© 2003-2007, Christopher Sunami. An affectionate parody of the Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. I highly recommend the real Murakami –he has a new book out, called Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, you should check it out.
I was in the bathtub, playing with my rubber duck, when the phone rang. It rang exactly five times and then stopped. Then it rang five more times. I didn’t pay any attention. I was thinking about a girl I knew in middle school. Not much to look at, most people would say. Not the junior-high homecoming queen type. But to me she was beautiful. She had a very odd birthmark. It started under her left ear, crossed her face twice, and spiraled all the way down to her right buttock. It fascinated me. I’ll never forget my disappointment when I found out it was magic marker. Looking back, I’m sure I could have slept with her. If only I had passed puberty!
I got out of the bathtub and got dressed. I put on an old LP to keep me company —Achy Breaky Heart. I was in somewhat of a daze. Two months earlier, on my thirty-first birthday, my wife had suddenly left me without a word of warning. Of course, there had been little signs. The angry silences. The sudden fits of rage. The time I found her in bed with the Yomiuri Giants baseball team.
No, I can’t say that it had been a good year. Not only did my wife leave me, I also lost my job, my dog died, I turned to alcohol, and my mother got run over while driving a pickup truck across the railroad tracks in the rain. I pondered on the strangeness of the world. One moment a man can have everything, and in the next moment the damn phone is ringing again.
So I picked it up. It was a woman’s voice on the other end, deep and rich.
“It took you long enough in the bathtub,” she said. “What’s the matter? Extra dirty today?”
“What?” I said. “Who told you that?”
She laughed. Her laugh was a warm throaty sound, like fudge ripple melting on the sidewalk.
“I know a lot about you,” she said. “In fact, I know everything.”
There was a silence, while I thought about where I had left my bellybutton lint.
“Who is this?” I demanded, finally. “Gladys, is that you?”
The woman laughed again. It made a sound like chocolate as dark as a black panther at midnight, inside a dark building at the bottom of a mineshaft with a lid on top.
“Meet me at at five o’ clock,” she said.
Odd as it may sound, I was fairly confident about my ability to find her. It was just a feeling I had. I felt that it would be easy for me to follow her instructions, even though they had been unclear. But should I? Why not? After all what else was I going to do? I had already taken three baths in the last two hours.
As I left the apartment, I caught sight of a teenage girl walking down the street. Not much to look at, most people would say. Not the riot grrl, pin-up type. To me, however, she was strangely beautiful. Maybe it was her attitude. Although she was a petite schoolgirl, she had the attitude of an obese forty-year old with intestinal bloating. I planted myself in her path.
“Hey,” I said. “You’re pretty hot stuff, for a kid.”
She took a can of pepper spray out of her designer backpack and calmly sprayed me in the eyes. I thought about my mother, and the many times she had done the same thing when I was a child. Then I screamed, and careened wildly down the street. I crashed through a plate glass window, and into the dining room of a stylish Tokyo bistro. By pure chance, I landed opposite my mysterious phoneuse.
Not much to look at, most people would say. Not your Reubenesque Picasso-with-the-eyes-on-the-same-side-of-her-nose type. To me, however, she was ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundredths percent perfect. I think it was the way she pared her toenails. If another woman had placed her bare, calloused foot on the dinner table, and proceeded to give herself a pedicure with a butter knife, I’m sure I would have been horrified. But there was something in the way this woman performed the act, as though each horny chunk of keratin was a sin being expiated. Just watching gave me an erotic sensation, almost, but not entirely unlike, the feeling of making love to three women and a midget at the very top of a Ferris Wheel.
“You’re three hours late,” said my dining companion. “So I went ahead and ordered dinner without you.”
“And how!” I replied. The table was piled high with dishes. I recognized the remains of grilled salmon with watercress, o-chazuke with grated daikon radish, snowpeas blanched in white wine, Beijing-style duck, roasted whole pig with apple in its mouth, tofu surprise, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“It took you long enough to get here,” she said.
I could tell the conversation was off to a poor start.
“Forgive me,” I said. “I feel stupid.”
I was telling the truth. I really did feel stupid.
“Forget about it,” said the woman, as she consumed a large bowl of pickled pigs feet. “I didn’t expect you to be on time anyway.”
“Right,” I said uncertainly. Was that what I really meant to say? “Did you order anything for me?”
The woman gestured with her elbow, as she inhaled a carton of hot wings. There, on my side of the table, was a tiny bowl of miso soup. Someone had gone through it, and eaten all the tofu. I decided not to say anything about that. After I found the toenail floating in it, I decided not to eat it either.
“Many of the strange things that have happened to you have deeper meanings,” said the woman. “But some of them don’t mean anything.”
I nodded. “I’m sure that’s very accurate,” I said.
I was telling the truth. I was sure it was very accurate.
“Some of them don’t mean the thing that you thought they meant, but instead mean something else which is not the thing that they seem to mean or the first thing that you thought of, but something else which is entirely meaningful in its own meaning-laden but unrelated way.”
“Excuse me,” I said. “I need to use the bathroom.”
She grunted. It was a rich, throaty grunt, like an enormous mound of chocolate-flavored bubble gum stuck to the bottom of a cosmic shoe. It made me think of sex. And shoe polish. But mostly sex.
When I got to the bathroom, the lights were completely out. I knew I had crossed over into a shadowy other world underlying our own. How could I tell? It smelled different, and my shoes kept sticking to the floor.
I made my way blindly towards the urinal. A strange green light lit the room, and the glowing head of a water buffalo emerged from one of the toilets. It was clearly a pervert. I don’t like to complain –I’m not normally the sort of person who makes waves –I’m just an ordinary guy –Akira Average –nothing about me is distinctive in any way –I like to blend in and not complain –even when bizarre things happen to me in the restroom –but that stupid buffalo staring at me made it hard for me to do my business.
Eventually it was all right. I finished up, and zipped my pants. I decided to not wash my hands.
When I made my way back to the table, I noticed the music that was playing. It was Weird Al Yankovic, singing his parody of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”.
“I’m fat,” crooned Weird Al. “I’m fat…. you know it.”
I reached the table and sat down.
“You must think me a very terrible person,” said the woman.
“No, I don’t.” I said.
I was telling the truth. I really didn’t. The fact that her foot was resting in my soup didn’t make me happy, but that didn’t mean I thought she was terrible.
The woman began to cry, a rich throaty sound, like velvet-covered raindrops dropping softly on a swamp made entirely out of fudge.
“You’ve helped me so much,” she said.
I stroked her foot tenderly. Suddenly I wanted her. I wanted her with a burning intensity not unlike shoving Ben Gay up your nose. So we had sex. The other patrons pretended not to notice.
It was good sex, better than any I had had alone. There isn’t much to tell about it. She came. I came. The check also came.
“It’s my turn to go to the bathroom,” said the woman, when it was over.
She was telling the truth. It really was her turn to go.
As she got up to leave, I had the sensation that I had been holding the string of a red balloon. I had let go and it was floating slowly away from me. I don’t know what caused that thought to enter my head. Maybe it was the red dress she was wearing, or her roundish elliptical figure, and the cord attached to her leg.
After six hours, I had a sudden intuition that she wasn’t coming back. I got up and spoke to the maitre d’. It was just as I expected. The restaurant didn’t even have a women’s restroom. She was gone, and I had been pared away, like a chunk of toenail. I could feel myself flying across the room, and landing in the soup.
I settled the bill (it was several trillion yen) and left. On the way home I stopped at the post office. As had become my habit, I took a moment to speak to old Mr. Kumamoto.
“Do you know what I did during the war?” he asked. “I killed a man. Then I carved his heart out of his body and ate it.”
“I didn’t even think you were in the war.” I said.
He gave me a wink.
“Too right,” he said. “Too right.”