of sex, death and culture shock
by Kathleen Davis
The EastWesterly Review is pleased to bring you this novel in
the grand tradition of serialization.
In Japan, there was no sex—at least, not for me. There was a
seduction—once—but no sex.
I’ve been home for awhile now; so, this story is mostly about
sex. Sadly, it’s lacking in seductions. But, it has death—a
truly seductive one. Shit. I think I gave away the ending. I never was
very good at keeping secrets. It just isn’t in me.
Oh, fuck it. This story is all about me. Me. Me. Fucking big ego me.
What I’ve become, which I’m not too sure about really. A
fiction? A fantasy? A myth? A monster? I don’t know. I ought to
know. I realize this. I do. I’ve searched what soul I seem to
have left. But, I don’t have answers. I only have a story.
Perhaps your answers are here. Somewhere. Feel free to look for them.
So, let’s start at the start: Hiroshima, one year ago.
My official flight day was June 1. I landed in Osaka about 16 hours
after leaving Detroit. I never actually saw Detroit “proper,”
just the airport.
My family said not to go. My mother begged me not to go. But, still,
In my last American airport, I had the Tom Jones version of “Detroit
City” running through my head. It even followed me onto the plane,
stuck in my brain for hours.
Luckily, I got a phone signal in the airport. It’s the last I
got to use my lovely phone. And, all those rollover minutes down the
drain. Crap. Really, even if I had talked the entire time I was sitting
in that airport, I would have never been able to get through all my
I’m sure many of you are wondering why I went. Honestly, that’s
just not really that important to the story. But, to satisfy your curiosity,
I went because I could.
I got on the plane, and I went. And now, I’m different. That’s
what I wanted, wasn’t it?
Well, perhaps not like this.
Anyway, when I arrived in Osaka, I then had to take the subway and
the famous Shinkansen bullet train down to Hiroshima. And, while the
signs are sometimes in English, finding English speakers is actually
quite rare. So, there was a lot of broken Japanese—Doko? Doko?—and
pointing and gesturing. I hoped none of it was too rude, but I was too
freaked out to worry too much if it was.
Now, the city itself was absolutely lovely—which, I know, seems
absurd for a spot once leveled by an atomic bomb. Small and compact,
you can easily walk almost anywhere. And, if it’s too far to walk,
there’s a bevy of small cable cars that will get you anywhere
in about 20 minutes or less.
Down at the end of my block was a small Shinto temple: brown and squat
with the traditional ‘gate’ entrance and the ropes hanging
from the open doorway. “Church” there consisted of walking
to the altar, clapping twice, bowing twice, tossing in some coins, bowing
again and backing away. Church in 30 seconds or less. I loved it.
But, I always questioned the food set out on the steps every night.
The rice and miso and Asian pears. They seemed to be waiting for something.
A cat maybe? I’d seen a number of feral cats around.
Miso soup seemed a strange thing to feed a cat.
Behind my house (about a five minute walk) was an extensive garden—lush
and ornate and looking every bit like a geisha’s sanctuary from
an old Japanese film. And, a block to the west was a large hill with
the ruins of a castle and another larger temple (Buddhist this time).
The nature and architecture of these elements screamed open invitation,
even in the summer heat.
But, not all of Japan was so inviting. Japan is also a very closed
society, personally. They stared at me like I was the latest panda born
into captivity: a strange mixture of awe and wonder and the desire to
touch or pet. It got rather uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to it.
So, we “gaigen” were rather different. We stood out. It
was certainly been a lesson in stereotypes and discrimination for me.
(I even had people move seats away from me on the city tram.) And, that’s
how I came to love Asahi—attempting to stop being the center of
attention all the time, attempting to forget.
But, we all do weird things when confronted with something out of our
comfort zone, I guess.
And, strangely, I discovered that just about every middle-aged Japanese
man (read: over 50) looks like Peter Lorre from those old Humphrey Bogart
movies. I don’t much understand why that is. Peter was not the
least bit Japanese, I don’t think. But, hey. So, it is. I kept
thinking one day I would pass one on his bike and he would say, “Frankly,
Rick, since you despise me, you’re the only one I really trust.”
You know, straight out of Casablanca.
And, it was one of those Peter Lorres that got me into trouble.
I met him at the local “American” bar, “Cowboys,”
which was always three-fourths full of older Japanese salary men (sarariman)
singing along to Garth Brooks tunes. It’s a sight you get used
to but that never ceases to be comical.
The Asahi helped with the comical, of course.
He bought me one. I let him. It was Japan. It was the polite thing
to do. His English wasn’t good, but, damn, he sure did try hard.
Very hard. Through gesturing and broken phrases, he managed to communicate
one thing: come back to this table with me. I squinted at him during
all the gesturing and tried to figure out who else he reminded me of.
It was a vague impression, a leftover, floating around the edge of my
That weird guy in the Dracula movie. The one who ate the flies and
giggled a lot. That’s what it was—or, rather, who it was.
Probably it was all the giggling. That was the connection, really.
He kept gesturing to his table with his drink.
I shrugged and went. In America, I would have blushed profusely, said
“no” profusely and then tried to hide myself in a corner.
Here, though, I was taller and more aggressive than all the Japanese
men I’d met—pretty much combined. I’d developed a
sort of cavalier drinking attitude because of it. I had this idea that,
being the Japanese equivalent of Wonder Woman, I pretty much couldn’t
get into that much trouble by following a hunched-over Peter Lorre back
to fellow salary men to nod and act the part of the cute foreigner.
After all, the free drinks would certainly be worth it, and it’s
not like I’d have to make small talk.
When we reached his table, there wasn’t a salaryman in sight,
just a tall, ethereally handsome young—or relatively so, as one
can’t really tell much age difference between 20 and 50 with the
Japanese—man dressed all in black. Vamp goth was very in this
year. It was a rage among certain young and hip sets. He even had the
black nail polish, I noticed. Of course, so did I.
He looked for all the world like one of the pop boys in that popular
group SMAP that showed up on every wild TV talk show we got on our little
used set back at the house—right down to the perfect hair.
He nodded at me. I nodded back, giving a little bow, as was polite.
And, I sat across from him.
Peter sat down next to me. From out of nowhere there appeared a girl—a
perfect doll of a girl, also dressed all in hip and trendy Jane Austen-esque
goth. With perfect hair and perfect teeth. She was a movie star or a
TV star or something. She just had to be.
His girlfriend? I wondered, but then I noticed the weird resemblance.
They both had small, thin, but somehow enticing, little mouths. Red
like cherries—and delightfully kissable, or perhaps that was the
Asahi talking. And the longest, leanest necks. Delicate and crafted
artistically, almost sculptural.
Their mouths and necks were nearly identical, if one could say that
about those features. I don’t recall ever noticing a slim neck
before. But, there’s a first time for everything.
She tilted her head to look at me and giggled a little, covering her
small mouth with long, lean fingers, also tinted with black fingernails.
“Hello,” she said from behind those fingers, and the English
was only slightly stilted, not at all like the staccato sound without
inflections I normally expect.
“Hello,” I answered back, not sure what else to say. So,
I fell back on the one I always used when discovering an English speaker.
“Where did you learn English?”
“Oh, I lived in America for awhile. In Chicago. I liked it very
much. But, then, I had to come back here because of Ren,” she
answered, gesturing toward the man of resemblance.
Peter Lorre took this time to fill our glasses with beer. We thanked
him. He nodded and gestured for us to drink. So, we did, Peter leading
us in a “compai” clinking round.
“Are you and Ren related?” I asked the girl. She smiled.
“Sort of. In a way. But, we are family.”
I wasn’t sure if she meant subtext there, or if her English simply
wasn’t adept enough to get across her meaning. I let it slide.
“I’m Ai,” she said. “And you’ve already
met Kouhei.” She gestured at Peter. I knew I’d never think
of him as anything but Peter, but I nodded.
“Ren,” the handsome young man spoke, leaning forward and
using those deep, dark eyes to stare into mine. He took my hand in what
I thought was the beginning of a Western-style shake. Sometimes Japanese
men did that in an attempt to make me feel at ease. Instead he simply
kept it, entwined in his, resting on the table.
I don’t know why I didn’t pull away, but I didn’t.
My skin felt hot and tingly under his hand, and I worried that I might
start to sweat there. But, having someone make my skin tingle was so
nice. It had been so long.
I smiled with what I hoped was flirtation. He smiled back, tilting
his head toward Ai and speaking in a low, fast line of Japanese.
She turned briskly to me and said, “Ren wants to devour you.”
One of my eyebrows shot up in amusement. It was common to get this
sort of confusion around here. And, I didn’t feel like attempting
to decipher. So, I just played along, the way one does with an elderly
relative who has, once again, told you the same damn story.
“Well, only if I get to devour him, too,” I replied, smiling
at Ren. She translated her interpretation of my response. He paused
for a moment with her and then turned to me with those eyes again. Those
deep wells of eyes. Not windows. But, wells.
He said nothing, just brought his hand—the one still in possession
of mine—up to his lips. And, he kissed the tips of my fingers.
That tingle shot decidedly South. Far South. Like, Galveston.
Ai got up and walked to the bar. I couldn’t help but watch as
she passed by Ren and I, his mouth still licking my fingers. She had
the requisite sexy walk. Sexy is pigeon-toed in Japan. I am not kidding.
They purposely walk pigeon-toed. That is a chick “walking the
walk,” as we might say. At first, I just thought they all needed
some sort of brace or a trip to the doctor. But, no, they do that on
purpose—the same way we swing our hips in high heels back home.
I noticed the boys at the next table also following Ai with their eyes,
but, when she turned to come back our way, they averted their gazes
and stared at the table top.
Boys are boys everywhere, I thought, amused.
Ai did not return with drinks, as I expected. Apparently, she had paid
the tab. She stood over us and said something quickly to Ren. He replied.
She nodded and then turned to me. I’d followed all of this with
“You’ll come home with us,” she said. I was finally
startled out of my trance. I pulled my hand from Ren’s and shook
“No, no. That’s just not a good idea,” I said, looking
at Ai and refusing to return the heavy stare I could feel from Ren.
He demanded something sharply from Ai. She sighed and then spoke, “He
says he cannot possibly choose another girl. You are all he wants. He
needs you.” I looked at him, finally, falling into those fucking
eyes once again. The tingle moved out—along with heat—up
my torso to my breasts and finally my nipples.
“Kudasai,” he said softly, deeply, drawling it out slowly.
I heard that word, took it in, felt it. “Please,” he had
said. A request. A specific please. Chosen. Loaded. And, it seemed like
he knew I would, at least, understand that. He smiled and added another,
jokingly, “Dozo.” The please of offering. And then, “Onegaishimasu.”
I could do nothing but nod, slowly, overwhelmed at the weight of his
His deep smile returned, and he stood up next to Ai and reached out
for my hand. And, I went. Just like that.