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DECEMBER 30 (TUESDAY), 6 WEEKS + 1 DAY


Since I was a little girl, I've disliked the thirtieth of December. I could always get through the thirty-first by telling myself that the year was finally over, but the thirtieth was confusing somehow, neither here nor there. Cooking the traditional New Year's dinner, cleaning the house, shopping-none of my tasks were completely finished.

When my father and mother got sick and died, one right after the other, my ties to the New Year's season became even more tenuous. Nor did things change when my brother-in-law came to live with us. Still, breakfast this morning was a bit more relaxed than usual, since I didn't have classes and my brother-in-law's office was closed for the holiday.

"When you haven't had enough sleep, even the winter sun seems too bright," he said, squinting behind his glasses as he lowered himself into a chair. The light shining in from the garden fell on the table, and our three pairs of slippers cast long shadows across the floor.

"Were you out late?" I asked. He'd gone to the year-end party for the dental office where he works, and I must have been asleep by the time he got home.

"I caught the last train," he said. As he picked up his cup, a sweet smell wafted across the table. He puts so much cream and sugar into his coffee that the kitchen smells like a bakery at breakfast. I've often wondered how someone who makes bridges and dentures for a living can drink such sweet coffee without worrying about cavities. "The last train is worse than the rush-hour ones," he added. "It's always packed, and everyone's drunk." My sister scraped her butter knife over her toast.

Since her visit to the gynecologist yesterday, her pregnancy is now official, but she doesn't seem any different. Usually the least little thing-her favorite hair salon closing, the neighbor's old cat dying, a water-main break-is enough to get her completely agitated and send her running to see Dr. Nikaido.

I wonder how she broke the news to her husband. I don't really know what they talk about when I'm not around. In fact, I don't really understand couples at all. They seem like some sort of inexplicable gaseous body to me-a shapeless, colorless, unintelligible thing, trapped in a laboratory beaker.

"There's too much pepper in this," my sister muttered, sticking her fork into her omelet. Since she always has something to say about the food, I pretended not to hear her. Half-cooked egg dripped from the end of her fork like yellow blood. My brother-in-law was eating slices of kiwi. I can't stand kiwi-all those seeds make me think of little black bugs, and the kiwi this morning was particularly ripe and soft. Beads of sweat had collected on the surface of the butter.

Apparently, neither of them was anxious to bring up the subject of the pregnancy, so I didn't mention it, either. Birds were singing in the garden. A few wisps of cloud dissolved somewhere far off in the sky. The clatter of dishes alternated with the sound of chewing.

None of us seems to have realized that the year is almost over. There are no pine branches decorating the door, no black beans or mochi in the house. "I suppose we should at least do the cleaning," I said, as if talking to myself.

"You shouldn't overdo it in your condition," my brother-in-law said, turning to my sister as he licked the kiwi juice from his lips. It's just like him to say the most obvious thing as if it were a profound truth.



DECEMBER 29 (MONDAY) | The Diving Pool | JANUARY 3 (SATURDAY), 6 WEEKS + 5 DAYS







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