In the interest of being honest, I fucked someone else fifteen minutes before we met. In the pay toilet at the Peace Park, room for only me, this guy, the squat toilet, the sign that said Gyōgi yoku shi nasai – Mind your manners. He laughed at some half-formed joke I made and turned me around. I was tan from a summer spent lying on the deck of the Eco-Hotel near Ganne-Moon Beach. Remember when Tony didn’t care how long you laid out or whether you ordered a single thing, as long as you were gaijin, in a bikini, and talked to everyone as if you really, really, truly missed home?
This was not for traditionalist young men with short haircuts and polo shirts like I might have favored at home. Japan was a sexual minefield, and by then I already had a well-trodden path.
But the bathroom guy was Kenji. He was one of my night students and he had no clue how much I liked him. He had heard rumors that I was leaving Japan, so he met me in the park, which was near his office, and then, you know. His eyes were lined a faint grey, like he’d put on makeup and then tried to rub it off. He’d said “Good girl,” like he was my grandpa and I’d finished all my cooked cabbage. I know he didn’t mean it that way. That’s the thing about language: If you listen for what you want to hear, the words themselves don’t matter.
And you know about Hiroshima. It was easy to flummox some men. If I pouted my lips, if I exposed a bra strap, if I tugged my bangs across my forehead, just slightly obscuring one eye. If I stood very close and whispered “Sumimasen” and crawled, two-legged, off the bus. This was not for everybody. This was for salarymen just off work, tired old pachi-puro, kinky otaku types. This was not for traditionalist young men with short haircuts and polo shirts like I might have favored at home. Japan was a sexual minefield, and by then I already had a well-trodden path.
This was before I knew you, of course. Before you found me that afternoon in the Peace Park, you on your welcome tour, me drunk on Tennesssee whiskey at three in the afternoon (6,000 Yen for one modest bottle). Cassie Corko introduced us, didn’t she? She said, “Here is your future wife, Dumb-Dumb.” I didn’t pay much attention after I saw your whiteboyness. It’s like Cassie would say, What’s the fun? Pretty soon he’ll realize that because he’s blond, they think he looks like Brad Pitt.
But then you said, “You’re cute when you’re fucked up.”
“I don’t know what to say to that,” I said.
“Works for me,” you said.
For dinner, we went to Petit Moulin. You liked it then, even though you try to pretend that you never did. You ordered sazae for both of us. I told you that when I worked in Kochi, my boss used to go diving for sea snails off the city pier. He would come home soaked, his wet suit pulled halfway down, his big belly glinting like a gem. He’d present us a plastic bag full of clacking snails. And his wife – she was so nice, so deferential to him – would boil them and teach me how to spear the innards with a toothpick and pull them out for consumption. It put me off shellfish: that chewy texture, that watching them watch you absolutely hate this piece of their culture.
Like I said, this was before you. Before garlic dipping sauce and glugged sancerre and your thick eyelashes pulling focus. Before you joking that we could dine and dash. Before me saying that the management wouldn’t know how to describe us to the police except to say, “Brad Pitt and a girl –big eyes, big chest, too fat.” Before we stopped by the bathroom on the way out and you pulled me in with you and kissed me with hot, mint-sweet breath. Before you said my name, “Veronica,” letter-perfect, like you’d known how to say it your whole life. Before you locked the door behind us and I tried to remember when I stopped missing home, when I became an “outside person.”
And you might not remember, but you said, “Have you ever done this before?”
And I said, “No.”
Then you said, “What’s wrong with being a little crazy? It’s like we’re on vacation.”
And I wanted to say, “This is the fourth year of my vacation.” But instead of that I hugged you hard, wanting our bodies to fuse into one innocent self.
After that I made us leave, amidst you saying something about other girls you knew and how they might’ve reacted to your spontaneous hard-on, to an otherwise empty bathroom, to a date that had gone so well so far.
We walked home the long way, around the perimeter of the Genbaku Dome, me pretending I was the only thing real and permanent left in the world. You put your arm around my shoulder, even though I didn’t expect it. It was like you forgave me, but I hadn’t done anything wrong.
You said, “It’s beautiful here. I kind of feel like we own the city.” And I looked up, just past the top of the dome, the exposed lattice of its ceiling. I didn’t think about my job or my family or my sadness or planes flying over just this spot dropping fire. I only thought about you and how much you had to learn. I felt small but safe, bound in place like a child tucked in tight.