She is on a towel. She is on a beach. There are towels on all sides. Candy wrappers and tissue stick to the towels. The water is warm and full of people. The waves are not high.
She watches her friend.
He is at the shoreline, his hands on his bony hips, looking out. His spine curves like a vine upside his protruding ribs.
She pulls up her calves so she won’t kick the stranger behind her in the face. She pushes hair behind her ear to let the sun come in.
Her friend steps on towels to get to her. “Come in,” he says. “Let’s swimming.”
She follows him past the towels to the wet sand. “I don’t know,” she says.
“Come on. We are at the sea.”
A thick ribbon of color winds around the shore. Dry sand is not readily visible.
She walks into the water, wondering about glass and tin cans and seaweed. Surely no crabs will snap at her. She lets herself float. She floats past seaweed, strips of paper. Shortly she bumps into a piece of wood. A red ribbon has been tied to the top of the slab. Characters are burnt into the wood. She stands in water, which comes to the underside of her breasts. She holds up the slab to her friend.
“Is it okay if I take this?” she asks.
“Sure. If you want,” he says.
She doesn’t know what they are, but she eats them. She doesn’t particularly like them, but she’s hungry. They’re white in the middle. Rice takes many forms. A smell of fried stuff drifts heavily in the air. There are colorful signs and happiness everywhere. People bump past her without anger.
There are other things she can’t identify. They are white shapes hanging from trees. They float or dangle in the humid breeze.
“Buy souvenir for your mother and father?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ve got less than ten thousand yen to my name.”
“To your name?”
“Yes. To Dana.”
“Dana, Dana. How many days until you go?”
“I don’t know. Twenty.”
“Mm. Twenty. I miss you.”
She will miss him, withdrawal has begun to infect her.
The Buddah is a big one. Second biggest in the world, the friend said. Or maybe he said in the country, or maybe just the area. It looks peaceful, she thinks. It must be a trick. It must be money. She looks around. The roofs and walls are semiornate. The fences are nice. The bushes have been trimmed. It’s a myth, she thinks; I don’t believe it.
She stands at different angles, but finds the Buddah looking much the same from each point. She is thinking that the Buddah might generate wisdom and direct it at her, but it doesn’t. The friend is leaning against a wall, watching her watch the Buddah. He doesn’t wave when she stares at him. His face is a big pale saucer. She looks back at the Buddah then again at the friend. He doesn’t blink or look away.
She decides that sex with the friend is possible.
She feels as though she must enter the gift shop. The friend picks up a child’s toy from a wooden display in the entrance. He strikes a pose. “Show me Paint the Fence. You know, Karate Kid, he says. Wayne’s World-—number two, I think. Get for your nephew, remind of Kamakura.”
She smiles instead and asks about the fish with old men’s faces.
Having visited the shop, the friends leave for a historic train ride.
She sits beside the friend. The friend’s chest heaves; he has asthma. The friend smells like ginger and sweat and mayonnaise pizza. His hands are strong and full of grace, as though he plays the piano. He doesn’t. He manages a pizza delivery. His skin is slightly blemished.
She takes pictures of the historic train. She doesn’t know what to focus on. She is fairly new to trains. “What’s antique?” she asks. “Is this new? No? How old?”
The historic train takes them through a historic district. There are houses that do look somewhat more organic, or at least unpainted.
He points out the window to the sea. “Do you see the surfers?” he asks. “They surf here a long time. It’s not only just the United States. The air force came down and the people have an interest.”
She can feel the sweat of his forearm. Sweat drips behind her ear and down her neck. Her hair is sticky. His face glistens. Humidity draws the friends together. The desire to eat him is unbearable. She would settle for a kiss.
She watches the surfers until they disappear behind a hill.
She rocks side to side along with the train. The train grinds beneath her.
He nudges the back of her finger with the back of his finger. He stares across the people sitting in front of them, out the window.
“Sa-ga-mi. Say it. Sagami Sea,” he says.
“Why do you like the tops of buildings?”
“I didn’t until here. I don’t have money to do much else.”
“Do you like him?”
“Maybe. Do you?”
“No. We’ve been friends forever. Besides, I’m beginning to think he doesn’t like women at all. Well, that’s what I thought until you showed up. Now I don’t know. Did I tell you I lived in Nebraska for two years?”
“I thought you just sold furniture.”
“I was six years old when I came back here. When I got off in Narita, all I saw was black hair. I tried to get back on the plane. About eight hours later I stopped yelling, my dad says. A little shy with my grandparents. What are you going to do when you get back?”
“I don’t know. Get a job. When will you visit the States?”
“This October. I’ll be in L.A. the whole time. And in April. I’ll call you, though.”
“Maybe sometime we could meet in, say, New Mexico.”
“You’ll forget me.”
“I’ll never forget you.”
“Be nice to him. He’s sensitive.”
“Who’s not? Are those crickets?”
“Semi. I don’t know what they are in English. Oh, like in the southern United States. Cicada. They live years and years in the trees. When they come out, they make that sound. That’s them dying. That’s what I heard.”
There is a river and park benches around the river. Lovers kiss on the park benches. She and her friend look at the lovers. She feels like she should be kissing. He is making faces at ducks.
He has told her that he isn’t attractive; his friends have agreed. She is willing to accept their opinion. Still, his face, with one red full lip that’s always rather wet, weighs on her. It’s something she wants to see every day, something she wants to take home with her. The first day she arrived in Kokubunji, the host mother asked her whether she was attractive. Since then, her friend and his friends have asked her too. “I don’t know,” she answered. “I don’t think so, but maybe.”
The friend stares at nothing as though he is very intelligent. Perhaps he is. He does seem smarter than she when it comes to history.
The friend looks at her. The lip is bright. “Lovers kiss here on the benches,” he says.
A rat appears by the guardrail. The rat is over a foot long; it is very fat. The rat sniffs at Styrofoam cups and flat sticks and wrappers. It pokes his nose at the garbage can. It is no less amiable or curious than a dog.
“Hurry!” the friend says. He nudges her back a few inches with his hand.
“I like rats,” she says. “It looks harmless. Do people ever feed them?”
“Don’t feed rats,” he says.
She pulls a granola bar from her bag and eats it slowly. When she is almost finished, she asks her friend if he’d like one too. He would.
The friends walk across a bridge to the other side of the river, then they walk across another bridge to get back. All in all, twelve pairs of lovers are seen.
He says he has never been kissed by a woman. She asks whether he’s been kissed by a man. He smiles.
“No,” he says. “Once—one time—a woman kissed me for a joke. She did not love me.”
She leans over the building’s ledge and watches Westerners cross the streets. “Why are most people white in Roppongi?”
“You’re not looking. Some South American. Some Mid-East. India. Once I saw Michael Jordan. This city is for tourist. Restaurant, clubs. It is like this here every day. Lots of people are fooling around even at 2 A.M.”
“It’s too expensive,” she says.
“Do you love me?” he asks.
She can’t think of a reason to tell him no. “Yes,” she says.
“I think two races can marry together if there’s love,” he says.
“Not if they can’t talk much,” she says. “And not if their families are on opposite sides of the world.”
“I think…,” he says.
She wants out of this moment. It is in her head like a fresh ice cube, expanding. “Maybe,” she says. “It depends on the people, I guess.”
“Do you think you are racist? William K. as in Kennedy Josephson said all people are racist. You, me, everybody.”
“Maybe,” she says. “Did William say how he could tell?”
“Wi-lliam. It was a book. I don’t know how to tell. I think he is right. You’re a tourist, on a building with a resident. Like books where the white woman comes then leaves. A movie, too. The Lover. Don’t you think it’s crazy, in Africa, white man comes and leaves; Asia, white woman.”
“No,” she says. “Madame Butterfly.”
“Yeah,” he says. “M. Butterfly.”
She kisses him and his lips are wet and clumsy. The kiss drips down her chin. She hides her face as she wipes it off. She feels incredibly driven.
“Come on,” he says. He smiles in a new way. He’s blushing. It might be the beer. “Let’s eat.”
There is also a zoo at the top of Mount Takao. She will not teach English at the Takao school today. Rather, she and the friend climbed a paved trail up a mountain with a goal: she wanted to see a lot of animals. She had an interest in primates. She should have packed food.
The night air is warm but clammy. The trail getting off the mountain is not paved. The friends consider the trail—the black silhouettes of shrubbery and trees. She regrets lingering at the zoo. The friends show each other their goosebumps.
The friend finds the pocket knife. He pulls two tall Kirins from his backpack. “Okay, shh,” he says.
“Top or bottom. Let’s see. Push a hole in the bottom,” she says.
Eventually there is a half-inch hole. “Now what?” he asks.
“Cover it, cover it! I think it’s too late, you need the pressure. Well, try it. It’ll still work,” she says.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sure. Go,” she says. She wonders if he’d trust her with his life, or his wallet, or his jacket. She wonders whether he’d walk with her blindfolded or meet her parents.
He opens the top of the can. Liquid rushes down his throat, pushing his Adam’s apple up and down wildly. He chokes about three-quarters of the way through and beer spouts on his face and shirt.
“You’re not supposed to try to swallow. The beer opens your throat,” she says.
“My mother will be angry,” he says. He smiles.
“Will she be awake?”
“No. I don’t know. Yes. She is awake to listen for me. Now you drink. Let me cut it for you.”
“It’s okay. I’ve got it.” Her eyes tear from the burning in her throat. No effort is made to swallow. The can is empty. Maybe, she thinks, I don’t need to think to do anything. What would it take to, say, walk across the street automatically?
“Friend,” she says, “there are no fucking monkeys here.”
“Maybe they hid behind the trees,” he says.
“Will the trains be running by the time we get down?” she asks.
“I don’t think so. Anyway, it’s dark. I don’t know how we get down.” He laughs. “Maybe we spend the night together. Up here on the mountain.” His laugh, she thinks, is beautiful, like a cord being pulled through a sheet of metal. “No. Let’s go,” he says. “We know how to go down. Follow the house light.”
The friend calls with bad news. She will not think about it. She looks at the laundry hanging in the closet. The host mother has washed her underwear again. She promised herself she would sneak her underwear into the bathroom and clean them all. There was no greater shame than the third day of her stay, when she had found her bloody underwear cleaned by the host mother. She also had bloody sheets, a bloody feather blanket. There was no getting around the mistake. She feels fevered to think of it even now, months later.
There was terrible news.
There are three Danishes in the center of the kitchen table. She eats one. There are leftover vegetables in the cupboard. She won’t eat them. She drinks liquid yogurt.
She knew her well.
A deck of cards lie on the table with a note, the mother’s handwriting. “Play tonight?” The mother is learning ten words of English a day. The American is learning almost no Japanese. She feels guilty about the kind of guilt she feels, which is untrue.
There was a death. She hardly knew her.
The weather is the same. The clouds are as heavy and dim as they were the days before. The rain falls steadily.
Singing comes up from first floor. There are several ladies singing. The host grandmother is the leader.
Death is also on the patio screen, in the form of a three-inch beetle.
She tries with some degree of panic to locate herself. She is on a building, she is looking down at the awa dancers, she might not be far from the town where she’s staying. There was talk of the U.S. military site. There was talk of the Chuo line. She doesn’t know if her location is related to either, or how. Beer rises in her throat and she thinks she might vomit. She lies down on the flat roof. She thinks that if she stays here, she might be found.
Her friend might be looking for someone else. He might be looking for the lost friend, the permanently lost friend, her friend, Mika. Mika had a kind of a stroke—heart failure—and died two days before. She was or is 25, depending on the state of the body. She was a buyer. She bought furniture from the U.S. for her company.
Mika spoke perfect English then she died. She sounded American. She also spoke perfect Japanese, though slightly masculine, all friends say. The American girl can’t be sure. Mika didn’t sound submissive or even pretty. She looked pretty. She looked sexy.
Mika spoke often of horses. She said the sick friend—that’s Yumiko, she has puzzles—would get better, would overcome Lou Gehrig’s disease. Except that’s not what Mika called it. She brought the sick friend Chinese medicine. The hospital where Yumi lies is poorly lit fluorescent and crowded and the walls are gray; nail holes have no putty and rows of beds are side by side.
The ground is wet. There is pavement everywhere, though the American knows this will not inhibit the burial of Mika. It doesn’t happen that way. She doesn’t know what will or what could. Either way, Japan will never come home to her.
The drumming of the awa festival is repetitious, like it’s always been there. It’s like she’s somewhere else or the drums are her private sounds.
The friend appears. “What you doing here?” he says.
“You left me here,” she says.
“I thought you would come with me, then you didn’t.”
“I can’t get across.”
“You went over the first time,” he says.
“You made me. And you were standing right there.”
“You did by yourself.”
“Well, I can’t now.”
Two buildings are three feet apart. There are many stories. When she held her finger to the world below her, one full-grown man equaled one pinky fingernail. She is sick from it, and exasperated. These are nothing like the buildings before; before, there had been no crossing over involved.
“Why did you leave me?” she says.
“I thought you were angry with me,” he says.
“So? It’s no reason to leave me.”
They walk to the edge. The friend jumps back and forth over the gap between buildings to show her there is no danger. He gives her a cigarette. She smokes a little, she throws up.
“Jump,” he says. “You jump so many times, over water, over a sidewalk. Don’t look down.”
The room is lit by streetlights. Blue lilting shadows cross his face as a sharp breeze snaps the curtains against the screen. The rain is soft on the deck outside the bedroom window. The friend leans back against the wall. He pulls a blanket over his waist. She lays her head in his lap. She pulls a blanket over her legs.
There is head to be given. It’s below, under the blanket. He is naked beneath the blanket. She wears briefs.
It is warm and more assuring than the damp blankets and the cool sheets. It is more assuring than the silence of the two other rooms in the house. It is almost touching.
Her breasts look freakish, pointed. They are concave on the upside, full on the down. Her stomach flattens beside her like a water balloon. Her ribs are familiar. So are his thin shoulders.
She looks for answers but his eyes are closed. His hand pets her hair. She thinks this might be a suggestion. The hair on her arms straightens up. She tugs on the blanket.
“No,” he says. “Not this way.”
“What do you want?” she asks. She pushes herself up. His eyes are still closed. She sits across from him.
It is warm and more assuring than before. As if inevitable. Even the small roundness is welcome and well directed. She moves her hips. There is more. There is also the blanket between them.
The friends cry. She stops moving. She kisses his face and then the lip, which stops shaking. The friends lie down together. She turns around, pushes her backside to him. First the breaths are erratic and shallow. Later she hears him breathe steadily.
“Marry me,” she says. The rain will last forever. In the morning she will be grateful. He will still be sleeping.
She likes the tops of buildings. Mika said that crossing the Pacific in a small boat is possible. She disagreed. She misses Mika. She misses the tops of buildings.
The friend is far away. She has hopes of crossing over. There is a difference. There is still the lip.
She has been an unproductive citizen in the United States for thirty-five days. Some say she is still in Tokyo. She has been sent photographs of the sea, of a building, of all the friends. They are named and dated.
People from two countries can marry if there’s love, she wrote. She has been sent a book and a jigsaw puzzle.
I can learn your language, she wrote. Friends can marry if there’s love.
She has been sent a note. My family is on the other side of the world. I love you someplace else. Your friend, Kenji.