Deer Sashimi

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This is an excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

Nikko, Japan, June 1996. Then we climb a trail up the mountain, through woods and along mirror-like ponds. We sweat and breathe and put foot before foot in unison. Each step adds to the physical harmony between us and cements us together, and it’s inconceivable we might ever be split apart. When we crest the pass, fit older hikers with brand-name hiking gear come our way and greet us with hearty konnichiwa and surprised double takes.

“What shall we eat in Nikko?” she asks as we descend on the other side. We had a solid breakfast at the pension but only an onigiri each for lunch, and after hours of hiking, we’re getting hungry.

“I’m open to anything,” I say.

“Hmm, ramen with lots of ingredients on top?”

“That would hit the spot. Preceded by a big piece of watermelon?”

“Followed by sashimi assortment.” She lists the kinds of fish she wants in it.

“Or a dry-aged filet, rare, with mashed potatoes and cooked carrots.”

“Or shabu-shabu.” She mimes picking up a slice of beef and dipping it into boiling broth.

“Arugula salad with grape tomatoes and olive oil.”

“Sukiyaki with lots of veggies.”

Mentaiko spaghetti.”

“A ham-and-butter baguette sandwich like we had in Amboise for our first lunch together.”

We descend the mountain, reveling in the idea of food. From the trailhead, we catch a bus down to the tin chalet that is Nikko Station. With forty minutes to spare before the departure of our train, we make a beeline for the restaurant, a boisterous Formica-steel-and-plastic kind of place. Izumi orders mountain-vegetable pilaf. I order deer sashimi, a mountain specialty. The thin slices of raw deer are served with raw onion rings, fresh garlic, fresh ground ginger, and a vinegar-soy sauce. Possibly the best meat dish I’ve ever eaten.

But I shouldn’t have eaten it. On the train, we face each other—and every time I speak, she dodges my breath. She rummages in her daypack. “Here,” she says, stick of gum in her hand. The weekend has been full of harmony and intimacy, but now she hardly talks to me and refuses to hold my hand, constrained also by the two ladies in hiking boots next to us who pay scrupulous attention to everything we do and say.

“A limited express!” she suddenly exclaims at some station, springs up, grabs her daypack, says, “Bai-bai, see you Wednesday,” squeezes through between the knees of the startled ladies, and is out the door.

She dashes with a lot of other people across the platform to a waiting train. It’s logical, certainly, but it wasn’t planned. Her plan was to stay on the train with me until we got to Kita-Senju in Tokyo, the first stop after Soka, because our express would blow through Soka without stopping. In Kita-Senju, she’d get off and take a limited express back to Soka. That was the plan. Now obviated by events. And the two ladies in hiking boots are inventing their own explanations for all this.

How can the sense of eternal harmony evaporate so fast? How can the cement between us crack so soon? Something inside me got off the train with her and left behind a gaping hole. In Asakusa, I change to the Ginza line. I’m in a daze, groping my way around a vacuum. In Nihombashi, I change to the Tōzai line. How could she be so intimate one minute and so standoffish the next? The upcoming stop should be Ōtemachi. But the sign says something else. It catapults me out of my daze. I’m going the wrong direction. I’ve gotten on the wrong fucking train.

This is an excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

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