I woke up. A white ceiling. The aroma of chocolate mixed in with the smell of medicine.
I could run to the edge of hell and I still wouldn’t be able to escape this smell.
“Yamashita Kazue is dead.”
I turned to the side to see Mayuzumi sitting there. She was wearing a black dress, as if attending a funeral, chomping on a piece of chocolate. Despite her appearance, her tone was cheery, like she was talking about yesterday’s weather.
“What do you mean by dead?”
“Exactly as the word mean. She’s dead. After you made it back to the office, called an ambulance, and passed out. Yamashita Kazue, who had lost both her arms, survived despite losing a lot of blood, but she was pushed off the roof of the hospital while in a coma and died. Just like her sister. Do you want to see the newspaper?”
I looked at the paper she handed to me. There was a picture of a man who had broken into a hospital and murdered a patient. He looked much younger than when I saw him last.
“Curses, like chickens, come home to roost,” Mayuzumi said, biting into her chocolate. “This is what happens when you kill someone while they’re asleep. Absolutely tragic.”
I crumpled the newspaper. “Did you goad him?”
Sugita’s image came into my mind. While he was a persistent stalker, he never had the guts to cross that one, final line. But he did.
Who gave him the push?
“Did you tell him the truth?”
Snap. The chocolate split in half.
Mayuzumi chewed the chilled chocolate. “You ask, I answer. It doesn’t matter how stupid the question is.” The cold chocolate was just that, a cold chocolate. It looked nothing like a bloody placenta. Yet it still made my stomach churn. “I don’t goad anyone. Whether they kill someone or not, is up to the person. Just like jumping off rooftops.”
I got up slowly. There was no more pain. I flipped my shirt to find a wound, oddly small for being stabbed by a knife.
“You can get up now? That’s good.”
“Mayu-san. May I ask one more question?”
“Why, of course. Though I find having to repeat myself over and over irritating. I won’t get mad at you for asking questions, nor will I find it bothersome.”
I bit my lip. After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to ask. “You said you were willing to take on a murderer’s case. So why did you let this happen? Vile as she might have been, you could have carried things out as requested.”
“Don’t you get it? I didn’t care about the case itself.” Mayuzumi answered flatly. And without any shred of conscience, she continued. “If it sounds interesting, I’ll take even a murderer’s case. But this time, it was a little different. I didn’t care about the case itself. I gave Yamashita Yukiko a hundred-yen coin out of curiosity.”
It wasn’t out of compassion that she saved Yamashita Yukiko. Nor did she feel for the poor woman. What she harbored was pure, childish curiosity.
“I wanted to see someone jump to their death right in front of me.”
The sequence played back in my mind. A corpse loomed in front of me, and the sound of a body being crushed rang out. I’d heard the same sound in the past. My vision switched to a rooftop under a blue sky. Someone was standing there. Her dress swayed in the wind, and she suddenly broke into a run, as if answering to a command. For a split-second, she froze mid-air, then gravity pulled her and slammed her on the ground.
I heard the sound of someone falling.
I rid my mind of the image. I should not think about it. Must not recall it. My stomach ached, and I broke out in a sweat. Unpleasant memories are best left untouched.
Otherwise, my belly would open up again.
“One more thing, Mayu-san,” I asked, enduring the dull pain in my stomach.
“Yes?” Mayuzumi gave a soft smile.
I had a vague idea of what her answer would be. In that case, why not just ask?
“Did you also expect me to get attacked?”
“That, I did. I hadn’t seen them in a while. Don’t you want to know how they’re doing?”
My vision boiled red. I wanted to beat up the girl in front of me. But there was no point in doing that. Even if her cheekbones were shattered, she would continue eating her chocolate as if nothing happened. I clasped my hands tight.
“Oh, one last thing,” she added. I didn’t know if she sensed the struggle in me. “The thing inside your belly is safe.”
I finally snapped. My fist aimed straight for Mayuzumi’s face, but using what little reason I had left, I switched my target to the wall. With a loud thud, the bones on my fingers creaked. The intense pain said they were broken, but it managed to cool down my boiling head. Mayuzumi was eating her chocolate with a calm look.
“What is it?”
“I hope you die.”
“When the time comes, I will,” she replied. “Do you want some?” She offered me chocolate.
“No, thank you,” I said curtly and turned my gaze away from her.
The sky from the window of the hospital room was as clear and blue as ever. It was the same color as the one I saw from the foot of the building that day.
I felt the urge to smoke a cigarette.
All of a sudden, there was a new hundred-yen coin in my hand. It wasn’t mine. Who gave it to me?
I have a mint coin in my fingertips. I don’t know who gave it to me. I wonder if I should use it. I don’t think I can take the extreme thirst anymore. I pushed the hundred yen-coin into the vending machine. With a clink, the coin fell, and the red light turned on.
It was only expected. Yet for some reason, it made me feel emotional.
After much deliberation, I opted for a diet soda. I don’t have to worry about calories anymore, but I like how it’s less sweet than regular soda. I pulled the pull-tab, and the drink gave off a refreshing fizz. I pressed my lips on the can, feeling a crisp coldness and a cheap sweetness stinging my tongue. I downed the contents all at once, savoring the plesant sensation running down my throat. It was then that I saw the sky.
Someone was standing against the blue canvas.
I’d looked up at that figure many times. It was only a vague silhouette then, but now it suddenly turned into a clear image. They were wearing the same dress as my sister. The hem that fluttered in the wind looked like clouds. I like the color white. I always hated it when my sister imitated me. Looking at her like this, I decided that the outfit looked better on me.
Oh, that’s me.
The moment I realized this, heaven and earth switched places. A gale caressed my cheeks. I was staring at the vending machine from the rooftop. There was no one there now, only stains from a soda that someone dropped. The place I had been looking at from the bottom of the building was vast. The place I had longed for was blue, pure, boundless. I took a step forward, gazing at the blue sky that I had yearned for for almost an eternity.
I’d been waiting for this, the feeling of falling.
For the first time in my life, I could finally die.