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HAIJI: A young man in his early twenties, of lean and wiry build, with a face given to smiling. Walks with a very slight limp, favoring his left leg.

FUJIOKA: A young man, same age. Tall and broad-shouldered; charismatic in a solemn kind of way. A runner, but off the track tends to carry himself steadily and without haste.

 

Setting

The setting is an unidentified town in Shimane Prefecture, bordered by paddy fields. The streets are quiet, with few people out and about. It appears, for the most part, to be the sort of town where nothing much happens.

Places of note throughout the play include: a corner store, the inside of an old but reliable Honda Civic owned by the Fujioka family, and a rented room in a small family-run ryokan.

The season is winter, a few days before the new year turns. The sky is perennially overcast.

 

Time

The play takes place over the course of one afternoon, one night, and the following morning.

 

 


 

 

SCENE 1: THE CORNER STORE

 

Lights fade up to reveal FUJIOKA, in winter coat and scarf, studying the cartons of strawberries in one of the refrigerators. Enter HAIJI, who, catching sight of FUJIOKA, turns around and exits again, unseen.

A bell rings softly.

Enter Haiji again, this time making a beeline for a rack of toothbrushes across the stage. He peers at them, very seriously, but seems unable to choose one. A minute or so later, Fujioka selects his chosen strawberries, pays for them at the counter, and exits.

A bell rings softly.

Enter Fujioka again. He passes behind Haiji as he crosses the stage toward the refrigerators. The motion seems to catch Haiji’s attention; his gaze lifts briefly from the toothbrushes, and stays for a long while on Fujioka’s back, as though he is determining whether to approach. Haiji lowers his eyes, looks again. He selects a toothbrush, seemingly at random, pays for it, and exits.

A bell rings softly.

Enter Haiji again. He takes a basket from the stack at the entrance, and approaches Fujioka by the refrigerators.

HAIJI: I see I’m not the only vagabond home for New Year’s.

He reaches into the adjacent fridge and takes down a bottle of beer, proceeding to inspect the label. Fujioka looks up at him with palpable surprise.

FUJIOKA: Ah—Kiyose.

HAIJI: (smiling) In the flesh. You look well, Fujioka.

FUJIOKA: Thank you, and likewise.

(pause)

Please give my best to your parents.

HAIJI: I’ll be sure to do that. And mine to yours, as well.

(adds a second beer to his basket, and makes to leave)

Be seeing you.

FUJIOKA: Take care.

A bell rings softly.

HAIJI: You look well, Fujioka.

FUJIOKA: Thank you.

(pause)

Could I say the same to you?

Haiji looks at him, smile now fading somewhat.

HAIJI: It’d be a kind thing to say, as always. Good old Fujioka, always so kind to me.

(shifts, carefully, from foot to foot, and eyes the inside of the fridge pensively)

Well, I’ll leave you to your strawberries, then. Be seeing you.

FUJIOKA: Take care, Kiyose.

Bell.

HAIJI: You look well, Fujioka.

FUJIOKA: Thank you. And you? Have you been doing well?

HAIJI: As well as I’m able, I suppose. You know how it is.

(inclines his head toward the refrigerator)

It’s the second pack from the right you want, I think. And pass me the one next to it, will you?

FUJIOKA: (opening the fridge door) This one here?

HAIJI: Yes, perfect.

(accepts the pack as Fujioka hands it to him, and turns it around in his hand, holding it up to the light)

Nice and red, see? And the leaves still so crisp-looking.

FUJIOKA: You always did have a good eye for produce.

They begin to walk to the counter together to pay for their things, and then to the front door of the store, continuing to talk as they go.

HAIJI: Strawberries don’t continue to ripen after they’re picked, is all, so what you see is what you get—and I never get fruit this fresh where I live now. But I don’t suppose you came all this way on a strawberry craving.

FUJIOKA: You wouldn’t be wrong, but that’s not the main reason, no. It’s just my mother. After I stayed away last year, she said the neighbors would start to forget my face.

HAIJI: (laughing) A celebrity like you? Somehow I find that hard to believe. If anything, I barely recognized you without the entourage.

Bell.

FUJIOKA: She said the neighbors would start to forget my face.

HAIJI: Oh, is that so? I suppose mine would say the same.

FUJIOKA: I disagree. I don’t think anyone could forget your face.

(bell)

She said the neighbors would start to forget my face.

HAIJI: Is that right? Used to be I never heard the end of how good you were about coming home. “That Fujioka-kun, so busy with school and with his team and yet he never misses a new year…”

FUJIOKA: I’ve stopped being able to live up to that reputation since we graduated, unfortunately. It’s strange sometimes how much life happens.

(regards Haiji thoughtfully)

It has been a while for you, though, hasn’t it?

By this point, they’ve exited the store, and are now standing on the curb just outside it.

HAIJI: It has, and you can be sure I’ve never heard the end of that either.

(lifts the bag around his wrist)

Well, I’d better go make my peace offering. Be seeing you, Fujioka.

FUJIOKA: Take care, Kiyose.

(bell)

It has been a while for you, though, hasn’t it?

HAIJI: That it has, and you can be sure I’ve never heard the end of that either. Must be five years at least… I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve started forgetting my mother’s face. Or the way home, for that matter.

FUJIOKA: Luckily for you I remember it well enough. Would you like a lift?

HAIJI: No, no, I was only joking.

(bell)

Oh, no, I couldn’t put you out like that.

(bell)

To my parents’ house?

FUJIOKA: To your parents’ house.

(bell)

To my parents’ house.

(bell)

To… anywhere you’d like to go, I suppose.

HAIJI: Oh. Well, I…

He seems about to say something more, but it never comes, and he trails off into silence. Bell.

FUJIOKA: Would you like a lift?

Haiji considers this for a moment.

HAIJI: Do you think we could just… ride around for a while? Go nowhere in particular?

FUJIOKA: I—of course.

(pause)

I think I’d like that, actually.

HAIJI: (breaking into a smile again) So would I.

They walk together to Fujioka’s car.

 

 


 

 

SCENE 2: THE ROADS

 

In the car, Fujioka behind the wheel and Haiji in the passenger seat.

HAIJI: You know, I keep thinking—it’s kind of funny to be driving these streets after we walked them so often.

(tilts his head to look out the window)

Every day back and forth from school… And the years felt so long, too, back then.

FUJIOKA: Is it funnier because most everything looks the same as it did then?

HAIJI: That’s exactly why it’s funny. I don’t think the shopping district’s changed at all. Konishi-san’s liquor store’s still there, then the shrine across the street, then the tofu shop two doors down.

FUJIOKA: The old bookshop on the corner you used to like—that’s still there, too, see?

HAIJI: (craning his head farther to the side, looking out into the distance) So it is! I wonder if old man Nakata’s still running it.

FUJIOKA: Last I saw, he was still going strong. It seems his son and daughter-in-law keep trying to get him to close it up, come live with them in the city now they have a house of their own—but the shop’s his pride and joy. He likes to joke that he’ll die at the register.

HAIJI: (chuckling) That’s grim, but it does sound like him. I prefer to imagine he could just stay there forever, if it suited him. Remember how we used to say it was like time stopped when you went in?

(lifting his hands and gesturing)

I can still see the shelves so clearly, honestly. Fiction all up the left wall, the little poetry shelf under. Cookbooks off to the right side, with some random self-help mixed in…

FUJIOKA: I wonder if the kids now give him half the trouble we did, coming in and upsetting the New Arrivals stack all the time.

HAIJI: If nothing else, I imagine they’re as eager as we were to find a way to be someplace else, even if only in the imagination.

(a slight, thoughtful pause, and then he chuckles)

The in-store reading privileges, though—those were only for us.

FUJIOKA: Only for us. But maybe that’s because no one in their right mind would do what we did and try to finish a whole book each in an afternoon.

HAIJI: We were making the most of our weekends! And you know he only ever yelled at us to keep up appearances.

FUJIOKA: Perhaps. Not that the neighbors ever bought it, though.

HAIJI: They never, ever did. My goodness, this place really hasn’t changed.

(pause, and then, more softly)

You haven’t changed, either.

FUJIOKA: How can you tell?

Bell.

HAIJI: You haven’t changed, either.

FUJIOKA: I think I’ve changed a little. Though it’s been long enough that you wouldn’t remember the difference, perhaps.

Bell.

HAIJI: You haven’t changed, either.

FUJIOKA: (with a small laugh) You might be surprised.

HAIJI: It’s a good thing I joined you then, so I can find out. My life’s been a bit short on surprises lately.

FUJIOKA: Did you stay in Tokyo, then?

HAIJI: Yeah, not all that far from where I used to live, even. I edit novels for a publishing house.

FUJIOKA: Is that so?

(pause)

That does suit you.

HAIJI: I did get a literature degree. I still forget about that, though, sometimes.

Bell.

FUJIOKA: That does suit you.

HAIJI: Well, it certainly helps to keep me off my feet, after—

Bell.

FUJIOKA: That does suit you.

HAIJI: Does it?

FUJIOKA: I think so. I feel like you’d be good at telling what a story needs.

HAIJI: I wonder if the manuscripts on my desk back home would agree with you.

(draws in a breath and lets it out again, slowly, not quite a sigh)

It’s an unexciting life most of the time, but it does have its moments, I’ll give it that.

FUJIOKA: I do like that idea sometimes. Living an unexciting life.

HAIJI: With the kind of excitement that must be waiting round the corner for you every day, I can just imagine. You’re probably not going right back to Tokyo after you’ve done your time here, are you?

FUJIOKA: Not for more than a day or two. We’re meant to head out to Hitachinaka. And then fly to Taipei a week or so after that, I think.

HAIJI: (nodding) Forward, always forward. I’m surprised they gave you time off to come home for the new year.

FUJIOKA: I asked for it.

(pause)

I suppose I hoped I might see you here.

HAIJI: What does that mean?

(bell)

I’m surprised they gave you time off to come home for the new year.

FUJIOKA: Our coach, she’s… something of a romantic about the new year, I guess you could say.

HAIJI: (deliberately lightly) Does that mean she’d like it if her runners made the time for a little romance?

Bell.

FUJIOKA: Our coach, she’s… diligent about making sure we don’t overtrain before the season starts. Always has been, I’m told.

HAIJI: Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? The more you polish something, the more fragile it becomes.

(bell)

She’d be good for Kakeru, probably, that coach of yours. I really had my work cut out for me getting him to take breaks. You remember Kakeru, don’t you?

FUJIOKA: Kakeru… Kurahara Kakeru, right? Your teammate.

HAIJI: Yeah. Yours too, one day, probably.

(bell)

You remember Kakeru?

FUJIOKA: Of course I do. Do you still see much of him?

HAIJI: Now and then, and some others too from the old team. They’ve changed as much as you and I have, or as little.

(pause)

It’s not regular or anything, but we come back to each other when we find the time.

FUJIOKA: (gently) I’m glad for that.

HAIJI: I… I think I am, too.

(looks off into the distance for a few moments)

It’s getting dark, Fujioka.

FUJIOKA: Let me take you home.

Bell.

HAIJI: It’s getting dark, Fujioka. Do you think we could head back?

FUJIOKA: Ah—of course. Where do I let you off?

HAIJI: I’m staying at my parents’ house.

Bell.

HAIJI: It’s getting dark, Fujioka.

FUJIOKA: So it is.

(glances very briefly at Haiji in the passenger seat)

Can I let you off anywhere?

HAIJI: I’m staying at old Seta-san’s place. You remember it, don’t you?

FUJIOKA: Not at your parents’ house?

HAIJI: (wryly) Not until I absolutely have to. I wanted a day or two to myself, just to… see what there is to see, maybe, with the eyes I have now. Is that strange?

FUJIOKA: I don’t think it is. I remember Seta-san’s.

HAIJI: I figured you would.

They drive in silence for a while.

Bell.

The silence is briefer the second time.

HAIJI: (tentatively) When we get there, we can… talk more, if you like. Maybe get some food. The gyudon’s as good as it was when we used to pop in through the back door for taste tests.

FUJIOKA: Is it?

HAIJI: I’d definitely vouch for it. If you’re in a hurry to get home, though…

FUJIOKA: (somewhat regretfully) I’d love to, but my parents will probably want those strawberries.

HAIJI: Of course, of course.

(bell)

If you’re in a hurry, though…

FUJIOKA: No, I—

(pause)

I don’t really have anyone waiting for me.

HAIJI: That makes two of us.

 

 


 

 

SCENE 3: HAIJI’S ROOM, NIGHT

 

The room at the ryokan is furnished with a futon, a low square table, and a television. Haiji, divested now of his coat and scarf, sits cross-legged at the table and eats from his carton of strawberries.

On the table near Haiji are two beer bottles, a plate of strawberry stems, and Fujioka’s scarf, loosely folded.

Enter Fujioka. His coat is on but open, his short hair slightly ruffled, as from wind.

HAIJI: What’d you tell her?

FUJIOKA: That I ran into a friend and we’re catching up. That I’d be back late, and not to wait for me.

HAIJI: So, nothing untrue.

FUJIOKA: (gently amused) I’m not the kind of man to lie to my mother, Kiyose.

HAIJI: I beg to differ. Did you tell her you were with me?

FUJIOKA: (takes his time answering as he sits down and shrugs out of his coat, draping it across the far end of the table) I might have left out that minor detail.

HAIJI: Deliberately neglecting to tell the whole truth is its own kind of lie, you know. What a scoundrel you’ve become since we were both in high school.

FUJIOKA: If I’ve been a scoundrel it was only to protect us both, I promise you.

HAIJI: You’re easily the most honorable scoundrel I know.

They laugh, each reaching for more strawberries.

FUJIOKA: If I had told her I was with you, she’d have insisted I bring you back to the house. And then that I make you stay for dinner, and then that I make you stay the night at least. I wouldn’t have heard the end of it, and probably neither would you.

HAIJI: That doesn’t sound so bad. I certainly miss your house a lot more than I miss mine.

FUJIOKA: It looks the same as it ever did. Still blue, still with the zelkova tree growing out front.

HAIJI: Are the walls of your room still blue, too?

FUJIOKA: Still blue. And everything still standing right where I left it—the books, the lamp you gave me.

(his voice quiets)

I don’t think anything’s moved in there, all these years.

HAIJI: (smile fading) Mom used to say that, too, you know. “I’ve been keeping your room tidy, Haiji. It’s just the way you left it, Haiji.” As if knowing that would bring me home.

FUJIOKA: It never did.

HAIJI: It never did.

Bell.

FUJIOKA: I don’t think anything’s moved in there, all these years.

Haiji is quiet momentarily, twirling a strawberry stem between his thumb and forefinger. Then:

HAIJI: Strangely enough, that makes me glad. That your room is still blue.

(pause; a soft laugh)

Is that strange to say? I’m not usually this nostalgic.

FUJIOKA: There’s a time and place for a bit of nostalgia, I’ve always thought.

HAIJI: Used to be I might have argued with you. Not now, though. I think I even agree.

(rises, crosses over to the futon, and sits down again)

Come sit with me here. Or don’t, if you don’t want to.

(bell)

Come here.

FUJIOKA: (unmoving) Kiyose, I—

HAIJI: Or don’t.

(bell)

Come here.

After a moment, Fujioka, too, stands, and joins him at the edge of the futon.

FUJIOKA: What can I do for you?

HAIJI: Indulge my nostalgia for a moment, will you?

(lies down on his back, gaze turned up to the ceiling; Fujioka follows suit, hands folded over his stomach)

What do you remember about my room at my parents’ house?

Pause.

FUJIOKA: I remember… that you always had a window open. And that there was a creaky floorboard right by the door.

(pause)

And one year for your birthday the first-years gave you a pack of those glow-in-the-dark stars, and we stuck them on your ceiling. It took a whole evening, because you wanted them arranged just so.

HAIJI: One of the saintlier things you’ve done for me, to be sure.

(pause)

Did you not like them, or am I misremembering?

FUJIOKA: Why would you think I didn’t like them?

HAIJI: Well, you don’t like fireflies, do you? I remember you’d get so crabby in the summer about walking home from practice and seeing them blinking away over the fields. I always chalked it up to some kind of grudge against things that glow.

FUJIOKA: It’s not the glowing, per se. It’s the… the way they move in the dark.

HAIJI: (fluttering his fingers) All spirally, like this? All that glimmering in and out?

FUJIOKA: I just find it disorienting. Found it disorienting, rather. It’s years now since I last saw fireflies.

(turns his head to look at Haiji)

I never had that problem with your stars, though.

HAIJI: Because my stars never moved.

(raises his arms, reaching for the ceiling)

I don’t know if you remember, but the year we put them up, nothing moved in that room. Not the stars, not the window blinds, not me. I spent so many days like this, just staring and staring up at that ceiling. Then I left it, and told myself I wouldn’t be coming back—but here I am.

FUJIOKA: What made you come back this time?

HAIJI: I don’t know. I just stopped running.

(bell)

Maybe I just wanted to see if I could, after running for so long. Prove to myself I still had it in me to go beyond my limits, even after Hakone, you know?

(bell)

No big reasons. Maybe because it had been a quiet year, and I had no one waiting for me here, or so I thought.

(turns his head a little to regard Fujioka)

I wasn’t counting on seeing you again.

FUJIOKA: Does that mean you wish you hadn’t?

HAIJI: No, I think… I think it’s all right like this. After all, neither of us are staying, are we? We’re just passing through, paying our dues, and moving on.

(pause)

That makes whatever this is easier, don’t you think?

FUJIOKA: (quietly) Kiyose.

They start to kiss, somewhat slowly and tentatively at first, and then Haiji spreads his hands on Fujioka’s chest and pushes him onto his back, settling atop him. Some urgency to their movements then; they grasp at each other, pull at each other’s clothes even as they draw apart for air.

HAIJI: (somewhat breathlessly) What do you want, Fujioka?

FUJIOKA: Wait, your—your knee—

HAIJI: That’s what you’re worried about now, of all times?

Bell.

HAIJI: What do you want, Fujioka?

FUJIOKA: (also somewhat breathlessly) You, just you.

Haiji brings his face closer, scrutinizing.

HAIJI: You still want me?

FUJIOKA: You say that like it’s a surprise.

HAIJI: Because it is. I thought we left that behind.

(bell)

What do you want, Fujioka?

FUJIOKA: I don’t know. Whatever you want.

HAIJI: (rolling his eyes) That’s very gallant, Fujioka, but it doesn’t tell me anything.

FUJIOKA: (sheepish) I’m sorry, all right, it’s been a while—

Bell.

HAIJI: What do you want, Fujioka?

Pause.

FUJIOKA: I suppose that depends on what’s on the table.

HAIJI: Ever the gentleman.

(shifts back a bit until he’s braced on his elbows, hands spread on Fujioka’s chest)

But that’s a good question. It’d be good to talk about it, wouldn’t it? Set some—what do the kids call them these days—some boundaries, and all that.

FUJIOKA: (reaching up to touch his face, thumb tracing the cheekbone) As you said, neither of us intend to stay.

HAIJI: (leaning the side of his face against Fujioka’s hand—lightly, almost absentmindedly) And we can’t go promising anything after we leave here, can we?

FUJIOKA: I don’t think that would be wise.

(pause)

But, Kiyose, for what it’s worth… I do want this. Whatever this night is.

HAIJI: (wryly) For old time’s sake?

FUJIOKA: Yes and no. It’s true I missed you, after we left. Didn’t stop missing you, all those years we were barely speaking. I should have told you as much at Hakone, but I didn’t. If I didn’t tell you tonight, I don’t imagine I would ever have.

(pause)

But it’s not just for old time’s sake. Maybe I also want us to… see each other as we are now. To know each other this way, too, if just for a while.

HAIJI: As we are… As we are, huh.

(draws in a deep breath, slowly, and releases it again, fingers tightening in Fujioka’s shirt)

I think I might want that, too, a little.

FUJIOKA: We seem to be agreed, then.

HAIJI: (very softly) So it would seem.

FUJIOKA: Come here.

Haiji leans down, or Fujioka pulls Haiji down toward him. They begin kissing again. Haiji’s fingers go to the buttons of Fujioka’s shirt and begin to work their way down. Lights down on them.

 

 


 

 

SCENE 4: HAIJI’S ROOM, MORNING

 

Dawn only just breaking. Lights fade up slowly on the room. Haiji and Fujioka lie side by side on the futon, under the blankets, not holding each other.

Fujioka stirs, sits up. He looks at Haiji for a long time, but otherwise does not move or speak. Then he rises, dresses himself quietly but quickly, and exits. Sound of a door closing as he goes.

Bell.

The quiet sound of a shower going in the background. Haiji stirs now, and begins to stretch, but goes very still when he hears the water and just lies there for a few long moments, listening. Once the shower stops, he turns over onto his side, pulling the blanket up over his head, and pretends to still be asleep.

Bell.

The shower is going again. Under the blankets, Haiji stirs and stretches, rubbing his eyes. He rolls onto his side and reaches under the pillow for his phone, scrolling through something on the screen. A few seconds later, the water stops. He doesn’t look up.

Enter Fujioka. Haiji does look up, then, setting his phone aside and lifting himself up onto his elbow.

HAIJI: I see I’m not the only one who’s still an early riser.

FUJIOKA: Good morning. I didn’t wake you, did I?

HAIJI: No, no, it wasn’t you. Just force of habit.

(sits up)

Come here, let me get a good look at you.

FUJIOKA: (smiling as he comes to sit at the edge of the futon) I don’t think you’ll find much different from a few hours ago. Nothing broken, or anything.

HAIJI: I’m glad for that, honestly. Can’t have your mother coming after me now after enjoying her good graces for so many years.

(he studies Fujioka's face; when he speaks again it’s gentle, even possibly slightly uncertain)

You’ll want to be getting back to her soon, I expect.

FUJIOKA: I probably should, yes. If she wakes up and finds me still gone, there’ll be questions I won’t know how to answer.

(pulls his socks on one foot at a time, and then rolls his pant legs back down)

And you? Are you biting the bullet, finally?

HAIJI: And heading to my parents’ house? You’re right, I should. Only I told Seta-san I’d be checking out at noon, and not a minute earlier.

FUJIOKA:  And what do you have planned until noon, since it seems you’re keeping such a rigid schedule?

HAIJI: (shrugging) I’ll go back to sleep, maybe. Enjoy the luxury of time. Very important business, you understand.

FUJIOKA: (stifling a laugh behind his hand) Oh, yes. I can’t think of anything more important.

HAIJI: (reaches out for his arm, also beginning to laugh) You’re making fun of me.

FUJIOKA: I would never.

HAIJI: You really are a scoundrel!

They laugh together, Haiji still holding on to Fujioka’s arm, heads leaning close to each other—and then without warning they’re kissing again, increasingly desperately. Just as suddenly, they pull apart, and Fujioka withdraws to the edge of the futon, knees tented up, not looking at Haiji.

Bell.

HAIJI: I’ll go back to sleep, maybe. Enjoy the luxury of time. Very important business, you understand.

FUJIOKA: Extremely important business. I should leave you to it, then.

(makes to rise, hesitates, looks back at Haiji)

Is there anything I can do for you before I go?

HAIJI: Come on, Fujioka. You always do more for me than I know how to be grateful for.

(silent for a while after this, as though deliberating on what to say next, and then)

Though I’m thinking I might want to kiss you again, if you don’t mind that.

FUJIOKA: (bringing himself closer and leaning in) I don’t mind that.

They kiss, this time more softly and with less urgency, hands lingering at each other’s faces. They continue to stare at each other when they pull apart, holding gazes.

Bell.

HAIJI: Come on, Fujioka. You always do more for me than I know how to be grateful for.

(silent for a while after this, as though deliberating on what to say next, and then)

And we’re all right, aren’t we? Everything all right between us?

FUJIOKA: (without hesitation) Of course.

(reaches across the futon for Haiji’s hand and takes it in his own)

Everything all right between us.

HAIJI: Give my best to your parents, then, and to your blue room.

(squeezes Fujioka’s hand in his once, gently, and then releases it)

Bump into you again soon, maybe.

FUJIOKA: I think it looks likely. Probably at the shrine on New Year’s Day.

HAIJI: (stifles a chuckle behind his hand) Ah, right. This town’s too damn small.

FUJIOKA: And nothing moves. Except maybe you and I.

(lays his hand lightly against Haiji’s knee beneath the blankets, and rises)

Take care, Kiyose.

HAIJI: (smiling) Be seeing you, Fujioka.

Exit Fujioka as Haiji settles back down under the blankets, his back to the audience. Lights fade to black.