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 Ten—Smell the Roses

I found the e-mail for my client, Ryan Stone, and began typing him a message. 

Dear Mr. Stone:

I know that I’m two days away from my deadline to clear out your storage unit. I’m close to finishing but I regret that I’ll have to drop the project.

You can imagine that attempting a project of this size during a pandemic is quite a challenge. I’m discovering that it has been a strain on me and my daughter.

I know under the provisions of our agreement, if I break the contract, I will owe you $5,000. Since I’ve done almost …

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Chapter Nine—Hurricane Popcorn Days

“Mom, we need to make some hurricane popcorn.” 

My daughter Sycamore and I had designated Thursday our movie night. We watched animation, most recently old episodes of Dragon Ball, the Japanese version from my childhood when I was Sycamore’s age. I was amazed how all these streaming channels could resurrect old shows from the past.

It was strange to see the episodes again as a mother. The protagonist, the monkey-tailed Goku, seemed too naughty at times. What was I teaching my 10-year-old daughter? On the other hand, the colors and the old-school animation delighted me, transporting me back to …

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Chapter Eight—Zip A Dee Doo Dah

I couldn’t believe it, but we could now see the back of the storage unit. Well, at least one corner. We had only five days to go before I had to completely empty it out. 

Next was a black box. My daughter Sycamore and I had come prepared with a box cutter and I carefully guided the blade along the center seam. We flipped open the flaps. Bubble wrap. A lot of it. Whatever was inside must be fragile.

Sycamore dipped her head in and came up with her hands full. “Look at these mini-records.”

“Those are 45s.” I knew …

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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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Art Hansen Brian Niiya camellias descanso garden Fiction fiction George Aratani JANM Mikasa Miyosaku Uyematsu Motown music Nancy Ito naomi hirahara noami hirahara softball Suzee Ikeda umeya