When Franz woke up, not much had changed. He was still in the big new house by the cemetery, which he had just moved into with his wife, Hina, and her parents. It was still Day One. Probably. “How long have I been out?” he asked Hina, whose face was hovering over his, her expression undecided between concern and amusement.
“About five minutes. You should take it slowly, and don’t forget to drink. A lot of people have problems coping with the summer heat. Also, it wouldn’t kill you to wear shorts when it’s around 40 degrees outside.”
“There you are wrong,” he answered. “It will kill me. At least it will kill the image I have of myself.”
“And what image is that?”
“That of a grown-up.” It wasn’t full-blown summer yet, but he was glad his family had needed only five minutes to come up with a narrative about his breakdown that would save face for everyone involved. He suddenly noticed that he had been moved from where he fell. “Who put me on the sofa?” He was too heavy for his wife to lift him up from the floor.
“My father. He is still pretty strong. Did he ever tell you the stories about his old sumo club?”
“Not directly. Where is he now?”
Hina said he was looking around Franz’s study on the second floor. It was the only room that already looked lived in, all boxes unpacked. Franz went upstairs, despite his wife’s insistence to lie still and hydrate.
“Lots of books,” Katsu said when Franz joined him. It was not clear whether he was speaking to himself or addressing his son-in-law. The latter would have been a first.
With no Japanese-to-Japanese interpreter in sight, Franz decided to try his luck. “It’s mostly for work.”
His father-in-law picked up an old comic book with bizarre, psychedelic cover artwork. He tried to read the English title. “Za … A … Aru …”
“‘The Armageddon Rejects,'” Franz helped out.
“Work?” He looked amused. It was just a single word, but it was definitely directed at Franz. Progress.
“It’s research,” Franz explained. “I’m translating the TV series for Netflix.”
“Netto …?” He gave a puzzled look.
“Anyway, you might actually like it. Parts of it are inspired by Japanese culture. The Brotherhood of Zen, for instance. They are those villains who basically do nothing, but in a very complicated way.”
Katsu’s look turned from puzzlement to irritation. “Japanese villains,” he muttered. He put the comic book down. So much for connecting to my in-laws over my work, Franz thought. Then Katsu’s eyes caught something else. It was a study Franz was translating for an academic publisher. “Masana Maeda!” Katsu said. His eyes lit up. “You know Maeda?”
“Yes, he was quite a passionate intermediary between East and West.”
“Did you know he invented toilet paper?”
“Not invent so much as improve it, but yes.”
Katsu made a sound of appreciation. Together they went downstairs where Hina and her mother were sorting through boxes. “Did you know Franz wrote a book about Masana Maeda?” Katsu asked his wife.
Franz interjected: “I didn’t write it. I’m just translating it.”
His mother-in-law smiled at Hina. “What did he say?”
Before Hina could repeat his words, Katsu did. Franz’s and Hina’s eyes met. If looks could high-five, that’s what they did.
Later, when Rumiko and Katsu had gone to bed, and the living room looked almost livable, Franz said: “At least one of your parents is talking to me without an interpreter. That calls for Champagne.”
“No Champagne for me, thanks.”
“It was just an expression. It’s not like we have Champagne.” He walked into the adjacent kitchen, opened the new, bigger, utterly empty fridge. “Or anything. I’ll drop by Ministop and get us some cans of highball.”
“No drinks for me, we need to talk about … our extended family.”
“Do we? It worked out well. Everyone seems fine.”
“Everyone who’s already here.”
“Please don’t say your aunts and uncles are also moving in.”
“Don’t worry. And please don’t faint again.” Reflexively she touched her belly, which did not look in any way unusual. Yet. “Franz, I’m pregnant.”
He did not know what to say, so he said: “Can I have the can of highball?”
“You can have mine too if it helps.”
“I love you.”
End of season one.
Andreas Neuenkirchen is a German novelist and essayist based in Tokyo. “Leaving Happy Road” is a work of fiction. Some of the names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5