of sex, death and culture shock
by Kathleen Davis
What the hell am I doing here? I thought when we finally reached
their small, concrete house in a twisting outskirts neighborhood around
the Peace Memorial Park.
We had left Peter behind a few houses before. Apparently, he didn’t
live with Ai and Ren. Since I found that a blessing, I didn’t
really ask Ai the details. I still wasn’t sure about her English,
although, obviously, I’d figured out what “devouring”
meant—at least vaguely.
I had a fleeting thought—for just a second—back to another
ex-pat friend who had to wisk home to have a baby. Her last words to
me were, “Don’t trust Japanese condoms.”
Great, I thought.
They let me in, and I was, well, surprised. But, I had become used
to being surprised in Japan. When nothing was really familiar, surprise
was a constant.
This surprise, however, was the look of something very familiar: an
American-style apartment, heavy on the masculine.
Ai wandered past us—Ren had held my hand the entire way back,
except for those few moments he had snuck onto the stairs of a Shinto
temple and pilfered the pile of three oranges. Ai had accepted one,
as had Peter (after I had refused). Ren tossed his in the air the way
an American boy would a baseball, grasping my hand again with his free
Ai was giggling and pushing through the peel of hers with her black
nails as we walked. When we got to the apartment, she said she needed
to wash her sticky fingers. Hence, the wander past. But, I couldn’t
remember her eating the orange. I couldn’t remember that at all.
We were alone, Ren and I. He tossed his orange into a bowl on the coffee
table and gestured at the couch. I sat and looked around the clean,
black-heavy abode. It resembled an updated Rock Hudson pad from all
those lovey-dovey sex comedies he and Doris did together in the ‘50s
Or, maybe I was just projecting “sex” onto the situation
because of the bit back at the bar. And, I was projecting “comedy”
because, after all, this was my life. It didn’t ever run smoothly.
And so I was sitting on a black leather couch, facing a black coffee
table, which sat beside a black suede chair. It was all very macho and
not the slightest bit Japanese. I glanced down at my watch.
As if on cue, my cell phone began belting out Hall & Oates’
“Private Eyes,” my chosen ring tone. (It had been one of
the most amusing choices on my DoCoMo phone. I couldn’t resist.)
I didn’t have to look at the small window of my flip phone to
know it said: Tim?
Tim? Indeed. That’s a question I can’t quite answer
objectively right now, I had thought. Tim was a fellow American—a
fellow Oklahoman, even—who had, by chance and happenstance, been
assigned to a different branch of my language school company in Hiroshima.
We had become fast friends, and he was probably wondering where I was
and why I wasn’t drinking with the rest of our small, boring group
of native-English-speaking friends.
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.
My eyes flicked over the black leather jacket tossed haphazardly across
the dining room chair, the black helmet on the glass table—there
must be a scooter somewhere—the man in tight black slacks and
a simple black shirt fixing something at the wet bar just slightly behind
the dining room furniture. He dropped a lime onto the floor, and I swore
he took extra time bending over to pick it up.
At least there isn’t a baseball cap in sight, I thought
to myself, still reminded of Oklahoma.
He had taken off his shoes at the door. We all had. And, his bare feet
on the polished wood floor seemed both silly and too, too intimate.
I glanced over at the pile of boots and socks he had left next to the
door—and next to my flip-flops and Ai’s ballet slippers.
I looked down at my own bare toes against the floor. The feel of my
skin on the wood made this all seem so real when I concentrated on that
connection. When I looked away, it was as if I was living someone else’s
life—someone far less practical and far more daring than me. Someone
who would go to Japan for no reason.
The sound of Japanese pop filled the room as Ai returned in what was
obviously pajama wear. Little pink “Hello Kitty” designs
covered the matching shirt and shorts. She had turned on the stereo
with a small remote.
“Goodnight, my friend,” Ai said. “I hope to see you
“But, who will translate . . . “ I asked, tapering off
when I realized what was about to come next wouldn’t need any
Ai smiled. “Ren will not have any problem understanding your
wishes,” she said softly. “And you will know exactly what
he wants, too.” She turned quickly on her bare feet and wandered
out through the kitchen to the steep stairs obviously hidden behind.
I heard her feet pounce softly on each rise, but I didn’t raise
my gaze from the floor.
I heard Ren approach, like that poem about the fog coming in on little
cat feet that I had liked so much as a child. Still, I kept my toes
He put a drink in my hand as I finally looked up to see his slight
but firm expanse of chest just above my chin like a horizon. I nodded,
mumbled, “Arigato.” Sipped.
He sat on the edge of the coffee table in front of me as I sipped at
my drink again. The nearness of him, the overwhelming warm maleness
of him made my body react. It had been too long since I’d had
sex. Over six months.
I felt the flush under my shirt, felt my nipples start to harden. My
reaction made me shift away from him toward the full back of the black
leather couch. In fact, my reaction made me hella nervous.
“Iie,” he whispered, reaching out to grab my wrist. “Iie.”
I knew that one, too. “No.”
He brought my hand up to his mouth, turned my wrist up, and kissed
the hot, delicate skin where my pulse fluttered. Just three little kisses,
light and dry, but I melted into those lips, into that beginning of
a smile teasing my skin.
“Kirei desu,” he said into the large, long green snake
of a vein in my wrist. I didn’t know what it meant, but, in that
instant, the tide changed. The decision was made. Fear and doubt and
questioning still swam around in my brain, but it was overridden completely
His deep eyes met my blue ones and held the gaze. I could see an equally
responsive heat in them. I never really thought of myself as the type
of girl men lust after—certainly not men like him, anyway. Japanese
men seemed mostly afraid of Western women.
“Kisu shite mo ii?” he asked softly, his eyes falling to
my mouth. I may not have understood the words, but I got the question.
I simply nodded. I would have nodded to anything at this point. “Want
to play with fire?” Nod. “Want to leap off a cliff with
He grinned that grin of his in response, reaching out to take my drink
out of my hand and place it behind him on the black table. He sat his
own drink down next to mine and turned back to me, reaching up to weave
his fingers into the long hair at the back of my head. Those strong
fingers pulled me in, and I found my eyes automatically closing, found
myself giving him the power of the moment.
“Kimiga hoshii,” he chuckled. I kept my eyes firmly closed,
trying to protect myself from the sheer wattage of his smile.
I felt his warm breath first, just seconds before his lips. But, those
lips washed away all other memories, even ones that didn’t involve
titillation. Strong, warm, forceful, those lips took from my mouth,
drank from my lips without asking, taking everything, taking in bits
of my history and bits of my soul: my first day of kindergarten, my
favorite orange skateboard, my crush on a high school football player,
my first time with another college dorm freshman one night when we were
both too drunk to be too shy. And, his lips continued to take.
“Motto,” he said against my lips. I remember that so clearly.
“Motto.” He said it so much that night that I memorized
it to look it up later phonetically. It means “more.” It
took me months to understand the depths of that statement—much
deeper than the wells of his eyes.
I felt his tongue blaze a trail, and, shamelessly, I met it with my
own. He leaned farther into the kiss, now pushing me back against the
sofa as he towered above me, resting his left knee in the couch. He
drank deeper: my MFA thesis, my last trip to the doctor, Christmas dinner
with my family. He sucked the memories faster.
He didn’t push too hard on my lips. He didn’t try to impress
with tricks of the tongue. His kiss was simple and honest and full of
passion, and I gave myself completely to it—to the kiss, to the
feeling, to him. It was all bizarrely like a romance novel, which frightened
me. But, I wanted him too much to really stop and find my roaming feminism.
I felt his hand burn a path down my neck, across my shoulder, to my
upper arm. Then, his fingertips trailed fire lightly over my chest to
work open the first button of my blouse. The second button followed
quickly. Then, a third. His hand buried under the fabric to finger the
swell of my breast as it spilled over the top of my old, worn-out bra.
I couldn’t help it. I moaned against his mouth, and he reacted
to the sound by cupping my breast fully in his hand and teasing his
tongue lightly against mine, letting the memories be small sensory ones
now: the smell of snow, the taste of my mother’s cookies, my first
time kissing the ruby head of a boy’s penis and finding it more
palatable than I thought it would be.
I could feel the wet weight of my arousal building between my thighs—and
I could feel his arousal growing against my hip as he leaned over me.
I was still amazed that this small, beautiful man wanted me . . . but
the hard and obvious fact that he did certainly couldn’t be questioned.
It continued to lengthen against my curves, nuzzling for attention like
a puppy. It startled me. I’d been thinking of the Japanese man
as neutered for so long.
He broke the kiss and slid his mouth down my jaw and neck, lightly
nibbling, before moving away slightly and then getting to his feet in
front of me. He stood there like the otherworldly being he must be.
He stood there like he owned the world, like he stamped his name on
it with a wink and a fuck.
I wasn’t nearly as pretty—disheveled and flushed, my shirt
gaping open. Reclining back against the couch with my eyes half-closed,
I was warm all over—a level of heat I hadn’t felt in months,
and all of this from a mere kiss and a tad bit of groping. I was dizzy
and having trouble remembering much of anything outside of this dark,
dark room. I’ve completely lost my mind, I thought, lethargic,
and with no real idea of fleeing. Was there something in that drink?
A drug perhaps? Something to explain away my insanity in the morning?
I watched as he efficiently pulled off his t-shirt, tossing it onto
the floor. In the soft glow of the corner floor lamp, his skin was smooth
and muscled and tan, with a slight smattering of hair down the center
like an arrow directing my eyes down to the bulge in his black trousers—a
significant bulge, at that.
He offered his hand to me, and I put mine in it without thinking. His
fingers closed warmly over my palm, and he pulled just slightly, to
guide me up and out of the womb of the couch.
I rose to face him, my eyes level with his. And, for the life of me,
though I knew his gaze was, indeed, devouring me, I couldn’t pull
my eyes away. I was starting to fear that dark well fire as much as
I did his white toothy grin.
I felt his index finger curve under my chin, his thumb pressing into
the cleft above. I let him tilt my face a little and level our eyes
evenly. His other hand burned through the fabric at the small of my
back. Its heat made the small patch of my skin begin to sweat.
“Motto,” he demanded, and I did—my blue eyes a little
unsure. But, it was almost automatic. I answered that gaze. He smiled
that hurricane grin at me and kissed the tip of my nose for affection
and emphasis. “Onaka ga suita.”
I broke his gaze and reached down to feel his erection through his
pants, to free it. I was on fire. But, he stopped my hand with his and
pulled it up to his mouth again, licking. He repeated the same phrase:
“Onaka ga suita.” He pointed behind me with other hand,
using it to guide me that direction.
Behind us was the front hallway. There was a mirror in the hall reflecting
us: his lean form and my disheveled one. A dichotomy. A juxtaposition.
The two reflections seemed incongruous together, mismatched.
But, in the mirror, as I looked closer, I could swear he was slightly
transparent. I thought it was a trick of the light or of the alcohol.
I paid my eyes no mind. What did they know?
Taking a small step, he easily insinuated his shoulder between my gaze
and the mirror, breaking the spell. Leaning down to kiss my temple,
he lifted my other hand in his free one and brought it, too, to his
small red mouth. He held both hands there, the open palms up, bending
slightly to lick up along the fingers.
He rubbed his moist mouth into my hands, into the diving lines of life
and love and death and taxes, into all the pressure points into which
he could insinuate himself.
He gave me another kiss on the temple before releasing my hands entirely.
“Gomen nasai,” he said softly, gesturing to the small room
beyond the mirror and the futon laying out flat on the tatami floor.
I wondered if that was a common Japanese seduction technique: an apology
before the sex. What could he be sorry for? For teasing me too much?
For not getting to this point sooner? Or, for having sex with me at
all, an apology to all the Japanese gods who would frown on him banging
He stepped away to take the lead, reaching back for me. I followed
along behind, dropping my questions like bread crumbs. We passed into
the room holding hands—his right holding my left. I didn’t
even look in the direction of that damn jealous mirror. We entered the
bedroom without another word.
And, once the door closed, those pesky words were no longer necessary
because I understood, without translation, what it was he was so very
-continued in next issue-