Dana tore herself from the clinic at nine p.m., long after the master sergeant and major had left for their families, with the walk-in patient ensconced in her thoughts. She’d treated any number of mentally aching service members; such was the nature of the military. Why him? The thing about the kids, wanting to kill them with a stone. After some debate she’d phoned his supervisor, let him know the session went well, that she’d scheduled him for a follow-up on Friday. Plenty of homicidal feelings around here, so it wasn’t especially alarming, what he’d said. No imminent danger to self or others.
A dented Hyundai pulled out in front of her and she slammed on the brakes and screamed.
She swerved around him; the steering wasn’t so awful after all. She laid on the horn and brushed hair from her eyes. Traffic would kill her out here, if one could manage to find death on The Rock. You never adjusted 100% to the left side of the road.
She switched on the American classics station to calm her nerves. Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone.” For her, no more melancholy nights with pints of Blue Seal ice cream. Part of the tribe now, as it were.
The lyrics of a sad song that no longer describe you can soothe in the deepest of ways, more deeply than affection or therapy; they reveal your talent to accrue pain and laugh at it like a crude joke.
Who gives a green goose shit where my sister lives? I’m glad as anything Pop is gone. I’m no longer terrified of dying alone.
At home Haruki debuted his shredded pork and stewed melon surprise, which was just shredded pork and stewed melon with hot sauce. His cheery, bronze face smiled at her from a waterfall of kitchen light.
“The good doctor returns!”
He gave her a smooch on the cheek. The kitchen was small and formed a contiguous room with the den, both presenting with clean hardwood floors and a minimum of furniture. A sparsely laid table waited beside the window to Dana’s left. Two plates, two napkins, two pairs of black lacquered chopsticks.
“They’re keeping you later every day.”
She shrugged off her purse. Warm enough outside to get away with no jacket, but she brought the umbrella this time of year. Sitting down, cramming green melon into jaws made exhausted by supportive phrases, Dana said, “Your cooking makes you more attractive.”
Haruki batted his eyes coquettishly, several times in a quick cycle. “Is it not my luscious eyelashes?”
“And what if they fall off? Will you love me if my eyes are exposed?”
Dana laughed. A string of fruit fiber slipped from her lips and landed splat on the plate. “Depends; would you consider prosthetics?”
Haruki reeled back, mock-offended. He acted in a local theater company and, predictably, occupied the strangest role. "I am a natural man, my dear. What you see is what you get. No silicone, steel, or ceramic shall find its way into my body.”
“What about dentures?”
“Listen: my grandmother is ninety-four, she has the same teeth that grew in as a twelve-year-old. You can’t go wrong with the diet here.”
Dana smiled with pork hanging from her teeth.
“You’ve inspired me to paint you this very moment.”
Theatrics bothered some, but not the psychologist, who had lacked romance her whole life before coming to the island. She invested all her energy into the marriage, or as much as she could rightly invest with a staggering patient load at the base, because chronically unloved partners, she knew, will cozy up with a new mate as soon as she lights a candle and says, “I’m listening”; or, more accurately, “I’m naked.”
Muscles the Cat rubbed against Dana’s leg until she scratched his neck.
“You’re going to get hair all in your food.”
“World’s a hairy place, Ruki.”
Her husband fluffed his do, pouting, as if for a camera.
“Don’t freak out about your coif. Your dad still has his.” Muscles mewed and curled up on her foot.
“And his teeth,” said Haruki.
“You guys get all the genes.”
He laughed, unveiling an amorous grin from which he wiped a clear globule of pork grease. “Not to mention the good women.”
Dana leveled a chopstick at him. “You know, you flatter me too much and I will grow accustomed to it, expect it every day, and require even more flattery to make me feel good. It’s dangerous.”
“If that’s danger, consider me James Bond.”
Haruki made his fingers into a gun and tried out his smokiest glare. Dana dissolved into chuckles.
“What would your Bond lady name be?”
“Good question. Something enticing, strong. Independent, never takes any shit. But caring, too, of course.”
“That’s like a fantasy novel name. You came up with that way too quickly, by the way. Thunder doesn’t even smoke.”
“I am but a lowly professor, not a writer. Maybe Jaxon Allura?”
“Okay, that’s a porn name. Is that a pornstar or something?”
“How would I know?” Haruki waved his hands in front of his face and pushed his eyebrows as high as they could go.
“Sure, alone in that office all day, I know what’s up.”
“If I’m jerking off, it’s to pictures of you, my dear. Those photos from Thailand? My God.” He fanned himself, swooned.
Muscles jumped on the table and spilled Dana’s bowl.
“Oh, you want to keep Ruki from feeding me, huh? After he fed you? You jealous you didn’t get pork?”
“I gave him a little.”
“It’s going to give him gas.”
“Who doesn’t want gas? Gas is good for you.”
She shook her head in what she might label consciously nonjudgmental confusion. “You’re a weird man.”
“So I’m gumbo, you’re saying.”
“No! Well, maybe. You have a…good heart? Give me a break, if we were doing this in Japanese it’d be easier.”
Dana eased back in her seat to better analyze what inside Haruki, specifically, filled her with the need to settle down and hide from the defined world. “I’m bad at your language, I know. And I appreciate your strange compliments. They gave me an idea for a Bond name, at least.”
“What is that, a fucking Cajun samurai? No. Phoenix Goodheart, man, all the way.” She bowed her head, flashed her eyes as she thought a femme fetale with a snub-nose Magnum might. Haruki unbuttoned his shirt and purred. Happily married women can impress their man better than any starlet; they care enough to do it.
“Phoenix Goodheart. Not a porn name, for sure. Poetic, rolls off the tongue nicely. Well, Goodheart is a little tough to say.”
“Baby, I speak English natively; that’s your problem.”
“And she’s culturally insensitive. What a gal. Beautiful lips, though. Or should I say beak?”
Dana cawed and flapped her arms. The young feline Muscles uttered a hiss, perhaps unsettled by the conduct of his servants, and left.
“Fucksticks, that’s frightening,” said Haruki.
There followed a pause, stunned and amused. Dana’s mouth couldn’t decide between smiling or holding formation. “Too much South Park?”
“‘You taught me language; and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse.’”
“It’s what we’re doing for the play. Motherfucker named Shakespeare.”
Dana glared at him skeptically, playing detective, looking for the slight. “I know who that is.”
Haruki raised his palms to protect himself, a nervous giggle sneaking out from his windpipe. “I know, I know, it was a joke … ”
Heads bent, they lapsed into silence. A nighttime breeze wafted in through the window, and the sounds of shoveling chopsticks was all there was in the room. Then Dana cawed again, and her husband choked on his pork.
“Oh shit, sorry, sorry. You’re okay?”
Haruki reached out a clawing hand, bugged his eyes. He couldn’t make any noise.
Haruki grabbed his throat.
“Oh shit, you’re not acting. Okay, I got you … ”
She rushed behind her husband and snatched him up from the chair and pounded on his back. When this didn’t work, she wrapped her arms around him and hauled on his belly with her right palm clutching her fist. She pressed her body into the sweat on his back, jiggled him as he strained and lashed out in parody of a screaming kid.
“Okay, big boy, spit it out.”
She squeezed him again, breathing in his sweet deodorant. Slime-covered bits of pork popped onto the table and blazed a sticky trail.
“Damn!” Haruki doubled over, elbows on knees, and gave out a long, life-giving cough. When he looked up at his wife he was laughing.
“You know, I started off doing it as a joke, and then I really choked. Irony, right?”
Dana pushed him, hugged him, and kissed the back of his neck. “Fuck irony. I’m glad you’re safe.”
“Phoenix Goodheart protects Mr. Bond from harm.”
He turned to face her, and they kissed in the locus of kitchen light. Muscles watched from the bedroom door, feigning indifference, licking his paws.
“She also cleans the dishes when he cooks.”