Almost Spilling Her Scotch

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

Tokyo, June 1996. We go see the French film Le Zebre, and afterward at a dining bar we discuss it, how great it is, how French love stories have a special charm, how they’re more honest because they don’t have happy endings but French endings that leave you confused and searching for answers. Our lips are moving on autopilot while our hearts are communicating via our fingers that are intertwined across the table. We make the last train back to Takadanobaba and stroll arm in arm to the apartment. While I fiddle with the remote to turn on the AC, she drapes her skirt, pantyhose, and blouse over the TV and writhes into my dress shirt, which she never bothers to unbutton.

“Would you like some scotch?” I ask.

She makes a sound of agreement as she contorts her upper body to wrestle off her bra underneath the shirt.

“It’s supposed to be a gift for your dad.” I pour two glasses. “It’s eighteen years old.”

She pulls her bra out of a sleeve. She never tries to provoke me by showing off her assets. If it were up to her, I wouldn’t see her body until we’re in the first stages of having sex. But for me foreplay is visual, and I want to enjoy the sublime beauty and seductiveness of her body long before we get serious. Maybe time will allow. Of course, time is precisely what we don’t have.

“But I can’t give it to him because I won’t ever meet him,” I say. “So offering you a glass is as close as I’m going to get.”

She puts a pillow against the headboard, leans back. I take off my khakis and socks, sit down with her, and hand her a glass. The AC purrs on max. The mood is sweet and intimate. People are getting slashed one by one to the guttural shouts of a very pissed-off samurai next door.

“Kampai.” We chink our glasses and take a sip.

“To our future.” I sip again.

She looks at me without lifting her glass. A shadow flits over her face.

“We should probably talk about our future,” I say.


“Future for us. I need to make some decisions about my travel plans.”

“Travel plans?”

“I went to the immigration office last week. A fat white noodle with a British accent told me that Japan doesn’t want to be overrun by people like me from all over the world. At any rate, I won’t be able to extend my visa.”

She holds her glass with lifeless fingers at an oblique angle.

“I have to leave when my visa expires on July 7.”

“July 7?”

“Why does that bother you? I don’t even know if I’m important to you.”

“How can you say such a thing?” Her voice is barely audible.

“How can I? Well, I know nothing about your life. I haven’t met any of your friends. I don’t know a single name. I haven’t met your parents. None of the people in your life know I exist. I’m nothing more than your secret gaijin lover two nights a week.”

She seems forlorn, almost spilling her scotch, almost crying, with an element of shock on her face. I take the precariously tilting glass out of her hand and set it on the cabinet next to me.

“Japan doesn’t want me, and the girl I love doesn’t allow me into her life. It’s hard to envision any kind of future for me in Japan.”

A tear gains critical mass.

“Reverse the picture. You come to the US to see me. You stay at a motel. I spend two nights a week and an occasional afternoon with you. I never invite you to my place. You never meet my friends. None of them knows you exist. It’s the definition of a secret lover.”

She’s crying because the temporariness of my visit is exacting its toll or because she can’t elude the Japanese rules or because of some other reason. I can only speculate why she’s crying. In reality, I have no clue.

“In Japan, that’s how it is,” she says after a while. “We don’t introduce people until the relationship is established. Even then we might not.”

“Have you considered a future for us outside Japan, since we can’t have it in Japan?”

“I can’t jump into it.” Moments pass. “I wouldn’t exclude it.”

She has come to the end of what she’s going to say. I’ve run out of words, too, and we sit there in our underwear and shirts. I sip her dad’s scotch—my glass, then her glass, and I’m thinking about refills when she straightens up. Her eyes charge up with energy and magic, her lips separate slightly, she inhales barely, prepares to speak. There’s a moment of suspenseful silence, and I assume she’ll once again keep it all bottled up inside. But something pops.

“I wanted you to stay longer,” she says with long pauses between her words, carefully weighing them, not wanting to give away too much. “You were right when you said I don’t allow you into my life. I’ve been thinking about it ever since you brought it up. So I was hoping you could meet my mother during her exhibition on September 20 at the gallery in Ginza. But now you won’t be here anymore.”

Wow, that’s exciting news. I’d get to meet one person in her life, and it would be at a public function where she might only have a few seconds for me, all well-orchestrated to avoid disruption and collateral damage. And the propitious date is three and a half months away.

With that, she has said everything about the subject she’s going to say, the subject being the inclusion of me in some fractional part of her Japanese life. Nevertheless, it’s an effort. I hug her. She lets herself be hugged, arms hanging down, and then she hugs me back and we kiss. She cries again when we make love, not tears of sadness but tears of pleasure and intensity, or so I speculate. In reality, I have no clue why she’s crying again.

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

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