She always walked by herself; that was the first sign she was perfect. Glen stood under a vaulted sky of turquoise, no clouds at all, marking his quarry from across the street. Prissy schoolgirls deserve whatever they get. He couldn’t help it. They shouldn’t have left him upstairs, forgot him while they tossed their voices back and forth like the whole globe was built for their precious laughter. She wasn’t so young, either, when you really looked. There were women and there were men. Americans and everyone else.
“Vote for Governor Ikazawa November 28! Support American base relocation and fairer taxes! A strong leader for a strong Okinawa!”
The propaganda car blocked her for the time it took to curse in frustration. Then a lush, depthless shot of calves—hairless—gracing the avenue. Glen squirmed like a prawn roasting on a teppan. Eager, gnawing a torn lip, hands squeezed into fists in his pockets.
Look at her. He couldn’t tell if he loved her or wanted her dead.
An old woman buzzed by on a motorbike, leaving behind the reek of gasoline. People here never retired; even the grandmothers raced around on 100c Hondas to reach the vegetable market. Glen noted the time on his watch and smiled at the girl’s receding figure. Heart-curvy peek of cheek! Watch her hopping alone over the sidewalk, bubbled from worry or pain or struggle. Briskly independent, blue skirt, cool blazer and scarf. She was perfect like peeling away your raincoat at the end of a thankless Friday and drinking right through the Sabbath.
Okinawa City carried a sickly quality in its light: expect a storm soon. Walking around he anticipated only bruises, and his mother had taught him rightly. Two tours in Iraq, eighteen months of his life. Where was the goodness and safety in that? God-forgotten desert and stones, bootleg DVDs by the barrel, outside Fallujah’s wasted Dreamland.
A cockroach toddled near his foot and he crushed it. Wipe the guts across the sidewalk, splatter all foreign sources. Anything with a carapace should be melted with napalm or white phosphorus. Latrines in OIF had been dark for safety, but the toilet bowls were full of scorpions. He still didn’t drop his full weight on the seat here.
Glen tailed the student around the corner, keeping to his side of the street. Shops and passersby all around. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was only looking.
He fished out a cigarette and smoked as he planned. The girl swung her arms with a loopy grace, yet her back was held straight. They must drill them to sit up proper in school. Did she like gymnastics? Long legs. Gawky. Maybe she’d need glasses one day …
He, scratching his groin, needed a drink, except the new curfew banned alcohol off-base. Which didn’t help the Okis any; they loved American dollars, even if they spat on the pale alien faces sketched across them.
The girl slipped into a house. Low, blocky, white with tiled roof. Housekey hidden under the shisa, a carved token crossed between a dog and a lion. He recited the address from memory and lingered a moment, trying to see in through the window. The glare was too strong.
“Beautiful day,” he said, and strolled to the American neighborhood for a burger. Noodles, like anything long and slick, revolted him.
Okinawa City boasted a U.S. neighborhood near the base, complete with Ferris wheel, barbecue, and Starbucks, although the pleasant coffee empire had penetrated Japan long ago. American Town was designed to make servicemen feel at home, much like Chinatowns did for survivors of the People’s Republic.
Along the way to this den of nostalgia, Glen passed a used car lot full of Hyundais and a trinket store called Chinese Pete’s, which had somehow prospered enough to occupy three stories. He chose a silver ‘50s-style diner for his early supper.
“Good afternoon, sir!” said the waiter, bowing.
In a booth by himself, Glen read the beer advertisements. Budweiser and Coors Lite, plus the local brand, Orion, which tasted like shit but still beat seltzer. Could he sneak a nip before work? Not out here, where every employee knew the rules. Half the bastards had family working on-base, and the media spread every change in protocol, probably got wind of it before he did.
“This burger’s overcooked,” he said. “I want it bleeding like a liberal in Bed-Stuy.”
He pushed his plate away and frowned. “Listen, I’m not paying for this. I want it rare.”
“Sorry, sir, of course.”
Round two. He spat out a mouthful of his replacement patty. “You put mustard on this. Remember when I said no mustard?”
The waiter scratched his head.
“You can’t understand me? Mustard. None. None of it.”
“Don’t give me that ‘I don’t make changes to food’ shit. I know you can stop squirting mustard on a sandwich. Take this garbage away.”
The waiter looked back towards the kitchen, as if hoping for someone to rescue him. He bowed his head and removed the plate.
Meal number three arrived.
“Now that’s nice. See? Not so hard. It’s practically raw.”
Glen bit through the pink, bleeding flesh and let its juices run down his neck. In the middle he hit something springy and found what looked to him like a testicle. Soft on the outside, hard at the core. He stared at the object for a long time, the burger squeezed in both hands so hard the bun ripped. “Fuck it,” he said. He walked out without paying to a desperate bar off Kokusai-dori that would sell him a beer, SOFA protocol or no.