There’s a story on the news that morning that Nene hears vaguely over breakfast. About a man who’d been struck by a train just a few hours before. Stepped right out in front. Died on impact. Left a mourning family and a cluster of smog-churning traffic in his wake.
Nene hadn’t been particularly listening to the television, or her mother, or her phone’s chimes from Aoi’s morning gossip. She’d only been particular about the speed at which she ate her toast — quick enough to make it to school on time, but not too fast as to get hiccups, and not too much as to get choked. Nothing else. That’s all. That was everything she thought about at the kitchen table, aside from which set of stockings she’d be wearing under her uniform.
And well, she hadn’t really tried to think about the story even after she’d heard it. It wasn’t that hard to forget. Not really. Bad things happen every day, she tells herself. Freak accidents occur, family members stand in front of cameras and weep, wives and husbands and children tell reporters how there’s no way something like this could have been on purpose. That the onlookers saying he looked both ways before stepping out in front of the oncoming vehicle were lying. That he would never do something like this when he had his whole life ahead of him, right?
“ Right ,” she agrees aloud, to no one in particular.
She looks up. Hanako’s looking back. Pupils wide. Eyes unblinking. Hand placed precariously in the bowl of rice to her left.
“Right you’re gonna get it if you don’t keep your hands out of the food,” she snaps with a swipe of her wooden spoon. The answer borders on the line of unintelligibility, but it’s enough to get him to back off, snickering like an imp all the way to his stool. In typical, useless, Hanako fashion.
Nene hadn’t really asked Hanako to help with her culinary project, if she could call it helping to begin with. He was really, more accurately, a hindrance to the whole event — his only tasks being sticking his hands where they weren’t supposed to be, swinging around utensils not meant for such theatrics, and of course acting as the weighted neck wrap across her shoulders. About the same amount of help as he was during bathroom cleaning. Which is to say, completely useless.
And yet despite that, Nene would never say she minded him too much. Hanako had gotten her the home economics room all to herself, after all. Leave it to me Yashiro , he’d said, persistence is key, Yashiro. Just let ol’ wholesome Hanako-kun handle it — he knew how to deal with Tsuchigomori. In truth, Nene didn’t know what “dealing with Tsuchigomori” meant, but she did have a hunch that she should feel the slightest bit bad for the other mystery. It was the same feeling she usually got when she remembered he’d been dealing with Hanako for the past fifty odd years or so — a feat that practically beatified the old supernatural in her mind. Sure Hanako was fun to be around, but he was best in small doses. Very small doses. Like a teaspoon’s worth, give or take. Probably take. Definitely take.
There’s nothing small, however, about the handful of rice she watches him pull from the bowl, which rightfully earns him a hard slap across the knuckles and an earful about listening to her previous warnings. He only laughs in response, much to her annoyance.
Nene’s quite certain in all the months she’s known him that whatever manners Hanako once had died with him ages ago, long since buried, rotted, and decayed. But it’s not like she can do much about it. His cheekiness was part of his self-proclaimed charm. His handsiness was always “because I missed you, Yashiro.” And she couldn’t really scold him for the food, because it wasn’t like he was actually eating it. Just tasting, he called it. Like an offering, you see. Something to keep naughty spirits like himself appeased, lest he get the insatiable whim to turn snarky assistants into the more aquatic variety.
And despite all the shoving, and swiping, and Hanako-kun, stop that ’s, and Hanako-kun, get down from there ’s, Nene does manage to make it to the final stretch of her homemade maki roll. A little lopsided, and sans the cucumbers that made a mysterious leap from their bowl, but complete for the most part. Complete enough to test the recipe for her mother’s birthday in a few days, which she supposes makes it more or less a success.
All that was left was to cut it.
...Which leads her to her current position, standing at the base of the shelving as Hanako floats above her a steady four feet or so above. Nene’s never asked him exactly how high he can float, but she’s been able to piece together his limits more or less. High enough to lean over her head when she’s mopping, not high enough to reach the ball still stuck on the garden shed roof. High enough to reach Tsuchigomori’s top bookshelf — home to a secret stash of bekko candy — yet not high enough to reach the gym’s basketball hoop. Just a few measly inches, he’d told her after testing it one day, could have touched it if he really tried you know.
And it seems here, in the home economics room, that Hanako’s just about met his match as he stretches as far as his short arms will go to the black box lingering just out of reach. A few grunts. A few groans. A slight push off the shelving below, and he finally does manage to get a finger on it, letting it fall into the bend of his elbow with a soft thud.
“There,” Hanako grins, “told you I could get it.”
“....That was almost a disaster, you know.”
“Yeah but it wasn’t. See? The box was locked,” he declares proudly, giving the latch a flick.
The latch swings open.
Hanako’s gaze slowly swings down.
He blinks owlishly, once, twice. Clears his throat and adjusts the curve of his mouth. Then thrusts the open box out for her to see inside.
“A-anyways,” he diverts, “this should work much better than those other dull knives. They never let you kids use the good stuff huh?”
Nene doesn’t correct him about Hanako being a kid too, because well, that’s a bit more complicated of a matter for a Thursday afternoon. Instead, she directs her attention to the blade, her own reflection peeking back at her through polished, sharpened steel. Watching. Leering uncharacteristically, she thinks, her face warped along the curve — nose into an angered flare and mouth into a cartoonish frown. A tentative step closer, and her features smooth back to their normal placements.
“Go on,” he encourages, “take it.” And Nene, of course, obeys.
Nene places her fingers around the hilt. Nene pulls the knife from the box.
A santoku-styled knife, she notes, with a red plastic handle and a curved edge curled to a point. Familiar, but not too much. Or perhaps not enough.
Hanako’s still talking as she lets the knife settle into the grooves of her fingers. It’s heavier than she expected — hilt too wide to comfortably wrap around, yet too small for two hands. She turns it over once, for safety, then again for good measure. Definitely sharp enough to cut straight through her fingers, she thinks morbidly, if she’s not careful that is.
Nene looks up. Hanako’s looking down to her. Below his eyes, he’s smiling.
“Come on,” he nudges, “it’s not going to cut itself.”
And to that she agrees and makes her way back to the counter, Hanako lazily following behind.
The knife is in her hands as she stands before the cutting board, and the maki roll is, notedly, not cut.
Nene positions the knife.
Nene holds a knife between two hands.
Nene really wouldn’t say she’s a bad cook, but she wouldn’t call herself an expert. She knows how to make her basic meals or help her mother with dinner. She knows how to make her own lunch. She knows how to make donuts, courtesy of Kou’s teachings, even if they do turn out a bit more on the crisp side when she tries by herself.
Nene is familiar with kitchen knives. In cakes. In meat. In wooden blocks. With the santoku shape that her mother keeps polished and sharpened, the very same that Hanako carries on his person at all times, all moments.
Nene is familiar with Hanako’s knife.
Hanako isn’t one to flash his weapon often, not without purpose. The rare times it does make an appearance involve a supernatural, a threat; the rare times he draws it from his chest involve a grimace and a slow, aching pull. As if it hurt to pull from his old school coat. As if it’d become a part of him in all those long years he’s had it.
Hanako doesn’t draw his knife around her. Or Kou. Or even Akane.
If Nene thinks about it hard enough, she finds that somewhat funny. Not in the laughable, humorous way though. Funny in the way of rain on graduation day. Funny in the way of the knife between her own hands. Just the kind that makes something turn between the ribs in her chest, something she can’t really put a name to. That’s all.
Nene had only touched Hanako’s knife once, and even then it’d been an accident.
It’d just been a normal afternoon, if she remembered correctly. And maybe he’d still been recovering from his supernatural cold, or maybe he’d just been thinking too hard. Maybe he’d just been holding it too loosely, less like a regular knife and more like something that was part of a spirit. She really couldn’t say. But when the blade had clattered to the bathroom floor, no rhyme or reason to it, Nene had been the one to pick it up. Nene had been the one to curl her fingers around the worn, red hilt. Nene had been the one to measure its weight in her slim, uncalloused finger, and Nene had been the one to hold it out to him. Pointed away. Defensive, even if just on instinct.
Hanako had been the one to take it back however. She’d watched him press his finger to the point, hard enough to draw blood, cheeky enough to know it wouldn’t. She’d heard his chuckle between thin parted lips and she’d heard his warning that he’d muttered.
“Yashiro,” he’d said in the same teasing tone as always, “don’t you know this is what not to do with knives?”
And she did, of course.
She did, and that was the worst part.
And Nene can’t help but wonder if she pressed her fingertip to the blade she held now, if it would bleed very much in the same way Hanako’s hadn’t.
She wonders what Hanako would do, if she did.
She wonders what he’d say if she asked him where they kept the knives when he’d gotten his own.
She wonders what he’d do if she asked him if it still hurt.
She doesn’t of course. She’d never do such a thing. But maybe if she thinks about it with enough uncertainty, then maybe it wouldn’t be true, you know?
Nene looks up. Hanako’s looking at eye level. Around his eyes she notices, possibly for the first time, are the faintest of creases a bit too old for a teenage boy when he smiles.
“Head in the clouds as usual?” he chides as he cups her cheek, gentle as a feather. Just enough to know he’s there.
She’s not quite sure what she says between then and Hanako positioning himself behind her, hands wrapped around her own as she holds knife to nori. “Gently,” he says as blade slides to board. Gently, she thinks as she holds the tip away.
This time, Nene holds the conversation between her own fingers. Hanako doesn’t need to say it. Nene doesn’t need to answer. But she does anyway. She does just to know it’s true.
Yashiro, Hanako questions in a voice not meant to be heard, what’s the one thing that we don’t do with knives?
Nene places the blade down before answering, just as silently.
Point them at other people, Hanako-kun. Point them at other people.