Tenderness Is Not Allowed To Persist
by Rob Morris
Mayu was a dutiful girl, always trying to be good.
Since good was defined by never upsetting Mama, this was hard. She even began to wonder if she was the kind of person who deserved to have bad things happen to her.
She wanted to talk to her Papa, but Papa was already talking with his brother, her uncle. It sounded like sad stuff, so she didn't interrupt (a dutiful girl never would).
"So you were there? At the Festival? You could tell a little brother these things, man."
Uncle smiled, and made sure to smile at Mayu, which made her smile.
"Got an idea. Why doesn't Mayu-chan go and see her Aunt and the new baby? I'll bet they'd really both like that!"
The little girl got up, and nodded enthusiastically.
"Mayu would like that as well, Uncle!"
Immediately correcting her rush to Auntie's hospital room, Mayu thought of how she would try to be a good onee-chan to the new baby, and make sure she was always good, too. Once she was out of earshot, the older brother explained himself.
"I didn't tell you-or even Arika--because it was all so bizarre. I didn't want to think about it myself."
Kenjiro, the younger brother and Mayu's proud Papa, shook his head.
"Is what they're saying true? Was there a bomb?"
The older brother shrugged.
"I dunno, man. It looked like it could have been a bomb, but not only people got cut cleanly in two, so did the concession stands---one made out of steel. One thing I'll never forget--this little girl walks away from the whole thing--her hair looked pink, maybe from splattered blood. It was all over her. She gave me a look so creepy, I got a headache. Bad headache, like a blood vessel burst or something. The cops found another little girl, cowering behind something, then screaming to them about how a horned devil had done this. Then it gets worse."
"LOTS worse. See, I was watching the news report the next day, and that cowering girl with the wild story to tell? Her family left to go back to Hokkaido. Someone was on the train, butchered her, her father and left her older brother a trembling wreck."
Kenjiro was not law enforcement, any more than his brother was. But he knew what this likely was.
"Kaze No Kaede--Killer Wind From The Maples. Are they ever going to catch this guy? Onii-Chan, tell the annoying tagalong kid brother some good news."
He had some, at least.
"Well, with my HVAC certificate, my friend says I'm a shoe-in for that project off on Breakfront Island. The government is expanding the---hmm--oh yeah--the National Institute On Human Evolution. Must be big. Old Man Kakuzawa gave up his chairmanship of the Zaibatsu just to head this one up personally."
Kenjiro decided to lighten the mood, which frankly needed it.
"My big brother--part of a corrupt government boondoggle. Like the Supremes said--brings nothing but heartache."
The two laughed, just a bit, but then Kenjiro got serious again.
"Hey, Bro? That bomb, if it was one? Could it have been a biological attack, too? Maybe it's responsible for--ya know? It was ten months back. The timeframe would meet up."
The new father shook his head.
"Can't say, little bro. But the hospital said they're sending for a specialist. Actually, he's a guy from the Institute. Then we'll find out what's going on."
At the door to the hospital room, Mayu poked her head in. Auntie Arika smiled. It was easy to make her smile. So hard with Mama, especially since her brother and his family went away--something about the Maple Trees.
Mayu missed her other uncle, and knew her Mama missed him so much, she had become permanently sad, despite how good she had been.
*Mayu will just have to be better, then!*
Someone who already thought she was as good as a child could get nodded at her.
"Has our Mayu-chan come to see the new baby? How about it, Hana? Do you want to meet your big cousin?"
Mayu moved forward, gingerly, awe and wonder still in her eyes, years before it was taken while the thief never once looked her in the eyes.
"Ohhh, Auntie...Baby Hana is so pretty. She looks like a little..."
A third voice broke in, one that shook Mayu and couldn't fail to press a button in Arika.
"MAYU! YOU WILL QUIT BOTHERING YOUR AUNTIE RIGHT NOW! She needs her rest."
Mayu knew better than to offer even the slightest rejoinder to her mother, but did say one more thing before running out of the room.
"My apologies to you, Mama. Good day, Auntie Arika. It was good to meet you, Baby Hana. I hope that we will be friends as you grow older."
A fresh glare from her mother completed Mayu's withdrawal, happily well away from the room where she felt, once again, she must have done something bad.
If a child before birth had any say in who its parents were, then perhaps Mayu could have been said to do something at least half-bad.
"KEEP your devil-freak child away from mine! Isn't it bad enough you brought that thing into the world? Your family is from Hiroshima, isn't it?"
Arika did not like her sister-in-law in the slightest, and wished that Kaze No Kaede had gone to her home, while Mayu and Kenjiro were out. The woman's late brother, she had liked.
"My family is from Sapporo. That is supposedly a potential site of a third atom bomb drop. So your rant is more accurate than most of them. Your child is remarkable too, Shin-Bone. Remarkable in that something like you produced such an angel as Mayu."
Arika called her Shin-Bone, a mix of her proper name and the place she felt a pain in every time this woman came around.
"You insult me? When your bad genes are giving our husbands' family a poor reputation?"
The baby, not yet named Hana on her birth certificate, was still sleeping soundly. Arika was as worried as anyone for her health, but respected her ability to snooze soundly as verbal cannon fire erupted.
"It's reputation you're concerned with, isn't it? That's really all you're ever concerned with. If my child's scalp deformity was somehow catching, you'd be concerned less for Mayu and more for what the neighbors think."
Arika had struggled to see what her brother-in-law supposedly saw in this woman. The good supposedly buried beneath the selfish child nearly everyone else viewed on constant display. It was not something she was capable of doing.
"Some of us are concerned with keeping up appearances, and putting our best foot forward. If we are taken lightly by those around us, then what do we have? So will you relieve this clan and have that monster and her 'scalp deformity' put down?"
Arika did not have the powers that her child would one day display. Her sister-in-law, had she known what gratitude was, would have been so grateful for this fact, had either of them known.
"Tell my niece to keep her whiny-devil mother away from my entire family. I am sorry your brother died. But he loved your family almost as much as his own, and you do his memory a great wrong by always remembering him in sadness that you then export to everyone else around you!"
'Shin-bones slapping hand was stopped by a hand grabbing hers. Her brother-in-law had a limit.
"If you think we're dumping our baby in a field somewhere, and if you think that you are ever touching my wife, then it's my brother's sanity I question."
Kenjiro arrived and shook his arms in the air.
"Bro, Don't! You'll just make things worse."
The bitter woman ran out, shaking with fury, as her brother-in-law let her husband have it.
"Wake up, little brother. It isn't ever getting any better with her."
Kenjiro shrugged before running after his wife.
"You know how she gets!"
If the new concerned parents thought the departure of their soon-to-fracture married relations would give them a moment of breathing room, this was to prove as great a fantasy as Kenjiro thinking his wife was just having a bad day.
A man entered the room, bespectacled and looking very serious. He inspected the sleeping newborn.
"So curious. Not only hair colors outside the Japanese experience, like blonde or red, but now lilac-purple?"
Behind this intruder, two big and obviously armed men stood ready. He looked at one of them.
"What room is available?"
"Number Seven, Chief Monitor. The former resident rushed the attendants. Standard procedure followed."
Her husband reasoned that this was the man from the Institute he was told of, but Arika, resting up, had not been told anything.
"Just who are you, and why are you here?"
The man looked not uncaring, but nor did he look overly compassionate, a fact confirmed as he got right to the point.
"My name is Daisuke Kurama. I am here for the child."