Suicide Shoes for Two

By this time of the year the leaves on the ground are toasty brown and crisp. They snap and crackle like corn flakes so it is easy to hear when someone is walking in the forest, even from a distance, but this is actually quite rare. Few people come here to walk, and those that do prefer not to be heard. They choose their steps carefully and with much attention. Otherwise, the sea of opulent trees holds off the wind and makes the place as quiet and peaceful as a monastery, serene and full of dignity. Mount Fuji lies in the distance, pristine and magisterial, encased in icy symmetry by the wonder of Lake Yamanaka. There are four other lakes — Kawaguchi, Sai, Motosu and Shoji. The beauty here only accentuates the sense of serenity, and it is why those who do come to this place in the south of the island of Honshu choose it with much deliberation.

Etsuko Sato and Hisako Hiro decide to meet each other in Tokyo at a small noodle shop on a quiet street away from the center. They both wear red sweaters and red sneakers so they will stand out. Otherwise, they might not recognize each other since they have never met. As it turns out, these steps are not necessary. They recognize each other at first glance, as if they have known each other all their lives. In a way, they have. They recognize a certain longing, unsatisfied and unsatisfiable, that never quite goes away. It is the space of unfulfilling, the insatiable place of desire that can never be filled yet always cries out in hunger. Only one sacrament will appease it.

And so, before they begin the long drive that will end in desire and satisfaction, Etsuko and Hisako discuss their plan to make sure all arrangements have been met. Then they look affectionately to Fujiyama, elegantly sketched against the wide expanse of blue sky, knowing that it is near to where their journey will end. Along the way they stop at a rest area for tea, which Etsuko has made and poured into a small Thermos. Hisako brought some sweet rice cakes she prepared and several pieces of delicate chocolates in a little box tied with ribbon.

When they stop the car at their destination, Hisako produces a ball of wound thread from her knapsack. Just in case, she is thinking. Etsuko decides against it. Conviction having been affirmed, this is no time for lack of courage. At the edge of the forest, an evergreen is wrapped around its center with a piece of brown tape. As if following a sign left for them, they pick a trail closest to the tree and begin to walk into the heart of the forest, past empty food wrappers, soda bottles and other pieces of rubbish left by people whom they wish to forget. A few twigs snap under their feet as they walk, though they step softly across the dry leaves and soft wet grass.

The forest smells damp as they go deeper. Tourists and the curious do not penetrate this far inward. They have the feeling of being alone, except that they are not. They both see him at the same time, a man, not much older than them really, standing atop a hill. He is staring at them intently, effacing a soft manner without emotion. He has no intentions. He is only looking, but then recedes quickly beyond the slope and disappears. He has his own business to attend and wants to be left alone as much as they. In two more steps he is forgotten, not even a memory.

When they discover what they recognize as a small cave, they look at each other, searching for agreement. Finding it, they take off their knapsacks to remove the things they will need — there are small vials of clear liquids, a knife, and several bottles of pills. They replace their sneakers with pairs of simple wooden geta and place their shoes side by side on a stone, facing towards the cave. They stare at them for a moment, before offering little bows as if to four tiny red deities sitting in silent witness. These shoes have traveled many miles, thinks Hisako. They have come to the end of travelling. They will rest now, until someone finds them, perhaps in the spring thaw, when Mt. Fuji will be covered with a thick new crown of pure white snow. ###