment worries had solved themselves, but to have to talk to her ex-husband like this... and to deign to go to work at the practice that he ran, after all she’d gone through... it was a lot to take in. Sakaki rolled over onto her side. On her phone, she mapped a route to a certain medium-sized town in central Hokkaido, and bought tickets that would more or less get her there. After doing so, she let herself fall asleep. The bustle of packing and moving could wait til tomorrow, when she was rested. For now, she drifted off to sleep right where she lay, and had dreams both delightful and disquieting, all replete with imagery and scenarios cribbed from her most beloved stories. Interlopers filled the story always, but somehow the story composed of these crudely grafted dream-images kept working itself towards some kind of indescribably brighter conclusion. Sakaki slept and slept, long past the time when Kaorin would awaken and continue her part in the vigil over the ailing pregnant heifer.
  252. 3
  254. The ailing pregnant heifer’s emotions are hard to describe. Even though we have so many analogues for animal feelings, we have no words to properly depict in a sickly cow nearing motherhood, that fear for the self which paralyzes, and that fear for the baby which impels desperate action. So it was that the heifer tossed and turned upon its bed of hay. Her sole comfort came from the soothing voice speaking, the hand softly stroking its side, the gentle eyes falling upon it. These helped. But they did not remove the pain, and they did not banish the fear.
  256. Kaori’s emotions at this moment are easy to describe. She is exhausted, anxious and miserable. Her composure and serenity in this moment are only apparent, not actual.
  258. Enter Yuuka. “We just heard from back from the receptionist. They will be able to send someone to us by the end of the night.”
  260. Kaori does not say, “What if one of our breeding cows dies and threatens the existence of our co-op?” or, “Who are they sending? Why can’t Ooyama-sensei come out himself? Couldn’t they at least tell us who they were sending? Who could they trust with something this important?” and she made sure not to say anything like, “How are we going to pay for any of this?”
  262. She says, "Thank you Yuuka."
  264. Thank you Yuuka. That's all that's needed. Your hard work is appreciated, as always.
  266. 4
  268. Cows are cute.
  270. Sakaki was on the train, convincing herself of this fact. It wasn’t that difficult. They were cute, right? That’s why she got into this job, right? To take care of things that are cute, right?
  272. So, cows were cute. And they were. Cows are very sweet and docile, with the most adorable faces and voices. Something about their demeanor just begs, “Please be nice to me and provide for my happiness and well-being.”
  274. And that was why she was using her own savings to go all the way up there. At the bidding of her ex-husband. To do work that she was, technically trained for, but not all that experienced in. As a fallback after losing her job due to a confluence of circumstances that was, for one part of the whole, a lapse in her responsible working habits brought on by mounting emotional stress.
  276. Because cows are so cute, and because she loves things that are cute.
  278. As the landscape whizzed by indifferently, she thought about Chiyo, as she often did.
  280. She thought about the idea of knowing that for some reason it’s important for someone to stay in your life for the rest of your life, and having that person disappear after just a couple of years, leaving you wondering what the hell and heartbreaking embracing the empty air. In her reflections after the fact, Sakaki had come to realize that Chiyo’s friendship had done something important for her that had been impossible previously, and was rendered impossible afterward. Cuteness was important to her because it created a feeling of innocence, a feeling that the world was a benign, hopeful place. To Sakaki, seeing Chiyo’s life, with everything going right for Chiyo, with her being happy, and cheerful, an overachiever with everything to look forward to, gave her the tranquil feeling that everything was alright with the world.
  282. In that way, Chiyo had become sort a symbol of everything in her high school experience: carefree, oblivious, innocent. An impossible person. An impossible setting, an impossible high school experience. (For her anyway. And most of her friends. But not one of her friends. Can you guess which of Sakaki's friends had a very bad, bad time during the latter portions of high school?) What serenity! What decadent bliss! Who is that? Who is someone like that in this world? Who goes to high school at age 10? Who has perfectly conical pigtails that she flies on and a dad that's... Who has a beachside vacation villa where you can go crack watermelons during the day and set off fireworks at night? Who goes to America at age 13 and becomes President when she turns 18? Was Chiyo even real? Was America even real? What was real? This throbbing feeling in her heart, this yearning, this aching. That was real. That was insistently, demandingly real, forcing her out into the hoary frost of awareness every time her senses blissfully dulled for even a second.
  284. Without her even noticing, the clouds had begun to pass over. Soon it started drizzling, and then it began to pour briskly, the rivulets of rain rushed down the windowpanes. She sighed deeply, felt dissatisfied, and then sighed again. After that one, relief came, a welcome if partially fictitious relief. Of course it had been real. Tomo and Yomi had been real. Osaka and Kagura and Kaorin had been real. Tanizaki-sensei and Minami-sensei had been real. Every day in class and after-school, every vacation and graduation and beyond, all real... Chiyo was real, the biting cat was real, the feral mountain cat, they were all real. And there was probably someone she was forgetting...
  286. Chiyo had been President of America for ten years by now. and that was real. She was still cute, and sweet, and smart as can be, her Twintail party had swept the Democrats and Republicans, creating a one-party Twintail state. The once-fearsome people of America were now docile and mainly devoted to veneration of aesthetic concepts of cuteness. She was, as she always had been, still a flawless superhuman constantly pushing new frontiers of her limitless potential. In fact, she had become something transcendent in the intervening years. Something completely possible, as if she'd done nothing but grow exponentially unto infinity since their parting farewell at college. And Sakaki was here right now, riding through the rain, at the behest of the ex-husband she wished she could have known as a friend, on her way to save the lives of some cows, because cows are cute. And Chiyo's cute. And everything is real, and normal, and makes sense, and things would stay this way forever and ever and ever.
  288. Sakaki smiled. Just a little bit. But not for long. But soon, again...
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