Ken didn’t plan on teaching Kaoru before school. He’d never been an attentive student himself and was morbidly fearful of passing on bad habits. However, Kaoru seemed to be a bright child and was ready to move on from simple shapes and colours. Abe took the initiative on a shopping trip to Beppu, leaving a paintbox and flash cards on the kitchen table, with a primer to remind Ken how he was supposed to write.
As an afterthought, next day, he obtained a plastic sheet for the table from the village store.
And eventually kicked them both onto the porch.
Ken had never been big but he had good arms and a strong back. He was popular in the shiitake depot whenever there was manual lifting to be done and his father regularly farmed him out to the town’s old folks on his days off. Sometimes they took Kaoru and his friend Hiro along, so they could ride in a van.
Fuyumi-san looked about as old as the Oka castle but had been, in Abe’s words, a bit of a girl, in her day. Her house was stuffed to overflowing with books, cats and other paraphenalia she wouldn’t be taking to her daughter’s small city apartment. Ken had cleared half the living room out before they even noticed the piano. Kaoru naturally wanted to play.
Ken lifted Kaoru over the boxes and sat him awkwardly on one knee, helping him pick out his favourite song on the rickety keys with one hand, harmonising somewhat eratically with the other.
“You’d break your mother’s heart,” Abe said from the doorway, little Hiro gawking beside him. “All those lessons.”
Mama had insisted he did something as well as football. Ken shrugged, remembering. He’d been better with flowers.
“Wanna sing along?” he asked the kids, mainly to wind his dad up.
“God help us,” Abe muttered, disappearing outside.
Of course, after that, they wanted to eat dango.
Abe moved their portable television into the corner of the kitchen and Ken turned it on for Oka-san to Issho while he cooked. Hiro and Kaoru occupied themselves at the new formica-topped table, drawing crayon cartoons, arguing over which dumpling was coolest and wistfully dreaming of life in a family with three brothers.
Ken sang along noisily (and without much tune) as he kneaded the rice flour, and skewered his dango balls with a flourish. Abe muttered something about grown men with no dignity, and retrieved a beer from the fridge.