Home of the Future
by Lesley-Anne Bourne
Tiny round worlds. Sculpted out of some kind of cool smooth stone or possibly manmade material. She didn't know. And the clerk, while not unkind, had been disinterested in her in a way that the store on Bloor always was with Renga. But this time she didn't care. She had the perfect gifts for Patrick. He'd like the shirt. Lately he'd started dressing with more care, or his taste was improving, and for weeks he'd been selecting with more success ties that went with the shirt he had on.
Renga had noticed how handsome her husband was. In the morning, as he left earlier than usual, so that they often didn't have time for coffee together, Renga would feel him kiss her cheek while she sat in bed reading the paper, still half asleep, and she would catch herself wanting to grab onto him, to hold him, to make him late.
What's this about? she thought. I must be tired from the term.
Blue shirt, dark blue and silver cufflinks with tiny worlds replicated delicately and perfectly, the small globes even could be spun around, like real globes, like the real world, and Renga was sure that's what she and Patrick needed. A trip. Or the idea of one. Why didn't they ever travel? In his new shirt, cufflinks, and matching tie with the smallest trace of red mixed with its blues and black, Patrick would be happy to be taken to one of their favourite restaurants, and would be surprised and thrilled to look at the twenty or so brochures Renga would have picked up from the two or three travel agencies closest to the toy shop.
But this hadn't happened. Renga had been embarrassed by the gift she'd given him, in its fancy box from the expensive store, in its luxurious tissue paper (probably a dollar a sheet, said Patrick) sealed shut with the store's crest. The shirt folded expertly, with the tie placed just as expertly against it, and the cuffinks in their stunning silver and velvet case resting on top of the blue.
She'd already opened her gift, and while she liked the toy penguins which skied down a slope, and then took a tiny chairlift back up, to repeat the whole thing again and again and again, she felt unsteady.
They hadn't managed to have time to go out for dinner, or hadn't felt like it when they did.
And then Crown Princess Masako had suffered a miscarriage.
Renga tried to talk to Patrick about it when he came home late that night, the night before New Year's Eve.
I thought you'd be asleep, he said, you've seemed so tired.
Renga had rolled over in bed, putting the heavy book about lofts down. Her arms had been hurting for half an hour, but she wanted to be awake when Patrick came home, and she meant to say, Is she the last Empress?
Is she the last Mistress? is what Renga instead said.
Patrick turned to face Renga and he stopped unbuttoning. He slowly took the coffee table book from its place on the duvet and then stood, turning around, seeming to look for a place to set it down.
He decided on under the bed.
What? he said.
Renga knew she was tired and knew she wasn't making much sense. Nothing was making sense to her either.
Chrysanthemums, she finally managed to say, although there was a slight slurring possibly owing to the glass of red wine she'd had while reading.
Patrick sat down on his side of the bed.
It's over, Renga said.
She thought Patrick looked stricken. More stricken than she'd thought he'd feel. She hadn't even been sure that he knew about the trials the Japanese royal couple had been facing. Renga thought she was the only one of them to follow such cases or stories the last while. She thought Patrick had simply moved on.
Let's talk about this, he said.
Fifteen centuries, and I think the dynasty has something to do with chrysanthemums. Maybe I should try planting a whole bunch of those this spring ---
You're not making sense, Patrick said quietly but firmly.
Renga thought he looked alarmed and she felt guilty for not breaking the news to him easier.
She's okay, she said.
Patrick looked surprised and confused.
Crown Princess Masako's in the hospital but they say she's going to be fine. The fetus was only about seven weeks, they figure.
Patrick let out a loud sigh. He hung his head. Renga slid her hand down his back, almost the same way she had patted the cat who was pressed against her on the bed until the keys in the door. Renga felt like she needed to say something. Like Patrick was still waiting.
Chrysanthemum. That's the word Amy won the city-wide spelling bee with when we were little.
Patrick nodded but looked like he hadn't quite heard, so Renga felt she should explain.
Everyone at school kept whispering about how smart my little sister was. Teachers said I should be proud. Friends made fun of me. I wasn't that smart and I probably still can't spell chrysanthemum and aren't you supposed to be better than your little sister, and isn't there a goddam rule that says you can do things she can't, so why can't I have a baby?
Renga had heard her voice rising and had been helpless to save it. There was no use throwing a rope to it, or a floatation device, it was waving too much, drowning.
Patrick reached for Renga and she wrapped her arms around him too but got caught somehow --- she'd been wearing his robe because she couldn't get warm and the sleeves of his robe and the belt at the waist seemed to tie her awkwardly and the embrace didn't quite come off.
Patrick mumbled something into the back of Renga's head.
If you called earlier, she was just picking up her cheque.
Her what? asked Renga not having heard.
Her Christmas bonus, said Patrick sounding as if he was all prepared to explain.
No, no, I get it, said Renga, waving off any further details about the business. She was busy feeling sorry for Masako and for Amy and for herself.
Macy just stopped by, he said. I didn't mean for her to stay. Did she answer the phone when I dashed out to pick something up?
She speaks five or six languages, you know.
Patrick stopped taking off the rest of his clothes. Really?
And she went to Harvard and Oxford, said Renga curling up.
Then why is she in your classes? asked Patrick.
Renga's eyes popped open. What?
Oh, said Patrick, you mean the Princess.
Maybe he's out of sperm, Renga said wanting suddenly to be mean and not knowing why.
Patrick's back was to her.
Uh-huh, he said.
He IS around forty.
Yep, said Patrick.
And it's not like Japan would go for sperm banks or adoption ---
No. I've been reading this stuff in my research, said Renga, lifting herself up on her elbows as she struggled to get out of the robe.
She was wearing a black camisole Patrick had given her years ago. He used to request it, only to take it off her very quickly once they were on their bed. She still liked it.
Patrick was looking at her as he got into his side.
The township of Towa has no children, she said quietly.
He touched her hair.
She stared at him.
On the coast of Japan, she said as he turned out his bedside lamp.
Yes, he said in the darkness.
His hand had found her breast.
Only about five thousand people live there now ---
Yes, he whispered in her ear.
Renga closed her eyes and could see fishing boats and could hear the water against the seawall.
--- and more than half are over sixty-five.
Patrick kissed her. And drew her body against his, and then on top of his. Renga could tell he was pleased she was wearing only the camisole and not the matching other half.
Japanese are living longer, and most only have one child, and there are only two children in Towa --- one in grade school and the other in highschool.
Yes, Patrick said again, this time while he slid his tongue into Renga's mouth as she was about to say something else.
Can you imagine how lonely it would be, Renga managed to say after a bit, to be one of only two?
Yes, said Patrick.
Lesley-Anne Bourne took the right on the left beside the centre.