Before she woke to the rustling in her garden, Hidari Wasayama cleared stones from an endless path. No people, no food or water. Just her job, to bend down and retrieve the smooth shapes and deposit them in a great pit. Not even a wind to mess her hair.
In bed she waved away the dream with urgency. Hyacinths, sweet potatoes, radish all at floral or vegetative risk from a nosy cat.
She didn’t move at first; the sound of rooting filtered to her through the window. She breathed in the sharp, wet odors of vegetables and worn boards. When she got up she groped for the flashlight, thumbed it on, and slid her feet into their block sandals. At once the noises quit. One likely specie at this point. The first stirrings of fear knotted her belly.
Separated by concrete, the old woman and her prowler waited in parallel, sniffing different, but equally fragrant pockets of air. Hidari felt an axis binding them together; Sho Norito’s ghost. Another soul with displaced mabui. She reflected, not for the first time, that she deserved whatever was about to happen. Then the visitor crunched through unripe melons and peppers, and she hustled out with the flashlight carving arcs through her property.
“Stop, whoever it is!”
She lit up the retreating calves of a crouching man who fled behind Tatsuo’s house in ragged leaps. Injury or permanent limp.
She chased him into the yard, hands on the flashlight scanning for roots and rocks. The mild air advised her to ease her concerns, not add to them. The sea murmured as a breeze cupped Hidari’s ears and whisked round the corner of Tatsuo’s house.
The white man ensnared himself in a clothesline full of drying undergarments. He flapped and shook with the briefs over his face, yelps muffled and punching through the cloth. Hidari chased him down, prodded him with the flashlight so its beam focused into a disc against his ribs.
“Explain your behavior,” she said in English.
The man tripped into the dirt, chin first, spraying mulch over the clean laundry. A frantic kick missed Hidari by a toe’s length. Yanking the underwear from his face, he swatted again at the flashlight, saying, “Stop, stop, stop, please I’m not trying to take anything, I don’t want to hurt anyone. Can you stop with the flashlight, Christ sakes, let me explain. I’m innocent.”
Hidari pulled back and waited, arms akimbo. The sharp ray of the flashlight pulled the beach into focus. Instinctively, Glen followed the light until it faded before the waves that gummed the shore.
“I am attentive.”
“You’re not going to call the police?”
“You will not know what I do until I decide it. And no funny things—I am armed.”
“Armed. Yeah, okay. With an Uzi and a samurai sword.”
Glen weighed his options. He could bowl her over, stuff socks down her throat, wrap her up in the clothesline, and make haste. But he needed human assistance, and she was extending a hand, never mind how wrinkly.
“I was jogging. Got robbed by three guys.”
“Robbed? Where, in Tsugunai? By melon farmers in Hawaiian shirts?”
Glen’s Adam’s apple surged and bounced off the base of his skull. Spit pearled his lips. “No, east, near Nago. They just jumped on me.”
Hidari fixed him under the light: running shorts, Thailand Summer Marathon t-shirt, dirty trainers with neon shoelaces. Muck stains on his thighs.
“You should notify the police.”
“I did—they told me to go home. You know what they’re like, they didn’t take me seriously. I don’t even have my wallet anymore, I can’t go back to the hotel.”
“Because I checked out this morning.”
“And then did jogging?”
“What do you want, I can’t jog after I leave a hotel?”
“It is strange, I believe, to do such a thing.”
“Listen, I don’t fuc—freaking tell you what’s strange with you, all right? Jesus. I checked out and I went jogging.”
Hidari glowered over white spokes of light that masked the man’s face. She seemed unaware that she was ninety-one and substantially weaker than Glen, no matter the injury.
“I find this hard to believe.”
“What do you want? Fine, leave me then, I don’t give a sh—I don’t care.”
“Leave you? A thief? You were eating out of my garden.”
“I don’t have any money. I can’t buy anything to eat.”
“You have no money. You are hungry and you wandered into my home after the police reject you.”
“You know, your English is surprisingly good.”
Her mouth tightened to a slim, leaden line. “I have been in your capital many times.”
“Okay, see, that’s good, right? Because I was there, too. I was station—I mean I lived there. So you can help me. Just some food and a tourniquet, like a bandage, and I’ll be fine.”
“Food and medicine?”
“Yeah, if that’s…”
Hidari hissed through her nose. She looked at the water and at Tatsuo’s house. “Help me put this clothesline back up.”
Inside her house, Hidari made tea and bound Glen’s misshapen leg with a wrap.
“How did three robbers do this?”
“Baseball bat. Just—whack, right here.” He pointed to the heavy, purple swelling around his shin. His teeth were orange with nicotine.
They drank sencha with the wind groaning over the tiled roof. Inside their breaths clotted the den and sweat trickled from the backs of their ears, darkening the rear collars of their shirts. Glen sat with his leg propped on a rattan chair.
“Thank you, ah, ma’am.”
“You ate my peppers.”
“I’ll buy you peppers.”
“I thought you lost all your money.”
“When I, like, get it back, you know.”
“How will you do this?”
He shrugged. He started to laugh, screwed up his eyebrows, and coughed wetly. “I don’t know. I just need to get out of here, you know? Get off this place.”
“With no wallet, no ID? You look like military.”
“I’m ex, not anymore. Just here on vacation. See the fish and shit. Not expecting to get robbed, that’s for sure.”
Hidari did not quite narrow her eyes, but she focused on Glen’s face, on his flushed bald spot. “Would you mind if I called the police? I am sure they will be more serious with an Okinawan.”
“What? Come on, what’s the use? I just need to rest up and be on my way.”
“Out of here, yeah. Find some peace and quiet. You know if Taiwan is easy to get to by boat?”
“Why would you go there?”
“For like peace and quiet. Vacation. Just to go.”
“Just to go. And what is your name?”
“Adam, uh, Tangerine.”
“What is it?”
“Adam.” Glen looked at his hands and at the discoloration on his leg. He sucked on his teeth. “Tangerine.”
“Like the fruit.”
“Yeah, like the fruit. My family’s…Indian.”
Hidari nodded. She poured a second cup of tea for each of them and sat down, lacing her fingers together on the table. Wrinkles pulled at the corners of her eyes as she smiled, wrinkles along her brow and mouth and neck.
“My family is Okinawan.”
“Yeah, that’s cool…I guess that makes sense.”
“I do not think you are Indian. I think you expected my English to be very bad, and you are making up a poorly rehearsed story. If you injured yourself while involved with some illegal activity, that is your business. I will not call the police, but I expect an apology for stealing my vegetables. I spend a great deal of time caring for them.”
Glen hung his head, young and chastised. Dirt smeared his elbows, his thumbs and chin, and he moved to brush some off but stopped in mid-motion. Hidari pushed easily to her feet and fetched him a damp rag.
He wiped his face and looked down into the crumbled bits of soil. Kumiko was over. His lust had faded to deep, engulfing numbness, in line with man’s misery after a fiercely realized desire.
“I am sure you are.”
His crooked teeth peeked out from lips chapped the color of bleached carpet. He pinched the flesh of his leg, winced, and pinched it a second time.
“You don’t have any alcohol, do you?”
“Here? I do not. I have little need of it.”
He gave out dry, rustling barks of laughter. “We’re pretty different then. I mean, I guess that’s obvious.”
“What are you, slow?”
Glen jerked his head, unable to mask the anger. Pain branched past his knee into his upper thigh, filling his head with barbs and gutting efforts at peace or reason. Hurt animal: self-centered until it can make its pain meaningful.
“I’m not stupid. Hey, I’m not stupid, okay? I graduated.”
“I am sorry. I did not mean to insult.”
“Well, the word ‘slow’ is fucking insulting.”
“So is this word ‘fucking’.”
“No, ‘fucking’ doesn’t mean anything. Are you going to call the cops?”
“Only if you are.”
“Shit, well I’m not. My leg is killing me here. You got any painkillers? Medicine?”
“Wait here, please.” She vanished into the narrow kitchen. Glen scanned for weapons in the den. A clay pot, some books, an unguarded pen. Low table made of thick wood.
He’d lost his knife on the run—some soldier. No ID to creep on base.
Kumiko, too, was on the highway: dead, alive, lost and taped in a smashed van. A miniature demon with a starched navy blue outfit. He just had to force her down a peg for good measure, see her frowning for once.
Ungratified, Glen chewed his raggedy lip, steaming off the ill-spent bender that had landed him here. It was only sex. He didn’t want to go to Japanese prison, or worse: Leavenworth, Kansas, the Disciplinary Barracks. He was empty inside, and his future seemed bleaker than ever. The act hadn’t changed him.
What about her?
Fuck her, she was done with. She deserved everything she had coming. Secure in this knowledge, if not with himself, Glen pounded his fists together and planned for the abyss that was sure to follow. When Hidari came back he downed two aspirin and shut his eyes to the foreign surroundings. Rubber plant, bare table, Rambo grandma. Shit. His sweet-eyed dream had looked better in the comic books.