Yoshio asked, innocently, “Do you know when Ms. Wasayama might return?”
The old neighbor Tatsuo shook his head and beamed like a pageant winner on her day off—honest, serene, performing the deed for herself and not for the waiting crowd. “Oh, there’s no telling in this weather. I confess I don’t even know where she was running off to this morning! Her and her injured companion.”
“An associate, you say?”
“Oh, yes, some American who had been robbed and hurt and ended up in my garden, of all places! She thought he was some sort of criminal at first, but he seems harmless. Cried like a baby in front of all of us, as a matter of fact.”
“Kind of a wimp,” said Aomi, his granddaughter.
Yoshio pinched the fuzz of his beard and summoned a brassy, pleasant hum from his throat. “I see. And these two left…together?”
“They did, they did. Borrowed my van, you know, on an important matter; of course I lent it to them. I sure hope they don’t get hurt! I tried to convince them to stay, but they wouldn’t hear of it. That van is pretty sturdy, though; it’s seen me through my share of storms, now that I mention it.”
“It’s older than me,” Aomi said. Distractedly, she fingered a belt loop on her jeans.
“There’s a lot that’s older than you, my dear! And what a good thing it is to be young. I remember being strong enough to carry a hundred kilos of sugar cane up a hill. Such strength! Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but it’s a far cry from what I can do today. Still, I stretch every morning and evening. Like I tell Aomi—a body well-trained is a body well-lived!”
“I can agree with that,” said Yoshio.
Through the window, a dark misty blue. The windows shook and vibrated like struck animals.
“Bad outside,” mused Tatsuo.
“Better than inside,” his granddaughter said.
Yoshio gestured toward the storm with his Orion beer. “There is no such thing as an interior. Only reflections of what’s lying around.”
“Philosophy—never took it.” Aomi removed a tin of makings and began rolling a thick, filterless cigarette.
“You make your own, I admire that. And I can’t admit to being a scholar in any way, though I have had enough time in my relatively short life to think about life and death. That’s really all I’ve come up with: the inside and outside are the same.”
“So then everything could really just be inside, and there’s no such thing as an outer layer.”
“I suppose, if you want to think of it that way. But that feels wrong, because I know all of you aren’t inside me.”
“Well, our words are. And your impressions of us.”
“To each her own.”
They were silent for a moment, the four of them. Awkwardness spread itself through the room like a cat leaving its scent on each piece of furniture. The typhoon continued its giant tantrum.
“Can I use the restroom?” said Dana, hand raised, her father’s kid.
Aomi pushed back her chair and rose languidly to her feet. “Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll show you.”
As he watched them shuffle off, Yoshio hunkered down over the table, perhaps to confer secretly with Tatsuo while the two females were out of hearing range. But he said nothing.
Around the corner in the doorway of the tiny restroom, Dana became frantic, losing control. She hit her knuckle against her thigh and whipcracked her head repeatedly towards the kitchen, bottom teeth exposed and set against her violet, topmost lip. “That man is a goddamn murderer. He’s dangerous and he has a gun and he’s holding me hostage.”
“Hold on, lady, slower. He has a gun?”
“Yes, and he’s a fucking murderer. Right now we're in danger.”
“Figures,” said Aomi, beetling her brow. “I guess we should leave.”
“What about your grandfather?”
“I’ll come up with a way to get him out. I got straight A’s in high school, even though I didn’t care about it. You leave through the back door there. I’ll phone the police right now.”
Though she somewhat doubted the girl’s prowess in handling assassins, Dana obeyed. She undid the latch and slipped outside into the maelstrom and then ducked into the garden, which was shielded by scaffolding strung with a heavy tarp; although, unfortunately, the soil was so slushy everything was bound to die anyway. She stood that way, partially crouched, careful to avoid the window that looked in on the kitchen. Run or stay? She thought of Haruki. Run or stay? She’d just dumped her problem in the lap of a seventeen-year-old girl she did not know. Run or stay? She could flag a car down in the storm, or find a neighbor’s house and call the police. She could just run.
The sea split and sewed itself together like the skin of a god. The rain punched holes in the sand over and over and built a lake on top of the shore. Run or stay.
Haruki kissing gently. Muscles the Cat as he slunk among the table legs in the kitchen, nipping digits, the feline ideal of a lovable pest. Haruki nude, or suave in a velvet blazer and corduroy slacks (he liked to mix fabrics). Haruki strumming the chords to Nenes songs and making up his own lyrics, often with double-entendres that only made vague sense in English. Their apartment bathed, windows open, in the syrupy fragrance of jasmine and deigo blossoms. Dana slipped back inside and flushed the toilet and washed her hands in the sink. She removed her long-sleeved shirt, balled it up, and tossed it in the shower.
“Hello again,” said Yoshio as she returned. Aomi did a fair job of masking her surprise.
“Do you guys have any medicine? My stomach is just killing me. I tried splashing water on my face, taking some deep breaths, but it didn’t do any good.”
“Uh, sure, of course, medicine. Grandpa, where do you keep your antacids?”
“In the bathroom, of course! Mr. Mugen, is your friend ill?”
“Ah, it’s this rotten weather.”
“The rain can make you sick if you’re not careful, it’s true. Aomi, would you fetch the antacids from the panel behind the mirror?”
She left, casting a glance over her shoulder that carved the table and its motley crew into her mind. The air was colder, charged with guilt. Yoshio drained the end of his second beer with unconcealed relish and polished off the remaining tarts.
“I love being hungry. It reminds me I am an animal.”
“Of course, of course; please, eat! Aomi hardly puts a morsel in her stomach, and I don’t want anything to go to waste. Unless, you know, we end up being stuck here for a week! But I don’t think that will be the case. These storms usually blow over in two or three days.”
“Just like marital disputes.”
Tatsuo paused for a moment, then broke out in a fresh burst of laughter. “Oh ho, good one, Mr. Mugen! It’s true, you fight like dogs for a few hours, go to your respective corners, and then you move on! Although my wife, you know, she passed on a long time ago. We didn’t fight much, but when we did—oh boy! Those shatterproof windows couldn’t hold her.”
Aomi padded in from the restroom, jangling a tin of colored tablets. A covert wink passed from girl to woman, but Dana, unable to respond, only gripped the table until her fingertips turned purple.
“Women,” said Yoshio, “are instruments of torture.”
The flavored alkaline reminded Dana of sickness and health and passing moments of happiness. Her son and daughter in a weather-scoured grave on a hill. Washing their bones like the Okinawan women who still followed tradition. Once you inter a deep hurt in a place, the land accepts you as its own. Like slain doughboys at Flanders, or Patton’s fallen in the Ardennes. Colonel Buckner in the soil near Shuri Castle. At least she had that, irrevocably. If she died, she would die at home.