Battery v1c2

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House of Plums

So cold. Tak.u.mi thought as he opened his eyes. It turned out Seiha had put his hand on his cheek.

“Onii-chan, we’re at Grandpa’s house.”

“Looks like it.”

“You slept like a log. I tried waking you up a few times.”

“Let’s get off the car.”

There was a stone gate waiting for them right after they got out. As they stepped inside, a strong aromatic fragrance a.s.saulted their noses.

Plums.

It was a giant plum tree so big one had to crane their neck to see it. The trunk and branches were very thick, and overlapping red flowers were in full bloom. The aroma it gave off was almost suffocating.

Tak.u.mi had seen that plum tree before.


From the bright red layered folds to the body-enveloping smell, Tak.u.mi remembered all of it. A long time ago, he had stood under this tree. Back then it must have been an early spring morning! Shrouded in smoke, everything was mixed with the sweet fragrance of red plums while the petals quietly bloomed. From the depths of his memories, he recalled the smell of spring blossoms and their silence.

“Tak.u.mi, you coming?”

Hearing someone call his name, Tak.u.mi turned around. A flash of white greeted his eyes. It was an entire head of gray hair, and a huge tanned face below it. The nose and eyes were both large. Only the lips under his white mustache were shaped neatly.

“Seiha, Tak.u.mi. I’m your Grandpa!”

Tak.u.mi silently lowered his head. Seiha hid behind Tak.u.mi and smiled.

“This is my first time meeting Seiha! Eh? What’s wrong?”

“Grandpa looks like the spirit of this plum tree!”

Seiha pointed at the plum tree.

“Huge and thick. Oh! But the color of your head isn’t the same.”

“A plum tree spirit? Well thanks, that’s a very interesting thing to say.”

“He’s a very strange child, always saying peculiar things like that. But we’ll talk later. First let’s take the luggage from the car. The rest of the luggage is being delivered tomorrow, so make sure you unpack and tidy up all of today’s luggage before then! From now on, Seiha and Tak.u.mi will be having their own room.”

“Right! Even though this is an old house, there are a lot of rooms.”

“Hurray!” Seiha cried. Tak.u.mi looked back at his grandfather’s face again, his shoulder carrying a large backpack.

So this person was Ioka Youzou. He didn’t think he would be so small.

His grandfather suddenly turned his head. The two of them stood face to face. His grandfather’s eyes weren’t black. Rather, they were closer to dark brown.

Tak.u.mi lowered his head and walked forward. As he went, he thought to himself: ‘I still remember the color of those eyes.’

Tak.u.mi was given a six tatami-mat room on the second floor that faced south.

Just from opening the windows, one could see the plums by the gate and the mountains in the distance. The color of the the snow was white and far more distinct than the view from the car.

in the past, he had always used a curtain to divide a roughly six-tatami mat room that he shared with Seiha. It was exciting to have a room he could call his own now. Tak.u.mi slowly looked around the room. The walls and ceiling was certainly old. On the white door, which had been replaced with new building materials because the old lock had rusted, stood out. Tak.u.mi took a deep breath and inhaled the odor of plums that floated in from the window.

A knock came on the door.

“Tak.u.mi, how’s the room? Do you like it?”

It was Hiros.h.i.+. Seeing that Tak.u.mi was wearing his tracksuit, Hiros.h.i.+ blinked and asked:

“Why’d you change clothes?”

“I’m going running.”

“Right now?”

“I already put all my stuff away so…”

“Hey, why do you have to go running right away? Don’t be ridiculous.”

Tak.u.mi was silent. If he didn’t go running today, he’d feel a slight but noticeable feeling of heaviness tomorrow. It wasn’t an actual increase or decrease in his weight, but the limp feeling in his muscles. Tak.u.mi hated that slight feeling of heaviness and weakness that came from interrupting his running schedule. But since his father was part of a fine arts club in high school, it was something that he didn’t understand, so no matter what it wasn’t going to make a difference.

“Fine. It’s not a bad thing to get to know the area. Anyways, this odor is really fragrant.”

Hiros.h.i.+ also took a deep breath.

“Tak.u.mi, you know there’s a small forest on the other side of the fields? There should be a building behind that forest. A cream-colored building. That’s Nitta East Middle School, and you’ll be going there at the beginning of April.”

“I know. Their baseball team isn’t very good. Last year their best result was eighth in the regional tournament, but since their third-years graduated, they’ve lost a lot of their strength this year. I heard they might even have trouble winning the district tournament this year.”

Hiros.h.i.+ coughed lightly.

“You scouted them?”

“Well, it’s the club I’ll be joining, so even if no one was willing to tell me, I had to investigate it myself.”

“If the club is that weak, you probably aren’t very satisfied.”

Tak.u.mi cast his face to the side.

“…since they’re going to have trouble winning the district tournament, let alone Nationals.”

“I can make it.”

Tak.u.mi closed the window. The scent of plums was blocked outside.

“Don’t you think that if we manage to qualify for Nationals solely because of me, is much more interesting than if I tag along with a team that’s going to win anyways?”

Hiros.h.i.+ gasped. His throat seemed to be blocked by something, and he was speechless. Deep inside, he knew that Tak.u.mi wasn’t joking or boasting. When it came to baseball, Tak.u.mi was always serious.

“Dad, that expression is ugly.”

Tak.u.mi made a rare chuckle of laughter.

“Even though the White Tigers weren’t a great team, we still managed to qualify for the Chuugoku Tournament, right? Though we did lose in the semi-finals.”

(So your point is that Nitta can do it just because you’re there, Tak.u.mi?)

At this point, Tak.u.mi exhaled. His throat relaxed a little bit more.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Tak.u.mi turned his face straight forward. His smile disappeared.

“You mean the things about Nitta East Middle? Oh, I just didn’t think of it.”

“I mean the stuff about Grandpa.”

Tak.u.mi turned to the side and narrowed his eyes as if he was looking into the distance:

“Why did you hide the fact that Grandpa used to be a former high school baseball coach from me? He’s a legend, isn’t he? He brought Nitta High to Kos.h.i.+en, four times in the spring and six times in the summer. Ever since Ioka Youzou stopped coaching fourteen years ago, Nitta High never made it to Kos.h.i.+en again.”

“You even found out about that?”

“n.o.body was willing to tell me.”

Hiros.h.i.+ was about to take out a cigarette from his pocket, but hurried clenched his fist. Ever since he grew ill, he decided to smoke no more than three cigarettes a day.

“I didn’t mean to hide it from you. It was just such a long time ago, I thought it had nothing to do with you.”

“I’ll decide for myself whether it has anything to do with me.”

Tak.u.mi put on his hat, bent over, and easily touched his palm to the ground. He repeated this stretch twice, three times before he fixed his hat again.

“I’m going running.”

“Tak.u.mi, you won’t stay to talk some more?”

Tak.u.mi put his hand on the doork.n.o.b as he turned around and said:

“I’m busy.”

“Don’t talk like a middle-aged salaryman.”

Hiros.h.i.+ gave a wry smile as he took one step closer to his son.

“You know, when your mom and I got married, your grandfather was against it. Maybe he had his own reasons. Your grandpa spent every day looking at healthy athletes in his baseball team, and in contrast, Dad must have seemed very unreliable. We argued for a long time, and your grandpa never even attended the wedding. In the end, your mom was really unhappy with your grandpa. She said he only cared about baseball and ignored everything else about the family. In short, after our marriage, your mom and grandpa never met again, though part of it was because I was transferred away and Seiha’s illness kept us busy. But as for you…”

Hiros.h.i.+ swallowed. Tak.u.mi held onto the doork.n.o.b without moving.

“You lived with grandpa before, around the time Seiha was born. Your mother was recovering after birth, and Seiha spent the entire time in an incubator. I had work every day, and since we really had our hands full at the time, Grandpa took you in. Mhm, back then your grandmother was still around, and she loved holding you.”

Tak.u.mi seemed to murmur something. The only audible thing was the word, “adult”.

“Huh? What did you say?”

“I said adults are always like that. You never tell me the things I want to know and always talk about pointless things instead. I’m going for a run.”

Tak.u.mi’s slender body disappeared on the other side of the door.

Hiros.h.i.+ stood with his hands in his pockets. His right hand tightly gripped the box of cigarettes.

Stepping out into the courtyard, Tak.u.mi smelled plums mixed with odor of burning wood. He went around to the rear gate, and he was confronted with the sound of crackling branches and smoke that hurt his eyes.

Youzou was was throwing firewood into the bathroom stove. When he saw Tak.u.mi approach, he asked if he was going for a run.

“It’s pretty amazing that you knew I was here.”

“Not really. I remember grandpa always used to burn firewood for bathwater.”

The sound grew louder as the flame in the mouth of the stove rolled into a whirlpool.

“Grandpa, I want you to teach me something.”

“What is it? How to burn firewood? It takes a lot of experience to do this, you know.”

Tak.u.mi sat down beside Youzou.

“Teach me how to throw a breaking ball.”

Youzou stuffed another piece of firewood into the stove. Yellow-orange flame flickered out of the sides of the iron stove, and it rumbled like a small beast.

“A breaking ball? You mean a curveball?”

“A curveball yes, but preferably a sinker.”

“Why do you want to throw breaking b.a.l.l.s? At your age, fastb.a.l.l.s are good enough for your level.”

“Grandpa, have you seen me pitch?”

“Semi-finals at the Chuugoku Tournament. I had some business in Hiros.h.i.+ma at the time, so I happened to watched a bit of it.”

Semifinals. So then he also that scene.

The Chuugoku Tournament was held in Hiros.h.i.+ma. In the second match of semi-finals, the White Tigers faced s.h.i.+monoseki’s Raging Lobsters A team.

Tak.u.mi never expected them to lose. Even if they lost two points because of the Texas Leaguer[1] at the bottom of the third inning, he still never expected to lose. The White Tigers was a team that played a better offense in the late game, and the pitcher of the other team wasn’t even that good. As long as one could hit the pitches to the inside and outside corners of the box and watch for those curveb.a.l.l.s, the pitcher could definitely be overcome. But, in the last inning, that is when they took the offensive in the 7th inning, three base hits converted into one scored point with runners on first and second. After an out it was Tak.u.mi’s turn at bat. At that moment, Tak.u.mi thought their next match was certainly going to be the finals. Although he wasn’t as good at batting as he was at pitching, it was actually pretty simple to hit the ball correctly. Not only does the force of the ball get rebounded by the bat, but added force comes from the chest. As long as they scored right here and then maintained their lead in the bottom of the inning, it would work out. Tak.u.mi was one hundred percent confident. The first pitch was a strike. The second and third were b.a.l.l.s. When he hit the fourth out of bounds, the catcher called for a time-out and ran for the pitcher’s mound.

The pitcher nodded after listening to his words, and his face looked quite composed.

He wasn’t going to swing at the next pitch.

Tak.u.mi decided this, but the fifth ball was a fastball to the inside.

Don’t look down on me.

With a forceful swing, the bat swung at air. He felt sharp pain in his torso and his feet lost control, causing him to fall backwards.

“Strike, batter out!”

Just in front of Tak.u.mi, who had fallen onto his b.u.t.t, the catcher shot the ball to second base, thus a.s.sa.s.sinating the runner. It happened in a split second.

Was that a sinker? The ball at dropped right in front of him.

“Runner out. The match has over.”

That was the resounding voice of the announcer.

Back in Okayama, Tak.u.mi watched the recording repeatedly. He was not interested in the first match that was a no-hitter, with no points lost, during which he threw ten strikeouts to reach the semifinals. Instead he watched the the last at-bat of the semifinals where he disgraced himself, the moment when he swung and missed.

“Did it seem like a sinker? That’s because the pitcher threw the ball with a off-tilt posture with a lowered shoulder. As a result, fastb.a.l.l.s to the inside corner will appear to naturally fall. Breaking b.a.l.l.s are banned in the Little League, and it was of judged as an ordinarily strike.”

“I was struck out. It was definitely because of the sinker. Grandpa, teach me.”

“No.”

Youzou refused.

“There’s no way I’m teaching a twelve, thirteen year old a sinker! You’ll ruin your elbow! Tak.u.mi, truly good pitchers no have need to throw any fishy breaking b.a.l.l.s.”

“I know. As a pitcher, my abilities are strong enough to defeat middle, even high school students with ease.”

“You’re really confident.”

“That’s a fact.”

“Then what are you so concerned about?”

“I can’t forgive them.” Tak.u.mi murmured. It was a barely audible whisper.

“I can’t forgive other people for throwing b.a.l.l.s that I can’t.”

Youzou hand that was holding firewood froze.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying. Why does it matter to you whether you can forgive what kind of b.a.l.l.s other pitchers throw? It simply makes no sense.”

“That’s not important. I don’t want to learn the sinker because of baseball matches! It’s because I want to pitch… that hurts!”

Tak.u.mi’s face contorted. Youzou had grabbed his right wrist.

“Tak.u.mi, do not underestimate baseball. b.a.l.l.s aren’t just something for you to throw around. Fool! Did you know in order to thoroughly learn the sinker, your wrist needs to bear a great amount of strain? You’re not even using hard b.a.l.l.s yet! Do you want your useless pride to make it so that your hand can never hold a ball again?! For now when you play baseball, just throw them straight into your catcher’s glove.”

Youzou’s hand moved to pinch Tak.u.mi’s chin.

“Tak.u.mi, confidence is good, and you have talent. But you have to look a little further in the future, and don’t try to figure whatever breaking b.a.l.l.s. Wait for your body to develop, and become a pitcher that can throw strikes. Baseball is a far deeper game than you little rascal may think. Little fool.”

When his jaw was released, Tak.u.mi couldn’t help but prop himself up with his hands. He felt the moist soil through his palms.

“Well, hurry up and go running.”

Tak.u.mi stood up, and slowly brushed away the mud.

“That hurt, and that was really forceful. Don’t be an animal, Grandpa.”

Suddenly, Youzou’s spine seemed to shake slightly. A gurgling, indistinct laughter bubbled up.

“What’s so funny?”

“Haha, you said exactly the same thing ten years ago.”

“Ten years ago…”

“Yep. Back then you were nearly three years old, and you brought a ball here wanting me to teach you how to throw a curveball. I have no idea where you learned the word curveball, and even your grandmother was stumped. People didn’t take you seriously despite how hard you practiced, and in the end, you actually learned it. How terrifying.”

“That’s enough already! That was ten years ago, forget it!”

Youzou still kept laughing nonstop. Tak.u.mi kept his back to his grandfather as he started running.

“When you pa.s.s the gate, turn right and go straight. There’s a shrine across the bridge. If you’re going to run, that’s a fairly reasonable distance.”

Tak.u.mi lightly waved his hand back towards his grandfather. When he stepped out of the gate, a light wind was blowing, and the plum tree was blowing in the wind. The smell of plums once again enveloped his entire body.

Just as Tak.u.mi started to make several strides, another set of footsteps quickly approached.

“Dad.”

Makiko squatted down where her son had just been sitting.

“You’re the same as always, insisting on using firewood to heat the bath.”

“Of course. The bath water was always my responsibility.”

Makiko lowered her head and peered inside the stove.

“Dad, Tak.u.mi was just here. What did he say?”

“He had something he wanted me to help with, but I refused. Ahhh! Makiko, don’t stuff that many in.”

Makiko hurriedly pulled out some firewood. Bright orange embers scattered everywhere.

“Dad, can’t you help Tak.u.mi? I don’t know what he asked you, but he rarely asks others for help. Can you please?”

“No.”

Makiko sighed.

“Tak.u.mi really doesn’t know how to ask others for help. He doesn’t seem to like making requests, and he doesn’t seek advice. That child actually wanted to join the Little League, but I was against it and told him money was tight in the family. Though I was telling the truth, I wanted to keep him from playing baseball… but in the end he went and found the Little League application himself and came home saying: ‘I’m signing up. Can you fill out dad’s name?” He had already put down his own name and address. He never asked, ‘I’m thinking of joining’ or ‘Can I join?’, you know! He did it all himself. Even though he was just a fourth grader, the same age as Seiha right now, it was no use that I was against it.”

“It isn’t all a bad thing.”

Makiko took a short breath, and turned her body slightly.

“What do you mean by not a bad thing?”

“The Little League uses a soft ball. Pitchers shouldn’t use hard b.a.l.l.s too early. In my view, everyone should use soft b.a.l.l.s before middle school, slowly training those shoulders.”

“Enough.”

Makiko stood up. Her forehead was slightly soaked with sweat.

“Enough! n.o.body said anything about whatever hard b.a.l.l.s or soft b.a.l.l.s. Stop talking about baseball. Dad, you haven’t changed at all. All you talk about is baseball and more baseball! You’ve been like this since the beginning. Matches were more important than when I had Parent’s Day at school. When I had a fever, you cared more about your athlete’s injuries. Enough! I can’t take it anymore! I don’t want anything to do with baseball.”

Makiko shut up and squat down again, her hands wrapped across her chest.

“You and Tak.u.mi are very similar.”

“Huh?”

“When you got married, didn’t you figure it all out yourself? With your boyfriend, you even arranged the Tokyo apartment you were living in. Back then when you told me, ‘You’re just responsible for saying yes,’ that gave me a huge shock. I had thought: ‘My only precious daughter is getting married! What am I thinking?'”

“But Hiros.h.i.+ and I started dating in High School! If it were any ordinary dad, they would have found out long ago. Dad, you simply didn’t think much about me, and even if I said anything to you, you wouldn’t understand. Also Hiros.h.i.+ didn’t have the vaguest idea about baseball, so there was no way you’d like him. That’s a fact! You weren’t even willing to go to the wedding…”

“I think I got too stubborn. It’s a real pity I never got to see you wear a wedding dress. Your mother also told me: ‘I always knew you were an idiot about baseball, but I never realized you were an actual idiot.'”

Smoke burst out from the burning firewood. Makiko looked away.

“It seems like the firewood is crying from being set on fire. I don’t like it.”

Youzou remembered in the distant past, Makiko had once said the same thing in middle school.

“Dad, is it much of a ha.s.sle that we’re back?”

“Ha.s.sle? What are you talking about? It’s a parent’s dream to be able to live with their married daughter and grandchildren again.”

“Is that so? That’s good then.”

Youzou held out his hand and stroke Makiko’s elegant hair. It was glossy, supple hair.

“What about yourself? Do you have any regrets from coming back?”

Makiko shook her head.

“Honestly Dad, I was really worried earlier. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to live together without arguing, and the thought made me uneasy. But now I feel better. The air is very fresh here.”

“Air? What are you talking about?”

It was Makiko who laughed this time:

“It’s Seiha! That boy has very weak lungs, and the dirty city air isn’t good for him. After coming here, I feel really happy when I take deep breaths. When the air seeps through his lungs, it’ll be great for Seiha. Also Hiros.h.i.+’s work might lighten up so we’ll be able to eat dinner together. You might not believe me, Dad, but before the whole family wasn’t able to eat together more than one, two times a month. And even when we did, Hiros.h.i.+ would be so tired and out of it, and Tak.u.mi wouldn’t say a thing, so it’d just be Seiha and me talking. But from now on it won’t be a problem, and I can cook more purposefully. With everyone eating delicious food, chatting energetically, and Seiha getting healthier, I feel like there’s a lot of good things ahead of us.”

“Seiha, hmm.”

Youzou’s gaze wandered away from Makiko.

“He’s a good boy.”

Makiko laughed again, and the sound was very cheerful.

“Right? Since I have Seiha, I won’t be lonely. Even when something terrible happens and I feel depressed, as long as I see Seiha’s face, I’ll feel my energy resurface. That child has an extremely kind heart, and it even softens up my own mind. He tells me everything, and it’s also really interesting, so it’s like listening to a fairy tale.”

“And Tak.u.mi?”

Youzou pushed another piece of wood in.

“As for him, even if he says something I don’t understand him. I wonder if that rascal has a sense for that? That even if he shares his love for baseball with me, that I won’t understand?”

Makiko looked up at the sky, and then whispered:

“Tak.u.mi isn’t so much of a frail child, and whatever I think, he doesn’t care. He’s very mature, not dependent on anyone, and at times I think he only trusts himself. I think he is strong, but strong to the point other’s find him scary.”

Makiko slowly stroked her cheek. Under the glow of the fire, she looked a lot older than she does under daylight.

“As his own person, not caring about others, it’s very much like a pitcher’s personality.”

“What are you thinking? Pitchers aren’t solo players! Makiko, ahead of the pitcher, there’s a catcher. Behind him, there are seven infielders. All the players in the stadium and the entire audience is watching him. The mound is the most energy-conscious place that exists. The only moment when a pitcher feels alone is when a ball pitched which all his force gets. .h.i.t out of the park.”

“Okay, okay, I get it. You don’t need to talk about baseball anymore. This kind of stuff Tak.u.mi understands.”

“But his mother doesn’t understand! You don’t understand your own son? Oh whatever, the bath water is ready, so call Hiros.h.i.+ in for a bath.”

“But the sun is still out.”

“It’s because the sun is still out that you should take advantage of a wood stove bath. You can splurge a little bit.”

“Is that why you started boiling the bath water so early?”

“That’s right! To thank him for taking care of my clumsy daughter. Though, it’s a little late for me to show my thanks.”

“Hmph! How crude!”

“Mommy.”

Seiha suddenly pounced on her from behind.

“Oh dear, Seiha, that startled me.”

Makiko turned around and hugged Seiha.

“Mommy, Onii-chan isn’t here. Did he go running again?”

“That’s right, you know that your brother goes running every day.”

“But I want to go too. Ah! That looks like a crab!”

Seiha pointed some smoke that came out of the firewood.

“Crab, eh? Seiha is really interesting.”

“Mhm, Grandpa, I love this house. That’s a lot of fun things. Ah! Mommy, I found sunflower stalks in the yard. Come, I’ll show you.”

With her hands pulled by Seiha, Makiko stood up.

“It’s a really, really pretty color. The green is almost s.h.i.+ny.”

“That’s right, Seiha notices everything.”

As Makiko and Seiha left, Youzou was left alone. The firewood slowly disintegrated in the flames. He could hear Seiha’s laughter in the distance.

Battery v1c2

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Battery v1c2 summary

You're reading Battery v1c2. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Atsuko Asano already has 630 views.

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