"Welcome home!"

The weight dragging my shoulders down from the day's hardships seems to dissipate, somewhat, when I hear Saya's bell-like voice ring out. My lips tug into a tired smile. Smiling is the very last thing I feel like doing right now, but it's the least I can do for her. She's been waiting for me to get back from classes all day; I wouldn't want to dampen her excitement just because I couldn't be bothered to smile.

I slide my feet reluctantly from my shoes. It's interesting that walking barefoot in my own home, something that I had been accustomed to since the very earliest days of my life, fills me with discomfort now. But this is one tradition from the old world that I can't seem to shake off. Although I can feel the wetness and the give in the meat as I take my first steps inside, no liquid ever seems to seep into my socks, so I'm able to deal with it fairly easily.

A sharp, putrid odor burns my nose the further I go inside. It makes my eyes water, and I have to pause for a moment, resting my hand against the wall.

"Saya?" I call out hesitantly. "Are you in the kitchen?"

I hear the tell-tale signs of cooking before she answers: a spoon sloshing through something viscous, steam escaping through the lid in our rice cooker. "Yes, I'm in here," she says, and I hear the bashfulness in her tone, as if she's apologizing proactively. I'm not mad at her or anything. It's sweet, honestly. But there's no reason for her to be doing it.

I enter the kitchen, and she turns to look at me. I try to crane my neck for a peek at what's inside the pot she's stirring. The odor is even more foul here, like vinegar and sulfur. I pull my jacket up to my nose before I can even think about what I'm doing. Saya frowns.

"It doesn't smell good?"

"No... I'm sorry," I say, and I mean it. I wish more than anything that I could eat the food that Saya makes for me. She doesn't eat anything herself, so we always end up having to throw the entire meal in the garbage after I take a few bites. I don't particularly care about wasting food, but knowing the amount of work she puts into every meal makes my heart ache.

I take a seat at the table, watching as she works. She seems to be very good at it, from what I can tell. I was never much of a chef. I hate to admit it, but my mother cooked almost everything for me until I went to college, and after that I relied on convenience stores and the university's cafeteria to keep me fed. I probably couldn't make a full meal for myself if my life depended on it.

"What are you making?" I ask. One thing that I can be grateful for is the human body's ability to adapt to noxious smells. After a few moments in here, I'm able to pull the fabric away from my nose without wincing.

"Curry rice," she answers, glancing at me. She catches my frown before I can hide it. "It used to be your favorite."

That's right. I did tell her that, once. I didn't think she would try to make it for me. The kind gesture just makes me feel a little bit empty. For the sake of what little mental health I had left, I had been trying my damnedest to avoid eating my favorite foods since the accident. It was a small consolation that I wouldn't have to see the things I used to enjoy so much reduced to stringy masses of fetid slime. But judging from the smell, Saya's curry will probably turn out to be just that.

With Saya's help, we had found a few tricks that diminished the unease I felt when I was forced to eat. We realized that hot food was more appetizing to me than cold food, and that thin soups and juices didn't work for me, because I found chunks stuck in my throat whenever I tried to swallow liquids. The only thing that I was able to drink was water, if I made sure to hold my nose and close my eyes while I did it. That was certainly helpful. I would be dead for sure if I couldn't even manage to drink water. I would be dead without Saya, too, without a doubt.

Saya is so smart. Smarter than I am, probably. She thinks about things much differently than I do. It was her idea to paint the house, when I told her how uncomfortable I felt here. I was finally able to get the first full night of sleep I’d had in months when we fell into bed together, cradled by the pale, comforting shades of green and the fresh scent of new paint. I think that I fell in love with her that quiet night.

“Fuminori,” Saya chirps, and I am roused from my reverie. “I know you didn’t want me to cook for you anymore, but I can’t help it. I want to find something that you can eat. I thought it might help if you tried something that you know you love.”

“It’s definitely worth a shot,” I say. My love for Saya is much stronger than any attachment I might still have to a simple plate of food. I don’t mind ruining the taste I still have in my mind if it means I’ll get to see her smile.

I sit quietly as she finishes cooking. The smell is still acrid and unpleasant as ever. She piles my plate high with rice, though the grains look more like small lumps of fat, off-yellow and pliant. Thick, green curry comes next. Saya portions the plate with fervor, and I can tell how desperate she is for me to enjoy the meal. I decide that I’ll eat more than usual, for her sake, even if I’ll have to purge it in secret later that night.

“Are you going to get a plate for yourself?” I ask as she serves me, even though I know that she won’t. Saya has never eaten in front of me. I don’t know much about women, but Omi once joked that a man should never bring a woman out to eat on a first date because she’ll be too self conscious to enjoy the meal. I wonder if that’s how Saya feels. Still, I’d like to eat dinner with her someday.

“No, I’ve already eaten,” Saya replies shyly, as I expected.

It’s probably pathetic, fantasizing about something so domestic and mundane, but I still find myself imagining it late at night sometimes. I’d buy us candles, and a nice tablecloth. I’d ask an employee to help me pick one out - that way I could be sure I brought home a white one, like in movies. Like the color of Saya’s dress. Maybe I could even cook for her. She’d tell me her favorite food and I would do my best to make it for her, and I bet that she would eat it all, even if it wasn’t very good. I dream about things like this, sometimes. I can’t seem to help myself.

Instead, I sit at the table alone, staring down at the thick ooze Saya has brought to me. It’s a mustardy, sick green, like mucus, or perhaps something even more unpleasant. Saya stands at attention next to me. I can feel her eyes on me.

I smile weakly. “This looks great, Saya.”

She shifts uneasily. “You don’t have to eat it. I can try making something different tomorrow.”

I scoop up the first bite, hesitating slightly as I bring the spoon closer to my mouth. Part of me hopes that when it touches my tongue, I’ll be greeted by that warm, pleasant taste that I used to love so much. But even if it did manage to taste like the curry that I remember, it still smells and looks absolutely foul. I’ll never have the true experience of enjoying my favorite meal again.

“No, I’m glad you made this for me,” I tell her. Although she didn’t mean to, she’s inadvertently reminded me that there’s no use holding onto the past. I can’t go back now. I have no option but to move forward, or to stop moving entirely. My life with Saya is all I need to focus on.

The curry clings to the inside of my mouth when I take a bite, sticky and membranous. Although it’s still hot, it manages to feel sickly and cold on my tongue, the chunks of what should be potato and carrot instead feeling like unidentifiable globs at the back of my throat. I try to swallow it, but my gag reflex kicks in, and with horror I slam my hands on the table as I hack the mouthful back onto the plate, my eyes watering. I breathe out shakily.

Saya is silent. She reaches out to take the plate from me, but I push her arm away, scooping up another bite. I shut my eyes this time, forcing it to the back of my mouth and holding my nose with my free hand. I tilt my head up desperately towards the ceiling, willing the globs to slide down my throat, but they catch in place and I cough them up again, spilling wet curry down my neck and the front of my shirt.

“Fuminori, stop,” Saya begs, even as I try to reach for the plate a third time. Her small frame pushes me back, forcing her way between my body and the table. I reach over her, my bottom lip trembling as my hands try to grasp at the meal she’s prepared for me with so much love. I can feel tears welling up in my eyes. She raises her voice. I’ve never heard Saya yell before.

“Stop it, Fuminori, just stop it!” she yells, her hands grasping at my arms as she tries to wrestle me down. Her voice is tight. The addition of her weight on top of me, however slight, tips the chair back a sliver too far. We tumble and crash onto the floor. Saya’s arms are wrapped tight around me, her face buried against my chest. I stare up into the ceiling. In a daze, I slowly raise my arm and rest my wrist against my forehead. It’s a few minutes before I start crying. It doesn’t last for long, and it isn’t very intense; a few tears drip down my cheeks, and my chest heaves with a few quiet, dry sobs. That’s it, and then it’s over, like it never happened. This is the first time I’ve cried since the accident. I wonder if maybe my body doesn’t remember how to do it anymore.

Saya’s body trembles slightly. I sit up with a jolt, and she looks up at me, her eyes tearful. Stricken with the heft of sudden guilt, I pull her into an apologetic hug, stroking her hair carefully with one hand. She clutches at my back. “I’m sorry, Saya.” My mouth feels dry. The comforting motions and soft, sleek sensation of her hair against my palm help to calm me down with every stroke. “I… I really wanted to enjoy the meal you made for me. I’m sure you worked very hard on it…”

I feel awful. I’ve never broken down like that in front of her before, but something about the situation just overwhelmed me. I blame myself. I shouldn’t have been imagining such unrealistic things. I set myself up for frustration the very second I entertained the idea that today’s dinner would be different. I haven’t been able to eat more than two or three bites of anything for three months now. No matter how romantic it would be for Saya’s cooking to cure me, it’s just not going to happen.

“I wish you could enjoy it, too…” Saya murmurs. As if she can anticipate the guilt her quiet voice will instill in me, she shakes her head. “But I know you can’t. It was selfish of me to surprise you like that. You told me not to cook anymore, so I won’t. I promise.”


Nobody’s in the wrong, here. Not really. It’s the fault of my condition, something neither of us have any control over. We can’t turn back the clock on what’s happened to me. We just have to greet every day as it comes, and do our best to live as happily as we can together.

I press a soft kiss to the top of her head. “Thank you for thinking of me. It means the world, I swear. I just feel bad that I can’t enjoy your delicious cooking properly.”

“It probably isn’t delicious, anyway,” Saya says softly. “I didn’t taste any. Maybe you aren’t missing out on much.”

I rock her in my arms, and she giggles, relaxing a little bit. “No, it is delicious. I know it is. Even if I can’t taste it, I can tell.”

We stay like that for more than a few minutes, enjoying each other’s presence. It’s Saya who finally extricates herself from my grip and stands up.

“I’ll throw the curry out, then,” she says, pulling the chair back up into its rightful place at the table. I stand up, too. “If you want to take a bath and relax, I’ll clean up in here.”

“That sounds great. Thank you.” I’d love to help, but the fact of the matter is, I would just be slowing her down. I can’t do the dishes, since the fleshy plates and the gunk stuck to them just seem to meld together, and I have the same issue with wiping down the counters. I have to leave most of the housekeeping to Saya. She doesn’t seem to mind it, though; she’s even said that she likes having something to keep her busy during the day when I’m not here.

I leave the kitchen, heart still hanging somewhat heavy as I hear Saya turn on the water and begin to wash the dishes behind me. Maybe I should stay behind and...

No, dwelling on the issue won't solve anything. A hot bath and a good night's rest should do the trick. I'll force myself to relax one way or another.

Instead, I say, "Join me when you're done?"

"Of course!"

I smile. Saya's voice always cheers me up.


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