You just what, Peter? You just what?”

This is a seiten no hekireki (青天の霹靂, bolt out of the blue). After all the persuading, all the planning, here he is with an ododo shita hohoemi (おどおどした微笑, sheepish smile) telling me he doesn’t want to Amerika ni ryūgaku suru (アメリカに留学する, go to school in the United States) after all!

Wait. Pause. Okoru na (怒るな, don’t get angry). Reisei (冷静, calm) — that’s what the situation calls for. Katto nattara (カッとなったら, if I lose my temper), he’ll lose his, and then where’ll we be? It’s 3 a.m. No need to wake the household.

“Sit down, Peter. Let’s talk quietly. Tell me about it.”

He sits. He talks quietly. Actually he tsubuyaku (つぶやく, mumbles); I can hardly kikitoru (聞き取る, catch) what he’s saying. “A little louder,” I say. “Not much louder. Just a little.”

“I said ai shite iru (愛している, I love her).”

“Love who? What — ” What if I’m ki ga kurutte iru (気が狂っている, going mad) and imagining this?

“You know who.”

“I know who? How — “

“I’ve told you a thousand times! You don’t listen to me!”

“I listened when you said you wanted to go to America, didn’t I?”

Calm. Calm. He’s crying. Damn. What is going on in that head of his? What goes on in the head of a 14-year-old boy? I was a 14-year-old boy once . . .


Yukino. He’s in love with Yukino. Well, I recognize the name, so he must have mentioned it, but donna kankei de (どんな関係で, in what connection) I can’t for the life of me recall. Yukino, Yukino . . . Maybe he’s right. Maybe I don’t listen to him as I should.

The story emerges slowly. She’s a dōkyūsei (同級生, classmate). She sits beside him. He koi ni ochita (恋に落ちた, fell in love) — whatever that might mean to a 14-year-old boy. He leaves it up to me to imagine his hanikanda (はにかんだ, bashful), awkward advances. She hanetsuketa (はねつけた, spurned him). In despair he made up his mind to go to America. At some point, why is not quite clear, she changed her mind. Not that she loves him, exactly, he admits, but she does seem to have come around to thinking him kind of cute. Suddenly, America no longer seems quite so attractive.

What am I supposed to say? It occurs to me, not for the first time, that I became a father too late in life to be a good one. I was 44 when Peter was born; I’m nearly 59 now, my kanreki (還暦, 60th birthday) just around the corner. Other fathers my age are seeing their children married, becoming grandfathers. Me, I’m dealing with a kiki (危機, crisis) in osanagoi (幼な恋, puppy love).

This much chie (知恵, wisdom) I do have — the wisdom to keep my mouth shut for now. Above all, don’t say, “You have no idea what love is!” It’s true of course, he doesn’t. But then — am I so sure I do?

“All right, Peter,” I say, breaking the silence. “Suppose we get some sleep. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. We’ll see what your mother says. Trouble is, your mother is so damned full of that satsujin jiken no saiban (殺人事件の裁判, murder trial) of hers . . . It’s all she seems to think about.”

“Yes. I wanted to kill her. Korosu tame ni naifu wo kaimashita (殺すためにナイフを買いました, I bought a knife in order to kill her). Kanojo wo nikundeita (彼女を憎んでいた, I hated her). I hated her as deeply as I loved her.” Suddenly the young hikokunin (被告人, defendant), seated in the shōnin no seki (証人の席, witness box), turns away from the bengonin (弁護人, defense lawyer) whose questions he is answering to the judges’ table, where Reiko Keyes sits as one of six saibanin (裁判員, lay judges). He smiles. It’s an engaging, friendly smile, bafflingly out of keeping, Reiko thinks, with the occasion. Addressing the judges directly, he says quietly, “Are you capable of understanding that, I wonder?”

“Please keep your attention here,” interposes the lawyer sternly.

“Please,” says the defendent. “Before you resume your jinmon (尋問, questioning), may I say one thing? It’s important to me to say it. It’s important that everyone understand. I did not kill Sayuri Fukuda, but I hated her and wanted her dead, and I could have killed her, and now that she is dead, I’m happy — yes, happier than I am devastated, though I am devastated, too! — because her death frees me from a far worse prison than any of you can put me in if you mistakenly convict me. Now . . . ” he turns his friendly smile on the lawyer and says pleasantly, “please proceed with your questioning.”