A voice deep inside was telling her that Teppei was in trouble - the worst kind of trouble
CHAPTER I: Heaviness
December 24, 1968
She waited for him to speak again, but the line went dead.
As Sanae put the receiver down, she clutched her chest with one hand. This was the first time she had heard her husband's voice in days. His work had completely occupied him since the trial, and on several occasions he never even came home for the night. But when the morning of Christmas Eve came and she had heard nothing from Teppei, she had begun to worry. Just hearing his voice on the other end of the phone, she had felt a wave of relief.
But in between the long static silence, she had perceived her husband was trying to tell her something. He had gone through so much after all, risking everything by filing a lawsuit against his own father and simultaneously trying to find ways to rebuild Hanshin Steel, which by itself seemed like a monumentally impossible task. Now that he had lost everything, even the chance to simply reveal the truth of his father's misdeeds, Sanae wondered if his last glimmer of hope was completely gone.
A voice deep inside was telling her that Teppei was in trouble - the worst kind of trouble.
He won't be here tomorrow, that's why he wished me a Merry Christmas, She realized.
Sanae felt her eyes sting as tears began to spill over. Hastily, she wiped them away. Tarou was playing in the living room and she didn't want to alarm him.
Teppei hadn't told her where he was, but Sanae wasn't going to wait for him at home any longer. She was already running through the places he might be - his office, Tsurunoya - when she left the room and found her mother, Mrs. Ookawa.
"Mother, I apologize but I have to leave tonight. Can you watch Tarou for me?"
"What?" Mrs. Ookawa asked in surprise, "Where are you going?"
"I'm afraid that something is very wrong with Teppei. I must go find him."
"Why should you be the one to go look for him?" Mrs. Ookawa asked, "Isn't there anyone else that can do it? What about his family?"
"They wouldn't understand." Sanae exclaimed, dropping her troubled gaze to the floor as she thought of Daisuke Manpyo. That man would actually be pleased if Teppei killed himself.
In Sanae's plaintive expression, Mrs. Ookawa recognized a spark of her husband's determination.
Until his last breath, Mr. Ookawa had been both a friend and father to Teppei, and after being slandered by Daisuke Manpyo, Teppei had been Mr. Ookawa’s only supporter. Sanae had been fortunate in life to marry someone who was both a good man and someone she could love – life was not always so kind to women. Knowing what it was like to lose a beloved husband – and what she would give to have him back – Mrs. Ookawa placed a comforting hand on Sanae's arm.
"If you must go, then go. Don't worry about Tarou. We will look after him."
Sanae hugged her mother gratefully, fighting tears once more. But she put on a brave face, clenching her teeth and smiling as best she could when she met her mother’s gaze.
It didn't take her long to pack her belongings. She didn't know how long she would be gone or how far she would go, but she packed lightly because she wanted to leave as soon as possible. She would visit Fusako first, and then catch the train to Kobe. Teppei had friends there who might have seen him since his dismissal at Hanshin Steel.
Sanae managed to unzip the back of her red knitted dress and changed into a simple black wool skirt and ivory-colored turtleneck with flower embroidery on the sleeves.
After she pulled on her black dress coat, Sanae went once more into the living room where Mrs. Ookawa was sitting with Tarou.
His arms were crossed over his grey knitted sweater, and he let his legs dangle from where he sat on the sofa, refusing to smile or talk with Mrs. Ookawa. Now four years old, Tarou had begun to sense the unnatural hostility that existed in the Manpyo family. While Teppei and Sanae had always tried to shield him from it, Tarou was perceptive like his mother and didn’t enjoy being lied to. When Mrs. Ookawa walked into the room and explained to Teppei that Sanae would be leaving suddenly, Tarou stubbornly bowed his head and said nothing.
When Sanae saw Tarou, his head slumped onto his little chest and his arms crossed in moody silence, it reminded her of the same depressed look Teppei would have after a bad day at work or an argument with his father.
It was never supposed to be this way.
“Tarou,” She said, kneeling on the ground so their gaze would meet, “what did Papa say to you?”
Tarou spoke without raising his head.
“He said that I will be strong.”
"He’s right, Tarou. You will be strong… like him. Look at those muscles - so strong!”
Tarou couldn’t help but giggle as Sanae playfully squeezed his arms.
“Listen, Tarou, Mama will be back in a little while. You'll be staying with my family here, so be good. Remember what papa told you."
"Mama, will Papa be home for Christmas?" Tarou asked hopefully.
Sanae hesitated, and then replied, “I don't know, Tarou. But we'll try to spend New Year’s together, alright?"
With that, Sanae hugged him close and teased that he was getting so big. Tarou’s smile was restored.
Mrs. Ookawa watched her daughter gather her things and rush discreetly out of the room so Tarou wouldn't see his mother crying.
Carrying her leather duffel bag in one hand, Sanae came to the entrance of the Tsurunoya restaurant where Fusako Tsuruta worked. There were people in the street everywhere, chatting and celebrating beneath the warm glow of scarlet paper lanterns and yellow street lights. Customers were pouring in and out of Tsurunoya and Sanae was beginning to wonder if it were even possible to meet with Fusako on such a busy evening. As Sanae was about to turn to leave, she heard someone call her name through the din of the crowd.
“Sanae-san, is that you?”
Sanae looked around until she spotted the elegantly dressed Fusako standing at the entrance of Tsurunoya. Outfitted in her traditional kimono, Fusako walked towards Sanae with short, graceful steps, an inquiring look on her pleasant face.
“Fusako-san,” Sanae exclaimed in relief, “Forgive me for distracting you from your customers.”
“It is alright, we are well staffed tonight and I was taking a short break.” Looking at the luggage Sanae was carrying, Fusako asked, “Are you going somewhere tonight, Sanae-san?”
“Yes, I am travelling to Kobe,” Sanae said, “but before I go, I wanted to ask you if you have seen Teppei at all during the past few weeks.”
“No, I haven’t seen him… are you worried about Tecchan, Sanae-san?”
“Well, yes.” Sanae replied, “He called this evening and wanted to talk to Tarou, but he didn’t say where he is. I know he has gone through a lot these past few weeks and may need some time alone to process it, but…” Sanae trailed off, not sure whether she should express her fears openly with Fusako. As if sensing what Sanae was about to say, Fusako said confidently, “Sanae-san, I know Tecchan well. He is my brother, after all. He is someone who would never give up on anything, no matter how impossible the odds. Tecchan will be fine and he will return.” Fusako finished with an encouraging nod.
Sanae smiled appreciatively. But the pit in her stomach was still there, as if she were waiting in a hospital for the doctor to give her bad news. Fusako may have known Teppei well, but apparently she did not truly know Sanae. If she had, she might have understood that Sanae’s intuition was what drew Teppei to her in the first place.
“Before my father died,” Sanae said, “my mother said to me… ‘Father will beat this sickness and quickly become elected!’ Every time she said that, I felt something heavy in the pit of my stomach,” Sanae placed a hand over her abdomen and looked at the wedding band on her finger, “Every heartbeat was painful and my body was restless. But I covered it up with a smile. When father was sick, there was nothing I could do to help him but stay by his side. Now Teppei is gone. I don’t even know where he is and the heaviness is here again.”
Sanae stared at the cobblestones on the street beneath her black suede shoes. She hoped that Fusako would understand what she meant. As she looked up, she saw that Fusako was smiling.
“I’m glad that Teppei has someone like you, Sanae-san. You are a good wife.”
“Thank you,” Sanae said softly, bowing her head, “I’ve kept you long enough. Good night, Fusako-san.”
“Good night, Sanae-san.”
As Sanae began the long walk to the train station, she once again heard Fusako calling her name.
“Sanae-san,” Fusako said as if she was remembering something, causing Sanae to turn around, “Tecchan used to say that he enjoyed going to Tamba-Sasayama when he felt overwhelmed or upset. If you can’t find him, then don’t worry - he is most likely hunting at Tanba Mountain.”
“All passengers may now board the train,” a worker at the train station called out.
Walking down the aisle of the high-speed train, Sanae sat down in an empty seat and placed her luggage on the floor in front of her. Not long afterwards, the train rolled forward with a slight jerk and began its long journey through the countryside.
It was 10 p.m., and Tarou was surely in bed by now. Her heart was still heavy from so many things – losing her father, the destruction of her family’s reputation, Teppei’s lawsuit and his removal from the steel company – but she had endured it all because she believed that in the end it would benefit the Manpyo family. More importantly, Tarou would not suffer as Teppei had… raised by a loveless father.
Hang in there, Tarou, Sanae thought, Mama and Papa won’t be long. All of this will be over soon.
Sanae placed a hand over her stomach instinctively as if she was going to be sick. It was useless to rationalize. As she rested her head against the vinyl seat cover, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep. Soon the lights of the city turned to effervescent streaks as the train departed Tokyo, bringing her closer to Kobe and the Manpyo family.
If you aren't familiar with "Karei Naru Ichizoku", it's a popular TV series that aired in Japan, but is actually based off a novel and has been remade several times into film. It is a tragic story about a father who pits himself against his own son in order to attain superiority as a banker. In the end, he loses everything the same way that he stole it from others - being stabbed in the back... but not before his son pays the ultimate price.
While writing this story, I did my best to research names, places, and setting. However, it wasn’t easy finding information about everything that I saw in the show, so I may have made some mistakes. If you spot any, please feel free to let me know in the comments.
"Ascent" takes place during the events of the last episode, when Teppei calls his family for the last time on Christmas Eve. It is mostly from the perspective of his wife, Sanae, who has become deeply troubled by her husband's unannounced absence. Everyone tells her that Teppei will be fine... but only Sanae can understand the despair she heard in his voice that night he called home.
That's all for now! So have you heard of "Karei Naru Ichizoku"? I would actually be surprised xD Anyways, feel free to let me know what you think of the story!