Once the lights were turned out in the room, Douno felt a touch on his cheek. The man always touched him, but Douno felt like his fingers were warmer than usual. What if―he wondered. His suspicions were proven as the hand lifted the hem of the pyjama T-shirt he was wearing.
“Kei.” He restrained the searching hand with his own.
“You don’t want to?” the man whispered in his ear. Douno shivered at his voice, low and breathy. Even at this age, Kitagawa still desired him physically, though naturally less frequently then before.
‘You’re too old for that,’ he knew some people might say, but Douno enjoyed sex with Kitagawa. It was a bumpy ride at first, when they were new to it. But after they had gotten the hang of it, Douno found himself able to honestly enjoy their physical intimacy.
“It’s not that I don’t want to, but...”
It had barely been days since the funeral. Douno felt somewhat guilty having sex in this house, where the presence of his mother still lingered all around them. As if sensing his hesitation, Kitagawa asked him again.
“Should I stop?”
So he was the only one who felt guilty for having sex. Douno had brought Kitagawa over to this house many times while his mother was still alive, figuring it would be harmless if he introduced him as a friend. But this was reality: he felt honestly happy to be sought after like this. I’m sorry. This man is my one and only, he apologized mentally to his mother.
“Keep going,” he murmured.
They took off each other’s clothes. Their intimacy left Douno with no room to think of other things. He became completely absorbed in seeking and being sought. He figured he would be used to it by now, but he tensed every time Kitagawa was about to penetrate him. Kitagawa, apparently aware of it, always took his time leading up to entering. Perhaps it was his way of showing consideration, but when it went too far, it often made Douno lose his patience and grind up against the man himself.
Jostled by the heat that touched him and the heat that bore into him, Douno blacked out for an instant. When he came to again, the man was still inside him, burrowing deep as if to search for something.
Once they had made love to satisfaction, Kitagawa left Douno and went downstairs. The rural house did not have a shower. Perhaps that was why Kitagawa wiped him down thoroughly with a wet towel instead. The cold towel felt nice on his skin, which was still slightly flushed from the heat.
After cleaning up, Douno touched Kitagawa again and was startled to feel icy skin when it had been hot moments before.
“I took a bath in the leftover bathwater,” Kitagawa said, appearing not to mind at all.
“It probably wasn’t even bathing temperature anymore, was it?”
“It felt cool and nice.”
“You’ll catch a cold like that.”
“I’ll be fine. It’s all good.”
Douno was gently enveloped by cold flesh.
“You’re warm, Takafumi.”
“Admit it, you were feeling cold after all.”
They teased each other as they wriggled back under the covers. Kitagawa’s cold skin soon warmed to Douno’s own temperature, to his relief.
Kitagawa buried his face into Douno’s chest affectionately, and Douno closed his eyes as he stroked the man’s head. He remembered the night of his mother’s death, the man standing in the doorway, holding the dry cleaner’s bag with the mourning clothes; Kitagawa’s profile as he said he had come because he thought it would be better if he was here by Douno’s side; his shoulders as he stood in the field of silver grass―the images flashed one by one in the back of Douno’s mind.
He remembered what Kitagawa had said to him once, a very long time ago. Stay with me until I die.
Now, he wanted to say the same to Kitagawa. Please be with me until I die. Even in my last moments, you’re the one gentle person I want by my side.
Last moments, Douno thought, and he suddenly realized something. If he died before Kitagawa did, what would happen? His sister would become the chief mourner, and his ashes would be buried in the Douno family grave. Then, who would take care of Kitagawa when he was left behind? If he fell ill, if he died... who would be there to care for him in his last moments?
His mother was missing, and it was unknown whether she was even alive or dead. His relatives were the kind of people to abandon him when life got hard. Nothing could be expected from them. Even if by some chance a relative was found, just imagining Kitagawa being treated like a burden was enough to make Douno’s heart ache.
He had always felt those things―tangible things―were unnecessary. But they had been young back then. Now that they were old enough to see the end of the road, Douno could not help but think.
If he was the one to go first, he did not want to leave this man behind alone. The last thing he wanted to see was his cherished person being neglected. Douno wished he would be able to die after this man, but he had already learned the hard way that fate was not so kind.
They ended up sleeping in, and when Douno woke, it was close to ten in the morning. Kitagawa was lying on his stomach, still sleeping. Douno reached out and stroked the man’s short, greying whiskers, for no reason in particular. The man woke up. His eyes were still filled with sleep as he grinned boyishly at Douno. It was overwhelmingly endearing.
Kitagawa slowly sat up and kissed Douno on the lips as if to say good morning. After rubbing his prickly cheek like a cat’s tongue against Douno’s cheek, he stretched his arms out and arched his back. The light streaming in through the faded curtains was frighteningly bright.
“Looks like it’ll be sunny today, too,” Kitagawa murmured. By the time they finished a meal that fell somewhere between breakfast and lunch, the clock was ticking past eleven thirty.
“So what did you want to talk about?” Kitagawa said.
Douno had told Kitagawa beforehand while he did the dishes to come to the living room after he was done.
“Right. Have a seat here.” Douno made him sit across the table. He took a deep breath.
“Kei, I’m wondering if you’ll enter my register.” 
Kitagawa tilted his head. I don’t understand what you’re talking about, his face seemed to say.
“By entering my register, I mean becoming my adopted son.”
Kitagawa appeared to ponder a little before replying with a grave face.
“I’d prefer to be your lover than your kid.”
“You’d only become my ‘son’ for the sake of convenience. I’m not telling you to actually become my child. We’ll stay the same as we are now, except you’ll be in my register.”
“If things are going to stay the same, I wouldn’t need to enter your register, would I?”
“I see what you mean, but... thinking ahead, I feel like it would be best to. If I happen to―and I’m just talking about possibilities―if I happen to die first, though I won’t have much, I want to leave you everything I have. This would be hard to do if we’re complete strangers. That’s why―”
Suddenly Kitagawa’s expression hardened.
“I don’t want money, and I don’t even want to talk about when you die, Takafumi.”
He stood up and made to leave the living room, and Douno hastily stopped him.
“Kei, we’re not young anymore,” he said steadily. “Some day, one of us is going to die first. I don’t know if it’ll be you or me, but... if we go by age, I’ll be first.”
Kitagawa closed his mouth tightly and clenched his jaw. He looked like he was on the verge of tears, and just the sight of him filled Douno with pity.
“And that’s all the more reason why I want to set things in order. Let’s do this together.”
“...My heart hurts.” Kitagawa’s voice sounded like it was being squeezed out from the back of his throat. “My heart hurts, Takafumi.”
“It’s because you’re thinking about what’ll happen if I die. Entering my register is not going to change anything. And if you don’t want to change your last name, Kei, you can keep it. It might be selfish, but I want you to agree to this.”
“I told you I don’t want any money!”
“It’s not just about money. If we’re not in the same register, we might not be able to share the same grave.”
“Grave...?” Kitagawa echoed.
“You and I are complete strangers. It might be fine while we’re still healthy, but who’s going to take care of you when you grow weak? You have no family or relatives. What’s going to happen when you die and there’s no one to arrange your funeral, no one to claim your ashes?”
“I don’t matter. I don’t care about after I die―”
“But I do. I don’t want to see you mistreated. That’s why―let’s become family in the real sense. Enter my register, and even after you die, come to stay with the Douno family... come back to stay with me.”
Kitagawa’s face was vague, a mixture of surprise and hurt. Then, he lowered his eyes like a scolded child and mumbled.
“If I die, Takafumi, you don’t have to stay with me. You should do whatever you want.”
Heat rose to Douno’s head in anger, and his hand moved before words could escape his mouth. Kitagawa raised his face as if surprised, and Douno also panicked at himself for slapping him.
“I’m sorry. That must’ve hurt,” Douno apologized.
“...Why’re you mad?”
Instead of addressing the pain, Kitagawa’s answer was one that furtively gauged Douno’s mood. The fact pained him.
“Fine,” Douno said shortly. “If you say so, I’ll do what I want. I’ll put you in my register. And... after you die, I’ll put you in the Douno family grave. Enjoy feeling awkward right beside my parents.”
“I think money is important, but what I want to say is... I want someone to be with you right up until your last moments.”
Kitagawa threw his arms around Douno, pressing his body right up to the other man’s, and Douno nearly tumbled over backwards from the momentum. He dug his heels in, but unable to support the man, he half-slid, half-crumpled to a sitting position on the floor.
The arms across Douno’s back held him with such strength that his fingers dug into his skin. But Douno could not bring himself to say it hurt.
“If I become your kid, Takafumi...” Douno could hear the man murmur at his ear, “would I stop being afraid of dying?”
On Saturday, Tomoko came out again to help clean up. By then, Douno and Kitagawa had already tidied up most of the contents of the house, but they had left the clothes that Douno’s mother used to wear, unable to bring themselves to discard them. Tomoko briskly began to sort them out. She was more decisive than Douno as she divided the clothes into a pile to keep and a pile to discard.
In the de-cluttered house, Douno and Tomoko discussed the savings their mother had left, as well as taxes. Once they paid for the funeral costs, the amount left in their mother’s bank account was but a small portion. It was definitely no amount which would spark a fight over inheritance.
When Douno asked if he could have the house, Tomoko told him she had planned it to be that way from the start.
“I’ve left the Douno household, and I have my own home now, anyway. You should move here after you retire. It’s old, but I think you’ll be able to live in it for a good while longer.”
Douno looked at his surroundings as he listened to his sister speak. Kitagawa was not here. Thirty minutes ago, Douno had sent him to the supermarket to run an errand. If things went as planned, the man would not be back for another hour.
Now would probably be the time to bring this topic up, but he still hesitated. He would probably be questioned as to why, and he was afraid of his sister’s reaction to his answer. But he felt like if he missed this opportunity, he would never be able to bring it up to her again.
“I actually have something important to talk to you about, besides inheritance and property.”
Tomoko turned around while she folded their mother’s clothes, ones she had kept as mementos.
“It’s about Kitagawa, the guy I live with.”
“Uh-huh,” his sister replied. “He’s a little different, isn’t he?”
“You think so?”
“The things he says just come out of the blue, but he doesn’t seem to mean any ill by it. I could see why you two would get along.”
If he remembered correctly, Tomoko had barely spoken to Kitagawa. Douno was surprised to hear her say she thought they got along well.
“Why do you think so?”
“Why? Well, let’s see... he’s gruff, but he seems nice. He doesn’t talk much, but you never liked talkative people anyway.”
It was a saving grace, if it could be called that, that Tomoko did not have a bad impression of Kitagawa.
“Yeah, so about him―I’m thinking of entering him into my register.”
“What?” Tomoko spun around. “Register? What do you mean?”
Tomoko’s voice was clearly distraught as she questioned him.
“That’s just what I mean. I want to put Kitagawa in my register. More accurately, that would mean Kitagawa would become my adopted child.”
Tomoko hung her head and pressed a hand to her forehead.
“Adopted child? But you and him aren’t even that far apart in age.”
“I’m not actually planning to make him my child. I just want him to be under the same register as me. Kitagawa has no siblings, his parents are missing, and he’s not close with his relatives. I’m worried what’ll happen to him after I’m gone.”
Tomoko let out a huff with her brow contracted.
“Mr. Kitagawa is single, isn’t he? Hasn’t he married even once?”
Tomoko looked straight at Douno.
“You say you’re worried about him after you’re gone, but I don’t think you need to go so far as to do that for him. Isn’t Mr. Kitagawa the one who chose not to make his own family even though he fully knows he has no family ties of his own? Anyone would know with a little thinking that we’ll all eventually be left alone as we grow old. It’s Mr. Kitagawa’s responsibility to decide what he’s going to do after you’re gone.”
What she was saying made perfect sense. But there was no way Douno was backing down.
“But he really has no ties to his blood relatives. And if you’ve never had family close to you, how would you know what kind of things they’re supposed to do for you, what they’re supposed to provide you with? It would be hard for a person like him to imagine the future, wouldn’t it? Both you and I had nice parents, and we were raised with a lot of care. But Kitagawa isn’t like us.”
“Maybe you want to give something back to Mr. Kitagawa because of all he’s done for you so far, but I don’t think that means you should put him in the Douno register. Entering the register means becoming family. It’s not such an easy thing as bringing home a stray dog or cat.”
“He’s completely alone. I feel sorry for him that he won’t have a grave to be put into when he dies. Don’t you?”
Tomoko pursed her lips furiously.
“Then he should just arrange for one while he’s alive! There are a lot of people out there who do that. Takafumi, think about it. No matter how close you are or how much he did for you, it’s not normal to put your friend in your register.”
“Kitagawa’s been abandoned by his own mother and relatives,” Douno argued. “He has no family. That’s why he doesn’t know what a family is like. That’s why he can’t imagine what the distant future would be like. He’s never been very perceptive to human kindness, but he says he likes me. That’s why I want to be Kitagawa’s family, in the real sense.”
“You keep saying he can’t imagine the future, but isn’t everyone aware of the fact that they age? It shows in your appearance, after all.”
Tomoko lapsed into sullen silence, her brow still wrinkled. Silence wore on as they sat across from each other.
“Where’s Mr. Kitagawa now?”
She appeared to have finally realized that he was not around.
“I sent him to do some shopping.”
Perhaps she had caught on that he had distanced the man from their discussion on purpose. But even if she did, Tomoko made no mention of it.
“What does Mr. Kitagawa himself say about the adoption?”
“At first he didn’t know what it meant, and he said I didn’t have to, but when I told him I wanted to, he agreed.”
Bam! There was a loud noise. Tomoko had slammed the table.
“Agreed?” she said incredulously. “So Mr. Kitagawa did find it strange! You’re the one making assumptions that he’s pitiful, or that he’s unhappy!”
After her outburst, Tomoko caught herself, swallowed, and looked down.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured in a small voice. “I know you’re a kind person. But I think you’re going too far by adopting him just because you pity his circumstances. I feel sorry for Mr. Kitagawa and his misfortunes, but he’s not the only person who goes through those kinds of things.”
Douno clenched his hands on his lap.
“If I put Kitagawa in the register, I won’t cause you any trouble at all. I’m not telling you to send us financial support, or socialize as relatives.”
Tomoko sighed for another countless time. “I don’t understand what’s going on inside your head.”
Douno could clearly perceive Tomoko’s confusion and anger. As she had said, Kitagawa was a grown adult. He ought to think of the future and other things on his own without being told. But Douno could not imagine that Kitagawa would be able to arrange things smartly and efficiently for his own benefit.
Their conversation was running along parallel lines. Should I bring it up? Douno agonized over whether he should say it or not. Words like “contempt” and “shame” floated up in the back of his mind and disappeared. He did not want to cause ripples of disturbance in his relationship with his sister. If he could, he had wanted to take his feelings to the grave. It was hard for him to put up with demands to do this and that at his age. But “pity” was probably not enough to convince Tomoko now.
“Kitagawa is... well...” The words stuck. His sister looked at him. “Kitagawa is my lover.”
He could see Tomoko’s face grow pale in an instant.
“...You must be joking.”
“We can’t marry, since we’re both men, but I want to leave him as much as I can, and I want to do as much as I can for him.”
Tomoko’s colourless lips were trembling.
“H... Have you thought about your age? How old do you think you are? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself at all?”
Her words stabbed him in the chest. But he could not let himself back down now.
“Our relationship isn’t something that just started today or yesterday. We’ve been like this since we started living together.”
Tomoko clapped both hands over her ears and shook her head violently.
“You must be out of your mind! Two men―how could you? I’ve had enough of this! At a time like this, so soon after mom’s death...”
“This is the only kind of time I get to really sit down and talk to you. He might enter the register, but I won’t cause you trouble. If Kitagawa dies before me, I’ll take care of everything. But if I end up going first... I just wondered if I could have a little bit of your help.”
Tomoko threw herself face-down on the tatami floor and wept. Douno could only silently watch his crying sister.
When the sun had dipped considerably westward, Douno sensed a presence opening the sliding door with a rattle. He knew who it was from the loud, thunderous footsteps. Kitagawa poked his face into the living room and took a sweeping glance of the room.
“What happened to your sister, Takafumi?”
Douno smiled. “She remembered an errand she had to run. She went home.”
“Wasn’t she going to stay the night?” Kitagawa cocked his head.
“...She seemed to be in a rush.”
Kitagawa did not question further. Douno looked at his feet and laced his hands together tightly. Whatever that happened between him and his sister... Kitagawa would never know, and would never need to know.
He felt something on his cheek. It was soft, damp, and light brown like dog’s fur―Douno raised his face slowly to see Kitagawa stroking his cheek with the tips of silver grass.
“It tickles,” Douno said.
Kitagawa broke into a smile and thrust the bunch of silver grass into Douno’s face. He had probably picked some again on the way back from shopping.
Douno gathered the bunch from him. It smelled like green grass. Kitagawa sat down beside him, and stuck his own face into the bunch of furry-eared grass. It was such an amusing sight that Douno could not help but laugh a little.
“Should we plant those in the garden sometime?” Kitagawa asked.
“It’s not worth planting. You can find it everywhere.”
Silver grasses were weeds; they sprouted and grew on their own wherever you left them. Douno wondered why Kitagawa would ask if he wanted to plant them, and realization finally dawned on him.
It was because he had said two days ago that they were beautiful. That was why Kitagawa had picked so many on the way back from shopping, and suggested they plant them in the garden.
There was no way he could stem the flow of tears now. Douno could sense Kitagawa’s surprise at seeing him burst into tears.
Warm fingertips touched his cheek.
“Oh, it’s just... I remembered something sad.”
He was held close, which made it even harder to stop the tears. Kitagawa enveloped Douno in an embrace. He said nothing, and simply sat still until Douno’s tears stopped.
Read the short story Summer Vacation.
* See the project page for In the Box (Hako no naka).
- A “koseki” or “family register” lists all the members of a household and any additions or subtractions via marriage, birth, or adoption (as well as disowning and death). An adoptee is entered into the adopter’s register. “Enter the register” is also another way to say “get married.” As same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Japan, same-sex couples often “enter the register” and become family by adoption instead of marriage. (back)