When his wife drove up the gravel road, Tatsu had just finished lecturing his farm manager and the three hired men on what they’d be doing that day—it wasn’t any different from what they’d been doing all week, but he felt the need to reaffirm their purpose, get off to a smooth start. For the past few mornings, on her way to drop their son at the junior high school, Shizuka had been coming by to check on Tatsu’s progress.
Shizuka left the Mitsubishi running as she put it in park and slowly climbed out from behind the wheel. Kosuke slid out of the passenger side of the suv and walked past Tatsu on his way to the red tractor parked on the far side of the field. Still half-dreaming, his son stumbled up the rows of garlic, his hands brushing the tops of the tallest stalks. During the past year, Tatsu had let the boy take over the maintenance of the machine, and this commission had seemed to halt the growth of the gap he’d felt opening up between him and his son.
His wife surveyed the square plot, which lay in a terraced flat cut into the foothills north of Sannohe town. She took in the green rows of their crop, the dark clouds retreating to the west, and Tatsu last of all.
“It would be good if you could finish today,” she said.
“Either way it’s the last field,” he said, walking over to her.
“Dad isn’t happy about the extra hands. He says we’d save if we did the work ourselves.”
Almost seven months pregnant, her belly was so huge she looked like a snake that had swallowed an egg, and he was certain her father had told her they could save money if he, singular, did the work himself. Once they cleared this tanbo, though, they’d be finished in the fields for the season.
“We agreed this was best,” he said. “Together, remember?”
“Hai, hai,” she said, and he knew she regretted having to make the admission.
At times it seemed every aspect of their life in Sannohe led back [End Page 20] to her dad and the ironworks he owned and ran like a small-time gangster, cutting deals, harassing enemies, rewarding loyalty. Her father had been the one who’d made Shizuka promise that after finishing college she’d return to the hamlet where she’d been born and raised; her father was the one who bought the garlic-processing plant and turned it over to her—gave it to her outright—when she kept her end of the deal, breaking off with Tatsu and leaving him behind in Tokyo. Less than a year later, he’d followed her north, they were married, and she signed over half the business to him. She said she wanted them to be full partners in everything, a fact he knew the old man resented.
At first they’d worked the fields and run the plant the way her dad told them. They lost money and were forced to borrow from her father to cover their shortfall and buy seed cloves each year. Then, at Tatsu’s insistence, they began doing things their own way: maintaining a blog for their farm, selling direct to their customers over the web, and growing rare, heirloom garlic. Within a season they were turning a profit. When her father had first loaned them money, he insisted there was no rush to repay him, that it was just sitting in the bank anyway, but according to Shizuka, the old man had begun to mention their debt here and there when she talked with him. He wanted to be made whole, apparently, and soon.
Tatsu looked at his wife, who put her hands on her bulge, leaned back against the weight, and blew out a breath full of their troubles.
“Kosuke,” he called after his son. “Time to go.”
The boy extracted himself from under the hood of the tractor and walked toward his mother. Before he could get away—to salvage some shard of happiness from...