Now that Kiriko’s magic was fading, everything she “undid” was being returned to its proper state.
It seemed the accident that killed me led to this park being shut down and abandoned.
It had fallen into ruin. Everything was left half-destroyed, as if they gave up in the middle of dismantling it.
We exited the gondola filled with dead leaves. I turned around and saw the rusted Ferris wheel without any power lightly swaying in the frigid wind.
No one was in the control booth, and shattered gla.s.s lay all around it.
Kiriko and I were the only ones left in the park.
“When did you notice I was Mizuho Yugami?”, I asked.
“On Halloween, when I fell asleep on your shoulder on the train, I had a nostalgic feeling,” Kiriko replied. “That led me to realize it.”
Carefully stepping down the stairs full of holes, we held hands and walked around the park.
Not all the lights were dead, necessarily; a few remaining ones still flickered. The pavement was cracked all over, and weeds grew up from the cracks.
Ivy wrapped around the fence surrounding the merry-go-round, the white horses were stripped of paint, and some of the carriages had fallen over.
The boarding platform for the roller coaster had susuki gra.s.s growing on it, and the cars were covered with a blue sheet.
Walking along the mossy rails, we saw a pile of wreckage in an unfilled pool underneath. Benches, signs, two-seater bicycles, go-karts, tents, toy soldiers missing their arms, clowns without noses, skates, tires, oil drums, iron slopes, drab flower and bird statues.
I asked a question.
“Kiriko, why could you not postpone your death for even a month, yet be able to postpone someone else’s death for more than five years?”
“It should be easier to understand thinking in reverse,” she suggested. “I just couldn’t postpone my own death for five years.”
I could accept that. Maybe I didn’t need to ask her why.
I felt I also understood now why Kiriko’s revenge on her father had only been hitting him with a hammer. I had already carried out the revenge on him. The revenge she conducted was only continuing on from there.
And then, the last question.
If Kiriko’s death meant everything she “undid” would go back to normal, what would happen to us?
Once the postponement of the accident in which I ran Kiriko over was fully repealed, Kiriko would die.
And as soon as Kiriko died, her postponement of the accident at this park in which I died would be repealed, and I wouldn’t exist to run Kiriko over.
It was a situation comparable to the “grandfather paradox” in the notion of time travel, only with life and death completely switched.
Would Kiriko survive? Just as I began to wonder, Kiriko spoke.
“Once you’re gone, Mizuho, I think I’ll follow soon after. As settlement for all my crimes, as well.”
“No, I can’t allow it,” I responded. “Whatever happens, I want you to keep living.”
Kiriko b.u.mped her head into my back. “Liar.”
I had no response. She was right; I was a liar. I should have been glad she would follow after me in death.
“…Also, how much longer do you think we’ll have to wait?”, I asked.
“Just a little longer,” she answered with a lonely smile. “Just a little.”
My mind turned to my impending death. But I couldn’t be particularly sad about it.
Now that my memories were back, I knew that I had been the salvation of at least one girl. My soul was able to properly burn bright.
What more could I want?
After getting off the rails and going around to all the attractions, we sat together on an iron bench in front of the Ferris wheel.
Just like the days when we listened to music together in the gazebo, each using an earbud.
A small white drop of light pa.s.sed in front of my eyes. I didn’t notice it was snow until my eyes focused.
That’s right, I remembered. They’d said on the radio that the first snow would be coming sooner this year.
The snowflakes gradually got big enough to see without straining my eyes.
“I’m glad we could see this one last time,” I said.
I noticed Kiriko’s tone had changed slightly, and turned my gaze toward her.
She was no longer seventeen.
“Hey, Mizuho,” 22-year-old Kiriko said. “Do you hate me?”
“Well, how about you, Kiriko? Do you hate me for running you over?”
She shook her head. “The time I spent with you was my real life. You breathed life into me. I can let you off on killing me once or twice.”
“Then that makes this easy. I feel the same way.”
“…Is that right?”
Saying “thank goodness,” Kiriko put her right hand on my left. I flipped it over and put my fingers between hers.
“It might be worthless to say this now, but…”
“What is it?”
“I love you, Kiriko.”
“See, I told you it was worthless.”
“I love you too, Mizuho.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Then can I have a kiss?”
“Let’s do it.”
We brought our faces close.
“Oh, come to think of it,” Kiriko said just as we were about to kiss. “It seems "that thing” didn’t exist after all.“
"Way to remember letters from such a long time ago.”
“So you’re saying you remember it too, Mizuho?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “And I guess "it” isn’t just a kind lie.“
"So it seems,” Kiriko smiled. “I’m glad to know that in the end.”
We put our cold lips together.
As we did, the speakers began playing music to announce closing time.
Right on cue, even the meager light remaining fell away.
The park was swallowed up by the night.
I hate this world. Even so, I think it’s beautiful.
There are countless things too sad to bear, and irrational things I can’t forgive, but I don’t regret being brought to this world as a person rather than a flower, a bird, or a star.
The letters Kiriko and I exchanged day by day. The music we listened to leaning on each other. The moon we looked up at from the mud. The warmth of her hand in mine. Our first kiss in the graveyard. The rhythm of her breathing as she leaned on me. The piano we played together in my dim apartment.
As long as I had such beautiful memories, I could turn my back to the world and hold hands with it.
In the end, I had a vision of a merry-go-round. Or maybe it was a world Kiriko used the last of her strength to show me, one where all sadness had been “undone.”
We sat on the horses, laughing together, both at child age. We reached out at each other, and our fingertips touched.
Wooden horses swinging up and down like a cradle, music like from a nursery, bright lights twinkling in the darkness.
I wanted that vision to last forever, but it was as fleeting as the flame of a match.
Snow piled on my shoulders and head. My eyelids came down, and my senses slowly faded into the distance.
An end was coming to these lovable days full of lies and mistakes.
The only appropriate thing to leave Kiriko with, after she’d lived a life filled with more pain than anyone, was that foolish consolation.
I gently stroked her head, then pushed out those words.
Pain, pain, go away.
There are a lot of holes to fall into around here. That was the way I, at least, came to see the world.
Small holes, big holes, shallow holes, deep holes, easily-seen holes, hard-to-see holes, holes no one had yet fallen in, holes many had fallen in.
Truly, a wide variety. Thinking about each and every one of them made me too uneasy to take a single step.
When I was young, I liked stories that let me forget about the holes. And not just I, but everyone seemed to like writing stories that described a safe world, where all the holes had covers put over them. We might call them “sterilized stories.”
Of course, the protagonists don’t have only good things happening to them, and in fact experience an above-average amount of suffering and hardship.
But ultimately, it all helps them to mature, and give them a rea.s.suring feeling that “people can accept anything and live.” That’s the way of those stories.
I think that we don’t wish to induce sadness in our fiction as well.
But one day, I suddenly realized I was in a dark hole. I fell in most irrationally, without any prior warning. It was an extremely small and hard-to-see hole, so I couldn’t hope for others’ help.
Yet luckily, the hole was not deep enough that I couldn’t crawl out, so over a long period of time, I made it out by my own power.
Once back on the surface, basking in the warm sun and clean wind again, I thought. No matter how careful people are, they never know when they’ll run into a pitfall. That’s the way of our world.
And perhaps the next hole I fall into could be a deeper one. Deep enough that I’d never make it back here again. What, in that case, am I to do?
Following that, I stopped earnestly reading those “stories that plug up the holes” I described previously. Instead, I came to prefer stories that portrayed “people getting along happily in holes.”
Because I thought, I want to hear the story of the person who, in a dark, deep, narrow, cold hole, can smile without it being a bluff. To me, there might not be anything more consoling than that.
“Pain, Pain, Go Away” was the story of people who fell into a hole they could never again escape. Yet I wrote it intending it not to be purely a gloomy story, but a cheerful one too.
It really may not appear that way, but it is. It is.
- Sugaru Miaki