Ten Days of Cleanup

Hiroko Houki, the proprietor of the cleaning business, Souji RS, reluctantly agrees to take on a mysterious client who wants her to clear out his storage unit. However, it’s the middle of the pandemic, and Hiroko’s usual recipients of used items—thrift stores—are closed. It turns out some of the items have historic value and Hiroko attempts to return them to various previous owners or their descendants, sometimes with disastrous results. 

Ten Days of Cleanup is a 12-chapter serial story published exclusively on Discover Nikkei. A new chapter will be release on the 4th of each month.

Read Chapter One

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Chapter Seven—No-knead Bread

“Do you think this Ryan Stone is a real person?” my daughter Sycamore asked me as we took a break from her Zoom class to make some no-knead bread. This was our fourth attempt at baking bread during the pandemic. So far our previous baking adventures were failures. I miscalculated the yeast for Indian naan and ended up with enough for a second plain loaf of bread. (I gave my naan a C+ and the bread a D.) Our milk bread rolls came out hard as rocks. My friend Kim guaranteed that I couldn’t go wrong with no-knead bread, so …

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Chapter Six—Mikasa Man

My ten-year-old daughter, Sycamore, had officially become my wing woman. Or should I say wing girl. She was definitely my top—and well, only—assistant in terms of my cleaning business, Souji RS.

Every day after her Zoom classes she was ready to go to my client’s storage unit in Pasadena to see what “treasures” we could unwrap and dispose of. I had only six more days to complete my task and the container was still about halfway full.

The next set of packages were comprised of three boxes wrapped in baby blue. Sycamore tore into them. I don’t know what she …

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Chapter One—The Contract

“Hello, Souji RS. Hiroko speaking.”

I held my cell phone to my ear as I defrosted some natto in the microwave. My 10-year-old daughter Sycamore’s lunch break was in a few minutes and she had 50 minutes before her next Zoom session.

“Are you the cleaning service?” The voice on the other line was male, low without any warmth. He sounded American, which meant he could have been any race or ethnicity.

“Ah, I provide a soul cleansing and past erasing service.” That was the tagline that I had devised after taking a free online branding course.

No response from …

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Chapter Five—Smell of Water

I only had seven days to get rid of everything in my client’s storage locker. So far, I had disposed of—no, preserved—some historic family photographs from World War II as well as given away vintage car parts to life-long friends who like to restore old vehicles. Next were dark green trash bags filled with I don’t know what.

Sycamore was out of Zoom school early and accompanied me to the locker. She had already grown so much that spring of the pandemic. I was glad that her teacher and classmates couldn’t see that her pants were much too short for …

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Chapter Four—Great Balls of Fire

Now that all the miscellaneous orange packages were out of my client’s storage container, I saw something large wrapped in blue. I removed some red packages that were resting on top of it and place them in one corner of the container. The blue package was long and felt metallic.

My daughter, Sycamore, stayed in the car, playing a game on her iPad as I tore at the paper. Inside was indeed something metal. In fact, three things. Pieces of what looked like a car grille.

I could have easily tossed this into a rubbish bin. But based on my last …

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