“Oh, madonn', they’re in here.”
“They will not harm you.”
Glen couldn’t hear the bugs, but he felt their presence. Spindly hard-shelled monsters on the walls and ceiling. Centipedes, underground in this coral hellhole. He clenched his fists until the veins in his arms swelled.
“They are part of the natural world, like woman, or man.”
“They fucking bite you.”
“If you bother them.”
“I’m leaving, fuck this, I’m done.”
“As you wish, Glen.”
She had brought him to reflect inside the caves where civilians once sought shelter, where they were ordered to choose their deaths at the end of the war. A capsule. Glen never relaxed, he needed to still his mind and find the beginning of peace; but first, she explained to him the anguish this island had borne.
They had prayed at the utaki’s inner sanctum, outside among rain-soaked flowers, where priestesses communed with the island gods. Glen had only his bobble-head doll to offer; or not his, a replica, taken from Reiko’s apartment—a twin, watching from the prayer block with eyes disconnected from everything but paint and plastic. Kumiko hung over him like a shroud, damning him to liberation from her unknown prison. He could drive back, find her, untie her, and go to the police to sit in a humid cell for seven years, but nothing would be undone. When it came to rape the locals wanted blood in their own dungeons; no trusting that skewed U.S. justice to handle offenders. If he made it back to the base first, he stood a chance of ending in the brig. Maybe fight the kidnapping charge, say she entered the van willingly. America helped its own.
But this was Glen Margery, remember, the solitary waste? He’d end up a bargaining chip to lighten the affliction of Osprey drills, drunk driving, stolen land. His commander would hand him over with a bow and a politician’s frown, promising that Glen was the bad egg, who did not represent the proud ethos of the military, and that a show of cooperation would be made to give the Japanese laws their due. Of course. They would drag him right back out the gates and throw him into custody of The Rock.
Right beside him, on her dark-skinned knees in the dirt, Hidari had met a vision of Nayu, straightbacked and creased with wrinkles, still tan despite the years of paler Tokyo sun. A hand raised in greeting, a loving bow. Deigos and banyan trees behind her like relatives.
“I should not have left you. I know this, I was afraid. Back then I thought I no longer wanted you.”
Nayu drew a thumb across her chin and held it to the sun, the clean searing disc between pillars of cloud. “Oh, Hidari,” she said, “we still have time. One can always seek forgiveness, even if it won’t change anything. I am so relieved you are still alive.”
Before her Nayu aged in reverse, the fat unspooling from her trunk, her dark hair recouping what little of its luster time had siphoned away. Sixty years old, then fifty, forty. As a timorous spinster, she waited, seductive even with a demure cotton dress that fell to her ankles.
“We can be together, even if we are apart from humankind.” Hidari passed the lie from her lips without anger, with the desperate tenderness born of terror, of being alone.
Nayu’s copper-colored eyes, her mouth fresh, warmly expressive like a nurse in an orphanage. Hidari’s heart juked and stalled in her bones. Here was the last trial, tatari for a spirit guide in the remaking. Hidari cast off her paramour; the spurned woman left for Edo to attend life as a divine healer. Wander the capital sprawl in torn shoes, diagnose souls of Okinawan immigrants in Kabuki-cho. And then what? Get rich and destroy her ex-lover’s life with a phone call?
“I am sorry, I am not strong enough.” Once more Hidari pandered her excuses, in the hope she might stave off discomfort, shirk the fallout for her and only her decision.
Nayu turned aside with tears on her fingers and a routine of nightmares ahead of her.
“Forgive me,” Hidari said.
Nayu’s dress shifted to golden skirt, a halter-top under a coat presenting her chest to the sex-mad Marines from the 1950s.
“He wanted me to drink it,” said the new, shapely Nayu. “A lieutenant. He shook me by the hair when I said no.”
“You do not deserve this; it is my illness alone, only what I deserve.”
Nayu pulled away towards the shore, her mouth arranged in a taut, caustic frown. “How many children have you lost? Since…well, after we left.”
“I am sorry …”
Still younger she became, receding into her twenties. Hidari saw the curve of her slashed against the rocks on Runio Island, their home where family had perished under war, the Japanese, their own hands. Nayu was weeping.
“How can I atone for this, dear?” said Hidari. “Just tell me and I will do it without hesitation, whatever sacrifice might be asked. I was terrified of change. I kept us both in a deadly job and I was too selfish to love you in the way you needed. I was frightened, I let that ruin everything. I killed your son. You know you are not at fault for this. Just say the word and I will jump from the cliffs now, happily. I will die. Is that what you want?”
Nayu relaxed her jaw as if to speak. She clasped her hands in front of her dress and knelt in the loam and grass, where seventy years ago she had beaten her offspring into an empty shell.
“Shit, someone’s here,” said Glen.
Hidari’s vision dissipated like smoke. The old woman opened her eyes to solid darkness.
A male voice, singing in a jazzy cadence, floated down the tunnel with ghostly echoes providing backup. “Down with Yoshio, screw you Japan. Stone the opponent with the book in his crook hand. Scooby-do-be-bop, yeah!”
“Who the hell is that?”
A thoughtful sigh replaced the pop nonsense tune. “American in a tunnel, huh? It would be funny if you were lost down here.”
“Who in Giuliani's name are you?”
“Oh, your friendly neighborhood cave centipede. What are you doing?”
“Jerking off, you weirdo.”
“A fine pastime. I just come here from time to time to clear my head. Who’s your friend, by the way? She is supervising your masturbation?”
“Just get out of here, asshole.”
“Okay, all right, I know when I’m not wanted. Is that an explosion?”
Yoshio spun around as dust shook from the ceiling and a low crunch resounded up the path he had just taken. A centipede dropped onto Glen’s shoulder.
“Oh shit, get it off.”
The soldier lurched into an overhang. As his ass made contact with rock, he swore on the tits of his bitch ex-wife and fell.
Hidari said to the newcomer, “You talk as though you are from Tokyo.”
“Everyone can tell.” Yoshio glanced back towards the entrance. “I have an unpleasant feeling we are blocked in.”
“It may be so.”
“You are taking this calmly. Admirable. Your friend, is he unconscious?”
“He has fallen unconscious frequently in the time I have known him.”
“Then we have nothing to worry about.”
Hidari cleared her throat and smoothed out the folds of her dress, even though it was impossible to see. “You were not coming here to clear your head, were you?”
“I was teaching this man to find peace, in his heart. He has agreed to go to prison, to atone for what he has done. I wished for us to meditate first.”
“Noble. I guess. What did he do?”
“He raped a girl in Okinawa City. She was on the news.”
“Kumiko Natsuharu? Wow, so this is the guy. How come you care about this scumbag so much?”
Hidari’s earrings jangled as she turned her head to where Glen had fallen. “It is not that I care about him, specifically. I wish to treat all humans as equals. Even those who are criminals. I, myself, have done things I must atone for. This is also why I am here.”
“And you’re Okinawan?”
“And you’re helping this American who raped a little girl in your country feel better about himself?”
“To feel guilt, not shame. Is there any other way to make him change?”
Yoshio whistled. “Change? Hell, I’m impressed. You have far more faith in humankind than I do. Should we care, by the way? About the collapse? There might be an air issue.” He added a theatrical cluck of asphyxiation.
“Things will happen as they must.”
“A Buddhist, I see.”
“No. A person who has lived a long life.”
“You can fit a great deal into a short one, too.”
They stood enthralled by the shifting dust, absorbing each other’s words. The moaning of a gale reached them from the shore.
“Maybe we’re safer in here,” said Yoshio. “Better than being caught outside.”
“Do you have any water? No? Me either. Just a gun. Shit, I’m pretty thirsty.”
“Why do you have a gun?”
“Ah, you know. It’s an old officer’s pistol. I was going to leave it in here, just seemed like the thing to do. Let some anthropologist find it and stick it in a museum. Or is it archaeologist? I always forget.”
“Does it fire?” said Hidari.
A rapid laugh. “Oh, it does. I know that for sure. Better I just leave it alone, though. No good will come of it with me.”
“And you? No firearms in your meditation session?”
“I should think not. We have nothing here but ourselves.”
“Well, how was it? I’m assuming you’re done, or at least taking a break. Unless your American can dream his way through the jhanas.”
“I do not know, truthfully. I know better than to expect an epiphany, but I confess I was hoping for one. For myself, too.”
Yoshio covered his mouth and belched.
“I am ninety-one, now, and I have no family. I have ruined my relationships. I have no job, per se, but what I do is proving futile. I am hopeless, is what it is.”
“Ah, but didn’t you have that petition for independence?”
A studied pause. “You know me.”
“Sure. Ms. Hidari Wasayama, chairwoman of the Okinawa Peace Society, sexual violence hotline counselor, author, and representative in the International Women’s League.”
“You are well-informed. Perhaps you know I have drafted a petition to separate Okinawa from Japan. Yet no one desires this petition. Our island does not want to be free, and wishes to suffer under slavery.”
Yoshio scoffed. “Well, so does Japan, I guess. They impose these punishing rules on themselves to garner respect and earn economic prosperity. And it doesn’t even work. To me, they are slaves.”
“And you are no salaryman.”
“Nope. Dodged a bullet there, huh? My job has its problems—obvious statement there—
but it isn’t so bad. Except I had this otter. Like as a pet. I got it on a whim, I was visiting the Tokyo Zoo, and I thought: why not buy an otter? So I did. You can get one, you know, if you call the right people.”
“I am sure. And what happened to your otter?”
“Well, I didn’t take very good care of him, for one. A river-dwelling rodent in an apartment in Nicho is a bad idea. I tried to keep him in the shower, but my roommate didn’t want that. So I bought a little pool, put it in my bedroom. He made such a mess! I was ready to kill him. But I didn’t mind all that much, I suppose. He used to slip through my hands when I would chase him, and dart around my legs, and sometimes he even climbed onto my shoulder. Pretty friendly guy.”
“You cared for him very much.”
“Sure, why not. I did. I loved the guy, as much as I could love anything. But then he died.”
“I am sorry. How did this happen?”
“Well, I had this nightmare. I was walking in the city, right? And people were hitting me. There was this giant cat’s head, asking me questions. And a McDonald’s, I remember that. Then a pool of blood and human organs. I was swimming in it, afraid I would drown. I was terrified, to be honest. And there was this person looking down on me. I called to him—or her—and he threw down a rope ladder. I was too low, but after a while the blood and guts boosted me up, and I climbed my way out. Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I was so afraid. I’m sure the blood would have just taken me all the way to the top. But for some reason, I was certain I required that person’s help. And, well, the person turned out to be me. As a boy. He ran away without answering my questions, and it started to rain. The rain took away pieces of my skin. I bled, my body parts dissolved. I staggered toward the city, calling for help, and warplanes descended from the sky and destroyed the skyscrapers. It was like Armageddon. I wanted so much to turn around and view the ocean, one last time, before I died. But I didn’t turn. When I woke up I had the otter in my arms, and I had crushed his neck.”
“That sounds unimaginably painful to go through.”
“You don’t need to make me feel better. I understand what happened.”
“I only mean my heart breaks for you. Person to person.”
Yoshio’s cigarette faded into smoke. “Is your friend snoring?”
“Why, yes, he seems to be. I guess he’s all right, then.”
“Probably we should take a look at him. But I’m exhausted, frankly.”
“As am I.”
Yoshio sat down. “Looks like we’ll be here a while, so…I guess I should let you know I’m supposed to kill you.”
“I’m afraid it’s true. If you want to hear something funny, though, I didn’t know you were in here. I just hitchhiked to this protest and thought this cave would be nice to ditch the gun.”
“Oh, yeah, outside. A bunch of you guys, old folks, mostly—no offense. Even though there’s a typhoon. They must be caught in the rain right now.”
“What was your plan after getting rid of the gun?”
“Go home, I guess. My boss is pretty mad.”
“I expect so. I am not dead.”
“Well, depending on how long we’re in here. Though I don’t see the point in killing you. In case you were wondering.”
“I was thinking about it, yes.”
“Yeah, I was—oh, your friend’s waking up.”
“Blowjobs,” mumbled Glen, pawing himself.
“This guy’s got the right idea,” said Yoshio. “Unless he means…then no.”
“It disturbs me to accept this was meant to be,” said Hidari. Mabuya, mabuya. Even so, she had reached the end of her trek, and she was glad. Or relieved, at least.
“Can one of you come help me?”
Yoshio's sneeze ricocheted off into the distance and returned. “Who the hell is that?”
“The doctor,” said Hidari. “Her name is Dana.”
The assassin slapped his skull until lights flickered across his eyes. “There’s no way. What is this, some kind of setup? Dana and I go way back. We met by chance, too, how about that? Fucking Kokura.” He crawled off toward the woman, calling, “I’ll rescue you, my fragrant sea cucumber.”