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And So, He Said

OZ Episode
Shinjuku Underground

The Two of Us

Korean Ghosts
Does This Dress Make Me Look Uncute?
Movie Review: Survive Style 5+
Personal Essay: Schedenfreude
Personal Essay: Pessimism


The first segment of an original novel about two people who discover each other in a coincidence involving trains and suicide. 2010. Full PDF (Chapters 1 & 2, 18 pages).

Chapter One - Please Step Back from the Edge of the Platform

Ken stood at the edge of the Yamanote line platform in Shinjuku station, staring down at the gravel that lay between the rails. It was nearing one in the morning, but some of the bustle and noise of the city outside still permeated the station. Not that it was really busy in here. A drunk businessman came careening down the steps, swaying with each step, humming something terrible and off-key. A young couple sat on one of the nearby benches, gazing into each other's eyes and their lips barely millimeters apart. A homeless man was starting to set up his cardboard sleeping pad in the corner. Ken watched the latest train go trundling away without him in it. Or under it.

Scuffing his shoe against the edge of the platform, he stared down at the rails, trying not to blink. He was glad that they hadn't installed those safety barriers here, yet. Quite a few stations had been fitted with automatic barriers that would only open when the trains came in, mostly to prevent drunkards and crowds from falling onto the tracks. They were only a meter high or so, and would hardly do anything to stop anyone determined to jump onto the rails.

But still. He wanted this to go without any incident. He hardly wanted to make an undignified leap over the barrier, land face-first on the tracks and die with a broken nose. No, that would never do.

How long had he been standing here?

He wasn't sure. Since he'd arrived at the station, twelve trains had already come and gone past the platform, and each time Ken had quietly watched crowds wander on and off the train. Each time, he'd thought, no, not this train. This one doesn't feel right. Maybe the next one.

It wasn't that he was scared. He told himself that he wasn't scared.

Somewhere behind him he heard the cheery babble of a young child, and when he turned, he saw a happy couple walking hand-in-hand followed by their daughter. The girl looked about seven -- she was holding a small plastic bag containing a pair of orange goldfish, probably from the late-autumn festival a few blocks away. So, that meant this train wouldn't do, either. He'd have to wait until this child left. His aim wasn't to traumatize and leave behind psychological issues; his aim was to end a problem.

For a moment, he felt like a disgraced samurai waiting for the signal to slit his stomach, but then he realized that comparing himself to them would be a little arrogant. No, he thought, this is nothing that grand. Just a scheduled extermination. A human being that has contributed little to society must make a swift and efficient exit before becoming a burden. That was all.

Ken looked at his watch -- a Chinese counterfeit Rolex given to him by a girl he'd dated three times before she dumped him -- and he saw that he didn't have that many more trains left before the station closed for the night. Of course, he could always sit on one of the benches and wait until the trains started up again in the morning, but then that would kill the mood. As much as Ken wanted to respect the homeless men scattered around the station, he thought that they lent the air a rather depressing feel. It was hardly the type of mood he wanted to ferment in before he died.

He knew this, because he'd been through it the previous week. He'd shown up at the station waiting for the right train, and hadn't been able to find it. He'd ended up sitting on a bench all night beside a homeless man sleeping under a newspaper.

He really wanted to find that right train. His last moments, at least, would ideally carry some small modicum of dignity. Not too much. Just a little.

It had been disappointing.

But he was used to being disappointed and being disappointing.


"Excuse me."

The voice came from behind him. Ken turned to face it. It belonged to one of the station attendants, a young man dressed in the standard uniform and with hair sticking out at odd angles beneath the brim of his hat.

Ken said in his best pleasant voice, "Yes?"

The attendant stood stiffly at attention as he said in the level, soothing voice of a trained professional, "Is something the matter, sir?"

Ken thought at the back of his mind that this attendant was definitely a comparative beginner. The veteran attendants probably would have started this confrontation with a polite formality rather than spooking a potential customer with such a direct question. But that was okay. Ken knew it would be easier to lie to a trainee.

"Nothing's wrong." Ken's voice was equally calm and polite. "I apologize if I'm causing any trouble." He pointed down at the rails and recited the excuse he'd carefully planned out the day before. "I lost a pair of cufflinks on the rails yesterday. The wind blasted them right off as I was waiting to get on the train." He smiled. It was a good smile.

The attendant looked puzzled. He had probably been shown the security camera tapes of Ken standing at the edge of the platform, pacing around occasionally, staring at the rails. And he had probably been told to go confront this lurker in the station. The managers of the station no doubt wanted to avert any sort of situation.

Ken continued, "I was hoping I would be able to find them, but I guess I'll have to give up if I can't find them today." Past the attendant's shoulder, Ken could see the little girl and her parents getting on an incoming train. Ken watched as the train groaned and puffed and trundled off. He thought it looked tired.

There was a pause before the attendant said, "I see. I hope you find them, sir." He paused again. Definitely a trainee. Then he added, "Perhaps you could file a request with the Lost Items desk."

"I will. Thank you." Ken smiled.

The attendant left with the standard half-bow, and Ken mentally apologized to him. The attendant would no doubt have to spend the rest of the evening reporting this to his superiors and being berated for not handling the situation in the 'proper way,' whatever that was. Ken knew the pains of being in that position.

But that also meant Ken would have to find the right train tonight, or go to a different station tomorrow. He was worried. He'd been hoping he'd be able to end things here, in this station. Moving to another station to finish the job would feel a bit like tracking mud across a clean floor. What if he had to wait even longer for the right train at a different station? And what if he got kicked out of there, too? Ken rubbed the back of his neck. He wanted this suicide to end as a small, neat package. Or as neat as a suicide could be.

More people came and went. A fashionable young woman left for the street, and a tipsy man in a suit staggered in. There weren't that many people around the station.


Then the right train came. It was the second-to-last train of the night. Ken looked up just as the message trilled over the electronic PA system, the soothing voice descending from above him, "The train will be arriving at Shinjuku station shortly." It added, "Please watch your step." It had a note of regal finality to it, Ken thought. And he felt a twinge in his chest that told him that this was the right train. The sound of the train approaching carried the perfect combination of pride, mourning and determination.

For a moment, Ken wondered if he should take his tie off. Would it get tangled in the wheels? Should he take his shoes off? Empty his pockets?

And he did empty his pockets to deposit the loose change on the floor for some homeless man to pick up. A teenager wearing headphones looked over at him curiously, and Ken gave his usual awkward smile that said, please don't mind me.

He left his bag there, too.

His shoes, he kept.

He could properly hear the train coming in, now, and it just confirmed that this was the right train. It sounded energetic.

Standing at the edge, Ken took in a deep breath. He'd read somewhere that the sound of a train hitting a body was something like the sound of a hammer hitting a pumpkin. Not very glorious. But that was okay. He told himself that would be okay. There was a small shiver running down his spine that he tried to ignore, as he repeated to himself that it would be okay.

The train's lights were bright. It was coming in fast, so he let out the breath he'd been holding, and jumped off the edge. Somewhere behind him, the headphone-clad youth gasped. He thought he heard the sound of a cellphone camera going off, but maybe that was just his imagination.

What wasn't his imagination, though, was when he turned his head to look at the incoming train, and realized that there was something between him and the train's headlights. Something a bit smaller than him, but not by much. Something clothed in a gray dress and with short brown hair. Something that was actually a woman.

He didn't understand why she was there, but there wasn't much of anything he could do about it, so he only stared.

She was backlit harshly by the train so he couldn't make out her features, but he could make out the silhouette of her face.

She had the most perfect nose he'd ever seen.

In that brief moment, he thought that she had smiled at him so he tried to smile back. But before he could, his feet hit the ground, and the train hit both him and her.


Ken opened his eyes.

He immediately knew that he had messed up. He wasn't supposed to open his eyes ever again. This hadn't been the right train. He silently cursed himself and let out a tense lungful of air. He also realized that his chest was hurting something awful.

He was lying on the gravel on his side with his arm pinned under his chest, and when he tried to raise his head, he could just barely make out the people standing on the platform staring down at him. The teenager with the headphones had a digital camera out and was snapping photos.

Ken felt strangely annoyed and opened his mouth to say something, but then a gloved hand was slipping under his head to lift it up. His ears were ringing, and he was having a hard time making out what the emergency rail staff were saying as they rolled him onto his back. When had they arrived? Ken coughed. He felt like someone was ramming a folded umbrella between his ribs and threatening to open it.

The train sat on the rails just out of reach, the headlights staring owlishly at him. The conductor must have slammed the emergency brakes at the last minutes to slow the train down, and so it had pushed him along the rail instead of pulverizing him. Ken coughed again as he was lifted onto a stretcher. He thought the train looked vaguely apologetic.

Then he remembered that he hadn't jumped alone.

It hurt to move his neck, and the paramedic strapping him down on the stretcher was obscuring his view, but at the corner of his vision he could barely make out another team of emergency workers. They were leaning over a second stretcher, loading it with a slender figure. There was a lot of blood. How had he missed all that blood at first? Some of it was bound to be his. Was he going to die after all?

He spotted a pale wrist, a stray strand of dark hair, a shapely nose. That perfect, perfect nose. He stared at it. It was rude to stare, but he was too dazed to keep himself in check. He thought, if she gets mad at me for staring, that will be my excuse. He thought, and then I'll apologize for staring.

The ringing in his ears was slowly fading, and Ken wanted it back. There was too much noise coming from the platform, a medley of screams and murmurs. The paramedic carrying the end of the stretcher his head was resting on -- the one who was still obscuring his vision -- shouted something at the crowd as he stood up. Ken felt himself being lifted up. His chest hurt more. He coughed again.

He wanted to see if the woman on the other stretcher, the woman who'd jumped beside him, the woman with the perfect nose was alive. No, he wanted to see if she was alright. As alright as a person could be after being hit by a train. But there were too many medics. He lost sight of her nose, and then he lost sight of her entirely as his stretcher was carried away.
A camera shutter clicked somewhere to his left. Someone was crying.

And then he closed his eyes.


The sheen of fluorescent lighting glowered down at him when he next opened his eyes. It was far too bright, and Ken groaned. He usually never groaned because it was rude and he would have been reprimanded if he ever groaned on the job, but right now he didn't care. It was too bright, and he groaned, and then his chest hurt so he groaned again.

A nurse appeared at his side as if she had been waiting for hours for this moment. Her smile was almost as bright as the lighting, and Ken had to squint at her to keep himself from groaning a third time. That would be too rude.

"Mr. Kataoka?" Ken opened his mouth to respond, but could only cough instead. The nurse didn't seem to mind terribly, or notice at all -- she looked down at her clipboard and said in a very matter-of-fact way, "You've been asleep for almost a full day, Mr. Kataoka. How do you feel?"

A pause. "I'm not very sure." Ken almost said it as a question, instead of a statement. "My chest hurts?"

"You broke two ribs, and one punctured your right lung. We had to reinflate it," the nurse responded. She was trying to sound sad, but wasn't doing a very good job of it. Ken thought at the back of his mind that he could probably do a better job of it than she was doing right now. But then he was distracted when she added, "You also broke your leg. A complete fracture."

Ken looked down the length of the hospital bed he was lying on -- white sheets, a blanket patterned with little green medical crosses -- and realized that his right leg was in a long cast. It didn't hurt very much. His chest was what hurt.
The confusion must have shown on his face, because the nurse lifted a page on her clipboard and said, "You may be feeling some prolonged numbness in your leg until the anesthesia wears off. You were in surgery for quite some time."

She clicked her tongue in a rueful tsk. "You're lucky to be alive, Mr. Kataoka." A pause, before she leaned in close as if to tell him an incredibly important secret regardless if he was interested or not. "I shouldn't be telling you this, but the EMT men said if the train had braked even a second later your ribs probably would have shattered and crushed your heart." She straightened up, giving him a plasticine smile that didn't quite reach her cheeks. "Life is a wonderful thing, Mr. Kataoka."

Ken continued to wonder why his chest was still hurting.


And then Ken woke up, which was puzzling because he didn't remember falling asleep. It must have been the morphine. The tube sticking out of his arm was morphine, right? He didn't know very much about medical procedures -- he had never been active or careless or special enough to require surgery before -- but he had seen a few medical shows on television. Sitting up against the pillows with a grunt, he stared lazily at the bag of clear fluid for a few moments.

It felt very strange, being alive after a near-death experience. After what was supposed to be a fatal experience. Ken had never expected the necessity of a repeat performance, and the thought gave him a headache. Would he be on some sort of blacklist with the Tokyo Rail company, now? Would he not be allowed to take the trains? He didn't own a car, so it would be hard going anywhere if that was the case. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to stay alive for a few more years, even if it was a slight inconvenience to society. But it wasn't a very pleasant thought. Would this go on some sort of record? He didn't want to be recognized by anyone as "that failure who couldn't even kill himself." What a disgrace that would be.

Tanaka, especially, would have a field day with that.

Just thinking of Tanaka made his chest hurt, and not in a good way. Ken rubbed a hand against his chest for a moment until he realized that the woman in the bed across from him was giving him a strange look, so he stopped.

Tanaka was one of his coworkers who was known for being a bit pushy and a bit malicious. Over the past few weeks, a rumor had started spreading, saying that Ken was gay. Ken wasn't sure where or when the rumor had started, but he knew inherently that Tanaka was the one who had no doubt started it. Tanaka tended to be the origin of all rumors at the workplace.

Either way, the rumor had begun inflating like a rising lump of dough, but Ken hadn't been able to diffuse it because trying to deny it would involve acknowledging the rumor existed in the first place, and acknowledging it would involve drawing attention to himself.

Ken realized that he was rubbing his chest again. He lowered his hand and sighed.

It took a lot of effort to think, so Ken instead let his mind wander towards a less somber topic, and wondered how long his clear bag of morphine would last. His awareness was rather dulled thanks to the post-surgery dose of opioids, so it made him jump when there was a knock on the doorframe and a nurse materialized at the doorway. She gave him a polite, plastic smile before saying, "Mr. Kataoka, there's someone here to see you."

"Oh, thank you." Ken automatically looked up and gave her a polite, plastic smile back before managing to process what she had said. A visitor.

He must have been staring at the far wall looking intensely confused, because when he blinked, he realized that the woman across from him was awkwardly looking away from him. Ken made sure that his hand wasn't near his chest.

The visitor turned out to be his brother. His brother, who was often described as a taller, older, better-looking version of himself. Or, rather -- Ken was often described as the shorter, quieter, less-accomplished version of his brother. Ken looked up as his brother, dressed in a dark suit and colorful tie, approached the bed.

"Hi," Ken said after a moment.

"You're an idiot," his brother said without hesitation.

Ken would have been content to end the conversation with a bland 'Okay,' but he could already tell that his brother was not in the mood for any of that. So he fidgeted with his blanket before asking, "Have mother and father already heard about this?"

"Of course they have!" In a rare moment of agitation, his brother raised his voice to an angry snarl. "They're furious and upset! What the hell were you thinking?" Ken knew better than to interrupt, as his brother went on, poking a finger at Ken's shoulder. It stung, but Ken tried not to flinch. "And I can already tell that this is going to cause plenty of trouble for more than enough people so you better have an excellent excuse. And don't tell me something like, 'I slipped,' I'm not falling for that."

Ken bit his lip. 'I slipped' had been the excuse he'd been thinking of. For a moment, he considered remaining silent, but his brother had his arms crossed, brows furrowed as if he were waiting to immediately disapprove of whatever Ken said. So Ken scratched at his cheek before daring to say, "It was an accident?"

He promptly regretted it, because the hard rap of knuckles against his forehead made his head ache, and the harsh grind of angry words in his face didn't help either. "Don't you dare." There was the rattle of the aluminum curtain rings clicking against each other as his brother shut the curtains around Ken's bed with a single, furious swipe of his arm. "Don't you dare try to brush over the matter like that. The JR East rail company started harassing mother and father, who directed them to me, so they've calling me since last night demanding that I compensate for the cleanup cost and the train delays. Not to mention the media, they're all over this case. Do you have any idea how big of a headache this all is?"

Briefly, Ken wondered if his brother would have been more satisfied if he had at least managed to end his life successfully. At this point, his brother's unspoken accusation seemed to be something along the lines of, 'You can't even get this right, stupid little brother of mine?'  Rubbing the sore spot at his temple, Ken mumbled, "I'll pay you back for all that."

He earned another knock to the head for that, and was busy trying to massage the pain away without jostling his broken ribs as his brother growled, "It's not about the money, you idiot, you think I'm concerned about the money? I don't want this sort of thing associated with my name. You know what one tabloid's saying about this? They think it's some sort of lovers' double suicide."

Ken blinked. The woman with the perfect nose. Was she alive?

Daichi went on without pause, giving Ken a flat-handed whap to the forehead.

"I don't care about your love life, but that better not be true or else you'll have to pay for a lot more than just the cleanup costs." A wild gesture of his hand. His brother had especially long, well-shaped fingers -- pianist fingers -- and they snagged against the curtain as he said, "And don't think you can just sit in the hospital and cruise through this. I spoke to the doctor and you're not even that badly hurt, you lucky idiot."

His brother paused to take a breath. Had those last few words been a compliment or an insult? Ken settled for the latter and prepared himself for more of the ongoing angry tirade.     For a moment it looked like his brother was just about ready to start another round of growling, but suddenly stopped, closing his mouth and letting out a long, loud, exasperated breath through his nose. "Fine. Whatever. You living headache. I thought you'd finally settled down quietly with that job and you had to do something like this."

Ken didn't mention anything about Tanaka.

Another sigh that sounded louder than it would have naturally been. His brother was looking at his watch. "I should have known better than to expect a private room we could talk in. We'll be having a proper talk later, understand?"
"Okay," Ken said, mostly so his brother wouldn't nudge him again. "We'll talk later." He didn't look forward to being released from the hospital.

But he did get a few sharp yanks at the ear, probably for good measure. "Alright. I have to go to a meeting, now. I postponed it just to come make sure you weren't causing any more trouble. You have a cellphone?"

"Not anymore."

"I'll get you a new one. Need a way to contact you."

A pause. Ken could see the way that his brothers was acknowledging the presence of the other people in the room, and the next few words came out much smoother and more full of familial care. "I'll bring you a fruit basket or something next time. The food here must be bad."

"It's okay." Ken rubbed his ear. "You can go to your meeting."

His brother gave him a ruffle to the hair that wasn't quite as rough as he feared. The folds of the curtain whooshed against each other as his brother pushed them aside and made for the doorway. Faintly, Ken could hear a nurse bidding him a good day, but Ken knew that his brother wouldn't be having a good day, not after that long tirade.


It was late the following morning, while Ken was chewing on the less-than-appetizing rice cracker that had come with his breakfast, when a nurse approached him with the suggestion of walking around a bit. She flashed him a thousand-watt smile and said, "You need to give your lungs some exercise, and it might be a nice change of pace."

The rice cracker was slightly damp and didn't give any sort of crunch when Ken bit off another piece. He would have said, 'I'm okay without any sort of change of pace,' but she was already dragging the IV pole and a pair of crutches out of the corner next to his bed. She glowed at him without words.

He first tried to support himself on one crutch the IV pole and promptly crumpled to the ground when the pole went sliding forward, sending him plummeting to the floor. The smiling nurse helped him to his feet and propped him up on both crutches. Ken spent a long moment standing there, thinking this was impossible.

Five minutes later found Ken wandering aimlessly down the hallway. He felt a bit like some five-legged monster, between his legs, the crutches jammed under his arms, and the IV pole he had to push a couple steps ahead like an unruly child. The cast on his broken leg dragged like a deadweight. Weaving a drunkard's walk down the hallway with the nurse trailing a few steps behind him, Ken wondered if this was what pet dogs -- those little terrified-looking ones that old ladies liked to lead around -- felt like. If he had a tail it would have been tucked between his legs.

A couple doorways down, he tripped over his own cast and bumped into a little girl in a wheelchair, making her drop her cup of rainbow pudding. He didn't manage to say 'sorry' before she teared up, though, and he had to mumble a frantic apology before she started bawling.

"It's okay." The nurse behind him pattered forward to comfort the little girl. "We'll get you another one, okay? So stop crying." Instantly, two more nurses appeared seemingly out of thin air to chide the little girl, and Ken stared, wondering how these nurses had mastered the art of teleportation.

However, it was clear that he was no longer the item of the day to be pampered and prodded, so Ken hobbled his way to a nearby bench and sat down. The cushions wheezed beneath his weight, making him feel fat. For a long moment, he stared at the cast that swallowed his lower leg. He tried to wiggle his toes within its plaster confines but the cast was too cramped and it only made his ankle prickle with pins and needles.

So, he thought. This is what being a proper, all-around failure feels like.

He had started unconsciously counting the visible folds of bandages layered over his foot and didn't realize until after a few moments that someone had taken a seat on the bench. Not right next to him, but with a small, polite space between them, like there was an invisible man seated there. Ken looked up and gave the newcomer a surreptitious sideways glace. It was a woman. She had somehow taken a seat without the cushions complaining.

He stared for a moment longer than he should have, but he couldn't help that.

He recognized that nose.