“Hey …” Mizuko muttered, stepping into the kitchen.
I put the knife on the chopping board and turned to her. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, It’s just that …”
I followed her line of vision, but I couldn’t see anything, just the immaculate white tile floor. Wait, there was a puddle of water. This must have happened when I was washing the vegetables.
“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t notice. I’ll bring the mop.”
“I’ll do it. You finish cooking.” Mizuko pattered away.
“Hey,” Mizuko said, trotting into the kitchen the next afternoon, seizing the bowl I was putting in the dish rack, “this is still wet.”
I blinked at her. “The purpose of the dish rack is to dry these.”
“The dish rack will rust.”
“Isn’t it rustproof?”
“The bowl is made of wood. It’ll become moldy.”
“Okay,” I said calmly, “I’ll dry it first.”
“I’ll do it,” Mizuko blurted, hugging the bowl to her chest and snatching the dishcloth. “You finish washing the dishes.”
“Hey!” Mizuko chirped, meeting me in the entryway the next evening. “Guess what I got?”
A white cardboard box leaned against the wall. It had large blue letters that said DE-47H Dehumidifier.
Mizuko began to open the box with a grin too wide for her face. “This will prevent the apartment from becoming too humid.”
I loosened my tie. “What will happen if it does?”
“Moldy bathrooms, clammy air — and if it’s too hot, we could suffer from fatigue, muscle cramps. And even get heatstroke!”
“How come I’ve never noticed any of that?”
“You’ll notice the difference soon.”
I was noticing something different now.
“The humidity in the apartment has gone from seventy-six percent to fifty-four!”
“That’s great,” I said, sitting at the dining table. “Let’s eat.”
Mizuko tried the mapo tofu. “Too spicy!” She stuck out her tongue, which was white and rough.
“Here, have this.” I pushed a glass of water toward her.
She lifted her hand, coughing and sniffling. “I’m okay.”
“Don’t tell me you’re going to stop drinking fluids?”
She wiped tears away and blew into a tissue. “I’m getting enough water from cucumbers. They’re ninety-six percent water. And from tomatoes. Ninety-five percent.”
“You must be kidding … What about miso soup?”
“Too high in sodium.”
“Isn’t dehydration worse? Water is the most essential element of life. In fact, we’re around seventy percent water.” She was probably only fifty percent now.
“That can’t be right.” She held her hand in front of me. “Look, this is solid.” She tapped her head. “This is solid too.” She slapped her leg. “And this.”
I wanted to mention blood, but we were eating. So I just chewed.
Mizuko started to smell like dried shredded squid. Especially since she’d stopped showering daily.
When I brought this up in the bathroom, she said, “Showering every day makes your skin dry.”
“But you’re already dry! You don’t drink anything or put on any cream anymore. Also, thanks to the dehumidifier, the apartment is too dry even for a camel.”
Touching her cheek, she stared at herself in the mirror. “But I look okay.”
That wasn’t true. Her lips were chapped to the point of bleeding. Her forehead had wrinkles that hadn’t been there before. And I could swear dust flew around whenever she scratched her skin.
But I decided to keep quiet. The last time I’d hinted at this, she threw a tantrum that made her cry, made her sweat — made her even more dehydrated.
“I’ll call an ambulance,” I said, pulling out my phone.
“If you do that” — Mizuko dragged her bony hand from under the blanket and held it feebly in the air — “I’ll cut my wrist when you’re not looking. Then I’ll be completely dry.”
“Then please drink this.” I held a glass of water in front of her.
She scowled at me, the wrinkles around her eyes deepening into fissures.
This was my cue to stop — but not to give up. I had a plan.
I did house chores until the street lights turned on. Until Mizuko began to yawn. Until she fell asleep.
Quickly but quietly, I rushed out onto the balcony, pushed the sliding door shut, and called an ambulance. It would arrive in seven minutes.
When it finally did, the paramedics told me Mizuno hadn’t fallen asleep.
I put Mizuko’s memorial urn on the Buddhist altar. “You’re finally completely dry.”