The headline of the ten-centimeter article blurred inside the desktop. Reiko Shinsato slapped her keyboard, grappled her mouse with the remote slowness of the sleep-deprived. After a moment she realized it was her eyes that had malfunctioned, not the screen, so the junior editor—she never could escape that subordinate phrase—pressed her fingers into her lids and hissed out a long, shaky breath to suppress the fantasy of relaxation. At least the copy was in good shape, if not the island it described: more calls for protests over the Marine base transfer from Ginowan City to Nago. Why wasn’t it going to Guam? they asked. Troops on Okinawa were still troops on Okinawa, no matter if they changed towns. Then the Nago Council called for the governor to resign, claiming he had evaded the base crisis for too long. The governor’s office issued a vague statement in response.
After thirty seconds of hard breathing Reiko checked her email again: Jin Omoru, up-and-coming musician from Tokyo, timestamp of September eleventh, 10:12 pm.
I admit I am nervous about meeting you. I know you so well, but I’m absolutely terrified I will do or say something wrong, and ruin what we already have. You’ve said it doesn’t matter, that you’d love me if I was hunchbacked, but I want to be honest with you before we meet. I haven’t even heard your voice, but I feel like I know it, apart from any other human in the world. It sounds like a bell ringing through the pines on New Year. And your face, I know, reflects the purity of such a note.
I am no good at being poetic, or expressing my inner nature, but I cannot wait to be with you. Thank you for agreeing to meet; I can finally find my peace now.
Reiko sighed. Two years of courting online, and the culmination arriving in two days. Her first time off in a year, possibly more. On some level she resisted; he could be awkward, or cruel, or disappointing. Fat.
No, he would be perfect. Love takes many shapes, and this one was just irregular. A futatsu-domoe, not quite the three-pronged symbol of Okinawa, but close enough.
Reiko drained her coffee, saved changes to the draft. The base would go to Nago, she knew, and the world would move on. The Americans would never leave. She didn’t mind. She wrote politics, but politics and its knotty twists were merely parts of her job, to be handled like bricks or wood.
“Ms. Shinsato. Still here, I see.”
“Mr. Editor, good evening.”
“It’s night time, you know. Not evening.”
“You’re really earning that day off, aren’t you?”
“I want to do a good job, Mr. Editor.”
“It’s good to see people who love the papers, Ms. Shinsato. I feel lucky, being here. I mean, when I forget about our budget, and the fact we could use about ten more staff members. We may be a small paper, but we provide a useful service, yes?”
“Of course, Mr. Editor.”
“Our readers, they…in America, you know, the newspaper industry is dying. Wave of the future. But here people still connect over the printed word. It’s important.”
“It is, Mr. Editor.”
“I hope that doesn’t change. Maybe we’re just behind the curve, and in five years we’ll all be out of a job. But somehow I don’t think so.”
“Newspapers are important to Okinawans.”
“They are. Think about how much they mean in a place like this. A lot of people still don’t own a TV or radio. They depend on us.”
“Yes, Mr. Editor.”
“I suppose I’ve talked your ear off sufficiently, now. Distracted you from that article?”
“No, of course not. I’m grateful to hear your opinions on the industry.”
Mr. Kuroji patted her shoulder. “You’re going to do fine, Ms. Shinsato. You’re a young editor, you have more control over your section then anyone at the Asahi Shimbun. Enjoy it. One day, when you’re typing on two keyboards simultaneously in Roppongi Hills, you’ll think back on this and be happy you had so much.”
Reiko bowed her head. “Yes, Mr. Editor.”
“Well, time to go get drunk! You enjoy your night, Ms. Shinsato. And especially your days off.”
“Yes, Mr. Editor. Good night, Mr. Editor.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. Then she minimized the window and went back to work, running her tongue along the film that coated her teeth. She needed to brush and clean and select an alluring shirt that could impress someone used to Tokyo girls—even if he did stay in his apartment all day.
The phone rang, and she waited for voicemail. Ask her for something. Demand more of her time because she certainly had an abundance of it, working in this business, at eleven p.m.
“Reiko, this is your mother. Your father’s on his boat and he won’t speak to me. I need you to make him drop off my umbrella. It’s going to storm soon and I won’t risk getting cold and sick. I always come down with the flu in this place. My bones hurt, you know.”
Lovely. She dialed her father’s number with slow, hypercontrolled jabs. Steel yourself.
“Dad, mom needs her umbrella. She says you have it.”
“She does, does she? She would say that.”
“Why does everyone want something from me?”
“I don’t want anything. I’m calling for mom.”
“She wants my boat now, do you hear? It wasn’t enough to take the house.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t want your boat, dad. You need it for work.”
“Tell her that.”
Reiko held in a sigh. She stared at her reflection in the computer screen, free of wrinkles for now, but with no end to the stress? She flipped open her blush pad and examined herself more closely. Dad had imparted a nice chin, at least.
“I will, dad. So can I pick up the umbrella after work? I’ll be late.”
“I’m going to be on the boat.”
“I’ll come to the boat.”
A half-strangled grunt, as if he’d been meaning to swear and someone had checked him. “If you want.”
Oh, it’s what I want more than anything.
“Bring some Xi. And beer. It’s a holiday.”
“Dad, you know you’re not considered elderly yet. You have plenty of time.”
“Plenty of time to hear lip from my daughter. You know, you have your mother’s chin. Round, Chinese.”
Reiko’s hand fled to her face. Her cheeks burned. Dad hung up and she stole away to the bathroom to touch up her lips, pick a blackhead on her neck. She washed her hands and dried them and wiped a smudge off the mirror. Her chin wasn’t round, it was angular, flattering. Possibly. It didn’t matter. Etsu was always telling her to stop worrying about external beauty; but Etsu’s mom never called her a bowlegged pig.
Another woman entered and Reiko hurried out, head bowed, counting grammar mistakes in her head.
When Jin comes, everything will be perfect.
At her desk, she blew a kiss to the computer screen, furtively, checking either side to make sure no one was hanging around. Ashamed and not ashamed. She allowed herself a sob of joy and excitement and great, nameless sorrow, as though to realize this long-held dream would do just that: dispel the dream, and enter Jin into the buffeting winds of reality. But even were he nothing like he purported, she would still gain some flavor of peace from the union. She would be better. Although of course he would be perfect. For two years she had collected the data that confirmed that fact.
You are the only one I can be 100% honest with. Come soon. Now, preferably. Wear tight pants.