The reason they’d settled on that apartment with its large, open-plan kitchen and windows with sizable balconies to both the south and east sides wasn’t any particular passion for cooking on Natsumi’s part, let alone any special pride she took in her culinary abilities, but because it looked like the interiors she often saw and admired in the glossy pages of women’s magazines, and it had a kitchen island with a breakfast bar, as was now all the rage, or in vogue, or whatever you wanted to call it, which seemed like a pretty convenient feature, and above anything else, the front door of the two- bedroom apartment they’d been living in until that point opened directly into the kitchen, so when you walked in you were immediately confronted by the sight of the sink and the gas stove and the fridge, and her mother, who’d never lived in either public housing or any other kind of apartment complex, would always comment that you shouldn’t open the front door of the apartment and be right inside the kitchen, it makes the whole place feel impoverished, and honestly, if you don’t keep the sink spick-and-span then it’ll look even more impoverished, this became a catchphrase of hers every time she came over, and then she’d go on to say, I don’t care how cheap the mortgage payments are here, I just think an apartment with a separate kitchen would make things much easier, because as a housewife, you’re in there every day, she’d point out, darting glances at the sink and the stove, which of course weren’t kept in as pristine a state as Natsumi would ideally have liked, whereas in this new apartment with its breakfast bar, the front door didn’t open directly onto the kitchen, there was instead a proper vestibule, even if it was slightly cramped, which led to a hall, and a door with glass panels framed in white wood separating the hall from the main living space, which meant you could avoid having visitors unexpectedly catching a glimpse of your chaotically messy kitchen in its entirety, which she preferred, and in terms of the size of the apartment—the open-plan room was about twelve tatami mats large, and then there was a six-mat room with tatami flooring, a three-mat utility room off the kitchen, and two rooms eight mats and seven mats in size with Western-style flooring—she couldn’t help but feel it was somewhat luxuriously spacious for a family like hers, composed of herself and her husband and two children of kindergarten and primary- school age, and the kids were very excited about the children’s pool in the courtyard of the new apartment block, and even though it was really big enough only to splash around in and not to actually swim laps, they declared it soooo cool, we’ll be like rich people, they said, and although it was blindingly obvious to Natsumi that they’d get sick of the pool in no time and it would become an object of ridicule, for the moment they were over the moon, and though the eight-mat room was currently being used by her husband as his “study,” she figured that when the kids moved up to middle school they’d probably grow dissatisfied with the current arrangement, which had them sleeping in bunk beds in the seven-mat room, they’d want their “own rooms,” and if that happened, then they could free up the “study” and move one of the kids in there, and her husband could use the utility room—which currently accommodated a washing machine, tumble dryer, and laundry basket, and then, on the opposite wall, a lightweight wall-storage unit they’d ordered online, which was made of white polyester-resin-coated plywood and fit the dimensions of the room as snugly as if it’d been made to measure—as his “study” instead, at least that was what they’d discussed, but if that situation actually materialized, she had no idea where on earth they’d put the washing machine, or the tumble dryer, or the storage unit—which was used for the vacuum and the washing and cleaning products, as well as canned goods and other food supplies she’d bought in reserve, and various odds and ends in assorted shapes and sizes—and, to add to their problems, the “study” currently contained five bookshelves made of steel and plywood, a desk, a computer, and a video camera, which her husband had been using as part of a project to “create a record of the family”—a project that, whether because he’d gotten fed up with filming or because he’d never really had much in the way of a visual sensibility to begin with, he had subsequently abandoned, having shot not even ten hours of footage in total, a good portion of which had its subjects’ heads lopped from the frame—as well as a chest expander he’d used back in his student days, and something called a SUPER GYM DX (made in Taiwan), which promised “Real Results from Everyday Training,” offering “Training as Good as You’d Get in Any Gym, Thanks to a Hydraulic Cylinder, for Convenient Home Workouts Whenever Suits You! Cure a Lack of Exercise, Tone and Shape Up and Improve Strength,” and which he’d bought without consulting her, and it hadn’t been all that expensive but weighed sixty-six pounds and two ounces and was three feet and nine inches wide, five feet and three inches deep, and four feet and ten inches tall, and when she thought about all these things she felt like taking them out with the trash tomorrow and being done with it, but in any case, it wouldn’t be for another five or six years that they’d have to consider making these new arrangements, and now as she was trying to figure things out, to make calculations involving the layout of the apartment and the furniture, which should in theory have been simple, there was always some kind of slipup involved (when she finally thought she’d solved the issue so that everything would fit, it would turn out that the door in fact opened into the room, even though logically it should have opened out, and so on), and, deciding that worrying too much about these kinds of things was ultimately detrimental, she resolved to stop obsessing over them. 

I guess we can figure it out in due course, right, she said to her husband, and he replied from where he was lying sprawled out on the sofa, his head propped up on a pile of cushions, not removing his gaze from the TV screen, right, right, all in due course, which irritated her slightly, but it wasn’t like the issue was presenting a problem for her now in the present moment, in fact it really was true that they could just figure it out in due course, so she refrained from saying what she was tempted to say, which was, but that’s what you always say. 

Somehow the new kitchen in the new apartment seemed too good for her, which meant she rarely felt like making the most of it, and she was particularly reluctant to do anything along the lines of deep-frying, which would get those practically immaculate enamel-and-light-wood surfaces dirty, and although she felt that she was failing as a housewife and a mother in not doing so, she couldn’t bring herself to make the kinds of meals that would mess up the kitchen. 

And I mean, she ends up saying to her husband, what if I were to make tempura at home? I’m talking about if I researched how to do it properly and managed to make tempura that was halfway decent, it still wouldn’t be half as good as the stuff made by a tempura chef in a real tempura restaurant, would it? I was brought up in a simple, very ordinary sort of household by a mother who wasn’t remotely well informed about food, and who didn’t have any particular love of cooking, and now I’m just a regular housewife, not someone working at a tempura restaurant, and even if I did manage to pull it off, don’t you think there’s something so unsophisticated about going around bragging about the fact, saying to your friends and colleagues, ahh, you know, the tempura my wife makes is quite something, and all that kind of nonsense, I find it totally pathetic. 

At which her husband, with whom this has clearly struck a chord, nods deeply and says, now that you say it, I feel like the guys who go around boasting about their wives’ cooking are always the really wimpy ones, the kind of guy who was all skin and bones when he was younger, but begins to fill out in middle age so he ends up looking like a flabby old capybara, so that when he gets naked his dick, which was hardly anything to write home about to begin with, looks extra minuscule, he says, and regardless of whether or not it’s true, he went on to say, boasting about your wife’s cooking is, when you think about it, a sign that you’re totally under her thumb in an oral-fixation kind of a way, and you’ve made your relationship with her into a mother-and-child one, which is just such a cliché for Japanese men, right, he said, nodding, satisfied. The kids greet the ready-made katsu and tempura that she’s bought at the supermarket and reheated in the microwave without complaints, and, of course, the way they eat those things is different from how they eat the meals she’s prepared from scratch, which means she knows they’re capable of making those kinds of subtle distinctions when it comes to taste, or rather that they have the ability to judge whether something is good or not, and it seems to her that as long as you’re providing your children with the types of food that get them to the point where they can form their own judgments in that way, then it’s fine to slack off a bit sometimes, and besides, eating deep-fried foods inevitably means consuming a lot of oil, and when you get too accustomed to the taste of fried food you end up finding anything else somehow lacking, and in a way it’s a kind of addiction, just like smoking or alcohol or drugs, at least that’s what she read in a magazine article about dieting, and of course it’s also important for her husband’s health that he eat well, and it’s not good for the kids’ future to have too much grease either, which is the explanation she gives for why she doesn’t cook oily food, and if that’s contradicted by the pork katsu and croquettes and tempura and deep-fried chicken that she buys preprepared from the butcher or the supermarket and that sometimes show up on their dinner table, it’s not something that her husband or kids call her out on.