“You should have called me earlier,” Mie says brightly. “We could have met.”

I did but you kept hanging up on me, remember?

“I wanted to . . . ”

“Say, what are you doing Monday? If you’re free, how about getting together?”

The invitation is made so casually that I can hardly believe my ears. Six months earlier Mie was talking to me through the slit of a chained door and now she acts as if a reset button has been pressed. It’s the spring of 1992 all over again.

Can we go back to zero? Can we meet as if for the first time like we did one year ago? Can we get drunk in your bedroom and fall into each other’s arms again? Can we wake up the next morning, half undressed and a little embarrassed–but happy, too–about what had happened?

“Monday?” I said. “This Monday?”

“Yes, this Monday. Are you free?”

My nose is running and my eyes are filled with tears, and yet I’m smiling. It feels like ages since I last managed a genuine one.

“Yeah, Mie, I’ll be free after eight-thirty.”

“Alright then. Let’s meet in front of the Oyafukô Dôri Mister Donuts. Okay? You know where that is, don’t you?”

Of course I know where it is. We went there on Father’s Day last year, the day after you left Tetsu.

I let the receiver fall from my hand onto my lap as soon as she hangs up. I don’t know what to make of what has just happened or what Mie’s intentions are. She made no mention of Tetsu.

Have the two of them broken up? Has she been waiting all these months for me to contact her?

I go to my room and lie on my futon where I am overcome by a rare peace of mind, and, for the first time in months, I sleep like the dead.

*

All day Sunday, my co-worker Reina helps me move out of the condo deep in the suburbs of Fukuoka and into the new apartment closer to work, an effort taking most of the day because of the size of her car necessitates two trips.

Reina drives a Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. When I ask her if she knows what Pajero means, she says she doesn’t, that she loves the car so much she wouldn’t care if it meant dust box. She means trash can, but after lugging things from the eighth floor condominium I don’t really feel like correcting her English.

“I’m only going to tell you because you said it wouldn’t affect the way you feel about your wonderful little car here, but Pajero means masturbate in Spanish.”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“How embarrassing.”

“I’m sorry to be the one to have told you. Why, of all the things, why  would they ever name a car that?”

“Maybe they liked the sound of it.”

My new apartment is on the fourth and top floor of a medium-sized concrete-and-tile building. It’s representative of the crap that was thrown up during the bubble economy. The real estate boom of the 1980’s had every knucklehead with a bit of cash burning a hole in his pocket building on any old plot of land they could get their hands on with the expectation that prices would keep going up and up.

The apartment building was apparently built on land that used to be the landlord’s mother’s garden. Her dilapidated wooden house remains, uninhabited and leaning, as if from fatigue and shortness of breath, against the building. Thanks to the apartment towers rising fifteen-stories high to the southeast, south and west, most the sunlight is blocked. The whole house languishes in a damp and perpetual shade with the exception of one northern wall that gets a flash of sun in the afternoon. The wall is covered with a thick coat of ivy that has invaded the slats of wood and worked its way to the clay beneath it. The tiled roof, black with slime, is slowly disintegrating, the shattered remains of tiles and mortar litter the ground below the eves in a narrow mossy ditch, like dandruff on an old man’s boney shoulders.

Near the house and sharing the same sliver of noonday sun is a small Shinto shrine. A stray black and white cat with bobbed tail passes through the miniature red torii gate and crawls into a space under the shrine, disappearing into the darkness underneath.

The apartment itself is unremarkable. Shaped like an L, with a kitchen nook and an adjacent utility room and bathroom just off the long and narrow living room area, but is redeemed by an exceptionally large balcony that overlooks an oasis of green: the vast garden belonging to one of the few houses remaining in the neighborhood.

My new apartment, though not as comfortable as the condominium I’ve just given up, comes with enough amenities–a washer and dryer, a small fridge, an air conditioner and even a toilet equipped with a heated seat and bidet–that I don’t feel as if I’m sliding back into the same kind of impoverished squalor I had to endure the year I lived in Kitakyushu City.

Even Reina thinks I was lucky to get it. She would say so: it was her, after all, who found the apartment for me.

Reina and I end up spending the whole day together, precisely what I hoped would happen when she first offered to help. At a time when loneliness has been suffocating, the half hour I spend alone with her at the end of each workday has been like pure oxygen.

My desire to be with Mie aside, I might even have asked Reina out if it weren’t for the fact that I was standing at the very end of a discouragingly long queue, hands dug deep into my pockets and looking stupid just like all the other men who were infatuated with her.

Reina locks up her Mitsubishi Jerk-off as I carry the last of my things up the four flights of stairs. She follows behind me, pausing to check my mailbox. Once in the apartment, she hands me a pile of flyers.

I sit down on the hardwood floor, back against one of the sliding glass doors that open on to the balcony. She takes the place next to me, sitting close enough that our sweaty arms and legs touch.

There’s menu from a pizza delivery company called, God only knows why, Pizza Pockets.

“I hope they don’t actually carry the pizza their pockets,” I say.

“Maybe they stay warmer that way.”

“The pizza? Or the delivery boy?”

Reina laughs and her head comes to rest against my shoulder.

I ask her if you have to pay extra for the lint.

“The what?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I say. “You feeling hungry?”

She nods. I’d offer to cook for her if I’d had a scrap of food, let alone any pots or pans, in the apartment. She says I needn’t bother, that it would be easier to eat out at a restaurant in the neighborhood or have something delivered.

I continue sifting through the junk mail for other restaurants that deliver and come across a small sheet of paper with some kind of list printed on both sides. At the top of the page is a starburst with the boldfaced message: 5 videos for only 10,000 yen!!! With all the Chinese characters, I can hardly read it. Still, I don’t need to tax my imagination to figure it out: it’s a list of porn titles.

“I think I’ll keep this one,” I say.

“Here’s one you might like,” Reina says, pointing at one of the titles. “Lolicon Delux. Six dô sukebe High School Girls.”

“I know sukebe what means, but dô sukebe?”

“Very very sukebe.”

Six Very, Very Horny High School Girls. I see. And what about this one?” I ask pointing at a porn title written entirely in Chinese characters.

Reina tilts her head for a moment, then translates: “Sexually Frustrated, Explosion Breasts Step-Mother.”

“Explosion Breast Step-Mother? Hmm, intriguing, but I think I’ll pass. How about this?”

Midara-na Te OL. Hmmm. Lascivious Hand Office Ladies?”

“What on earth is the lascivious hand?”

Onanî,” she replies matter-of-factly.

I get the impression that I’m supposed to understand what onanî means and feel stupid that I don’t. “Onanî?”

“Yes, onanî. That’s English, right?”

“Does onanî sound like English to you?”

“No, now that you say so, it doesn’t, but . . . I just assumed it was English because it’s always written in katakana.”

“What does it mean, anyways? Curious minds want to know!”

“Pajero.”

“Good Lord!” And then it comes to me like a flash of inspiration. “Oh, now I get it. Onanî means onanism!”

“I told you it was English.”

“Yeah, but nobody says onanism. Masturbating Office Ladies. Very nice.”

Among other things, there is a pamphlet for something called “Blue Juice,” a nauseating concoction of herbs and wild grasses that is supposed to be good for you, a menu from an udon restaurant, and several full-colored flyers from a “Delivery Health” service advertising call girls.

Reina asks me if I know what the postcard-sized flyers are called.

I take a stab in the dark, “The Good News?”

“No, they’re called pinku chirashi.” Pink flyers.

“Why pink?”

Because, I’m told, the color pink has long been associated with pornography, prostitution, and such.

“Interesting,” I say. “In the US, the color blue is.”

“They’re called blue flyers in America?”

“No, no, no. Not the flyers, the industry. As far as I know, we don’t have these in the States. You put something like this in the wrong person’s mailbox and you’re liable to get arrested or sued by some nutty Christian.”

“Sued? Whatever for?”

“Because he’ll claim he’d been emotionally traumatized just finding it in.”

“Americans are stupid,” Reina says.

One of the pinku chirashi features a dozen girls posing in a variety of lingerie or costumes, such as a stewardess and policewoman. Most of them have hidden their identity by covering their faces with their hands.

The vitals of each are given, including their “name,” age, height, proportions and cup size, along with a short comment. 19 year old Momo here with the E-cups is “Very Good!!!” 172cm-tall Sumire is “Dynamite!” Aya is a “New Face!” Eighteen-year-old Nana might be a little needy in the chest department, but the flyer assures me that she is “Very, Very Popular!” And oh, yes, you “can AF” the 23-year-old Natsu, if you like! AF? Why anal fuck, of course. The girls will come to your home, hotel room, anywhere you like. But wait there’s more! All of the girls are “Amateurs.”

Yeah, right.

I place the pinku chirashi on the “keep” pile, saying, “You never know when they might come in handy.”

“Have you ever done it?” Reina asks.

“Done what?”

She points to the pinku chirashi.

“With a prostitute? No, never.”

“Really? Why not? A friend of mine went after winning seventy thousand yen at the boat races. He spent it all at soapland.”

“Seventy thousand yen! Just to get laid? What a waste!”

“Not to him. He said it was like he had died and gone to heaven.”

I don’t know about Reina, but with all this talk of soapland, “delivery health” and adult videos, I tempted to give into the “lascivious hand” myself.

“Your gas is switched on, isn’t it?” Reina asks getting off the floor.

“Yeah, I think so. Why?”

“Well, I’m really sweaty and would like to take a shower. If you don’t mind, that is.”

“Mind? No, not at all. I was thinking of taking one myself.”

My heart is racing like a hummingbird’s, my head is light with the titillating possibilities suddenly arrayed before me. “W-w-why don’t you go ahead and h-h-hop into the shower first. I’ll get you a towel.”

Reina disappears behind the half curtain in the entrance to the utility room where she starts to undress. As I open a box looking for my towels, I catch a glimpse of her jeans dropping to her ankles, then her panties. My heart is in my throat, pounding away mercilessly. My hands shake. After I hear her enter the bathroom and turn on the water, I enter the utility room, dizzy with excitement, and place the towels atop the washing machine. The shower door hasn’t been completely shut offering me a long slice of her slim body. I can’t help but look. I stare shamelessly at her right leg and soft right buttock, her narrow waist and back, the light brown curls that fall on her square shoulder. She suddenly turns around, sending me scrambling clumsily out of the utility room and knocking the curtain down.

“Peador?”

I try to answer, but lust has made my mouth go dry.

The water is turned off, the shower door opens abruptly, and Reina pokes her head out of the utility room.

“Peador, there’s no hot water.”

She emerges from the utility room wrapped in a towel, and after hanging the curtain back up, walks into the kitchen, where a moment later exclaims, “Atta, atta! Here it is.”

I’m moved by curiosity to follow her wet footprints into the kitchen where I find her crouched down and turning a valve under the sink. Her pale bottom peeks out from beneath the towel. Turning her head, she notices me gawking down at her, and says, “What you looking at?”

“N-n-nothing.”

She closes the cabinet door, then stands and presses a button on the wall making a small green light come on. A second red light turns on when she lets water in the kitchen sink run.

“Yosh,” she says, turning around. “You’ve got hot water now.”

“So that’s how you turn me . . . er, it on.”

Reina’s maddeningly gorgeous, and I can barely keep myself from ripping the thin terrycloth towel off, and burying my face in her crotch.

The only thing stopping me, however, is tomorrow night’s date with Mie.

Nevertheless, I’m like a volatile gas. All that is needed is one tiny spark–an inviting touch, or a half step that would bring our bodies closer– then, I wouldn’t have an excuse to keep from pulling her into my arms. I wouldn’t have to hold back the kisses. All it would take is one small caress to ignite me. One kiss, and I’d burn this apartment building to the ground.

Reina takes that precious half step forward, her body just brushes mine and my erection is peering out of the front left pocket of my Levis like a periscope. But nothing happens. I’m frozen, unable to move. Paralyzed with indecision, all I manage to do is let a pathetic little gasp of air out as she passes.

I’m a buffoon, an impotent buffoon.

I should grab Reina’s arm, tug at the towel so it falls to the floor, and do exactly what I’ve had a mind to do all day. My hand rises. It’s an involuntary reaction; my instincts, God love ’em, are finally kicking in! But just as my finger grazes her arm, I catch a glimpse of Mie’s pajamas in the clear plastic container.

Reina pauses before the curtain. “Yes?” she asks.

“I, I’m just going to get some beer at the Seven Eleven. You want anything?”

She says she doesn’t need anything, and ducks under the curtain.

Go after her! Follow her, you feckin’ idiot. Now or never!

I see the towel drop to the floor, hear the shower door close and the water start to run. I can’t stand it anymore. I back step it quickly into the kitchen, unbutton my jeans and start to pajero over the sink.

What little remained of my dignity has been completely forfeited.

© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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