|Jul/Aug 2011 Fiction|
Photo by Leeca Desforges
"You read Japanese better than I," Hank Hashimoto says to his wife, Aurora Tanabe, who unlike himself went to Saturday Japanese school in San Francisco. "It's from my ex-girlfriend."
Aurora reads the letter.
"Weird," she says. "A dinner invitation from Booger Eater and her illustrious husband. Their place. No explanation. I should stop calling Erina that. If she hadn't dumped you for Yuji Kato we wouldn't be married."
Erina Wada was Aurora's student at Hank's junior college in Osaka. Aurora nicknamed her "Booger Eater" after Erina said in English conversation class that if you didn't have pickles you could salt your rice with your own nose dirt. She became Hank's lover when Aurora suddenly left him. She was still Hank's lover when Aurora returned after eighteen months and seduced him. She continued to be Hank's lover after Aurora suddenly left him again.
"Funny," Hank says. "If her husband wasn't a sculptor I might not have searched you out."
"I saw Kato's naked bronze of Erina in front of Shin Kobe Station and it bugged me. It made me determined to find you."
"How come you never told me that, Hank? It's cute. It's funny. A statue of your ex-girlfriend greeting people to the Shinkansen for all eternity. Booger Eater forever. Maybe people will start rubbing her breasts for good luck. Then her breasts will become shiny while the rest of her turns green with age. How do you feel about going? It might be fun."
"I'm okay if you are. Maybe Erina's husband will find you a university post."
While Hank is driving from their village outside Osaka to the sculptor's house on Mount Rokko in Kobe, Aurora says, "Considering I left you twice you were absolutely insane to look for me, Booger Eater's statue or not. I didn't deserve it."
"Right," Hank says.
Aurora laughs and says, "You know, there was one thing I liked about Booger Eater when she was my student. Slob that she was, she was forthright. She talked about going to love hotels and having violent fights with her father. Right in class."
"She could be so funny without meaning to be," Hank says.
"And vulgar without meaning to be. She ate her lunch and talked with her mouth full to her friend while I was teaching. And those crotch-level miniskirts. How did you straighten her out so she could graduate at the top of her class?"
"I made her give up smoking. Smoking was the first domino to fall. Then the rest of her bad habits went."
"It was love, Hank. I'm so glad I got you back. She was stupid to dump you."
"Maybe I was her last bad habit," Hank says. "Don't forget I dumped her when you showed up."
"She took you back after I ran off to Tahiti."
"Some bad habits are harder to discard," Hank says.
Yuji Kanto's large Western-style house overlooks Kobe. Kato himself answers the door. In his fifties, he is tall and heavy-set with a thick mustache, muttonchops and shoulder-length hair. He greets Hank and Aurora in a loud baritone, apologizes for his lack of English, and says, "I am so glad you came! Erina-san is getting ready. She was afraid you wouldn't come." Escorting them to his ground floor studio, he says, "We were happy when Hashimoto-sensei and Tanabe-sensei married."
"I'm not a sensei anymore," Aurora says. "Just a housewife looking for part-time university jobs."
"My big studio is at my university," Kato says. "That's where I do all my castings."
There are charcoal sketches of Erina on the walls and clay models of her on a wooden table in the small studio.
After the sculptor has gone upstairs to fetch Erina, Aurora whispers, "A shrine to Booger Eater."
"Can't take me anywhere," Aurora whispers back.
In the living room they meet Erina dressed in a formal kimono. She goes down on her knees to welcome her guests and thank them for the gift they brought. It is the first time Hank and Aurora have seen her not dressed in a miniskirt and her hair not dyed.
The dining room is Western-style and the dinner is French. "My man's a gourmet chef," Erina says as she serves the salad and consommé.
"Would anyone care for wine?" Kato says.
"Please," Aurora says.
"I'm driving," Hank says
"I cannot drink any more," Kato says. "The doctor won't let me."
"The women will drink," Erina says and pours Aurora and herself a glass of Chablis.
The couples are presently quiet. Erina breaks the silence.
"My father borrowed twenty thousand yen from me again," she says. "He said it was because he lost at mahjong. But I'm sure he is doing it with that red-headed foreign woman in the soap land."
"Ah-ha-ha-ha!" Kato laughs. "I like Erina-san's father. We used to drink together."
"That's how we found out Yuji-san has a weak heart," Erina says. "Fortunately the ambulance got to us in time."
"Oh dear," Aurora says in English and puts down her wine glass.
"Since he stopped drinking he's lost weight. Time for the main course. Help me, Yuji-san."
They bring in the coquille St. Jacques.
"You have a beautiful home," Hank says.
"Yuji-san worked hard for it" Erina says.
"I'm surprised how my life turned out," Kato says. "I have my family to thank. They stood by me and my work when I was struggling. They supported me after my marriage collapsed and when I was sick. They love Erina."
"His ex-wife ran away to France," Erina says.
"We never got along," Kato says. "In retrospect I'm happy she knew French."
"You family sounds like mine," Aurora says. Behind me, no matter what."
"Like Tahiti?" Erina says.
"Erina-san," Kato says.
"Sorry. I have a big mouth."
"That's right," Erina-san. And when I came back to San Francisco from Tahiti and hid in my room and cried for a month," Aurora says. "My mother comforted me. She said there is nothing I did that is as crazy as what she did. She ran off to Las Vegas to be a showgirl at eighteen and married a poor Japanese-American short order cook."
"Who now owns Tanabe's, a one of the best Japanese restaurants in San Francisco," Hank says.
"Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha! I'd love to meet your family," Kato says.
"If only I knew then there'd be a happy ending to my stupidities," Aurora says.
"Are you happy?" Erina asks.
"Very happy," Aurora answers.
"Good. Hank-san and I were happy, only not happy enough."
"I'd better say it," Kato says. "We're sorry, Hank-sensei. You are happy now, but Erina-san and I hurt you. We are deeply sorry."
He bows deeply to Hank and Erina bows too.
Hank and Aurora bow. Hank says, "Whatever happened was best for all of us."
"I'll drink to that," Aurora says.
"Me too," Erina says and down her wine. "Dessert time!"
"Sit," Kato says. "You'll drop it."
"Too much wine," Erina says and fills her glass and Aurora's. "Do you still call me Booger Eater?"
"I wouldn't think of it," Aurora says and drinks.
Hank nudges Aurora's foot with his and she nudges him back.
"I don't care," Erina says as Kato brings in the dessert tray with the fruit parfaits. "I call myself Booger Eater sometimes when I am so happy that I don't believe it's me."
"Is that English?" Kato asks as he distributes the desserts.
Erina tells him what "Booger Eater" means in Japanese.
"Ah-ha-ha-ha!" he laughs.
"How did you two find each other again?" Erina asks.
"First tell me how you and your husband met," Aurora says.
"We'd better have more wine," Erina says.
"You should take some wine home with you," Erina says. "We have rooms of it."
"How did you meet?"
"I was a secretary at his university. One day he asked me to pose for him. Before we knew it we were in love."
"I see," Aurora says.
"It's not like how you might think. We didn't do it until we were married."
"I'm moved," Aurora says.
"We got married a week after we met," Erina says.
"Ah-ha-ha-ha!" Kato laughs.
"And I had a woman problem before then..."
"Ah-ha-ha-ha! Ah-ha-ha! Erina-san, you'll give me a heart attack!"
"That's not funny," Erina says. "I hope you're not drinking behind my back."
"Good. Don't forget your medication before bedtime. Your turn, Aurora-san."
"Actually, we got married just after we reunited."
Hank says, "But finding Aurora took a long time, though we're both from San Francisco. I emailed her home in San Francisco and the emails kept bouncing back. Finally, one day I saw on the Internet that she was having a photographic exhibition at a Nob Hill gallery. I took time off from school and flew to San Francisco. I found the gallery and surprised Aurora."
"That's an understatement," Aurora says. "We hadn't seen each other for two years."
"Are you a professional photographer?" Kato asks.
"I have a Master of Fine Art from the San Francisco Art Institute but I never made money from photography," Aurora says.
"So anyway, you met at the gallery," Erina says. "What happened next?"
"We hugged and kissed and cried," Aurora says. "Then we had a great quickie wedding with his folks and my folks in Reno and beat it to Japan because Hank had to teach."
"I was expecting something more dramatic," Erina says.
"We'd already had enough drama. Way too much."
"Yuji-san," Erina says. "You need a man and a woman to model for that sculpture you're designing with me in it, don't you?"
"You'll be working with professional models, Erina-san."
"I don't feel right with professional models. How about Hank-san and Aurora-san?"
"I need nude models," Kato says.
"I don't mind being nude with Hank-san and Aurora-san. Do you two mind?"
"I think it'll be fun," Aurora says. "Hank, let's do it. It's for art's sake!"
"Well, all right," Hanks says, "If everyone feels comfortable with it."
"Are you usually so accommodating?" Kato asks Hank.
"He's very flexible," Aurora says. "I introduced him to a nudist beach when we were in Germany and he took to being naked with other naked people like he'd done it all his life."
"I've never been to a nude beach," Erina says. "Isn't it difficult for the men because they have to walk around sticking out?"
"Ah-ha-ha-ha!" Kato laughs.
Erina gives him a puzzled look.
"I have to be professional," Kato says to Hank and Aurora. "If you feel the least uneasy don't think of posing. But to tell the truth, I like working with amateurs. You'll get the best fees I can give."
"I'm fine," Aurora says.
"Me too," Hank says.
Erina removes her kimono. Hank and Aurora undress and fold their clothes over chairs in the dining room.
They go into the living room. Aurora and Erina look at each other's bodies and then they look at Hank. Hank looks at Kato opening his sketchbook.
"You should take your clothes off too," Yuji-san," Erina says.
"I'm the artist," he says. "Artists leave their clothes on."
Kato has Erina stand with her arms raised. He then has Hank and Aurora stand to the right and the left of Erina a few paces back and raise their arms. "Hold it as best you can," he says.
Fifteen minutes later it is over. Erina wraps herself back up in her kimono and Hank and Aurora dress.
"Perfect!" Kato says. "From only these sketches I can get to work tomorrow! I'll need Erina-san to pose for me one more time since she'll be the central figure. And Hank-san and Aurora-san, thank you so very much! You'll be rewarded handsomely."
"And you'll be part of an immoral work of art," Erina says. "What are you calling this sculpture, Yuji-san?"
"Jealousy?" Erina says. "Who's jealous?"
"Art and life are two different things," Kato says.
"So why do you have a big one in your pants?"
"Sometimes things that sound funny aren't funny," Erina says.
As they drive back to their village Aurora has her head on Hank's shoulder.
"It was nice of Yuji to promise to find you a university job," Hank says.
"It really was. And giving us all that wine. Erina told me she'll send another box of wine to us. You know, I forgot to ask her if she was listening when I seduced you in your office. When I said I had the nicest breasts in Osaka. You once mentioned she used that line when she seduced you."
"I'm glad you didn't ask," Hank says.
"Hank, how do you feel about being naked tonight?"
"I only hope my school doesn't find out. Germany is one thing. Japan is another."
"Are you ticked off?"
"I'm not ticked off, Aurora. Whatever happens, I believe we're lucky to have worked with this noted and enigmatic artist."
"What's Erina going to do when he dies?"
"Hank, I want to die before you die. I can't face life without you."
"I hope you don't get a hangover from tonight, Aurora."
"Hank, make love to me."
"We'll be home soon."
"I mean now. Stop at the next love hotel."
"I mean it, Hank. Do it if you love me."
"Okay. One love hotel coming up."
Hank finds a love hotel and drives into the parking garage.
Aurora's head is on his shoulder and her eyes are closed.
"Aurora," say Hank. "Aurora? Aurora?"
Aurora opens her eyes.