Four shadows. All of them rubbing some injury on their person, shivering or coughing up the dust that coated the walls. They shared Yasu’s marijuana without speaking. Suck in, hold a lungful, blow out. Air was a natural concern in the confined space, and it was unwise to produce smoke, but they did not care. The process helped and provided light. It drained away the terrors of the dark.
Now and then someone coughed, or sighed in the grip of her own thoughts. Maybe the Marines would free them. For all they knew, the typhoon still raged outside, wiping away the crowd from the utaki. The JDF could launch an operation to drill through the collapsed rock. Governor Ikazawa might, at this very moment, be apportioning funds to mobilize earthmovers, laborers, every man with a shovel or pick. The aboveground was foreign.
“When was your happiest moment?” Hidari looked up from her lap, the joint pinched between index and thumb, the sweet glow casting her face into relief.
Yoshio said, “I decline to answer on the grounds that happiness is an illusion.”
Glen cleared his throat and scratched thoughtlessly at the scruff on his cheeks. He pushed his thick, muddy thumbs together. “Banging, I guess. My first time. I felt like I was good, it was good. She was twelve or something, you know? Or some shit like that. Thirteen. Damn, I haven’t smoked in a minute.”
Dana held her head cocked to the side, toward Glen, running through his possible memories as if through a movie script. All the nights in deference to the female sex. She breathed in slowly and said, “The day I left home, knowing I could survive and find someone to love me the way I needed.”
Hidari rested her hands on her knees and smiled sadly. “Leaving my life to be with Nayu meant all the joy in the world to me. I despised the way things were on Runio Island. Perhaps because it was pleasant. Not difficult enough. I do not know. With Nayu, there was always newness. She indulged me. Although she is younger by two years, she was always the wiser woman.”
“I get it,” said Yoshio, “then you broke up. Big, bad America, big, bad Japan. I got the rundown from my boss. Enough already.”
Hidari observed the man who had come to return her to emptiness. Trapped in a tunnel together. They had been meant to collide and confide, or at least to starve in the same crevice.
“We’re not going to make it out of here,” said Yoshio. “You think they’re going to dig us out? They don’t care. I fucking knew this would happen. Ever since that otter died, nothing’s been normal. Don’t even know his name.”
“Speak English,” said Glen. “For Christ’s sake.”
“Speak English. Speak English. Why don’t you fucking speak Japanese, huh? Because you’re too stupid to learn? Because you don’t have to? Speak English. Shit. You think you’re entitled to all this shit. This island, whatever you want. Speak English. I should shoot you in the fucking head, you jellyfish.”
“Do it,” said Glen, impassive. “You fucking try.”
“You’re both angry,” said Dana. “No one’s shooting anyone. Say what’s on your minds.”
“You feel like you’re earning your paycheck by saying that? Speaking your mind is what Americans made up to justify their prick behavior. Try silence.”
“I don’t really have much to lose,” said Glen.
“You have a wife and kids,” said Hidari. “You will lose them.”
“Ex-wife. My kids are gone already.” Brandon and Ciara, branching out into other lives. When they looked at his picture, if they did at all, what did they think? Was he perfect or miserable?
“Your problem was getting married in the first place. Nothing good ever comes from a government contract. Get a pet instead.”
Military prison. Japanese prison. Could still go to Taiwan.
“Say it in Japanese.”
“You don’t know Okinawan dialect, do you?” said Hidari. “Let’s not insult one another.”
“Look at the women making peace, and the men fighting.” Yoshio threw back his head, despondent, staring toward the ceiling his eyes couldn’t detect. “I bring us a joint, hoping to calm us down, and this is what we get. ‘I’m American,’ ‘I’m Okinawan,’ ‘I’m Japanese.’ ‘Look at it my way.’ I am sick of looking. I am so violent, all the time. This weed won’t fix me. Nothing can do that. It’s just endless surfaces, laid on top of each other, until you think there’s something real at the bottom. But there’s fucking not. And him. You. You think you’re a badass. M-16 and shitty neon fucking shorts. You fucked it all up. This would’ve been over in a day if you hadn’t needed to kidnap a child. Your goddamn lust. So you like little girls, huh?”
“It makes you feel strong, like you’re not going to die in your own shit?”
“I bet you planned it out, read those little pedophile manga and jerked off to them by yourself. ‘Oh, I’m so naughty, but it feels good.’ Right?”
“You like to hunt down underage students and use them like objects. You should have the balls to say it, at least.”
“You don’t know what happened.”
“You’re right, I don’t. I’m sorry. Why don’t you tell me from your perspective?”
Glen said nothing.
“This isn’t helping anything,” said Dana. Her home, her past, kindling into flame. She gripped her thighs and concentrated on the others’ silhouettes in the circle, lit by the discarded joint. “Let me tell you something, okay? Get this shit off my chest.”
“Let us listen,” said Hidari.
“I don’t want to clean up your corpses, you two. You’re going to smell terrible. What we will do is stay alive, and say nothing, if we have nothing to say, and wait for the military to dig us out. Obviously they are going to come. There was a collapse in a major cave, in plain view of a few hundred people, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re out of here. This is statistically very goddamn likely. Understood? So Yoshio, I need you to put that pistol down if we’re going to have a conversation. I want to hear what you’re so angry about, and same for you, Glen, but first we need to agree to some fucking ground rules.”
Relaxing her jaw, Dana savored a last toke before gazing over the coal into her patient’s eyes, or what she thought were his eyes. A slow dripping started above and pinged on the rocks beside her.
“I have something to say,” Glen said. The group leaned forward to hear as water deluged outside and the cave settled and insects crawled on the ceiling, as if they expected some Western revelation from the man who had traumatized an eleven-year-old girl. “Never mind.”
Dana reached out to pass him the marijuana, even though she knew veterans who abused it to tar over their PTSD. (Couldn’t hurt now, though.) “That’s okay, Glen, just wait until you feel like talking. We’ve got all the time you need.”
“Perhaps I should consider killing you,” said Yoshio, in his native tongue. “If we’re not going to die. I just remembered I have a cellphone.”
Hidari did not look to the man, did not think of Nayu or Jun or Reiko or Ouya but said only, “Perhaps.”
From his hunched and clumsy idea of a lotus pose, the ill ex-Marine rapist flung himself at the assassin, vision blind, his pupils dilated like open wells. The Type 94 fired with a pop and Yoshio sneezed, pushing the weight off his legs while Glen sputtered for air through a hole in his lung. Gray, fetid smoke filled the room.
“Oh, come on, God, Jesus,” Dana said, pressing herself as far back into the cave wall as she could go. She was a fossil, a mineral vein, a plug of carbon.
The hitman lurched onto fallen Glen and jammed his middle finger into the wound. With an equable sniff he started to twist, and as Yoshio broke on through the thin, slick walls of muscle to whatever lay beneath, he pumped his arm and hurled his whole body into the smooth new wave rhythm of “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart. He listened to the breath die in Glen’s voicebox and hummed, tunelessly, the famous arpeggiated synthesizer hook.
“You like that? Feels good, right? Oh, that’s the spot. Give it to me harder, you little slut.”
Yoshio stabbed his finger in to the knuckle.
“Help me.” Glen’s voice, no longer gritty and flat, was squeezed to a high, plaintive mewl.
“‘Oh, save me, it hurts!’ You’re lucky you’ll forget this in a second. Think of that girl spending every day with your genitals in her nightmares. I bet you think you helped her, huh? Showed her the ropes?”
Hidari watched as if this had been staged for her personal torment. Her body disappeared, the past shoveled open its own story to remind her of every failing, each bypassed goal and dream. She sat with feet together, hands open in her lap, straightbacked under the salt and damp of her clothes. She cringed under a flood of undiluted guilt.
Dana, too, kept to bystander status, patient plea or no. She was sick, she was failing him as a provider and a human being, the clinical way she watched the tendons in his neck strain. How he wept through mucus and blood.
Though Glen was far off in Jersey City, Kumiko Natsuharu chased him across the waves. Crawl back and atone for what you’ve done. Mom shook her fists, invested him with curse words, spat on the bedroom carpet and blamed him for it later. Lydia and Brandon and Ciara cut themselves out of the picture on the mantel for a happier frame. We’ll leave you with Kumiko, just you two. Sweating and grinding your feet into the floor.
But she liked it, right? Like a dog in heat. Except she wasn't even thirteen.
Yoshio turned the gun to his temple.
The second report was deafening; the first, they hadn’t even seemed to hear, or they couldn’t remember it now. Glen wriggled on his back with the damage leaking from his chest. His lung peeling away from the ribcage.
He kicked his feet. The sneakers were waterlogged, and they creaked like sponges as he ran in place, hopeless about motion or rescue. He screamed like an infant dumped from the womb onto a teppan.
“I know, I know, please help me. I know.”
With a rock that lay by her side Dana smashed in the man’s forehead. Aim for the temple. She knelt over her one-time patient and groaned, dripping blood from her face and clothes. She struck again, ended his discomfort. Dropped the stone. The marijuana roach went out with a hiss.
“There is no end to this,” said Hidari, crying.
“They deserved to die. Both of them deserved it.”
“No, not anyone. Not in this way.”
“The whole world is better off, without them. People who kill or rape: they don’t change. You cross a certain line.” Her voice trembled. She seemed clueless of the irony in her own words.
“I killed my children. My boy and girl.”
“Even if you did, you show remorse. These men, they’re not sorry. They were not.”
Hidari’s sobs were louder than Grandpa Nakano’s gun; they summed and amplified until they grew to a third person in the cave. “I did not love them. I did not want them. What mother can say this?”
Dana touched the woman’s arm, near the flesh Glen had severed with the knife all those hours ago.
“You deserve everything but this, Ms. Wasayama.”
An embrace followed that was more of a collapse than steady agreement. Dana smelled the kelp and rot on the other woman’s shoulder.
“My name is Hidari.”
Still clutching her like a child, the psychologist whispered, “Okay, Hidari. I killed this man. Not you. You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“In my past. When I was younger—”
“Listen, I broke into a woman’s house the other day—an Okinawan’s, one of your people—and nailed her cat to a wall because I thought she was fucking my husband. He didn’t talk about her much, but I could tell he wanted her. So I hated her. Not him; I transferred all that anger over to her like a good pawn of the patriarchy. I didn’t really think he’d do anything, slip around on me, but I wanted her to stay away. And I didn’t confront him. I didn’t find out if it was her. Although he did, you know, fuck someone else. So I literally looked up where the woman lived, broke into her house, like with a credit card, and killed her fucking goddamn cat. And I was proud, too. I was mad. I was like, ‘You won't screw up my life now.’ And I stuck a picture of her with Haruki to the cat. Like I printed it out and stapled it to her. Jesus Christ, am I fucking crazy.” Dana bludgeoned back her outrage, which rose up in a sheer protective wall. Dad’s happy leer from the passenger seat, the exposed stuffing of the steering wheel between her hands, wearing her not-too-dusty jeans. Enough trauma in there for sociopathic behavior? “I’m not supposed to say crazy. It doesn’t help; I should know better. Because I know why I did it. Why I was angry, I…anything threatens my life here, it was so stable, I just…that shit is sinister, you know? I should’ve talked to someone. Fucking anyone, my sister. I have a sister, Bernice. My dad is dead, I haven’t seen him since I was sixteen. My mom is dead. All I have is Haruki and his family, but my children died last April 'cause they came out too soon. I looked into their eyes and everything I wanted just went away, so I ignored it. Elia, Jun. I made jokes about them dying, like surgeons with a patient. Not to their faces. What do you call two shriveled-up twins with no heartbeat? Mia Michaelson’s tits. That’s my mom. I love you and I’m sorry for all that happened. I just…in case we go…”
“You wish to tell someone.”
Hidari seized her hand, smearing the blood from Glen’s forehead.
“And I’m sorry, too. I might not ever be able to apologize to her. I should go to jail, you know? I deserve it. It doesn’t matter how stressed out I was. Someone weaker than me too. An Okinawan girl. And then—this—oh fuck—” She disengaged from Hidari, flung droplets from her fingertips, scooted back until she hit a solid pillar of rock. A raw, atonal moan escaped her lips.
“Forgive yourself. Yes? Whatever you did. There is no use holding inside. My entire life I have done this, and it cuts away what is peaceful.”
“A rapist and a killer,” Dana said. “And you and me.”
“The good you form does not take away the evil; and the reverse. They live together.”
Dana clawed her hair, tugged out bits of shell and debris and things. “Well, I mean what I say. They don’t change. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred. I guess I’m refusing to label myself a killer, then. Protecting the self, what else is new, right? Even when I’m out here in a goddamn cave.”
“Glen listened, at the end, you know. He agreed to go to prison. Perhaps this was only to deceive; I do know few rapists change their ways. And Yoshio killed my neighbor in cold blood. His granddaughter. What we shall do now I cannot imagine.”
“Humans don’t recover from this kind of shit.”
“Maybe it’s better then if we don’t make it out of here.”
Hidari eased out a deliberate breath, then dusted off her purple-and-gold dress. “At the beginning of this, before Glen, I had planned to die.”
Dana wiped her eyes carefully with her wrists. “Like commit suicide?”
“Well, I’m glad you didn’t. That would have deprived the world of someone who has the strength to forgive a murderer and a rapist. And a woman who mercy-killed a patient who might’ve survived if I’d just plugged up his hole instead.”
“No, I have no strength.”
“Yes you objectively do.”
“Nayu is strong. She did what was necessary. I only followed, for all my talk of independence. But I do not think she sent him.” Hidari pressed her palms to her head; unable to banish the cracks of falling, endless stones. “She said to avoid caves, and I am sitting inside one. By choice. Always I have injured myself by choice. When I knelt at the ibi-no-mae, at the prayer block, Nayu told me to bring Glen to this place. To make him understand. But perhaps it was only my grandfather’s father, deceiving me.
“When I declined her request for marriage, Nayu left the island, which is strange: to become a yuta, a healer, and depart Okinawa. But you understand, back then we could not live in the way she proposed unless we rejected all social things and respect. It is fitting that I have done this even without her. What was I so frightened of? That I was a prostitute? It is no shameful thing to be one. It does not make you worse as a human being. These are things I tell others all the time. On the phone, when I speak to people, I help them see how they are good. So I must be a fool, looking back. To cast someone away who loves me. Why did I not do for myself what I would do for this man Glen?” She fell silent for a time, her head bowed. She did not pray, only stilled herself among the dust and shells and accepted them as they were, parts of the same febrile logic as her presence here. Then she said, “Perhaps Nayu’s fate was that of the yuta, and mine was this. Helping my country. If my mabui, my soul has returned, I cannot tell. I know I do not wish to die right now, in this cave with you. I want to be alive. But who can say when the feeling will return? Possibly I will suffer until I return to Gopai and fix what is disturbed.”
Dana moved closer to her again. She drew her arms around her knees and interlaced her fingers to apply pressure. A pain surfaced in her stomach but she thanked it for reminding her of her children. “To make things right,” she said.
“We never spoke about it, the crime. We swept it away. I suppose it has eaten us all these years, her and me both. I can feel it in inside, the memory, so that I wish for this cave to fall. To never leave this room. But there is the feeling for life, too.”
“Someone in the government. Or the yakuza acting on their own. You criticize too many people not to have enemies; at least that’s what my husband says.”
“This is true. Perhaps it is just that. I do not wish to imagine that Nayu would want to hurt me, because she is so pure. But I would understand if she did.”
“Why now, too?”
“Yes, I wonder. She is a healer, like you, in a different way. A good person, and I loved her. Still.”
Dana held the woman as she broke down. The sobbing whispered along the walls and returned to them like the voices of women from a different age.
“She is a person who suffers in silence, without sign in her face. All the time I complained, but she said, ‘It is our duty.’ Like what they told us when we fought the war.”
“You gave up every comfort, every time to help other people.”
Hidari placed her palms upon her thighs. “And for what advantage? Money. Some. At least we have that. Most here do not. And many who are rich in Okinawa will do anything to preserve it. They want contracts to come in; they have no need for change. But I am rambling, again, the old woman. This is no time for a speech.”
“Does it matter? Now, of all times? You’re just talking.”
Hidari drew herself up to her modest height, still seated, and the darkness in the cave seemed to accommodate, to make space for her out of respect. “No, I suppose it does not matter. Only this second, with you. I am grateful.”
Dana closed her eyes. The gleam of car windows and the scratch of her father’s radio dial left her mind. “I don’t have a choice, but I’m grateful to be here, too. I know I won’t be saying that when I get hungry and thirsty enough, but for right now, sure. And I’m proud of you for saying what you said. Forgiving yourself. Telling me you wanted to die. That’s hard to do. I know, I see people struggle with it all the time. Well, I guess you do, too, shit. You’re a good woman, Hidari.”
“It feels strange to say. Or bad. But I suppose saying it will not hurt.”
“I don’t want to impose any egoistic western values on you, but yes—saying it once won’t hurt.”
“Okay, then. I am good.”
They sat in companionable silence. In the chamber their eyes made out nothing, but somehow they grew used to the deprivation. To their bodies in space, the temperature below trees and uchina redoubts of concrete and steel.
Dana said, “I don’t want to have to eat these guys, if it comes down to that.”
“I was thinking this, too, yes.”
“And just to continue being honest, and knowing what I said about suicide, I was also wondering how many bullets are left in that gun. In case…”
“This, I thought of.”
Dana swept her hands over the floor: dirt, cooling blood, flesh. A finger. Then a rubbery tube; the prosthetic, Yoshio’s memento of servitude. The gun was nearby.
“I don’t even know how you check this thing.”
“Please, if I may.” Hidari popped the magazine and racked the slide in two fluid motions. “There are no bullets.”
“Well, we still have the bodies. God, I can’t believe I’m even talking about this.”
“Let’s not think about it now. We can wait. There were plenty of people outside. Someone saw one of us come in. The goddamn Marines are going to dig us out.”
Their families, living or dead, crowded their minds. Their breath graded into the darkness.
Yoshio said, “I finally remembered that otter’s name. The one I strangled to death. His name was Yoshio. I got him tattooed on my back, and his name was Yoshio. That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever goddamn heard. These bullets are awful for killing yourself with, by the way.”
“That is a good thing, Yoshio,” said Hidari. “You can sleep now.”
He did not respond to their prompts. Dana felt his pulse in the darkness and checked Glen, too, just to be sure.
“He almost choked me to death. And he shot me.”
“Glen cut my arm with his knife. Although I did hit him with a motorcycle.”
“You did? Shit. I should’ve popped my own bastard in the mouth when I had the chance. I don’t know why I didn’t. Well, I'm well-aware, I was fucking afraid.”
“It is over, now, though.”
“True. But hitting Glen with the bike must've felt weird.”
Hidari passed her hands over her hair, smoothing it down into a manageable shape. She felt her earlobes and discovered her studs were still there. Akoya pearls. “It felt…I was sorry. I wanted to help him. He felt about himself as I did with my own life.”
Dana clicked her tongue against her teeth and shook her head so the frizzy dome of hair that had revealed itself out of her once-straightened locks wobbled, back and forth, like an atoll in a gentle earthquake. “Always trying to help, huh?”
“You are the same.”
“And this is where it got us.”
“Yes,” said Hidari. “It has led us here.”
The earth creaked in its bonds. Above them, grass and flowers soaked in the deluge of rain and channeled it into the soil. Palm tree, fukugi tree, hibiscus. The vegetation bent to the typhoon’s movements, having no say in the matter, accepting what gifts and what dangers they might bring. Droplets fell from the cave ceiling. After catching the water in their shirts, the two women drank from the limestone bones of the island. They decided, if they must, to eat whatever insects they could find, rather than resort to cannibalism. An examination of Yoshio’s pockets yielded two pickled plums—katsuoboshi-flavored—wrapped in a paper napkin. Plus one lighter, plus half a pack of Seven Stars cigarettes. Plus a knife. Enough rations for a long wait. Better than they had expected, anyway.
As Hidari rifled through the hitman’s jacket, she came upon a cell phone. She pressed a button and a cool blue light illuminated her tactful face. Mabui, mabui.
“Thank you,” she said. She began dialing. Dana listened to the fuzzy mechanical ring as it looped, again, again. Hidari said, “Hello?”
Dana watched in silent support, becoming aware of how revoltingly dry her eyes and lips were. She wanted a shower more than anything on Earth, more than reconciliation with her spouse. (That was number two, probably.) She composed a prayer to Etsu for her cat, then felt like vomiting, then told herself to forgive what she’d done and at once fell into shame at letting herself off the hook so easily. Although maybe you didn’t always need to suffer. Maybe you just were, already, all the time, until you realized you could square the disaster you were so confident you brought about. Dana spat on the floor and acknowledged the humor in this, the silliness of her logic she had followed over the past half a year after Elia and Jun died. If she was honest, she had adhered to her schema since her Florence days, just hidden the system in suave PhD terminology so she could feel she had dealt professionally with her personal stuff. But where the fuck was Bernice, for instance? Did she even know the state?
“Thank you,” said Hidari. Then, to Dana, “I believe the Marines are coming now. The JDF.”
Dana nodded, pushing herself with every neuron back into the present moment. After a few seconds, she realized that forcing mindfulness into play through sheer will was just a horrific idea, so she took the first in a series of deep breaths that led to an opening of her airways, a subtle reduction in the bricklike tension of her jaw and shoulders. “Oo-rah,” she said.
“Would you mind if I made another call?”
Dana waved her hand to indicate be my guest, then realized Hidari couldn’t see. “Of course. I don’t need to play any games or anything. And I don’t want to read Yoshio’s text history, for damn sure.”
Hidari held the brittle rectangle to her ear and waited with an expression of serene uncertainty, her eyes wide and aimed straight ahead, the eyebrows sloping up softly like grass-covered hills on her kidnapped island of origin, her cheeks pinched with the slight force of a smile that carried both sadness and joy.
“Good afternoon,” she said.
Dana realized what was happening and clambered to her feet, as though a height difference would affect the conversation. She breathed as if to stream in melodies through her belly, breathed and remembered she was high, and laughed, and then refocused on her friend, on Hidari, who was saying something brave and important.
The old woman did not cry now, but spoke instead with a low, stable, inner grace: “My love, I tell you I am forgiven.”
Then she hung up.