Dana drove the Charger with a sidearm to her head. No rain. Both headlights were out, and the fender had been torn off as she backed out of her own warped vehicle, but the missing tire was the worst part. She’d screwed on the only spare to the right side and managed as well as she could, which still made for a lopsided journey toward Tsugunai. As soon as possible they left the highway and took back roads. Dana professed total ignorance; her navigation skills were limited to the immediate area around Heiwa Air Force Base, but Yoshio had encouraged her to become creative.
“This car isn’t going to make it very far,” she said.
“Don’t think negatively.”
“Don’t act negatively.”
“I can’t help it, you see; it’s just a habit at this point.”
“Addressing issues with the requisite closure.”
Dana trawled her tongue along her teeth to mop up the reek of vomit, but it didn’t help. She moved at a crawl in the darkness, praying—for the first time since last year, which means she had broken her promise—that a car wouldn’t fly headlong into them.
“First car you see, honk,” he said.
Within ten minutes an old Hyundai truck puttered towards them. Dana beeped and pulled over and the truck rolled up beside them and its driver rolled down the passenger window.
“No headlights,” said the driver in Okinawan. “You need replacements.”
Yoshio smiled in his most disarming fashion, though it was so dark it didn’t matter. “Can you help us out?”
The driver inspected the damage with a flashlight. He whistled. He asked if they had gotten into an accident and Yoshio said they had; the police were all tied up right now dealing with the typhoon. They were on their way to a friend’s place while the winds were calm and would fix up the machine later. When the driver offered them a lift (it was dangerous in such a ruined vehicle), Yoshio enlisted the driver’s help to get him in the cab. The driver asked him if he needed to go to a hospital, and Yoshio said he didn’t think so. A few days’ rest would heal it. Dana didn’t say a word the entire time, but only stared up the dark road with a deep, distant unease. The farmer remarked that it was a shame such a lovely car had been turned to junk. You didn’t see so many old Chargers anymore.
When Yoshio was seated and the driver stood next to him on the street he removed his Sig Sauer and shot the man in the middle of the forehead, once, smiling as if helping up a friend who had fallen. Dana scuttled into the driver’s side on Yoshio’s orders. She was complicit but more than anything she wanted to see her husband again; love as well as money can cripple the soul. They drove north.
The truck pulled into Tsugunai as the sun pushed itself with a final heave over the East China Sea. Thick clouds rushed to cover the purple and scarlet light; a smattering of rain fell.
“Climb over me and get out. Watch the leg,” said Yoshio.
Dana did this, wondering how a murder would occur in daylight. She could see people trudging down the beach. Yell out anything and they’d be sure to look. This guy’s got a gun. Killer. Criminal. Call the police. Her Japanese failed her, but even still, in her heart she knew she would keep silent. All this fight and independence, travelling across the world, for what? A failure of silence while abetting a criminal. Her father giggled in his petit bourgeois grave, giggled and confirmed the essential weakness he had seen in Dana from Day One, when he had pronounced her a “spineless-looking monkey.” Granted, he wouldn’t have noticed how verbal and physical abuse contribute to a long-nursed shyness, because he was sozzled out of his mind every day.
“Help me down,” said Yoshio. No sign of the gun, but it was in that nasty loud jacket of his, pregnant with human death. “We’re looking for some medical care during this nasty storm.”
“Sure.” Dana helped him limp to a concrete home fitted with shisa dogs. Male protector, female greeter. Both wooden and carved to look attentive: harmonious pair. Bring me good luck, please, and keep this asshole out.
Something in the sky clicked and rain cascaded as a roaring sheet, pelting them like actors who’d failed onstage. So much for fortune.
Yoshio rapped on the door; in control, readymade grin beneath his Ray-Bans. No one answered.
“Hello,” he said. “We’re looking for some help.”
Dana tightened arms, legs, abs, everything that could respond to danger. Slam his face against the door-panel. Run. But shit, she was paralyzed.
“Hello? Are you looking for Ms. Wasayama?”
An old man poked his head from the neighboring house.
“Oh, it’s you! Still looking for her, eh? Please, come in, it’s raining quite a bit out here.”
Yoshio sloughed off his jacket in the doorway. Gun in the waistband, or under the arm? The old man wouldn’t outrun him, but Dana was fitter than most forty-year-olds, and he could do no more than limp.
So split his kneecap.
So run away instead of climbing into the car with pop. Protest instead of asking him about his day while he swerves nine kinds of drunk across the highway. Without seatbelts, no less.
Dana knew better than to draw a parallel to her father, but they both forced those around them—people weaker than them—into slavery. She could study all the links she wanted when she made it back home. Right now she needed to concentrate. If she could get her cell phone back. If she could use a phone in this house. If she could warn this guy who didn’t speak English—
“Hey, an American!”
A teenage girl breezed into the hall and waved. Bangs and a bright shirt that fit Harajuku better than a fishing and farming village.
They made introductions. Dana didn’t look for signs from the hitman, but she figured he would certainly advertise his plans when the time came.
“Did you invite the American to tea, Aomi? My English is not so good.”
“Hey, come in and drink stuff. You too, I guess, man—what’s your name?”
“Mugen? Like the guy from Samurai Champloo?”
A long pause. Yoshio cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah.”
She stared at him, neck craned to the side. Lots of make-up around the eyes.
“He’s Okinawan, you know.”
“Yeah…so you wouldn’t happen to have a first-aid kit, would you?”
The girl spun and bounced into the kitchen, hair shining in the storm’s deformed twilight, aware only of her infinite plans. “Maybe, I don’t know. I’m from Tokyo, too, by the way.”
Yoshio grinned. Dana wondered if these people saw the sickness under the plastic sheen. Tatsuo applied salve and bound up the man’s leg with a proper medical wrap.
“Feel any better, Mr. Mugen?”
“Wonderful. And it’s just Yoshio, Mr. Koja. Your efforts are much appreciated.”
“Glad I could be of help!” Tatsuo smiled with relief, as if he had been the one helped. He poured tea with great care and concentration. “You know, my eyes aren’t so good these days—sometimes I pour the tea directly onto the table! But thankfully the rest of me is in proper shape.”
“Grandpa exercises every day at five. He’s crazy when it comes to stretching.”
Arranged in a circle around the rosewood table, the group stared at various points to cope with the awkwardness of a first meeting: the varnished woodgrain under their fingers, the windows, hazy with the downpour, which faced the dunes and the East China Sea, and the strange woodcut of propeller planes nailed to the wall near the front door.
“Did you tell them we’re out of turmeric?”
“No one cares about spices, Grandpa.”
“I do. It’s good for the blood. Everything on this island is healthy. Nourishes the soul.”
“Like the deadly habu viper, of course,” said Yoshio, “or the box jellyfish, which can kill you with a single sting.”
“Well, habu viper is quite delicious when pickled…”
“What the hell are you guys talking about?” Aomi pulled her hair in frustration. She widened her eyes at Dana, looking for support.
The psychologist was so lost she assumed they were talking about tea. She gave up trying to follow the banter, and listened instead to the rain pelt the roof like it had outside Muscle Shoals, while her pop scraped and bowed to Wilson Pickett at the studio.
“So, I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m here, bothering poor Ms. Wasayama. The fact is I’m studying the Okinawa Peace Movement for a book I’m writing, and I wanted to ask her a few questions. My associate Dr. Tamashi has been kind enough to assist me after I foolishly hurt myself riding my motorcycle.”
“And how is the leg feeling now? You must eat, eat, build up your strength.”
“Thank you, sir. Because of your efforts, my limb feels fine enough to dance butoh with Atsushi Takenouchi.”
“Oh, be careful, I will request a performance! Or you could try out our eisa style.” The old man showed a few steps, eager to capture a few seconds of the past. Yoshio and Dana clapped; Aomi pulled an awkward face and rolled her eyes from side to side.
“It is nothing, thank you, I appreciate your attention.”
Tatsuo brought eggs and rice, some microwave chicken wings. He apologized for the inadequate meal and hurried to pour more tea for the guests.
“Delicious, this American food,” said Yoshio.
“Yes—although if I eat too much, I’ll blow up into a humpback whale!”
“Grandpa, you couldn’t get fat if you tried.”
“With a McDonald’s on every corner, I certainly can. It’s even more important these days to preserve my discipline.”
Yoshio tore into another wing. “I couldn’t agree more.”
Dana, however, forced her way through the meal in a stupor. The car slewed out of control. She crawled out the window. Dragged Juzo into the bushes because Yoshio really wanted to keep the Charger, blood in the trunk be damned. He couldn’t leave a 426 hemi!—although he had an hour later.
“You and Ms. Wasayama will have so much to speak about. Two intelligent minds.”
“And it’s a politics thing, or what?”
“More of a history lesson. Immortalizing the mind of pacifist doctrine, which Ms. Wasayama certainly is. Ah, could I trouble you for a beer? It’s morning, I know, but we’ve been up most of the night, so I confess it still feels like the previous day.”
“Of course, of course; all you have to do is ask, like that old song says.” Tatsuo rose quickly, easily for an old man, and hustled off.
Aomi tapped a finger against her chin. She cocked her head and studied the man in the blue coat with the powers available to an educated young mind. “Beer at dawn, huh? So you’re from Shinjuku.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You just look like you’d own a bar in Kabukichou.”
Yoshio laughed because his boss owned several there. He, however, lived in Nicho. The gay quarter.
“What’s that?” said Tatsuo, bearing cans of Orion. He handed them out, eager to feed and comfort, since he was apparently hosting a storm party. “I figured we can all have a beer, unusual circumstances. Except for Aomi here.”
The girl beamed and wobbled her head in parody of her grandfather, who failed to notice. “Yoshio was just telling us about his life in Tokyo.”
“Was he? I have never been there myself, but my daughter lives near Roppongi Hills. A very fashionable area.”
“It’s Nishi-Azabu, but I’m not rich or anything,” Aomi said in English. “My mom works her butt off to afford a crappy apartment, and I never see her or anything. My dad’s American, but he’s a deadbeat, because he left.”
“Military?” said Dana, popping her can with relief.
“Navy. No money for a lawyer, blah blah. Move to Tokyo for a better life, grandpa saved up and sent us over.”
“That must have been very trying.”
“I mean difficult. Hard.”
“Oh. I don’t know, it was just life.”
Dana unfolded her hands and chuckled. “You sound like me.”
Aomi squished her eyes to the size of charred soybeans as she cut her nail into the tabletop. “I hate when people say that.”
“When they relate themselves to you?”
“Late for what?”
“No, when people feel the way you feel.”
Aomi sat back and pondered. She chewed a lock of hair, slid her lips along her perfect bangs. She grabbed her grandfather’s beer and stole a sip.
“Aomi, that’s alcoholic, did you know—”
“I don’t trust it,” she said.
“Aomi, what are you saying? I hope you’re being polite. I never learned English myself, you know. No time. But Mr. Mugen, would you be so kind as to tell us about Tokyo? In Japanese, perhaps?”
Yoshio sighed as though he had prepared his life story well in advance of the question. As he spoke he rolled his beer between dry palms, absorbing the drops of condensation from the aluminum and squeaking slightly against the can.
“Tokyo is peaceful. People will tell you otherwise but it’s the most humdrum place on the globe. Folks get up, ingest food, and kiss their wives on the cheek before heading to work. They play soccer, ride the train, and purchase items online and in physical stores. They drink, gamble, and go to love hotels with an occasional stranger or friend. They read manga and occasionally write short, punchy emails filled with topical humor. They are wholly confined by strict and unbreakable cultural codes. They vote and watch political debates and attend universities for jobs with the hope of increased pay. They play videogames and drink flavored energy drinks in their rooms. They spend hours applying makeup and choosing outfits that reflect the latest fashions, so as to impress people of the same and opposite gender. They cook food and purchase snacks from a variety of high-tech vending machines. They watch movies and critique them in Internet forums and at small, intimate get-togethers. They profess love and hide their true feelings. They weep at tragedies and wear facemasks when they’re sick and eat anonymously in subway ramen shops. They treat life like a series of multicolored foam blocks arranged in interesting shapes over a chasm, choosing the best route possible with their current resources and willpower. They project a vibrant and silly façade to cover the dark savagery of human nature, and they value the proper outlets for containment and the proper outlets for intense expression. They are, at heart, a well-put-together people whose disturbing undercurrent makes them painfully, beautifully human.”
Dana had understood nothing of the speech, but could only infer its oddity from the other’s expressions. Now would be a nice time to sprint out the door and keep running, far, fast, across the ocean to Alabama. Call Haruki and meet him in the Gulf with a bottle of suntan lotion and a couple rum runners.
“I guess that’s a pretty good summary,” said Aomi.
“Will you include that in your book? You know, Ms. Wasayama’s books have been sold all around the world. Much of this political entanglement is over my head, but I enjoy reading her all the same.”
Gale-force winds hammered the outside walls. The rain swelled to a basso roar.
“Well,” said Yoshio, “I guess we’re not going anytime soon. That is, if you would be so kind as to let us insult you with our presence. I apologize in advance if this inconveniences you in any way.”
“Oh no!” Tatsuo jumped to assure both guests of their welcomeness. He brought out more beer and a plate of beniimo sweet potato tarts. “I insist you both wait out the storm here. I must admit I am impressed with your determination to see Ms. Wasayama, and I pride myself on driving in the worst storms, but this is something else. The news has been saying it’s the worst typhoon in years in terms of sheer amount of rainfall. The winds are only sixty to seventy kilometers per hour, but that’s still nothing to turn up your nose at!” He shook his head with solemnity, as if his granddaughter and guests might harbor false ideas about the severity of the typhoon. He bit into a tart. “Please, eat.”
“Arigato gozaimasu,” said Dana, motioning to the pastries. She ate with her eyes down, arms tucked into her sides, feet together. Stay calm. You can get back to Haruki. This man does not need to kill you. Don’t provoke his anger. Let him think he is in control, because that’s what he needs, what it seems he’s always needed. Another kid in his cocoon, pretending to be stoic. A fantasy male.
So use the goddamn illusion.