The pansies in the planter had flowered—a few small, bright blooms. The dry soil didn’t seem to have dimmed the color of the petals. Not particularly showy flowers, but they’re tough, Ayane thought, gazing out onto the veranda through the sliding glass door. I’ll have to water them when I get a chance.
“Have you heard a single word I’ve said?” Yoshitaka asked.
She turned around and smiled faintly. “Yes, everything. How could I not?”
“You might try answering more quickly, then.” Yoshitaka, lounging on the sofa, uncrossed and recrossed his long legs. In his frequent workouts, he took pains not to put on too much lower-body muscle—nothing that would prevent him from wearing the slim-cut dress pants he preferred.
“I suppose my mind must’ve wandered.”
“Oh? That’s not like you.” Her husband raised a single sculpted eyebrow.
“What you said was surprising, you know.”
“I find that hard to believe. You should be familiar with my life plan by now.”
“Familiar … Maybe so.”
“What are you trying to say?” Yoshitaka leaned back and stretched his arms out along the sofa top, ostentatious in his lack of concern. Ayane wondered if he was acting or if he truly was that nonchalant.
She took a breath and stared at his handsome features.
“Is it such a big deal to you?” she asked.
“Is what a big deal?”
Yoshitaka gave a derisive, wry little smile; he glanced away, then looked back at her. “You haven’t been listening to me at all, have you?”
“I have been listening,” she said with a glare she hoped he’d notice. “That’s why I’m asking.”
The smile faded from his lips. He nodded slowly. “It is a big deal. A very big deal. Essential, even. If we can’t have children, there’s no point to us being married. Romantic love between a man and a woman always fades with time. People live together in order to build a family. A man and woman get married and become husband and wife. Then they have children and become father and mother. Only then do they become life partners in the true sense of the word. You don’t agree?”
“I just don’t think that’s all marriage is.”
Yoshitaka shook his head. “I do. I believe it quite strongly and have no intention of changing my mind. Which is to say, I’ve no intention of continuing on like this if we can’t have children.”
Ayane pressed her fingers to her temples. She had a headache. She hadn’t seen this one coming. “Let me get this straight,” she said. “You don’t need a woman who can’t bear your children. So you’ll throw me out and switch to someone who can? That’s what you’re telling me?”
“No need to put it so harshly.”
“But that’s what you’re saying!”
Yoshitaka straightened. He hesitated, frowning slightly, before nodding again. “I suppose that from your perspective it would look that way, yes. You have to understand, I take my life plan very seriously. More seriously than anything else.”
Ayane’s lips curled upward, though smiling was the furthest thing from her mind. “You like telling people that, don’t you? How you take your life plan so seriously. It was one of the first things you said when we met.”
“What are you so upset about, Ayane? You have everything you ever wanted. If there’s something I’ve forgotten, just ask. I intend to do everything I can for you. So let’s just stop all this fussing, and start thinking about the future. Unless you see some other way forward?”
Ayane turned to face the wall. Her eyes fell on a meter-wide tapestry hanging there. It had taken her three months to make it; she remembered the material, special ordered direct from a manufacturer in England.
She didn’t need Yoshitaka to tell her how important children were. She had wanted them herself, desperately. How many times had she dreamed of sitting in a rocking chair, stitching a patchwork quilt, watching her belly grow larger with each passing day? But God, in his mischief, had made that impossible. So she had given up—it wasn’t like she’d had a choice—and resigned herself to living without. She had thought her husband would be okay with that.
“I know it might seem silly to you, but can I ask one question?”
Ayane faced him again, taking a deep breath. “What about your love for me? Whatever happened to that?”
Yoshitaka flinched, then gradually his smile returned. “My love for you hasn’t changed a bit,” he said. “I can assure you of that. I do still love you.”
That was a complete lie, as far as Ayane was concerned. But she smiled and said that was good. She wasn’t sure how else to respond.
“Let’s go.” Yoshitaka stood and headed for the door.
Ayane glanced at her dresser, thinking about the white powder hidden in a sealed plastic bag in the bottommost drawer on the right.
Guess I’ll be using that soon, she thought, the last glimmer of hope fading beneath the shadow inside her.
As she followed him out the door, she stared at Yoshitaka’s back, thinking, I love you more than anything else in this world. That’s why your words were like a knife stabbing me in the heart.
That’s why you have to die, too.
Copyright © 2008 by Keigo Higashino