"I don't want to be married to you."
"Good." She was an independent free-love Communist, after all, and he was grateful for any dry rock he could stand on when talking to her. "So what the hell are you talking about?"
She had the kind of gaze that penetrated the dark. Harry sensed there was some sort of silent conversation going on, a test of wills that he was losing. Michiko was complicated. She might be Japanese, but she was from Osaka, and Osaka women didn't mince words or back down. She was a doctrinaire Red who kept stacks of Vogue under a Shinto shrine in a corner of the room. She was a feminist and, at the same time, was a great admirer of a Tokyo woman who, denied her lover's attention, had famously strangled him and sliced off his privates to carry close to her heart. What frightened Harry was that he knew Michiko regarded a double suicide of lovers as a happy ending, but she'd be willing to settle for a murder-suicide if need be. It seemed to him that the safest possible course was to deny they were lovers at all.
"You're never jealous, are you, Harry?"
"How do I answer a question like that? Should I be?"
"Yes. You should be sick with it. That's love."
"No," Harry said, "that's nuts."
"Maybe you just wanted a Japanese girl?"
"I think I could have found an easier one."
Some Americans did take up with Japanese women for the exoticism. Harry, though, had been raised in Japan. A corn-fed girl from Kansas was stranger to him.
Michiko's long look continued, as if she were sending out small invisible scouts to test his defenses.
"The Western woman, is she married? If she's here, she must be married."
"I had no idea when I found you on the street and took you in like a wet stray that you were going to be so suspicious."
Suspicion was in season. Harry moved to the side of the window to look down on the street, at the flow of figures in dark winter kimonos. The evening was balmy for December. The warble of a street vendor's flute floated up, and at the corner a customer in a black suit shoveled noodles from a box into his mouth. In front of a teahouse at the other end of the block, a taller man nibbled a bun. Plainclothesmen had always watched missionaries, too. It was as if he'd inherited a pair of shadows.
"I saw them," Michiko said. "Are you in trouble?"
"No. Harry Niles is the safest man in Japan."
"You've done nothing wrong?"
"Right or wrong doesn't matter." He remembered his father, a Bible thumper with never a doubt in his righteousness. Harry's confidence was in his unrighteousness, his ability to dodge the consequences.
"So, are you going to leave?" Michiko asked. She took a long draw on her cigarette and rearranged her limbs, leaning back on her hands, legs forward, ankles crossed. He could just make out her eyes, the dark caps of her breasts. "You can tell me. I'm used to men who disappoint."
"What about the men in the Party, your local Lenins?"
"The men in the Party talked all day about the oppression of the working class, but every night they headed to the brothels. You know why I chose you, Harry? Because with an American, I had no expectations. I couldn't be disappointed."
Harry didn't know quite what she meant. The big problem with Michiko was that she acknowledged no rational position, only emotion in the extreme, whereas Harry regarded himself as pure reason.
"Do you want us to burn down, Harry?"
It took him a moment to notice his cigarette carried an ash an inch long. People who lived on straw mats had a ready supply of ashtrays. The one he picked up was ceramic and said PACIFIC FLEET OFFICERS CLUB -- PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII around a gilded anchor. Hawaii sounded good. Sunday would be the pre-Christmas party at Pearl, the same as at all U.S. Navy officers clubs around the world.
Copyright © 2002 by Titanic Productions
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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