“I still need some tomatoes and beer,” Matsumoto mumbled.
In the meat section of the supermarket, a young woman who had been standing nearby moved away with a concerned expression on her face. No, not again. Matsumoto blushed.
Three years had passed since he got a job and a place of his own. He’d formed a habit of mumbling aloud. Even in his office, he’d vocalize his inner thoughts without being conscious of it while he wrote e-mails or read meeting materials. One day, a coworker named Oyamada said, “You’re not just muttering, Matsumoto. You’re much louder than that.” Since then, he’d been extra careful at his work. Even so, he couldn’t help but let his guard down in a place like this.
That woman looked vaguely familiar. As he paid the cashier, he remembered—they lived in the same apartment. He might have seen her a few times at the entrance and inside the elevator. Both of them lived on the fourth floor.
Did she notice him, too? He didn’t want her to think he was creepy. After all, they might be next-door neighbors. When he looked around, he spotted her in the checkout line. Should he wait there and offer a justification? No, that would be really creepy. Matsumoto resigned himself and left the supermarket.
On the way home, he saw a group of girls dressed in yukata. Speaking of which, there was going to be a fireworks festival in a nearby park. Were they college students? No, maybe they were still in high school. The girls frolicked in a bubbly way like fresh sparkling water, clearly enjoying themselves.
After dinner, he stepped out onto the veranda with a can of beer in his hand. Fireworks would be partially visible in gaps between the other buildings. He’d never been to a summer festival since he started working. Leaning against the handrail, he waited for the fireworks to start.
“I want cotton candy.” His stomach would feel full just from the sugary smell of the white fluffs. His mouth and fingers would get all sticky, and he wouldn’t know what to do with the empty stick afterward. Seized by a craving for cotton candy, he ended up mumbling again.
“Cotton candy? Sounds great.” He thought he’d heard a woman’s voice drifting from the veranda next door. Triggered by the memory of a past festival, he might have just imagined it. Matsumoto shut his eyes tightly and drank up his beer.
Eisuke Aikawa is a fiction writer based in Fukuoka, Japan. He has authored two collections of short stories, Haikingu (2017) and Kumo wo hanareta tsuki (2018). His short fiction has appeared in venues such as Bungakukai, Hidden Authors, and Taberu no ga osoi. His first novel, Hannah no inai jugatsu wa, was published in 2020. twitter: @Aikawa_Eisuke Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His recent translations of Latin American literature include books by Claudia Apablaza, Carlos Bortoni, and Selfa Chew. twitter: @ToshiyaKamei