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Chapter 9

Over a week had passed and Kumiko had yet to return to normal life. She spent most of her time in the same bed she had slept in as a child. It was familiar to her and brought her a small sense of peace during such a tumultuous time.

Kumiko's mother, who had been in desperate need of a helping hand only days ago, was now acting as the primary caretaker for both Kumiko and Rumi.

Unlike with most others, Mrs. Sashihara was not given the cold shoulder by Rumi. The two actually got along quite well.

"How was your day, Rumi-chan?" asked Kumiko's mother as she and her granddaughter ate dinner.

"It was good," replied Rumi. "We painted pictures with real paint today. Teacher said she liked mine the most."

"That's so nice," said Kumiko's mother.

"Can I show it to mommy?" asked Rumi.

"Your mommy needs to rest. She's been through so much. When she's ready then we can see her."

"I've been through a lot too," said Rumi, her mouth now stuffed with bread. "Even more than mommy."

"Rumi-chan," said Kumiko's mother, "you shouldn't compare your problems to your mommy's."

Unaffected by what her grandmother had just said, Rumi went back to eating her dinner.

The next day Kumiko's mother took Rumi to school then headed to the city to meet with the family lawyer, leaving Kumiko on her own.

Kumiko had been able to cope as best she could by filling herself with prescription pills, but those pills were quickly running out. "Where did you put that number?" Kumiko asked herself as she searched her purse. When her search came up empty she threw her purse to the floor.

With nary a moment's hesitation, Kumiko retrieved her car keys and departed the Sashihara house.

Being in such desperate need for something that could calm her frazzled nerves, Kumiko arrived at Doctor Kojima's office in no time at all.

"Kumiko," said the nurse working the front desk. She looked and sounded quite surprised to see the familiar face. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry I didn't call first," said Kumiko, "but I need to see the doctor. It's urgent."

"Didn't you hear?" asked the nurse. "Doctor Kojima . . . is gone."

"Where did he go?" asked Kumiko. "Could you give me his new address? I really need to see him."

"No, Kumiko, Doctor Kojima is dead."

Kumiko's heart sank. "What?"

"We're not sure what happened to him," said the nurse. "About a week ago I found him slumped over his desk not breathing. They haven't released the cause of death yet."

Without saying another word, Kumiko departed.

With no destination in mind, Kumiko headed for the park where she and Rumi liked to spend much of their free time. She took a seat on the bench the two would sit on to enjoy their melon bread and tried to allow the peace and quiet of the park calm her. But the only thing the quiet did was let the horrible things that were happening in her life consume Kumiko.

Unable to keep her composure any longer, Kumiko began to sob uncontrollably.

Kumiko returned home after her trip to the park. "I'm home," she called out. "Mother, are you here? Rumi-chan?" The house was empty and eerily quiet.

With no one to stop her, Kumiko began rummaging through the house for whatever she could find to sedate her anxiety. She was hoping her mother had something to help her calm down, but all she found were medications for common elderly ailments.

Kumiko searched the kitchen cabinets but all she found was her bottle of sleeping pills. "I don't want to sleep," she said, throwing the bottle into the trashcan. "All I do is think about you when I close my eyes."

After Kumiko poured herself a glass of water, the phone began to ring. Though she was in no mood to speak to anyone, Kumiko did answer. "Hello," she said.

"Ah, Kumiko, it's me Miss Ito," said the voice on the other end.

"Oh, Miss Ito, hello," replied Kumiko.

"I was just calling to see how you were doing. I ask Rumi all the time about you but she never wants to talk about it."

"I'm doing okay," said Kumiko, though the shakiness of her voice proved otherwise.

"Rumi seems to be handling everything very well," said Miss Ito. "I've never seen a child act so normal after . . ."

"I tried to get Rumi-chan to stay home," said Kumiko. "But she said she wanted to go to school. She's a very strong girl."

"All the teachers wanted me to tell you that they hope to see you again soon," said Miss Ito.

"Tell them that I appreciate them thinking of me," said Kumiko. "I feel like I'm almost ready to get back to a normal life."

"That's good to hear," said Miss Ito. "I'll make sure to tell all the other teachers how you're doing."

"Thank you," said Kumiko.

"Oh, before I let you go," said Miss Ito. "I finally remembered the name of the little girl that Rumi is always drawing. I know it isn't important, but not knowing her name has been bothering me for so long."

"Oh," said Kumiko. A disinterested Kumiko proceeded to take a large drink of water as she waited for Miss Ito to tell her what the girl's name was.

"Yes, her name is Takayo," said Miss Ito.

The glass slipped out of Kumiko's hand and crashed to the floor where it shattered into hundreds of pieces.

"Hello, Kumiko, are you alright?" asked Miss Ito.

"I, I'm fine," replied Kumiko. "I'm sorry but I have to go now."

After hanging up on Miss Ito, Kumiko began cleaning up all the broken glass. Her whole body was shaking terribly as she did so. Just as Kumiko was about to dump the glass into the trashcan, she noticed something partially hidden within the waste. She carefully sifted through various discarded items and discovered Rumi's Mr. Clown doll. His arms, legs and head had all been cut off, leaving behind only his torso.

The front door opening startled Kumiko and prompted her to quickly shove the dismembered doll back into the trashcan.

"We're home," said Kumiko's mother.

"We ate ice cream," said Rumi.

Kumiko exited the kitchen and greeted the two. "Welcome home," she said. Kumiko couldn't help but feel anxious as she looked at the smile on her daughter's face that she feared was hiding a most horrible secret.

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