This was the house, but one glance at it was enough to make Blues's heart lurch. Like the other homes lining this silent and empty street, the southwest corner and most of the front facade seemed to have been sawn clean off at an angle. What remained of them, splintered wooden beams and halved roof tiles and ribbons of vinyl siding, lay in a heap on the sidewalk. Water poured out of a severed pipe along the west wall and pooled at his feet. A postbox bearing the name "Mitsui" hung bleakly to the right of the dark and dust-strewn interior. He had the feeling he was looking into some kind of macabre life-sized dollhouse.
The front door, or what remained of it, was somewhere in that pile of rubble. His vision of Ms. Mitsui pacing in front of the door waiting for her husband obviously needed some adjusting.
Still, he nurtured a faint hope of finding her even then. After all his first impressions had been, all too often, wrong.
He looked over his shoulder at Kalinka, whose face staring up at the house mirrored his own apprehension. He'd found himself summoning her almost constantly in the past hour since his escape from the waste management truck. She didn't have to do anything; her mere presence was a help. She no longer chided him for needing her. He felt her gentle eyes on him as he ambled up over the debris and into the house, wincing with each step. The brief flurry of movement exhausted him, and he held onto the wall for support as he stumbled through a narrow corridor.
"Ms. Mitsui!" he called. "Are you here?" But no answer came.
He found himself in a dimly lit living room, and grabbed at the back of a black leather sofa for support. Another jolt of pain from his core surged through him. He grit his teeth and rode it out. When he was able to speak again, he shouted Ms. Mitsui's name a second time. She didn't reply. No baby cried. The house was steeped in heat and silence. A pair of severe grey curtains blocked out all sunlight. There were no signs of life.
"Where are you?"
Blues stood there listening for a moment in the semi-darkness, breathing in the acrid smell of milk long since gone sour. His feet went weak beneath him. He fought against the urge to lie down and close his eyes, and instead pushed through the rest of the house. Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, closets, cupboards. Dark and empty, all. At last he found himself in a swoon on the sofa, not entirely certain how he'd gotten there. His eyes filled with tears.
"Blues?" Kalinka appeared in front of the curtains with a pale halo glowing around her. As she glanced around the room, she looked increasingly troubled. "I have such a weird feeling," she said, and shuddered. "Something's not right with this place."
"You've noticed it too," Blues said. He clutched at the hem of his scarf, which afforded him a little bit of comfort. "There's no sign that any woman or baby ever lived here at all."
Kalinka's eyes went wide.
"I looked in every room," he continued. "No women's clothing, no bottles, no toys. No photos of them, either, except..."
"So the Mitsuis are divorced?"
"No." Blues squeezed his eyes shut and let out a bewildered sigh. "Ms. Mitsui and the baby never existed."
"What? But Mr. Mitsui told you…"
"I don't understand it," Blues said. "There's a lot about humans I don't understand." He wiped at his eyes, and then pointed toward the center of the room. "I only know Ms. Mitsui and the baby never existed because of what I'm about to see on that table."
"Let's look together." She held his hands and pulled him slowly up into a sitting position on the sofa. He groaned - every movement he made hurt him now - but the magazine lying opened on the glass-top table had drawn his attention and wouldn't let go. The page on the left, a flurry of pink and blue, stood out against the gloom of the house. It was all the more conspicuous because of the small hole which had been cut out of it. A pair of kitchen scissors lay on the opposite page.
Kalinka pulled back one of the curtains, letting in a flood of early evening light. Dust particles danced in the air. Blues, taking a deep breath, picked up the magazine and traced one finger along the edges of the rectangle-shaped absence on the page. Beside it was the image of a man relaxing on a blue sheet beneath a blooming cherry tree, holding a can of beer in his hand with the brand label prominently displayed. The picture of the woman and the baby from Mr. Mitsui's wallet, if it hadn't been lost, would fit perfectly within that absence.
"It's a beer advert," Kalinka said haltingly, as she peered over his shoulder. And then, as realization dawned on her, she drew in a sharp gasp. "Oh, my God."
"This is where Ms. Mitsui and the baby came from," Blues said. He put down the magazine and slid down to the floor, defeated. He hung his head. "He told me to tell them he loved them. Why would he say that if they don't even exist?"
"He must have been very ill," Kalinka said, crouching beside him. "Poor Mr. Mitsui."
"Why did I come here?" Blues hid his face in his hands. "Why did I even bother?"
"Because you're kind," Kalinka said. "And because you were terribly lonely." She put her hand on his and squeezed. "And you're amazing. Most people wouldn't have made such an effort."
"Doing this wasn't kind," Blues said. "It was stupid. It didn't help anyone. And I'm still lonely. I'll be dead soon. What good did it do?"
Kalinka didn't answer - not, he knew, because she didn't care, but because she wanted him to keep talking.
"I cared about her - Ms. Mitsui. I felt for her because she'd lost someone she'd loved. I don't know why I cared, but I did. And that message… 'tell them I love them...' it seemed so important. Like the most important thing in the world..."
The room, little by little, was fading into night. Soon the light would be gone, and soon, Blues was certain, he would be dead. Before that happened, there was something he still needed to do. He hobbled into the kitchen, found a pen and a notepad, and drew a map from the nearest station south of the mountain pass in Shizuoka, where he'd boarded the first train, through the forest to the location of Mr. Mitsui's body. On another piece of paper, he wrote a short and anonymous explanation of what the map led to, and what he had witnessed in Mr. Mitsui's final minutes of life. Surely someone, sooner or later, would find it, and Mr. Mitsui would be laid to rest at last.
He had just put these things down on the table next to the still-opened magazine, and had struggled to his feet to leave, when he was gripped by another idea. He gingerly lowered himself back down onto the sofa. Doing his best to ignore his exhaustion and the pain in his core, he picked up the notepad and sketched Mr. Mitsui's face the way it had looked right before he had died, when Blues had held up the picture of the woman and the baby for him. There had been, in those few moments, so much love in the man's eyes.
So much love, with nowhere to go.
A/N: I cannot believe we are almost at the end of this fic, y'all. I'm looking for feedback, concrit, or beta reading to help me with Pt. 2 of this story as well as "Don't Look Back." If anyone would like to help, I'd be incredibly grateful.