He jumped off the train as soon as it pulled into the station. The wine coupon clutched tightly in his hand as his shoes pattered down the stairs and past the fountain, and came to a skidding stop in front of the bar. He knocked, and slid open the door to Julie’s, and closed it behind him.
The smell of burning chicken wasn’t an inviting one, but the atmosphere of the bar felt off somehow. Julie looked upset. He watched for a second as she stared vacantly at the grill, fruitlessly flipping her yakitori as it further burned. His eyes darted to Goro as he cracked open a bottle of sake. Sweet potato, just like he needed.
He tentatively approached the counter and held the slip of paper out to Julie, mumbling to get her attention,
She turned to him, putting the tongs down, continuing to disregard her yakitori.
“Oh, what’ve you got there?” she asks, reaching her hand out. “Let me get that from you, I can hardly see over the counter, haha.”
She seemed a bit taken aback as she read it, “wine coupon?”
He really didn’t want to have to explain that he brought on a bell demon haunting the next town over and that a bottle of sweet potato wine was the only thing to stop it.
“What is a kid like you going to do with alcohol?”
At that Goro stirred from his slumped position at the end of the bar, “he’s a man too...” he slurred, “when he is sad and lonely,, he can drink.”
Julie’s expression soured with every word he spoke.
She crumpled the coupon in her hand, and turned her head just barely to him, “absolutely not!” she spoke through gritted teeth, but her enunciation was clear. She brought her free hand to her face, she muttered, “I swear, you’re the reason she ran away...”
Goro only stared at the back of her head, his expression conveying one of hurt. The boy looked between them, and wanted nothing more than to leave the building. He didn’t particularly like being around them, neither did their own daughter, and the ever worsening smell of burning didn’t help.
Julie let her hand rest on her face a few moments longer, gathering herself. “...honey,” she started, wiping her hands on her apron, “there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you.”
Goro continued to look at the back of her head.
“If you would only work a little harder, and actually sell those potatoes, it would help our earnings.”
They passed another beat of silence.
“When are you going to get it together?” She shouted, whipping around to face her husband now, the boy winced, taking a step back, clamping his hands around the strap of his bag. His fingers only tightened as her volume rose, “all you do is talk about the good old days- the good old days are over!” She pointed a finger at him with her free hand, “you’re a loser.”
All Goro could do was look at her, sad, as she reiterated, “you’re a smelly, drunk loser.”
“First of all,” she turned away again, “sweet potatoes are not art! you’re just selling the stupid things!” she pinched the bridge of her nose, “you’re such a loser!”
The boy could feel himself begin to shake. He needed to leave. It was getting hard to breathe.
“Shut up!” he jumped at Goro’s voice, and just as Julie turned around, she was sent to the floor at the boys feet as he scrambled back, the bottle Goro threw rolling away now, towards the door of the restaurant.
Goro flicked through several expressions, from anger, to shock, and finally landing on regret. The boy looked at him, then looked down at her, stunned on the ground, but awake. His shallow breathing was audible now. The burning smell was suffocating.
Julie pressed her hand to her head where the bottle had hit her. “What was that?!” she seethed, “how dare you hurt me! you really are a loser- I’ll have you arrested!”
At that, almost like he had been summoned, the policeman slid open the door of the restaurant.
“Alert! Alert! Alert!” he sounded off like a siren, and marched almost robotically past the threshold.
“Assault is a crime!” he squinted, pulling out his little book and stamp, and flipped to Goro’s page, not that the boy paid this much attention, he was too busy trying to keep his feet from falling out from under him, bracing himself against the shelf, his knuckles white.
Silently, Julie reached out her hand, and reluctantly, the boy took it, helping her up.
The policeman laid the stamp, putting it away, and turned to the man. “That’s three stamps, Mr. Goro, please come with me,” he brandished a pair of handcuffs.
Goro submitted himself quietly to the arrest, stealing only a glance at his wife as he was led out. She looked away as the door closed behind him. She looked shocked. Sad and scared.
She sighed. “...I don’t care about that loser,” she said, weakly, trying to convince maybe herself more than anyone. She looked down to see the boy was still holding tightly to her wrist, his stare was vacant, he was shaking.
Her voice was small, “are you alright?” she asked.
He responded only by letting go, and beginning to walk away, towards the door.
“Chu?” she tried again, to no acknowledgement.
He simply picked up the bottle of sweet potato sake where it laid, abandoned, and unceremoniously stuffed it into his bag. This would have to do. He slid open the door to leave.
“Get home safe, okay?” he heard Julie say.
He closed the door, and walked off.
He remembered something in there. Back from before he and his dad moved to Long Life Town, when they still lived with his mom. He remembered hearing her yelling one night, in the other room, and getting up from his futon. What he hoped to accomplish he didn’t know, but he couldn’t just stay in bed while they fought. He remembered peeking around the corner to the room of them arguing, her yelling at his father, and being terrified. He remembered how she slapped him, and he could’ve sworn she had knocked his head clean off his shoulders. He could’ve sworn he had heard his father’s head hit the floor. It scared him so bad he ran back to his room, and he didn’t sleep, and he cried. The next morning he saw his father was fine, he still had his head, and he chalked it up to his scared imagination. But sometimes that memory still gets to him.
then he realized he was outside his house. He actually needed to go back to Worldly Desire Temple, and deliver the sake to Bell, but...
He had spent the previous night at the temple, he would just stop in to say hello, let him know he was okay.
He knocked, like he always did, and shakily slid open the door, closed it behind him, and slipped off his shoes.
“Chu!” He called, “where have you been? How are you?” His father was sat at the table, like he usually was, reading the newspaper.
“...Are you alright?” he said, putting the paper down. His dad always had a weird way of knowing how he really felt, no matter how hard he tried to hide it.
He raised his hands to sign, ‘I’m fine. i just wanted to say hello. I need to leave again to catch the next train.’
“Son, you’re shaking,” was all he said.
Something about seeing his father there, worried now, after what he had just witnessed at the bar, and what it had reminded him of, it made how he had felt all come back again.
And he started to cry.
His father pushed himself up from the table. Wordlessly he went to his son, and wrapped him in a hug.
“It’s alright, it’s alright,” he assured, “are you okay? Can you tell me what happened?”
He pulled away to wipe his eyes, and began signing, ‘Down at the bar. Julie started yelling at Goro. He hit her and got arrested,’ his father’s face conveyed sympathy, in a way that still expressed that he didn’t know who these people were, “I’m sorry you had to see that...”
He started again, ‘it reminded me-‘ and the tears flooded his eyes again, he tried to wipe them away but they just kept falling. ‘It reminded me of before we left.’
His father had connected the dots now, he went to hug him again, “I understand...” he sighed. “it’s okay now. we’re okay now.”
They stayed in the hug for a little while longer, until he had calmed down enough to sign again. ‘I have to deliver something to WDT. Urgent. I’ll be back after.’
“Alright,” he said, “see you when you get back. Take care,” he patted his son’s shoulder. He smiled at him, and slipped his shoes back on, and left.
After going through the tunnel he bee-lined past the fountain for the stairs, putting as much distance between him and the bar as he could.
He bought a ticket back to Worldly Desire Temple from the station manager, and sat on the bench. Clutching his bag again, waiting for the next train, alone with his thoughts.