The Game – Chapter 16January 16, 2013 at 11:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
Tags: bamboo, chapter, family, haiku, housing, novel, PC, personal computer, science fiction, sister, social stratification, speculative fiction, television, The Game
For two years, Mika Komatsu enjoyed a rare form of happiness. Her circumstances let her pursue her dream of being published. Further, she felt she was moving closer to her goal. Her evidence was a growing folio of poetry she considered worthy of publishing. She was living the honeymoon of present and future.
She wove her days with threads of balance and peace, working hard at the restaurant and writing in her secret bamboo grove when it was sunny. She had acclimatised to Higuchi’s abrasive personality, and the two rarely fought. When they did, Mika invariably retreated. She despised conflict. Since Higuchi’s moods went as swiftly as they came, Mika viewed her repeated defeats as the price of domestic harmony.
Higuchi, seventeen and hell-bent on getting the best Poor Class job available, studied furiously. Her results had lifted significantly. She’d disciplined herself to begin as Mika left for work each evening. Sometimes, as a reward, she bought a bottle of cheap, thin beer and sat up watching the Late Show version of The Game, which she adored. She fantasised about working as a roadie, controlling the various instruments of death.
With all classification deferments expired, every citizen was now locked into The New Deal. After the axe had fallen, many had felt the sudden urge to jump just one stratum higher. Television programmers pulled reruns and populated the morning hours with fresh Game shows to cope with the surge of contestants.
The fact that The New Deal was universal law didn’t affect the sisters. Their father’s zealotry had committed them to a subsistence lifestyle long ago. Higuchi had ceased raging against the injustice and was focusing all her energy on making the best hand of an extremely rough deal. Mika had weathered the maelstrom with her hopes for the future. Her pain began the day she felt ready to seek a professional opinion of her manuscript. She was twenty.
‘Hello, Parmont Publishing. How may I help you … Mika?’
‘I, um. I have a manuscript. I was wondering if you might be interested in looking at it … and, um … giving me some feedback.’
Mika’s guts turned to water. ‘N .. no. Just haiku. I’ve been writing them for years.’
‘How many do you have?’
‘Um, about 300. Of course, you’ll want to choose just the best fifty or so for a book.’
‘Yes, yes, we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. Traditional or modern?’
Mika swallowed. ‘All traditional.’
‘Hmm. Send your best six to our website, attention Hayley Di Pietro. We’ll be in touch. Maybe.’
Mika saw with a shock that the call was about to end. She mustered every shred of courage she possessed. ‘Um … excuse me …’
The face looked up sharply. ‘Yes?’
‘Are you Hayley Di Pietro?’
‘Um, well, I just wanted to ask you something.’
The face registered annoyance and impatience. ‘What?’
Mika shook with the effort of asserting herself. ‘Um, well … err … Hayley. I just wanted to know if it would be alright if I didn’t send my poems to your … um … to your … err … w … website.’
Di Pietro’s mouth firmed to a slit. ‘Why’s that, exactly?’
Mika searched frantically for the right words to diffuse the explosives at the other end of the line. She was terrified of her work being pirated and didn’t trust the security of even the most confidential Net nodes. She’d rather hurl her poems into the sea inside a bottle. With Hayley’s thin membrane of patience nearly worn through, despair silver-plated Mika’s tongue and the perfect sentence came out. ‘Because Hayley, I admire your work enormously and would like nothing better than to meet you personally and have you sign my copy of your latest work.’
‘Is that a fact? If you’re such a fan, why didn’t you recognise me?’
Mika brought up splinters from the bottom of the barrel. This was her last shot before she crumbled. ‘Because Hayley, I prefer to appreciate literature without the encumbrance of judgements about the author. I always throw away the dust jackets and covering files of the books I purchase. Your photograph would only have distracted me from the treasure of your words.’ She winced at the schmaltz. But Di Pietro bought it.
‘Wednesday, 14:10. Alright?’
Mika’s eyes opened wide. ‘Y … Yes, Hayley. That would be fantastic! Thank you very much!’
‘Don’t mention it.’ Di Pietro thawed a tight smile. ‘Always got time for a fan.’
Mika slumped onto her desk. A bead of sweat dribbled down her spine. She was exhausted, but she’d won the round. Her dream was a step closer to realisation. She ordered her Net server to find out what on earth Hayley Di Pietro might have written recently; Mika had never heard of her. Then she crept into her bed and dozed off.
Wrenched from sleep by the call, Mika dragged herself groggily to her monitor. ‘Hello?’
‘Mika. Hayley. With a bit of advice. Keep in touch with the industry.’
Mika, half awake and completely in the dark mumbled, ‘wha … ? What’re you talking about?’
Hayley looked at her disapprovingly. ‘Have you been drinking?’
The accusation shocked Mika into full consciousness. She took hold of herself and sat down. ‘No,’ she said carefully, ‘I was sleeping. Please, I didn’t understand what you said just then.’
‘Let me spell it out for you. Literary careers begin at the Comfortable level. The threshold was raised two months ago. It was announced on the Net. Either you missed it, or you’ve deliberately tried to deceive me. Let’s take a test. Name my last book.’
Mika was too shocked even to maximise the blinking report icon. ‘I don’t know.’
‘As I thought; you’ve tried to scam me. Pretty stupid when you think about it. How did you plan to convince me you weren’t Poor, when your status appears on every file in the system?’
‘I wasn’t trying to scam you, Hayley; I had no idea the rules had changed!’
‘I don’t believe you; but that’s immaterial. Your deceit has undone you. That, and the fact you’re unequivocally Poor. Pity the trusting publisher willing to give you a go. You’re pathetic. I hope you don’t live with anyone; you’ve obviously no idea how to treat people with respect.’
‘Hayley … ‘ began Mika, but the line had gone dead. The dialogue box was replaced with the report she’d requested earlier. Mika saw the title of Hayley’s latest work and fainted from emotional exhaustion. Bathing her supine form with soft light was the epitaph: Hayley Di Pietro – Truth is Best.
Mika missed work for the first time that night. Her world had been smashed to smithereens. She vomited until nothing remained, then kept retching. Her temperature soared.
Higuchi arrived home and recoiled at the stench. ‘Jesus, Mika! What’s going on?’
Mika shuddered out the bones of her story.
‘Is that it? Is that all? You missed out on a job? Shit, Mika, you scared the crap out of me. Don’t be such a bloody prima donna. I thought you were the one who was supercool about being Poor.’
Mika blubbered her reason for ‘missing the job’.
Realisation gleamed in Higuchi’s eye. ‘Ahhhh, so finally we’ve hit the wall. Soulful Mika is not above the system after all. All those times papa shoved you in my face as a martyr to the Cause: “Observe, Higuchi; your sister has learned true humility and acceptance”. Ha! Well, how does the cap fit now, little sister? And what’s it like to have joined the ranks of Liars Unanimous? We’ll have to put your high horse in the classifieds.’
Higuchi’s darts lodged in Mika’s heart. With a wail of sorrow, she leapt from her bed and flew across the lounge. Breaking fingernails, she wrenched the front door open and disappeared howling down the stairs. Broken glass tore at her bare feet as she ran to the only thing that had never betrayed her.
Higuchi felt like she’d just enjoyed a large orgasm. She fetched her remaining beer and took a long draught. Burping loudly, she plumped on the couch and keyed a number into the kitchen PC’s remote. The long face of a young man appeared, anxiously searching the screen of the public booth for the caller.
‘Hiya, Ihara!’ said Higuchi casually.
‘Higuchi? Where are you? I’ve been waiting. Where have you been?’
‘I’m in the lounge, baby, out of your line of sight. There’s been a bit of drama here. Mika’s just left.’
‘She’s never been late before. I was worried.’
‘How sweet! Well, she’s gone. And I don’t expect her back for a while.’
Ihara Teika’s brows knitted. ‘You mean, she could return before morning?’
Higuchi examined a weather report on the lounge’s PC. ‘Yep.’
Ihara was confused. ‘But then … she’ll catch us … after all this time.’
Higuchi was enjoying herself immensely. ‘Relax, stud man, everything’s groovy. If she comes back, she comes back. If the worm was ever going to turn, it would’ve happened tonight. It didn’t. As a result, things are about to change.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘Exactly what you want me to, baby. We’re getting you out of there and into my little nest.’
‘I’ll come right over!’ gushed Ihara.
‘Not so fast, bucko! I want you to pick up some booze as a housewarming present.’
Ihara ran a nervous hand over his shaved head. ‘Higuchi, you know I can’t afford it. They’re tracking my transactions. If I divert any more funds to intoxicants, they’ll spot it!’
‘Ihara, darling, are you not about to live rent free in a lovely flat with two lovely young women?’
‘Yes,’ replied the young man miserably.
‘And are you not betrothed to the world’s most fabulous and powerful sex goddess?’
‘And are you not eternally grateful to this goddess for draining your vital fluids every evening for the past two years?’
‘Well then, pull your bloody finger out, use some imagination and get some fucking PISS!’
‘But … ‘
‘And don’t DARE come here without it!’ Higuchi killed the link and rolled around on the couch, tears of laughter streaming down her hard, grinning face.
Outside, cold rain flattened Mika’s clothing to her thin, shivering body. She lay in mud, curled like an embryo. By now, even her tears had lost their warmth. From time to time, her mind’s eye glanced at the horror of her situation. Like peering under a scab, the act was repellent and painful, yet irresistible. Her two loves, life and poetry, were divorced. Her dream had been frozen. She could write until the day she died. But her precious words, crafted to warm the hearts of millions, were doomed to moulder forever under her bed.
The moon rose over the bamboo grove, casting its baleful light into the clearing. The wind gained enough strength to work on the grass. The blades fell, prevented from self actualisation as surely as the frail woman huddled among them.
Much later, Higuchi and Ihara lay among the detritus of a hard night’s drinking. Ihara had bartered a few of his meagre possessions for beer. As he dozed next to his snoring lover, he was visited by unsettling dreams of discovery and apprehension. His transaction had been highly illegal, smiting at the heart of enforced social stratification. He half expected an official to break in with evidence damning him for operating outside the system.
His only hope was that ETAT was too busy to notice his crime. He was indeed safe for now. He woke and turned his large, mournful eyes to the woman who’d goaded him to such folly. He was her prisoner, caught in a trap of sex, familiarity and emotional masochism. They fought with, connived against, lied to and betrayed each other, yet they’d stayed together for almost four years.
Ihara suffered delusions of creativity and refused to apply for conventional jobs. Unemployed since leaving school at sixteen, his attraction to Higuchi grew after she fled her dysfunctional parents to set up house with her sister. Here was a chance to escape the awful dormitory he was forced to occupy until he toed the line and took a job.
When Mika began work at the restaurant, Ihara’s hope was fulfilled. Higuchi rescued him nightly. He enjoyed a shower, a meal and a relatively undisturbed sleep. The few dollars he saved on food bought alcohol for Higuchi. She enjoyed nothing more than getting drunk, toying with his slower mind and repeatedly jumping his skinny bones. That Mika had never detected the arrangement was indicative of her naiveté and Higuchi’s clinical cunning.
Toward dawn, Mika rose painfully and stumbled home. She pressed her palm against the lock. Not recognising her rain-wrinkled print, the door asked for confirmation. Numbly, she punched in her password, her frozen fingers barely feeling the keys. The bolts withdrew and Mika slid inside, almost tripping over an empty beer bottle. She raised her throbbing head. More bottles swung into view, along with food wrappers, blankets and two bodies – one belonging to a stranger. A man. Fighting dizziness and nausea, Mika assembled a sentence for her swollen throat and cracked lips. ‘Higuchi. Who is this person?’
Ihara bolted upright, frantically slapping his lover’s rump and hissing at her snoring face. ‘Higuchi! Your sister has returned. Wake up! Wake up!’
Higuchi stirred leisurely. Yawning, she stretched luxuriously and turned to face Mika. Her eyes, soft from intercourse and sleep, climbed back into their pill boxes and took up their weapons. ‘Ahhhhh, the prodigal child returns. I never agreed with that parable, so you’ll forgive us for devouring the fatted calf last night in your absence.’
Mika pointed mechanically. ‘Who is he?’ Her voice cracked at the realisation that Higuchi was gearing up for one of her sessions.
Higuchi disentangled herself from bedding and boyfriend. Rising smoothly, she planted herself squarely in front of Mika. She was solidly built and now towered over her sister. ‘This is Ihara. He’s a friend of mine and he needs a place to stay for a few days. I told him you wouldn’t mind.’
Mika replied weakly, dreading what was coming. ‘How many days?’
On cue, Higuchi lost her temper. ‘Jesus, Mika, you are so fucking anal! What does it matter how long he stays? A few days is a few days. Christ, are you so tight you can’t even help out another human being? That’s it. That’s fucking IT! I’ve had it with you, you selfish, pious, finicky bitch!’
Higuchi continued her tirade; her proven way to get what she wanted. Installing Ihara was a career best. She slammed doors, gesticulated threateningly and hounded Mika into her room. Then she yelled through the door, grinding Mika into a paste with words beautifully picked and ruthlessly delivered.
Two days earlier, Mika might have resisted. But after a night in the rain and the onset of fever, she folded like a house of cards. Higuchi’s coup was complete. Ihara Teika returned to the dormitory for sign in, and made it back to the flat in time for breakfast.
In the weeks that followed, Mika’s spirit guttered in chill winds. Higuchi engulfed the flat. Under her protection, even the mealy-mouthed Ihara gained enough courage to assist in her methodical persecution of Mika. They ruled the flat’s common areas day and night. Mika retreated to the relative safety of her room, prevented both from sleeping and writing by venomous arguments, vigorous intercourse and violent Game telecasts. Too frightened to neutralise the disturbing sounds with her PC, she suffered terribly. Her energy drained away steadily.
Through strategic visits and phone calls, Higuchi soured Mika’s friendships at work. Colleagues began to avoid her, believing the slander of her convincing sister. Understanding Higuchi’s motivation did nothing to ameliorate Mika’s pain. She knew she Higuchi was punishing her for Otomo’s crime. Yet her attempts to discuss this transference were viciously rejected.
Mika’s sole comfort was that she’d be released from legal responsibility for her sister in three months, when Higuchi turned eighteen. Then, at least, she could leave the corrupted flat and seek solitude in a smaller dwelling. Of course, this promised no relief for her greatest heartache. Her dream of working as a writer was as thwarted as ever.
Beset by deepening depression and despair, Mika vainly sought peace in the bamboo grove. With the onset of winter, it had lost its magic. The clearing was more often a morass than a refuge. Mika had nowhere else to go. She surrendered herself to the elements, rocking herself into dark trances and struggling to suppress the ambition flailing in her heart.
On returning exhausted from work one morning, Mika entered the flat to giggles from Higuchi and Ihara’s room. Yet again, bottles littered the floor. This time the drunken pranks had included fire. A small altar sat awkwardly in the lounge. On and around it lay ashes and half-burned papers. They stirred in the draught from the corridor. Mika picked up a charred corner of familiar stationery. The first line of her earliest haiku stared up in mute appeal.
Higuchi’s door opened a crack and four eyes peered from the darkness. Mika looked up, dumbstruck by the enormity of her discovery. The door slammed shut and her tormentors burst into laughter. Mika tottered into her room. Her overturned bed and gutted storage bins bore witness to a drunken search. After confirming that none of her precious originals had survived, she slumped at her desk to weep. Before the fit could take, she saw the honey leaking from her PC.
Mika ran to the grey building and signed. In two days, she’d escape hell and recapture her dream, or die. Contrary to everything she’d ever thought about herself and the sanctity of life, she’d reached her breaking point. Mika had become a contestant – on the only game that mattered.
Read Chapter 17.
Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.
Pic by farflungistan.
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