......I can't remember ever being so terrified upon awakening. Even though the night passes, it seems the nightmare has a continuation.
"......so you were also asleep?"
......last night, in the end, it seems I fell asleep in my sweats.
Today and tomorrow are consecutive school holidays. Though I might be possessed by a ghost, I must train.
......first is early morning running. It's my daily routine.
A short program's 2 minutes and 40 seconds, a free program's 4 minutes. The physical strength required of a figure skater is considerable, so even though it's painful, everyone works hard at stamina training everyday. But, if you can excel at it, ultimately it makes possible high-difficulty jumps and multiple step sequences, in short, a denser program. It leads to good scores.
Soft skin like white peaches, gracefully slender limbs, and overwhelming beauty. Owing to those, I am known as Princess Tazusa.
Belying that delicate and lovely figure, I also possess an abundance of stamina. Though there's no sense in getting hung up on one's talent. Thus I can't be skipping out on running, but.......
"If only you hadn't spoken, it would be."
With that, I am running with all my might and starting to breathe hard. I realize it, but....... If I think about it, the fatigue is shared.
"You're like some new species of parasite. Shall I take you to some scientific society?"
I know that however I sharpen the edge of my verbal abuse nothing will change, but I guess this is also my personality. Since yesterday, depending on how you count, I've easily spoken more than several hundred insults, and I run my usual course while continually adding more.
A pleasant sweat begins to cover my entire body. But, at the moment I realize a certain truth......, it suddenly changes into a damp, cold sweat.
Sweat is bad. Later, it will be really bad. But I can't just not train.......
"I can't take it! This is a living hell!"
<......what is this all of a sudden? Try putting yourself in my position a little...>
"What did you say? Whose fault is it that I can't take a bath?!"
......I did it again. The elderly runner passing by me looks over in surprise.
Before yelling at Pete, let's look both ways, and front and back, and make sure there's no one there.......
In an instant I come up with this motto, and etch it in my mind.
"Yes indeed. While I'm at it, shall I have you removed by a brain surgeon or something?"
"If you stay for 100 days, my mind will surely collapse anyway!"
......from the roadside trees nearby, a flock of crows noisily take flight.
* * *
Usually in figure skating, you make one short program and one free (long) program per season.
In 2004, the world-famous Russian coach Evgenia Gilcleft stated that she would like to create a program for Sakurano Tazusa, Japan's newly minted star who had proven her value by ascending the podium in the junior championships.
Coming just as I was stepping up from junior to senior, catching the eye of a famous coach like her had a big effect.
Both Coach Takashima and I were very interested, leaving to Gilcleft the free program, and during summer break we flew to Russia so I could be coached down to the tiniest gestures. And then.
The program to J. Strauss II's waltz received high marks from the judges. In the Japan Championships, on which was riding the two tickets to the 2005 World Championships, I was defeated by Japanese champion Shitou Kyouko, but I made it to 2nd place and achieved my goal.
However, just before the event, Shitou's injury was discovered. In a rush, the alternate skater stepped onto the stage of the World Championships, but both her preparation and skill were lacking, and she dropped out in the preliminary round.
Then there was I, making my debut. Though my results in the preliminary round had been so-so, I was extremely nervous during the short program, falling twice and dropping a significant number of places. Nor was I able to make a recovery during the free, ultimately ending up a disappointing 17th place.
The proven talent Shitou, who had made it to 6th pace in the 2004 World Championships, and young Sakurano, whose improvements were remarkable. The Japan Skating Federation's prediction was that, with the efforts of us two the number of representative spots for next year's Olympics would expand to 3, but with Shitou's injury that became impossible.
Even by myself, if I had made it into the top 10, we would have kept our 2 spots. The shock of not even achieving our bottommost target was, unsurprisingly, large......
And then, the awaited Olympic season.
The one remaining representative spot in women's singles is contested, centering on two people: the beautiful and popular Shitou Kyouko, and the even more beautiful Sakurano Tazusa, me----
Anyway, that is how the current situation developed.
Actually, even though I am skating Gilcleft's program again, I definitely was not feeling optmistic. Maybe because she had overestimated my genius, I thought the level she required was too high for me. But with Coach Takashima's and Director Mishiro's presuasion, I grudgingly consent. In addition, this season, we've decided to go with Gilcleft creations for both short and free......and as expected, I have yet to master these difficult progrms.
At a time when I am seriously starting to panic, to be possessed by a pervert-like Canadian.......
* * *
At my rink, I am the only one who has even the chance of making it to the Olympics that are 3 months hence.
Everyone, beginning with Coach Takashima and Mika, is mindful of me and removes any unnecessary pressure. Even Youko has taken basically that attitude. But.......
Sometimes, there comes someone to disturb that peacefulness.
"Sakurano-san. Have you cleared the challenge from last time?"
......age: mid-fifties. Nicknamed "", she is the Figure Skating Federation's Department Chief, General Director Mishiro Yukie.
She has the most authority with respect to selecting the representative, and in order to observe potential candidates, i.e. in order to see me, she occasionally makes her way to Crystal Garden. ......to be honest, she's a smoky, shady middle-aged lady.
She covers her slim 170cm figure with name brands. Her thickly applied cream and eyeshadow are probably also quite famous, but they are nowhere near enough to transform her sallow, past-its-prime face. Though she might not be beyond saving if she did something about her thin gold-rimmed glasses.
"Yes, don't worry. I will show you now."
Seeing me turn belligerent so quickly, Coach Takashima looks uneasy. ......though this is typical.
Sending a glance intended to slightly provoke, I show her the skating sequence for which, after last time's competition, the director presented me with sarcasm-laden advice. In the middle of this season's program, just during the part where I gracefully show off in front of the judges, it would be bad if I scraped the ice strangely and made a grinding sound.
You may not be able to guess from my whole-bodied floating elegance,...... but as part of my personality, I hate losing. After being told I suck, I didn't quietly withdraw but rather practiced with all my might.
"It seems to have improved a bit. Perhaps just barely at the level where the judges can watch without being bored."
"Why thank you."
Of course, this stinking old hag... that is, the director, understands full well my personality, which is why she dangles such sarcasm in front of me.
"Then again, your expression is entirely rigid as usual. Watching you skate, I mistake you for a Buddhist statue or something and feel the urge to pray. Though your personality is terrible you somehow have a pretty face, so how about smiling a little more?"
......in response to the director's increasingly vicious sarcasm, I feel my cheek begin to twitch. Why am I surrounded by so many unpleasant people?
"By the way, it seems you have been referring to me as 'sarcasm the third' or something like that......"
......who? Who gave me away?
"Since I'm here, I'll take the liberty of responding. How about 'plaster mask'? When I was young, something similar was quite popular."
......I try to press my lips together into a flat line, but even I know that it its twitching. A forced smile is about my limit.
"In any event. Even among judges, there is no one who will award points to a sour-faced Oriental. As it stands now, your chances of being chosen as representative are exceedingly low. Though I wouldn't mind being spared the trouble of making a decision."
Putting aside the vector of my emotions, I can't but recognize that the director has a point.
"Takashima-san. Please take it upon yourself to speak to her as well. It would be a great loss otherwise."
Director Mishiro shifts her gaze from me and my discouragement to Coach. Really, I have to be grateful.
"Yes, of course....... I am always telling her."
"I am counting on you, truly."
After boiling my insides more than usual, Sarcasm the Third leaves the rink.
"That old hag! Who is she calling plaster!"
"The director is entirely correct. You have the skills, so unless you smile it is a loss. ......but, I suppose I've already told you many times."
"......I get it, I get it."
Yes. I get it in my mind. In order to compete on the world stage, it won't fly to say it's because I'm shy.
......if I could naturally burst into a big smile, how nice it would be. But that is probably a stunt I will never be capable of.
* * *
Unable to stop it, I dash to the bathroom a second time, but if I have to do the other thing again----
That kind of unprecedented despair and fear is driving me to actions that defy understanding.
For vampires, garlic.
For Pete, tomatoes.
......but I was foolish. Going on a buying spree, without thinking of the refrigerator's capacity. Placing before me the more than 84 tomatoes I bought at the supermarket, I am really at a loss.......
"Hey. Are you giving up skating and switching to eating contests?"
I am spotted by an annoying one.
"No. It's for nutritional balance..."
"Piling tomatoes mountain-high, how is this 'balance'?"
......too true. Suddenly I can't speak.
"I understand buying up toilet paper during the oil shock, but what kind of shock are tomatoes for?"
......I'm being told off by a third grader in elementary school. It's quite unsightly, and where did she learn that kind of thing in the first place?
"Lately, you've really been acting as if a screw in your head is loose. Could it be..."
"I was thinking I'd like to eat a lot of tomatoes, so I bought them. Is that so bad?"
......what an unproductive dialogue. But it is overwhelmingly painful.
"They'll go bad before you can finish eating..."
"It'll be fine! I'll eat them all!"
Really, everything sucks!
For the moment, I grab a tomato in each hand and, ignoring the screams echoing inside my head, bite into them.
......I ate 12 tomatoes in one go, but it is not enough to get rid of evil spirit Pete.
For things like gymnastic, rhythmic gymnastics, and figure skating, daily restraint and control of body weight is a most important matter. Therefore, ruining one's diet is a development anyone would want to avoid.......
Moreover, I haven't changed my underwear since yesterday. I washed my face and hair in the sink and brushed my teeth, but...... I couldn't wash or brush away the built up stress.
<......um. It may be my imagination, but I feel itchy.>
"I won't step into a bath, even in hell."
I recognize the reality that dark clouds hover over the probability of my expelling Pete, but.......
"You're the one who's sticking!"
......the catch in his accent conveys the depth of his anguish.
For a moment...... my heart moves, but that just makes me all the more stubborn.
"Why should I have to!"
"I see your intentions clear as day! Even if maggots hatch, I absolutely won't show you!"
Yes. If it came to a swimsuit, it would be like... bare skin.......
Like I could do it, even in hell!
However, as I pass the second night full of worry, the best of the plans I desperately come up with...... is to take sleeping pills and have someone wash my body for me while I am deeply asleep.
But Coach Takashima is a man,...... and there's no way I could explain, and if we're not careful, Coach could get arrested for indecent behavior. More importantly, no idiot would put such a plan into practice.
"Ahh, when will this hell end..."
* * *
With the aftereffects of eating all those raw tomatoes yesterday, the worst possible scenario is beginning acquire the taste of reality.
As if heartless, my abdomen begins to swell. Of course, its contents drive my thoughts toward a yet unseen world, and I'm not talking about pure, innocently smiling angels, either.......
On the surface, I show untiring tenacity, but instinctively I am beginning to give up. Even a dozen tomatoes were not enough to exterminate the evil spirit known as Pete Pumps.
In that case, I need to be prepared for the X-Day that will come----
"No......! I believe in miracles."
"This is a once in a lifetime thing! It's a humiliation with a legacy the world over! With a guy like you who has zero delicacy, my..."
I suddenly stop.
"Really! Rather than that, if I could just excrete you out, how nice that would be!"
Exploding from that response, an insult beyond my own imagining...... even Pete is speechless.
Even I think it was a mean thing to say, but I can't deny that it improved my spirits.......
What I sense from that voice is complete scorn. I start to reconsider.......
"......what, did you say?!"
The fangs of self-reflection instantly vanish, and the superseding anger.......
Lead me to a life-or-death decision----
"I'll make a boiled octopus out of you!"
My destination is, the bathroom.
* * *
......could this be, that world?
I see a field of flowers.......
......ahh, it seems it was the pattern on my comforter.
"Tazusa, are you awake now?"
".....I guess I'm alive."
I'm lying on my bed. Next to me are Coach Takashima and my sister. Before my eyes, that is, on the ceiling, is a poster of a straw-hatted comic hero that I like.
<......you big idiot.>
At that voice echoing in my head...... I can't help but heave a resigned sigh.
If I heat myself to the point of passing out, I might chase this guy out. So thinking, I soaked in 46°C hot water for a long time...... but, in the end, it seems it had no effect.
I held on until I thought I would die, but...... ahh, the heartlessness of it all.
"Tazusa. It's alright. Just rest and don't worry about anything."
Turning my gaze back, on Coach's face I see...... the tolerant smile of a teacher who is sure that he has grasped the troubles of his student.
......for a second time, I take a deep breath.
"Let me say this."
"It's alright, so..."
"Be quiet and listen."
......perhaps because all the blood rushed to my head, my speech is frustratingly inarticulate. Even as I am fed up at the idiocy of having to repeatedly explain that I am sane, I cut Coach off with both hands.
For me, Sakurano Tazusa, to be thought of as the skater who mentally snapped because of Olympics pretensions. That alone I cannot abide.
"All of my words and actions these past 2, 3 days have a reason. I can't explain right now, but I will someday. Coach, you will absolutely come to understand. I am completely normal."
"Though I don't think there's anything normal or silver about boiling yourself in the bathroom of the peaceful Takashima house." (!)
...well, I didn't particularly think I needed this brat worrying about me...
"And in your school swimsuit, too. Well, from a normal person's perspective of wanting to hide her scrawny, washboard-like body, I guess you've grown up a little..."
Since my usual energy has evaporated, it is Coach who ends up reining her in.
"So, what then? Are you saying that your perfect example of eccentric behavior just now has a logical reason behind it?"
......Coach presses his face up to my nose.
"Now listen, Tazusa. With mental illnesses, self-awareness of symptoms..."
Fiercely raising my listless body, I put strength into my voice.
"See here. Whether it be the Olympics or something else, the great Tazusa would never lose to the pressure. You should know that."
......if this were a drama, at this point the main theme would play, and even Coach would give in, that's how it would develop.
I had thought those words would be a trump card, as it were, but it seems I was mistaken. It takes a full 2 hours after this to shake off Coach's questioning. Moreover, I am ordered to rest in bed until tomorrow.
* * *
Day 4 of being possessed by Pete.
Finally able to mostly ignore the churning in my abdomen, I sit at the breakfast table and consult the morning paper. There, in part of the sports column, I see familiar names.
Figure skating, Director Mishiro, Shitou Kyouko, and, myself, Sakurano Tazusa.
---Concerning the prospects of Shitou and Sakurano, the two of whom are battling to be the women's figure skating singles representative at the Turin Olympics: the federation's director, Ms. Mishiro, is of the opinion that, if a difference between the two skaters becomes apparent by the end of the Grand Prix Series, they may tentatively select a representative without waiting until the National Championships---is what it says.
The Grand Prix Series consists of a total of 6 competitions.
For me, Skate America and the NHK Trophy which is held in Japan. Shitou will appear in the German competition and also the NHK Trophy.
In each competition, skaters are awarded points in order starting from first place. At the end of the 6 competitions, the 6 people who have the most points have the right to participate in the comeptition known as the Grand Prix Final.
But I completely lost during Skate America, receiving 0 points. Even if I win the NHK Trophy, I have basically no hope of making it to the Final. In contrast, Shitou has already twice in the past made to this gathering of the world's top 6. And it seems well within the realm of possibility this time, too.......
Guessing from how quite a bit of space is devoted to Director Mishiro's statements, my and Shitou Kyouko's battle must be a hotter topic than I imagined.
I hear quiet footsteps descending the stairs.......
"Good morning, idiot elder sister."
My cheeky brat of a 9 year old sister sits down across from me, still rubbing her eyes.
"Good morning, Youko-chan. Are you picking a fight this early in the morning?"
......since yesterday, I have entered a cold war situation with this perverted ghost. But if I yell at him here, Coach and Youko will say things again.
I shriek repeatedly.
I'd intentionally hit my kneecap against the corner of the table with all my might. In order to shut this ghost up.
After overcoming the pain, before my eyes are Youko and Coach exchanging glances. In particular, my sister looks at me while raising both palms, shaking her head sadly, and shrugging her shoulders. ......what a skillful child.
The protest echoes in my head, but with no indication he'll take back calling me simple-minded...... one more blow!
The pain this time brings tears to my eyes, but Pete's moan soothes me......
Just now, what did he......?
My eyes roll from the shock.
"Sh*ttank woman, is it----?!"
Due to my rage, my fists rattle the dishes on the table as I leap to my feet. The chair I send flying with my behind topples over.......
"I'll kill you...! I'll crush you!"
Youko, who's facing me, cowers in fear and clings to Coach. Passing by them, I savagely open the refrigerator door----
"Don't stop me! Coach!"
"Please stop, Tazusa! If you want to enter an eating competition, I'll let you!"
"Let me do thissssssss----!"
......Coach's desperate restraining controlled the spasms of a tomato-poisoning patient.
That's what I heard afterwards.
* * *
By the time I arrive home from school, my intestines are suffering from unheard-of pressure.
Since that nightmare, my dignity has been destroyed time and time again by this vulgar ghost. The final door is just barely sealed by the stubbornness of my guardian deity.
But, when this is released, there's no guarantee I won't crumble such that not even a millimeter-sized fragment is left.
I feel a pressure in my abdomen, accompanied by a tiny amount of heat, and I unconsciously stagger. If I were to count, it'd be just about 5 days. During which I've held back all solid waste. It certainly breaks my previous lifetime record by a lot. The problem is...... this is still ongoing!
I've never in my life experienced constipation like this. Of course. My beautiful self----
This time it's the pervert-ghost in my head who's groaning.
I suddenly want to cry. I've long gone beyond what's pitiful.
"I can't take this anymore...... kwah...!"
I press my stomach with both hands. Or should I say, I calm it.
"Why are you at your limit?! Besides, I've told you countless times..."
"For what purpose?"
......it seems he's having trouble even smoothing over the illogicality. At least I've managed to share with Pete this sense of being on the verge of breakdown.
"Perchance did you eat something bad or something?"
Though I wouldn't know. It seems some urgent phenomenon is occurring......
"Uugh, wah wah!"
......a 5-car Siberian super-express train!
Impossible, absolutely impossible! Whatever barricade is put up, it can't stop me.
Both feet pounding the floor, I make a dash.
"What is it? What is my idiot sister up to this time?"
Youko sticks her head out of her bedroom doorway, but...... seeing her agitated sister with a forehead covered in sweat, even Youko is rendered speechless.
While knowing the consequences, I convert the last of my resistance into energy, and...... finally.
Having broken through the best of my resistance, I act on a lady's instinctive modesty and grab the MD Walkman on my desk, put on the headphones, and set it to full volume. Shoving aside the dumbfounded Youko, I dash from my room and dive into the bathroom with godlike speed, pulling down my underwear at the same time.
I abandon myself to the magnificent strains of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, 4th movement, the Ode to Joy.
I release it all----
* * *
"......this is the worst."
......once I realize that muttering is my own, I put it a little more strength and give voice to it again.
"Really the worst. All of this......"
It seems I'm still normal. Suddenly acquiring aphasia from the shock...... not even anything like that.
Only, even though the performance is long over, I have forgotten to take off my headphones, and I remain seated, half-dazed, on the toilet.
Although the accumulation of about 5 days is now on the other side, the cruel memories are not washed away.
I shake my head 2, 3 times and nonchalantly stand up. Since the moment of breakdown, easily 15 minutes have passed.
As if addressing a sleeping tyrant, Pete cautiously breaks in.
......suddenly enraged, I head straight for the refrigerator. I fill my stomach with tomatoes.